I was back in Hong Kong for the last time, from Macau. I spent the next couple of days relaxing and write a letter back home.
This article is part of a diary based travelogue from a six month journey in 1985 to several countries in East and South East Asia: Japan, Taiwan, China, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
Letter to my family
On a jetfoil Macao – HK, 28. March 1985
Then I’m back again on these latitudes and have been here since yesterday, Wednesday. The previous time I wrote to you I was sitting in a luxurious hotel in Beijing, and today I have been to Macao, the tiny Portuguese colony just south of Hong Kong.
I was thinking about this when I was in Shanghai, my last stop in China. What used to be blurry geographical names on the other side of the planet have now become familiar and tangible notions which can be reached in no time and effort (even money). And what used to be almost impossible is today the most natural thing in the world.
But exactly because everything is so simple and easy, the experiences can become so many that I’m not able to digest them before new impressions from new places pour in. Partly because of that I have up till now shot about 5 films à 36 pictures.
In addition my diary writing is continuously being expanded. I started with very few key words in my almanac but it became too small and I had to buy a small notebook in Hong Kong so that I was able to write down more from each day. Then in Beijing I had to extend my arsenal of books to a big, thick one. That one should hold for long and I’m now working on entering solid and long stories and experiences, right from the start in Stavanger. I still have a long way to go before it is up-to-date, but working on it also leads me to refresh my memories from Japan and so on. This is a great advantage, or else much will be forgotten.
Let me now turn the clock back to the day in Beijing I previously wrote home.
That night I went to watch a fantastic acrobatic show. I have never seen such precision, balancing acts and agility. And for all of it I paid less than 10 cents, practically free.
The next day I went up to one of the old emperors relaxation places – the Summer Palace. Here they probably had a good time in a large area with an artificial mountain and (artificial?) lake where they entertained themselves with naval battles.
I went up there on a bus. The buses in China are very cheap (a cent for half an hour ride), but uncomfortable and old. And they are packed. There is always one more person trying to squeeze himself in through the door even though it is closed. It is interesting to go with the “proletariat”. The party boys are driving around in limo with private chauffeur.
The same evening I took the train to Shanghai. I had incredibly managed to get a cheap ticket here as well on my excellent Taiwan student card. I had expected the people in Beijing to be used to it, but not so. I must say that this card has been a gold mine for me. That, as well as the black marked money, has probably cut my costs by half in China; at least. Nonetheless, as far as I have figured out I have now in 6 weeks in China spent about 400 USD. That has brought my total expenditures as high as a little above half of my money supply. (I will return to this below.)
On the station in Beijing I first went to sit down in the VIP lounge. From there I went and found my bed on the train. I threw in money for a bed as it was going to take about 20 hours to reach Shanghai. This became, believe it or not, the only train ride and longest period of time I was alone in China. I had all the time met and travelled with other people of the same “kind”, and that is a mutual advantage.
When I arrived in Shanghai I met a Swede in the hotel reception. He took me up to a dormitory which resembled a hall, and it was as well. There, he said, I could stay for free as long as I didn’t contact the staff and vice versa. I did like he said, at least the first night. The whole plot became a bit uncertain and I registered myself the next morning for two more nights.
What were to see in Shanghai were all the (familiar in Europe) grand mammoth buildings from the heydays of the Europeans here. It was in those days there was a sign outside a park stating: “Forbidden for dogs and Chinese.” The sign is gone, the buildings are not.
I visited the old Chinese part of the city as well, with narrow streets and alleys and really pleasant to walk around in. I was not shanghaied by someone from the opium dens one used to read about, in the really old days that is.
The vessel from Shanghai to Hong Kong left on Sunday (24/3) and we came here yesterday. It took us 66 hours. It was a fine departure from the country. I was not the only white person. We actually became a whole group relaxing, dozing and doing absolutely nothing apart from eating, and drinking. It was lovely to cool down in between two hectic places.
In Hong Kong I went directly to the same place as last time. There I met a whole little colony of Swedes, they are everywhere. One of them was a girl I shared room with in Lhasa. The world is small. In China I constantly met people I had met before, on the most unexpected places. Some Japanese (who were here in large numbers) I met in the south, for instance, I met again on the bus to the Great Wall. (A part of the answer to all this is of course that most people go to the same places when in China.)
Now let me return to my story. Today I went over to Macao. The old Portuguese trading town with Portuguese architecture, Chinese alleys and several casinos was interesting. But it is a bit expensive to stay the night there and I have quite a few things to do in HK so I returned the same day.
