Wednesday, September 7, 2005
I owe Melissa a big hug. Last night at the Mousecars awards ceremony she mentioned that one of her relatives wasn’t able to travel because her passport was valid for less than six months from her departure. I checked my passport and sure enough it expired in Jan 2006. Panic ensued. I searched many websites including travel.state.gov and the China consulate and Hong Kong government official sites. There was conflicting data. None of the Chinese or HK sites mentioned it, and even part of the official US site did not mention it while another one did. Traveldocs.com says that you do.
So I began to doubt if I would be able to go. Cathay Pacific was no help (and I was a bit peeved with them for not mentioning this vital fact when I booked my ticket). So at 2am I made an appointment for the Los Angeles Passport Agency. I woke up at 5am and raced to Kinkos for some photos. Great, now I have half asleep photos for the next 10 years.
I raced up to LA this morning and nervously waited for my appointment at 8:30am. Still panicked, the clerk smiled at me and said “No Problem” because I was traveling tonight, they could have the rush passport ready by 1pm. So I am waiting at Dad’s work for a bit and then I am going to head to the Westside Pavilion Mall to pick up some last minute items.
Hopefully the rest of my trip preparations will go smoothly. I am hoping that Matt has some wireless connectivity in his apartment so I can upload photos and blog from Hong Kong.
Thursday, September 8, 2005
Well I made it to Hong Kong!
After my marathon day getting my passport, by the time I made it to LAX, I was exhausted. We had to wait an hour in line for the TSA checked bag screener, but other than that it was a pretty low key adventure in the airport. The flight was a bit shorter than expected – only 13.5 hrs due to a favorable winds. The problem with the 747-400 is that economy class is mondo crammed, but it was an enjoyable experience overall.
I slept right after dinner for almost 7 hours, and then watched a DVD , on the lap top. During the flight, one of the flight attendants, Taka, told Vance and I that we were selected to take a survey and gave us some free stuff from Business Class as well as these cool HK Disneyland travel bags! I knew we were being set up when he said he was psychic and wanted to see if he could guess the name of the person meeting us at the airport. Yup, turns out it was Matt’s friend who just happened to be on the flight.
By the end of the flight, we had a bottle of champagne and some more goodies to take with us. Matt met us at the airport as promised and we were whisked away in the taxi to his uber-swank condo in the sky. It is a bit out of the city, but Matt is going to show us the ropes today on how to get around. He is very busy with the opening coming up this weekend, but promises some fun times!
Well it is 9am HK time now, so I am going to go take a shower and get ready for a day and night out on the town!
Friday, September 9, 2005
After a quick shower, we headed out on the town. This was Matt’s only day off so it was his chance to show us around the city and get us familiar with the public transportation. Before heading into the city, we stopped for a quick bite to eat at the local shopping center that is part of the condo development. On our way, we ran into another Disneyland CM that we had been hoping to see. We chatted for a bit then it was time to head into Hong Kong.
We took the minibus to the MTR station at Tsing Li where we then made the connection to head into Central (the HK equivalent of Downtown). Matt presented to us our very own Octopus pass which we could use on trams, MTR, Ferries, and busses all around town. At the MTR station, he showed us how to add fare to the card (pretty easy despite the distraction of the information booth that was in the shape of a boat). From there it was off to Hong Kong Central. Matt needed to pick up his travel docs for a trip he was taking before he heads back to the US. He was not sure where exactly the agency was, so we wandered around the CBD and took in some sights – including the tallest building in Hong Kong – the IFC (not International Fried Chicken, but the International Financial Center). Matt finally had an epiphany where the agency was and found it.
It was then off on a whirlwind tour of some of the sights of Hong Kong. First up was Statue Square where we saw a building that looked like it was made of Legos (the HSBC center) as well as an original British government building. Hong Kong is actually a very modern city that looks a lot like San Francisco. We then headed down to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center. People have compared it to the Sydney Opera House, and I admit it does add a stunning point on Hong Kong’s spectacular skyline. Also at the site is the reunification monument dedicated when Hong Kong was transferred back to Chinese rule. We had heard that the tram to the top of the Peak was closed so we took a taxi up to the top, One thing that Hong Kong is full of is South Coast Plaza-esque malls. Here is no exception. At the top of a scenic overlook is a nice indoor mall that you might find in a random LA suburb. Part of the area is under construction so the main scenic overlook building could be refurbished. We discovered that the Tram (actually a Funicular) was still operating and decided to take that back down to the Central Area. Along the way down, I was able to stand at a 45 degree angle on the funicular and not fall down.
