Hitting Bottom on Day 11- Second To Last Day of The Trip
I think there comes a time for many ex-pats living in China, particularly those that don’t live in first tier cities like Beijing or Shanghai, where you sort of hit a psychological bottom and just want out. This usually happens as a result of being surrounded by a different culture, language, food, etc. from what you’re comfortable with from back home. With nearly two years and only 1 two week holiday back home though, I’ve been generally content with life in China. Today however, I think I finally felt like I had had enough.
The weather didn’t help much either as last night a dense cloud of pollution had descended upon the east coast of China. The road today (mainly G104) was under heavy construction too, so in addition to all the pollution, everything was covered in dust and dirt and it was miserable passing all the trucks barreling down this trail (or waiting behind them in traffic).
My 3rd Accident in China
As I sat down to lunch today listening to the guy next to me speaking unintelligible Chinese, sounding like the Swedish Chef from the Muppets or a version of Jaba the Hut on fast forward, and thinking about what today’s post was going to be about, I imagined it was likely going to focus on the accident I had had merely an hour prior to sitting down for my meal. The crazies were out in full force this morning in Anhui province as I had two scooter drivers swerve wildly right in front of me within about 30 minutes of each other. I managed to narrowly miss them each with a honk from my horn and a quick swerve into oncoming traffic. I wasn’t so lucky with number 3 unfortunately, but, believe it or not, this still wasn’t the worst of it.
I was driving down a relatively empty stretch of road, next to some open fields going about 80km/h, when quite a ways in front I saw one of those blue, Chinese motorcycle trailers start to turn into the road crossing perpendicular from the other side of the road. As a necessity for safe driving in China, I have formed the habit to always honk whenever there is any sudden action on the road the least bit suspicious, and so in this situation, I accordingly started to hold down my horn.
I’ve found that contrary to the problem in the West where the greatest danger is people not seeing you (there’s a great discussion going on on LinkedIn about this), the biggest problem in China seems to be that even when drivers see you, they tend to make the wrong decision. This unpredictability makes driving in China very dangerous, and has been the major cause of all 3 of my (luckily small) accidents here just as it was now with my friend in the three-wheeled motorcycle trailer. Despite about 100 meters of my honking in order to deter her from continuing to drive while holding down my brakes, the driver kept crossing at a steady pace, looking at me the whole time. I knew that trying to guess which action she would take was pointless so I focused on trying to reduce my speed as quickly and safely as possible. Long story short, I managed to slow down enough that there wasn’t any major damage to either of us, so after yelling a bit in Chinese and picking up my bike, with a sore left hip and elbow and scratched front fender, I was quickly on my way.
Apparently a Scooter Battery Wasn’t Enough to Get Me Back to Beijing
Of course this wasn’t the major event of the day because… my bike ran out of power… again. And this is when I hit bottom. As I pushed my bike to a nearby machinery shop asking if anyone could help while getting met primarily with blank stares, I couldn’t help but think that if this had been back home in the U.S. there would no doubt be someone on the road who rode bikes and/or knew someone that fixed them. I imagined the response going something like this:
Oh yeah, you know, come to think of it, Old Man Roberts down on Maple street has been working on Harleys and Hondas for 20 years. I’m sure he could help you. Let me give him a call for you. Have you eaten yet by the way? Let me get you a burger and a beer. I know that’s what I would want if I was broken down on the highway!
Finally I managed to prod enough in between answering questions about how fast my bike could go and how much it cost that someone finally spoke up to let me know that his brother had a car repair shop right across the street. (You couldn’t have told me that sooner??). We took it over and managed to narrow down the problem to the charging system which had resulted in the new battery I had bought yesterday being out of power. No one was proposing any solutions as they said they only had car parts. So I suggested that maybe we could hook up a car battery to the system and store it in my saddle bag. This should give me enough power to get me to Jinan where everyone said I would likely be able to find a motorcycle shop as there was none in the city we were in, Zoucheng.
