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JOURNAL  

July 8th: Hong Kong

I was off to Hong Kong on a mission - service the Psion palmtop, fix Possum's rear wheel and extend my visa.

Catching a flight from the gleaming airport of Kunming, I landed in the border city of Shenzen, just a couple of hours later - a strange leap in distance after all those months of cycling. Stepping off the plane into the heat and humidity once more, I clutched a 'trophy': 'Yunnan Airways Business Card', an unusual gift from the airline. A commendation for flying internally in China?!

The sudden arrival of a new range of uniforms had created an excited commotion at the information desk. Unable to catch anyone's attention, I leapt onto a bus marked 'Hong Kong',moments before a glaring Ray Banned driver slammed the doors of the old Leyland bus shut; and emerged after customs formalities and heavy traffic amongst the neon streets of Hong Kong - Kowloon side. It was then that my troubles began....

Spotting one of the city's high tech phones, I gave Wendy a call. We had met while I was cycling in Indonesia, and she had kindly offered to put me up for a few days. Wrong phone number... Unperturbed, I dug out her address, complete with road name, flat number, but no building... I padded across town with the strange intuition that I might sense exactly where she lived. Wrong! The road was long and offered no ideas. A little lost, I retreated to a KFC to hunt out the mobile phone number of a friend of hers. Mysteriously, it too had vanished... Hong Kong seemed strangely bereft of internet cafes to check details. I took to wandering the streets towards massive and run down Chung Ken Towers, the heart of the backpacker domain. Bicycle bags and a broken wheel attracted strange stares from the ultra stylish Hong Kongers...

Feeling adventurous but a little miserable, I found a dorm, sharing with 'my good friend Paul', an Algerian who lived in the bottom bed of a double decker bunk, who insisted what a good friend he was, and spoke with an unusually plummy English accent. Seeking solace in a Snickers and a Time Out, I munched my way to sleep...

Checked out of 'Cosmic' guesthouse early (after trying to make sense out of a tangle of corridors), keen to begin the trip afresh and put yesterday's late night street wandering behind me. A little initial scouting in the countless electronic shops - glass fronts cruelly tempting with shiny cameras, video disk players, mini discs and other gadgets. I don't need that stuff, it's just me and my bike, I told myself a little unconvincingly. Instead, I got down to 'business' - fixing the wheel, sorting out visas and servicing the Psion - my other brain, as Rosal calls it.

Tracked down 'misinformation' Wendy through her work and we met up for lunch. I barely recognised her in her HK city gear - a far cry from the beaches of Lombok, Indonesia, where we had met and kept in touch by email. Her Cantonese friend advised us on dim sum. It was quite simply delicious, bringing back memories of lunching in Soho with my father after classical guitar lessons many eons ago.

The afternoon was spent in the familiar territory of the bike shop - the quirkily titled 'Flying Ball Cycles' - ticking off the shopping list. I had been advised by drunken rim expert Tim Buick in Kunming to replace the cracked Mavic 217 with the wider 517D - a 36 spoke downhill rim which was strong yet lightweight, he insisted. Hopefully this will see me over the Himalayas and a good few kilometres more. Ben Lun, who is studying in Liverpool, helped me make some order of the vast list Trystan and I had compiled and kindly gave me a great deal.

Feeling a little more integrated without the burden of a wheel over my shoulder in this very fashion conscious city, I headed over to Psion, whose office I eventually found after a few false clues (wrong address) and ploys to throw me off the scent (entrance down a tiny side alley way). There, the battered Other Brain had the equivalent of a 100,000 mile service - I doubt if a Psion has ever been subjected to the kind of ordeal I put it through - heat, humidity, grime, sand, vibrations.... The team, including John and Micro, were wonderfully friendly and gave me a crash course in transfering data to desktops. From now on I'll be sending diary updates via the internet cafes, as there will no longer be a signal for the Ericsson.

Catching the Star Ferry over to Hong Kong Island, at last I appreciated that famous linear HK skyline in all its neon spendour. Each showcase building stood dramatically against the night sky, lit up in its own particular way - one fired a beam of light into the clouds above, like electric candyfloss. Walking through the streets of Central, past the colonial and imposing Governer's building, my head was craned back to marvel at these incredible hi tech structures which gleamed with capitalism and power - one country, two systems...

Over the next few days, I enjoyed city life and went about my chores - intrigued by the architecture, commercialism and by the amount of mobile phones in the city, all seemingly in constant use. Indeed, couples talked into their respective devices over supper, rather than to each other! Wendy insists she will not succumb.

The back streets teemed with markets and stalls, and the chatter and clatter of the Cantonese. My father spent some time here when he was my age, and I imagined him padding around these very same streets. I was invited for lunch in Aberdeen aboard a floating restaurant with an old family friend, Aggie Chiu Chen. At our lunch was Nora Sun (Grand Daughter of Dr. Sun Yat Sen father of the country, Alan Siegrist, Great Grand son of Dr Sun and, John Chiu from New York, so it was interesting company. Again a memorable dim sum feast. On the way back I visited Tom, a wonderfully kind Chinese man who lived in England with my grandparents for years, and is now running a hotel. Another delicious lunch...

Wendy and I took the cable car up to The Peak, a spectacular viewpoint overlooking the city. Architecture is a much debated issue with the locals, and the Cantonese can be harsh judges. One particular building, noticeable for the multitude of round windows that dotted its walls, had been given the nickname, 'the building of a thousand arseholes'! We ambled around the walkway, enviously looking down on the swimming pools of the luxury apartments. There sure is a lot of money floating around this city...

It was soon time to head back to mainland China, and Wendy's boyfriend, Willis, invited me to a lovely last supper in one of the city's oldest clubs - it transpired that he was at Nottingham University with my brother, Nick. As Wendy had some business to do in the same town over the border as well, we caught the train to Shenzen, and set about tracking down one of China's more unusual historical monuments - the first McDonalds. After traipsing around in the heat and humidity of this sprawling modern city, we were finally guided there by a young girl. Baggage laden, it was a gruelling walk as I have experienced in a long while and I had the unique feeling of never having been so pleased to see a McDonalds before. Slugged down a couple of shakes, and said my goodbyes and thanks to Wendy in this rather surreal environment.

Over the meal we had also collected a Chinese 'journalist' who spoke English. Kindly, he insisted on taking me to the airport by the least direct route - a string of local buses finished off by a taxi. I finally arrived with minutes to spare - luckily the flight was delayed by 4 hours... Nervously stepping aboard the plane - dubious rumours of Chinese safety records - I settled in for an extremely turbulent ride. As we prepared to land, the man beside me worryingly adopted the crash position and began reciting a series of mantras...

Back in the familiar Camelia Hotel in Kunming, Trystan and I fitted the new wheel and tyres, and readied the bikes for the long ride ahead.... It had been an unexpected visit to Hong Kong, but a welcome break from my travels in Asia - I hadn't been envisaging the delights of marmite and brown bread for a few more months yet! Thanks Wendy for being a great host!



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