Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Back to Photography Basics and Strange Filipino Humor

Yesterday I came across an article posted by some of the helpful folks over at PhotoTakers.com. It got me back to thinking about the art of photography and the elements and skill involved that have nothing to do with the kind of camera you have or the technical details of shutter speeds, F-stops and light meteting. So inspired, I grabbed the Canon and headed out an hour before I was to meet Kendra at the MSE to help her carry home a boatload of small pillows she had bought from a co-worker who was selling them for a cause. We might keep a few, but most we'll give most to the girls at APB.

So, I walked around the streets a bit, trying to find a new photographic perspective on things (even in a foreign country your surroundings tend to fade into disinteresting normalcy after a time). I ended up in the Ayala Triangle Park, where some trees had been dropping these delicate, bright red leaves all over the stone paths, benches and other vegetation. It wasn't the best light (slightly overcast late afternoon), but I tried to capture the color as best I could.

I had a good time and came away with a few cool shots and a renewed energy to keep it real with my pictures and not be bogged down by technology-induced lunacy.

Here's a link to the article, plus a list of the other great stuff this guy has written. I recommend for anyone owning a camera.

In other news, the painting we bought from the old guy in Tai-O fishing village outside of Hong Kong just came back from the framers (FramePlus in Park Square One in Makati). It looks great...well constructed, cool non-reflective glass, white matte with black frame and came with it's own bubble-wrap! We can't wait to put it on the wall in Philly.

And, finally, drop this one in the Chalk It Up To Cultural Differences file....

On the front page of today's Philippine Star newspaper is a short story about a bizarre accident where a taxi driver dozes off at the wheel and crashes into a hearse which is parked on the shoulder of the road for repairs. The force of the impact propels the corpse from the vehicle, where it is run over by the out-of-control taxi.

An odd story to say the least- and this would certainly make the papers in the U.S.. What wouldn't is the cartoon next to the article, picturing a body flying out a car, with the words "Good thing I'm already dead!" next to him! What kind of sick, dark humor do these people have? And on the front page of a national publication? Somebody explain!

15 minutes later....I found it. Here's somewhat of an explanation:

"In the Philippines, laughter is the way Filipinos cope with natural catastrophes, overcome the burdens of everyday life and cushion the impact of events over which they feel they no longer can control.

"The ability to reduce a situation to absurdity is, however, not to trivialize it. Filipinos are not oblivious of despair. Their history is a lament of the struggle against colonization, the atrocities of war, political anarchy and poverty. More than just comic relief from these harsh realities, Filipinos have found in humor a reservoir of psychic energy from which they draw a positive outlook in life. If they can laugh at a situation, Filipinos argue, they can rise above it.

"This attitude may lead outsiders to conclude that Filipinos are passive to their fate. But what may appear as passivity to the casual observer is in fact an active social mechanism deeply rooted in the Filipino's "collective consciousness."

Of course, some may say passivity is exactly what makes up the underlying collective consciousness here and is the root cause of alot of social problems.
Read more of this explanation.

Researching this also reminds me of another thing I noticed recently. Both Kendra and I are Discovery Channel and History Channel junkies (it's about all we watch), and I've seen a ton of the Seconds To Disaster episodes, where they analyze crashes, wrecks, explosions, and other dramatic accidents. In one, a Philippine Airline plane was hijacked, but eventually made it to the ground. The three Filipino pilots (see- more overstaffing!) were the primary interviewees, and throughout the whole description of this tense and horrific ordeal, the three couldn't stop laughing about it- how they were all pulling on the manual controls with all their might and were thinking of ther kids, etc...all while laughing and smiling. I thought it very odd and very disturbing at the time. I see now they were just "rising above their situation." Good for them! It's cheaper than a therapist!!!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Of Shopping Sprees and Birthday Parties

Despite the fact that it was the weekend, I still found myself back in my recent trend of waking up in the middle of the night, being up for a while, falling asleep, waking up early, etc. Since it was the weekend, when I woke up for the second time at 6:30am and did some work, I went to sleep again until around 10:00am or so. I called my mom on her cell with Skype because she, my dad, and my aunt and uncle were at our house in Philly installing a ceiling fan for us. Everything was going fine, and so we talked for awhile. We definitely appreciate all the help my mom and dad have been giving us in taking care of the house. I know that she enjoys helping out in that way.

For today Tim had big plans to take me shopping and to see some of the handicraft stores around town. I have had very little opportunity to see a lot of the shopping areas around here, because I am at work when Tim goes out and explores, plus nothing much is open past 8pm. And the only handicrafts I have been able to see are the ones at Greenhills when our friend Sam took us.