Not wanting to miss out on another Hong Kong staple, we took the Star Ferry (thank you Octopus!) over to Kowloon. Kowloon is across Victoria Bay and is home to places such as the Hard Rock and the Peninsula Hotel. Matt showed us where the Hard Rock is so that we could come back later in the trip and get souvenirs for home. We then MTR’ed it over to the Ladies Market near Mong Kok. This area is what I imagined all of Hong Kong to be. It is one of the most densely populated places on the planet (6 people per 1 sq. ft.) and home to some of the coolest little shopping booths. Everything you want can be found here. Matt got me to try Dim Sum on a stick which was actually quite tasty. Around this time I was beginning to get sleepy, but wanted to stay out as long as possible so I could get adjusted to HK time (at this point it was only 5:30pm – but we had been going strong since we landed at 7am). We headed over to meet up with a friend of Matt’s who was in town and staying at another uber-swank hotel – the Langham Place. We chilled for a bit before heading out.
It was time to go to Lan Kwai Fong – one of the big nightclub and bar areas in Hong Kong. It is located near where the travel agency was, and we had a few drinks. After some schmoozing, we grabbed a quick bite to eat at this local Chinese food place. I wasn’t very hungry and was really tired so I didn’t feel like being adventurous with the food. Matt then hailed a cab for Vance and I to head back to the condo. The driver didn’t speak any English, but Matt’s friend gave him directions in Cantonese. It as a long scary cab ride back. We didn’t really know where we were going (since we came into the city a different route) and we were afraid the Cab driver might be confused and drive us to some other town. Thankfully, after drifting in and out of consciousness I recognized some landmarks. Sure enough, we made it back to the condo. I am glad Vance remembered the details of which tower and which unit we were staying at because I only had a vague remembrance from earlier.
We crashed hard almost immediately. I am glad we took time to get the overview of the city. Since Matt will be working most of the time we are here, Vance and I will be exploring a lot on our own. We now have a shaky overview to build on, but at least we can be relaxed about it and not worry too much before we go to Hong Kong Disneyland on Tuesday.
Saturday, September 10, 2005
Today was a Jet-Lag recovery day. Vance and I lounged around the condo for most of the morning. We chitchatted with Matt for a bit before he headed off to work. We decided to go see the Giant Buddha on Lantau Island today. As we were getting ready to depart, we got a hold of another one of the Disney CMs over here – Michael. We decided to meet up with him for lunch in the Gold Coast Village near the condos. It was nice meeting up with him and we chatted for quite awhile. He gave us insights into some of the challenges and also some of the successes with the new park. Let’s just say it is always interesting when two corporate cultures clash.
By the time we finally got on the road it was almost two in the afternoon. To get to the MTR line to take us out, we have to take the 140m bus. The trip time is usually 30 minutes or so to the Tsing Ji station. This time, it took us almost two hours to get there. There was what looked like a bakery truck smashed up. Not sure if there was an accident involving other cars or if they just lost control and smashed into the center divider. It was a mess. At one point we sat not moving for about an hour. We made it to the MTR, but by then it was too late to head out to the Buddha. After scanning our options, we headed out to the Hong Kong Space Museum in Kowloon – right on the harbor near the Peninsula Hotel.
The Museum was pretty low-key and looked like the exhibits hadn’t changed much since the early 80’s when it opened. We opted to skip the Sky Show on the dome since it focused on Albert Einstein and we didn’t really want to fall asleep. I tried out the gyroscope attraction, which was OK. Vance was disappointed the multi-axis chair was on rehab and that the Moonwalk had strict height and weight requirements neither of us met. All in all it was worth the HK$10 we spent (a little over a dollar) to get inside. I bought a cheesy key chain that featured a pen that didn’t work (probably been in the display for 20 years) and the attendant asked if it was OK that the pen in the key chain didn’t work.
