Thursday, November 15, 2007

At last

Despite many many many procrastinations, my tale has wound its way to Vietnam. This one isn't all talk. It has pictures. Also for some reason I have used a lot of capitalisation.

Having passed through the tedious border procedures, our first task on Indochinese soil was to negotiate passage Hanoi, the border crossing being a few clicks from the absolute middle of nowhere. This was facilitated by some well dressed, well spoken (presumably well paid) young men who bundled us into a very comfortable, modern car, and took us to a nearby town where we were told a luxurious, spacious and air-conditioned mini-bus was waiting to ferry us to civilisation in the utmost comfort.

As many of you will be aware, the term 'minibus' is actually a euphemism for 'van', but, compared to a hard seat Chinese train, it did seem pretty luxurious. At first.

After paying our $10 fare (about the cost of a pretty nice hotel room for the night) we spent a few minutes getting to know our driver while we waited for some other saps tourists to arrive. His main schtick was pointing to various couples, and saying "I love you?" to establish the relationship status of his passengers. As I was travelling alone, when it came my turn he would point to various old women, men and livestock, say "I love you?" then collapse in fits of laughter at his marvelous joke. In the 3 hours or so it took to get to Hanoi, he never once tired of this.

After offering Ed $10 for his sunglasses (and turning his nose up in disgust at mine) we hopped into the van (er, minibus) and began our journey.

Perhaps a legacy of the leaner years of communism, there seems to be a policy in certain parts of Asia that no vehicle may travel at anything less than 120% capacity. To put a mere 12 people in a 12 seater van would be the height of wastefulness and decadent capitalist excess. As there were already 10 or so (fare paying) foreigners seated (for the time being) comfortably inside, it was up to our intrepid driver to find at least another half dozen locals to make up the quota. This was done by a process akin to press ganging, where the driver would stop near a local market/laundry/road side gathering spot, roll down his window and yell at random townsfolk. I imagine his speech translated as something like "This baby's going to Hanoi, and Whitey is payin. Get on board!"

The idea that a man squatting beside the road smoking and minding his own business, or a woman buying bananas at the local market might not WANT to go to Hanoi was no match for his mix of sales pitch and coercion. Perhaps wowed by the fact that they didn't actually have any good reason NOT to go to Hanoi, the van quickly filled to capacity, and beyond.

Eventually we must have tipped some ratio of airspace to meatspace in the van, and off we went. I was tired, hungry, parched, but still able to appreciate the fact that we were driving through some pretty spectacular countryside, impossibly green and ringed by those round pointy mountains that seem to thrust out of nowhere. Taking in the view was certainly preferable to meditating on the fact that I had about 15cm of seat space for both of my buttocks. Retrieving my camera from my pocket was a laughable proposition. My whinging aside, we made it to Hanoi, and the old quarter where the bulk of the cheaper accommodation is located.

The old quarter is a rabbit's warren of stores, hostels, bars and restaurants. The streets are rarely more than 4m wide, completely clogged with a never ending flow of motorcycle traffic, and seem to wind around on each other in ways that violate several fundamental precepts of geometry (particularly after a few beers). Many streets bear the names of the goods that were (traditionally) made and sold there, and some areas still conform to this pattern. Were you to ask, for example, where to buy a handbag, you would be directed to 'handbag street' where several dozen shopkeepers would step forth from several dozen identical stores imploring you to examine their selection of several dozen handbags which are completely indistinguishable from every other store within a 100m radius.

Aside from diverse selection of geographically concentrated stores, a foreigner is likely to be dogged at every step by street vendors offering various wares, including (in rough order they are offered)

- Guidebook?
- Motorbike?
- Marijuana?
- Opium?
- Girl
- ??? (at this point, realising you aren't interested in the 'ordinary' wares, the seller will spiral off into strange and disturbing realms of commercial possibilities, the gist being that WHATEVER you want, a guy can have it here on a motorbike within the hour.

Anyway, being day one, my only real desires were food, beer, and bed (order negotiable). Having taken care of item 3, I met up with Ed and Fiona again and sought out items 1 and 2. Driven by a mixture of curiosity and desperation, we waltzed up to the first street-side eatery we could find and sat down on some dangerously low and fragile looking plastic stools. Once 'bia' was ordered (we hadn't yet learned to ask for 'cold beer') we took to perusing the menu which was, unsurprisingly, in Vietnamese. Defaulting to my well tried 'would've starved to death in China without it' plan B, we took a look around the neighbouring tables and decided we'd have "that" (some sort of tofu dish with dipping sauce) and one of "those" (a plate of pea in the pod things). Beer arrived and food soon after, followed by another round of "that" and a few more beers.