So, Tim took me around to the Balikbayan Store and the Testoro’s Store on Pasay road. The prices at these stores are higher than the same (possibly lesser quality) products at Quiapo or Greenhills. However, since we don’t have a dedicated driver, and the time we pay for a driver and car, it costs us so much that we might as well just pay the higher prices at a place we can walk to. (Note to self: Should we ever be on an international assignment again to a place where we can’t safely drive ourselves and are advised not to take taxis or public transportation due to safety issues, I will insist on a car and driver being bargained into the deal. This has been ridiculous.)

I had such a great time looking at the stores and picking things out! In fact – so much fun that we had to drop off our purchases at home and then buy a new large suitcase at SM to pack all of the extra stuff in! (More about the amusing suitcase purchase experience later). I was really impressed at the awesome crafts available and was really pleased with all the purchases. After our shopping spree, though, we came to two realizations:

1. No more gift buying in the Philippines, because we have enough right now for small souvenirs for our family and friends when we get back and overflow into Christmas.
2. We need to make a pact that there will be no more shopping in this country except for groceries and things for the girls at the home.

We are very serious about this pact. We made some lists of whatever we need and decided to buy all of that in one last shopping trip along with the extra suitcase. One of the things we could use are more shirts (suitable for work) for me. It is really, really getting to me that I am so much taller and bigger than the average woman here and that people are such idiots about calling everyone fat (both Filipinos and expats) who are bigger than a size 4.

This in combination with the fact that both our washer and dryer are possessed by the devil and have ruined 30% of my clothes means that I am in need of more clothes for work. I decided to get 4-6 new shirts that would be long enough and large enough that people cannot see what I look like – even if I have to go to the maternity section to buy them. This is easier said than done. Here a size large in certain brands is the equivalent of a size 6 in the US. That works OK for me in shirts as long as the arms are not pencil thin, but no way for pants, and so we decided that I’ll just wear the same 2 pair of pants the rest of the time here and supplement it with skirts.

In the end we actually came out (throughout the course of buying some, taking them home and realizing my arms didn’t fit into 4 of them, returning and repurchasing others with store credit) with 4 shirts that I really liked. They all come down to mid thigh and are very baggy so I will get no more love handle remarks or anything else. People can just think I am a marshmellow. I don’t care.

After the clothes, we picked out a few candles that Tim saw earlier and wanted to buy, and then headed over to the suitcases. Now the malls here have a huge amount of luggage for sale. I guess this is explained partially because of the large percentage of overseas Filipino workers, but still the luggage selection here is astounding. And in each department store there are approximately 1 salesperson for every 2 suitcases being displayed. As soon as it became apparent that we were in the market for a suitcase, we were surrounded by salespeople and bombarded with questions. Each member of the sales team seemed to have their own individual item which they were determined to sell to us, whether it was anything like what we needed or not.

Tim and I got separated in the mayhem and could not even walk back to each other because we were surrounded by various luggage items being spun around, wheeled around, opened, closed, stomped on, and banged on – all for our benefit (and extreme amusement). It was all very overwhelming. Through all the chaos, I found Tim and told him I liked this one brand which he also liked. We went to a campaigner in the middle of the store and got a large, pink Voyager suitcase. 3-4 salespeople accompanied us to the cash register and waited as our order was rung up. They packed our purchases in the suitcase, and smelled all our candles which was very cute.

I told them they were all very serious about their luggage and the man was very serious and said “Thank you, ma’am.” The salespeople here are very cute sometimes. I definitely do appreciate all the help they give in helping to carry stuff and if I grocery shop alone, they will carry the groceries back for me for a tip. It just gets a little overwhelming sometimes when there are approximately 5 of them for every one of you.

Finally, we were home from all of our shopping and had just enough time to clean up a little bit before we had to take a car to the Power Plant mall to meet our friend Justin for his 23rd birthday. Our driver dropped us off at an entrance and we made our way up to the PowerBowl lanes on the top floor. We waited for awhile for his friends and for him (late for his own birthday party!) and then signed up for some lanes after a few drinks and some food. It was a very fun time with Justin and his marine buddies, who are hilarious. I used my patented zero-technique bowling skills and managed to do pretty well. One odd thing was that there was a locally televised tournament taking up the majority of the space at the alley. To kick off the event, a big-name Filipino Senator was invited to come and say a few words- this turned out to be a very serious, politically charged speech, starting with the line, "When the U.S. Military was forced out of Subic Bay in the 1990's, they were so bitter at having to leave that they took with them all the bowling alleys....". About a dozen hard-ass U.S. Marines stop bowling and give this guy a long, hard look.

[Birthday Boy Justin, recovering from his various physical ailments!]
[This is me. Just praying that I do slightly better than the 8-year old next to me.]
After bowling two games, we killed some time waiting for the Embassy driver by walking around the mall a bit, then piling into the armor-plated SUV and headed to a bar near our apartment where they have a long drink list, good bar food and a mechanical bull. Most of us rode the bull, which was fun.

[Patrick's gracefull bull-dismount]

Here's a link to some more pictures from Sunday night...complete with an entire series of really weird faces in the car...

