April 20th 1984

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We took things easy over a relaxed breakfast – I bought some crusty French bread + even a hot cross bun each in honour of today being Good Friday.  Quite excellent.  We decided to use the day shooting a roll of film on the Canon, so headed over to Hong Kong side on the ferry.  We went direct to one of the film festival cinemas, where “Merry Xmas Mr Lawrence” was showing this evening.  At last our opportunity to see the finished work.  So it was a decided + hefty blow to see the “Sold Out” sign against its name.  We could have kicked ourselves for not having booked for it earlier, especially since Val had come over yesterday, to collect Walter the Walkman’s missing screw.  We felt very depressed, + nearly gave up + went back.  It was quite an effort of will to steady ourselves, + decide to wander around + shoot some film.  It certainly wasn’t the best of days for such activity – very grey + misty.  But we finished a roll off easily enough – some arty, some straight tourist, + headed back to have them developed.  They were passable, by no means wonderful, but then the subject matter had been dull, and, using slow shutter speed to compensate for the poor light, I had ruined a couple of pictures with picture shake.  In addition, unaccountably + for the first time ever, I had pulled the film a little way out of its container when unloading it from the camera, + had wiped out 2 or 3 shots.

Val wasn’t feeling very hungry in the evening, so I went out + consumed a couple of hamburgers at McD’s – my last chance for a while, perhaps.  Or has Ronald made it to Kathmandu as well?  I was feeling a little apprehensive during the evening, nervous energy making me restless, so I couldn’t settle.  However, chatted with various others, who would say nice things about our camera + the price we paid for it, so that cheered me a little.  “Chariots of Fire” was showing on the telly, + tho’ I wasn’t specially interested, I would occasionally look at it to watch a scene I particularly enjoyed, + somehow the evening passed by.  I was still restless very late, + was almost tempted when Ray invited me out for a drink.  But I recognised the potential for that becoming a very heavy night, + declined.  Decided I should go to bed, despite being not in the least tired.  A big day tomorrow.

Definitely has the feeling of waiting for something to happen – for good or ill – tomorrow.

April 19th 1984

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Not surprisingly, I was still drunk when Val woke me an hour or 2 later.  This was not malicious sadism on her part – we had to go down to see F or G at their office at 9.30 to make final arrangements.  So I showered + brushed my teeth, + tho’ I felt awful + stank of booze, we reckoned I’d pass, provided I didn’t get too close.  The meeting, in fact, took no time at all – all that happened was that we were asked to return this evening at 7, bringing our clothes etc with us – such is the bureaucratic world of the international smuggler.  Work, done, I could devote all my energies to recovering from my fearsome hangover.  A visit to Ronald McDonald + 2 Egg McMuffins did the trick, + then, feeling considerably better (if not exactly on top of the world) we set out to buy a camera.

This is not an easy job if you know next to nothing about them, but partly thro’ prejudice, partly because of what other travellers had said, we had determined upon either the Nikon FG or the Canon AE1, with a measure of prejudice towards the Nikon, strengthening when we discovered that the standard AE1 is no longer in production.  So we priced the Nikon around town – + a very tedious business it is too – before finally settling upon one shop.  There, however, first of all the salesman tried to dissuade us, + then, when the FG finally arrived from their store or warehouse, it jammed the first time I pressed the shutter.  So, feeling somewhat disillusioned with the whole business by this time, + ignoring the salesman’s blandishments to switch to a Yashica, we bought a Canon AE-1 with a zoom lens, 35 to 135.  Total cost – about $225.  So the job was done.  But I can’t say we were happy with it all, + when we got back we just locked the thing away in our cupboard + tried to forget about it.  We were sick of looking at the blasted things.  Upon further reflection, tho’, we calmed a little.  The job was done, + it wasn’t even as tho’ it meant a long-term commitment to that particular camera.  We aim to sell it in Nepal, for whatever profit we can manage, + have a play with it in the meantime.

We ate a wonderful meal, cooked by myself, of chops, + then carried our bags down to F + G’s.  Slightly awkward, as the guys on the desk thought we might be checking out.  We were also relieved not to run into any of our acquaintances, + have some awkward explaining to do.  We were worried tho’, when we arrived at the office, + found it all shuttered up.  This was Thursday evening, just before the 4 day Easter holiday, + if we had somehow missed them + they had all gone home, it could well blow our chances, there not being any other way for us to contact them.  So we stood around outside for a while, looking lost + sheepish, while around us the shopkeepers were busy doing a final clearing up + out.  It had quite the feeling of Christmas Eve… + we were the poor waifs left out in the snow.

Luckily, after about 5 mins someone came out of a shop.  He popped back in to announce our presence, + after a whispered consultation (cloak + dagger) we were beckoned in.  G wasn’t there – he was now in Kathmandu apparently, would meet us there, so F dealt with us.  I was pleased to see Brian there too, the guy who had introduced me to the scheme.  We handed over our bags, + our gear was packed in 2 very smart suitcases – it would be supplemented, we were told, by a lot of other gear.  Then we were given our final instructions: what to do, who to see, and where; + I was told to return at 5.30 on Saturday morning.  There were quite a lot of instructions, but the only one that mattered was the name of the hotel.  For the rest of the time I would simply have to play the role of a tourist on his first visit to Nepal – easy stuff.

