Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hong Kong is Green

My visa only allows me unlimited entries into China, for up to 120 days after each entry. Today is day 120 so I need to leave the country or risk penalties.

This morning I boarded a plane to Shenzhen, from the gorgeous and grand new Terminal 3 in Beijing airport. Today is the second day of a national week long holiday so many people are traveling. In the airport security line I ran into a friend who was on his way to Tibet. After arriving at Shenzhen airport I learned that there is only one ferry to Kowloon, in Hong Kong, each day and it does not leave until late afternoon. There are more ferries to the Hong Kong International Airport, but you must have a plane ticket or confirmation of a reservation to be allowed on. I want to be in HK before then then so I hopped onto a bus to the border. My first images of Shenzhen were of rows of backhoes and skyscrapers under construction, which I expected to see, and trees and flowers along the sides of the road and in the distance on the mountains, which I did not expect to see. The first sounds I heard after leaving the confines of the airport were of local workers with a Shenzhen accent.

The bus ends at the Shenzhen train and bus terminals, and the maze of walkways that leads to the border security check. At one point I went up to a police officer to ask directions. A Chinese couple who reached him before me had pulled out a notebook for him to write something down. I made a joke under my breathe in Putonghua (Mandarin), and they turned and excitedly asked me if I speak Chinese. "Yi dian dian," (a little) I said, and watched their faces fall. When Mandarin speakers think they can get me to translate from Cantonese I know I'm not in Beijing anymore.

More tunnels, lined with stalls selling SIM cards and phones and food and all manner of other things, led to the border checkpoint. It felt a bit like Times Square, circa 1992, so I held my bag tight. Exiting China and entering Hong Kong were quick, taking about 15 minutes. The most noteworthy part of it was that the Hong Kong immigration officer, a woman, smiled at me as she took my passport. Chinese immigration officer did not like my passport and shot me dirty looks so I was happily surprised at my welcome into Hong Kong.

After stopping to exchange some Chinese Renminbi into Hong Kong Dollars I stopped at a bakery and picked up a portuguese egg tart. It was a yummy first bike of Hong Kong. Then I joined the queue at a ticket machine and bought a first class ticket to Kowloon on the Hong Kong MTR (Mass Transit Railway). The first class car is clean, has comfortably cushioned seats, and is air-conditioned. The train pulled out of the station into an expanse of green, tree covered hills, with occasional blocks of residential buildings, on its way towards the urban expanse of downtown Hong Kong.

There's a lot of green.

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