This is the real life story of Dina and Bernard Bennett driving in a road rally from Beijing to Paris in 2007—starting in Beijing, China to the desert sands of Mongolia, braving the potholes of Russia to reach Eastern Europe and eventually Paris, France with endless break downs and repairs to keep an almost 70-year-old car running.
The closest books I can compare this reading experience with is Paul Theroux’s “The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia” and Tom Carter’s “China: Portrait of a People“.
The big difference is that Theroux rode the rails, and Carter walked for most of two years across China. In Peking to Paris, Dina and her husband drove a 1940 Cadillac-LaSalle 52 Coupe that Dina named Roxanne.
On page 79, Dina says, “China is full of surprises.” Then she dives into a description of a café that specializes in Mongolian hotpot. She says, “Behind me is a full wall of shelves and bins stuffed with vegetables, fish, poultry, pork, lamb and beef. I count four sections, each easily five feet wide, divided by eight shelves reaching the ceiling. Every shelf is crammed with ingredient bins …”
With this description, Bennett shows us that China is an eating culture. Food is important to the Chinese—very important.
In another chapter, she discovers that the Chinese and Americans have more in common than she had thought when they stay the night at a rustic Chinese dude ranch where urban Chinese come to rough it on vacations spending time with Mongolian herders.
In China, the ride seemed smooth and easy, but once they cross the border into Mongolia, a band of boys exercising their democratic freedoms throw rocks at the car and shatter the driver’s side windshield.
However, when they were still in an undemocratic China ruled by one party, the CCP, no one threw rocks at them. Instead, while driving down remote country roads police officers in fancy dress uniforms wearing white gloves waited at intersections to guide them in the right direction.
A few hundreds yard into Mongolia, the paved roads they had enjoyed in China suddenly end and the rest of the trek across this landlocked country is mostly on dirt and sand taking a heavy toll on the mechanical health of the LaSalle. Then they reach Russia’s paved roads where the challenge becomes avoiding horse-trough sized potholes capable of swallowing cars whole.
Because of this experience from Peking to Paris, Dina and Bernard are bitten by the travel bug and they have now completed more than a dozen road trips all over the world—after you read this memoir, you may want to follow them by visiting the author’s Blog at Dina Bennett.net
I’m planning to.
Oh, and lest I forget, I was contacted by Dina’s publicist and agreed to accept a complementary uncorrected proof, which I read in record time. I have never met or talked to Dina and her husband online or in person.
The LaSalle in the above video is not the one that Dina and Bernard drove in the 2007 rally from Beijing to Paris, but the video gives you an idea of the car they drove 7,800 miles across China to Mongolia, then Russia to Eastern Europe and eventually Paris, France—thirty-five grueling days.
It has been some time since I read a book that I wanted to wake up early in the morning to read and eagerly waited to read before I slept. For me, reading Peking to Paris was an adventure, and I highly recommend it.
Discover Country Driving with Peter Hessler
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
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