Just as well to be on to the next adventure, as Hong Kong has little else to offer us. But once again, the organisational prowess of the people we are dealing with is brought seriously into question. However, it does seem that things are moving on… and that, very soon, so shall we.

April 18th 1984

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Chiang Kai-Shek

In comparison, today was remarkably uneventful.  We breakfasted in a leisurely manner upon our cheese + biscuits before returning to the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial, this time armed with our camera.  It wasn’t the best of conditions for photography, being a grey + foggy day, but we wanted one or 2 of our own to complement the set of blue-skied postcards we’d bought yesterday.  But having taken a couple, plus one of the presidential offices (which looks for all the world like Newham Public Baths) we rushed back to the hotel.  Last night, we had made an arrangement to ring Tony or Mr Ng at a particular no.  We couldn’t remember exactly why, but thought it was fairly important to do so, especially since Mr Ng had our return ticket.  So it only increased our anxiety when we weren’t able to contact anyone who spoke English at the given no.  So we packed up our bags + moved down to the hotel lobby, where we sat, using as much patience as we could muster.  We needn’t have worried, of course – it wasn’t likely that the Lion organisation would leave 2 of their operatives adrift in Taiwan – he turned up in good time, took us first around to his flat, where we were given the airline tickets, the empty bags, + enough money to pay our Taiwan departure tax (+ then some.)  He also showed us how to alter the time, date + day on our new watches.  Not as simple as it might appear, + something that had been disturbing us a little – even with $25 watches, one wants them to work.

We were then taken to the station, + were given our tickets for the limousine bus to the airport.  We’ve been surprised at how we’ve been handed everything, when we thought it would be a struggle.  We passed thro’ the airport formalities with no trouble at all (as so we should expect, being entirely legal.)  The flight too was uneventful – we were flying this time with China Airlines – + had a tasty chicken dish.  The formalities at the other end were dealt with in no time, tho’ Val did get a raised eyebrow or 2 when the customs official discovered her bag was empty.  Mine was chalked X without a murmur.  After a snack or 2, back at the jolly + exciting Chungking Mansions.

Val went to bed, but I was feeling restless, so sat around, drank a little beer, + eventually fell into a conversation with my fellow-travellers.  There was Ray, the drunken East-Ender that I’d put to bed the other night; the girl he was trying very hard to pull – Mel, an Irish girl (tho’ she didn’t sound it); the guy she was obviously far more interested in – Paul, just finished uni, pleasant, intelligent, sense of humour; + for a time Peter, the German who hadn’t made it to Taiwan.  I didn’t mention him, but he had a hell of a time yesterday.  He’d checked his bags in on a later flight than ours, but for some reason it had been delayed.  In the meantime, the pair of customs guys in Taipei had gone off duty.  He rang up Lion from the departure lounge, who told him to get himself + his bags (which by now were on the plane,) back thro’ immigration.  So he span some yarn about having missed a vital appointment in Taipei, + it now being a waste of time for him to go, + after a couple of hours of heavy sweating, he managed it.  The only good thing for him was that he was paid for not having to go, but I reckon he earned his money.  Naturally, this experience formed the basis of our conversation, which generally revolved around smuggling in general.  Mel + Paul had both done a trip to Taipei; Mel, Ray + Peter had all contemplated a Nepal trip sufficiently to go for a “fitting”, a practice run at cramming a kilo + a half of gold up your bum.  Mel, indeed, was more or less committed to a trip in the near future, + was hugely nervous about it all.  I, naturally, kept quiet about my own forthcoming production, partly because I’d been asked to keep quiet, partly because secrecy made obvious sense.  We sat + talked + drank beer + talked; + from time to time someone would pop downstairs for more beer (from the 16th floor, no small feat.)

Eventually, at some hour I know not when, it was decided to go for a drink, to a bar called the Four Sisters.  I was led by Mel, Paul + Ray following after – I don’t know why.  Mel didn’t exactly get us lost, but she was uncertain of the way, + having had a few drinks, I suffered in a mild way from the paranoia that most drugs seem to produce in me.  However, we made it, + passed an enjoyable… time?  I’ve no idea how long.  I had a couple of pints, played the juke box, talked with Paul, danced with Mel, consoled Ray when she indicated a clear preference for Paul.  He was still amazing – I’ve never known someone pursue such a hopeless cause using such antiquated weapons – “I’ve notice you’ve been staring at me.  We should get together + talk about these feelings you have for me.” – but perhaps that was part of his charm.  In every other respect – the physical, the intellectual – he had nothing going for him at all.  But I shouldn’t be catty.)  And eventually (Ray had already left, I think – perhaps disappointed, certainly drunk) Mel + Paul led me home.  There was no possibility I could have made it on my own, being both drunk + disoriented.  It was an enormous shock, walking out of the bar, to discover it was daylight.  Have I ever drunk the night thro’ before?  I don’t think so.  We’d lost our beds, having spent the night in Taiwan, +I didn’t think it was worth disturbing Val, who was asleep on a mattress somewhere, so I went into the lounge, climbed onto the settee, removing only my shoes, + tried to sleep.  I was quite drunk.

