Saturday, January 31, 2015

Ringing in the New Year

New Year's Eve for us this year was a bit uneventful.  It was a Wednesday night and Brad (and well as most of our friends) had to work the next day. It isn't a holiday here that you get time off for.  So we went to bed as usual.  What was a nice treat though was that the midnight ball drop in New York happened at 8am so we got to watch the ball drop and yell, "Happy New Year!"  This was a first for the kids and I think as far as they are concerned, they got to "Ring in the New Year!" !
For us, celebrating was more about celebrating the start of a New Year!  We got to ring in 2015 with friends on Friday night (which is like a Saturday night to my friends back home).
The main event of the night was a Cajun shrimp boil at the Graham's house!!!!  Tell me that this doesn't look like the perfect way to kick off a New Year!!!
While you are waiting for the food to be ready, you can snack on chips to keep you happy!!
It was a year ago that we were invited to the Graham's for their Faux New Year's Eve party where we really go to know them and we met some other couples on camp that we hadn't met before or didn't know well.  It is amazing the relationships that have formed with these people in a years time.  It is amazing the types of relationship you form being an expat, especially in a country like the one we live in, how quick they form and how intense they are.  You rely on your close friends like you would your family back home.  These friends are like family to us now.
Amazing the difference a year can make!
Much like a traditional New Year's Eve party, this one carried on for a while and the kids weren't ready to keep partying like the parents!  Snuggling up on the couch in front of a movie was more their speed!  Here is Ethan 2 of the triplets.  I love how he put himself in the middle of Lindsay and Sarah!
Movie time!
With the kids content, the adults got to hang out by the fire and plays Cards Against Humanity!  If you haven't played that game, it is a fun party game!  Good laughs into the late night!
Wanna ham it up?!?!  Gotta laugh.  Seriously, laughing in the main thing that gets you through the hard times.  The crazy camp drama.  The frustrating third world non-sensical stuff.  The fact that you don't have a good escape for personal time, can't drive yourself anywhere.  The sad times when you miss home.  If you are having one of THOSE days there is someone there to offer an listening ear.  Someone to help you laugh through it.  Someone that understands exactly what you are going through.  Camp life is easier because these families are on it!
Families where the whole has a special friendship!  The guys need the laughs just as much as the ladies do!
Thanks Grahams for an amazing start to 2015!  I can't wait to see what this year has in store for us, our family, and our friends!

