Usually when you wake up with a hangover, the ceiling starts to spin. When Jo and I awoke Saturday morning in Hong Kong, the whole house was moving. Yes, we were still docked to the marina and still bound to Hong Kong for another five days.
We were in no particular rush to meet the day with a full head of steam and instead treaded water with a full cup of tea. Macca had arranged to meet up with some friends of his on the other side of Lantau Island where we would spend the day relaxing (which is what we do best) on a beach near Tung Chung. Tung Chung was busier and by the look of the teeming shopping mall, more populated than Discovery Bay but it seemed to suffer from a suspicious lack of taxi drivers. When one did eventually pull up, we had to fend it off from locals who, despite their contentedness to embrace western culture, clearly couldn’t quite grasp the British invention of ‘queuing’.
A 10 minute drive later that, because of the winding mountain passes, resembled the motion of a white-knuckle ride, we arrived beachside where we wasted the day eating, sitting, Frisbee-ing and avoiding the attentions of the local nut (who later tried to make friends with a roaming bull). For the three of us though, there was absolutely no drinking. Later that evening we were treated to some fine Chinese eating. The fried rice dish was nice but special mention must go to the char siu pork which was cooked and marinated to perfection.
Our next day was chock full of sports; water, field and culinary (you’ll see what I mean by ‘culinary’ sport). Ian had kindly offered to take us out on the power boat on Sunday where we could try our hands at water sports or as it may more appropriately be known as: being dragged through the water at high speed-sports. Macca took to the wake first and was effortlessly raised from floating-squat position to standing in a matter of seconds. Ian then attached the wake board and similarly stood and took the wake with ease. My efforts were not so graceful.
Above: the crouch before the stand
I had tried to take in the advice of our hosts; I had tried to think too hard and I had tried not to think too much at all, but despite many attempts, I just could not awake to boarding. The omens were there from the start, and I should have heeded the warning when instead of letting go of the handle once my feet were taken from under me, I held on and promptly snapped the rope that kept it anchored to the boat.
Jo, on the other hand, took to wake boarding like a fish to water (just not out of water) taking only two tries to get herself stood up on the wake. Sure, she may not have lasted too long stood up. As the excitement and thrill of successfully getting up so quickly took over, she let go of the handle and plunged into the water.
Skiing was more my sport and it only took me a few goes to get into a crouched position and just one or two face-to-water collisions later, I was stood up. Granted, I may have looked much the same as Bambi may look if the Disney deer was to try water-skiing; but for me it was a success.
Above: Trying to keep them’s legs steady!
Sunday night we wound down from our exertions with a bit of final-day Premier League football (the field sport) but before we took our seats we engaged in the culinary sport of trying to eat the biggest pizza I have ever seen. There is no graceful way to eat a 24” pizza and I’m happy to state that I have no incriminating evidence to prove this so. The logistics of holding a camera and eating it at the same time would be far beyond human comprehension.
We enjoyed the last minute drama of Manchester City clinching the title from their city rivals, but what was more entertaining was the hard core Chinese chap sitting front row (before a giant screen) in his red-devil Manchester United shirt screaming with joy when his team scored and goading the Man City fans in the bar when QPR took an unexpected lead. I’d love to come back next year to see him in his Manchester City shirt taunting the United fans.
The following day was a work day, but Macca had the foresight to take it off so instead of following him to work we followed him to Ocean Park: a theme park on the other side of Hong Kong Island where visitors can enjoy an extensive aquarium, see live pandas, and ride rollercoasters and flumes, among the other various and often tacky typical theme park attractions.
The cable car from the bottom of the park to the peak where the rides and rollercoasters were gave us an awe-inspiring view of the coastal areas and out towards the sea’s great beyond. There was a new ride in town which we were all keen to sample and it turned out to be one of the better rides I’ve been on: think, Nemesis at Alton Towers but not quite as good, or Rita but without the novelty of a really fast start.
We both really enjoyed the park and it certainly made us feel more at home as there was nothing of this sort to entertain us anywhere else in Asia. Not that we would usually spend our money on this type of attraction, but whilst we were viewing our stay in Hong Kong as somewhat of a vacation from our holiday, we thought we may as well have fun. It was no Alton Towers though; there was actually sunshine at this theme park and probably a bit too much of it in all honesty. After the effort it took to walk zombified through and around a theme park all day at near 40 degree temperatures, an evening meal of Chinese noodles and beef was my just reward.
