Friday, 15 April 2011

Sad to leave Hong Kong

Wednesday 13th April 2011

MP3 track of the day: Push the button – Chemical Brothers

Weather: Cloudy but warm.

I had a beautiful, and interrupted, ten hours sleep. Eventually waking up at 8:30am I got ready for the day; for breakfast I went across to McDonald's, once again, to check my emails to make sure that my flight hadn't be altered. I got back to my Hostel, checked out, and left my 'big bag' within their luggage room (i.e. the floor within reception). Strangely the reception staff acted quite nicely; when I inquired into how long the 'airport bus' would take to get to the airport I got an answer. My mind started to back track. As my flight left at 7:05pm I would have to arrive, at the latest, by 5:05pm as it was classed as an international flight. The bus journey took around forty-five minutes to reach the airport and I could be waiting a maximum of twenty minutes for the bus to pick me up (4:00pm). Adding another hour for good luck I wanted to be leaving downtown Hong Kong around 3pm. As it was now 10am I headed out quickly, realising that I only had five hours left.

My plan was to head to a place called 'Shek O', which was located at the far east coast of the main island. Reading my guidebook it seemed to be quite a trek however it also sounded quite remote and it, supposedly, had a lovely beach. My first method of transport, to 'Shek O', would be the underground and, as I had to change public transport methods close to the 'Museum of Coastal Defense', I planned to pop-in there on the way.

This was the first time I'd used the metro system with Hong Kong; everything was clearly marked and the service was pretty cheap. Once on the platform there were glass barriers, with sliding doors, that prevented you from walking onto the lines. The underground train didn't taken too long to arrive and, once stopped, it's doors lined up perfectly with the glass doors. My stop was the seventh along the line; it didn't take long and soon I was out and into fresh air. It was nice to see that Hong Kong's excellent signage didn't stop once outside the main city. As soon as I'd left the station purple signs guided me all the way to the museum. Unfortunately Hong Kong's love affair with metal railings continued and so I did have to continually back-track.

As I approached the entrance to the 'Museum of Coastal Defense' a blue sign, with white writing on, announced that 'entrance to the museum is free on Wednesday's'. I therefore made my way through the entrance, picked up a guide, and by-passed the ticket office. To start I had to take a lift up to the eighth floor; once there I walked out of the reception building, across a small foot bridge, and onto the old 'Lei Yue Mun Fort'. Perched on the top of a small hill – overlooking the harbor – the fort had a commanding view of the surrounding islands. Walking towards the main fort I passed a few pieces of artillery, an underground magazine compound and some stunning views. All the staff seemed very friendly and one even opened the door as I crossed a bridge into the fort, the main part of the museum.

As I walked through an old brick tunnel I found myself within an old round fort. The top level of the fort had a large glass wall running around its perimeter, with a fabric roof covering the whole complex. Exhibition rooms one to five were closed for renovations which mean that I had to start my tour within the 1800's. As today was a 'free entrance' day I, of course, had to battle with a school outing in every exhibition room. The exhibition was very well presented with lots of written English that flowed well. The exhibitions were in chronological order explaining life within the fort, the many updates that occurred, and, once Hong Kong had been taken by the Japanese (officially on Christmas Day 1941), that the fort fell into disrepair and was never use again as a military outpost.

The most interesting exhibit was a 'temporary exhibition' about the 'Escape from Hong Kong'. Hours after the fall of Hong Kong a car left the city heading south to Aberdeen. The car drove quickly along the western cost before turning south, not caring about the 'ride quality' of it's passengers. It's passengers consisted of two British officials and a Chinese Admiral. Admiral Chan Chak, a one-legged Chinese veteran, had master-minded many Chinese resistance efforts against the Japanese; the Chinese had sent him to Hong Kong on the promise that, if Hong Kong fell, the British would get him out. Once at the harbor of Aberdeen the three men commandeered a vessel, along with other British troops that were trying to escape, and crossed the channel. Only half way across Japanese machine guns opened fire, killing the captain and wounding many others including the admiral. Abandoning ship the men swam the rest of the channel only then having to climb hills, in the cover of darkness, before meeting up with other British troops that had two MTB boats waiting. Even after this the now sixty-eight British, and Chinese, men weren't safe. Meeting up with Chinese resistance groups, within occupied China, they traveled for four further nights to the safety of Waichow. Once there they were greeted as heroes and all went their separate ways, with the British heading for Burma. As I read this magnificent story I wondered why it had never been put into film. Surely a story as exciting as this would draw in more crowds then 'Sex in the City 2'.

