CHINA, Shanghai - Qingdao

Independence Day - July 4th, 1994:Upon arriving in Shanghai, customs immediately impounded our motorcycles. I guess it wasn't Independence Day as far as China was concerned. Our greeting from Shanghai customs was not totally unexpected as our host agency responsible for the organisation of the necessary permissions was still waiting for the details of our motorcycles. As we had had no chance to send them ahead from Tokyo we were expecting some delays. It had taken us a whole year to find a Chinese sponsor organisation prepared to help us overcome the bureaucratic obstacles to our intended travel in China and we were confident that all was in order.

Thick Traffic After checking into a cheap hotel (the Pujiang), we faxed all the details to our sponsor, requesting that he contact customs and organise for the release of our motorcycles as soon as possible. The day was then spend walking around the myriad of tool shops in that particular district of Shanghai, and we picked up a handy tool kit for around 10 Yuan each. We received a reply that afternoon from our Chinese sponsor organisation telling us that he had cancelled all the arrangements for our journey, and could not get our bikes out of customs. Somewhat disappointed with this reply we returned to our hotel, drank copious quantities of beer and contemplated the feasibility of a boat voyage to Vladivostok.

We were on our own. Shanghai was quite an intimidating place. That morning we noticed as the Suzhou Hao sailed up the Huangpu river towards its berth at the downtown ferry terminal, that construction cranes littered the skyline as far as the eye could see in every direction. Already in 1994 China was said to have half the construction cranes in the entire world.

We needed a plan and we needed a starting point. That starting point was to try everything we could now that we were on the ground in Shanghai, to get our bikes released. This was something that had never been done successfully. Finding someone who was in a position to help us was hard enough. Finding someone who could and would help us would be near impossible.The next week was spent running around Shanghai, chasing one government department after another in search of a way to have the motorcycles released. Evenings were spent brainstorming down at the local noodle joint. Our persistence eventually paid off. After a week of asking customs what permissions they actually required to hand over the bikes, we were granted an audience with the head of the Shanghai office, who told us that if we could get (i) a guarantee from a government body that we would take the motorcycles out of China after our travels, and (ii) Chinese driver's licences and registration, he would release the bikes. He knew we would never get these, as no-one else had done so before, but he did give it to us in writing. We now had something to aim for.

The first proved the easier. We headed for the Australian Consulate. A girl in the Trade department took a keen interest in James and immediately offered to help. With this help from the Australian Consulate-General we were able to convince a Chinese government tour operator to issue us the required guarantee, sealed with a big red stamp. (Anything official in China needs a big red stamp, the more important the issue, the bigger the red stamp).

Then it was on to the matter of licences and registration. It took us a long time to find the Shanghai Traffic Police HQ and when we did it took even longer to find the right people to deal with. Like everywhere else, success depends on dealing with the right person with the right attitude at the right time. Once we found them, the senior officers of the licensing department were extremely amiable and talkative, one of them having studied traffic control techniques in Melbourne.

We had hit the jackpot. The most casually dressed guy in the whole complex (obviously the boss man) came to us smiling and offering us hishandshake. He said through a translator that China was changing. It looks like our letters of support from the Australia-China Friendship Society had worked. He told us we would get our permission. We were half delirious but both had seen false dawns before. As far as James and I were concerned, this was awesome news, but we wouldn't be celebrating until we had the registration documents in our hands. The next stage was also encouraging. With his translator and several other minions surrounding him, the big boss man then asked us what we think the drivers licences should look like. He actually wanted us to help him design the things. We showed him our Australian licences and he smiled - "yes, of course" he said, "they should have a photo, name, nationality and date of birth." We were asked to fill out some forms and return the following morning at 9 a.m.

Friendly Locals At 8:30 the next morning we were in a taxi on the way to the Shanghai Traffic Police, wondering if we had misunderstood the promises of yesterday. Cautiously we made our way back to the boss man's office, fearing the worst, but hoping for the best. He had a smile on his face. He ushered us to sit down. They had printed up (overnight) the beginning of a new series of number plates for foreigners, numbered from 00001 to 00010. The boss placed 00001 in his desk - presumably for investment value - and handed over numbers 00002 and 00003 for the standard sum of 128 yuan each. Corresponding driver's licences and registration certificates followed. He added that these were the first of their kind ever issued. We were underway in China. We had cracked the uncrackable nut.

