The Great Silk Road Trip began when my time as a Beijinger ended: at 20:00 on Sunday, August 22, 2010 when I boarded the T107 train at Beijing West Railway Station bound for Shenzhen. It was a hard sleeper, thankfully, so I spent a little less than half of the train’s 27-hour journey sleeping or lying on my top-level bed. On Monday, while the train chugged through Jiangxi Province, I chatted for an hour with a Hong Kong Cantonese who set up the Hong Kong Delivery Company two decades ago, and is now a successful businessman. He encouraged me to sign up for courier work to enjoy free flights. Too bad I no longer have a valid Chinese visa! I also spoke with a guy from Los Angeles who is developing flight routes to a new airport in the Bay Area, and an older guy from Hong Kong near my seat who told me about how to cross the border from Shenzhen to Hong Kong.
Snow warned me that this train was frequently a couple hours late, and this was true tonight; the train pulled in at 21:00 to a lightly raining Shenzhen. I walked across the border; it was a bit hard to understand the process due to bad signage. I changed money on the Hong Kong side – a mistake, as the rate on the China side was HK$ 112 to RMB 100, but in it was HK$ 108 to RMB 100. I took the MTR to Sai Wan Ho, which takes over an hour from the border station since Sai Wan Ho is on Hong Kong Island and requires about three transfers. On the metro I serendipitously met Paul Wilson, an AIESEC EP from Bristol, UK who had just finished a two-month ET in Changsha. My Chinese SIM card didn’t work in Hong Kong so he texted my couchsurfing host, Warren, that I was nearing his metro station.
I met Warren and Flo, an Italian couchsurfer, in Sai Wan Ho, a cool residential area that isn’t so overwhelming as the rest of HK Island’s North side. Warren and Flo were on the hunt for dessert but I was yet un-sated with an evening meal. Our first destination, then, was a delicious street food noodle vendor. Fried noodles with chicken and sausage was HK$20. We then went for dessert, where I got a papaya milkshake thing with tapioca balls.
Warren is a fantastically nice human being. he’s a New Zealander by birth, a geography teacher at an international school in Hong Kong by day, and the founder and lead operator of Hong Kong Pub Crawl, Hong Kong’s first backpacker pub crawl, by night. We said goodbye to Flo after dessert and Warren and I went to his tiny but amply rooftop-ed flat. I slept for six hours, showered and ventured to the visa office. While waiting for my number to be called, I met a guy from Birmingham who is an architect in Shanghai at the visa office. We chatted about mutual acquaintances. It took 45 minutes of waiting and walking in 4 wrong doors and 2 wrong elevators to complete the visa process.
After leaving my passport with the Chinese consular services, I went to Tsim Sha Tsui to get a camera lens for Patrick and myself; I took the Star Ferry from Wan Chai pier. The Star Ferry is the most interesting, and also cheapest, way to get around Hong Kong. After getting the lenses and a new camera bag, I ate shrimp wonton noodle soup in a small place near Nathan Rd. for HK$23, then I Star Ferry’d it back to Wan Chai. A HK$6 public light bus which took a while landed me at Warren’s and I got to see some of the city from the windows. I dropped things off and rested while it rained outside. I was off to see the city again at 3 PM.
I walked around the central escalator near Soho / Central and fell asleep sitting on a bench in a small park for half an hour. Then I met Warren and Shaun for their rugby league, which Warren kindly invited me to join. It was a touch game, and it being my first time to play I sucked hard; but it was fun, and the seaside at the HKU sports fields made it even better. After two hours of vigorous rugby, I left to meet Charlie for dinner and drinks and shisha in Wan Chai. It was great to see him for the first time in a year. I then retired to Warren’s.
I picked up my China L, or tourist, visa the morning of the 25th. Next, I took the tram to Victoria Peak, but regrettably I left my camera at home that day. The view from Victoria Peak is one of the world’s great vistas, and I was lucky to be in Hong Kong on a fogless, not-too-cloudy day. You can see many of the islands that make Hong Kong so interesting. When I was done gazing, I walked down Old Peak Road, which is a nice, green nature preserve until you reach the lower levels. Less than thirty meters away from the preserve’s border, within plain view of massive condominium windows, I saw a big snail with a healthy-looking shell slicking its way across a rock while a small army of strange ants paraded around it. As I contemplated the wonder of the scene, vibrant life contrasted with the height of modern cosmopolitan living, I said aloud: “Hong Kong is very cool.”
The rest of the walk down to Admiralty was confusing and urban. I eventually met Van next to a sports complex. We had a tasty lunch of some spicy Hong Kong noodles, then we took a subway to the end of the line on Lantau Island; one of her coworkers had recommended a place there to rent a bike and ride a trail on the island. We didn’t find an especially natural trail, but we did find someone’s secluded Confucian shrine at one abrupt end of the bike path against the beach, and we sought in vain to take our bikes on the sky gondolas that go past the Big Buddha. We also had by far the most delicious Oreo milkshake ever created; it was so good that after I finished mine I said “what will life be like now after that?”
On the way back to the apartment, I bought my ticket for the 06:50 bus to Shenzhen airport. A quick apartment stop was the prelude to meeting Warren at Temple St. on Kowloon to dine on street food. He promoted his bar crawl heavily to the passers-by and never slowed down on the witty, intelligent banter. I was lucky to have such good hosts, which improved my Hong Kong trip by an order of magnitude. Van and I had a beer each at Dusk til Dawn in Wan Chai and tried to guess if people in the bar were pilots or not (they have a special for flight crew members). Then I crashed for four hours before awakening, saying goodbye to Warren, and catching the bus. I REALLY wish I had stayed in Hong Kong one more day, if not one more week (though that would have killed my savings). It’s a great place with such a diversity of experiences.
All my Hong Kong photos (few though they are) can be found here.