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February Archive

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Return to China

Sadly, all good things must come to an end and we returned to Shenzhen, China. After checking in to the Novotel Watergate, (where we had stayed on our trip to Hong Kong) we went to Minsk World, a military museum / theme park where the former USSR Minsk Kiev Class aircraft carrier has been permanently moored and transformed into a tourist attraction. It can't be that popular a site because the hotel concierge and tour people didn't know anything about it until we bought a map, indicated the general area we knew it was located in (thanks to Google Maps) and in best pigeon Chinese explained it was an "airplane boat".

Many of the reviews we've seen of Splendid China and Window of the World, the major tourist attractions of Shenzhen, have not been very complimentary. These parks have miniature replicas of the major sites or tourist attractions of their respective areas of interest. Based on this, our expectations for the Minsk were not high. The Minsk was however, quite interesting despite the quirky presentations from the female commando dance troupe and the "drill parade" of officers in their whites.  Maybe it was just the unsettling nature of having realistic looking replica firearms pointed at us. Much of the display items (jet aircraft, helicopters, torpedoes, missiles, the bridge, comms room) were gutted of instruments, engines and equipment.  The shells of the aircraft were nonetheless an interesting attraction. The mixed radio equipment was intriguing: mostly with controls labelled in Russian but with some equipment (likely from Japan) labelled in English!

There were several souvenir shops inside the ship and some of the unique items included a range of military jet aircraft models made from brass ammunition casings. 

Rather than being a true to life museum of the ship, the Minsk has been transformed into a part learning and part entertainment facility. They kept the captain's and officers quarters as a display. Overall it was a good way to fill an afternoon. Back ashore we looked at the various field guns, planes, helicopters, missile launchers and tank that were on display. The main shop had many Radio Controlled toys including motorcycles, aeroplanes and helicopters. Instead of springing a great wodge of cash for a "scenic" taxi ride we managed to get an inexpensive bus back into the city and take a short subway ride back to the hotel.

In the evening we took a very, (very, very) long walk to find a McDonalds restaurant for Sam. We were told "Maybe, 10 minutes walk". We should have remembered the code word "Maybe".  "Maybe", "soon" and "tomorrow" are frequently used by Chinese when they want to give a favourable sounding answer but know that the true answer is "No" or "bad news".

The next day we took an uneventful bus ride to the airport and our flight left on time to get to Nanjing. It was very pleasant to have a smooth flight and for Sam to enjoy the experience.  Previously he has been concerned about flying above the cloud but this time he was happy with Neil's explanations about big planes flying above cloud, why it is smoother to be above rather than in cloud and Instrument Flying.

The only unknown was where the Nanjing airport bus would leave us as it was a different service than the one we used to get to the airport. Fortunately, its second stop was Zhonghuamen, the main bus and Metro station that is our usual point of entry and exit into Nanjing City when we travel from Jurong.

Minsk - Bow

Minsk - Stern

Yes, I do Like Big Noises...

Who's got the higher rank?



Back to Kowloon

After our 5 nights at North Point, we moved back to Kowloon to stay at The Salisbury, another YMCA hotel. This is a perennial favorite with families as it has a swimming pool, gymnasium (complete with climbing wall), inexpensive cafe and guest laundry. We were very fortunate to be upgraded to a suite where we could spread out, relax on the sofa, eat the complimentary fruit, read the magazines and watch TV. A couple of Internet sessions (email and on-line games) also helped us settle in.

The Symphony of Lights plays daily at 8pm and highlights several of the tall buildings on HK Island. One of the best vantage points is the Walkway of Stars on the waterfront near the hotel. It was a great show. Neil went back on the next night to try to get some photos of it. Although, upon review of the various tourism websites and professional photographers prints, he need not have bothered taking his camera!

We did a little window shopping in the huge Harbour City shopping mall. It has a large "Toys R Us" shop and Sam was delighted with the Lego and other toys. Like his parents, he resisted the temptation to spend up large in this shoppers' Mecca. We bought some essential NZ commodities that we could not get in China: Weetbix, Custard Powder and NZ Creamed Clover Honey. We bought some UK marmite too.  All this loot necessitated going to the markets to buy a cheap carry-on style suitcase on wheels to get the extra baggage home. Up until then we were travelling with our Kathmandu travel pack, its small day-pack and Neil's 35 litre tramping pack. We got plenty of stares from Chinese people - "look at those backpacker fossils dragging their child around".

We took full advantage of the excellent value and choice at the YMCA cafe.  It was good to have proper meals of Western Style again. 

As a part of using as many different modes of public transport as we could, we took another ferry trip back to HK Island to check out the mid levels escalators: apparently the longest escalator system in the world. We also took a taxi to the Zoological and Botanical Gardens to see the various reptiles and mammals there.

