One of Hong Kong’s big attractions (rivaling HK Disney!) is a park that combines amazing aquariums, education about threats to the oceans and the conservation of endangered animals with extreme roller coasters … a combination we just couldn’t pass up! Also, as a teacher, I have to say that the chance to visit an amusement park with my family on a weekday during the off-season was pretty enticing. We certainly weren’t the only ones at Ocean Park that day, but crowds and lineups were reasonable. We took the efficient MTR and an express bus to get to the site, and started our day with a visit to the Grand Aquarium. I have said many times that our travels this year (and especially our new skills as certified scuba divers) have opened my eyes to the oceans — their beauty, diversity, and plights. Well, the Grand Aquarium at Ocean Park can have a similar effect, minus the wetsuit and air tank!
In the Asian animals section, we loved the pandas — especially the cute red pandas that are more active and playful than their ‘giant’ cousins.
Of course, we also had to take in some of the rides and, on the recommendation of the grade 4 students in Shea’s class at Chinese International School (where we did our presentation), we made it a priority to ride the “Hair Raiser”.
We didn’t buy the photo that was snapped during the ride, but here’s a pretty good facsimile (courtesy of Kaia).
We got to enjoy some cooler temperatures in the arctic animals pavilion.
The on-site restaurants promoted sustainable seafood choices and they even had available little wallet-sized lists of good/questionable/bad seafood for different locales (compiled by World Wildlife Federation and available online). Given their commitment to the understanding and conservation of ocean species, it was surprising to see that Ocean Park continues to prioritize and promote its controversial dolphin show. It is quite popular and I have to admit that we watched it too. It was clear that these captive dolphins have minds of their own as they continuously refused to do what the trainer was directing them to do! It was the last show of the day and maybe they’d had enough of performing. The Ocean Park animal trainers/vets have also been involved in trying to rehabilitate injured dolphins (most recently a protected Chinese white dolphin that was hit by an outboard motor and eventually had to be euthanized).
Our final stop was the “Shark Mystique” pavilion where we quickly realized we’d saved the best for last. It houses an amazing array of sharks, but more importantly, conveyed a clear and important message about conservation.
A couple of years ago, a movie called “Revolution” played briefly in Ontario cinemas. Cam and I both took groups of students to see it. A young Canadian film maker was researching global threats to marine environments as a follow-up to his previous documentary “Sharkwater”. Central to his findings was the fact that earlier mass extinction episodes have always been preceded by the die-back of ocean coral. Unfortunately, corals are highly vulnerable now due to rising ocean temperatures and acidification. A recent CBC news article makes a comparison between ancient and current acidification events.
The film-maker (Rob Stewart) was especially interested in sharks and included disturbing scenes of shark-finning operations. In the SharkMystique pavilion, there were numerous panels about the unsustainable shark-finning industry that provides the main ingredient of the asian delicacy, shark-fin soup. As someone who has never tasted it, it was easy (and somewhat useless) for me to take the pledge not to eat shark-fin soup in the future. However, with all the Hong Kongers and mainland Chinese visitors to Ocean Park, I couldn’t help but think that the message was well placed. The final room of the exhibit was full of TV screens with young Chinese celebrities explaining (in Mandarin with English subtitles) why they refuse to eat shark-fin soup and asking others to do the same.
Getting to the park’s exit gate involved a cable-car ride across the mountain for which there was a 45-minute line up!
When we got to the front of the line, we were irritated to see most cars leaving with only 2 passengers when they could accommodate 6! We tried to explain to the overtired attendant that if he filled the cars, the line-up would only last 15 minutes. He said that “people want their personal space”. For a society that can pack themselves like sardines into the MTR trains and live in tiny apartments in 50-storey buildings in a concrete jungle, I was a bit surprised to hear that personal space was a priority! But, I guess a day at an amusement park should allow you to escape your everyday routine.
