Archive | May, 2011

Beijing or bust….

31 May

So, after the tranquillity of the zoo, it’s time to get on the train again. Now, I’m actually a day late travelling to Beijing, simply because I couldn’t get a seat on the overnight train. And I can’t imagine a 12 hour overnight train trip standing up. It’s not going to be comfy, though – it’s back on the non reclining really hard seats.

I’ve been in a Tokyo rush hour… and it’s tame compared to the chaos on this train. It’s impossible to move against the flow of massed humanity that is a Chinese train boarding. Once we have people seated… then the rest of the rank and file find a space on the floor – on little folding seats, on the sink, on the waste bins, anywhere that you can find a little space. Now, I don’t take up much space now.. and the Chinese, as a nation, are fairly compact too. So why, why, why, have I ended up on a seat next to the Chinese equivalent of Jonah Lomu?

(By the way, sorry about the lack of pictures… I left my camera in my bag and I would have been crawling over the denizens of the carriage to get to it)

So, an interrupted night’s sleep, falling asleep to the sounds of Peter Gabriel (I’m using my MP3 player on ‘Album of the Day’ setting – although it gets confused when getting to ‘Have a Nice Day’ and crushes Bon Jovi and Roxette together in a confusion of a Swedish ‘Blondie meets Joni Mitchell’ and good old New Jersey blue collar rock and roll. I wake, reluctantly, but with a sore neck and even more uncomfortably numb backside, to the train soaring through a flat landscape with the occasional mountain rising in the distance, barely visible through the smog. We coast through the spectral beginnings of a new railway station, past a skyscraper farm (they build them a dozen at a time out here).

The track runs for ages past an immense yet spookily empty cemetery with piles of earth with cairns on top, wrapped in red ribbon. There are the now familiar regimented rice fields and flat pack construction villages, tidy orchards stretching from horizon to horizon. Eventually my MP3 player runs out of battery… and then we turn up in Beijing… the exit from the train is as crazy as getting on, so I simply wait until the chaos has faded.


Again, the metro makes it easy, and I find my hotel, ready to collapse…on the upside, things are going well for me – they have upgraded me from an 8 bed dorm to a five bed dorm, where I am in a two bed room on my own – which basically means I have my own room for $4 a night. Bargain….although I am not sure how to deal with the instructions on the wall….



I’ll think about those tomorrow….zzzzzzzzzzzzz



30 May

So, where was I? Ah, yes, Shanghai – and I had forgotten to tell you about the museum.

So, I did decide to go to the museum – they said it was good – and it’s free!

Shanghai Museum (2)Shanghai Park (2)

It’s a really odd building – modern outside but really quite traditional inside. I don’t usually ‘do’ museums (apart from the ones where you can play with stuff) but this one was fascinating – it’s open and light, and really well laid out inside. I was sad that the calligraphy section was closed (I love Chinese calligraphy) but there were some real joys to be found…

The history of Chinese seals (you always get one of these on a piece of Chinese art, and they are essential to the bureaucracy – as we will find in a later post)

Shanghai Museum (4)Shanghai Museum (5)

Beautiful jade pieces….

Shanghai Museum (9)Shanghai Museum (10)

Some wonderful dragons….

Shanghai Museum (19)

Interesting furniture….

Shanghai Museum (7)Shanghai Museum (8)

Some fabulous clothes from around China’s ethnic minorities….

Shanghai Museum (17)Shanghai Museum (18)

I did find one guy going from cabinet to cabinet photographing EVERYTHING…I don’t want to get invited back for his holiday snapshots photo evening..

There’s a collection of Chinese coins – although once you’ve seen the first few round coins with a square hole in the middle, it stops being quite so interesting.. although there are some early shells, and the axe shaped coins that they used to use (which probably made a real mess of your trouser pockets)

And this random collection of beautiful things…

Shanghai Museum (14)Shanghai Museum (24)

and some things that are not so beautiful

Shanghai Museum (21)

And here are some pictures from the main shopping street….

Shanghai Nanjing Rd (3)Shanghai Nanjing Rd (4)

Now, I think to myself….while I am in Shanghai, I might as well go to the zoo…they have pandas!

The zoo is great – of course, one of the great joys is watching the Chinese people at play… I saw a handful of Western faces and that’s all. It’s a huge open space too, so everyone’s having a really chilled time for around $4 entry. The Chinese don’t seem to understand the concept of ‘no feeding’ or ‘no banging on the glass’ though.

Lots of space means the animals get lots of space too, which is nice.

Of course, the huge draw is the group of pandas here. They have red pandas scurrying round – very inquisitive creatures…and cute! I think these are now my favourite animals ever!


and there are five Great Pandas too – for Expo 2010 ten pandas joined the zoo – and three of them stayed behind. So, panda facts – there are about 1600 of them in the wild in China, consuming around 15kg of bamboo per day. And they are near sighted…I kept exploring and I kept finding more pandas.

