Tuesday, June 10, 2014

China 2014 part 1 - Doha/Hong Kong/Shenzhen/Wuhan

In May 2014, to burn off the visa that I had acquired for Harbin the year before, I took an extended trip around China and managed to not get killed or break the bank, two things that were in doubt going in.  I didn't get out to Xinjiang/East Turkestan, which was kind of turning into China's Northern Ireland at the time, and I didn't take a helicopter between Macau and Hong Kong, but I did get to see and do a lot of other stuff.  This is how it started.



0001. (DNCO) Packed up.  This is three weeks of gear, tied up real small and making the best of several years of hard travel and their hard-earned lessons.

I will make mistakes.  Shit will go wrong.  I will get in trouble, and may have difficulty getting out.  But I've learned from previous trips, and I continue to set up smaller and smarter.

This is by far the hardest trip I've done, and under probably the hardest language conditions.  There is an absolutely absurd amount of missable connections and other shit that can go sideways, and my ability to recover it will be limited.  But the only thing to do is to press on.

- Philadelphia -

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0002. The Lego Liberty Bell in Philly's Terminal A.  The "crack" is black bricks...

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0003. ...unless you count the corners smashed off by souvenir hunters.

A short wait, and I'm outbound on a big single-deck for the near east.  Old roads, but I won't have time to take in the sights; it's another short change, so though I NEED to sleep a lot of the next 12 hours, I probably won't end up doing so.

Landfall over Tunisia.  This doesn't count as a 'touch', but still.

over the Red Sea

I didn't sleep enough on this leg.  I'll take a nap on the next one, hopefully.

It's interesting to see a certain country absent from the inflight maps, regularly noted in the west.  And not passed by reference to its shadow companion either -- just blackholed, as though any acknowledgement of anything there would be controversial with the powers behind this carrier -- which, of course, is probably the case.

- Qatar -

Security again, and sand in my face climbing the jetways.  It counts.

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0004. Lineup from the bus.  Qatar puts you on the tarmac on and off, in a dun-colored, smoggy, slab of windswept desert.

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0005. Bus to plane; proving I had boots to ground in what is, perhaps surprisingly, my first multiple-point country.  (This is a reference to the shortly-to-be-published International Badass Certification, a project that I've been working on making hard enough to matter and achievable enough to attempt for the last couple years.  At the end of this trip I'd completed 86.78% of the then-current iteration and was seeking to make it harder.  The 'points' referred to are for [X.1] and are awarded on relative risk/accessibility from 1 (most developed countries) to 25 (North Korea without guides or escorts).)

The plane's not full, but this was the first renmin bus out; there'll likely be at least one more.  The bus ride out gives a picture of Qatar, if you know where to look; I'd be interested in coming back to see how well that picture matches the reality, but not on an American passport in my lifetime.  The damage we've done to this part of the world in the last 60 years (since Suez proved that Europe wasn't up for fucking it up any more) is too extensive to be undone in the 30 to 40 years that I likely have left.  Well, at the outside.  Assuming I even survive this trip, that is.

- Hong Kong -

v01. On the train in, crossing from Lantau.

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0006. South from the connector to the HSBC Center.

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0007. Another one.  I thought I had a previous reference for this, since I remembered taking one in Beijing, but apparently, this is the first published shot of an elevator panel missing not only '13', but also '4', '14', and '24'.  You see these a lot in China, occasionally in Japan.

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0008. Kowloon at dusk from the 21st floor (well, 18th).  The warm wet air and incredible dynamism remain unchanged.

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0009. A subtle one; alcex.cn was probably just taken.


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0010. Graffitied block in morning light.

My Octopus card is dead -- a pretty predictable effect of zero transactions in three years -- I've got a nagging headache, and I got hit with a double commission changing money, but these things will pass.  What I need now is some more solid food (a diet of beer and watermelon isn't a marching ration), and a good first step off into China proper.

It really feels like there's a storm brewing up.  I want to head down for the harbor and just hang out in the weather, but there's 1) all of China to discover and 2) pretty much the same conditions in Shenzhen, a long subway ride away.

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0011. Across to China.  There's no transfer ticket, but I've gone farther changing trains at Downtown Crossing.  It counts.

- Shenzhen -

I got over to the hotel without difficulty, but the booking had not taken, so I got stuck, at least temporarily, with a second bill.  Gear dropped, it was out to Chiwan.

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0012. A Shenzhen token.  These are RFIDed or unique-numbered or something, so it gets bound to your fare, but you can use it like a combination of smart card and regular token.  This is kind of cool, but I probably won't get an extra to souvenir.

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0013. Palace front in Chiwan.

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0014. On the road to the Left Fort.