Symphony of Lights

Symphony of Lights

The New World Centre



On the south side of Hong Kong Island, Stanley seems a whole world away from the bustle of HK: it was quiet and relaxed with not many people on the beach or at the market. We imagine that during summer these beaches and the market become very busy and not quite as relaxing.

Sam paddled at the beach and made sand forts. TJ did some shopping at the market. Neil watched the windsurfers zipping along in the 10 - 15kt breeze.

After checking the menus of the plethora of pubs, cafes and bars that line the waterfront, we settled for some lunch from the supermarket bakery. It was very tasty. I'm sure the pub proprietors could guess Neil's Scot heritage: short arms, and long pockets with gorse between the two.

The bus ride home (like the previous bus rides to and from Ocean Park) was "interesting": the buses are well powered and the drivers must be related to Stirling Moss. The narrow and windy roads left some members of the crew feeling a little seedy and we got off the bus a few stops early to get some fresh air and a more sedate MTR ride back to the hotel.

Playing on the Beach

Apartments with Sea views


The Peak

With today's weather being drizzle and low cloud, it was declared a rest day. The plan was to send & receive emails, update the blog, read and watch some DVDs that we'd brought with us. However, because Neil's laptop is from the Middle Ages (has both modem and LAN connection but no WiFi or Bluetooth) and several of the other guests had the same idea about indoor activities, there were no WiFi adapters available from the hotel reception. Plan B was to read, watch TV and watch the ships sail past the harbour.

Since arriving in HK we have been moving from large to progressively smaller hotel rooms (Disney's Hollywood, YMCA International House and now Ibis North Point).  At this Ibis, the room area is about 4.5 x 3m: the main room part is a bit bigger than our tent and lots more comfortable.  I think it would be hard to swing a cat and not inflict head injuries on it. Fortunately the double bed is on wheels and can be pushed into the corner to leave a 2ft wide living area during the day. The Ibis is a good compromise: inexpensive, right beside the MTR, ferry and bus terminals (one of the airport bus services finishes here), has an in-house restaurant as well as several small restaurants nearby (including the ubiquitous gilded arches of McDonalds), but is a little noisy. The exterior design theme with its oblique angles is continued inside with floor tiling and wall coverings placed on an angle.

We are on the 17th floor and have a view out over the harbour.  We see the passenger ferries and double decker buses coming and going from the North Point Pier directly opposite us.  The cruise ships, container barges, and several small vessels, including junks, complete our ocean view. On a clear night we can see the lights of Kowloon. Every night the large restaurant ships leave from here for their evening dinner cruises. As a result there are tour buses lined up nose-to-tail along the street.

It is quite relaxing having the harbour view: this new found passive relaxation does not bode well for finding reasonable priced houses in Christchurch upon our return!

As with all hotels, the laundry prices here are daylight robbery (e.g. HK$50 per shirt). However, we found a laundry/dry cleaning business in the alley next to the hotel and had a washing machine load of laundry done for HK$25 (about NZ$5).

In the afternoon the weather cleared and we took the Tram to The Peak, about 1000ft AMSL just behind the Central part of Hong Kong. We got there in time to see a daytime view and then experience twilight and night settle over the city.  As well as the viewing centre with its expensive restaurants, there is a shopping mall nearby with upmarket souvenir shops and the usual fast food franchises. It has a good view to the south towards Aberdeen.

We enjoyed the evening light show. It is spectacular.

Another "must see" site of HK checked off!

Ibis North Point

Our Ocean View
Victoria Harbour by Day from The Peak

and by Night


More Modes of Transport

Having had such an arduous day with the crowds we opted for a bit more sedate entertainment and we took a tram ride along Hong Kong Island (Sam enjoyed being on the Upper Deck), a ferry across the harbour, looked at a few shops & markets, went to Kowloon park & swimming pool and the Space Museum.  The "leisure pool" at the swimming complex was 1.2m deep and not ideal for Sam to play in. Owing to the discovery of Avian Flu virus in dead wild birds, the aviary at the Kowloon park was closed to the public. The space museum was quite crowded as Wednesday is "free admission" day.  There were some interesting exhibits as well as some "Hands On" things for children to do including guiding a robotic arm to pick up stones.

We've been using the prepaid stored value "Octopus Card" to pay for our public transport. It gives a discount fare and removes the need to have exact change everywhere. Sam was delighted to have a card of his own because we share a card on the buses in Nanjing.


Ocean Park

Another of the "must see" attractions is Ocean Park. We went to Ocean Park on the 3rd day of Lunar New year (another public holiday) along with what seemed like half of HK's 6.8million people.  On the way to the park, there was a continuous stream of double decker buses each carrying about 130 people departing from the subway (MTR) station. The crowds at the park kept increasing all day. 

