Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ocean Park: A Pacific Pier course

We have long been regulars at Ocean Park, our local zoo and rides fair-style park. Basically, Ocean Park is a huge complex with a 30 year plus record of serving up fun for folks in a pre-Disneyland world. Even though Disneyland is now here in Hong Kong, Ocean Park continues to thrive. Ocean Park has built more rides (much scarier sort of Great America amusement park type rides) and has bumped up their education and conservation theme. And at that nexus of animal and education and Ocean Park is where we recently found ourselves. The kids and I all just took and thoroughly enjoyed a “Pacific Pier” course at Ocean Park on sea lions and seals.

While the class was well executed in its own unique Ocean Park way, the actual registration for the course was unbelievably obtuse. We signed up for three courses that we wanted last spring and were put in some sort of lottery. We had to send in checks for each potential class registration as well (passport numbers, Hong Kong identification numbers etc.) As the courses come up, Ocean Park calls us and tells us we are in the class. Other times we receive checks back in the mail, indicating that we did not get the class. The only problem there, besides us forgetting what we signed up for, is that the returned checks we received can sometimes not our own.

My only complication to the class was that at 7pm on October 10th, I realized our annual passes to Ocean Park expired on October 10. Our October 11 course was scheduled to begin before the ticketing office was to open. Since the courses were so hard to get into, I was a little desperate and called Ocean Park immediately. Someone picked up, figured out a solution, called me back, and walked me through an on-line re-registration process. When we arrived early the next morning for our course, the admission staff had a note taped to their front gate with the peculiars of our situation. There is a saying here that goes something like “what works works” and essentially it is true. The functioning of things like telephone companies, public transportation and now Ocean Park continue to amaze me.

Relieved to be there, the kids and I enjoyed learning all the differences between sea lions and seals. The class was conducted in English and thus the only native English speakers were quick to answer and were the stars until the instructor pulled out origami. We all had to make sea lions out of origami. It was incredibly difficult but we did it, with some help from the 4 year old boy and his mother who were sitting closest to us. Origami is a bit like the metric system for us here. Everyone, except us, uses it and loves it. The paper sea lions were a nice, though somewhat frustrating, reminder of the class. For me, far better and much more laughable reminders of the class have been countless times watching the kids emulate sea lions swimming (front flippers only) and seal swimming (back flippers only).

Friday, October 10, 2008

Chung Yeung in Hong Kong

Hong Kong celebrated Chung Yeung this week with a public holiday and a day off from school and work. This holiday exemplifies some great aspects Hong Kong, including strong family ties and scenic hiking trails. Chung Yeung, celebrated on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, is a holiday where families journey to grave sites to perform cleansing rituals of the site and to pay respect to their ancestors. Back in the Han Dynasty (BC 202-AD 220), the legend arose that a certain villager was warned to take his family to a high place. He did and by doing so, saved his family from being destroyed in a flood. Based on this, families today often hike up Hong Kong’s many mountains on Chung Yeung as well as visit cemeteries.

Despite its reputation as an urban jungle, there is real jungle here on Hong Kong Island. We live a few minutes via taxi or bus from great hiking trails. Most of the trails have a good chunk of asphalt (mainly steps upwards) but packed dirt trails abound. I can hike up any series of hills, with great names like The Twins, Violet Hill, Jardine’s Lookout and Dragon’s Back, from a central trailhead very near our home. This main trailhead is part of the Wilson Trail which cuts across most of Hong Kong, over 100 kilometers long. Most trails cut through some dense jungle like vegetation but quickly get you on the ridge of the hill, looking down at the South China Sea on either side of you.

In the jungle parts of the hikes, things can get a bit odd. Once I was bombarded by hundreds of frogs leaping downhill in a sudden rainstorm. I commonly see wolf spiders as big as my hand. But more worrisome are the snakes. I once saw a huge green python snake and ran for at least a mile in the opposite direction. As the trails are a bit wild, I usually hike with a friend. My most aptly matched hiking partner is also the mother of a 7 year old boy and 5 year old twins. We both know we have to hurry and have both been called off the trails by phone calls from school. And while it is slightly amusing to think of twins’ mothers hiking The Twins hill, what really makes us laugh is thinking about how hard it would be to drag our own sets of twins up that hill. So, we celebrated Chung Yeung by hiking uphill and laughing about our families. It might not officially count as paying respects, but I know my Dad would approve.