Friday, 30 May 2008

Dragon's Cave, Huangguoshu falls

Early doors for the tour and I'm picked up from the hotel lobby at 06.30 by my no-english tour guide. I decide to call him Kevin - he's a bit chubby and looks like a Kevin, so Kevin it is (no offence to any Kevins reading this BTW).

First stop is a random Buddhist temple. I'm sure it was very interesting for the natives, but it was all just chinese to me... Second stop was a sales pitch job at the 'middle of nowhere' health food shop. Everything contained peanuts, so that ruled things out for me and I decided against the 'dried goose gizzard' or 'finest cattle intestine'.

We start towards the Dragon's Cave, but get turned back by an oncoming coach - apparently it's flooded and closed due to the recent heavy rains - oh dear. Next stop is a random falls, very wide and the output of this thing is amazing - some of the viewing area is closed off because of the high water levels and I get spoken at by this guy from Singapore, but it's nice to speak some english as opposed to be mute all day. It's about this time, that I become the attraction and I'm grabbed by the locals to pose for pictures with them (I thought the falls were supposed to be the attraction?) but it's all done in good fun.

I get chatting to 'Tin Tin' and her sister and they're also befriended by a woman from Wenchuan (earthquake area) who is almost embarrasingly grateful when I show her my 'I donated to the earthquake' card that I got given at the donation stand. It's really humbling and sad to hear her stories.

Next it's on to Asia's biggest waterfall - Huangguoshu falls. You pass through a lovely bonsai garden and descend through a forest where it slowly begins to rain from the trees... You can hear the falls in the distance and then you emerge on to the viewing platform - amazing. They're in full effect, 80m high, 110 wide and absolutely storming from the recent rains. I can't stress how massive they are. The amount of water this thing is kicking out is amazing, and the spray created is like being in a shower - heavy drizzle approaches from everywhere and it's not long before you're soaked. There's a suspension bridge over the river (Dad, you would NOT have liked that at all) and sadly the closest viewing platform is closed of because of the flooding - which is understandable when I see the torrent of water coming down the stairs leading up to it.

The bus crew kick up a bit of a stink as we can't visit the village of Anshun as planned because of the flooding which is visible from the freeway past it. Kevin gets busy on the mobile trying to sort us out refunds (even with no chinese, I get the gist of all this) and we head back to the Dragon's cave. It's deserted, and we head in to the park. There's a bridge over the worryingly fast flowing river and at this falls, whilst it's much smaller, the output is no less impressive as we can get much closer to it - across the bridge and the spray from this one is just ridiculous - you're soaked in two seconds. The cave is flooded so we can't tour it by boat (which I'm kinda grateful for) and after the poor views at the backbone rice terraces and the restrictions today, I haven't had the most successful couple of days sightseeing!

I get some money back for the part of the tour which was unavailable (which was a bonus I guess) and we roll back into town at 20.00. TinTin helps me sort out a bus ticket to Kunming and hit the street stalls for some grub - the potato chips dusted in chilli are undercooked - the rice cake patties are flavourless too so it all goes to a homeless dude who's grateful. KFC it is, where I'm served by the most camp, slow and meticulous fast food worker I've ever seen. He should've been in a haute cuisine restaurant, not a fast food place.

Not much doing the next day - I spend the morning buying a bus ticket (trust me, it takes all morning finding things out and settling the deal) and the afternoon sightseeing in the local park - more hills for me to climb... but the views over Guiyang are impressive.

I've changed rooms to the 17th floor (I can't stand the smell any longer!) for my last night here and eat on the street stalls for dinner. It's cooked in about 30seconds in a wok over a flame that looks like it's straight out the back of Harrier jumpjet (seriously, NASA would be proud of this thing) and I've now definitely eaten tripe and intestine...

So, I'm now in Kunming and I like it already - been on the piss last night, beers for Y3 (that's 22pence - ha!) at the street BBQ where we had chilli crickets. Been on here for ages, so Kunming's gonna be another update.

Guiyang (Kwei-Ang in the old diaries)

So, got the sleeper train from Guilin to Guiyang - left at 16.00 so I got to see some of the sites, particularly as it passed through LiuChow [Liuzhou] (if my memory serves me correctly) and was also the same stint that Grandad did by train. Me + 1 in my berth - not a word of english, but we did manage to have an interesting conversation using his laptop & wireless connection and two pages from google translation services (english to chinese and vice-versa). Crashed out at 22.30 and woke with a start at 08.30 - a combination of eye mask, ear plugs and tunnels (so the carriage was dark) meant I'd completely slept through him leaving at an earlier stop which was a bit worrying, but all was well (nothing nicked) and the guards are pretty good at looking after each of their own carrriages, and she'd locked the door again after he'd left.
Scenery on leaving Guilin was pretty much as grandad described it to be honest. First we started through the karst hills that surroung Guilin. These really are impressive, rising vertically to great hights out of seemingly nowhere and surrounded by flat plains all the time. All this flat land is cultivated and the best way I can describe it is, as a massive collection of allotments. Except most of these ones are flooded/irrigated and are growing rice or other crops that need a lot of water. So, the hills begin to thin out, the land gets flatter and views longer until the haze gets in the way and dusk falls.
Arrival in to Guiyang was unremarkable to be honest, the city just seems to rear up in the distance and then you're surrounded by it. Grandad remarks later on in his diary that [Chinese City] is no different from any other Chinese City he's seen and to be honest I have to agree... Taxi to the youth hostel and I check in to my own twin room for Y128, but there's a dodgy smell (Geronimites, you'll recognise it as when the drains kick up at work)- the porter puts on the extractor fan, so I guess that will fix it right? WRONG!

Guilin stinks! I go out for a stroll and to get away from the stench I visit the river. After encountering several U.F.A's (Unidentified Foreign Smells) on the way there, the river's no better. It's a murky grey colour, there are several suspect looking floating black lumps and a worrying amount of bubbles rising to the surface from the riverbed. Stench city. Guiyang is a bit too big to stroll around easily, the roads too busy to hire a bicycle for and to be honest, I can't see the attraction.

Now, it was about this point that I begin to get a combination of travel fatigue/the blues/homesickness (call it what you will) and start asking questions of 'why am I doing this? what's the point if all the places have changed? etc. Travelling solo can be tryin at the best of times, let alone in a country where the language is SO different and so little english is spoken. So, if you're reading this, drop me an email/call on my mobile (see a previous post) as it would be nice to hear from you! PS I'm glad to report the blues have disappeared now and after a session on the beers last night (2am finish) with a couple of american guys and two dutch girls, I'm back on track!

Hit Pizza Hut for some comfort food and booked myself on to a tour to the Dragon's Cave and Huangguoshu falls (the biggest in asia)!


Sorry it's been so long! Not through choice though, as I simply haven't had access to the internet since Guilin, and lots of travelling in-between. I have found a cheeky little way to bypass those pesky chinese website banners and I've been able to view my blog - how interesting, even if I do say so myself! I'm in Kunming now, lots to update you on, so I'll do that in another couple of manageable (sp?) posts...

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Guilin (Kwei-Lin in the old days)

So, the beaty of Guilin. It's surrounded by two wide rivers and is bascially built on the old river flood plain - a wide flat area surrounded by mountains. The Geology out here is amazing - if any of you are into rocks, come and have a shufty. Guilin is really nice, lots of english speakingj (which is very handy for me!) and it just feels different from the other Chinese places I've visited. They've all felt a bit too communist still - dull grey buildings, high rise office blocks and all very industrious. Here is different, here has kicked back a gear and people actually enjoy life.

So, I'm breakfasted and hotelled up and I go exploring and found out what Guilin is famed for - its outstanding natural beauty. One of the sites (and there are varying reports where, in the old diaries) has been described as a 'rock forest'. Now, I've visited the 'Pinnacles' in Western Australia (google earth that, actually, should look pretty cool!) and I would describe that as a rock forest (limestone columns as wide as a man, but from 2-10 metres tall) but not the Guilin surrounding area. Sure, it's beautiful, but the scenenry here is more like something out of a James Bond movie - giant rock hills, with vertical sides, coming straight out of nowhere. The best way I can describe it is as Rock Sharks fins sticking up. Anyway, after a sweaty climb up the VERY steep 'solitary beauty peak' (does that need any more explaining? - it's on it's own in the middle of town) I get to see the whole panorama of Guilin - amazing.

