Eh? Are we still in Hong Kong?

We rode off the ferry from Central to Mui Wo, past a huge sea of bikes, along a bike path, and carried on along the coast, quiet little roads, no hassle, very few cars, nice little beach. We just looked at each other and realised we were both thinking the same thing: “This place is like paradise after Tsim Sha Tsui, how long can we stay here?”

I’d met Sally, an English cyclist doing something similar to me, and we wanted a break from the pollution/hassle of downtown Hong Kong. So we got the Star ferry across to Wan Chai, then a slow ferry to Lantau. It’s about twice the size of Hong Kong Island, but with only a fraction of the residents. Few cars, plenty of people on bikes, hiking trails, nice beaches, large amounts of forest, but also a few Western-style restaurants near the ferry pier. It seemed very quiet, with far fewer people than I expected. We got an apartment not far from the beach, and proceeded to do…well…not much really. Just sat around on the beach a bit, even reading the Sunday paper (!) Even found a bar that served a Weissbier – how good is that!

We did try going for a ride over to one of the other beaches, but the ride out of town was about a 10% gradient for 5km, so we decided not to repeat that experiment. Just a nice relaxing break for a few days, before coming back to the bustle today. A couple more days here, then back into China – may give Macau a miss this time, go straight into China. We’ll see what happens.

This goes with that

Lawnmowers and bicycles. Key cutting and shoe repair. Those things that shops always seem to combine, for some historical reason. But in Hong Kong there’s another pairing you might not have thought of: High-brow foreign affairs journals and vibrators. Yep. Pick up a copy of “Far Eastern Economic Review” and a sex toy from the shelf right below. I was wandering along the alley next to “Chungking Mansions” and came across a newstand. Looking for a copy of The Economist, I was somewhat surprised to see a row of sex toys. One of the interesting changes from China is that they openly sell porno mags on the street, which is no big deal. Interestingly in China, things are available, although I think that it may still be technically illegal, as the stores tend to be discreet.

All part of the different scene I’m in for the next few days. I stopped in Shenzhen for a couple of nights. Another one of those cities that dislikes cyclists, putting the bike lanes in the middle of very narrow footpaths packed with pedestrians. Silly really, but some parts of China see bikes as “backwards.” I would have thought that since Shenzhen is right next to a place that was controlled by foreigners for over a century, then they might not blink at the sight of me. Not to be though, when I stopped to fix a puncture just a few kilometres short of the hostel, I soon had a crowd of at least a dozen gathered around, holding the bike, checking the tyre pressure, that sort of thing.

Didn’t think all that much of Shenzhen really, as a friend put it, too “artificial” – the place only really exists for political reasons. I was amused when walking around, to see large banners proclaiming the Chinese crackdowns on piracy and fake products. All well and good – but every three feet I was accosted by someone offering me “DVDs/shoes/copy watch/handbags/jackets…” Ah yes, welcome to China. Except of course if you did express an interest in a fake product, you got taken to a non-descript apartment in a nearby building, as they can’t openly display the fake products.

I crossed over into Hong Kong, annoyed at having to take my front wheel off to take the KCR train. You have to take the train over the border, there’s no choice. But taking the wheel off seems to achieve little purpose other than making the bicycle more difficult to handle, especially with luggage. But anyway, I got through to Tsim Sha Tsui, where I have a nice little windowless cell. At least it’s cheap. And even better, Sally (another cyclist) and Em and Yan are all here, so I’ve got good company.

I had read some out of date info that indicated that I could not get visas for Laos or Cambodia at the borders that I wanted to cross at, so I’ve got an agency doing Vietnam/Laos/Cambodian visas for me. Turns out that I could get those visas at the border, but I still need to get the Vietnam one. It looks like I’m going to be here for a week or so now, to get that sorted out. A good rest though, and it will give me a chance to do some side trips, maybe see some of the other islands.

On a completely unrelated note, I have recently been listening to this podcast: 12 Byzantine Rulers. I highly recommend it for anyone even vaguely interested in European history. Think that the Roman Empire fell in the 5th century? Rome may have, but the Empire continued on for another 1,000 years. The thickness of the walls of Constantinople directly influenced the course of world history. I actually wish I’d listened to this between my visits to Istanbul, but I’m very glad to have been inside places like the Hagia Sophia. This series brings to life a somewhat under-reported period in world history, and is very easy to listen to. Well worth spending your time on.