So we had pandas eating, pandas sleeping, and pandas wandering round…


Fabulous to be so close to these creatures. I’ve loved pandas for ages – my first cuddly toy was a panda called (creatively) Panda, who I still have – and for my 21st birthday my brother bought me a 4’ tall cuddly panda… I nearly gave him away when I left for this trip, but between my son and I we just couldn’t do it.

What else did we have.. bears, tigers, pumas, a really cool group of giraffes…. giant turtles and bonkers birds…


we had lions being cuddly and sociable…


…peacocks showing off… and an orang utan who was just plain chilled out..


I had very very tired legs at the end of it – but I did have a fabulous fabulous day!

Passport to Adventure

29 May

(it’s surprising what movie titles you can find when armed with access to IMDB – we could have had ‘The Yellow Passport’ from 1931 (appropriate, considering the colour of an ETD), or ‘A Passport to Hell’ (1932) (perhaps a bit defeatist), or even ‘Passport to China’ (1961), Passport to Rio (tricky with my flights) or 1922’s ‘The Missing Passport’)


So, no show from the mysterious (and really annoying) Jin. His phone is out of service now. So, armed with 1045 Yuan, I make my appearance at the British Embassy, where the really helpful Tania sorts out what looks like a play passport with my itinerary typed into it. I suspect she has provided as much leeway as possible for the arrangements, but I have to follow this pretty closely. At least I can get moving again. The next challenge is getting a train seat. Friday night there are no seats, and the prospect of an 11hour train ride without a seat horrifies even me… so I go for a really uncomfortable seat on the Saturday trip to Beijing. A bit late, but I think if I move fast I can do all I want.

So, what else is to be told about Shanghai. If it weren’t for pickpockets, I really like the city. Some of it looks like it was built by an unimaginative child with his first Lego set – but other buildings look like they were created by Pablo Picasso overdosed on acid and caffeine.


The walk by the river on the Bund is magnificent, although it’s even more fun watching the crowds with their cameras taking joke pictures holding up the pearl of the Orient tower (a radio mast). The buildings on the embankment (well, actually the river is higher than the street now) are like a history lesson – the original British Embassy, with allegedly the longest bar in the world, the Peace Hotel, buildings created with the express instruction to be taller than the one next door, the home of the Gang of Four, an odd signal tower…

On the way back from the entry-exit bureau I take a trip through the new Pudong area, the skyscrapers that you can see from the’s a green city full of trees and space – every now and again there’s a little garden for workers to relax in, wonderfully designed with water features and enclosed away from the roads. It’s just as well, because it’s crazy busy. People seem to move in waves of humanity. I feel like Neo in ‘The Matrix’ but without the woman in red. No, sorry, there she is. No-one waits for people to exit elevators or tube cars either.. it’s all barge and shove.


And still I get people engaging me in ‘copy watch, bag, iphone, ipod, memory card, massage, lady massage….’ – whereas elsewhere in Asia they just call out as you pass, here they leap out from behind buildings, fall in step with you and follow you up the street… a couple of them are getting wise to the cheerful Englishman who’s ‘quite happy just walking’. The seller of strap on skate attachments for shoes (like primitive heelies – did these come first?) ignores me now. But just how do Europeans survive if they live here? Do they just become immune to it all?  I ask a couple of touts if I there’s a secret to shutting them up. Apparently not.

I wander round some of the old town – tragically they are mostly converted to souvenir shops piled high with copies of Mao’s little red book.


And then I find my way to the oasis that is the Yuyuan garden. This is a 14th century Chinese garden in the middle of the city, a hamster maze of little buildings, pagodas and towers in amongst piled up rocks, carp ponds and bridges and surrounded by acers and ginko trees. There are gorgeous carvings and little tableaux on the roofs – just a wonderful and magical place even if it does seem to be full of businessmen looking to see something of Shanghai after work.


No apologies for the numbers of pictures of the gardens – I really loved this little tucked away place – I felt completely at peace, very much complete and whole. But if does occur to me that I should apologize to my mother for my grammar (a schoolteacher – what can I say?). Starting sentences with ‘but’ or ‘and’. Or ‘starting’ if it comes to that. Although I do try to keep my apostrophes under control. Sorry, Mum.

And then the Bund at night – another visual skyline shock of lights and tourists. The Pudong skyline is lit up, while the tour boats compete with each other – and with the buildings – for garishness… there must be 30 or 40 boats in procession up and down the river, each one lit with a million lightbulbs.


Now, this blog has got badly out of control in terms of time order (I may be losing the plot)… but I think I will talk about the museum another day. Oh… and Timmy’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow…..

