07 August 2010

Back in China

We left HK on the 24th of July, taking the subway (really a train that has been integrated into the system) to the border, then crossing on foot and getting the train from Shenzhen.  At the station entrance, we ran our bags through the pointless scanning machines that the government has deemed necessary everywhere, and went in.  I believe the scanning machines exist simply to provide more employment, as how they are used seems so useless.  Some stares blankly at a terminal from time-to-time, while hundred of people try and force their stuff through.  And they are in bus stations, train stations, subway systems, Tiananmen Square and shopping malls.

Another job creation scheme run by the lads at the top is ticket checking.  On each train journey, we normally get our tickets checked at least five times.  Once to get into the train station, once to get from the waiting area to the platform, sometimes to get on the train, X amount of times on the train, and finally as you try to leave the destination station.

It was our first hard sleeper in China, and it was rock hard.  The Russian ones were much better, and I didn’t get much sleep.  We arrived in Guilin, and took the first bus we could find out of there to a small place called Yangshao.

The hostel there was possibly the best one so far.  Run by a Dutch guy and a Belgian woman, the Outside Inn was a very rural and rustic affair, out in the countryside, with animals roaming the grounds and locals working the land.  The scenery was great, and we spent a couple of days doing some biking (tandem, as Audrey isn’t too hot with handlebars), hiking and drifting on rivers on bamboo rafts.

I’ve decided to give Chinese beer more of a wide berth this time in China.  I’d only bother with the occasional one, instead plumping for an orange juice or whatever else was available.  It’s stunning how pointless their beer is.  Even in south China, all the beer tastes the same as in north China, watery and weak, most of seeming to be brewed by the ubiquitous Yanjing brewery.  I’ve found one beer by the Zhujiang brewery, but at 2.5% was nothing like described here.

It was a very uneventful time, which was a nice change, and we left after a couple of days.

03 August 2010

The De-bearding Of Stephen

It proved to be quite a hassle getting rid of 5 months of growth, with chunks of wirey hair being cut with scissors, then shaved with a razor.  I didn’t have the luxury of a set of trimmers.  Firstly, let me remind you of how I looked just before I started the process

The first step was shock, simply shaving the head.

On facebook, I got comments like Irish Taleban and some strange, deluded people thought it was an improvemment.  Nice.  Then I trimmed it all, and shaved from the bottom of my bottom lip to my chin, and then removed most of the hair on my neck.  The Redneck look:

Audrey felt it made me look very sad, like droopy dog if you remember him.  In order to determine if I was a redneck, Scott (van Niekerk) helpfully posted the following (the one in bold being the highlight):

Just as a test do you do any of the following now?

When ordering a beer do you say "Hey there sweet thang, how's about gettin' us a cold un!" 
Do you have any shirts left that still cover your midriff?
Do you think loading the dishwasher means getting Audrey drunk?
Do you now own a homemade fur coat?

Then it was time for the Hulk Hogan look, but couldn't be bothered getting it bleached the right colour:

The ‘tasche and the sideburns got trimmed a bit for the final look before it all disappeared.  How anyone took me seriously through some of these transformations, I can’t imagine (but luckily I still managed to get my visas):

And that was the end of my beard.

Honkers Konkers

We spent a total of 3 weeks in Hong Kong, taking it easy, applying for more Visas and visiting friends and family.  We stayed in big room in a commercial building that Audrey’s dad uses to store stuff and keep his big hi-fi setup (one half of it to the right).  It had a small bathroom, but with only cold water, so it was three weeks of cold showers (which was not too bad, as the heat and humidity left us sweltered).  Luckily Audrey’s mum, Dorothy, had kitted it out with everything we’d need for a prolonged stay.

I spent most of the first week staying up late to watch the final stages of the world cup (with the later games not finishing until about 5am), sleeping late and meeting up with a former colleague, Oli, and his wife Jess who’d moved to Hong Kong a few months ago.

After that, Audrey’s dad (Dr. Tam as I still call him, I never use his actual name of Lin Cheong) took quite a bit of time out to show us around a few different parts of Hong Kong and the New Territories.  One of the best was a fish market on the south side of the island, near Aberdeen.  You could buy your live fish and crustaceans in the market, and then head upstairs, where there were a number of little kitchens offering to cook them for you in different ways.

On one trip into the new territories, we drove past quite a few run down looking industrial buildings.  Dr. Tam explained that these were the areas that used to pump out all goods that Hong Kong was famous for.  It brought back nostalgic memories of toys in my childhood, which nearly always seemed to have “Made in Hong Kong” stamped on them (whereas today’s kids get to see “Made in China”).  I read later in the HK history museum, that for a period in the 70s and early 80s, Hong Kong was the biggest exporter in the world.

During out time in HK, there was numerous typhoon warning, but, much to my disappointment, nothing much came of them.  We had one instance of ‘black rain’, which is a torrential downpour.  I went out to the harbour to watch it.

While the effect on the water was nice, there was no wind or crashing waves.  I went out to an outlying island, Cheung Chau, on another day when there was supposed to be a typhoon warning hoping for bigger waves, but it was a perfectly sunny day.

The southern part of the island had, until relatively recently, been reserved solely for “foreigners” (read whites) to live in (as “the peak” had been in the past).  On a walk around it, I stumbled upon a couple of derelict building.  Looking like they had previously been grand villas, today they were losing a battle against the advancing jungle growing over and through them.

The most interesting restaurant I’d been in since Unsichtbar in Cologne was in Hong Kong.  Modern Toilet, was, as you may have guessed, a toilet-themed restaurant.  Most of the seats where of the porcelain throne type, with tables on basins.  Meals were delivered in a variety of toilet shapes, and were pretty tasty.  The only thing they were missing was serviettes as toilet rolls.

Dr. Tam also did a medical on Audrey, her sister Katie and I when we visited him at his practice.  Katie commented that I looked too white (which is true, I think I could make an albino look bronzed).  Obviously I still haven't been able to pick up much sun despite weeks of temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius and quite a few blue skies.

He included an ultrasound as part of it, to have a look at how our internals were (which I thought was mainly the preserve of pregnancy).  My liver got a clean bill of health (along with everything else).  I think Audrey would like to have seen no permanent damage, but signs of drinking too much so that it would shock me into consuming less alcohol.  I see it from a different angle, obviously I haven’t been trying hard enough.   ;-)

On that note, on to beer.  Much better than China, although that was mainly due to decent foreign beers being available.  I found one pub, the East End Brewery, with a couple of nice locally brewed ales that also had a BOGOF happy hour on them.  Apart from that, drinking out was in general more expensive than even London.

We left HK on the 24th of July.