So after another 9 hour flight, falling in and out of sleep and sitting next to the most stoic Russian ever - I arrived in Hong Kong.
I whisked down the endless amount of flat escalators and got through immigration no problem to find Becky waiting for me. We kissed (probably to the annoyance of onlookers) for a long time and headed to Becky’s hood. The humidity leaving the airport was immediate and it hits you like a wall.
We took a bus to Discovery Bay and for the first time in days, I comfortably put my bags down. Discovery Bay is a really beautiful area just outside the downtown core of HK. Lots of rolling hills/mountains, trees, and super close to that beautiful ocean.
Becky and I spent the next few gathering supplies for our trip by day and meeting up with friends by night. A couple highlights for me include going to an after-party in Kowloon at Van’s sponsored skatepark/shop located on the 5th floor of a warehouse building and hangin’ outside of a 711 with Becky’s homies (apparently it’s a regular thing/beer is hella expensive in bars).
One thing one cannot deny about Hong Kong is the tremendous amount of ex-pats and tourists. In certain areas of Hong Kong they almost overwhelm the population of native Hong Kongers - mostly the party districts, ie, Lan Kwai Fong & Wan Chai. To anyone who’s traveled overseas, this is hardly a surprise though. Not to mention, I was one of those tourists.
To be honest, I didn’t get to see some of the big things in HK, ie, Big Buddah and Lamma, but I got another week and a half to cover that when I get back.
We headed for the border where HK meets Shenzhen to cross over into China and to eventually meet with our future friend Fernando - a Brazilan English Teacher currently residing within Shenzhen.
The border was like almost any border you’d expect to find on Asia. Tense, quiet, and harbouring a surprising amount of Russians/Eurasians. In the rush of it all (a format to be repeated many times on this trip) I took a massive pre-border shit in a bathroom filled with sweaty mainland Chinese men, giving me my first official experience with a squatting toilet. For those of you who don’t know - a squatting toilet is, essentially, a hole in the ground with municipal plumbing attached to it.
We made it through unscathed and hurried our way to the Shenzhen train station where a borage of cabbies, cops, and cabbies dressed as cops asked us if we needed help. Normally, this would be seen as a kind gesture, that seems to be a part of the Chinese culture. However, a border town train station is hardly a place to make friends/trust people easily.
We tried to book our train tickets to Kashgar and found that they were already full (save that of 1 seat and 1 sleeper class ticket). Much to the dismay, which was vocalized, by the locals we opted out of buying a ticket and hopped on the Subway towards Fernando’s place.
The Shenzhen Subway was surprisingly nice, mirroring the HK subway in many ways - with the only really difference being the Chinese writing over Canto and a quick colour change from red to green. And for my Toronto peeps reading, yes, it puts the TTC to shame.
After a long subway ride to our destination we promptly met up with Fernando. Fernando was our first couch surfing experience on our trip. We had met him through the website through a mutual friend of his and Becky’s. Fernando was visibly nervous at first, as were we, as. We sheepishly asked each other questions about our travels/situations. Fernando is an Engineering student from Brazil, who’s spent the better part of the last five years traveling the world, studying languages and teaching English.
His apartment was surprisingly lavish (all paid for by the company he was teaching English for) and doubled as the facility used for teaching his students, mostly kids 3-5. His apartment was lined with educational posters for kids with basic words in Mandarin and English. In hindsight, I should’ve used that opportunity to copy those words into my phrase book, by I was damn ass tired and there were more pressing matters at hand.
After a couple of Harbin beers (official Chinese beer of the NBA) we ventured out for food and picked up some Baijiu and Chinese Cigarettes. Fernando told us he was trying to quit, but he couldn’t help that he liked the strong/somewhat harsh flavour of a Chinese cigarette. I’d have to agree with him on that. While I’m not a smoker at home, I have a tendency to be somewhat of a travel smoker. In HK, I had picked up a pack of Marlboro Purple Rain, which seriously taste like a menthol clown dick. The cigarettes in China however, have this really nice harshness to them - can’t blame Fernando for liking them really.
We ate noodles at a late night restaurant ran by two kids who couldn’t have been older than 19 and drank way late into the night. Becky and I, after some debate, booked our tickets from Urumqi to Kashgar very late into the night and were thrilled that we were finally going to make it happen. By the end of it all, Becky and I got two hours of sleep but we soldiered on.
The next morning Fernando saw us off to the closest intersection near his house where we grabbed a cab. We left knowing we made a new friend as our cab driver weaved through trucks, motorcycles, and other cabs to get us to the airport and on our way to Urumqi.
Alright so….a bigger update here is in order.
I woke up pretty much exactly when I needed to and went through the morning feeling almost mechanical in how efficiently I was getting everything ready. Just a little bit of sleep after a 12 hour bus ride and a pending 31-hours of travel is all I needed - and all I was gonna get.
