Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hong Kong

Hong Kong was our fall break destination this year!

A few observations about the city:

It was so much more cosmopolitan than I expected.  There are plenty of foreigners in Japan, but natives are still the vast majority.  You stand out as a foreigner here.  Hong Kong is jam-packed with people from all around the world.  We didn't stand out at all.

I did not realize that Hong Kong is so mountainous!  The flora seems pretty similar to Japan, but the mountains are much taller than the ones in Kobe.

It was so busy and crowded.  It felt so much bigger and more crowded than Tokyo, even.  The trains were almost always packed full. 

The escalators in the train stations are really fast!

The trains are very nice and easy to navigate.  I think.  Mike did all the navigating, but he seemed to do it with ease.

Much of the city is connected by elevated walkways that go from skyscraper to skyscraper.  It was pretty cool to be able to get around without setting foot on the street.

Every tourist destination we went to, someone would take our picture and then try to get us to buy it.  We never did.

I didn't know a word of Cantonese when we arrived in Hong Kong, and I still don't.  It seemed like everyone speaks English.  Taxi drivers, cashiers in 7-Eleven, security guards, grocery store clerks, and every public service individual.  In Japan, it is definitely helpful to know some basic Japanese, but in Hong Kong we got around just fine in English.  There were even many groups of Asian people speaking English to each other.  

In the Hong Kong airport waiting for us to get money from an ATM and buy our train passes.  Bear recently earned enough money to buy Mike's old ipod touch from him.  He was kind of driving me crazy - pulling that thing out of his pocket every time we stopped moving.  Whereupon Beaver would promptly say to us, "Can I play a game on your phone?  Because Bear is playing a game!"

Ropeway tram with a see-through floor on Lantau Island.  We went here straight from the airport.  The ropeway takes you to Ngong Ping village and the Big Buddha near Po Ling Monastery.

"I'm falling!"

Handsome boys

This poor little boy fell first thing in the morning as we were getting on the ferry to the airport and got a bit of a fat lip.

Big Buddha in the distance.

Eating a vegetarian dinner at the monastery.  Mike and I enjoyed it.  Bear ate rice and one other thing that was good, but we don't know what it was.  It seemed like a sort of tofu or something and it was quite tasty.  Beaver ate nothing but rice.

Headed up the steps to the Big Buddha.

Buddha looking beneficent.

I snapped this picture before I noticed the sign asking visitors to please not take pictures before buying a hat.  I  liked the hats and wouldn't have minded buying one, but we packed light and tight and didn't have room to take one back with us.

There were cows wandering around everywhere.  If you asked me, I would have said that is a Hindu thing, not Buddhist, but apparently I don't know.  I think they were planted here purposely, though.  Ngong Ping is a pretty big tourist trap.

Our hotel room.  It was a new, very modern building and Bear thought it was so cool.  "This hotel is awesome!  This has got to be the most modern building in Hong Kong!" he gushed.  I guess he is into modern design.  We thought it was so funny that there is a clear glass wall between the bathroom and the rest of the room.  What?!  There was a curtain that you could close, but still - kind of odd.

There was a world championship Sumo wrestling tournament going on over the weekend, and the wrestlers were apparently all staying in our hotel.  We met a world champion sumo wrestler from Mongolia - now living in LA - in the elevator.  It was 8:00 am and he and his friends were very drunk.  Maybe they had been out all night.  He was trying to get Beaver to give him a high five, but Beaver wouldn't do it.

A street near our hotel.  We got our breakfast Friday morning at the bakery the boys are walking toward.

Then we went back to our room and Beaver ate his pastry sitting on the windowsill and admiring the view.

Guess where we went next!

Live action shot on the Mad Hatter's Teacups.

Toy Story Village just opened this year.

I always think it must be so fun to be a designer for Disney theme parks.  Honestly, just let your imagination run wild!  Fences made from K'Nex, light posts from Tinker Toys, signs made with Scrabble letters, buildings of Lincoln Logs.

And popsicle stick benches painted as though some child has just finished off the popsicle!  I loved Toy Story Land.  It was adorable.  

All tuckered out after a fun-filled, busy day!  We took the train a couple of stops and then got a taxi back to our hotel.  Best decision we ever made.  It was so much quicker, we were dropped off right at the hotel doors, and it was way less expensive than we expected!
We slept in and took it easy on Saturday morning after our late night at Disneyland.  This was our day to explore the city, but we only had a few things on our itinerary.

The 55th floor of the International Finance Center.  It had a big display on the history of money in Hong Kong which Mike would have loved to stay and read all about.  They only allow people up there until 12:40, though, and it was about 12:30 by the time we got there, so we didn't stay long.

There is a whole escalator system that takes you up the side of the mountain through the city.

Once we got to the top of the escalator, we attempted to walk over to the Victoria Peak cable car station.  It was too long a walk for the kids, and we took a wrong turn (I should have listened to Mike!), but we ended up walking into the zoological and botanical gardens, which was a nice place to take a break.  The kids were cracking up at the antics of some amusing gibbons.  At first we thought they were monkeys, but then we noticed that they didn't have tails.  Maybe my kids haven't internalized all the moral lessons taught in Veggietales, but at least they have learned that if it doesn't have a tail it's not a monkey, if it doesn't have a tail it's not a monkey it's an ape!

It was pretty crowded, but we didn't have to wait too long to take the cable car up the mountain to Victoria's Peak.  It was a nice view from the top.

