I got out more

To five cities in eight days, to be exact. Although I suppose I really shouldn’t count Shenzhen. Shenzhen is one of the six Special Economic Zones of China, where they’re allowed to follow slightly different rules in order to maximize profitability, and the only reason we even went there at all was that the plane tickets were cheaper. In fact, I didn’t get to see much of the city except through a plane or bus window, because as soon as we got there we headed straight for the border crossing.

Even though Hong Kong is fully part of China (under the “one country, two systems” system) the border crossing is exactly the same as if you were traveling to a foreign country. They even stamped my passport and everything. And as Hong Kong is one of the two Special Administrative Regions of China, they’re allowed to do pretty much whatever they want, excepting defense and foreign affairs. I thought it was interesting that while I didn’t need any sort of visa or special permission to go there, my Chinese friend who I was traveling with did. Apparently they have to regulate things or else too many people from the mainland would go to Hong Kong for a visit, and then just never go back. As one of my work colleagues put it, “Yeah it’s one country, two systems—but their system is better!”

I was glad I’d been to England before going to Hong Kong, because there were some similarities between Hong Kong and an English city that I never would have picked up on if I had never been to England. Mostly the trains, train stations, and pubs. And if that seems pretty trivial, I’d just like to point out that trains, train stations, and pubs are a pretty major part of an English person’s life, so that’s no small thing.

The friend I was traveling with was making the trip as part of his job, so I did manage to fulfill at least part of my goal of getting out more, because even though I got to stay in a 5-star hotel at night (my friend was able to change the room his company booked for him to one with two beds at no extra cost), during the day my friend had to work, so I had to fend for myself.

And I have to say that the thing that surprised me most about Hong Kong was the sheer number of Pakistani tailors insisting I buy suits from them. I thought this was odd, since they should’ve been able to tell from the map in my hand and perplexed look on my face that I was clearly a tourist—and a poor one at that—but that didn’t seem to deter them at all. Honestly though, I have a hard time imagining that harassing tourists on the street is an effective business model. I just don’t see how that would work for them. It certainly didn’t work on me.

I only had one full day in Hong Kong, and I wanted to make the most of it, so I did what any reasonable person would do and took the World’s Longest Escalator. Not to get anywhere in particular, but because out of all the interesting things to see and do in Hong Kong, the one thing I wanted to do the most—the single thing I absolutely had to do—was ride the World’s Longest Escalator.

Yeah, there’s definitely something wrong with me.

Still, from the top of the escalator I took a walk through the Botanical Gardens to get to the tram that goes to the top of Victoria Peak which allows for a view of almost all of Hong Kong in its entirety, so I did end up doing some things other people might consider normal, but the highlight of my trip to Hong Kong was still the World’s Longest Escalator.

The next day I took the ferry to Macao. Just like Hong Kong was a former British colony, Macao is a former Portuguese colony. And like Hong Kong has some distinctly English elements to it, Macao definitely has Mediterranean European elements to it. I say “Mediterranean European” because I’ve never actually been to Portugal, but I’m assuming it’s similar to Spain in terms of narrow, winding streets in older parts of cities, and so on.

There was one square in the old part of Macao where if you looked at it just right, you could swear you were in Europe. Aside from the teeming masses of Asians taking pictures, of course.

(And of course at least one person who’s reading this will be thinking that yeah, sometimes you see teeming masses of Asians taking pictures in cities in Europe as well, but I’m not going to go there.)

Like Hong Kong, I had only a day in Macao, and then it was back to China proper. To Zhuhai, another Special Economic Zone. And this may seem like a pretty odd way to spend my vacation, but I basically spent two full days in Zhuhai barely leaving the hotel room at all while I finished the first draft of my first novel. But the thing is, that’s exactly how I wanted to spend my time, and I have absolutely no regrets.

After Zhuhai we went to Guangzhou, where quite a few of my friend’s friends live. Really, really good people. Really, really good people who drink way, way too much, and as part of their “hospitality” expect their guests to drink as much as they do. Or more. Whether their guests want to or not.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it was totally AWESOME. Hell, it’s a small miracle I ever came back to Beijing.

The culture in the south of China is definitely distinct from that of the north. Sure, pretty much everywhere in China you can find people who are pretty nuts about food, but in the south they really go all out. After about 10 or 11 at night, the narrow streets and alleys of pretty much every southern city become filled with cheap, outdoor restaurants and pretty much everyone, no matter how poor they are, manages to scrounge up the time and the money to meet their friends for good food and good times. It’s pretty cool. It’s a shame, but you don’t really see that so much in Beijing. The people are too serious, and work too hard. Plus, an outdoor restaurant in Beijing would get pretty cold during the winter.

So yeah, it was an incredible trip. And it was incredibly hard to come back to Beijing and try to get back to work. In fact, as soon as I have the time and the money, I really want to go back to see more of the south of China.

Also, I have this inexplicable yet burning desire to go back to Hong Kong and buy as suit.


About Critical Awesomeness
I'm a 32-year-old American with a PhD in chemistry and a green hat. Only one of these two things is really important.

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