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2012. My Year of Maximum China.

Firstly, a big smiling Happy New Year to every single one of you! My hope is that 2012 will bring all of us a year of good friends, good food, and a lot of laughter! 
2012 will likely be my last year in China, a situation I have very mixed feelings about – I miss home and family, I miss the breathable quality of overseas air, and the Australian wilderness, but I have an extraordinarily interesting and colourful life here in China that will be hard to let go. Not to mention the noodles
There’s no escaping it though – our older daughter begins high school in Australia at the start of 2013, and we promised we would return home before that date, although we never imagined we would be living in China right up until then!
As a way of fending off any imagined future regrets, I plan to pack as much of China – its food, its countryside, its people – into the coming twelve months as possible. The major manifestation of this plan is a crazy scheme that first gripped me some six months ago and I haven’t been able to shake it off since. You know it’s a good idea when it gives you a sick, terrifying feeling in the guts every time you think about it. 
So here it is. We will take a Chinese truck, or a minibus, or some kind of campervan-like vehicle, and transform it into a fully-equipped home on wheels, replete with sleeping, cooking and coffee-making facilities, then spend the last six months of 2012 roaming around the remoter backroads of China. What do you think? 
Personally, I think it’s a bloody crazy idea but you can’t deny it has enormous appeal. Even crazier, the rest of the family has come on board with it, after some initial misgivings about whether there would be Western-style breakfast cereal and the capability of recharging electronic devices on the road.
It will be a hugely HUGE undertaking, mostly because we are breaking relatively new ground – recreational vehicles don’t really exist in China, necessitating making a sort of custom-built home-made frankencampervan of our own, complete with comfortable bedding and privacy curtains. 
Camping of any kind is pretty much unheard of, and the last time I saw anyone in a tent in China, it had been erected by the staff of a three star hotel on the adjacent concrete basketball court, with use of hotel facilities included in the tent price. There are no camping grounds, no trailer parks, and no laybys with nearby toilet facilities. 
So I’m calling 2012 our year of Maximum China, a fully immersive experience of seeing and eating our way through as much of China as possible, with our own twist. As 2012 looms excitingly ahead, instead of looking back on the year in review as I’ve done before, I’m looking to the year ahead and what it might hold, both in the short term and the long term, in travel planning terms. 
Here’s what I predict for the coming year of Maximum China:
1.  I will pass my Chinese exams next week, motivated by the desire to avoid being the first student over forty to fail and the need to speak enough Chinese to cover vehicle breakdowns and other minor emergencies. Although I wish the teachers had given me a lot more warning about the 100 word written essay at the end of the Chinese test, because my essay will consist of twenty characters I can write from memory, and a lot of blank spaces. (But – I have a cunning plan to copy any vocabulary that might be useful from the rest of the exam paper and paste it into my essay, although this may not work out so well:
On my holidays, my family and I visited the…bank to make a credit card application. At the…bank…was a lot of…lovely scenery…and we…completed the application form…while…climbing a mountain.  That day the…weather report predicted rain…but we…waited for the application to be approved.  The End.)
2. The ratio of Chinese:Western meals my family is willing to eat will decrease from 1:3 to 1:10 by year’s end, decreasing exponentially with time spent on the road away from supermarkets full of Western food in Shanghai. I will be forced to resort to making them congee for breakfast when we run out of cereal. They will hate this.
3. I will pass my Chinese driver’s license test without having to bribe any officials, or have a Chinese stand-in named ‘Fay-ah-na’ sit the test on my behalf, for a pre-arranged fee.
4. We will finaly get to visit Tibet, provided there are no more monk self-immolations in 2012.
5. My iphone app, the Shanghai Xiaolongbao Tour for Crimson Bamboo, despite being extremely niche, will go totally viral on release causing the entire Chinese internet to collapse and making me an overnight app millionaire. (The first part of this prediction is entirely true – I’ve been working on this exciting project with Crimson Bamboo, authors of cool travel apps for history lovers, for the launch of a new range of travel apps for food lovers. It’s released in two weeks, and I’ll tell you more closer to the time. The latter part of the prediction? Well, dreaming’s OK, isn’t it?)
6. The hare-brained travelling campervan scheme will take more money, wits, patience and cunning than I currently possess, but because I’m not a quitter I will make everyone’s life hell as I try to source solar-powered portable water heating and a compostible travelling toilet in a country that hasn’t yet heard of camping.
7. Eighteen will be the number of times my husband will tell me we can just hire a car and sleep in hotels with actual beds instead of campervanning our way around the country.
8. Eighteen will be the number of times I reply something along the lines of ‘bugger off’ to his very sensible suggestion. Although sometimes I will really, really want to give in.
9. China will finally get high-speed internet just as I leave the country, and I’ll be really pissed off because I never got to experience the thrill of uploading a photo in under ten minutes.
10. After six months of travelling rough crammed into a home-made campervan my children will probably hate me, but when they’re forty-five they’ll tell their kids it was the best holiday they ever had. I hope. 
There you have it, my 2012 Maximum China predictions. Let’s see how many come true……..

  • Sally

    Wow. This plan sounds AWESOME. And all kinds of crazy. But the most awesomest plans are also the craziest.
    I think your first stop should definitely be Wuxi. 🙂

  • Fiona T

    Wow Fiona! Your plan sounds amazing and your predictions made me smile. Happy New Year to you all and may 2012 indeed be a wonderful year. Lots of love Fiona x x x

  • Val Hamer

    Sounds totally mental and absolutely wonderful in equal parts. I must find a way to stalk you online and enjoy the road trip stories!