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0015. Brick rebar holds up the hill.

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0016. Along the road ahead in the rain.  It wasn't bad, but it kept the other tourists down -- best weather.

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0017. Under the canopy, out of the wet.

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0018. The gate to the Left Fort, in context.

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0019. The gate, and up the hill.

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0020. Rampart of the remaining battery.

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0021. Through the door inside to a cool mix of restoration and preservation.

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0022. Restored blockhouse and greenery.

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0023. 太绿了.  Into the canopy.

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0024. Canopy over the fort.

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0025. Original cannon, restored mount.  It's made out of concrete, but like the originals, won't allow much of an elevation adjustment.

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0026. Out to the Pearl from the battery.

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0027. Back to the battery from a far corner.

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0028. Door in the blockhouse.

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0029. Statue on a built-up landing.

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0030. A better view down to the river.

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0031. Some chickens in a factory backlot, coming back.

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0032. Misty mountains by the Chiwan metro stop.

I had the Minsk in as a potential point, but was a little jetlagged, a lot hiked out, and intolerably hungry, not having eaten between immigration and doing several miles over hill and dale seeing the fort.  I passed on "figure out bus system in time to go see a Soviet carrier in the rain" and took a hike around the Dongmen area to eventually get a Snow and some bar snacks, which thanks to a longer-than-expected nap ended up being dinner.  I'm getting more set, but I need to work harder on eating real food -- or, failing that, eating period.  I've got more gut than's good for me, but doing 20k hikes on starvation rations isn't the right way to get rid of it.

The good thing about missing stuff here due to adjustment is that I've got give; this is all Guangdong, and I'll be adjusted when I come back to the Guangzhou/Macau/HK leg at the end of the trip.  I don't have that same give anywhere else, so from tomorrow I need to push real hard to do the max in Wuhan.


So after an unnecessary detour to have some very kind staff let me out of the ticketed area (note for the future: make sure the gate is all the way closed and back to start position before chucking your fare in on the exit), I ate my breakfast and got a chance to sketch this up before the train.  I'm probably way too early, but you don't take chances with rush hour, and at this point I have no idea how long it takes to clear security.

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0033. Westward into town.

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0034. Dongmen shopping street under a rising sun.

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0035. New and slightly less new Shenzhen.

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0036. Buildings catch the light along a back street.

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0037. Freaky statues in front of the GAP.

So I got hustled out of my place by a cop, and went in through security.  Neither my pocketknife nor my santoku got lifted, and I was through in a flash.  Hongqiao will not be this easy, and perhaps not GZ 南 either, but for most other stations, arriving more than like 80 minutes ahead of departure is probably unnecessary.

The upside, though, is less police attention, and a PBR pull tab.  There's no glass bottles for obvious reasons, but while my stock-in-trade is caps, pull tabs from this part of the world -- provided they're marked -- are also welcome.  Something every cooldown.

Travel alone, meet friends, get tips.  I had a good convo with Mark, and in exchange got some food/language tips and like 50 calories of tofu and pancakes.  Solid.

The train seats are kinda small, but I fit with a little spare space, and it's only like 5 hours.

- Wuhan -

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0038. Along Jianshe Boulevard east of Wangjiadun.

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0039. New skyscraper and foliage.

My Wuhan tourism is being cut short by bad timing.  I will go eat, and maybe poke around in a bit, but the big historic sites are across the river, forever away by subway, and I don't have enough charge to do another hike like yesterday on no food.  I have one point for tomorrow, but it's a weird one, and then it's on to Shanghai.  This stop was put in just to break up a 12-hour train initially, but I need to start touring sometime instead of being a high-class drifter.

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0040. Exercise facilities.  I can hear my brothers' brain circuits popping at the use of "dagai" around course measurements, but worse still is the idea that people might go jogging in the toasted air of Wuhan.  It wasn't so bad today, but you can still taste the soot -- and when it gets bad, it gets Beijing bad.

v02. Sights and sounds at an intersection, Wuhan.  Crossing the road here is a multi-stage process that takes your life in your hand.

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0041. Still growing.  The national bird of China remains the construction crane.

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0042. Back southwest, going around West Lake.

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0043. Old concept apartment blocks; not actually joined, but it looks neat.

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0044. More representative of the housing stock in interior China.

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0045. A neat corner, turning south onto the bar street.

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0046. Folk exercising some large dogs.  This might pass without comment, but not if you're aware of how small the average living space is in China.

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0047. Picturesque street, south of the hotel.

Despite my best efforts, I couldn't stay awake long enough to go for a real dinner, but I slept about long enough to set up a hard reset.  Tomorrow, what little "attraction" tourism I can do, and then on to Shanghai.

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