I arrived in Hong Kong on 2/14/2013 with plans to visit briefly, buy a bicycle, and then ride out north, passing thru Guangzhou. From there I would turn west to Yunnan province, with my final destination being Chengdu, in Sichuan Province. My goal was to attend the wedding of a former student, Yimei Lin. Yimei had been one of my best graduate students. She has been working as an auditor at a major accounting firm and has kept in contact with me.
In the past, I have attended other students’ international weddings. South China was on my bucket list of places to visit, and so I thought ‘Why not?’ So here I am, going into the world’s most densely populated city, in the world’s most populous country.
I was greeted at the airport my Michael Metelnick, the brother of a close friend of mine in Bloomington. I could not have had a better welcome. Michael had made many arrangements for me, including getting me an ‘Octopus card’. This was a magical piece of plastic that you just needed to put near anything to pay for it. When it got low on money, you just added to it via credit/debit card or cash.
I was near amazed at the efficiency, cleanliness, and general excellent service the their MTR (subway). The cars were well crafted, the service inexpensive, and very frequent.
I managed to finally find a decent mountain bike in Hong Kong. I fully dressed it up later with vertical grips, lights, dual mirrors, and fenders for grand total of $250. This is very cheap for touring. But it is here where these bikes are made, so I could expect them to be reasonably priced.
But one look at the traffic on HK’s streets scared me off. Non-stop vehicles racing by. The bicyclists here told me that the drivers did not respect bicyclists much either. I became afraid to ride north, straight into the ten million people in the city of Guangzhou, next to Hong Kong. I feared becoming roadkill.
There must literally be more than 500 apartment complexes in Hong Kong that are over 40 stories high. I have never seen such densities of people in my life. The lyrics of Eleanor Rigby kept ringing thru my head; “All the lonely people, where do they all come from?”
So what to do? I tossed my bicycle into the trunk of a taxi and I took it to a ferry that went 30 miles west to Macau. Macau is the old Portuguese colony that is now a special territory, like Hong Kong. When I disembarked from the ferry, I found that they still spoke some Portuguese here. I can speak some of that, much better than Cantonese, of which I speak near zero.
Macau is the world’s largest gambling resort. There are estimates that it rakes in double of all of Vegas. From what I could see, it was every bit as extravagant at Vegas too.
Well, I have zero interest in gambling. I am against it to my core. “A voluntary tax on the really stupid” my dad once said. So I mounted my bike and pedaled it north, to the The People’s Republic of China. I had a three month business visa for China. This did not come easy. I also had a few hundred business cards presenting myself in English on one side and Mandarin on the other. Along with that, I had two letters of introduction in Mandarin from former students and a wedding invitation.
But would they let me enter China with a bicycle? This was highly unusual for tourists, so I could never be sure. When I went thru the massive customs at the Macau/Guangdong (Canton) border, the agents immediately questioned me about my bicycle. I presented them with the letters written in Mandarin from my former students. They read them with great interest. Then they smiled, gave me the thumbs up, stamped my passport, and helped carry my bike and gear thru the customs area. I loaded up my bike and pedaled across a massive plaza. I would be seeing many more things on simply massive scales here.
As I moved my bike thru the masses of people, I quickly saw vendors along the sidewalks selling all sorts of animal parts that would be highly illegal in the western world. This really disturbed my day. Take a look at these:
Tomorrow I continue my 1500 mile bike ride. I am taking my time, and being as safe as I can. I have mounted dual lights and rear-view mirrors on my bike. I am avoiding high traffic areas wherever possible. If I feel that this journey has become too dangerous, I grant myself the freedom to change my mind. I do hope I can make it to Chengdu, Sichuan.
I have been touched with the helpfulness of the Chinese people. My bicycle touring mentor, George Christensen told me that was his experience. My experience thus far confirms it.
NOTE: Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China. So all of my posts will be on dwightworker.com I will have a friend post pointers on Facebook. But I will not be able to receive or respond to any Facebook postings while I am in China.