I was filthy, dripping sweat, hadn't slept properly for two days, and was generally dumbstruck by the claustrophobic chaos of Hanoi. But sitting on a dodgy plastic stool on a dirty street drinking beer from a grubby glass, I was about as happy as I could be. The air thrummed with the sounds of motorcycles bearing unfeasible loads of passengers, goods, or both; Hanoi residents sat around us and joked and drank and shot us shifty glances; the sun shone down; and most importantly:

I had made it out of China, and into Vietnam; traversing more than 3000km in about a week, a stranger in a strange land. A casual observer (like the guy with the long white beard and one eye at the adjacent table) might have detected a hint of pride in my beer swilling and tofu chewing.

Oh, and pictures.

Hanoi, city of 3 million or so humans, and 3 million or so motorbikes:


Typical 'multi-use' building:


Hanoi Cross Section (courtesy of railroad track)


Night Life


and Mosquito control, provided by your hotel, free of charge


Friday, November 09, 2007

Vietnam Ho!

When we last saw our insipid hero, he was soaking wet and passed out from lack of sleep, too much running through monsoon rain, and the usual stresses of rail travel in China. I'm giving you a recap because its so long between posts at the moment that you've probably forgotten. If you're reading this at all.


I awoke about 4 hours later, still on the train, still soaking wet, and being snap frozen by the airconditioner. I needed to change out of my sweaty monsoon drenched clothes, and into some of the slightly less sweaty monsoon drenched clothes in my pack. Doing this in a small, dirty bathroom on a rickety-clackity train was no mean feat (a tip: don't touch ANYTHING) but I managed to get minutely drier and warmer and crawl back into my bunk.

The next morning found me in Nanning, capital of the Guangxi autonomous region and apparently famous for its lush green foliage. None of which was evident from the train station or the surrounding courtyard. I managed to get a ticket on to Pingxiang (the last Chinese stop on my dash to Vietnam) and then had to find a way to kill three hours or so. I ate something or other then found a internet cafe that was, at about 5.30am, already uncomfortably hot and overcrowded. I bashed out this guy then beat a hasty retreat back to the train courtyard to snooze on my pack for a while.

Relieved at the ease with which I managed to get a ticket to Pingxiang, I didn't think to check on the class or length of the journey, which of course turned out to be around the 3 hour mark, hard seat. I've most likely whinged about hard seat travel in China before, but for those of you that haven't heard it, it's a seat, that is hard. The angle of seat back to seat is also a perfect 90 degrees which does not gel particularly well with any human anatomy I've ever seen. Add to this the fact that its sweltering hot, and there's four of you to a bench, and you can see why its not my favourite way to travel.

Between dozing and inwardly grumbling about how tough it is to be me, I noticed that I was, for once, not the only foreigner in the car. Adjacent me were an English couple, Ed and Fiona, who were (and still are) on a mad quest to circumnavigate the globe without the use of airplanes, extolling the virtues of slow travel, enjoying the journey, and not pumping tons of carbon into the atmosphere via aviation fuel. (Read all about it). Joining forces to face the uncertain train/taxi/walk/wait/taxi ordeal of the China Vietnam border crossing, I was immediately glad of their company when it came time to negotiate a fare to the border pass, in the back of a moto-tuktuk type thing. For some reason the sting of being fleeced is less when others are in the same boat (or moto-tuktuk thing).

We were soon speeding down the highway towards the border, stopping only to make a roadside currency change from a lurking money changer who sprung out from the undergrowth (in what I'm sure is a well rehearsed maneuver) and waved our driver down.

By and by, we made it to the border itself. Some of you may be aware that China and Vietnam, despite their shared commitment to the dictatorship of the proleteriat (hur hur), haven't always been the best of pals. The ominously named 'Frienship Pass' where we made our crossing was I suppose an attempt at showcasing the improved relationship between the two People's Republics, and nothing says 'warm and friendly neighbour' like a huge expanse of white concrete, surmounted by a fortess of white stone emblazoned with the crest of the PRC.

Squinting against the reflected midday sun, we made it through customs and out of China, and struck out across no-man's-land toward a small shack which was the Vietnamese response to China's amiable border outpost.

The immigration procedure consisted of lining up with a bunch of other sweaty impatient foreigners, migrant workers and other miscellanians; pushing through the dark sweaty interior of the building to retrieve forms the counter furthest from the door; pushing back to take said form to the counter nearest the door; placing your passport on a towering pile; then standing outside and waiting.

