19.05.05 Leaving Hong Kong for China
We left the room early, wandering out into the teeming street heat with our possessions which seemed to have swelled and blossomed in the four short days we had stayed. It is of course Sunday and we need to change our money into Chinese Yuan, and though most of the banks' headquarters are in town they don't do Sunday trading. Pervading influence of the British perhaps. We foresee a problem and begin to bicker, the heat and the weight don't help this, and we can't find anywhere that looks even half promising for breakfast. I'm fantisising about two crisp Weetabix splashed with ice-cold milk. We come across a cafe which looks open and exchange an optimistic glance. A man rushes out at us with a broom, chasing a fat rat out into the street; we both scream.
Hong Kong is one of the worst places in the world to be lost with a heavy bag. Third to Kabul and Skegness respectively. The heat, the crowds, the dirt and the crazy traffic systems make it a dizzying experience. On the other hand, Hong Kong is a place that provides. Whatever you want you can usually get, whether legitimately or on the black market, or at least that's how it appeared to us. In the end we changed out money at a little glass booth on a back street by a man with a laptop and a calculator (it's not clear why he needed both) and got a jolly pleasant exchange rate at that. This was the first indication we had of the massive economic differences between the HKSAR and mainland China. We shed crisp new Hong Kong dollars and grew wrinkled, flaccid Yuan from the stumps; like exchanging an apple for a turd, one had been made wretched by its journey through the system. I can't remember whether or not we ate breakfast, though it's probable that we went to McDonald's and I've simply removed the information from the hard drive so as to not mistakenly tell other travellers about it and be sniggered at. The truth is that McDonald's was a great relief to us on many occasions. Breakfast is one of those tricky arenas in which deeply rooted beliefs and prejudices assert themselves, and it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain such dinner-table pretentions as preferring a 'jus' to ketchup. The bacon and egg muffin will always be preferable to a bowl of rice and some fish heads, at least before 11am.
Anyway, we found our way to Mong Kok (ahem) station and jumped on the train for Shenzhen, so far so good. The train was clean, fast, and efficient (the British don't get everywhere) and took no less than an hour to reach its beloved destination. We alighted and made our way through immigration, no problems, our visas were genuine, we waited among strange Russian families in dark glasses and combat fatigues. We followed the crowds through some dimly-lit hallways and along carpeted walkways and eventually towards the front entrance of the station which opened like a wound onto a vast and teeming square. Shenzhen is a city that only its mother could love. Our first experience of China proper was one that bordered on Bedlam.