Thank you, Ocean Park, for doing such a great job of combining fun and education !
This post is about one of the most technologically advanced cities in the world, but the post has had some major technological difficulties. This is take 2 of a post I worked SO hard on for many many hours. I had one more picture to add before finishing, but one unfortunate click on a glitchy app… poof! Completely gone. Ugh! Damn you WordPress app for not having an undo button! So, here goes take 2 😦
Welcome to Hong Kong! Krista came to pick us up at the airport. It was really great to see someone we knew! Our first experience in the city was watching a very bad driver trying to back into the space beside us, and Krista was glad that that experience was an authentic one. Apparently, that is not an uncommon sight.
A lot of people think of Hong Kong as a big city on a tiny island, but really it’s made up of over 300 islands and a chunk of mainland. And, a big part of that area is covered not by city, but by mountains and forest. Believe it or not, but there’s some great hiking in Hong Kong!
Hong Kong was a part of China for a very long time, but when China lost a war to Great Britain in 1842, Hong Kong island was given away as a colony to the UK. China then kept losing wars, so the UK acquired Kowloon in 1860 and the rest (New Territories) in 1898. The agreement was to give the land back to China in 1997. China agreed on “one country, two systems”, meaning that Hong Kong would be part of their country, but it would be capitalist and semi-democratic unlike the communist mainland. Sounds complicated to me!
Hongkongers (a.k.a. Honkies) considered themselves very fortunate because they were a part of Great Britain, but also they liked to differentiate themselves from mainland Chinese (same way that us Canadians like to differentiate ourselves from Americans, I guess… I don’t mean any offense to our American readers!). During the years approaching the 1997 Handover, Honkies were afraid of what would happen. Many immigrated to the UK, Canada, Australia or anywhere they could get to. Now, almost 20 years later, they are moving back home because they have realized that their city is thriving. Hong Kong Population: 7 million Area: 1104 sq km Currency: Hong Kong Dollar (HKD). Exchange rate: $1 CAD = $6 HKD Languages: Mandarin (official language of China), Cantonese (local dialect), English (from the British influence). Drives on the: Left
When we arrived back at the Garvie’s place, we saw Shivahn and Shea, who we had seen a few summers earlier in Ontario. We were happy to be able to spend time with other kids who speak English! I was so excited to see two steamin’ hot lasagnas that their Filipino helper Caren prepared. But I was even more excited to see steamed broccoli. In Indonesia and the Philippines, the food is greasy, salty and over-mayonaised. When we did find veggies, they were almost always fried in way too much oil. I was never so excited about broccoli!
We slept so soundly. No music blasting, no cars honking close by, no roosters crowing, no ladyboy concerts… when was the last time we had all that?!
Hong Kong day 1
Krista drove us over to Hong Kong island and came with us to the Wan Chai computer center. Our electronic devices were dying. Certain cables wouldn’t charge certain devices, our Bluetooth keyboard for blogging had died, and our tablet’s battery was useless. It always had to be plugged into a power source, on or off. If it wasn’t, it would die in the span of 10 to 30 seconds and then sometimes take hours to turn back on again. My dad looked for new batteries everywhere we went, but he didn’t find any. So he asked Mark well in advance to find one in HK. He found one from a store in the Wan Chai computer, so we went there first and left the tablet with them. Then we went to run some other errands there: we got new charging cables, a Bluetooth keyboard, and Jake bought a phone. But best of all was the tablet. When we went back to the first shop to pick it up, we were all beaming. Gone are the days of having it plugged into a battery pack at all times! Rejoice for the electronic gods have given us salvation!
The Wan Chai computer center is amazing and overwhelming. It is a two-story indoor market filled with dozens of little stalls/shops selling everything from laptops to cameras to cables to phone cases to TVs and movies… you get the picture. There are screens everywhere you look advertising GoPros or phones or I don’t even know – I got hypnotized after a while. It was cool to see the Wan Chai computer center for an hour, but I’m not sure if I would want to work there full time.
