The trip to Hong Kong was nothing if not incredibly HOT (temps in the mid to upper 30's) and incredibly frustrating! First I was told that the train back to Beijijng was completely full until the 20th July but that I could get a cheapish (nothing in HK is actually 'cheap') flight. So I didn't rush the visa through in 24 hours, I gave it 48 hours instead. I was then told that actually the train wasn't full at all, there were plenty of seats, but that there wasn't another train until Thursday. (I had missed Tuesday's train by this time). Also the flights had suddenly become prohibitively expensive. Worst of all, I was given a 30 day visa, so the whole sorry saga will need to be repeated again next month. A whole week ended up being 'wasted' in HK - not exactly 'wasted', I know - HK was amazing and I'm so pleased that I went there but my time for the rest of China is shrinking fast. Incidentally, my son has little patience with my lamentations and can be quite scathing about people who complain about 'having to go and spend time in Hong Kong'!
So, I'm back in good old Beijing, hopefully for a final week. I got back yesterday, having taken the soft sleeper on Thursday. Floods in southern China meant that we were 3 hours late getting back and the rain was torrential in Beijing, with thick fog. But it's COOL!! I'm no longer a puddle of perspiration on the floor, for now, anyway! The Chinese blokes have a novel way of cooling down - navel exposure! They roll their tee shirts up under their arms and display thier corporations (or not, as the case may be).
The hard sleeper to HK was not comfortable. It was not so much 'hard' as 'cramped' and resulted in a return of the sciatica. But the good news was that Ibuprofen was sold in HK, so I bought enough to set up a chemist shop. There were 6 of us (5 Chinese, all snorers) in a very small compartment with no headroom so I was prostrate for 24 hours - very tedious and uncomfortable. Not much to look at either - flats, factories, junk yards, back yards, demolition yards, scrub land, waste land, farmland and endless garbage tips. And that was how I spent my 39th wedding anniversary!! Who would have thought, 39 years ago...! It's not just the time lapse, which is alarming enough, it's life's surprises and unpredictability. The next morning the scenery had improved - mountains, wooded hills, villages and rivers, even one that looked suspiciously like the Pearl River. We had left the arid north far behind and were back in the lush green of the south.
So we rolled into the hot and steamy fan-oven that is Hong Kong. The hotel was part of an abortive economy drive, so was a windowless garrett in a little back alley in downtown Causeway Bay with a Chinese owner who is probably the Queen's greatest fan and who addressed me as 'hello Mum'. He must have been all of eighty, so I don't quite know how that made me his 'Mum'! No matter, in between shedding tears of frustration at all the conflicting, inaccurate and simply bloody-minded information, given by people who have no experience of being a 'foreigner', I managed to do the sights.
I took the tram to the top of Victoria Peak, the escalator up through all the levels (about 20 of them), the Star Ferry around the harbour. I also hopped on and off the wonderful old wooden trams that clank and grind their way around, lurching, rattling and groaning (Time's up. To be continued...) through the most fashionable and sophisticated areas HK has to offer. And 1HK$ gets you anywhere. So I explored the island from the air-conditioned comfort of the buses and trams. The subway system is pretty impressive as well but you con't see the sights from the subway. I admired the ingenuity of the Brits who constructed a tramway and flights of escalators up the side of a mountain. I liked the cleanliness and order (traffic actually acknowledged the existence of traffic lights!), the quirkiness and incongruity of the trams, the hustle and bustle and the fact that one could actually see the sun. I walked around the 'old' part of HK, past shops selling birds nests (for soup. Perfectly formed, elliptically shaped, plastic looking wafers in shades of whiteish to brownish red), dried starfish, dried sea horses, dried shark's fins, sea cucumbers, things which looked like large, black scouring pads and large, flat dried seaweed which resembled sheets of uncooked lasagne. And then there were the medicinal products - deer antlers, boxes of ginseng, small dead rodents attached to pieces of wood. The quantity of stuff was staggering - streets of shops, all with boxes and boxes full of dead and dried flora and fauna and more constantly being unloaded from vans and laden trolleys.
Causeway Bay was a pretty glitzy place at night. Everywhere hoards and hoards of prople and hoards and hoards of immensly tall and immensly thin, neon lit buildings. Every available inch of space is fought for and used, both at ground level and in mid-air, where there are roads, walkways, shops, offices, bars, restaurants and every 100 yards, an American fast food outlet. Even highways are built out over the sea.
HK was a lively, busy, exciting place but also slightly claustrophobic and will, I suspect, become chronically over-crowded, with more and more Chinese flooding in.
The soft sleeper back was a whole new ball game - not 'soft', of course, but spacious and comfortable and this time just 3 of us - an Obama-hating American from Alabama and his Chinese wife.
By the by, Crocs are a big fashion statement here in China, as are black leggings. Most of the Chinese are so super-slim that they'd look fantastic wearing a plastic bag! Until next time...