Friday, 28 March 2008

The Real Nanning, 02:56, 29/03/2008

It's Monday, and liking the new hotel, I lounge around for a while, catching up on a few day's internetting. I go off to collect my Vietnamese visa at 2pm, find it doesn't open until 2:30pm and grab myself some snacks nearby. Upon opening time, I suddenly remember I don't have my receipt with me, I'm useless for keeping onto such things but quickly formulate a plan. In the visa section of the embassy, I tell the man behind the counter my plight: I had my wallet in my pocket and someone came up and stole my bag, which had all my clothes, books and receipts in it, so I couldn't bring the receipt to him. Without my passport I can't get into a hotel (true, even if the rest isn't..), nor can I leave the country. I have other ID like my credit cards, UK driving licence and other bits and bobs, including the original picture (I received two) which was taking for the visa application. The response? “Tin-ba-dong”, and he points to the pile of receipts on his table. Shit. Of course, the only guy they have today is the only one that doesn't speak English in the embassy. Fan-flippin'-tastic. I mimic someone taking my bag from me, and shaking my hands and my head when he points to the receipts (after all, I'm a master of this, and by heck I'm not going back to the hotel, then to the embassy and back to the hotel again, I want my passport!), and he simply points to the chairs. I sit down, slightly annoyed, and wait it out. Ten minutes go by and I think that he might have been pointing to the door, not to the chairs which are close next to it. With this, I try again. Nothing. But! Help has arrived, an old lady speaks some decent English and explained my problem to him, but again, even having knowledge of Chinese wouldn't have helped me, he just points to the receipts. Seeing this as a challenge it goes on for a few more minutes, until another member of staff turns up and helps me with his fluent English. I get my passport, win! I emerge from the embassy quickly, happy with my victory over Vietnam, and trot over to the nearest park to treat myself to an ice-cream on yet another boiling hot day.

Myself, Wu Dan Hua and Lu Yong Ming arranged to meet at 6pm. From the hotel, we took at taxi to the train station, as I wanted to ensure I could get the train from Nanning to Pingxiang the next day. Pingxiang is the last stop before the China<>Vietnam border. Taking the taxi to the station with my two translators, Wu Dan Hua asks the ticket office clerk for the ticket for tomorrow morning, and all is well. Then he turns to me and asks in perfect English if the ticket is for me and has us all laughing. For the four and a bit hour journey by train, it costs RMB17 (£1.50), and leaves at 8am the next day. Perfect. Having a ticket in advance and knowing the times that it leaves is a huge lift off of my shoulders. Then we grab another cab and head to the night food market, the name escapes me as it's a long Chinese one with some weird pronunciation. It's one long street with many stalls selling everything from fruit, to chestnuts, to octopus, to snails, to normal barbeque items and fish. Grabbing some oily bread, chestnuts and other bits, we head up the road slowly. We settle down at a stall that makes gyoza dumplings, little bits of vegetable mashed together, and others with bits of meat. Ten of them costs RMB3 (25p), we get thirty between us and eat them as soon as they're made and brought over to the table. We finish my appetisers, head back to the street, and shortly after I feel something on my left pocket. Instantly I look down and up, seeing a hand retract and my own hands pushing the dickhead who tried his luck. I stare at the cheeky dipshit who attempted to take my camera and music player, he moves back as if drunk and is laughing, I push him again and back off to get away from him and who I presume are his thief friends to my right. I don't fancy myself against three of any people, especially not in a foreign country when I can simply walk away. We do so, and I relocate my wallet, camera and music player to my pockets on my legs that button up. This is the first time I felt even slightly unsafe in any Asian country, the warnings I had received the past few days from Wu Dan Hua were entirely justified. I'd heard pick-pocketing was rife in Shenzhen, but saw nothing to indicate the sort. A bit riled up, we sat in a secluded restaurant so I could relax and sit down for some food. The girls go to the front where all the market stalls are located after I tell them to order whatever they want, I think by now they're feeling a little more accustomed to the difference in economies. Out comes a fish with beansprouts, ginger and lots of other bits, on a huge metal tin with flames beneath it to keep it hot, a load of beef slices on sticks, some octopus tentacles on sticks, a big purple vegetable cut open that looks revolting, and other small dishes to keep us full. Total cost was around RMB70 (£5), a bargain for one meal, but it filled all three of us. Having eaten enough for the next couple of days and spending less than £7, we made our way through the shopping district where everything is extremely cheap. Pairs of shoes for RMB30 (£2), socks for a third of that, t-shirts from RMB20 (£1.60) and many other fantastic prices. Eager to keep my baggage low, I settle on one t-shirt for RMB41 (£3) and happily venture to bed at 11pm, awaiting the next day of festivities (read: long train journeys with wooden seats and tired eyes).

