Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Hong Kong: Ocean Park

Ocean Park, located in Aberdeen on the south of Hong Kong island, is a strange theme park / aquarium that's been around since the late 1970's. While it's no Six Flags or Disneyland, it does have a strange charm, and stunning views of the China sea. It's aquarium "atole" tank is one of (if not the) largest in the world, filled with GIANT rays, groupers, sharks, eels, tuna, and assorted sea life. The park even has mascots, though the character designs are a bit odd -- a sea lion and a... fairy?

Getting up to the park from the bus drop off consists of 5 slow-moving covered outdoor escalators with cool air and audio greetings in different languages. On the sides are news clips showing the park's historical milestones. Some of the rides are available at the earlier mountain levels, but most are all the way at the top, and others are reachable by the harrowing gondola Sky Ride that connects the two park sections. The only ride I tried (other than the Sky Ride) was the typical log-splash ride, very refreshing in the 100F heat.

Just when you think you might be in some less popular American park, you go to one of the refreshment stands -- reminding you immediately that you are in Asia -- duck legs, octopus balls, soba noodles, dried squid and unfamiliar tea drinks are on the menu along with Coke. Few American foods.

This is not a flat park, and it does require a lot of walking, which feels more difficult due to the heat (in June particularly). I saw a pair of plus-size women (American or British perhaps) who appeared to be having difficulty. Fortunately, my personal training sessions the month before really came in handy here and the rest of the trip. All the insides of the buildings (like most in Hong Kong I visited) have magnficent air conditioners.

Main entrance, before you go around to ascend the escalators:

The Sky Ride: Two cars going in two directions moving peacefully along the mountain, with views of the bay and China Sea.

It's a bit like riding a Christmas ornament, no?

The dolphin & sea lion show (more photos pending) was amusing. Wasn't certain if the marine mammals understood English, Chinese or both, given that England owned Hong Kong for so long and now it was back under Chinese rule. I was surprised to see the opening act, a Caribbean band consisting of one American and two guys who might have been South American (but definitely not Asian).

Sunset over Aberdeen:

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posted by Brian at 10:40 PM 0 comments links to this post

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Hong Kong: The Peak

Victoria Peak (or "The Peak") is this amazingly high mountain reachable by tram that has an air-conditioned mall/observation deck shaped like an Imperial Star Wars vehicle on top, surrounded by beautiful hiking paths, giant man-eating rubber trees, and views of the China Sea. It was clear within minutes of arival that I should spend the entire day and evening there.

Inside the observation deck is a multi-floor mall of souvenir shops, coffee shops (including one that has snagged the best corner glass window looking out onto the skyscrapers below), restaurants, an Internet café, and most importantly, the BEST AIR CONDITIONER IN THE WORLD!

(Ok, I have no idea if it really is, but when you've just traversed blocks worth of 100+ F humid sweaty Communist heat, the shear intensity of commercial coldness enveloping you like an ice pack of Capitalism feels oh so good.)

Nearby, there are hiking trails leading around the top and down to the bottom of the other side (which view Aberdeen and the China Sea). Even though it was hot, the beauty of it all and overpriced caffeine kept me trudging sweatily forward. And I knew that once around again, there'd be that oh-so-nice blast of freezing air. Along the path in parts, mysterious driveways to presumably hidden mansions or resort hotels, some with "for lease" signs. (If I remember correctly, it was $28,000 Hong Kong dollars a month for one of them -- a mere $3,500? Wow! It was $8000 a month for a small place on Telegraph Hill, San Francisco during the height of the Dot.com boom. Maybe one of the man-eating rubber trees has diminished its value.)

Not knowing really where else to see in Hong Kong, I waited until the sun set, as more and more locals and tourists arrived by tram to take snapshots of the city. I heard more English spoken around me than in I had in weeks. Hong Kong at night is gorgeous -- not quite as sci-fi as Shanghai (the buildings being older) but still having animated lighting.

Up next: Forget Hong Kong Disneyland. Ocean Park is the place to be!

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posted by Brian at 12:18 PM 0 comments links to this post

Hong Kong Overview

Hong Kong was an unplanned stop. Had intended to go there, but with my girlfriend and some planning. Unfortunately, my her project got extended and we decided it best I go off by myself. No matter, I had my Lonely PLanet book along with me and Hong Kong should be (so I thought) filled with English speaking people.

After securing a hotel via the train station agency, I got some dim sum and walked around:

Hong Kong is like the San Francisco Bay with a much larger Chinatown. Now, add way more skyscrapers. No, more! Keep adding them. Then, make one of the mountain peaks WAY higher than the others, even taller than those skyscrapers. Make Angel Island and Alcatraz a lot bigger. Cover them with skyscrapers too. Go on, do it. Get rid of the Golden Gate Bridge, and crank the temperature and humidity WAY up. Put an amusement park high up on one of the mountains. No wait, spread it out over two and put a gondola between them.

Good, there you go:

Up next, views from "The Peak!"

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posted by Brian at 11:54 AM 0 comments links to this post