Yunnan trip on Xinyuan 400 Part 3 -Lijiang and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain

Lijiang with YuLong Snow Mountain in the distance

The town of Lijiang is overlooked by the beautiful snow-capped Yulong Xueshan (Jade Dragon Snow Mountain). I saw this as I walked to my breakfast and was startled as two days before I was in the metropolis of Shanghai and now I was looking at this mountain with its snowy peak standing on a bridge over a canal.

Me at Yulong snow mountain, Yunnan.

I rode out to the mountain. I pulled up in a cold wind and happened to stop next to a parked car full of Chinese men they asked me in a bit of a hostile way “What are you doing?” I realised someone pulling up on a motorcycle with a mask on next to their car was a bit suspicious “Taking pictures” I said. Then five guys piled out of the car and started grinning, all taking selfies with me and the bike. They had ridden from Guangzhou together and this was their destination. Several days together in a car.

On the way to the mountain, some big adventure bikes zipped past me, weaving through the traffic-mostly tourists mixed with the white slow speed control cars which patrolled up and down the road to the mountain at a crawl to stop traffic.

The bike at YuLong XueShan

 

I met the BMW lot in the rough looking dirt car park outside the national park. They had two expensive BMW 1200GS’s and a fancy looking Toyota four-wheel drive. Girls were standing on the roof of the four by four taking pictures. I and took pictures of myself, the bike and the mountain and left. As I was going, one of the riders said Anquan Xian (Saftey First. ) I found that touching, as I was riding alone.

I was heading towards a Naxi village in the mountains. I had hoped I could stop here then go on to the more remote Lugu lake further North.

This wasn’t to be. After a day of riding, I was in the hills and the light was fading. I came over a rise and defended steeply into a valley as it got colder and the sun went down. I pulled into a town on the steep slope into the valley. The road was strewn with trash as there had been a market there and stray dogs mooched around. I pulled the helmet off and asked a store holder packing up if there was anywhere to stay. She directed me to an inn further down the road.

The bike parked in the courtyard of the guesthouse.

This place was great. Like a homestead on the hillside. I parked the bike inside the gated courtyard of the house and watched the chickens running around inside. I was given a meal of Fresh chicken soup and a fried dish with rice which was delicious. I slept well in the cold room but rose before sunrise, somewhat uneasy about the ride ahead. I thought I’ll just turn round now, Then when it came time to leave, after visited the outhouse in the morning and saw may massive spider’s webs slung across the trees around in the morning light. Their hosts waiting for breakfast. There was even one on the sunny door.

Yunnan trip on Xinyuan 400 – Part 2

 

The bike just outside Dali

 

After a night in Dali, I got up early to go and meet Hendrik. It was a bright, sunny morning.  I found him in a suburb near the center of town and he talked me over the bike- a Chinese adventure style bike- a Shineray xy-400gy (XinYuan鑫源 xy-400gy. It’s clearly modeled on the much larger BMW 1200 GS, but actually, the engine is a copy of the Honda XR400- a stalwart dirt bike. This machine is a bit heavier than the XR400 and this particular one came with big aluminum panniers.

Hendrik had quoted me a fair price for the rental and after signing forms, showing my ID and driver’s license and giving a deposit, I was given full protective ware and I was off…

Stopping for watermelon on the roadside

I spent the first day taking the bike around Dali and secured it outside a hostel in town after trying to get it in their back door Outside was fine, under a camera.

I headed North, up beside the lake out of Dali on straight roads and felt the thrill of overtaking.

Calamity strikes 

The first calamity of my trip happened in a small market town outside Dali. In an effort to squeeze through traffic, I managed to scrape a car that was stuck in the jam. We waited for police for a long time and things got a bit heated. They seemed to just want payment. Finally, police arrived but on a different errand- to unclog the town of traffic. They settled it quickly with me paying 200 yuan for the owner’s repair.

This was a really stressful start to the trip and had me questioning its veracity. Should I be doing this?

