Just a quick report of recent events here in Hong Kong…
1. Repairs to trailer hitch: Check
2. Meeting with legend local skaters: Check
3. Visa ready to be picked up: Check
4. Digital Camera handed in for repairs: Check
5. New skateboard wheels ordered from the US: Check
6. Interview with local newspaper: Check
1. The trailer hitch that was hastily designed and put together for me in the US had developed some issues recently. This is the first time that something like this has been developed for a skateboard, so unforseen issues were to be expected.
The tounge that attaches to my skateboard is made of aluminium, and the pin that goes through the tounge is stainless steel. With the continuous pulling action on the tounge by the pin, the hole in the soft aluminium tounge elongated, meaning that with each push I made, the trailer would jerk back and forth.
Rob Luxton, who is heavily involved in the interior and product design world in Hong Kong, took me to Lee Kam Fai’s metal working shop to see if something could be done to fix the problem. Lee Kam Fai took one look at the hitch setup and instantly came up with a workable solution:
Two stainless steel plates on either side of the aluminium plate. Seems to work well, and we’ll see how it lasts. I am concerned about losing the nuts though…they have spring washers attached, but they may still vibrate loose. I will have to try to find some nylock nuts or some Loctite.
2. I met with hkskateboarding.com founder and administrator Warren Stuart on Saturday after he read a post I had made on the forum asking about skate shops in Hong Kong. Warren is a bit of an institution in Hong Kong, involved in the skateboarding scene for many years.
Photo by 8Five2 Skate Shop, Hong Kong
We met at 8Five2 Skate Shop on the second floor of the United Success Commercial Center at 506-508 Jaffe Rd, Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island. It is the only skate shop I know of in Hong Kong that sells good quality bearings (Bones Bearings). Warren and I went down to the Excelsior Hotel and he shouted me a quick meal of as-good-as-they-get-in-Hong-Kong fish and chips at an ex-pat bar. Thanks Warren!
Photo by Warren Stuart, Hong Kong
I took my entire longboard touring rig into town with me to show Warren. Mind you, skating through Hong Kong on a longboard is not ideal – too many people around.
3. I was supposed to go and pick up my visa for China on Friday, but got into Hong Kong central city and realised I had forgotten my receipt for collection. So that has been put off until Monday.
4. I had dropped my digital camera (again) about two months ago in Urumqi. The damage was not fatal, but meant that some of the buttons did not work. There is a Canon service center in Hong Kong, so I dropped the camera off to be fixed. The quote for repairs was steep: 2,100 HKD, or about 200 Euro. Still cheaper than a new camera, so I asked them to go ahead with the repair. Should be ready to pick up mid-next week.
5. On Monday I ordered some new wheels from Seismic, a skateboard company in the US. Those wheels should arrive mid-next week also. They are slightly smaller and slightly softer than the wheels I have now, so I am looking forward to seeing the difference, if any.
6. I have been interviewed by a major newspaper, the South China Morning Post, and will possibly have a feature story run about me. Thanks to Rob Luxton for setting this up!
Speaking of Rob Luxton, he’s posted his version of events, since I’m crashing at his place…http://www.chinawheelie.com/archive/2008/07/Rob%2DRob/
See towards the end of his blog post. Pity, I missed out on the bun festival.
Rob is living on Cheung Chau Island, and has the patience and tolerance of a saint. Big thanks to him for letting me share his space while I potter around Hong Kong!
// Gaze up.
// Jagged teeth of the city skyline surrounds.
// Humans, like ants.
// Propel progress.
// Push forward.
// Subways smooth and chic.
// Cutting edge design.
// Pushed away.
// Out of sight.
Dropped my visa application off to the Chinese visa office today. No big dramas. I had my flight and hotel bookings sorted. No worries. Picking the visa up on Friday.
Hong Kong is mad.
What a whirlwind! The 30 hour train ride turned out to be 42 hours, but I made it to Rob Luxton‘s place in Hong Kong unscathed…well, mostly.
I got on the 11.22pm train from Lanzhou to Guangzhou with little drama. My skateboard and trailer snugly stowed under the lower bunks, I climbed into my top bunk and dropped dead for about 10 hours.
I slept well on the train, and only got out of my bunk a few times during the 30 hours I thought it would take to get to Lanzhou. In the morning of the second day in the train, I asked a fellow passenger when we would be arriving. 5pm, was the reply. A tad bit longer than I had expected.
So I spent another few hours tossing and turning in my bunk.
Arrival in Guangzhou, I fought for a ticket for a train to Shenzhen, the border city with Hong Kong. Got on the train, arrived Shenzhen 5pm. Stopped in at an internet cafe, had dinner at an Uyghur restaurant. The restaurant people were confused. A guy with long stubble – almost a beard – not Chinese, comes in wanting beef fried rice. They figure I must be Muslim. A Xinjiang local at least. No, I tell them, wrong on both counts. They still look confused. Then I tell them I am skating across China…
I got across to Hong Kong by 8pm. Not before I was held up at the Chinese border. The immigration officer was not happy with the amount of visas in my passport, for some reason. 30 minutes worth of waiting, my passport was registered and I was interviewed, and then I was allowed to exit the country.