The place I stayed at was sort of a hostel within an apartment in Brooklyn, but it did the trick. Turns out the other people sharing the room with me in the morning were all super rad and from much further distances than myself. In hindsight, I wish I had asked them how they all knew each other, but that’ll be one of the great mysteries I suppose.
I made it to the airport pretty easily and more than on time. I’ve been finding with airports is no matter how early you are, there’s already a line-up by the time check-in starts. And that there are a lot of Russians visiting their families who will spare no expense of time or energy or money or duct tapeon making sure that they bring no less than 10 massive bags full of shit for their families (at least I’m assuming).
Once I was through the gate, with only minor customs problems (I never knew you weren’t supposed to bring laptop in yr carry-on!) I was really just chillin’ in JFK. I got the most clown-car, school of magic degree-service from a Turkish inspired cafe inside the terminal and I overheard two flight attendants complain that my beer was almost as much as my food. “Fuck it” I thought, “I’m on vacation!”
Aeroflot is actually an amazingly rad airline, I only bothered bringing my laptop because I thought I was gonna be ripping movies, catching up on shows, making headway on this blog update, but no. The screen/consule infront of me had shit tons of movies, games, and music to listen to. And this is good, because I didn’t sleep a fucking minute on that god damn plane.
9 hours, 5 of them flying through darkness. No matter how I twisted or turned, I couldn’t fall asleep for the life of me. By hour 7, I had developed a terrible stomach ache, possibly from the salmon on the plane, possibly from the ass-heads back at JFK who gave me a cheese turkish wrap twice before I finally got my chicken one instead, but it was a searing pain. Even the middle aged Chinese woman, who didn’t speak a lick of English, beside me could see it and offered me up a plastic bag to throw up in.
Even as I landed, I could still feel the pain off and on, I tried to deal with it in the bathroom, but the stress of being on a plane and knowing I had so much left to go, my body wasn’t ready to deal with it.
So there I was, constipated, tired, and hungry, with a sharp, sheering pain in my stomach. Did I just curtail the Russian visa I acquired and head straight for the transfer area where I could at least rest with Shantaram and a myriad of TV shows on my laptop to kill the 12 hours? Nnnnnnnnoooooppppppeeeee!
I brought my passport to customs, before exiting with both the guard and the customer service agent I spoke to beforehand telling me “I don’t know why you would wanna come to Russia, what are you going to do?” Russians have this strange apprehension of non-Russians visiting that’s almost self-stigmatizing, where they, without reluctance, mention that they have no idea what people who aren’t from Russia are doing there. But man, why WOULDN’T I want to?
After fighting through my stomach problems for a couple hours in the common area of Terminal 2 in SVO, it was a coffee that saved my stomach. The only conclusion I could reach was that I had over hydrated myself (I was ripping water on the plane), diluted my kidneys, and could barely bend over to pick up my bag from the ground…pre-coffeely speaking.
I took the subway from SVO to Moscow, it was straight forward, on a very modern, clean, and efficient train. Sure, I didn’t understand any Russian, but there’s just enough catering to English speaking people for anyone with experience in public transit to get by.
Downtown Moscow was just freakin’ wild, but not on the surface. At the train station, it was a bright, hot sunny day with people Rushin’ (hur hur) around and guards flexing with exaggerated police caps upon their head.
Not really knowing where I was going or where to start, I set out on foot and just began to walk around in the direction of any main street I could find, both to get my bearings and have a place of reference. Considering I was on more the edge of Moscow’s metro accessible area it was still quite nice, lots of modern buildings, people hustling and bustling on their ways to work, in that regard, it was really no different than being in most big cities with a even somewhat stable infrastructure. That being said, there was a lot of differences too.
For one, everything is in Russian. There is a fair amount of English translations of the Russian word, but not always. Especially on the Subway where there is the name of the Subway spelt out in English on any of the maps, but when actually riding the subway and figuring out which direction to go - is ONLY written in Russian. I was lost a few times on the metro, at one point, I did started to get nervous ‘cause I was pretty lost and had gone the wrong direction more than once. That being said, Russians are actually a lot more helpful than some might imagine. Without speaking a lick of Russian, there were people who were able to guide with just keywords and finger pointing to where I needed to go, in a tone that was friendly and sympathetic.
Eventually, I wandered into a nice cafe and tried a local beer - don’t ask me what it’s called because I don’t know! As I sat with my beer, I asked my server where I could find the Red Square and eventually she drew out a crude, but helpful map of where I needed to go. I even spoke with her for a little bit about my trip in general when she asked me why I was in Moscow, to which she replied “That’s so wonderful, but you’re crazy for coming here.” Still didn’t think so.