Then we came down the mountain and caught an open-top double decker bus to take us back to the waterfront to have dinner.  We all enjoyed the bus ride, and I have decided that a bus tour is a great way to see a city - especially an open top double decker bus in Hong Kong.  I always think that I don't want to take an organized bus tour because I want to be actually in the city walking around and exploring, but my kids hate that and it is tiring for them.  Next big city I go to, I'll look for a tour bus.

After dinner at an Italian restaurant, we walked along Avenue of the Stars and enjoyed the skyline - the #1 skyline in the world according to a Yahoo article I read, so it must be true.

Sunday we went to church.  This is the church building in central Hong Kong.  Quite unusual for a church building, but super nice.  The English branch is huge.  Plenty big enough to be a ward, but it is in a district, not a stake, so it remains a branch.

Outside the building after church.  Standing to the right of us in a friend of Mike's that he used to work with at CAT here in Japan.  He has since taken a job with another company and is working in Hong Kong, so we met up with him at church.  Then he invited us to have lunch with him and some of his coworkers at another member's house - a couple with six kids.  The wife is Japanese and the husband is from Hong Kong.  I felt a little funny about it, but they were super nice and welcoming and their kids were so cute and friendly.  They fed all of us a lovely lunch.  So nice.

Afterward we went to see the temple.  So pretty.  Mike says that as far as aesthetics, it is his favorite of all the temples he has seen.

Monday we went to Ocean Park.  It is an interesting combination zoo/aquarium/amusement park.  It was okay for Bear, but Beaver was too small for almost all of the rides.  He rode a total of two rides the entire day.  He did enjoy seeing the animals, so it wasn't a total bust, but we had a lot more fun at Disneyland.  To me, Disney somehow creates a magic that other theme parks just can't match. 

The giant panda exhibit.

Bear had to wrestle an alligator so that we could get inside.

Mom and Bear on the rapids ride.

This was a fun roller coaster.  Bear and Mike are on that train.  Right behind the tree.

Now you can see them!

We left Ocean Park at about 6:00.  That was a bit of a traumatic experience.  It was pretty windy.  Windy enough that they had closed one of the rides.  The park is really big and divided into a section at the bottom of a mountain and another section at the top and down the other side of the mountain.  You get to the other side either by a ropeway or a train.  We assumed that the ropeway would be closed because of the wind, so we opted for the train going down.  Along with pretty much everyone else in the park, it seemed.  It was really crowded and they were letting more people through the gates than could actually fit into the train.  We were toward the front of the "line" that wasn't really a line at all so much as a huge crowd of people trying to get to the front to get on the next train.  Mike was holding Beaver and Bear was standing beside me, looking grumpy because he didn't like being in such a crowd.  It seemed to be all adults, too, so he was a bit smothered.  When the train stopped and the doors opened, the whole crowd surged forward - pushing from behind.  I was holding Bear's hand as he got kind of smashed between people and he looked so small and scared as he got shoved forward.  I quickly pulled him in front of me, pushed backward and started shouting behind me, "Stop!  Stop pushing!  I've got my child here!"  We were rushed onto the train and took refuge on the other side of a  post and poor Bear kind of lost it.  He had gotten pretty scared by the crowd, and maybe by me yelling, and he burst into tears.  He said he hated crowds and he wanted to go back to America where there are no crowds.  I was pretty furious at all the pushy people myself, and couldn't help thinking, snobbishly, that such a thing would never happen in Japan.  I was pretty sick of the crowds, too, and ready to get back to my gentle Japan.  William commented once about how you don't feel crowded in Japan, in spite of the population density, and now I can see what he meant.  Looking back now, I believe that I could have handled the situation with more humor, but I guess my mama bear instincts kicked in, and I was ready to fight!

I was a little disgruntled at this point, and we were trying to decide whether to go the the night market on Temple Street or just go back to the hotel.  We have been trying to buy a Christmas ornament when we travel places lately, and we hadn't gotten one yet, and Bear wanted a souvenir, too, but he didn't want to be in another crowd.  We were going to have to get up early the next morning to fly back home, so I thought maybe we should just call it a night and go get dinner by our hotel, but we decided to go to the night market, and I'm glad we did.  It wasn't too crowded, and it restored all of our spirits.  We stopped at a bakery to get some food - yes, my kids ate hot dogs almost every day in the culinary hotspot of Hong Kong - and then went to the market where Bear bought a sparkly dragon and Beaver picked out a golden elephant and I bought something to hang on the Christmas tree and a jade bracelet that is certainly not real jade, but is green.  As we were walking back to the train station, we stopped at a little restaurant and got pork dumplings, which the kids wouldn't eat, but Mike and I didn't mind eating their share, too.  I had been feeling sad that I may leave without finding a Christmas ornament or eating real Chinese food, so at that point I was able to leave Hong Kong content. 

Tuesday morning - we've come full circle.  Back at the airport staring at electronic devices.

A great fall vacation!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Beaver Boy

Mike had a day off work last week, but Bear's school was still in session, so we got to spend a day out with Beaver.  There is a park not far from our house with a ropeway, and every time we drive by Beaver asks to go.  Temperatures here have finally cooled down to autumn perfection, so it was a perfect day for the ropeway.

Beaver being a stinker and refusing to look at the camera.

Pedal car ride

Again, deliberately not looking at the camera.

So happy to be riding the lift by himself!

It was a fun day, and it was pretty cute, because Beaver was practically attached to Mike's side all day.  So happy to spend a day with his Daddy!

Beaver's preschool had their sports day on Saturday.

Beaver and Mike racing in the train race.

The "princess" carry.

He was running so funny - with his shoulders all hunched and swinging his arms up high.

Waiting for tug-o-war.

We love our Beaver boy!