Out of Cash
All of these issues, delays, and repairs though had started to weigh heavily on my wallet and I soon found that I was completely out of cash. The guy who brought me to the shop gave me a ride to the bank on his scooter which is where I realized I was basically out of money all together. I would have enough money for the battery but not even enough for gas to get back home.
Luckily this was solved easily enough as I was able to give Amy a call back in Beijing to see if she could transfer some money to my account, at least enough for me to get back home in one piece. So with that solved, I took out the rest of my cash to pay for the battery. After I paid for that, to add to my growing negative sentiment towards China, the guy that had given me the ride insisted that I should have to pay him for all the trouble he had gone through for me as he pretty much snatched 30RMB straight out from my hand, basically my change after paying for the battery and just about all the cash I had left before the transfer got through.
The No. 1 Motorcycle Club of Zou Cheng
But as with any sort of emotional or psychological bottom, there’s always gotta be a turn around. There’s nowhere left to go but up after all!
Before I go on, I just want to point out two things that I’ve learned about traveling since I’ve started doing long distance trips like this: 1) What happened next is proof of why I think it’s so important to know the local language in the place you’re traveling. You can meet so many interesting people and have such a different experience that way. It’s possible to communicate without this common ground, but I think the experience is much richer when you can communicate clearly with each other. 2) I’ve found that even though there are plenty of people like the guy who snatched the 30RMB from my hand in this world, there are also so many more that will surprise you and reinforce your faith in humanity. Trust to luck and the kindness of strangers and I think you’ll be surprised. Some of the most amazing experiences I’ve had while traveling have been those where I’ve put my fate completely in the hands of people I’ve never met.
As I was strapping the car battery on to the bike and getting ready to go, a guy drove up on a little dirt bike with his girlfriend to ask what happened. I sort of brushed it off as another local curious about the weird foreigner hanging around in this area and gave him a quick answer. I was surprised however when he answered that he knew a place in town that fixed motorcycles and that he would take me there. I was surprised especially because everyone around there thus far had told me there would be nothing in town and I’d have to drive on. He explained that actually it was a motorcycle club that he was a part of and there were guys even with big bikes like Harleys and BMWs so they would definitely be able to help. He told me to follow him and we’d get everything patched up.
I was hesitant at first, using my precious little power that I had left to follow a stranger in a direction I wasn’t familiar with on what was clearly an expensive motorcycle. But, as I said, sometimes you just have to hold your breath and trust to luck. And sure enough, after arriving at the shop and waiting for the mechanic to get in, we got the bike fixed. In a matter of minutes, he had taken off the side panel, found the burnt out rectifier (整流器 in Chinese for those who are interested), had it replaced and said I should be fine to get to Beijing at only a fraction of the cost of the battery (150RMB for the rectifier, 380 for the car battery plus 30 for my ‘friend’ and I didn’t even need the battery anymore).
To reinforce my recovering positive feelings for China, I was reminded just why I enjoy it here so much. Both the mechanic and the guy who had initially found me separately insisted that I come to dinner with them. It was going to be dark soon and too dangerous to ride. They said they’d help me find a hotel, introduce me to all the guys at the club, have a big dinner together, and all ride out with me in the morning. Well, things had turned out well so far, might as well keep going with it!
First, the guy who first found me, 小黑 translated as “Little Black”, took me to their club house which was a sort of high end motorcycle shop/body shop called the 蓝博万Motorcycle Club, which if you say those characters, “Lan Bo Wan”, quickly and muffled it sounds like “Number One” in English, thus, the No. 1 Motorcycle Club.
We hung out for about 20 minutes in front of the shop as I met some of the other guys, admired their bikes, and sort of recovered from all the stress of the day. Then Little Black offered me a ride in their car to check out a hotel and take out some money from the bank, leaving my bike and stuff at the shop. Again, I was a little hesitant, but… whadya gunna do!
Next thing, I had a great room at the local 7 Days Inn for the cheapest member’s rate, was able to take out money to pay for the hotel and the rectifier and packed my bike up for the night in their shop before going to dinner.
