China: Getting there and Driving to my Destination
Flying to a major city in China is remarkably easy. I flew straight to Shanghai from Newark. The first question I get from people is “How long is the flight?” My answer: “Only 14 hours!” Does that fact alone stop people from visiting one of the most interesting countries on the planet? Probably! It shouldn’t. That wasn’t the longest flight I’ve ever taken. That was my flight from LA to Sydney Australia which was about 16 hours. A little discomfort is a small price to pay for seeing incredible places. My flight to China on a jumbo jet was mostly unoccupied as it was January 31, right after the Chinese New Year had already begun. Had I left a day or two before it would have been a packed flight. If you want to see China in all its glory, go around their New Year’s holiday which lasts up to two weeks.
I was greeted at the airport by Li Fong Shi and Goyu, two men who would be among my primary hosts and friends during my 17 day trip. Both are big, jovial men. They were the opposite of my image of Chinese people as being slight of build, quiet, reserved, and intellectual. These men love to laugh and joke around often irreverently. Neither speak any English. Li is in the construction business specializing in high rises and city developments and Goyu is a distributor of large oxygen tanks. We were going to their home base, the City of Taizhou, in Zhejiang Province, about 4 hours south of Shanghai. Perhaps the most well-known city in Zhejiang is Hangzhou, a prosperous city where a conference of world leaders was held recently. It’s most famous landmark is West Lake. More on that in another installment. Zhejiang natives are remarkably welcoming, friendly, and happy people.
Highways in China are modern and fast. They are mostly toll roads. Signs are in both Mandarin and English. In a sign of the old and the new I saw a trailer truck full of hogs on their way to slaughter followed by a trailer loaded with Mercedes. Rest stops along the highways in China are fascinating. There you could find fresh produce, handcrafts, and surprisingly delicious home-style food. At one such stop there was a whimsical statue celebrating the “Tzunza” (spelled phonetically), a pyramid of sticky rice held up by figures of 3 Chinese boys on each end. There was an inscription of something to the effect of “life is good” on the base of the statue.
When one stops at a gas station to fill up in China the attendant is most likely a female. The transactions, as were most that I witnessed during my visit, were in cash. At one of the stations there was a big sign announcing itself as the “U-Smile” stop in English.
Passenger cars and SUVs in China most likely have a tassle hanging from the windshield near the rear-view mirror. The Chinese are also fond of seat covers, some of them looking quite custom and luxurious.
On the way to our destination in his Hyundai SUV Li Fong Shi opened his driver’s side window and made a motion to spit out some phlegm. Chinese men do spit a lot, sometimes in the most public of places (like on the floor of a restaurant which I saw once!) Then he stopped himself from completing the act and rolled the window back up because I was in the car. Throughout my stay in China people were conscious of my western sensibilities and tried to make me as comfortable as possible.