From there we hob-knobbed with the rich and elite at the Peninsula Hotel. This hotel in Hong Kong is regularly rated as one of the best hotels in the world. It is very expensive but also very luxurious. I managed to score a photo of the Gorn and me with one of the bellhops in their traditional white outfits. I was going to get one with just the Gorn, but since I had to move fast I decided to be in the photo.
It was getting near dusk so we sauntered around the harbor waiting for the lights on the buildings on Hong Kong Island to come on. Lots of people were there as well taking in the scenery as well as returning from Harbor Cruises or taking the ferry. Near the Star Line Ferry building, Vance and I scored some soft serve from a truck. It actually was very creamy and good – just small portions. Then again it did cost HK$6 (about US$0.80) so the price was right. After taking way too many photos, we found the Avenue of the Stars – the HK equivalent of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This area honored famous HK film stars so we made it a mission to find Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat, and of course Jet Li. We were not disappointed and even found one for Bruce Lee.
It was then time to head back to the condo. We finally got in touch with of Matt and met him and his friend Chuck back at the transfer point at Tsing Ji. Matt brought us a change of clothes and we headed to SoHo – a trendy part of Central Hong Kong that has a lot of western restaurants and some cool bars and clubs. We ate at Taco Loco, which had really good Mexican food. At the restaurant, we met up with Joe (another Disney CM) and one of Joe’s friends. After grubbin’, we headed over to the bar for another late night of mingling with the locals. Vance and I were a bit out of our element, but we kept ourselves amused by people watching. It was another fun night out on the town, and we made it back to the condo in a not-so-scary cab and again collapsed into bed.
We are going to try and make it out to the Buddha tomorrow and get a bit earlier start. I am not sure what we will do post-Buddha, but we will find something to do. Michael mentioned to us that it shouldn’t be a problem to visit the Cast Member store at the park when we are there, so I am hoping to score some really cool items.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Another late start – a bit due to recovery from last night, and the other just to get adjusted. Slept well again – I love Matt’s comforter on the spare bed its nice and cozy and a little more suitable to one person than the giganto one I have at home. Vance and I set off for the Tian Tan Buddha statue at the Po Lin monastery on Lantau Island. We managed to make it to the station and find the bus without too much confusion. Ok there was a bit, but nothing to severe. Being polite, Vance and I selected the two-seat side instead of hogging a three-seat side. Boy did we make a mistake. The bus was a bit cramped and there was not much legroom so when we started up the mountain and the #23 bus became the “Crazy Bus” – weaving in and around corners and crossing one lane bridges and slamming to a stop when other busses or cars approach, we kept hitting our knees. The whole experience on the Crazy Bus was another time on the trip when Vance and I just look at each other and start cracking up. It is a bit of disbelief mixed with Oh My God am I gonna die??
The drive was very scenic in the less scary parts. We passed along the coast; saw some beautiful beaches and the occasional random cow. They are building an aerial tram from the Tung Chung rail station up to the monastery, which will greatly reduce the fun factor getting there (unless of course you have an aversion to aerial trams). It should open in 2006. The Buddha is hard to miss, even though it took us a minute or two of looking around before we saw the giant sculpture on the mountain. It is a sight to behold. I wish the weather were clearer, but still managed to get some good shots. The hike up the stairs was a bit hard on the knees, but I didn’t pass out so all is good. I was amazed at some foreigners who didn’t read the big sign saying “Don’t Throw Coins” and was throwing coins at some of the statues.
We paid to get the full museum experience (but not the dinner) inside the Buddha. At first, I didn’t know what they would put, but actually there were a few mosaics depicting his life as well as a crystal remnant of a Buddha who cremated himself. There was this big glass tray and in it was a spec of crystal. Hard to see due to the large crowd, but impressive nonetheless. From Buddha, we headed down to the Monastery for our free beverage and snack for getting tickets to the museum. It was vegetarian noodles with a sesame thingy that didn’t agree with my palate. Then again, I really am not a fan of Asian cuisine (yes its OK, I am not starving). At the time, I was a bit hungry so I did attempt to try the noodles and such, but nothing really struck my fancy. Vance enjoyed his and then it was time to head back to Crazy Bus. It wasn’t as thrilling the second time, but still a few sphincter-tightening moments. Back at Tung Cheng, there was a mall we hung out to call another Disney CM to arrange my Buzz overview later in the week.