The rest of the crew was ready for another bar after that one, but Tim and I headed home. I actually think Tim wanted to go to the next bar, but I gave him the look that said “You are NOT making me walk home alone at night, are you?” and he dutifully decided he was tired too. I have been feeling my age more and more. But I made it until 11pm that night ;-)

Here's video of Justin on the Bull
..it's a bit dark, though.

Since Monday is a US holiday, I was able to take that as a vacation day with just monitoring emails, so I was looking forward to the extra sleep and hoping to just relax the next day and catch up on bills.

ABP House Revisited

After a week that was unnecessarily long due to the fact that I counted every second of it – including at night, during which I woke up to keep the counting going, fell asleep at odd hours, and then woke up again to resume it all – finally Saturday morning dawned.

We had arranged transportation to visit the girls at the orphange again that day, and we planned to spend the morning going shopping for some additional items for the Ang Bahay Parola girls, using some money generously donated by Tim’s parents – Gene and Darlene. For this installment of the donation, we decided to get a large variety of underwear (sounds odd, but that is what the staff said they needed) as well as some more everyday clothes for the girls – focusing on the older girls this time.

As we walked over to SM, I remembered that when Tim went shopping for the first round of clothes, he told me that he would not be picking out underwear for the girls without me. I basically understood why. It is a little odd to see a grown man buying a large size range of little girl underwear, and possibly even little girl clothes, but most people draw the line at underwear.

In addition, sadly, this is a place where apparent exploitation of children/teens by forign adult men (and vice-versa) is common. I have become so accustomed to seeing much older expat men walking hand-in-hand with girls looking approximately 12 years old that it is almost commonplace, but even so, we want to always guard against the appearance of looking improper. This has even been something Tim is very conscious of in his play and roughhousing with the girls at the home.

Anyway, for all of those reasons, I was in charge of the underwear buying. When we got up to the children’s section, another reason he didn’t want to do this himself became obvious. Even if you try to be subtle as a shopper, you are instantly surrounded by 5-6 sales women trying to be helpful and asking what size your child is and if she is fat or not (their helpful attempt at getting sizes), and so he would have stuck out even more. We made our purchases of a wide variety of underwear and undershirts and headed to the teens section. We picked out a number of outfits in this section, sorting through all the incredibly inappropriate shirts with highly sexual phrases on them and picked some that would be appropriate. Here again you have to do somewhat of a reality check. Granted – we were in the teens section, but the same clothes that fit 11 year olds here also fit many people in their mid 20’s. I’ll go out on a limb and say maybe that is why the teens section needs to have clothes with “Oral Me” (with a spoof of the Ora-Gel product logo), “This Shirt Would Look Better on Your Floor”, and other such phrases.

Whatever…maybe every country in the world has such things, and I just don’t notice because I don’t have kids. After we had all the stuff we needed for one day, we went to check out and got 3 free wristband watches (fuzzy and hot pink) with our purchases. Given the size of our purchase, we should have been entitled to 15 of them, but I was not going to get all upset having a common sense math argument with the woman right before visiting the girls. We'll let the orphange staff let the girls fight over those- we won't get involved! :)

We got home in time to spread out the items so Tim could photograph what we got to show his parents (this purchase used only approximately 1/3 of the donation).

[About 40 pairs of underwear!]

After this we finished up a few things around the house, and left to meet our driver. We had a good time playing with the girls as always. When we arrived, the front entrance was locked, and so we came around a different way. The girls saw Tim first and started shouting out the windows “KUYA TEAM!, KUYA TEAM!” (With the Filipino accent, "Tim" sounds like “Team” and they spell it "T-e-a-m" as well…when they write my name, they spell it correctly which really impresses me, because it is not a common name).

[This is (by height): Manilyn, Jessica and Girlie..I'm blindfolded, trying to guess which one is which!)

The social worker was there and asked if we could spend some time tutoring the girls in their English because the home was applying for a private school and the girls needed to interview. We did this, and asked typical questions such as “What is your name?”, “How old are you?”, “What do you like to study?”, “Do you like sports?”. Ike was there to translate for some of the girls.

After this, we watched the dances that some of the older girls had made up “for praising Jesus” and then we all headed up to the upstairs play area. Some of the neighborhood boys saw Tim and came up to play as well. Tim plus the allure of the girls usually brings them out. I felt a little bad because I could not toss them around like I usually do. I have been having an enormous amount of pain in my back, which normally I tolerate, but lately has been extreme – not even allowing me to sleep well. I was able to lift them up for pull ups for a while, but then had to turn them over to Tim.

[Here's a video of the girls jumping rope]

We also brought along large sheets of butcher paper and PlayDough this time which was a big hit. Some of the girls drew pictures of Tim and I, which was really cute. One of the other girls noticed Tim's picture had no hair so she drew some for him and labeled it “This is hair for Team.” They made roses, animals and food (which they served to Tim) out of the playdough, which got incredibly dirty almost instantaneously from their hands and the table they were playing on.