Then, we had another very Hong Kong experience: eating noodle soup with wontons in a local restaurant. These restaurants are small and cramped, and they pack as many people as possible into each table. Krista said to always go to one with a lineup because then you know that it has to be good. So, we waited in line for a short time then ordered the classic southern Chinese dish: noodle soup with wontons.
I was never very good with chopsticks. At home, we rarely eat Chinese, but when we do, they always give us the option to use a fork and knife. But in HK, I knew that I had to learn because fork and knife wouldn’t be an option! I watched the woman beside me for a minute, then I tried myself. I was having trouble at first, and the woman beside me looked over and said “So… this is your first time to Hong Kong?”. I guess it was pretty obvious! But I quickly improved and ate the yummy food. When we finished, the waitress ushered us out to make room for people who were waiting in line. I’ve got to say… that felt like a true Hong Kong experience. Then, we walked a little bit through the market.
Krista said that our Hong Kong experience would not be complete without a ride on the Tram (double-decker streetcar, form of public transit). One came along, so we hopped on.
After we got off, we walked to the cable car station to ride up to the Summit. The summit is a very high point on Hong Kong island where you can see a great view of the city. The cable car was pretty touristy, but apparently some people use it for commuting as well.
When we got to the top, WOW! I quickly realized that this was the biggest city I had even been in.
After descending from the Summit, Krista realized that she had to get home. But, she gave us a to-do list of more things we had to do before going back to their place:
1. Take the Star Ferry across the harbour over to the Kowloon side of town;
2. Walk along the Avenue of Stars (waterfront path with the names of famous Chinese actors written on the stones, including Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee);
3. Walk around Kowloon and be offered a “copy watch” by vendors (a fake brand-name watch), and
4. Take the MTR (Mass Transit Railway, underground train) and a minibus back to their place.
Off we went…
We got back to their place very late that night, but ate dinner after we got back. What a full day!
Hong Kong day 2
Happy birthday to me! My 14th birthday started with a long Skype conversation with my best friend Francesca Bravo back in Peterborough. It was really fun to see her!
Then, Krista took us to the neighourhood of Stanley on Hong Kong island. It’s where they used to live, but it started getting very touristy and expensive so they decided to leave. It has a big “stuff” market with souvenirs and toys and random things. There’s also a nice waterfront and lots of restaurants.
Then Krista brought us to their favourite Chinese restaurant for lunch. We couldn’t read the menu, but she knew what the best dishes were and ordered us lemon chicken and some other things I can’t remember. It was delicious! After lunch, we left Stanley and drove to Shivahn and Shea’s school, the Chinese International School (CIS). We had scheduled a presentation for Shea’s class, year 5 (equivalent of Canada’s grade 4). We pretty much reused our Bali Green School presentation but simplified it a bit for a younger audience and customized it for Hong Kong. Our USB key didn’t work on the school computer, though, so we had to show the slides on the little tablet screen. It’s too bad because some of those pictures were really good, and I don’t think that the tablet had the same effect.
The kids were very bright and had good questions for us. After the presentation, we picked up Shea and drove to a place called Ryze. Ryze (like “Rise”) is a big room filled with trampolines and foam pits to practice doing flips and stuff. Shea is really into parkour so he goes there pretty often. It was so much fun!
After an hour of jumping, we left Ryze and Krista brought us to the neighbourhood of Tseung Kwan O. Development in Hong Kong is almost all 50+ storey buildings, but they don’t just build one at a time here and there. They build in big groups or “villages”, which include sports complexes, malls, greenspace, schools and an MTR station.
Tseung Kwan O was really an amazing sight. Typical Honkies live in tiny flats in huge skyscrapers. The flats in Tseung Kwan O are considered luxurious. I think that building up is awesome because it prevents urban sprawl/suburbia, leaving greenspace. No wonder there’s good hiking in Hong Kong – because they build highrises instead of suburbs! Although, I’m not sure if I would want to live 50 stories of the ground!
