29.12.2006 - 31.12.2006
I was skipping down the street back towards Chungking Mansions knowing I was leaving Hong Kong later that day, when I saw, among the hanging signs above my head, "Shoestring Travel". At the end of the day, if I could confirm that there was a train seat available then I would, so up the stairs I went to the 3rd floor office on the off chance that they could book me a seat. It must of been breakfast time as the 3 members of staff, 1 male and 2 female, were all slurping on noodles as I entered, at their very untidy, clustered desks. The gentleman spoke very good English as I presented my travel plans to him, hoping that he could come up with the goods. In return he suggested that I should take the sleeper bus, which left that night at 7.30pm from just over the border at Shenzhen which was only a 45 minute train ride away. It also stopped in Yangshou, although at an expected 4 o'clock in the morning, before continuing on to the dreaded Guilin which on that note, I was sold. $250 later I was out the office, now dancing down the street and into the Chungking Gardens.
Instead of only having an hour and a half to kill in Hong Kong, I now had 4 hours as the bus left later than what the train would have done. I decided to ring ahead to Yangshou to see if I could arrange additional accomodation as I hadn't been due to arrive their till the 3 January, which was booked for 3 nights as of then. The owner, Alf, said it wouldn't be a problem though warned me of the touts for when I arrived in Yangshou. Basically, the bus should bring you right into the centre of the town, though instead, it drops you off on the outskirts, at a local petrol station, this allowing the accomodation touts get to you. Again, everyone is on the make as the driver is bunged for doing this.
After using the internet cafe, that was hidden among the booths and shops within the Mansions, for information on how to get to Shenzhen bus station, then lounging about my room for an hour, I decided to make my way to the border incase I encountered any problems. With my bag packed and having said goodbye to Mr Singh, I took the lift for my very last time. Even though I was leaving the building, the accomodation touts still continued to prowl, seeing me with a backpack. "Nice room for you sir", "No thanks I'm leaving today", "Just come and look sir, very nice room... Very good price for you my friend".... "Em, Ok, why not.... I suppose I could stay in the mansions for one more night" As if........... and off I went, clicking me heels down the 6 steps at the entrance and strode across the road, met by the Metro station on the other side.
After a short metro ride, I picked up the Regional train line from Kowloon Tong, that was to take me to the border crossing at Lo Wu. The train was made up mainly with commuters and shoppers, though a father and son stood there, the boy, a local lad, about 8 years old, proud as punch, stood in his scouts uniform; long grey shorts, pulled up socks and even the jumper, sporting a number of badges down one of the arms.
I'd soon arrived, not knowing what to expect at the border crossing as I hadn't actually walked into another country before, well, other than France to Spain when I was nine. On leaving the train we were rounded up and filtered like cattle into different sections. For most, it was pretty routine as a lot were just returning home to China after a day in the office or an afternoon shopping and do this crossing at least twice a day. The words 外国人 - FOREIGNER hung above my head as I wondered off towards the desk. The floor squeeked beneath my feet as I nervously approached, with the bitter memories of Officer Attitude quizzing me in New York only 12 month previous. (See blog www.kingstonpark.travellerspoint.com) I handed over my passport along with my entry form, to the overweight Chinese custom official, Lou, who accepted it with a friendly smile. He rountinly checked my passport details, glancing up to make sure I matched the photo, then, with his oversized hands turned the pages in search of my Chinese Visa.... to no avail. I stood, looking on as he flicked back and forth, back and forth, still no visa. He looks up at me, still smiling, then down again, back and forth, back and forth. Sweat now gathering on my brow as Lou continued to flick through the pages of my passport like a pack of cards, back and forth, back and forth and yet, still no visa. I knew I had it, though why couldn't he find it? Was this some sort of Chinese joke they play on westerners; or had I lost it over the past few days. I had visions on returning to the Mansions when Lou ammounces he's found it. Phew...... Relief.... His oversized thumbs had been turning the pages in 3's and 4's as he flicked through. He chuckled as he handed me back my passport. I headed through the steel barriers and out the otherside, the chuckles of Lou, who was still giggling away like a school kid, faded out with the noise of hundreds of people rushing back and forth within the concourse I had just entered and at that point, I was in China.