Once I had read all the information, within the fort, I realised two things. One I was hungry and two the reason that I was hungry was because the time was 1pm. There was no way I was going to make it to 'Shek O' as I still had lots of the outside exhibitions to look at. I went to the cafeteria for lunch. The cafe wasn't what I expected; located in a small, dingy area, of the complex the cafe looked more like a 'roadside cafe' that an eatery within a posh museum. As most of the menu was written in Chinese – and, where it was translated, all the dishes contained egg – I bypassed anything major and opted for a pack of crisps and a can of Pepsi. This didn't take me long to eat and soon I was walking around the perimeter, of the fort, taking in it's two caponier's, it's ditch, it's guns and all it's impressive views.

Once completed I headed back out on the path I'd walked up. I by-passed the reception building and continued south; further down ruined structures, more artillery, storage areas and observation posts could be seen. Finally I reached sea level and there stood another extremely interesting exhibit; the torpedo station which housed the famous 'Brennan Torpedo'. Louis Brennan, an Irish emigrant living in Australia, came up with the idea of the first guided war head. Approved by the British military in 1886 a 'Brennan Torpedo' could be fired into the water and directed by pulling on wires. How effective it was … we'll never know as the torpedo was never fired in anger. However, for its time, it was a very futuristic weapon of warfare.

Visiting the torpedo station had almost concluded my visit to the 'Museum of Coastal Defense'; all that was left was another caponier, a gunpower factory – which held an array of old cannons – and a military vehicle, and display area. There were three military vehicles which held little interest; what was interesting was an old 'American Civil War' battleship cannon. Reading the text this cannon – which was massive – was placed on a warship sold to the Argentinians. The ship was sunk in the Argentina / Chile conflict and was never found. Hundreds of years later this huge iron cannon was found on the sea bed near to Hong Kong island. No one, to this day, knows how it got there.

The time was just after two; I left the museum, very pleased that I'd visited, and returned to Hong Kong. Once back at the hostel I picked up my luggage; for some apparent reason the staff became very friendly. They wished me a pleasant journey and the receptionist even wanted his photo taken with me (I wonder if this was all a ploy to get good feedback on ''). I left the hostel and made my way to the airport bus stop; I'd only put my bag down for five minutes when an airport bus turned up.

At first the bus had to fight with Hong Kong's horrendous traffic but, once out of the city and onto the highways, the speed started to increase. Hong Kong's land reclamation project is being implemented to make way for a new highway, supposedly to ease the towns traffic congestion; it was certainly needed it though a designated bus lane would also help. As we traveled to the outer islands I looked out of my window not really concentrating on the view. I was sad to leave this magnificent city; yes it's stuffed with people, yes the food isn't great and yes it wasn't pedestrian, and also, road traffic friendly but there's so much to do here. I turned my head away from the window and looked up at a screen. It was displaying the usual marketing messages, both in English and Chinese, promoting special discount tickets and saver cards. It also let me know my next stop and reminded me to make sure that I new which terminal I was flying from. What terminal I was flying from … I hadn't got a clue. The emails from 'Ctrip' hadn't specified a terminal and, if they had, I hadn't printed out any of the information. I cursed myself; it had been nearly six months since my last flight but still you would have though that I would have remembered to inquire about the terminal number. I racked my brain and for some reason 'terminal two' came into my head. It was such a strong feeling that I was adamant that I would stick to it.

After an hours bus ride we pulled up at terminal one, where most people got off. I refrained from moving out of my seat. The doors closed and now I had no option, I had to go to terminal two. Once there I found an inquiry desk; the good news was that I was at the right terminal, the bad news was that check-in started in an hours time. As it was 4pm it was too early for tea and so I sat down and wrote part of this blog.

