HK Photos

Photos from Hong Kong are up on flickr:
flickr.com/greatwillofchina

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Fakes

Having started my packing a good couple of weeks ago I’ve been feeling very prepared and in control, so I’ve sorting things out at a leisurely rate. Unfortunately I’ve been taking it a bit too leisurely, so now I’m left with 3 days to finish everything on my to do list, which is growing by the second as I remember more and more things I need to do.

I went over to Huzhou on Saturday for a last night out with Stu there, then we both got up early feeling slightly under the weather on Sunday morning to catch the bus into Shanghai for the last trip to the Shanghai fake market. I treated myself to another fake watch – an Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean this time, which is awesome. We chatted to the watch vendor for a bit, with him explaining how the different qualities of fake worked – the ones I’ve bought so far, all for around a tenner, are Chinese made and although they look the part at a quick glance they’re pretty rubbish quality. The next level up is the Japanese fakes at about £40, which look absolutely spot on, to the point where you’d have to take them apart to tell they weren’t genuine. At the top end are the Swiss fakes, which use the genuine Rolex/Omega/etc insides made in Switzerland, but are put together in China by whoever handles that sort of stuff over here. The Swiss ones cost upwards of a hundred pounds, but are obviously as close to the real deal as you can get without actually buying a real one. I went for the Japanese fake this time, and you can really tell the difference from the ones I’ve been buying before.

I’m just going out to get some tea – think I’ll go to the Beijing place for a change – but when I get back I’ll put all the photos of Hong Kong up on flickr. Watch this space.

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The last few days…

In more than one sense – for Em and Sophie, today is their last day in China. This afternoon they’re going to Shanghai to stay over in the airport hotel ready for their flight tomorrow, and they should be back in England by 16:30. They’re both looking pretty reluctant to go, although whether this is because it means leaving China or because of the colossal amount of stuff they’re currently trying to cram into a suitcase I’m not sure.

Our journey back from Hong Kong was less than smooth… After a day of warnings of ‘typhoon level 3’ (of course, this isn’t very useful without knowing how high the scales goes, and if it counts up or down) our plane was delayed almost two hours, then the two screaming children who’d been running round the boarding gate area were sat (of course) directly behind us, then when we arrived back in Shanghai Pudong airport at 21:30 EVERYTHING was closed, including metro and all long-distance buses. We managed to get a city bus across to Hong Qiao rail station, where we get the train to Jiaxing from, which was also locked up, briefly pondered getting in a car with a strange man who offered to take us to Jiaxing for £30 before realising we were all a bit knackered and it probably wasn’t a good idea, then got a taxi back into Shanghai to a hostel to get a dorm for the night.

I had to get up early the next morning to be back in Jiaxing by 10 to go to the police station to try and extend my visa another 30 days so the kind people at Chinese customs would let me back into the country to collect my stuff when I come back from Thailand on the 10th July before leaving china on the 11th, which (of course) was not as easy as it should have been.

I could have done the whole visa process in Hong Kong but the last time we were at the police station they told me not to bother cos they’d just do it for me in Jiaxing. I was a little… distressed… then, when we got to the front of the queue only for the police to decide they wouldn’t do it after all, because they thought I was going to try and stay to work illegally in China. I forgot my razor in Hong Kong, so I had a very scrappy looking beard by this point, and I blame the beard for this. I tried to point out that if I was going to stay and work illegally I’d just do it, not apply to extend my visa for another month, but the nice policemen weren’t really up for a debate and sent me away.

Fortunately, at this point the famous Chinese system of guanxi started to work for me for once. Guanxi can be vaguely translated as (uh oh, don’t want the Chinese reading any criticism of their police… I’ll put it in French) corruption (that ought to fool them). Smile rang the head teacher of our school, who called the police ‘leaders’ and got us an interview with a ‘leader’ immediately. Excellent. She explained that if any of the important policemen wanted to put their children in our incredibly expensive school then the school just let them in, lacking though they may be in brains and manners, all the better to breed guanxi.

