Stuck in the middle of two significant holidays, I was a bit antsy to get away from work. So, I was able to join my college friend from Japan and go on a quick tour of Hong Kong, Macau, and Southern China. This turned into a fantastic little trip.
I had to depart out of Osaka, as I usually do for these international flights. Being a morning flight, I needed to take the overnight ferry to get on time. The boat isn’t so bad, but it is awful for someone wanting to get a good sleep. Before getting to the boat, I went to town to get a few drinks with friends and wait. While there, some odd guy kept talking to us, and even bought us beers for seemingly no reason. He also offered up some incredibly extensive hand shakes. His talking had me there too long, requiring me to sprint to catch the bus, which happened just as it was pulling away. Hot and winded, I geared up for a night of crap sleep… In getting there, I’ll save all details, other than that I made a bonus stop in Shanghai on the way there. I had an overnight layover, so I went to some hotel near the airport, in what was probably the shadiest part of the city. I managed to buy an apple from the locals, watch some awful TV, and then go to bed. The next morning was an early shuttle to the airport, from which I departed and landed in Hong Kong. From here, I just needed to navigate the city metro, and meet Kei. Success.
So we only had about two a day and a half here, and that worked out to be just the right amount. Hong Kong, despite being a large city doesn’t really oodles of interesting and cultural stuff to do. We didn’t really have anything planned, but just looked at the offerings of a book Kei bought to get us to the main areas. The first place that we went was to Hong Kong version of the Hollywood walk of fame. The part that we didn’t really think about was that we wouldn’t recognize any of the names. Who can even name a Hong Kong movie? The saving graces were the nice view of the skyline and also seeing Jackie Chan’s name on the ground. That all
View from ‘Hollywood’. I call it “Hong Kong… Juxtaposed”
For lunch we made out way to some random restaurant on one of the side roads. This turned out to be a great choice, and also afforded me the opportunity to chow down on some baby pigeon, which was actually pretty good. After lunch, we just strolled around for a bit, which was good. We came across a nice little market place called Temple Street, which sells all sorts of goods you would expect to find at a market. Most were aimed at tourists, but I got a few treasures. Aside from these things, we mostly just walked around and saw as much of the city as we could. Hong Kong is relatively small, and while there are some other places one can go, there isn’t tons to do, so after two days, I don’t feel like I should ever need to get back.
For our sleeping accommodations, I arranged a couch surfing host. This turned out great for us, as he was located in a high rise in downtown Hong Kong. Our host, Michael, was awesome. He is involved in international business, doing work locally and also spending a great deal of time in Europe. His English was perfect, and was really cool. He was currently moving, so he was only using this apartment to host couch surfers until the sale went through. Sure the only furniture was some mattresses and a table, but the apartment was really nice with a fantastic view. Aside from that, we were sharing the space with a couple from Iceland which was really cool. Some would say travel is seeing interesting things and places, but I would certainly assert that it as just as much about meeting interesting people and learning about where they are from and listening to what they have to say about life. This couple was really interesting, and over a few drinks we all just talked about different things we’ve seen and done. It was cool to just chat and learn some new things.
When we woke up, we worked our way towards the ferry pier to get to Macau. We just walked around a bit, got some food, and then hopped on the boat. After a 45 minute ride, we were through immigration and ready to see what there was to do in this tiny nation. Macau as a country is only about 11 square miles, and along with Hong Kong is a special piece of China that has its own government, currency, and immigration. Macau is a former Portuguese colony which changed hands only 12 years ago, which leaves an absurd cultural legacy. In addition to some very out of place looking colonial architecture, the two official languages are Chinese and Portuguese, despite only 1% of the population speaking the latter. It was actually very convenient, since I was able to glean the meaning off of Portuguese signs.
Portuguese buildings with asian decoration
Due to Macau being so small, there is quite little to do there. The main attraction is the casinos that are all over and are really about the only reason one would go there.. Macau brings in more gambling revenue than Las Vegas, and is also home to the largest casino in the world. Naturally I had to get there. So, from the ferry pier, we took a free shuttle to the the worlds largest, The Venetian in Macao. Once there, we were able to check our bags for free and walk around a bit. It was definitely a nice building. I had it in my heart to play some blackjack, so I got my typical three minimum bets worth of chips and got to the table, sadly my luck in Singapore didn’t follow me. Despite doing the right things in each hand, I lost three consecutive times. Not only feeling stupid for getting up to leave just as soon as I had sat down, I had also lost money quite efficiently in front of a friend. Whatever. My gambling balance is still in the black, and besides, it was fun, right? After walking around a bit here, getting some food, we head out to see what else Macau had to offer. Not much, but it was good to actually see the colonial leftovers, as in the above picture. After spending the evening here, we hopped a bus to China’s busiest border crossing. This is also the time where Kenny G was first noticed. While on the bus, I thought, “this is Kenny G, huh”. Then we get to immigration, and there is more Kenny G playing! It was just a bit odd I suppose. Once on the other side, we snagged a bus headed for Guangzhou.