Thursday, 27 March 2008

More Nanning (And The Zoo!), 18:43, 27/03/2008

From my previous post, I wait an hour and make my way to a taxi, try and explain where I want to go (no one understands written English either) and finally convey I want to go to a hotel. I get to one around 6am, the room looks nice, RMB200 (£16) a night seems okay so I go to pay for a couple of nights, they want RMB500 deposit, I laugh and wonder why they need so much compared to any other hotel, I don't even have that on me so leave on a search at this ungodly hour for a cheaper hotel. I find one ten minutes later, RMB90 (£7) a night, RMB130 deposit, plus, it's called the Sanadu Hotel. Fantastic. For the price it's more than acceptable, a proper toilet rather than a squat, a double bed, TV, wardrobe, and it's central to most places around here.

After finding another hotel nearby with a map of Nanning and English-speaking staff, they pointed out where I currently was, where the train station is and where I needed to go to get my Vietnamese visa. This proved invaluable, all I had to do was point at the map to where the Investment Plaza was, and I was whisked to the Vietnamese embassy for around £1. After filling out the short application form and getting someone to take a photo of me for it, I paid the not-so-cheap RMB380 (£30) for the privilege of visiting Vietnam for 30 days, now I have to wait until Monday until it's ready for me, if I wanted it the same day it would have cost RMB200 more, but I'm in no rush. On Tuesday I'll be heading to the border and making my way to Hanoi for a while, then onto the coast – from there I'm thinking of going through Laos then eventually to Thailand.

Friday night, I wander around the city to get a feel for the area – I get that familiar feeling once again, it's just like the rest of China! Dozens upon dozens of identical stalls selling cigarettes, drinks, ice-cream and chewing gum, the same amount of small restaurants with indecipherable lettering on all of the walls and menus, the same amount of stores selling mobile phones and accessories. Mobile phones are a huge part in China's reconstruction as a capitalist country, many people own them, many more have yet to succumb to technology, whether it's because they don't see the need or understand them, or that they simply can't afford one. This became startlingly evident as the evening progressed.

I found a large restaurant, with one of the best ideas yet: two huge walls with pictures of every dish they do. Fantastic! I went a little crazy and pointed at things with one hand and counting the numbers of each on the other, using the thumbs up when I presumed they had my order right, and sat down at a small table to wait for the tea to arrive. Usually it's green tea, but in every restaurant I've visited, they'll serve up hot tea at no extra charge – they can, however, charge for other things such as tissues that look to be of no charge, but really, you needn't worry, they only add around 10 pence to the bill because of them. Some places also have a service charge (10%), but it depends on the restaurant. It's best just to expect it rather than be surprised when it doesn't quite seem to add up. Soon after ordering, a young waitress came up to my table and started speaking some more than adequate and most definitely more than appreciated English to me. She confirmed what I wanted and we talked for a while about what she was studying and how grateful I was that she helped out with the order. My meal came and was more than I could handle – I packed away most of it and got the bill. RMB22 (£1.80) for two large dishes and all the tea I could stuff down my throat. The young waitress came over to wish me well, and having not enquired before, I asked her how much she earns per hour. First she says RMB18 (£1.40 or so), but corrects herself and says she gets RMB18 for her whole shift of nine hours. So for a 19 year old University student working in a restaurant in China, RMB2 (12 pence) an hour is what you an expect. Unsure if it was offensive in the slightest but wanting to show my thanks for helping, I dig out a RMB20 note and hand it to her. A few minutes later and I still can't get her to take it, insisting she did as it's such a small amount of money for me that it doesn't matter at all. Instead, I make the promise that I'll come back tomorrow, simply so I have someone English to speak to.

