The journey to China

March 20, 2007 - Xianggangdao, China


We arrived in Bangkok late. It felt great to get cleaned up and sleep on a soft bed. We had only one day in Bangkok, St. Patty’s Day! Although we swore we would take it as a rest day, we ended up visiting the Golden Buddha and the great Reclining Buddha. We ran into a typical scam going to see the reclining Buddha. It was 2pm. The tuk-tuk driver told us there was a special ceremony and the reclining Buddha was closed until 3pm. He said he would take us to some shops and then to see the reclining Buddha. Tuk-tuk drivers get kick backs from the shops for bringing tourists. Pretty good kick backs. Enough to reduce the 120 baht (4 US$) fare to 20 baht (0.60 US$). We ditched that guy and found another tuk-tuk driver. Same story. Actually, we got the same story 3 times and I was starting to believe it. But I told them to take us directly to the temple anyway. Guess what, no ceremony! What a surprise. Even though the prices are slightly higher than Cambodia and Vietnam, it is still dirt cheap here. And the vendors don’t grab your shirt, beg you to buy or tell you to “F*ck off” if you don’t. A nice change. Since it was St. Patty’s Day, Terry and I, in our green shirts, ate green curry (and Terry’s favorite, Pad Thai) and spent the night in the Sky Lounge of our hotel for beer minus the green coloring.

Hong Kong

From Bangkok we flew to Hong Kong and took a bus to our “joining point hotel” by ourselves. We met our new group leader and the people we would spend the next 21 days with. Terry and I almost immediately loved Hong Kong. It was like China meets the West and it reminded me of Japan. The subways were clean, the vendors never begged, most people spoke English, and there was a Starbucks for Terry! The next day I got a much needed haircut and we stocked up on a few supplies including some Chinese currency. At one point I had 4 currencies in my pack, Thai Baht for our return to Thailand, some US dollars, Hong Kong dollars, and the Chinese Yuan we would need for the rest of the trip. Since Japan imported Chinese kanji characters into Japanese, I was able to read the meaning of some words which was convenient.

[Terry: Hong Kong is beautiful. I loved the bus; my first time on a two story bus. I fell in love with the place within the first 10 minutes here; it took Mark about an hour. We both agreed that Hong Kong reminds us of Japan. Beautiful city lights at the Harbor. It has all the conveniences of a big city including the cool shops but at the same time it managed to hold on to the traditional charm. Mark was so psyched that he recognized some of the kanji (same as Japan). I wouldn’t be surprised if Mark took up Chinese language in the next couple of years.]

China border

[Terry: The next day we took the subway to the border and walked across into China. We had a couple of hours to kill before we can board our train. We crossed the street to check out the hotel and to share a beer, but the 12 US$ beer at the hotel just wasn’t worth it especially when we’ve had 8 beers for a dollar in Vietnam. Mark had a great idea to put our bags in a coin locker so we can walk around freely. We were approached by a local guy wanting us to buy a rolex watch. Mark said we don’t want rolex but do you want to buy my watch for $200? The local guy laughed and started listing items to sell. When he said DVD’s, Mark looked at me. Vietnam was selling them for 1 US$ each and we did not take full advantage since we expected to find more in other countries at the same price. To our surprise, prices were a lot higher in Thailand (3 US$) and Hong Kong (7 US$). Since we were hoping to find DVD’s in China at Vietnam’s price we decided to follow the local guy to the mall... or at least that was what we thought.]

He led us to the 5th floor and all the way across the mall to the corner. This part of the mall was like storage units with the corrugated aluminum door closed. He knocked on one and the door was opened. Terry walks in and I think twice. After sizing up the scene and the people inside, I decide to go in too. Then the guy closes the door and we hear the door being latched from the outside. He tells us to sit, but I felt like standing and staying ready. There was various stuff on the shelves including a few DVDs, memory cards, and obvious knock-off iPods which looked nothing like the real thing. There was a ladder leading to a hole cut in the ceiling. A possible get away? He gave us a book of DVD titles and we went through it picking Pan’s Labyrinth and Spiderman 3. I was psyched to be able to see this before it was released in the theater in the US. We searched for a few more but they didn’t have them. So we haggled for price and we finally settled on about 3 US$ each. He spoke over his radio and a few minutes later the door was opened and another guy came in with the DVDs and closed the door behind him. Then we did something I am sure he did not expect. We pulled the laptop from our backpack and asked to try the DVDs. The DVDs label was very professional looking. I tried Spiderman 3 first. The DVD menu came up “The Spider vs. the Earth” and was very cheesy looking. I didn’t care because we were planning to throw the DVDs away after watching them anyway. So I hit play and skipped through at least 10 chapters. Surprise no Tobey Maguire or Kirsten Dunst in any of the scenes. “Wrong movie, no good”, I said. I decided not to call him a liar and a cheat since his buddy outside had the key to the door. So we bought the one DVD and said thanks and got out of there. We got our bags and boarded our overnight train. 16 hours later we arrived in the town of Yangshuo.

[Terry’s Rebuttal: Mark teased that I walked right into a possible dangerous trap without thinking twice, but this is not completely true. Mark is so sweet he was on guard watching out for the both of us and in hindsight, this fun experience could have gone bad. However, in my defence, most Asian guys here are smaller than me; their legs are size of my arms! And growing up in Korea I have heard of these “Monster Markets”; a place where knock-off purses, shirts, hats (no DVD’s back then), Hershey’s chocolates and other American items (before the open trade) were sold but if a policeman shows up, they would flip the tables over and the whole market magically turned into selling kosher items, such as towels and underwears. I believe it was called the “monster” due to the fact that the vendors were unbelievably good at transforming the stores in a matter of seconds. Also, when I was in Korea in 2004, I have heard similar stories. One was of Japanese tours making a stop at a restaurant and while men ate, women went to an apartment above the restaurant and shopped for Gucci hand bags while sipping tea. Anyway, even though I feel safe and comfortable traveling in foreign countries, I should still be on guard as much as possible.]


Golden Buddha
Reclining Buddha
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