Wednesday 12 September
Ed: Got up and out of bed - nothing had been hit by aeroplanes while we were asleep so that was nice. Got to the bus on time, and they were very nice about the laowai turning up and being smelly. I don't think many foreigners go to Chaozhou on accout of it being a bit crap in general (but with very nice little bits in it's unique centre). Switched buses at the coast, and read our way all the way to Shenzhen, the great big Chinese town that sits on the border to the new territories.
After some pretty creative approaches to traffic jams by our large coach, we got to the bus station that one goes to when one wishes to catch a train to Kowloon. V. hot bus station, due to large bus air conditioners pumping heat out into and enclosed space. Up the stairs to the train station at about 1600hrs, and we met our first part of the formality of crossing the border. We had to queue to have our passports stamped and our departure cards stamed while to leave China, and then we had to do the whole thing again to enter Honk Kong. Luckily, only two conflicting bureaucracies were fighting over who could be more official, so after our queueing, we got on the train and zipped over to Kowloon. While on the train, Jo and I came to an agreement that Hong Kong was special, so we would supplement the budget (which is currently exactly 40 UKPounds/day for the two of us) a bit in order to allow us to get pissed up in the PeninsularRaRaRa Hotel.
This was not where we were staying however. Our first choice out of the guide book was insanely tiny and in the middle of a vertical shopping centre that was very futuristic filmy in feel, and like Delhi in smell. Double room here (which is the size of a mildy extravagant lavatory) was quite steep, so we thought we might as well do a proper job of denting our wallets and spent a days worth of normal budget on a proper hotel. Very special to be able to have a real room in Kowloon, and not terribly expensive - cheaper than Edinburgh. Having checked in and washed, we went and had the afore mentioned drink (dry Manhattan for the boy, glass of champagne for the lady) followed by a very classy cheeseburger. It was by now eleven o'clock, and Jo wanted to have her pot noodles, so we went back to the hotel (after checking out the view over the bay) and had a well earned rest.
Hard day's travelling, but we had seen a lot of green rolling hills in Guanzhou province, and managed to survive our first night in compressed London.
Thursday 13 September
Jo: I woke up very early this morning and thought I'd be really useful and go and sort out our visas for returning to China (bizarre n'est pas?). So I hopped on the Star Ferry and 'hauled ass' over to the visa section of the China Resources Building. Unfortuantely for me, the Curse of James had struck again and the visa section was closed for re-decorating, which procedure was at least a month overdue. The visa section had moved over to Kennedy Road which looked relatively nearby on the Rough Guide map. Curse of James struck again, mainly because the Rough Guide maps don't show contour lines. I walked for a kilometre or so and then found myself at the foot of a wall of rock. Kennedy Road is halfway up to the peak, and yours truly was not in the mood for mountaineering at 9am and 30C heat. So I plodded dejectedly back to the hotel and woke Ed up and told him my woes. Poor boy.
Having devised a cunning plan, we went to leave our luggage until the evening when we could get to the youth hostel (to be explained later) at the Airport Express Station, and then we went to sort out our visas thereafter we settled in for a morning of using and abusing Hong Kong's excellent public transport. One of the more amusing forms of transport in Hong Kong is the Mid Levels esclator. To aid the lazier commuters amongst Hong Kong's population 600 metres of escalator have been built into the hillside I had run into earlier in the morning. These escalators run downhill (from residential areas to business district) until 10am each day, and thereafter they run uphill, mainly to help out lazy and/or tired tourists like us. So was glided up the hill to Hong Kong zoo. Unfortunately someone has seen fit to cover the escalators with a clear plastic roof meaning that even though you aren't actually exerting any effort, you feel like you're using one of those awful stepping machines set to maximum. Feeling a tad wilted we arrived at the top and decided to descend almost immediately into a cooler environment - the cinema.
After a whistlestop walk through the zoo and the botanic gardens and the park we reached the cinema and bought tickets for later in the evening. Hong Kong's waterfront is lined with a series of shopping malls, all of which are connected with aerial walkways and thus provide a suitably confusing maze in which cinema-goers can while away the hours until the film starts. And that is what we did, walk around, going "Cor, there's another branch of 'Wanko' tee hee" and trying to find a cyber cafe for a bit of 'Dear Diary...' until our legs gave out. Luckily 'Moulin Rouge' started not long afterwards and at last we had somewhere comfortable to collapse.
I don't want to spoil the story for anyone who hasn't seen 'Moulin Rouge' yet, but it is very amusing and I reccommend it - especially if you've run out of songs to sing along to.