I return the next day after a long day of doing nothing, and her friend is also working, we all make plans to go out the next day (Sunday). This works well for all of us, I eagerly want to visit the zoo, but have no clue as to how to get there, they can't afford to go there (it's RMB30 per person, £2.50) and I would appreciate the company and a couple of friendly tour-guides if nothing else. Waking up, it's 28 degrees outside and we set off around 11am, but not before checking into a new hotel (the Hanting Express, RMB119/£9.50 per night, brand new hotel, free internet, TV, clean room, more than I could have asked for). We first take the bus (RMB1.2/10p) to their University, it takes about thirty minutes and we walk around the whole complex. It's a huge mixture of new and slightly older buildings, as well as a small forest an a few parks throughout it all. It's very impressive to walk around, I didn't expect something so well formed, especially when their rent is RMB1000 (£85) for a whole year. The food is also dirt cheap, RMB3 (25p) per meal, I gobble the Guangxi province noodles and soup down, being my first meal of the day and all. After a long walk around, we head back to the main street to catch a bus to the zoo, a ten minute ride down the road. Two thirds of the way there we stop at another of the scheduled stops, and five guys burst onto it and drag two other guys off of the bus, pinning them to the ground. This is Chinese for 'We're cops, these are pick-pockets, everyone on the bus check your pockets to make sure you're not missing anything'. My pockets still contained everything I expected and we soon made our way onwards. The two girls, Wu Dan Hua and Lu Yong Ming, are extremely grateful for me paying for their £2 zoo entry, as they have never been to one because of the price. It has all the usual animals, lots of monkeys, a dolphin show, and one I couldn't stomach for long, the bear show. This involved dressing them up in skirts, making them dance, walk tight-ropes, but worst of all putting boxing gloves on their paws and making them fight each other. Not once did they walk on all fours, all the time they were stood as humans – I couldn't feel anything but sympathy for them. The rest of the zoo was more appealing, and was enjoyable to walk around, but there must have been hundreds of monkeys there – just as well I'm a monkey fan! We then took another (cheap) taxi to one of the big parks in Nanning, paid RMB2 (15p) to get in and soaked up the sun for the most part. Near the end of it all was a small amusement park of sorts, including a tall metal ferris wheel, only when nearing the top was I regretting getting into something so flimsy, thinking of how futile holding the sides would be in something made purely of heavy metal if it were to fall. Obviously, I lived to tell the tale and was glad to get out of it – the pictures I got were impressive though. Going to the University, the zoo and the park is more than a day's strength, so happily I retired for the day, until tomorrow of course.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Nanning, 21:02, 25/03/2008

Having made more than my fair share of acquaintances for the five days I was stopping in Hong Kong for, I left them to seek Chinese land again. This time, I was determined to get from Kowloon (Hong Kong) to Nanning in the mainland. This involves again taking the train from East Tsim Sha Tsui Station to Lo Wu, crossing into Shenzhen (mainland China) by foot, then finding a train from Shenzhen to Guangzhou, then an overnight sleeper train to Nanning. Most of it went well until the last part, the next sleeper train wasn't until the following day (it was roughly 4pm at the time), this was contrary to the 16;57 and 17:10 train departures I'd read about online. Unabashed, I set out to find an English-speaking representative at the train station who spent a good fifteen minutes working out what I wanted to do and writing down in no uncertain terms what I had to do and in both English and Chinese, success! So, I took the Metro from GuangzhouDong (Guangzhou East Railway Station), and thirty minutes and one change later I arrived in Guangzhou Railway Station. The difference? Quite a few miles and a better long-distance network. Here I found a bus station of sorts, well, more like a place selling tickets, of which I bought one for Nanning an hour later at 18:00 for RMB190 (£16) and settled for the only hot food around, McDonalds. Coming up with about twenty minutes until departure, I tried finding the bus stop, which I presumed would be where all the other buses were, underneath the first floor ticket booths. Of course, my presumption wasn't correct. As I found out due to broken English and more tin-ba-dongs, it was ten minutes up the road in the back of a mall. I thankfully made the bus due to one of the people in the first bus station telling me to follow someone, which I did and all was well.

