Mad Dash to Guangzhou, then Hong Kong

Chapter 9:

Nov. 12, 1991: “Bus/boat to GZDay 50:

A little shakey from the previous night’s shenanigans, we managed to get all our gear (bikes included) on the bus ready for the 6.40am departure. Unsurprisingly, Vernon delayed the scheduled departure when he decided to head off to find the lavatory just as the bus was about to pull out.

Our direction was southeast through the town of 福利 (Fuli), then into the ‘forbidden‘ territory. The road was in various degrees of disrepair: at one stage we had to pull up as blasting was going on in front of us and behind us. Despite this, the driver had been keen to push on. Luckily he didn’t!!

He did, however, stop for breakfast, then later a lunch break before the all-day affair ended in 梧州(Wu’zhou). ‘Located at the confluence of the Gui River and the Xun River that forms the Xi River; 85% of all water in Guangxi Province flows through Wuzhou‘ (Wikipedia). Here we scoffed down a bowl of noodles before boarding the overnight boat to 广州(Guangzhou). At last, we were making tracks out of the PRC, which had been grinding us down on patience. The constant response of “Mae-yo, mae-yo” (not available, not available) being the main sticking point.

Boat to GZ

The boat trip was a good opportunity to update our travel logs.

It was a motley crew that had joined us ‘fab four‘ from Australia: Vernon, the crazy German whom we had originally met in Xi’an; a ‘Pom‘ who didn’t know whether he was coming or going who seemed to have latched onto us; a homosexual from San Francisco who had spent 8 months in China; Mary from South Australia; the Frenchman, Daniel, and his beautiful American wife, Victoria.” 

Nov. 13, 1991: “广州 (Guangzhou)Day 51:

After a surprisingly good night’s sleep on the boat, we docked near the centre of the sprawling metropolis of Guangzhou. Everyone disembarked quietly, meaning we missed the Frenchman and his misses, plus all the ‘crazies’. This left five of us to head to the hostel near the White Swan Hotel, though we lost Vern en-route. 

Before arriving at the hostel, we came across an American style burger joint called ‘Timmy’s’. Inside was another ‘digger‘, ironically named Timmy, who told us the hostel was really easy to find. (I’d actually stayed there the year before). After our meal, we headed there only to find Vern waiting out the front for us.

Checking in was a breeze and Martin & Roger hired bikes so we could all ride up to the main train station. The boys bought their tickets to 香港 (Hong Kong) whilst we had our ride authorized by the police to the border town of 深圳 (Shenzhen).

It was only going to be a quiet night, however, a ‘fired-up’ Canadian from the hostel was keen for a few drinks, along with two Irish lasses that were outgoing. The first place we went to looked very respectable, but Roger said that it would ‘be expensive‘, so opted for a ‘back-street venue‘. The full circle had come for Roger since Shanghai.

Nov. 14, 1991: “Long Ride to Hong KongDay 52:

Without anywhere near the required sleep, we had the bikes packed and were on the road at 6:30am for the 160km ride to 香港(Hong Kong). At the edge of town, we stopped for breakfast of 飲茶 (yum-cha), of which reacted badly with us later in the day.

Riding through a banana tree grove we thought we had lost our way, only to carry the fully laden bikes up a staircase to rejoin the highway. Around midday we pulled over for a short nap, waking up precisely 60 minutes later, refreshed for the journey ahead.

Just before 深圳飞机场 (Shenzhen Airport), the traffic was more pronounced, though we managed to make headway. Unfortunately, on a downhill run I blew my first tyre in China, 22km shy of the Hong Kong border!! I was only equipped with French tubes that had a special valve, which Paul had the pump for. Fortunately, a local repair shop was nearby and the man repaired the tube without taking it off the frame. Interestingly, we noticed the greater proliferation of denim jeans the closer we approached Shenzhen, as opposed to the traditional ‘Mao suits‘.

*Who was to know that 20 years later, in 2011, I would find myself living in 深圳 (Shenzhen). During that time, I would often walk the streets, trying to retrace our steps in this megalopolis of (unofficially) over 15 million people, more than twice the population of Hong Kong. All because of one man: 邓小平 (Deng Xiaoping).

We did have to pass through a border check on the outskirts of Shenzhen. A little farther on we came across a theme park called, Lilliput. A miniature version of many of the iconic constructions found around the globe, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Sydney Opera House. (I did actually go through this park in 2011, now called 世界之窗 –Window of the World). Out the front, I slammed down two Cokes and two ice-creams; (the latter finding itself in a Hong Kong toilet that night).

