Saturday, 19 March 2011

Goodbye Hong Kong and hello again China

It was morning already and I was not ready to get up as I had pretty much no sleep the night before. Before I left I thought the most likely dietary complaint I would face would be diarrhoea so I stocked up on anti-diarrhoeal tablets and pushed aside the laxatives that were also recommended. To cut a long story short and save you all from details that you need not know, I wish I had bought them as I may have got some sleep!

In a tired state, Matt and I checked out of Hong Kong Hostel and headed for Shenzhen where we hoped we would get onward tickets to Guilin that evening. I retraced my routes on the MTR back to the border crossing we went through the normal routine, however, Matt got pulled aside again as they had to have a closer look at his passport because it has so many stamps in it from his work travels. They put him inside a small glass room for five minutes and proceeded to check through his passport. Suddenly they returned it to him and sent him merrily on his way into China.

Shenzhen, not my favourite place and during the final build up to Spring Festival the last place you want to be is a train station as it is utterly crammed full of people heading home for the holiday. As it is the main border crossing hub between China and Hong Kong, the station is huge and finding the right ticket office was an unpleasant ordeal as touts are trying to sell you tickets to places on every corner. Our initial plan was to head into the Yunan province and make our way back towards Guangzhou where Matt could easily get to Hong Kong for his flight home. However, we had to concede to the fact it was Spring Festival and it would be a lot more difficult to travel around, so we decided that we should bjust head to Guilin and make our way back to Guangzhou via Yangshuo and Xingping. After pushing our way through the crowds of people camping out for their trains, we found the ticket office and went in to ask for tickets to Guilin. My hopeful attitude was soon dashed as there were no tickets available for that day, nor the next or the one after that. So we decided that the only way we could get out is to get on a sleeper bus.

As we walked out of the ticket office towards the bus station we were interrupted by what looked like a police officer who asked where we wanted to go and said that he would take us there. We thought this was nice of him and we naively followed him through a shop and into a ticket booking office where they wanted 450 Yuan (£45) per person for the sleeper bus to Guilin. Absolutely ridiculous price and we promptly walked out. The officer followed us and as we disappeared up the escalator he signalled he would lower it to 400 Yuan which was still no good. We walked across the complex to another ticket office with an encore of 'Guilin', 'Beijing' and any city imaginable trying to get us to buy tickets. The lady at the ticket office said she didn't have tickets and frantically waved her hand in the direction we needed to go to. After heading in that direction and asking some girls in a ferry ticketing office, we found another smaller bus station and the ticket office we needed and tickets were half the price. Unfortunately the night bus was not available but there was one the morning after which meant that I had to spend yet another night in Shenzhen! No matter, with the tickets in our hands and the knowledge that we would be out of there very soon, we got on the metro and headed to the one and only youth hostel in the city. Matt was not impressed with the hostel as the common area was just full of people plugged into their laptops with little concern about anyone else in the room.

I must admit that my first impression of Shenzhen on my previous visit may have been marred by my prior travel issues and failure to see Hangzhou as Matt and I jumped on the metro and headed to another part of town that I had not been before and I quite liked it. This was the real China-China Shenzhen as it was full of street sellers trying their hardest to survive and a mass of shops selling copy (not fake!) clothes everywhere. On my previous visit to the city I went to the 'posh' end of town where the shops were genuine Vesace, Armani and Calvin Klein and the richness made me feel quite ill thinking about the rest of poor China. This was Matt's first experience of China-China, he had seen Hong Kong China and China Town before but it's nothing like China-China. We walked around for a while and Matt needed something to eat so he saw a restaurant on the corner that were selling noodle soup, he pointed to a lady's bowl and said “I'll have that.”. I'm sure a day hasn't gone by where he did not regret that decision he made. The extremely hot soup he had ordered burnt his lips to smithereens and turned his stomach into a boiling pot. I classed myself as lucky because I didn't have anything as I was still recovering from my issues the night before. Back at the hostel, I prepared my own pot noodle (better than the Pot Noodle we get at home!) that I bought from the supermarket across the road and we sat back and watched few episodes of Family Guy before heading to bed.

Having finally got some decent rest in the most comfortable bed I have had in China, it was time to leave for the bus station to get our morning bus to Guilin which we were told would take only ten hours. When I boarded the bus I was relieved to see that we were on a sleeper bus which are far more comfortable than a seated bus as you are laying down and have room to move your legs. As Matt is well over six foot, he could hardly fit into his bed and his legs hung off the side of the upper bunk. It was a funny sight to me, let alone what our Chinese companions must have thought about this giant on their bus. The bus seemed to have taken hours to get out of Shenzhen but it seems as though Shenzhen and neighbouring Guangzhou actually merge into each other making a super city as such. After finally leaving the outskirts of Guangzhou we hit some countryside and the further we travelled west, the more surreal the landscape got. Suddenly huge rocks jetted vertically up, out of the earth and then I knew we had hit vicinity of Guilin. Towards the end of the journey, a Chinese girl who was in the bed opposite Matt wanted his attention, she didn't speak a word of English and bombarded Matt with foreign words that meant nothing. He asked me to help but I swept it off my shoulder and basically told him to deal with it. I'm not sure how it happened but Matt ended up giving his 'new girlfriend' his mobile number and within a couple of minutes the girl had text him. It's a strange thing that Chinese people do sometimes, if you don't understand them speaking, they will grab a pen and paper and write it down in Chinese characters. It doesn't seem to dawn on them that if I can't speak it, I certainly can't read it. However, Matt was happy with his new girlfriend and the obscure texts she sent him which could have meant anything as they appeared as boxes on his phone anyway. As the journey passed the ten hour mark we soon realised that they must have meant 10pm not ten hours, so we had another two hours to go until we pulled up into the wet Guilin bus station, wherever that was...

Next Time, Guilin, another superlative and what's that.... can't quite see through the haze....

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