And waiting.

And waiting.

It did occur to me that you could simply walk around the building, and viola, you're in Vietnam, but I figured illegal immigration was no way to start a holiday. They did have a large colourful poster of different kinds of ecstacy that amused me for five minutes or so.

Eventually (after Ed's passport had been thoroughly looked over by suspicious customs agents, no doubt habitually wary of Englishmen attempting to illegally immigrate to Vietnam) we got our passports back and headed through into Vietnam. Ed and Fiona were bailed up for 'entry tax' which I avoided by simply walking past the desk (making my immigration just a little bit illegal).

And there I was. In Vietnam. At last.

What adventures would befall me? If you've read this far you may as well stay tuned and find out.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

One Night In Canton

So there I was, accomodated, showered, refreshed, and stuck in a strange town until 4pm the next day.

So, sticking to the tried and true Ben Shaw Method Of Finding Fun in a Strange City I went in search of Canadians. And found them, at the appropriately named Strange Brew. After a satisfactory attempt at a burger, a few fancy German beers (a welcome departure from China's Lager standard, and the horrendously overpriced suds of Hong Kong) and some light chat with an attractive Chinese barmaid, one of the owners showed up, announcing that they were closing early and heading off to a friends newly opened Irish Bar (some things every city needs, no matter where on the earth). I'd ingratiated myself sufficiently by this point to be invited along.

The rest of the evening was of the standard 'ex-pats congregating in a foreign city' binge drinking kind, with various odd Irishmen, loud Americans, shifty elderly British fellows and jovial Canadians (+ one road weary Kiwi).

At some point in the evening though, we collected westerners were given a stark reminder of the superiority of the local stock, with the entrance of a tall, incredibly well muscled Chinese guy. You could hear the beer-bellies being sucked in. He turned out to be extremely fluent in English, and quite proficient in French also (not to mention Mandarin and Cantonese of course). Every man in the room instantly loathed him, particularly because he was one of the most likeable people you could ever meet. He eventually made his apologies and joined the band on stage, cradling a saxophone in his huge arms (which he, of course, played superbly).


Note also that lustrous mane of hair.

A few too many pints of Kilkenny later, I managed to crawl into a taxi, and thence to bed. I woke up the next day, head pounding, and wallet considerably lighter, having spent most of the money that I'd scrimped by living cheaply in Hong Kong.

Such is life.

With 6 hours or so till my train left, I figured I had ample time to sample the touristy treats that Guangzhou had to offer. The first challenge was to find the metro station, which wasn't helped by my hotelier pointing out a place about 3 blocks north of where I was and saying "this hotel is here". With that navigational head-start, I walked out onto the main road, under the shadows of the ever present fly-overs, and tried to work my way out of the leather district (a great place if you like handbags and jackets, not so good if you're a tourist on a budget wanting to be anywhere but the leather district).

My wanderings were considerably hampered by the arrival of the daily rains (the word 'torrential' doesn't really do them justice) and I of course had neither umbrella or coat. The rain came in bursts, meaning that one moment I was sweltering in malarial heat, and the next I was shivering and huddling beneath inadequate shelter in a drab grey housing complex.


Guangzhou holds the dubious distinction of being founded by five goats (magical goat deities I'm sure) and after correcting for my hosts helpful advice, I found my way to a statue commemorating this.


A metro station was nearby, so I set off for the south part of the city, and Shamian Island. The island was originally a sand-bar in the river (the direct translation is 'sandy surface') and was conceeded to the US and British who built a bunch of warehouses on it and generally enlarged it into a sizeable haven of colonial splendour and whatnot. Nowadays its mostly famous for being the place to go to see wealthy American couples pushing Chinese infants down the bund in strollers as they await the outcome of adoption proceedings. The colonialism continues unabated, albeit in a modern form:


I was forced to shelter under the eaves of that very Starbucks for about an hour during another downpour until I realised, to my horror, that it had gone 3pm, and my train left at 4.

From the other side of the city.
And that I needed to stop at my hotel first to pick up my pack.

With the prospect of yet another night in a hotel that I couldn't afford, and an unrefundable train ticket, I set off at pace to the subway station. I bolted out of the train at the nearest stop and made a run for my hotel. I'm sure the sight of an absolutely sweat drenched laowai, sprinting madly down a crowded street in 38 degree heat, stopping only to suck from a water bottle and gasp for breath occasionally will live on in local legend for years to come.

