Hong Kong, Part 5 – Ngong Ping and Tian Tan

Author’s Note: This is the last of five posts looking to the past, to my trip to Hong Kong in September of 2008. Some of the details may be a little fuzzy because it was twelve years ago.

One of my favorite parts of this trip was going to Ngong Ping, for the Po Lin Monastery (which I forgot to walk inside of), and Tian Tan, the giant Buddha. To get there, you take the MTR to Tung Chung station at the end of the Island line. I want to point out just one more time that the MTR logo looks a lot like the Psi Corps logo. I’m just sayin’.

After you leave the MTR, you walk across a courtyard to the Ngong Ping 360, which is a cable car system. I quite like their mascot.

Boarding the cable cars is pretty standard fare for anyone who’s ever been on a cable car before.

One of my friends told me she took a curvy and terrifying bus up to Tian Tan. This way is better, in my opinion, but if you’re afraid of heights you might disagree.

The cable cars go past the Hong Kong International Airport first. The old Hong Kong airport had a single runway and planes basically flew directly into the busy Kowloon downtown- this must have been terrifying.

The newer airport seen here is an artificial island, created in part by flattening two other smaller islands and reclaiming some seabed. Construction of this airport added 1% to Hong Kong’s total surface area by the time it opened in 1998.

The cable car continues onward through a bunch of mountains until you get to Ngong Ping.

At 25 minutes long, the ride is long enough to make friends with your fellow cable-car riders.

It’s really quite spectacular.

Once you clear the bay, the cable cars go over footpaths up the mountains.

The cable car deposits you at Ngong Ping Village, a short walk from the Big Buddha. Lantau Peak (Fung Wong Shan,) the second highest peak in Hong Kong, is visible behind the Buddha.

This is the entrance to the Tian Tan Buddha. The Po Lin monastery is just across the way there, and I was so excited to see the Buddha that I completely forgot to look at the monastery. (This is not my most embarrassing tourism fail, but it’s pretty close.)

The stairway up to the Buddha has 240 steps. I realized about halfway up, while my legs were feeling like lead, that I am not in good shape.

Tian Tan is the world’s largest outdoor seated Buddha, though not the largest Buddha by a big margin. This bronze big boy is 85 feet tall from his base, on a lotus atop another platform.

Surrounding the big Buddha are six smaller (but still very large) bronze statues known as “The Offering of the Six Devas” that are posed offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha. Wikipedia says that these symbolize the Six Perfections of generosity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom, all of which are necessary for enlightenment.

When I set out to see Tian Tan, I thought it was an antiquity. I thought, “here’s a Buddha who’s been here for hundreds of years.” Boy howdy, am I an idiot. Tian Tan was constructed between 1990 and 1993. My niece is older.

Oh, and there’s a gift shop in the base, because of course there is.

In the “things Steven finds amusing” department, this book was in one of the gift shops in Ngong Ping:

What’s the biggest bronze statue you’ve ever seen?

41/52 (and 20 of 30!)

Hong Kong, Part 4 – Ocean Park

Author’s Note: This is one of five posts looking to the past, to my trip to Hong Kong in September of 2008. Some of the details may be a little fuzzy because it was twelve years ago.

On Sunday of the weekend in the middle of the trip, a small group of us got tickets to go to Ocean Park Hong Kong, a theme park on the southern side of Hong Kong Island. Ocean Park is the second-largest theme park in Hong Kong, right after Hong Kong Disneyland. In hindsight, I wish I’d chosen Hong Kong Disneyland for this day, but at the time I was thinking, “I can see Disney at home. I want to see something different and unique to Hong Kong.”

In that regard, I was not disappointed.

Ocean Park considers itself a marine mammal park, oceanarium, animal theme park, and amusement park. It’s really got a little bit of everything.

I didn’t see many marine mammals, there, but I think there was an Orca show that we missed. Here’s a couple of seals.

Apropos of nothing, Ocean Park is home to the single most entertaining bathroom signage I have ever seen. If there’s a sign, you know people were doing it.

There was a jellyfish enclosure, with a lot of the little floaters swimming past.

They also had a panda enclosure, and the signs pointing the way to it were just absolutely freaking adorable.

The entrance to the panda enclosure was lined with these corny panda bears. No, I don’t know why. It sure is cute, though.

The pandas themselves were basically giant oreo-colored goobers. We saw one fall out of the tree he was climbing, because he just didn’t care.

I shall caption this next photo, “munch munch munch.”

There was a cable car connecting the two sides to this park. A lot of the park was under construction when we were there- looking at the Ocean Park site as it exists today, I can see that they’ve added a lot in the last twelve years. They have penguins and meerkats! (Thankfully, not in the same enclosure.)

