Saturday, 30 October 2010

Horgas to Yining (China)

We head out to town for a late breakfast, then Serena calls Customs to check on the status of the paperwork. Everything is ready so we’re set to go! Well, almost… Serena briefs us on the plan for the day ahead, first stop is the vehicle test centre. We need a pass certificate before the car can be registered with the Chinese authorities.

Serena explains that the vehicle test checks a lot of different items and questions if the car will make it through OK. Just as I’m about to say that it‘ll fly through, I remember that we’re still carrying a headlight fault from our night ride through the Kazakstan desert…..Ah great, I’ll have to fix this up before we can go anywhere.

Its bitterly cold and is starting to rain, but the work has to be done so I don my raincoat and head out to the parking lot to check out the problem. I was hoping for a faulty headlamp bulb, but I knew it wouldn’t be that simple, nothing ever is, especially when its cold, raining and you’re in a rush!

As suspected, the bulb was perfect but the offside ‘dip’ element of the headlamp was refusing to fire up.
I recalled the smell of burning Bakelite we encountered on the night the lights failed, and knew right away that the fault was probably due to either the light switch or the headlamp stalk switch - Fortunately I was carrying spares of both so it shouldnt be major problem for us.

A few quick checks confirm that it is indeed the steering column mounted headlamp dip switch. After removing the steering wheel and horn ring I encounter the first problem - The one piece cowling which surounds the steering column and houses the stalk switches, features some tiny slot headed screws which are recessed about 1”

I dig out the smallest screwdriver from the tool box, only to see that it’s fractionally too wide to enter the recess….Fortunately I also have a decent file in the tool box, so the next 10 minutes is spent filing down the screwdriver to the correct diameter. From here on it its smooth sailing and thirty minutes later the lights are back in action but my fingers are blue!

Onto the Chinese highway and the roads appear to be brilliant, exceptionally good in fact. We both had preconceived ideas about what Chinese roads would be like, back in the UK we reckoned that any country which eats dogs and cats was clearly going to have bad roads, it was obvious. For the most part we were to be proved very wrong..

The Chinese highway system has three main grades of road, it’s a straight forward system - The more money you pay, the better and/or faster the road you get to use. All three types are pretty good but the top grade, known as the “Express Way” is brilliant. Brand new, spotlessly clean asphalt with typically very little traffic and a relatively high speed limit of 120 kph.

Manual labour is very cheap here, gangs of road sweepers can be seen manually grooming the road surface, brushing loose debris into small piles at the side of the carriageway. The quality of the road surface itself tends to be flawless - As good as, if not better than, the roads in the UK.

There a long, long line of cars waiting to enter the vehicle test centre, we join the back of the queue and sit it out. Meanwhile Serena dives out of the car and into a nearby cab, bound for a nearby vehicle licensing office to get the registration document of the car translated into Chinese.
Ninety minutes later we arrive at the front of the queue, at which point the shutters are rolled down and the centre closes for the day. Shortly afterwards Serena appears and with some sweet talk to one of the station attendants, manages to get us the final test slot of the day.

The safety test, annual for Chinese registered vehicles, is fairly straight forward but still surprisingly advanced for what I always imagined to be a fairly basic country. Lights, horn and tyres are checked, the vehicle weighed, service and parking brake efficiency tested. Jerry breezes through it and thirty minutes later we’re issued a pass certificate.

By this time its too late to visit the vehicle licensing centre for issue of our Chinese driving licenses, so we make our way downtown and check into a hotel for the night. Only certain hotels in each city are permitted to accommodate foreign guests - Our hotel is a very smart, marble clad four star facility - But at £18 a night, it doesn’t break the bank.

The weather keeps on getting colder, the TV weather forecaster says theres a good chance of snow tomorrow....

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