Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Nov 23 2010

Hong Kong, conclusion

I didn’t want to get up on Sunday morning, but we had to go to Shenzhen. Why, I’m still not entirely sure. In any case, we checked out and walked the nearly empty streets in the morning sun to the MTR station and got on the train to the border, where the immigration officials expressed a little confusion over my Laos visa, as it had no English or Chinese on it describing just what country it signified. After a few small gasps of realization, we were through.

Walking through the station on the other side of the river felt like a different world. Suddenly my instincts were telling me to be extra cautious. I took one snap of some people sitting by the stairs, and one of them got up and made a threatening gesture. It didn’t feel very welcoming, and we skipped the walking-around that would usually accompany visiting a new place and negotiated a day’s fare with a nearby cabbie, Mr. Chen.

We took the highway past gleaming, tacky hotels and high-rises amid unfinished sidewalks. The traffic moved slow, as if everyone expected to have to stop at any time. We drove along the coast through tunnel after tunnel as Mr. Chen complained how expensive everything was, more expensive even than Hong Kong. Perhaps it was a hint that we weren’t paying him enough.

Our destination was Da Peng, an old walled city that is more or less preserved. Only part of it isn’t still lived in, the old residence of the local bigshot family, including a general or five. The rest of it is still lived in, mostly by migrant workers from all over China. The original owners, Mr. Chen said, lived outside the old city walls in nicer houses. Mr. Chen seemed to know a lot about the place despite claiming he’d never been there before.

We walked up and down small alleys, chatting with women sewing clothing and shoes, men playing cards, chess or mahjong, and kids playing with soccer balls, yo-yos and fake swords. Women in tradition hats that look like lampshades collected garbage, and an official-looking group walked around looking official. Chenbl bought bags of candy for the kids, but some of them, wisely in my opinion, refused. At least they know not to take candy from strangers, I thought. The villagers kept asking how I spoke such fluent Chinese, and eventually Chenbl took me aside and told me to just tell everyone I was half Chinese so I could get past all the questions.

Laundry was hung up everywhere in the brilliant sun, and women washed their hair in the streets. The water comes from the original wells. We came upon three old ladies who spoke mostly Cantonese. Chenbl can parody the language, but he doesn’t speak it. He does know a little Hakka, however, and the matrons knew a bit as well.

I wasn’t yelled at once the entire time.

It was 3 p.m. by the time we left, hungry for lunch, which was at a dumpling place where shirtless men were fixing all the chairs so that they didn’t collapse under a person’s weight. The dumplings were delicious.

The sun was getting low in the sky by the time we made it to our second destination, an old Hakka walled village. Nobody lived there, and it was more than a little spooky. Chenbl followed an old guy around, trying to take his picture, but he was soon trapped by the man’s wife, who wanted to show him an exhibition of old furniture in the back rooms. We escaped the couple and wandered about the deserted alleys and dilapidated houses. It felt like, once upon a time, it must have been a really cool, interesting place to live, probably lively with hundreds of families living together, each house a story, but now it just felt sad and empty, left to crumble. I hope they do something with it. At the very least it would make a great backdrop for a war film.

We drove back to Shenzhen as the sun set. Mr. Chen dropped us off at the sauna, and the old feeling of…not anxiety, but heightened alertness, returned. Not without reason. The sauna Victor had warned us against going to was the Queen. He told us his friend had been robbed there, and held until they could extort money from him. Well, that sounded like fun, so of course we went to the Queen.

But first, dinner. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of restaurants or even convenience stores in the neighborhood, so we walked around town a bit. I didn’t feel like taking pictures, and kept the Invincible Rabbit in my bag. We had dinner at a pseudo-Japanese place with a nice layout and food seasoned with lots of ketchup.

The Queen Sauna is a complex affair; the pre-sauna process is complex. The sauna was…well, it was nice enough, though a bit rundown. The pools were large, a good thing because we needed a bit of space to avoid all the boisterous splashing going on. I cracked my head on the ceiling overhang getting out of one of the pools, and nobody said anything. Bad design+no service=brilliant marketing, apparently.

We got traditional Chinese masseurs, who were surprisingly interested in the upcoming elections in Taiwan. “We wish the KMT ruled China,” one of them told us.

“The KMT and the CPP, together,” the other rushed to add. The massage was painful at times, but not too bad. We slept in the barracks-like general sleeping section, amid a symphony of snoring featuring Chenbl’s resonant solos throughout the night. In the morning, we walked out on the street, disappointed in the lack of theft or even extortion, and promptly decided we’d had enough of Shenzhen.

So it was back to Hong Kong. We had to catch a flight that evening anyway. Entering the station, crossing the river, going through immigration…each stage was an obvious improvement and a step towards the different world of Hong Kong. By now you can probably tell that I don’t think much of Shenzhen. I’ve been to many cities in China, including Guangzhou, Qingdao, Beijing and Shanghai, but Shenzhen left me with the worst impression. I’m still not entirely sure why…perhaps the lack of history, the bad planning, or just the general atmosphere. It’s all money, no class. If it weren’t for the visit to Da Peng village, I’d say the entire trip was a wash.

Back in Hong Kong, we decided to spend the afternoon riding the trams up and down Hong Kong island, which was a nice way to see stuff without all the walking bits. We did visit the alleys of Central, having a large, noodle-themed lunch on a staircase stall. Say what you like about Hong Kong men, but all that stair-climbing makes for some verrrry nice calves.

Chenbl kept reminding me of the time, but I wanted one last stroll around the streets before taking the airport express, so we circled the block, encountering some film people doing something with a Red camera. Chenbl thought one of them was Chris Doyle, but the fellow looked too young for the part to me. We snapped some shots, and walked back to the terminal, where we got on the train and sped out to the airport in about 20 minutes.

The airport has a Popeye’s Chicken, but it was a bit disappointing. The flight back was bumpy, probably thanks to our seats at the very back of the plane, but the view of the city as we flew over Hong Kong island at night, clouds sweeping in from the sea, was amazing.

It was a nice little trip, I guess, though as usual we did too many things, and I didn’t get a chance to just wander around, as I usually do. I took a little video but not much; I often found myself wishing I’d had a little Canon to do video with. Oh, well. The photos will have to wait, as I’m still very behind on that front.

posted by Poagao at 11:39 pm  

1 Comment »

  1. Enjoyed reading your travelogue

    Comment by Karen — November 27, 2010 @ 12:37 pm

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