As I blogged a few blogs ago, it was supposed to be going to China, but those plans had been changing up until about two weeks ago. Eventually it was decided I'd be going.
Hitomi came back that same week (Sunday) and I had less inclination to be anywhere without her. Plus I'd be missing out on Halloween. In some ways it was my fault, in that I was asked by work to give reasons why I was needed in Shenzhen and I came up with a pretty convincing e-mail, I suppose.
(By the way, I'm typing this in Hong Kong. China blocks pretty much all the blog sites out there. So that's why I hadn't posted any updates to Facebook or here.)
I'll need to update this as time goes by.
Flight: Eva Air leaves around 2AM for Taiwan from Seattle, and pretty much nobody's in the airport, so it's a pretty lonely affair. I was flying business but for whatever reason it was tough feeling comfortable sleeping. Shoulder room was great but I experienced the usual leg fatigue and being by a window of course I had to pee every few hours it seemed.
Felt pretty good in Taipei. The airport terminal I remember from my last to Taiwan with Hitomi brought back some good memories. But there was no Hitomi this time around. And though I had plenty of food on the flight in the middle of the night, I enjoyed breakfast yet again.
Hong Kong airport: Felt like a step up from Taipei. I was taking the ferry to Shenzhen and the ferry service will transfer your bags from the airline directly, which is a help. While waiting for the ferry, I bought some books and coffee. The ferry sounded better than it was: For one, you're inside. For another, there's a lot of waiting and being transferred.
Mainland China landing: Definitely pretty ghetto and strangely what I expect to see. Luckily, customs and immigration was efficient and not at all pushy like in the U.S. I exchanged some cash and proceed to the taxi area.
It was about 350RMB (Chinese money) to the hotel, and basically I was ripped off (again) by third World taxi drivers. Alas, it was only about $50 US, so no great harm. I thought I learned my lesson in Thailand: Never, ever ride in a taxi with no meter running. Plus I should have realized when the driver said he liked the U.S. I should have realized I was being conned.
Of course the first thing I do in the hotel is assemble my bicycle, which actually was difficult this time around. It's been awhile but also the front brake (caliper) was misbehaving. Somehow the nut on the middle of the screw got loose or something causing the head to get loose. A lot of knucle banging later and it was okay. Then: Where to ride?
Speaking of screws loose, yes I rode in Shenzhen, where the drivers are insane. Shenzhen, in short, is like a heavily polluted and spread out version of Hong Kong where the roads are bigger and traffic perhaps more vicious. In some ways, it's all a reflection of life is worth less and standards of living are sacrificed in the name of advancing progress. Some suspect Barack Obama may be Communist, but the Chinese are Communist, and the Party is more vicious and heartless than even your most avaricious right wing Republican's fantasy.
I highly value my life, yet paradoxically ride a bicycle in this sort of shit. Anyway, where should I go? I bought a map of the city, which was designed to work okay for drivers who take major roads, but I wanted to find minor ones, which tend to be more interesting. But the way the city was designed, there are basically islands of huge towers and communities and they are like islands surrounded by big roads. Taxis are thankfully cheap (for us foreigners) and there is a subway which provides refuge for pedestrians.
In terms of traffic safety, here are some things to note: Pedestrians must yield to motorists. Motorists never signal. They can drive however they want, as fast as they want. Note: There are bicycle lanes, but motorists can and will use those for parking or driving if they feel like it. If you are more than 1 second late accelerating, they will honk at you. They will honk when passing on the left or right or if you are in front of them. Seatbelts are optional, especially in taxis where the buckles might be broken or missing. If the driver wears one, he will likely be sitting on the shoulder strap.
First ride I did: Came back exhilerated but my lungs hurt from…something in the air. And in addition to the persistent pollution, which scarily blankets the sky with a dull brown on even a sunny day, a lot of places smell like old garbage, ala Ho Chi Min City. What am I doing here?