Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Flashback 02: Hong Kong and first steps into the Mainland

Hong Kong to Bangkok summer 2002 - Part 1

Hong Kong is exhilarating and everything I expected. A mad urban sprawl of mass sky-scrapers on every inch of space and of all possible safety standards (mostly rotting, but just as many new ones being built). There is also an amazing array of culture and living standards, with huge wealth, depravity, seadyness (oh word is there a lot of that), refined class, authentic Chinese culture etc.
The sight of Hong Kong island skyline was simply breathtaking last night (just beating the Arabian sunset over the gulf on our stop over in Dubai), and we're going over to the island tomorrow. I am currently in and around Kowloon. We've just spent 4 hours walking around all the hectic and dirty backstreets catching the atmosphere. They really are insane. You can buy anything you could possibly imagine and a whole lot more. In fact the area just round from where I am staying has more shops and stalls per square inch than anywhere on the planet!
We are staying in the 'Garden hostel', a scruffy but friendly and dirt cheap place in a dodgy, dirty rabbit warren of a tall building in the backpacker district. I like it quite a lot actually. The only problem has been Felix's severe stomach problems (you can see that 15 times a day look on his face!) though some pills I bought from a Chinese pharmacy may do the trick.
Soon we are off to the mainland armed with 2 words in Chinese and an inability to use chop-sticks. An adventure indeed. Oh and we've decided to do an additional 2000 plus km train journey through Yunnan province and Kunming so to see some amazing scenery and approach Hanoi from the wilder north-east mountain/hill province.


Where am I today? I am in Yangshou in Guanxi province in south-western China. Up to this point our journey has been quite fun, incredibly interesting and more than a bit arduous. The rest of our time in Hong Kong was cool, we saw the island itself with all the rich scrapers, and had a night out (nothing too amazing, but cool that we left the bar at our own leisure at 6:15 am). We then got a bus to the city of Guangzhou in Guandong province. Now this was a culture shock! During the 5 hour journey from Hong Kong there was not a single time when we could not see an ugly, cheap housing block. They are huge and ran in line for mile after mile after mile. I kid you not! The concept of a billion people becomes slightly more fathomable.

Guangzhou itself was quite possibly the shit-hole of humanity. About 6 million people living on top of each other in these horrible apartment blocks scrambling for space as far as the eye can see. This is one of the most developed cities in China and my word does it show that they have a long way to go in terms of both economic wealth and living standards. Below each of these buildings were scores and scores of dirty streets lined by squalid markets. We went to one of the most famous and active, where I swore they were selling and eating anything that flies, runs, jumps, crawls or slithers. Scorpions, snakes (I got a shock from walking past literally hundreds of them in a single bucket - some having escaped and crawling over the floor - would not surprise me if they were poisonous as safety standards, along with animal rights, do not seem high priority here). It was all fascinating though and we stayed in a more than reasonable hostel in the ex-colonial part.
Quite a contrast from there to here. It was a 10 hour sleeper bus (though I did not sleep much) to Guilin. "Sleeper" bus was a bit of a misnomer considering the excruciatingly squeaky and loud Cantonese pop which pumped out the stereo to poison the air. Then an hour or so south by minibus to Yangshou. Without doubt one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. This is the crawler covered stack hills and beautiful waterways illustrated in so much Chinese artwork and from first glimpses I reckon it might just live up to its reputation...
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