I had about five minutes to spare, but the bus was twenty minutes late anyway so I wouldn't have missed it if I'd been late either. I was dreading the journey ahead slightly, one chair, ten hours (at least) and bumpy motorways.. then the bus pulled up. Everyone loaded on the luggage into the hold beneath (along with a box of chicks, squeaking away), got onto the bus, put their shoes into red plastic bags, hobbled along the painful spiky red floor and.. got into their bunks. For £16, I got myself ten hours on a bus to Nanning and my own little bed, complete with small shelf, raised back, small quilt and pillow. Granted, I must have slept an hour through the whole thing because of my inability to sleep on any form of moving transport, but it was an experience I certainly won't be losing from memory soon. Right now I'm sat upstairs in the bus station in Nanning, no idea where I am due to it being 04:47 and pitch black outside. The cries of 'taxi, taxi!' meant nothing, where would I go? Silly taxi drivers and their thirst for a fare at this hour. Now, I'll sit here until it gets light and hope things get a little clearer.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

HK Again, 20:35, 18/03/2008

I've settled down in Hong Kong again, packed up about five boxes of stuff to send home and bought lots to put inside those packages and boxes.. and I'm pooped. I think I'm ready to leave again and make my way through China and get to Hanoi (Vietnam) over land, visiting various places on the way. From there I intend to visit the coast of Vietnam then go on to Laos and eventually Thailand, as my craving for clear blue skies, 30+ degrees heat and beaches is getting increasingly strong.

Dave, meanwhile, has found that due to the Tibetan rioting and bloodshed, that he can't make his way to Lhasa and has had a big portion of his trip diverted because of it. He's also put up some detailed reports of our travels together and some pictures of yours truly:

I'll get some more photos uploaded soon of the remaining ones of China and some from Hong Kong.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Tin-Ba-Dong!, 14/03/2008

Having travelled in each other's company for almost two weeks, myself and Dave found ourselves in Shenzhen, the first stop inside China from Hong Kong. We left Hung Hom station in Hong Kong and paid HK$33 (just over £2) to get to Shenzhen, roughly an hour's journey away. Because Shenzhen is in mainland China, you will need a Chinese visa – you can get these in advance, or I'm told you can get one on the border. If you opt for the latter choice, bear in mind you can only get a five day Shenzhen visa and you will have to pay for it.

Nothing really attracted me to Shenzhen aside from the fact it's in the People's Republic Of China (to give it its full name) and very close by. The trains are the same as the subway trains, they're quick and clean, and not very crowded either. To get to Shenzhen, take the Hung Hom station from Hong Kong and go to Lo Wu, that's the last stop inside Hong Kong officially, then you have to walk across the border (indoors, you just get your passport stamped) and you're in China. It's reminiscent of Hong Kong in many ways, it's full of tall buildings, lots of shops and even more people. For the first time, I hadn't booked a hotel or hostel in advance, so we had to try our luck in finding a place to stay. The usual girls in red sashes will try and get you to go into their hotel that they work for; we went into one, took a look around the room and promptly left – many places (including hotels and restaurants) have, shall we say, different toilets. By that, I mean imagine a normal toilet, but make the rim of it so it's level with the ground. These horrid squat-toilets are an abomination, I refuse to ever consider using one, if only for fear of falling in. So onwards we went, more similar hotels located on the umpteenth floor of some apartment-style buildings went by, and we settled on a place downtown on the corner of a large street. It cost RMB208 (£16) per night, for two double beds (I've yet to go to a place that isn't a dorm which hasn't had double beds in every room) and all the usual amenities, and it was a real hotel! So £8 each per night cannot be sniffed at, which draws me to a point I feel I have to make – if you can travel with other people, whether it be people you know from home or people you meet on your travels, do it. Being around other people encourages you to do more, you both have a collective idea of what there is to do in any certain place, but most of all it's cheaper. Double beds are plentiful, so if you have someone who can share one with you, fantastic, because I've been in rooms for around £9 a night and having someone share cuts that cost in half. That's the amount you'll spend on food and travel in a day – and when you (read: I) have no set travel dates, every little counts towards lengthening your stay. The room we were in had two double beds, so room enough for four people comfortably, I just end up feeling as if I could be saving money if only there were more of us.

Impressions of China from this rectangular city, is that it's polluted like Hong Kong, it's still busy, it still feels pretty safe, and they like their scooters. The scooter thing is because (as I later found out) motorbikes are banned, so the powers-that-be are trying to push scooters instead, possibly due to safety as many don't wear helmets, and if they do they don't fasten them to their heads, rendering them pointless.

