Home and away legs.
During my holiday, I kept a hand-written blog which I believe is referred to as a “diary” or “journal” in antique English. How amusing such terms are in this modern age. Because it ran to 54½ pages of A6, I’ll summarise the content rather than transcribe it or we’ll be here forever. All right, I’ll be here forever. You can go somewhere else on the Net at the click of a mouse button.
The plane to Chengdu was half an hour late, but I got my suitcase quickly and made my way to the Airport Hotel which is a curious institution, being divided into two different hotels, the old one which even cockroaches would turn spurn, and the new one. I didn’t know there was such a difference and it was only when Linda arrived that I learnt this. I’d gone to the older half of the hotel where I’d stayed before when we were actually in the newer half. Either way, we were still bothered by building work and people whose sole means of communication seemed to be speaking as loudly as possible.
I realised that I’d left my Octopus Card at home. It’s an old travelling companion of mine on my trips to Hong Kong.
The plane left on time as it ought to have considering the insanely early hour at which we left. It was nice to climb above the clouds and see the sun because Chengdu had been living up to its grey reputation.
We were actually flying to Shenzhen before getting the bus to Lowu (罗湖), which crawled at times through the traffic in Shenzhen. We then had negotiate Chinese immigration and then Hong Kong immigration. You think they’d have a single point to negotiate, but I suppose it’s like going through the usual routine at the airport, only the two barriers are 20m apart. It probably also depends on the time of day when you’re crossing. Linda said that there was also some other crossing point which is less busy and the bus takes you into Kowloon.
We got on the MTR, but should really have taken the East Rail line to Tsim Sha Tsui East rather than changing at Kowloon Tong and then Mong Kok.
After we’d been to the Wellcome supermarket, I took Linda to Harbour City to see the sea. I then set off confidently in the direction of the Star Ferry terminal only to get hopelessly and vexatiously lost on a journey I’ve made plenty of times before. Harbour City has been refurbished since I was last there, which is probably why I lost my bearings.
I should note that a woman who was sitting in the row in front of us on the plane removed the life jacket from under her seat and was charged ¥350 for her curiosity. Her mother (?) had also removed the life jacket, but hadn’t opened it and had let it quietly drop beneath her seat. 瓜蛙子.
When we reached Shenzhen, we weren’t greeted by the usual ranks of military aircraft which are stationed at domestic airports in China, but by ranks of private jets, which are not something you often see here. All right, never.
I think of the air in Hong Kong as being occasionally clear and that when it is, a trip to the Peak takes priority because the cloud might settle on the hills and the air become thick and brown, obscuring the view until the Chinese weather god decides to clear the murk away again. Since it was clear this time – really clear –, I thought that we ought to take a trip on the Peak Tram and go up to the Sky Terrace which has been being refurbished on previous ventures to the Peak. I think the last time I went up the Peak was in 2006, the first clear day there’d been since my first trip to Hong Kong in 2003 when the air quality had been utterly dreadful. I was looking at the pictures from 2003 last night in which you could barely see Kowloon through the brown miasma.
Linda was pleased to find that Adidas deodorant is much cheaper in Hong Kong than here on the Mainland. Wellcome was selling two bottles for HK$19. Here you pay between ¥40 and ¥50 for one bottle of the stuff. I also found that the Fa deodorant, which I bought for a ludicrously low price on ¥6 from Tesco, is also available in Hong Kong. The price is about the same as it is here, although it’s more expensive in Chengdu that Wuxi.
We went over to Kowloon Park, which I haven’t visited in years. The last time I was there, some Indian thought that I could get one of his kids into one of the colleges of London University. The park now has flamingos, which were definitely displaying and managing to look thoroughly ridiculous as they did. Their heads would suddenly turn from side to side with one starting and the others following suit before they’d display their wings. I assume that the birds were male while their potential mates seemed indifferent to the whole performance.
We ended up crossing a bridge to the Royal Pacific Hotel and finding ourselves at the harbour again, but east of Harbour City in an area which you can imagine was designed without consideration for the tropical sun beating down. The area was quite and almost completely empty.
We went to the zoo in the afternoon, but like last time, I found the place a little exasperating because it’s easy to walk round in circles. The zoo is cut in half by the road, and you need to find the subway.
By the time we got back to Kowloon, our feet were protesting.
In the evening we went down to the harbour. I don’t know whether they’re still doing the fireworks show each evening or whether we were too late to see it, but I managed to get a couple of decent shots of the island using the railing to steady my camera.
We went to Harbour City because I wanted to go to Page One and Linda wanted to go to the Hush Puppy shop. The latter, we discovered, was in Star City, which is next to the Star Ferry terminal, but didn’t have the kind of shoes Linda was looking for.
We had planned to go to Wan Chai and Causeway Bay, but Linda bought a SIM card from a 7-11 which didn’t work in her phone, and we took a trip to Mong Kok to a China Mobile shop from where we were directed to the local service centre. The problem had something to do with the phone’s PIN number, which was not something we could deal with in Hong Kong. The card worked in my phone without any bother.
