Friday, January 27, 2006

The Crossing
Anatomy of a small journey I make virtually every weekend from Hong Kong to Shenzhen. By now I've made the trek more than 100 times but have found nearly every one presents small small quirk, usually an irritant but occasionally amusing.
It begins when I stuff a black, torn and frayed backpack with enough shirts, socks, underwear, reading material, CDs, etc plus requested only-in/or cheaper-in Hong Kong items for C. This weekend is Chinese New Year so in addition to the usual suspects, I was wobbling under the weight of festive gifts and stuff from the US that I still hadn't brought to SZ. They included a sturdy gold and red tin package of bird nests (light, but about as expensive as cocaine), two enormous tins of imported Danish cookies, two 16 oz bottles of salad dressing and the usual dread that I'd forgotten something.
The trudge from my 26th floor to the subway stop inside my Mother Mall (the apartments are part of the mall complex) is short but not always without minor perils -- the first being that Hong Kongers do not walk in public like other human beings. They casually saunter and weave and shuffle two, three, four abreast chatting to each other and/or on their cell phones oblivious to a panting, hurried 53-year-old fat foreign devil trying to walk efficiently and quickly to his destination. Their children are often left to scamper about under the foreigner's legs like rabid kittens. Small collisions occur. Apologies are made. Occasionally obscenities are exchanged.
My train stop is called Kowloon Bay. It's a short ride with no transfers, perhaps 12-15 minutes to the stop where I disembark called Prince Edward. Usually there are no seats, though once in awhile I luck out and am able to lever myself into a space between a young man reading an English language instruction book called "As Can Good English" and a 50-ish paunchy greasy fellow with an 8-inch white hair curling from a mole on his chin, a right hand pinky finger with a digustingly long dirty nail and a dyed black combover that looks like a bar code. It's all set off stunningly with a flashy gaudy gold necklace and perhaps a cheap green jade bead bracelet.
He's looking sharp, looking for love and I hope he finds it
At Prince Edward I sling the pack back on my shoulders and squeeze into a line of humanity going up an escalator to leave the the station where I invariably have trouble remembering if my exit is C-1 or C-2. If I can see the "Clarks" shoe store sign as I clamber up the stairs I know it is the right exit - C-2. I vow to remember that until the next time when I mistakenly take C-1.
I cross the street, hang a right at the Co-Co American Bar (good cheeseburgers, inedible fries) and make my way down a block of Chinese fast food shops, a 7-Eleven the size of a walk-in closet and several money changing operations where I pick one and exchange a very thin layer of Hong Kong dollars into an unwieldy brick of Chinese yuan because China has no currency larger than 100. In a country where some crafty hooligans bother to counterfeit 1 yuan coins, I suppose it makes a certain kind of sense....
There's a "bus station" on the corner where I stick my "Octopus card" (an all-purpose reloadable debit card issued by the subway company, the MTR) to a scanner and a bored, harried woman shoves a HK$35 one-way ticket to Shenzhen's Huanggang border at me in exchange.
Buses leave every 10-20 minutes, sometimes every 30 depending on the hour. There's always a line of commuters and tourists, though very few foreigners -- most of whom take a more direct and crowded train ride to another crossing called Lohwu. I don't because it's too far from my Shenzhen digs and the Lohwu ride guarantees no seats while the bus ride does.
There are only four prime seats on these buses, that is seats with enough leg room for someone taller than a fetus to stretch a little plus store the backpack on the floor in front rather than hugging it his chest for 30 minutes. Those seats are in the last row before the line of seats at the rear. I crave any of those seats and have been known to reject a bus if one is not available.
Most of my fellow travelers though seem to prefer anything near the front so they can bolt up and crowd rudely and insanely into the aisles shoving their packs and packages ahead of them 3 minutes before the bus parks at its destination.
I'm not sure why they are rushed. There are virtually always long lines when they disembark and once they finally exit at Shenzhen I've noted that they begin sauntering slowly, randomly and five abreast again.
To be continued. A slow tale on occasion enlivened by "The Party Bus..."
Silly question, but why do you get the bus? Wouldn't it be easier to take the KCR to Lo Wu? There would be more room for your legs, at least...
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