Transsiberian Part 15 - Hong Kong and Shenzen
Hong Kong! A city I've visited many times, around ten years ago. I'm pretty excited to be going back! However, I'm excited for another reason - Shenzen! So far, on this trip, we've not really seen much in the way of geekery; many of the hackspaces I've tried to contact either ignored me or probably don't exist. Shenzen, however, is the capital of electronics and manufacturing, possibly in the world. Our train cannot get there fast enough.
In fact, the train really can't because it's delayed by about 40 minutes. Never-mind though. This Chinese sleeper train is much like the others we've been on. Second class is 4 bunks as before, though this train has a washroom in each carriage also. The ride is a little rough sadly. The fittings are somewhat more modern than their Russian counterparts. Hot water is of course available at all times. Chinese folk get mad if they can't get their instant noodles I bet.
We leave our bags at a baggage storage place at Luo Hu station, then head out on the metro towards SeeedStudios. I've placed an order with them for some PCBs and I'm hoping to get a tour of their office and factory. Sadly, when we get there, they are closed! Apparently, it's a bank holiday which is annoying as the chap I was speaking to had assured me they were open. Never-mind. Back on the metro we head towards Hua Qiang Road and the electronics markets. I'm hoping they are still open and humming the song "I've got a golden ticket"; I'm expect Willy Wonka levels of electronics goodness.
Shenzen doesn't disappoint! We head towards the first building marked on our maker map and we find 8 floors of all the electronics you can imagine. The upper floors are things like phones, cases, laptops and consumer devices whereas the lower levels are all components. There are chips, PCB fabbers, case sellers, buttons in boxes, screens, usb microscopes, fake iWatches, screws, tools, power supplies, soldering irons, you name it! The place is the mother-lode of electronics. I'm overwhelmed with choice and have no idea where to start.
We find 3 such buildings and case them all for the things we have on our list. Haggling is important; prices differ depending on who you talk to. While I couldn't find e-ink screens, circular oleds or knife switches, we did find fake iWatches, Baofeng radios, buttons and cameras. I reckon that we saved, at most, 25% on the price you can get such things in the UK provided you don't pay import duty and use a slow boat from China. Reels of LEDS and components are likely to be cheaper but given that I could spend days finding the right parts and ordering them, I decided not to buy any except for some shiny buttons.
The upshot of all this is Shenzen is great, but you need a lot longer than 5 hours to experience it all. It also helps if you know who's who and who sells what. We only looked in 3 buildings but it was clear there were many more. Shenzen is a very new city it seems; all the metro stations are modern, shiny and clean. The roads and office blocks are the same. It's obvious this is a rich town. We head back to the Luo Hu station, reclaim our bags and head up the escalator to the border with Hong Kong.
Hong Kong lies across the river from Shenzen. You simply walk between one and the other. I say simply, there is nothing simple about it. Parts of the crossing are new, and others quite old. The path is wandering and as we cross we need to change money, charge my oyster card and go through customs, all the while avoiding the seeming mob of people. I never expected it to be so busy but its truly heaving. When we finally get to the MTR with all our bags we are shattered. Fortunately, most people get off at the next stop. We stay on till Tsim Cha Tsui; right on the waterfront of Victoria Harbour.
The classic view of Hong Kong is the one from either the Victoria Peak, or from Tsim Cha Tsui. The skyline of Hong Kong is unique and breath-taking. Hong Kong has 4 areas: the Island, Kowloon, the New Territories and the outlying islands (including Lantau island where the airport is). Our train whisks us through the New Territories and into Kowloon. We won't get chance to see all the lovely greenery on this trip sadly; we just have time for the city around the harbour. We stay at the YMCA Salisbury. It's basically a slightly Christian, very fancy hotel (and the cheapest around there with a harbour view).
At 8pm each night, they perform a light show with lasers and all the rest, from all the buildings around the waterfront. Apparently, it's the largest in the world, though you'd be forgiven if you thought it was just how Hong Kong looked normally. We checkout Mong Kok and grab a bite before sleeping. The next day, we head out on the Star Ferry (the best value cruise in the world given that it's about 20p) and head to the island, visiting many of the tourist sights, including the escalators suspended just above street level. Apparently, this is the Hong Kong answer to the hilly terrain problem! Annoyingly, Hong Kong is having a bank holiday on Tuesday as well , so many of the buildings we want to go inside, such as the Bank of China Tower, are closed.
Hong Kong is probably the most diverse city we've been to thus far, in terms of its people. Straight off the bat we meet people from India, UK, USA, UK, France and many other places. This is probably not surprising given its history and it's role in the world as a global financial hub. This also means that there are an interesting mix of religions and other groups here. I'm surprised to see two Falun Gong banners and stands around the place as well as some proselytizing Christian types. Missionaries were popular here at one time, and their legacy seems to still live on. Hong Kong is also obsessed with disinfecting things and wearing masks if you have a cough. Likely this is a hold-over from the SARS outbreak sometime back. It is odd though, to see stickers on escalator handrails that say "sanitised every 2 hours".
The centre of town has many fancy shops and malls that cater to Western and Asian tastes, much of it aimed at visitors who are less adventurous. The food in Hong Kong is supposed to be some of the best in the world. We aim for a Dim Sum Joint inside the lower halls of Hong Kong station; a Michellin stared one at that. Apparently, it's the cheapest Michellin stared restaurant in the world.
There is much more I can say about Hong Kong in general. As I mentioned, I spent a fair bit of time there 10 years ago. It's not really that British anymore, at least to my eyes. Perhaps it's because many of the cities we've been to cater reasonably well for English speaking tourists. Many of the trappings of empire here have been absorbed and re-made by the new elites of the Asian world. Hong Kong is still, definitely unique in the greater scheme of modern China though it's becoming clear how they are slowly being converted back to the motherland.
The last night of the trip I succumb to food poisoning and end up bed ridden from about 5pm till the following morning with the worst belly-ache you can imagine. I won't go in to graphic details but it's not fun for anyone concerned. Clearly every adventure involves some peril but I hadn't expected this. I'm just about well enough to make my way to the Peninsula Hotel for Breakfast. It's the last day and we decide to end with some class. I have a mild breakfast I can just about keep down. The Peninsula is right next door to our hotel and it's one of the most expensive places to stay, pretty much anywhere I think. It's featured in Bond Movies and was where the Hong Kong Garrison surrendered to the Japanese in World War 2. It's a classy place.
We make our way, slowly towards the airport. Our bags are really heavy and I'm still struggling with the illness. I just about make it to the check-in desk! Fortunately, Katie has been a real trooper in helping me out, so we make it to the airport in good time. Thanks to air-miles, we are flying back business class, direct to Heathrow. I sleep for the first 4 hours; my body has just given up and needs to recover. Thankfully, it's possible to make the seat perfectly horizontal! Such luxury! The films are good and the one meal I'm awake for is quite tasty. The 12 hour flight passes quickly. By 11pm local time, Katie takes out the keys and opens the door of our flat.
We are home.