I may need to go back at some point. In the years since we visited the heavily-under-construction Ocean Park, they have opened:

  • “Thrill Mountain” with five more rides, one of which is a floorless rollercoaster.
  • “Polar Adventure” which includes the penguins, as well as snowy owls and Arctic foxes.
  • “The Rainforest” with a river rapids ride, an expedition trail, and capybaras!
  • “Aqua City” expanded the aquarium out quite a lot and added a sea life carousel.
  • Probably a bunch more that I didn’t catch in my reading tonight.

The cable cars took us from the animals to the rides.

The crest of the cable car line had a pretty nice view.

And then we were able to see the theme park rides ahead of us.

Once we were off the cable car, we could wander a amusement park side, between snacks and rides and things for kids.

This was a culture show with acrobatics and the like.

There were the usual thrill rides. I actually did go on the old roller coaster, which has since been converted to a virtual reality coaster. No, I don’t know what that means either.

One of my favorite things at this entire park was the adorable squid vending kiosks.

…and the squid design isn’t just to be cute- they actually sell squid there. By the way, don’t let those prices throw you off- $32 Hong Kong dollars is just over four bucks of US currency. The combo with soft drink for $42 HK dollars is about five and a half US dollars. That exchange rate is crazy.

What’s your favorite theme park?

40/52 (and 19 of 30!)

Hong Kong, Part 3 – Markets and Temples

Author’s Note: This is one of five posts looking to the past, to my trip to Hong Kong in September of 2008. Some of the details may be a little fuzzy because it was twelve years ago.

After work one day, some of the group wanted to go to the market in Mong Kok and I decided to tag along.

It was hot and crowded, and I could have bought a variety of interesting things for very little money. I didn’t really see anything I wanted though. I did go back later in the week to one of the jade markets to buy some gifts for people back home.

On the last day of the trip before heading back to the US, I finally had a chance to go find a Temple. We sort of blundered into it walking around after work, actually.

This particular Temple was along Nathan Street, surrounded by nice public spaces and lovely trees.

These incense coils were gigantic and fascinating- each one would last more than a day.

I have no idea what these statues represent. Nowadays when I travel I try to learn more about what I’m seeing, but I was not so prepared in 2008 for this. I regret not learning more about my surroundings at the time.

The Temple had several different rooms, with different items displayed.

Here’s another peek at those magnificent spirals of incense.

Look, it’s Chairman Meow!

The Nathan Street entrance to the temple contained a public square rest garden, with some bridges, koi, and a Nine-Dragon Wall there behind me, containing reliefs of nine different Chinese dragons.

Based on the location, and with the help of Google Maps, I think I have successfully identified this as the Yaumatei Tin Hau Temple. I did not have the foresight back in 2008 to learn the name of the place that we had stumbled into.

Have you ever been to a temple in China or Hong Kong?

39/52 (and 18 of 30!)

Hong Kong, Part 2 – Victoria Peak and the Waterfront

Author’s Note: This is one of five posts looking to the past, to my trip to Hong Kong in September of 2008. Some of the details may be a little fuzzy because it was twelve years ago.

The Peak Tram is a funicular that’s been running since 1888. It connects the lower parts of Hong Kong Island with the upper bits. We took it up to Victoria Peak.

The peak tram entrance.

I am delighted by Funiculars. They usually cover a very short physical distance, but their charm is in their verticality. The Peak Tram travels less than a mile, but it climbs over 1300 feet in that distance.

The peak tram cometh.

At the top, there’s an observation deck called Sky Terrace. Of course, I had to go see Victoria Peak from the top. It’s tall, and I love tall things. We have established this as a BlogFact™. It’s a shame it was so hazy that day.

The view from the Peak.

This Japanese restaurant at the top of Victoria Peak was the single most expensive meal I ate on the entire trip. This is where I had Fugu and a Kobe beef hamburger. A quick side note: I did a bunch of reading on this, and while Fugu neurotoxins are a painful and slow way to die, Fugu fatalities are not really all that common and most people with the bad luck to get an improperly prepared fish do recover.

After dinner, we took a taxi back down to the foot of the mountain, and then took the Star Ferry back to Tsim Sha Tsui.

Like the Peak Tram, the Star Ferry was first established in 1888. It goes across Victoria Harbor, bringing people between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.

The Star Ferry is also a pretty great place to catch the Hong Kong Symphony of Light, a laser and light show set to music that involves most of the buildings along both sides of the waterfront. It runs at 8 pm every night. You can see some of the lasers in the picture above, but it’s better if you see it in motion. You can even sort of hear the music in this video someone uploaded to YouTube:

Last, but not least, there was some sort of paper lantern festival going on at the waterfront while we were there.

