Claustrophobia: An abnormal and persistent fear of closed spaces, of being closed in or being shut in, as in elevators, tunnels, or any other confined space; from the Latin “claudere” to shut and the Greek “phobis” fear.

For some, the highlight of any skate trip has always been getting off the plane. It’s all downhill after. Having spent 26 hours imprisoned with a constant supply of recycled air that is laced with 6,893 different types of airborne bacteria brought from all corners of the globe by the other 200 passengers, they find the descent to terra firma to be an experience of rebirth that is unsurpassed by any religious event, sporting championship win, or drug-induced hallucination. It’s claustrophobia at the epicenter of this type of flying anxiety, not losing all engine power and crashing into the side of a mountain; after all, there’s not much suffering to be scared of when it comes to dying in a plane crash-at most, you might have a split second to recognize you’re about to lose your life before the ball of fire that’s powering its way up the aisle broils you to a crisp at 80,000 degrees.

Suffice it to say, it’s a long and cramped haul to get to China, and it was a massive relief to get out of the airport and climb aboard the spacious shuttle train that efficiently whisks passengers into the downtown area of Hong Kong. When we arrived on ground level at 11:00 p.m., the streets were jammed like Times Square at New Year’s as people busied themselves in and out of shops and between street vendors, in addition to traffic and massive amounts of other people doing the same thing. Hong Kong is heavily populated; if you want to get into digits, the Kwun Tong District is the most densely populated place on Earth with 50,080 people per square kilometer. Rush hour runs 24 hours around the clock, the city swarms with smells ascending from the bowels of Satan, and the neon tubes that illuminate the sky above for miles around blaze so ferociously you can see thousands of years of the world’s natural resource stock disappear in the time that it takes you to eat an ice cream. No offense, but even the distastefulness of Las Vegas is a carousel in a theme park by comparison. Surrounded by steep, rising mountains to one side and the sea on the other, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find somewhere as visually astounding or as cramped as Hong Kong this side of the Milky Way. It sounds great in a travel guide, but the question that remained was if there would actually be anything to skate …

We lived in an apartment in Hong Kong that was situated up in the clouds of your normal apartment block downtown. You could spend hours at the window watching people mill in hypnotizing swirls through the busy streets below. The mass of people could be a bit overwhelming, and descending into the madness of the mix became less and less enticing. There were times when the group slipped into the early stages of agoraphobia-or maybe it was just that Flo and Alex were more serious about Pro Evolution soccer on the PlayStation than I might have estimated.

Space is so valuable in Hong Kong that the only way to expand is up, and the resulting skyline helps you understand the name “skyscraper” quite clearly. Everyone seems on the run from street level-the higher up you can get the better, as you ascend from the noise of the streets into the fresher air and escalating property prices. Under such cramped conditions, the use of space has become a national pastime and the principles of feng shui, or geomancy, the art of manipulating your environment to create positive energies and good fortunes, are held in great respect. Feng shui masters are consulted when building freeways, constructing apartment blocks, or even when cutting down trees.When Chinese-born American architect IM Pei designed the Bank of China building, he threw such principles to the wind and designed a 70-story tower that challenged the codes of feng shui. The contradictions rest noin the positioning of the fish tank inside or the choice of color for the walls of the reception area, but in the actual framework of the building itself, which is constructed in four triangular prisms, the opposite shape to the circles that signify money, prosperity, and perfection-three elements fairly crucial to a bank. Fortunately for us, the money might be pouring out of the building, but IM Pei also threw in a couple of rails at the foot of the building which Windsor James can be seen geomancing on the facing page. Anyway, judging by the number of Bank of China ATMs on the streets, I don’t think that the triangles are doing them too badly, really.

Hong Kong and China both have a wealth of incredible tourist sites to visit, but we were too busy skating to visit any of them. However, we were “blessed” with a historical visit to the first-ever Kentucky Fried Chicken in China (really-they had a plaque on the wall and everything). There was one day Chris Haslam didn’t feel like skating (for the first time in his entire life), and since the rest of the group were sleeping, we headed for the Wishing Trees in the New Territories outside of Hong Kong. Visitors to the Wishing Trees write a wish list on a scroll that has an orange attached to it by a ribbon, light a stick of incense, and then hurl the scroll and orange into the branches of the trees. Chris went for broke and wished for the affections of an American girl who was throwing scrolls up at the same time as us. As Chris let the orange fly, I held my breath expecting to see the girl charge over and grab herself a piece of Grizzly, but instead she hopped in a taxi about 3.27 seconds after Grizzly’s scroll hit the branches of the tree and disappeared, leaving a broken-hearted Haslam in her wake and the legend of the Wishing Trees in tatters.

