TotW #10 – I’ve been flying a lot in the recent days. First from Taipei to Shanghai, then from Shanghai to Hong Kong, then from Hong Kong to Vietnam. Taipei is the past, Vietnam is the future, now let’s look at Shanghai and Hong Kong.
The idea of taking a look at Shanghai came from the fact that the direct flight from Taipei to Hong Kong was more expensive than the one with a transfer in Shanghai. Since the few hours that I could have spend there with that solution seemed to be too short, I bought a ticket to Shanghai for one day earlier. This way I had to pay almost 100 Euros more which caused me a serious pressure that I have to use my 27 hours (which by the way became 25 thanks to a flight delay) in the city as smart as possible. So I took the Maglev train, the one with the magnetic levitation, went to the city centre with 300 km/h. There I caught the last subway and since I couldn’t transfer to another one because there were no more trains after 11pm, I had to walk to my hostel on my own feet.
Nina, my default Chinese supporter service connected me with her friend who was ready to become my guide (in the followings no.1). When I arrived to Shanghai, I received a message that she had an exam on the previous day and has no energy to meet me, sorry. Nina connected me with another potential guide (no.2) who sent me links of places we could go. I chose some and we were going to meet next morning. Later the guide no.1 wrote me that her good friend, no.3 would like to be my guide, so I won’t be alone. So out of the nothing I got 3 guides in Shanghai. Three small Chinese girls, wearing glasses. Three little clones of Nina.
Next morning I met no.3. She helped me to change some Euros in a bank and then we went to a Starbucks to wait for no.1 because she finally decided that she does have enough energy to join us. They brought me to a Japanese restaurant (they both studied in Osaka for a semester, hence the addiction) then to the old town called Nanshi. No.1 lives Songjiang, she said that the most exciting things can be found there (and indeed, most of the places I picked from no.2’s link were in Songjiang) but although it’s along a subway line, it still takes two hours to get there. It would have been a waste of time. Finally we went to the Zhou Enlai Memorial House. I asked no.1 and no.3 why he’s such a famous guy. They couldn’t explain it except that he was some communist politician but they absolutely agreed that he was the most handsome Chinese politician ever. No.1 and no.2 didn’t know each other, Nina was their only common friend but still they kept calling each other to find a time and a place where no.2 could take me from them. We met at a metro station where I said goodbye to no.1 and no.3 and continued the tour with no.2.
No.2 was very well prepared, she had a plan where to go. First to some small district with interesting architecture that sadly became a shopping area. Then to the Bund, the famous place for tourists to make photos of the skyscrapers and the river. The buildings there might look nice but it’s just a commercial area, she said. Then to a Chinese restaurant which is in the tourist district but still cheap. Then to the shopping street to look around and to find a postcard that we can send to Nina. And that was it, then she explained me how to go back to the hostel where I left my luggage, then how to go to the airport from there because I decided to seep at there instead of paying for another night.
So that was my time in Shanghai. It was a good idea to visit it but not for one single day. I saw it, I have an idea about the atmosphere, it was not bad but neither an unforgettable experience. I wish I had another day to go to Songjiang but it’s not enough reason to come back there.
Hong Kong – The City Part
I was going to spend 5 nights in Hong Kong, from Tuesday morning until Sunday morning. When I was talking about this plan in the Duckstay Hostel in Taipei several weeks ago, my Romanian-Swedish volunteer colleague called Valentin said that oh wow, he’s going to spend 5 nights in Hong Kong too, from Thursday to Tuesday. It was a really lucky coincidence, he had to exit Taiwan once and then enter again to get a new his visa, and he chose Hong Kong. So great, what should we do in the 3 days we’re both there? Let’s do some camping and hiking on the largest island out of its 263, called Lantau. It was Valentins idea, not mine, in my head Hong Kong was a huge collection of skyscrapers, I’d never heard that it also has some campsites. Well, silly me, 70% of its whole area is green and protected by the government to stay like that. In the real world the city part of Hong Kong is just the center of the territory, surrounded by mountains, forests, hiking trails and campsites. Valentin also got a friend there who was ready to lend us a tent. I was supposed to meet her on Thursday, take the tent and go to the subway terminal on the Lantau Island where Valentin will come right from the airport.
I still had to spend my time somehow on the first two days. The first one was easy: I was so exhausted after the roundtrip in Taiwan and then being guided through Shanghai that I slept almost all day long. Despite of the poor conditions in my hostel. It was in the Cungking Mansions, the Indian ghetto with very cheap beds, very good location and very, let’s say, exotic atmosphere. It consists of a few old skyscrapers with about 15 floors, they bought the apartments in them, filled with beds and run each one as a separate hostel. The ground floor is the market section with restaurants, SIM card shops, money exchange, things like that and two small elevators belong to each skyscraper, going through the hostel floors up and down all day. In rush hours you stand in the queue and wait to fit in the elevator for about 10-15 minutes.
On Wednesday I met two persons who found me on Couchsurfing. The first one was a Hungarian boy, Ádám, he saw that we’re from the same country so why not meet up. The gulas love, as Valentin said. The Science Museum is free on Wednesdays so I was going to go there and Ádám said he’d like to join. The museum is really handy for educational purposes, with simple mechanical experiments from the physics classes and tables with various logic puzzles, with explanations of the basics of transportation, telecommunication, human biology and environmental processes. Even we were older than the target audience, we did have fun at some of those stations. Ádáms profile on Couchsurfing says that he’s self-employed. This means that once he made a youtube video that became unexpectedly popular, now it has more than 20 million views and Google just used to send him some of the money they got from advertisements. Ádám said that it was a very good business until most of the viewers were from the US, then it became much worst when most of them were from India. But nowadays youtube promotes the video less and less so nobody watches it and so the good times are probably over. And no, he didn’t tell me which video is that because it’s a business secret. Too bad. He asked me where I’m staying. In the Chungking Mansions, I said. That must be a huge experience, he said. He also let me to leave my baggage at the apartment he’s renting through AirBnB until I’m in the wilderness which was a huge help, all my other ideas about the storage had serious downsides, either from financial or from security sides.
