Finally we were off the boat. Three sleepness nights did not do much for my humour but I was looking forward to see this dam that everyone’s in such a fuss about in the west. Well, it’s long but it’s not very high. And it’s not really finished yet. Only 4 of the 26 turbines are running. It is an impressive amount of concrete though and is a monument to the modern Chinese school of architechure i.e. functional but butt-ugly. Our tour guide of course only spoke Chinese but I managed to hover around a group of Americans (who had an English speaking guide) trying to look discreet. The huge locks used for allowing ships passage are impressive too but it takes 5 hours to get a boat through them all.
After the tour we got a bus to the city of Wuhan where we checked our emails for news from the mechanics. It seems they were still working on it so given that our extended visa was going to run out on the 3rd, we decided to head to Hong Kong and Macau. Luckily, I had an acquaintance living in Shenzhen which is near the Hong Kong border so after a night in Wuhan we flew to Shenzhen and met up with Tom and his wife Shelly. Much credit to them - despite me only meeting Tom once before in Manchester, he welcomed us like a true scholar and gentleman. Tom was working until 9pm though, so we roamed around Shenzhen for a bit looking for a restaurant. Stumbling on a fish restaurant we were amused to be introduced to a wide selection of acquatic creatures in tanks before choosing some of the unfortunate chaps to assuage our hunger. A couple of crabs for starters and a meaty fish for the main was pretty enjoyable. Well it was for me. Richard however spent the next 4 days puking and defecating everywhere.
Wednesday I pottered around Shenzhen with Tom while Richard guarded the toilet with a vigour not usual for him. Shenzhen is a special economic zone in China and astonishingly, only began 20 years ago. Before then it was a small village, now it is a sprawling metropolis with innumerable highrise buildings and an affluent population.
The next day, we got the ferry to Kowloon, which is the part of the mainland facing Hong kong island and is legally part of Hong Kong. Wandering around the river bank, admiring the spectacular view of Hong Kong, we came across the Avenue of Stars which celebrates martial arts heroes of the big screen. We stumbled across the Space Centre next and treated ourselves to Tom Hanks bigging up the Appollo moon landings. The much-vaunted shopping of Hong Kong was disappointing though. The technology is old and as expensive if not more so than in the UK. Also, there seems to be only 3 things for sale: watches, clothes and cameras. Not even good cameras, most of them were analog (barbarians). In the evening we went back down to the river for the City Lights show. The buildings by the river in Hong Kong are all rigged up with lights that pulsate in time to piped music at 8pm every night.
On friday we crossed the river by boat onto Hong Kong island and made our way to the visa office to get new visas for China. The Irish passport won out here as the visa was almost half the price for me. This chore done, we checked into a hotel then got the venicular railway to the mountain peak in the centre of the island. The ride started off ok but got a bit worrisome when we hit the steep middle section which results in the bizarre optical illusion that all the buildings are tilted forward 45 degrees. At the peak in a tower which you can climb to have a panoramic view of the whole island. Given my dislike of heights I felt the fence could have been a little bit higher but rather than complain I made do with swearing profusely and refusing to go near the edge like a man. In the evening we hit the night-life areas of Soho (de ja vu?) and Lan Kwai Fong but were a bit disappointed. Prices were steep and the crowd was mostly of the older generation.
On saturday we got a bus to the other side of the island to check out Ocean Park. Amusingly, Richard managed to puke before he even got on a rollercoaster. The huge coral reef aquarium was the highlight of the park. It had 3 viewing levels packed full of bizarre creatures, my favourites being the leafy sea-dragon and the saw-nosed shark. After a few rollercoaster rides, the dolphin and sealion trick show was impressive but was a bit odd. These creatures are impressive enough on their own without having to teach them to do backflips and head footballs.
