Monthly Archives: November 2014

Symphony of Lights

Every night in Hong Kong at 8pm a light show takes over Victoria Harbor with buildings from both sides of the harbor participating. As soon as I showed up at my hotel, I was told by reception that I should go check it out so that’s exactly what I did.

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The Happiest Place on Earth – Hong Kong version

(A quick note – this blog post is being written specifically for other Disney obsessed family members and will go in depth on my experience in the park. So get ready for a lot of Disney!)

There is just something about going to a Disney Park of any kind that gets me very excited. I was giddy as I rode the subway and then transferred onto the Disneyland Express, complete with Mickey ear windows and hand holders. Displays in the cars held statues of famous Disney characters. There is nothing quite as special as the Disney experience.

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I arrived early for the 10:30am opening and apparently they let you through the main gates a half an hour before the actual opening so that you can peruse Main Street. I simply headed straight to the rope at the end of the street. I had never had Main Street all to myself before even if it was just a few fleeting moments. Ceremonies at both the main gates and at the castle preempted the openings.

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Hong Kong Disney is different than the other parks. It is smaller, there aren’t as many “cool rides,” the mountainous/hilly areas of Hong Kong loom over the castle. A friend who grew up in Hong Kong but who has never been there heard that it was “lame” but that didn’t stop me, I was going to have an awesome Disney experience. I purposefully chose to go on a Monday to avoid crowds. With its overall smaller size, I feel as though it probably doesn’t get too many people anyway. The longest wait time I encountered was maybe 15 minutes. There were only two rides that were FastPass eligible – Space Mountain and Winnie the Pooh.

Besides Space Mountain and Grizzly Gulch (Thunder Mountain Railroad), there weren’t a lot of big time action rides. It needed a Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, or Splash Mountain.

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Hong Kong Disney had three official languages and even offered jungle safaris in all three – Cantonese, Mandarin, and English. The Festival of the Lion King even had monkeys that translated for the English-speaking emcee.

I saw three different shows:
1) Festival of the Lion King – It was basically the same except no acrobatic monkeys. As usual, it was amazing and inspiring.
2) The Golden Mickeys – Disney’s version of the Oscars where they don’t actually give out any awards. It includes actual humans and lots of singing and dancing as they go through adventure, romance, and villain categories. It got a lot of songs stuck in my head. One of my cousins would appreciate me calling it this – The Dundees of Disney.
3) PhilharMagic – A 3D production of Donald going through various scenes. It was wonderful as well!

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Since this Disney is in Asia there were some different than usual offerings of food. For instance, sushi! I stuck to Western fare for lunch (with Mickey croutons) but indulged in sushi (with a hidden Mickey in the rice) for dinner. I had the hardest and most expensive churro I had ever eaten (it’s all part of the experience, right?) and something I had never seen before – frozen banana pre-sliced and dipped in dark chocolate. The pre-slicing of the banana means you get more chocolate!

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The typical “Haunted Mansion” at most Disney parks was redesigned into “Mystic Manor” and didn’t feature the cool expanding room (aka a Disney elevator) that HM does, nor does it have a ghost riding along in your people mover. The premise of the ride was a professor with a magical music box that is not to be touched. But of course his pet monkey must touch it. You then ride through a standard Disney set. It’s nowhere near as cool as the HM.

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There were two parades – a day time one which I skipped and an evening one titled “Paint the Night.” They did a great job illuminating their characters. And of course there were fireworks at night, illuminating the castle. Because the park was smaller and was also in off peak hours, the park was only open from 10:30-8:30. At first I was disappointed at the lack of hours but once I realized how much smaller I came to understand it. I was able to everything as much as I want, choosing to skip the children’s rides though, I’m just too tall!

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Other miscellaneous notes from Disneyland HK:

– There was not a train as a new Ironman feature was being built.

– None of the staff members I asked seemed to have any clue what “Hidden Mickeys” were (if you are reading this and don’t know then I encourage you to google it as they make your time at a Disney park much more interesting), so I had to keep my eyes peeled. I did find one on the Winnie the Pooh ride (look at the cookies). Since no one knew what I was talking about they kept handing me stickers which are now in my journal. (Does a Mickey dress count as hidden?)

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– There was a Toy Story Land area feature various kid-oriented rides. They had a large alphabet puzzle that had the letters for Andy pulled out along with 3 other letters. When I couldn’t find those around, I asked a person and he said they simply hadn’t made them which I found fascinating. I feel as though there has to be a better reason as to why the letters P, S, and T were missing. There was a parachute ride and a roller coaster featuring Slinky among other rides. The Lincoln Logs pic is specifically for my father.

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– Apparently sobriety is encouraged at this Disney.

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Overall, I had a wonderful day at Disney! Once I got over the fact that there wasn’t a lot of my favorite rides, I just embraced it and made sure to go on rides that I wouldn’t normally go on. There’s nothing quite like Disney!