Dave's mother plays mahjong with another woman back home in America, this other woman has a son who's living in Shenzhen, so suggested Dave go meet up with him and his wife, inevitably, I tagged along and ended up visiting a large park on the top of Shenzhen looking down upon it with Dave and his mother's friend's son's wife. It's a place we probably wouldn't have found on our own due to the various bus rides to get there – buses seem impenetrable when no one seems to speak English in mainland China, restaurants are bad enough! It's a large park full of greenery, little commercialisation – in that I actually wanted to see a small shop somewhere so I could buy an ice-cream, thankfully we found one as we were coming down from the top – and sports a large statue of a prior leader of China (the one before Chairman Mao). The view from on top of the hill shows how in progress Shenzhen is, all of the surrounding buildings that have any height above the usual street-level ones have sprung up in the past couple of years. As with most of China, it's a developing place and will only serves to get bigger. Building sites are visible from the view, as well as many fresh-looking constructions and a steady haze covering those in the distance.

We visited the local farmer's market after this, a large repetetive outdoor market of sellers selling pretty much the same things, positioned in the same places too (watermelons top left, tomatoes at the bottom, carrots to the right..). It shows how cheap fresh fish, meat, fruit, vegetables and all manner of dried goods can be in China, as if the stores we've already visited weren't cheap enough. The fish section is mostly what you'll see elsewhere, although more turtles, octopus and other small bits that wouldn't go in my mouth either – it also smells, a lot. Not surprising I suppose, but enough to put me off seafood for a while! The meat section is also recognisable, except for the sellers who all tend to smoke right next to the open raw meat (hands no more than a few inches away), and meat with no real cooling, left to stew in the warm Chinese air. Suffice to say I prefer not to see what my animal was before it became my food on my plate (hence an aversion to octopus, because I can see what the tentacles are, and the word tentacle itself puts the shivers up me), nor where its come from, especially so in the case of China where food hygiene isn't something universally recognised yet. The dried section (so called because I can't think of a better name) includes many teas, lots of mushrooms which don't look like mushrooms, nuts, fruits and all the things to use the aforementioned with. Walking around and smelling is good enough for me, as much as a full-sized royal tea set was, it's simply too big to carry and too delicate to think about posting home. Despite not buying anything, it was nice to walk around it all, but seeing battery poultry and fish (they clearly hadn't enough water for even half of them) wasn't all that pleasant.

After our market tour we headed to, of all places, Wal-Mart. See, I've never been to one (Asda doesn't count), and at the least was intruiged to see what a Chinese version of a large supermarket would be like. In reality it was big but not huge, it had a decent bakery section with cheap food, but also sold live turtles which the staff will kill for you when you decide upon the one you want, it had crabs in the same regard, except they're all tied up so they can't move – they just sit there waiting to be chosen (or not) – and frogs sold by the packet, three on their back in a plastic tray covered with cling-film. It's the consideration I've had for such animals that makes me feel distressed at seeing them turtles and frogs were never to be eaten but to be looked at and seen as being friendly – obviously it's different when you grow up in a country where they're treated with a different regard, but it's not something I wanted to see or hear about in all honesty. I'm sure there are certain things we eat (veal, perhaps?) that invoke a similar feeling when they visit the UK, so it may well be a case of double-standards but my pity for frogs and turtles remains.

Having picked up fresh boxers, socks, some £4 sandals, razors and other bits to keep me tided, we met up with Dave's mother's friend's son, and had what can only be called a feast. Collectively we ordered lots of different dishes and picked off of each one, a great idea when there's four of you there to get a bit of everything rather than sticking to one meal that you might have regretted ordering after realising what it is when they deliver it.. yes, I ordered shrimp with noodles, what I got was shrimp with noodles, and lots and lots of tentacles from an octopus reaching from within it, as if trying to escape the noodling tangle it had gotten itself into. I recoiled in horror at the dish they had presented me, but thankfully David (Dave's mother's friend's son) reminded me we were sharing. Phew! We plouged through various dumplings (meat inside a thin, almost slippery casing, not the typical dumpling you might be thinking of), vegetables, pork slices and many more foods I can't remember; it was good. And very cheap of course, something ridiculous like £5 each including a few large bottles of beer each. From here we said goodbye to Dave's mother's friend's son's wife as she left for home, and myself and Dave and David went to a local pool and snooker hall, where you pay another very small amount to play on any of the tables in there, whilst having a girl wait on you, both for drinks and to replace any balls on the table (if playing snooker) and hand you any rests you might need. Handy! And for roughly an hour, we paid around £2, including beer.