After this event, the road took me up into the hills. There were beautiful views and lots of trees but the road had heavy traffic, including lots of trucks.

 

At one point, I saw a large area of dirt next to the road and thought I’d test the bike’s off-road ability. Upon going down the track that led into this area, I looked up to my right and saw a bunker on the hill above the flat area with slits in the front designed as gun holes. “an army training ground!” I thought in sudden alarm and smartly started turning the bike around. Off-road shenanigans will definitely have to wait.

My frozen face

This day ended with the sun setting on a wide plane and snow-capped peaks in-front of me- towards Lijiang. I was freezing, racing into the wind with my open faced helmet.

The town of Lijiang is a famous tourist destination, home to different ethnic minorities, most notably the Naxi (Nah-Shee)people who, in times before, had their own pictographic writing script. Now it’s a place with a lot of bars and handicraft shops (cue bongos and ocarinas). Actually, if you ask any Chinese person, they will tell you that Lijiang is a place to find one night stands. I was however determined to have an early start, and after a bewildered wonder around the old town retired.

I had found a hotel outside the old town and the jovial boss allowed me to drive up the steps and park the bike right inside the hotel foyer. Excellent.

First thing in the morning, I went to get a neck warmer/face mask. My face had been battered by the cold wind.

Lessons learnt

Hang back in traffic

Remember the width of this bike with the aluminum panniers.

Yunnan trip on Xinyuan 400 – Part 1

 I was revising for my Chinese driver’s license in September 2016. Also, at this time, I was casting around to see if I could rent a motorcycle somewhere in China.  My spotlight was on Yunnan province, which is down in the South East and famed for its beauty. Deservedly so, because in the North it has the foothills leading to the Tibetan Plateau. In the south, it is subtropical as it meets Laos. Yunnan is also home to many ethnic minorities in China, such as the local Naxi, a sizeable portion of Tibetans and others, such as the Dai people.

Is there anywhere to rent a motorcycle in China?

I really only found two places that rent motorcycles in Yunnan province. One was a Chinese operation who had mini off-road tours from Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province. I liked their outfit because they seemed to have 250cc dirt bikes and manageable tours.

Whenever I contacted them, however, they would send me a simple email back. It just stated the price of the tour and that they’d be happy to take my money on the dates I wanted. Hmmm.

The other company was tibetmoto.de. Their site mentioned that they have short and long tours as well as rentals available. The owner of the company, Hendrik actually rang me to discuss my plans and needs. I thought that represented real customer care and attention.

Only six months later I found a closer rental place. It was fifty meters from my workplace in Shanghai. But that’s another thing. Odd.

To Dali, Yunnan…

I flew down to Kunming and took a bus to Dali. This used to be an old hippie hang out some years ago. In fact, when I was in Yunnan, ten years ago a guy told me that dope grows wild outside the city walls and that local farmers feed it to their pigs. Now it’s a fully developed stop on the Chinese tourist route. Complete with those shops selling ocarinas and drums with young female students sitting playing the same song, the guys making taffy by stretching it. Also, a middling swarm of Chinese tourists.

Arriving in Dali.

Actually, though, a few things struck me about Dali. It’s in a beautiful location with mountains on one side. These rise up to the West of town and Dali  is situated on the shores of a huge lake.

Also, I met a Peruvian guy who said he’d been going there for years. He was selling handmade jewelry from stones he’d collected on his travels from India, SriLanka and other far-flung places. He said that in Dali, there are many travelers who have small businesses like this. I’ve found this to be true. A friend of mine who interviews nomadic and freelance Chinese workers frequently comes to Dali to talk to people.

After looking through his wares on the small trestle table he had set up on the street, I said goodbye and he said as we left his stall, with a wry smile “When you are tired of the big smoke, Dali will be here waiting for you”.