The China Syndrome: The adventure continues

26 May

I’ve just discovered they sell mango Cornetto in China. Mango! For 40c! Thank heavens I am leaving. They didn’t have THOSE in the UK when I left. (Did you know I used to design equipment for testing Cornetto cones for crunchiness?


So, shall we continue the story of the passport? Last night I travelled halfway across town to meet my mysterious benefactor, Jin. Unfortunately, Jin remained mysterious and did not show.. and neither did he answer his phone at all today. I went back again tonight, but sadly it seems he may just have been delaying me cancelling my passport.. he managed to buy an extra couple of days, I guess.

Or I may simply be being uncharitable. Did he lose the phone? Did he have an accident or a family crisis?

I guess I will never know – although my emotions have been all over the place today. To my shame, a tout on the street went too far and got an unexpectedly furious backlash. So, a visit to the British Embassy to get my emergency travel documents. Then I will go to Beijing, simply to get moving again. Then a visit to the entry and exit department in Beijing to get (believe it or not) my FOURTH Chinese visa. I need to make that happen quickly, but should be OK. Meanwhile, I will do all those things you’re supposed to do in Beijing.. I had thought about dropping in in Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors, but I think that’s now ruled out. Then Tibet.. Nepal.. and India. India poses its own problems. I will need to get my Indian visa in Kathmandu..but India will only recognise the ETD once (i.e. on entering the country) so I will need another ETD to leave India. You couldn’t make this up. The alternative is to simply blow raspberries at India, and fly from Kathmandu to Mumbai and home.

So, where does that leave me? Well, still choosing Who I Am in response to this. It’s not been easy – trying to think through thoughts of forgiveness and harmony rather than anger and frustration –or despair and sadness. So I am going to carry on choosing..To remain . .

Calm. Joyful. Resourceful. Bold. Positive. Full of faith. Peaceful. Expectant. Excited. Determined. Flexible. In the flow. Accepting of myself. Forgiving. 

Beijing here I come . . . .

Shanghaied in Shanghai

25 May

And so this is where it all goes badly wrong. Having fought off the street vendors trying to take me to the market, to sell me copy watches and handbags, to take me to massage parlours, and all manner of other invitations, I realise that somewhere, I have had my pocket picked. My wallet is intact, fortunately…. but in a dramatic moment of deja vu… I have lost my passport. Again.

So, here’s how it goes over here. I go to the police station just round the corner, who get rid of you as quickly as possible. I then go half way across town to the British Embassy. I then go back to my hotel to get a copy of the residency report, and go across to the other side of town to the Entry – Exit bureau. Apparently, I can pick up documents from them on Wednesday, and then go to my embassy on Thursday for Emergency Travel Documents (no messing around waiting weeks for a replacement passport this time). Which means I might be back on schedule, if a little bit pissed off.

So, what am I thinking now…. well, fortunately, I am still smiling. Eventually. I’m going to be honest with you – I really did find myself plunged into moments of despair. First of all, just sheer anger at whoever took my passport (and partly the futility of it – what are they actually going to DO with it now they’ve got it). But I can’t hold anger against someone for very long – that’s just not who I am.

And I’d like to share some of my thinking with you, if that’s OK. Because it’s part of this adventure….

So that anger morphs into a real fury against the person who seems to be the real culprit here – me. Why didn’t I take more care of my passport this time (well, it was in a zipped and secured (I thought) pocket?

Yet as Epictetus put it “Whenever any chance befalls you, remember to ask yourself how you can put it to use”. And I remind myself, as one of my new programmes will put it “You’re not broken”. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ here – there’s just what is (as my youngest son put it when he was quite small (but quite wise) “There’s no such thing as a mistake. There’s just what’s happened”.

So the question is, perhaps, what is there to learn here? Is there a message for me in all this? I go through all sorts of possibilities. Is it about my identity? Is it about making a new start? Is my subconscious desperate to go home?  Do I need to slow down? Am I wanting to create more excitement in my life?

I’m confused, I guess – I have a belief that everything that happens is an opportunity to learn and to grow – and I also know that at a fundamental level we create everything that happens to us. So why did I create this… again? Am I being too dim to listen?

I think there is something about this journey being part of Jung’s ‘Heroes Journey’ – that part of the journey that I am on is about transformation, about leaving one thing behind and becoming another. Perhaps that really needs to ‘stick’. I’m not who I was… I’ve become truer to the real truth about me.. as they put it in Thailand (on a thousand tourist T-Shirts) “Same Same – But Different”.

It can’t be a co-incidence that two of my heroes post insights on Facebook: Neale Donald Walsch reminds me “Right now, in this moment, your soul has again created opportunity for you to be, do and have what it takes to know Who You Really Are. What will you do now? Your soul waits, and watches with interest, as it has many times before.” And Marianne Williamson chimes in with “Every situation is a lesson in how to respond to life more perfectly”

So there it is, clearly. In the end, the question is: “how I will use this experience to define Who I Am more clearly?”

