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Solar Taxi on the way to Beijing17.05.2008

Tags: China       Comments: 0

After four nights in Shanghai, we leave for Beijing. The Swiss consul Hanspeter Willy guides us out of the city - or at least as far as the next traffic jam, a gridlocked intersection. Herr Willy not only very efficiently organised our stay in Shanghai, he knows the city well and knows what to do in these situations. He stands in the middle of the intersection directing the traffic himself, so we arrive on time at the international school. We then leave Shanghai, where we found futuristic landscapes and anonymity as well as lots of original, old-fashioned corners.

In China, each amazing impression is promptly succeeded by the next one. Crossing the Yellow River, the Yangtze, on a huge bridge we struggle not only for breath, but also for words. An incredible array of steely factories and brown chimneys line the riverbanks and the air is full of toxic clouds. Another industrial facility that's almost beyond our imagination. Later that evening in Minguan, the newest Chinese marketing idea comes trotting towards us. A sedate, elderly man, with all the time in the world, a sad face and a handcart, comes towards us. In the handcart he has a car battery and a booming loudspeaker and on his back he wears a flat screen. He is in fact walking TV advertising, running commercials for upholstered furniture! Nobody turns to look at him or seems interested in his ads. The old man doesn't spare us a glance, just goes on his way. Things can hardly get any weirder!

My co-driver since Shanghai has been Melanie Autenrieth, who left her home in Blaubeuren in the Swabian Alp to study Chinese in Shanghai. The whole team is pretty healthy again now, but on the empty highway I'm happy to let Melanie take the wheel while I doze off in the passenger seat. The last days and weeks have been exhausting. It's great to let someone else do the driving! I wake up fifty kilometres later and the landscape is exactly the same. Fishponds, fields, hedges, and here and there a few grey houses. Chinese highways are all the same, with carefully trimmed bushes in the middle. There must be an army of millions of gardeners in China keeping these bushes trim.

Today we've been increasingly receiving reports on our mobile phones about the earthquake. Friends and relatives want to know if we're okay. We're thousands of kilometres away from the affected area and hadn't heard anything about it. Later though, James our guide tells us for the first time that he was woken from his afternoon nap by the earthquake three days ago. That evening we sit watching Chinese TV, saddened by the steadily increasing number of casualties.



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