Another feature of Dali which is awesome for someone with a new motorcycle obsession is the number of bikes… everywhere.  Shanghai is a desert where motorcycles are concerned so this was great to see.  In Dali, there are many custom made bikes parked around the small streets outside the little restaurants and artsy coffee shops.

 TBC…

Sidecars in Shanghai

Meeting a sidecar 

This is a short story about my journey (excuse the pun) with sidecars in China. It starts on a Spring day last year, I’m walking to work as usual and waiting for the lights to change to cross over towards my workplace and there, right in front of me, idling at the lights is a bright red vintage looking motorcycle and sidecar. I cross the road and see that the rider is a foreigner, so I just blurt out “nice bike! ChangJiang750, right?” I’d read about this bike a lot.

 

Enter the ChangJiang 750

The weird motorcycle license endorsement

Now let’s go back seven or eight months to when I was attending the driving license test centre to get my Chinese license. The young lady behind the counter says that my license is for three-wheeled motorcycles, I thought “no! There’s been a mistake. I wanted a motorcycle license, I haven’t done all this just to get some moto-taxi license have I?” The English speaking lady then explained to me that my new license INCLUDES sidecars – the top level of license “okay I thought, nice addition, but…”

Back to the red sidecar

So I’m stood in front of the sidecar and I say “ I have a license to ride that!” The driver explained that this bike belonged to a tour company which gives motorcycle sidecar tours around Shanghai and they are looking for new drivers. When the lights change, he pulls over and takes my contact details.

Some weeks later, after having a telephone conversation with the CEO of that company and having met the lead trainer and marketing manager, I’m in the bucket of a sidecar to be taken for training. Over the next few weeks, after learning the differences in handling with a sidecar (you drive a sidecar and ride a bike) compared to two-wheeled bikes and improving my skills, the trainer, Arthur, from France takes me to some locations around Shanghai.

Me riding on a day out for a kids charity.

Riding in and driving sidecars

From the very first stop, it was like someone lifting the lid on Shanghai. I had lived here for more than two years and thought I knew the city, but no… hidden away were old colonial mansions, industrial relics and crumbling housing estates, all with a story detailing Shanghai’s decadent and sometimes dangerous past.

I started to go out with the company on rides and taking passengers, people who’d just arrived in the country and sharing this new (old) side of Shanghai with them. It was fresh and exciting. I got to learn the character of this old bike and see this flourishing city with new eyes.

So, by chance- having been given a rather rare endorsement on my driving license. And then, suddenly, being presented with an opportunity in the shape of a bright red motorcycle, my recent passion for motorcycles took form, gave me so much and a chance to share as well.

The Astrid Apartments. Shanghai is full of Art deco architecture.

To take an extraordinary glimpse of Shanghai or get an unforgettable gift for a relative or friend, contact insiders experiences and mention this blog for a 5% discount on their sidecar tours. You can also do jeep tours in China’s interior with them.

Where I’ve Been and Where I’m Going.

Not long ago I put together a list of all the places I’ve been in China. After filling an A4 page, it seems that it’s better to describe the places that I’ve not yet visited, so here is a map and a list-

Red areas are not yet visited, blue ones have been conquered already.

Shanxi Province

Ningxia

Qinghai

Tibet

Liaoning

Jilin

Heilongjiang

Jiangxi

Inner Mongolia

Tianjin

China is made up of 33 divisions or areas. This includes 22 provinces. The others are 4 large cities,  five autonomous regions (province sized areas and)  then there are Hong Kong and Macau, old foreign territories and now classed as ‘Special Administrative Regions’.

So, I figured I’d visited 23 of the 33 parts of China… Why not try to see all of them?

Out of the 22 Provinces ( so big they each are the size of European countries with similar populations) I have 5 left to see.

Out of the different classed autonomous regions (mostly these are full of people who are ethnically not Han Chinese) I had only The vast and sparsely populated Qinghai province up on the Tibetan Plateau, The small, mystical Province of Ningxia wedged up in the North and centre of China, which is largely filled with Hui Muslims, and Inner Mongolia, a place of ethnic Mongolians, rolling grasslands and horse milk liquor.