So here’s what I am choosing to be: Calm. Joyful. Resourceful. Bold. Positive/ Full of faith. Peaceful. Expectant. Excited. Determined. Flexible. In the flow. Accepting of myself.

And so, as the wizard that I know I am (and as I know we all truly are) – I can bring something hugely positive out of this experience. Because I know that in my life, magic keeps on happening – even when it doesn’t look like it. So I find myself asking myself, in the maelstrom of craziness and confusion that’s all around… “just who do you want to be in the face of all this ‘stuff’? Just how do you want to create an amazing and positive experience out of everything that’s going on for you? What can you do to turn the chaos into something great?”

And, you know – I have a feeling that a lot of this is going to end up in one of my workshops, too….


But there’s a coda to this. When I got back to the hotel (from going BACK to the entry-exit bureau again) there was a message for ‘Tim Hodgson in room 601D’. Now, the ONLY way someone could have that information (apart from the hotel staff) is if they have my room key. And, therefore, my passport.

So, I have an appointment in McDonalds this evening to be reunited with my passport. Now that’s quite exciting…

Slow train to China

25 May

So, Shanghai. Got myself nicely through immigration departures and onto the train – they have several classes of sleeper train over here, the cheapest being ‘hard sleeper’ which is a padded bench, six berths to a cabin. I spent most of the time sitting on a little bench outside the cabin, watching the world go by and dreaming to myself, doing a little writing, listening to some teaching audios… Soft sleeper is just what it sounds like – softer – and if you go for a deluxe cabin you get arm chairs.


Still, you can get good food in the restaurant car for around $2.50 (that doesn’t happen in the UK!) and there’s hot water on tap to hydrate the ubiquitous noodles. I suspect the menu entry of ‘Crucian Crap’ may have been ‘Crucian Carp’ – and I was a little bit flummoxed by ‘Yellow Croaker’ until I got internet connection (another fish).

We rush past hordes of waiting commuters on the platform… past well organised smallholdings and miles of industrial zones… past what look like skyscraper farms, with giant cranes towering over clusters of half finished buildings.

Every now and again a little Chinese kid wanders past with his sister in tow, stares at me and tries another word in English. ‘Pen’. ‘Book’. He’s doing really well with parts of the body, and I haven’t got the heart to correct him when he gets to ‘feets’.

And then into Shanghai. There’s not as much English on the signs as there is in Hong Kong – but still enough to get round. It makes me glad I went to Nanning, as that showed me what China was really like out of the megacities.

Quick trip on the well designed metro, and into a hostel. I’m booked into a real Youth Hostel here, and it’s nice to have a bed with a window (even if the wind does howl round it in the night) and people to interact with! This is another ‘hostel in a highrise’ – but in this case it’s all stripped pine, light and airy with nice staff (but really slow internet). And in China EVERYONE lives in a high rise!

As usual, then, a walk to orientate myself – a walk by the river along the Bund, looking at another dramatic cityscape (even if one or two of the buildings are, well, silly). The Bund means ‘embankment on a muddy waterfront’ and is ‘the’ place to be on a Sunday afternoon. Or so it seems – everyone seems to be there. Certainly Chairman Mao is.


The city is crazy busy – but I do realise what I have been missing since leaving Vietnam… no horns. In Vietnam, the horn is used all the time in driving. In China, it’s used, as the Chinglish sign goes, to ‘tootle mellifluously’ as a warning.

I’m glad of my China guide on my Kindle – not only does it mean that I don’t look quite so obviously like a tourist, but the China guide is about 3cm thick and weighs a ton. On the other hand, it could come in quite handy for self defence – no-one’s going to get back up quickly after being hit by that.

And I am cold again for the first time since November in New Zealand. I’ve got trousers and a fleece on! And it’s raining! I feel completely at home.

So.. it’s shaping up nicely. Less than 50 days to go before I return to the UK. Tibet & Nepal are nicely lined up, and my plans to see Beijing look good.

And then disaster strikes. But that story will have to wait for another day…

Enter the Dragon

24 May

Walk round Kong Kong Park (1)

I’m still finding my digs very depressing (this isn’t them, this is the Bank of China building) – and very disorientating. My body clock is an hour behind Chinese time (there’s only one time zone in China, although the country spans five different geographic time zones). Since my room has no natural light, and is a way away from the street (in fact, I think it exists in a special dimension of space and time – which would explain why the elevator takes so long getting there). (Side note on the elevators. They are incredibly slow. And incredibly sensitive to excess weight, leading to some very entertaining acrobatics from the locals trying to get one more person in without tripping the overweight alarm). That said, the great thing about Chungking Mansions is that the ground floor is a rabbit warren of phone shops, laundries, clothes shops – and Indian messes (cafes). Which means you can get a really good Indian meal for about $8. Bet you can guess where I have been eating… although in an effort to escape my cell room I have been spending too much time in Starbucks.