We departed and said goodbye to David, and retired to our hotel room. Dave needed to set off in the morning for his midday flight to Chengdu to meet an old school-friend, so we got some early sleep thanks to the long day we'd endured and subsequently slept in and missed him to say my farewells to him, it had, after all, been two weeks since we'd met and started hanging out – of course we've got e-mail addresses exchanged and can each other in tune with the other's travels thanks to the wonder of blogs. One quick word on blogs if you were wondering about an update.. China doesn't allow them. You can't visit someone's blog or post on your own within China, many other websites are blocked too, such as Wikipedia and the BBC News website. So, getting back to Hong Kong is going to be a relief, not least because most people speak English!

Cihan, who I'd met in Macau (a Turkish guy living in China), live in Guangzhou, and is only about an hour or so away from Shenzhen, so I thought why not and hopped on a train. RMB75 (£6) straight from Shenzhen and its confusing train station, I arrived and found a hotel close by for RMB220 a night (£18) for two nights, just so I could get my bearings, and recover from lugging my heavy bag around again - it takes me about two nights to get ready for moving it again. The hotel (Lilac International Suites) is more than adequate, it's nothing special but it has a laundry room with machines at RMB10 (80p) a go, including drying, very handy as I was looking for a laundrette at the time. The hotel also has wired internet (and a wire to plug into your laptop), an added bonus that perhaps is reflected in the price. Other than that, the bathroom was very nice and the well lit thanks to the large windows, but the view wasn't the best – it was just one big construction site and a half-finished building. This led to being woken up slightly earlier than I'd wanted because of the noise, but wasn't too big of an issue. One major issue I have with China that annoys me daily is spitting, hocking and spitting everywhere – most of the people seem to do it, and it doesn't matter where either, in the street, in internet cafes, Cihan said he's seen someone do it in a restaurant too, just hocking and spitting on the floor. Hearing that hock when walking down the street or just sitting in my room writing on this blog irritates and disgusts me every time I hear it – the government here is trying to stamp it out as much as possible because of the imminent olympics in Shenzhen, Shanghai, Guangdong and Beijing and the image it's going to portray. I'd say their worries are most valid and hope their campaigns work because it's extremely off-putting as a visitor.

