China by Bicycle :: April - October, 1998

Subject: Leaving Hong Kong.
Date: Thu, 09 Apr 1998 07:13:24 -0700

05:52 Big Chime Clock Hotel; Shanghai :: 09 APR 98

First, some catching up to do. The trip so far has unfolded in three stages.

Jay and I arrived in Hong Kong on separate flights within minutes of each other, though both much delayed. It's fortunate neither of us was delayed significantly since there was no "Plan B". Pretty indicative of our organisation, as you'll see.

Officially Hong Kong became part of The People's Republic of China (PRC) July 1, 1997. Except for a few PRC flags flying over the entranceways of official buildings and hotels, you'd probably never notice. The visa stamp in my passport reads

2 APR 1998

I've talked to numerous Hong Kongese and all agree it's business as usual, with a meaning more literal than the phrase usually deserves. Locals expect some political and economic movement toward a more PRC-like system but no more than they believe China will continue to move towards capitalism Hong Kong-style. Having been in China four days now and though a few select centres seem to be bolting from the starting gates, on the whole the PRC needs to move a long way. I'll be developing this idea in upcoming posts. For the moment I'll observe only that if the two systems were to meet halfway, Hong Kong would be transformed.

Our intention was to ferry up the coast of China from Hong Kong to Shanghai. Neither of us had been able to locate any information about this ferry from North America, other than the fact it existed and ran between the two cities every five days (good ol' Lonely Planet). Our calls to the official travel services, China International Travel Service (CITS) in Los Angeles and China Travel Service (CTS) in Vancouver, resulted in attempts to sell us airfare. They had no ferry information of any kind. A trip to the ferry terminal finally satisfied our quest for information: no more ferries to Shanghai.

This obsolescence of guide-book information has so far proven thematic, as you'll see.

Getting out of Hong Kong became more difficult than getting into China. With three options left (trains, planes and buses) we headed to the rail station. Trains to Beijing and Shanghai run on alternate days, and the Beijing train left the next afternoon. Hmmm. Neither of us being the type to commit to itineraries (neither of us being the type to establish an itinerary) we decided to take the Beijing train. Same fare, same travel time, several hundred more kilometres of track. We were shooting for Beijing as our final destination, but we'd start there instead.

Except that the train was sold out. Okay, Shanghai the day after then.

This was a bit of a drag. Jay didn't even really feel like he was travelling yet and both of us really wanted to be in China pronto. Hong Kong was a good sensual reintroduction to Asia: scent, sound, traffic, city design, the aural landscape, relearning the difficulty of communicating when few locals speak your language well. But a reintroduction to the familiar--Kuala Lumpur comes closest--was not what either of us were after. We made the best of the next couple days, running errands and purchasing supplies and gear we'd failed to bring along.

We arrived at the train station at noon, three hours ahead of departure, checked the bicycles as excess baggage and waited, eventually joining the queue snaking back from the gate to the platform. Here's a travel tip for you: the queue stretched from the gate about 50 meters to the back of the departure hall, then 50 meters back to the gate, another fifty meters back again before turning one last time for the final 50 meters back to the gate. There must have been a thousand people diligently queued in this undulating fashion and at the very end of the queue stood Jay and myself. However, when the gate finally opened half an hour before departure the concept of queue instantaneously transformed to mob. Since the tail of the snake ended just 15 feet from the head, Jay and I were promoted from back of the line to head of the mob. This proved invaluable when we discovered the limited space for stowing carry-on baggage.

Next: into the PRC.

~~~ Responses Sought ~~~

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn't possess,
acts but doesn't expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.

  graphical element Attributed to Lao Tse
The Tao Te Ching
Chapter 2
trans. Stephen Mitchell