After yesterday’s excitement, something of an anti-climax, back to the mundanity of everyday life in Hong Kong; especially as we have no real purpose to take up our time, it is really rather dull. And it does seem to encourage in me a sort of lassitude, not able to motivate myself even to go to bed.

April 17th 1984

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Peter, Val + I were all up early – early for us at any rate – to have some breakfast before popping over to Taiwan.  When we arrived at Lion’s, however, it seemed that Peter wasn’t required yet, since now he would be going on a later flight.  It seemed odd, I must say, but far be it from me to comment.  Just prawns in the game, that’s us.  Lion was a cat on hot bricks, pacing up + down, because our tickets hadn’t arrived from the travel agents.  So he spent much of the time pacing up + down, + then going over instructions for the day.  It all seems moderately foolproof, I must say.  We go to one particular gate, where the guys will whisk us thro’ with only a show of inspecting the bags.  And in the event of something unforeseen – the arrival of a big boss, or being instructed to go to a different gate, we have a list in our pockets of all the stuff we’re carrying, + so put it into bond.  The list was quite remarkable – we each were taking something like 30 Walkmans, 80 watches, 40 teapots…  Not surprisingly, the bags were enormously heavy.  We had 3 each – 2 to check in, one to carry aboard.  Fortunately, it didn’t look as tho’ we would be carrying them very much.

As soon as the tickets arrived, we were off, Val + I + another fellow heaving the gear to the lift, then out to the street, + into a taxi – quite an exercise in logistics, believe me.  At the airport, Val + I checked in at different counters – we were both fantastically overweight, + one gets more, apparently, for one’s allowance if one travels alone.  I still had to shell out a couple of hundred HK$ as excess baggage – not, you understand, out of my own money.  I got myself into a bit of a flap when they wanted to x-ray one of the cases – I wanted to take out my camera to keep it safe, + couldn’t find the bloody thing.  I gave up in the end, figuring it was better to lose a film than display countless Walkmans to all + sundry.  More problems when I went thro’ immigration + security myself tho’.  This time it was my hand-luggage that was x-rayed, but obviously there was something in it which didn’t please them.  They opened it up but what was sitting there on top of it but my camera.  Worse, they started pulling things out, heavily wrapped in bubble wrap, + asking what they were.  I wasn’t in any danger, since it’s not illegal to take stuff out of Hong Kong, but it was highly embarrassing all the same, especially when I had to confess I didn’t know what they were.  It was with a good deal of relief that I finally passed into the departure lounge + could, finally, relax.

The flight itself was nothing more than so-so; naturally Val + I sat apart, so I had a couple of elderly Kiwis as neighbours.  We were with Cathay Pacific, about which I had heard good things, but really the meal was very odd – virtually just a plateful of various cold meats, with 2 sticks of asparagus, one quarter of a tomato, and one bread roll.  Very odd.  I thought that I was reasonably relaxed about the whole thing, but found, about 20 mins before we landed, that I was being seized by cramps in my stomach, + reaching up my whole back.  Very painful, + worse, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to appear relaxed + casual.  However, there was not very much I could do about the whole thing, apart from trying to untense.

Lugging my hand-luggage from the plane to customs was mighty hard work – Taipei turned out to have an enormous airport, so it was quite a walk.  Fortunately, they had a couple of moving walkways, but these were sluggish things – I think both Val + I wanted to get the whole thing over.  At the baggage collection, we’d been told to get a luggage trolley each, still maintaining the air of independence from each other.  So it had to be as a concerned passer-by that I told Val  she was waiting at the wrong baggage delivery ramp.

My own faux pas was considerably more serious.  Having collected my 2 bags (avoiding the pitfall which had struck a girl last week of forgetting what her bags looked like) I managed to shove the overladen trolley thro’ the crowd to the right counter.  The place was absolutely packed – it looked like 3 Jumbos had all arrived at once – + to make things worse I had a wonky trolley which refused to go straight, but somehow I made kit.  Val was in the adjacent queue – we’d been given strict instructions to go to opposite sides of the same customs counter.  It seems paid-off customs officials operate on a piecework basis, + in order not to upset the apple-cart, we had to make sure that both the guys on the counter received an equal share of the action.  We were close to being done when with a jolt I recognised I didn’t have my piece of hand-luggage.  Oh fuck, what an inept smuggler, losing one of the bags.  I shoved my trolley out of the queue towards Val + raced over to the baggage collection place, shoving my way thro’ the crowds, +, no doubt, attracting all sorts of unwelcome attention.  But what was I to do if it wasn’t there?  Complain?  Walk out anyway?  Shoot myself?  I had to take a huge breath to calm myself when I spotted the thing, sitting by the revolving tray, looking forlorn + abandoned.

