March 3, 2014: The factory in China where MOKEN was built is located close to Macau. With my entry visa in hand, Jen dropped me off at the Macau-Gongbei border crossing and I joined the queue with some of the thousands of people that make this crossing each day. There were dozens of lines for Macau residents, Hong Kong residents and China residents, but just one for foreigners like me.
After a very thorough inspection of my visa and every page and entry in my passport, I was in China. I exchanged a little money and then set off across the huge square to find a Chinese SIM card for my phone. While many of the younger Chinese seemed to know at least a few words of English, many of the older ones didn’t, and I have absolutely no knowledge of Cantonese. I resorted to pointing to my phone card and people pointed me in various directions. This wasn’t going to be easy, and none of the shop signs were in English.
Determined, I popped into a large hotel and asked the young ladies working at the front desk. One of them, Zoe, spoke very good English and she started to point me towards a small shop behind the hotel. Then she changed her mind and walked me there, talked to the shopkeeper, explained the different prepaid phone card options to me and helped me get it working. I don’t know what I would have done without her help!
Next, I had to find the bus station. I already knew which bus I needed to take and roughly where to get off. The bus station is located in front of the enormous train station and is just off to the left after immigration, so it meant a bit of backtracking to get there. At least here I found signs in English and easily located Bus No. 601. I knew to ask for Doumen but the driver just waved me on board without paying. The bus was relatively new and very clean, so I grabbed a seat and followed our route with the GPS in my phone. Turns out there is a conductor who collects payment and issues tickets. Cost to Doumen, 4 yuan. Roughly 75 cents.
The driver first made a big loop through Gongbei before heading east and crossing a couple of different branches of the Pearl River. At first this route was really built up with massive blocks of apartments, some of which reminded me of the highrises in downtown Vancouver. Later on it switched to big warehouses, and eventually we were driving through farmland and fish farms. Traffic was minimal compared to the density.
The city of Doumen is located on a branch of the Pearl River, about an hour out from Gongbei. From the bus station, I walked for about 15 minutes across to the other side of the river, where Stella and her daughter Natalie from Seahorse Marine met me and took me for a “simple” Cantonese lunch. We had fish soup, steamed fish in sauce, beef and snow peas, rice and tea while I showed them a few pictures of MOKEN. (Apparently, our blog is accessible in China except for the photos. Facebook is also blocked in China, so I didn’t get to post my whereabouts, but Chris and I managed to keep in touch on Viber without any problems.)
After lunch, we walked to the factory, which I had spotted earlier from the bridge. I’d already seen some photos of the place, so I knew what to expect more or less, but it was still very interesting to see firsthand how MOKEN was built. They had several boats in various stages of construction, some in the dry docks and some in the water getting the finishing touches.
The steel-hulled Diesel Duck passagemakers that they build come in four models: the 382, the 462 (like MOKEN), the 55 and a new 742. Seahorse also has a second factory nearby that specializes in fibreglass boats.
I had a good chat with Bill Kimley, who owns the company along with Stella, about the boats and the various customizations requested by some of the owners. I also got a peek at his impressive model train collection, which he houses in four (or is it five?) seacans that have been stitched together and turned into his office.
I got a good look at the factory floor, the drydock area and the three boats sitting at the dock in the river nearing completion. I have to admit I experienced a twinge of galley envy on the DD55. So much counterspace!!!
After my tour of the grounds, I inventoried some replacement parts and spare parts that we had ordered ahead of time. It was mostly hardware for cabinets, hatches, doors and windows. Things that have worn out or broken with regular use. It being a rather large box, I asked if there was somewhere I could buy a rolling suitcase to get it back across the border to Macau. Instead, Bill and Stella drove me to their home and handed me a huge suitcase, one that was left behind by one of the previous buyers. From there they drove me straight back into Gongbei and dropped me off right next to immigration.
I had no trouble taking the suitcase through but it did take about an hour to get cleared, first out of China and then into Macau, where Jen was once again waiting to pick me up and drive me to the airport later that evening.
I can’t believe I forgot to mention the Portuguese egg tarts in my last post. They are famous in Macau. I enjoyed one final tart in the departures lounge before catching my late flight back to Clark and home to MOKEN.