By the way, I got into a conversation with a South-African living in Los Angeles; I guess he was a few years older than me. He told me he had found a fairly cheap hotel in HK, only 270 HK$. Really, I thought. I’m only paying 22 (3 USD). I wanted to go for a walk in the side streets and he joined me. He said that without me he would have kept to the main shopping streets, but he had now had a great experience. (I better add that it was not dangerous to walk where we did, he was probably worried about the unknown. It was to me however a quite familiar, and a natural thing to do on a sightseeing trip. Of course I take care and evaluate the situation constantly. I never take any risks!)
Tomorrow and Saturday I will arrange for the transportation home of a few things (sea mail). On Sunday (Palm Sunday) I will take a flight to Manila. I will be staying in the country two-three weeks before the same ticket brings me to Singapore (send letters there). I bought a cheap ticket in a travel agency specialising in dumping and the sorts (legal). The price was around 144 USD. Cheap really, but it does take its toll on my treasury chest of course. I’m also considering my flight return ticket Singapore-Indonesia. Bangkok, Burma to Nepal. And the ticket home.
I think I will have problems at the end even though I have around 1200 USD left, at least. But we’ll see, nothing is impossible and it is even less difficult to arrange things here in the Far East. It is for instance quite common to avoid paying for the stay in Burma because one can sell cigarettes and liquor on the black market.
Hong Kong, 29. March
The boat trip went too fast so I will end this letter here at the breakfast table. I am now going to a cheap market and see if I can find some running shoes. It can get hot further south. Later tonight I’m thinking of taking a trip to another market and perhaps buy a short-sleeved shirt of the Lacoste brand. Or rather: They are exactly similar to the French status brand but are pirate fabricated in HK. But who sees the difference? The price is of course only a fraction of the real stuff.
I received (picked up) the letter from you on Wednesday. Altogether I now have three letters addressed here, and that should be correct. That letter is now a few weeks old, but as mother uttered a few concerns that seemed “timeless” I’d better try responding to some of it.
The flight ticket from Taiwan I bought from an Englishman: It could not be transferred to my name. It is very little possible that he was “wanted” as you say. There is no problem getting into HK as you get a visa on the border and I came here in my own name. The ticket was never controlled.
Films: With all the rolls of film I take they would gradually be filling my hand bag. Therefore I send them home. I sent some negative strips from Taiwan by sea mail and enclose 3 films in this letter. (If you would like to please feel free to process them and leave me the bill.)
The flags: I’m returning them as I don’t think I will be using them.
My baggage: Of course I do not take the big sailor’s bag when going out on a little walk. Like everyone else I leave it in the dormitory, with the padlock on. And like everyone else I do not put my fingers inside other people’s bags. I still haven’t heard of thefts from dormitories. But of course I take my precautions here. In Lhasa I bought some metres of string of approximately the same type as the straps on my handbag, if you remember. I use it now on the large pack using the same method as last time, and it works perfect. The strap is not twisting.
Weather: Who’s said that the entire Asia is going through a cold wave just because in Europe are freezing? I still haven’t seen any temperatures below zero. There have actually been quite pleasant temperatures everywhere I’ve been. Of course I have used my woollen sweater, but it was never a question of freezing anywhere. In Taiwan and my two times here it has been so mild that I can walk around in my shirt only. Especially here in HK now.
When I the day after tomorrow land in the Philippines I will encounter a heat of around 30 degrees, and it has been like that all “winter”. The same is the case with the rest of the countries I’m going to. Even if it is “winter”, or rather rainy season, they have a hot climate on those latitudes. I will after all be crossing the equator. So if I don’t return home as brown as in the beer bottle it must be because I have become albino.
Talking about beer: In China I have been drinking beer as never before – at least a tall bottle a day. It is the only safe drink, apart from boiled water. In addition the China beer brands are good too. But don’t you believe I’m succumbing for that reason. Not this boy!
This will be enough for now.
PS! Send letters to Singapore, then to Jakarta/Indonesia.
Next letter: Boracay
Friday 29.3.1985, Hong Kong
I spent this day doing more practical matters.
I picked up my flight ticket. I sent home a large box (2.5 kg for 85HK$ (11 USD), expensive. On airmail I sent a letter to the family and some strips of negative film.
I went over to Stanley and bought a pair of running shoes and swimming trunks for 140 altogether.
Saturday 30.3.1985, Hong Kong
The running shoes showed to be too small so I went over to the HK island and changed them – to another brand actually.
I didn’t do any more that day, but in the evening I, two Swedes and the two Danes who had travelled from HK to Guangzhou with me, went for a round in the bars.
That was alright. I did however oversleep on Sunday morning and had to rush it in full speed to the airport and ran into the departure hall entering the plane in the last minute. I thought. The plane was however delayed by half an hour so it wasn’t that bad after all, this time.
The introduction to this journey to East and South East Asia.
Previous chapter: The casinos and back streets of Macau.