Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Stressed out

Tuesday 12th April 2011

MP3 track of the day: Return to sender – Elvis Presley

Weather: The day started cloudy with a crisp breeze; the colds soon lifted to present the sun and a lovely blue sky. The breeze, thankfully, remained.

I think the time was around 10pm when I decided that, as it was too early to go to sleep, I would use the internet to check my flight details. The hostels two communal PC's were both in operation with quite a queue of people waiting. To jump the queue I asked the receptionist if I could print off a map of Shanghai; he fired up a separate computer and, using the internet connection, I opened up my email account to find my map and an urgent email from 'Ctrip', my flight company. Before printing the map I opened the 'Ctrip' email to find the dreaded words:

... You flight has been changed. Please phone us as soon as possible...”

I sat back in the chair horrified. Not only did I not know the details of the change but the only contact method was using the phone (I always use email). Just then the PC's internet connection terminated; I printed my map off but I couldn't open the email with 'Ctrip's' contact number. It was at this point that my 'worry-o-meter' started to sore; what if my flight was canceled? I would have to take the train to Shanghai however it would take over a day … plus the train only departs once every two days. This would mean that the train could leave at any time tomorrow – meaning that I would have to cancel a nights stay here – or it would leave the day after – making me late for my accommodation booking within Shanghai. I inquired at reception to see if they knew any details about the train schedule; the guy shrugged and said that he didn't know (which was becoming a standard answer for the staff here … this hostel really is terrible).

Once I'd finished printing my map the two communal PC's were still in demand. My PC wouldn't connect to the network so I could either, take a trip to McDonald's (at 11pm), or hang on here for an opening. Even though a sign clearly stated that 'if there was a queue please only spend fifteen minutes or less on the PC's' some French woman must have been on one machine for hours. I gave up and decided that, as I couldn't do anything tonight anyway, I would get up early in the morning to sort the issue out.

The only problem with the above solution was that I couldn't get to sleep; different scenarios kept running around in my head. Canceled flights, full trains and missing the F1 race were the usual topics. I decided that, as I couldn't get to sleep, I had to try and sort the problem out. I got up and headed back into the common room to find the French woman still on one of the PC's. Finally the other PC became free and so I jumped on it and opened up my email account. I also put another $10 of credit on my mobile and I rang the 'Ctrip' number, only to find the office closed until 7am tomorrow morning. I did a quick search, on 'Ctrip's' website to see if there were any flights, from Hong Kong to Shanghai, on the 13th April. There were but not the time I'd opted for; the earliest flight was 7:05pm.

It was now 1am and, with little option, I went back to bed and tried to get to sleep.


At 3am I woke with a start. My head was still calculating possible travel scenarios. I'd had a lovely day within Hong Kong and, even though I tried not to let this problem spoil it, I couldn't help it. Lying awake I decided that in the morning I would head to McDonald's, for 7am, to 'Skype' 'Ctrip' as the $10 I put on my mobile was used up within two minutes (calling China from Hong Kong is classed as a international call … stupid I know). I eventually went back to sleep around 4am, full of worry.


6am came; I got up, had a shower, and headed into Hong Kong. Only having four hours sleep had taken it's tole and I was pretty tired as I arrived at McDonald's. I order an orange juice, sat down, and fired up my PC. It took quite a while to 'Skype' 'Ctrip' but eventually I got through (I was a little worried as McDonald's only gives you an hour's free internet at anyone time). The line was terrible, though I did managed to hear the dreaded words 'Your flight has been canceled'. Fortunately the lady offered me another flight – the one leaving at 7:05pm – which I gladly accepted. Once off 'Skype' I awaited a confirmation email to make sure that I had herd the woman correctly.

The email took quite a while to come through but, eventually, I saw 'April 13th Hong Kong to Shanghai 19:05. I relaxed a little however this flight was going to provide problems. Even though it meant that I had more time in Hong Kong I would be arriving, in Shanghai, at 9:20pm. I would be out of the airport around 10pm and, as the subways close at 11pm, I would have to ask the hostel for a pick-up … which was a little expensive. Not only that but there's a 'Maglev train', whisking travelers to and from the airport at 430kph, which I fancied trying; the train is suspended above a track, by the forces of magnetism, and it all sounded rather exciting. Now I'm arriving at 9:20pm the 'Maglev train' will be closed and so, to have a ride on it, I would have to make a special trip back to the airport. All-in-all things were now going to cost me a lot more, but at least I'll get to Shanghai.

I shutdown my PC, finished my orange juice, and ordered breakfast. Hopefully with my transport issues sorted I could now concentrate on my, rather shorter, day. Feeling rather stressed I decided to head to 'Victoria Park', located five minutes to the west of my accommodation. As my adrenaline started to ease I began to yawn more and more. Entering the park wasn't straight forward; first of all I had to cross a highway, which involved walking north quite a considerable distance. I then had to back-tracking south to one of the parks many entrances; the first entrance I found was closed. I could see people within the park and so I headed further south until I found a gate that was open. The park was a bit of a disappointment; the flower beds looked as though they were being replanted, there were no toy boats within the 'boat pool' and the park seemed smaller than the map showed it to be. It didn't take long to walk through most of the parks grounds; all around individual old Chinese people were doing their particular exercise routines. It seems as though the Hong Kong authorities approve of this as they have erected a huge TV, at one of the parks many entrances, playing a fitness video for old people. Most of the routines were a little odd; my favorite were the people who had chosen to either walk, or run, on the spot. Why they didn't walk, or run, around the park I do not know; not only would it give them more choice of views but they wouldn't look as stupid.