The three North Eastern provinces called “Dong Bei” in Chinese are also still unconquered. These Butt up against Russia to the North and North Korea to the South East.

The trickiest of these areas is Tibet as it requires that foreigners join a tour group to visit and obtain a permit to enter.

This is my mission… To visit all of these areas in one trip.

Should be exciting.

Afterwards, I’ll have been to every province and region in China. No mean feat, given that China is roughly the size of The U.S.A.

Back in Britain, I used to work in the travel industry. I worked for a time for the U.K.’s biggest Tour Operator in their long-haul division. My job involved sending people away to far-flung places like Africa, South America and Asia. When it came to China, most of our customers would do a three centre trip Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai. I think there’s more to China than that.

I lived in a smaller city in a lesser developed Province for three years before…These smaller places are more relaxed and I think visiting these small places helps you see the “real China”, which is a must to understand the place..the struggles this massive country faces in it’s road to industrial development and seeing the way the normal people of China live.

How to get a Chinese driver’s license in Shanghai (including a motorcycle license)

How to get a Chinese driver’s license in Shanghai (including a motorcycle license)

The end result. A Chinese driving license(mine) with motorcycle endorsement.

Just a note that this information may be horribly outdated by the time you read it. My Shanghai riding buddies inform me that now foreigners actually need to take the written driving test in Chinese. 

When I did the test, one only needed a foreign license (British) to drive a car.* I’ve heard that the procedure varies depending on your nationality. For example Belgian passport holders don’t need to do ANY test. You’ll note in the following description, that at no point did I take lessons or do any practical test on a motorcycle to get my license…

 So yes, the place to get your license in on Hami Road. This is called the 车管所 (cheguansuo)and is frantic as it’s not only the testing centre fro licenses but also the issue office for license plates in Shanghai.

You could take a Chinese local with you but in my case my lady friend actually took us to the wrong places, so… I’m pretty sure you can do this on your own. Plus… there is a lady in the Hami road (哈密路)Traffic Police centre (at desk 44) who speaks English.

The nearest subway stop is Shanghai zoo, Line 10. It’s a bit of a walk from the subway station to the centre, but not complicated to find- it’s right next to a gas station just inside the outer ring road(外环路).

I asked for a Chinese car and motorcycle license (C1-D in my case- the ‘D’ is the highest level and includes sidecars- awesome for me, although was confusing when I got it because I thought a 三轮车(sanlun Che)- three wheeled bike was only for disabled people – I was most upset and thought they’d not given me a full motorcycle license.. little did I know that the lady at window 44 had given me the full endorsement and a rare license to ride sidecars, which I was able to do just six months later- awesome:)

*This was in October 2010.

I’m going to give details on how to get a Chinese driving license if you already have one in your home country and if you also have, or will have, a residence permit to live in China- say you are working here (this is a separate full page sticker you get in your passport when you come here to live and work and is not the ‘z’ class visa). I don’t know about the situation with those who enter for study, although I know they also get a residence permit.

It is apparently possible to get a temporary driving license when entering China with a Tourist (‘L’ class) visa, but my friend from France was turned down when he got here because they said he needed a 30 day entry, annoying for him because he had had that option in Paris but the consular staff never advised him to get it although he told them he would need a driving permit once inside China – it might be worth getting this at the consulate in your country.

That said, I’ll continue. So you go to the Hami road centre with a copy of your foreign driver’s license, and a Chinese translation of this. You need to go to one of two places in town to get it translated by an approved agency for about fifty yuan. This is great because you can give them your arbitrarily chosen Chinese name.

You take a number downstairs then go to the second floor at the back and hope that you are referred to the English speaking lady at desk 44.

