Travel tips, toilets and Tristram Shandy (day 48)

Another relatively random travel trip: To conserve precious travel funds, stay on a friend’s floor when you reach Hong Kong. It is expensive (even if it seems to be one of the few developed places in the world where you get more than a dollar in the local coin for a New Zealand dollar). I know some people I could introduce you to if you like. Their couch is very comfortable, even if sometimes it gets a little cold with the air-conditioning on. Although I can not guarantee that they will be here very long.

The current plan is to head up to Shanghai to play this Ultimate tournament in early June (how odd to find Ultimate in China). And then to come back here to Hong Kong before heading up into China again to Russia.

The advantage of this convoluted plan (which involves a great big back-track across the whole of China) is two-fold. First I can leave some of my stuff (notably my tent) in Hong Kong, since I am unlikely to need it in China. And second, it gives me more time to get a Russian visa (about which more below).

Did I say ‘two-fold’? It also means that I can hang out somewhere a little more English before the long haul across Russia. Which is an advantage not to be under-estimated, given how easy it is to go crazy without the benefit of conversation in one’s own language. My Chinese is a little rusty.

I am reading ‘The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy’ (by Laurence Stern, in case you are looking for it). It purports to be the history of a guy called, perhaps unsurprisingly, Tristram Shandy. It is in nine volumes. But all nine fit in to a moderate sized novel. This is no ‘War and Peace’.

It is written in the longest, most-not-getting-to-the-point style possible. If you thought ‘Oblomov’ was slow-moving (but brilliant), then check this book out. He begins with his birth but spends so much time talking about his family history, his uncle’s (unhealthy?) obsession with fortifications, and what he is going to talk about in forthcoming chapters, that it takes pages and pages just to get him out of the womb (which is no small achievement, for sure, but is nevertheless not something that usually takes so long, not that I am speaking from experience).

‘Tristram Shandy’ created a sensation when it was published. In London. Mr Stern promised to release two volumes a year each year (which, at the speed the story goes, would probably be only sufficient to cover a month or so in the events of his life). But he must have found something else to divert him. Because he didn’t.

It’s funny how books affect your state of mind. Actually, that sentence is just silly. It isn’t funny. In fact, that is the one of the main purposes of art, isn’t it? It is just like how you cry at the end of ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ (I think I might have even cried in the middle too), or how you think you can do Kung Fu after watching Bruce Lee. Looking at some of Monet’s paintoings used to make me tear up as well. Perhaps I am getting harder in my old age.

So my point, and I do have one, is that if I am a little more discursive in my writing than normal, Mr Stern might be to blame. Not that I need to blame someone. I am quite capable of taking responsibility for my own loquaciousness.

So yes. I have spent some of the morning starting on the process of getting a Russian visa. It is not exactly the easiest thing in the world to secure. Every single visitor has to be invited, which is a sensible enough approach for your house, but not so great for the world’s biggest country.

In the good old days, it was difficult to get an invitation. Faxes to mysterious numbers in Moscow. Calls to old friends in foreign universities.

Nowadays there are zillions of websites where, for a few measly dollars, someone you have never met will organise for some company you have never heard of to invite you to visit beautiful St Peterburg, ancient Moscow, or Novgorod the Great.

Life is still a little bit harder if you want to get a business visa, which are preferable because they last longer and allow you to go anywhere (as compared with visitor visas that limit you, in theory, to the places you list on your application form).

Speaking of visas. It was lucky that the ticket from Bangkok here was cheap (very cheap even), because the travel agent in Thailand told me (assured me, even) that the airline (Sri Lankan – high quality, in case you were wondering) would not let me on the plane to Hong Kong unless I had a return ticket (because I would be refused entry by the Chinese and the airline would have to take me back again), and a Chinese visa (ditto).

So I got a Chinese visa and a return ticket. In Baht.

But Hong Kong is not quite China yet. British citizens and former British citizens (like yours truly) can enter without a Chinese visa. Or a return ticket. I guess that that is good reason number four to come back here.

I might have to come back to toilets another day. This is quite enough for my fingers already.

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