Lately when we go there, almost all of my time it spent with Manilyn. She is the “Little Keysi” from previous posts and she is getting very attached. I am trying not to get too attached, but it is hard not to. She made us a card which was so precious. She had it in her bunk bed all ready for us. She has started asking me questions such as “If you have a baby, do you want a girl or a boy?” followed by “Which is your favorite child at this house?” (which I tell her everyone is very special and I can’t answer that, and then I ruffle her hair). She understands English very well, although does not always speak it clearly, so you will see a lot of pictures of us together where I have a strange face on trying to figure out exactly what she is trying to tell me.

Tim has also his group of girls that are very attached to him. These include Michelle (which is also attached to our driver, Ike), Jessica, Daisy, and Girlie. I worry about all this, of course. I wonder if we can possibly be doing any good to spend time with them when it will end in 2 months and they will be sad. For example, they still ask us when Elizabeth is coming back and honestly do not seem to understand that she is back in the U.S.

[Today, the girls told me that I had "Small ears- like a mouse." This resulted in mass amounts of laughter from the other girls...I've never had anyone comment on my ears before.]

After the visit with the girls and goodbyes from everyone – which spilled out to the street as usual, as they all crowd at the gate to say goodbye – we drove back in the rain. We cleaned up and got ready to go out for dinner, since we wanted to have a nice evening together. We decided to go to Global Café which has very good food and a quiet atmosphere. It started to rain really hard while we were inside eating, and we walked home in the rain, but it was not too bad. It felt relaxing to go to sleep with the sound of the thunder and the rain outside.

[I took some videos of the girls, and have been experimenting with some other video-hosting options, so let me know if any of you have issues viewing these, each is about 20 seconds long:]

Here's the girl's practising their dance.
Here's Girlie and Michelle on the swings.
This is Kendra playing "London Bridge" with the girls.
Here's some more girls playing, and Manilyn talking to Kendra
And saying "Good bye".

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Homesick for Philly

"68 degrees, breezy with sunny skies! A gorgeous day here in Center City Philadelphia!! Back to you, Katie"

Those words hit hard. Proving the fact that we are really far from home and wish we could be there. Tommorow in Makati it will be 92 degrees (106 with the humidity- if that was in Philly, the shelters would be taking in homeless people and the Red Cross would be checking up on the elderly. Here, it's just another damn hot day in the tropics and we'll all be wearing long pants.)

Al Roker was in Philly today, doing the weather segments for the Today Show from the NBC 10 studios (shouts out to Camille and Gary on the news desk!) as well as from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (don't call it The Art Museum- they get really annoyed!).

Anyway, seeing the city skyline down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and watching Al munch down on a $100 Steven Starr philly cheesesteak made us both miss being back in the U.S.

The extreme heat and polution is getting to Kendra, so she's not feeling too well. Work is tough, as usual, and I haven't had the best of weeks. Just some little everyday things that seem to take so much more time and effort and get so unneccesarily complicated. For instance, we needed to cancel a hotel reservation for an out-of-town trip that we had planned to make. The process of getting it cancelled, receiving the refund check and getting the cash into our hands was about up to the complication level of applying for and recieving Zoning Board approval for a strip club on Elfreth's Alley.

And how about finding a cardboard box? In Philly, a cardboard box is only a dumpster dive away. A cleaner variety is at the grocery store and if want strength and durability hit up the UPS store. A test of patience and will is trying doing that in a foreign country where you don't know the language (don't let the tour books fool you- English is the "Official Language of Business" here just as much as it is in Lancaster City in Pennsylvania..."¿Hay aquí alguien que hable inglés?"

We've also been having some issues with arbitrary charges coming from our car company. (Not that I wish to ride in an automobile here).

So, yeah, we miss Philly. This was our farewell post before we left of all our most beloved places in our neighborhood. And here's a few shots taken from high up in the 1600 Market St. building.

And the good citizens of the City of Brothery Love coming out in force to support John Kerry in 2004

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The News this Week

First off, a big happy "CONGRATULATIONS!!" to Jess and Andy Miller, our good friends from Minnesota. Their first child, Isabel Grace, was delivered at 10:21 am Saturday morning, without any major complications. She weighed in at 7 lbs, 2 oz and is 21 inches long.
No drugs neccesary! Way to go!

[Jess and Andy B.C. (before-child)]

We're so very happy for them both and wish them the best of luck and happiness with the new family of three. For those of you expectant mothers out there (and we know there are several reading this regularly!), you'll find a fabulous resource in Jessica's blog And Baby Makes Three.

