06 January 2008

Two Thumbs Up for Hong Kong

It seems so crazy to me that I am blogging about our Christmas Holiday to Hong Kong. 2 years ago, if someone would have said, "you'll have lived in Thailand for a year, and be vacationing in Hong Kong", I would have thought they were nuts. But, here we are. When we found out we'd be moving here, one of our main goals was to do a bit of traveling, but being fully aware of my "dreamer" status, I knew it might not happen. We feel so blessed to be able to see a small part of this side of the world (thanks to frequent flyer miles!). Something I never would have thought possible.

So, Hong Kong. Honestly, it was incredible! We were both amazed at what a fantastic and drastically different city it is when compared to our wonderful Bangkok. Both incredible, but in very different ways.

We left on Friday afternoon, after a nice, relaxing morning packing and preparing. It was nice to have a flight that was NOT leaving at midnight or at 5am!

I think Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport is amazing. I know there is all sorts of controversy and corruption mumbo jumbo that goes along with it, but all in all, you have to admit, it's pretty impressive. Plus, I'm in love with Christmas decorations, as you will see.

Because there are 9 days of things to share, I will spare you many of the details and highlight some of our favorites. Later, when I get to it, I plan to put together a video for our own records, and most likely I'll post it for those who are interested. There's just so much to share, it's hard to narrow it down.

Our first full day, we went to a place called Ocean Park that we heard to be a sort of Sea World meets six flags, supposedly a must see in Hong Kong. It was a little rough to begin with because we were so confused on where everything was (and we later discovered that there was very little for the kids, besides the shows, which they of course loved)! And, can I just say, not one inch of this park was flat. It is on a mountain, so everything is stairs, escalators, or slopes. It was amazing how they made use of every inch of that mountain side!

Notice, we got to wear jackets! Our kids were loving it, it felt like "dress ups" every day! I love jacket weather. Unfortunately, we don't have many warm clothes over here, so we ended up wearing our same one-jacket-a-piece almost everyday of the trip! What I loved most about the cool weather was my kids cool, rosy cheeks. I haven't gotten to experience kissing those for a while! It was too bad that by the end, their rosy cheeks were also very dry due to the lack of humidity here! We were all lathering ourselves in chapstick, wishing we could have Thailand's humidity back!

Jack and Jane loved the talking trees. What did they say? Here's what I remember, "I love rubbish! Thank you for putting your rubbish in the rubbish bin". The trash goes in his mouth and branch. Very nice!

We spent the day watching dolphin shows, seeing sharks, jelly fish, sea lions, going on a few rides, and ended up at the playground until closing time. The kids especially loved the big bouncy room, where Jane was getting flopped around like a rag doll and loving every minute of it. By far, the highlight of the day was this cable car trip from one end of the park to the other. The scenery was fantastic, and it was beautiful weather, and so calm (especially if you could block out the teenagers trying to get Jack's attention in the next car). From the cable car, we could look out over the water and to the other parts of Hong Kong. This day, the 29th, was also our 7th wedding anniversary. Lucky number 7. What a way to celebrate it! This was a good day.

Church was quite the experience. We finally did find the meeting house and we'd really never seen anything like it! This was the outside, right next to a bunch of skyscrapers.

This is the lobby, where we were directed to the elevators to go to the next floor for our first meetings. Then, for primary, we took the kids up another level. The Chapel was by far the most unique and beautiful I've ever seen. Just 3 years old, and the church occupies all 10 floors of this building.

This beautiful nativity was in the breezeway by the glass front doors so passersby could see. Jack made quick friends during his time in Primary. No surprise there.

We went to see Victoria Peak, or "The Peak", which we were quite impressed with. It was a little more commercial than I expected, but it was impressive that a tram has been taking people up there for over 100 years! Very cool. At times, this tram was at a 45 degree angle on the mountain. If you weren't sitting down, which I wasn't both ways, than you'd better brace yourself!

The view was spectacular, and we found some shops to look in, a playground to enjoy, and an awesome bookstore where the kids just plopped down to read as much as we had time for!

New Years Eve, what do you do with 2 young children who have been sightseeing all day? Well, we went back to the hotel around 7pm, let them play with these fantastic little spinners we found at the market across the street and ate delicious ice cream bars to celebrate! It was quite a party in this tiny hotel room. From what I've read, they get much smaller than this the closer into the city you are. We intentionally stayed a bit outside to get a little more space and so we could afford it! But, the hotel was fantastic, clean, and the front desk staff helped us with everything we needed, plus some. Very satisfied.

My two little monkeys loved being together. They were generally so sweet together and especially loved playing together everywhere in the city they could find. I think their favorite was all the HUGE footbridges we walked on through the city. They are gigantic, safe, and it is so nice to not have to worry about them running into the street without realizing it!

