Sunday, 3 January 2010

Ping Chau and into China, December 26

Saturday, Boxing Day

After last night's festivities, it's a struggle to be packed and ready by 8:30am to board buses to begin our foray into China. But we all manage it, remembering that, once the 'swimming party' was picked up by the 2nd MTB flotilla, the MTBs had had to motor through the night to make their getaway. In 1941 at least the weather was favorable: "It was one of the most beautiful nights I remember. The sea was calm and the wind was warm," Lt. David Legge wrote later. (His cousin, Susan Scott and her husband, Dermott are on this trip). In 2009 the shipping forecast is for more turbulent conditions, so instead of taking the 'wide circuit of Hong Kong' (Max's words) from Aberdeen to the south and then sweeping up into Mirs Bay to land on the coast of China, we've shortened up our boat trip. We've chartered a ferry to take us from Ma Liu Shui in the New Territories to the island of Ping Chau and back. It's an hour and a half each way - a scenic ride past the deserted hills and beaches on either side of the Tolo Channel and into choppier open waters.

The crescent-shaped island of Ping Chau comes into view through the mists. This most easterly point in Hong Kong territory is important to us because the 5 MTBs carrying the escape party dropped anchor here after midnight. Mike Kendall, the leader of Z Force, Henry Hsu, Chan's aide, and a couple of others went ashore, under cover of the boats' guns, to get local intelligence. The village headman advised that it would be safe to proceed to NanAo to make landing on the coast of Guangdong province. In daylight, NanAo is clearly visible from Ping Chau - now it's developed as a Chinese holiday resort, then it was a small fishing village. Today, we're offered a simple and very tasty lunch by the current village head, Jenny, granddaughter of the 1941 headman.

We have a little time to explore the island's old village, with its charming old houses, mostly crumbling but occasionally restored. From a peak population of 2,000, Ping Chau now has few permanent residents but is a popular spot for weekend day trips.

On our return to Ma Liu Shui we board new buses that will transport us across the border at Shau Tau Kok on the eastern edge of the New Territories. We have to actually cross the border on foot with our luggage, but all goes well. Some of the very young and very elderly members of the group take our bus straight to NanAo, where we'll be spending the next two nights. But most of us head off in the opposite direction to the city of Shenzhen, arriving there about 5:30pm. Our Chinese partners have organized an official reception for HERO with the Deputy Mayor of Shenzhen and other dignitaries at the Wuzhou Guest House. We 7 committee members are invited to a welcome ceremony with the Deputy Mayor before the larger dinner. As luck would have it, 3 of the committee are delayed on the second coach which has been in a minor accident in the crazy traffic of the metropolis. I suggest that we substitute a couple of our expert consultants for the missing members, and am told by a bright young official that "it's complicated". But this is eventually what we do, since the Deputy Mayor can be kept waiting no longer. We enter a long reception room, with armchairs formally arrayed down each side and grander chairs for the Deputy Mayor and our Chairman, Richard at the head of the room.

The D.M. treats us to a cordial but lengthy welcome speech, elaborating on the economic miracle that is Shenzhen, now a municipality of 13 million (extending to NanAo, our destination), then a small fishing port. Rich replies manfully, without the notes that Philip Snow had provided for the dinner remarks, and we are presented with an elaborate ornament and two scrolls (one for the American HQ of HERO!). We all go down to the cavernous banquet hall, where the rest of the party has been waiting, and after more speeches, we enjoy a rather good dinner. At the head table, I'm seated with the son of the wartime leader of the Communist East River Guerrilla Column, and a veteran of the Chinese army. The D.M. then Rich speak again, this time Rich has Philip Snow by his side to translate his prepared remarks. Rich presents our gifts of HERO silk banners. It's been a long day, but it's symbolically important that HERO has been given a grand official welcome to China. We pile back onto the buses for a two-hour drive to the NanAo hotel, and are glad to find our beds for the night.

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