We took a trip to Macao, which I’ve been close to when I was in Zhuhai, but never had the chance to visit it. We took the hydrofoil from the Shun Tak terminal in Sheung Wan, which made the voyage very smooth, although the sea was fairly placid.
When we did get to Macao, it was a little too much like being back on the Mainland. Some guy at the ferry terminal tried to get us to cough up HK$1400 for a tour of the place, and then dropped the price to HK$900. He was a persistent little pest, but at least we scored a free map off him.
The casinos lay on free buses for the cullies to go and lose their money, and we went out to the Venetian Hotel on Taipa, the island south of Macao, before going back and getting a bus into town where we were dumped outside the Club Militar without the faintest idea where we were exactly.
We managed to find our way to the right avenida, had lunch (Linda had superheated rice porridge), and followed a little of the LP HK/Macao Guide’s walking tour before making a beeline for the famous ruins of St Paul’s. After that, we got a taxi to Macao Fisherman’s Wharf and wandered around a Roman coliseum and a nearby street which might come alive at night, but which was almost utterly deserted during the day.
We really needed two days in Macao, which has more character than Hong Kong. It’s a little more dowdy, but it’s picturesque, and I could’ve taken many more photographs than I did. You can use HK$ there and I was surprised to find that they drive on the left even although it was a Portuguese colony. It’s also full of slogans of the type you’d expect to see on the Mainland – Behave in a civilised fashion, etc. – the difference being that the slogans are also translated into English.
The sunset shot was taken we we got back to the Shun Tak building in Hong Kong.
We finally made it to Causeway Bay, and went to Times Square where I bought a new phone from Broadway to replace my aging and cranky V3i.
It was mostly a shopping day. Linda had found that one of the shop assistants in Bonjour actually came from Chengdu, but had been in Hong Kong for 20 years. She explained that Estée Lauder is the expensive stuff and that Linda would be better off with Elizabeth Arden. Linda managed to get various lotions and cosmetics as she’d planned, and she saved quite a bit of money as well.
It was an interesting experience because cosmetics in China seem to be like imported wine. You only get the expensive stuff here because the manufacturers seem to be targeting the 太太s and 情妇s whose natural habitat is the malls of designer shops where they spend the bribes of all the corrupt officials on overpriced bling.
Our return to Shenzhen Airport was much swifter than our arrival in Hong Kong. It was so smooth that we sailed through to Lowu having forgotten to return our Octopus cards for a refund. It was fortunate that Linda found she could already pick up a mobile signal from China because we had to go our separate ways to re-enter the country. I ploughed through immigration thinking that as a returning Chinese citizen, Linda would be ahead of me, but not finding her waiting and wondering whether she’d gone ahead, I eventually moved on myself, and reached the exit from the checkpoint where I still couldn’t see Linda. I switched to my China SIM card and rang her. It turned out that the queue for Chinese citizens was much longer than I’d thought it would be so that the hordes of people who had streamed past me were merely ahead of Linda and not some way behind her.
When we got to the bus station, Linda found that we could get the boarding passes for our flight there, and as we stood inside watching the rain come down, a bus eventually arrived and we climbed aboard. We were a little surprised to be taken to some local hotel to switch from one 330 bus to another before being ferried the rest of the way to the airport. We were back in the land where the bus doesn’t go until it’s full. We were also back in the land where two large signs alongside the road advise drivers not to foiiow [sic!] too closely.
We did arrive at the airport in good time, had lunch, found that the lifts were on the far side of the restaurant area only after I’d carried the suitcases up the stairs, had lunch, and then checked in. Our plane was 45 minutes late in leaving (the usual clearance from air traffic control excuse).
Chengdu Airport started by being a nuisance because in order to get a taxi, we had to walk most of the length of the terminal building to find a point where we could cross the adjacent lane to walk all the way back to get a taxi. All the other crossing points had been blocked off by a barrier.
Linda had managed to procure the keys to my first flat, but we couldn’t get in because the lock was knackered, and Linda had to get the man from the bike shop to come and help. His diagnosis was that the lock needed replacing.
How that flat has decayed since I moved in three years ago. Quincy moved the bed into the main room, but the air con in there does nothing more than blow air about. The fridge doesn’t work either.
I went over to Carrefour in the Fortune Centre to do some shopping and found that the Aerospace Building is half open and that the mall on the other side of the road has also been finished since I was last in Chengdu.
Linda came round after lunch and although we moved the bed so that it was next to the door and roughly in line with the air con, I worked out how to make the sofa bed work, and had a more comfortable time of it in the old bedroom in which the air con does a decent job.
We went and borrowed a bike from the security guards at school, which allowed me my accustomed independence, and we went over to 宽巷子 where we got caught in a very heavy downpour and eventually took refuge in the doorway of a courtyard restaurant while the staff hurriedly cleared the tables. We ventured forth, but the rain hadn’t done with us, and we retreated to Starbucks.
That evening I found that the box which should’ve contained a poison gas machine and inserts lacked the former because some larcenous peasant had stolen it. Fortunately, I only saw two mosquitoes in there, but got bitten by neither.