The aquariums, dolphin and seal shows were fantastic. The main aquarium is 4 storeys high and about 30m in diameter.

We skipped the jellyfish show and cable car ride because of the 1hr wait to get admission. Unfortunately the Panda display is closed - this was the main reason to go: to see a couple of Giant Pandas. 

For us "non thrill seeking" types the 1hr queues for the rides were not a problem.  But they were fun to watch! The tall tower drops a dozen people at a time about 60m down and then bounces up and down.  It elicits a few screams from the punters.

Ocean Park Aquarium (4 storeys high)

Fun Rides


Chinese Lunar New Year

Also known as Spring Festival, the Chinese Lunar New Year is a time steeped in tradition, superstition and family feasts. We thought that being in Hong Kong for the New Year Celebrations would be a once in a lifetime experience (as recommended by Lonely Planet). 

The Parade held around the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui (downtown Kowloon) was "very average" despite having a couple of NZ participants: a stilt walking/dancing group and an Airforce Brass Band. There were many delays at the start and during the parade that extended the scheduled finish time to well after 10pm. We had been waiting on the street for about a couple of hours prior to the scheduled start and so this accumulated tiredness may have affected our enthusiasm for the event. There was some curtain-raiser entertainment as some vehicles left parked along the parade route after the prescribed time were towed.  Including a very nice black AMG badged Mercedes. Oooh daaaarn! Some of the floats were very well done and the lion dancing (no relation to Line Dancing, yee har!) was great.

The fireworks the next night were great but the spectacle was affected by low cloud, drizzle and a strong breeze in the harbour. Apparently, the show cost ~NZ$800,000. It makes the Christchurch "Sparks in the Park" look like an entree. We sat by the Exhibition Centre on Hong Kong Island and were reasonably sheltered from the wind. Having arrived a couple of hours early to get a seat (on the ground) we passed the time by talking with some of the local people.

In hindsight, we're ambivalent about attending the Hong Kong New Year celebrations again although the 20minute fireworks display from barges in the harbour between Kowloon and Central was amazing. We saw some photos of the 2006 fireworks show: it was held on a clear night and looked better than the cloud covered version we saw.

Curtain raiser - Towing an AMG Mercedes...

Cathy Pacific Float

A Feathery Display



Today we began our two day tour of Hong Kong Disneyland. After yesterdays' very long day we only managed part of the day here before being tired out. On the 14th, our flight from Nanjing to Shenzhen was delayed by over 6 hours owing to bad weather. This meant that it was about 10:30pm when we finally got settled into our hotel room in Shenzhen. Shenzhen is a thriving business and industrial border city that has the main access to Hong Kong from mainland China.

We travelled from Shenzhen to Disneyland by subway, foot (through the border), train and then bus. Once we had left our luggage at the Disneyland Hollywood hotel, we went to the Disneyland Park itself.  Fortunately they have free shuttle bus services between the hotels and park entrance every 10 minutes and this saves a ~1.5km walk each way.

Disneyland was fantastic & Disney's Hollywood Hotel was excellent. It was set up for families with some shopping and plenty of play area. The pool was a comfortable 28ºC despite the air temp being only 20ºC! Sam enjoyed the water slide. The spa was a very pleasant 39ºC.

Sam suffered from some Sensory Overload at  Disneyland and spending 2 half days rather than a single full day helped minimise this. He was delighted to have his photo taken with "Stitch" and Pooh Bear, and to get a "Stitch" T-shirt. The "Lion King" musical presentation was excellent! The detail in the costumes, lighting, set and special effects was amazing. The catch phrase of the staff is "Have a magical day!" and it certainly is a place of smiles and maybe some magic. 

Every day there are musical presentations, parades, an evening show and fireworks display. There are also many rides and amusements to be involved in.  Sam was not so adventurous to try the rollercoaster but did enjoy the Pooh Bear ride and Tarzan's treehouse.

There are a number of restaurants catering for the mainly Asian park patrons.  There was an "American style" bakery that we bought lunch at (park rules and security searches prevent you from bringing food into the venue).

Overall, the two days we had there were a fantastic break from our previous 5 months in the small city of Jurong.   With an entrance price of ~NZ$50 for an adult, it is very good value (much better value, we've been told, than the USA Disneyland). An added bonus was the free park entrance on the second day because we stayed at one of the the park hotels. Sam is very keen that we should visit Disneyland (and stay at the hotel) as a part of our trip back to NZ later this year.

And did we mention it was warm? Most days in HK were between 20ºC and 25ºC with a pleasant breeze.

My next house should look like this...

