Across Continents

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Road 101

I’d sat in the window to watch the world go by. Instead it watched me. Lantian. Provincial town to the east of the city of Xi’an. Westerners something of a rarity. Possibly because it’s quite difficult to find. Even when I’d reached it, I had my doubts. Eventually quelled by some forensic navigation. That’s where you use a blend of GPS data, Google Earth and a conventional map or two to work out exactly where here is, and where you’ve been. Not always obvious.

A deliberately short day. In distance terms. Little more than thirty miles. But it’d taken quite a bit of time, mostly escaping from Xi’an. Should have been pretty straightforward. I’d sketched out a route using a mix of satellite imagery and a local map. But overlooked the road works, the diversions. The city’s largely grid layout should have helped compensate, but still left me a bit bewildered amongst the heavy traffic.

A familiar pattern. Set off. Confident. Done my homework. A few landmarks to look for. Stick to what you imagine can only be clearly defined main routes. After a while doubt starts to creep in. Sure it looked different on Google Earth. It probably did. Such is the rate of road building. Eventually, any decent bit of tarmac heading east suffices.

Hoping for a road sign, there’d been more confusion. Finding one for Lintong, written in both English and Simplified Chinese, my spirits raised. I’d expected to see Lantian, and the characters were slightly different to those shown on my less than reliable map. A different place or a transliteration error? I wasn’t sure.

I’d asked quite a few pedestrians, bystanders. Which was the right road? Then an elderly couple on smart bicycles. They’d hailed me from across the carriageway. Rode with me for a short while, parting company once a sign for Lantian appeared. Could barely conceal my delight. But not the G312 highway I’d expected, I’d followed from Kazakhstan. No. Road 101.

I’d find out later it was the right way to go. But not without incident. Quite a bit of chaotic roadworks. Then there’d been a road accident. Cyclist. I’d have stopped to help but for what’s termed mechanism of injury. A lorry. And plenty of people milling around. Not that they could do anything. Of that I was absolutely certain.

I’d found somewhere to stay in Lantian without too much difficulty. Headed out at dusk. Prosperous. Lots of shops selling things you didn’t actually need. A few pavement market stalls. Some, curiously, openly selling bundles of what purported to be various popular currencies.

Eventually drawn into a Western style fast food outlet by the possibility of a fresh coffee. Met with "Good morning" and a smile, the usual greeting in such establishments. "Tom and Jerry" on the large screen. Dubbed. In the background "Scarborough Fair" played on a loop. Faces at the window.

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