After the film we had to dash off to get the bus to Mount Davis Youth Hostel. The youth hostel is located in a charming rural location, but this means it is a serious expedition to get there - the easiest method is to catch a shuttle bus up the hill, the last of which leaves at 10.30pm so this place is not for party animals. I stayed here in 1999 and told Ed it took around fifteen minutes to get there, so when we were still in the bus, and still climbing upwards after 35 minutes, all I could say was 'Oh, erm, it must have moved'. Well, a few things had changed but scarily lots of things are still the same as it 1999. Take the long term residents for example. One old Chinese man is still living there in the dorms as is another boy I met, called David. David is an interesting case, and 'case' is definitely the right word. He swears that he was hospitalised after falling off his bike due to running into a cow and breakng several bones and that he was saved from this unfortunate situation by massage alone. He also tells many stories about triad type thingies. Interesting guy with stories of questionable credibility. Aaanyway, all the familiar faces had the effect of making me feel quite at home and Ed feel like he was surrounded by freaks. Nonetheless, the hostel is in a nice quiet situation, even if I am in an all girl dorm again. There is no problem with this apart from in the early hours of the morning, when everyone gets up and starts going through their routine usually involving any or all of the following; massage of limbs, yoga, humming, singing, drying one's hair, makeup, rustling plastic bags etc. I always end up feeling a bit like a freak because I don't share this compulsion to get up and start rubbing cream onto various bits of me, maybe I'm missing out on something.
Ed: Hostel is v. depressing place, but quite nice to go and hide in after a days worth of pavement bashing. It really is an appreciable distance up to the top, and I can just imagine people moving in there, just to stay a week, then spending another week there, then getting up later and later in the day until they can no longer be bothered to go down the hill to civilisation everyday, until they end up spending their lives in the concrete blocks and terraces surrounded by security fences and other loonies who have spent so long there that they have developed acute 'mountain fever' (said with American hick accent).
Looking forward to getting back to good old depressing laowai free China next Monday, when we expect to return to the charming town of Kaifeng.
Saturday 15 September
Ed: Long time away from the keyboard, but as usual will pretend that I am happily typing away on the day in question. Expect usual tense jumbling and incoherent anecdotes to follow:
Hong Kong is stupidly hot - 36 degrees and a little drizzly making it all the more important that we find indoor activities. We still had to endure the thirty minute bus journey from the hostel to the town everyday, but from there on in we tried to get as much air conditioning as we could find. The hostel itself was starting to get even more scary and mountain-feverish as the days rolled on, and we even made the mistake of talking to someone this morning. Glad to get up and out of there (after having done our daily `chore' - yukky student lefty nonsense) and into New London.
Studenty leftism prevails in the coffee bars around town as well. The Pacific Coffee House, which offers free internet to paying customers, is always full of grubby people with one small bottle of water and a nervous eye on the free for all internet terminals. If you aren't prepared to barge your way into the nearest free computer (of which there are 3) don't expect to get a go. We didn't, so have forgone the pleasures of the Internet Protocol for a while now.
Must mention lovely curry we had on Friday night. Tip top yummy and in a v. special setting - the heart of a thiry storey block of flats in Kowloon. Everywhere we went, it was possible to hear the faint whisper in the air, in western voices, of the phrase "Just like Blade Runner. Just like Blade Runner...". It was just like Blade Runner.
Wandering around town on the Saturday morning, we filled ourselves up with some nice Deli France quiche and sandwiches, then just to make sure I had a McCheesburger as well. Funny habit we have got into - when there is food around, fill up just in case we get somewhere with nothing nice to eat - a sort of basic survival instinct. Having easily collected our new visas for China, we could also relax a bit, as our survival instincts told us that there were few obstacles in our way to return to China, apart from our lack of train tickets. These were also easy to come by. Travel by tube then over-street walkway and forking out a vast amount of money secured our return home to lovely dusty-but-friendly and as-poor-as-us Republic of China. Next stop, Kaifeng.
Sunday 16 September
Ed: Many things done in our weekend in Hong Kong. Having finally moved out of the hostel of doom, we went back to our initial hotel for a bit of privacy and a set of clean towels. We worked out that we were genuinely on holiday, and so decided that after having lugged our stuff over to the posh hotel, we would shower, change, and head off to the Peninsula Hotel again for a bit of tender loving care from the waiting staff.
This of course meant afternoon tea. For an appreciable but not extraordinary amount of pounds sterling, we were treated to some chamber music, out of place applause for the band from Americans, a pot of Earl Grey, and a metal thing with three plates stacked up on it covered in scones, cucumber sandwiches, cakes and clotted cream etc. Smashing stuff, and it took us over an hour to get through our charming tea-for-two-thousand. Really nice to be all posh and foreign whilst wearing a pair of shoes with holes in them as well. Nice juxtaposition of social and (you're not Germain Greer, get on with it -ed).