I made it back to the hotel with about 15 minutes till departure, elbowing my way through a group of Indian businessmen attempting to negotiate their check-in in a language that neither they nor the hotelier were particularly proficient at (ie English). I managed to flag a taxi on the street, and bundled in, soaking wet and with blood pressure that was probably audible. He asked what time my train was leaving. I told him. He laughed. I asked if it was doable. He said something to me in Cantonese that I took to mean "There is absolutely no way in the 7 hells that you are going to make that train you big stupid foreigner".

At the front of the train station, 8 minutes till departure, I hit the usual queue for the metal detector (yeah I have no idea either) and was forced to fall back on 10 months of accumulated 'queuing' training to elbow my way to the front and through into the foyer. Swatting elderly women and children out of the way with my pack, I pushed through the crowd looking for a sign that might indicate where my train was leaving from. I eventually found the helpful student, who seemed sure that I'd already missed it. I asked him to humour me and show me the gate anyway, and with a bit more pack-bludgeoning, toe standing, and generally using my obnoxious western bulk to full advantage I found the platform, still blessedly inhabited by a train.

Exhausted, saturated with both sweat and rain, and at the fringes of sanity I made it to my berth, dumped my pack, and collapsed. The train pulled out moments later.

Take that skeptical Guangzhou taxi driver. Never underestimate the power of a highly stressed laowai with a heavy bag to swing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

From Hong Kong to Guangdong

this one's wordy.

As I sat in Starbucks at Kowloon Railway station, slurping a Red Bean Frappacino, I realised I’d be somewhat relieved to be leaving the fastidious and overpriced mallishness of Hong Kong behind and to be returning to the 'proper' China of 20c beer, cheap street food, and slightly less expensive touristy geegaws.

This relief lasted right up until I got off the train at Gaungzhou central station, and was pressed forward into the thronging masses and stifling temperatures.

My plan:

- Find the legendary ‘foreigners ticket counter’
- Purchase a ticket on to Nanning
- Catch a taxi to the North Railway station
- Board Nanning train
- Sleep blissfully until my arrival in Guangxi Province, rocked by the gentle swaying of train on rail.

China being China, this was of course hopelessly naïve.

The lack of bilingual signage, and general chaos the place ensured that my plan stumbled before I even ticket off the first bullet point. My attempts to garner directions from the locals resulted in fingers pointing to each of the cardinal points of the compass, and no real information being conveyed.

This meant resorting to the all-purpose, Foreigner Travelling In China Emergency Assistance Plan, or, “standing around looking bewildered until a friendly student who wants to practice his/her English approaches you”. Right on cue my assistance arrived, and after a brief discussion with one of the guards, he informed me that the foreigners ticket counter did not in fact exist, and that I would need to go to the North Train Station to buy my ticket directly. Before thanking him and heading out into the streets, I managed to find out that he had absolutely no idea where Nanning was and had never even HEARD of Vietnam.

Upon exiting the station, I realised that what I thought had been a sweaty claustrophobic box was in fact an air-conditioned haven of tranquillity compared to conditions out of doors.

Guangzhou (Canton to you colonial types) is a city of between 8.5 and 12 million people (depending on who you ask) and is a sprawling multi-lane flyover ying to Hong Kong’s pedestrian paradise yang. Dodging cars to get to a taxi rank I was made well aware of the fact that the average temperature in July ranges from 25-32 degrees Celsius, with about 270mm of rainfall.


I made it to a cab, managed to communicate my destination to the driver, then received a full blast of culture shock when he asked me to put on my seatbelt. In 11 months of living in China, I had rarely encountered a taxi that was equipped with seatbelts, let alone been asked to wear one. Crazy southerners.

So we wound our way through the drizzle and traffic to the North Train Station. I may have mentioned earlier that Lonely Planet describes this establishment along the lines of ‘teeming masses’ ‘confusing’ and ‘avoid at all costs’. It was all of this and more.

Lines snaked outside from the hot dark bowels of the ticketing office, and it took all of my gathered queue ramming and pack swinging skills to secure a place in line. 40 minutes later, sweaty, chafing from my pack, and driven near mad by the constant stares, elbows, smells and sounds of the thousands gathered around me, I made it to the front, and asked for a ticket to Nanning in my fumbling Mandarin.

“Mei You”

The words that every traveller in China will know. And dread. Turns out there were no tickets available until the following day. I bought one, then staggered back out into the sunlight, into a city where I had not planned to stay and which was described as having ‘very few options for budget travellers’.