When we got back to the Garvie’s place, I was glad that we didn’t have to take an elevator, because they live on the 2nd and 3rd floors of a 3 storey building. That night, my dad went to Mark’s hockey game, and the rest of us stayed home and had cake. That was definitely one of my more memorable birthdays!
Hong Kong day 3
Our third day in Hong Kong was spent at the Ocean Park amusement park. We heard that there was great educational stuff there, and also lots of environmental initiatives. So, we thought we should go to it! We’re actually going to leave Ocean Park to a separate post, so instead I’ll talk about how we got there: the MTR.
As I said earlier, MTR stands for Mass Transit Railway, and it’s what in Canada we would call a subway. It’s probably the best public transit system we’ve ever seen. It impressed us with it’s efficiency. It’s really well thought out – everything from the ticket machines and the turnstiles to the transfer stations and the trains themselves.
You can reach a lot of places on the MTR. There’s an airport express line (now there’s an idea for Toronto!), a separate little line to HK Disneyland, and they are building a line to go straight to Ocean Park (we had to take a bus too). I’ll add a map to give you an idea.
We were all really impressed with the MTR network. Keep it up, Hong Kong!
We arrived back late that night after a very fun day at Ocean Park. Stay tuned for the next post! PS- We didn’t see it, but we heard of a new form of transportation in Hong Kong: covered outdoor escalators! They’re in an area called Mid-levels (half way up the mountain), built on a steep slope. People were hesitant to walk anywhere because of the steepness, so they built escalators!
Hong Kong day 4
We took it easy in the morning. We read, blogged and did some research about Nepal. My mom and Krista went to the post office to send home a package of stuff that we’ve accumulated and things we knew we wouldn’t be needing for the rest of the trip. And they weighed the package… 12kg! That’s the weight of my pack, to give you an idea. It was pretty exciting – our packs were lighter for a short while, but we keep buying more Nepali clothing so they weren’t light for long!
When we finally did get going, we headed to the Big Buddha statue with Krista. First, we took the MTR to Lantau island to a cable car station. Then, we took the cable car up the hill.
The ride up took about 45 minutes. Then we walked up to the Big Buddha.
Then we went to the monastery. It attracts Buddhist pilgrims from from all over Asia.
We ate a bit more Chinese food before heading back home. We first took a bus to a harbour, then a ferry to Kowloon, and finally a very frustrating taxi ride with a driver who preferred pumping the gas pedal over keeping it steady. Jake was not felling well by the end of it. I think we all had whiplash. Krista said that there are some of the drivers are like that, and she normally just gets out of the taxi if they’re really bad. We all regretted not doing that!
Hong Kong day 5
This day started slowly. We just chilled out. In the afternoon, we went for a walk with Mark to a nearby university. They had a really good view. Then we ate some Starbucks before Krista picked us up in the car. She drove us to the nearby neighbourhood of Sai Kung. We saw some cool fish markets and people flying awesome kites.
That evening, the parents went out for dinner and us kids went to see the movie Insurgent. The movie was really good, and my dad talked about their dinner in the earlier HK post.
Hong Kong day 6
Well… the days just keep getting more and more relaxed. Mark and Krista took Shivahn to her rugby awards ceremony, and she won player of the year! We did nothing other that plan for Nepal. At about 5PM, we said our goodbyes and Mark drove us to the airport. Our flights leaving Hong Kong were absolutely awful: a 7 hour layover in Mumbai in the middle of the night before going on to Kathmandu, Nepal.
Hong Kong was awesome. Krista was such a good tour guide for one of the most iconic cities in the world. But also, we had a very nice, clean, and comfortable place to relax, recharge our metaphoric batteries (or replace our real ones?), and get ready for the final 3 months of our trip. Off to Nepal! Kaia
We’re now back in Pokhara, Nepal after 10 days out on the Annapurna Base Camp (“Sanctuary”) trek. Wow! It will be hard to choose the photos for that blog entry!
