Kung Hei Fat Choy!
This weekend, millions of Chinese will travel afar to spend their New Year in their home town. I might find myself traveling away from my home town of Hong Kong and on the road in China. Two years ago, my family and I drove straight through wealthy and industrious Guangdong province and deep into the less developed and mostly agricultural Guangxi province. There, we saw the hauntingly beautiful karst mountains along the Li River near Yangshuo and the Longsheng Rice Terraces near Guilin.
However, this blog entry isn’t about what I saw around Guilin. You can see for yourself in the photo collage I’ve provided here! Rather, I was most impressed by the 1,800 kilometers of road and expressways that took us to our destination and back home.
Since we took off from Hong Kong on the last day of the lunar calendar, the traffic was extremely light. So light that the brand new expressway was empty of vehicles and looked impressively like the long stretches of expressways in North America. For hours, there wasn’t another car, motorcycle or truck in sight. Most of the toll booths were closed. Rural China was resting.
As a result, it took just 10 hours to get from Hong Kong to Guilin. Just a few years ago and prior to the existence of the new expressways, it would’ve taken more than double the time to get to Guilin by road. According to the China Economic Weekly, China’s highways increased from just 16.3 thousand kilometers before 2001 to 76 thousand kilometers between by 2010 – more than quadrupled! This newfound road mobility leads to a plethora of development opportunities in various industries, including from tourism, automotive, manufacturing and even logistics.
Compared to air travel, road travel has its advantages too. It gave me the rare chance to see rural and undeveloped China. Compared to Guangzhou and its satellite cities of brilliant neons and grating sounds, the scene in sleepy neighboring Guangxi was startlingly different. The villages were dimly lit. There was actual smoke spiraling out of chimneys. Farm animals were let loose wandering. And there were lone people walking between villages on long stretches of the highways.
Our drive back to Hong Kong from Guilin took place late into the night of the first day of the lunar New Year. But rural China was awake again, celebrating the New Year with an impressive display of roadside fireworks and streets were littered with red debris from long strings of firecrackers. All I could hear was boom boom pow and think that beyond the dazzle of the Pearl River Delta, the rest of Southern China is catching up fast. Soon enough, the quiet highways will be bursting with cars, motorcycles and trucks.