Sunday, February 27, 2011
It has been a while since I last visited Disney's original theme park, 6 years to be exact. A conference I regularly attend is being held at the Anaheim Hilton, right across the street from The Happiest Place on Earth. Since I'll be so close, how could I not stop by to pay it a visit?
My travel day hasn't exactly gotten off to a great start. I woke up at 3am to catch an early morning flight, only to discover upon arrival at the airport that my connecting flight had been cancelled. The airline has re-routed me through Atlanta, getting me into LAX a few hours later than originally scheduled. I can't really complain, though - they squeezed me into First Class!
To pass the time on my flights, I decided to try to come up with a list of must-see attractions:
- Finding Nemo submarines - I am looking forward to seeing the cool animated special effects.
- Monsters Inc - I never got to see the original ride that this one replaced, hopefully I'll get to catch this one.
- World of Color - I have read nothing but great things about this new nighttime show in DCA.
- Captain EO - I haven't seen this show since the 90's. It's kind of neat that Disneyland has brought this back.
- Tiki Room - I know, this is an oldie, but I haven't seen the original in quite a long time. (It was being refurbished when I visited in 2005).
- Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln - another oldie, but one that I have never seen.
I'm taking a few days after the conference has ended in order to be able to fully enjoy the parks. Stay tuned, hopefully I will find some time to post my experiences.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone
Sunday, December 12, 2010
I could see the familiar Walmart sign from the exit of the Zhi Chun Lu subway station, so I set off to do some good old American shopping. The sign was clearly visible, but it took me three tries to get to the actual store. My first try landed me in a dead end alley, good thing it was broad daylight. My second try brought me to railroad tracks and a barb wire fence that I wasn't even going to try to cross. I headed back to the subway station, to the sidewalk along the road, and worked my way under the tracks and around, making it to the entrance of the store on my third try.
I could start to see differences immediately between this store and the ones at home. The entrance was comparatively small. No huge bank of automatic glass doors; this store had a couple of large openings that were covered with thick heavy curtains that you had to force your way through to get inside (kind of like getting on a crowded subway here). I guess this worked well as an insulator against the weather, but I was glad I would never have to try to push a shopping cart through it.
The inside did not look at all like what I was used to at home. Maybe it was a combination of the lighting and the no-frills displays, or maybe it was the armed guards carrying rifles. This place felt more like a warehouse store than a Walmart. The flooring and display cases looked, not dirty, but worn. I bet this place sees quite a bit of foot traffic. The first floor was electronics and entertainment, lots of CDs, DVDs, TVs, appliances, etc.. I did see some familiar brands like Panasonic, Philips, Citizen, Disney, but there were also others that I'd never heard of before. I saw lots of familiar movie titles among the DVDs. In the CD section, I expected to see familiar recording artists like Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga. There were also names that surprised me, Like Kenny G and Richard Clayderman. Who knew they'd be so popular in China?
Since I was on a mission to find a new hat, I decided to head upstairs to see what was there. To get to the second floor, you had to ride a long, sloped, moving sidewalk, intended for people with grocery carts to be able to move easily from level to level. The second floor consisted of Health and Beauty Aids, Clothing, and Household Goods. The HBA area looked more familiar, there were a few brand name make-up counters and skin care displays. The clothes, however, again had that warehouse look. No large signs advertising specific brands or sale pricing, just rack after rack of shirts, pants, coats, underwear, socks, shoes.
It took me a few minutes, but I was able to locate the winter hats. Now I just had to pick one. I wanted something to match the coat I was wearing, and finally settled on a gray knit cap. Only problem was, it had an unfamiliar brand name very visibly embroidered on it, "huakangtai". I had no idea if this was a good brand or a bad brand. What if wearing this on the street attracted attention and harassment, like the JCPenney Plain Pocket Jeans of my youth? There didn't seem to be many other options, so I decided to take my chances. I also bought a pair of knit gloves that left the fingers exposed, I figured that might come in handy for cold weather photography.
Seeing the HBA section reminded me that I also wanted to look for underarm deodorant. How many of you know exactly how long a stick of deodorant or tube of toothpaste lasts? I sure don't keep track of such things. When I packed for this 5-week trip back in Pougkeepsie, I had to guess as to what quantities to take. I had decided on taking only one brand new stick of deodorant, that surely would be enough. However, I noticed this weekend that it was already feeling a bit light, and I thought it would be a good idea to locate some more just in case I got close to running out.