In it, she's thouroughly documented every step along the way, from a positive self-pregnacy test to the last few minutes of her contractions before they left for the hospital. It's all there- physical and emotional, described in a personal, down-to-earth manner along with extensive medical research she's done herself and what she's experienced personaly (many times in graphic detail!). I'm sure it will be a helpful resource for alot of people.

On Sunday around 11am, Kendra and I took a car over to Heritage Park, where a fund-raising Walk-a-Thon was taking place for UNICEF. Kendra had gotten some information from the super-friendly guys over at the Starbucks in the Manila stock exchange building (who all know her by name and will fall over each other trying to serve her!). When we arrived, we found that the Starbucks people had shown up super-early and had already walked and left, so we put in our donations, pinned on our numbers and took a stroll through the park. It was a really pretty area, but the temperature and humidty were rising fast, so we didn't stay too long afterwards. It looked like a fairly big event, with bands playing and various food and drink vendors set up along the course. And a good way to help out some needy kids.

Later that night we took a walk down to a Japanese restaraunt on Pasay road called Kisakura. As we walked in, we were greeted by 3 women at the front desk, who bowed to us and led us into the dining area. Standing around the room were probbaly 10-15 other servers and staff, all smiling and bowing as we walked by. The place had a wonderfully calm atmosphere, with the sounds of birds and water coming over the speakers and a section consisting of low tables for sitting on the floor. We ordered vegetable tempura, some maki rolls, wine and miso soup for Kendra and for me a large bottle of Asahi and a bowl of rice/mushroom soup. The food was great and the service was fantastic (what else would you expect with half a dozen people hovering around your table...I couldn't even pour my own soy sauce!) The meal ended with some greenish gelatin dessert with fruit. An excellent meal indeed!

In other news, the first Filipino has succesfully summited Mt. Everest! In fact, 3 of them have done it within this past week. This had been followed closely by my Dad, an avid Everest fanatic, who could give you details of every stage of the journey from memory alone.

Arturo Valdez (the first guy up) quoted Erwin Emata’s (2nd guy) first words upon reaching the peak: "Summit to base camp, summit to base camp. Ang ginaw-ginaw dito (It’s so cold up here!)."

Head back to Manila, dude...it's about 100 degrees in the shade.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

We Love Hong Kong! (or, Thank God for Buddhists!)

[Kendra] I can remember very few, if any, vacations in my entire life when I was actually truly sad to be leaving and going home. This isn’t to say that I have not experienced good vacations – to the contrary. It is just that generally by the time the vacation is over, I have already seen what I wanted to see, experienced what I wanted to experience, and it is time to go home, although I take good memories with me. This vacation was an exception to that trend.

We loved Hong Kong – the city, the islands and Disneyland, and we were SO SAD to be leaving. I almost cried when we left Disney for the last time and actually did cry at the airport when I realized our plane would actually be taking off on time despite the fast approaching typhoon (the one time where a flight being delayed by weather would be no problem whatsover...we called the airline the night before in hopes that it was already cancelled and we could plan to spend an extra day!)

[Tim] I've had plenty of amazing vacation experiences as a kid with my family, but seeing that my overseas adventures have consisted of hit-and-miss trips to Dominican Replublic and areas around the Philippines, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. It turned out to be an awesome time, in all the areas we went into, with plenty of surprises and many instances of utmost professionalism done gracefully and with a truly authentic aesthetic design.

Hong Kong was exactly our kind of place. The Tsim Sha Tsui section of Kowloon reminded us a lot of the area of Philadelphia where we live, so we felt right at home even in an obviously very foreign country. In addition, everything we experienced in the country was professional, efficient, and on schedule. Expectations were communicated and set and stuck to. Any updates were also promptly communicated. The city was clean and they had hand sanitizing stands everywhere. The public transportation system had to have been mirrored off of Washington D.C.’s Metro or a similarly well-designed and maintained system. We were in heaven, and we stayed in the city for 2 days.

The last 2 days of the vacation we spent at Hong Kong Disneyland and stayed at the Disneyland Hotel. As cheesey as it sounds, Disney was honestly a magical place. Neither Tim nor I had ever been to any of the Disneys in the US... I figured it would be a cool place to visit, and I’m pretty sure that Tim went along just to make me happy, but our expectations were completely exceeded. The hotel was beyond beautiful. The staff were in character and extremely efficient and helpful in ways that we could not have imagined. The entire park had an enchanted feel to it, even though it is no where near completed. All day we were told to “Have a magical day!” and people really meant it, and I think they sprinkled us with magical fairy dust when they said it.

Although we are now in magical debt due to the fact that Hong Kong is pretty close to US prices, I wish we could still be there. Departing for Manila today was extremely hard. But, we are back in Manila now, and will have our memories and the many pictures and gifts purchased to help us remember the excellent vacation we had.