At 5pm I walked over to the three check-in counters allocated for my flight. The queues were already lengthy and, even though I'd chosen the shortest queue, I'd opted incorrectly as the larger queue had two desks to choose from. It took me forty-five minutes to check into my flight. After this I headed to departures where I followed the normal procedure of immigration and getting scanned. My gate number was sixty-seven; this involved catching two underground trains before walking, quite quickly at this stage, on three of those moving walkway things. I arrived at my gate fifteen minutes before boarding started; it had taken me eighty minutes to get here and so there wasn't anytime to get tea, or to switch my left over 'Hong Kong Dollars' for 'Chinese Yuan'. It's quite ironic but, with the limited time I had, I wished there was a McDonald's, or any kind of fast food restaurant, within sight. However there wasn't; instead I counted up my loose 'Hong Kong' change and worked out that I had just over nine dollars in coin. I went to a newsagent and picked up a chocolate bar and a bottle of water which, I though, would equal nineteen dollars allowing me to get rid of all of my change. As my items got scanned the amount came to twenty dollars and forty sense; annoyingly the cashier took my twenty dollar note and only forty sense of change. I therefore queued up again, purchased another chocolate bar, which left me with just over one Hong Kong dollar in change. I sat down, ate my chocolate, and awaited to board my flight.

It didn't take long until the boarding announcement was made; I stood up, joined the queue, and onto the plane I went. I'd been given a window seat which I hoped to use to it's full effect. First of all I planned to see Hong Kong's skyline, at night, from another angle before seeing Shanghai's. I'd also got out my guidebook as, with two hours spare, I planned to read about mainland China's economic capital. It was a smooth take-off however the flight path took us directly over the city. Not having the angle from my window I missed seeing Hong Kong for the last time; I sat back in my chair and started to read my guidebook.

After an hour lunch was served which, for a £90.00 flight, I thought was pretty good. I ordered the noodles which, as flight food went, was pretty bland. I ate the meal, plus the side dishes of bread and fruit, before I was offered a small glass of coke. After eating I got back to my reading. I finished reading about Shanghai with twenty minutes of my flight remaining. It soon occurred to me that, with three of my five days taken up with the race, I would need to extend my stay if I was to see all the sights within Shanghai. The landing was one of the smoothest I've witnessed; as the airport was way out of town I didn't get to see Shanghai's skyline either. As the plane docked I noticed two common actions, customers on a flight do, no matter their nationality. Firstly everyone stands up, and gets ready, as if they expect the small door at the front of the plane was capable of allowing them all to disembark within thirty seconds of docking. Secondly people immediately turn on their mobile phones, as if they were expecting some urgent call (and most looked a little disappointed when their phone read 'no missed calls'). I packed my bag and remained seated, waiting for the queue to start moving before standing up.

Once off the plane we had to board a bus that would take us to a gate; airport police were everywhere making sure that no one did 'a runner'. As I had a pick-up waiting for me I hurried through immigration and picked up my luggage as fast as possible. Once into departures I saw, a rather short and rounded Chinese bloke, holding a placard with my name on it. I smiled at him and off we went. Once within the car I noticed that the guy liked listening to English club music ... quite loudly. We left the airport and we were soon on the highways of Shanghai; as I looked out of the window I noticed that the speed limit, for these huge four-lane motorways, was only 80KM (45MPH) which I thought was a little slow. My driver agreed as his speed never seemed to reduce from 140KM. We passed cars on the left, right and center which didn't really make me nervous; what did make me nervous was, when I casually looked at the driver, he seemed to be falling asleep. I sat back in my chair pretending that I hadn't seen what I had seen. It was no good; I continually looked over to see the driver rocking within his chair with his eye lids looking very heavy. As I studied him more closely it became more hazy if he was indeed falling asleep; three possible explanations could be made for my driver strange behavior. Firstly, he was falling asleep, secondly he was dancing to the music and thirdly he had a nervous affliction or he was retarded. I weighted up all the evidence and decided that my driver was indeed retarded. Why having a retarded driver made me feel better than having one falling asleep I didn't know, however it did.

It took around an hour – driving almost constantly at 140KM – to reach my hostel. The hostel had a certain charm and, once inside, it was a vast improvement from the hostel within Hong Kong. There was a games room, TV room, lounge, eating area, bar, kitchen, laundry facilities and very friendly staff. I checked-in, eager to get to my bed. Check-in didn't take too long and soon I found my bed. The room was clean and spacious however the bed was a little hard. As I made my bed I spoke to the rest of my room mates; all were Chinese (in fact most of the guests here seem to be Chinese) and they were all here to partake in a student interview for a university course. We chatted for a while however, seeing that the time was 11pm, I was ready for sleep. Once my bed was made, and my bags were stored within my locker, I hit the sack saying goodnight to my fellow room mates.

I've got quite a few jobs for tomorrow including changing my Hong Kong Dollars for Chinese Yuan, laundry, buying food for the race weekend, finding a post office and seeing if I can get a Mclaren shirt and hat. Tomorrow's going to be a busy day!

Toodle Pip!

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