I visit the CRAP Guilin museum in the hope to see their Guilin History exhibit which is shut. This made it even more crap. Then I head back into town and search for ages for an internet cafe and write an update you've already read. I'm on the way back and get accosted by this old scrubber on one of the benches nearby for "massagey?"
"No thanks love"
"Good massage, special massage!"
I play the ignore her card...
"You want sex?"
"What!?" I can't help but blurt out in astonishment
"Sex?" - Now she's the one looking at me confused.
"Erm, no thanks, don't think the Mrs would be too happy..." - I'm still shocked
"No, you come (that's the whole idea I thought?) - Lookey, lookey, young girl"
"Just look!?"
She was almost as bad as the 'copy watch' sellers in Hong Kong, except their goods are probably better quality and more expensive. I refrain from telling her to F-off (an international way to break down relations - funny how many people can't speak english, but DO understand this) and keep on strolling by.

Next day is a big one for me. I wake up (alone!) and head off to the 7 star park which houses the 7 star cave funnily enough - a place that grandad visted and also Duncan and Donald used as an air raid shelter during the war. The caves were said to house 300,000 which I thought was a bit far fetched until I was inside - they're huge! Much more vast than chislehurst caves and they're pretty big. So, the guide is cheesey, intermittently flicking on multicoloured lights to point out a peach, a cucumber, a dragon's head or an old man playing chess - you get the picture - I didn't. The park is fun to explore, right in the middle of all these peaks and I bicycled there BTW - what a new experience! Im taller on my bike than the locals and if they were unsure about what to do on the road at the best of times, just put a westerner on their infrastructure - they can't get out the way quick enough!

So, the park is good, the caves are a welcome relief to the temperature outside at a cool something-teen degrees celcius but I'm me and I have to climb up the two viewpoints. I thought solitary beauty peak was bad, but these were something else!

Oh, I forgot to mention here that this was after lunch. I headed for the busy place where the locals go. You choose your uncooked miniature shish kebab, I opted for all kinds of meat (I seriously wouldn't doubt if I'd eaten dog by now), some chinese leaf and other vegetables just to be healthy. Then they deep fry them (good job I chose the healthy veg...), drizzle them in chilli sauce (the real 'mouse-shit' deal with seeds and everything) and serve them up. It was actually a new experience to have my cheeks sweating. Not just my top lip, nose, forhead and lower eye sockets, as is standard - that's all happened before, but my actual fleshy cheeks were sweating. Seriously, I was so hot, my sweat was sweating!

Back to the park and the peaks, they're pretty cool (to experience, not climb!) and you're greeted by the tellytubbies as you walk through the entrace - no I don't know why either.. The first peak is called 'embracing moon peak' - I tell you now, nothing would've wanted to embrace me at that moment... Then it was off to the even higher 'star picking peak' which afforded the best views over Guilin. Halfway up, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of two monkeys grooming each other. Amazing stuff and I've got some really good footage - check out Richard Hide's website (see right) and my page on that site. Hopefully technology will allow me a miracle this end... I was about an arms length away from one of the monkeys at the closest point - really amazing stuff when you see them behaving naturally and even more amazing is the way they just leap around on the rocks. It's like they're almost weightless or attached to strings...

Then it's dusk, high speed pedal (and that's faster than most of the motorbikes here too) back to the youth hostel for a refreshing cold shower and out to watch the cheesey but - Wes, you would've loved it - entertaining 'Waterfall show' nightly at 20.30.
Now, I wasted the evening before perched on a rock on the edge of the lake out the front of the waterfall hotel expecting a 'waterfall show' - I'm thinking fountains, music, lights, you know the sort of stuff. But from 20.15-20.45 nothing happens, I curse myself for not getting a better spot and think I've missed it because the tour boats have parked up and are in the way... WRONG! I'm perched there again the next night, prime position this time, nobody there. This is wrong. I read the book properly it's on the north side of the hotel, not the lake, so I walk round the back of the waterfall hotel. If some of the signs here are misleading, the aptly named hotel is not. There's a pool, lights, fountain spouts and a stepped hotel facade adding to my excitement which I can hardly contain and then it starts. Water simply cascades off the roof of the 20 storey hotel and into this pool. That's it. There's a soundtrack of Chinese Pop music, the special effects are when a bloke on the roof runs from left to right and back again creating a wave effect down the side of the building a couple of times and bosh. Done. Cleanest hotel windows in the world. Crap show. It's so cheesey, but I love it. Wes, you've got to come here to see it - right up your street.

So, the night's disappeared again. I've been in here for god knows how long (it's dark inside, with no windows) and I've still got to tell you about today and 'The Dragon's back bone rice terraces, the long haired women (they only cut it once when they're 18) and the 'Long Wang Kee' (say it - can't wait to shop there!) shopping mall.

Actually, I can probably do that in a paragraph:
Dragon's backbone rice terraces - world famous, look like real life contours on a hill (3 peakers will know all about that) and farm rice. Weather was abysmal, views would've been amazing, but were only mediocre. Interesting to visit all the same.
Long Haired women - does what it says on the tin. Reaches the floor easily. The minors keep it wrapped up and if you see it down then you're supposed to 'stay there and marry them' said the guide. Blogging this is evidence I didn't see any 'under-age hair'... They wash it with rice water. It's in pretty good nick and is shiny and black. They only cut it once when they're 18 as a rite of passage and they wear bright pink outfits too.

Off to the shopping mall it is!


So, as you'll gather, I'm in Guilin (google earth it) which is kind of a nice city. It reminds me a little of a northern city in Thailand called Chiang Mai (let me know if any of you have been there) as it's surrounded by water (except these are rivers, not moats).

But, as usual I'm going to have to back track a bit again.
Duncan and Yieyung decided to come to the station to see me off and let me fend for myself! That started out as a mare as I'd been given duff information about train departures (I was told they were regular to Shaoguan). It was midday and the next one didn't leave until 17.58! Not waiting that long, we checked out the bus route, but the weather was lousy, I don't really trust the roads and I'd have to go to Guangzhou (the county capital) and change there. Decided I'd rather travel there by train so I managed to get on the next 2hr express there. Said a hurried goodbye to my hosts for the last week which was too quick to be sad, but I missed them instantly.

Then in Guangzhou, I arrived at a station across town from where I needed to depart from... I managed the underground across town myself with no real difficulties, but owing to the duff info I'd received before, decided to call in at CTS. By the time I'd finished there, it was gone 6, so I decided to stay the night and explored a little of the capital. There's a really cool Island on the river to the south which was an old colonial (French had the east, we had the west) place. Grabbed a disappointing 'very hot' (said the menu) chilli con carne, which was not hot and rather too sweet for my liking. The weather was pissing down, so I grabbed a sherbert home. Not lots to report on Guangzhou.

Up early doors for the 07.40 (it's just like being at work!) train to Shaoguan, with the intention of arriving at 10.00 and getting the 16.00 to the next town, leaving th bag in left luggate. We arrived at 11.00...

The train journey was entertaining though, as the official 'touts' complete with tie and epaulettes try their hardest to sell their wares. I bought a gyroscope for Y10 (70p!). I nearly bought three pairs of 100% polyester socks off him too as his practical and hilarious demonstration would have even the most cynical punter thinking they were designed for NASA. He got one of the passengers to hold the toe end, he the other, and then violently attacked said outstretched sock with a wire brush before demonstrating in just how perfect condition they were afterwards too. I can now swear in chinese (well, swear at a sock) but thought I'd better stick with my own instead.

So, after a round of applause for having bought a "U.F.O." which was "Oh, Velly Good! Velly Good!", I became quite the attraction on the train and three people started talking to me to practice their english, including the guy oposite me 'John'.

