Day 6 – 10/20/2011

Shanghai – Hangzhou

1001 Nights in China – from the pulsating commerce of Shanghai to Hangzhou on the banks of a lake that looks like a classic Chinese watercolor. As long as all goes well at the police checkpoint in the afternoon and dinner at the 1001 Restaurant is accompanied by a graceful dancer, then the fifth day of the Audi Q3 Trans China Tour counts as another good day. And it is the perfect first day for the new drivers.

Pictures day 6

The sun is not shining quite as brightly as it was on the first four days, with a slight haze hanging over Shanghai. The gleaming white Audi Tour Terminal shines nevertheless. It stands directly on the Bund, opposite the world-famous Shanghai skyline and waits patiently for the participants of the next stages. Journalists have arrived from Germany, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Slovakia and Slovenia in order to get a little more familiar with the vast Chinese empire, Audi’s second home.

The first nine months of this year saw Audi sell no less than 226,010 cars here, marking an increase of 29.2 percent. This is likely to grow to more than 300,000 by the end of the year. And China is an important pillar of Audi’s future growth strategy, too. For one thing, one can be certain that the market for premium automobiles is set to develop very positively in future due to the increasing standard of living – notwithstanding the current stagnation of the overall market. And, for another, this land has not yet been fully covered by Audi’s distribution network. There are less than 200 sales outlets here – and China has 175 cities of over one million inhabitants! The next few years will see the distribution network doubled and, in view of China’s sheer scale, this is far from being overkill.

On its fifth day, the Trans China Tour begins and ends in cities that are already part of Audi’s core market. In Shanghai, it’s always rush hour. The new participants are driving their first kilometers in this country, and they have plenty of opportunity to get used to the traffic conditions of a major Chinese city. Patience is the order of the day at one or two stop lights – some of which count down the seconds to the next green phase. That said – the traffic flow and orientation here, too, is a lot more straightforward than expected.

The province through which we are traveling today bears the name Zhejiang, and it is one of the smallest administrative regions in China. Nevertheless, not only is the coastline of Zhejiang wild and craggy, it is also by far the longest of all the provinces at 6,500 kilometers. Thanks to its excellent trading location on the East China Sea, Zhejiang is extremely wealthy. Inland shipping also has a long tradition in this fertile region – in early times, foodstuffs were shipped to the undersupplied north on the Emperor’s Canal, also known as the Great Canal. At its southern end, parts of this historical waterway run almost parallel to the highway. It goes without saying that today’s program features yet another superlative. At a length of 35,673 meters, the Hangzhou Bay Bridge is the world’s longest ocean bridge, with a floating island functioning as a service station half way across.

And now it’s time for a few words on China’s traffic police. Because they are – and this surprises all of the participant from the West – far more relaxed than expected. If you overtake one of the geriatric VW Santanas with blue and red lights driven by law enforcement, even if your speed is a little higher than it should be, the gentlemen in uniform remain cool. Even if you drive by accident through a bright red stoplight in front of a police officer, he remains cool. Naturally, it’s not advisable to provoke them, but after a few days of driving routine, the gentlemen responsible for traffic control no longer seem threatening.

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But be careful – when they do take action, they are extremely motivated. A few drivers from the tour experience that directly for themselves today. The police like to monitor highway service stations. But on the whole, they don’t appear to have much to do - which makes it even better when a car approaches bearing a driver with a clearly western physiognomy. Something you have to know in China is that foreigners must undergo a long and arduous process to obtain a drivers’ license. The exception is provisional licenses that are valid for only three months – as possessed by every one of the Audi Q3 drivers.

However, our police officer at the service station near the city of Ningbo had apparently never seen such a license before. In any event, in the course of his vehicle check, he immediately identifies the license as a forgery and confiscates it, complete with passport and vehicle key. He then goes through the same process with two more Audi Q3s. Naturally, the man in uniform doesn’t understand English, while the slightly surprised driver is equally lacking in Chinese. Tour chaperones arrive and attempt negotiation, while all involved talk endlessly and nervously on their cell phones.

Finally, the officer decides on interrogation at headquarters and orders the Chinese Tour chaperones to follow him in the three Audi vehicles with all the foreigners as passengers – to the impressively imposing Ningbo police station. Further phone calls ensue until the police officer is finally brought up to speed that the plastic cards carried by the “lao wai”, the foreigners, are in order. Everything is now okay and he returns all the documents to one of the Tour chaperones. However, this comes with the condition that the Europeans are no longer allowed to drive themselves. Not today – or, at least, not where he can see them. The police officer has to keep face and is certainly not going to admit to a mistake.

And so all 20 of the Audi Q3s make it to Hangzhou, the destination for today and surely one of China’s most beautiful cities. If you stand at the West Lake, which is directly at the city center, you once more find yourself in the middle of picture postcard scenery. Behind the meadows around the banks of the 500 hectare lake rise green hills, dotted with characteristic pagodas. On the water, small boats cruise lazily by – idyllic. The Q3 group sails on some of these boats to dinner, which is accompanied by the graceful movements of a young dancer. China from its most beautiful side.

Day 6

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