Today was the day for returning to Shenzhen. I’d gotten myself a visa allowing multiple entries, in case I had to return for a fitting or to pick up my suit, but I’d arranged to collect it from an address in Sheung Wan, not too far from our hotel. Beyond reasonable walking distance, so a taxi or tram would be the go, but not as much fuss as a long train ride to and from Shenzhen, together with two sets of customs and immigration formalities.
“One country, two systems,” goes the government line, when referring to the way that residents of the Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region have more freedoms and different rules, and even a touch of democracy. I wonder privately why they don’t say “One country, three systems”, but I guess they don’t want to talk about Taiwan until they get it back. If they ever do.
I still think, the way that capitalist attitudes increasingly rule in China, that the easiest way would be for Taiwan to take over the whole operation anyway, leaving the Chinese Communist experience another failed experiment for the history books.
Anyway, I wasn’t going to Shenzhen. My son only had a visa for one visit, and he’d had it. There was no way he was dragging himself back over the border for more shopping torture, anyway. We left him to vegetate alone in the hotel room exploring the cable channels, with the possibility of him venturing outside to buy lunch if he felt brave enough to cope with it.
I gathered up my cameras and batteries, a book or two, and set off with the girls. Taxi down to Sheung Wan station – we’d asked the female taxi driver to take us all the way into Central, but the peak hour traffic was so busy that she suggested that it would be quicker and cheaper for us to get the train from Sheung Wan – and then into Central, where we did a reconnaissance for the Airport Express gates. Interestingly, I found that you could check in for your flight at the station, leaving your bags there and getting a boarding pass on the spot.
I pointed Kerri and my daughter towards the station to Tsim Sha Tsai and found my own way out into the open air. Aurora was due in at eleven, or possibly eleven-thirty if you believed the port authority website, and I wanted to be in a good position to see her arrive.
I scouted locations along the waterfront near the main ferry wharves. Across the harbour was the main cruise terminal, three berths occupied, and I was pretty confident that Aurora would dock there. I just didn’t know the exact time or position or the direction she would approach from, and I wanted to be flexible enough to get good angles, without committing myself to a position where I might turn out to be poorly placed.
The Star ferries pier turned out to be a good observation post. I stationed myself at the end of the pier with a large Starbucks and watched the patterns of movement on the harbour. The ferries across to Kowloon had a good view while they were actually making the crossing, but they chose alternate sides of the wharf, meaning that half the time the harbour view was obscured. This applied for the Kowloon side as well. I mentally dumped my plan to spend the morning on a ferry shuttling back and forth. I’d have a good chance of missing my chance for the best photographs, although my fantasy of ducking nimbly under the oncoming cruiseliner’s bow for an unforgettable action shot could only be achieved from a ferry.
One of the two cruiseships at the terminal began backing out. Star Cruises’ Gemini. She looked to be about the same size as the Aurora, and I looked at her keenly, to see which way she would turn.
Starboard, towards the east. She passed in front of me, big as one of Hong Kong’s many towers lying on its side, and made her stately way down the harbour until she disappeared from my sight around the curve of Hong Kong Island. A few minutes later a smaller liner followed in the wake of the first. This must be the main shipping route to the open sea.
I looked at the Kowloon skyline, which would be the backdrop to any photographs. Interesting, but not nearly as dramatic as the mountain range of skyscrapers forming the Hong Kong waterfront. If I crossed over, I’d be able to find a spot on the Kowloon side to catch the great ship making her way in, with that exciting background behind her.
I boarded the next ferry over, the brightly-painted red Morning Star. And seized the opportunity to release a book on the seats right at the bow. The Golden Galleon, one of those swashbuckling naval war in the age of sail adventures that have followed in the wake of Hornblower and Lucky Jack Aubrey without quite achieving the same greatness. A Napoleonic technothriller. Seemed kind of appropriate for this maritime setting.
On the Kowloon side, the perfect position suggested itself to me, a waterfront walkway with a row of seating. Just right for what could be a long wait. The Gemini had long since vanished in the haze, and looking at the point where she had gone, I noticed that visibility was dwindling. Victoria Peak was merging with the low clouds and the whole place was becoming decidedly murky. Just like the rain drizzle that had set in when I drove up to Sydney to see Aurora docking under the Harbour Bridge.
Eleven o’clock came and went. I put my feet up and took a few pictures of the activity. A military helicopter, tugboats, the ferries passing under the skyscrapers.
