Apr 11, 2009

Road trips

After you've lived in China for a while, you get accustomed to the seemingly chaotic traffic. You might decide to get a local driver's license and do some exploring. What are the differences and similarities between a road trip in the US and China? Of course in China, you'll not have Tom Green to keep you company (BTW, did you see how pudgy he is these days on Celebrity Apprentice?). Here's what else you can expect.

Stuff that's cheaper
  • Insurance and gas are a little less than in the US.
  • Parking is much cheaper compared to a big cities like Chicago or San Francisco. Usually, you can park wherever you want for free, even blocking the entire sidewalk, and no one will bother you.
Stuff that's expensive
  • Highways in China are mostly toll roads, and they can be expensive. The toll roads from Beijing to Qingdao average 11 cents per mile.
  • Comparatively, driving the Mass Pike from the New York state line to Logan airport in Boston averages around 4 cents per mile in tolls. This makes driving on toll roads in China about three times more expensive.
  • The toll highways in China are nice and smooth. You get your money's worth.
  • You need to plan out your gas stops in advance in China. Sometimes, you'll not see a working gas station for a half hour or more at a time.
  • You also need to bring sufficient food with you. In the US, you've got Cracker Barrels, Waffle Houses, In-n-Outs, Carl's Juniors, and so on every few miles. In China, you'd think they'd have some popular chains, like Yoshinoya ( 吉野家), Ajisen noodles (味千拉面), maybe even a 7-11 at a gas station, but there's absolutely nothing except for the rare cafeteria attached to a gas station here and there. The closest thing I've seen in the US would be the interstates in the remote areas of Utah and Montana.
  • Navigation in China is harder than in the US, and it has nothing to do with reading Chinese characters. Exit names and interchanges on the highway are often listed only once. There are many large trucks in the right-hand lanes in China, often blocking a critical sign. Lots of times you'll blow by some critical information that was obscured by a truck, and you won't even know it. In the US, I think those car GPS devices are completely unnecessary, but in China, I'd seriously consider getting one.
  • When you're speeding down I-5 to Los Angeles, you've always gotta be on the lookout for the filth. In China, though, there's not one cop with a radar gun along the highway. What they do have in China is quite a few speeding cameras. It's unclear how speeding violations get processed across provincial lines, and how much over the threshold you need to be to have a ticket sent to you.
Fellow motorists
  • The ratio of inconsiderate motorists on the highways in California and in China is very similar. In California, you've generally got two groups: the unsafe and reckless speeders, and the slow pokes who linger in the passing lane. In China, mostly you have large trucks that linger in the passing lane at half of the posted speed limit. You've also got the group of Audi or other tinted window car drivers. They think that the 4-ways are for driving at high speeds to let others know you're coming, and they pass traffic unsafely without signaling.


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