from Hong Kong to China on overnight train, heading north
“Vibrant, pulsating and electric.” So said a family member of Hong Kong.
Weaving through the evening crowd to the Night Market last night, it was all of the above. Fairy lights twinkled, neon lights blazed, the crowd elbowed and nudged its way along the buzzing street, shoulders brushing, everyone jostling to their destination. Until this walk we had only once had cause to hurry, and so had meandered our way through the city. This time, in an effort to not have *too* late a night, we tried to hurry. Impossible. You can step in front of someone, slip between others, elbow someone out of the way without causing offense (everyone else is doing it too!), accidentally trip on a young man’s shoes, but you cannot go much faster than the crowd. Fortunately for us, the crowd was going fast enough.
Big cities are fast. Fast and impersonal.
We’ve enjoyed merging into the crowd in Hong Kong, but as I took a final ferry ride this morning to pick up the salubrious Russian visas, I considered how much I was looking forward to the return to China. Slow and personal China.
Of course, I am expecting the China of the north to be like the China of the south and I may well be disappointed yet, but it will be nice if we discover it to be even half as friendly, polite and thoughtful as the south. You see, down there we never rode a bus without someone insisting on giving up their seat for the Mother With A Baby, and we often saw young mothers virtually arguing with old men about who should take the seat….HK was nothing like that. Everyone’s out for themselves (well, to be pedantic, Dad was offered a seat once – but by a lady from Shanghai, so that didn’t count).
The only reason people stop you in HK is to offer you a copy watch or copy handbag or massage or tailormade suit. In China, people smiled in friendly greeting, and talked with us. Circus act aside, there’s something nice and personable about it.
So here we are clickety-clacking another night away. We’ve chosen hard sleepers for this 20 hour journey, a decision we had a little apprehension about after the Vietnamese ones, but which has proven to be unfounded. Even these cheapest beds are well-padded and come with pillows and thick duvets….although it must be noted that the kids came back from an excursion to the other end of the train with enviable reports of “only two beds in a room” (we have six), “and a padded armchair” (the eleven of us are sharing three pull-down-off-the-wall seats in the passageway – it’s either that or perching on our permanently made-up beds where there is not room to sit up straight if you’re over eight years old – we didn’t manage to get the comfy larger lower berths so all our beds are on the smaller second and smallest third tiers!), “and an ensuite” (we’re sharing boudoir facilities, and we know who with – we see everyone who goes, seeing as we’re positioned right next door to the loo!), and the piece de resistance, “and a door, Mum!” (no such luxury for us, we’re in open compartments, which, actually, we prefer when we have kids sharing with total strangers. In case you think this is taking an unnecessary risk, let me tell you about our compartment-dwellers. All of them struggle to lower themselves on to their bottom berths – no chance of them climbing up to abduct our kids! All of them were asleep before any of our children. All of them are sweet old granny and grampies. Good sorts to travel with.
And speaking of fast (well, I was ten minutes ago)…..as I took off on one ferry with ER2 this morning, Dad and the eldest four children sailed away on another, all of us heading for HK Island, but two different terminals.
Their goal was to scale the heights of one of the most recent tallest buildings in HK. And that they did – all the way to the fifty-fifth (of eighty-eight) floor. That is one long way up! And these pics are one long way down:
If there had been an earthquake, they’d have been fine. Apparently (though I wouldn’t want to try it out) it is built with all sorts of anti-earthquake technologies, one of which is a huge concrete oil-dampened ball sitting at the top of the building. Basically, in the event of an earthquake, this huge mass dampens the motion of the building, preventing it from shaking apart. Someone did some experiment with a golf club shaft wobbling – with nothing on top the shaft wobbled wildly when shaken, with a dampened golf ball at the end of the shaft it didn’t shake as much. So why not use it on top of a really really tall building?! Not sure you’d catch me entrusting my life to a golf ball experiment. But there was no threat of earthquake today and up they went. 55 floors in 40 seconds. Pretty impressive.
At the top were predictably awesome views, and also a comprehensive display of the counterfeit measures in the bank notes of Hong Kong. Now this might not sound all too captivating, but it’s what they came home raving about! So there you have it.
In the meantime, I shot up an only-53-storey building, and in doing so, came away with the speed record. 46 floors in 15 seconds. Fast.
And now we are chugging along at 130km/hr. To China.
I was just about to sign off, when along came the train stewards, and guess what they did. No, you’ll never guess. But remember I told you how polite and thoughtful they are? They are going along each compartment, yes even our cheap seats, and arranging the shoes at the doorway, so that if anyone has to get up to visit the toilet in the night, they’ll have no trouble finding their shoes (at least I think that’s why they’re doing it). How’s that for thoughtful? Oh, you cynical ones might say it’s all part of the service, but we ain’t seen service like that on any train we’ve been on so far!
And if all our shoes have been stolen in the morning I’ll agree with you that they were just helping the Shoe Burglars make a clean getaway.
(with all the shoes lined up, I’m guessing the lights are soon to be dimmed)