I was unable to find any deodorant for sale in this Walmart at all. Honest. I looked through the HBA aisles 3 times. I saw lots of familiar products: shampoo, conditioner, lotion, band aids, OTC medications, pretty much everything you'd expect to find in the HBA section. Except deodorant. And you can thank me for perpetuating the pervy American stereotype - I spent an embarrassingly long time in front of a wall of small boxes, trying to figure out if they were what I was looking for, only to realize with horror that I had been staring at a condom display. I considered asking for help, but I don't know how to say "deodorant" in Chinese (nor any other word, for that matter). The thought of having to pantomime the application of deodorant under my armpits to a sales clerk was too much to deal with on my first solo outing. I decided to take my chances with what I had. (Note that I am not trying to poke fun at the local people with this story - I have not once detected any offensive body odor during my stay. I just do not understand why deodorant is not available. Is it possible that the vast majority do not need it? Ancient Chinese secret?)
I decided to go back to the first floor and do some more exploring there. I headed back to where I arrived on the second floor, unpurchased hat and gloves in hand. A girl there waved me away, pointing me in another direction and telling me something important that I had no chance of understanding. I decided she was telling me that I have to buy my merchandise on this floor, so I headed over to a register and payed. Y38 (about $6) for a hat and gloves, not bad. I headed back to the floor entrance, only to be waved off by the same girl again. What the...? Looking around, I realized why she was waving me away: you can only go up on this side of the moving sidewalk. But where is the down sidewalk? Since there were no signs (that I could read), I had to wander around the store for a while before I found it. It was located on the completely opposite side of the store. These people really like to walk.
This was a Walmart Supercenter, so it had groceries as well. I remember receiving an e-mail a while back with photos that were supposedly taken in a Chinese Walmart. These showed some pretty strange food items, like octopus tentacles and whole alligator. I figured that these items were too odd for Walmart, and that the photos were likely taken elsewhere as an attempt at sensationalism. After seeing this Walmart's grocery floor, I'm not so sure now. There were lots of very familiar looking sections, like the bakery, fresh fruits and vegetables, dried goods. The meat section, however, was where the most differences could be seen. Some of the meat on display would fit right in at a US Walmart. Others, like the chicken feet, pig's feet, pig's snout, you'd be more hard-pressed to find at home. There was a section of hanging cured meats that had no plastic protection over them, including some flattened smoked duck with the heads still attached. (I could not help but utter a dismayed "aw" at those poor ducks.) Raw meats such as chicken parts and pork were out on display and were self-service. Shoppers put plastic bags over their hands and used them as gloves as they picked through legs and thighs and wings and slabs of ribs. There was a live food section, which consisted mostly of turtles and fish. These were also help-yourself items. It was quite comical to watch the customers chasing an unwilling fish with a net and getting splashed in the process.
I made a mental note of some of the snacks that were available in the dried goods section for a future shopping trip, and decided to head back to my hotel room. I spent the rest of the day looking at my trip photos, catching up on US news, and reviewing my work materials so that I'd be ready for Monday. My vacation was definitely over.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
We spent about a half hour wandering around the iconic Bird's Nest and the Water Cube buildings. There were tours that went into these buildings that we really wanted to try, but we were running late and still had a lot that we wanted to do, so we were content to just take some photos. It was very cold here, especially when the wind was blowing. I was happy I packed a pair of winter underwear.
Next up was the Great Wall. Daniel had learned that there is a city bus, the 919, that goes directly to a part of the Great Wall located at Badaling, and was more convenient (and much cheaper) than other transportation options. (When I told my co-workers that we used this bus, they seemed impressed - that was what the locals used to get to there.) We took a taxi ride to the start of the route, and were able to get on a bus right as it was about to leave. There were two seats left on the bus, but the seat configuration was 3 and 2 across, rather than 2 and 2. These seats were designed for slim Asians, not a larger Caucasian. I spent the entire hour+ ride with my butt hanging off of the edge the seat, not very comfortable at all. I shouldn't complain, though - Daniel and the third person were really crammed into their seats by the rest of me.
We arrived at our destination at 1:30pm, and got in line to purchase tickets. We were given two tickets each, and we had no idea exactly what we had bought. The tour guide that was on the bus with us seemed concerned that we did not have enough time to see everything, and pushed for us to head up the hill, recommending that we only climb as far as the 8th Watchtower, wherever that was. We crossed the street and wandered through the Dong Fang Bear park, complete with some breed of bears on display, We climbed up a hill and eventually came to a gate where one of our tickets were taken, and we were let inside.