There was a lot of hassle, etc etc, until they eventually said if I printed out my flight details to and from Thailand, to England, wrote out a full itinerary of where I would be for the extra days, and let them tie a very long string round my ankle, then they’d give me an extension.

Of course, I believed this approximately 0%, so I trotted off to Huzhou, where Stu’s living, in the afternoon to see if they’d give me a visa there. Of course they didn’t, so I came back to Jiaxing, arriving just in time to go for dinner with Em and Sophie at the Beijing restaurant near my house.

BUT I’ve just been to the police station with everything required and armed with a million different bits of paper with lots of red stamps on them from just about everyone I’ve ever met, and they claim they will give me the extension. I’m to pick my passport up on the 1st July – the day I’m flying to Thailand, but I’m not going till the evening so plenty of time to pick up passport first.

Of course, my Residence Permit expires on the 30th June, so I can only assume that what is going to happen when I trot down to the police station on the 1st July is that they will have refused my visa request because I didn’t sign it in the correct colour pen or something, then they’ll clap me in irons for overstaying in China, and drag me off to some Tibetan horror-prison, where I’ll grow a long Confucius-style beard and work at becoming a kung fu master or something.

Probably.

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Birthday

Thank you everybody!

I had a great birthday – we got up, met Stu and went for breakfast (McDonalds, but it’s my birthday so it’s allowed) and a lot of coffee, then finally got organised and caught a metro then a bus to Shek O beach on the Southern side of Hong Kong island.

I’m literally in love with Hong Kong – one of the busiest, most important financial centres in the world, yet on the same island and no more than a 30 min bus ride away are beautiful beaches and be-jungled (yep, just made that one up) mountains. It literally has EVERYTHING.

When we got to the beach it was bright sunshine, so me and Stu hid in the shade under some trees at the back, but thankfully within half an hour the weather had changed drastically – black clouds, torrential rain and rough seas, much as the typhoon warning we’d read that morning had promised. I love swimming in rough rainy seas, so me and Stu dived straight in (against the recommendations of the life-guards, but we’re like that) and swam about for a bit, before sitting on one of the beach raft platform things swaying about in the waves out to sea. It’s not as dangerous as it sounds though: it’d be very hard to get washed away, as you’d get caught up in the shark nets first (whether this is a good thing or a bad things is up for debate).

Anyway with 45 mins the sun was back out with a vengeance, so we retreated into the shade again like troglodytes until we’d dried off enough to go for some lunch and a beer at one of the little restaurants at the back of the beach.

By 5 the weather was turning again, so we went for one more swim then headed back over to Kowloon to meet Skye (who had, incredibly kindly, brought me the most amazing chocolate cake) for a curry for tea. Great birthday!

We’re flying home today at 17:35, so we’ll have a couple of hours to kill around Kowloon before we get the bus back to the airport. I bought a UV filter for my camera yesterday, to protect the lens more than anything, and I think I’ll get another today to fit on my other lens just for peace of mind. I’d love to spend more time here, but I’m hoping that at some point or other when I start working I’ll be able to maneuver myself into a posting to Hong Kong for a while – can imagine a lot worse places!

Thanks again for birthday wishes from everyone, on here and on facebook. Back to England soon! (I just checked, it’s 19 days!).

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Pink

Went to the beach yesterday and sat around in the sun all day without wearing suncream, with the result that my back, shoulders and neck now feel like someone’s been at them with a belt sander. We went for a walk around Kowloon today, the main-land part of Hong Kong, and I spent the entire time darting from shadow to shadow like an apprentice ninja. My only consolation is that Stu got a lot more burnt than me.

The beach yesterday was great though – pretty busy but nice big platforms out to sea to swim out to and lie on. Reassuringly, the entire beach was surrounded by some pretty heavy-duty shark nets as well, as I’ve heard that there are more tiger sharks in the local waters than are necessarily welcome.

