Tuesday, July 17, 2007

One Country, Two Systems: The Second System

(This was written on Sunday night at about 1:00am... with some additions the next evening. I realize I probably carry on at too much length in here - I guess that's the trouble of writing with everything too fresh in my mind. I should have waited till my memory started to fade a bit. So I put in a few headings to divide this up into arbitrary parts so you won't be scared away by the length.)

Part One

Here's my adventure today.

It starts after having lunch with Alison next to her school. I go to get a cab to take me to the airport. I've been told this should cost about 80 yuan, but that you have to bargain for that beforehand. So I ask the first driver how much to take me to the airport, and he says 100. I counter with 70, figuring that might get me 80, and he goes off on some tirade that I don't understand, the conclusion of which is 90. I walk away but he calls after me so I go back and he continues to chatter away too quickly and with too many words I don't know, so I call Rebecca (one of the staff at Alison's school) to translate. Turns out he's still saying 90. So I figure he's a jerk, and go to the next guy, who says 70 right away, and buys me an iced tea along the way when he gets one for himself. I just feel bad because he tries twice to start some conversation during the drive and even with him speaking slowly and me asking him to repeat himself, I still don't understand. But anyway, I get to the airport, check in, and wait. I sit quite far away from my gate just like everyone else because there's shade there and all the seats near the gate are below a large glass portion of the roof. But before all that, on the drive there I see a couple of amusing (to me) billboards on the highway, with equally humorous pictures accompanying them which I wish I'd photographed: "No Drunken Driving" and "Do Not Drive Tiredly." Anyway, it's meant to be a 2:40 flight and it starts boarding at 2:39, and takes off at 3:20. But I really have no complaints, as I had the window seat and the middle seat of the three was unoccupied. Even after the stop in Nanjing nobody got on to fill that seat.

Some bits of note on the flight itself:

  • Before takeoff, the flight attendants went around and counted the passengers with little clicky counter.

  • There are ads for some brand of baijiu (white liquor) plastered all over the overhead compartments.

  • There's no first class or business class on the plane.

  • At both Changchun and Nanjing, there was a bridge to board the plane, just like I was used to before China. (Other domestic flights I've taken in China involve a really wide bus carrying passengers airside.)

  • Despite what I've heard about some Chinese pilots (even on international flights) not speaking English, at least one of the pilots spoke it well. From the other one I couldn't decipher a single word after "Ladies and gentlemen." Oh, and everyone making announcements says "zee," not "zed." Bah.

  • Two hours in, they play an overloud airline promotional video, followed by the flight attendants leading the passengers in a little stretching routine. The strangest bit though is that just after this they play some more promo video, still too loudly, but this time at least one stewardess is doing an interpretive dance (or is it sign language?) along with it! It lasts for five minutes, and everyone applauds after it!

Okay, so we land in Nanjing at 5:40... I try to use the wireless Internet, and am pleased to find an unsecured one available, but it turns out to be a China Mobile one that requires a login. I'm initially disappointed, but then I find an "English" link on the page that comes up, and it seems like I should just be able to text something to a certain number from my phone and get a password, which I can use and have the access charged to my phone. I try it, but the message I get back is all in Chinese and doesn't seem to contain a password. My hopes are dashed again. Oh well, I don't have a long wait, so I give up.

I get in line again for the plane when it starts reboarding, and I'm getting a bit annoyed at the not-atypical observation that a lot of people seem to be budging and cutting in front of the whole line. Then a nice gentlemen shows up and says to me that I shouldn't be waiting in line: "Transit passengers board first." Oh.