Please see below for details of each day of our Hong Kong Trip:

Hong Kong Day 1 - Arrival, Exploring Kowloon and Boat Tour
Hong Kong Day 2 – Hong Kong, Lantau Island Tour and Night Market
Hong Kong Day 3 – Hong Kong Disneyland!
Hong Kong Day 4 – More Disney!
Hong Kong Day 5 – Back to Manila (Escaping the typhoon!)

Hong Kong Day 5 (Back to Manila- the Home away from Home)

We had a wake up call set for 8:00AM again and this time it was Goofy with the wake up message! We showered and got dressed for breakfast and completed most of the packing. We had breakfast at the same buffet we were at on Tuesday, and the same characters were there and seemed to recognize us. They were very cute, and because the dining area was not as fully this time, we got the full attention of the characters!

After breakfast we walked around the grounds of the hotel a little more and Tim noticed that the outdoor pool had a really cool water slide built into the rocks. It was too bad the weather was so poor because Tim loves waterslides! We went back up to our room after a few final pictures of the hotel and finished packing. Although I was really hoping our return flight would be cancelled so that we could have an additional day at the hotel, we decided to go into the airport early just in case there were additional complications.

The staff helped us into a taxi and told the driver where we were going and our airline. Just in case we ran into additional trouble, they gave us a card stating in both English and Chinese– “Please take me to the International Airport – Cathay Pacific”.

It was definitely strange for the driver to be on the opposite side of the front seat driving. Walking in the city was a little weird when you looked up at on comnig traffic and saw nobody in the driver's seat!

We looked out the windows at the scenery for a final time on the way to the airport and seeing the dark and stormy skies, we were still hoping we would see a cancelled flight when we got there. However, when we got to the airport, our flight was not cancelled and the airport was not very crowded at all, so we had quite a bit of time to kill (even considering our lengthy detainment and multiple questions about our visa status which lasted at least 40 minutes).

["Sure look's like a typhoon's gonna be rollin' in here"]

Killing time was no issue once we went through security, however. There were tons of stores, kiosks and eating places all through the terminal. We went into one of the more unique-looking shops and got some things for family. We were impressed at the sales people there- not pushy at all, but very helpful and informative about their products. We also had lunch at a pub there. I had my first veggie burger since the beginning of February. I was crying in the pub because I realized that we would have to leave soon. Tim tried to cheer me up. Eventually, it was time to board our flight. On the people mover on the way to our gate, Tim took a photo of us with “Smokey” – a stuffed Chinese dragon we got for my dad. We waited in line and boarded the plane and off we went!

The flight was somewhat turbulent, but it was OK. We received our luggage and went through immigration with no problems (thankfully!) and headed for the transportation desk to take us to the hotel. Our driver on the way home was very friendly, which helped. Maybe things won’t be so bad for our remaining time here…

Hong Kong Day 1 - Arrival, Exploring Kowloon and Boat Tour
Hong Kong Day 2 – Hong Kong, Lantau Island Tour and Night Market
Hong Kong Day 3 – Hong Kong Disneyland!
Hong Kong Day 4 – More Disney!
Hong Kong Day 5 – Back to Manila (Escaping the typhoon!)

Hong Kong Day 4 (More Disney!)

8:00 am : Phone rings
Sleepy Tim: "Hello?"
(Voice of Mickey Mouse) "Hi! This is Mickey!. Guess what time it is? It’s time to get ready for your magical day!"

You can’t really argue with Mickey Mouse, so up we got! The first decision to be made as we were getting dressed was where we will have breakfast. We decided to check out one of the buffets that was listed in the hotel information and see if we liked it. We were in the mood for eggs or something like that. The second realization was that I had not really packed enough clothes for this trip and had already worn quite a few of my outfits! So, even though the day promised “squally showers”, I donned my bikini with my yellow beach pants and a pink tank top over it. Tim was laughing at me the entire time, wondering how I can take up 75% of the usable space in our luggage and still run out of clothes… oh well ! I told him he was being very not magical.

So, the unmagical one and I went downstairs to find the breakfast restaurant. The hostess told us that they have a buffet and that some of the Disney characters would also be coming around the tables to visit with the guests. This sold us and we also toured the buffet to see what was on it. I’m not sure if the term “buffet” was a good way to describe the situation. More like mountains of food from any meal from any culture all heaped on a 50 foot long winding table. Starting on one end, we found many types of fruit, deli meats, cheeses and mixed salads. Next to that were various cereals with every conceivable topping including jello, whipped cream and M&M's. Further down were cooked-to-order eggs, hot vegetables and Mickey Mouse shaped waffles and pancakes topped with chocolate sauces and syryp. In the middle was a great chickpea curry dish with fried flat bread. Down further were some Japanese foods such as miso soup and various Chinese dim sum dishes. There was also a small island in the middle with various types of bread, muffins and donuts. A well-balanced breakfast, indeed!

