By Tommie Collins
After arranging a trip of a lifetime to South America, the Football Association of Wales were invited to play in the China Cup to be held in Nanning. As an avid supporter of my country’s football team I had a decision to make.
I decided not to rearrange my South America venture; thus I would miss the first game in China on the Thursday meaning my latest run of consecutive matches would come to an end. I would fly with my friend from Buenos Aires to Amsterdam overnight and after three hours would fly direct to Hong Kong arriving Saturday morning, thus having two consecutive nights in the air.
So at 08.30 Thursday morning – eleven hours behind China time I would be following the China – Wales match on twitter and receiving updates from family members. My phone was pinging at an alarming rate – six times to be precise as a Gareth Bale hat-trick spurred us on to a relatively easy 6-0 victory. My phone didn’t stop after either as fellow Welsh supporters out in Nanning gleefully asked me have you ever seen Wales win 6-0 away… I despaired.
After landing in Hong Kong and checking into our hotel we met up with our friends who had chosen HK as their break in-between the two games, some had opted for Thailand, Beijing, Macau and Vietnam. Hong Kong was an eye opener regarding the wealth in the country, all the top designer shops are in town, top of the range cars and beer prices ranging from £7-10 a pint but the happy hours offered after 2pm in virtually all establishments balanced it out by the end of the night, a good night was had.
The following morning we had to endure a journey across the border to Shenzhen via metro and train, this is where I started to realise that for me it was a trip too far. The border crossing was a nightmare with constant passport checks, filling in departure and entry cards and stern looks from the Chinese border police, notwithstanding the vast amount of people trying to push through the baggage security check area. After going through the border we arrived at Shenzhen train station and this is where I realised how big this country is. I’d call myself well travelled and was overwhelmed when I visited the USA for the friendly in San José in 2003 and again this place was massive.
We queued for the train to Nanning and soon realised that the train was full, and there wasn’t an available train until the 28th, a group from Pwllheli had been in the same situation earlier and had to book flights, the same fate awaited us. Now, we had no Chinese money but eventually found an ATM after some sign language to numerous Chinese people – yes no one spoke English, the sense of failure was overtaking me, I was distraught, the thought of not attending the match was overwhelming – I would have had to abstain from social media for a long period of time.
I switched on my data roaming (another £6) to receive 4G, and then scoured the internet for flights to Nanning, Sunday night or Monday morning and back to either Hong Kong or Shenzhen Tuesday. There were flights but I couldn’t book over the phone, the mood got better, it had been either go home, or go back to HK but we opted for the airport. A 50 minute journey to the airport cost £12 and we were still in Shenzhen the place was massive. We arrived at the airport, once again welcomed by more security and stern looks, yet we eventually found an English speaking girl at a customer service desk.
“We need flights to Nanning tonight or tomorrow please,” I uttered. There was a flight at 22.25 or a cheaper one Monday morning. The thought of finding a hotel put us off. Therefore, we agreed to pay the price, which shall remain private – after going all the way I would have paid any price!
All was well and we duly arrived in our Nanning hotel at 02.10 am, my friend and I mutually agreed to wipe Sunday 25th March from our memories.
Monday morning I was up bright and early, it was match day. All I wanted was a beer to get rid of the previous day stress.
Nanning was massive, tall tower blocks, wide streets, hotels all manner of shops, but again no one spoke English, navigation was difficult. The thing that tickled me was the amount of scooters in the road, all kinds of people hurtling down the street in tandem, thousands of them, and at traffic light a battle of will between pedestrians, scooters and cars: mayhem.
I eventually got hold of Prys from Blaenau Ffestiniog who by the way had a trip of a lifetime, and he told us to meet him in Food Street. This was the China I’d thought of, no road surface, rubbish in the street, dirty, but this was a superb street to have a beer and fun at night I was told. It wasn’t my cup of tea and we moved on to a westernised bar where I enjoyed a nice cold Corona. I was happy and China was good.
We then moved to the bar where coaches would take us to the ground, here I met the young Porthmadog lads who again where having the time of their lives, buckets of Budweiser was bought in and the world was once again ok.
The journey to the match was fine, and when I saw the ground again I was overwhelmed – it is indeed a great stadium. The game itself was decent and we started ok, but Uruguay seemed stronger and ran out deserved 1-0 winners, we are a much better team than say 10 years ago and with the youngsters coming through we could yet again see qualification for another tournament, probably Qatar, but we need a goal scorer – a proven one!
On the journey back to the bar after the match I felt drowsy and was like a nodding dog, the whole trip had caught up with me so I headed for bed, no post-match beer – a rare event.
We were up bright and early for the 08.15 flight back to Shenzhen, and the idea of going through the border again was haunting me, luck was with us, there was a bus £15 from the airport to HK airport, it was seamless, no bag checks just a showing of passports, when we arrived in HK, I felt better, China was behind me.
To summarise, personally I’m glad I went to China, another country ticked off and another Wales away game in the bag – an experience I’ll never forget. If it was a standalone trip I most likely would have enjoyed, but, give me a friendly in South America any day.
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