After some extremely frustrating and stressful weeks we left Shanghai early in the morning for our first leg.

June 6th, 2014, 8am

We spent our last night in Shanghai at a friend’s place on the outskirts of Shanghai where there is plenty of room for us to organize and pack the car before we depart.

After a good night sleep we met our mandatory guide for the first time at about 8.15 AM. Our car only has two seats, so were hoping to be able to skip the guide after all, but that didn’t work. China provided us with a very small guide 1.50 meter tall. Yoyo is a friendly 25-year old Chinese who ideed fits perfectly in the back of our car. Although we still have no idea why we have to have a guide in our car, we could have been worse off, we feel. Yoyo seems to understand our position and doesn’t talk unnecessary. In fact she’s very helpful and doesn’t complain at all. She’s always cheerful.

That came in handy when after only about 200 kilometers of driving a warning light turned on on our dashboard. Soon after the light came on white smoke started to appear from under the hood, so we quickly pulled over at the highway. Luckily we were very close to a service area, where Yoyo immediately ran to. After 20 minutes or so she appeared again in a mechanics car. We were flabbergasted by such quick action.

With help of the service guy we managed to start our car again. Carefully and very slowly we drove to the garage at the service area. It turned out the lid on the radiator was broken and leaking which caused another lid to loosen where all the coolant escaped after which the radiator overheated. Everything was quickly fixed while we were having one of our last authentic Chinese lunches, so we didn’t lose too much time.

But it seems not everything is 100% okay, since we now think our airconditioning system is broken and might have caused some of the problems. So we try to get that fixed in Beijing, before we head into the Gobi-desert later in the week. Already temperatures here in the north are climbing to 30 grades Celsius and above.

Luckily, despite the problems today, we arrived at our desired first stop: Tai’an, a little over half way between Shanghai and Beijing. Tai’a, is a medium sized city with no particular interests. The hotel we’re staying just off the highway is very large and new but without any guests. I think we’re the first guests in the room we’re staying, so I’m amazed that the water from the shower is going everywhere except down. Brand new but broken from the start. How in earth do these things keep happening in China?

Anyway, we’re tired, but very relieved that after driving 770 kilometers today we’re in our hotel. The first day was very eventful and we attracted a lot of attention from curious Chinese, a lot of whom who wanted their picture taken with our car and sometimes with us as well. It’s a nice reminder for us how special it is to drive with a Dutch licensed car in China. The local police and toll booth operators also sometimes seem to struggle what to do with us, since their computer systems were not designed to receive a combination of numbers and letters instead of numbers only. So in most cases the toll booth operators let us through with a smile without requiring payment at all. The drive itself was a bit boring since there was not much to see along the G2, the express way from Shanghai to Beijing.

Tomorrow we head for Beijing, where we plan to stay for two nights and visit the garage again, before heading to the border with Mongolia.

David Wade said thanks.

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Bert van Dijk

Former China correspondent for Het Financieele Dagblad and De Tijd, the leading business newspapers in The Netherlands and Belgium. Now back at work in Amsterdam as a journalist after driving from Shanghai to Amsterdam through China, Mongolia, Central Asia, Iran and Eastern Europe.

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