Tuesday was our museum day. Previous to our trip, Jack had regularly been making his room into a "nuseum", as he calls it, with all sorts of exhibits. It was always fun to have him give me a tour of his latest inventions. We LOVE museums of all sorts, so we decided to spend this day at the space museum, then on to the science museum. We were NOT disappointed! We especially loved the science museum where there were so many "hands-on" activities, we couldn't stay long enough to see them all. This was a mirror gallery that we thought was way fun. We also loved the giant kinetic energy exhibit with bowling-ball size balls rolling down a very Rube Goldberg style track with all kinds of fascinating detours, and Jane was fascinated with the phones in the communication exhibit. VERY fun day!

En route from one museum to the next, we found a sandwich place that turned out to be delicious! Jeff surprised me and ordered hot chocolate for all of us, something I had wanted to have for Christmas but just didn't get around to it. Jack was especially loving this. If you look closely, you can see the city in the background. I love cities.

We walked past this part of the sidewalk every single day, to and from the train. Every time, Jack loved to "walk on the wall" by running really fast and running on this slanted part. Sometimes I would join him when he wanted a pupil. This regularly acted as a nice "pick me up" after our tiring days!

You might recall the whole reason we wanted to come to Hong Kong: to attend the temple. Wednesday was the first day it was open after the holidays, and I was able to attend the first session at 9am. Jeff brought the kids later and we met up for lunch, then Jeff hit the 1pm session while I took the kids home for a rest. This wasn't the thing that we spent the most time on while we were in Hong Kong, but for us, it was certainly the most significant. The pictures, for some reason, turned out awful, but honestly, we were more than happy to be there.

This temple was so unique and gorgeous, and going inside it reminded me somewhat of visiting the temple in Manhattan. I could enter and leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind. It was a wonderful experience, and I felt so blessed to have been able to spend time there.

Our temple day,ended with a trip back to Hong Kong island to experience the longest escalator in the world! It was actually quite hard to get a decent picture of the part we rode, but it was pretty cool to travel through a good part of this vertical city on the escalators. We stopped off for dinner, and to Jeff's satisfaction we found a Krispy Kream shop. He was loving it.

We rode the Star Ferry back to Kowloon, hoping to see the daily 8pm lightshow of the city from the water, but missed it by just a few minutes. We still enjoyed seeing it from the Kowloon side, and got some great video of it. Here's a picture that doesn't quite do it justice, but you can get an idea of how breathtaking this city really is, especially at night. The buildings all light up with different designs, sometimes words, and many shoot huge beams or lasers from their roofs. It went on for about 10 minutes, and we loved every minute of it. (You can see the Star Ferry that we took right before, on the left side of the picture).

This was a wonderful way to finish off our time in the city, as we got to be right in the heart of it all. One of the things Jeff and I were amazed with in Hong Kong was the exceptional public transportation systems they have. They have the subway (MTR) that we took almost everywhere. They also have trams, double-decker buses (open and closed tops), mini-buses, cable cars, extensive elevated footpaths, trolleys, taxis, and probably much more that we weren't even aware of. Also, they have the Octopus Card that you can put money on and use as a proximity card for almost all of this. Plus, you can use the Octopus Cards at restaurants, convenience stores, and even Disneyland! It was amazingly efficient and made each journey out each day so much easier and stress free as we didn't have to worry about always having exact change for things. We just charged them up and off we went! In this city, things just WORK! It's like they've thought of everything! Even just getting around as tourists, we were SO impressed by the signs pointing us in the right direction. Although this doesn't mean we didn't have to ask for directions, but it certainly kept potentially frustrating "feeling lost" situations to a minimum. Also, it was nice that in a city where we really couldn't communicate, everyone's English was SO good. I really felt like I was in New York at times because it was so modern, although I have to admit transportation here was even better, and it was a bit cleaner. Don't get me wrong, I LOVED my visits to New York, but I'm telling you, Hong Kong was impressive!

So, our last 2 days were spent in an entirely different part of Hong Kong. We decided if we were going to be in Hong Kong, and there just happened to be a brand new Disneyland located there, we just couldn't pass it up! Okay, I might have been the one that decided it, but Jeff was not arguing with me! We didn't tell Jack and Jane we were going until the day before, so as to avoid the, "is TODAY the day we're going to Disneyland" question over and over again. But, when we told Jack, he was ecstatic!

We loaded all our luggage on the train and went to the special station where the "Disneyland Line" met up with all the others. It was all done up so well. We were getting giddy as the train got closer and closer! I know I'm a nerd, but honestly, there really IS something magical about Disney. They know how to do things up right!