Turns out John's a Shaoguan born and bred and he phones a mate to help me find the church where the escape party stayed. It's still there, and as luck would have it, we also met a lady letting herself into the church. She put me in touch with the english speaking Pastor Agnes, who tells me it's been on the same site since the 1920s, became an amalgamation of the American, Canadian and English (amongst others) Missions, stopped in the cultural revolution of 1960-80 (roughly) and was rebuilt in 1995. They've a congregation of 1000+ and do services in Cantonese and Mandarin. Fantastic stuff! I've succumbed to the fact that nothing is going to look as it did then. China has moved on and rebuilt so much after their wars and then internal revolution. I know the churches in the UK are very old and most of them probably pre-date 1940, but that's just not the case here sadly. Then I grabbed lunch with John - proper Shaoguan dishes. I had no idea what I was eating, but i didn't really take to the pork ribs (more bone, less meat) dusted in coconut... Bit of an explore around the city, and I didn't find the floating brothel they all stayed in (after it was cleared out of it's normal residents of course!) but did find a floating restaurant along the river - Rich, I bet it's the same site...

Then it was back to the staition for the 19.00 sleeper that I'd decided to book in stead of try and rush around Shaoguan in just 3 hours.

4 berth cabin with a bloke that spoke about as much English as I did Mandarin, but it turns out he's in steel. Not much else happening, the buffet car was shut from 21.00 to 22.00 when I was hungry, so it's crackers, pate, bovril (thanks for the tip jenny!) and a banana for dinner and was knackered, so just crashed instead.

Rolled in to Guilin at 07.00 and straight off the platform and into the CITS (China International Travel Service) which is funny, because most of them don't speak english... This one did however and 'David' sorted me out with a hotel before trying to sell me a trip. It was too early to buy a trip, and I only booked for one night, then we also grabbed breakfast - the Guilin speciality - rice noodles - quite tasty, completely non-nutricious (sp?) as they've been blanched in water so long, there's not much left!

I've got to update you Guilin, but I'll do that in a new post - this one's rambled on long enough already.


'Chicken Bits' is a perfectly acceptable dish to appear on a menu. Ask no questions, they'll tell you no lies, and 'bits' is exactly what you'll get! Bones, gristle, skin, marrow - the lot. It's kinda annoying as you have to really bite and nibble to get anything resembling meat off the bones and then just spit them out noisily on the table as the locals do. Then you're left with a mouthful of strands between your teeth and go on search for a toothpick.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Road Trip II

So, I've been incommunicado for a few days - not through choice, just too busy to grab 2 hours to check emails, update the blog.

I'm in Guilin and writing this from a windowless, underground internet cafe with literally hundreds of chongs in here 'gaming' - all of them. It's an amazing sight.

Back a bit though. Duncan woke up on Monday and suggested we hire the car again to go to Huizhou and then on to Longchuan. Genius idea! Saves me doing an almost pointless return trip to Huizhou to hand over the photos to the priest and I get their company for another day. So, we went back to the church, met the minister again and presented the past pastor So Kum Young with a high res glossy paper pic of the famous waichow photo (see as well as a pic of me and grandad (on this site) and also one that we took when we went to see him originally. Tim, Alison, if you make it to Huizhou, see if he's still got them - we wrote inscriptions/explanations on the back.

Then it's through all these tiny little back town villages to get onto the 'coastal' road alongside the east river. We travel through tiny town after town before reaching the end of the road and having to cross by ferry. Woolwich ferry it ain't! 3 cars max and on the other side at Guan Yam Kok (how it sounds, not how it's spelt!) is a buddhist temple (well 3 small ones) that Chan Chak prayed in apparently. This was one of their stopping places for the night. Getting the ferry was great - a real crude affair (basically they just ram the bank and drop the gangplank!) and it was the closest I was going to get to a boat up this river. It's exactly how grandad describes it - very wide (up to 500m at parts) shallow (with sand banks everywhere) and slowly meandering - no wonder they were going so slow in a boat loaded to the hilt with men and stores and going up river on a coal engine...

One weird thing happened on the way - we're stuch in traffic in one of the towns and at 14.28, exactly a week after the earthquake there's a three minutes silence, except it's not silent, it's noisy - every one is blaring their horns - bells on bikes, scooters the lot. The people were silent, the atmosphere wasn't - kinda strange and didn't feel particularly respectful to me to be honest, but hey, that's their way.

Another thing that made me laugh was the local motorbike taxi drivers. So the weather's grotty - drizzly rain all day and they've got these giant purple ponchos that they don- complete with clear front so they can drape it over their lights and handlebars at the front and the lights shine through and then they attach a rainbow coloured golf umbrella to the front of the bike, but it's not a normal circular umbrella, it's got a tail to shield the passenger. Then put this dude in motion, with miners helmet (that's their crash helmet's here) to top it all off and I felt like penelope pitstop was going to whizz past at any minute. It properly looked like something out of the whacky racers.

Time is our enemy again and we only make it to the half way city of Hengyang before night falls. We grab quick noodles here and then start back on the freeway - one guy pulled out infront of us which was near suicide, no lights, no indicators, nonchalantly as you like and no apologies after our driver had to screech to a halt.

2 hours has flown by again, and lots more to update you on, but not enough time as usual. I'll try and get on again tomorrow.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Uncle Russ

Heh, the Colfe's boys are gonna love this...

Pictures and Videos

Are now available, (courtesy of the fantastic Richard Hide) on his website at

Thanks Rich!

PS Bear with us both as getting them there is a time consuming process!

Dinner Party

Sat night saw us having a dinner party at Duncan's. Really great atmosphere and it is clear he is loved by his extended family.

His niece Nancy turned up first, followed by Shirley, her husband King, her parents, her other friend Nancy and a workmate Eric. In addition to Duncan, I, Yiuyeng had her work cut out cooking for 10 people!

All good fun. Wes, you would've loved Shirley's old man - kept sneaking out for a crafty fag every 20 minutes, hair all over the place like a mad woman's, and he'd just get up and leave the table every now and again to catch some of the badminton in the middle of the meal. Didn't give a monkeys. Spoke the most english he'd ever spoken that night.

I was making them laugh with the '3 second rule' about dropping a piece of food on the table and it being ok, if you pick it up quickly (ie within 3 seconds). This turned hysterical when I told them about the 10 second rule ('see 3 second rule'), which applies if you're not quick enough for the 3 second rule.

I think they thought it was very strange! They also thought it weird that we just chucked away chicken and gooses feet (instead of eating them) and didn't spit out our waste food. I guess being able to chop off the fat, bones and gristle with a knife and fork before eating isn't an option with chopsticks.

All in all, it was a lovely evening. I belive the family unit here in China is stronger than it is in the UK, and it was nice to be welcomed into a Chinaman's home and be integrated with his family. They were genuinely nice people and made me feel welcome. Above all, I feel priviledged and honoured to be welcomed into Duncan's home, to have him as my kind, patient and generous host (not to mention room-mate!)for nearly a week and for him to involve me in his every-day life too.

The food was great (subtle flavours) and a real mixture of stuff (including Coca Cola chicken wings!). We also ordered a spicy chicken platter from the place we went to for breakfast and left overs are for lunch today (Sunday) when Duncan wakes up from his nap in his massage chair and Yieyung from her siesta! It's very hot and muggy today, so not much doing.

China Mobile

Yo, got mobiled up in China:

My no. from the UK is 00 86 15814 797476

But please DON'T call me between 17.00 and midnight UK time - I'll probaby be asleep!

Friday, 16 May 2008

Road Trip - Nan'ao to Huizhou

So, you've heard about the driving - that gives you some idea of what it was like INSIDE the car, but what about when we stopped?

Well, It took us about an hour to get from Shenzen to Nan ao - the beach where they landed in China.

You can clearly see the small island of Ping Chau (West island) about 500m off the coast which is actually still in Hong Kong waters and you can day trip there at weekends. I might try to do this when I get back to HK. It's a protected national park so should be pretty undisturbed.

Nan ao is now a major holiday destination for Chinese nationals. There are hundreds of hotel rooms available and it's now spread out over several bays and artificial beaches, which made it very difficult to guess which one they landed on... The harbour there has always been in the same place, but again, that was newly built and it was very difficult to find anything that resembled the 'old town'.

We stopped for brunch at one of the many fish restaurants there and enjoyed the fresh catch - all alive in bowls outside, so you just choose, point at and weigh want you want - delicious! Dad, you'd love it.

Then it was back up the coast to Wong Mei Chi/Wong Mei Hoi where they stayed for the night. No barns here now, but quite a few hotels - again another built up area.

