It turns out there were some growing pains I needed to go through with my Chinese turn by turn GPS direction apps. Though I think that by the end of the day I got everything working quite smoothly it wasn’t so easy the whole day.
My final goal (originally, but more on that later) for today was to reach 扬州 (Yangzhou) a city just across the Yangtze, but before I headed there, I wanted to go through a city called 无锡 (Wuxi) that was supposed to have some nice tourist attractions and it was pretty much on the way. Luckily, I was able to get on the expressway leaving Shanghai (normally motorcycles aren’t allowed on but I assume Shanghai is similar to Beijing as they aren’t as strict about it), but then, nearly two thirds of the way to Wuxi, my GPS was telling me in Chinese in my headphones to get off the highway towards Suzhou (where we had visited by train a couple of days ago). Since most of the directional signs on the road were for the larger destination of Nanjing, I figured I shouldn’t argue and follow orders. Next thing I know, I’m taking a couple U-turns and I’m back on the expressway going back the way I came back to Shanghai! I had to go another 15 km in this direction before getting to an exit where I could turn around again, but of course now they wouldn’t let me on the expressway anymore.
The illogicalness of this rule, where they are basically applying a rule meant for little scooter motorcycles to all vehicles on two wheels, is generally quite annoying to me and the frustration with the GPS led me to try my luck arguing with the booth attendant who had run out in front of me frantically waving before I could go through the booth. I know it’s not their fault, but I still find it annoying that they arbitrarily decide that the highway is too dangerous, first saying its too fast and just ignore when I show them my speedometer and engine. It was worse when my GPS took me back to another highway again later (like I said, growing pains) and again after arguing for a couple minutes one of the attendants went wide eyed, whispered to the other (no doubt about my being foreign) and then they just started giggling as they were telling me I couldn’t go on the highway. Later I realized that it was quite flattering to my Chinese that they didn’t realize right away after I started talking that I was not actually Chinese, but at the time the giggling just got me more frustrated and so I quickly asked what they were laughing at and what the joke was. They tried to stifle their laughter, answered “nothing”, and then continued to tell me that I had to reverse back through traffic and then drive against traffic, through a traffic barrier, and off the highway because… THAT was safer.
Anyway, rant over. Wuxi was a really pretty city and I only wish I had more time to explore. It’s right on the side of a massive lake whose water was actually bright blue and clean looking. The roads along the side of the water made for the best riding I’ve had on this trip so far. For any motorcycle riders in Shanghai, I highly recommend Wuxi as a weekend trip to explore the roads and see the sites.
Two of the highest rated sites in the city were a massive Buddha statue and a temple area on the lake. After the GPS mishaps, I didn’t really have time to visit both, but I wanted to make the most of my time and explored anyway. My one complaint of Wuxi is that the sites are incredibly overpriced; the temple was over 100 RMB and the Buddha statue was over 200. That’s more than twice the entrance for the Great Wall and this statue wasn’t even old; it was only built 16 years ago! Thus, I didn’t go into either of the actual areas, but happily admired the views from outside, which was particularly alright in the case of the Buddha as it is 80m high and you can see it from the road 2km out.
Unfortunately the fiddling with the GPS, arguing with toll booth attendants, and meandering along lakeside roads and tourist attractions put me behind schedule, and even as I was leaving Wuxi with about 150km left the sun was starting on its way down. Soon I found myself driving in the dark before I was even 50km to the Yangtze crossing. As a result I ended my day early in a city on the south side of the river, Zhenjiang.
I’m staying in a Hanting hotel (they’re all over the place here) that’s trying really hard to be a youth hostel, which seems very out of place in this very Chinese city, right down the street from an extremely busy (and dirty) street market, on the side of a rundown and dusty road. The lobby looks like it could be in the West, with a pool and foosball tables, computer hubs, coffee machine, and pizza reataurant. I’ve also got some foreign neighbors, which was also unexpected in this out of the way city, that I met as I walked down the hallway to my room (the hallway being painted in bright colors with cartoons like in a kindergarten classroom). The two foreigners were chatting in front of their rooms both with bright blond hair, speaking some sort of Eastern European or Scandanavian language, both with massive samsungs in their hands and in nothing but their boxer briefs. I gave a neighborly hello and went on my way!
No time for fraternizing unfortunately. Time to get some rest now and just hoping all the kinks will be worked out of my navigation system for tomorrow!