Disneyland Hong Kong

Disneyland - Parade

Disneyland - Tomorrowland

Disneyland - The Man Himself


Yangzi River Crossing

Today we took the ferry across the Yangzi River.  It is also known as the Chiang Jiang river.  To get there we planned a route based on a minimum number of bus changes. Nanjing buses are known for their "tight packed sardine" nature and we were fortunate to be able to travel most of the way from end to end of the Number 34 service.  Getting on at the start of a service almost guarantees a seat (especially if you push in and do not queue just like the locals). Despite being on an air-conditioned service, it was very hot and stuffy. To get some fresh air and to bypass the very slow centre city traffic, we hopped off the bus and took the Metro (subway) for a few stops before squeezing back on to another bus..

On the way there we passed the Memorial to the Crossing of the Yangzi River by the Communist Army in 1949.  It must have been a remarkable feat to cross the deep, wide, silt-laden waters of the mighty river while (likely) under attack from the Kuomintang forces.

Despite being part of Nanjing, the Western suburb we visited was remarkably "old style" compared to the western side. Older style houses and buildings are everywhere.  The public toilets were not as clean as we are used to. The buses were not as flash and the taxis were replaced my motorcycle cabs. Moi interesante.

The ferry service seems a vital link as many people crossed with their motor bikes, bicycles or electric bicycles, some laden to the point they needed a helpful push from other passengers to get up the gangway.  For a whole NZ$1.20 each way for the 3 of us, it was a very pleasant change from the hustle and bustle of the city. The 5 or 10 minute ferry trip was in stark contrast to the almost 2hours of bus trip to get back home.

The river is a vital shipping route with many vessels heading in each direction (Shanghai and Wuhan).  The ferries time their run to dodge through this traffic. The western dock had a mix of the ferry terminal, container freight and bulk freight vessels as well as the rail head. The eastern side had a coal terminal, a fast ferry and the cross river ferry terminal.Fun Rides

Yangzi - The Mighty River.

Yangzi - Western Dock

Yangzi - Western Public Toilet

Yangzi - Western Housing

Yangzi - Western Terminal Taxis

Yangzi - Ferry


"Red Cross" Packages

Bob and Geni, the foreign teachers from the USA who taught here last year, sent us a Christmas parcel. It arrived yesterday and has some wonderful books for us all (Sam has been avidly reading the "Hardy Boys" book most of today). They also sent us some "Land O Lakes" flavoured Cocoa. This is marvellous! We've not seen it in NZ but we will be keeping a close lookout for it upon our return!  As well as this we've some new Card games to keep us amused. We've been spoiled!  Thank you very much Bob & Geni.

One of our Kiwi friends from the NICF gave us a small jar of Vegemite the other day. Now, we're formerly Marmite sorts of people but the Vegemite is great.  Who knows what will happen on our return to NZ.  Neil might end up supporting Waikato or Otago (but probably only when they play Auckland)! 

5 Months

We've been in China for 5 months now.  Actually 5 months and 3 days.  We haven't really been counting, it just occurred to us as we changed the calendar.  The days are getting longer and warmer and we're half way through our "tour of duty" and on our downhill run to our return to NZ in July.

We're still finding things that amaze us, like the RMB500 (NZ$100) it cost to post a 2.7kg parcel of Sam's correspondence school resources back to Wellington. The China Post staff opened the parcel and inspected everything and then repacked it before accepting it for shipping. Now we understand how it cost one of TJ's friends about a months salary to post some of her items home when she returned to NZ a few years ago.  We've been investigating consolidated freight forwarding and can get about 1cu.m. of goods shipped as a part container load for a months salary.

The Internet is Back - Sort Of

A couple of days ago Neil downloaded a few files from the USA. He was pleasantly surprised to see download speeds of 30-50kB/sec: things are getting back to the speeds we had prior to the December 26th earthquake that damaged the undersea data cables.  Or it could be because all the 9000 students have gone home for Spring Festival and are no longer in the many internet cafes consuming the bandwidth allocated to Jurong?

Just to reinforce how fickle all of this computer and internet stuff is, Neil's laptop can no longer connect to the internet.  It was working fine yesterday. This morning it doesn't work. No changes have been knowingly made to any configuration.  The PC supplied by the school still connects through the ADSL modem. But the laptop won't.  Bah Humbug!

Holiday Times

It is very quiet around the campus now that the term is finished.  It's like a ghost town.  All the streetside stalls selling food and renting bicycles have packed up and/or disappeared. The College canteen is shut. We guess the library is shut too. The College supermarket is open but is very quiet! We're relaxing and recovering from colds as we look forward to going off on holiday next week. Sam has been completing some of his correspondence school lessons too.

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