In the night we returned to Land Kwai Fong but it was much the same as the previous night. In the morning we checked out, got some books (thank Jebus for bookshops that sell books in English) and got the ferry over to Macau. At the ferry terminal we came across a pair of strangely offical looking travel agents called Sex Travel. Richard was given a brochure by the agent. Basically, the gist is you pay 1300 Hong Kong dollars (90 quid), get the ferry to Macua for a 45 minute massage and an hour of sex with one of the lovely ladies you could pick from the book, then get the ferry back. The agent claimed to get an average of 100 customers a day!
It was good to see Hong Kong, even though it wasn’t on our original itinerary but the myths that surround it proved to be ill-founded. It’s not a cheap place to shop for electronics. The highrises are impressive but look dated and are showing signs of wear and the nightlife is pretty rum compared to any city in England. In short, it seems to be stuck in a late 80s timewarp. It’s good for a long weekend but I definately wouldn’t fly out here for a two week holiday.
So here we were on the Sabbath, pottering around Macau. We checked into a cheap hotel then hit the streets. The older part of the city is remarkably like Lisbon (unsurprising given its past) right down to the cobbled pavements and the balconyed buildings. The Portuguese influence is waning fast though with 95% of the city populated by Han Chinese and Portuguese cuisine difficult to find. Within a few minutes, we had come across the 300m Macau tower which sits like a lighthouse on the shore. Paying the 70 Macanese dollars entry we took the glass elevator up 59 floors at such speed that your ears pop several times in 20 seconds. The viewing room had sections of glass floor which, given my dislike of heights, inspired me to new levels of swearing. Luckily though, the view could be enjoyed from the safety of a railing that wasn’t very near the edge and the glass flooring could be avoided altogether. For those freaks who like being at height there were several exciting activities they could indulge in. You could get strapped to a rope and jump off the top of the tower like the slack-jawed buffoon that you are. If that wasn’t good enough for you, you could tie a rope to yourself and walk on the outside of the 61st floor which is made of glass and has no railing. “What kind of backwards oaf would do that?”, I hear you ask. And if that still wasn’t enough to convince you that you were indeed a ham-fisted goon, you could climb the ladder up the spike of the tower an extra 100 metres. Surely only the most cream-faced of loons would consider such a feat.
That done, we descended to seek our fortunes in one of the many casinos in town. While eating in a deserted restaurant we were tipped off that the Sands casino was the place to be. Strolling through the deserted streets past deserted bars and eateries we wondered where the feck everyone was. The casino was to anwer that question very quickly. Huge as it was the Sands was bursting at the seams with punters slinging dollars around like there was no tomorrow. This raised more questions, mainly: where was all this cash coming from. Within 20 minutes I had lost 450 dollars (30 quid) playing roulette which was the lowest minimum bet in the house. BlackJack was 100 dollars (6.5 quid) a hand! Given the collosal rate of loss that I suffered, I spent most of the remaining time oggling the dancing girls and wondering how there were full seats at the 200 dollar minimum bet tables. Returning to the hotel after a few beers in a nearby pub, we had to run the gauntlet of 8 suspiciously young ladies offering “massage” for 300 dollars (20 quid). One actually followed us up in the lift shaking her head from one side to the other in disturbingly child-like manner saying “why not massage?” continuely.
This was to be our only night in Macau because we left to return to Kunming the next day having become increasingly disturbed by the nonsense the mechanics were emailing us.
Will we ever get out of China?
Find out in the next exciting update of Rum Trip Weekly.
P.S. I’ve been reading over some of the entries and I should mention that the blog entries only describe the bare bones of what we’ve been doing during the week. They don’t attempt to give the real impression of towns, cities or sights because to do so would take much too long. Our opinions of these places are made from countless small things that we encounter each day - the bus driver in Nanning who hocked loogies for a full 20 minutes while stuck in a jam; the 3 year old we laughed at when he got walloped by another, started crying then got walloped by his mother; the strange looks you get when you’re the only white person in town; the motivational exercises workers in department stores are forced to do in the mornings; the traffic, smells, beggars, touts, fruit stalls and taxi drivers that we interact with every day. All these small things build our impressions of a place and form our opinions of it. It would be impossible to accurately describe these impressions in print. If you want to find out what a place is really like, you’ll just have to see for yourself.