Hong Kong and its surrounding area lay claim to some of the highest pollution levels in the world, which is not really surprising when you consider that Hong Kong produces 18,000 tons of domestic, industrial, and construction waste every day, making Victoria Harbor something of an E. coli holiday camp oasis. Whilst we weren’t planning on doing any swimming anyway, the air pollution is also fierce thanks to the massive amounts of building construction, unregulated vehicles, and industrial factories that emit billowing clouds of who knows what into the sky at all times of day and night. In September 2002, Hong Kong’s air pollution count hit an all-time high of 185 points, just a few points shy of receiving the unenviable title of “severe air pollution,” and with Shenzen boasting even higher levels of construction, you know there’s got to be mad black lung out there.

Traffic on the roads in Shenzen was mainly large and commercial trucks and buses. The fortunate scooted around on mopeds, but much of the population would use their bicycles for transport, hauling anything from household equipment to entire small families across town, pushing on the peddles while gasping at air that was so thick you could see the particles of pollution floating around. It was savage. The level of motivation to move forward against all odds and build for the future must be the strongest impression left on most visitors to China, the desire to get it done no matter the cost epitomized nowhere better than in these diligent folk weaving through the city between massive rigs on their laughably overloaded bicycles.

Out of nowhere in particular, Chris Haslam got on a solo night-skating kick in Shenzen, but his buzz quickly fizzled out after we found out that all the pictures stuck to lampposts and bus shelters were missing-person notices. There were really quite a lot of them. The bravado we had felt whilst skating a plaza with a full military parade going on next to us was replaced with caution as we noticed more and more missing persons notices and speculated what would happen if we disappeared. The Internet was consulted out of interest, and the embassies of Great Britain, the U.S., and Canada weren’t exactly accepting any responsibility for anyone, and on top of that, the sheer volume of independent Web sites and private detectives available to track foreign nationals in China was getting a seriously large number of hits on Google-not a good sign. Any thought of nighttime skating was subsequently put to bed, and the evenings were spent eating unknown meat substances or Pizza Hut, depending on the strength of our mood, watching Footballer’s Wives on DVD, and tallying how many massage parlor visits it was taking some group members to get those annoying knots rubbed out.

To say that we were in a bootleg buyer’s paradise would be something of an understatement. Designer gear, watches, DVDs, clothes, PlayStations-anything and everything is available at a fraction of the normal price (and generally speaking, a fraction of the normal quality). There is so much bootlegging that it’s hard to find a bona fide product. One product that was definitely not fake, but definitely very illegal was fur, not available in Hong Kong but definitely available in Shenzen. Old-school hunters from the forests would come into the city to sell the furs of animals that they had stalked, killed, and skinned with their bare hands. You didn’t need to be much of an expert to see they were legit-the holes in the furs that indicated where the animal’s eyes used to be had enough eyelashes still hanging about to keep a doubting Thomas quiet. There appeared to be leopard, tiger, mink, and pretty much most any other soft-coated animal available, but you should probably steer clear. Whilst customs might turn a blind eye to the odd knock-off Louis Vuitton handbag, the furs will land you behind bars-and let’s face it, animal fur looks way better worn by the animal itself, anyway.

One of our Chinese guides named Mark found this spot one night whilst he was walking home. When he came by the hotel the following morning, he was really excited about showing us the spot, but we couldn’t really figure out what he was describing because it sounded too good to be true, so we decided to give it the once over ourselves and see what the score was. The wedges were still under construction, and at first, builders would walk past and watch us skate for a second. It seemed a bit sketchy, but they didn’t seem too bothered. Five minutes in and a deep mix had developed around the spot, changing the atmosphere into something of a demo, but also providing a very efficient human screen against possible kickouts. Any doubts that I might’ve had from the first night about places to skate had been well and truly abandoned through the course of the trip, and this spot was the icing on the cake.