We saw signs pointing the way to "slide cars", and realized that was likely what our second ticket was for. We handed them to an attendant, and headed through a queue to a metal track with a bunch of single-seat cars. We climbed into the cars, a shoulder harness was pulled over our heads, and the cars started moving up the hill along some sort of lift chain. I was getting a little nervous because this was starting to look like it could be a thrill ride, and with my heavy winter jacket and camera bag, I was having difficulties in locking down the shoulder harness. The ride operator had not done this; this was definitely not Walt Disney World. Thankfully the harness was not even necessary, the ride moved slowly and we stopped and got out at the top of the ride.
The cars put us at the bottom of a section of the Great Wall. We climbed up some steps and were soon walking on the Wall itself. This part of the Wall had been heavily renovated a while back, but still it was amazing thinking that someone had designed and built a version of this hundreds of years ago, imagining the amount of time and sweat that went into its construction.
We took our time walking up the Wall, stopping to take photos and to gaze over the hazy valleys. Many people were doing the same on this sunny but cold day. It took us about an hour or so, but we managed to make it up to the 8th Watchtower, the highest point of this part of the wall some 800 meters above sea level. (Many thanks to my walking partner Erin back in Poughkeepsie (hope you're still reading) for making sure I wouldn't be huffing and puffing by the time I reached the top!) There were a lot of people crowded in at this point, trying to get a photo of themselves. We managed to take a few photos ourselves, and then something strange happened - a couple of giggling Chinese girls asked me if I would mind having my photo taken with them. I've heard of this happening to other people visiting foreign lands, but never thought I'd ever look exotic enough for it to happen to me. I gladly complied, and still smile when I think that my face may be gracing the pages of a stranger's vacation album. (Here's hoping they haven't captioned it with "Some stupid, fat, ugly American that we wanted to throw off the Wall.")
It was time for us to start heading down again - we were told the last 919 bus left Badaling at 4pm, and that we should get back to the bus stop by 3:30pm in order to be guaranteed a seat. The last part of the trip down involved another ride on the slide cars. I thought maybe they'd let us slide down individually, adding a thrilling end to the visit, but no such luck. The cars slid down the mountain in batches, led by a brake car that kept us from going too fast.
After the ride, we spent some time wandering through the tourist traps at the bottom of the Wall, looking for some souvenirs. We took more time than we should have, arriving at the bus stop about 3:45pm to a bit of chaos. There was one bus parked there, completely full, and a bunch of mostly Chinese tourists crowded around the doors. Daniel did his best to try to understand what was going on. Nearest he could tell, there was one more bus on its way, arriving at 4:30pm, but it was not clear whether there would be room for all of us. We ran into another Caucasian, a guy from Toronto who had been traveling Asia solo. We told him what we knew, talked a bit about what other transportation alternatives we had (Train? Taxi? We didn't know where to find them) and then waited to see what would happen. A representative for the bus system came out and made a statement, all in Mandarin. The only thing that Daniel got out of it was "get in a line," so we did that. As luck would have it, we were near some college students who spoke English, and one of them was able to explain to us and our new Canadian friend what the representative had said. There was an empty bus arriving before 4:30pm, so it sounded like we had seats after all. The bus arrived shortly after, we all piled on (this time we had seats that fit my entire butt), and took off for Beijing.
We got back to Beijing about 5:30pm. There were still two items on our agenda: food and an acrobat show. Daniel had a restaurant in mind, but we didn't have reservations, so we took a taxi there to see if we could quickly get a table and eat. The taxi dropped us off at the right address (near a pair of buildings referred to as the Gemini or Twin Towers), but it took us a bit of wandering to locate the actual restaurant. We would have to wait for a table there, and we wouldn't have enough time to eat before the acrobat show. We decided to see the show and then come back to the restaurant to eat. Back in a cab, this time headed to the show. We arrived at the show theater, bought tickets, grabbed a couple of sausages at the snack bar and then found some seats. We spent the time waiting for the show to start by listening to the adventures of a very funny couple from New Zealand that we had sat next to. One of the things they described was their difficulties getting a taxi in Beijing - when they tried to wave one down, the driver would slow, see that they were not Chinese, and speed up and drive past them. Any time they needed a taxi, they had to find the nearest hotel and have the doorman tell the driver where they were headed.
