Thursday, April 26, 2012

Impressions of China and Hong Kong

Impressions of China and Hong Kong

Where do I start? What was meant to be a family holiday for the Ceff family in the US, turned in to a brief 4 day stopover in Hong Kong and China for me, on my way to London, to meet up with Margot, Miriam and Josie.

My intial impression of Hong Kong, arriving late on Wednesday night, was the very organized way they cope with foreign visitors. From the airport, an express train took me to Kowloon Station, just stopping once along the way. Then at the train station there was a free shuttle bus that took visitors directly to their hotels, and of course there were always staff looking for confused foreigners who did not know their way around.

I was actually very fortunate on the flight from Melbourne to Hong Kong to sit beside a young English lady, named Sara, who lives in Hong Kong. She treated me like an elderly gentleman and made sure I got through immigration properly and then made sure I knew where to get on a train.

So I was dropped at the BP International in Kowloon without a fuss. Got up to my room, and checked my emails before going to bed.

Off to the mainland

It may be a bit inaccurate, as Kowloon is part of Hong Kong but its on a peninsula of the mainland, but is not part of mainland China in one sense. The British lease on Hong Kong ended in 1997 I think, and it is now under control of the Peoples Republic of China. But they still treat it as a separate country really. Hong Kong residents can travel fairly freely across the border, but getting out of the PRC for Chinese residents is very difficult.

I caught a bus from Kowloon to Shenzen Bay. That was not without difficulties. As I was leaving the hotel I asked the concierge for directions to the railway station to catch a train to Shenzen. He said that was not possible to do, but that I should walk to a nearby shopping mall where there was a bus terminal underground and catch a bus from there. He told me where to walk and the name of the shopping mall, but the name I found on a shopping mall was really nothing like the name he said and it was quite difficult to find where to purchase my ticket. But eventually I did and headed of on the bus to Shenzen Bay.

I tried calling Jessica, the girl at the surfboard factory that I deal with but her spoken English was no where near good enough to talk to her on the phone, especially with my 54 year old ears that don't seem to function as well as they once did. I told here I would send her a txt and that worked pretty well. So with the exchange of a few text messages we were able to work out where I was and where Fisher (the factory owner) would pick me up.

I went through customs and immigration at Shenzen Bay bus terminal and then exited the terminal in the hope that Fisher would recognize me. My description of myself as having no hair and a striped shirt was enough for him to approach me, so off we went in his car, a late model Honda CRV. So off I was on my first experience on the road in mainland China. And an experience it was!

The factory is located out in a little country town, so to get there meant a bit of freeway driving to get out of Shenzen. Fisher has two mobile phones and they both seem to ring fairly constantly and whenever he was speaking his driving speed would slow down quite a bit, so we were wandering all over the road at about 20 less than everybody else while he was taking calls. The freeways lanes are marked for trucks and cars but its nothing to have a motorized bike coming at you from the opposite direction. The freeway speed limit is 80kmh so fortunately everyone is travelling so slowly that they can slow down quickly enough in case of something getting in their way.

We left the freeway and stopped at a small shopping mall where Fisher took me to lunch. Fisher speaks a little English so we were able to have a basic conversation. The food was beautiful and it just seemed to keep on coming, so when I had enough I sort of rubbed my belly to indicate I had enough. Some of the food looked familiar, but a lot of it, well, I just wasn't too sure what I was eating to be honest, but down it went! Fisher was very impressed with my skill with chopsticks to!

We picked up Jessica who was waiting for us at a bus stop along the way. It was easier to converse with her than Fisher, but it was still not easy. Somewhere along the way the road started to deteriorate as we drove through a rural area. There was lush vegetation on the hills and the flats were cultivated for food production. Lots of leafy green stuff, which I was to discover was part of every meal.