Skateboarding in foreign places is pretty unnerving at the best of times, and you never really know what sort of reception you’re going to receive, but the vibes were all good in Shenzen, and the crowd cheered sportingly when someone landed a trick and winced sympathetically if someone fell. An hour of skating, some handshakes, and a newspaper interview later, the humid weather had cashed the crew, so they started spreading the gospel of skate and members of the audience started to come forward to try standing on the skateboards. One guy was well up for it and was charging, much to the elation of the crowd. He got pretty confident and even tried to crack a few ollies in his work shoes, but he got pretty well served when the board zipped from underneath him; anyone in the audience who was thinking about having a go was definitely over it after seeing him get spanked. It was all pretty bizarre but defined the trip perfectly: some random Westerners skating a perfect, brand-new spot surrounded by a million and one interested locals on their way to work. However, the financial growth of China transpires, the incredible amount of construction in locally mined marble certainly puts China at the head of the “Ledge Mecca” race, although it remains to bof Great Britain, the U.S., and Canada weren’t exactly accepting any responsibility for anyone, and on top of that, the sheer volume of independent Web sites and private detectives available to track foreign nationals in China was getting a seriously large number of hits on Google-not a good sign. Any thought of nighttime skating was subsequently put to bed, and the evenings were spent eating unknown meat substances or Pizza Hut, depending on the strength of our mood, watching Footballer’s Wives on DVD, and tallying how many massage parlor visits it was taking some group members to get those annoying knots rubbed out.

To say that we were in a bootleg buyer’s paradise would be something of an understatement. Designer gear, watches, DVDs, clothes, PlayStations-anything and everything is available at a fraction of the normal price (and generally speaking, a fraction of the normal quality). There is so much bootlegging that it’s hard to find a bona fide product. One product that was definitely not fake, but definitely very illegal was fur, not available in Hong Kong but definitely available in Shenzen. Old-school hunters from the forests would come into the city to sell the furs of animals that they had stalked, killed, and skinned with their bare hands. You didn’t need to be much of an expert to see they were legit-the holes in the furs that indicated where the animal’s eyes used to be had enough eyelashes still hanging about to keep a doubting Thomas quiet. There appeared to be leopard, tiger, mink, and pretty much most any other soft-coated animal available, but you should probably steer clear. Whilst customs might turn a blind eye to the odd knock-off Louis Vuitton handbag, the furs will land you behind bars-and let’s face it, animal fur looks way better worn by the animal itself, anyway.

One of our Chinese guides named Mark found this spot one night whilst he was walking home. When he came by the hotel the following morning, he was really excited about showing us the spot, but we couldn’t really figure out what he was describing because it sounded too good to be true, so we decided to give it the once over ourselves and see what the score was. The wedges were still under construction, and at first, builders would walk past and watch us skate for a second. It seemed a bit sketchy, but they didn’t seem too bothered. Five minutes in and a deep mix had developed around the spot, changing the atmosphere into something of a demo, but also providing a very efficient human screen against possible kickouts. Any doubts that I might’ve had from the first night about places to skate had been well and truly abandoned through the course of the trip, and this spot was the icing on the cake.

Skateboarding in foreign places is pretty unnerving at the best of times, and you never really know what sort of reception you’re going to receive, but the vibes were all good in Shenzen, and the crowd cheered sportingly when someone landed a trick and winced sympathetically if someone fell. An hour of skating, some handshakes, and a newspaper interview later, the humid weather had cashed the crew, so they started spreading the gospel of skate and members of the audience started to come forward to try standing on the skateboards. One guy was well up for it and was charging, much to the elation of the crowd. He got pretty confident and even tried to crack a few ollies in his work shoes, but he got pretty well served when the board zipped from underneath him; anyone in the audience who was thinking about having a go was definitely over it after seeing him get spanked. It was all pretty bizarre but defined the trip perfectly: some random Westerners skating a perfect, brand-new spot surrounded by a million and one interested locals on their way to work. However, the financial growth of China transpires, the incredible amount of construction in locally mined marble certainly puts China at the head of the “Ledge Mecca” race, although it remains to be seen how attitudes will change as the public’s perception of a skateboard changes from interesting novelty item to a tool wielded by destructive tourists. If you like your personal space, China might not be your slice of pie, but if you’re down for an adventure, can deal with some serious airborne dust particles, and are not too fussy about eating whatever gets put on a plate in front of you, you’ll have the time of your life. I know I did, for sure. If you do get lucky enough to find yourself out in that neck of the woods, head for Brian at 8five2 skate shop in Causeway Bay. He’s all you need to know. to be seen how attitudes will change as the public’s perception of a skateboard changes from interesting novelty item to a tool wielded by destructive tourists. If you like your personal space, China might not be your slice of pie, but if you’re down for an adventure, can deal with some serious airborne dust particles, and are not too fussy about eating whatever gets put on a plate in front of you, you’ll have the time of your life. I know I did, for sure. If you do get lucky enough to find yourself out in that neck of the woods, head for Brian at 8five2 skate shop in Causeway Bay. He’s all you need to know.