Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The drive to Xichang

Google maps is not normally very accurate about driving times in China. Our experience has been that they over estimate by as much as 25%. This past two long drives (sunday and yesterday) we found that they grossly underestimate. Sunday we got stuck behind a bus-truck collision and then in massively bad traffic on the freeway. It took 11 hrs for what google thinks is a 9 hr drive and we have done in 7.5 hrs. Then yesterday was the kicker. It was stated as a 10 hr drive from Chengdu to Xichang and 3 on to Yanyuan. We know it's another 1ish from yanyuan to Yangjuan. So we thought (innocently) that we may be able to do this all in 1 day. WRONG!

The drive started out with bad luck - we couldn't figure out how to get on the freeway. However, that is a common problem because the maps, roads, and intersections aren't well marked and don't have consistent signs. Sometimes english is translated, sometimes transliterated from Chinese. Sometimes there is no English. Signs are behind trees, 50 ft from the exit you need. Highways are numbered only on major intersection signs and on some maps. Most intersections are labeled by a bridge name, not the street names. Yikes.

So we got on the highway and drove well until the highway ended (expected) about 2 hrs from Chengdu. We then hit major construction and traffic and a really bad road. At one point we ended up on a bridge where asphalt had just been laid on the right side. Innocently enough we decided it was ok to drive on the right side (not seeing signs otherwise) but we got stopped by some workers who told me it was an RMB 500 ($75) fine for this infraction but he'd give us a discount to 300. I told him we wouldn't pay it and he said if he called his boss it would be 1000. I persisted and at one point Josh hailed some cops (wrong type. They weren't traffic cops) who told him to let me go. He told me he'd take 100 and I insisted on a receipt, which he wouldn't give me. I told him (and the cops) that I wouldn't give him money without a receipt because it would just go to his pockets. He called the bosses. They came over after about 15 minutes and took some pictures of our infraction. I explained the situation and the bribe attempt and they made him let us go. It all took nearly an hour and it was a little frightening and annoying, but I stayed reasonably calm. It was clear we had done no damage to the road and everyone knew that, and the man was just hoping to hit up the wealthy white people.

The road was pretty bad for a long time. WE drove over a few passes, through a closed basin (lots of sediment fill - kind of cool) and at one point got a flat tire. We used the pump we bought to give to the Yangjuan school for soccer balls to pump the tire up enough to get to a repair shop where the thorough guy charged us RMB 20 to check 2 tires, repair one, and pump both up. Pretty good. We had dinner at about 9 pm at a road side place run by a lovely young woman with a 2 month old daughter. Then got in to Xichang at about 10:15 and found a very nice hotel for only 128/room. It even has internet.

To add to the good ending for the day, I found out this morning that a paper from my dissertation got accepted!

We're off to Yanyuan and Yangjuan today. I will try to post mobile updates from my iphone.

amanda :)

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