Sunday, 29th May 1988
I woke up, said goodbye to Andrew (he would have left for India by the time I returned to Japan) and then made my way to Oshiage Station. I changed once and caught a stopping train out to Narita Airport. The journey, through the seemingly endless suburbs, was pleasant enough and it felt good to be off on my travels again after such long time in Tokyo.
I boarded a Thai Airways Airbus 310 at Narita and settled in for the flight to Hong Kong. At 4 hours and 30 minutes it was longer than I had expected but I had two seats to myself. The plane was slightly tatty, the food and service were totally average and I slept through the film.
The immigration and customs queues at Hong Kong were horrendous and when I finally made it out onto the street the heat and humidity of Hong Kong stuck me. It was different from milder Tokyo and took a bit of getting used to.
I took the airport bus (Airbus) into town and got chatting with an Indian dress designer who was living in Hong Kong.
I found Aiko in exactly the place we had arranged in the lobby of the YMCA. The YMCA was fully air-conditioned and had services that would not have been out of place in a 3-Star hotel. It was quite an amazing deal for the price.
We jumped on the Star Ferry to Central and had a walk around before hopping on a bus to Aberdeen. Feeling in a relaxed mood, we took a Sampon ride around the harbour. The lady who steered the little boat around all the junks moored in the bay had obviously ripped us off, but we didn’t really care. After Tokyo everything seemed so cheap in Hong Kong.
After the boat ride we went for dinner at a nearby restaurant. We had a lovely meal for next to nothing. There was frog meat, fresh fish, chicken with walnuts and pork with apricots. It was fantastic.
We caught the bus back to Central and then got a Causeway-bound tram. We sat upstairs at the front to admire the view. It was a fascinating trip through the neon signs and congestion. I was surprised at just how different everything seemed to life in Tokyo. There were men carrying live fish, street sellers and lots of foreign tourists everywhere.
We returned to Central and had a walk around the poor man’ night club, the name for a collection of shacks and stalls gathered around the Macau ferry terminal. We caught the Star Ferry back.
Monday, 30th May 1988
The next morning I finally met up with Peggie Lau, the consultant of the HKSTB with whom I had been corresponding by letter with for the past several weeks to organise the trip. She handed me a full package and then explained all the various Intourist chits, tickets and visas.
We spent the rest of the morning in Kowloon. I bought some new trousers for work and Aiko filled a whole suitcase with clothes from the various boutiques on Nathan Road.
We had great dim sum at the Jade Garden restaurant, being served tea and picking from the assortment of steamed dumplings and other delicacies that were delivered by ladies circulating with their trolleys.
We went back to the HKSTB to pick up our Chinese visas and more tickets and then went for a lovely meal of Shanghai cuisine in the evening; enjoying shredded chilli chicken, hot rice in soup, beef and spring onion and egg plant with bean sprouts. The whole thing was lovely.
We crossed back on the Star Ferry and took the tram to climb the Victoria Peak at night. The view from the top was romantic and very picturesque.
I thought about my previous trip up to the same summit 9 months before. Then I was alone, feeling ill, running out of funds and worried if I would find a job in Japan or not. Now I was back, I had money in my pocket and I was enjoying Hong Kong how it should be enjoyed. Not only that, I was speaking some Japanese and had a girlfriend.
We went back to the YMCA via Kennedy town.
Tuesday, 31st May 1988
We woke early on Tuesday morning left the YMCA at 7:30am and grabbed a taxi to the airport. We checked in for flight CX330 to Beijing at 8:30am and then proceeded to the immigration queue. It was a very long queue and it was hardly moving at all.
It took us more than an hour to get to the immigration desk and by the time we emerged from immigration it was already 10:05am. The flight had been due to leave at 10am and for some reason I thought they would just hold it. We knew that there were other people for the same flight behind us in the queue.
I was shocked when we got to the gate and the smiling Cathay employee pointed to a 747 already reversing off the ramp and preparing for its taxi to the runway. “Can’t you just stop it?” I asked. She continued to smile and explained that they had put on another special flight at 2pm and this would be for us and for some other people who were also missing. She reassured us that our luggage would be waiting for us in Beijing.
We sat in the coffee bar and over a Kit Kat and a coffee discussed what would have happened if we had joined a different queue or if they hadn’t had a special flight. We watched the 747 saunter down the runway and climb into the sky. Our bags at least were on their way to China.
Eventually we boarded another 747 and it took off at 2pm. The special flight, the stewardess explained, had been a planned aircraft positioning move but they had decided it to open it to passengers lost in the immigration queues.
It was a strange atmosphere on board. I counted just 26 people and they all looked lost in the vast economy section of the jumbo. The service was excellent; we were totally outnumbered by the crew and they served us a lovely salad meal with cheese and biscuits to follow.
With a time change we arrived at 6pm local time at the rather dingy 1950’s style “Beijing International Airport”. We noticed immediately that there were a lot of people dressed in the same green uniforms; the police, army, the customs and immigration officials all looked the same.
Surprisingly, customs and immigration was very straightforward and after changing 50 dollars to 200 Yuan, we boarded a bus heading to the centre of town. The bus was old and rickety and there was a lot of traffic on the wide roads that led into the centre.
The width of the streets was the first thing that struck me. They were wider than anywhere else I had been before. We got to the bus station and jumped in a rather expensive 40 Yuan taxi to the Sportsman’s hotel. The Sportsman was to be our home for the next week.