Tuesday followed sleep and what a sleep it was. Whilst Macca was forced to return to that place where you have to do stuff for money, Jo and I took our sweet time rising from our slumber. I keep saying that this was a sort of ‘mini-holiday’ or break from our travelling but we had been fairly non-stop for most of our time here, so we took the opportunity to put sight-seeing and day-doing to one side while we armed ourselves with a brew, read our books and updated our blogs.
I found a tranquil reading spot on the boat up on the top deck which looked out to the marina and the shadowing, green mountains behind it. It was approaching dawn and the sky was beginning to change colour in that wonderful way at that particular time. I found myself truly happy as I put down my book and clicked away with my hipstamatic camera app on my iPod touch, as the sound of the waves lapping peacefully against the boat provided the perfect soundtrack to this stunning scene.
It was amazing how quickly our final day in Hong Kong had come around, but whilst we agreed our week had flown by it felt as though the seven days had been 70 days and that we had been here for a lot longer than we had. It felt as though we had done much and we had in fact managed to pack every day except Tuesday with some excitement or thrill. But I suppose it is always the way that your action-packed weeks or weekends seem to come to an end: far too quickly.
Our flight back to Bangkok was scheduled for late Wednesday evening so we had one more day before our visit officially ended. Rather than get up early and try and cram a weeks’ worth of attractions into 12 hours- as we have done so many times on our Asian adventure- we decided to continue in the form that we had mostly enjoyed whilst on the trip: a lie in and a cuppa. We ferried over to Central early afternoon and managed to find the world’s longest escalator system that takes you from Queens Street near the pier up towards Soho and beyond up the steep hillside. The escalator was installed in the 1990’s to aid the poor sods who had to walk to and from work every day, up and down Hong Kong Island’s hilly terrain. Also, it makes for a half-decent attraction in its own right: Brucie.
We wandered about Soho, took the Star Ferry over to Kowloon, hunted down a few museums which just so happened to be free on this glorious Wednesday and took the MTR (metro) a few stations to try and find the Jade market further down Nathan Road. We might not have hit all the attractions in Hong Kong but, let’s be honest, who manages to do everything. We were happy with our lot and we were often content enough to just walk about, enjoying whichever landscape happened to surround us at the time: skyscraper, mountain or ocean (or more often than not, all three at once).
An ‘emotional’ farewell, two dinners (we ate out not knowing that Kathy- Mac’s mum- had cooked) and a late sprint to our gate at the airport (yes we very nearly missed our flight playing the Logos Game) and we were 30,000 miles high and bound for Bangkok.
I won’t say much about Bangkok even though we spent six nights in the Thai capital. It was more of a ‘purgatory’ type visit, where we simply waited for Tuesday 22nd May when we would take flight for the other side of the world. We tried to fill a few days with attractions and sights but we were happy to read, write and watch episodes of True Blood for most of the time, especially as we had found a wonderful hostel just off Silom Road where we felt comfortable with other travellers (maybe it was their breakfasts of cold milk, cereal and croissants with jam and butter).
We did visit a weekend market, had a caricature done (the likeness…uncanny…), watched The Avengers at a futuristic cinema, did another river cruise to see the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, ate a lot of Pad Thai and made a lot of Pad Thai thanks to a fantastic cooking class we took on our second to last day. I think I speak for Jo too when I say that Thai was certainly the Asian cuisine that most titillated our taste-buds.
And that pretty much brings us up to speed; something I’ve not been able to say much on this trip. We are currently 33,000 feet in the air on a Boeing 777 heading for Sydney. The plane is no more than half full so we have more than enough space to our sides, in front and behind us giving us a great deal of confidence about our chances of getting some rest as we fly through the night. The only difficulty before us is deciding which film to watch first on our in-flight entertainment. Bonza!
Top image: After what- in the end- felt like a weeks imprisonment in Bangkok, we finally leave Asia after three months. What’s the first thing we see…7/11. Not only that, but the first person to encounter us having collected our baggage at the airport, was a Thai guy trying to sell us something. Seriously thought we’d simply circled Bangkok airport for a bit before landing.
Bottom image: Here’s the shot you were all expecting; nothing novel about this photo. Sun plus Bridge plus Opera House. The sun is misleading. Whilst it was bright, the harbour wind made sure it was anything but warm (taken from the Botanical Gardens).
I signed off my last post with a surety that, because of a less-than-half full plane, we would get plenty of rest on our overnight journey. Of course, I forgot to mention that we had at that moment flown into Opposite Territory or as you may know it: the southern hemisphere. In this upside down world everything is topsy-turvy. Men are women, dogs are really cats and the finned and gilled creatures of our oceans swarm high among the clouds where only birds should intend to sail. Also, it means that anything you predict will not come to fruition. If you hadn’t worked it out already, we didn’t get any sleep on the plane.