This really was a different part of China: with flashy high-rise office towers and huge, clean streets with a separate bike lane. We nearly thought we were already in Hong Kong until we came across the actual border crossing in 罗湖Luohu (or possibly 福田-Futian).

*I do believe we crossed the border at 罗湖Luohu, the southern district of 深圳-Shenzhen, although there are several border crossings along the way such as 福田-Futian. Having lived in Shenzhen I have concluded that it could have been either.

Nevertheless, we were not able to ride our bikes across the border with 香港Hong Kong, having to carry them through the ‘normal‘ passport channel and onto the train to 九龍Kowloon (Nine Dragons), passing through the 新界 (New Territories) just on the other side.

Our 8pm rendevous with boys was a non-event as we didn’t arrive until 9pm. We checked into 21A Loch Street at the hostel I stayed in the year before.

Nov. 15, 1991: “香港 (Hong Kong)Day 53:

After this epic ride out of China, we were understandably a touch lethargic this morning. Dragging ourselves down to McDonald’s for a Western breakfast we accidentally bumped into the boys, Roger & Martin. 一石二鳥 (killing two birds with one stone). This was fortunate, so we made plans to go to the horse races the following day at Happy Valley on the Hong Kong Island side.

Three of us took a Star Ferry across to Wan Chai then we walked to the GPO to see what Poste Resonte had for us. Paul’s much-coveted bike saddle was there sans the pole that he actually required,  whilst I received a letter from Miyuki. I was also able to post off her silk pyjamas.

For lunch, we tracked down a Yoshinoya Japanese Beef Bowl restaurant for 牛丼 (gyudon). A chain restaurant in Japan that we often ate at -fast-food Japanese style. Thin slices of lightly cooked beef over boiled rice with a raw egg…yum!!

Marty was all fired up for a big night on the turps, but Paul & I had things to do before the horse races twilight meet, so we crossed back over Victoria Harbour to 九龍 (Kowloon) for a quiet one.

Nov. 16, 1991: “Race Day Happy ValleyDay 54:

The morning was spent hunting down bike shops for parts. By 2pm we were back at the Bell Tower to meet the boys and head over to Happy Valley for the twilight race meeting. 

As the afternoon wore on, the favourites were always winning with short odds on the tote, therefore our patience was wearing thin. However, it was a beautiful racecourse all lit up making for a great atmosphere. In the second last race, Marty and I put $10 each way on the favourite and won. Then we rushed off to meet the girls on the 九龍(Kowloon) side of 維多利亞港 (Victoria Harbour).

I arrived first, as the others took their time looking at books, whilst I caught the ferry across straight away. The girls hadn’t seen my message for 8pm and had been waiting since 7pm. The other guys rocked up and we went to find a room for the girls. Then we all headed down to the Kangaroo Bar (袋鼠吧) for food and beverage.

At the Kangaroo Bar, we watched the Rugby World Cup 1991 quarter-final between the Wallabies and Ireland, whilst drinking VB stubbies. After the match, we headed out for a night on the town. A cafe/nightclub was chosen, where we partied until 5am.

Marty was right in his element singing along with all the ‘clubby‘ songs, whilst Paul bopped as well. The girls enjoyed themselves, Roger & I chatted up some local Hong Kong girls that had originally said they were Japanese. The cross-section of people was great, including an old ‘Pommy‘ guy, who bet against the English in the Rugby World Cup, with his Filipina girlfriend.

Nov. 17, 1991: “Victoria PeakDay 55:

Being locked out of the hostel in the wee hours, I headed down to the Bell (Clock) Tower. As I approached, I saw another guy sleeping there sitting up. He looked like a ‘digger‘ and sure enough, it was Paul. At 6am we headed back up to the hostel just as someone else was coming home that could let us in.

It was 3pm later that day before we were all gathered at the Bell (Clock) Tower in Tsim Sha Tsui to head over to do the Victoria Peak (太平山) touristy thing. We took the bus up to the highest point on Hong Kong Island to look back across the harbour into the New Territories and mainland China. I was somewhat disappointed that the view was nowhere near as clear as it had been the year before; due to the ever-increasing pollution. After the regulatory photos were taken we took the cable car down the steep slope to 中環 (Central).