Broadcasting my ‘what the hell am I going to do now’ face for all to see, I was soon approached by a hotel tout waving pamphlets in my face and yelling out sums of money that were about 4 times what I’d planned on paying for accommodation. To add to the fun, she spoke Cantonese, and I had a 2 year-old’s grasp of Mandarin. This is equivalent to learning a smattering of French and then finding yourself stranded in Italy for the night (with all the attendant, “we hate the French” in there as well.). Having stated a price that I was willing to pay, and being more or less understood, she set off a trot to visit various small hotels around the station. All of which were of course full (or unwilling to house a sweaty laowai who was just smart enough not to be ripped off). Darting across highways and under over passes, I was hard pressed to keep up, my pack suddenly feeling about ten times heavier and my head ten times lighter due to the moisture that was pouring out of me. Having exhausted the nearest options, she set off at a near run to a hotel a little further out. I have a suspicion that she had decided I was too much trouble and was trying to lose me at this point, but I pursued her with dogged dedication (or delirious determination. One of the two.)

Eventually, saturated, sore and stressed near breaking point, we reached the Huada College Business Hotel (No. 5 Building Guihua Road Guangzhou, entering from the gate of the Experimental Middle School of Guangzhou Univeristy. Tell them Ben sent you). Normally for international business exchangees, the fact that it was definitely not suit and tie weather meant it was almost empty. Before I could have the tricky ‘so how much do I owe you’ conversation with the tout, she was off (but not before complimenting me on keeping up) and I was soon checked into a nice (and quite reasonably priced room) with a double bed, satellite TV and, most important of all, a shower.

I showered, collapsed for a few hours, and woke up feeling something like a human being again. That taken care of (as pictured), I was left to wonder what one does with a night in Guangzhou…


Post Script: Today is Blog Action Day for the environment. In that spirit I'd like to suggest that anyone who thinks 'oh a bit of warming won't be so bad', 'cities would be better off with more and wider roads' and 'all economic development is good development' should spend half an hour running around Gaungzhou wearing a 12kg pack in mid-summer, breathing deep lungfuls of the fruits of industry and commerce. Its a good teaser of what we're heading for.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Lantau Layover

Okay, so the where and why of this particular day is pretty well covered here but basically I took a day journey out to Lantau Island (one of the 262 or so islands that make up the Special Administrative Zone of Hong Kong) and was given a rather prolonged lesson in "how Buddhist monks spend their pocket money" (or perhaps, to be fair, how the Hong Kong authorities exploit Buddhism for the tourist dollar).

And here it is (proving that with enough caveats anything can be the largest something): The World's Largest Outdoor Seated Bronze Buddha


and yes I paid hard currency for the privilige of slogging my way up all those stairs in the sweltering humidity, to take a walk around a glorified 'buy a buddha' gift shoppe.

The view from the top as proof:


Other attractions on the island (where I was captive for 4 hours or so, trying to retrieve my pack) were:

The World's Largest Wicker Chair Situated Beneath a Tattered Chinese Flag in Hong Kong


The World's Eeriest Derelict Building with Scarecrow on an Island In Hong Kong


The World's Most Poorly Conceived Tourist Attraction (not too many qualifiers on that one):


And the World's Most Sterile and Deserted Chinese Model Village (the folks in red are staff):


And finally the World's Most Thing that Ben Doesn't Know What The Purpose Of It Is On Lantau Island:


As noted earlier, there were also some pretty butterflies (which were extremely difficult to photograph)


And for those of you that read the original post, "Sun Killer" (which has yet to snuff out our gaseous benefactor) turned out to be foundation. But I used it anyway because the alternative was being barbecued.

Two posts in two days. Remarkable. We'll be in Vietnam shortly.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Hong Kong Phooey, Part Tooey, Redooey


Anywhooo, my continuing adventures on Hong Kong island.

Starting with the good points:

Hong Kong is cleeaaaan, there is no spitting, there is no smoking (in fact any behaviour deemed to be even mildly anti-social is punished with an instant 5000 $HK fine); they seem to have found a way to aircondition large outdoor areas and its probably the most pedestrian friendly place I've ever been. You can walk from one side of the island to another without having to cross a street by way of subways and overpasses (all airconditioned). The harbour is serviced by cheap (if slow) ferries, and apparently the bus and metro system is just peachy.

The bad point:

The entire place is basically one gigantic shopping mall. And whilst 'anything' can be purchased, sometimes its best to remain ignorant as to exactly what 'anything' means.

