Day 7 – 10/21/2011

Hangzhou – Fuzhou

The Chinese love fireworks. After all, it was they who discovered them, and they never miss an opportunity to set off a couple of firecrackers and rockets – so why not use them as a way to pass time in highway congestion? Aside from an involuntary and complete standstill in the afternoon, a lot of distance was covered today through mountainous countryside and from major city to major city. Again and again, the tour passes enormous new residential developments that have either just been completed or are still under construction.

Pictures day 7

Awaiting the participants in the Audi Q3 Trans China Tour today is a stage that demands a healthy degree of endurance – the destination is 640 kilometers away. However, it is almost impossible to get lost along the way – the convoy plots a consistently southerly course on the highway, some of which is well built and some of it less so, although some participants opt to take a little detour along the country roads between the rice paddies.

Hangzhou, this morning’s starting point, is one of China’s up-and-coming “in” cities. With a population of around two million, it is in a very scenic area and not too far from Shanghai, which is why there is currently a great deal of investment flowing into the area. Every second block along the West Lake is surrounded by building fence with billboards announcing the imminent arrival of luxury apartment buildings or retail brand outlets ranging from Armani through Versace.

On the roads are further indicators of the growing level of wealth here – Audi’s of course picture heavily, with occasional sightings of an A5 Cabriolet or an R8. Bentley and Lamborghini have successful sales outlets here. And even the Japanese low-volume brand Mitsuoka is represented with its sports cars and retro models, all of which somehow look like caricatures of themselves. This brand really does exist – the elaborate showroom in Hangzhou is living proof.

The journey starts with a drive over a two-storey steel bridge to the west bank of the Qiatang Jiang and onward out of the densely populated city area. It is fair to say that the outskirts are not exactly lovely, but this applies pretty much the world over. In China, however, it takes on another dimension altogether. This drive out of Hangzhou once more delivers the familiar image of this tour – left and right of the highway new suburbs are springing up everywhere. These high-rise forests have just been completed or are still under construction. Most are framed with typical bamboo scaffolding and some are already discernable as ruins before they are even completed.

The standard new construction in China appears to have around 30 floors, with perhaps five apartments per floor, and is laid out in tightly packed bundles of 15 to 20 buildings. There are so close together that you could perfectly well run a washing line from one building to another. And then, a couple of hundred meters away, the next ten-pack is put up. As big as the country might be, space is still unbelievably tight in the cities. At this rate of urbanization and population movement it is clear that every announcement of a city’s population is outdated as soon as it is printed.

But even the suburbs disappear eventually in the rear view mirror, and the omnipresent network of glittering rivers and canals of the Yangtze Delta turns into a hilly, even mountainous landscape – although, unfortunately, it spends the entire morning shrouded by a milky light. The high-speed road winds through narrow valleys and over and through a succession of bridges and tunnels. The Audi Q3 scores extremely well for its fleet-footed and agile handling. The density of speed measurement devices here is very high and, thanks to a slightly heavy right foot on the part of some participants, there are regular flashes. Whether photos actually result, however, will remain a secret forever. Police sirens and female voices in tunnels issue constant reminders to drive carefully, as do some police car mock-ups at the side of the road.

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The blossoming port city of Wenzhou (with at least three million inhabitants) lies about halfway along today’s stage. The city is home to a large number of factories making textiles and shoes for export. A little outside the city of Fuding (very small, not even one million inhabitants), the 20 Samoa orange Audi Q3s of the Trans China Tour 2011 cross the provincial border into Fujian. Some parts of the coastline of this mountainous region are less than 200 kilometers from the island of Taiwan. Fujian is known for its sub-tropical climate – while it can be extremely cold in winter, the months from June to August have very high temperatures and stifling humidity. This province is regularly subject to very heavy rainfall and typhoons. But today all is peaceful, although the humidity marks a clear difference in the climate compared with days previous.

The provincial capital of Fuzhou marks the end of today’s stage. It is at least a mid-sized city, with a population of perhaps seven million, and profits from the sizable investments made by neighboring Taiwan. A host of shopping malls and several high-end restaurants indicate a certain level of wealth. From the upper floors of the centrally situated Shangri-La Hotel, there is a very good view of Wuyi Square with its huge statue of Mao Zedong.

But you have to get there first. Only the first vehicles on the tour manage it without problem. All the others are lost for a couple of hours in a variety of traffic jams just outside of the city. The cause was simply a road closure by the police. It turns out that the Vietnamese Foreign Minister is visiting the provincial capital and he has to be chauffeured from the airport along empty roads.

What follows is a crash course in “driving in China”. As soon as even the tiniest forward movement is made, the drivers of the heavily loaded, ancient trucks go into battle for every available meter as if they were competing for pole position in Monaco. Anyone bothered by the elephant races conducted by European drivers should spend ten minutes behind three filthy, smoking and worryingly creaking Chinese heavy goods vehicles fighting over two tight lanes of traffic while crawling uphill...

Most Chinese take this in their stride and in a more communicative spirit than the German for example. They get together for a chat, have a smoke, unpack something to eat - and perhaps also take a firework or two out of the trunk of a small car, as one of the Audi drivers experienced. A couple of firecrackers, a few rockets sent skywards, that’s how to turn traffic congestion into a very different experience.

Tomorrow, the Trans China Tour drives another 325 kilometers to Xiamen (mid-sized, with around four million inhabitants).

Day 7

Day 1