After again, getting lost for a minute before regaining my steps, on the metro - I found the Red Square and it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Yeah, there was that statue of Karl Marx, but beyond that, it was quite commercialized and infact, one of the gaudiest areas I had come across in Russia. There was an entire Armani Shopping Centre inside a refurbished, historical looking building. Not to mention, the interesting street performances of Spider-man, Mickey Mouse, and an array of other Disney characters. I think one of the problems, is my own perception of Cold-War era Russia, however, I shouldn’t have expected a country that long since abandoned it’s old ways long ago. In a way, it was sort of symbolic of Russia itself.
If there’s one thing I couldn’t deny as I walked around, was that there’s an abundance of people decked out in Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, and yes, Armani - pretty much everywhere. That being said, you could see it more in the population of men, especially those who’re middle-aged and older or of a “less aesthetically” pleasing stature. Most of the young handsome men (which in comparison to that of the young, beautiful women - were few and far between) were all very dapper, without the flash of big logos (even if they were still wearing those brands) and would leave a lot of folks stunned by their handsomeness. Mind you, a few hours in a city is hardly a way for me to comment on the overall fashion sense in Moscow. Interestingly enough, most of the young, beautiful women dressed more like the middle aged men and infact, a lot more of them appeared to be involved in some sort of relationship with these middle aged men. I suppose I could say a lot of things about this, but I leave my suspicions for Kanye to vocalize.
In a way, Moscow itself, was a lot like the Red Square, to eliminate would be foolish, it’s beautiful in all it’s glory. Even with the infiltration of designer brands, entertainment mega-corps, and a gaudiness that is distinctly it’s own, it’s still stunning to see and at it’s heart, is still proud of what is, with it’s flaws and strengths all out for outsiders to see.
After a couple more hours of wandering, I made my way back to SVO airport with time still to kill. I ended up having to throw out a bottle of vodka I had bought in town, which was a pain in the side, but such is life.
Going on hour 22 of consciousness as I waited to board the plane, I was ready to sleep like no other. I casually drifted in and out of a couple minutes of sleep as announcements in Russian became absurd sentences and phrases in English as my brain moved between sleep and consciousness like a rowboat on a big, slow-moving body of wavy water.
Rest-assured though, I made to Hong Kong in one piece! I’m here now writing this days later so you know it’s all good, but I’m gonna update more on that next time since I’m still in HK anyways and I can do an update much in the same manner.
Take care everyone,
I never would’ve thought a conversation about “nut-less shorts” with a perfect stranger would end up in me falling in love. I ESPECIALLY never thought that the conversation would lead to me falling in love, travelling halfway around the world and seeing areas the world I had only read about but never could’ve imagined I’d see them with my own eyes. Yet, here I am, on a bus heading from Toronto to New York City where I will see a bed for the last time for two days before my flight tomorrow morning.
I still remember Becky the first night I met her and I haven’t really ever had her out of my mind since and while no relationship is completely easy, this one has been well worth it. Becky’s compassion and understanding mirrored with her pretty face and level disposition makes her incredibly hard for me to resist. So much so, that I’m embarking on this two month journey, just me and her - starting alone, but I won’t be for long and I can’t wait to see her again.
So far, there’s not too much to say, the bus ride has been enjoyable, the border was - the border, ie, tense, anxiety inducing and then a massive cathartic release when you realize that no one had to search your buttonhole while you miss your flight/bus/meet up/whatever.
This morning was probably the hardest part of the day. Watching my mom tear up as she wished me goodbye and told me that she loved me. No one likes watching their mom cry, no one. Even carrying an 80L backpack that weighs at least a solid 60 pounds wasn’t that bad (plus I gotta get used to one of those things anyways).
Still, time moves and the bus ride has been engrossed in rain for the last two hours while the bus driver tells us little jokes or “stories” as he calls them through the monitor (such as Nascar’s “Senior’s Only” League with the Metamucil 500). Beyond that though, there’s not much to say, I feel like few people have a coach bus experience that changes their lives for the better. Most of the optimism comes from that feeling when you can finally say you’ve reached yr destination.
Upon arriving in New York, I had the saddest looking burger from Five Guys and asked several different people for directions and got several different answers. I eventually took the advice of one dude who seemed quite self-assured in his directions. Boy did that backfire.
I ended up quite far down the street of Bedford and did a tremendous hike upwards to my destination. It’s pretty cool to see just how fast the areas change in the city. Also, maybe it was better to have to go this route, I’m back packing for the next two months in much smoggier parts of the world. Better get used to it now while I can.
I found the apartment after a while and the nice woman who runs the sort of mini-hostel style apartment gave me a quick tour, but I’m honestly so zonked at this point that as soon as the tour was done I just proceeded to bed where I’m chillin’ and finishing my first blog entry.
Tomorrow is Moscow and then Hong Kong, what kind of mood will Darryl be in post-31 hours of travel? Tune in next time to find out.
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