Victoriously, we returned to the chief of customs and presented him with all the documents and number plates he had asked for (but never expected to receive). "Not so fast" he effectively said. "That big red stamp on your guarantee to exit China happens to be the wrong big red stamp. I need to see a bigger, more impressive one." So much for getting the bikes out of customs quickly and easily.

And so back we went to the Australian Consulate, who took us back to their contacts in the vaguely appropriate Chinese Government department. The man responsible apologised profusely for giving us the wrong big red stamp and immediately whacked a bigger and more impressive red stamp onto the document. But that was another day down as the Customs shed was now closed for the day.

Nine a.m. the following morning and we were back to the customs shed, where we met the Head Honcho again, fully expecting him to give yet another task or two to his 2 pitiful foreign visitors. But no ... this time he looked at the documents again, smiled when he saw what was clearly the right big red stamp, and good to his word, he released the bikes.

Before leaving the customs shed, we affixed our impressive new Chinese number plates before rolling out onto the streets and freedom. It was the 11th of July 1994. The 1000 metres we rode from the Waihongqiao ferry terminal's customs shed on Yangshupu Lu to the Pujiang Hotel just off the north end of The Bund were the first 1000 metres legally AND unescorted any foreigner had ridden in China since 1949.

For the first time since buying them, we were able to spend time with our bikes. Task number one was to give the bikes a kerbside service and oil change outside by the front entrance to our Pujiang Hotel in downtown Shanghai. Having adjusted all that needed to be adjusted, lubed all that needed to be lubed, and checked everything else, we were ready for the next major task - to work out how to pack the bikes. The gearsack racks it seemed could be attached with hose clamps. So the duct tape came off and we experimented with an assortment of hose claps we had picked up on our wanderings through the back streets of Shanghai. In the end a large stainless steel hose clamp we had each picked in Japan at great expenses seemed the best bet. We decided to ditch the existing tyres on the bikes, fit the spare front and one of the two rears and then we only had to carry the one spare rear tyre each. This was a revelation in terms of weight distribution and also gave us the chance to fit the heavy duty Dunlop puncture resistant tubes.

The 400 rolls of film also had to somehow be sorted out. 400 rolls of film is incredibly bulky. We could barely fit 100 rolls in each side bag. If we took the lot with us, it would mean all 4 side saddle bags were full of nothing but film. Fortunately we hit upon an idea. We had new friends at the Australian Embassy, and they forwarded 200 rolls onto the Aussie consul in Vladivostok where we would pick them up en route. The theory was that film we carried would be sent on to AGFA in Leverkusen in Germany as we used it up, and we would replenish our supplies after heading North-East through China to Vladivostok. From Vladivostok, we planned to make our way across the Trans Siberian road as far as possible, but a stint on the railway could not be ruled out, as there was a gap in the road of over 1000 klms. It was going to be a case of lets make a decision when we see how far we can get on the road.

One saddlebag for each of us was still tied up carrying 100 rolls of film and a few assorted bits and pieces. The other saddlebag carried engine oil, chain oil, chain, cables, levers and any other bike related bits. The back bag carried camping equipment, tents, sleeping bags, cooking gear, food and water. The rear luggage compartment was rounded out with a backpack across the passengers seat which had our clothes in it while the one remaining spare tyre each went over the top of the lot. Documents and maps were kept in the small tank bag. At times we wished for the saddle bags to sit lower but over all this system did the job well.

13 July 1994: After a two days of motorcycle preparation, our final tasks in Shanghai was a Wednesday morning media function for Mars and a couple of hours at the Shanghai general post office trying to forward our old tyres to Urumchi, in Xinjiang, just in case we needed them later in the journey. After that we were on our way, but not before a final quick stop off at the Australian Consulate on the way out to thank them for their help.They were flabbergasted that we had managed to get the riding permission. At that time even the diplomatic vehicles in Shanghai were driven by locals, and Beijing was the only place in China where westerners were allowed to drive. The consulate itself had no permission to drive anywhere but we did. It was a serious result. By the time we were reached the outskirts of Shanghai, it was already after 2pm.

The first night stop was reached at Wuxi, an industrial town midway between Shanghai and Nanjing. We needed to find a place that could house us cheaply and where we could park the motorcycles off the streets. In Wuxi we found a place in the centre of town with a courtyard. It was far from appealing but it was our first stop on the road and we were aware of just needing to get into a rhythm with the stops. We needed to work out what needed to be done at the end and beginning of a day on the road, and the most efficient way to do it. Wuxi was nothing more than practice. Packing and unpacking the bike is quite a process and that first evening took us around 30 minutes before we could relax in our rooms and sit down with the dictaphone to log the days events.