Chungking Mansions (5)Chungking Mansions (2)

I no longer get hailed by tuk tuk drivers (simple reason – there are no tuk tuks) but people are waiting to pounce and offer ‘cheap guest house sir’, or ‘copy watches’ and of course ‘custom tailor’. Initially I got cross with how persistent they were, until I realised that it was just inertia that got them half way through their spiel before they could stop.

I’ve done a couple more mornings of Tai Chi – I am considering taking this up when I get back, or something similar… we were treated to a demonstration of Tai Chi as a true martial art on one morning – watching the instructor and his wife fight was a true joy, although I am not sure what life at home must be like. And very polite too – unlike Japanese martial arts, which is a case of ‘bow – then fight’ there is a whole preparatory set of movements before the fight commences – and another set of movements after it is over. You can see elements that got incorporated into Kung Fu and components of other martial arts, too. I’m loving his Chinglish, too – having gone through it three times with unexpected breaks half way through sentences when we would wait for a comma to pause – and loving his exhortations to maintain a ‘peacey mind’.

Tai Chi (7)Tai Chi (3)

While we’re on the subject of martial arts, the Avenue of Stars pays homage to the Hong Kong film industry, including its leading lights Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan (who seems to be found grinning from billboards all over the place.

Bruce Lee (2)

and a collection of pictures from Phillippe Raiment – all carefully created without digital effects to produce some spectacular – if odd – pictures.

Philippe Raimette (2)

The Avenue is also a great place to watch the Hong Kong light show – using the Hong Kong skyscrapers as a setting for lasers, spotlights and creative lighting of the buildings themselves. I watched this a couple of times – the second time with a new found friend from Canada, who was trying to find the Star Ferry terminal at the same time I was.

HK Skyline (11)HK Skyline (2)

And in an attempt to boost my ‘number of countries visited’ I spent an afternoon (!) in Macau, around an hour’s high speed ferry journey from Hong Kong. Now, purists might well argue that Hong Kong and Macau are both part of China. But since I have to pass immigration to get into both countries from China, then I’m calling them separate countries. The same goes for Tibet (although I feel I am on even firmer ground there). And especially since leaving China for Hong Kong cost me $80 to get another visa to get back in – you BET I am counting these as separate countries.

So. Four hours in Macau. What can you do in that time? Well, as it happens, you can catch some ancient Chinese history, go gambling, go shopping in some luxury stores, watch a couple of free shows, enjoy some Portuguese history, and get some exercise.

So let’s see how that all works out…

Macau (12)

Macau is Asia’s gambling Mecca. Although it’s not as structured as Vegas, it’s certainly larger in terms of ‘take’. The new Cotai strip on Cotai Island will allow it to rival Vegas as a single location, but for the moment the hotels are spread around the islands a bit. I took a wander in to Wynn’s, a slab of golden glass and steel on the main island. The lobby has a couple of cool automated shows, with the Tree of Prosperity and the Dragon of Fortune both materialising from the same dome in the floor. I took a while to wander the casino floor, which seems calmer and more tranquil than its Vegas equivalent. Outside are luxury brands – Versace, Dunhill, Fendi, Ferrari – and I found it very healing to wander round and renew my relationship with financial prosperity, something which I have needed to do to allow more wealth to flow into my life (it’s been a huge subject for lots of the reading and listening that I have been doing – and again, another component of some of the workshops and products I have planned).

Wynn Macau (9)Wynn Macau (4)Wynn Macau (2)Wynn Macau (1)

Then off to the Grand Lisbon – this glittering lotus flower shaped temple to excess and decadence yielded one of the coolest photos of the trip when I realised I could capture my own reflection in the mirrors.  Just  below the two red ones… is a man in black. With a camera. And what appears to be shorts with one leg longer than the other. Hmm.

Grand Lisbon (10)Grand Lisbon (7)

Grand Lisbon (1)

And we’re off. You can actually walk (or drive, or cycle) the Macau Grand Prix racetrack which runs round the island.. and it felt like a rapid pace. Not for THIS guy, perhaps

Macau Racetrack (3)

I discovered the A Ma temple, one of the earliest temples dedicated to A Ma, goddess of the sea.

A Ma temple (3)Macau (5)Macau (6)

I found the old Teatro and the original Jesuit college. The Portuguese legacy means half the signs are in Portuguese, which is kind of funky out here.

I wanted to visit the old red light district, where Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was filmed – but I ran out of time. Increasingly concerned about getting back to the boat, I decided to take a short cut over the top of the hill. Unfortunately, although there is a path straight up – the one the other side is blocked by building works, as I found after vaulting the locked gate and then finding a padlocked door at the bottom. So I climbed back up the hill, went back to the other side, down the same way I had come up, and ran like the wind to the boat – making it with 15 minutes to spare.