Mark Garvie was a good buddy of mine back in my University of Waterloo Systems Design Engineering days. He is a Sarnia boy with a booming voice, thunderous laugh, great smile, big heart, and very flexible right arm that allows him to imbibe alcohol at rates that would tear lesser folks’ elbow tendons. We were athletic colleagues too, on the class “boatracing” team. If you don’t know what engineering society boatracing is, I’ll leave it to you to look it up on google. But Mark was our very valued anchor man that helped take us to many final matches. Mark never lost this “athletic” prowess as the years progressed after graduation, and this was made clear to me when we visited the Garvie family in Hong Kong.
Mark married university sweetheart Krista Bulman from Brighton, ON and not long after (1997) opened an Asia office in Hong Kong for IT consulting firm Cap Gemini. Soon after they began building their family with Fenton, Shivahn and Shea who are now 15, 13 and 10. The family has been there long enough now to be officially known as “Honkies”.
Mark and Krista would often come back for Christmas and/or summer and our UWaterloo gang would get together.
Mark and Krista bought Krista’s grandmother’s farm near Brighton and now use it as their base for summer visiting. Krista and kids come for the whole summer, Mark for one month. We’ve enjoyed visiting them in such close proximity, and have so often remarked that we’d never seen their Hong Kong digs. It was because they are there that we put Hong Kong on our itinerary this year.
Mark moved on from Cap Gemini to open a Hong Kong office of an “off the shelf” legal products company (Legal Studio) then opened the Asia office of the French company Oberthur, which puts security electronic chips in bank/credit cards and any other place that makes sense. He’s a busy guy traveling, with offices in Philippines, China, India, Australia and Indonesia reporting to him. But fortunately for us, he was around during our week-long visit.
Krista runs her own “Stretch and Grow” business where she or her employees conduct on-the-spot fitness/movement classes for primary schools. She is also the family investment specialist and has made some savvy choices in residence location.
The Garvie kids all attend HK’s Chinese International School. Their classmates are a mix of Asians, Asian-Canadian/Americans and a few with both parents from abroad. Most of the school’s grade 9 year goes to a sister facility some distance away in mainland China for the year – that’s where Fenton is this year. All three kids are fluent in written and spoken Mandarin (and can get by nicely in HK Cantonese), which REALLY impressed us, given the completely different sounds and alphabet involved.
All three kids are up to their eyeballs in sports, which also partially surprised me. Fenton plays hockey at a high level, Shea plays on two teams – one as a goalie and one as a skater. They play softball and basketball and Shea is REALLY into parkour (very cool emerging sport … look it up). Shivahn won player of the year on her rugby team (awarded while we were there) and plays netball and soccer. The sports fields/rinks are scattered over HK, so you can imagine how busy Mark and Krista are with shuttling.
The Garvies took amazing care of us. Krista met us at the airport on the very far side of HK and was our tour guide extraordinaire all week. – Kaia will share some of our HK touring highlights in an upcoming entry. Krista’s 18 yrs in HK give her a great perspective on culture, economics and in particular the changes unfolding in Hong Kong since the changeover to Chinese control in 1997. Krista and their live-in Filipino helper Caren kept us fed with food we’d been craving all year; lasagna, smoked salmon, tacos, curry, good cereal, bacon and eggs, and fresh green salads of all sorts. Mark handed me a Molson Canadian beer upon arrival, took me to his hockey game, fed me beer & whiskey all week, and told many stories of HK and Asian life in general.
Mark and Krista used to live beside the ocean in the HK town of Stanley but 6 years ago moved to near Sai Kung and live high up on Razor Hill. They have a 1.5 storey flat with a fantastic terrace that gives views to the city and up to the mountain. But we visited during the cloudy month of the year and only twice during our stay could we see more than 100m from their place due to the cloud/mist (and smog?).
