Saturday, July 14, 2012

A More Adventurous Trip to Hong Kong

I used to enjoy the bus trip to Hong Kong.  It was a leisurely 8 hour trip with a stop every two hours, a real 10 course lunch in a restaurant with fellow bus passengers, an easy hop through a spacious, well staffed customs hall and ending a mere two subway stops from our hotel right about dinner time. Then the Rat Bastards who own the bus company changed the schedule.
This is a frequent occurance in China.  Often when something is enjoyable, convenient or just plain nice, it gets changed.  For example, Wal Mart, a mere 10 minute walk from our apartment, had a free standing cooler filled with many different import beers-- San Miguel, Heineken, Carlsburg.  This is not a common practice, since most Chinese don't care if their beer is the same temperature as their armpits or not.  So if you want a cold beer that isn't Chinese, it involves foresight and planning, going to the store in advance and getting the warm beer off the shelf and putting it in the freezer and waiting for it to get to a civilized temperature.  On a hot, Sunday afternoon, we decided some cold San Miguel would be nice.  Upon arriving at Wal Mart, or course the cooler was full of juice and milk tea, and the only import beer in the other beer cooler is the one beer you can drink warm-- Guinness.  
My favorite bread at the bakery, which I bought daily, discontinued.  Stoli at 10 bucks a bottle, can't find it anymore.  Favorite bus trip--Changed!!!
The bus left Zhanjiang at 8:30 am daily.  Another bus left Hong Kong at 8:30 am daily.  Some brilliant bean counter at the bus company realized that what they were using two buses for what could be done with one bus, so now the trip to Hong Kong leaves at 11:30 at night.  So instead of a pleasant ride enjoying the Guangdong countryside, you spend the night trying to sleep upright, arriving in the most crowded city in the world with lots of luggage and no sleep at 7:30 am, then waiting another 7 hours or so until you check in at your hotel.
We opted for a different travel route.  We took the bus to Shenzhen, the city just over the border from Hong Kong.   It left at 9:30 am.  It's a longer, more complicated journey but hey, you don't have to spend the night on a bus!  
The journey started well.  We discovered, to our delight, that the nasty Third World style Zhanjiang bus station had been replaced by a modern, airy, facility, and that our bus was a modern, spacious vehicle with very nice seats.  Then the trip got more Third World.  Fortunately, I had the foresight to travel in a slightly dehydrated mode, since there is no loo on the modern bus and  they didn't stop until about 4 1/2 hours later when it was lunch time.
I use the word "lunch" rather loosely, and what we were fed, although free, was not something that I would choose in the future.  It's what I call "shunmuh on rice", "shunmuh" being the phonetic equivalent for "what's this?" in Mandarin.  The rice was nasty too, low grade, room temperature and served in a Styrofoam container with some pickled veggies.
Of course, to stimulate our appetites we first dashed into the men's room, which was best experienced with rubber boots and a respirator.  Since I had neither, and was wearing sandals I had a more "cultural" experience.  It's amazing how quickly one can pee when one puts their mind to it.  One of our fellow travelers got to enjoy a #2 experience consisting of squatting over a large communal trough with a token trickle of water flowing through it,  in view of everyone.  This was a restroom that the guidebooks warn you about, but that seems to have fallen out of fashion in more advanced areas of the country.  We were so fortunate to be able to enjoy this disappearing relic from the Cultural Revolution.
We were given 20 minutes to take care of  the business of relieving and feeding ourselves, and we managed to complete it in 10, since 75 seconds was all that was required in the loo, and it only took a few bites of lunch to kill our appetites.  However the smokers, which consisted of virtually all the men, took this opportunity to chain smoke because they knew they had another 4 hours of non stop bus riding ahead of them.
The last couple of hours of the trip were spent crawling and stopping though traffic.  This is a very populous part of the world.  Shenzhen has 20 million people, and its neighboring city Guangzhou has another 20 million.  There's also Hong Kong and many other cities, and way too many cars with bad drivers.
Once we arrived at the bus station in Shenzhen, we still had to get to the train station that connects you to Hong Kong.  It's about a 30 minute taxi ride.  So we got to experience a very different traffic situation from Zhanjiang.
About a year and a half ago, the leaders of this city got sick and tired of the motorbike anarchy and completely banned all motorbikes, gas and electric.  The result is much more civilized traffic.  Apparently this has freed the police up to enforce other things like littering laws.  We saw virtually no litter.  And it seems as though the city leaders use some of the money garnered from construction fees to invest in infrastructure since the sidewalks had no holes, and the intersections had traffic signals.
The train station is a little more of a relic, and could use a bit of an upgrade, since it is used by zillions of people who commute between Hong Kong and Shenzhen.  We got behind a large group of Taiwanese college kids who were on some kind of tour and got to wait for a long time while the one customs clerk processed them all.
Since I had been running on not enough sleep for several days, I was beginning to feel a bit fatigued.  We finally got through and got seats on the commuter train going into Hong Kong.  After 45 minutes we reached the end of the line, only a couple of subway stops to our hotel!  But wait, the exit gate to the concourse  wouldn't open when we inserted our tickets.  After inquiring at the ticket desk we were told we would need to backtrack about 8 stops, change trains then go another 6 stops.  Lovely!  Even though this system was designed by the Brits, the Chinese have been in control long enough to make it more interesting.
After another 45 minutes on the subway, we finally arrived, two short blocks to our hotel nearly 12 hours after leaving our apartment.
The day's travel glitches were cured by an excellent seafood dinner and several cold San Miguels.
I think that in the future, when going to Hong Kong, I will opt for the direct night bus.