  • Kristen

    I've been talking about buying a camper van and living in it as well. That's pretty funny I just came across your blog post. I want to live out of it and work like usually and drive across Canada and the States.

    Your plan sounds awesome and I will definitely be following along.

  • Fiona

    You think it's a good idea, huh? Me too!

    Wuxi will definitely be the first stop, in fact, it may be as far as we get depending on the mechanical prowess of the frankencampervan….

    and to Kristen – driving across Canada and the US sounds fantastic, and at least you can just go out and buy a camper van without too much trouble 🙂 Do it!!

  • christa @ mental foodie

    Looks like you're gonna have an adventure this year! 🙂 Have fun! And good luck with the exams 🙂

  • Liz Mollica

    Fi – I just want to say, I love you and your crazy ideas! The very best of…luck, patience and good weather for 2012 especially in the latter 6 months of the year. WOW!

  • chinabecky

    Wow–what a great plan, can't wait to read all about it on your blog! I feel the same way as you, I also know that someday I will leave China (though not this year) and I am already sad about it too.

    Good luck!

  • Fiona

    Thanks Christa for the good luck wishes, definitely gonna need those for that essay!

    Liz, sometimes you just have to go with it, and hope it turns out OK. And we can always come and crash at all our Shanghai friends' houses if it fails, right?!

    Becky – thanks for the encouragement! My husband has been reading these comments and I think it confirms two things for him – firstly, it is a crazy plan, secondly, people seem quite excited about it on our behalf, which reinforces to him that it will probably be a helluva lot of fun!

  • Jasmin

    Hi! Love the idea too! I dream of doing it but via dodgy motorcycle. Maybe this will help?…….Apparently there are around 4500 mobile homes on the roads already as independent travel increases Mobile homes are also used by business men who travel a lot. I've seen a few parked on the side of the road here in Beijing and had to ask who was using them because I was surprised to see them. And I have briefly been inside a fully equipped la-di-da tour-style bus – very comfy. In some form or other they are probably going to even end up in Oz Check out Great Wall Motors I'm sure you could get your hands on one..unless the challenge of the Frankencampervan must be dominated….Haha. Enjoy!

  • Fiona

    Jasmin thanks a million – this info is PURE GOLD!

    We haven't started any major research yet, until after my exams are over, but in three years of travelling around China had only ever seen one campervan and we were on opposite sides of a highway going in different directions otherwise we might have chased him down! Good to know there are already several thousand here, increases our chances of getting a secondhand one.

    Very interesting about the travelling businessmen too. This is great information, thanks again!

  • Adeline
  • Anonymous

    Adeline something happened to your comment above but here it is, and thanks!

    Three words: "Good on ya!" I can hardly wait. PS: Love the fill-in-the-blanks Chinese comoposition. Good luck on it.

  • Jerri

    Cannot even imagine! My two trips to China felt pretty adventuresome to me and that was staying in 3 star hotels! Hope you are able to convince everyone and find someone to build your camper. I'm sure you will see extraordinary things that the average tourist will miss. Best of luck!

  • jerri

    Should have mentioned my daughters would LOVE this adventure, or at least the eating part. Not sure they are very good campers though :).

  • Fiona

    Jerri, Chinese 3 star hotels are like walking through the doors of the Haunted House at an amusement park – you know it's gonna be scary, you're just not sure in what way or when the first fright will hit you – will it be an electric shock from the dodgy wiring? Or a rodent running across your bed? Or the sink clogged from the dregs of Chinese tea? So hats off to you for bravery!

  • The Muse of The Day

    It would have to be called " Minumum" China if the idea wasn't so bloody crazy and bloody genius. We took our two daughters boating for two years, we have a special place in our hearts for the memories we created on that trip. Go for it. Carolina

  • Island Buzzy

    How exciting! I am excited to travel virtually with you. Being from Hawaii, congee or noodles for breakfast sounds good to me. My son just returned from Korea and we find ourselves hunting for authentic Korean food, spices, etc. Fortunately we have access to lots of Asian food here, but still there are always those things that you only find in the mother I can identify with your stocking and shipping goal! Kung He Fat Choy to you! Aloha, Connie

  • Northern Tobin clan

    Fantastic Fiona! Love the idea. Let us know if it turns out to be easier (or possible) to send camping related things from Aus. And maybe we'll try to meet you somewhere! We'll bring camping mats 🙂
    Love the Townsville crew xx

  • Fiona

    Connie, good luck with the Korean grocery shopping! and Happy New Year wishes to you too in Hawaii!

    Northern Tobins….would love you to join us on our adventures! And careful what you offer – the long list might include a portaloo, solar powered stuff, and one of those great giant camping Eskies!

  • Jules

    Fiona, I don't know whether to be insanely impressed, crazy jealous or to just offer pity to your long suffering husband and family. You are one truly amazing woman.
    I cannot wait to hear the adventures.
    I cannot wait to see the photographs.
    I cannot wait to laugh with you at the mishaps.
    I cannot imagine why you wouldn't hire a car and stay in hotels. (Was aiming to insert subliminal language in text to alert you to your possible delicate mental state but only managed crazy and insane. Penny dropping?).
    Ah, you know we wish you all the best and if there is someone who could achieve it, with gusto, class and success, it is definitely you! xx

  • Fiona

    Jules, you're one in a million. I'll be thinking of you as I write those stories, and travel those miles. xx

  • Louise

    Wow. That's some plan for the year. I'm going to continue to live my suburban existence and go to work most days. Hmmmm. I too will be waiting to hear about your experiences and meals, and wonder about the wisdom of driving around and staying in hotels.