Then she sends you outside to run between buildings and get photos taken (I did this right before closing so it was deserted and a real rush) and have some simple medical tests- eye check ( “cover your left eye, read this”), hearing test and reflex test- pretty sure I remember the older lady in a white coat hitting my knee with a comically small hammer. Go back upstairs and hand this all in the choose a time to come back and sit the written test. This all costs next to nothing (under fifty yuan for the photos and medical)

When you come back to the centre, you’ll go to the second floor, and if you go to the back, there is a door at  side of the room that goes outside up a fires escape and leads to the silent test centre where there’s a rather military-like guy pacing up and down, computers against the walls and a T.V. to watch horrific traffic accidents on whilst you wait for your test.

The test is timed and It’ll give you 100 random questions. You need to get a score of ninety to pass. If you stuff it up, the drill sergeant guy will, kindly, allow you another go that day. If you don’t pass the second time, it’s time to head back down to the lady at desk 44 to arrange another sitting in the future.

Do you know what these mean?

A note here, don’t just go on the internet like me and answer test questions because when you come to do the test, you’ll find that the website you visited only had about a quarter of the questions and was in ridiculous Chinglish. Instead, pro tip here, download the app for your phone ‘Drive in China’ by Michael Borgers and use this. It’s a little expensive but is comprehensive and has a flashcard style learning system, telling you when you’re ready to take the test.

If you pass, you’ll go to the second floor and  pay a paltry sum, like 20 yuan and they will make up your card license.

Good luck.

It’s worth checking the current situation with the traffic police. Here’s their website. If you are occasionally character challenged like me, whack it into Baidu or google translate. I’m sorry, you’ll need a Chinese speaker to look over this but..

http://sh.122.gov.cn

Ride and Review of NEW Zongshen RX3 and RX4 motorcycles.

 

Hi there. Let me explain who I am to give you an idea of how this video came about. I’m a Brit and I’ve lived in China for about SEVEN YEARS in different places and I currently live in Shanghai.

LAST year I took my driving license test here in China and immediately went on a trip to the mountains on a 400cc motorcycle. I’ve bought a dirt bike here for adventures and usually I can be found riding sidecars here in Shanghai.

In November, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to join a test ride of two unreleased bikes made by Chinese manufacturer Zongshen motorcycles. The RX3s twin cylinder 380cc and the RX4 single 450cc. These are two middle weight adventure bikes.

The test ride was  about 42 days and made a huge loop in Southern China with eight bikes to test for faults and gain marketing material for the launch.

I joined the ride for ten days getting to ride both bikes.The camaraderie with the other riders was great and Zongshen really looked after me during the trip.

There were two bikes being tested, the new 450cc single cyclinder- the rX4.on the right here, and the

The test ride focused on the new RX3s which is a double cylinder 380cc bike putting out 27 horsepower. Both bikes have adventure styling, including essentials like a large screen, which worked fairly well, crash bars, and a large 20 litre tank for long distances between refuelling. In China, ABS and the aluminium panniers and top box can also be added.

They Apart from test riding a 20 year old klx250, I have only ever ridden Chinese bikes. I took a another Chinese bike- a 400cc hineray for a six day jaunt in the hills of Yunnan.

REVIEW

The RX3s

The marketing guy said that the RX3s is aimed at people getting into off road and Adventure riding or touring, people moving from normal road bikes here in the domestic market. It has a low seat- great for the Chinese market compared this to the X5 and X2 which I’ve ridden more accessible for Chinese riders we even had a female rider along who could put her feet down…

The RX3s is probably more road oriented, but the low seat means you are sat “in” the bike rather than on top so much. If you do some off-road on a trip, the lower centre of gravity is quite confidence inspiring. We took the bikes along the beach and into the surf also into the hills on some-  albeit limited -stretches of rocky and steep unpaved sections.

Standing up is pretty comfortable and the bike is quite easy to control in this position, although my fellow French rider said he bottomed out the suspension..again more road biased.

I’ve found that, in China, long trips involve A LOT of road and a LITTLE dirt, so it’s well suited for adventures in China where going into the wild is not the basis of your ride.

