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June 5, 2011
Rapture

It’s official. Rapture did occur. We are in Beijing at the beautiful, modern, Regent Hotel. Five star by any U.S. standard. We just went down to the breakfast buffet. The most magnificent food spread I have ever seen. Can you gain weight in heaven? Beijing food easily matches Parisian food! And this is prepaid. You can see we are really roughing it on this part of our trip. Is this glorious start so that we have good memories while crossing the Gobi or parts of Kazakhstan? I can only say, sign up with a tour with MIR corporation and Doug Grimes. You won’t go wrong.

How we got to heaven: Nope, we weren't transported on a cloud, we were in barely-business class on American airlines. Raleigh-Durham to Chicago then an additional 13 and a half hours more from Chicago to Beijing. The international part was fine, but the domestic leg, which they labeled as first-class, had a choice of chicken or pasta — what I remember as standard fare in cabin class just a few years ago.

Beijing feels very foreign, which I like. Our hotel has a Bentley dealership downstairs, and Ferrari, Mercedes and Rolls, just steps away. Not a typical U.S. intercity! Our hotel is luxurious. The wall between the bedroom and bathroom one great big pane of glass, floor to ceiling, and head to toe. With full view of the free-standing bathtub . Another wall is a gigantic mirror. Is this a typical businessman’s hotel? You won’t surprise a maid here!

The city streets are clean but this morning there is a huge haze over everything and somehow I don’t think this is fog. I won’t need my hat to prevent sunburn. The hotel room has an opening window, but the inside air is transparent, so I’m not opening it. We did notice on our cab ride from the airport that most road signs are in Chinese and English. That is a relief. I only need to convince Doug that leaving Beijing on Wednesday should be at 12:20 a.m. Traffic was moderate and polite. I’m not quite so scared of driving here now, but let’s see what today brings.

I’m trying to learn enough local customs so as not to offend. I’ve learned to give and receive credit cards and business cards with two hands and a slight bow of the head accompanies this. I am very excited about today’s plan to visit The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Temple of Heaven — all within walking distance from our hotel. Photos later. Monday well be the Great Wall. And in between, more wonderful food!

Stewball is not yet out of quarantine. Are they worried about the dreaded Beetle virus?

Happy in Bejing,

Ed

June 7, 2011
Stewball's Not In China

Well, not officially. Today was a day of patience with the Chinese bureaucracy. Hurry up and wait. Many of you had asked, where would our cars be when we got to China, Beijing, a port city? We actually didn’t know, but now we do. Those of us who had to get Chinese driver’s licenses and pick up our cars, left the hotel in Beijing at 7:30 for the 2 and a half hour drive to Tianjin to the police station there to “take the test” to get our license and then on to the port to get the cars. Piece of cake. Well, no.

We did arrive at the police station fairly on time. The traffic is always a problem and timing is an approximate thing we now know. We were ushered into a conference room where we sat, waiting.

Police station in Tianjin. We were finally greeted with great friendliness and a lovely young policewoman went over information about driving in China. Mainly, be careful and have a good journey — complete with smiles. As far as we know, that was our test. I guess we paid enough attention and smiled back. Now we actually don't know, because the next step is taking the cars back for inspection and tags and that didn't happen yesterday. Since we were going to have to wait for the paper work to be completed, we are headed to the port to get the cars. They were there. It was a real joy to see them open the containers and find out all were in good shape and running. Ed drove Stewball out of shipping container.

Then we waited, this time for the customs inspector. He did come, but finally at 4:30 p.m. we learned that the paper work would not be completed yet and we were told to put the cars in their warehouse for the night. So, tomorrow we have  do this all over again. We will leave the hotel at 7:30 a.m., this time drive directly to the port, hopefully receive the paperwork for our cars and then drive them to the police station to receive our licenses and tags for the cars. We will see.

We are now already a day behind schedule. We’re not sure where we will spend this next night as it will be well after 3:00 before we are done today. Once we do get the cars out, we will have to wait until 1:30 when the police are back from lunch to proceed. It is a 1 and a half hour drive from the port to Tianjin and of course none of this is in the direction of Datong, our supposed night stop.

Stay tuned for the next part of this exciting adventure. When time permits, I’ll tell you about climbing on the Great Wall, what an experience that was.

We seem to be the only ones that can post on a blog directly.

Others, including the World Race blog are blocked and must email their blogs to the US and get someone to post them. No one knows why. But if you don’t hear from us, don’t worry.