5 of us then packed into the car and started driving through the city as they tell me we’re heading to meet the mechanic at a restaurant for dinner. We’re driving down the street when all of a sudden the car pulls off the pavement and turns down a dirt road leading straight into the woods. “Ok, great. This is it now. I’m done for!” was all I could think to myself as we started climbing up a small mountain in the car. I asked where we were going and Little Black simply answered with a very friendly smile, “To the restaurant!”, to which I cautiously asked, “Up a mountain?” He explained that the guy who fixed my bike had got this piece of land on the mountain, cleared it, and built a restaurant there. He was excited too because he said that if I hadn’t shown up, none of them would be gathering for this meal.
Sure enough, we pulled into a big clearing where there were a few little huts and several bug net tents set up where the tables were setup. A couple other riders from the club joined us too as we had a massive feast of some really delicious local and fresh food. They also busted out the local liquor, a brand of Baijiu called 钢山酒, “Steel Mountain Liquor”, named after a nearby mountain. We had a good time drinking, eating, cheersing, and talking about things like the differences between America and China, what I liked about life in China, what I didn’t like, etc. We also talked about how fortunate it was that we had met and how motorcycle riders from all around the world are part of the same community and should help each other out.
There is a word in Chinese that doesn’t have a good direct translation in English that was perfect to describe the situation as they explained it. The word is 缘分，yuan fen, which essentially describes a situation where fate or chance has brought people together and also implies the establishing of a long-lasting, enduring friendship as a result.
After drinking some more, driving to another restaurant to meet yet more riders from the No. 1 Motorcycle Club and have another beer, I was dropped off at my hotel to rest up for the next day’s ride.
My Motorcycle Escort For My Final Day On The Road
I was picked up bright and early the next day in front of the 7 Days Inn and driven to the club house. I grabbed a quick breakfast of soup and beef noodles before we gathered all the bikes together. We had been discussing the plan a bit the night before and some of the guys mentioned, that though it’s generally not allowed, they could probably get me onto the expressway which would allow me to ride the remaining 500+km home in a day. We finalized the plan as several more riders arrived and we gathered the bikes together for a photo.
As we suited up, they explained that they would take me to the entry ramp to the expressway, but probably wouldn’t be able to get on, so when we got there, I should just ignore the toll attendant and just drive through.
We drove through the city and the surrounding area as we wound our way to the expressway entrance. The weather, to reflect the mood, was much improved from the day before with the pollution completely gone, blue skies, and no dust either! It was good fun riding around with everyone but then as we rode up to the toll booth, someone started walking over. They gestured to me to quickly go around the barrier as they started talking to the attendant. I honked my goodbye, waved and soon was going up the ramp. I managed to get a video of all this which I’ve attached below.
I was very surprised however when about 5 minutes later I looked in my mirror and all of a sudden saw a couple of the BMWs ripping up the road behind me. They must have talked the attendant into letting them accompany their new foreign friend down the highway for a bit because soon everyone had caught up. We stopped by the side of the road as they explained that they would ride to the next exit, about 20km ahead, with me and then after I should just take the left turn. We said our goodbyes again as they told me I should give a call if I was ever in Shandong and to visit soon as I could while I insisted that they needed to come visit in Beijing.
We drove down the road together for the next 20km and then at the turn I honked my goodbye again and took off down the G2 up towards Beijing.
It was smooth driving from their on as I was able to make great time on the expressway, going about 110-120km/h the whole way. The attendants at the couple of tolls I had to go through seemed extremely confused with how to deal with this foreigner on a motorcycle, both things being extremely strange to see on a Chinese expressway, and in most cases they just let me through without paying. Of course, once I got to Beijing, they weren’t as startled and decided I needed to pay the maximum of 80RMB or so plus a card deposit for the toll. Not too bad though for getting home a day early, so after grumbling for a while and trying to argue, I paid and entered the city limits, where Beijing greeted me with a welcoming and all to familiar traffic jam, all the way the final 30km back home!
Video of My Send Off Ride With The Club
Finally, here’s a quick video of the the club members escorting me to and on the expressway. Many thanks to everyone down at the No.1 Motorcycle Club in Zoucheng. What an amazing experience. You can watch the video below or on our Youku page here.