[See China Map 1]

The road to Nanjing was only 450 kilometres long but it took us two days to cover the distance. The open road in China is one hell of a place to be. The highways are home to everything from fleets of bicycles to convoys of tractors, none of whom ever even consider giving way to other traffic. There are trucks overtaking trucks, and cars overtaking the trucks that are overtaking the trucks. And that's on roads that are meant to be one lane each way. Old ladies will ride bicycles on the wrong side of the road heading straight for you. There are no rules. The police are overtaking everybody. It was hard to relax and take in the scenery as it was frightening taking your eyes off the road ahead even just for a full second. Amid this chaos, and with the dense, slow moving traffic and the frequent refreshment breaks it was not surprising that we barely averaged 35 km/h while in China. In the stifling heat and humidity of Eastern China in summer, we stopped for water and soft drinks every 30 minutes. We would stop at refrigerators full of drinks and ice creams that would line the highways, connected by 200 foot extension cords to tiny mud huts. Canned drinks were cheap, beer was cheap, ice cream was cheap. We navigated primarily by a Chinese road atlas, picked up in Shanghai, and by comparing characters on the map to the characters on the road signs. These were supplemented by our ONC and TPC charts purchased from the US Department of Defence.

One of the great surprises of China was the availability of fuel. Particularly along the densely populated Eastern coast, which resembles a giant construction site. Fuel stations were everywhere. New roads were being built along the large part of our route and often the fuel stations were built before the roads, leaving a brand new, fully staffed, reasonably modern station beside a dirt track. Presumably the roads would come later. Generally the stations carried two grades of petroleum - 76 octane and 90 octane - the latter costing around 2 yuan per litre. Pulling in to Nanjing late on the 14th July, we found our way to a university hotel, which was not expensive, and relaxed with a nice meal and a few beers.

Happy Farmers, Eastern China

July 15 1994: Two days into the trip and the bikes were getting pretty well sorted. We we gradually getting them set up the way we wanted, and our packing and access to the luggage we actually needed was improving out of sight, through trial and error.. The bikes were proving comfortable and reliable, and were coping well on the 90 octane fuel. Before leaving Nanjing we did a little work on the bikes and installed a couple of in-line automobile fuel filters. A lot of the fuel we would end up buying on this trip would be crap fuel, and a small filter could soon be clogged. So car filters it was, and to be safe we carried a spare each. Already at this early stage we had settled into a daily maintenance routine. Before heading off each morning, the oil was checked, the engine warmed up by idling, the chain tension was checked, the chain was lubed, the tyre pressures checked, water levels checked. The bikes had to take us half way round the world, and we were going to check everything we could as often as we could to make sure they did take us round the world. Leaving the main highway after Nanjing (after crossing the massive Yangtse River), our route took us along some charming provincial back roads for the three day ride to Qingdao. [see China Map 2] Once away from the main highway, the roads really belonged to commune tractors, donkeys and carts. Only the occasional transport trucks thundered along here in a pleasant change from the major roads. There was always a crowd of 15-20 curious farmers and children who appeared when we stopped for lunch. The Chinese have a habit of looking with their fingers. If we ever left the bikes alone for any amount of time, we would inevitably have to go through a checklist before we could start them up. The spark plug leads would be pulled out, the kill switch set on off, fuel turned off, the high beam would be on, the tripmeter reset - anything that could be played with always was. Although this was annoying, we never felt concerned about theft as they were only interested in fondling the motorcycles. This was the first day that we ran into unpaved roads. The roads were theoretically paved, but were undergoing reconstruction for long sections. The exposed road base was just large sharp rocks, which is all fine in a truck or 4 wheeled vehicle, but it presented a nice challenge for us on the motorbikes. Not that we we needed challenging - 3 days on Chinese roads had already left us with memories of a dozen near death experiences. This area of China was very green, and every square inch of land was under cultivation - the Dutch would understand. Despite China's vast size, only 10% of its land is fit for cultivation, and with 1.2 billion people, you cant afford to waste too much of that. Despite the jagged roadworks earlier in the day, we hit a nice stretch in the afternoon and got the bikes up to about 110 km/h.