Waiting and more waiting,

Jan and Ed

June 9, 2011
Rollin'

All the I's have been dotted, T's crossed. The proper stamps are in place and we were able to leave the port on June 8. Here we are lined up to leave, Stewball’s last, I wonder why? Something special about his engine?

We have our driver’s licenses, but I must add, there was a glitch in Ed getting his. More on that later. Stewball has his car tag displayed in the front window and I even have my first flower in my bud vase!

All this did take until 4:30 on June 8 and you will see why I am behind in these blogs. Doug had to modify our route and distance since there was no way we could make Datong. Jack needs to drive 50 miles per hour to break in his engine and adding the miles from the port to Beijing on the already 261 miles from Beijing to Datong, we couldn’t make it. So, Plan B went into effect. Only problem, well, one of the problems is many of the highways are used at night by all the truck traffic. Now this is another one of those contrasts in China. We see mostly new cars and mostly old trucks, overloaded and straining. They break down regularly, blocking lanes. So as the evening wore on, it was us and more trucks than I have even seen on highways in the US. Bumper to bumper and going somewhere very slowly. I have never encountered such traffic jams. I don’t have photos  but this is a must see, so sometime soon I will get some and post them. I didn’t get any for two reasons, it was clear that we were not getting into any hotel until well after dark, so I was driving. Long story short, we finally reached our modified destination at 1:30 a.m. Now those who know us this is not a good thing. We don’t do night. I can’t begin to explain the exhaustion. But the other side was that we needed to be up and on the road at 9:00 since we now had a second long day to drive to get us back on schedule.

Here we are at Hotel Xuan Hua pretending we are rested, ready to start the day. Don’t be fooled.

Now let me say, we are really enjoying the Chinese. They are most friendly, and curious about our cars. Every stop they appear from nowhere, gather around and start talking. It doesn’t seem to matter that we have no common language, they are great at gesturing, signing and nodding. They laugh when Ed shows them the engine in the rear. Air cooled Beetles seem to be most unusual here. But here are some more contrasts we have noticed.

We drove on a new highway. China seems to have construction everywhere. Housing, buildings and roads. As we traveled along on this nearly deserted highway (it wasn’t even in our GPS) we were quickly passed by a 700 series BMW, then looked to the right to see a farmer walking behind his mule plowing his field with a hand plow. These rural antiquated scenes are everywhere. China seems to have one foot firmly planted in their 2000-year-old past and the other scrambling to catch up and pass the present.

There is so much more to tell, like city driving. This would take an entire blog, but picture dodging the bicycles, electric scooters and pedestrians who haven’t heard of rules of the road. They come at you from all directions. As a driver it is a challenge to avoid them all, especially at night, entering a city.

We will see what today's drive to Xi'an brings.

Jan

June 11, 2011
Cars and Warriors or Warrior Cars

We have been in China a week now. We don’t travel today so my “flower photo” is from the Tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, the site some of us visited today. What really is famous is the 7,000 terra cotta warriors that were uncovered in 1974 by some farmers digging a well. There are probably several thousands more warriors and horses, but these are the numbers that have been restored. Quite an impressive sight, all lined up facing East, the direction Huang expected the enemy to attack from.

Our trip here included our first car breakdown in China. Clay’s 32 Ford developed a noise inside the break drum (after a rather intense ride on very rough roads through a small town). He also lost power and finally stopped along the road. He didn’t make the sightseeing trip and instead has been working on his car all day today. He discovered a screw loose inside the break drum and had that fixed. Additionally, he has been working on carburation and may need to replace the distributor cap but that will have to wait until later when the engine is cool.

We all sat by the side of the road while Clay was able to do a roadside repair to get into the hotel. While sitting, I was able to capture another one of China’s contrasts. This farmer herding his buffalo while pulling a wagon with his wife. Is the Buffalo too important to pull the wagon? This occurred while we were sitting on the side of a six-lane divided highway. 

Then after Clay got going, Stewball didn’t want to start. We had just refueled. Bad fuel? Vapor lock? It was very hot and we didn’t think to open the engine compartment while sitting. Something we will now always do. Our tour manager Anvar, who is from Uzbekistan, offered a solution based on his experience. He placed a cloth with cool water on the fuel pump. We won’t know what worked, but we were running in about 5 minutes.

Ed didn’t go to Huang’s tomb, but spend quality time with Stewball.

