I woke up in the dark, not unusual but this was really the dark. I glanced at the clock and it was 0300. That is too early, even for me. Back home I am usually up between 0530 and 0600. I like the grey light just before the dawn, it is one of my favorite parts of the day. It seems as if the world is waking up and the nocturnal life is surrendering their space to the light.
I must have fell asleep early, because there was no more sleep to be had. I don’t turn on the TV when I am in Asia. I may have watched it less than 10 times in 30 years. No hockey games, what is the point? Although Sumo does captivate me and Japanese baseball games are a hoot. I tried to go back to sleep but the jet lag had taken hold. The third day. That has always been when I fall, on the third day. It is far worse traveling back to the USA but as I have reduced the number of trips to Asia I am beginning to suffer the jet lag on the third day there as well. Not sure if it is age, the infrequency or just that I am burning out?
I went to McDonald’s (the only place open at 0300) and had a coffee and some pancakes. Today the vessel is due to arrive.
I received a call from the port agent that the vessel was due to berth at 2300. Dang that is late. I could board around 0200 on the next morning, Tuesday. Not good. That means more juggling of schedules. I really cannot stay in HK another day and staying at a hotel at the harbor is sketchy at best. Harbors are harbors wherever they may be and they contain the same unsavory characters and shady goings on around the world. So, I decided to kill the day as best I could just by people watching and drinking Latte in the lobby. That did not last long. I decided to head out to China at 1500 and take the plunge.
I spoke to the agent and he said I could kill time at their office, so that sounded way better than sleeping with one eye open in a waterfront hotel. He even said I could sleep on the couch.
Subway, train, arrival at Lo Wu. I have old memories of Lo Wu before the handover of Hong Kong. The insanely long lines, the stairwells turned into urinals, the bare light bulbs and the mildewed walls. The Lo Wu crossing was the only way into China here in the 80’s and it was of worthy of cinematic justice. What a horrible place it was. It has improved, although the old remnants of the past are clear to those who were there back then, myself included.
The big difference is the computers, scanners and digital technology. What would have taken 2 hours back then now took about 15 minutes.
I walked out into the old square which is now an incredible shopping mall and central meeting place with restaurants and bars. The Shangri La hotel sits at the east end of the square and the place is well patrolled by the police. I remember teenage soldiers with Russian automatic weapons………..the place is much more civilized. I liked it. I bought a Pepsi and soaked some of it in with old memories flooding back into my memory. Shenzhen is where I saw a bicycle rider with a full size Coke vending machine on the rear rack and it is also the first place I saw a full slaughtered pig laid across the rear rack on its way to some roadside snack stand. I don’t think we will see that kind of thing here any longer. Need to go deeper into China to find it now. Shenzhen is a sprawling madhouse of activity and it still retains its wild west persona, a place where anything is possible. I think of Bladerunner every time I am there.
A hustler grabbed my bag and started dragging it off telling me he had a taxi. We talked about where I was headed and he offered to take me for $300RMB. That is a HUGE amount of money in China, something like $50. I told him in Chinese that the price was too high and I did not have that much (even though I did). He immediately lowered to $220RMB. I am an old hand in China, this guy broke all the rules. He was a private car, not a taxi, he reduced the price much too quickly and then started to get heated with me about it. I ditched him and went down to the taxi stand. The line was long and when I did get to the front most of the drivers refused to take my fare. Old white guy. They don’t like white guys, let alone an old one with a big bag.
I finally got a cab and took the drive out to the office of the agent at the harbor. The fare was $51RMB. My instincts were right. That felt good. Somehow when you spend years running around Asia, the rats are easy to smell.
I arrived at the office at about 1700. The boat is not due to dock for another 6 hours and I cannot get on it for another 8 hours, but I am here. I found it, navigated my way and walked into the office to the surprise of the entire staff. Old guy.
I camped out in their little conference room, exactly the type of conference room one would expect at a budget freight broker in China. Broken arms on the chairs, holes in the cushions despite the 10 year old plastic still on them and a huge map of China on the wall. This was going to be home for the next 8 hours. I was set on not spending another night in a hotel.
I went through the obligatory greetings and green tea ritual……I am good at this part of Chinese culture. We hit it off just fine.
At 1830, I went down to the cafeteria they have at the harbor much to the surprise of everyone who was also eating dinner there. I ordered in Chinese since they had my favorites; Ma Po Tofu, Gung Pao Chi, Bai fan and a coke (curla in Chinese). Now several of the workers and more than several of the diners wanted to test their English on me………….I was accepted at once. That felt nice and reminded me just how much they appreciate the smallest amount of humility and grace. The food was delicious and it set me back $2USD even with the Coke. Just amazing.
I am sitting it out in the office. The agent will return for me just after midnight and escort me through the formalities and immigration clearance and then on to the boat to present my actual stack of documents that need to be reviewed and approved by the captain. I can then be assigned quarters and place my things in what will be my place for the next three weeks.
I won’t make it until midnight, that couch has my name on it. I just hope they wake me up.