We did manage to find the temple (we think) they slept in on the second night - it has been there 500 years and is the only one in the area... Then it was back on the back roads to the next town. Throughout the whole route, I was amazed to see just how built up everything was. At no point did I feel remote, or away from civilisation. The roads were always lined with industrial units, houses, offices or shops and it was non-stop like this all the way which is more than a little disappointing.

Probably the only thing that hasn't changed are the hills (give or take the tunnels bored through them for the roads), and the terrain was similar to that of HK. They're not massively high (2000' max), but very steep sided and covered in thick vegetation. The paths on the hills were probably marginally better in those days due to a higher traffic becasue of fewer roads, but I still wouldn't want to walk up them with my life on my back! Tim, Alison, you're definitely going to have your work cut out of you're going cross-country...

After the temple, it was back in the 4x4, with stops at (map names) Wong Mei Chi, Dapeng, Pingshan, Tam Sui, Huiyang, Qiuchang, Xinxu and Zhenlong before reaching our final destination of Huizhou.

Even Donald and Duncan were having trouble with the dialect and I would say that in less than 150km, the accent begins to change.

We managed to find a couple of schools, official buildings and temples on the way, that are mentioned in various diaries, but with the towns as large as they are and the development that has occured since, we really needed one of the original team (or a local old person with a good memory!) to pinpoint locations...

We crossed the two rivers that grandad talks about and can see why they would've had to have got soaking wet. They're both a good 10m across at least.

We stopped in Huizhou for a late lunch and sent the driver (a northern chinese, who was shorter than the twins, but properly stocky and complete with a flat-top, you wouldn't pick a fight with) on his way to find the 'American Mission', the hospital and the old pier.

He came back trumps. The old pier is now a modern viewpoint across the bay (as the only boats up river to Longchuan are now cargo boats) and the hospotal is a big modern affair around the corner from that.

As we approached the 'Church of Huizhou' on the pedestrianised strip, a lady was letting herself in. We got chatting and she invited us in. For those of you with a vested interest in visiting this place, the address is (bear with me here!) Huizhuo Shi, Huizhin District, 6 Chong San West Road.

We couldn't believe our luck. Upstairs was the retired priest, a 95 year old Chinaman, who remembers the escape party coming in! He was around 27 at the time and helped to provide, food, shelter and medical care to the men, to my grandad! Absolutely amazing, great to meet him and Duncan and I have printed off some photos as a memento and gift to him with a message.

L to R, Duncan Chan, Rev. So Kum Young, Donald Chan, Me, Rev. Wong Yuk Wa (current minister) and Shirley Chan (F).

After a quick look around Huizhou, it was back to Shenzen to say goodbye to Donald (who's off to the UK!) and then back to Duncan's for a late bowl of soup and a welcome bed!

A top day, and I wish I could've communicated with him more. Tim, Alison, let's hope he's got another 7 months left in him and I hope you get to meet him too (look out for the photos we presented him). As Colin was based there for a while, he may have a better recollection of him...

China Road Rules

Big road trip today - got back late so will write up tomorrow, but in a nutshell - did Nanao where they landed, the towns in between and managed to find the American Mission (read Church of Waichow) in Huizhou, a 95 year old priest who remembers it like yesterday - amazing! (Dick, Tim, I've got some great footage for you both!)

Today I've mostly learnt the chinese highway code:
1) Drive slowly - especially if you're in the fast overtaking lane. The slower the better. So slow that you get overtaken by the cars in the slow lane.
2) There are three lanes;
i) The over taking lane - drive slowly!
ii) The main driving lane - drive slower or undertake in this lane.
iii) The second driving lane- STOP. Reverse if you've missed your stop (we did). Set up a market stall. Driving towards the oncoming motorway traffic is completely acceptable, especially on two wheels, mechanised or not. Feel free to conduct 3 point turns.
3) No lights - Particularly if you're wearing black, on an unlit street, riding a pushbike in the 'fast' lane. Drive slowly in the fast lane.
4) Right of Way and Give Way are alien concepts - the only right of way is if you are in-front of someone. You all have right of way, all 6 billion of you. Feel free to stop, push in, move into a gap, 6" longer (preferably shorter) than your car in fast (slow) moving traffic. Turn, brake, stop where you like - especially if it is a surprise to surrounding traffic. If you are hit, it is the hitters fault and not yours. Especially if you have cut them up and they have run into the back/side/front of you.
5) Road markings are irrelevant - Pretty, but irrelevant. Ignore them or drive over them to try and erase them. They are not guidelines and under no circumstances should you try and stay within the lines, especially the 'no cross' line in the central reservation.
6) Don't change gear - Try to pull away in third and only downshift to second on near vertical hill starts. 1st gear is for parking. Once you have reached 5th gear, under no circumstances change gear until your car has completely stopped and been shut down. If you change down, your fuel consumption will go through the roof and your car is liable to burst into flames or drive very slowly.
7) Drive Slowly
8) Your hand-brake is actually a hand-rest.Don't break your hand trying to pull it.
9) Did we mention to drive slowly?
10) Pavements - (see 1). They're actually for driving, not walking.
*NB The two wheel rule - if you are on two wheels, none of the above count. Do your own thing and try to drive in a straight line to your destination from everywhere, particularly across busy intersections. This counts if they're motorised, pedal power or if you can manage to get your car on two wheels. You have right of way over everyone, including pedestrians at legal crossings on a green man. Under no circumstances use any lights and also drive your two wheeler in near silence.

PS Please drive slowly

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Planning Chinese style

So, I've crossed the border and am settling into Shenzen nicely. I can see HK across the river from D's apartment, but as the sign says, no u-turns! I've kicked Duncan into a planning frenzy and he's been highlighting part of his dad's perfectly handwritten diary (that Donald gave me) in chinese and has got his nurse acting as secretary (cause of much complaining too BTW). Effectively (Tim, Alison, Richard - you'll be especially interested in this!) we've been planning in detail the route from Nanao to Waichow and are now set to take a six seater 4x4 tomorrow on quite a detailed tour. I'll make sure we get it all transcribed and sent through (Tim, Alison - I think I've got some good maps for you too...) as soon as we return. So, stepping back a bit. Last night I went out with Shirley (Duncan's recently married great-grand niece) and her best friend Nancy. We never made it to the tall building as Duncan told them (I think they made this up) that I wanted to go shopping(!?). We hit their 'Oxford street' and headed straight for 'selfridges'. Same old shit, different city and all at London prices, so we swerved that one and went to the night market instead. Shopping is not the best sport for me as I've got to carry everything I own, so refrained and we headed off to the korean BBQ restaurant instead. Got the fright of my life on the way there when the girls burst into screams which made me jump and then a split second later a massive rat ran across my left foot, just as I jumped and catapulted it (mind racing thinking I've just flicked this thing further up my body/into the air to land in my mouth or on my head ) which made me jump even more - I think I screamed more than them!? Korean BBQ was great. We ate everything (Duck, lamb, beef, chicken, prawns, vegetable slices and pork) and then sides too. It was delicious and nice to get decent cuts of meat and know it's cooked properly (sent some mega snotty eggs back the other day). Shirley must have hollow legs. She's <5' and packed away more than me - amazing! We had lunch with a Mr Chow who's sorting out our transport (a 6 seater 4x4) for the Nanao - Huizhou part of the trip. I'm a bit frustrated as I didn't especially want to do this part in great detail, and spend so long here, but feel it's better to be safe than sorry (only a fool rushes in - see Chezza, I do listen!) and have decided to chill a little. I'm aiming to leave Shenzen on Sunday/Monday next week now. and have also planned a good itinerary. As luck would have it, Duncan's next door neighbour popped round this a.m (a divorcee who wanted some photos scanning in and putting on the net - attn all single chinese 40+ men out there) and it so happens that her son works for China Travel Services, so we accosted him this afternoon and he's set to work on the Huizhou to Burma part of the trip - no mean feat I can tell you! My spirits rose higher when Donald confirmed he's coming to join us on the trip and Shirley has managed to get a day off work on Friday too - a right little party! I'm hosting (read buying) dinner for 16(!) people at Donald's place (luckily, I'm not cooking) on Saturday night too - his place is about the same size as mine, so you (those of you that have been there) can imaging what that's going to be like! So, Donald's arrived and we're all off on our road trip tomorrow. It's great to see the brothers together - they remind me of Stevie and I, except they're twins, and I can imagine the banter between them... I bought dinner for them tonight (sushi restaurant again) - 12 quid for the three of us - ha! People were still in the pool on they way home at 9 and the line dance class was rocking again! We've got an early start tomorrow at 0800 for a 12hour day and quite a detailed route to follow. We can't follow it exactly (we'll be in a car confined to roads, and the original party was on foot in a straight line) but we've got a pretty good idea from the Barker, McEwan and Chak diaries! Expect some pictures in my next post. And on that note, here's a bit of a vid of Ap Lei Chau where it all started from. The built up apartments are now on reclaimed land and it was this spot that I believe the escape started from. Enjoy... (but now I'm not sure it's loaded...)


