Sunday, March 25, 2007 Hong Kong Hong Kong / Macau Macau

Final preparations for China

Tsim Sha Tsui neon [Enlarge]

The immigration queues at the Macau ferry terminal had been so long when we arrived, that we didn't want to take any risks getting delayed and missing our boat, so we got to the port nice and early for our 15:15 sailing back to Hong Kong. Naturally sod's law applies under these circumstances, and so the immigration process turned out to be quick and easy, and we found ourselves in the departure lounge 90 minutes early with nothing to do. An earlier boat was departing, and so on the off chance that they'd let us on, we approached the desk with our tickets. They barely even glanced at them, before attaching a sticker onto each ticket showing a seat assignment, and waving us through. Excellent! We just got to our seats before the boat began to move.

At the Hong Kong ferry terminal we paused only to top up our Octopus cards (electronic money cards which you load up with cash and then wave at a reader on every form of public transport except taxis, and even in some restaurants and shops), then went downstairs to the convenient subway station from where we caught a train across the island to the Wanchai/Causeway Bay area and our new hotel. It's so easy to get around in Hong Kong. There's always an easy alternative to walking or getting a taxi.

Our China tour starts this afternoon. We booked it with a company based in Xi'an, They arranged our train tickets from Hong Kong to Shanghai and said they would have them delivered to our hotel in Hong Kong. Since we didn't think we could trust that anything delivered to Chungking Mansions would actually get to us, we booked a more traditional hotel for our last two nights here. Sure enough, an envelope containing two tickets was waiting for us at reception when we checked in to The Charterhouse Hotel. After our last experience with a pre-booked tour, where we were abandoned overnight in cold Turkish bus stations and generally messed around at every stage, we were apprehensive that we would once again end up feeling that it would have been a lot less hassle to do everything ourselves. But so far everything is going to plan with Travel China Guide.

We've been watching the weather reports for mainland China with some interest over the past few weeks, and we saw a couple of weeks ago that Beijing (which is in the far north of China) experienced a heavy snowfall. By the time we reach Beijing it will be a month later, and hopefully spring will have sprung enough to make more snow unlikely. Nevertheless it's probably going to be colder than we've had it for some time, especially since we'll be staying up a mountain later this week at Huangshan. We no longer had our jumpers (US: sweaters), long ago given away to a grateful cleaner in Goa. So for once we actually wanted to visit a mall, to find some more warm clothes. We went across the road to the mall at Times Square.

Glenn found a jumper easily. Just like he would do at home if he wanted a simple, reasonably priced jumper, he went to the quintessentially British and ├╝bersensible Marks and Spencer. Within moments he had found the reasonably priced jumpers section and was perusing a choice of five different styles: cashmere blend, acrylic, or cotton, round- or v-neck, with contrasting trim, ribbed or plain. In the end he opted for a supersoft v-neck acrylic (so quicker drying!) which boasted on the label that the yarn was anti-pill, i.e. it won't go bobbly as quickly as acrylic jumpers usually do. Whether it will survive longer than our socks—we've gone through three pairs between us so far—remains to be seen. The best thing was that it was in the sale and only cost us 150 Hong Kong dollars (GBP 9.76 / USD 19.20)

So that was Glenn sorted. Finding a jumper for Isla should have been just as easy. As in every mall in the world, there are five womenswear shops for every menswear one, but as usual they are all so ridiculously fashion obsessed that at the time of looking, the only type of women's jumper available in the entire mall came with puff-sleeves, plastic buttons the size of saucers, or some form of frill or runching. Yes, The Eighties are back in Hong Kong in a big way! And to think that one of the reasons we left home was to get away from the return of surely the worst decade in the entire history of human fashion. The only thing we didn't see was huge shoulder pads—are they back in fashion back home yet? Anyway, we covered all eight floors of the mall, and Isla got all pink-in-the-face from dashing in and out of changing rooms hoping that things would look better on her than they did on the hanger. They never did. About 19:30 we took a pit-stop and went for a spaghetti carbonara and a beer at the nearest branch of Spaghetti House. Refilling our empty tummies and resting our aching feet gave us a new lease of life and we decided that instead of getting a jumper, Isla would buy a new shirt to replace her now somewhat stained and tatty Rohan one that she'd started the journey with. We went back up to the North Face shop and bought a very nice, hi-tech, quick drying shirt that we'd seen several hours earlier, again a bargain sale item. So why didn't we just buy a North Face fleece too? Firstly, because we'll probably be getting rid of it again in a few weeks, and secondly because when you only have one outer garment, you need it to cover every eventuality. It must be warm and smart and casual and lightweight and quick drying and cheap and not too spot the Western tourist—something, in other words, which is boring. If it gets really cold in mainland China, Isla will either buy the first piece of knitwear she can find, put both her T-shirts on under her shirt, or steal Glenn's jumper.