At the Hong Kong border, “How long will you be staying in Hong Kong, sir?”
“As short as possible,” I reply. “How long am I allowed to stay?”
“How about 90 days?”
So….I leave China. I am now in….China.
With 90 days stamped in my passport. For free. 90 days…in…China.
Yes…yes, I am confused.
I don’t stop to argue, and I follow my nose and Rob’s directions to his place on one of the outlying islands, a 45 minute ferry ride away, managing to get on the very last ferry for the day.
I am greeted with this on the door of his 1/2 bedroom apartment:
Well, I guess I am a ‘trans-continental longboarder’.
Rob is not here. But I am. Phew. Made it.
And today I made a video of the last few weeks action. Sorry about the terrible quality. Had to do it on a Mac, and couldn’t figure it out proper. The Youtube version (which is even more terrible quality) is here (http://youtube.com/watch?v=OpJMcWQRLjg).
I guess I should be out exporing the city. I’m not. I’m in an internet cafe watching streaming new release movies for free. How this works, I do not know, but it does. See if it works where you are:
Click on the ‘Play Movie’ button at the bottom of the movie you want to watch, then click on the text link in the second box at the left of the film graphic. It will have a number with some Chinese characters in the link, like this:
In fact, by clicking that link above, it might even play Battle for Haditha for you, which I have just started watching. You may need a special codec to view the movies, but I am viewing them on the Media Player Classic.
I’d be interested to know if you can watch them overseas, and if so, how the heck they get around copyrite laws.
The dreaded day has arrived. Time to start my way towards Hong Kong for a new tourist visa. Thankfully, internal overland travel in China is extremely efficient, and there were about 12 different bus times to choose from for the 7 hour, 500km journey to Lanzhou. The ticket was 97RMB (10 Euro).
The trip was relatively uneventful. Arrived at Lanzhou central at 5:30pm, and headed straight for the train station. I was hoping to get on a train tonight, but no luck. There were no hard sleeper tickets left, so I had to go with the 11pm train tomorrow night. I booked the ticket and paid the 475RMB (47 Euro) for the 30 hour, 2,000km plus long train ride. Once again I steered clear of the hard seat option (once was enough). I also opted out of the soft sleeper option, as there is little difference in the actual matress softness between the hard and soft sleeper classes. The only difference is that you’re sharing the compartment with six people in the hard sleeper option compared with four in the soft sleeper option.
So here I am in the compact but bustling metropolis of Lanzhou. I’ll stay here tonight, and on the train tomorrow.
I love cross cultural communication. What I thought I ordered was pork and cabbage. What I got, was pork, and cabbage. But when the mis-communication only costs you an extra 0.50 Euro, I’m not about to start complaining.
On the order of business today was booking a hotel for my visa application. On Expedia.com I booked a random US$50 a night hotel in Shanghai for five days. The cancellation fee for the booking is US$27, so essnetially for US$27 I hope that I have fulfilled the Chinese visa application requirements in Hong Kong. I will be cancelling the booking as soon as my visa is issued. Rude for the hotel staff, but I feel that I have no choice.
The Chinese Embassy in Hong Kong‘s website has given me some slight cause for concern today however, in stating the following:
Visa applicants are increasing in a large number and need longer waiting time in the visa office recently. If you don’t reside or work in Hong Kong permanently, you are required to apply Chinese visa from the Embassy or Consulate-General of Peoples’ Republic of China in your resident country. You are welcome to China for tourism, business, visit of the Olympic Games.
Not the greatest of statements for me, but I’ll try all the same. You can’t expect someone who hasn’t been home for 2.5 years to fly home, get the visa, and then fly back.
Also, I have written some articles for www.skatefurther.com, a great global long distance skateboarding website. One article is a route information sheet for skating in Xinjiang Province in China, and other other is a day in the life on the road.
Today’s distance / ???????: 53 miles / 85.3km
Average speed / ????: 10.1mph / 16.3km/h
Time on skateboard / ????: 5h 14m
Total skateboarding distance to date / ????????????: 5380mi plus 377mi (?) / 8659km plus 606km (?)
Ascent / ??: 175m
Descent / ??: 100m
End-of-day GPS coordinates: N38° 56′ 10.90″, E100° 26′ 34.70″
I spoke to one of the French cyclists yesterday and discovered that the deal was that he was part of a 103-strong France Cycle Touring Federation supported cycle tour from Paris to Beijing. They did an average of about 120km a day, with longer days being 180km. It took me 9 months to cover 12,000km on my bike. They are doing the same distance in 4.5 months. They are hauling.