The show we watched was called "Legend of Jinsha." There seemed to be some sort of loose plot, but I wasn't able to figure out what it was. The show consisted of a variety Chinese acrobatic and juggling acts, but instead of traditional music, it was set to a more modern jazzy soundtrack. The acts were good but not quite polished, and weren't anything I hadn't seen before. There were a couple of neat twists, like the pin jugglers - the pins they used were lighted, and the lights changed color in patterns. It looked to me like the lighting may have been controlled wirelessly. The finale involved motorcycles riding in a giant steel ball. I've seen this before on TV, but it was definitely more thrilling to see this live.
After the show, we got in a taxi and headed back to the restaurant we'd tried to eat at earlier. This time we were seated immediately. The menu looked so good that we ordered way too much food again, but managed to plow through most of it. We were the last customers there eating; the workers there started cleaning up around us as we were eating.
Since it was so late when we were done eating, we had to walk a bit to find a taxi. We managed to get back to the hotel just before 11pm. I reminded Daniel that I had wanted to get my hair cut. He remembered seeing a salon just a short walk from the hotel, so we headed over there to see if they could take me. They said they'd stay open as long as they had customers, so we ran back to the hotel, dumped our stuff off in our room, and headed back to the salon.
Each time we entered the salon, we were loudly greeted in Mandarin by all of the idle salon workers. It was a bit embarrassing, but funny. Daniel tried to explain what I wanted - my already short hair trimmed, not too short, but cleaned up. In addition to the cut, I also had my hair washed, and they gave me an upper-body massage - head, neck shoulders, and arms. Daniel had a wash and massage as well. The workers here were young and enthusiastic, definitely a fun place to get a haircut! We got back to the hotel room about midnight, a late end to a very busy but enjoyable vacation day.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
The restaurant turned out to be another good choice. It had a dark wooden interior, with Chinese antiques and decor all around. The food was equally good. With so many good offerings, we again over-ordered, and had to struggle a bit to finish. The noodles were great, topped with a spicy bean sauce, and the other dishes were tasty as well.
After struggling to find a nearby subway station (we must have asked 3 people before we managed to locate it), we took a quick trip over to Tiananmen Square. Our intention was to quickly see this and then go over to the Forbidden City, but it was after 4:15pm, and these sites all close at 5pm. We decided instead to watch the flag-lowering ceremony, and endured a half hour of cold weather and pushy tourists to see it.
Daniel had finally managed to get his bearings, and decided to try again to find "Snack Street." This time he was successful. We wandered down this very sketchy street, amazed at all the offerings. Some of them were pretty creepy - scorpion, seahorse, starfish, even giant butterfly pupae, all served on skewers. We stopped one caucasian who had just finished some scorpion and butterfly and asked him how it was. Very good, he said. We didn't believe him, so we skipped all that and instead went for some grilled lamb, stinky tofu (yes, that's what it's called, and Daniel enjoys it. Me, not so much.), and a skewer of some sort of fruit dipped in a sugar coating that reminded me of candy apples.
Next on the agenda was the Chinese Opera. Daniel wanted me to experience this very traditional form of entertainment. The Liyuan Theatre in Beijing offers abbreviated versions of traditional operas that include English captioning, so it seemed like a logical choice. Another cab ride later (Daniel is getting very good at the taxis), and we were at the Liyuan. We purchased the cheap balcony seats and had the balcony nearly to ourselves, with a great view of the stage. The opera was, let's say, interesting. There were 3 acts. The first had to do with a traveler and his dealings with a sinister innkeeper, and included a scene where they two of them pantomimed searching for each other and fighting in the dark. It was mildy amusing, but went on and on for way too long. The second act was about a goddess scattering flowers. This was the first act to include singing, that shrill, nasal sound that most Americans would think of when Chinese opera is mentioned. The sound system was cranked so loud that the goddess's singing almost hurt our ears. At least her costume and makeup were beautiful. The third act was about a woman travelling to a magic mountain to collect immortal herbs to cure her dying husband. Some more shrill singing, but also a good, almost-acrobatic, fight scene between the women and the gods of the mountain. All in all, I am glad I saw it, but was also happy that it didn't last more than an hour.
One more cab ride later, and we were back at our hotel. It was after 9:30pm and we had not really had any dinner. Rather than hunting down another restaurant, Daniel wanted to check out a street market that is located right behind the hotel. It didn't seem to have a lot of interesting souvenirs, but we did spot a woman who had a tiny eatery set up. She had a variety of meats on small skewers that were cooking in a couple of vats of hot broth. Daniel wanted to give this a try, so we sat down on a couple of the tiny stools that surrounded the vats, and Daniel started talking with the cook about what we wanted. We ordered some noodles with a sesame sauce, which she also cooked in the broth. The skewers were self-serve, you just grabbed whatever you wanted. We ate quite a bit - meat balls, lamb, beef, tofu, mushrooms (I did pass on the pig's lungs) - and the total cost was less than 10 yuan (about $1.50). It was a great nighttime meal that I would never have attempted on my own.