I’ve got to say though comfort on the RX3s was pretty good, wide squishy and set back seat (I’ve had a numb bum more than once riding more offload biased Chinese bikes long distance in China …whereas the Rx3s didn’t give me this once in 6-7 days)… I only found on a couple of days after 1-2 hours in the saddle pretty bad pain in my knees. I’m 178-180 and maybe because of the lower seat, the pegs have come up if compared with the higher more off-road bikes.

The RX3s cruises at highway speeds comfortably. 120-130 is really comfortable- 120 miles per hour is 74 miles per hour. good enough for the highway. The acceleration is okay on the RX3s and the best thing is the long fifth gear and the fact it has six gears– always more on top for overtaking and maneauvres on the highway. Very little vibration in bars etc. It’s a counterbalanced engine (correct me if I’m wrong).

Seating…well standing was easy on both bikes and we did this frequently on long rides to strecth and to avoid the massive pot holes in some of the road sufaces..plus the off- road bits that we did. I came off   on the sand) I think it was really nice having a heavier bike  compared to my 250 dual sport .. it made mevv feel planted on the road and somehow gives confidence off road. I remember U.S. reviews of the RX3 250cc saying that it’s clearly not intended for hard beating offroad. This may be true here, but I enjoyed the extra comfort on the road.

 

I can’t really comment on quality, as I didn’t ride for a really extended time, but I did see rust on the frame which the top box was attached to..weird for a bike that was four weeks old..

I found it difficult to find second gear. That was a pain.

On the plus side,  I had no electrical problems with the bike, which I’ve had before with Chinese bikes whereby the fuel gage didn’t work, there was nothing present like this in the RX3s  I rode.

My French riding partner told me that suspension and breaks do not match Japanese adventure bike quality. To be honest, I’ve only ridden Chinese bikes, so it’s not. a comparison I can make, but , yes I’ve mentioned that this is a more road oriented bike so suspension is not massive.

The  RX4

I rode the rx4 for one of the days. At first, I was disappointed as it’s not as nippy and flickable as the rx3s.

Plus acceleration and deceleration both seemed slower (the latter with engine But, after a while, I found it not to be sluggish on the road(it’s heavier by 20kg) but it felt more planted .. The extra power became quite reassuring. Still, at first felt I had to anticipate stuff ahead of time, cos, unlike the smaller bike, it didn’t quickly pull into empty spaces.. And unlike the smaller bike often had no more to give at the top of the rev range.

Actually, and maybe it’s just the specific bike I was using, I found it maxed out at 6k in sixth gear with the throttle wide open. I managed a top speed of about 148Nice chugging power though. perhaps the top end power runs out.. the Rx3s seemed to always have more available (just in comparison with the RX4) and was slightly less vibey at speed. Another rider said that might be because the screen is bigger so less wind, dunno, I although inexpert would put it down to the fact it’s a single not twin cylinder.

 

5 ways to travel comfortably in China

The consequence of booking your train at the last minute. This was our hard seat train From Dunhuang, Gansu to Turpan, Xinjiang.

Give the address to a taxi driver in Mandarin. Get someone at the hostel to write down the address in Chinese characters. When first in China, ten years ago in aTibetan part in the rather wild West of Sichuan province, we met a girl who was studying Chinese, she did this for us and it seemed like a super power to me. Still does in a way. You can ask an English speaking hostel staff member to do this for you or even better show them the Chinese in your guidebook or on a translation app like Pleco.

Take toilet paper everywhere. Everywhere. The reason for this is that in China, commonly, public toilets do not have toilet paper or soap. You can can buy little packets of tissues from everywhere for one yuan- always make sure you’ve got at least one. Reminds me of my first time in Chengdu, again ten years ago, when I got a really upset stomach and had to be within running distance of a toilet at all times on our trip around the city. Now imagine that with no loo roll when you do get to the bathroom(I had some).