Here is a video compilation of a bunch of clips I took. and stuck together from the first half of the trip.
We arrived in Guangzhou a little after midnight, and were immediately slammed with the reality that no one speaks English. At least, none of the people we needed to. We had written down the Chinese symbols for “Overnight Massage”, so we just showed that to a taxi driver and decided to see where he would take us. Success! After a 15 minute, 2 dollar ride, we arrived at some building and went inside. It had all the appearances of a hotel, though we had to make decisions like what sort of massage we wanted. After going it, it was a lot like a Japanese public bath, with showers, sauna, and [naked] bathing pools. This was fine, though we were bumbling around as the only foreigners, it was going well enough. After we cleaned up, we were given Snoopy themed shorts and shirt. Then we were directed to the massage parlor on another floor. We had no idea where to go, but managed to get there, myself looking entirely out of place and Kei looking like a feral Chinese person. After our 90 minute massage session, we figured it was time to go to our room. We were delightfully wrong. We were directed towards another floor that had a buffet for us to enjoy as we pleased. I’d like to quick mention that there were a lot of people in this building, on a weeknight, at about 2am, which made no sense to me. Anyway, we loaded up on legit Chinese food and then found the entertainment floor. This housed a billiards hall, arcade, internet cafe, and basically anything else we could want. We enjoyed this, then went to the sleeping area. When we woke up, we hit the buffet again, and checked out around 11am. It was basically a resort, with a Snoopy boxers and shirt dress code, all for about 30 dollars. Amazing.
Well rested and pampered, we made our way out into the foreign world of Guangzhou. We went to a couple cool temples that had a lot of history I couldn’t possible remember. At one of them, there was a whole group of monks and followers chanting and hitting drums and chimes at seemingly random times. There were also a number of people who would do a full kneel before certain figures of deities too. I always think it is really cool to see other religions in action, since they can be so diverse. After this, we went to the largest urban park in China, located right in Guangzhou. This was a really cool place, with tons of exotic flora and a few historical sights. This was also the site of the 2012 Asian Games, and we could see the arena and everything too. The rest of the evening was spent walking around, soaking in the culture and just enjoying our surroundings. At one point, we made it to a bar and enjoyed a local brew, which was refreshing after a long day of watching Kei haul around his suitcase-esq luggage. At the end of the day, we took a cab to another leisure hotel, and enjoyed all the same amenities. It was fantastic, and at that price, unbeatable.
This was one of the famous statues at the park. The five goats.
The next day we didn’t do too much, since we didn’t wake up till about 11:00am again, and our train out of the city would leaving around dinner. The first order of business was to get our ticket purchased for an overnight train from Guangzhou to Guilin. When we got to the station, it was absolute chaos. Everyone was either waiting for their train or bus, trying to sell random stuff, or line up to buy their tickets. Almost nothing was in English, which made it a bit of a challenge to get it all sorted out. Somehow, a success. Tickets in hand, we had only 2 hours before our train would be departing, so I decide to run an errand. I went to the immigration office, to see if I could extend my visa (to no avail) for a trip coming towards the end of the summer, but I’ll have to deal with that later I guess. So then, we hop on our train. I had never ridden on a sleeper train before, and I would cetainly offer that it enhanced my travel experience. None too cozy, it was good enough. After lights went out, Kei and I went to the mess car and had a few beers. I was surprised to find they had PBR, so I had a couple of those. After some chatting and such, we went to bed, and after 13 hours woke up in Guilin. From here, it was a 2 hour bus ride to Yangshuo, which held the best of the trip.
Me with my train bunk bed and book. Not spacious, but not bad for a 25 dollars for transportation and a place to sleep.
Everyone has probably seen pictures of Yangshou, as it was absolutely the most scenic place I have ever been. This place had innumerable mountains that jutted right out of the ground. These sheer rock faces would go all the way up into the cloud eerily wisping about. Given the nature of the place, it is a backpackers haven, though I was there in the off season. Our first task was to find a place to stay, and while were were attacked with offers once we got off the bus, we decided to walk around a bit, which turned out to be good. We managed a hostel right on West Street, which is the main pedestrian area for a mere 4 dollars a night. This was definitely an awesome call, since all the shopping, food, and entertainment was right out the front door. We had breakfast at McDonald’s, which was a very welcomed and much needed meal. After getting our luggage put in our room, we tried to find out what we should do with our time. The lady at the desk was able to recite some memorized speech about each of the main destinations in English, and based on that we opted for a river boat ride. It was ideal to do as a quartet, so we found some girls from Barcelona who wanted to do the same thing, so we went together.