We got a lot of different types of the food, but I think Tim’s favorite was his bowl of jello, fruit, cereal and chocolate sauce, which will come as a surprise to no body who knows him. We were seated at a large table overlooking the gardens and an elaborate maze of hedges from the Alice in Wonderland movie. Before long the characters started to come over and greet us. There was Mickey, Goofy, Pluto, and Daisy Duck! They were all really hilarious and we got some pictures with them. Mickey kept making motions like I was stealing his heart and giving me kisses on the cheek. Daisy was batting her eyelashes at Tim and making motions to say that Tim was very strong and was her hero. Goofy was trying to wipe Tim’s tattoos off with a napkin and was making confused faces to the waitstaff about why they would not come off. It was all very cute!

By the time we left, we were almost bursting with food so we decided to take a walk through the gardens first. We walked around in the maze made of hedges and around the perimeter of the hotel where we saw a kid's play area an an outdoor swimming pool with a water slide, which we definately would have tried out had the weather been a bit more summery. By the time we walked around to the shuttle to head back to the park, it was starting to sprinkle slightly and the sky was think with clouds, but still warm and humid.

[Magic under construction]

We had decided that for this day we would focus on seeing all the shows offered at the park and doing more indoor activities due a) to the probable rain, and b) to Tim’s adverse reaction to rides. We headed over to the Adventure land to see if we could get the FastPass for the Lion King show which looked really awesome. They told us that there was no need for FastPass and that we should just come back at 12:15PM. First, we stopped by one of the gift shops and got some cute magnetic tablets and a T-shirt for Tim which was very nice. We decided to head over to another section of the park to watch Mickey’s PhilharMagic 3-D show that we had passed by the previous day. Contrary to the Space Mountain roller coaster, this was something that Tim was really excited about, but I wasn’t so sure. But, nothing to lose! Might as well watch it!

They allowed a certain number of people into the waiting area for 10 minutes until the show was about to start and have us all some special glasses. We realized through our 2 days at the park that there were many types of people who do not consider it the least bit rude to shove other people to get ahead in line and also just blatantly cut in line. People would make comments at them, but they were completely nonplussed, seeming to find absolutely nothing wrong with that behavior. When we were ready to go into the theater, I had to grab as tightly to Tim as I could to avoid getting run over or getting separated by stampeding people. We were still able to find good seats in the theater and sat down to wait for the show to start!

I had never watched a show like this before. It looked like your typical movie theater and started out as a normal-ish movie where Donald Duck was trying to conduct an orchestra and the instruments were not following orders and were just making a bunch of noise. Donald Duck became all upset and was banging his conductor’s wand several times on the music stand. All of a sudden, his big hat (the hat from Sorcerer Mickey) flew off into a whirlwind along with all the instruments and Donald Duck. The show turned completely 3-D. A flute flew into air and came whirling towards us, almost hitting our heads and everyone in the audience jumped back and gasped.

The remainder of the show was Donald Duck running through several excerpts from other Disney movies complete with characters and music, and the whole time, he was trying to find his hat which kept jumping from scene to scene. In each excerpt from the Disney movie, items would fly out into the audience and interact with them. Everybody held out their left hands to allow Tinkerbell to land on it. Everyone put out their arms to Ariel when she came swimming toward them with outstretched arms. As the camera's point-of-view got swept by a wave, small water jets in the seats in front of us sprayed out water and we all got wet, and we could actually smell the pies that were being shown during the "Be Our Guest" song from Beauty and the Beast. We were almost run down by a flying magic carpet during Alladin and went swooping down from the clouds and racing thorugh an Arabian town. Eventually, Jasmine placed the hat back on Donald Duck’s head and he returned through the whirlwind back to his orchestra where Mickey Mouse finally came out and conducted it properly. It was extremely cool!

After that it was time for the Lion King show to start in about 20 minutes, so we headed back in that direction. Like the PhilharMagic show, they allowed a certain number of people into a waiting area before allowing them to file into the theater. So, we waited 15 minutes in the corridor getting more and more annoyed at the same type of rude people we had experienced at the PhilharMagic. Finally we were allowed to enter and were both almost trampled by people who were literally running and shoving in order to get into the perfectly round amphitheater where virtually every seat was a good seat. SO AGGRAVATING!!.

We sat down in a seat near the front and were both pretty annoyed. The show also had a delay in starting (although they did announced that there was a delay). However, when the show finally did start, it was just amazing and we forgot all about our annoyance. The setup of the show was that the entire animal kingdom was going to put on a show for King Simba about his life. Four large floats came into the theater and spun around before being stationed in the corners of the theater to surround the show. One had the large grown-up lion Simba on a big platform surrounded by people dressed up like creatures. One of them had Poomba and Timon, One of the floats had big giraffes and other creatures and another had a large elephant. All of the creatures on the floats were with movable parts and they spoke. The other performers were people dressed up to represent animals such as birds, gazelles, zebras, other lions, etc. It was really awesome! There was some amazing acrobatics and stunts such as fire-jugglers. They acted out the story of the Lion King and sang the music. It was an incredibly moving and well done performance. You weren’t allowed to use flash photography during the show or take video but Tim was able to take some photos to show you without the flash.

