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April 5th 2004
Published: April 16th 2017
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Hong Kong to Xiamen

What a horrific day (or morning) we have had! We awoke about 630am, showered so that we could be on an early train to Shenzhen. This is where we cross the border into China, so we wanted to get an early start. Tony has misplaced a padlock and his keys (hopefully inside his backpack). We wore our backpacks on our backs for the first time today as we have about a 10 minute walk through the same flyover that we went through yesterday to get to the train. First hitch was that the escalator wasn’t working so we had to climb stairs so it was easier to have the backpacks on our backs but why does everything have to be uphill? We caught the train to Lo Wu, which is on the border, this train is not a metro, but it would have been nice to see some scenery had there not been 1000+ Chinese on the train! At every stop (we went about eight) more and more people piled on but hardly any got off, I couldn’t believe how they pushed and pushed to get on until their faces were squashed up against the door at the second to last stop the doors almost didn’t close. It was crowded for us but as we had our backpacks on the floor we took up a bit of extra space, although we had to stand the whole way.

We arrived in Lo Wu just after 8am, the train taking half an hour. We then had to go through immigration on the Hong Kong side – OMG – there were lines upon lines upon lines of people a sea of black heads throughout this massive hall. We joined a queue and waited and waited finally getting through at 9.04am (Of course we had the slowest passport controller on the planet, two billion people in China and only five work in immigration). We then proceeded to the next hall which was the entry to China, there were millions of Chinese walking and running in front of us, they only have two speeds, very, very fast, or very, very slow! Tony says they are like Krissy and can’t walk in a straight line and try to trip you up! The immigration hall was only slightly better than the Hong Kong side (somewhere in this building we have crossed the border) as the line for foreigners wasn’t as bad as the 10 lines for Chinese residents and at least the people here don’t push, push, push constantly in your back as they did in the other hall it is very annoying, when you have your backpack on, it makes you feel like you are going to fall forward.

We struck up a conversation with an English guy behind us he was in his late 30’s and had been to Shenzhen several times before as he works in Hong Kong. He was so helpful and advised us to take a cab to our hostel as there are lots of muggers and pickpockets hanging around. He had been mugged twice and seen it happen to plenty of others. He offered to walk us to the Shangri-La hotel where he was meeting people and put us in a cab. Thank god we met him as he saved us a great deal of time and his advice was invaluable. We made it through immigration in about half an hour, our friend informed us that it is the world’s busiest border crossing and takes up to 500,000 people per day. It was about a five-minute walk to the Shangri-La where our friend left us (we never did find out his name) and the hotel staff tried to understand where it was we wanted to go. After many hand signals and pointing at the Let’s Go book, we were finally on our way in a cab. At least we could get our backpacks off our backs which was making my shoulders and neck ache.

First impression of China - frustrating. Shenzhen is quite tidy but are we ever going to see blue skies again? Is it overcast or is that smog? The cab took 10 minutes and cost HK60 (you can use HK dollars here and they give you the change in Yuan). The cab dropped us off out the front of the Happy Valley Theme Park, and we are looking for the Happy Valley Youth Hostel. Of course, we couldn’t find any landmarks described in the Lets Go book, no Happy Valley plaza, no parking lot, no bus terminal. So with our backpacks on, we walked to a luxury hotel on the corner. The two girls out the front dissolved into giggles when we tried to make them understand, but the reception tried to be helpful they rang the hostel number located in Let’s Go – no number/incorrect. By now we were seriously contemplating staying in this 5 star hotel!! (Rooms $160AUD per night). Here, while we were waiting for reception to help us, we met a Canadian called Greg, who was also staying in Shenzhen; he was very friendly and offered to walk with us to wherever the hostel was. The desk clerk (Candy Dong) pointed us back to the theme park, so we ended up back where we started. Greg, Tony and I walked up the stairs to the entrance of the theme park to see if anyone could help us.

There is a severe lack of people who speak English here luckily one young girl did know what we were on about and showed us the way to the hostel, about two minutes’ walk from where the cab originally dropped us. The hostel is nice our room has two beds and costs Y170 ($37) the room is more like a hotel room with a bar fridge and ensuite bathroom. Greg was impressed! We then bade him farewell, he was helpful too, telling us cheap places to eat and where the local supermarkets were. We are in room 202 but they were still cleaning it so we had about a five-minute wait. We are booked in for two nights so can relax with our backpacks. The girl behind the desk was hopeless, she couldn’t speak a word of English (in an International Youth Hostel) so checking in and asking her questions was a waste of frustration.

After we had checked in (remember we had not had any breakfast or anything to drink yet) we went to a nearby restaurant that had English menus. It was called UCB both the service and the food were excellent. Tony had pineapple fried rice and I had Shaodong special fried rice both dishes were tasty. We were also given a complimentary bowl of soup, no idea what it was, a broth with vegetables and some dodgy meat perhaps but it was nice anyway. The meal cost HK96 ($20). We then walked eight minutes down the road to the Walmart Greg had told us about. Walmart is a big department/supermarket store, (in the Walmart a little girl in a trolley took a fancy to Tony – “HELLO!!” she bellowed – very cute!) so we bought a few supplies and headed back to our room for an afternoon nap, it was past 1pm and we were both knackered from carrying our backpacks all morning. Spent the rest of the afternoon sleeping and writing in this journal while Tony read.