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Macau

A quick trip from Hong Kong is Macau. It takes about an hour in a ferry that comes equipped with wifi. I left in the morning and came back later that evening.

Macau is considered the Vegas of Asia, complete with casinos and big hotels. I walked through the the Wynn Casino for a while and was tempted to gamble but did refrain. It even had a water show every 15 minutes.

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Even with the Vegas attractions, the city has a lot to offer. Macau was originally inhabited by the Portuguese and all signs still have Portuguese, in addition to English and Chinese. The streets all have Portuguese names as well. Since I know Spanish, I was able to navigate the city pretty easily.

First stop was Senate Square, home to what was later named the Loyal Senate after Macau’s loyalty to Portugal during the Philippine dynasty. Cobblestone streets lead one from the square to the ruins of Sao Paolo. Only the facade remains of this church. Next to it is a fortress that houses a museum about the history of the small country. From the fortress, one could see the lighthouse on another high point in the city. It was one of the first in Asia.

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Wandering up to Augustine Square, I went into the first Catholic Church in all of my Asian travels thus far. It’s been temples, temples, and more temples. Coming down from this high point I went to the avenue de felicidades (happiness). It used to house the red light district but now has some great food stalls. I stopped for a kebab.

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All around town there were egg tarts so I got one. It was a nice treat! There was also flattened, marinated meat in large chunks. I managed to snag a sample as the prices looked steep. It was delicious! Melt in your mouth, tender, perfect taste delicious!

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Christmas in Bangkok

They like to decorate early around here. Apparently they haven’t heard about the “no decorations before Thanksgiving” rule as the decorations at the local mall were up in late October. They have their “Merry Christmas” sign lit up and their “Happy New Year” sign ready to go on December 26. Rumor has it they will have pictures with Santa at some point. They have a few kiosks setup for a Christmas market but they are not occupied yet. Should be interesting to see how the Christmas spirit comes alive in Thailand.

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A simple cold

Having a simple cold is normal but everyone wants to take me to the hospital. Everyday this week I’ve been asked by the vice principal and the Thai English teacher if I would like to go to the hospital. I appreciate their concern and their desire to take care of the “Farang” but it’s just a simple cold. There’s nothing you can do for it except treat the symptoms since its a virus.

Another S and more notes from China

In addition to the previous post I made about the Ss of China, I would like to add a fifth – shoving.

While we were beginning to enter The Forbidden city, a group of us decided to use the restroom. It was too early in the day for the experience we had and there was definitely a bit of culture shock. In Western cultures, you make a nice orderly line (actually in the Thai culture they do as well) but in China, as we had discovered on the trip, it is a free for all. You grab your group of ladies and find a stall. Then everyone waits outside of it, guarding the door and taking turns going to the restroom. As a result it seems like a cattle call, with Chinese women yelling, pushing, shoving, and hoarding their space. We were not expecting to have to fight to use the restroom. I was able to snag a stall though and another lady got a stall as well, so our group of 8 ladies used the restroom Chinese style. I can laugh about the experience now but at the time we were cranky and sleep-deprived having just gotten off our third overnight train.

Other notes:

Remember when I talked about smog in an earlier post, well the Beijing marathon was just held despite calls to cancel it. The US Embassy found that the pollution was at 400 micrograms per cubic meter. The World Health Organization recommends no more than 25 micrograms per cubic meter. Most runners wore masks and ended up dropping out early. You can read an article about it here.

Pregnant women are rarely seen in China. Because of the one child rule (although there is always a way around this when $$ talks), women we protected during their pregnancy and spend most of it at home.

When walking around it was common to see bare-bottomed children due to a slit in their pants up the middle. Traditionally, Chinese children do not wear diapers so the slit allows them to go to the restroom anywhere rather quickly without soiling their clothing.

It is common for men to carry their girlfriend’s purse. It’s to show they are “together.”

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Terra Cotta Warriors

In 1974, just outside of the main city of Xi’an, an enormous mausoleum sight was found. Clay parts had been showing up in the area for years but no one actually thought to discover why until archaeologists began digging more than 2,000 years after the mausoleum was built.

The main tomb is a mound built up 70m in the ground. It has yet to be explored but a book from the proceeding dynasty describes it as having a river of mercury, with gems, diamonds, and pearls on the ceiling.

It took one million laborer to construct the main tomb and surrounding outs which were filled with terra cotta warriors, horses, and chariots. The first pit was the most impressive. All of the pits now have roofs (they used to have smaller roofs but these have collapsed in the last two millennia. The terra cotta figures were all painted but as soon as they were exposed to air and light the paint disappeared. There were a few that they were able to preserve in time. (The ones featured were repainted to show what they would have looked like in all of their glory.)

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