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Greg Paul and co-driver, Daryl Narain, are one of ten New Zealand crews taking part in this year's Peking to Paris Rally.  Greg updates us on the last part of the epic journey - meeting the cars in China and finalising the paperwork, before tackling the Chinese roads!


How do you have more fun than Targa? The answer is by driving the motorway from Tianjin to Beijing. It is a 200 kilometre special stage on a motorway that is basically a large dodgem track. The rules are quickly acquired, and they are simply to move to any space where there is half a gap, the other driver will provide the other half, and do not hit anything, especially the multitude of large trucks crawling along under the strain of their 60 to 90 ton loads of steel!

Tianjin to Beijing was our first driving experience since arriving in China and as you have probably gathered, it was hugely enjoyed by our entire group.

Two days earlier we had travelled by bus from Beijing to Tianjin, the port, to pick up our cars. The bus ride was through flat countryside with lots of small fish farms, and shepherds tending their six sheep. All of this was being overshadowed by huge new motorways under construction and about to crisscross the countryside.

We were expecting it to take a couple of days to get the cars through Customs but this was not the case. Our group's agent in China had done a fantastic job for us and upon arrival we were invited into the wharf area where all our containers were lined up side by side waiting for us. The seals on the containers were broken and one after another all seven cars were started and driven out for inspection. This was a moment of great anticipation and relief to see our cars safe and sound after their journey half way around the world.

The check was a painless process and after photos of the customs officers sitting in the cars, the cars were put back into the containers and resealed while the paper work was completed. Our agent whisked us away to a banquet lunch which was to last until late afternoon until we got the call that we could come and collect our vehicles and take them to the hotel for the night. We still did not have our local driver's licence or registration so we were told that this was a one time drive under escort, and the cars had to stay in numbered order.

Next morning we waited while the next stage of the paperwork was being done. This gave us time to fit a new fan to the Fiat as the original one was faulty and causing over-heating problems. We also packed our cars with all our gear for the first time. We were sure that it would not all fit and this proved to be the case. We donated my fridge to the Ford Capri, which has a roof rack, on the condition that they keep a cold beer in it for us each night.

After lunch we got the call to bring our cars to the testing station for inspection and to get our Chinese drivers’ licences. When it was time for the our Fiat to be inspected, there seemed to something wrong, but it was simply that we had broken their computer. Instead of giving the emission reading from the exhaust, it was saying ‘cactus’ in Chinese, which translates to ‘broken’.

The final part of the process was a gathering around and the awarding of our drivers licences and registration plates to us. There were more photos with all the Chinese people involved in this, and then we were free to be let loose on the local roads, driving on the right hand side of the road in right hand drive cars!

The drive back to Beijing from Tianjin was very exhilarating. Apart from the traffic, we also had to cope with temperatures inside the cars touching on 50 degrees. Many of the cars were running hot and experiencing some fuel vaporisation issues. As we drove, the late afternoon sun was not a problem, as you never get to see it. At best, it is a dull orange glow in the sky that you can look at directly without having to squint at all.

The smog is a permanent fog. As one local Chinese put it; “Pictures of New Zealand - blue sky, blue water, pictures of China - grey sky, grey water. Pollution very bad.” You can see global warming happening here and it makes what we do in NZ seem so insignificant, but that is not to say that we shouldn't be sending our message out to the world, even if it is just a very small voice.

Despite a major hold-up on the motorway, we all arrived at our hotel in Beijing not too late. Although hot and tired, everybody was in good spirits. We had achieved in two days what could have taken five.

When we had first arrived in Beijing , Daryl and I had searched out a local Fiat dealer (there are 30,000 Fiats in Beijing ) and they had offered us the use of their workshop. So, we spent some time doing last minute tuning, and finishing a number of jobs that did not get completed before the cars left New Zealand. An Tong, the dealership manager, and his staff could not do enough for us. They made a hoist available for our use and at one point we counted nine mechanics working on the two Fiats. With sign language and drawing pictures, we communicated very well. We even got two spring spacers made for the Fiat as it was riding a bit low in the rear.

Geoff and Dallas (the other NZ Fiat crew), were lucky to make it there, as the distributor had come loose on their car and it died as they drove in the gate, after threatening to stop in the middle of the expressway at peak hour! As if the Fiats are not already attracting enough attention with passing motorists hanging out their windows, waving and taking photos as they dodge other cars. With cars for the masses being such a relatively new innovation, here you just do not see any old cars on the road.

After a day in the Fiat workshop, it was time to say goodbye to our newly made friends. An Tong would not accept any payment from us. He said “You now have friend in Beijing ,” and for all of us that made our day.

Read Greg's previous instalment of his Peking to Paris journey

We'll keep you updated with Greg's regular Blogs - keep checking back.

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