When we got on the train, it was crowded, so we stayed on at the station to get our picture. We didn't realize it was really not a train you can just linger on (yes, SO smart.), so, as we took the picture and started loading our stuff off, Jeff got stuck on the train and we had to wait for him to come (Mom, Vanessa, and Jo, does this sound familiar?), two trains later carrying all the luggage with him! It was a hilarious start to a GREAT day!

We splurged and stayed for two nights in the Disneyland Hollywood Hotel, and for doing so, we got free park tickets for our second day. In Hong Kong, you either stay at Disney's hotels, which are on the same island as the park, or you have to take a long train ride back to whatever hotel it is you are staying at. We chose convenience, and we weren't sorry. It made for an unforgettable two days.

Jane loved wearing her Tinkerbell costume for the first day. This girl is a trooper. She went on everything she could, loved the characters, and just took it all in! She was especially a sucker for the shows, which they had plenty of. We even ended our 2nd day revisiting one of the shows that the kids loved the best. It was fun to hear the characters speak in their voices, but in Cantonese! Very cool!

Jack relaxing in the hotel, in the Mickey slippers and kid robe! Don't worry, Jo, I brought you home some of these slippers for your kiddos! I thought of you the entire time I was enjoying being a Disney nut myself!

Jane finally ate normal food for the first time in days. We found her some rice that she loved that tasted like home. She ate it all up and was loving life. She also loved playing in this mist, even thought it was NOT hot while we were there. It was pretty perfect weather the entire time.

It took 3 tries, but I finally got Jeff to take a picture with me where he would just smile. I love the goofy ones, of course, and they'll definitely be in the video, but you know, sometimes it's nice just to have a normal picture of us! When I tease him about stuff, he says, "oh, you knew what you were getting into!", but honestly, it's funny to think back 7 years to the stuff I didn't know about him! Of course, I'm not complaining, he just keeps getting better!

We stood in line to see Mickey and Minnie first thing our 2nd day. We waited for about 20 minutes, and Jane was acting apprehensive. When we got up there, she was completely excited, even kissing Minnie on the nose. After we did the pictures and hugs, Mickey and Minnie both grabbed Jack by the hands and started walking off with him! He was a little startled by this at first, but when he saw all the attention he was getting, he was delighted! They let him walk them all the way to their "special door", where they bid us farewell! We also got to meet and greet Pluto, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, Chip and Dale, while we stood there star struck by the whole experience! Jack thought it was pretty cool!

Jane was a trooper during this whole trip rarely getting a nap. BUT, we decided it might be a good idea for her to get one this day, so Jeff took her home, allowing Jack and I to have a Disney Date together. We visited Tarzan's tree house, which was a favorite of Jack's, as we got to pause at each display and read from the book, and take our time looking. This kid is an inventor, a jumper, a wrestler, and a climber! He LOVES to climb, and especially loves when I say, "go for it!". I like when I can say that too.

We rode the carousel, did some shopping for his "one thing", went on the Buzz Lightyear ride, ate lunch, and I told him the story of The Sword in the Stone, or what I could remember of it. He thought it was pretty neat, and loved giving it a go!

This Disney experience was SO fantastic. Hong Kong Disney is much smaller than California or Florida, but it was just the right size for our little family. They had very select rides, the only adult ride being Space Mountain. But, what we thought was interesting, is that it didn't matter that there were mostly kid rides. The adults stood in line for Dumbo, the tea cups, carousel, etc., even with NO kids! We would be standing in line for Winnie the Pooh behind a bunch of 30-somethings. The really big thing is to get pictures with the characters. I put this picture in, not because I know this guy, but because this was such a typical scene. The lines were not full of little girls in princess dresses and boys in Buzz Lightyear costumes. It was mostly adults standing in long lines, to get autographs and pictures with characters. Does this happen in California? (Jennifer?) This Snow White was DARLING! Unfortunately, Jack and I spotted her and Aurora, my personal favorite (although I'd never stand in line for a picture with her unless I had a child with me!), while Jane was napping! Jack didn't want to waste the time in line, so on we went! BUT, it was fun to watch her interact for a bit. Her voice was just right and her mannerisms were fantastic.

The Rich family always eats these delicious Micky Bars at Disneyland, a tradition that Jeff has accepted with enthusiasm. BUT, by the time we got around to wanting them, the park was all sold out! We went back to the hotel after the fireworks, bought them there, and ate them all together on the beds while watching Playhouse Disney. It was great.