Guangzhou as a city I've not really seen in a city sense, I've visited little in the way of sites and more tried to enjoy the food and just walk around more than anything. There doesn't seem to be a great amount to do here, but it is big – the shopping can be good, but sadly I can't engage in it much because of my bag. Because of this and the strain it's putting on me, I've tried to find a shop that sells decent hiking-type bags, and failed in Guangzhou. Annoyingly I found one in Shenzhen and didn't replace my bag, I really should have done. As I was leaving Shenzhen, the long strap on my bag snapped, hence the need for a bag sooner than I'd anticipated. Dave said I'll end up getting a big hiking back-pack, or at least that I need to, I denied that I needed one, and thankfully I outlasted my bag, so I have a subtle victory in some sense. Anyway, Guangzhou is rubbish for large back-packs, I've found. Great if you want a hangbag, fantastic for one of the ones that you drag along on wheels, but otherwise, no. I found one for RMB448 (£36), it seemed okay, but only one in a whole store of bags that suited my needs. I found one more for RMB302 (£24), similar quality but unsure if it'd last, and only one in a whole store of bags. Moving on I found a place selling a whole load of bags and had one similar to those I'd just found for RMB100 (£8)! I bought it fairly promptly and left. I took it back to my expensive RMB220 per night hotel and was happy. That morning, I got myself ready to move onto my cheaper RMB120 (£10) hotel and started to open the bag.. the zip on the top pouch goes. Balls. I try the bottom one on the back, it falls off. The one on the right seems fine, the one on the left sticks.. The string ties to seal everything in the bag seem a bit thin, but I get most of my stuff in it, my books and clothes mostly. I hoist it onto my back and depart, despite the zips, it's fine. I get to the subway, get the train to Shiqiao (where my new hotel is), get out of the subway and start to head towards it. Half way there - SNAP SNAP. Both arms break at the bottom and the bag falls off my back and onto the floor. Double balls. I then proceed, through the 27 degrees celcius heat, and drag the bag to the hotel in its more than damaged state. I needed a new bag. Another search proved fruitless, so armed with Cihan as my translator again, I took the piece of shit bag back to the store and attempted to mimic what had happened. Cihan taught me some quick Chinese so I could make my demand of them, ni-yao-worder-chen, I want my money. I repeated it a few times so they go the message, then started on at me in Chinese, my simple retort of saying tin-ba-dong (literally translates to 'I don't understand') and pointing for them to speak to Cihan annoyed them more. I looked at the same bags that I had bought, and started on zips. One fell off each of them, the women there weren't pleased. This is after about ten or fifteen minutes of Cihan trying to explain that another bag is just going to break. I look around the store briefly whilst he talks to them. I don't want a bag that I have to drag on wheels, hardly the epitome of back-packing, but was feeling a little annoyed at this point at how they were refusing to refund and saying to try another of the same bag and bring that one back if it breaks. I don't have the time, nor the patience, to go back to the hotel and pack everything I'd just unpacked, and walk around with it until it breaks. So, we danced a little more, Cihan explained it again, I repeated ni-yao-worder-chen and nothing happened. I found a large bag with wheels that also has another of the same type (just slightly smaller) within it, picked it up and walked out of the store, Cihan realised and came out with me, the two women, one a very nasaly old coot with one of the worst bob-haircuts I've ever seen, starts going off on one to me. Of course, my repetition of tin-ba-dong just annoys her more as she demands for the bag back as they repeat that there is another bag inside. I repeat, this time a lot louder to compete with passers-by and the traffic behind me: ni-yao-worder-chen, I want my money back, or you're not getting your bags back, love. She starts waving her hands around like a woman ready to blow a fuse, Cihan explains that means she's inviting me into her crap-hole of a store. I say again tin-ba-dong, and get Cihan to tell her I want my RMB100 back or I'm leaving with the bags, she says give her the bags back and she'll give me my money back. Obviously she thinks Adam isn't as smart as her, she thinks wrong. I tell Cihan to tell her to put the money on top of the dodgy DVDs at the front of the store (it's an open-fronted one), which all of the stores seem to sell, no matter what they primarily stock (in this case, bags, lots of bags) and I'll put the bags down next to it. She says something, I say tin-ba-dong, ni-yao-worder-chen! I start to walk away and Cihan laughs, then she goes crazy again, I repeat ni-yao-worder-chen, ni-yao-worder-chen, passers-by are now standing around and chuckling, watching as this woman becomes increasingly irate, so then she says something which Cihan interprets to be 'just take it', and we leave.

That was fun, I now am the owner of two matching suitcase-type bags with wheels, one smaller than the other. The smaller I offered to Cihan, he informed me he has no need for one, he lives here after all, so I took it downstairs to reception and gave it to a very pleased guy. I'll have to make do with this suitcase thing until I can find a decent store to get a backpack from, possibly in Hong Kong. All that over a broken bag and £8.

So a recommendation, get a decent bag, and get it in the UK, where consumer rights exist and are generally known and accepted. I haven't found an equivalent of Blacks (a walking/hiking specific store in the UK) in Asia, but being more of a hub, Hong Kong should possess such a store, since it has so many people passing through it. Well, I'm hoping so.

That's my experience of China so far, it's grubby, it's murky, it's very warm, the sun doesn't shine through much due to pollution and the general atmosphere in the weather and it has some great plates to eat, as well as some not so great ones. I'm looking forward to returning to Hong Kong. From there, I'll be heading on to Bangkok, for a tour of the coast and the islands, I want a tan!

Monday, 3 March 2008

Hong Kong Pictures & Macau/Macao So Far, 17:23, 03/03/2008

A view of Hong Kong Island from Kowloon
Victoria Peak is located on the top of the right hill/mountain/thing
Myself (middle) and two Canadian guys who I was
sharing a dorm room with, 2 pounds for a 700ml beer

New specs!

One of the market stalls in Sham Shui Po,
selling lights - on all day and hurt to look at

The roads from a bridge on Hong Kong Island

Green water..

