It may seem a bit trite to begin with "I can't believe I've been here for two weeks already!" but in some ways, that's quite the way it feels. At the same time, it has gone slowly, and feels like ages ago I had my going away party at Rock Bottom and arrived at my hotel in Shenzhen with no prior knowledge of my job and the characters I was soon to meet.
Well, naturally a lot has transpired since I arrived in Shenzhen, almost entirely all of it good. And while I'm ostensibly here for professional reasons, there is of course a lot of frivolity involved as well for a 24 year old single guy. I first must begin with the journey itself, then we'll get to me getting acquainted with Shenzhen. So let me bring you up to speed:
Momma and Poppa Gier dropped me off at the O'Hare airport early in the morning the day of my departure. Being unemployed the previous few months and not being used to waking early, I planned to sleep most of the flight from Chicago to Tokyo. Riding in coach, I'm not sure this is ever possible, but I was particular dismayed to reach my seat in the back of the plane and find a child the age of around 3 or 4 sitting next to me. He was biracial (half white, half Asian, as kids like that almost always have a white dad banging an Asian chick) with his Japanese grandmother there to watch after him. He annoyed me a lot for the first half of the flight, watching me do something like take out the remote and put on a movie, then do the same himself, but by the end of it, I had taken a real shine to him, and we ended up watching the sun rise on the Sea of Japan together with him on my lap. However, unfortunately for the Japanese grandmother, when we landed at Narita, the kid started to vomit. Poor guy, a 14 hour flight is hard for anyone, much less a kid of 3 and a half. But lucky for me he waited a few extra minutes till after he got off my lap.
I made my change to fly into Hong Kong in Narita with only one notable happenstance in the airport, which was trying a free sample of Johnnie Walker "Blue Label" in an absurdly expensive Japanese duty-free shop. It actually didn't seem to be that great. Then I tried Johnnie Walker's new concoction "Double Black," which I enjoyed.
The flight to Hong Kong from Tokyo-Narita was pleasant in that the plane had mostly open seats. I was busy checking out some hot Japanese girls on my fight, but I think I may have seemed too scummy and unkempt at the moment for any success. I was also delighted to find that one of the movies they were playing on the flight, among a bunch of poppy new releases, was "The Insider" starring Russell Crowe and Al Pacino. I'd always wanted to see that movie. It was good, but kind of dragged on, and after a long, international flight and few Asahi beers, I fell asleep.
Once in Hong Kong, I waited in customs for the average length of about an hour, then quickly found my luggage and went out into the night air. It smelled good, like I remember Hong Kong smelling, but it was colder than I thought it would be. I got on the bus that was supposed to take me to my hostel, which was at stop 13. We made it to stop 9, at which point the driver said end of the line, everybody get off. I was upset at this, not because I was really that inconvenienced, but because I considered myself a pretty savvy traveler who doesn't make mistakes like this. When I got my cab to take me to the hostel, I asked a few fellow white travelers (I think they were European, German or something) who had been on the same bus as me why hadn't the bus stopped at my stop where I thought it would. They said it did, but that I couldn't pay attention to the way the stops are numbered. "Oh, they think they're such fucking good travelers, huh?" I thought to myself. "They think they're better than me? That they can give me advice on how navigate Hong Kong? Fuckers." As you can see, I was getting kind of grumpy, which happens at the end of a long flight. Thus, when I finally made it to my mansion, although I was expecting the strange barrage you receive when you get there, I wasn't prepared for it.
The hostel is in a building called "Chung King Mansion". There are probably around 100 guest houses there on several floors with several elevators to access them. There are also tons of immigrants in the ground floor, from India, Africa, you name it, who see that you're white and try to get you to buy a counterfeit watch or suit from them. Upon arriving at "the Mansion", confused travelers can be "helped" by a strange guy claiming to be from the hostel they booked their room with, only to be led to a competing hostel. Me, a big white kid with a huge suitcase and backpack, was naturally an obvious target, and as I was rushed by several people, I started to panic and wondered if I was in the right place or if I could get to the right hostel. Several people tried to help me, and in retrospect I think their aims were mostly true, but I deterred them. But I quickly found my bearings, made it to my room, and passed out for the night.
The next morning, I woke up early due to the jet-lag. I killed some time by wondering around Hong Kong TST, watched boats on the harbor for a while, then chilled in an internet cafe during the day for a few hours. I should note that I was really in Hong Kong for two reasons: the flights there are cheaper than to Shenzhen, and I had a pretty, adorable friend there to see. Her name is Maggie, she's from Hong Kong, born and raised, and speaks English pretty well. She told me I could attend a family wedding dinner with her that Friday, and I pounced at the chance.
The evening was great, meeting her family, trying the food, singing karaoke (I'm no novice at that, as you probably know) and watching a traditional Chinese lion dance that her dad coordinates. I even bought a bottle of Red Label for the groom-to-be, which I think was well received (mainly though I just wanted to impress Maggie). It was exactly the travel experience I live for, but I'll spare you the details as most of you have seen the photos on facebook and there are some videos forthcoming.
By the end of the evening, however, I had to report to Shenzhen, as there would be a driver waiting for me to go check into my hotel provided by English First. I was also feeling quite exhausted with my jet-lag. I was having fun at the dinner party, but Maggie's family kept on asking me if I was bored, as I had a long face. This was utterly not the message I wanted to send to them, but I was so tired I could hardly keep my eyes open. Maggie translated to them that I was really tired from my flight the previous day, and I think they understood fine. Afterward, with Maggie's help ordering a cab to take me to the Shenzhen-Hong Kong checkpoint "Lo Hu" or "Luo Hu" depending on which side of the border you're on, I made it there quite early and had to wait for the driver to pick me up for an hour. This was irritating, as I was tired and just wanted to get to the hotel. I also didn't have any idea of what to expect. Would there be a white person there to meet me? A group of people? In the end, there was just one: a Chinese professional chaufer who didn't speak any English and simply held up a sign that said "EF". I don't even think he had my name, so I could have been any crazy person, as long as I was white.
He took me to the hotel, which was very nice. I got to my room on the 24th floor, also very nice. I took a hot shower and went to bed. The long journey to Shenzhen was over. Now the long journey to get settled began.