On the MTR line, we decided to make a detour at Penny Bay and take the Disneyland Resort Line to the esplanade outside the park. It was a thrilling moment seeing a new Disneyland for the first time. I took some photos, but the rill thrill will be running down Main Street for the first time. We saw a few of our friends out front dealing with a mini protest, but we made a b-line out of there before it got bigger. You could tell from the Cast Members that they were all excited and couldn’t wait for the big day.
For dinner, we headed to Tsuen Wan to see if we could find the infamous Hello Kitty Cafe. Unfortunately, it was long gone and replaced by this weird fast food restaurant that sold whole ducks skinned. Ewww. Vance picked up some items for our boss at Disneyland at the Sanrio store and then it was back to our favorite Maritime mall at Tsing Ji. By the time we arrived, it was already dinner rush hour so we didn’t get to eat at the Steakhouse. We opted for KFC and it was quite tasty. I felt like a pig since I ordered a lot, but I was H-U-N-G-R-Y. We shopped at some of the stores including Trendyland, which sells just Disney stuff, and they had a cool Buzz clock and other items that I might need to pick up. Vance got a shirt, belt, and pants at this kitsch western store. The electronics store was nothing to behold – I think that some of the shops in the Ladies Market would be more interesting and a better value.
We headed back to the condo and actually made it! Thank goodness we had the business card so I could tell the driver when to stop. We crashed at the pad for the night after I went out and got some water – way too thirsty! Tomorrow it is off to Ocean Park and more socializing and then Tuesday is the big day we get into the park! Yay!
Monday, September 12, 2005
Today is the opening of Hong Kong Disneyland, but since our invitation to the festivities was lost in the mail, Vance and I headed for the other theme park in Hong Kong – Ocean Park. Located near Aberdeen, this park is very reminiscent of Marine World Africa USA in Vallejo, CA (now Six Flags Marine World). It is an odd mix of a few thrill rides and a bunch of aquatic exhibits. The park itself is neat and divided into two sections – Lowland and Headlands – both connected by a skyway that takes you along a cliff.
We started in the headlands area at the farthest point in the back of the park. This part even has a bit of Universal Studios in it with some towering escalators to connect the lower section with the top. We rode their version of Big Thunder (Mine Train Coaster) and Splash Mountain (log Flume Ride). The Mine Train ride was scary since it shook a lot and was on the edge of a cliff. Other attractions included Pacific Warf (gee I felt like I was back at the Monterey Aquarium!), a Viper-like coaster named Dragon, the ever-popular Sky Tower, a Shark Experience, a Reef exhibit (very cool where you spiral down the reef) and an assortment of carnival rides and games. The best aspect of this park is its setting. On a clear day, you can see out to the other islands around Hong Kong and if you are lucky, it can get a nice gentle breeze.
The lowlands consisted of a Panda exhibit (with sleeping Pandas), a bizarre 3D black light walk through, a butterfly aviary (scary!), and this weird dinosaur exhibit that seemed to focus on a local dinosaur and some relatives that are still alive today. Mixed in with the highbrow stuff as pandas were the obligatory Boomers quality racetrack, a goldfish exhibit (closed for conversion into something for the Halloween season), and a motion simulator attraction where you join the Ocean Park mascot Whiskers on a tour of all the attractions. What makes this interesting was that the seats were all rigged to move, not the theater. Vance and I agreed that the rides were better in the 3D version than in person.
I would still recommend people check it out. You cant beat the price (just hk$180 or just over US$20) or the setting. I’m glad we got to visit on a non-busy day some of the queues looked crazy long and with the heat and humidity I would have collapsed.