Once realising that I was about to head out of the park I sat down, got my 'Hong Kong' map out of my back pocket, and began to ponder. Being honest I wasn't in the mood to do any sightseeing today however, in the end, I decided to walk to the other end of town – to visit 'Man Mo Temple' – bypassing Hong Kong's racecourse. 'Happy Valley' racecourse was located next to a huge road junction and, as a result, it took quite a lot of effort reaching. After exiting the final tunnel I found the racecourse shut. I peaked through the deliveries gate before returning back into town. Once in town I decided to do a bit of shopping. Hong Kong's skyline had impressed me so much that I wanted a picture book showing it. After quiet a bit of searching I found a book store; I went in and immediately found their range of Hong Kong picture books; I flicked through each one before purchasing a A5 hardback book for £10. I left the store and continued my walk to the temple.

It was now noon; I was tired, hungry, thirsty and my feet hurt. I tried to find a place to eat that wasn't McDonald's or Subway. Try as I might I failed; feeling fed up I went into one of the many McDonald's however I made it a point to try something new. I have to say that their warm apple pie was rather tasty. Once finished I continued my walk to 'Man Mo temple', willing myself on up the last few steps. The temple was a bit of an anti-climax; it was a tiny building, with no grounds, and it had grotty blocks of flats surrounding it. Once inside things did improve and incense could be smelt almost immediately; looking up I saw many coils of incense burning from the roof. Moving further inside a small shrine could be seen. As the temple wasn't that big I soon left glad that I hadn't paid to enter.

It was only 1:30pm however I was completely shattered. I decided to make the long walk back to my accommodation stopping at the 'Peak Tram' ticket office. As the sky, over Hong Kong, was clear again I decided to take the tram up to the lookout later for some more night shots. I inquired into the times of the final trams and I was pleased to hear that the operation stopped around midnight. I thanked the person for their information and left, thinking that I'll be back for seven so I can take my photos and still get back, to my accommodation, for an early night.

The walk back to my accommodation seemed to take forever, each step becoming harder than the last. Once back I put my picture book within my main bag and picked up my PC. Being a little paranoid about my flight tomorrow I went back to McDonald's, ordered a coke, and checked my emails to make sure that nothing was wrong. All was fine. I headed back to my hostel and awaited nightfall.

Just before night fell I walked, with my camera and tri-pod, to the 'Peak Tram' departure point. I arrived around 7pm to join a small queue; given that the harbor light show was going to start in an hours time I had expected more people than there were. I purchased a return tram ticket, plus access to the 'Sky Lookout', for sixty Hong Kong dollars (£5). On the tram I'd managed to get a window seat however, due to the darkness, the view wasn't that great. The best bit about looking out of the window was seeing the many tower blocks standing at strange angles; this was of course an optical illusion as it was the tram that was at a peculiar angle. Just as we were about to dock I looked up, onto the 'Sky Lookout', to find that there weren't that many people on it. I'd already eyed a good photo spot and so, once the doors opened, I raced out and up the many escalators to the lookout.

My photo position was still vacant as I came up the last escalator; I put my bag down to claim my territory before erecting my tripod and getting myself set up. The view was good; only a little cloud was in the sky allowing for a, almost, perfect view. The only downside was that I thought, from this position, I would be able to see traffic moving - like millions of ants - below. Alas the many skyscrapers hid all bar a couple of cars and so I got on with targeting buildings instead of highways. I moved along the viewing platform, photographing as I went. It was coming up to 8pm and, as the light show was due to start, I departed the platform to avoid the crowds. I stepped out of the complex to see if I could find another good photographing spot on top of 'The Peak'. There weren't any. I purchased a bar of chocolate before heading back down 'The Peak'. I had been at the top, of 'The Peak', for just under an hour.

Once back in the city I walked like a mad man, trying to get back to my accommodation as fast as humanly possible. I crossed roads while the traffic lights were on green, I squeezed myself through gaps that, if I was just a little fatter, I wouldn't have fit through. I looked at my watch as I came around the final corner, I had managed to shave twenty minutes of my best time.

Then I hit a crowd.

Some Asian star was singing on a small stage right in the middle of the road. It took forever to pass the large crowds, adding a good five minutes onto my time. Once back I repacked my bags for my flight (I'm quite excited about flying … it's been a while), went on the internet and had a shower. I was ready for bed by 10pm and boy wasn't I glad. I hadn't achieved a lot today – and for that I'm a little gutted – however I have been very tired. Luckily I don't have to check-out of my accommodation until midday tomorrow. This will allow me to leave my luggage, within my dorm, as I go for some breakfast; that's if I wake up in time for breakfast.

So I've been in China for a week and what a mixed week it's been. I've liked both the Chinese cities I visited for two completely different reasons. Nanning was lovely and laid back, but had little to keep me entertained; Hong Kong was the opposite. Transport seems like it will become my biggest headache. As English isn't spoken much – and the fact that flights get canceled – I do believe it's going to take me a lot longer to reach destinations. Once the F1 race is out of the way this shouldn't be a problem as I have all the time in the world. Food has been the biggest disappointment; not only do the Chinese eat with their mouth open (making a right racket) but trying to find Chinese restaurants has become a bit of an issue. Food is cheap and I did notice that Walmart, in Nanning, sold large 'pot noodles' for 40p. Speaking of money; considering I haven't been watching the pounds (and the fact that I've purchased a memory card, a memory stick and I've visited the most expensive city within China) I'm surprised to find that I'm under my £30 per day budget (however only just, £29.80). Next week will be expensive with a flight and and F1 ticket however, after that, I hope to get my budget down below the £30 mark.

So tomorrow I head for Shanghai … I hope. As I have most of the day in Hong Kong I plan to take a bus out of the city to see one of the smaller places on the island. However before that, a long restful sleep will be needed.

Toodle Pip!

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