To wile away the days waiting for various visas to process (I was later sternly admonished by the owner of my hostel for not using her overnight service), my temporary travel buddy Will and I did Various Touristy Things™ including ascending the Viewing Tower On a Hill Thing™ (housing a branch of Madame Tussaude's, and designed so that as you ascend each floor, you have to walk through a slew of Touristy Crap Shops™).

The view from the top:


The view from the top again, slightly obscured by a sweaty guy:


The port, showing that unique Chinese flair for 'organisation'


Other Touristy Must-do's™ are the Hong Kong walk of fame, paying homage to various Taiwanese and Hong Kong movie stars that China likes to claim. I don't know exactly who this guy is, but I have a definite contender for the name of my firstborn:


In conclusion, Hong Kong loves pandas:


Does not love theoretical physicists with Lou Gehrig's disease:


And is nice to look at in a City Scapey Sort of Way™.


If anyone is actually still reading this, I'll have a post up about Buddhisty Tourist Traps™ tomorrow. Promise.

(And I'll let the Dumb TradeMark Gag™ die. )

Sunday, September 09, 2007

On the road again (again)

Okay, so these next few are going to be retreads, going back over my hastily bashed out entries on the way south from Liaoyang, fleshing things out with further blatherings, inanesights (like insights but not) and pictures.



So as mentioned, I went through the ritual harrowing of packing all my wordly goods back into the pack whence they came, with the help of half a dozen large rubbish bags, and a few chinese friends onto whom I could offload various appliances, musical instruments and bottles of undrinkable chinese liquor.

I flew down to Beijing, dumped my stuff in a corner at a friends house, and booked my passage on an overnight train to Hong Kong the next day. Just to recap, this was all necessary because my Visa expired the day my teaching contract ended, and the Liaoyang authorities refused to extend it, possibly due to being unable to comprehend why anybody would stay in Liaoyang any longer than strictly necessary.

Of course, having to stay overnight in Beijing meant that I was already a day over my visa (and liable for a 500 yuan fine) when I went through customs to board the train to Hong Kong (its a little weird being stamped out of a country when you've still got to do 24 hours of rail travel within its borders). The matronly customs lady studied my visa, then asked me if I spoke any Chinese. I gave her my best "wo hui shou yi dian dian", which prompted her to tell me (in English) that I was a day over my visa. However some combination of my winning smile and endearing mangling of her national tongue must have melted her cold bureaucratic heart because she stamped me and waved me through.

I was travelling hard sleeper on the train, an open arrangement of six bunks to a berth, which I shared with an American teacher and two Chinese ladies, Ms Yu (heading to Hong Kong for the first time to visit family) and Ms Teresa Lee, manager of the Lucky Cloud International Cultural Exchange Company. We struck up a conversation of sorts, with Teresa playing interpreter between the two Chinese-poor Laowai, and the elderly Ms Yu, who spoke no English.

We had a 24 hour journey ahead of us, so decided to pass the time by teaching our Chinese friends the game of Hearts (or Black Bitch if that's your fancy). Its kind of a difficult game to explain, particularly with a language barrier, but Ms Yu soon began to display a pretty crafty knack for the game, prompting me to mention to Teresa that she was definitely the one to watch. This was conveyed to Ms Yu who replied, with a glint in her eye: "You've been in China too long".

Anyway, after 24 hours of this (barring those hours that it was dark):


We arrived at Hong Kong, the transition from Mainland to Special Administrative Region made immediately apparent by the sudden appearance of graffiti on the railway sidings, and the slatherings of (correct) English on signage and advertising. Of course, if you really want an illustration of the "One Country Two Systems" policy, you need look no further than the first thing you see upon exiting the train station:


In China, claiming that Fulan Dafa is 'good' (in fact claiming that it is anything other than a dangerous subversive and evil cult) is liable to get you a couple years of 're-education' that you may return from a couple of organs shy of a full set.

Following the lead of Will, my American train-buddy, I dragged myself and pack through the unbelievably sweaty streets of Hong Kong, dodging touts and sellers of fine suits and fake rolexs, to arrive at the Cosmic Guesthouse, situated in the euphemistically titled Mirador Mansions.



Apparently a good place to stay if you think you're going to need to get any of your Ethnic Minorities serviced.

After ditching our burdens, we headed out into Hong Kong, in search of visas, train tickets, and beer. The last item on the list was stymied by the fact that everything in Hong Kong is absurdly expensive, especially on a Chinese teacher's salary. It is pretty by night though.