After Ocean Park, Vance and I headed back to the condo to rest up. Tomorrow is the big day at Hong Kong Disneyland so we wanted to be rested up. We ate dinner with a lot of our friends from the task force. They were all celebrating the opening day. It was a very hot day in the park and they all had to sit in the sun for the ceremony. I wish I could have been there, but Matt took some videos and photos so it was just like we were.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
The day started early. We wanted to get to the park by 9:30 so we left the condo around 8am. Initially, we wanted to catch the regular mini bus, but we had heard that it gets packed in the morning with commuters (and since it only holds 16 passengers we might be waiting a long time). We decided to catch a taxi and fortunately for us, there was one waiting at the Bus stop. I think they prey on westerners who look confused because this guy took us for a loop. Instead of taking the expressway, he took Castle Peak Road, which was under construction. So instead of taking 20 minutes to get to the MTR station, it took us over an hour. The cab fare was a bit high as well so I felt that the guy must have known it would run up the fare by taking us on this detour. Grrr. Then again there is not much I could do about it since I didn’t really speak his language.
Our luck changed as we got to the MTR station as we quickly made he train for Disneyland. Vance and I were worried that it was going to be crazy busy, but was pleasantly surprised to that it was not. Sure there was a mad rush in the beginning (especially to Space and Buzz), but after that the longest lines of the day were 20 minutes. Vance and I both gave our posters to the managers and leads of Space and Buzz that made the HKDL cast members very excited. My contact to give me an overview of Buzz still wasn’t in, but we made plans to circle back to the area later in the day to touch base. I dumped my backpack in the locker and off we went.
Hong Kong Disneyland is certainly smaller than any other Disney castle park, but it has a certain charm and coziness only found in the original park. Everything is sparkling and new and the cast members are all trying their best. It is nice to see that they all are passionate about what they do, and you can still see a bit of hesitance since they are uncertain if they are doing certain things correctly. What seems to be a pattern at most newer parks in the system is that certain sections of the park are extremely well themed and beautiful, and then the rest of the park is good, but still a bit lacking in theme elements. For example, Adventureland is awesome. Well themed throughout with the glaring exception of the Jungle River Cruise queue – looks like a holdover from Florida and not the nice version found at Disneyland. Fantasyland is nice and spacious and has a weird blend of Florida and California. Pooh looks like his Florida counterpart, but Mickey’s Philharmagic looks like it could fit into Anaheim’s Fantasyland. I do wish they had sunk Philharmagic into the ground more; the top of the show building is almost as high as the castle.
Tomorrowland probably is the lightest themed land, but somehow it works. Everything is futuristic and probably my only complaint is the queue of Space Mountain is very bland. Everything is so compact and there is lots of room to expand. Throughout the day we saw the parade (apparently an import from Tokyo and was very good), the Golden Mickey’s show at the Storybook Theater (also very good even though it was spoken in Cantonese and sung in English).
By the late afternoon/early evening we were both fried. The park was very empty and the weather at least had cooled down. We stayed till the end of the fireworks. People had said that their fireworks were not very good, but I thought they were great. They don’t use a lot of the big fireworks found at the US parks, but given the intimacy of the park it was fine. I did giggle when they used the Florida Fantasmic bubble projections on the front of the castle.
It was a long exhausting, fun day and I can’t wait to come back again tomorrow. We did manage to meet my contact and arrange for an overview of Buzz two hours before the park opens.
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
If yesterday was an early morning, then today was even earlier. We needed to meet our contacts inside the park two hours before the park opened. That meant an 8am arrival at HKDL, which means we had to leave the condo by 6:30 and pray that we don’t get Crazy Taxi or Crazy bus. We attempted to get a minibus first, but were not successful so we hailed a cab and set off for the MTR station. Thankfully, this cab driver knew how to get there and we made it in about 20 minutes. I did notice that the cab fare for yesterday was only HK$20 dollars more than today – I thought the delay yesterday would have added more.
We made it to the park around 7:45 so with some time to kill I meandered around the esplanade area of the park taking photos of the bus and taxi area and some signage. Hellas met us promptly at 8am and led us backstage. We toured costuming and saw one off the employee cafeterias before heading out to the area. Vance tagged along with us to Buzz while Hellas waited for word from Space Mountain. After walking the track, Hellas took Vance over to Space while I watched the cast members go through opening procedures. It is funny being halfway around the world from my park and seeing people do the same things!