On a different evening along the same waterfront, I checked out the Hong Kong Space Museum, which had some nifty exhibits including a moon walk simulation and a spacewalk simulation. After the museum, I walked along the “Avenue Of Stars” and enjoyed the great view of the Hong Kong skyline.

What’s your favorite tourist light show?

38/52 (and 17 of 30!)

Hong Kong, Part 1

I started this blog in late October of 2011, right before I moved to Europe to live for three years in Germany. Almost every country I’ve traveled to outside of the United States is recorded in this blog because I was writing in more or less real-time. There are three countries I visited before the blog began though. I don’t think I even still have any photos from the Bahamas. Canada was great, and it might get a blog post one of these days.

Then there’s Hong Kong.

Hong Kong skyline.

Twelve years ago in September of 2008, I went to Hong Kong for two weeks for work. The days were occupied with computer nerdery, but the evenings were mine, and the weekend in the middle. Since it was three years before this blog was started, I wrote about my trip to Hong Kong on LiveJournal- remember LiveJournal? It was never committed to my WordPress blog until now, though, and NanoPoblano gives me a great reason to finally stop procrastinating and recap what I can remember of my time there, with an assist from my original notes from 2008. Past Steven is being helpful instead of being a dick for once.

There’s a lot to share, so I’m going to break it up into five posts. (Hey, my five weeks in Japan became 29 blog posts. Five posts is a breeze!) This post is kind of a rambling mess because I started with about 85-90 photos that I want to share from my Hong Kong trip and then separated them out into specific topics, one for each day. This batch is everything that didn’t fit into one of the other four.

My trip started on September 6th of 2008. I left for the Ft. Lauderdale airport at the ass-crack of dawn, connected in Newark New Jersey, and then it was just another sixteen hours to arrive in Hong Kong. All in all, I was traveling for about 24 hours. My original notes from 2008 say that the captain of my plane was, and I promise this is true, Captain Mike Fortune. What a great name for a pilot!

The biggest problem with this kind of travel, in my personal opinion, is a question of time. On the flight there, I watched Kung-Fu Panda, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and two episodes of Scrubs, plus had a meal- and still had roughly half the flight remaining. Sixteen hours is a long time to be in one of those metal tubes. I have trouble sleeping on airplanes, but I managed to doze a very small amount on this one, so I wasn’t completely wiped out on arrival.

After dealing with customs and passport control, we took a reasonably short airport express train ride to Tsim Sha Tsui, in Kowloon, and then on to the hotel.

My room was on the 16th floor, and it was teeny tiny. How teeny tiny, you might ask? I took this photo from the doorway of the bathroom near the main door of the hotel room. There was a bed, a desk, a chair, some tall windows looking down onto the neon-drenched city, and not much room for anything else. I had to keep moving my suitcase out of the way for the entire time I was there.

Once checked in, I needed to change some US dollars into Hong Kong dollars. There are three different banks authorized to print and distribute their own designs of Hong Kong dollars, alongside the Hong Kong government. This means that my bills did not always match each other in appearance- for someone used to the uniformly green all-the-same-size bills the United States uses, this was eye-opening. I did like the vibrant colors on that tenner though.

A quick note about food in Hong Kong… I appreciated that instead of water as a normal beverage with my meal, tea was always on hand. I also liked the omnipresence of chop sticks. And the hidden drawer in every table in some restaurants for other cutlery was genius.

A few nights before the trip ended, we had dinner with our Hong Kong colleagues at a local restaurant. The table was round, and they set an enormous lazy Susan in the middle, then they kept bringing food in waves. We spun the thing in the middle to serve ourselves. I tried Jellyfish, which had the taste and texture of crunchy cabbage. And I tried Thousand Year Egg, which was so-so. It looks awful, but the flavor isn’t a big deal. I also tried duck, but I could only stomach one bite of that- I saw them carving it, and it still had a bill. Luckily, I was rather buzzed on Tsingtao beer at the time.

Speaking of foodstuffs that squick me out, at one point the group got lost during lunch and we walked through an open-air market. The place was filled with pungent things- they had fish, eels in a basket, hanging meat, and foul-smelling vats of stuff that I dare not even describe. Just ew.

We used taxis several times going to and from the office. The red taxis were in the urban centers, and so we saw them close to the hotel in Kowloon and wherever the biggest crowds were. The green taxis are for new territories and we saw those when we were near the data center and office, away from the main city. There are also blue taxis in Lantau, but I didn’t see any of those.

This was also my first time in a city where people drive on the left instead of the right. The city streets were clearly labeled so that stupid Americans wouldn’t be hit by cars as they looked the wrong way while crossing the street. This particular photo is a bad example though, because this was a one-way street.