Half past eleven. Not even a shimmer in the distant haze. I glanced the other way now and then, but no Aurora. I was beginning to wonder about that time. Maybe it was eleven o’clock at night? I didn’t think that I was keen enough to make a midnight trip through Hong Kong just for a few photographs.
Noon. The haze deepened, and I contemplated leaving my post to check the docking time at the cruise terminal. One last glance and I could see a flicker of movement in the gloom at the far end of the harbour. Far away, some mighty ship was coming in. It could only be Aurora!
And it was. It took a while for her to come into plain sight, but when she did, I contemplated plastic surgery to widen my face to fit my smile in.
This lovely ship, this marvel of magnificence, this towering streamliner, she was to be my home for the next month as we cruised the tropic waters of the world and explored exotic ports. I’d read the brochures, I’d browsed the website, I’d exulted when I got my tickets, but here was my dream holiday in the flesh, as it were.
If only the haze would clear. Honestly, it was a job to make out any details in the skyscrapers just across the harbour. The mountains beyond had long since vanished. I did my photographic best as Aurora drew level and sailed past, but if I had any shots worth keeping, it would only be as a result of considerable software enhancement.
And I had some great moments right there before me. The ferries at her feet, as it were, mere minnows against the great curving flanks of the cruiser. A tug or two, then three special forces boats raced past, throwing up feathers of foam. And beyond the ship, the hazy but impressive Hong Kong skyline, a jagged fence of verticals to contrast the flowing horizontals of the harbour and this great ship.
She went past and gave me her quarter. I moved along the shoreline to the cruise terminal, where about a thousand onlookers were hanging over the rails, nudging each other, pointing and taking pictures as Aurora prepared for docking. Like magic, four little platforms dropped out of the bows, ant-like figures of line handlers bending out over the void, while the ship slowed and turned, gently drawing in until the narrowed water vanished and somehow she was silently in place, never a groan, never a jolt.
I took a look inside the terminal. It was all gleaming shop windows and designer labels, the real deal here, not the “original copies” of Shenzhen. Signs showed me the way to the embarkation point, quite a way inside the terminal, where we would board the next day. I made a mental note of the route we would have to take with our luggage, and turned away, hunting electronics shops.
I was searching for an iPhone, Apple’s amazing combination iPod, video player, camera and cellphone. With a web browser, email, notes and other goodies thrown in. Basically, an iPod Touch with a phone added. If I could find a sixteen gigabyte model that was unlocked to accept my Australian SIM, I’d be a very happy man indeed.
And I did. Shopped around a little, bargained the seller down, but here was the gadget I wanted, hacked by some team of Chinese software wizards. Just slide out the SIM tray, slot mine in, make a test call, and it worked! The problem with iPhones is that they are hard-locked to a specific network, in this case AT&T in the USA, and they need some tweaking to make them work with other carriers. Apple keeps on plugging the holes, and the hackers keep finding new ones. One ingenious solution involves a fake SIM wafer that slots in under the real one and convinces the iPhone that there’s a genuine AT&T SIM card in there.
A happy man, I caught the ferry back over the harbour and found my way back to the hotel. Son was pretty well full of cable TV and gladly accepted my suggestion to go out and get lunch. For ease of convenience, this turned out to be McDonalds. I had some products unknown in Australia (and possibly the rest of the world). Red bean pie and golden crayfish bisque. My adventurous son opted for a cheeseburger meal.
Fortified, we went hunting up and down alleys and odd little malls for a supermarket. I had a few things I wanted for the ship and our travels beyond. Earl Grey tea and decaf coffee. A pair of scissors. Washing powder.
It took us a while, but we finally found a Chinese supermarket, and had a wonderful time holding up products to each other, exclaiming over clever or bizarre features. The locals must have thought we were mad, chortling over their everyday products, but I dare say that if they had been let loose in an Australian supermarket, they would have found our shelves full of curiosities. “What this Vegemite? Boot polish, maybe?”
Kerri gave me a call from Shenzhen saying that she’d be back in an hour or so. This was the first incoming call on my new phone, and I was glad to see that it worked flawlessly.
She came back after dark, tired but happy after a full day shopping, laden down with new purchases, and we all spent our last evening together cheerfully chattering and preparing for the morrow, when the kids would have to be packed and away bright and early for a day flight to Sydney.
And we two would be boarding Aurora for a grand adventure.