Thanks to those of you for adding comments to the various posts. I can't read them here, so I look forward to catching up on them when I get back!

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

I know you can hear me

Thanks for letting me know (you know who you are) that you can still read my new posts on the blog, even though I can't. It's a weird feeling to think I can write, but can't read and I guess just another example of the freedoms that Chinese people don't enjoy unfortunately. I hope my blog hasn't been singled out and that it's a blanket ban...

So, A little more about China. Funny place - you check out of HK under the 'visitors' desk and then cross no mans land, which is a bridge over the river to the China border. At the end of the bridge, there are two signs; NO PHOTOS which was ironic because that's exactly what I wanted to do to the second sign; NO U-TURNS. There you are invited (pointed) to check-in under a banner entitled 'foreign'. There are green, yellow and red buttons to rate your experience. Happy fcuker on the desk would've been lucky to get a yellow, but I decided it best not to press anything...

I'm met by Duncan on arrival which I was grateful for, and (only) saw two other white girls with rather worried looks on their faces - exactly what I would've had if it hadn't been for D.

We get to his place - a collection of 30+ floor tower blocks - imagine the Barbican, but about two or three times as many towers and that's the residential type of structure, we're in! There's a line dancing class taking place in the open square in the middle of the structure - very funny just to turn up and watch 60 or so women doing their thing in time with the 'step, kick, heel - step, kick, toe' type music.

I'm also amazed at just how clean everything is considering how many people live here in such a small place (and this isn't even the centre or the main residential area) there must at least be a million people here. If this was the case in London, it would be trashed in a week, vandalism, litter and graffitti everywhere - we really need to sort the UK out in terms of our attitude to looking after our home, country, property and the way we behave. They might be different, but they're setting an example over here.

Food quality is crap though - knuckles, fish bones, gristle - the lot in most of the meals I've eaten and that's pretty standard in quite posh looking restaurants... I ate geeses feet today (OK - bit crunchy, but you spit those bits out) I'm sure there's more of that to come!

Right, off out sightseeing with some of Duncan's rellies... Just been told we're going to the tallest tower (Empire) in Shenzen...


I ate geeses feet for lunch today.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008


So, I've just tried to view the photos and edit a post on my blog, but it seems I am able to post, but not to read it...

Can some of you lovely readers with my email address let me know if you can see this and/or the post recent post entitled 'I'm in!' along with a pic of me and Dondald?

I can write but I can't read if that makes sense!?

I'm in!

Folks, I've crossed the border, over the bridge at the end of the underground line and past the (I've forgotten where my cheek muscles that make me smile) chinese border guard, breezing through customs with a bottle of whisky for my host, and into arrivals to meet Donald and his live-in nurse Yueyueng. I'm writing this post-dinner from Duncan's apartment of the 23rd floor of a block in Shenzen. He's been very kind and has offered to put me up for a night or two before we depart.

But let's take a step back. Today was fantastic - I met the other Chan brother, Donald, his wife Mason and their fantastic daughter Lindsey, and grandson Danny. They were fresh of the plane from Perth, Australia, yet were kind enough to invite me to their immaculate flat, also in the mid-levels (I've yet to meet anyone that lives anywhere else!). We dined at their daughter's house to a lovely meal of fish, noodles, rice and vegetables all prepared by their live-in (Fillipino I think?) helpers.

Then it was back to Donalds where he showed me some real gems - Richard, prepare to get jealous!
I've seen Andrew Chan Chak's KCB/KBE (Knight Commander of the British Empire) medal (this made him a 'Sir'), the bullet on the gold chain that remained in his arm for the first few days of the escape, his pocket watch and his original beautifully hand written diary/account of the escape. Of course the latter is all in Cantonese, but I'm in the process of hopefully transcribing some of it with Duncan...

So, to bring it to life:
1) Donald and I

2)The medals and bullet

3) And finally, a typical page from Sir Andrew Chan Chak's diary

Now all I've got to do is get the twin brothers Chan together in the same place at the same time with me - no mean feat I can tell you!

PS I've been told in no uncertain terms by my host and hostess that "your Mandarin is terrible" - guess I'll just have to point and act... I'll be a mime expert on my return.

Monday, 12 May 2008


Or too much?


I've done a lot of them; here's a quick praisee:
Museum of Coastal defence - Great! Really brings it to life. You can see the mainland, imagine the japs coming over, see damage from bullets and grenades and wander the bunkers and secret tunnels. The static displays are informative too and it doesn't just concentrate on WWII. They've been kicking off with Japan for many years before and since.

Maritime Museum - based in Stanley in Murray House, a building that was originally in Victoria City (now renamed Central) it was moved in its entirity to the coastal town. It's still got war damage (repaired) from the fighting and now houses the above. The models are fantastic (Jay, they're even better than your grandad's boat!) and I also learnt where the phrase 'pieces of eight' comes from - the mexican silver coins that were 8 'reales'.

Musuem of History - OK, but I'm a bit museumed out by now as you can imagine. Lots of good stuff on HK's history geologically (basically all hell broke loose) and some interesting 'taking you back' ot the 'good old days' of empire, the Jap invasion and appalling ensuing three years 8 months up to the handover of 1997. Thatcher negotiated that 'nothing would change in HK' for the next fifty years, but the Government here seem decidely cagey about what their plans are for the future. It's a shame as I can't help but feel we helped them to make HK the great city it is today... Oh well, at least they're not speaking Russian or Portugese (or Japanese for that matter!)

Back track a bit

So, I've missed out a day in, (and because of) my busy schedule - diary (blog) keeping isn't an easy thing, no wonder there's no entries in grandad's diary during the worst days of the fighting!

Is it wrong that I had a massive Macca's breakfast? Two hash browns, a sausage and egg mc muffin with what can only be described as a disappointing 'shot' of OJ. Exactly the same as back home, except the burger was a bit neater and actually looked like it did in the photograph!

Went to Cathay Pacific and actioned the full refund on the extortionate full fare return ticket that I had to buy to get here... No problems there so that put a smile on my face :)

Then it was over to HK University to meet up with Peter Cunich and Tim Ko. The former is a history professor there who Bruce Macnamara put me in touch with and the latter is a graduate and published author on the subject, writing an excellent book (with a fellow called Jason Wordie) on the battle and war sites of HK island. They did a big survey back in the 70s of all the sites, batteries etc and have loads of great photos in their book 'Ruins of War'.

Peter and Tim were two of the most interested, and interesting people I've spoken to so far. They're massively knowledgable on the subject and were also genuinely interested in what I was doing (that's not to say that all the other people I've met haven't been - they have!) which was nice seeing as I'd only just met them. Tim has since helped me out with some fantastic aerial photographs of areas I'm looking at. A really helpful couple of guys and I look forward to their help in the future.

Went back to Big Johns for dinner (because I felt guilty about breakfast) and then headed down to the promenade to watch the festival of lights. A nightly occurrence bang on 8pm where they blare out cheesey chinese style classical music and all the lights on the skyscrapers across the water light up in patterns in time (very roughly) with the music. It's the same festival I missed that I'd bought my ticket for and it was kinda fun. The energy consumption and light pollution must be atrocious though - I thought London was bad, but this is something else. The best bit was when the double decker ferry that had parked up in the harbour to watch the show had its view obscured by this absolutely enormous, 25 floor ocean cruiser that sailed past just at the crucial moment. It looked so comical and I can imagine the yelling of the people on the boat now, completely unheard of by the captain 23 levels or so above them.

Aerial photos of Ap Lei Chau

So, went to the Ap Lei Chau photographic exhibition today (also Buddha's birthday, so happy birthday Buddha) of aerial and other photographs taken of ap lei chau over the ages. It was only a small set up under a couple of gazebos outside a small temple, but for me - absolutely amazing.

