Renting a Car

So first let me say this isn’t Jill.  This is her… worser half… which means that grammar and other things may not be as accurate as when my wife writes.  I’m more interested in telling a story and I don’t really want punctuation and grammar to get in the way, which they have been known to do from time to time.

We rented a car for the first time last week, and short of getting lost once, and almost being run off the road twice we had a pretty good time.  We started the whole drivers license process when saw a sign from www.zuche.com in our elevator.  Realizing that we could rent a car made the idea of traveling to other places to see friends with two little girls much more do-able.

To begin with, let me say that when I drive in Hohhot I drive a lot like my mother.  Mom is a country girl and when she is in the city caution and precaution are understatements.  I am the same here.  I found myself a little overwhelmed with all the traffic and driving styles in the city.  Once I got in my lane I didn’t leave it!  It didn’t matter if the other lane was moving faster, it didn’t matter if I had to stop for vehicles in front of me, it didn’t matter if someone parked in my lane… I was going to wait it out. 🙂  I felt that I was both the safest and most unsafe driver at the same time.  I was definitely watching out and driving more courteously than anyone else (like they teach you on the drivers test), but at the same time I’m sure I was driving the most unpredictably to the other Chinese drivers.  (I also think I accidentally merged lanes in the middle of an intersection, but that’s another story.)

Before we rented from the website above we found a friend of a friend who had a car rental company across from the Shangri-La and rented from them instead. My Chinese friends had warned me about hidden fees and the companies trying to rip you off so I was a little bit nervous, but in the end didn’t have any problem with that.  They were quite kind, and actually gave me a little grace on the mileage limit when I went over it.  I put down 3,000 RMB.  The car was 200 per day and they just took that out of the 3,000 when I got back.  They also kept 500 RMB of it for one month.  This is in case I get a/some automated speeding tickets…. so time will tell on this.  All in all I felt like they were a good company.  The car on the other had was a different story.

You know when you rent a car in the states you find yourself in a late model car with quite a few bells and whistles and immaculately clean?  Not the case in China.  We had a small Buick Something-or-Another Sedan.  I don’t know the year model, but it had definitely seen some use.  It came complete with a nice smoke smell when it heated up from the sun (for some reason being hot from the heater didn’t bring out the smell).  The seatbelts in the back were all safely tucked away behind the seat so they wouldn’t get in your way.  The engine had some noises that worried me a little bit, 3 of the hubcaps were wired on, and we started to shimmy when we got over 110 KMH.  (Most of the speed limits were 100 so only between here and Baotou was it an issue)  Lastly, when I was cleaning it out to take it back I found an empty bag of shrimp chips under the seat.  We hadn’t eaten shrimp chips. Still, it got us there and back safely so I guess I can’t complain.  Let’s say this is just a fair warning so you’ll know what to expect.

Driving itself was not TOO bad.  Inside Hohhot was a bit nerve racking as mentioned above, but once we got on the highway it was very similar to driving in the states with 3 exceptions.
1) We both read some Chinese, but some of the roads are not very well marked once you leave the freeway.  Our one episode of getting lost involved this.  However, thanks to a plethora of toll booths everywhere we asked and they pointed us back in the right direction.  If my GPS had been working on my phone this probably wouldn’t have been a big issue.
2) Gas and tolls are expensive.  We have been back in China for the last 1.5 years, but I just haven’t bought much gas. When I filled it up the first time and did the conversion I realized I had just put in $50 to fill it 3/4 of the way.  (I think it’s roughly 10 RMB/liter) The tolls also were more than I expected.  We spent somewhere between 150-200 RMB each way just on tolls. (for a drive that was about 425 km)
3)  Chinese people drive aggressively.  I know you are like, “No, kidding.”  I have lived here quite a while but their were 2 instances I was not ready for and almost got ran off the road.  The first was just a crazy driver in a small car who thought he was playing Mario Kart.  I was not the only car he made swerve.  The second was a bit more malicious.  I was driving back at night time and slipped into an American driving mode for a minute.  The truck in front of us wobbled in his lane a bit and so being the good American driver that I am I merged into a farther lane just to be on the safe side.  This elicited several honks from the drivers in the fast lane who were catching up to us.  I passed the truck and merged back into my lane.  The van that was in the fast lane swerved into our lane as soon as he was ALMOST passed us. I had to swerve to keep from hitting him.  I guess he thought he was teaching me a lesson about Chinese driving… and indeed he did.  WATCH OUT!

Looking back… all in all, it was a good experience and one we will probably do again sometime soon. (Jill had a great idea that we might try during Spring Festival, and that was to drive up to the mountain where we can look down at Hohhot and enjoy probably the greatest firework show in the world). It was more expensive than a bus, but it was so much more comfortable with a family.  Also, the flexibility and freedom were amazing.  Some day we might buy a car here, but for now I think we’ll just rent when we want to take a trip out of town.

-James

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