View from Victoria Peak, 1991

Daytime view from Victoria Peak circa 1991

The five of us headed down to 食街 (Food Street) for dinner -Roger didn’t join us for the day’s activities as his date had stood him up and he was heartbroken. Due to the lateness of dinner, we missed the last Star Ferry, therefore we utilised the efficient MTR subway network back to the 九龍 (Kowloon) side. Our designated ‘rest day’ was over, as we crashed into our various cribs.

Nov. 18, 1991: “Looking for a Ticket to RideDay 56:

We woke up and were down to Macca’s for breakfast, then off to STA (Student Travel Association) to buy a plane ticket to Jakarta to do our Indonesia trek. Finding a ticket out of the country proved problematic, so we checked various airlines for a cashback refund if we didn’t use the ticket; this took most of the day.

At 6pm we all met up in Nathan Road (彌敦道) before heading down to the Pizza Hut for dinner (not so cheap). This was capped off with a few expensive beers at the Kangaroo Bar watching the English play Holland in soccer (for the girls) before the RWC semi-final Wallabies v All Blacks. It was decided that the following day would be a visit to Ocean Park.

Nov. 19, 1991: “香港海洋公園 (Ocean Park)Day 57:

尖沙咀鐘樓 (The Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower) at 10am is where we gathered before heading over to the Hong Kong side to find the bus to Ocean Park. On the bus, we were transported to the other side of the island to where 香港海洋公園 (Ocean Park) is located.

It was HK$140 (A$35) to enter, which broke our daily budget, though we were there. We spent the whole day catching most attractions: circa 2000 (3-D film); the cable car to the other side of the peninsular; raging river canoe ride; space wheel; flamingo pond & bird aviary;  Middle Kingdom (included an acrobat performance from the Forbidden City; wave cove; ocean theatre; shark aquarium; some even went on the roller coaster whilst others slept on the lawn.

A great day, worth every penny, now it was time to return to reality. The cable car returned us to the entrance, where the buses left. Waiting for the bus I was looking for the Frenchman’s phone number, but the bus arrived. Back at Central, while I looked for a phonebox, we walked past a French pâtisserie and who should be inside, none other than the French twins and their partners.

Back on the Kowloon side, another last supper with boys was had at an American style restaurant (next to the Pizza Hut). A welcomed quiet night followed.”

Nov. 20, 1991: “TicketsDay 58:

A mad search trying to buy tickets that didn’t exist. We ended up purchasing tickets from Hong Kong to Jakarta (Indonesia) with a homeward-bound flight out of Kuta, Bali to Sydney (via Brisbane) at STA for around A$1000 each.

We ducked up to the park to bid farewell to the boys as they were off to Bangkok. It would be some time before we would run into them again -(the slide show, maybe??)

With the boys gone, we had to get our act together: confirm flights, buy guidebooks, maps etc. We had also arranged to meet the girls at their new apartment and watched a movie on their TV; ‘Working Girl‘.

Following the movie, we went home, after confirming plans to rendevous in the park for lunch on Friday, November 22nd, before our departure.”

Nov. 21, 1991: “PreparationDay 59:

A massive day ensued as we readied the bikes for tomorrow’s flight to Jakarta; ducking over to Hong Kong Island for fenders & a pump as well as stocking up on patches to repair punctured tubes. Paul had his bike overhauled so that had to be collected.

That evening we packed all our gear, including collapsing the bikes to put into their bags for transporting. I also called the French guy, Daniel, to tell him the plan for the following day. It still ended up being a late-night… & the fenders I bought weren’t long enough in the arms; that would have to wait until the morning.”

Nov. 22, 1991: “Leave for JakartaDay 60:

I was up early and down searching for rugby boots -closed-; across to HK Island for longer fender arms. I had to wait until 10:15am, but the guy in the bike shop hand made them. It was then back to Kowloon-side for rugby boots before posting a package including some winter gear back to Miyuki for my Tokyo return. Breakfast at the Chinese shop followed by a couple of beers with the Dutch girls, Caroline & Carina, the Frenchman, Daniel and his American wife Victoria in the park. Then it was the bus to the airport.

En-route to Jakarta, we made an unexpected stop-over in Singapore at Changi Airport. This allowed us time for a beer, chicken roll & pie at the bar which was very satisfying. It was back on the plane bound for Jakarta and in no time we were walking out of the Indonesian airport to find a bench where we would spend the rest of the night until sun-up. (They close the airport after the last flight).”

TO BE CONTINUED…

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