I was lucky because it was when I got up that I saw the second mosquito, and after breakfast I exchanged the pillaged box for one containing everything.
As I went on my adventures, I found what else had changed. The buildings to the north-west of Tianfu Square have all gone, and various roads are partly or completely blocked off. The crossings, such as the one across Zongfu Lu just as you’re approaching Chunxi Lu, has now gone as have several others around the city. They’ve been replaced by bridges, which is a bit of a nuisance for cyclists and the only way to cross the road is to head up to the Hongxing Lu intersection and go all the way back.
I went DVD shopping at the place along the 1st Ring Road because the flat had a DVD player and a TV, and because I didn’t have a sufficient supply of books, I needed something else to amuse me. I thought that the shop might’ve been closed because something was being built in the space, but the same guy was there with much the same stock.
My need to wash some clothing led to the discovery that since I’d last lived in that flat, no one had bothered cleaning out the filter in the washing machine, which now had a large lint turd in it.
I also had a new pair of glasses made because the lenses of the old pair had little scratches on them and the right arm, which I’d superglued into place, had come away just recently. The new ones are similar in shape to the old, but have thin black frames.
We tried to go to High Fly for tea, but by the time we arrived, the place was busy, and we went to Amy’s instead. Similar to the food I get in the Western Restaurant down Qingshi Lu here, but not as good.
The sun was shining. Yes, the actual sun and not just a lot of depressing grey cloud.
Linda eventually came round in the afternoon and took me to the police station because legally I’m meant to be registered wherever I stay in China within 24 hours. Hotels deal with that normally, but I wasn’t staying in a hotel.
We then headed for the Sichuan Museum, which is next to the grounds of Du Fu’s Cottage. Unfortunately, it’s closed on Mondays. We were going to stop at Baihuatan instead, but the woman who seemed to be running an impromptu bike park at the loo just near the gate was charging ¥1 each for her services, and we decided to go back to the flat instead.
This time we did manage to go to High Fly for tea.
I also found that the narrow street on the north-east side of Tianfu has been partly blocked off. Some 花椒-brained motorist was trying to drive the wrong way down the cycle lane and was at an impasse with a mob of electric bike people, who were never going to get past. We cyclists could get our bikes onto the pavement, thus avoiding the impediment.
I’d been bitten on my elbows while I was waiting at the police station the previous day, and the bites had plagued me throughout the night. I took a trip to the computer centre, but when I tried to go down to the basement to the DVD shop, I was told that the basement was closed. I couldn’t be bothered going upstairs to be pestered and headed out to Sabrina’s to see whether it had the nice breakfast cereal we’d had in Hong Kong. It didn’t (no surprise), but it had no salt and vinegar crisps either (disappointing).
As I was heading back down Renmin Nanlu, I saw a sign on a wall in letters about 2m high – “Chengdu welcome you”. So much for the campaign to eliminate Chinglish.
This time we went round the Sichuan Museum, but you’ll need to have your passport to get in apparently. Apart from that, it’s free. There’s quite a lot to see, and we ended up rushing to cover everything before the museum closed at 5pm. All the time I was living in Chengdu, the place was under construction, which means that it spent a lot of time just sitting there because there was no sign that any work was being done on it. It is worth a visit, but needs at least two hours. The exhibits cover relics specific to Sichuan, various ethnic minorities, and Tibetan Buddhism. There was also a special display of European etchings, but they were charging ¥30 to get into that.
Actually, I didn’t just get a new pair of glasses and a case, but a spare case as well. The one that I got from Dao Bao (岛宝) for my old glasses has already reached the point where the springs are beginning to fail, and it would only have survived a few more weeks before I needed to replace it again.
It might’ve been sunny at the start of the day, but even then, there was some ominous grey cloud to the west, which managed to behave itself until I went to meet Linda after lunch, which was when it decided to rain heavily. I met her outside one of the mobile phone emporia because her phone had been misbehaving. Turned out to be dirty contacts inside the phone, and she also learnt that the particular model of phone which she has is not on sale inside China.
The rain eventually eased off, but my arse got thoroughly wet from sitting on the seat of the bike and I had to use the radiant heater in the flat to dry my trousers out.
It was time to head home. Part of me wanted to come back and quite a lot of me didn’t.
I got to the airport in good time. We all got on the plane in good time. We then got the usual announcement about air traffic control, and about being served drinks. (That means the flight will be delayed by half an hour.) But no sooner were the drinks done, then we got served lunch. (That means the flight will be delayed by an hour.) Indeed, it was nearly an hour later when we finally left the ground, the second in a line of six planes which had probably all been delayed themselves.
As we approached Wuxi, we were informed that the temperature was 35°, which was hotter than Hong Kong or Chengdu. When I got to the airport and found that the next bus to the railway station wouldn’t turn up for half an hour, I got a taxi instead rather than wait.
And that’s the end of my rather lengthy tale. It’s time for me to go to Carrefour and do some shopping. Oh joy. Carrefour on a Saturday afternoon. What could be more pleasant?