I walked back to customs, consciously forcing relaxation upon myself.  I’d lost my place of course, but didn’t care in the slightest.  I’d worn my big jumper to convey an air of smartness, but with the heat + the pressure I was now dripping sweat, so peeled the thing off.  But of course, customs was a breeze.  Our guys seemed to have a supervisor peering suspiciously at them form a couple of yds away, but they just opened a case, ruffled thro’ the clothes on the most superficial way – naturally, for they already knew better than we did what was inside – all the while shielding the case from the supervisor with the lid, + then waved us thro’; Val’s guy even told her to hurry up.  This job is bad on the nerves for us; it must be ten times worse for these guys.  And that was that – a piece of cake really – it just didn’t seem so at the time.

We wheeled our trolleys thro’ the gate + over to the coffee bar, where, we’d been told, we would be contacted.  And so we were, after 5 mins or so, then out to a taxi + off into Taipei, a 40 min ride away.  We were taken first to a tiny flat where we dropped the bags, just collecting the tiny amount of stuff we had brought ourselves, + then onto a hotel.  We were very surprised – one girl told us she had just been given the name of a hotel + dumped, + so were half-expecting to have to fight to get anything out of them, but the hotel was very nice indeed – colour TV, hot bath, and all paid in advance – + Mr Ng, our contact, told us he’d pick us up at 5.30 to take us to dinner.  Not at all bad, we reckoned.

We relaxed for half an hour or so – as much to collect our breath as anything else – then went out for a walk.  We didn’t have a map or anything, + didn’t even know what there was to see in the place; we just wandered, + quite by chance happened upon one of the place’s few attractions.  (I should say now that we weren’t wonderfully struck by the place.)  We met a policeman as we were ambling around, + he chatted for a while.  His English was appalling (tho’ miles better than our Chinese) so we caught about 10% of what he said.  We were slightly worried that he might latch onto us unshakeably, since I didn’t know what Mr Ng would say if we turned up at the hotel with a policeman in tow, but in fact he was very useful, + pointed us in the direction of the Chaing Kai-Shek memorial.  This is a remarkable building, a vast white structure housing an enormous statue of the man himself, at the top of a great stretch of steps, rather in the style, not that I’ve seen it, of the Lincoln Memorial.  This dominates one end of a great paved avenue – at the other is a huge white Chinese arch.  This complex also houses a museum dedicated to CKS, elaborate gardens, +, in the early stages of construction, 2 matching buildings – one is to be an opera house, the other I don’t recall.  We looked around for a while, sent a couple of post-cards from the Post Office located in the museum, + then strolled back to the hotel for a quick bath before dinner, pausing on the way to buy some stuff for breakfast in a supermarket.  We eventually settled on cracker biscuits + cream cheese – there was nothing like the level of choice in the Hong Kong places.

We had  no idea what to expect for our meal in the evening, but it turned out to be an absolutely splendid affair.  Mr Ng turned up with a colleague called Tony, + we walked from the hotel just around the corner to a restaurant.  All of the tables had a gas-ring in the centre – we were to be treated to a Korean/Taiwanese barbecue.  And what a feast.  A large wok half-full of oil was set to heat up on the ring, + then, when it was hot enough, various meats, veg etc were dropped in.  There was an almighty sizzle , of course, but there was a metal shield placed around the pot at this stage to shield clothes, eyeballs, etc.  We were encouraged to go select our own goodies to be cooked from the refrigerated display, but there were already mountains of food, so just grabbed a plate of mushrooms for the sake of appearances.  A wise choice, however – they were delicious.  Once the stuff had been flash-fried (a waiter took care of all of this, so everything was given the right amount of time) water was added, the screens were taken away, + it was every man for himself, armed with a trusty pair of chopsticks.  It was a real banquet, so much better than we had expected, complete even with beer + orange juice.  Tony spoke excellent English, + treated us very well, seemingly grateful for our contribution.  It was all rather embarrassing, seeing as our motives were purely mercenary.  Tony was also, we discovered, able to supply us with Taiwanese Rolex watches – cheap, yet virtually indistinguishable copies of the real thing, at $25 each, so we put in an order for one each.  Purely for profit, you understand, for re-sale, one hopes in India.

Tony drove us down to the night-market after the meal, stopping off to collect the watches on the way, + dropped us there.  After such a meal, we figured a short stroll would be good for the digestion.  I’m glad we did, since it was the most memorable night-market we have ever seen, more like a fair, and a mediaeval one at that, with demonstrations, displays, and exotic wares.  One stall had a Chinese weight-lifter (no puny oriental this) proclaiming the virtues of a particular potion, + from time to time demonstrating its remarkable powers.  Another stall had snakes, live ones, which a woman was using like a whip, bashing their heads on the ground – understandably, they didn’t seem too pleased with this treatment.  After which we strolled home.  It had been quite a day.