Not that it was that much of a problem. We had a plethora of books, films, and music to keep us entertained for the nine hour flight. Anyway, it meant that there was no chance of us missing the sunrise which was quite possibly one of the most beautiful, natural occurrences I have ever witnessed. At first we thought we could spy a mountain in the distance, which up close may have been vast and bold but to our eyes was a mere spec. However this turned out to be a collection of clouds close to the horizon where the suns eager rays burst through, illuminating the clouds in bright orange and giving its bumpy rims a silver highlight.
We landed in Sydney’s airport around 7am local time having left Bangkok at 7pm south-east Asia time. We may have lost three hours but feelings of jet-lag were either yet to arrive or were not arriving at all and we felt fairly awake as we dawdled through immigration, throwing away sachets of sugar at the last minute, scared that we might be denied access to the country for bringing in foreign and harmful granules. By declaring various things like, tea-bags and medication we thought it best to be safe than sorry having heard how strict customs can be. However anyone actually wishing to smuggle in contraband need only declare everything before immigration as the officer who checked our documents could clearly not be bothered searching through two back-packs. After a 10 second interrogation of what was inside our packs, he waved us through, content that we were not smugglers of illegal or hazardous goods.
I spoke in my last post of how ready we were to finally leave Asia, and all its illogical customs for which there often seemed no explanation. So of course we were delighted to land in the country of our ancestral cousins- where they speak like us and the only barrier worth worrying about is the Great Barrier Reef- to find two Asian guys handing out leaflets in an attempt to sell us something. Walking from Central train station to the YHA we encountered the Asian flagship of convenience stores: the 7/11, and we seriously wondered if we hadn’t simply taken off back in Bangkok, circled the airport and landed back where we started.
But you need only look about you, at the high rise offices interspersed with European style architectural buildings hundreds of years old, for confirmation that the days of hearing “Thai massaaaaaage?” on every corner were firmly behind you.
This was Jo’s second time visiting Sydney, but I had an instant sense of amazement simply walking across the road to the ATM machine. Growing up, Australia was always one of those places in the world that seemed an entire world away. As I grew a little older, I realised it was in fact only half a world away, but I almost resigned myself to the admission that I would never see it in person. It was strange then, that things looked very familiar, yet glimmered with a different accent and it was the combination of the known and unknown that intrigued me. I instantly wanted to set about exploring the city, agonisingly watching the morning herds of city-folk walking past the window. All I could do was sip my tea and wait to check in to our room.
First thing was first though: I had a special package to collect. It was being sent from home; it was brand new; it was a few inches long but could take you a long way and I had been missing its usefulness since our journey from Koh Phangan to Chiang Mai. Guessed what it is yet? Yes, it was my new credit card, and we had a lot of making up to do. Luckily the route to the post office took in a spectacular stretch of downtown Sydney and I gawped endlessly with my head craned skywards at the countless buildings of fine architectural brilliance, admiring their incredulous attention to detail. This is a past time I have often afforded myself in Liverpool, taking the historic route through Castle Street and Dale Street until my neck can no longer take it and in this way, I felt instantly at home.
With the package secure, we continued to wander the busy city streets and found ourselves at Darling Harbour where we admired the city skyline in the late evening sun to the subtle sounds of the lapping water. We let the sun go out and watched the skyline light up; each building twinkling in its turn, nudging its neighbour in an uncoordinated Mexican-wave. We finished the night with $6 pizza, which having spent an afternoon snorting at the price of various city eateries, gave us much satisfaction. Also, it was a very tasty and very homemade pizza which only makes us feel even better for bagging a bonza bargain (sorry, last time I use that word).
Our second day in Sydney was significant for its flood of rain. It rained all morning and showed no sign of stopping into the afternoon but we were determined to make something of the day. A free bus ran close to our hostel which performed a circular route in both directions around the city centre, so we hopped on and hopped off near to the Australia Museum. The museum didn’t turn out to be the same museum I thought we were visiting. Michael had told us about a museum in Sydney that was full of technology, gadgets and games but this was a museum devoted to natural and Australian history.