So, there we are. Hong Kong and Macau in 6 days. I have now secured both a new shiny Chinese visa, a train ticket (hard sleeper) to Shanghai… so I’m off to the mainland again!

There are no days and nights–just you and me…and Bruce Lee

22 May

(A more obscure song today… any guesses?)

HK Skyline (20)

Well, I set to exploring Hong Kong – so much to do, so little time to do it in! I started off with a wander round Sheung Wan???  the older part of Hong Kong Island itself – easily accessible by MTR (metro). Exploring the streets brings me face to face with the Hong Kong tram system, which reminds me of the transporter that C3PO and R2D2 were taken to after being kidnapped in Star Wars Episode 4.

Trams (3)

The streets are filled with ginseng sellers and dried seafood specialists.. I recognise the shark’s fin and sea cucumber, although there are things I wouldn’t eat without a far better understanding of Chinese….

Sheung Wen (1)Sheung Wen (12)

This is where the British landed originally, although apart from the Possession Road street sign and a plaque, there’s not much to mark the event. But I did agree with the sign I found…


I take the Central – Mid-Levels escalator, the longest in the world.. it’s actually a bit of a cheat, as it’s the longest series of escalators. At over 800m it does seem to go on for ever – just as you think it must be over, there’s another one just round the corner.

Central - Mid -Levels Escalator (6)Central - Mid -Levels Escalator (3)Central - Mid -Levels Escalator (1)

That takes me up to Victoria Peak.. most of Hong Kong is hills, so there are some quite spectacular sky scrapers embedded in the hillside.

From Botanical Gardens (1)

And then off up the gravity defying Peak Tram to the summit of Victoria Peak. In true Hong Kong style, they have built a multi story shopping mall at the top. The views are stupendous, though – being higher than the skyscrapers is slightly dizzying – although it’s soon a bit cloudy and then rain sets in. Time to head down hill.

Victoria Peak (3)Victoria Peak (6)Victoria Peak (9)


Once I have made my way back down the hill and back across the harbour, looking back across the harbour to Hong Kong island from Kowloon is incredible – the skyline is dramatic and high tech, putting the older Star Ferry boats and the occasional Chinese junk into a surreal perspective. Perhaps it’s time for an evening out on the town.

HK Skyline (17)HK Skyline (19)

Oh, yes, dancing. I’d been wanting to dance for ages – if only to remind myself how! Ceroc Hong Kong meet a couple of times a week under the tender care of ???. I managed their regular class night and a special monthly evening class in Central Hong Kong, which was great fun and very reassuring to know I could still dance (although the intermediate class on the Tuesday was tough tango style, as they were reviewing the week before). Arriving early meant I was on furniture moving duties, but did give me a much better chance to chat to the teachers. (Memo to me, turn up earlier for stuff in future).

I have to say that Hong Kong and New Zealand have more advanced stuff in many of their classes – even the beginners. Quite odd to see the different cultures though – the beginners class was almost 100% Chinese students, while the intermediates were mostly westerners. That might well balance out over time, but they do have some lovely dancers there. And some crazy ones.

It was the Buddha’s birthday recently, so I thought I had better go and wish the old chap a Happy Birthday. In this case, I went up to see the Big Buddha at Ngong Ping on Lantau. Lantau is connected by MTR (metro) from Hong Kong, so a nice easy day out. I took the cable car up, although, to be honest, I wish I had decided to walk (I couldn’t see a route until I got on the cable car – at which point it became completely obvious). Mind you, it would have been a bit of a trek in 66% humidity and 30 degree heat!

Lantau (7)Big Buddha (1)

The views, though, are spectacular. The Buddha statue is recent, and quite a climb up the hill to reach it. The original plan was to make it in concrete, but that proved technically challenging, so it’s cast in bronze – and, honestly, so much the better for it.

Big Buddha (20)Big Buddha (18)Big Buddha (11)Big Buddha (22)

A little walk from the base is the original temple of the Po Lin monastery…


… and further on some incredible views across the mountains, making me wish I had got there earlier and been able to walk the trail some more – and the wonderful sculpture that is the Wisdom Trail. This beautiful and inspiring work of art contains the Buddhist Heart Sutra on 24 wooden posts in Chinese calligraphic writing. It’s arranged on the mountainside in a figure eight ‘infinity’ symbol, and proved to be a lovely place to just stop, and sit, and contemplate. A real surprise, and a real joy to find something so lovely in such a gorgeous setting.

Heart Sutra (4)Heart Sutra (5)Heart Sutra (9)Heart Sutra (14)

I’ve noticed something, though – unlike Mexico, where the ancient Mayan ruins still seem alive with power, and even the spiritual locations in Australia and Hawai’i sing with something vibrant and deep, the Asian temples seem old, without power (although the Big Buddha did have a certain presence, peace and tranquillity to it – perhaps simply because it is a modern declaration of faith rather than an old traditional religious icon) .