After the overviews, we headed to the Employee store and picked up some merchandise for ourselves and for friends and then headed out to the esplanade. It was then time to return to the park. Having been BBQ’ed yesterday by the sun, I opted to wear my new HKDL hat and then changed into some shorts. I forgot to bring my t-shirt with me so I had to sick with the shirt I wore for the overview. We then went to Jungle River Cruise to track down Matt. After a few tries, we finally met up with him and he drove the boat around us and gave the spiel. It was then time to say goodbye. We were not sure if we were going to see Matt again due to his schedule and ours. He walked us out to the main entrance and from there Vance and I headed over to the Disneyland Hotel. I wanted to see both hotels, but it is a very long walk just to the first hotel. The Hollywood Hotel is a long, long walk in the heat and humidity so we passed.
The Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel is very nice. It looks like the Grand Floridian hotel at Walt Disney World mixed with some refinements from the Disneyland Hotel Paris. Some of the features included a hedge maze, spectacular bay views, and some great restaurants. We poked around the Golden Lotus restaurant that features some awesome decor and this cool digital koi pond. The pond is just a touch screen on the floor. When you step on the fish, they swim away. It was pretty neat and kept me and some kids entertained for a bit. After a bit of shopping in the store, we hoofed it back to Disneyland. We spent the rest of the day leisurely walking around – eating at the Tahitian Terrace, riding the round rides in Fantasyland, revisiting the Golden Mickey’s Show as well as the old standbys Space and Buzz.
We stayed till about 7pm and by then we were both dog tired and red as beets. With a twinge of sadness we walked out the park. It was an amazing place to visit and I hope to one day grace its walkways again.
Back to the condo we went – due to our tiredness, the minibus trip from the MTR station seemed particularly long. Tomorrow is the day we depart, but since we got most of our shopping errands done, we knew we were going to be able to relax and sleep in before our flight.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
True to our word, Vance and I slept in today as we recovered from our two hot days at the park. I got caught up on email and photo downloading and then got ready for our last trip into town. First up was the Hard Rock Cafe. It is a traveling staple for me and I had to pick up the obligatory souvenirs for Kevin and Gary. The food tasted good, but I think the shock to the system was a bit powerful as both Vance and I got a bit of the rumble from it.
One of our shopping goals was to get Vance a silk shirt. We had wanted to go to the Temple Street Market, but the guidebook said it was only good at night. Due to the fact both of us were still tired, we found a shirt around the corner from the Hard Rock. I still had to get dad’s Fauxlex so it was off to Mong Kok and the Ladies Market again. I found a stall that was selling them, and after a bit of haggling and a little of the “this is all I have” speech, I managed to get one for a little over $20. Mission Accomplished! Vance then decided to get another bag for all the Hello Kitty merchandise he had to truck home for Kacie.
We then headed back to the condo to begin the long journey home. As we were walking from the bus stop, Michael waved to us from the cast shuttle. We walked with him from his stop back to the condo and had a chance to say thank you and goodbye. As we got settled, Matt walked into the condo. Apparently, he was on the same shuttle as Michael, but got off at another stop. We then got to say goodbye all over again and get some last minute info for getting a cab etc. Vance and I headed over to the 7-11 to get some water. Most of our friends who were in Hong Kong were heading to a special Task Force party. On our way back from 7-11 we managed to run into almost everyone we knew or met. I thought it was cool because we were able to say our thank yous and byes to people we probably wouldn’t have had a chance to see.
It was finally time for us to head out to the airport. The lady in the entry hall of our tower called us a cab and despite some hesitancy on our behalf about whether or not a green taxi could take us to the airport, we were off. It was a quick trip and relatively inexpensive. Hong Kong airport is a beautiful place – bright, open, and airy – a stark contrast to the chaos that was the Tom Bradley terminal at LAX. Gosh, I hope we can get a new airport one of these days. Check in took us 5 minutes and we didn’t have to wait an hour line to get our bags x-rayed. We had time to leisurely walk around the airport as well as get some food.
Much to our delight, the plane was not nearly as full as when we came to Hong Kong. The person behind us lucked out and got the whole 3 seats to himself. Vance and I still had to contend with a third person, but it was still way better than the outbound flight to Hong Kong. Before we knew it we were back at LAX and we whisked through customs after waiting forever for our bags. It was a quick trip home and then Vance and I parted ways. It was time for me to relax and he had to get ready to go to Florida tomorrow for a wedding.
Another memorable trip has concluded and time to get those photos up!