Journey Into the Future

Travel Update: Hong Kong, Week 1

We’ve now been in Hong Kong for a week (well, a week and a half), and it is treating us well. It has been a period of gradual adaptation and has featured markedly less adventure than the preceding weeks. But that doesn’t mean that there has been no adventure. We’ve been to Disneyland and mountaintops and all manner of local tomfoolery.

And I’ll get to those things. But our time in Hong Kong began with school, and so too will this update.

When last you heard from me we had just arrived via a late-night flight from Beijing. According to my calendar, the law school’s orientation was the following day at 11am. I left alone in the morning, as Kat was not feeling well – apparently all the travelling was catching up to her.

This left me with the task of finding a route to and around HKU. According to Google Maps (the closest thing to an arbiter of absolute truth that is known to humankind), the trip to the scheduled lecture hall should take about 15 minutes. I took an hour. There are two reasons for this.

Hong Kong Maze
The city seems so innocent. It is a facade. Not on the buildings though – that’s legit.

The first is Hong Kong’s urban planning. It turns out that Hong Kong Island is actually a (presumably-volcanic) mountain with a thin outlying edge of level ground. The city of Hong Kong is clustered primarily along the northern (and to a lesser degree north-western) part of this outlying region. And I do mean “clustered” – they’ve managed to cram just over a million people into a 42 square-kilometre strip along the north end of the island.

Not everything is on this more-or-less level strip of land. HKU certainly isn’t. Some genius decided to put it mid-way up the north face of the mountain. The area immediately between our apartment and HKU is so steep that the roads running north-south from the waterfront (where we are) towards HKU are all interrupted by cliff faces or stairs. Buses cannot take stairs. This means that the route to HKU involves catching a bus to the east, and then climbing a mountain. Except that the mountain face is covered in buildings that double as maze walls. In short, getting to HKU was a real treat.

Despite taking longer than expected, I arrived at HKU with time to spare. This brings me to the second reason that the trip took so long.

I’m not sure how to describe the layout of HKU (and Hong Kong generally). I’ve been trying to think of a good analogy, but the best I’ve come up with is some combination of a fraudulently obtained certificate in urban planning and an architect who is blind and also hates me personally (and is maybe the devil?). Kat likens it to a school designed by Dr. Seuss. Amelia prefers to think of Hong Kong generally as a thousand jenga games played by a mad architect and absentee physics.

HKU Garden
They have nice a nice garden in the centre square, though.

Anyways, I navigated the byzantine routes of HKU and arrived at the lecture hall at 11am sharp. At that time I discovered two things: (a) my time-zone math needs some work and (b) orientation had started an hour ago.

I had arrived in time to take in some of the lectures directed at first year law students. I saw the Dean’s Lecture (which included a fascinating discussion of China’s One Country Two Systems policy) and sat in on the first half of another lecture on legal reasoning and value systems in law. I stuck out like a sore thumb, being both noticeably older and caucasian. This inspired curiosity in both of the professors, who came by during a break to chat about differences between Canadian and Hong Kong law school culture (one of them was Canadian) and their general philosophy of teaching. Both professors noted that Hong Kong students tend to be a little timid at first, due both to their tender age (straight out of high school!) and the local culture. The class exercises all focused on getting the students to interact in groups other than their initial cliques.

I took part in the class, which means that I, too, got assigned to little groups. This gave the local students a chance to give in to their obvious curiosity – up until now, they had all been visibly afraid to make contact with the big, old, scary foreign guy. Once I got placed in a group, they were asking about Canada, my academic background, my travel plans, and my opinions on the various questions that we had been given by the professors. Especially that last one. I would soon discover that the students were articulate, intelligent, logical thinkers, but getting them to take the first step into making contributions to the group was like pulling teeth. No one wanted to look stupid. Eventually, after some prodding, they opened up and began saying some really clever stuff, which made me feel like a proud parent (in a totally non-creepy way, of course).