They were due to leave at 7am this morning, so I got myself up a little early, and decided to try to keep up with them for the day. Their destination for today was the same as mine – Zhangye City, 85km east of Gaotai.
To got up at the unearthly hour of 6:20am and hurried down to get some breakfast. Many of the cyclists were already out and getting ready to have breakfast and get on the road. Their support vehicles were outside the hotel, with support crew checking bicycles. Local Chinese people were checking out the map on the side of the vehicles.
Such a tour must be an organisational challenge of mammoth proportions. They have seven support vehicles, including two heavy lorries (carrying showers, water etc), and even one refrigerated truck carrying…you guessed it…beer. The cyclists are all European, you know.
Concerned that I might miss them start, I hurried off down the street to a nearby noodle shop for breakfast. The staple breakfast eat out food here seems to be Somen; a flat noodle in a thick peppery soup with chunks of tofu. Very tasty. The noodle shop also has the ‘carved’ noodles that I saw for the first time in Urumqi two years ago (here is a video of those ‘flying’ noodles in Urumqi)
As I ate, I was aware of the sound that can only be the most wonderful music to a Chinese noodle shop owner’s ears…slurp…sluuuuurrrrrp..slurrrp…sluuurp…slurp…
Noodles are eaten with great gusto in China, and since the soup in which the noodles are floating in is so hot, air is sucked across the noodles as they are sucked into one’s mouth to cool them down. Great fun. How do I eat my noodles in China? When in Rome…
I got out of the noodle shop at 7am sharp. I scooted off towards the main highway G312 in hope of catching some of the cyclists. By 8am I had still seen neither hide nor hair of them. Just as I thought I had missed them, I look back an see this.
I had heard that Comm*unists like the group mentality, but perhaps this is taking it a little far?
But it was the France Cycle Touring Federation group. All the way from Paris. More than 10,000km away. Pack riding for 10,000km. That’s gotta be something else.
I was soon swallowed by the group, and I had my photo taken more times in the space of 10 minutes than I have ever had my photo taken. Some sneaky individuals would speed ahead, stop, fumble with their camera, look up, and see that I had already sped past. It is amazing how a moving thing in front of you motivates you to skate faster.
For about 30 minutes I skated with some of the cyclists at the rear of the main group. The group all stopped outside a small store, and I chatted to some of the group. Before I knew it they were off again. I was still slurping down an icecream. I was keen to keep up with them for as long as possible – how many times in the last two years have I had the opportunity to travel with others…only twice (in Slovenia and in China).
The main front pack was moving too quick for me to keep up, but a Belgian rider, whom I had met yesterday in the internet cafe (silly me, I only asked his name once – if you’re reading this, you’ll have to remind me!), and who had a much more individualistic mentality to his cycling was kind enough to remain behind and cycle with me.
It was an awesome experience to have someone to pace with. He cycled next to me for the entire 85km to Zhnagye. As he correctly pointed out, I was subconsciously always trying to push faster, because he always appeared to be in front of me due to his front wheel being in front of me, despite him actually being right beside me. In any case, the time flew by. He recounted stories of the trip so far, and of course, being Belgian, gave me many points to consider drinking beer during the day to replenish fluids and essential nutrients. Indeed he himself had a 600ml bottle of beer during the morning at one of our stops. “All the nutrients is in there from the brewing process,” he said. “Think about the monks way back when, when they were not allowed to eat for 40 days. They brewed beer and it supplied for their needs for that time.”
He commented on the good points and bad points of cycling in a group. “Of course, you can’t beat the refrigerated beer truck,” he pointed out. “And of course in a group it is safer. But sometimes it can be frustrating not being able to do your own thing. But overall of course it is a great experience, that in the end, no one can take away from you.”
Along the way today I was treated to bottles of electrolyte drink and a few energy bars. What a treat. I had a 3kg watermelon in my trailer, but never got the chance to eat it. We were on the go all morning.
By the time we had arrived on the outskirts of Zhangye at 1pm, we had covered 85km. Quite easily a record for me. And I was feeling great. I had been moving for just under 5 hours, and had only had a few breaks. It was a real eye opener to what my body is capable of, if I have the right frame of mind. It reminded me how much of his human powered game is psychological. Had I been on my own, I would have been telling myself to take it easy, take rests, not push.
I did notice that I took not nearly as many photos as I usually do, and I did not talk to the locals nearly as much either. It was on the go all the time. From that perspective, I don’t think I could ever travel at that pace for very long. To travel at that pace from Paris to Beijing, I think I would end up feeling as though I had missed too much of the locations I was travelling through.
But great fun. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks to parispekinavelo.com for a great morning!
And no, they were not riding these bikes. The whole group was riding specially made Cycling Federation bikes. And regulations required that panniers were installed on the front wheel, not the back. Which makes no sense at all when you’re only carrying two panniers. What can I say…it’s a French organisation.