At some point in the afternoon we had also ventured over to the mountain railway - it runs up to the peak at the non youth hostel end of the island. This was of course immense fun, as it not only involved pressing a special button with a light on it to summon the tram to your lonely tram stop on the side of the hill, but also because the tram was actually a rail bound cablecar due to the forty-five degreeness of the track. When Jo and I got on at the stop just after the lower terminus, we of course could only buy standing up tickets as the tram thing was filled with tourists who had got on right at the bottom. The floor of the tram has wavy bits to stand on when the going gets steep, but I had to cling on for dear life, and it is quite scary to look behind oneself and see that the long pretty tram that used to be horizontal has suddenly turned into a downward drop terminating in a big glass window, with lots of tourists grinning at your immense fear.
Two of the tourists grinning at me most were in fact a couple of people I went to school with. When we got out at the top, we introduced our respective non-King's School Worcester travelling companions, and tried to find our way out of the mountain terminus shopping centre. We eventually got outside and had a chat about university and school etc. and I soon stopped shaking from tram-fear. All very nice to see them again, even if we had to go our separate ways fairly shortly afterwards.
Anyway, got back down again in one piece (standing up again, but this time pointing down the slope - much fun), and had afore mentioned tea. After this, we wandered around again in Kowloon, and did the obligatory tourist task of being convinced to come and look round the friendly Indian man's tailor shop before leaving shortly after entering. Apparently, they could knock me up a suit in about 30 minutes (2 days shurely?) but I had to decline mittering something about not wanting to upset my tailor at home blah blah blah.
In the evening, we went to the IMAX cinema to watch a film about the current solar maximum. Lots of the usual IMAX wizzo photography tricks to gawp at (time lapse of sun not rising or setting at the south pole, sunrise at Macchu Pichu) and they even managed to get one fitted to the SOHO solar observatory orbitting the earth right now. Absolutely fascinating seeing the sun in such scary detail - none of the images we saw were computer generated - and it really looked unbelievably scary seeing it move and throb and spit fireballs the size of a small galaxy. It looked like what hell ought to if it wasn't so clogged up with cats and snowballs.
Talking of the cinema reminds me also of having been to see "Bridget Jones' Diary" again the night before. Nice film to watch, and very suprising to see Uncle Terry (occupation: film extra) in the scene at Mark Darcy's family home. He was out of focus and was just behing the actor in shot, which was a head shot, so I leapt out of my seat when I saw him up there and shouted "TERRY!". Very funny, as when Jo spotted him after I did, she jumped up and down as well. Tip top.
Monday 17 September
Ed: More appalling spelling mistakes to deal with I'm afraid.
Got on our train in HK after having done some French bread and Laughing Cow cheese shopping, obligatory purchases for lengthy train journeys in China. Nearly managed to spend all our Hong Kong dollars as well, which was a bit of an achievement, and Jo nearly repeated her trick of finding some nice fruit and then finding out after we had bought it that it was a Californian import.
Got on the train and were suprised to find that not only was it all "nicely" done up with enclosed sleeper compartments and fully carpeted, but that our beds also came with free Indian tourists. The carpets were annoyingly unfastened to the floor, so we rolled it up and hid it, and the enclosed nature of the cabin made it a little claustrophobic. Jo warned me that this sort of journey involved about half an hour on the train, then we had to get off and go through customs in China, then get back on again. This proved just as flummoxing as it sounds, as we had to get off at the lovely and swelteringly hot station in the middle of nowhere, lug all our stuff through passport control, then lug it all back into position on the train again. Despite the fact that technically Hong Kong and The New Territories are part of China now, we still had to fill in a departure card and queue for a passport stamp to leave China, then fill in and queue up to enter China, all with our frightfully expensive new visas as well. Lots of bother.
Amused the Chinese lady sharing our sleeping area (sleeps six, but only had three of us on this journey - spacious) by crying "heave, heave, heave" in the style of Bagpuss mice when loading our luggage. This and many other western cultural artefacts we have tried to impress onto China, with little success. Great for scaring the locals though.
Also noticed that we had made the standard mistake of only bringing enough bread for me on the train, and so Jo galantly braved the train rice while I munched Kraft and Laughing Cow cheese sandwiches. Lots of monks on board for some reason, and a couple of Americans, but otherwise an un-chatty trip with little contact with anyone desperate to practice their English. Got lots of sleep as well.