Sunday, July 01, 2012

Disneyland and the Big Buddha

Disneyland in Hong Kong. The idea of it intrigued me and seemed like an opportunity to cave on my standing “you can go to Disneyland when you’re a grownup and can pay your own way”. We told the kids they’d be able to sleep as long as they wanted but that it would cut into their Disney time, secretly hoping they’d sleep all day. Lantau Island is home to the Hong Kong Airport, Disneyland and also the Tian Tan Buddha aka Big Buddha which we wanted to see before Disney.
We got a lift out and then stood in what seemed an endless line for the Ngong Ping Gondola. We got in a glass-bottomed “Crystal Cabin” for the astounding 5.7 km ride to the top. First across a stretch a water, then past the Hong Kong Airport and up into the spectacular mountains of Lantau.

We shared our gondola ride with a very elderly couple who chatted away to each other in Cantonese. They both bore large stickers on their sleeves bearing the number 6, representing one of a dozen tour groups on their way up. Frances and Henri compared mystery bugbites on their legs and the old woman pointed at them, mumbling away to her husband. We told the kids “she probably knows exactly what they are and exactly what to do for them but we’ll never know.” The impenetrability of the English-Chinese language barrier in one easy lesson.

The ride was like being lifted into the heavens. As Alistair had said, the treetops looked like broccoli from above. An endless staircase and stone path wove in and out of the trees far below us. We had considered taking the gondola up and hiking down but that would have spelled mutiny. When we got to the top, the couple clung to each other as they leapt on to the platform, giggling like kids. We decided to race to the top, getting cooperation from the kids despite the maze of retail opportunities we were forced through on the way. The sun was blazing. We realized that the umbrellas we’d left at home today would have been of more use in the sun than in the sudden downpours of days past.

The visitors were a hodgepodge — mainland Chinese, Euro tourist and slow-moving shaven monks in saffron robes. The climb was brief but harsh, sweating and huffing in the sun and altitude below the Buddha’s beatific gaze. At the foot of the 200+ stairs lies a large circle on the ground, tiled in stone and encircled by a set of low stone walls. Standing in the absolute centre of the circle, if you face the Buddha and speak, your voice carries back to you as though you were alone in a small room. An eerie acoustic trick as you gape at the 34 metre tall Buddha, serene on his lotus flower. Even if he weren’t so impressive to look at, in all his calm, the setting of jagged peaks is enough to strike wonder into your heart.

We hopped a cab to get to Disneyland, a visit that filled me with dread. For better or worse, it was precisely what I expected, minus the large Americans. It, in fact, brought home just how unusual it is to see anyone carrying extra weight in Hong Kong. The few portly souls were all Americans. It was the first day of uninterrupted sunshine and we definitely did our fair share of sweating. I couldn’t help feeling for the little clusters of women hustling around in black niqabs. Not much shade to be had, although most lineups had large fans overhead to at least keep the heat moving. The kids and I queued for an hour to get in to Space Mountain which was a total blast. I screamed myself hoarse. We wandered back out into the heat, daunted by the waiting times until we figured out the FastPass system. Abby and Alistair drove down to join us later in the day and we sat on the sidewalk of Main Street and waiting for the parade.
Watching the faces of the little ones across the street light up as the Disney characters floated by was a genuine treat. The four princesses — Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Belle, shared a float. They smiled perfectly and endlessly, executed faux-ballet moves with their arms. They stuck out like sore thumbs and it took forever for me to realize it was because, unlike everyone else in the parade, they were all Western girls.

We checked out the rest of the park, ending up in Alistair’s favourite section called Smallworld. The air conditioning was a blessed relief and we were more than happy to sit and float by puppet dioramas of the world — every racial stereotype on display, in miniature, with “It’s a Small World After All” playing on an endless loop. It seems Canada is teeming with wildlife but has just the two people — a mountie in full regalia and a first nations girl in feathers.

We had a quick dinner and then wrapped up the day watching a fantastic fireworks display, complete with massive fireballs over the castle with Disney theme songs blasting in our ears. A fairly painless day and Disney is now off the list!! Woohoo!

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