Part Two

The plane arrives at about 8:45 at its final destination: Shenzhen. It's 35 degrees out, so I'm glad the large bus taking us to the terminal has air conditioning. Where's Shenzhen, you ask? Right next to Hong Kong: a 20-yuan bus ride away. First things I see when I get in the airport are a McDonald's and a Starbucks. I'm not sure at first which bus to take and a final find someone inside who can tell me the number, then back outside I go, warding off the many many people approaching me saying "taxi." One of them, after I decline to ride in her taxi, asks where I'm going, and points me at the bus whose number matches the one I'm looking for. So much niceness there is, hiding behind much more rudeness... or if not rudeness, at least loudness. I buy a ticket for the bus but it turns out the one that's sitting there isn't the one that's going to take us. The one with the same number that pulls up in front and unloads its passengers isn't going either. But the one that pulls up and unloads in from of that one is. Shortly after 9:00 we're off, and the ride's a bit over an hour.

Again with the bulleted list, this time about the bus ride:

  • It isn't a full-sized bus: Each row in the bus has two seats on the left, one on the right. The abnormal thing is that there is a fourth seat that could flip down and fill the isle. Practical enough, but I wonder perhaps if the reason I haven't seen the like before is that it may not pass whatever standard buses have to meet. (The Code of Vehicles From Which Passengers Are Likely to Be Able to Be Pried in the Case of an Accident, maybe?)

  • A bus next to us at one point has the name of its coach line (I guess) printed on the side: Flying Horse. But the "rse" part doesn't appear, due to a wheel well or something. I have myself a juvenile chuckle.

  • There are some road workers along the way removing some white lines from the road. With hatchets.

The Hong Kong customs port at Luohu is a busy busy place. Even at 10:30pm on a Sunday. Oh wait... I guess that time might have reason to be busy. But I was a bit overwhelmed nonetheless. Got through there pretty uneventfully. By accident I went first to the floor where the lineups were for Hong Kong/Mainland Chinese residents; when I ended up on the correct floor it was pleasantly less busy. Stood in line for a bit until I realized I'd forgotten to put my date of birth on my exit card, which made me realize I'd left my pen back at the counter; in the time I took to go back and get it a large (tour, or something) group came in and got in front of me. Oh well, I had more time to read the signs above all the lanes, which rotated their messages through English and Chinese versions of "Foreign Passport,"1 something-or-other else, and "Consult a doctor if you are feeling unwell."

Part Three

Once though customs I hop on the Kowloon Canton Rail (KCR), the light rail system in the area. My destination is Tsim Sha Tsui, an area of Kowloon2 rife with guesthouses. I'm under the impression that I need to switch to the MTR3 to get there, though I'm a little confused that the terminus station of the KCR is also called Tsim Sha Tsui ("Tsim Sha Tsui East," actually). The Lonely Planet's map seems to indicate that the KCR station is quite aways from the actual Tsim Sha Tsui district, so I stop at Kowloon Tong where I can mosey down to the subway. I take a quick trip along two MTR lines to my destination, where I see signs saying that it links to the KCR there. Hmph.4

By now it's about midnight. When I reserved my single room in the Cosmic Guest House I estimated my time of arrival as "afternoon." I said that back when I thought my flight was going to be a couple of hours. When I realized that it would be five-plus, I sent an e-mail off to the guest house saying I'd be getting there "later in the evening." I know that was an understatement, but nonetheless I believe them not to read their e-mail. Before I could arrive there and find that I didn't have a room though, I had to decipher this address:
12/F Block A1, A3, F1, F4
Mirador Mansion
54-64 Nathan Rd
Tsim Sha Tsui
Kownloon HK5

Here's how it turns out:

  1. The "54-64" doesn't mean "unit 54 at address 64"; it simply seems to mean that the address in question is for a large building that occupies the space that could be taken up by numerous buildings numbered 54 through 64.

  2. "Mirador Mansion" is the name of the building. The area seems to have many such "Mansions" and they're basically high-rise apartments, built in some kind of quadrangle so there's a courtyard in the middle.6 The bottom couple of floors comprise some manner of market.

  3. "12/F" refers to the floor, and "Block A1, A3, F1, F4" is a bit unusual in an address and means that the guesthouse's rooms are spread over four different "blocks" of the mansion (each possibly accessed by a different elevator). Actually, I think it might just be two blocks (A and F) and two units in each of those blocks.