From Ed:  I had several items to deal with today, some of long-standing. This has been our first full day off since leaving N.Y. city. The horn is badly needed here. It’s true, to deal with bikes, other vehicles and pedestrians, the Chinese drive with their horns and I must too. Ours was only working on the right side of the steering wheel, and if I have the wheels turned, it is hard to find the right spot when needed quickly. The right door armrest had come detached, making it necessary to wind down the window to close the door firmly, and I brought along new windshield wiper blades to change out. The automatic choke is not working, but with the heat, that’s not important. The secondary roads — we experienced yesterday — are rough enough to shake anything loose, and the Beetle and the 32 Ford don’t seem happy with the fuel. What percentage ethanol? Nobody knows.

Some of the group are having personal health breakdowns as well. Tom has gone to the hospital with some serious swelling in one leg, Anvar has a swollen hand from what appears to be a bite, Ed Gavin has a cut on his arm that won’t quit bleeding and has gone to the hospital as well and Ed Howle now has stomach cramps!

More from the road to Paris.

June 12, 2011
Breakdowns: Cars and People

Departing today for Pingliang, near Kongtong Mountian, 330 km. Only part of this will be on highways, the last 100 km will be secondary roads. If these are anything like our earlier experience it will be a challenge. We can expect to compete with trucks, bicycles, mule-drawn carts and electric scooters. Then throw in a few sheep herds and shepherds.

Cars are ready to run today but who knows what we can expect. After working nearly all day cleaning or replacing most everything, Clay says he still has two valves that are sticking. Jack ran into problems at the end of the day yesterday when he started up just to make sure all was well. He heard a valve tapping noise and discovered somehow a screw had worked loose from the carburetor and had injested the engine. Will this cause a problem on this next run?

Stewball seems ready, just this morning, Ed has changed the air intake flapper valves to draw in only outside air and not the heated engine air. Maybe this will keep the engine running cooler.

The bad news today really isn’t these annoying car problems. Tom will go home. His leg is infected from a broken blister on his foot. At a minimum this would require IV antibiotics and a prolonged stay in Xi’an. The other option is to fly home. He has opted to have one more treatment at the hospital and fly home. Just so you know, Tom is not driving a car. He drove the support vehicle for the Studebaker in the U.S. and is continuing the trip riding in one of the support vans through Asia and Europe. We are all really sorry he must go, he had so looked forward to this part of the trip. We will make sure we take photos for him and send lots of postcards.

From the road to Paris,

Jan

June 12, 2011
Road Problems

Jeff rode in Stewball from Xi’an to Pingliang. He plans to ride in each car on this trip and write the World Race blog that day with the focus on that team. Go to world-race.net and read Jeff’s impression of us. I haven’t done that yet.  We tried to be really good yesterday!

Jeff was hoping we would provide a “bicycle on the hood” story similar to the one Schuster encountered in 1908 when a Frenchman hosted his bicycle onto the Flyer to provide the necessary two headlights for the car when they approached Paris. We have been kidding that someone is going to end up with a bicycle on the hood in China when one of the many bikes encounters one of  our cars. We didn’t do that, so far, we have avoided them all, but we did give him something to write about.

China has many toll roads. After leaving lunch, we approached yet another one as we left town and took to the highway again. The lead van took a ticket — this was an automatic ticket dispenser, then Clay in his Ford. I was driving, and after I took mine, two toll booth clerks, suddenly appeared (from where?) one on each side of the car, waving their arms and shouting in Chinese. Of course I had no idea what to do, but the young lady took my ticket from my hand and the man gestured for me to back up. He wouldn’t let me go through the booth and turn around. I had to back up. Now, there were three other cars behind me, so backing wasn’t so quick and easy. Jack ran into a drum set up to help you avoid the toll booth. This produced more shouting and arm waving. fortunately at this point our local Chinese guide came up and learned that they wanted our car tag and my driver’s license. We are supposed to display the tag on the dash in the front window. Since Stewball has no dashboard, we just keep it in our “necessary box” in the foot of the car. After much discussion — I think they were quite confused with our cars, all was deemed well, the ticket taker gave me a new ticket and we were on our way again. It did cause some moments of anxiety. There is no way a Westerner can understand the sounds of Chinese, but the body language was clear! 

Cars? Everyone made the run but Clay’s Ford is still backfiring and once lost power. Both Jack in his Model A and Clay had a hard time getting up a very steep ramp into the parking lot. We will see what adventure comes next. At least our night was at a luxurious resort in Pingliang. A wonderful stop.

Next to Lanzhou,

Jan and Ed

Ed and Janet Howle

Ed and Janet Howle are avid adventurers and authors embarking on a 14,000 mile journey.

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