Friday, 21 March 2014

Time Passes

Technically, I'm not sure where I am at the moment.
Physically, I'm on the train from Guangzhou to Kowloon which in two and a half hours will deposit me on the Hong Kong peninsula.
I have an exit stamp from China in my passport from just twenty minutes ago. I won't get another entry stamp until Monday, when I (hopefully) take the train from Hong Hom to Shanghai.

Officially though, for the time being, I appear to be nowhere.
Or possibly in a UK overseas territory, circa 1997.

The day before yesterday I left the confines of my sole guidebook. No longer in Yunnan province, I have nothing with me now to refer to at short notice to help me out of a fix or find emergency accommodation.
Having already had it fail in several locations, and finding assistance from friendly locals to be up to the task, this isn't worrying me too much.

My bus from Dali was delayed by 5 hours due to a crash on the road to Kunming. Having left a mere 3 hours' grace between my 4.5 hour journey from Dali and my night train from Kunming to Guangzhou, I found myself telephoning a hostel from the bus to book a night's accommodation in Kunming, and then having to decide where to go from there, and by what means.
I had arranged to meet Jing (I met her in Dalat at Christmas, and she lives in Guangzhou), the day after my train. The plan was to go from there to Hong Kong and spend three days there. Now I had a conundrum: two days in Hong Kong seemed ridiculously rushed, but neither did I want to miss out on spending the day with Jing.

And so I decided this was a good enough reason to breach my voluntary moritorium on internal air travel, and fly.
The flight from Kunming to Guangzhou was much more expensive than the train, of course, but on balance – having tried to get the train once and thus satisfying my good intentions – I would rather have a day in Kunming, a day in Guangzhou with a friend and three days in Hong Kong, than lose those opportunities while sitting on a train.
And I love to fly. So it was nice to take the opportunity for a short flight that I felt was worth the extra cost.

The hostel helped me to book my flight (I had asked my dad to book it while I was stuck on the bus, but the website required a lot of identity card information and a password, so we gave up on that plan), and then gave me a direction to wander in for lunch.
I chose a place where a lot of people wearing chef's whites were eating, on the basis that if chefs are eating there the food is probably good. Understanding none of the menu except the prices, I was going to ask for something for 10RMB (about $1.66), but the man at the desk brooked no argument and told me to pay 15RMB. For this, I had my first (and probably last) taste of Across the Bridge noodles – you're served raw egg, meat and vegetables in small dishes, and a standard bowl of noodles. Then a huge stone bowl of water at a roiling boil is brought to the table, and you tip each dish into the soup – egg, then meat, noodles and vegetables – and it is cooked in the broth.
It was delicious, and I didn't need anything else to eat all day.
How the diners around me were eating theirs so quickly, I have no idea. Their mouths must be lined with asbestos. It took me most of an hour.

After lunch, I adopted a method of wandering a city that has worked quite well so far, albeit straying into the realms of the creepy – picking someone to follow.
For Kunming, this took me to a very pretty section of town with street markets and a central square. For some reason, the feel of the city (in this area at least) reminded me very strongly of Cardiff, so I passed a pleasant afternoon pottering about and feeling very much at home (aside from the sunshine and the possibility of getting four scoops of ice-cream for 60p), before heading back to the hostel to collect my things and go to the airport.

 Tasty, tasty noodle place. 

Just like Cardiff. There are dragons.
And high rise buildings... 

 And giant Chinese arches...

 And derpy lions...

And huge municipal art with lots of kanji on.
Just like Cardiff.

The flight was happily on time, landing at midnight in Guangzhou. It was one of the more interesting short flights I have taken, as depite the lack of a view I think it may have been a training flight for the co-pilot. The take-off seemed late (I thought for a while it would be abandoned for lack of runway), there were many steep banking turns (rather than the gently cambered approach I'm used to experiencing), and I would swear that there were several deliberately severe changes of altitude – both from the feeling of lightness at certain points, and the changes in air pressure. The landing was one of the more exciting I've experienced also (not so much as the belting crosswind in Athens, but it got my attention nonetheless). Still, we arrived safely, so I guess whoever was flying gets to do it again soon. Good luck to them! (I looked at being a commercial pilot, but my eyesight is too bad. I am only slightly jealous.)

I had told my hostel in Guangzhou that I would be arriving later than planned, and they had very kindly made up a bed for me already, so that I was presented with a low bunk to fall into on my arrival at 2am (the airport is an hour and a half by bus from the city centre) rather than an armful of linen.
They were also on hand to argue with the taxi driver who decided to try to charge me 40RMB for the journey, rather than the 14 it should have been. I ended up paying 20, which was fine given it was 2am and it meant not having the police turn up to try to resolve it.

Guangzhou isn't a very touristy city. Most of the traffic for Hong Kong goes through Shenzhen instead, so there is little in the way of tourist-trap attractions. There are, however, several lovely buildings, and an old town that is just that – the old town, with houses and hardware stores and street food, rather than an Old Town selling minority crafts or endless disks of Pu'er tea. 

It is also, apparently, the place to go for electronics. So I tried to get my smartphone fixed. Sadly, the opinion of the repairman was that the chip is busted as it was overheating when he tried to charge it. I considered buying a new smartphone there, but to be honest I'd probably break it again, or lose it, or do something equally insalubrious with it. So I'll live without one until I get home.

That was yesterday. Both days, it's been raining.
The first rain I've seen in 3 months. It's like the return of an old friend.
An old friend that you only ever really spoke to out of necessity, who is interminably boring, but keeps turning up every so often and hanging around for a few days, getting in the way.

On the plus side, for the rest of my time in China I will be in cities. Cities are much better suited for rain.
Well, they are given that I left my waterproof trousers at home, and my hiking boots on a night train in Vietnam.

I think there are one or two buildings I can hide in in Hong Kong, anyway.

I'll let you know.

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