I was happy to head to Mark’s weekly hockey game on Wednesday night. There are a half-dozen rinks in HK – Mark plays on the rink on the 10th floor of the MegaBox office/shopping complex. Taking an elevator up 10 floors to a rink is a new experience for me.
Like me, Mark started playing hockey only 4 years ago. But anyone who knows Mark knows he is a fierce competitor (I told you about boatracing already). The Huskies needed a win that night to advance to the playoffs, and the team was a bit tense before the game. There are announcers for the league, and the very first announcement during the game was “Huskies first goal, scored by number 9, Mark Garvie” !! Mark lobbed a high shot that bounced off the goalie’s neck and into the net. Atta boy, Mark! Huskies won 4-2, so the atmosphere around the post game beer in the stands was pretty euphoric. The Huskies are best known for their post-game performances (read “drinking”) and other teams’ players joined us. We drank through the next two games as Mark and buddies recounted the nuances of their victory, we watched them cover the rink for the night (keep in mind it is 25-30 degC in HK) and ended up finishing the beer on the sidewalk in front of the complex after it had closed. It was fun to connect with various Canadians who had transported their lives and families to HK. A few were teaching at International schools, there was a pilot and several other business folks.
Mark and Krista have invested (as partners among others) in a couple of food/drink enterprises and they took us out for dinner/drinks and dancing the last night while the four kids went to a movie and had pizza. Mark was turning 50 in a couple week’s time and apparently is very hard to surprise, so Krista organized a birthday do well in advance, and to coincide with our visit. Their “Shores” restaurant is downtown HK on the 3rd floor and we started with drinks on the terrace. Even though we’d been there for a week already, I was still gawking at the crazy high towers rising at every point around me. We then moved inside for dinner, and what a dinner it was! Yvonne noted in her International Water Day blog entry that meat (especially beef) takes vast quantities of water to produce. But Shores specializes in steak. The manager is Canadian and the beef is from Alberta – really! So we set aside all “sustainability” thoughts for the evening and split two cuts between the four of us. The entire meal was without a doubt our best meal of the trip so far, and the Tomahawk steak (that’s actually what it’s called on the menu … see photo below if you’re not sure why) was the best piece of meat I have ever tasted. Thanks for dinner, M&K!
Krista had timed things perfectly so that when we returned to the patio for more drinks there was a cadre of Mark’s friends awaiting with a big hoot of “surprise”! And he was. I recognized a few from the hockey team and met many other fascinating types doing all sorts of things, including transplanted Canadian, Mark Daly, who runs a legal firm that specializes in Human Rights. He handles some of the most high profile cases where citizens had been prosecuted for standing up for democratic rights against the new HK (mainland China) government. He actually now fears travel to mainland China because of the cases he has worked on.
From the party at Shores we walked down to the main nightlife street where Mark and Krista’s Typhoon bar was located. It was a Saturday night and at 1:30AM the bars were still hopping.
We closed their place down then walked a few blocks to find the night scene still in FULL swing. At one dance bar one live band finished up and another came on to start their set … at 3:30AM! Mark is known to keep his Canadian guests out till breakfast but Krista kept us all in line and had us home for 4:30 or so … which for Yvonne and me was about 8 hrs later than our usual travel routine of 8PM (with uncomfortable beds, overheating and lots of very early morning noise you have to log more hours).
Mark drove us to the airport for our Kathmandu flight.
Hong Kong had been a wonderful contrast to our experiences in rural Indonesia and Philippines. But I can’t imagine visiting HK as a tourist arriving “cold” from the airport. It is a complex, vast, fast moving and at times expensive place. Thanks Mark and Krista for being such great hosts, and thanks Shivahn and Shea for giving Kaia and Jake a chance to get away from their parents for a few hours!