It had rained quite heavily while Fisher and I were eating. The rain had badly affected the dirt road we crawled along on the way to the village where the factory is. The road was rarely wide enough for two way traffic and so everyone weaves in and out of each other trying to use the best part of the road. There are bikes, pedestrians, cars, trucks and other sort of vehicles that almost defy description loaded up with everything imaginable – just like those pictures you see in the emails that do the rounds of the internet. And its all sharing the same narrow, rough as guts dirt road. One hand on the wheel, one on the horn, foot on the brake and accelerator at the same time, and then somehow you cope with two phones ringing!

We spent the next two and a half days in the factory. Fisher went back to Shenzen. He owns the factory but seems to have little to do with it. His mother runs the kitchen, which feeds all the staff and the workers three meals a day. His father potters around painting things here and there. His brother in law is the purchasing manager and Mr Ren is head shaper and factory manager. Most of the workers live in an apartment block behind the factory. Three or four single men to a room on one floor and married couples on another floor. Married people whose spouse does not also work for the company live off the premises somewhere else. I never did find out how many married couples actually work for the company.

The workers do about 11 hours a day, six days a week. They start at 8.00am after having there company supplied breakfast, then work till 12pm and have lunch and a rest until 1.30pm. Then they work again till 5.30pm have an hour for dinner and then back to work until 9.30pm. They get a much higher rate after dinner so they are all happy to do it. I never asked what the hourly rate is, but it is obviously very low/

After the first day at the factory, Fisher drove me to a hotel in Dongguan. This was not the same road that we originally drove to the factory on. It was worse. There was a freeway being constucted over the top of it, so there were trucks going back and forth and the whole road for several kilometers up a hill was a total disaster. The road levelled out eventually as we got closer to Dongguan there Fisher arranged to pay for my hotel room.

I must add at this point that I was travelling on a tourist visa. There was no time to organise a businesses visa. Checking in at the hotel they either scanned or copied my passport. So this got me wondering when I was going to have the secret police come knocking on my door and dragging me off for interogation somewhere. I am happy to say it never happened, but it was a constant thought!

Leaving Hong Kong

Its Sunday 8th April and I have had a lot of hours to kill while waiting to catch my flight to London at 11.30pm. I found out that there were no regular Church services this morning in Hong Kong as it was General Conference video weekend here, so I stayed in my hotel room until 2.00pm listening to it online and snoozing here and there through it. I usually do that anyway, but at least I had a comfy bed to lay on!

Hong Kong is all about service. Everywhere you go there are people waiting to help you. I guess in the most part they are paid to, and labour rates are low so businesses can afford to have lots of people there waiting to help customers.

I caught the free shuttle bus to Kowloon Station this afternoon. There was a Chinese fellow from Taiwan there who helped me get the right bus. At Kowloon Station there is a check in for the airport, so you can check in there and then spend time at the station.

On top of Kowloon station is a massive shopping centre called Elements. It is divided in to areas, so there's a wood area that has wood work featured, a water area with water featured, and so on. I was probably going overboard when I said it was massive, but it was big. But more than big, it was beautiful. One area was all very expensive brand name shops. Cartier, Louis Viton (spelling) etc.

Within this very expensive area there were a number of shops selling watches. Very impressive Swiss made (mostly) watches, very expensive! About 2 million HKD for some of them, which equates to about $250,000 AUD, so pretty crazy really. I guess you would want to have a bit of spare cash to buy one of them!

I have been to the public toilets twice here today. Both of them had a uniformed attendent keeping the whole area clean. In the one in the shopping centre the attendant had a squeegee and he would squeegee off the water from the bench tops after someone had splashed water around it. Needless to say everything was spotless.

You walk in to almost any store and sales people are falling all over themselves to get to you. It's like that every where. Everyone wants to help.

Stand in one spot in the railway station looking confused and before long someone will come up and help you. That happened to me yesterday when I was not sure which line I should catch a train on to get back to the hotel.