Before I know all this, I simply manage to locate the "mansion," in the vicinity of which it is impossible to walk with a backpack and have someone try to get you into their guesthouse less than once every ten seconds.7 Being the sucker that I am (and also seeing that the entrance is mostly gated and manned by a guard and I'm not sure if I can enter on my own), I go with one of the guesthouse pushers who's quoting me a price less than the one for the room I've reserved. The room is tiny and unwindowed but it has air conditioning and a shower. I say maybe and go off to find something more Cosmic. Once I discover the grisly fate of my reservation I figure I'll go back and take the tiny room, but not before indulging a curiosity: I passed a Holiday Inn not far down the road, and I wonder how much a room would be there.

I should mention that on the walk down Nathan road I received a number of offers, some for "massage," some for "sexy massage," and one to "spend some time with me for money" (I think that's what she said) - I guess I didn't say no firmly enough to this last lady because she followed me a bit to offer more of an explanation; it went something along the lines of, "Because you should enjoy yourself while you're here, and you could have a good time." I said it sounded very nice but no thank you. When I reached the Holiday Inn there awaited another such proposition outside; when I turned it down the lady who offered it asked if I wanted a hotel room. I said yes - I was outside the Holiday Inn, after all, but there was a staircase down and I wasn't sure if the entrance was at street level or downstairs, so I gestured down the stairs and asked her "Is it down here?" She gave some manner of affirmative response so I headed down the stairs. When I noticed she was following me I had to explain that I wanted a room by myself, and finally she left.

The only staff I find in the Holiday Inn are some floor cleaners, so I give up and go back to Mirador Mansion. Not seeing my would-be hostess,8 I almost go to look at a room with yet another guesthouse owner, but happily as we're about to board the elevator, the lady in question comes out and I tell her I'll take the room. And that's that.

1Strangely, I noticed at least two instances of people abbreviating this to "passport" rather than to "foreign" (or one of its derivatives) - like when I was on the wrong floor, someone saw me and said, "Passport? Downstairs."

2For those that don't know about Hong Kong, as I didn't until a few days ago, it's made up of a few areas. Hong Kong Island (self-explanatory) and Kowloon9 are two of them: Kowloon is the chunk of mainland just north of the Island.

3Mass Transit Rail - Hong Kong's subway system.

4I have since been informed that while the two stations are indeed connected underground, the KCR train does actually stop a fair distance away and it's a heck of a subterranean walk between them.

5It's a good thing I took some responsibility myself for this trip and didn't rely solely on Alison's babysitting. I wrote down the whole address, while she omitted the first two lines, thinking "54-64 Nathan Rd" sufficient.10

6...into which people can throw their garbage and cause a letter of complaint about hygiene to be posted on their elevator.

7Typical sales pitches include "Guesthouse?" and "Take a look first?"

8I wish I could come up with a word with less connotations, but all I can think of is "landlady" and that's not really correct.

9Call to light anything from Wayne's World, anyone?

10Well, it's more of an irrelevant thing than a good thing, I suppose, judging by the good it did me to find the place. And the full address also appears in the Lonely Planet, a copy of which I managed to bum just before leaving.


Becky said...

Wow.. very detailed... also many spelling mistakes, which I wouldn't be picky about, but you always correct mine. Payback's a bitch. :)

Frank Z said...

Hi Owen, hope you are enjoying HK. Cosmic was the first hostel in HK where I stayed at. Friends booked it and we ended up with a crappy room, the girls got the renovated one. After that I was thinking of never staying at Mirador Mansion again. But hotels there are so expensive (not easy to get something for less than 1000HK$) and the Mount Davies youth hostel that a friend recommended is full if you don't book in advance. So I stayed at Mirador two more times, at New Garden hostel (13th floor), they have normal beds, not the narrow ones that others hostel have. I really like the Soho area because of all that good foreign food ;-) And the selection of cheese and other things I missed in China is great in some supermarkets. Are you also going to Macau?