Finally we've made it back home after two and a half weeks and, more surprisingly our driver survived the journey from Shanghai to Hangzhou.
It started badly when he rang to say he'd be at our hotel 10 minutes later so we got our stuff together and stood outside the hotel in the very unpleasant humidity and howling wind. 30 minutes later he appears blaming slow traffic.
Eventually we set off but we want to go to Ikea en route. I suggest that, as I know the direct route well, that he go that way (he's not reknowned for his knowledge of Shanghai) but he sets off in the opposite direction and when challenged waves away my repeated suggestion and says the elevated expressways will be quicker. Which they might be apart from the fact he comes off at the wrong exit and is driving around for 15 minutes before he tells us he's lost and stops to ask for help. It turns out we're going the wrong way so he gets back on the main road and causes two other cars to emergency-stop to avoid smashing into our car. 100 metres from Ikea I shout (in Chinese) "There it is, on the left" so he ignores that and says "I'll ask someone where it is" pulls to a halt and dashes out to ask someone. When we get there there's a road down the side and there's a large sign with the work 'Ikea' the letter P in white on a blue background and an arrow pointing down this side road which he tries to ignore three times with me getting angrier with each time.
Eventually we get there, get our stuff (which only took 10 mins) and went back to the stuffy mosquito-filled car park. After tracking down the car we couldn't find the driver who was also not answering his phone. When he answered on the fourth call (having simply ignored previous calls and texts) he seemed surprised that we'd called and slowly trotted back.
About a quarter of the way back, I was getting concerned about the '1960's Feature Film Driving Style' - you know, the one when they used to sit in a mock car with a projector playing a film of the road behind them. The drivers, always trying to make it look like they're driving always used to move the wheel frequently from side-to-side in a completely unconvincing simulation of driving. Unfortunately our driver was doing just that and wafting from lane to lane for no apparent reason. A quick discussion took place in the back (which the driver couldn't see because he has the rear view mirror folded up to the ceiling to avoiding it distracting him) and we concluded he was tired. When asked directly if this was the case, he said it wasn't but he was not OK because he was so hungry. Apparently, knowing he'd got a roundtrip of 6 hours to make, he'd decided to go for a light breakfast.
I did actually have this conversation with YY before the driver arrived - she was suggesting that a good boss would invite the driver to have something to eat with him and rest for a while after the 3 hour journey to Shanghai. I put forward the opposite view that a good driver would have the sense to arrive at least 30 minutes early so that he had time, both as a buffer in case of traffic or as a means of getting a break and something to eat before he headed back. Clearly he hadn't done this.
So, instead, we pulled into the provincial boundary service station where he went to have something to eat and we sat like kippers in the car for half an hour. Eventually we made it home, entirely intact, so it probably was 30 minutes well spent considering the alternatives.
This does bring up an interesting point about many Chinese people and their food dependency. It seems to manifest itself a bit like diabetes in that people are genuinely not OK or capable to function if they haven't eaten regularly. And by regularly, I don't just mean three times a day, I mean within 60 minutes of 11am and 5:30pm for lunch and dinner. I've known people to burst into tears when they've been asked to delay a meal because of a pressing work problem.
The problem is made even worse by the reliance on hot, preferably freshly-cooked food for every meal. Again, the British equivalent driver would, assuming a 6 hour stretch, would probably get a coffee, a sandwich and a Ginsters pasty somewhere en route (or even have the foresight to make sandwiches themselves before they set off) but sandwiches don't typically feature in the Chinese diet so grabbing a bite to keep the hunger pangs away is automatically a long drawn-out affair.