Londoners and proud Brits, you can rest assured, it wasn’t quite on the same level as Bighty’s Natural History Museum but it wasn’t far off. It did however, have a member of staff dressed up in a convincing, 10 ft. dinosaur costume complete with voice changing microphone which imitated the presumed groans and grunts of whichever species they were trying to imitate. It served to scare- in an amusing and fun way- the younger children but also the older and more oriental visitor as a petrified little Japanese pensioner clung to my arm in sheer terror at the sight of it coming close. Now, I’ve not concocted her reaction as a cheap, comic ploy to entertain readers, but I am certain that as she moved closer to me she breathed a horrified whisper: “Godzilla!?”
To our relief, the man in the dino-costume did not escape the confines of the museum and partake in a city-wide, destructive rampage and we stepped out to find that Sydney was still going about its Thursday business. It had also stopped raining, so we took another opportunity to immerse ourselves in the city before we lost the light.
The following day took us to the Powerhouse Museum which was the one we had intended to go to the day before. It wasn’t quite as engaging as we’d hoped, at least not all of it and we did pay a little extra to visit the Chronicles of Narnia exhibition which housed numerous props and items from wardrobe that befitted the big screen adaptations of C.S Lewis’ books. We got to launch a (modified) catapult that had been used in one of the film’s battle sequences and we also geeked-out on a slightly ripped-off version of Space Invaders and Donkey Kong.
Refreshed with a brew, we braved the harsh winds blasting in from the sea to view the famous Sydney icons of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House which we admired from the green and pristine Botantical Gardens. I remarked to Jo that these images, these icons, are so familiar from their appearances in film, television, adverts, magazines, newspapers and the internet, sprouting up in childhood and revisiting you through adolescence and into your twenties that by the time you see them up close, they don’t quite appear as they should. It’s as if the pictures and sketches of the Opera House you made during a school project of Australia are the real icons, and that this is just the building.
We moved on to the Rocks which gives tourists a close up of Sydney’s colonial past in its aging buildings. It’s hard to remember at times, given the historic architecture, that Sydney is just a babe in the arms of its adoring mother compared to the Granddaddy’s of Europe: London, Paris, Rome and the like. They stand shoulder to shoulder now, which means Sydney deserves credit for how quickly the city has risen in global, business and economic terms. Sydney truly is a world-class place to be and we felt we had only pinched a thumb-and-forefinger-ful of what the city had to offer. Far from being sad that we did not get the chance to see it all, it makes me happy to know that I’ll certainly be coming back here in the future. Who knows, in a few more years, it might only be three-quarters of the world away.
An “Entry from the Jotter” is a post that’s been directly lifted, and then possibly edited after, from my handwritten scribblings. It allows me to document the “then and there” of certain experiences and re-tell them to you with as little hindsight as possible.
Travelling certainly brings you closer to people, not least because you tend to be sat next to someone for the majority of your journey. Like most sickening clichés, this statement is grounded in a perpetual truth, and as long as perpetual truths are to be trusted- I personally regard them with a certain degree of mistrust, but I implore you dear reader to draw your own conclusion- then Jo and I are currently sitting side-by-side, having done so for over 3 months.
Not continuously, of course. That would be difficult if not plain weird. We have been continuously sat next to each other for the past two hours and eight minutes if an exact update is what you had in mind. Not that I believe you to be coming here expecting a minute-by-minute update on our trip. For one, unless you’re a student you don’t have the time and fortunately I’m not as fast a typist as those people sat in courtrooms attempting to put to paper every word uttered. If I was, you’d have logged off a long time ago, either through boredom or in search of a blog with more action. Jo is listening to her iPod. Now she is changing song… No, I don’t think it’s going to work.
Let us re-align ourselves then. We have reached the half-way point in our journey, both chronologically and geographically speaking and half-way points are often ideal opportunities for reflection and evaluation (see half-time team talks, half-term reports, and half-way-through-the-film intervals in your So You’ve Decided to Move to Earth: An Alien Guide to Survival and Habitation books for examples).
Our journey so far has taken us through seven countries, two continents, four time-zones, had us board countless buses, six planes and varying trains that have transported us above ground, over ground and underground. At present, a bus is G-forcing us from Sydney to Melbourne in a 12 hour overnight slog. My mind has not yet decided whether I will sleep for any of its duration- I’m not hopeful- however it has deemed now to be an ideal time to write something that may possibly pass as something interesting.
To my peril, I’d recently dismissed the possibility that we might find ourselves on another long-haul bus journey and whilst I make no attempt to disguise my increased and inflated disgust for this particular method of transport, it does offer the necessary and vital thinking time for the pretentious writer type (yep, I know a word). Buses became our typical mode of transport in Asia and we suffered them with an ever-increasing sneer; the mere sight of one enough to make us pull that defeated expression where one side of your upper lip is suddenly caught and raised up by a stray fishing hook.
