The year 2014 has been a pretty challenging one for me, and one of the challenges was in successfully organising a family getaway!! In March we tried to go to Sri Lanka, but Zen informed us that he has commitments on his softball team. Okay. June was out due to work; I tried to get to my in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary in September, but work commitments kept me away from that as well! Sigh… But here it is, December, and we made it away… to Hong Kong!!
Day One: the trip started early – we had a 6:20 departure, which meant a 4:20 check-in at the airport (the airline recommended beint there three hours in advance… at 3:20 AM.. YEAH, RIGHT!!). We left the apartment at 3:40 and were fine. We slept for most of the flight, and since it was a budget airline they didn’t wake us up for meals or anything. YES!!
Got to Hong Kong, breezed through customs and luggage pick-up, then by train to the city to meet Margaret for lunch at the fabulous China Club (next to my company’s Hong Kong headquarters too, of course), and a visit to her husband Larry’s office in the International Financial Centre tower 2 with its fabulous view of the developments in Kowloon and a small eagle’s nest. Great!!
After lunch, we drove off to Wan Chai and wandered around a cool, authentic outdoor market, had a bit of cooling tea…
Headed off late afternoon to the hotel, which is a bit off the beaten path – in Tseung Kwan O, in an eastern part of Kowloon. There’s not much there, except a bunch of malls, tons of high-rise apartments, three schools, maybe a hospital and a police station too… nice room, great staff, only the breakfast buffet was not-so-great (we had it only four of our seven nights there – two days we skipped breakfast, and one day we got upgraded to eat at the Crowne Plaza, the Holiday Inn’s sister hotel just next door).
Day Two was probably one of our best days – we set out to do a visit to Victoria Peak, but one look out the window confirmed that visibility would be poor. Change of plans, and with the lack of sun that meant that it would be a good day for a trip to one of the outlying islands like Lamma Island! We jumped on the MTR (Hong Kong’s super-amazing subway) and headed out to Central, where the ferries all leave for other ports. We got there and saw that it had rained, and were considering a Plan C, but when we realised that it had stopped raining and might not rain again in the day, we decided to go off. Right decision – it was awesome weather all day. The boat cruise was fun, and within 40 minutes we’d arrived in Sok Kwu Wan, one of two ferry towns on Lamma. It’s a sleepy fishing village, and was gorgeous in the morning. We walked through the village and headed towards the trail to Yung Shue Wan, the larger town on the island, where you can also find a coal-burning power plant. The hike was nice, and we passed resorts, beaches, a great bean curd shop, and eventually in Yung Shue Wan met more traffic and hustle and bustle. We had lunch at a shop that may or may not have been owned by the family of famous Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-Fat (the food was terrible, but the beer tasted good!!). We headed back to Hong Kong island and still had some time to head back to the hotel to chill out a bit before moving out to have a great dinner with Naoko’s friend of 30 years, Suzuki Takako, and her husband. We had a great seafood meal in Wan Chai, then headed off to the Star Ferry for a trip over to Kowloon to see the night skyline from the West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade, walk along the Avenue of the Stars, see the Bruce Lee statue, and then take a cab back to the hotel (the Suzukis also live near our hotel, so it was super convenient to share a cab!!).
Day Three was a free day for us for small excursions. After some consideration, and lingering over a classy brunch at the Crowne Royal we decided to take a local bus to Kowloon, and we ended up at the same place where the previous evening had ended – at the Bruce Lee statue on the West Kowloon Waterfront Promenade Avenue of the Stars! It was cool to see it in the daylight, and also to see the Hong Kong island skyline by day. We also got to check out the Stars, and find the handprints of famous Hong Kong people like Andy Lau, Jet Li, John Woo, Maggie Cheung, and so many others. Wow!! Then we went to the Peninsula Hotel lobby, with its Christmas tree and hidden orchestra (nice!), the Space Museum (so-so), and up along Nathan Road past the infamous Cheung Kong Mansion, and into the splendificent Kowloon Park, where we saw flamingos, an aviary, a pond, and also sorts of still inner-city stuff. We ended the sightseeing in the amazing Hong Kong History Museum and for two hours wandered through the Hong Kong Story permanent exhibit. Great museum!!
We went back to the hotel, dropped Zen off, rested a bit, then headed out to Causeway Bay for a lovely dinner near Times Square with Larry and Margaret. Amazing spicy Sichuan food… WOW!!