And so our career has begun. And ultimately both successful and enjoyable, despite my ineptness during the actual transfer. So all in all, we were both feeling most satisfied with the enterprise.

April 16th 1984

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We decided that, as nothing seemed to be happening as regards the trip to Kathmandu, it was about time we got something moving.  Val had gotten into a conversation with a NZ girl in the kitchen the other day, regarding taking stuff, only the group that she worked for used a different method, ie shoving the same amount of gold up the arse.  One might not think it possible to put one and a half kgs of gold up one’s arse, but apparently it is.  I imagine I would be shitting bricks at the prospect, but if the trip I have semi-arranged doesn’t come off (and I’ve heard nothing) then perhaps this would be worth considering.  So Val went down to the 13th fl to see if she could find this contact, while I went down to see G to see what progress was being made – I had lost his phone no.  Which was just as well, as it turned out, since he had completely forgotten me, + my name wasn’t down on any of his lists.  He had forgotten me so much, in fact, that he was mighty suspicious – how did I know him etc – + I had to furnish details of our previous meeting in order to mollify him.  Tricky, since I’d forgotten the name of the guy who had brought me along.  Anyway, my explanation seemed to satisfy him, but he asked to see my passport, so I had to rush back upstairs to collect it.  While I was doing it, I grabbed Val’s as well, on the off chance she might be able to be fitted in.  It was as well that I did, for after an apparently heated discussion between G and his brother F, it was arranged that we could go this coming weekend.  It is not their policy to send more than one person on any particular flight, but I was able to make bookings for us, me for Sat, Val for Sun.  Verey good news.  Not only twice the money, but I wouldn’t have to come rushing back – we could stay + enjoy the place.

So, with that arranged, we both went straight over to Lion’s to sort out our visas for Taiwan – it’s a busy schedule that we international smugglers operate to, y’know,  We had to go with Lion + another guy over to Hong Kong side to apply – no hassle because we went by tube + they paid.  The only annoying thing was that if we’d had time to think about it, we would have taken some guide maps over with us.  The visa application involved nothing at all – we simply filled out a form, + handed it over with the money (which we’d already been supplied with) at a particular counter – whether the guy there had been paid off or not I had no idea.  And then, back outside the office, we handed over our receipts to Lion, who would collect our visas for us later.

Despite being without maps or anything, we decided to stay over there + explore for a while, so headed over to Causeway Bay on a tram.  (Splendid contraptions – why so many cities which used to have them tore them up in the name of progress is quite beyond me.)  We felt the lack of instructions once we’d arrived there, tho’, since we wandered rather aimlessly thro’ dull streets, only discovering more interesting parts when we were already fatigued with the enterprise.

Back in Kowloon, I bought a pair of trousers from a cheap shop at the bottom of Chungking.  A rough + ready place.  They have hundreds of pairs of trousers stacked up, jumble-sale style, outside the shop, all at $20 (or about £2), but she won’t allow anyone to try any on, so once I’d found a pair that were vaguely smart (we IS’s have to look the part, you know), + looked as if they might fit me, I took a deep breath, + handed over the danegeldt.  I was dead lucky, for when I got upstairs + tried them, they fitted very well indeed.

In the evening, we invited Peter, our fellow-traveller to Taiwan tomorrow, + an English bloke called Julian, out for a drink.  Peter suggested the Blacksmith’s Arms, so that was where we went – an amazingly English place, the closest thing we’ve seen to a pub in 3 years.  We had a fine evening, + I got a little drunk.  Peter was a bit boring – he would keep going on about how much he was looking forward to tomorrow, but Julian was surprisingly interesting – I’d considered him quite a boring little chap, but he had quite a bit to say about Nepal, some interesting observations on England.  An educated drop-out, in fact – a history + philosophy degree from a Scottish university, + now he’s working 4 days a week in a record + tape exchange.

And now we have two trips in prospect, all in something of a heady rush. But managing to combine making arrangements for same with some sight-seeing and socialising. But I do have the feeling that we are wasting time; HK is rather too English in many ways; why spend time in a local mock-up of an English pub when we could be enjoying the real thing. And getting our lives moving again.

April 15th 1984

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Val was off to work at 9, at the English-speaking club for kids.  Understandably, I stayed in bed till a little later, before getting up + eating a leisurely breakfast.  I was then just about to tackle the washing when I discovered it had somehow gotten to be 12.15.  I was supposed to be at the bottom of the building now, meeting Val + going off to a 12.30 showing of “First Contact”, a film about New Guinea.  By the time I rushed down there, she had gone to see if I was waiting at the theatre, a few hundred yards down the road.  And by the time she’d come back again to find me, + we’d rushed down there again, it had already begun, + we decided not to bother.  She felt, naturally, very let down, + missing it just added to our depression.