Pretty sure I saw a photo which showed up Pill Box 12 just off of Brick Hill as well. This is the one that shot the Admiral through the arm and would've also fired at the MTBs too...

Hopefully gonna get a copy when I return to HK from the mapping dept.


Apparently, there's been a bit of an earthquake in Central China. Didn't feel it, slept through it, still here, not going anywhere near there, so DON'T WORRY DAD!

Saturday, 10 May 2008

The crossing

Another busy one today - up early and off to Sai Ke Wan to the battery there. This is just opposite Kowloon (the mainland) on the NW side of HK island and is where the Japanese first made their assault and successful landing onto HK island.

I was being shown around by the very kind Edlin, a reporter here on one of the chinese language newspapers and a contact of Donald Chan's. We had a look around the battery, first built in defence of the potential Russia/French threat as they were the main traders in the area at the time.

The battery was impressive and I have to take my hat off to the Japs who managed to overwhelm it and cross - what a feat! There are still gun emplacements there, range finders, magazines and a rather good exhibition. It turns out the Chinese have had an on-off war with the Japs for many years now...

Grabbed lunch of barbeque'd goose in one of the noisiest cafe's I've ever heard! There was drilling going on upstairs (like the building work next door geronimites - OMG - so loud!). Then it was off to Stanley, a small peninsular on the south of the island that the allies managed to hold out before the surrender. They were completely cut off and vulnerable so I don't blame the allied commander/governor at all. There's an argument he should've done it sooner! Stanley is a funny place - only a couple of hundred metres wide at the neck, with a small beach on one side and the locals frollicking in the water pretty much fully clothed... The other side has a great market (bought three t-shirts for six quid) and a rather European promenade complete with pizza express and maccas (oh no) and a whole host of mock British pubs. Nice strolling though.

Then I headed up to Stanley war cemetery. Not as big as the previous one, but interesting in other ways. Lots of young men gave their lives before they'd even lived. 19, 20,21,22 and 23 were not uncommon ages on the grave stones. Grandad was also 21 at the time and I saw a gravestone for an R Barker from HMS Cicala (his last ship) so thank God that wasn't him! Otherwise I wouldn't be writing this now. I signed the guestbook as before. I would like to think that if the UK was in the same situation again, I would be so valiant and sign up, but I guess it's one of those situations that you don't know what you'd do until you're faced with it...

Friday, 9 May 2008


Meeting them, lots of them to be specific. I took the mid-levels escalator up to, well, the mid-levels and enjoyed elevenses with Jenny whilst she told me all about her and her husbands trip to Burma back in the day - exciting stuff and I'm looking forward to it even more.
The mid-levels escalator is basically a mixture of travellators (not as steep as gladiator style!) that take you from the centre of town to the 'burbs' of hong kong where all the ex-pats live. It's the longest escalator in the world, but is actually a set of them all joined up together.

The view from Jenny's on the 36th floor was amazing and she regaled me of the pros and cons of her trip, I'm sure I'll have similar experiences soon too. Then it was back over to Ap Lei Chau to do some more on the ground exploring.

The best way I can describe the island is basically two great big mounds on an east-west line. If I'd been shot in the arm and only had one leg and needed to get to the other side of the mountain, what route would I take? That's right - between the two over the lowest part and smallest gradient. So, in 30degree blazing sunshine and 90% humidity I set off. It was treacherous and just like being in a sauna! When I got to the pass there's only a ruddy sports ground and a couple of nutters running round it! Anyway, the place has completely changed - high rise residentials all round.

So, from there I set off to see the place where the Admiral got shot at from the South side of HK island (Brick Hill, pill box 12 to be precise) which is now a canadian international school - very nice. Blagged my way in there and met the uber-helpful head of history Bruce Macnamara who was dead interested and gave me lots of interesting people to speak to in the short time I have left here... I went out on the balcony of the brand spanking new theatre they've had built and looked back to the south channel (see Richard Hide's website for a map). It's obvious from this point where the MTBs would've got shot up from - there's only two gaps you could see them through... and I would've definitely felt really exposed if I'd just managed to make my way over to ap lei chau too - not a nice place to be at all... Then up to a memorial garden near there (more sports ground stuff - with exercise things for the aged, which is kinda weird but really cool too) and again, similar types of panorama.

Bruce also told me about a photography exhibition of old photos of ap lei chau, so I'm going to meet the curator of that and then he took me to statue square back in the centre of town. The Japs took all but one of the statues (except the boss of HSBC bank as they didn't think it was important enough!) to melt them down. They later returned the one of Queen Victoria. Across the street were Steven and Stitt, two bronze lions that still bear the wounds and bullet holes from the fighting - it's always weird to see holes like that carved into such a strong material - makes you feel vulnerable just looking at it.

Then I took some photos of 2008 hong kong from the same perspective of some 1930s hong kong photos I'd been sent - the place is pretty much unrecognisable. This did however lead me to the 29th floor of the LKF hotel balcony bar and breathtaking view of Central. A breathtaking bill for a beer too, but I guess it was worth it. Until it was spoiled by a load of suits turning up - "what's the point of being in hong kong if you never get to see any of it?" one of them said to me. "Especially as we've just finished work" he said at 19.50 before talking to his 'mates' about options, real estate and more shop... Yeah, what's the point exactly mate!

Today (Friday) saw me get a full refund for the extortionately expensive ticket I had to buy at Heathrow, which is a weight off my mind and then I met Tim Ko and Peter Cunich at the University of Hong Kong. These guys were possibly the most interested people I've met - so knowledgeable on the subject and it was great to talk to them about names they knew but for their exploits after the war - gave them a little insight I think (hope) into what they were up to before hand...

Finished the day off with this and a viewing of the cheesey but quite impressive festival of lights. Basically at 8pm every night, they blare music out of loud speakers and the lights on the buildings do a coordinated 'dance'. It's impressive to watch but the energy... And the light pollution here is unbelievable!

Going to the museum of coastal defence tomorrow with a journalist and then Duncan and the photo exhibition of ap lei chau on Sunday hopefully. China, here I come, Monday!

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Visa'd Up!

That's right, two lots of 30 days is the amount of time I can spend in China before 5August folks - got my passport back today (still my photo in it too) from the fantastic Elaine and Rocky at Phoenix Travel.

If you're coming to China/HK - contact them, if you need a flight out of China/HK - contact them, if you need a visa or anything else - contact them. Rocky? Diamond more like.

Another busy day, checked out of USA hostel and into another one in the same block - cheaper, bigger bed, nice big window, but not as nice shower, but I can live with that...

Then I met SJ Chan, published author and all round expert on the South China Guerrillas who took me for lunch at the prestigious HK Jockey Club - very nice - (and I felt completely underdressed in my travellers shorts and t-shirt). He berated me for "not getting in touch sooner... - like 20 years ago!" despite the fact that I was 10...

Then it was back to Phoenix to pick up my pass port book my flight home (see previous entry dad). Dinner with Peter and Rocky again (in HK's version of Yo Sushi) then back to theirs to peruse a few of peter's excellent book collection on the history of Hong Kong in photos (my starter book) building up to one in chinese... He's also been kind enough to let me borrow a couple before I go (Thanks Peter). Bedtime reading that certainly won't send me to sleep!

Elevenses with Jenny tomorrow and them some more exploring I think...

Don't want a watch, Don't want a tailors...

They clock you from a hundred yards - you swerve across the pavement
They head on an intercept path - I already know what they want
They're going to try anyway - they're still not going to get a response
The only thing I dont' know is will it be a watch or a suit or both? Oooh, the excitement!

In an stong indian accent "Hello my friend, fake watch, copy watch, you wanna buy a watch?" or "Yes Sir, Custom tailor, tailor suit, custom suit, tailor tailor, custom shirt" - one even tried to enticing me during the olypmic torch fiasco - you've gotta be having a laugh mate!? There was only a space wide enough to fit one person through this gap, I couldn't stop even if I wanted too and you're still trying? - 10 out of 10 for effort though. I doubt we'd even had made it to his shop!