We had an uneventful flight to Beijing, got through Customs and Immigration, collected our bags, and headed off to grab a taxi to our hotel. Our taxi ride got off to a bad start, mainly due to a misunderstanding with the driver. I speak absolutely no Mandarin, and Daniel's abilities are limited. We couldn't figure out what the driver wanted us to do, and he got a bit impatient. Once we got underway, though, his tone changed, and he and Daniel had a friendly chat along the way. We ran into quite a bit of traffic (the roadways here always seem to be very busy), but the driver told us that traffic was moving better than usual.
We checked into our room at the Park Plaza, and then Daniel had a talk with the Concierge about restaurant and sightseeing options. Since today was Thanksgiving, we felt we needed to do something special for dinner. Daniel had received a recommendation for a restaurant called Beijing Da Dong that was famous for its Roast Duck, and we decided that would be the perfect place. Unable to get reservations so late, we opted to just head there on the subway and see if we could wait for a table.
The Beijing subway is turning out to be an interesting experience. The cars are almost always standing room only, and are sometimes uncomfortably crowded. On this particular evening, the car was so packed that it was very difficult to even enter or leave, people had to really push their way through. At one point, someone's body part was nestled very snugly between my butt cheeks. I'm not sure who or what it was, and I'm trying hard not to think about it too much. When it was time for us to get off, I had to push people out of the way and practically fell out of the car. I hope my commutes to the office will not be like that!
After wandering a bit, we were able to locate the restaurant, and we put our name in for a table. We waited about a half hour, but that time did not go to waste. Daniel struck up a conversation with a couple from Hong Kong who gave him some useful sightseeing tips, including an easy way to get to the Great Wall. A table finally became available, and we set out to determine what we should order from the amazing-looking menu, complete with photos and English captions. The food all looked good, and we wanted to try as much as possible, so we ordered 9 different dishes, including veal, pigeon, chicken, salmon, cuttlefish, and of course, the famous roast duck. We were expecting the portions to be tiny, but they didn't turn out to be all that small. Still, we managed to plow through a good part of the food, leaving only a little bit to waste. We were given complimentary kumquats for dessert. I'd never had them whole before, and we peeled and ate a handful before we realized that you could eat them rind and all.
Daniel wanted to show me a famous "Snack Street" (not that we could think about eating right now), so we waddled our way to the subway and got off in the area that Daniel thought this street was located. We headed through a fairly major shopping area but could not find the street. The stores were mostly closed, and the atmosphere on the shopping street had turned a bit seedy. We were approached by young women a number of times, alternately asking whether we wanted a "karaoke partner", "lady bags", or a "massage." I'm not quite sure, but I think at least one of those offers was for something more decidedly naughty than it sounds. Needless to say, we didn't take them up on any of the offers.
After walking almost a half hour, we decided to give up on Snack Street and find our way back to the hotel. We tried approaching a taxi driver, but he wanted 100 yuan, at least 3 times what a metered ride would cost. We headed back to the subway instead and almost got all the way back to the hotel, only to discover that the final train to get us there had closed down at 10pm. We walked out of the station through a gauntlet of cab drivers yelling at us for their business, and managed to flag down a quiet taxi on the street. We were very happy when we finally got back to our room.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Daniel's cousin from NYC decided to join us, so we met him at a travel agency where he was picking up a discounted ticket. After a quick Hong Kong-style breakfast, we hopped on the MTR and arrived at the park shortly after its scheduled opening time of 10am. We picked up our entry tickets (Daniel had cashed in some mileage points for them) headed into the park, and stopped at Guest Services to purchase a couple of discounted meal packages.
I won't go into a blow-by-blow description of the day, but I will give my overall impressions. The highlights:
- The park was not at all crowded, and we were able to see almost everything we wanted to. With a 5 minute wait time for most of the day, we rode their Space Mountain twice in a row, and would have ridden again and again except that Daniel's cousin isn't exactly a coaster enthusiast.
