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Yantian

Just had an accidental trip into China. Last week I got a multiple entry China visa and I thought I should make the most of it. Many people may be unaware that Hong Kong has a restricted zone, a bit like a demilitarised zone but people live in it. In fact there is a sizeable town in it called Sha Tau Kok. The restricted zone is a buffer area between Hong Kong and mainland China and to go there you need a permit. I foolishly thought my China visa would be enough.

Going by public transport from Hong Kong island to Sha Tau Kok is a bit of a trial as it is quite a long way involving a number of changes of transport. I walked down to the Happy Valley bus terminus to get on the tunnel bus as it cuts out a few changes of train but it was Tuen Ng festival, a public holiday, and the bus I needed didn't run on public holidays. So I would have to use the MTR (underground/metro) but first a trip to Wan Chai station on the wonderful old trams. Getting off at Wan Chai I changed to the MTR, then changed at Admiralty, got off at Tsim Sha Tsui, walked 10 minutes through to Tsim Sha Tsui East station, took a train to Hung Hom and changed trains to the Lo Wu line. Starting at the terminus I was able to splash out on first class, which means a nice comfortable seat instead of a solid metal one or having to stand for an hour and all for just over HK$20.

At Shueng Shui I found the bus to Sha Tau Kok. The bus station at Sheung Shui is divided into numbered areas, the signboard telling you where to find your bus cunningly indicates the area to go to with a letter but I cracked the code and found the bus. At the gateway to the restricted zone, and it is a gateway with high fences, a policeman got on the bus to check everyone had the correct papers. It seems a China visa is not the correct paper and I had to leave the bus. So as a permanent HK resident I am deemed safe to enter China but not to visit parts of HK. What do they think people are going to get up to in Sha Tau Kok but anyway those are the rules and that's fine. The policeman pointed to where I could get a bus to cross the border into China and I bought a ticket to Shenzhen.

As a HK permanent resident crossing the border to leave HK is quick and easy requiring an ID card and a thumb, which I conveniently had with me. No problem there and everyone got back on the bus and drove over to Chinese immigration. Now I was the only 'gweilo' (white ghost/foreigner) on the bus so crossing the border into China requires me to fill in a departure card and show my passport, which was examined in extreme detail but eventually I got through the border. As soon as I emerged the other side the touts were there, "Taxi?" "No, bus," I replied. But I hung around for a while and realised the bus had left without me!

Great, so there I am in Yantian, of which I know nothing and because I had not set out to go to China. I have no roaming on my phone, so no messaging, no phone calls and no Internet to get a map of the area. I could buy a SIM card in China but that would have restrictions as anything Googly is banned. It is best to buy a card in HK just in case as the cards there work in China and do not restrict access.

I like to explore new places so thought I would take a walk round Yantian. Yantian is hemmed in by mountains, which should have made it attractive. Like most Chinese cities the main streets are wide and lined with wide pavements and trees. The fairly standard Chinese city gave way to industrial estates interspersed with the odd shopping mall and docks. After an hour walking by the side of a major highway with the footpath occasionally wandering through pleasant green areas and passing a smart public toilet which, to my surprise, only announced its purpose in English, I came to Yantian food street with views of the sea, the docks and a chaotic parking area. Relatively pleasant but not too exciting and I also realised that I was nowhere near Shenzhen from where there is an easy way back to HK.

So, extremely hot sweaty and smelly from walking in the heat and humidity I headed back the way I came looking out for a taxi and it wasn't too long before one arrived. A nice, well kept Toyota and very clean inside and no frayed seat belts. The driver wore a blue shirt and newish looking blue jeans and looked pretty smart. Not only that but he drove smoothly. No frantic acceleration and deceleration, no pumping of the throttle, no cursing at other drivers, no aggressive pushing in. This was completely alien after experiencing Hong Kong taxi drivers. Very chatty, very helpful. Don't think Uber could offer anything better than Mr Chan, well I think he was Mr Chan, his name was only in Chinese characters and with my eyesight these days it could well have said something completely different, Chan being one of the few names I recognise.

The trip from Yantian was much longer than expected and went through tunnels, past wild mountains and waterfalls before emerging into the huge metropolis of Shenzhen. This also proved a bit of a surprise. Everything looked clean and orderly with a reasonable amount of greenery. Cars drove at sensible speeds and eventually we came to Lowu. Unlike the pleasant streets of Shenzhen Lowu is a bit of a dump but it is the site of Shenzhen station and the Lowu border crossing where you can get onto the HK MTR system. It has a rather shady looking shopping centre selling lots of things that I could never feel a need for and after hunting round for the departure cards it was over the border and back to the familiarity of HK.