Tian Tan Buddha

The plan today was to pack up early from the hotel, head to the airport to check in and drop our bags off, and then explore Lantau Island and visit the Tian Tan Buddha.  We thought we'd have all morning and afternoon to be out and about but that all changed when we lost our car keys.  We didn't need our keys in Hong Kong but we were preparing for our late return to Saudi and wanted to make sure we had everything.  You would think that as often as we travel we would have all things travel/ packing related down to a science.  A specific place for everything.  A organized packing list.  A check list of important things to have.  Well, we don't.  And because we don't we learned this trip why we should be more organized especially while traveling.  This trip we made two big mistakes, the one was misplacing the car key and loosing precious explore time in Hong Kong because we spent over an hour tearing about the luggage and our hotel room.  The other one was traveling with an expired debt card.  Yikes!  No debt card meant no access to cash.  Ugh!  We survived the majority of our trip with the cash we brought with us and using credit cards where possible but it got to our last day and we only had a little cash to survive on for transportation fares and food. 
All that being said, it looked like we weren't going to make it to see the sitting Buddha.  We had arrived at the transportation station where you could either take a 30 minute bus ride up Lantau Island peak and over to the Buddha or you could take the cable car.  Ideally, we wanted to take the cable car but we were now down to only 3 hours before we had to head back to the airport and the line to purchase a ticket for the cable car was 1.5 hours long and then it was a 30 minute trip.  There was NO way that was going to be possible.  It was looking like the whole trip was going to be cut out and we were going to head to the airport, Brad likes to play things safe and I like to take our time down to the wire.  After much debate, we purchased our bus tickets (there was also much hesitation because of the curvy roads up we had a feeling one or both of the boys would end up getting car sick) and headed up to Tian Tan Buddha.  I'm happy to report we made it up with no issues from either boy (the way down however, did not prove to be as successful : (  ).
We arrived at the top of Ngong Ping.  It was cooler up here but luckily we kept our jackets out of the luggage before we left it at the airport! The sun was shinning and the scenery was beautiful and I was just so happy that we made it despite the rocky start!
To get off the bus and see the world's largest outdoor bronze sitting Buddha up on a hill was an amazing sight! 
Then we walked over to the steps and to see the 268 steps you have to climb to get up to the big buddha was another sight to see!
I climbed these 268 steps with a 35 pound baby boy strapped on my back!  I got my workout today!
I was super happy to make it to the top!!!  My legs were happy too!! :)
Brewster family selfie with Tian Tan Buddha!
Tian Tan Buddha got its name because its base is a model of the Altar of Heaven or Earthly Mount of Tian Tan, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. It is one of the five large Buddha statues in China.  This sitting Buddha symbolizes the harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and religion. The Buddha statue sits on a lotus throne on top of a three-platform altar.  See Brad and the big kids up there on one of the platforms?  You can purchase a sack lunch that allows you to go to the very top alter to eat beside the Buddha if you want.  We skipped this option.
The Buddha is surrounded by six smaller bronze statues known as "The Offering of the Six Devas" and are posed offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha


From the platform of the Buddha you could look down at the Po Lin Monastery.  We were headed there next.
The monastery is known as the "Buddhist Kingdom in the South," and serves as an international Buddhist retreat, and is one of the largest and most well known in Hong Kong
Most of the area is open to the public to walk around so we took some time to take in the beauty of the buildings and their surroundings!

 You are also allowed to go into the temples as long as prayer is not going on.
As I was researching our trip one of the Must Do items that was highly recommended was eating a vegetarian lunch at the monastery.  When we first made our way to Ngong Ping it didn't look like we were going to have time for lunch.  I was having visions of our botched Elsa and Anna meeting at Disney and trying really hard not to get disappointed.  My vision of the day was changing starting with our mode of transportation up to the peak.  I knew both Brad and I were working really hard to negotiate and work out a plan that worked for both of us and met both of our needs.  As we were standing at the bottom of Tian Tan Buddha and trying to figure out what to do next Brad decided to check our plane tickets one more time....
Good thing he did!!  Turns out our flight time had changed and we didn't even realize it!  We had an extra 2 hours!  That meant that we could eat lunch and head to the airport with a bit more wiggle room than we had thought!  Yay, win/ win for both of us!
And I'm so glad we were able to experience this!  There are 2 set menus to choose from and they serve it family style.  The food was so delicious and the atmosphere was amazing!  If you ever go to Hong Kong I highly recommend this for a lunch spot!
While we were eating we heard the monks "called to prayer".  The steps were closed off so you could no get to close to look but we were able to see them walking around, some playing instruments, and chanting.  It was an amazing experience!
Taking advantage of the beautiful green trees for a photo opt!  Don't get many of these living in the Land of the Sand!
At the entrance of the grounds to the monastery there is a large incense area with extra large incense you can light.  Here is a little description I found as to why incense are burned.
Worshipers at the temples light and burn sticks of incense in small or large bundles, which they wave or raise above the head while bowing to the statues or plaques of a deity or an ancestor. Individual sticks of incense are then vertically placed into individual censers located in front of the statues or plaques either singularly or in threes, depending on the status of the deity or the feelings of the individual.  I believe it is used to purify as well as a method to carry your prayers up.

From the incense area you get a great shot of Tian Tan Buddha!  Doesn't look 34 meters tall from here though!
The path from the main area to the Buddha is lined with statues from the characters representing the Chinese calendar with an explanation of what each one is believed to protect.