- We enjoyed all of the live entertainment in the park, including Festival of the Lion King, The Golden Mickeys, the afternoon Parade (which had been dressed up with a Christmas theme), the tree lighting ceremony (after which they made it snow on Main Street), and the nighttime fireworks show.
- Their relatively new It's A Small World attraction was running a Christmas version, similar to what Anaheim and Tokyo have. This was the first time I got to see the HK version, and for the most part, I liked it (although having Disney characters in there still annoys me). Our boat did stop a couple of times for rather long periods, making the ride last a good 20-25 minutes.
- Although I hated it at the time, the Stitch Encounter turned out to be entertaining, and I was part of it. This is similar to Turtle Talk with Crush at Epcot, but to accommodate the variety of guests, they offer different shows in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English. I thought we were attending a Cantonese version, and figured I'd be safe because (1) I don't speak Cantonese, and (2) Crush always interacts with children, and I assumed Stitch would do the same. Once the show started, it quickly became apparent that we were in an English show, and I was the second person that Stitch called on to speak with. He insisted he had seen me somewhere before, and after a few guesses, decided that we spent time in prison together, and even pulled up a mug shot of me, an actual photo that they must have taken earlier in the show. Even after he moved on to others, I was referred to from time to time, almost like being "that guy" from the Monsters Inc Laugh Floor attraction in Orlando. I really dislike being singled out like that in front of strangers and played along just to get through it. Looking back on it now, it did make the show much more memorable for us.
Now for the lowlights:
- Even with the few additional attractions, this park is still rather small. We were done seeing everything we wanted to by early evening, and I think we were starting to get a little bored. They are currently constructing additional attractions, but these new lands will not open until 2011 at the earliest.
- I remember liking the food the first time we went, but this time, the food was mediocre at best. The meal package we had purchased limited us to a few counter service restaurants, and the food choices at these were not exciting at all. We had some ok meat and rice bowls for lunch, but in the evening, we ended up with yawn-inducing fried chicken and french fries. (Interestingly, they include plastic disposable gloves with the fried chicken meals so that you don't get your hands all greasy.)
- I guess they did their best with the Christmas theme, but in the end, I did not come away with that warm holiday feeling. There just didn't seem to be enough of the decorations or the music. (Or it could be that mid-November is just too early for me to get in the Christmas mood.)
- We discovered that rude guests were not limited to the US parks. We experienced a number of line crashers, including those who pretend that family members are up further in line, as well as people who just try to push their way in front of you. And I'm not sure if it is a cultural thing, but it seemed to me like the women were the pushiest; the men in general were content to wait their turn.
- The merchandise during our 2005 visit seemed rather unique and interesting; this time, not so much. The t-shirts were boring, and there are only so many key chains and plushes that one can own. We were all very disappointed with what we saw, and none of us wound up buying any souvenirs.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
We checked out of our room, stored our luggage, and set out to explore. Our first objective was to visit the ruins of Sao Paulo, which is probably Macau's most famous historical site. We headed up the steep, windy streets, stopping in some shops along the way, not really paying attention to where we should be going. We managed to overshoot our destination by quite a bit, ending up at a fort that overlooked the city as well as the top of the ruins. Daniel was still not feeling well, so we sat here for a bit, enjoying the city views as well as the people-watching.
We started back down the hill, this time keeping a better eye on our destination, and managed to reach the ruins. Daniel was still feeling a bit off, so he sat for a while as I wandered and took photos.
We spent the next few hours wandering the shops and snacking. We next headed over to the nearby casinos, not to gamble, but just to see what they looked like. These were quite the ritzy places! The security was a bit strange, though. There were guards and metal detectors at each entrance, and even signs warning not to take firearms into the casinos. I had my bulging camera bag with me and set off the metal detectors each time I went through, yet no one ever stopped me or asked to see what I was carrying.
We stopped by a shrine and giant statue to the Asian goddess Kun Iam (Goddess of Mercy) just as the sun was starting to set. It was getting late, and we still had some shopping to do before our 9pm ferry. We headed back to the shopping district to pick up some edible souvenirs for everyone who had been so helpful to us here in Hong Kong.
It had been a busy couple of days, and the 9pm ferry was suddenly feeling too far away, so we headed over to the terminal to see if we could catch an earlier ferry. Thankfully there was room on the 8pm, and we were back in Hong Kong by 9. We still had to check back into our room in Mongkok and retrieve some items from Daniel's father. The room we had been staying in was not available for the first night, so they put us in one that was smaller, more narrow, and reeked of smoke. It made us appreciate the non-smoking rooms in the US hotels!