Day Four, Friday, looked pretty clear, so we decided it would be our day to head up Victoria Peak. We headed to Central, got on the tram, and off we went. Got to the top, wandered around the commercial complexes, took a wander to the lookout points (northward to Central, southward to Lamma and the South China Sea), then went for hot chocolate at Starbuck’s. Zen was fading, sick and distant, so I strolled off exploring a bit towards the other lookout trails, alone, then off to Madame Tussaud’s wax museum… wow, what fun!! All sorts of kitsch and collectibles, with plenty of goofy posing with people like Johnny Depp, Andy Lau, Brad and Angelina, QE II, Lady Di, Pablo Picasso, Einstein, various heads of state, the Beatles, Michael Jackson, Freddy Mercury, Lady Gaga, Theresa Teng, Madonna, Hugh Jackman, and… the Incredible HULK! Wow!!
We headed down the mountain, at which point Zen was pretty sick. We walked along Queen’s Road, to the Mid-level Escalators, had a nice wonton noodle lunch there, then I headed out to meet a friend from work (who stood me up), and Naoko and Zen headed back to the hotel room. Zen was sick, so Naoko and I headed out on our own to a lovely dinner with the Suzukis at their place. Awesome!!
Day Five, Saturday… Ocean Park!! We woke up fairly early, took the MTR to Hong Kong Island, and then a taxi to Ocean Park on the south side of Hong Kong island, where we bought our tickets, zoomed through the entry zone of Ocean Park, took a cable car up to the main “action rides part” of Ocean Park, and then strolled around. Fun!! We went there with Dieter and Naoko Schultheis and their daughters Hanna (who’s Zen’s age) and Lena; we know Dieter and Naoko from the early 1990s when all four of us lived in Taiwan, and Dieter and Naoko were dating at that time too; we met Dieter in Dusseldorf in 1997 and in Singapore around 2012, but we haven’t seen Naoko since 1996, it was a great reunion!! The kids took a roller coaster right off the bat, then took it again, and we then proceeded on to the scariest ride of them all – the Flash!! We then had the most awesome lunch ever, overlooking the South China Sea, then off for more rides, a shark habitat, dolphins, roller coasters, log flumes, sunsets, and the inevitable end of the day. The two Naokos have motion sickness and couldn’t be on the rides, and with my recent back operation I couldn’t do them either, so Dieter was always the designated adult to accompany the kids on the rides. I don’t think he minded, although he’s certainly never ridden so many amusement park rides in his life! Leaving Ocean Park around 5:30, we rode over the hill into Wan Chai, and… got caught in a wicked traffic jam! Spent 30 minutes to traverse 230 metres (according to the GPS), spent another 30 minutes to consider where would be the best place to eat… found Pizza Express… good… but we all had to wonder why their so-called “Menu for four” would include a bruschetta… that only comes with… three pieces!! No matter, though… it was a GREAT DAY!!
Naoko and Dieter have an interesting story, language-wise: when they met, he spoke German and English and she spoke Japanese, but since they were both had rudimentary Chinese from their studies at the language centre, that was what they used to communicate. But since 1997, Naoko’s become fluent in both English and German (!!), continued to improve her Chinese, and Dieter’s learned a bit of Japanese too. Amazing!!
Day Six, Sunday, was another amazing day!! We slept in a bit, skipped breakfast, then took the MTR to Hong Kong Island to meet the incredible Jones family (Margaret and Larry, and their awesome daughters Katie, Emily and Allie) for some splendid dim sum, pigging out on local delicacies, then off to a visit to the Jones home, and through the downward roads to South Hong Kong, great Jungendstil beach parlors, sand castle building, and then more of the Stanley Harbour scene – beach, market pit, and mahjjong beers, boardwalk beers continued, then then the long trail back to the hotel. Zen was under the weather, so Naoko and I had a simple dinner on our own.
Day Seven, we had planned to go to Macau, but Zen was under the weather, so Naoko and I decided to explore the New Territories instead, discovering Sha Tin and the Ten Thousand Buddhas Temple, which we investigated quite thoroughly – it was amazing!! We had a great vegetarian lunch, and then off we went back to see Zen, a bit of shopping, another meeting with friends, and sleep.
Day Eight, a travel day off to home… Singapore. We ate our yucky buffet breakfast, took a cab to the airport, and lunched on Starbucks pastries on the flight (despite Tiger Air’s cabin crew’s stern warning of “no outside food or beverages are allowed”… YEAH, RIGHT!! And where exactly does it say that? Who ever heard of an airline ever saying “no outside…”…). Well, whatever. Got to Singapore, only to be greeted by another security check – remove your cell phones, tables, laptop computers, take off your boots… I asked the old man at security what they’re looking for, he said knives, box cutters, sharp objects… I guess they wouldn’t want us to bring those into Singapore and deprive the economy of tourist dollars, since sharp objects can be bought easily at nearly any shop!! Welcome to Singapore indeed… I wonder if they did this to passengers on all flights, or only to the riff raff coming in on budget airlines… classy.
Here are a bunch of pictures of the trip, enjoy; and don’t forget that you can click on the picture to see a larger version of it!!