We used the train quite often over our two weeks because using taxis exclusively for a dozen people gets really expensive really fast. Every time I see the MTR logo on the front of a train, I immediately assume they’re Psi-Corps. (Yes, that’s a Babylon 5 joke.)

We changed it up a few times over the two weeks, but for the most part we took the train from Kowloon to a station closer to the office, and then a taxi the rest of the way.

After work, the group would go explore the city or strike out for dinner. This is a walk along D’aquilar Street, a tiny winding road with stairs alongside- it’s steeply uphill. Restaurants, bars, and clubs dotted the length of the street. The night of this photo, we ate at Al’s, because the canopy boasted the world’s best burgers.

A visit to D’aquilar Street on a subsequent night found us in an Australian restaurant, where I tried kangaroo meat. It was a little springy.

On one of the nights, I ate at a really excellent Irish pub– their corned beef and cabbage was delightful. I have found that in most cities around the world, there’s usually an Irish pub.

Three more pictures, and then I’ll wrap this post up. The first is just a random guy walking across the bridge as seen from our taxi on that first work-day. I saw a lot of people carrying parasols to protect them from the sun- this is a very good thing It was toasty-hot the whole time we were there.

On several occasions, I saw t-shirts with things on them that contained amusing bad translations. I saw one girl with a shirt that said Snatch, another with a shirt that said “Wide Love,” and yet another with a shirt that said, “I rove you.” But the best one so far was this girl’s shirt- it’s a recipe for something. I’m curious whether this was a deliberate thing or if she just saw English text and thought it was cool in the same way that Americans sometimes get things with Mandarin or Kanji on them just because they look neat.

During a bus ride across the island on my way to Thursday’s post, I saw a lot of fascinating things. This cemetery in particular was fascinating- the plots are so close together that for it took me a moment to parse that this was actually a burial ground.

Last but not least, a delicious blackcurrant soda called Ribena. When I had this in 2008, I thought it was a uniquely Hong Kong sort of thing to drink, but I have since learned that Ribena is actually a British product. The UK had transferred control of Hong Kong over to China only eleven years before my visit, in 1997, and there was still a great deal of British influence to be seen.

A short bulleted list of observations about Hong Kong that don’t really fit with any of the photographs:

  • The chocolate in Hong Kong is better than the chocolate in the US. They import a lot of it from Singapore and Vietnam, and I think the cocoa levels are just higher than they are in the US. I had similar chocolate experiences in many other countries. The US just doesn’t do chocolate well.
  • I saw quite a few American chains in Hong Kong. I ate at a McDonalds once, in the first week, when I was sick and needed to just eat something and down some Panadol and sleep off a fever. The McDonalds burger tasted the same, but the cheese was sharper. French fries are french fries no matter where you are; they were identical. I tried to take a photograph of the menu at Starbucks and I was politely asked to leave before I could take the photo. Twelve years later and I’m still not sure what that was about. I also saw Outback, TGI Fridays, Burger King, and, oddly, Popeye’s Fried Chicken in Hong Kong. I read somewhere that KFC does more business in China than in all of the United States, so I can kind of see where that’s going.
  • 7-11 deserves its own bullet point. The 7-11 density in Hong Kong is HUGE. Walking to dinner on one of the nights, we must have passed one 7-11 every fifty yards. And they take the Octopus Card, which is excellent- the Octopus Card is the metro card for the MTR train system. You can recharge it, and it works in every train station, every 7-11, some other stores, and some vending machines. The Octopus Card was the single smartest purchase I made on this trip- it made a great many things much, much easier.
  • The street hawkers were pushy and numerous- I was offered massage, luggage, “copywatch,” custom tailoring, hashish, and pretty girls. I’ve never been in a city with pushier people selling things on random street corners. This is one area where I definitely prefer being back in the US, where I’m completely ignored on street corners.
  • Speaking of pushy and weird, I went with some of my coworkers to the local equivalent of a strip club, and it was nothing at all like a strip club in the US. For one thing, there were only about five or six people visible, and there was a slightly older woman who kept trying to get me to buy drinks for the girls. Looking back at this with the insight of hindsight, I think “buy drinks for the girls” might have been code for something very different. The whole experience was kind of uncomfortable and we didn’t stay long.
  • After that, we went to a local friendly gay bar, and someone there asked me if I was Dan Savage. While I do not see even the slightest resemblance, it was a flattering question because let’s face it, he’s a good looking dude.
  • I really enjoyed the sound of the city when I was going to sleep. I was sixteen stories up, so it was mostly muffled, but it was soothing to have the sound of other people nearby, to hear the low rumble of traffic. Looking back in hindsight, this might have been one of my first times sleeping in a large city.

Next up, Victoria Peak and the Kowloon waterfront!

Have you ever visited Hong Kong?

37/52 (and 16 of 30!)