Monday, March 7, 2011

Hong Kong Hurrah

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Chinese,'s all the same, right? Au contraire, mon frere! We are now “in the know” of Hong Kong and have learned quite a bit!

We arrived in Hong Kong early Friday afternoon. Unlike Tokyo, the airport was just a hop, skip, and a jump from our hotel, and a taxi fit nicely in the budget. (We love the exchange rate here!)

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We're staying at the Disney Hollywood Hotel, and the kids could not be more excited. Now, for all at home who wonder about the cultural significance of visiting Disney, let me just tell you that it is still quite a cultural experience!

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We checked in with the usual wonderful signature Disney customer service, and headed to the park immediately. We knew things were going to be a little different when our bus broadcast announcements first in Mandarin, then Cantonese, and then finally English.

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The restaurants and cafes serve primarily Asian cuisine (sushi, stir fry, curries, etc) complete with chopsticks—if you need a fork you'll have to ask for one.. How about snack foods? One of the most popular we saw was the sauteed squid with soy sauce---now try getting that at your Florida Magic Kingdom! How about separate lines for the Jungle Safari ride depending on the language the ride guide spoke?

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We quickly learned that other things would be different, too, when people tried to push past us in the queue for the Pooh ride. Whereas in Japan, people are extremely polite and respectful, bowing and gesturing for someone else to go before them, in China, people have far fewer issues about invading personal space. It was a grandmotherly woman with a 3-4 year old grandson in tow who pushed past me to try to get one space closer to the ride! I would have just written this off except that we experienced this multiple times---at Disney, at the metro, on the ferry, and even in line for customs when we were returning from Macau!

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Fortunately, this was the only downside we experienced, and it was minor in comparison to the other many lovely things about Hong Kong. A subsequent Facebook discussion taught us that the differences may stem from the demands that Communism forced upon people to get what they could for themselves. What's certain is that the British love of orderly queuing did not translate to this culture.

Hong Kong is very easy to get around thanks, in part, to a simple and well laid out metro.

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A lot of people speak English, and most signs are subtitled in English, as well. The cost of living here is very inexpensive, so eating out and shopping are delightful. I only wish we'd have had a way to take more things home. Having one rolling backpack crimps any chance I have to do significant shopping---perhaps Evan planned it like that? But Temple Street was quite an experience—the kids found digital watches for $2-3, I got a pair of shoes for a few dollars, and food products were a steal.

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We were able to pull the kids away from Disneyland to explore Hong Kong and its environs a bit during our 4 days here. One day, we roamed the promenade along Victoria Harbor, giving our respects to Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan before taking the famous Star Ferry across to Hong Kong Island and grabbing the tram to Victoria Peak.

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I'm sure the view is usually breath taking, but unfortunately, we had a hazy day with limited visibility, so our experience was merely beautiful, not spectacular!

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Hats off to the extremely well done (and affordable) Hong Kong Museum of Art, and Museum of History. I wish we'd had more time to linger.

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Macau is only 40 miles by sea from Hong Kong, so how could we not visit? It worked out that our friends (and former neighbors from New Orleans) who have just moved to China, could meet us in Macau to explore the former Portuguese colony.

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We traveled by TurboJet hydrofoil to Macau. (Although it sounds a bit James Bondish, it wasn't as glamorous) and hopped a taxi to Largo do Senado, the square at the center of downtown. We enjoyed seeing the remains of St. Paul's Church and the fortress, but the highlight of the day was lunch.

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Boa Mesa served delicious Portuguese food, so we tried everything from Portuguese sausage to bacalao to beef strips in cream and mushrooms. The perfect ending was buying delicious, but ridiculously inexpensive Portuguese wine at the duty free shop before returning to Hong Kong. Cheers!

A final sightseeing trip was on our home island, Lantau Island. We took a 25 minute cable car ride over ocean and mountains to the picturesque village of Ngong Ping. From there, it was a short hike to the “Big Buddha” (one of the largest seated Buddha statues in the world) and the Po Lin Monastery.

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The kids were quite thrilled with this outing as they remembered the site from an “Amazing Race” episode. Fortunately, we only had to climb the stairs once, not 4 times carrying incense! We wrapped up the day with an extended afternoon at the Disneyland Parks hitting all the shows an rides we'd missed on the previous visits. The kids had needed a break from all the “culture” we've been forcing on them.

Tomorrow we bid Hong Kong farewell and head to Thailand. Although not the “true China”, this was a nice foray into Chinese culture as well as a fun respite at Disneyland! Stay tuned for further adventures and misadventures!

Tamara & Gang

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