The following day we headed across the island again towards the Central–Mid-Levels Escalator to visit Flow second-hand bookshop. We're leaving the scope of our current guidebook so, like all guidebooks that have gone before, it can't come with us any further. We hoped to replace it with something to help us master a little of the Chinese language. We checked that Flow buys books as well as selling them, then we set about browsing the shelves. As we were looking an American couple came in. They had seven paperback fiction books to get rid of and asked what Flows would pay for them. The answer was 35 dollars (GBP 2.28 / USD 4.48) for the lot, five dollars each. This was about a fifth of the price that they would go back on sale for. The couple didn't negotiate, they just wandered off moaning about it. Eventually we settled on a funny old book about Chinese characters and something a little newer with a CD and pinyin translations. The combined price of the two items was 133 dollars. We worked out that we had paid the equivalent of 70 dollars for our guidebook when we bought it second hand in Bangkok, so we reckoned we'd do well if we got half that—it's got a bit battered around the edges with us over the past month, and besides, we don't begrudge the shop a fair profit. It's been a while since India and our bartering skills haven't seen much action for a while—did we still have it? Of course—bargaining is like riding a bike! We got 33 dollars for it, leaving us with a nice round 100 to pay for the Chinese books.

Finally we topped up on toothpaste and conditioner. Not that it won't be possible to buy usual everyday things there, but it's easier in Hong Kong where English is an official language and we can easily find familiar brands. So now we are all sorted for the train ride to Shanghai. It's going to be a 26 hour marathon—our longest transport experience ever—and after so much planning and anticipation, we will finally get to use the first entry of our double entry Chinese visa! We have got two bunks in a four-bunk 'soft-sleeper' compartment (the second of three classes). We've even got some Western biscuits to share with our companions as ice breakers. Hopefully, assuming they're Chinese, they won't have brought anything too strange to share with us.

Incidentally, we've been led to believe that Blogger's blogspot domain (the blogging platform and domain that we use) is blocked in China from time to time. It was most recently blocked in February this year and as far as we understand is still blocked. It is possible therefore that this will be our last post for a while. We will keep writing the posts on the laptop though, so if it all goes quiet, look out for a flood of new posts sent from South Korea on 25th April! And as for why we need a second entry into China? Hopefully, by then we will have used it and all will be revealed.

Map of Day 119

Day 119
Macau to Hong Kong

This map shows the route we took in this post. Click it to see larger maps of our whole route at flickr.

Maps are taken from the CIA World Factbook.


DuMMiellY said...

Dear Glenn and Isla,

My friends and I are intending to take a train down from Shanghai to HK. saw the pic in your blog, and we wondered whether its the deluxe soft sleeper seats or just the soft sleeper seats itself. I also like to ask a question about the safety on the train. Our parents are a tad worried abt the safety issue. and it would be nice if you can tell us more about it.

Anyway, have fun Glenn and Isla!

Glenn Livett said...

Hi DuMMiellY,

We took the standard soft sleeper, not the deluxe. We did meet some folks who were in a deluxe though. On our train, the deluxe was a bit nicer (wood panelling on the walls), and had 2 beds. The standard one had 4 bunks. Both compartments were the same size - the only difference was that the deluxe did not have top bunks. That's really the only difference worth talking about. Some trains ('Z' trains) have extras like TV screens in the deluxe berths, but there were no Z trains on the HK to Shanghai line when we travelled.

Safety - we have travelled on 5 overnight trains in China now, and never felt unsafe at all. The people we have shared with have mostly been businessmen who fell asleep the moment the train started! But obviously there are no guarantees. Pack your stuff well, lock your bags and put them up near your head if you are unsure.

Are there 4 of you travelling? If so, we recommend going for the standard soft sleeper, book a whole compartment for yourselves, and lock the door when you go to sleep.

Have a great trip!