The final show we wanted to see was called The Golden Mickeys, which appeared to be a play in Oscar style of the various Disney characters and movies. The show was not ready to start letting people in for another 20 minutes, so we walked around the area a little bit and looked in another gift shop. I wanted some cotton candy, but although we could smell it, we couldn't find any. It was probably just as well, because it was still raining a little bit, which is not a great combination with cotton candy and we didn't have an umbrella. When we walked back, we were allowed to enter the line to wait for the show to enter, which was wrought with the same situation having people waiting in line and several people who didn’t seem to know what a "line" was. This time, the woman behind us was getting very aggravated and started yelling at the people trying to push by her. It didn’t do much good, but it made me smile at her.

Finally, we could go into the theater and we got pretty good seats again – along the aisle on the side section stage left. There were various songs acted out and performed in character from the Disney movies and it was really a great show! The characters also ran up and down the aisles at certain parts of the performance and Tarzan came by and got my shoulder! It was funny! (Although Tarzan was kind of scary looking. I am no longer used to seeing mammoth-sized Caucasian men who work out all day. Even though at home in Philly, a gym full of them is right down the street from our condo- that's going to be tough to get used to again).

After the show, we thought it would be nice to watch the parade which was supposed to start in one hour, so we decided to have lunch at one of the cafes on Main Street which was along the parade route. We had a good lunch of but finished long before the parade started, so we walked up to the main gate to wait some more. Unfortunately, it was raining much harder by this time and the parade showed no signs of starting. We decided it was probably best to head back to the hotel.

I was filled with sadness as we headed back past the entrance and down the street we had initially come through, passing the whale fountain and all the flags from the Disney movies. I was almost crying. I felt like the magical part of my life was over, and things would just go back to being difficult, complicated, and stressful. It was so very sad. Tim and I took a photo of ourselves near the exit banner being very sad.

We headed for the bus to go back to the hotel, and tried not to be too sad. It was just hitting us that tomorrow we would have to leave for the airport and Manila. When we got back to the hotel, we decided to take a nap and catch some of the news to see what was going on with the typhoon. We woke up from our nap to dark skies, increasing rain and very high winds outside the window and decided to change clothes and get cleaned up for dinner, which we decided to have at the Crystal Lotus again. We had the same meal as the night before, except for instead of the tofu, they made us 2 special dishes of broccoli and choy sum. They were both SO delicious.

We finished our meal with Irish coffees again by the bar and again were a little bit sad. We knew that when the night ended, we would be on our last day of the vacation. After dinner we stopped by the hotel's business center to check on our flight status back to Manila, which turned out to be still on-time even with the typhoon. On the way back to our room, we stopped by the gift shop again for some final gifts for friends and family. We bought quite a lot of gifts there and then stopped by the Sorcerer’s Lounge to order drinks and have them sent up to our rooms. We really did not want the night to end. We were very sad but also very sleepy. So, after our drinks we eventually we fell asleep to the sound of the wind and the rain and planned to do the rest of our packing in the morning. As a fitting end, when we turned on the TV as we were getting ready for bed, the Disney channel was showing Robin Hood, Tim's favorite, from 1973.

[Tim's Final Word about Disney]: This was really a fun time! Even with not knowing all the stories and charachters, it was an absolute blast! The PhilharMagic show was amazingly cool and the Lion King show was top-notch! I loved the Buzz Lightyear ride and the Jungle River Cruise was really cute. As you've read, I'm not much of a roller-coaster guy (my brain tends to shut down, I stop breathing and I get a Cliff-Notes version of my life flashing for my enjoyment before my eyes), but it was a great time nonetheless!

And what was really interesting was the classy nature of the hotel. At alot of themed places, the theme becomes "THE THEME" and you'll be sick of it within an hour of arriving. On Valentine's Day in the Poconos, you'll be smothered with heart shapes, the color red and the word "Romance" till you want to puke. Here, Disney elements were certainly obvious, but done so in a way that was classy, humorous, interesting and fun.

I'd be willling now to try one in the U.S., but I really think that part of the "magic" here comes from the culture of efficiency and detailed, gracefully implemented service that we'd experienced previously around the city of Hong Kong and on Lantau Island. It'll be very hard to beat! This place is great!

Hong Kong Summary
Hong Kong Day 1 - Arrival, Exploring Kowloon and Boat Tour
Hong Kong Day 2 – Hong Kong, Lantau Island Tour and Night Market
Hong Kong Day 3 – Hong Kong Disneyland!
Hong Kong Day 4 – More Disney!
Hong Kong Day 5 – Back to Manila (Escaping the typhoon!)