Next time I get asked, I might surprise them (Gary, what make/model is that Breitling watch you're always on about? - can't guarantee it'll still be ticking when I get back though...) and ask for a shiny gold Louis Vitton imitation suit, complete with garish gold shoes, belt and matching man-bag.

Failing that, I'll just find a t-shirt shop and get "Don't wanna watch, Don't wanna tailors" printed in large letters across the front!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Ap Lei Chau

Is the island Grandad 'hid' behind in the MTBs. 'Hid' I think is too strong a word, as it's kinda difficult to hide three 60' boats. They were more simply out of view because of the two massive mountains in the way. So, I met Duncan for breakfast at Aberdeen bus terminal where he'd stayed with his eldest daughter and seen his grandsons the night before after leaving me. We strolled across the road and there was Ap Lei Chau. Just 300-400metres away across a choppy channel, that was chock-a-block with junks, house boats and fishing vessels of all kinds. This was the spot where Chan Chak and all the others had to jump out their boat and swim for their lives whilst being shot at by the Japs. He got shot through the left forearm (and was rather concerned at becoming a one legged, one armed Colonel) and one of the other guys was shot through the back. I wouldn't have fancied climbing either of these mountains. They're ridiculously steep and covered in jungle just like all the others. Duncan managed to chat up one of the suntanned old ladies on the promenade and talk her into getting her fella to drive us round the island on his motorised sampan.
Firstly, we circumnavigated Magazine Island (an even smaller rocky outcrop just to the West) so named because of it's past life as an excellent and secret ammunition store place accessible only by boat and then did the main island. The whole thing couldn't've taken more than 30 minutes. There's now a road-bridge linking it to the mainland and more of those massive skyscraper residential buildings. The exact hiding spot is now impossible to identify as the whole area is a long concrete harbour wall. I could imagine it though and got some great footage. We continued round in an anticlockwise direction and up the Southern inlet where the Japs shot up the boat - It was a really exposed place and they were just sitting ducks (pardon the pun). Funnily enough, that's what Ap Lei Chau means - duck's tongue...

The boat dropped us off at 'JUMBO' floating restaurant, complete with seawater treatment centre, seafood aquarium/museum (where you can touch the relics and are encouraged to eat them) and of course the restaurant. Queen Liz II has been there (bet she loved it!) and so have half of China as far as I could make out from the promotional boards outside. Anyway, the food was ok, kinda cheesey, mega touristy and a complete rip off, but something you have to do once.

I've had an excellent couple of days with Duncan, and I hope to meet his younger (by 1hour!) brother when he returns from Perth next week - I can imagine the terrible two! He has also told me that he's never visited these places, and that I have inspired and motivated him to do so. If I go no further on this trip, I feel I have achieved something by this and am really proud to have done that. I do hope I can spend more time with Duncan.

Steve, you'd love him. He talks old skool English, like grandad did and has his own funny ways of saying things like grandad's strike a light, steady etc. He cracked me up this morning - calls all these people fellows, but pronouced properly instead of fella. He was talking about this one guy we might meet - "A big, fat fellow" he said. Imagine that from a little old chinaman, with a heavy accent. Cracked me up, and you would've loved it.

He's also put me in touch with a journalist so watch this space...

A Great day.


So, up to Phoenix travel to see my pocket Rocket Elaine (Ash, she reminds me of an Asian Sarah Atkinson!) who arrived at 09.00 on the dot - I was the first one there at 08.40 and had a non conversation with the cleaner... I pick the visa up Wednesday (tomorrow) so fingers crossed on that as I've heard other stories/bad news.

Mad rush pretty much all the way across town to meet the amazing and slightly deaf Dr Dan Waters. My impatience got the better of me, I was stuck in traffic, in an air conditioned taxi on Conduit Road (his road) and was running late. Decided to jump out and walk. As soon as I do, the traffice moves off (roadworkds contraflow) - typical and I begin to sweat. An uphill walk and rushing makes me sweat more and I arrive a sweaty wreck unfortunately. I did meet his dapper wife in the lift on the way out - immaculately dressed. Dan welcomed me in, ordered me to take off my shoes and showed me to the study. He holds "all comers records for marathons and running at all sorts of distances you know?"
"Oh really?"
"In the over 70s class"
It was good to meet him, he was very interested in Grandad's diary and also asked me if I would mind doing a radio interview, which of course I wouldn't (Geronimo - help can you give me media training in 10 easy steps?). I didn't really find out any more about the escape from Dr Dan, but the meeting did urge me to investigate further. I found out that Grandad was away from home for four years. He was born in 1920 (same year as Dr Dan) and signed up on 24 February 1938 - his 18th birthday - what a present!? He returned home, in the May after his 22nd birthday.

Another mad rush back over the water to the Chinese side of town (Mong Kok - no folks, that's not an ailment) where I was to meet Duncan "at exit E for Elizabeth".

I recognised him straight away - stood at the foot of the escalators, with an expectant look on his face - he's got his dad's eyes. I instantly liked Duncan - he's 75, admittedly a little slow on his feet but still got a twinkle in his eye. His english is good and he can understand me if I talk slowly in my finest Queen's English, which admittedly isn't very fine at all. We ambled down the main street, back again and then took the lift to a restaurant so tucked away, there's no way you'd ever know it existed. It's like walking into another world - properly something out of Harry Potter. Just a lift shaft on the ground floor and it opens to reveal a 300 cover restaurant, aquarium (read menu) and so on and so forth. I met Peter, Duncan's friend, long time money man (retired accountant) of Henry Tsui (CC's right hand man and also owner of the LA Hilton Airport Hotel!) who is now a feng shui consultant, mind reader, body language reader etc. Anyway, I must've passed the test as we all enjoyed a fantastic three hour lunch with lashings of green tea and no booze at all. Duncan treated us all to a meal we couldn't finish and for less than GBP30!
They talked me into buying a mobile - see last post - and a wise one too, so I'm pay-as-you-go'd up for thirty quid... This was a much more relaxed affair and after pouring over the maps, I could've kicked myself for leaving the technical stuff at Dr Dan's by mistake (which lead to a second whistlestop tour back over that way in the afternoon...) From the information I managed to convey to them, they were worried about me and not sure some of the more remote places at the start of the journey (Nanao - Huizhou, 80miles) are somewhere for a westerner like me with absolutely zero chinese speaking/understanding ability at all to be going alone. Duncan has suggested a couple of options which has lead to me researching futher and building a much more detailed itinerary. If it all goes to plan, I'll be doing this first stretch with him, in luxury, in a hired car (or taxi) in one or two days. It's not far from his China home and I think we could do it in a round trip. He's also going to help me to arrange the onwards part from Huizou with China Travel Services, so that should all be good!
I finished the day with some more shopping and bagged a kosher JVC camcorder (this is going to be one hell of a Beer Monkey Geronimo!), tripod, bag, spare battery, mug, water bottle etc all for less than UK prices - happy days - don't worry it's not a fake either.
Hit the sack after some detailed planning, diarising and playing with my new toys!


Hi all

Just a quickie - I'm mobile in HK.

Telephone from HK: 6939 8439

From the UK: Call me from a landline only in the UK (or I'll call you to a landline only ) and it only costs me $0.25c/minute - happy days! Number from UK 00 852 6939 8439.

Speak to you soon...

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Mad as a bag of frogs

Breakfast at Big John's again today - this time, a sausage pattie with supernoodles and a proper cup of tea - lovely. Then it's on the blower again and I managed to get hold of Duncan Chan - Donald's brother and Chan Chak's son. We've arranged to meet on Monday lunchtime, so very looking forward to that. A couple of people now have told me they're both big drinkers so that afternoon should be fun - monday lunchtime drinking? Ouch! Still chasing Dan and we keep missing each other...

Went to a fantastic lecture at the Helena May club. It's a ladies club in HK, in a fantastic old colonial building, with the peak tram (which is SOOO steep it's scary) running up behind it. I was a sweating mess by the time I reached there and couldn't be bothered to take the tram just then, so I wandered through HK park and saw all the newlyweds having their picture taken - completely false and cheesey, but nice all the same. One bride was walking along with the maid holding up her train and she had the highest flat, black velvet, wedge sandal things on - must've made her about 4" taller - v.funny.