The second host that day was Chum Nam, a local guy who also contacted me because of my nationality. He said that it’s very hard to meet someone from the Eastern part of Europe in Hong Kong and he wants to know more about the history and culture of that area. He wasn’t joking: when he showed me something on his phone, there were two other tabs open in his browser, the wikipedia page of Hungary and the one of Nagy Imre. While we were strolling, he asked me thousands of questions, especially from the history of the 20th century and some recent political issues. It was impressive how interested he was in an area from the other side of the world. He also asked me where I’m staying. In the Chungking Mansions, I said. Oh, locals use to avoid that place, he said. Anyway, we started the walk in Hong Kong City but when he realized that I’m not interested in big cities anymore, we took the subway and went to his home island which happened to be Lantau as well, and took a look at the nature. Then I went back to my place, bought some Indian flavored pizza for dinner, and left the Chungking Mansion next day.
Hong Kong – The Hiking Part
On Thursday I brought my baggage to Ádám, took the tent from Valentins tent girl and went to the Lantau Island to meet Valentin. We knew that we want to visit the giant Buddha statue which is somewhere on the island and that we want to finish the whole hiking at Mui Wo town so we can go to Honk Kong Island by ferry (which is even cheaper than subway). Since we found each other only after 3pm, there wasn’t much time left to be active. We took a bus to the so called Pui O campsite on the south of the island then decided to go to another one instead which we couldn’t find so we went back to Pui O a few hours later and spent the night there. Next day we hiked to the Buddha statue, that took 3 hours. Chum Nam from yesterday complained a lot that the monastery, the symbol of their island has become a tourist center and he was right: because of the cable car coming up here, it was filled with convenience stores, restaurants and of course, Chinese tourists. Especially now that they had holidays there because of the National Day of the Republic of China on October 1. We came down on the other side which took about 2 hours and when we crossed the road where the buses go, we just sit on one to reach Mui Wo before sunset. After some research we found a campsite nearby which was not on the beach like the one in Pui O but in a forest.
On Saturday we left with the island at around noon. I didn’t have much money left so I had to be very careful what I’m spending on: 33 dollars for the bus to the airport, 60 to make a passport photo for the visa to Vietnam, and 28 dollars for a Michelin Star restaurant in the downtown. Valentin said that this is the cheapest Michelin Star restaurant in the world and we should try it. I must admit that I don’t know much about Michelin Stars but I supposed that it must mean that the food is good so I ordered a beef noodle and yeah, it was really tasty. I don’t know why the restaurant got the star, but I’d recommend it anyway.
Ádám wrote me about the luggage that I can take it tomorrow before 5pm. I wrote him back that yeah, but I’ll be already in Vietnam tomorrow so can we do it today? And then he didn’t answer me for almost 4 hours. I had no idea if he’s even in Honk Kong today. Those were very stressful 4 hours, I spend them by preparing myself for worst-case scenarios about leaving the country without my baggage, buying a new flying ticket for later and so on. Me and Valentin decided to go to his house, a skyscraper obviously, but since I didn’t know which floor he lives on, we didn’t have a plan for after that. We were close to his place when he finally informed me that sure, then let’s meet today and sorry, he just fell a bit asleep. Then he explained me where I can make my passport photo for Vietnam and we said goodbye.
After they made a photo of my pretty face we had to wait for 30 minutes so me and Valentin sat in the McDonald’s next door. I told Valentin that this might have been the worst day of my whole journey. Early in the morning, back in the campsite we had a tropical thunder and I was worrying that we’ll be too wet in the tent. After the rain we had a strong sunrise so I sweat through my last clean shirt. We had to wait for the ferry for two hours and meanwhile I was worrying about where can I make my passport photo and print the visa documents. Then I spent 4 horrible hours at Valentins hostel stressing myself about my baggage. And I changed some of my money to Vietnamese Dong and the exchange rate was super low. And it’s still not finished, I’ll sleep at the airport, after two nights in a tent, it’s so uncomfortable.
Valentin said that I’m way too pessimistic and I should be more positive. Look, we just finished a long hiking that we both enjoyed. Then we took a nice one hour long ferry ride which we also saved some money with. From the ferry we walked around on Hong Kong Island and had a lunch in a Michelin Star restaurant. And I’m really calling this a bad day? Come on, now I got my baggage, I got all the stuff I need for Vietnam, and there is still plenty of time since my airplane departs only in the morning, so let’s take a walk and visit the night market.
So we did. Then he bought me a beer and we were chatting until 1am. He said that he always tries to be positive because that’s the best way to make other people think positive too. And that he’s always trying to avoid people who complain too much because that brings him down. I told him that in this case he’ll probably avoid me too in the future. We’ll see, he said.
I arrived to the airport at 2am and since I had only 3 hours until the check-in, I didn’t even try to sleep. I was glad to leave Hong Kong, I’ve had enough of the city. The green part though, the other 70% was great and is worth to visit again. It’s a lovely place for hiking, with all those hills and islands.
I’m leaving now the Chinese speaking area after 6 weeks and enter South Asia. Now I’m at around halfway of my journey to New Zealand in time, distance, even in number of countries. The next post will be about the Vietnam part.
Weekly Best Of
+ that I have been to mainland China
+ hiking in Lantau Island