I’ve realized that I’ve reached that age where I’ve started being impressed by “the next generation”. They just seemed so smart, and they were so well-mannered, and their outfits were so adorable. By which I mean they were all wearing identical black-and-white suits, for which the instructors chided them.

Students Milling
Moments later, they’d all changed, or at least ditched their jackets. They’re so keen, it’s sweet.

I headed home, and proceeded to do just about nothing for the next several days.

Sitting With Laptops
Where “just about nothing” includes conquering civilizations and watching several seasons of Chuck.

We did leave occasionally for food and other sustenance.

Kat in the Wine Aisle
Kat discovered that “food” has a slightly wider definition here. She was not unpleased.

Eventually Kat’s cousin, Iris (who you may remember) came in to town with a friend for a couple of days. We met up and went off to Victoria Peak, which rests atop the mountain that dominates Hong Kong Island. For one terrified moment I thought that this would involve walking up the mountain that has become my nemesis, but it turns out that there is a tram. It travels uphill at an absurdly steep angle, but at least there’s no walking. It also allows Chinese people on, which it started doing much more recently than you might think. Ah, colonialism.

Upon reaching Victoria Peak (or simply “The Peak”, as it is known) we strolled through its lush mountaintop trails and looked out over the city. We had a lovely time chatting, walking and snapping photos.

Lush Mountaintop Trails
I promised you lush mountaintop trails, did I not?
Looking Out Over the City
The Peak has majestic scenery to spare.
Statue on the Peak
There were also a number of private residences on the path. One of them had a statue out front.

Kat headed out to Lantau Island the next day with Iris. Lantau is home to Hong Kong’s historic airport and even more historic monastery and giant Buddha statue. Amelia and I were not so foolish as to allow our jaunt to reignite our passion for travel, however. We spent the rest of our weekend safely ensconced in our apartment, followed by the first law school lectures for both Kat and me. They were enjoyable, but are also the topic of another post entirely.

After the conclusion of our whirlwind week of classes we decided to celebrate with a trip to Disneyland. Amelia was very excited. Excited by everything, really. Excited by the train, excited by the train station, excited by the entrance gate, excited by the ticket kiosks.

Amelia and the Disneytrain
The train to Disneyland seemed subtly different.
Amelia on the Disneytrain
Can you see the handles hanging from the ceiling? The train was 100% committed to the brand.
Amelia, Mickey, Goofy and Monstro
Amelia hangs out (but not ten) with Mickey, Goofy and Monstro.
Amelia at Disneyland's City Hall
City Hall doubled as the entrance gates. No petitioners approached Disneyland’s seat of government.

Those with particularly sharp eyes and keen minds will have noticed that each of those things lies outside of Disneyland itself, so perhaps you can imagine her demeanour throughout the rest of the trip.

Just in case you can’t, however, I will show you the twenty-odd photos (and three videos!) that best encapsulate our trip. There are many, many more, including several that each of Amelia, Kat and I dearly love. Trimming down the list to a digestible length has been a real challenge. I hope you appreciate it.

Neighbouring Birds
We had lunch at a café on Main Street, USA. The neighbouring table was very noisy.

Most of my photos focus on Amelia (hey, she’s my wife, it’s my prerogative), but I’ve got some photos of Kat too.

Kat with Mickey
Not pictured: Kat planting a kiss on Mickey’s cheek. It seemed wrong – he is much, much older.

We moved from the central Main Street, USA, portion of Disneyland to one of the three outlying themed zones – Tomorrowland. It was, as you have likely guessed, futuristic.

Amelia with Blaster
We fought the Zurg Menace. It was a scored ride, and I won. Pew pew.

There was an “Autopia” ride that let you drive around. We realized, too late, that Autopia would only really be interesting to children. For us big folks, it was just driving a very slow, rail-guided car.

Amelia Driving
The fact that the car was guided by rails did not seem to make Amelia’s driving any safer.

We left Tomorrowland and ran right in to the daily Flights of Fantasy parade.

Disney Princesses
These ladies were a big hit. They’re just crazy about Disney princesses in Hong Kong.

