Unlike most of our journeys, which have us on the long-distance bus, we were taking a private car trip with the Pan family. Mr. Pan, the former dean of our English Department, his wife and daughter (22-year-old “Brenda,” an English teacher at a city preschool) were traveling to visit relatives in Nanning. They have an apartment there, where Brenda lives since she works in Nanning and where Mr. Pan’s Longzhou family can get away from time to time for visits with other relatives .
After asking around campus if anyone was heading off to Nanning for National Day, Mr. Pan was kind enough to allow both me and the dog to ride along with them. The time was set for Thursday morning, September 30, at 8:30 a.m.
My Youth: The Family Road Trip
It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a family road trip. I’d say the last one was nearly 30 years ago.
When my parents, brother and I would load into the car, it was usually for Christmas at my grandparents’ house. This entailed attending school (finishing early at 2:30 p.m.), followed by a 7-hour drive and a car bursting with presents, luggage, snack bags and us.
I remember it was always a stressful production to pack the car and get started on time.
My father was in charge of arranging the things in the trunk. Usually, it took quite a while to shove everything in but my dad was a great manipulator of stuff. He could find the most amazing crevices and squeeze spaces to stick in that extra pair of shoes, another coat, a knit scarf and hat or yet another present which my mother hadn’t yet wrapped.
Starting on time was always a problem. If my dad set the departure for 3:30 p.m., we were bound to leave at 4. He and my brother would sit in the car, both waiting impatiently while my mother and I would race back and forth into the house to turn down the furnace, use the toilet, turn off a light, or make sure the upstairs’ bathroom faucet was left slightly dripping so it didn’t freeze and burst the pipes.
Once we finally made it just out of town, there was always my mom’s “Did I leave the iron on? I think I left the iron on. We’d better go back and check to see if someone left the iron on.”
Back again we went, naturally to find out that no one had left the iron on.
After about 5 vacation trips of “Did I leave the iron on?”, we finally remembered to unplug the thing and move it to an entirely different room.
No doubt about it: No one left the iron on.
The Pan Family Road Trip
For the Pan family, there definitely wasn’t any iron that needed turning off but for the rest of the trip, I felt just like the Pan family was my own.
At 8:30 sharp, as directed by Mr. Pan, I was downstairs with Little Flower and my small suitcase. I certainly didn’t want to be late. My father didn’t like late starts and I figured neither did Mr. Pan.
Low and behold, Mr. Pan was packing up the car, just like my father used to do years ago.
While no one else had brought any luggage except me, there were still plenty of little things to shove into his small vehicle.
Since we were going to the big city, Mr. Pan was taking with him local produce that was cheaper in our area and also very fresh. He had 2 huge bags of gorgeous mango which he announced triumphantly as having paid only 6 mao (5 cents) per pound. In the city, mango are quite expensive with the best quality fruit being rather lame.
His 2 bags totaled about 20 pounds, enough to shower his relatives with a special taste of the rural Guangxi.
As we stood there still waiting to go, a gentleman came cruising up on his scooter with 2 huge bunches of green bananas, straight off the tree, and his machete in hand. Mr. Pan had ordered these from a local farmer to also share with his friends and family in Nanning.
Mr. Pan inspected his fruit bundles carefully, paid the man and then proceeded to figure out how to put them into the car without dirtying up the trunk area or bruising the bananas. He used huge sheets of paper to wrap them in, re-positioned some of the other items and was finally able to close up the car for our journey.
By this time, it was going on 8:50 a.m. and still no wife or daughter in sight.
I even had time to race inside my apartment to pick up a jacket and a second toy for LF to play with in the hotel room.
When everyone finally appeared, we were on the road at 9 a.m. but not before we made a stop along the sidewalk to buy sweet corn from a street seller.
Yet another heavy bag of countryside food gifts made its way into the back seat.
Finally, we were off!
A Front Row Seat, Gorgeous Back Roads’ Scenery and Car Sickness
Mr. Pan and I rode in front with Little Flower perched on my lap while Mr. Pan’s wife and daughter stayed in back. 87-year-old grandma (mother of Mr. Pan’s wife) was remaining at home in Longzhou. She had no desire to go anywhere, even to see any one of her 7 daughters in Nanning. I was told she’d rather enjoy some quiet time in an empty apartment and be with her elderly friends.
To take the express highway from Longzhou, there’s a toll of 70 yuan ($10) all the way to Nanning. But to pick up the express highway from Chongzuo, 1 ½ hours away, was only 40 yuan ($6). Thus to save money, Mr. Pan chose to take the scenic route by using the back roads to Chongzuo before picking up the toll road to the capital city.
In my own family, my father would often choose to take different routes on our trips to my grandparents, often traveling through the small towns to make it more interesting. Granted, it might be a bit slower but we still got there within a decent time and it gave us more to look at.
The same went for our Nanning venture through the countryside.
We zipped by sugar cane and corn fields, passed farmers on their motor bikes, slowed down for plodding water buffaloes and a goat herder, drifted through a small village, and wove up and down jagged, rocky mountains.
It was truly a beautiful drive and would have been perfect except for one thing: The air-conditioning was off.
Chinese are very hesitant to use air-conditioning, not only in their own homes but in the car as well. They consider fresh air better for a person. Going in and out of cold rooms isn’t good for the health and can cause sickness. Also, quite a few have insisted all that filtered, closed-in air doesn’t do well for your constitution.
Since our temps are always so hot here in Guangxi, and air-conditioning is considered a luxury, natives of this province are used to sweating it out, roasting and dealing with the heat.
Foreigners, on the other hand, are a different story.
We like our air-conditioning, especially when temps outside are into the 90s, like they were during our trip.
Granted, we did have overcast skies for a bit with some refreshing sprinkles but that didn’t last long. The windows rolled down, the wind whipping at our hair and whistling about, gave some relief until the sun came out.
After that, it was just plain darn hot!
Fortunately for me, I don’t get car sick very easily or I might have been in dire straights due to our high temps. But behind me, both Brenda and her mom were struggling. I honestly think if we’d have turned on the air-con and cooled things down, they’d have been much more comfortable. I even mentioned that at one point. Yet a foreigner going against years of cultural tradition was bound to strike out.
Thus the windows stayed down with our poor, backseat riders throwing up into plastic bags from time to time.
At that point, I certainly was happy to have the windows rolled down.
Finishing Up the Ride
Once we landed on the expressway, which no longer had us swaying about the back roads, things were a bit better but no one truly was happy until we finally reached our destination.
I can definitely say the only one who honestly reveled in that 3-hour car trip to Nanning was the dog.
Little Flower spent the majority of our countryside drive with her head out the window. All those amazing Chinese countryside smells, with the wind blowing into her face and her nose twitching with excitement, made for her best road trip ever.
No carsickness or queasiness for her. Just pure canine enjoyment.
Back to School
After a week in Nanning, mostly enjoying lovely air-conditioning in the hotel room as well as little jaunts around the city, we landed back in Longzhou. Saturday classes, to make up for extra days given as holidays, are getting everyone a bit down after spending so much time off but it’s only one day.
After that, we’ll be back to a normal schedule until January 1st, which is our next day off.
For now, it’s gearing up for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas lessons for me. Hard to believe it’s time to start in on our cultural festivals and holidays so soon but it is!
Until next time, here’s Ping An (Peace) for your day.