I had a different title planned for this post but on updating friends and family that I have just arrived in Hong Kong, the first comment I got was this statement.
I have no idea why my friends feel compelled to advise me in this manner. It’s not the first time, whenever I have been anywhere, that they have said this.
Moscow, Beijing, Saturday afternoon in Manchester, stroll into London… ok I might have been attending a protest on that one.
So, yes, here I am in Hong Kong – a city, territory, country (dependent on your politics) that I’m very excited to see. My nephew will be arguing it’s a country because he will expect to receive another postcard.
I left Tim the kitten howling for his fourth breakfast this morning at the hostel and caught the Number 31 bus to Hangzhou East Railway Station.
The bus crawled past the West Lake and through the city centre for over an hour. I assumed the station to be on the far outskirts of Hangzhou but when the train later pulled out of the station I realised the city extends for several miles more.
Back on the bus, I was treated to a series of educational and instructional videos on the onboard televisions.
I’ve seen quite a few promotional videos about China’s beauty and achievements – they always end with a launching rocket. I suspected that these were linked to the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic.
One of today’s videos was all about Hangzhou.
Much of the content was focused on the ongoing construction and development of the city. It is rapidly expanding.
As the train left the station later in the afternoon I saw that for myself… miles and miles of skyscrapers, mostly residential and uniform.
Towards the outskirts of the city, what I’m guessing were the original dwellings remain, dwarfed among the multiple elevated railway lines that snake their way out to and through the mountains that ring Hangzhou.
Meanwhile, the video on the bus had moved to the tea plantations of the area.
I was reliably informed that young women wearing their best dresses go to work in the fields daily, singing while directing the leaves to magically gather themselves.
I had an instructive morning.
However, nothing will top the “Monkey” inspired identity theft video I saw on the Beijing Metro. Not sure what “Monkey” was? Allow me to enlighten you… here.
As a warning that wrongdoers will always be found out it was a little surreal and so much more entertaining than English instructional videos.
After the seeing the zit cream advert, that normalises school yard and workplace bullying of people with acne, four times, the bus arrived at Hangzhou East Station.
I had time for some lunch before boarding the train where my seat was in second class and where a full scale row was going on between two women over how one of them was taking ridiculous amounts of storage room.
Chinese trains provide plenty of overhead storage and one of the women had taken storage over her own seat and of the seats across the aisle.
How did I know this was what the tow was about? The emphatic gesturing and pointing.
The carriage’s conductor had to come to split them up and she had her work cut out, but she was able to resolve the situation.
The trolley lady them came down the train. For sale? Fruit. Superb.
The next trolley lady came with the more usual arrangements of salty or sweet snacks.
Once the we had passed through the first mountains, via tunnels, that ring Hangzhou, the scenery became a mix of tree-clad mountains and wide flat valleys.
The valleys were a mix of low rise houses, none more than three storeys high, and fields. After seeing the array of skyscrapers in Hangzhou, three storeys seen very small.
Each of the fields was subdivided into different plantings – there were no huge monocultures of crops here. Where there was one type of plant, it seemed to be tea but all of the other fields seemed to contain around six variations.
I’d be almost inclined to describe them as liking similar to allotment holdings in the UK.
While I was looking out of the window, I listened to the extensive warnings about expected and appropriate behaviour for the journey.
“Smoking is not allowed on the train”. Straight forward instruction.
“When using your mobile phone, please speak for a short amount of time and do so quietly”. Specific.
“For passengers travelling with children, please do not allow them to run up and down the carriage, or chase around or climb on the seats, and please keep them away from the doors and electronic boilers so that they are not injured”. Comprehensively perfect and probably updated as the evidence base on likely child behaviour expands.
I imagine there is a conversation about these recordings that goes something like this:
“Ok, what are the things about other people’s kids that really annoy everyone?”
“Running up and down, out of control.”
“Yep, got that one.”
“I hear you but I’m not sure we can include that – how can we be certain it is bad behaviour and not distress.”
“The passenger who can’t get to sleep because of the crying doesn’t care whether it’s distress or temper.”
“No, but let’s keep this to specific, naughty behaviours.”
“Swinging on the carriage’s blinds, then?”
” How about ‘don’t fill your little darlings up with sugary sweets before long journeys’?’
“Oh, definitely. We’ll get that on the November update. Well done, everyone.”
The journey between Hangzhou and Hong Kong would take over seven hours. The beauty of this journey was that for the majority of the time the train was travelling on a raised rail which meant I had a great view out of the window.
About a hour South of Hangzhou, the train passed a small town where the air was dark blue with smog, being belched out by a three chimneyed power plant.
We passed more industrial areas among the fields and acres of poly tunnels. It was a shock to see these dark skies amid all the green fields.
There were several reminders for travellers to Hong Kong Kowloon to ensure we were travelling with the correct ticket on the correct day and to make sure we submitted to border regulations for entry to Hong Kong at the station. If we did not and if we refused the facilitation of a return ticket back to China we would be punished by the transport police.
I couldn’t see any signs of Our British Citizen who had caused trouble at the Mongolian/Chinese border so I hoped this would be a trouble free experience.
Meanwhile, the two small boys in front of me were busy scaling the heights of the seats and pulling faces at me and each other. As well as being able to watch the scenery go by, as we now passed through steep green mountains again, I had in-train entertainment.
Once past these mountains, the land became much flatter, passing the occasional wide river, and featured more farmland and sprawling towns, without the skyscrapers. The view largely continued to be like this until the sun set.
Just before 10pm, the train passed through Guangzhou and then on to the last stop in China, Shenzhen before crossing into the Hong Kong territory.
On arrival at West Kowloon Station the process of visa check for exiting China and then completing the paperwork for entering Hong Kong went smoothly until the official dealing with me had to call over a superior.
That sinking feeling…
His terminal wasn’t working.
Here we are.
*Featured Photo: It’s supposed to show a gift from the hostel I stayed in. Fiona’s Trip Hostel in Hangzhou…. however, Twitter is showing a photo of the legroom and my blog page is showing a picture of the station. So tonight’s picture could be anything. I also think all of my hostels and hotels should change their names to Fiona forthwith.