We take the bus to the boat landing, and get ready to board a raft. Upon starting off, it was clear that this was going to be both beautiful and a bit chilly. Going down the river, there were countless photo opportunities, and just soaking in the surroundings was a bit of a task in itself. One cool photo opportunity was the mountain and river scene located on the back of the 20 yuan bill. After the trip, we settled back into our hostel as we regrouped and figured out how we were going to spend the night. One thing we did know was that we would be meeting up with a mutual friend from our fraternity, Matt Wiersum. Matt too was teaching in China and having arrived recently was still undergoing training in this most fortunate of places. We started by going to a local restaurant, which was really authentic. The food was fresh to the extent that we heard them beating our fish to death in the kitchen while we were waiting. It was really nice, the waitress actually Japanese, so I could manage for once. After an amazing meal, we went to a local cafe where the Matt’s group of friends tends to hang out. The evening was spent watching some truly awful movies with his group of friends. Them being from all over made for an interesting smattering of culture: Italy, England, Japan, America, and Germany were all represented. Though, the night remained pretty chill, it did climax with a few of us heading out for some drinks.
There was also a guy with loonlike birds that catch fish for their master. For a few cents, I got to take a nice picture with them. Also, shows the terrain and the boats we took.
The next day, we got another tour, this time through one of the caves. The cave itself was pretty magnificent, with a lot of impressive rock structures and formations. Though, they did manage to up the cave game a bit by having all sorts of colored lights illuminating each nook of the cave, it was nearly too much. After that tour, we went back, and just decided to do a little walking around and enjoy the surroundings. We climbed to the top of one of the spires, giving a nice view, and we also took in what was going on with the local. One thing I really liked about this place was that it maintained all the luxuries of a tourist hot spot, but a few minute by foot would bring you to dirt roads, people farming fields by hand, and cattle being driven to market. I really do feel like I got a great picture of rural China out of this. Anyway, being Friday, it was only right to enjoy the night life. The other most important part of travel is to absorb the nightlife of wherever you are. Drink the local drinks, play the local games, and just see how other people enjoy a good night. We went to a bar called Cavaliers, which is basically loaded with LeBron James posters. It had a pretty good scene, and it was just fun to be doing something like that with a bunch of people my age, somewhere so totally different. Also, I made my dancing debut in China, though I’m not so sure I impressed anyone with my skills. At the end of the night, we left the place, and right outside was a street vendor. We dug into some bat, and pig penis, because…well, it was the right thing to do. So we ate that, the bat was actually really good (still had the head and wings) and the pig was more like chewing on a tendon. Flavor was OK, but not a lot of meat on there… Then, 30 seconds down the street and we were back at the hostel.
Here is the cave. I tried a long exposure shot, but the movement blurred it a bit
After the bar, with our pig penis on a stick
When we woke up to the morning of our last day, the plan was just to go for a bike ride with the other teachers. It was rather poorly organized, but somehow through the school, I managed a free bike rental and one of the teachers posed as a guide. This was a great little outing since it really got us out into the country and also to a pretty nifty rock formation. The wind had carved out small tunnel in one of the cliffs, and after about 800 stairs we were in a great place to see everything around us. After our 45 minute ride back, we only had time enough to grab some food, check out of our hotel, and then go to our bus, weer we parted ways with Matt. Again, I really enjoyed the fact that we could all meet up in some place so far from home and hang out like it was nothing. Goodbye Yangshuo
The bus was heading directly to the Hong Kong border, which was fantastically convenient. Although, being a 10 hour ride, this was a sleeper bus. Sound good? No. No it wasn’t. Basically it was three rows of bunks and two aisles on the bus. After they loaded us into the beds, they herded a lot more people on too, to no seats. They then sat knees to back, crammed into this bus the whole way. I couldn’t believe that misery, though my situation didn’t feel much better. I was directly below the AC unit, which did nothing but dry my eyes, and drip on my face occasionally. The ‘beds’ too were awful. I was too big, so there was absolutely no way for me to get comfortable, so I was awake the entire ride in misery. Saving grace was that they played a movie, and it was entirely in English. Not sure I as the only native speaker of English on the bus got so lucky, but it helped to bass the time a bit. When we finally got there, it was then just a matter of navigating our way to the airport and getting home. All went well, though I didn’t walk into my house till about 2am, with work the next morning.
Here is another compilation, this time from China
Overall, a fantastic trip that went surprisingly well. I don’t feel like I ever need to get back to Hong Kong or Macau, but I am anxious to get to China again for sure, currently planning this summer. Below are just a few observations or comments I couldn’t fit in above that I thought were pretty interesting.
-In China, guy friends walking with arms over each other’s shoulders, and girls with linked arms are totally normal. Its just a casual, friendly thing to do.
-In China, its considered impolite to touch your food directly. So if you order food at KFC, it will come with a pair of gloves to wear.
– Spitting in public is just the Chinese way. No one has any problem with shooting a wad of phlegm to the ground, public place or not, inside outside, it doesn’t matter.
– It costs more to get cold water, versus the standard heated water. This really annoyed me.