An example of how the mechanics in countries like China overcome the difficulties of having no spare parts or proper tools showed up when both motorcycles lost part of their chain tension adjustment system. Needing to make a new end plate for the swingarm, a mechanic in the dead end town of Qingjiang cut two rectangular pieces of plate steel out of a rusting old door hinge with a hacksaw blade. He compared his two pieces of steel to the genuine pressed aluminium article and went to work with his file. Then, as we wondered how he would join these two pieces together, out from under an old, greasy, wooden bench came a pair of wires the size of jumper leads. He stuck one end of each wire into a giant power socket in the wall. One of the wires he earthed between his sandal and the concrete floor and while squatting down he held the other end to the metal contraption. An assistant pulled down a giant lever which looked like the type used to turn on Frankenstein. In next to no time the two pieces of metal were welded together and he set about grinding his handiwork into an identical replica of the original part. To his credit, the finished part was literally perfect. He refused to take payment, but I managed to slip him 5 kuai (yuan) as we walked out the door and he was very grateful.

Road under construction - one of many

The night of the 15th July was spent in the provincial backwater of Qingjiang. Its miles from any railroad and in China that pretty much makes it a backwater. No tourists pass through here. Its one of those super-industrial hellholes that you read about in geographic magazines. It is however on the once great Grand Canal, a truly impressive piece of engineering that was built to link Beijing to the Yangtse River 2500 klms away. Parts of it were built as early as 500 BC, and it was completed by around 500 AD. The untouristy nature of the place contributed to our cheap hotel bill that night. 30 Yuan (5 USD) all up. Even out here in the backwaters, construction activity was rife. New roads were being built, hotels were being built (for whom we wondered??), houses were being built and renovated. It is worth bearing in mind that the quality of materials used in Chinese housebuilding left a lot to be desired. The bricks used were not only hideous, but were cheap and brittle. It was clear that the buildings being built would need to be rebuilt within 25 years. Throughout Eastern China we stayed in hotels. At the end of each day we would negotiate with management about how much they would charge us for the hotel room. Usually we were told to go to the expensive "foreigners" hotel down the road. There they would want 300-400 Yuan for a room, so we would wait and be annoying and eventually we got a cheap "local" room for about 20% of that. Storing the bikes was not usually a problem. They proved to be quite an attraction actually. Many of the hotels in which we stayed had restaurants and it was often the case that management would ask us to park the bikes in the dining area. It seemed the restaurant patrons found the bikes to be quite an attraction. Honda TransAlps as a backdrop for the evening meal!

16 July 1994: Waking up in Qingjiang proved not to be one of the highlights of the trip. The sky was very dark and it had been raining all night. It was still well and truly a tropical downpour at 8am. Seeing acid rain pouring down over an industrial hellhole first thing in the morning is not something to lift the spirits of a biker. Rain, particularly heavy rain, is often seen as a cleansing thing, but here in Qingjiang the rain brought with it an assortment of horrific stenches. James had foolishly left some laundry outside overnight and not only was it soaking wet, but it now stank as well. A break in the rain around 9am gave us enough of a chance to go through our morning maintenance on the bikes before the dark grey heavens opened up again and we retreated back to our ramshackle hotel room for another couple of hours. It was midday before we got on the road. Drainage was something yet to be perfected in Qingjiang and the overnight rain had meant large parts of the road were under 30-50 cm of water. We ploughed on through with legs up in the air.

There's not a great deal to the rural towns in China. The main street is usually lined with cheap restaurants. These fill up with truck drivers between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.. They are a rowdy lot, not unlike the truck drivers we were to meet throughout the trip. While eating bowl after bowl of rice and noodles, they'd flirt with the waitresses and consume copious amounts of warm beer. The waitresses too are a hardy lot, often biting the caps off their beer bottles - not surprising so many off them had chipped teeth. But at least just about everywhere had beer - which to be brutally honest was one of our concerns in planning the trip. The drivers would stay there at the restaurants for several hours, having a brief siesta before returning to the roads later in the afternoon.

Highway Traffic, China

The restaurants themselves are very simple affairs. One room with a concrete or wooden floor, a few old wooden tables and chairs. You don't bother asking for a menu - there isn't one. You keep it simple and if one of the truck drivers has something you'd like to try, you point at his and hopefully you'll get something like it.

