First Night & Day

Piece of paper with directions and pictures of the Hong Kong airport

Once off the plane, I took a train to the baggage terminal where my knapsack was waiting for me. Next, I went looking for the bus. Nicole had made me some nifty wayfinding directions the night before! It was still confusing as the desk staff said to wait at Gate 10, then Gate 5, then directed me into a small car. Me and five others were then driven out of the airport, with each passenger with their phones going off constantly, playing ringtones from birdsong to Avril Lavigne as Chinese pop music played on the speakers.

The border crossing was a strange experience. The custom guards were less intimidating than those at the USA/CDN border, but we were all shuttled out of the one car without a word and I was left confused on a platform until a customs attendant gestured I go to another car. I didn’t see the driver or any of the other passengers again.

I wish I had studied my Chinese better. I desperately wanted to ask “What is happening?” and “Is there time to go to the ladies room? Where is it please?” I think Nicole will have to give a quick language lesson during my stay.

After what felt like an eternity, I tried to find someone who spoke English to ask where the washroom was, but the attendant I was directed to thought I was asking the time. So I just went back to sit in the car.

I was rather concerned as I was already 10pm and we hadn’t even left customs yet and Nicole had been waiting since 9pm. I was tempted to turn on my data and text her, but then I remembered all the phone bill travel horror stories I’d heard. So I waited, and eventually we left, arriving at the hotel 2 and a half hours after Nicole said she’d meet me. I hoped she was sitting somewhere comfy, had a good book, and wasn’t worried about me!

From the back seat of the van I observed a never ending selection of neon signs, tree trunks painted white (if not for art, why?), and lots of concrete and shiny glazed structures. When the driver finally got me to my meeting place to see Nicole, she wasn’t there. I asked the hotel staff if I could use the lobby phone to call her, but they said it did not make outside calls. They told me to go use a pay phone in a supermarket nearby. I was reluctant to go wandering outside with all my bags at 1am (by then) in the morning, but after trying unsuccessfully to contact Nicole by email, Facebook, and Skype using the hotel lobby internet, I made the venture to the supermarket.

Fortunately the supermarket was just across the lane way. However, it was a wall mounted, card operated phone with  the instruction for use and its buttons all in Chinese. I returned to the hotel lobby discouraged.

Fortunately, Yehuda was online, so he called and texted her for me since I couldn’t use my phone in Dongguan. I had no idea how far away Nicole’s apartment was because the map apps on my phone kept rejecting the Chinese addresses I typed into it. I went to ask the hotel staff how much it would be to stay there, but it was rather expensive. So, I looked up nearby hotels on and saw that one that was affordable, the Designer Hotel. So, with Yehuda’s encouragement, I got in a taxi and gave them the address of the fabled hotel to the driver.

The taxi driver did not speak English (it seemed like no one really did that evening) but took me to the hotel without turning on his meter. I wasn’t sure what to give him, so just passed him 10 yuan, which was a close match to his previous passenger’s tariff.

The hotel I was dropped off at did not look like a hotel. It did not have a lobby, just a desk next door to a nightclub with loud, booming music. When I first approached the staff they didn’t seem to understand me and in our miscommunication made me believe that there weren’t any rooms and it wasn’t a hotel. However, we eventually got through to one another and with a 600 yuan down payment on a 388 yuan room, I finally got a place to sleep that night.

The hotel staff were not pleased to have to deal with me this evening and seemed far more interested in a group of drunk people who stank of liquor. They laughed and one guy kept imitating my use of English words, “Shank you? Shank you? Ah ha ha!”

When I got up to my destined floor, I noticed the room number I was assigned did not correspond to the door numbers. However, I eventually figured out that 9.5 meant 89105 and found my room.

Hotel room with textured, sculptures white walls, a low flat bed, and a red raised  bath tub

The lights didn’t go on in the room and it took me awhile to realize that I had to put my hotel card in a slot to activate the electricity in the room. With the lights on, I found myself on the set of an Austen Powers movie. There was high shag carpet, a sculptured interior, a telephone next to to the toilet, a red bath tub with mirrors on the ceiling, and a basket of lube and condoms by the bed.