Last night after checking in at the BP International for the second time, my keycard would not let me in the door. Other hotel guests tried to help me, feeling sorry for this poor old Aussie bloke I guess. I had to go back to ground floor reception, but they just told me to go back up and wait for help. Well, help came within a couple of minutes. There seems to be staff on every level of the hotel most of the time. It makes you feel very secure knowing that there is always someone around.

It was funny the previous night at the Sen Mei hotel in Dongguan. It was early evening, maybe 7 or so, and I was reading or watching TV or something I think. I could hear a knocking sound and realized there was someone at the door. I didn't get to the door quick enough and all of a sudden there was a hotel staff person ( a bell boy – is that what we still call them?) in my room with a little basket in hand that had my breakfast voucher in it, with a couple of sweet biscuits wrapped in cellophane. He went as quickly as he came in. I think he probably thought the room was empty and got as big a shock as I did. I was glad I had not just got out of the shower or something!

Anyway, back at Hong Kong International Airport. This place definitely is massive! I just caught a train out to my departure lounge! The train ride itself was unique to me. Either the driver was at the back of the train, or there was no driver, as we passengers had a drivers eye view of the track in front of us. Not a great view mind you, as it was an underground train.

So I am now in the departure lounge and I have found this area with the most comfortable lounges to rest in. No hesitation on my part in getting on to one of them! Very relaxing!

Arriving in Munich

Not really too much to report about the flight from Hong Kong to Munich. It was long. I hardly slept at all. I watched a movie – Erin Brokovich. That was good actually. I like Julia Roberts and she was good in this movie.
It's just on dawn at Munich Airport, which again is a huge airport. Pretty much everything is huge one you get outside Australia. I am at Gate H41 Terminal 2, waiting for my connecting flight to London. As its so early here there are very few people around. I am sitting on the floor near a power point charging up my laptop and mobile phone so I have some power to keep me going for the trip to London and then down to Surrey.
I bought a pair of Nakamichi Noise Isolating earphones in Hong Kong and they are really brilliant on a plane. I got ripped off in buying them. I always do my research online before I buy stuff these days, especially electronics. I bought these on the spur of the moment. But to be honest, I probably would not have bought them if I had not tried them and I could only try them in a store, so the store made some money. But if you are doing any flying, or working in a noisy environment, I can thoroughly recommend the Nakamichis.
Its hard to believe that there is no WiFi access here at Munich Airport. I was hoping to check emails and maybe see how the family are doing in Nauvoo, but no such luck really. Maybe their mobile phone networks are so good that they don't need WiFi?

Leaving Munich

It should have been easier than it was to leave Munich. We boarded on time, then we started leaving the terminal and the pilot noticed something wrong with the steering on the plane. We pulled back in to the terminal and the techs came and changed some part. So after a delay of maybe only 15-20 minutes we were off again.
But we pulled out from the terminal again and the pilot noticed the same problem. It was then decided that they would put us on a new plane. So we had to sit and wait for maybe half an hour. I then saw a bus coming towards us, and that was the bus we got on to take us to a new plane.
I am now on the way to London. A flight attendant brought us all an arrival card for us to fill in. I was very well prepared for this, knowing that you always need to fill in an address for where you will be staying. Yesterday I went online and found the temple address (I am staying for a week in the Temple guesthouse) and typed it in to my phone in the calendar. So I get my phone out to look up the address and its gone! Panic! Search, no result. Its gone! I know I put it there! So I get out my laptop to see if there was a cached page. No luck there either. So its my own memory that I have to rely on now. I thought about writing it on a bit of paper and putting in with the rest of my documents. I should have done that. But I think I have reconstructed the address from my memory now. Lets just hope its good enough to get it past immigration. I really don't need another problem!


  1. Murray, I loved your description of China! Wow, I felt like I was on the dirt road with you. Thank you for sharing the details of your experience. Makes me want to do it too. I look forward to hearing the rest of the story!

  2. Rest of the story - well it wasn't quite as exciting as China, except greeting my family at Heathrow Airport in London. That was exciting!