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March 1993

I arrived in Hong Kong from Bangkok with no idea as to what arrangements had been made to get me to Shekou because I had been unable to contact the office for several days and they had not provided me with instructions. A great feeling when you're not quite sure where you have to get to and have no idea on how to get there. I phoned Singapore and found out that a travel agent was to pick me up at the airport (the old airport – Kai Tak) and get me to the ferry terminal. I left the airport security area and the agent was there waiting with a limo.

Hong Kong has many high rises crowded into the low lying areas and some on the hills although most hills are too steep for buildings and are still green. The area around the airport is older residential with 10 to 15 story apartments. Most of these buildings are unpainted and have lots of laundry hanging out the windows. The streets are narrow and not very pleasant to look at although everything appears much cleaner than Bangkok.

The ferry to Shekou is a hydrofoil which holds just over 100 passengers. Not much English spoken by staff but lots of signs in both Chinese and English so getting around is not a problem. Signs limiting volume and weight for luggage are a concern because I know I'm over on both counts so I tried to check the larger suitcase. The man at the counter looked confused and wouldn't take it and indicated that I should carry it. When I boarded it was obvious that the signs meant little as most people appeared to be over the limit. Fortunately there were some empty seats so there was room for all of the extra luggage otherwise it would have been a very uncomfortable trip for many people.

The ferry trip was from Kowloom, through the Hong Kong harbor and along the coast by the Free Territories. It arrived, unloaded and reloaded and left in about ten minutes so there was lots of shoving and pushing in the lineups. The Hong Kong harbor is very large and very busy. Lots of boats, ranging from small pleasure craft to large ocean liners. The water in the harbor is very choppy because of all of this activity but the ferry seems to ride quite smoothly considering the speed that it travels. Occasionally it hits a large wave and really bounces about. An occasional bow wave seems to go right over the boat and little can be seen through the windows because they are all wet.

The trip from Honk Kong to Shekou is about one hour. On arrival in Shekou I was met by a girl who had been hired to get me cleared through customs. The first room I went into was where we were supposed to fill in a health form but the guard had not yet arrived so she hustled me into the visa area where there was a couple of army types in green uniforms with big gold stars on their shoulders. Both were quite young and the uniforms were too large for them so they looked more humorous than imposing. There were four of us who required a visa and they took each passport separately, went to an adjoining room for a few minutes, came back, stamped the passport, collected the HK$85 fee, added another stamp and then did the next person. I was glad there were only four of us otherwise it might have been a long affair.

Shekou is situated across the Shenzhen Bay from Hong Kong and is about 20 nashekouutical miles from central Hong Kong. It is part of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone and consists of a town, an industrial area and a deep water port. It has a population of about 80,000 and is about 25km away from downtown Shenzhen which is a much larger city. Because it is part of a special economic zone it has preferential policies toward outside investment, has good (comparatively) communication and transportation facilities. Because it has some western type facilities, is on the coast and has generally good weather it is considered a tourist resort by China standards, however, even a Chinese citizen must obtain a visa to visit and needs special permits to live and work there as it is much wealthier than the interior.

land_reclamationEverything appears very dull and drab with little imagination in the architecture. Because of the industry and because they are in the process of moving several large hills into the bay for land reclamation, the air is heavily polluted and everything is dirty from the dust in the air.

Very little English is spoken outside of the hotel and there are very few westerners there. (I was told there were only 200 including wives and children but I'm not sure if that was total or only oilfield related.) The Company has a couple of small motor bikes for transportation as cars are very difficult to obtain and very expensishekou_from_the _back_of _a_motor_bikeve. It was fun riding around on the bikes and it was obvious that westerners are an oddity in most of the out of the way places and we always got lots of stares.

We took a taxi to Shenzhen for a meeting at the Region Tax Office. The road system is well developed and was four lane divided for most of the way. I saw a number of western style hotels, a golf course and a Disney Land type amusement park with a roller coaster and ferris wheels and a large German style castle.  We passed rice paddy areas and a number of tin shack type kampungs, however, most of the living areas were multi level apartments. There was a lot of construction going on, some using machinery but most using manual labor such as preparing a road base with hoes, shovels and baskets for moving the dirt.

Shenzhen is quite a large city with a modern appearance, office buildings, high-rises and traffic jams. The office tower we visited looked quite modern from the outside, however, the interior was extremely plain. The interior walls were plastered brick painted a faded lime green, narrow halls and no signs or markings to indicate who or what was in the offices, all of which had solid wood doors which were closed. All the furniture and fixtures, including the elevator (which was VERY slow) looked like they were from the mid 1960's.

The person we had our meeting with spoke good English, however, all documents etc. that were given to us were in Chinese. We were in China and it was therefore expected that we could understand it and read it (can't everyone?)

After the meeting I took a walk through a nearby shopping area which consisted of many narrow streets with ground level stores topped by two or three stories of living quarters. It was very crowded with lots of pedestrians and the occasional car, motor bike or bicycle pushing its way through. There were lots of consumer type goods such as TVs, radios, CDs etc, most made in China but some imports. Most Chinese makes look like junk but are not necessarily priced as such.

We came across a MacDonald’s which was very busy and while the prices appeared reasonable they would be very high for the locals considering the average wages. Beside the MacDonald’s was a street vendor who had some bones and animal horns laying on the sidewalk. The carcasses still had bits of dried meat on them and looked grotesque. One was probably a monkey (I hope) judging from the skull and the other looked like a large dog or small deer.

On my return to Hong Kong the ferry landed at the Hong Kong Island terminal so I saw a different area on the trip to the airport. I've never seen so many high-rises in one place and so close together. I passed one residential development that had at least 20 identical towers all more than 25 stories high. The island is connected to the mainland by two tunnels that pass under the harbor.

I think the Hong Kong airport is about the busiest I've seen. The terminal is packed with travelers and most of the planes must be reached by buses as there are only limited stations at the terminal. There are dozens of planes on the tarmac and buses and service vehicles all over the place. The airport is not allowed to operate at night so the traffic never stops during the day.

I'm getting used to slow lineups ("Q's") as they are everywhere and aggressive pushy crowds. Having lots of patience is the only way to cope.