Monday, April 21st, 1997 - Kowloon, Hong Kong

A different side of the territory was revealed today, in culture, however not in weather. It has been very warm and humid here over the last few days, averaging about 24 Celsius and about 96% humidity, yet no rain. We have had to turn on the air conditioning in Raymond's apartment to cool down the main room, which happens to be where I sleep so I am not complaining. Every morning when I get up the bottom of the mattress is wet from the humidity, and, I suppose, my humidity (Mike suggested something about this which I will not repeat at this point).

After finally calling my pen-pal here in Hong Kong, Haley, we arranged to meet her at Admiralty station, at a specific bank. Admiralty is the second last stop on the MTR route and happens to be on Hong Kong island, the MTR actually travels under the harbour very quickly. We could not immediately see this bank outside near the station but found a branch in a mall very close by. We then proceeded to wait for quite a while, ok, an hour and a half, perhaps my tenacity was due to being tired (we had not yet eaten anything). The good thing was that a shop was quite close to where we were waiting that sold Video CDs (VCDs) so we picked up a few titles from there. I suppose I could briefly describe what these are, VCDs are what many movies here in Asia are distributed on, they look like and are the same size as normal CDs in the Americas however, they contain video, the quality is very good but the sound is not quite as good as Laser Disks. The size and cost of these videos is very good, about $68 (HK) ($15 CDN) per VCD title. Additionally, certain titles are very easy to find. Those people with CD-ROM drives for their computers can view VCD disks very easily, explicit VCD players are very hard to find in North America.

Enough of the technical talk…I was very upset about not finding Haley at the bank so we quickly returned to the station to see what was going on, just to check and we found another bank which appeared to be the obvious place she had waited for us, we were at the wrong branch. This did not help my mood.

So, we decided to continue with the original plan which was to visit Ocean Park, which is a local amusement park on the far side of Hong Kong Island (in the Aberdeen area). We purchased a ticket for both the bus and entrance into the park and proceeded to board our bus. I should comment a bit about buses here in Hong Kong, I have experienced many buses in many locations, however, buses (and, come to think of it, all street traffic) are VERY scary here. The drivers drive very fast and move very quickly in the traffic. To have to hold on to your seat is not a good thing to have to do. The driver rapidly proceeded to Ocean Park, through a mountain. It seems that mountains are simply obstacles to conquer not go around in Hong Kong. We passed by the race track in Happy Valley (so named as part of a relatively unsuccessful government housing project), which we hope to visit, through the mountain to appear very close to Ocean Park in Aberdeen.

I had a brief struggle to find my ticket to get into the park (my day already not going exactly as planned, but as Mike pointed out, “At least we got some VCDs”), we were immediately in an area containing a few traditional buildings including various exhibits. At this point, being about noon, we were a bit hungry so we tried the restaurant right there, which was overpriced but the food was acceptable, if bland. Mike was not terribly happy with me but did not, after asking, fail to tell me I was being a pain with my mood. I cheered up a bit after eating, we proceeded to see around the cultural area. The view from that part is quite nice, across the far side of the island towards some smaller islands with a few boats, and into the shipping lanes that converge on the Hong Kong harbour.

Ocean Park

After this, we visited the bird area which had a mesh tent over a portion of trees on the side of the mountain which you entered through a sealed door and mesh sheet. The bird species were quite varied and different than anything I have seen before, many Asian and local birds. We walked through the two enclosures they had then went up the first escalator to the first set of two rides (as this is an amusement park). I should explain that Mike does not like rides very much so after a failed attempt to convince him to travel the log ride they had, we proceeded to the second, third and fourth set of escalators up the mountain to the “higher” part of the park. Probably the most interesting thing to note about the park is precisely this – it wraps itself essentially around two mountains, using various means to connect them.

At the top of the escalator (by the way, being a total of 500-some odd meters in height, second largest in Asia) we wanted to go on a ride that took us to the top of a tour (keeping in mind that we are already on top of a mountain). After waiting for a few minutes, we had to leave due to a problem with the ride. This is just one incident amongst many about this park. This park mostly caters to local people, which of course made it VERY interesting for us to visit. We did see some tourists, but not nearly as many as there were locals. This made the whole park very different than any one of the many I have visited in the past. The quality and ease of use was just not there. A lot of this may have to do with the notable lack of many such parks in the area, so therefore, not much experience. They can possibly get away with less as there is nothing for the visitors to compare it to.

Aberdeen from Ocean Park

After this, we went to visit the sea lions. The interesting and most attractive part about this park was the potential for us to see some local wildlife, this was the first such exhibit we saw. The sea lions did not seem to share our enthusiasm but they did seem to enjoy simply allowing the waves in the pool lap up to them as they laid in the sun.

The view from the top was quite spectacular as we could see on both sides of the mountain. We then intended to go to see a few more exhibits, however, we ended up at the gondolas to the lower portion of the park (on another side of another mountain). After finally figuring out how to get onto the gondola (it was difficult to find the entrance, it was not marked how to get there), we took it to the bottom, this is most likely the longest gondola ride I have ever taken. I have been in the Canadian Rockies on a number of them but none of them were as long as them, never mind the fact that this ran along the side of two different mountains, coming down over the second one.

After the gondola, we visited a Goldfish Pagoda which was quite interesting, with examples of many of the different breeds of goldfish. Then we visited the dinosaur exhibit (where dinosaurs are bred and escape in Ocean Park, a rather obvious, if it is even necessary to mention, play on Jurassic Park, complete with a dinosaur tearing up an electrical fence.