Take Hand sanitiser. This is a must for China. You can take wet wipes as well. The reason, same as above, soap isn’t provided usually in bathrooms, if you think this is nonsense, try leaving Shanghai. You Can get cheapish hand sanitiser in big cities from Watsons (a chemist/beauty store) or similar. The best I’ve found though was 12 yuan with it’s own mini carabiner to attach it to a bag from Decathlon.(which itself is a good tip with something stupid like 130  sports catered for and cheap with good quality outdoors stuff) Some stores are here in Shanghai..

http://www.smartshanghai.com/listings/all/?chain=decathlon

Avoid travelling on Chinese national holidays if possible. Basically, you may or may not know but the Chinese workforce, largely, all have the same holidays. Worth Checking When these holidays fall when you travel to China as you don’t want to bet going to a tourist site with everyone in China and his Mum. The first reason is it’ll be ridiculous crowded, the other is obviously cost- of everything. I should know, I went to Sanya on the Tropical Southern Island of Hainan during Chinese New Year

Holidays to watch out for are Chinese New Year, National day- the 1-7 October and to a lesser extent QingMing in May.

Book the train a few days before travel. This seems common sense, but it’s amazing the amount of times I fall foul of this. See the picture below of a seated train in Xinjiang- nice.

A traveller tip- book your leaving train when you enter the city, While you’re still in the station, or if you’re posh, get the hostel to do it at an inflated cost:) This actually reminds me of an extremely rewarding experience booking a train from Xi’an when I’d only been in China 3 days. Take the guide book, memorise ‘tomorrow'(mingtian) ‘soft sleeper’ (ruanwo)and ‘how much?’ (duoshaoqian?), bingo.

Two and three wheeled madness in China

I currently live in Shanghai. Some time ago orange bikes started popping up on the streets here. They are called ‘Mobike’ and are really a great idea as you can download an app and give a deposit then pick up any Mobike in the city and ride it for a low rate, I think 1yuan for half an hour- about 10p…This was great, but recently other companies have produced blue bikes, yellow bikes and even green e-bikes. Since the arrival of these companies, each one has been depositing more and more bikes in caches around the city to swamp out the rival companies. Now it is almost comical when there are hundreds of these of different colours all in one place and pedestrians are forced to walk on the road..as seen in the picture above..a sight I was greeted with near my workplace.

My first time in China, I lived in Guangdong, In a small city called Zhongshan. That was ten years ago now, but I still remember the things that surprised me, things that were done differently. I used to travel out to the outskirts of the city in the evening to teach in factories in dusty, simple, industrial areas. One evening, the car was going through a residential area on the outskirts of town and the headlights of the car illuminated a bicycle travelling slowly in front of us through the narrow, gridlocked streets. Behind the young man pedalling the bike was a young boy of about ten standing on what was a luggage rack on the back of the bicycle, his hands on hips, headway above the traffic as his older brother or friend bobbed side to side in the traffic. Fearless, standing like a circus act.

Another time, I remember a bike being pedalled with their friend as a passenger facing backwards, holding their own (possibly broken) bike, sideways, pulled in to their chest, widening this bike to take up nearly a lane of traffic.Bicycles in China are also used to transport things. I have seen sofas being moved, slowly, the middle or one end resting on the bike.

Anyone who has been to East or South East Asia will have seen the way motorcycles are used to transport a whole family sometimes and China is no different. Outside of the bigger cities, you can see three, four or more people crammed onto the seat of usually a small capacity bike, flying along.. sometimes Mum dad and baby, but often groups of young friends squashed together with the rearmost passenger almost dangling off the very back.

In Zhongshan, I always remember being intrigued seeing motorcycles used to transport sheets of glass. The pillion holding the pane of glass to the side as the bike bounced over bumps in the road.

This all came back to me recently when I saw this man pedalling (literally) his wares from the back of a bicycle, rows of fish tanks on the back full of live pet fish. China…can be endlessly different and amusing on a good day.