Despite the rough start to our day, our day ended perfectly!  This was a great last stop on our journey through Hong Kong!  My advice to anyone traveling to Lantau Island is to give yourself enough time to fully experience the place!  A full day would have been better, we wouldn't have been rushed.

And this concludes our time in Hong Kong!  We are so sad to go (Ethan cried on and off the whole way home that he wasn't ready to leave Hong Kong!) but we leave with so many wonderful memories!  If you are looking for a place in Asia to visit, Hong Kong comes highly recommend by the Brewsters!  A great mix of culture, so many things to do, kid friendly, adult friendly, a little bit of something for everyone!  Good Bye HK!  Thanks for the memories!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Touring Hong Kong

Today was our big touring day.  We wanted to see as much as possible and hit all of the hots spots.  We heard the best way to do this is with the Big Red Bus tour.  The double decker bus takes you all around town while you listen to a head set that tells you what you are seeing.  The bonus is you get to get on and off the bus as you wish.  You also get to ride the ferry for free throughout the day.  So that is exactly what we did!
We took the ferry over to the main island to start our bus tour!
I think before our sightseeing began we learned that we were also a fun attraction.  We had several people taking pictures of our kids!  Some even asked to take pictures with our kids, especially Ethan!  I love how he has even learned the "peace sign" they all make in pictures!  It is a bit hard for me to see Ethan get extra attention while the big kids watch.  I whisper in their ears that when they were little and we traveled the same things happened to them!  We have several pictures like this with the other kids and complete strangers!
Top deck of the bus and ready to explore!
Loving the view!

A bit windy and chilly but that didn't stop us from enjoying the ride.  If you ever go visit Hong Kong I suggest spending a day on the Red Bus!  It didn't disappoint!  Keep reading to see all of the stops the bus took us to and all of the things we got to experience!
One of the stops you can get off at is the Peak Tram.  This tram takes you STRAIGHT up (27 degrees to horizontal) to the Peak.
This is the tram headed up the steep slope, and this isn't even the steepest part!
All of the seats are facing backwards to prevent people from falling off the benches on the way back down to the Garden Road Peak Tram station.

We made it to the top!!!  Ready to explore and see a new perspective of the Hong Kong skyline!
When you get off the tram you are at the bottom of a tall mall.  We started riding the escalator to the top not knowing what to expect.  We saw an area where you could go outside to a pizza restaurant so we went to check it out hoping to get a great view.  The pizza place was closed and it was super windy and chilly but we tried to take a few pictures not knowing if this was our best opportunity for a photo opt at the top of Hong Kong.
 Brrr!!!!!!!

We went back inside and got back on the escalator to see how high it would take us.
There was a Bubba Gump restaurant a few flights higher and they had a great view so we decided to stop for a snack.  Here we learned, or confirmed, what we had been experiencing during our trip.  The culture here is about following the rules.  I, well I like to bend the rules.  Getting a table by the window was a perfect example.
The hostess wanted to sit us a a booth that wasn't by the window however, there was a window table open so I requested that seat.  For her, it wouldn't work for us because it was a table for 4 and we were 5 people.  I tried to explain that we didn't need the extra seat, our little guy could sit in a high chair and we weren't eating a meal so we didn't need so much space.  She wasn't buying into it.  Nope, we had to sit at the booth big enough for 5 people.  I just couldn't.... the window view was calling my name.  So when she left.... we moved over.  And then I just didn't make any more eye contact with her.  She came back to see that we had moved and she had a confused look on her face and then walked away probably knowing it was useless!  Darn American rule breakers!
We got a cold drink, a hot appetizer, and enjoyed the view while we rested our legs and prepared for our journey to the very top of The Peak!
Finally we found out you could go ALL THE WAY to the top of the Peak!  Finally we were outside, where it was very cold and foggy, on the Sky Terrace 428.  We are standing at 428 metres above sea level, on the highest viewing platform in Hong Kong. 
We had an amazing 360-degree panoramic view across the Hong Kong.  It was breath taking, both from beauty and from cold!
After we had enough view (and enough cold) we took the tram back down to the bottom.  This time we got a front seat so we could fully experience the steep view!
We hopped back on the Red Bus and took it over to the area where all of the restaurants and things were, the area Brad and I had visited last night.
It was now the kids' turn to go exploring!
Our first stop in the shopping district was the home brew store!!!  Brad had looked up and found there was a brew store in the area so we just had to go check it out!!  Let me say this, even with an address in hand, finding a specific place in Hong Kong isn't so easy.  Tiny little store fronts or doorways that lead to steep steps to empty halls that look like you are in the wrong place and then all of a sudden you stumble into the right place.  Honestly, I didn't think we were ever going to find this place!
But we did.... and this was Brad's version on Disneyland! : )
The home brew scene is becoming very popular in Hong Kong and we were able to sample some of the brews while Brad shopped!
Then it was time to take the kids Mid-Level Escalators and explain to them that they were on the longest covered moving walkway in the world!