We once stopped for a fruit juice at a restaurant one particularly hot July day. Because we did this ten times a day, we knew that the price was always around one yuan each. On this occasion we forgot to check the price and drank the juice. After seeing us drink the juice the lady of the house told us that we owed ten yuan each. Although initially we refused to pay, when twenty or so friends and relatives gathered around us and prevented our departure, we had no choice but to pay the "bill". This was neither the first nor the last time such tactics were used to extract some bonus revenue from a couple of unsuspecting travellers. After this incident, we always double checked the price, paid and got our change before we opened anything. Once you open it, you have to pay the price they set.

Traffic moves though the towns at a snails pace. The slowest moving vehicles, the bicycles set the pace. The roads are so crowded that cars, trucks and alas, motorcycles, all crawl along at a bicycles pace. This was a killer for average speed as even relatively small towns took 30 minutes to drive through and larger towns chewed an hour out of the day. Between Qingjiang and Lianyungang we had our first key lesson in not losing each other. It may sound simple... two guys on two bikes - it should be simple to not lose sight of each other. The problem comes in overtaking large amounts of traffic. The first bike goes, and by the time he has overtaken the 20 vehicles, one or two vehicles at a time, the first bike (in this case me) settles down in front and waits for the second bike (James) to emerge. Depending on the oncoming traffic, it may take the second bike considerably longer to overtake the convoy, meaning the two bikes actually lose visual contact for up to 5 klms. Five minutes after rounding the convoy, and with no James in my rear view mirror, I decided first to slow down, and let the convoy of traffic catch me back up. Then with the convoy now on my tail and still no sign of James, I decided to pull over and wait for him while the convoy thundered past. To my surprise, James was neither in the convoy, nor behind the convoy, where I last saw him. I had no choice but to turn back and retrace the 5 klms or so to the physical location I last saw him. Imagine the confusion when having retraced the 5klms, there was still no sign of James. There was no way to contact each other, mobile phones didn't exist in 1994 ... well they weren't mobile and in any case China had no network. What to do? If we failed to find each other it would take days to link back up. We had a backup plan for situations like this. James' mother in Australia was the emergency contact. If we failed to find each other by the evening, we would both have to find an international telephone, call James' mother, and through that triangle, plan how and where to link up. But we got lucky.

Putting the puzzle together that evening the only possible chain of events was that as I pulled over and stopped to let the convoy pass, James was right behind the lead truck, and burst out to overtake the lead truck. That's how we missed each other. James was overtaking on one side of the truck, while I was coasting and pulling over on the other side. As it happened James rode on for another hour at high speed trying to catch up to me, wondering why I had inconsiderately rode so far ahead without waiting for him, before he then started to wonder if in fact he was now in front. Eventually James turned back. We finally caught up with each other 3 hours later ... as we both backtracked over the area we had last seen each other desperately searching for the elusive headlight. There was always plenty of advance notice of each other, and theoretically it should be almost impossible for us to lose each other as we were the only people in China travelling with headlights on during the day. So it was with great relief (and considerable mutual abuse and truly foul language) that we finally spotted each others headlight not far from where the convoy overtake that caused us so much grief.

Rural landscape

The headlights in themselves caused considerable grief. The Japanese bikes were hard wired with the dipped beam permanently on. Like in many parts of the western world, its considered a key aspect of motorcycle safety in Japan. Well in China, they don't subscribe to this theory. We were repeatedly pulled over by traffic police (the guys who stand in the middle of intersections, usually on small raised platforms, blowing whistles and waving batons - the intersections have traffic lights, its just that without a uniformed idiot in the middle of the road, the Chinese traffic chooses to treat the traffic light signals as "optional" - so the man in the middle is really a traffic light enforcer) for having our lights on during the day. Endless explaining time after time, to every second traffic cop we passed that it was a western safety feature cut little ice. Often the Chinese road code was pulled out of a traffic light enforcers pocket and one particular section was read to us slowly and loudly. I don't know what it was about but its a pretty safe bet that it said something like "vehicles must not drive with headlights on during the day as it confuses Chinese drivers into thinking it is night-time."