It was sad to leave Hong Kong on our last day, but we were all feeling like it was time to get back to reality! BUT, not before we took a dip in the pool! We promised Jack the first day, and he was NOT letting us forget it! The pool was beautiful, shaped and tiled to look like a piano from above and just the right depths for kids and adults in different areas. The air was VERY cold (the lifeguards were covered in jackets, pants, and scarves), but the water was just right! Jack's getting really comfortable in the water, although he likes to go at his own pace. Jane, takes no time at all, and goes full speed the whole time. This would explain why she fell asleep on the train going to the airport! The little water slide was a favorite as well, a fun detail we all enjoyed!

We took the trains to the airport (such an impressive system!), and were feeling a bit rushed to get there in time only to find NO lines for anything, and then our flight was delayed for two hours! I was feeling pretty sad for those sweet flight attendants who were having to deal with everyone! Luckily, the kids were feeling good, and we found some lunch and wasted time flying paper airplanes in the huge corridors (something Jack is getting quite good at, folding and flying!). This Hong Kong airport was also really impressive. I have always been fascinated with airports, and am now understanding my Mom's fascination with all forms of transportation. Hong Kong is definitely a transportation heaven.

So, if you are still with me at the end of my longest post ever, I hope you haven't regretted it!
It is always fun for me to go back and document some of our activities, especially after such an incredible trip for us! Jeff informed me that this was his favorite vacation we've ever had. AND, by the end of our second day at Disney, Jeff admitted that there really is something magical about Disney, something he always tries to deny. I'm feeling like this vacation was a success.

It's always hard to end a vacation, but it really was SO nice to get back home. Bangkok has never felt so much like home after being in a place where we don't understand a thing, don't know where anything is, and are having to convert every price tag! We love Bangkok, and we are happy to call it our home.


Andrew & Vanessa and kids said...

Mindy, I hung on every word of your post! Thank you for the details - I feel like I could be there with you. I love the way that you DO everything when you visit a place, not hindered by cost or time or naps or anything! Because, really, when will you go back to Hong Kong? Live it up, right? We love you!

Jennifer said...

I loved it all. What an adventure!!! Your kids are so transportable and really have learned to adapt. I'm always impressed with how well your family manages new experiences.

Your Disney pictures look like they could have been taken in California. And YES there are adults that stand in lines for character pictures - especially Asians or grown women. I'm glad that you stayed for two days and enjoyed the hotels. I think the splurge is well worth it.

I always laugh at the $4 Mickey ice cream bar thing. Since we frequent Disneyland so regularly, we couldn't make it a habit to buy ONE thing every time or get fancy treats. Buying Mickey nuggets is a huge cost already. But when Daddy came with us, he told the boys we were buying ice cream. It was a $16 event that I took plenty of pictures of and then invested $7 in a special Disney ice cream layout from a scrapbook event. If you are going to splurge, gotta do it right.

I'm glad you're home safely. Thanks for posting. I wake up each SUnday with a smile on my face.

Rhiannon Nielsen said...

What a fun adventure. Hong Kong WOW! that is one place I would love to see. Your pictures are great.

Joanna said...

It's ridiculous how much I cry when I read your posts! I love to read about your adventures so much! So glad you could make great memories! We love you guys so much! (Can't wait for the kiddos to have Mickey slippers!)

Team Hanni said...

I loved this post! What an amazing trip! Your pictures are just breathtaking. I wish I could be as flexible and eager to try new things.
Your family does this beautifully!

Mimi and Papa in Provo said...

Thanks for the newsy blog today. It was so great to see the pics and to hear your great discriptions of everything. Now, I too want to go to Hong Kong (like I didn't before? ha ha ha). Well, you know me, I'm always up for transportation of any kind be it airplanes, escalators, trains, taxis, trams, or carosels. Sounds like you did all of these in one trip. I'm so proud of your efforts to go and to make so many wonderful memories together. We love you. Mom

Robin said...

Wow! Mindy you guys are amazing! It's so neat getting a glimpse of your life. Thanks for sharing.

karalynstrings said...

Mindy, can I just say that I really look forward to reading your posts every week. This trip to Hong Kong sounded fabulous! I am trying not to be jealous, but you guys deserved it! Thanks for brightening my day once a week! You are such a good mommy! KaraLyn

Bettie said...

How exciting for your family to have these experiences. Guess what? We are going to Ireland for 3 weeks for our anniversary (our second real one - but it equals 8 years;)!! The most foreign place I've been is Canada:) I'm going to take some traveling advice from you and just enjoy the journey to the fullest. I am so glad you guys took this job for a couple years of experience. Now how do I get an opportunity like that for my family?

Tara Fears said...

Mindy!!! How fun! I have to admit a small bit of jealousy that you were able to go to the Hong Kong Temple! It's by far in my top 5 Temples I want to see before I die...here's a random question, are the princesses at Disneyland from Hong Kong?