We got our chinese visas in Hong Kong quickly and without any problems – so this afternoon we took the MTR to Lo Wu and crossed the border on foot into Shenzhen.
Our stay in Hong Kong was very functional – a day spent working on our visa applications (itinerary and hotel bookings prepared, but seemingly not needed in the end) and another spent submitting the application, getting laundry done, diving gear into a storage locker in a selfstore facility, and other boring tasks. So no chance for sightseeing really. Hong Kong is a nice city which reminds us a bit of Singapore in terms of size, density of people and good infrastructure – but it’s a bit rougher around the edges, and unsurprisingly it’s much more chinese. We probably won’t stay a night on the way back because it’s expensive (we were paying about 80 USD a night for a tiny 3* hotel room, and the few hostel/guest house options are nearly as much) – and this made it worth it for us to pay a premium to get our visa’s processes in 24 hours (2060 HKD = 266 USD for both of us) and head straight over the border to Shenzhen.
Our stay in Shenzhen is again purely a functional one – as it’s difficult to buy the china train tickets from abroad, and we didn’t know what time we’d get here today – so it was necessary to plan a night here to buy tickets for tomorrow night’s train to Guilin. As our previous sleeper train experience in Vietnam wasn’t a good one and we’re hoping to use these trains alot here, we chose to buy the most expensive (444RMB = 70 USD) ticket for our first attempt with the chinese trains. This is for a berth in a 4-berth soft-sleeper compartment, which i’m hoping will exceed the standard on vietnam railways. It’s about 13.5hrs of travel leaving around 6pm tomorrow so I hope it’s comfortable! The city here in Shenzhen around the train station is unremarkable and rather boring, with little for us to do except for some final shopping for essentials before we get deeper into China.
Crossing the border was really noticeable from a language perspective – suddenly noone speaks english except one receptionist in the hotel – and there is very little or no signage in English. If it’s like this in a major hub, i think we’ll very quickly start having to manage with sign language and some basic words in mandarin. I’ve also got a great dictionary app calles Pleco, which has audio pronunciation and an excellent OCR function where you can hold the iphone camera up to some chinese text, then click on each character to see the meaning – already found useful to interpret what ticket counter line we were in at the train station. I used the same app to cut-and-paste the words for “guilin”, “soft sleeper”, “tomorrow” etc into a message to hold up to the ticket counter window – which was instantly understood and we walked away within 60 seconds with our tickets. I like it when the technology saves so much trouble – it makes up for all the trouble it usually causes!
Communications-wise, we achieved getting a sim card ( China Unicom 3G) much more easily than I thought, which came with a 500MB data allowance, so we should be able to continue to blog as we go and get on email. Facebook doesn’t work here, so don’t expect many/any updates there!