After the parade we wandered in to Fantasyland’s Storybook Theatre to see “The Golden Mickeys”, which is a musical masquerading as an awards show. Despite referring to things like the “Award for Best Hero”, none were handed out – the announcer kept getting distracted.

The Golden Mickeys
Part awards show, part musical, part idol-worship.

Kat and I had both been scarred by “It’s a Small World After All” rides as children, so we got Amelia to ride it. She actually enjoyed it. Perhaps it only truly affects the tender-aged.

Small World
As excited as Amelia was, she still did not feel like a giant. Because she is not very tall; get it?
Kat with Ice Cream
We snacked on ice cream just outside the Small World ride.
Me in a Teacup
We rode on the Mad Hatter’s Teacups. I was very excited to get whipped around at high speeds.

Ladies on the Carousel
Amelia rode on her first carousel with grace and poise. Also a stabilizing pole.

We saw Mickey’s Philharmagic. It was a musical attraction in a specialized movie theatre. The theatre was pretty great. It came with classy 3D opera glasses, but that was only the beginning. When Donald held out a pie, the room filled with the scent of apple pie. When magic mops swept (mopped?) across the screen and dumped buckets of water on poor Donald’s head, we got sprinkled with droplets of water. When Lumiere’s candles got blown out, we received a gust of wind. It was very cleverly done, and we were thoroughly impressed.

Mickey's PhilharMagic
Unfortunately, I do not have any photos of the pie-smell or wind-gusts.

There was a photo op with Tinkerbell outside. Kat is a big Tink fan, so we queued up and I snapped some photos of the ladies. Tinkerbell asked if I’d like to be in a photo, and I declined. She was having none of that business. In true Tinkerbell fashion, she stormed right up and ordered me into position.

Tinkerbell and Friends?
I think this photo pretty accurately reflects the ladies’ opinions on my party-pooping.
Winnie the Pooh's Ride
We hopped into a honey pot and experienced a very gusty day.

We left Fantasyland and headed in to Adventureland. We had, by this point, been in Disneyland for most of the day, and it was starting to get dark. This was OK, because Adventureland is looks best at night.

Adventureland at Night
It was like a jungle cruise, only with more security and less malaria.

We took a ferry across the water to Tarzan’s treehouse. Stop for a second. Think about that. We took a ferry to a treehouse. How intense is that?

Tarzan's Treehouse
I hadn’t known that Tarzan was so familiar with local building codes.
Amelia and Her Treehouse Friend
Amelia made a friend in the treehouse.
Kat and Her Treehouse Friend
Kat also made friends. It was a tearful good-bye.
Kat on the Throne of Skulls
Fun for the whole family. Even your gothy, death-obsessed teenager.

As the day came to a close, we filed back in to the centre of the park, where Main Street, USA, meets the various themed areas. This is where Cinderella’s Castle (better known as Disney Castle) is situated, and it is above that castle that the nightly fireworks display occurs. Tonight was no exception.

Cinderella's Castle
They had a light show on the castle’s exterior running up to the fireworks.

After all the excitement we stopped by a souvenir shop, where Kat bought some things. While Amelia and I were waiting by the counter, we noticed that the lone pair of hats sitting next to us carried a special message from the universe.

Unlikely Hats
It might look like there are two L’s, but the second one’s definitely an “i”. Clearly, we are meant to be.

And with that, our visit to Hong Kong’s Disneyland was over. There will be more – one-year passes are only about 10% more than one-day passes for students, so we paid the tiny premium for a-la-carte magic.

We took the subway back to Hong Kong, where we had a lovely gourmet Italian meal to celebrate our adventure. We were seated on the terrace and had a lovely view, but the photos did not turn out. More’s the pity.

And so ended our first frenetic, lofty, stomach-churning, culture-observing, photo-snapping week in Hong Kong. Well, a week plus a few days. Returning mid-week means that the numbers need to get fudged somewhere.

Now that we’ve learned about living on mountaintops and fantasy worlds, perhaps we’ll learn a few things about living in Hong Kong in the weeks to come. I’ll keep you posted.