About 6pm we decided to go out for a drink, so we found a deserted local bar with an American theme. Two Kingsway beers cost HK50 ($10) decided that was expensive for China, so only had one round. Went back to Walmart and bought food supplies, bread, cereal, milk, orange juice which should last a couple of days and save us some money.

Sunday 4th April 2004 – Shenzhen – 30 degrees

Awoke this morning to sore aching muscles, mostly in the legs. Both had a good night’s sleep even with thin walls. Going to Minsk World today, which will be a challenge as the only instructions we have on how to get there have been obtained from the information wall in the hostel written in dodgy English! Showered and ate our cornflakes obtained from Walmart yesterday & were soon on our way.

We walked to the nearby bus terminus (although our instructions were: catch bus from amusement park) and found the bus we wanted nearly straight away. Tickets on modern airconditioned bus cost Y2 each. We had to disembark the 223 at the Shanghai hotel and change to a 202. We spent most of the journey with our heads pressed to the glass looking for the hotel. These buses have a conductress who sells you a ticket and they stop at every single stop along the way. After about 20 minutes we spotted the Shanghai hotel and disembarked but had no idea where to catch the 202 from, the bus stop we were at had no signs, so we crossed the road and wandered aimlessly about until we saw a 202 go flying past and stop at the stop we alighted from. At least we then knew where to go, and once on board, settled down for about a one hour ride. We had to pay twice (obviously two different zones) and told the conductress we wanted Tia Dong market stop. She couldn’t understand and asked if anyone on the bus spoke English. Luckily, we found a Chinese guy that did, and again as luck would have it, he was getting off at the same stop. When we alighted, we told him we wanted Minsk World, which is a two-minute walk from the bus stop and unmissable. He kindly walked us to the ticket office (he was an engineer) although we only had limited English, we could still communicate.

Leaving our friend at the entrance, we entered Minsk world, it was very hard to miss the retired Soviet aircraft carrier, it was huge. We went on board, past all kinds of sideshow games (including a rather disturbing one where you shot teddy bears) and explored the ship. Some parts of it were cheesy as it was designed for Chinese tastes so it disappointed that most the exhibits were in Chinese and we didn’t know what they represented. On the bridge and upper decks there was some English so it wasn’t a total waste of time. It was fun looking at the planes and missiles on board and we both took lots of photos. A Chinese guy came up to me and asked if I would mind posing for a photo with his grandma! We are something of a curiosity here and everyone stares at us, but not with any hostility.

After about an hour at Minsk World (cost Y120 = $25) we managed to catch the right buses back to the hostel. Shenzhen is a lovely city of parks and trees and would be pretty if it weren’t for the thick smog. We spent the early evening working out tomorrows route to Xiamen which we soon had sussed.

Monday 5th April 2004 – Shenzhen – Xiamen

We awoke at 6am to catch a bus to Xiamen we know where to catch the 473 bus, so once we were dressed, we loaded our backpacks onto our backs for the second time and set off. We only had to walk about 10 minutes down the road but it was hard going with our packs. We reached the stop and stood there watching every bus bar the 473 go past before finally caving in and hailing a cab to the bus station (I don’t think we would have fit our backpacks on a minibus anyway) the taxi took about 20 minutes and cost about Y60, dropping us in the same train station where we arrived from Hong Kong. We then had to find the long-distance bus station, so we wandered around aimlessly with our packs on for another 10-15 minutes, before enlisting the help of a businessman and a couple of Indians. The bus station is under a group of shops located in the train station and was quite clearly signposted.

We walked down the stairs then struggled to get someone to show us where the bus to Xiamen departed from. There must have been about 40-50 coaches in the bus station, all going in every direction with people going everywhere, talk about organised chaos. Trying to find the bus to Xiamen was our next task, we kept getting sent in all the wrong directions go over there, no over here, no not there, here, it became quite frustrating until we found a young guy in information that spoke reasonable English the bus would leave from Bay three at 9am. We then had to go upstairs to buy our tickets, which was easily done (still with our backpacks strapped on) Tony got pissed off with some young girls when he bought some water as he paid in HKD and got HKD back (he wanted Yuan).

When our coach came, it was a luxury but instead of having seats, it had beds! Tony thought it was great but I had a dummy spit as I would rather sit upright and watch the scenery go by than lie flat on my back and stare at the ceiling for 9.5 hours. However, you make the best of what you have got, and with a pillow and a quilt we managed to prop ourselves up for a while. We spent most of the journey sleeping (or trying too) most of the scenery was, as Tony so eloquently put it “fucking boring” the countryside was flat and used for farming. We had a half hour break and then on to Xiamen.

We arrived in the city of Xiamen at 5pm, but it took nearly 40 minutes to get through traffic to the bus station. On arrival we loaded our backpacks onto our backs and set off looking for the Bailan Hotel. Xiamen, like most Chinese cities we have encountered so far, is very clean with manicured parks and gardens. Of course we had no idea where we were, and exhausted from our bus ride and backpacks, we asked at a nearby hotel if they could help us. Turns out the Let’s Go spelling of our hotel was incorrect that is three times the guide book has let us down, incorrect names/phone numbers and maps. However, we did get the right address and decided to catch a cab the four kilometres to our destination.

The cab cost Y13, we gave him Y15 and he started yelling at us apparently the Y5 is not a 5 but the equivalent of 50 cents so we gave him the correct note and he left happy. We checked into the hotel the cheapest so far Y150 ($37) which includes breakfast. We had dinner at a local hamburger joint then resting in our room we are exhausted from all the travel.

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