Lots of tall buildings




A lovely sunset from Victoria Peak

The smallest toilet I've ever attempted to use

On top of Victoria Peak (Hong Kong Island) which overlooks
the island as well as Kowloon (which is across the water)

My time in Hong Kong came to an abrupt end, as my debit and credit cards dutifully and annoyingly failed me the minute I set foot on Asian shores. I had entered my PIN wrongly due to the number pads being upside-down here, which triggered an anti-fraud measure with my bank. So, people, don't get your PIN wrong, and also don't try and take out more than your daily limit, that can be excruciating if you have no other money on you, thankfully, I had the slight foresight to take some US dollars with me which came in handy when needing to buy food (money exchange booths are littered throughout Hong Kong). My last few days in Hong Kong were to collect my visa for China (three months, HK$1200 - £80) and get myself ready for the trip to Macao.

Macao (or Macau, no one seems settled on the correct spelling) is reknowned as the gambling capital of Asia, with much higher profits than Las Vegas, so of course I wanted to go. From Hong Kong, you need to make your way to the third peer after Ocean Terminal (a shopping centre that juts onto the water), where many different boats set sail. From there you can go to lots of places in China, and just up the water to Macao for H$128 (£8 or so) one way. The ferry itself is of a decent size, has plenty of room to move around in, and has the most comfortable seats (cushy leather) of any transport system I've ever been in. It takes roughy an hour to get there from Hong Kong, and upon arrival, it's akin to a very small arrivals section at an airport. With a British passport you can stay here 180 days, just as in Hong Kong, but to do so you'd need to really limit yourself financially and be capable of entertaining yourself, or have bags of money in your bank account to live well.

Macao is known for its Portugese influence, it's sunny, it has paved streets across the few small islands it inhabits, and is home to many beautiful churches. Oh, and just like Hong Kong, there's a 7-Eleven (small stores that sell the basics, drink, food, magazines and whatnot), McDonalds and Starbucks around what seems to be every corner you go past, so that 'homely' feeling of HK is never quite lost. We arrived yesterday and didn't book anything in advance, there really isn't any need – Macao is so close to Hong Kong that they use both Hong Kong Dollars and Macao Patacas interchangeably, especially so because they are worth exactly the same so it isn't worth the hassle of getting Patacas when the currency you have works fine everywhere here. It was easy enough to get a taxi from the ferry terminal, 30 Patacas or HK$ will get you to Rua Da Feliciadade, or at least close enough to it to walk across the street, here we found three or four hotels located almost next to each other. Each has their advantages, either a cheaper price with slightly grotty rooms, or a higher price with very nice rooms, it all depends on budget. We hesistated between two which are located next to each other, one had two double beds, a huge room, nice bathroom and friendly staff, and worked out to be 1000 for three nights, so 500 between two or 333 between three, about £22 each for three nights stay. Next door to them was a place which wasn't as nice, but 600 for three nights and has three separate beds, so 200 each (£13 or so) for three nights. Quite the bargain! This was possible thanks to a Turkish guy called Cihan (chee-han) myself and Dave found whilst all looking for the same hotel (which was full anyway), from there we walked up to this hotel and he negotiated in Chinese (he's been learning and living in Shanghai for a year and a half now) for the price on the room, extremely helpful to have around when a lot of people struggle with English. It's pretty strange that all the streets have Portugese names too, because the taxi drivers don't ever seem to speak English, nor do they understand the Portugese names, so if you come to Macao, make sure you have a Lonely Planet guide with you (or nearest equivalent) – the China version covers Macao – or just pick up a free map at the ferry terminal (you can get them outside at the taxi enquiries booth). Then, you can point the street name out to the taxi driver (as they're spelt in Cantonese next to the Portugese names) rather than act like the typical ignorant foreigner, hoping that speaking loudly and slowly is going to help them understand a language they've no understanding of.

Having been here for around three days now (time doesn't matter when you've no obligations), the place is certainly warming. The food is generally good, the people are friendly despite the language barrier (there are English speakers, they can be a little hard to find though), and just relaxing outside with a book is easy for myself and my room-mates, who now consist of Dave (as previously mentioned) and Cihan. Having only been in Asia for less than ten days, it's strange how easy it is to get along with people you've just met, just as easy in Amsterdam really, perhaps it's the traveller's mindset, I'm not sure. Either way, it's been great so far, being around people with extremely different stories to tell and paths they want to take. Oh, except all the women in the internet cafes that try to sing all the time, I wouldn't mind if they were in tune.