We then visited a butterfly conservatory and I was quite amused to see many of the butterflies attracted immediately to Mike, I think it was his shirt but he disagrees (I could have said his smell, but that would not have been polite), the running joke for the next hour or so would be about the attack of the killer butterfly (most likely by Stephen King) and that any butterflies flying by would immediately be drawn to Mike or at least, change their flight pattern briefly. We then returned to the top of the gondola and to the last set of exhibits.

The shark display was very good, we first entered and an aquarium was visible with many, many different sharks inside, with many items of information available. Shortly after this, a screen came down and a slide show started, narrated in Cantonese. I don't have any problems with that, given that I cannot understand it (nor do I try), however, it does make me feel guilty. I suppose I do understand obvious phrases, but no where near enough. Anyway, this kept our attention only briefly, such narrative in Cantonese is very explicitly (long) and tedious. So, we moved through the rest of the exhibit. We were pleased to find that just down and around the corner, there was a slow moving sidewalk that had a half circle of plexiglass above it through which you could view the sharks in the aquarium. This was quite a sight, seeing Manta Rays, great white sharks and many more VERY close up. We spent a bit of time walking back to see more on the sidewalk. Mike was very interested as was I. This was a very different experience.

Another interesting display we saw next was the reef exhibit, where they discussed the ecology and structure of a reef and then proceeded to show you the reef (literally) with three main layers, top, middle and bottom (essentially). There were a great number of fish in the tank (it was also a massive tank, most likely thirty or so meters deep and about 100 meters across (a circular tank). It was disappointing that much the coral that must have been in place when the exhibit first opened was gone but there were many fishes. We were quite excited to see a few moray eels and tuna. One of the fishes most likely weighted as much as I do, very massive (there were also the obvious joke references to “supper” and “Dim Sum for 40 or so”, etc.).

The last thing we had a chance to do, or rather, I had a chance to do was to try the roller coaster there, the Dragon. I must say that I love roller coasters and I have been on some of the best in the world (for example, the highest, the Desperado on the Nevada/California border), this ride was not that bad but certainly not the best I have been on. It was relatively old and not very well maintained (in addition to being overly noisy). It was a good ride, this one is the second largest coaster in Asia (as the brochures indicate). This was the last thing to do as the park then closed (before dark, yes, 6 PM) so we left to return to the apartment.

After being with Raymond on the MTR, we have both got the hang of it, including a few local rules that are a bit different. The card that he had us buy allows us to travel for $100, the fares being based on how many stations you travel to, how long you travel. From Raymonds to Admiralty is about $12 (HK), this distance is equivalent to 1 or 2 miles, keeping in mind that this is Hong Kong and distance is VERY difficult to cross with any transportation due to the number of people and vehicles.

With the park being on the mountains, we ended up doing a lot of walking and climbing so we were pretty much VERY tired from the whole experience, we returned to the apartment at about 7 PM (neither Raymond nor Avery were home, they do not normally return until about 8 or 9 PM, I don't think they even eat in the apartment, it is far easier and cheaper to eat out). We sat down for a few minutes, enough time for me to apologize profusely to Haley for missing her, arranging to meet her tomorrow for supper, trying to find a place to meet is difficult as I do not know the area all that well, though we are getting better, MTR stations are getting familiar.

We did have trouble getting into the apartment, we had a set of keys that Raymond gave us but we could not figure out how to open the gate that is before his door. Eventually, we had someone in the hallway who was passing open it for us.

We sat for a few minutes, during which Mike was passing out, so we decided it would be better to go out to have something to eat, so we went to a Japanese (sushi house) restaurant that Raymond recommended, which was quite good. But not the best I have had. They messed up our order a bit as they did not really speak English (except for the sushi chef, which turned out for the better as he showed me how to mix my cold noddle sauce which is manually mixed.

After this, I needed a large cool drink, so we visited a McDonalds, again, which did not understand us at all. I did not point out that we tried to find somewhere close to eat but none of the places around this area have any English on their menus, not even pictures to point at.

We then proceeded to the Golden Centre (right beside the Golden Computer Centre), a place VERY notorious for illegal software and hardware. I have known about this place for a few years now, after reading an article about how the place is periodically shut down by various software companies due to the piracy that is rampant there. We found a few things, nothing too serious, we were just looking and they were just closing.

We dropped by a video arcade which are much different than in North America, most have special big screen consoles that are very easy to play. In addition, many of the games do not exist in North America yet. So, it was interesting and a bit of fun.

After returning to the apartment, we all watched a bit of television, a show which Raymond and Ava watch all the time, a Cantonese program where they do all sorts of crazy things. Raymond and I, every night, have sat around after Mike goes to bed and his wife goes to bed, and discuss what to see and do in Hong Kong, never mind about a number of other things, he does not go to bed early, just like me. He is very interesting and he has been very helpful. He has given us the written representation of various food items to order in the neighbourhood, so we can give it to the waiter and point at what we want. He has been very helpful.

It is quite interesting walking around, there is a distinct “futuristic” feel to the place, played out in a favourite Science Fiction film of mine called “Blade Runner”. It is very dark, grungy (not necessarily dirty), crowded and busy, a pessimistic appraisal of the future. Perhaps not as unrealistic as it may seem. I still cannot get over some of the alleys, unlit and barely wide enough for a single person to walk down, not that you would want to, it is pitch black and who knows what is on the ground.

⇒ Continue to Tuesday, April 22nd, 1997 - Kowloon, Hong Kong