As some sort of compensation, while we were in our room, a German guy called Peter came in, saying he had a message from Lion, that the people in beds 47 + 50 should go to see him this afternoon at 2.30.  Val was one of those people, + we thought that I might as well go too, especially since the other guy wasn’t around.  We still had some hopes for the bigger trip, and there’d been some murmurings of a phone message from Terry, the other chap, today.   But nothing came thro’, + when Val rang him, she received a curt “not here”, after which the phone was hung up.  So, acting on the bird in the hand principle, we went around to see Lion.

His place was a small flat in a place almost identical to Chungking, called Haiphong, just down the road.  It was a veritable hive of activity, with a team of women wrapping Walkmans, car stereos etc, in bubble wrap.  For these trips one takes absolute mountains of gear (like about 30 Walkmans for example) but the system is apparently foolproof since the organisers have a couple of customs guys paid off in Taiwan.  For the longer trips, things are apparently by no means as easy, since Koreas in particular is cracking down hard, + one guy was fined $400.  One imagines (or hopes) his organisers paid it for him.  Lion himself seemed friendly enough, was happy enough for us both to go – the trip is this Tuesday.  We agreed to come back tomorrow to have our visas sorted out.

We went to see “Terms of Endearment” in the evening.  It was superbly well-acted, especially Shirley Maclaine + Jack Nicholson.  If I were a film director, I don’t think I’d ever cast him in a supporting role, as he’s an amazing scene-stealer.  But I didn’t like the film as a whole tho’ – mawkish, sentimental stuff.  It achieved the effects it was after, but it cheated – anyone can induce tears by having a kid cry.  Val liked it more than I did,  but she was more able to identify with the mother/daughter relationship at the film’s core.  Glad we saw it tho’ – another one ticked off the list.

And it appears we are good to go, off to Taiwan at the weekend. There is no further comment on Val’s trip to the morning language club, so I can only assume that that too was rejected as a long-term project, and my guess is that they would not have been paying very well. One of my regular cock-ups regarding time – not surprising after my late-night antics – but it did mean we messed things up regarding the film. Correction – I messed things up.

April 14th 1984

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The heavens opened up today, + it bucketed down, more or less forcing us (or at least providing a good excuse) to stay in for the entire day.  So I did almost the same as I would do in England under similar conditions, + slumped in front of the telly + watched sport.  Most unproductive.  Val, I think, was slightly more active than I, at least intellectually, in that she read.  There was a brief foray to shop, a splendid dinner, then back to the box.  HK seems to have that effect on people.  Which is one reason why I’ve decided not to apply for the British Council course.  It would take another year out of my life dong something I’m sure I wouldn’t enjoy in a place which, tho’ exciting for a visit, would be stultifying intellectually over any period of time.

Val toddled off to bed at a reasonable hour, but I stayed up + up, beyond even the late film, which finished around 2.  I read my book – we acquired “The Man from St Petersburg” by Ken Follet, which was alright, but not special – if anyone is a one-book author, it’s him.  I also talked with an American from Georgia, + Ray, a Cockney, 2 other late-stayers, mainly because they’d been drinking.  Ray, I discovered, as he slumped  further + further into the coffin-like settee, was very drunk indeed, + increasingly incoherent, but I enjoyed talking with the other bloke.  Eventually, when Ray had dropped off to sleep entirely, I helped the other fellow get him off to bed, + then finished my book.  That took me to around 4.30 – I still wasn’t tired, but decided I’d better get to bed.  Or might as well do so, anyway.

The first of what was to prove something of a reguar occurrence, staying up till very late, ostensibly watching telly, but also chatting with various people. But I think my instincts were right about Hong Kong: not the place for us to spend any time in, especially at this stage of our trip, when we are actually looking forward to returning to “normal” life.

April 13th 1984

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We decided we’d had enough of the sedentary life, even if we had used the excuse that we had business to attend to.  So we caught the ferry across to Hong Kong side, to do a spot of sight-seeing.  We’d picked up a book from the Tourist Office listing six short walking tours in different parts of HK, so we thought we’d tackle one of them.  The one we chose was around Western, a big local shopping area, where particular local products are sold.  The walk included the ordinary commercial market, but there were also many less usual areas.  Cloth St, Egg St, plus areas which specialised in snakes (prized for both their flesh + for making snakes’ blood wine – fortifying in the winter, we read), second-hand shops which weren’t flooded with Europeans, shops selling jade, selling potions.  There was even one street which specialised in outdoor barbers’, but we somehow missed that – we managed to lose ourselves in the suggested walk once or twice, but the streets were confusing.  All in all, quite a melange.  In SE Asia, the unusual is common-place, so it is good, once in a while, to look at it with fresh eyes.

We did also manage to include some business, when I visited a couple of language school to enquire about work.  I forgot to mention that last night we visited one school – they needed someone to help teach kids on a Sunday morning, so Val went to see about that, while we both thought it would be a good idea to have a look at the place.  They had a conversational club going, so naturally we fell into that, chatting with a group of about 6 or 7 young Chinese, ages from 17 to 21 or so.  They were friendly, + generally fluent – it was a good chat.  Afterwards we talked with Roddy, a young English bloke who seems to be more or less running the place.  He was both friendly + helpful, but considering he was younger than me, condescending in the extreme.  He likened teaching English in HK to being a whore, which is probably fair enough.  But he reckoned I had the potential to be a well-paid whore, since with an Oxford degree I could walk into the British Council, where they pay upwards of US$10 an hour (as opposed to two to two and a half in the other places.) I was not so sure, but willing to find out.  Which brings us back to today.