Day 7- Getting to Shanghai

My goal for the day was Nanchang, in the South of Jiangsu province and just across the Yangtze river, a stone’s throw away from Shanghai. More shitty, dusty towns and lunch then rolled into Nanchang, trying to avoid massive flyovers. I was told that Nanchang does not permit motorcycles, so I decided to press on to Shanghai. I made it to the ferry port mid-afternoon after a bit of confusion with my sat nav and had a spirited conversation with the truckers waiting for the ferry.. oh yeah and a local simpleton who was way too familiar with me, playing with the throttle on my bike as he talked. Pissed me off until I realised he was harmless , he turned out to be pretty amusing, well made me laugh, the way he said “here’s the ferry, you see, that one over there, the one with the red car on it” pointing to the only moving ferry within sight, coming towards us out of the murky, grey and wide horizon. Again, I failed to film getting on and off the ferry because I’d selected the wrong setting. Only really found this when I’d gotten home and reviewed the footage… bummer

On the ferry crossing the Yangtze River.
Think I’d gotten pretty good at tying and packing up the bike by the last day.
Boarding the ferry to cross the Yanngtze River.

This day had more in store, and after losing the main road and going through the countryside north of Shanghai for some time, I came across the main road and a huge tailback. This was caused by the (re?) construction of the road and half of it being closed. Scarily tried to squeeze between the trucks and the concrete barrier and once almost got trapped by a truck that wasn’t watching for Bobs ( I remember my driving instructor years ago in Britain telling me to always check my mirrors in a car when changing lane and watch for Bobs- ‘Blokes on bikes’ 🙂

I didn’t want to get squashed by trucks

So I decided to save time and stay safe by jumping the queue, riding down the completed but closed half of the highway. The problem came when I got to the end and there was a big lip on the road in order to get from one surface up to the new one- about a foot. Now I said to myself that I can do this, but didn’t throttle it all the way up and was left with the front wheel on the upper surface and the back on the lower, legs dangling in space, so, inevitably, the bike went over. It pissed gas out of the top of the tank and I’d just felt like I’d lost energy at this point. I somehow stole myself and shouldered the bike up, twisting the left mirror lose. A farm lady helped push it up the slope!
The bike wouldn’t start after this and I asked the group of Laobaixing (老白姓) ‘old hundred names’ as the Chinese call them- the peasantry,to help push start the bike. Reminiscent of the first day in the dark in Beijing. This didn’t work and, as one of the chaps correctly diagnosed, the carburettor was flooded with fuel from the spill. I fished a screwdriver out of the toolkit and he opened up the valve at the bottom and bled the carburettor, the gas seeping out. After this, the biked started fine and I wheeled around and off down the road having shaken their hands with a grin.

Entering Shanghai

One last thing awaited me ..entering Shanghai( I had a very late dinner which later upset my stomach – first dodgy meal of the trip thank goodness) and stole myself- in these estates on the outskirts of Shanghai, I and the bike still garnered a lot of interest from the locals and this area really reminded me of the underdeveloped third tier cities in southern China (like the one I lived in Hunan for three years)- confirming my impression on this trip that China is still Chinese and development is surface only to a large extent- seriously something you can forget living in Shanghai for any length of time

Scared of the outer ring-road

I kept procrastinating on entering the outer ring road as well, anyone who rides and lives in China will know why…

It turns out that all my avoiding lead me right ONto the waihuan lu -外环路-scary in the dark on a smallish dirt bike as the outer two lanes are designated for trucks and the inner to cars, so I found myself wedged again between truck going at breakneck speeds but also tailgating each other, just this time in the pitch dark on a road I wasn’t supposed to be on. I pulled over, gathered myself and went across the two lanes then found an exit and had to go back across them. I thought I was high and dry but amazingly (stupidly) found myself on the waihuan for the second time. Home late on this day sweaty and exhausted. Adventure over. Until next time.