And as I observe them, it seems like the faithful have a quiet air of desperation about them as they bring their offering. It’s even more confusing in China, where the temples are often a mixture of Buddhism, Taoist philosophy, Chinese gods and a liberal sprinkling of folk myth. And maybe the reason is that there is a search for something outside of the seeker – when the truth is that all power is within.

And while I am musing, t seems a long, long time since the UK. Hong Kong has brought it back – although Hong Kong has been Chinese for nearly 15 years, the colonial legacy remains. Electric sockets are British, and the cars drive on the left (a fact that’s shared with neighbouring Portuguese colony Macau). Sterling, though, as a currency, is a long way behind me. I don’t even convert to sterling anymore – it’s all dollars of one form or another – Hong Kong dollars, Australian dollars, New Zealand dollars – or the local currency (although the days of millionaire status in Laos and Vietnam are over). As it happens, it’s around US$8 to the HK$ – although it was still a bit of a heart stopping moment to pay $150 to go dancing for the evening.

More on Hong Kong to come – because I really didn’t like being in my room much, I didn’t do a lot of blog updates while I was in Hong Kong… so this is all getting typed on the train to Shanghai!

Hong Kong? Phooey!

18 May

I’m thinking of starting a competition to provide movie and song titles for my blog posts. After Jonny’s contribution of ‘Hanoi Rocks’ and Stokie’s reference that inspired todays – what’s next?

I guess you might be interested in the plan then…Hong Kong, Macau, Shanghai, Beijing, then Lhasa in Tibet, Kathmandu in Nepal and finally Varanasi, Delhi and Mumbai in India. With perhaps some stops inbetween.

Anyway, back to the plot. Why did I want to stay in Kowloon near the harbour? Because they do Tai Chi courses every morning, that’s why… with this wonderful little chap, a little collection of locals and some interested tourists gather on the Avenue of the Stars three times a week, and I wanted to learn some more.

(I woke in my isolated and dark cell convinced it was 2am – once I had turned my watch the right way up I realised I had around 30 minutes to get to the harbour.)


Anyway after some breathing exercises, we work through a series of moves taken from a standard tai chi series. Our instructor (what’s the chinese for ‘sensei’) struggles with his battery operated amplifier but it’s a great class. You wouldn’t maybe guess from watching the flowing form, but tai chi is as much a martial art as aikido or karate, and when performed at full speed is seriously scary. Our instructor explains a few of the applications, and as I practice my martial arts background helps me sense exactly how this might get used. Tai chi, like aikido, is designed to disable rather than to kill (unlike karate, which is definitely designed to be terminal if applied forcefully). So we’ve ‘grasped a bird’s tail’ and gone through ‘white crane flapping’ and ‘needle at sea bottom’ and I feel wonderfully energized

Time then for a wander around Kowloon. I’ll go over to the island later (to dance – yippee) so time to explore the mainland side. The view of the island is stunning, with skyscrapers shrouded in mist against a background painted the dark swirling grey of an ominous sky.


I do spend some time wandering the malls, enjoying exploring the luxury goods shops. It’s food for thought for my new workshop series and speaking series, and there are lots of thoughts and insights that arrive as I become clearer about how I am going to teach some of this stuff when I get back. There’s certainly a huge amount of passion building about it inside me. (I told you it was a teaser campaign, didn’t I!)

I love city energy though. Some of my new age friends tell me I should be getting out into the country, away from the buzz of technology and the rush of the city. They tell me, too, that I should be listening to Gregorian chants and soothing meditation music. Well, that’s a bit unfortunate. I’m writing this listening to Good Charlotte, and I love the energy and the bustle, the people, the energy, the sheer rush of the city. Sure, it’s good to get out into the country, and I have a dream of a beautiful place by the river, or by the sea.. but somewhere, deep inside is the energy of a city boy. And someone who knows, far more now, who he is, and what my uniqueness is.

And back to the hotel, pick up my laundry – I’m off dancing at Hong Kong Ceroc tonight. Yep, there really is one.

The China Syndrome

17 May

And so the next part of the adventure unfolds… armed with a Chinese visa I board the bus to Nanning. The scenery already becomes more beautiful as we head out east..emerald green rice paddies nestling in the shadows of karst outcrops… the hills here are now causing the paddy fields to be stepped, in the iconic way that we see them in photographs. Here and there there’s a temple hidden in the fields like a tiny jewel. (and because respect for their ancestors plays such a part in the life of the Vietnamese people, little tombs dot that fields too). In few kilometres more majestic, soaring peaks appear, shrouded in mist – towering shards of karst covered with trees, each jostling for my attention like the remains of a long forgotten dragon hiding in the landscape.