I first tried the Maxwell School of English, another biggy which was on the way, but the Director of Studies was not available, so I filled in a form + said I’d get in touch.  I was able to talk to a lady official at the British Council.  As I’d expected, they only employed teachers with recognised EFL qualifications.  They were, however, running a course this summer, the same as the International House one, only for free, with the stipulation that one worked for them for 2 terms afterwards.  Certainly worthy of consideration.

Strolled back thro’ the city (once I’d spent some time reading The Observer) + decided to kill some time in town,+ then  go to one of the HK Film Festival offerings – we’re quite fortunate to be here for it, as it seems a big + well put-together affair.  They’re even showing “Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence” so we might get to see it at last.  Decided upon “Loose Connections”, a recent British film.  Had a meal first, at a Chinese fast-food place – it was a mistake, as I got flustered in the hurly-burly, + put myself in a bad mood.  And unfortunately the film wasn’t good enough to compensate, an amateurish affair, with the acting on the stereotypical level of ITV sitcoms.  Not that the script was much better.  We should have followed our instincts + gone to see “Terms of Endearment”, the big Oscar winner this year – not part of the festival, just on ordinary release.

After the hectic business-making of the past two days, a more or less ordinary day of sight-seeing (though I did manage to do some searching for well-paid employment at the same time.) And, after a long time without, the opportunity for some western culture, in the form of cinema.

April 12th 1984

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Hong KOng – the familiar and the unfamiliar

A wonderful, wonderful breakfast – eggs, bacon, etc, not to mention corn flakes – cooked with our own fair hands.  (Why do I spend so much time talking about food?)  Then, pleasure over + down to business, at the immigration office.  They were very efficient there, with a good number-queue system, plus the accessories – photocopier, passport photo machine – that one might (and in fact did) require, but it still took us all morning to get things done.  Things didn’t turn out to be as simple as they had appeared yesterday, mainly because we weren’t able to supply any responsible guarantors who had known us for 2 years.  Hardly surprising, when we’d only just arrived.  And this, it seemed, was an absolute imperative.  The compromise that was eventually worked out was that we would apply for, + in due course receive, a Hong Kong British passport.  However, since this is by no means the same as an ordinary British passport, ie it’s not as good, it would be attached to our old passport, + serve just as an extension of it.  At least, that’s the theory – I am moderately certain foreign immigration officials will be more than a mite confused.  But it’s the best we can do, + should at least provide some fun.  Our new passports will be ready on the 25th.

That done, Val set to work phoning round the various trip organisers.  Last night Jean had also talked a little about the trips – she’d done one herself – + she’d suggested the organisers often preferred girls, since a lot of the stuff they’re shifting is women’s clothes.  So we thought we might have a better response if Val tried.  Once again, it was just the one number that was positive, but this one looked much better for Val than it had for me, as she was given an appointment to go round + see the guy.  When she saw him, he seemed reasonably keen for a trip he was organising for early next week.  Plus, as we more or less expected, it looked likely I would be able to go too.  It was for a complete trip, as we had hoped, taking in Korea, Japan, + Taiwan.  However, it wasn’t an absolute concrete arrangement, so to insure ourselves Val rang another guy, a number Jean had given me last night, a guy called Lion, operating trips just to Taiwan. 

While she was out making the call, I rec’d an offer myself.  Things were really starting to happen, but I’ll confess this one shook me.  Brian, a tall thin Australian, had come looking for someone to help him out of a jam, + Jean had directed him to me.  A girl had dropped out of a trip going tomorrow, so he needed an almost immediate answer.  The problem was, it was a trip to Nepal, carrying gold, + the only thing I’d heard about Nepal trips was that someone was in jail.  However, US$600 was being offered.  I asked for 10 mins to think about it, + talked it over with Val, who had by now returned.  I was shaken.  Shaking too, for that matter, but decided, on the strength of what Brian had told me, to give it a go.  So Brian + I went sown to see G, the real organiser.  The set-up there impressed me, I must say – a real office, with secretaries etc.  Unfortunately tho’, especially as I’d hyped myself up for it, it was too late to change the name on the reservation.  And with the Easter Monday coming up, it seemed it was impossible to re-arrange things until about the 26th.  But we made provisional arrangements for then, + I went back upstairs.  Lion had been keen for Val to take on his Taipei trips, but she (and I) were still keen on the complete circuit, so she’d put him off for the time being.

I cooked up a fine tea, after which a desperately subdued evening in front of the box.  I’d had quite enough excitement for the one day, + needed calming down.