But I was naïve enough to forget that the most convenient and cost effective method of eventually discovering New Zealand was by bus. I guess I had dismissed the seven weeks of hopping on and hopping off on the two islands because of its relatively small size. The 410 from New Brighton to Birkenhead Bus Station is a fart; the National Express from Liverpool to London is a tremor; but a 24 hour sleeper from Vientiane to Hanoi is a quake of global destruction, and I’d be wake boarding in the fiery depths of hell before I embarked on another such route (see facebook for my unsuccessful attempts at water-sports).
Whilst it’s not quite as high on the Richter scale as the Vientiane-Hanoi route, a 12 hour bus from Sydney to Melbourne is certainly enough to write home about in my blog. We toyed with the idea of flying (ah, that wonderful, gravity defying invention) instead, the initial cost of which would have been cheaper than our two bus singles to and from Melbourne. However the logistics and extra cost of getting to and from both airports made the bus a more sensible option (sensible being another word for uncomfortable).
Our journey south follows a sort of weekend retreat in the mountains: the Blue Mountains to be specific. After a few days of crawling beneath and between Sydney’s high and handsome towers and taken enough photos of the city skyline to make the old girl blush, we took a train inland to the small town of Katoomba, one of many charming hillside towns nestled in the mountains. The train journey was a short two hours and it felt great to be so close to the natural phenomenon (as if we were long term city residents retiring to the country for a dose of awe-inspiring beauty).
The town had a similar air of familiarity to the Sydney I described in my last post and we felt instantly at ease with the place. The residential houses are without a first floor and the road signs are predominantly yellow adorned with strange, long tailed creatures, yet we could not help but feel like we’d been here before. Perhaps the combination of small country-town visits to the Lake District and parts of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire, and the cold winter snap in the air was enough to convince us we were back home. The extra decline in degrees in the mountains certainly gave the place a British chill, as we donned our coats and layered up for winter walking.
Katoomba offers the best free or cost effective walks and sight-seeing in the Blue Mountain range and we enjoyed the famous Three Sisters rock formation as well as the Giant Steps and rollercoaster-like ride on the world’s steepest railway. Whilst the railway and the cable car back up the mountain side cost $21, the constant view of the blue hued mountain ranges were free to take in. After three days of walking that took us to the neighbouring towns of Leura and Wentworth, I am officially adding an activity to the list of Things I Will Take Up When I Return Home (Only to Subsequently Fail to Take Up When I Get Home): hiking (already on that list: kayaking, water skiing and wakeboarding).
When we returned to Sydney last night, the difference in temperature was stark and we took advantage of the surprisingly good weather with a ferry trip to Manly where we spent the afternoon. I think it was the cold of the mountains more than anything that had made us think more of home, and as a consequence has put us in contemplative mood regarding the trip. Leaving Asia for a new continent and in fact swapping hemispheres has highlighted the fact that we are half-way through our trip.
Before that half-way mark, you are eagerly looking forward: everything is before you, with your final destination a distant and imaginary finishing post. But suddenly, with the realisation that you have just under three months of a five and a half month truant left, the finishing post is beginning to come into view on the horizon. It’s only very small, barely visible, but it’s getting bigger by the day and the adventures through alien, oriental cities and countryside that you spent so long preparing for are distant specs over your shoulder.
Jo is now sleeping on my shoulder. Jo is pretending to sleep on my shoulder. No, it’s definitely not going to catch on. I don’t know if it has been apparent from my writing over the past three months and more recently, over the past one thousand two hundred and thirty one words, but the “I” that spews forth its thoughts and memories from this page can more often than not represent the two of us: both boy Joe and girl Jo. And that’s ultimately what I meant in the first paragraph about travelling bringing people together.
We can’t help but share everything: food, drink, toothpaste, thoughts, memories, shoulders. We discuss what we want to do, what we want to see from one place to the next; talk about what’s worrying us, what’s exciting us and we share the experiences that have been by recounting them in jokes and stories. I’m sure everyone has had that feeling of emptiness that weighs down the stomach, when you see a holiday, a weekend or a day out with friends come to an end. You try and crystallise the days and nights, and the things you have done together because you’re desperate for them to continue. For the two of us, this journey across the world has had many crystallising moments and when we look back on our trip so far and count how many gems we’ve collected and how many were yet to collect, then I, sorry, we feel closer than ever.