Back to the club and enjoyed a decent lecture on a Japanese Admiral and his exploits in the Indian and China seas before actually taking the peak tram this time. The view was rubbish. We were in the clouds, with mist in every direction, and the top of the sky scrapers peeping through and just visible. The residential buildings are so high, they take your breath away. Then Peter and I took the walk down the peak (you wouldn't want to walk up it) and saw some of the ruins of the Anti Aircraft (AA) batteries there. Huge guns in concrete bunkers that the Japs knew the positions of. I wouldn't have wanted to have been stuck up there with the boys, no water, sleep or food for days and the en. knowing exactly where you were and shooting at you with bigger, better guns. Back to Peter's for the most refreshing beer (thank-you Peter) and a peruse of some of his very interesting books. I saw the Waichow photo published in one (submitted by Chak's right hand man Henry) and of course Grandad. Then it was back to Kowloon and late to bed (midnight) again.

Sunday saw me hit snooze, then sleep and I finally rose at midday. Pissed off at myself for missing half of it, but then again, obviously needing the sleep, I wanted to visit the museum of coastal defence and the war cemetery today. Took the MTR (the underground) to the end of the line and began to walk up the hill. I nearly died! Blazing sun, humidity in the 90s and temp in the high 20's - it's like perma-sauna! Got there and it was locked - NOOOO! I tried to pick the lock, but to no avail, so wrote down the phone number and trekked back down the hill (past the fattest Chinaman I've ever seen, who was still asleep on his stool) to the station to phone the number - "the war museum is the next one up!" said the man who also gave me the code to the locked one. Sod walking that again, so I jumped in a cab. Met a Canadian guy who was up there trying to find where his great grandad was buried, but to no avail - he was in the book though. I find war graves so humbling. Hundreds of similar headstones, so many nationalities (British, Canadian, Dutch, Indian, Kiwi's, Aussies and of course Chinese), and a plethora of different cap badges. I didn't see anyone with an MTB crest (guess they'd all be under RN) but did see one guy from HMS Cicala - grandad's last boat before he was moved onto the MTBs that he saw getting bombed out the water. "By the time I'd finished, it was too late for the museum, so hit Lonely Planet's pick for dinner in the area - a 2nd floor food hall above a market. Awesome stuff.

Firstly the market - I saw the woman buying fresh fish - alive until about two seconds before the owner koshed them to death with a saint (Steve, you're the only reader that will probably understand that!?). I can imagine what he was saying now
"What this one love?"
"Yes please" - WHACK!
" There you go - uh oh" WHACK!
"That should do it - you wouldn't want it jumping out the pan now would you?"
"Whoops" - WHACK!
"Can I get you anything else?"
"Some frogs please"
Yes that's right - half a dozen frogs in a bag. Cage full of hundreds of them, bag full of six. I started to back off and shield the white shirt I was wearing from splatter, but no, it was the chop for them. I never knew a frog could still 'ribbit' without a head, but I do know where the saying 'mad as a bag of frogs' comes from. Well, you would be wouldn't you?

Very busy day tomorrow - VISA, Dr Dan and Duncan.

Friday, 2 May 2008


OMFG - the crowds! These guys just went crazy for the torch. It went down my road twice today... I've never seen anything like it. They were 30 deep at the sidewalk, climbing on top of phone boxes, up scaffolding - the lot!

Needless to say I missed it (through choice) as I was too busy meeting interesting people after a proper chinese breakfast of fried egg, ham and, erm, supernoodles...
Then it was off to the travel agency. If anyone is ever going to HK/China (yes I know they're official one and the same) I cannot recommend Phoenix Travel strongly enough. Took me a while to find it seeing as I was looking on Ashton Road instead of Ashton AVENUE, but I got there in the end and boy am I glad I did.
So, Monday morning I have to submit my visa application for a double entry visa to China. GBP85 lighter, I'm also booked on to a flight from HKG-BEJ-LHR (with a stop over in Beijing for a week) arriving on Friday 20 June - DAD, put it in your diary as this is the date I'll return to the UK. All up price just GBP286! That's cheaper than my flight out here and I'm getting two for that price! It is with China Air mind...
And so on to lunch with Tony Banham (in Pret-A-Manger, no doubt you'll be pleased to hear Geronimites!)who ever so kindly gave up an hour of his valuable time to point this hapless traveller in the right direction. Tony is a published author and all round expert on things 'war' in HK. I've now (thank God for proof-reading, that almost said not...)got a map of HK, with little green highlighted dots (Green = Go there) and I fear not enough time to visit all of them. Top of the list is the pillbox that was still firing at Grandad as he made good his escape up Dapeng Bay.
Then it was back to the travel agency - (I managed to coincide most of my travelling today with the two times that the torched passed anywhere near me and therefore had a mare each time!) - where I presented my grand plans on a slightly pixellated map (see pic below). By chance, and as luck would have it, said owner of Phoenix Travel, a very affable chap called Rocky (lucky too - looks 35, but I think he's the wrong side of 45!) who took great interest in my map and instantly berated me for not getting in touch sooner and emailing him with all the details so he could help me look places up and sort out an itinerary. He pulled his english/Chinese map of guangdong province off the wall and instantly set about reading grandad's diary, getting the girls in the office to look places up on online maps, had a colleague in a completely different office (but who lived in Guangdong proviance for 30 years!) with his atlas out looking up places, all the while reciting out loud the words that grandad had written and then reading out loud place names off the map to see if they sounded the same! Lady luck is definitely looking after Saggitarians in Hong Kong tonight as it also happened that his flatmate, one Peter Stuckey, also has an interest in history and researching places. Not only that, but Peter had been invited to a lecture tomorrow (which I'm also now attending) about the Japanese naval fleet, Vice Admiral Nagumo and his inability to find the Royal Navy fleet - how frustrating that must've been after his 'success' at Pearl Harbour! So, the Vice-President (did I mention that?) of the Royal Asiatic Society, his excellent flatmate Rocky and I enjoyed a good couple of hours pouring over maps and websites with me scrabbling to write down names of so many useful contacts that I hope to meet. A great day was finally topped off in a local Chinese restaurant where the three of us enjoyed the best Chinese food I've had so far - simply divine and at just GBP6 each, that can't be bad at all. A great end to a great day.
The only downer was that I was so engrossed talking/researching/planning with Rocky and Peter, that I completely forgot about the harbour boat tour I'd booked a ticket on to see the light show at 8o'clock... I'll see if I can swap it tomorrow.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Mayday, Mayday

That's right, it's Mayday over here (same as it is in the rest of the world and unlike the UK, the actual 1st May is the holiday, no matter what day has scuppered me. All the offices/agencies were shut, so, I had no choice but to go shopping...

Firstly though, Nan, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I hope you get to read this sooner rather than later.

Back to the shopping: I haven't broken the bank or overloaded the bags just yet, infact, I was quite reserved, but spent most of the day going from high humidity outdoors, to freezing air conditioned indoors. Not sure I'll ever get used to that feeling of walking out of a store and actually being hotter! I am sweating like the proverbial at the moment as I acclimatise though.
I've also managed to buy a diary (which I thought would be dead easy) but is no mean feat 45% of the way through the year (which is exactly the discount the shop owner eventually gave me!).
I've arranged to meet Tony Banham tomorrow for a quick bite to eat and am really looking forward to it. I'm hoping he'll be able to fill any gaps in my meticulously planned journey!
Apart from that, not a lot else to report really. Had a 'big man's breakfast' in Big John's cafe, which actually wasn't that big, nor was owned by John... Wish I'd gone for the local's egg, ham and noodle soup to be honest. Dinner was at an indian restaurant (where I was the only white face - the rest were brown, not yellow) and had an amazing Mysora Masala Dosa (massive pancake filled with spicy potato) with dipping sauces, a sweet Lassi and a cinnamon like massam tea - yum! I was sat next to an amazingly untalkative Indian chap from Mumbai, who had just come back from Mainland China, protesting about Tibet. The torch is here in HK tomorrow, so I'll go to that and might give the miserable git a shove when it goes past - watch out for him/me on the news! Apres dinner I hit another traditional hot spot, Delaney's Irish bar and had a lovely cold pint of kilkenny whilst watching Chelsea v Liverpool - all good stuff and this time, all amongst ex-pats (excluding the two Fillipino hookers in the corner).
And so to bed. Visa quest starts in earnest tomorrow, so hopefully a more positive update to come!