And so we dip our toes into the murky world of international smuggling. And simple enough it seems to be, since we have been here less than two complete days and already have three possibilities.

April 11th 1984

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Hong Kong

We checked in at about 1.30, which makes it officially Wednesday.  It also means we’d overstayed our visa… by 2 hours.  Actually, tho’ I’d known about it, it had slipped my mind, so I didn’t know why the officials were having a mildly concerned little conference about us at the immigration desk.  We did in fact have to see their boss, but he was quite alright about it – we just faked innocence.  We didn’t have to pay a fine, tho’ he did stamp something in our passports.  It’s in Thai, which is both good + bad – we can’t read it, but then neither can the officials of any other country.  And the man assured us it wouldn’t prejudice re-entry to Thailand.

The flight itself, with Air India, was uneventful, the food extremely unexciting, being 2 open sandwiches, one of cheese, one of fish.  We were able, however, to get 2 servings each, + I finished off Val’s as well, so at least I was full.  Our hostess was helpful + friendly – she was, curiously, American.  When we arrived, it was light, tho’ still early, but fortunately we cleared very quickly – customs + immigration were thorough, but efficient.  We boarded the bus with a good no. of fellow travellers, all of us heading for the same place.  There is a block of flats + offices in Kowloon (the main tourist district, across the harbour from HK island itself), called Chungking Mansions, + it is simply chock-a-block with guest-houses + hostels of various types.  It was funny to see us all scrambling off the bus at the same stop, + following like a bunch of dim-witted sheep the one traveller who seemed to know where we were going… where he was going, I should say, but it amounts to the same thing.  As well as having 17 floors, Chungking Mansions has 5 blocks, each served by a different set of lifts, found in a different part of the rabbit warren that goes by the name of Chungking Parade.  We opted to head for the 16th floor of Block A, a popular choice among our small group.  This was the Travellers’ Hostel, $20 each for a dorm bed.  The place is decidedly dingy + dirty, but has a few advantages: it has a Travel Agent, specialising in on your own trips to China, on the premises; it has a large notice-board offering travel books for sale, casual employment, air tickets etc; + best of all, it has a kitchen.  (Filthy, tiny, + pitifully equipped, but a kitchen nonetheless.)

Once we were checked in, we changed some  money, rang up some of the numbers I’d been given about trips (a frustrating + depressing business – at only one of them did I get any response at all, + that was along the lines of not for a while), + then headed into the supermarket.  This cheered us up immensely.  Not only was it fabulously well-stocked, + along the most English of lines, it was also fabulously cheap.  We returned with our bag of goodies, + ate a hearty brunch (an appalling Americanism, but useful all the same.)  Chatted for a while with Trevor, an Englishman.  He’s come out to HK via India, + is planning to head back via the Trans-Siberian.  What interested me most was that he talked to a publisher in England about his trip, + has been advanced £350 to write a book about it.  And he’s never written anything before!  Both depressing + encouraging.

The immigration office was our next destination, but it turned out to be nothing like as bad as Dr Doom in Bangkok had predicted.  It might indeed, we were told, take some time (tho’ not 12-18 weeks) to issue us with a new passport, but we would not have to surrender our old one while that process was going on, so would be able to visit China, + collect our new one upon our return.  We were told to come back tomorrow + apply formally at the office upstairs.

We slept in the afternoon, understandably after a night devoid of the precious stuff, then visited a different supermarket, making our 2nd trip to the altar of the true God within 12 hours.  Bought, then returned to cook, our evening meal – broccoli cheese.  In the evening we settled down to watch television.  HK has 2 English language stations, so for the first time we could watch a good news programme (a US TV-style format, but never mind.)  Later, there was English football, the ubiquitous Road to Wembley, + much, much later, at 2 kin the morning, live coverage of Man Utd in the semi-finals of the Cup-Winners Cup.  After my afternoon nap, I was not at all tired, so stayed up to watch it.  Surprisingly, in view of the number of Brits about, I was the only one.  I whiled away the time waiting for it by chatting with Jean, a Scots girl who teaches English at a couple of places around town.  In many ways, HK is like the English-speaking world must have been like 50 years ago.  The British subjects are just given 30 days to kick off with, but that is easily extendable, + without question, to 6 months.  And then beyond that, assuming one has a job.  And there are no repeat no restrictions on working.  One of the places Jean works for is at the British Council, + that certainly interests me.  She also mentioned a few other places worth trying.  Worth a thought.

The football was pretty calamitous.  Man Utd could only manage a 1-1 draw at home to Juventus, so it looks as tho’ they’re buggered.  Their excuse was that their entire midfield (a formidable one too – Muhren, Robson, + Wilkins) was missing thro’ injury.  Not that that is much help to them.

And so, despite the faux pas with the visas, we have arrived in, not only another country, but another culture, a strange mix of familiar English with most unfamiliar China. But it seems, judging by my immediate attempt to find someone organising smuggling trips, that our first project is to arrange such. And in the meantime, we are in Chungking Mansions, very much an iconic address.