I washed my face, brushed my teeth, and plonked myself down in the bed. Despite my exhaustion, it took me awhile to fall asleep. I woke up at 5:00am to loud voices going down the hallway outside my room. I had a horrible headache and felt like my cold had come back, so got up to take some night cold medicine I’d brought for the plane ride but hasn’t used. I checked my email, but no word from Nicole yet. Facebook was blocked, so I couldn’t check that, and eventually I fell back asleep.

I woke up at 9am to bright sunlight in my room even through the curtains were drawn. There was soft elevator music playing from the hallway and I could smell cigarette smoke.

I rolled over and checked my phone. Hark, Nicole had emailed me! She had fallen asleep last night and felt terrible about what happened.

low rise landscape with red cranes and an empty construction lot

I got up and opened the curtains. Below me was an expanse of rubble followed by low to high rise concrete buildings. The street was lined with cars- a far cry from the barren, dark street it was last night.

With some trouble, I filled the bathtub (the spout and shower head kept interchanging who was suppose to be on, resulting in water spraying everywhere). It was nice to have a bubble bath. I lay in the warm water, completely in thought with the sounds of traffic and construction below as white noise to me.

At 11am, I checked out of my hotel and took a taxi to Nicole’s complex. It took me about an hour to find her building as all the signs were in Chinese. The first security guard sent me to the wrong building and I rang the bell of two wrong 703 apartments before finally finding Nicole’s building with the help of some kind tenants.

Once I’d dropped off my bags and we’d caught up, Nicole took me out to Elephant Cafe for brunch where I had an egg bean wrap (which turned out to be a ham egg wrap) and ginger honey tea. The honey tea was AMAZING! It was like sweet chia tea- so good!

Live fish in fish tanks in the grocery section at Wal-Mart.

After brunch, we went to a Chinese bakery and Wal-Mart. I was totally blown away by Wal-Mart. They had live fish, crab, and shrimp in tanks for you to choose from. There was even a butcher shop and all sorts of different foods too. Everywhere I turned there was something new and foreign for me to see!

We bought bananas, bok choy, coconut water, and toasted bread which we brought home in time for the water delivery (you can’t drink tap here apparently). Nicole and I went over maps together and planned out the rest of our day before having an afternoon nap. We woke up at 6:30pm in time for Nicole’s friend Grace to drop off some of Nicole’s stuff from school and went out for dinner together at an area of town Nicole called the ‘armpit elbow street.’

I didn’t realize how hungry I was until I had a menu in hand. We ordered two noodle dishes, dumplings, rice, vegetables, and tea. The dishes on the table were in sets wrapped in plastic. Grace showed me how to disinfect my dishes with tea. We first put tea in our bowl, then dipped in our cup and spoon before pouring the tea over a saucer and unto a green bowl to be disposed of.

The restaurant workers were gathered around the TV to watch The Voice of China where the contestants were all singing English songs. We ate our food and had enough to take home for lunch and dinner the next day. We said fair well to Grace and went on a venture to find the bank where Nicole could recharge her card for the gas meter so that the gas meter in Nicole’s apartment would stop beeping at us.

We went in the direction that the waitress pointed, but still couldn’t find the bank. So, we went into Starbucks and asked the barista there. He pointed us further down the street and tried to spell the name of the bank to us. We found it, but the machine to charge the card had instructions all in Chinese which Nicole couldn’t read. A young man tried to help us who was unsure what to do himself, and after about 20 minutes we gave up and went home. I was in awe of the kindness of strangers in this city! Everyone seems so content to help.

Now I sit on the couch in Nicole’s apartment using her computer which has the VPN that allows me to access WordPress and Facebook. Her cat, Milo, is jumping around the apartment in excitement. Nicole is packing for our 7 day trip into the countryside as I type. Tomorrow night, we take the night bus to Guilin! We’re both very excited.

– Photos taken on an iPhone 4S and a Canon T3i.

4 Replies to “First Night & Day”

  1. I think I’m too old for this kind of difficulty. But your trip indeed is already an adventure in perseverance.

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