To Nanning (8)To Nanning (7)

And then we’re at the border. Off the bus, into a golf cart, out of the golf cart, out of Vietnam, into another golf cart, out of the golf cart, through immigration, through customs, into another golf cart and into China and onto another bus…I short circuit some of this ludicrous golf cart madness by walking some of it. Although I am somewhat surprised when the soldier on duty salutes as I enter the country – if I had been more present rather than staring open jawed at the fact I was in China, I might have saluted back.

Immigration is simple and easy.. and there’s even a little electronic survey to register our perception of the process – although I do wonder how many people, just about to enter a new country, are going to press the frowny face and risk being sent back by a grumpy immigration official.

Immediately, the agriculture seems more organised and less chaotic. Plants seem to be grown in rows rather than the jumble that seemed to characterise Vietnam. Rice is still everywhere, but the rest of the crops seem to be grown with more purpose.

And it could be my imagination, but the mountains seem more savage too, more forceful.

Eventually we make our way into NanNing – a couple of Germans are also on the bus so we form an alliance on the journey. Unfortunately, I can’t get a ticket for the next stage of my journey (Guanghzou) until Saturday evening, so I check into a hotel in NanNing and enjoy my first night in this new culture.

Nanning (4)Nanning (10)Nanning (8)Nanning (1)Nanning (14)

In some ways, it’s like Vietnam – the same Asian feel, the same core culture. But other things have changed – we’re back on indecipherable characters, but this time there’s no attempt to provide the English, or even the pinyin (phonetic Chinese) versions. It’s hours before I notice that no-one is asking me if I want a moto/cyclo/taxi/dinner/pineapple – and apart from my two new friends, there isn’t a western face to be seen. The only way to be understood is pointing and waving – my friends have a picture book which seems like a really good idea.

Pollution hangs in the air like a shroud – despite the electric bicycles, the traffic is a huge problem. Sheet sheer skyscrapers jostle with old style slums and decrepit back streets. A walk down town reveals some real joys on a Saturday – dominoes and mah-jong players in one corner, all sorts of remedies and home brewed technologies – and  early morning dancing in the park again.

NanNing Dancing (2)Mahjjong

The dancing seems to go on all day – there don’t seem to be any lessons, and neither does it seem to follow one form or another – there’s restrained tango danced at the same time as jive, a little salsa blends with the foxtrot. Even the dismantling of the loudspeakers at midday doesn’t faze the dancers, who simply pull out their own music and carry on.

And then.. the heavens open. We’re under cover and remain reasonably dry, until we make two key mistakes – firstly, an attempt to make a little progress by running for a different shelter dumps me under a torrent dropping from the roof – and then an attempt to hail a cyclo means that we have to stand in the pouring rain while trying (unsuccessfully) to explain where we are going.

And then I’m on a train. I’ve found the hot tap at the station that the locals use to make their dried noodles (everyone is eating these). I’m glad I have something to eat, because it takes my mind off the worst seat in the world for a 12 hour train trip. More like a bench than a seat. The man next to me has designed a harness to help him sleep – it looks brilliant in design and quality of stitching, but fails the practical application, and he spends half the night reengineering it, with little success. They are all quite concerned for my welfare, though, and end up taking the curtains down to keep me warm in the night (I don’t have the heart to tell them that I am quite warm enough though)

The next morning I wake to hills wrapped in mist, as if hiding from prying eyes until they have had chance to wake up. We pass mile after mile of building site, industrial wasteland, until we find ourselves deep in the heart of Guanghzou.

At which point my next challenge appears. I can’t manage to explain to anyone where I am trying to go next. This is because ‘you can’t get there from here’. In order to get to the border, I need to be at a different station. Lonely Planet to the rescue, and I work out a different route, which she does understand – and I am on the last leg of my trip… onto the bullet train, into Shenzhen Bay, through immigration and then, finally, onto a train into Kowloon. I’ve made it to Hong Kong.


Just time now to make my way to Kowloon, where I plan on staying. Kowloon, or more accurately Gaolong (‘nine dragons’) is in the New Territories, ceded to Britain after the main Hong Kong Island. Hong Kong ‘proper’ is over the harbour. The cheapest digs in town are in the famed Chungking Mansions… although mansions is a bit of a misnomer. This 15 storey building is a rabbit warren of separate ‘guesthouses’ on different floors with different owners. The ground floor is a maze of money changers, DVD shops, electronics outlets, laundries and Indian fast food stalls. The latter two will prove very useful over the next few days.

The lifts are slow, over subscribed, antiquated and over sensitive to overloading, resulting in some interesting antics from the locals trying to squeeze one more person in without overloading the car.  So I’m in a tiny room with no windows on the 9th floor – but it’s cheap – for Hong Kong – and it’s close enough to the harbour for me to be able to get out easily in the morning for an 8am start. But THAT is going to be another story….

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