Many of the folk in rural China had never seen a foreigner, let alone a modern Japanese motorcycle before and we instantly became the centre of attention wherever we stopped. In one coastal town called Dunshang (20 Km's past Lianyungang) after checking into a roadside hotel, we were met by the manager (bearing soft drinks to cool us down), who informed us that we were the first foreigners to stay in his hotel, indeed visit that town and accordingly there was to be a banquet that night in our honour in the hotel. Further, he insisted there would be no charge for staying in his hotel. Not wishing to offend, we showered and went downstairs in our best jeans and T-shirts to be introduced to the chief of police and head of the communist party in that county. All through the 20 course meal of snails, fried cicadas, octopus and other assorted seafood, they pleaded with us to encourage any business contacts we had to invest in their prosperous region. It seems that there is incredible competition between regions to attract the vast amount of foreign capital flowing into China. Those that get investment, quickly become richer than their neighbours, earning the praise and favour of Beijing. Thus was the night of 16 July 1994. The following morning the overwhelming hospitality continued as the manager's son woke us up with breakfast offerings, and insisted on one of the young girls who worked at the hotel, hand wash both bikes, before we left around 10am. Unfortunately the roads were still wet and the weather was still drizzly, and wet roads in China equals muddy roads. The good work that the young hotel girl did was soon reduced to naught. However, Qingdao was not far away and today should prove to be a comfortable ride. [see China Map 3] Our friends at Mars had just set up an office in Qingdao and it was a logical halfway break for us between Shanghai and Beijing. Lunchtime saw us look behind the curtains at a Chinese hairdresser and found that not only do Chinese hairdressers cut hair, but they also do head / neck / shoulder massages. After 5 days on the bikes, often tense from wet roads, we were ready for some shoulder relaxation and we both discovered that the girls in a Chinese hairdressing salon give fantastic motorcyclist massages.

Waiting for a ferry, Qingdao

This was also the day that cemented in our minds that the Honda TransAlp was an excellent choice for the journey we were making. Road repairs today meant that 20 metres after the landing strip sooth stretch of highway ended, a gaping crevasse began. It was raining all day and we ended up giving the bikes a good workout in all sorts of conditions. The TransAlps took it all in their stride. Today, a road bike would probably not have made it. We did dozens of kilometres on sand, dozens on gravel, and dozens dodging man sized potholes on roads under various stages of reconstruction. We got it all today. The Dunlop Trailmax tyres too were lapping it up. No loss of traction at all on the wet roads, under 6 inches of water, or on the gravel. Only the deep mud sections saw us on our guard. It was a good feeling knowing that as total motorcycling amateurs, we had somehow muddled our way through to appropriate bikes and appropriate tyres.

By late in the afternoon we were waiting for the ferry across the Jiaozhou Wan bay. Buying tickets was a challenge as the Chinese are not yet familiar with queuing etiquette. A window just large enough to fit a fist full of yuan was the ticket office and with over a thousand people needing tickets, the scene in front of the sales "window" was nothing short of a 15 deep scrum. We learned quickly that whoever pushed to the front and got his fist into the sales window, got the next tickets. Once we worked it out, we did remarkably well. Being considerably larger than the average Chinese competitor we scored our tickets quickly and with minimal violence before settling back on the bikes to await the ferry. Waiting next to us were Chinese motorcycle police. As we had seen throughout China, the motorcycle police all seemed to ride a BMW boxer type design from what must be around 1970 vintage. The bikes were obviously reverse engineered and typically came with sidecars.

On leaving the ferry we soon had little choice but to resort to the cursed book, the Lonely Planet guide, in search of a cheap hotel. As Qingdao was a resort town and in the height of summer, as we found ourselves, we ran into full hotel after full hotel. But true to form, the Lonely Planet was useless, as every hotel it came up with was also full. Walking out of our upteenth hotel looking dejected, our spirits were suddenly perked by a stranger coming up to us insisting he could help us. We walked back into the hotel and began making some phone calls before leading us on our way through Qingdao to a hotel that had rooms. By now it was 9pm and the hotel wanted to charge us 60 yuan ($10) each. We knew we had little choice and were about to accept when James in a stoke of genius decided to produce our Chinese introduction letters written by the Australia-China Friendship Society (ACFS). The guy folded immediately and charged us only 40 yuan each. He then enquired as to our stomachs before insisting he organise some snacks from us from the kitchen. Those letters worked a treat. They were quite possible a good part of our getting the driving licences in the first place and were scoring us favours all over China. We dont even know what that letter says, but it packs a punch. We just flop it out and suddenly we treated like royalty. The beers that night were drunk in the name of Tom Loy, the head of the ACFS. Liang ge pijiu (2 beers) please barman.
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All text and images copyright © 1994 - 2010; Walter Colebatch and James Mudie