Kowloon today was exactly as I imagined Hong Kong to be – streets full of cars crammed between enormous high-rise buildings, decorated with neon signs poking out at right angles stacked on top of each other, advertising every product imaginable. Either side of the busy main streets are lots of shady little alleyways filled with tiny stalls, and overhead lots of builders a lot braver than I am, clambering over the rickety bamboo scaffolding as Hong Kong, like every major city in China, seems to be under constant renovation/reconstruction.

We’re meeting Stu and Skye, Sophie’s friend who’s doing an internship in HK, for dinner later, hopefully for some Dim Sum around Kowloon somewhere.

Tomorrow’s my birthday – if my burn’s calmed down enough we’re going to try Shek O beach, which was recommended by a friend as being the nicest beach on Hong Kong island, and apparently also has some nice walks in the hills just behind it.

I love what I’ve seen of Hong Kong so far – it’s exactly what I imagined it to be, only that bit more impressive in the flesh.

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Hong Kong

Yahoooo!!! Done with teaching! Hasn’t quite sunk in yet though, keep getting cold sweats when I’m thinking about teaching next week, until I realise I don’t have to!

Lessons yesterday morning went without a hitch, then I grabbed a quick lunch (last time!) in the school canteen, went up to my office (last time!) packed up my laptop (last time!.. and so on…) and said goodbye to my colleagues. I felt a bit bad because the two people I talk to most, Miss Guo and Mr Hua, weren’t there, and I was on a tight schedule so had to run. Might pop back in next week just to say cheerio.

I literally popped into my flat to pick up my bag and headed straight to the train station, jumped on the first train to Shanghai (although this is a bit more difficult now, as a new law has just come in requiring everyone to show ID when you purchase your ticket – this is fine for the Chinese as their ID cards can be scanned at the automatic machines, but I have to queue up at a desk to show my passport) and then spent the best of 2 hours travelling across Shanghai on the metro.

Our plane was then delayed the best part of two hours, meaning that it was a lot later than planned when we got to Hong Kong, but we caught the airport bus pretty much straight to the door of our hostel, arriving at just gone 0100.

Our hostel’s in a building called the Chung King Mansions, a name that was obviously chosen by the same person who called Greenland Greenland; a pathological liar. The Mansions are several enormous blocks of apartments in downtown Kowloon which house lots of Chinese, loads of hostels, and just about every other ethnicity in the world – there’s a seedy mall downstairs with curry shops from everywhere in India, Africa… Can’t wait for that. The Mansions are unfortunately also known for beng a little bit intimidating at night, as lots of the buildings younger male residents like to hang around on the street outside, entertained by the usual collection of drug-sellers and prostitutes you find outside every good hotel. Sophie and Emily unfortunately were wearing clothes of the fairl skimpy variety, not ideal for avoiding attention.

I have to admit though, having just been downstairs to purchase a HK SIM (of course our Chinese ones don’t work here…) I think we saw it in possibly the worst light. By daylight the mall’s a lot more pleasant, not unlike the markets we go to in Shanghai, and there are fewer drug-taking prositutes. Lovely.

I’m currently sitting in our hostel reception which is really nice and absolutely spotless (as are our rooms) but, like everything in this building, absolutely tiny. If I really stretched I could touch the front door, the guy sitting behind the reception desk, the internet terminal and our dorm all at the same time, and I’ve yet to find a patch of floor big enough to do a pushup. Little claustrophobic, but cleaner than a really clean whistle.

We’re off for a wander today and then going to watch the light show over Victoria Harbour tonight, meeting Stu at some point on the way. Will update again I imagine, as I’ll have plenty of time: between them Emily and Sophie manage to take longer to do anything than anything I’ve ever encountered. The entire machinery of Chinese bureaucracy, stoned and wearing roller skates, would make decisions faster than those two.

Thankfully the weather’s really nice at the moment, even though it was forecast for constant storms. Hoping it’ll last long enough to have a proper look round.

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Last day

One lesson left…

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