While walking through the restaurants we stumbled upon a Mexican restaurant!  Any one of our favorites we miss while in Saudi!!  Chips, salsa, and cheese dip all around please and a michelada for mom and dad!
From the restaurant area we could walk over to Man Mo Temple.  This was another stop on the route so we knew that after exploring we could hop on the bus to continue our tour!
Photography is not allowed inside so we took most of our pictures outside.
A quick snapshot inside!!!  LOTS and LOTS of smoke in the air from all of the burning incense.
We learned that this is one of the most photographed temples in Hong Kong because of its unique circular incenses hanging from the ceiling.
Back on the bus to head over to Kowloon and to head down the very LONG Nathan road.  We did a full trip around Kowloon island to explore it all and also to let Ethan take a quick nap.  After a full tour we got off to explore the market area.
First stop, the Jade Market.  Honestly, we have been to several markets around the world now and this was not one of my favorites.  A lot of the same thing over and over again.  We didn't spend much time shopping here.

We also toured the Night Market.  Turned out to be a lot of adult "toys" that were at every other booth.  Not something we were use to seeing out and in such quantity.  There was also just a lot of other "junk".  Nothing souvenir worthy or anything we really needed.  Walking around and taking in the local fruit and veggie market and seeing all of the little restaurants along the way was fun to take in!

At this point it is late and we are all hungry.  Time to call it a day.  It was our last night in Hong Kong so we knew we had to finally let out pick out his fish from the window for dinner!   And that is exactly what he did!  He was so excited!
Here is Owen with his steamed Grouper!  Comes out just like it looked in the fish tank! I thought it would be a turn off but everyone was excited about it.
Brad also wanted to indulge in a local specialty so he ordered peaking duck!  I wasn't super thrilled about how it came out but luckily it didn't stay long on our table like this!
To be truthful, I ordered sweet and sour pork.  It was SO good the other day and I was craving it.  Plus, I wasn't SO sure how these other unique foods would be taken so I wanted a back up.  Turns out I didn't need it.  The fish and duck were demolished!  GONE!  The server carves the duck and leaves it with the crispy skin for you to eat.  Then about 15 minutes later a new dish with the rest of the duck is served!  Amazing!  So good.  We left SO full!  All of us!
We had one last little treat in mind for the kids to wrap up the day.  We had found a self serve frozen yogurt place like the ones back home and we just knew we HAD to take them!
They were SO surprised and so happy!  A little treat from home!
Another trip to the amazing Harbor light show!  Perfect ending to an amazing trip!  Thank you Hong Kong for the memories!  I have to say this has been one of my/ our favorite vacations.  It was so easy to get around, so much to see, the people were great.  It was busy but an organized chaos.  If you are looking for a place in Asia to visit I highly recommend Hong Kong!  I hope one day we can go back!