Sunday, 26 December 2010

Christmas in Beijing

[This post coming to you over China's 'Great Firewall', thanks to a Virtual Private Network and some perseverance...]

Leaving Hong Kong on Tuesday 22nd I caught the subway from my base in Tsim Sha Tsui and connected with an MTR train to the mainland China border at Shenzhen. Once through immigration and across into China Proper I found my way onto the long-distance Beijing train to take me, in 23 hours and 45 minutes, 1 whole latitude and 1500 miles north to Beijing West train station. One bus and 2 more subway lines later I emerged shivering in Chaoyang District to be met by the smiling face of Cecily, 2 months and 10 days after saying goodbye in Nha Trang, Vietnam. As reunions go, this one was highly anticipated and as warm and comforting as they come.

The ensuing week has been a blur of meeting people, subways, sushi, walking, shopping, freezing winds, city cycling, Christmas tree buying, cat feeding, classic movie watching, Chinese learning, Lomographing and late-sleeping loveliness, with a Christmas as wonderful as it could have been away from home and family thanks in large part to the cooking of Cecily's flatmate Prudence and the international company of Ivy (Hong Kong), Will (Texas), 2 Chinese girls including Ceci and Pru herself from Essex.

The universal, cross-border procession of Christmas day: drinking, eating, sleeping.

Upcoming activities include New Year's Eve partying, ice skating, snowboarding, city sightseeing, eatingreadingsleeping, as well as planning which of China's many neighbours to visit for my 'visa run' and which of this huge country's many provinces to visit for the remainder of my stay.

For those bound to be wondering, I do miss my bike but I don't miss riding it every day (or SE Asia for that matter).

Saturday, 18 December 2010

1 Day in HK

The view from the proper Peak above Central on Hong Kong Island

The best pool in Asia?

Looking to the marine typhoon shelter and the International Commerce Centre on Kowloon, HK's tallest building

Nature continues to grow above Man's creation

I didn't expect to see a water(trickle)fall, though it does belong to the Island's water board

The afternoon sun on the city as it sets behind The Peak

Descending the steep path back down into the metropolis

This city literally is an Urban Jungle - trees, bamboo and palms grow all around the flyovers and skyscrapers, with the HK Zoological and Botanical Gardens even finding a space on the hillside

From solitude and peace to bustling crowds and noise - HK is a great city if, like me, you enjoy both

The HK Cultural Centre

The ever-incredible HK Island skyline (The Peak is right behind the buildings shrouded in darkness).

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Hong Kong - Contrast Like No Other

The view from my pillow in Mirador Mansions, Tsim Sha Tsui

Wow. What a city. I've not even been here 24 hours yet but have already taken in a lot of this pretty unique place; Special Administrative Region of China, ex-British pied-à-terre in East Asia, home to people from every corner of the planet. After flying in I've already sailed the Star Ferry from Kowloon to HK Island, taken the MTR, ridden the bus and walked in the cold sea wind - the city is at the same time prohibitive to pedestrianism (like in Bangkok, getting to a point 10 metres away requires 200 metres of walking and 50 stairs) and incredibly easy to get around without a car, though the Rolls Royces and Ferraris have plenty of multi-lane bridges and flyovers to speed along.

I get my Chinese visa on Monday and leave for Beijing on Tuesday so have a few days to continue exploring. Coming here from the beauty and peace of Ko Chang (and the relative quiet of Bangkok's backstreets) is certainly a shock and totally the wrong way round to do things! It's so coooold!

The few days back in Bangkok passed quickly thanks to the company of Ben, Caro and Steffi - we (eventually) met on the bus back from the islands and I had a fantastic time with them in the city. Thanks to their friend Simon and his fellow Italian buddy I got to see a new side of the city that I otherwise wouldn't - RCA, or Royal City Avenue, is the place for affluent young Thais to party, a street full of door-to-door nightclubs and bumber-to-bumper Porsches and Mercedes. The Italians had the necessary style (as you'd expect), as did the girls, but Ben and I were lucky to be allowed to join in wearing shorts and flip-flops. This was just as good a way to gain some cultural insight and the difference between this and my earlier Cambodian experience was huge, the result of (relative) peace and years of economic development.

So after arriving on the 18th of November to dismay I left almost a month later to good feelings and happy memories of Bangkok's tourist hub, and its hidden realities. Now in Hong Kong, feeling once again like a real person and not merely a tourist, I'm missing the easy availability of tasty, filling food for 80p and a bed for £3, and the beer which has become a staple part of my diet recently is now out of the question! I said an emotional goodbye to my bike, now adorned with the 20 country flag stickers along the toptube which will be gathering dust in a Bangkok guesthouse for the foreseeable future, and am, truth be told, loving the alternative freedom that only carrying 15kgs of luggage brings.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Hiatus: Chilling on Ko Chang

Sunset on Lonely Beach

Sunset on another beach...

...and another.

Another island, another scooter.

Sunset with a beer (repeat each-and-every night) - the view from our Bungalow

Plenty to keep an eye out for though - this and a baby crocodile/monitor lizard are our neighbours, along with a platoon of huge red ants

Back in Bangkok - Playing sepak takraw in the park with the locals

The old guy and the child were 100 times better than us 3 Westerners, but at least we gave people a good laugh

Not a huge amount to write - my bike is now dismantled and resting comfortably in a Bangkok guesthouse, along with about 30 of the 40kgs of stuff it and I have been carrying from home. I'm now living free and easy with just 1 bag and the only non bike travel appropriate stuff I have. Warmer clothes are slowly being accumulated or their shipment arranged in preparation for the 40°C drop in temperature which awaits.

I am also resting comfortably in a beach bungalow on the west coast of Ko Chang. As sure as the sun sets beautifully over the same fishing boats each evening, Tibo and I sip a beer and relax even more than the daytime allowed for. Aside from renting scooters, an island theme, there is little to do but swim and read and relax, which is all I really need. Tibo has spent the past 5 months humping 70kg banana bunches about on a farm in Australia so he is enjoying the minimalist lifestyle just as much.

My bus to Bangkok leaves on Saturday 11th, so the same will be true of the remaining 3 days.