XL Popcorn – The Cool World

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 792/1007Title: The Cool World
Director: Shirley Clarke
Year: 1963
Country: USA

I didn’t know it when I started watching The Cool World, but I was coming down with a case of the flu as I was watching this. That might go some way to explain why this film made a very limited impact on me – or that might be down to the fact that this is widely seen to be the first film of the blaxploitation genre, which is one of those genres that I just have little to no interest in.

What is interesting to note, however, is that this will be one of the earlier films on the list to be directed by a woman – which makes it all the more interesting that this genre was first birthed by a white woman. Or at least, the seeds for this genre was first put in place by her. Also interesting to note how this is shot in an almost documentarian style, which gives the more violent scenes their power. That and the fact that the protagonists are all African American children trying to get their hands on guns, sleep with a prostitute and try to become the main gang in the area.

Thinking back on the subject matter, The Cool World should have been an arresting watch. Thing is, that the film is done in such a 1960s independent style that stops me from taking it seriously. Then there’s my classic problem that, without some decent acting at the helm, I find it hard to take a film like this very seriously. Also, this film doesn’t try to go into the reasons behind the behaviours other than pure testosterone – at least in Super Fly there was some social commentary. Considering that the protagonist in The Cool World is 15, it would have been good to go further into his desire for a gun other than just to become the biggest man in the area.

XL Popcorn – Local Hero

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 791/1007Title: Local Hero
Director: Bill Forsyth
Year: 1983
Country: UK

If you told me that the creators of Northern Exposure loved and took inspiration from Local Hero, I would have no reason to disbelieve you. Whilst watching this, I couldn’t help but think of Mac – the American flown over to try and buy a whole Scottish town so it can be converted into a oil works – as a fish out of water Joel Fleischman type. Albeit with the love interest being more for Peter Capaldi’s more moderate fish semi out of water Scottish character.

The similarities to Northern Exposure don’t exactly stop there – right down to the visiting Russian who is beloved by the village and takes the outsider a bit by surprise. But I could go on and on about the kinship between these two properties. Let’s go more into the film, shall we?

Local Hero is one of those gentle comedies that creeps up on you as you are watching it. It’s also one of those films that has become more relevant in recent years given Donald Trump’s visits to Scotland in the last few years to add more acreage to his businesses. The fact that the recent musical adaptation of this film made the executive decision to ‘de-Trump’ the story somewhat should be evidence of that.

The overarching theme is that of anti-capitalism in the face of destroying natural beauty. Granted you have an entire village conspire to get the highest possible price for the land in order to become millionaires… but in the end all of the characters feel the same emptiness and realisation that they may be on the wrong side of the argument.

Within this you alsomahve some more outlandish comedic set-ups involving the strange psychological sessions held by Mac’s astronomy obsessed boss, the conclusion of which is a real laugh out loud moment. Local Hero is a film that took me by surprise for all the right reasons and one that I think we all need to see given the current economic climate.

Graphic Content – Jenifer

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
77/501Title: Jenifer
Bernie Wrightson and Bruce Jones
Year: 1974
Country: USA

At 10 pages long, Jenifer is likely going to be the shortest entry in the 1001 comics lost that I’ll end up doing. However, in these 10 pages, Jenifer manages to do more and make you feel more than many comics or other visual media do with a lot more material. It’s interesting how a singular story within an issue of the anthology comic series Creepy managed to get it’s own entry in the 1001 list, but that just speaks to how different and influential it is.

In Jenifer we follow a seemingly cyclical story of this grotesque humanoid creature who is able to wordlessly assimilate and take over someone’s life to the point of madness. All is done through a silent and ominous pleading which, if we didn’t know this man to be the latest in a line of victims, could otherwise be read very much as the man’s very own neuroses brought to life.

As stories go it’s simple and horrifying and is able to touch on so many dark emotions at such a primal depth that the central creature herself is utterly mortifying. Yet, you still feel sorry for her. It’s so weirdly complex that I have no idea how this was pulled off in 10 pages. Similarly, I’m not sure how this could be adapted into an anthology TV episode without diluting some of the power.

I’m going to be interested how the rest of Creepy will stack up against this one shot. At some point in the future I guess I’ll find out. Not for a while though. Think it’s time for something a bit more lighthearted first.

📽️ Disney Time – In Summary

In less than a year I went reform buying the Disney box set to having watched all the entries in the Animated Canon. Guess that goes to show how, with proper structure, I am able to finish off one of the longer challenges in good time. Probably helps that we had a regular Disney night and that I knew and liked a lot of these films already.

Going into this, I had seen the vast majority of the films on the list – which means I had the motivation to carry on through the bad period as I knew there were films like Beauty and the Beast and Zootopia ready to welcome me on the other side. One thing I had not expected is just how many of these films that I know I had seen before and either had no recollection of or had clearly switched them off previously and counted that as a win.

Let’s not mince words though, for every good film here on the canon there is another either dull or downright bad film to be found. This the same of any major studio and few out there had the high hit-to-miss ratio that the likes of Studio Ghibli or a single director director may have. However, going through even the really bad films, it’s been so interesting to see the Disney company develop, experiment, ditch things that didn’t work and become the filmmakers that they are today. I think if I had included some of the non-canon releases (like Mary Poppins or some Pixar) I might have gained a fuller picture, but just knowing how close the animation wing of the company has been to closing on multiple occasions has been a real eye-opener.

Now, time for superlatives. I thought it would be a good idea, now that I am done, to do some rankings of the best and worst films on the list. So let’s go.

Best surprise (of a film that I hadn’t seen before):Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Bottom 101) Fun and Fancy Free
2) Melody Time
3) The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
4) The Black Cauldron
5) Home on the Range
6) Chicken Little
7) Dinosaur
8) Treasure Planet
9) Brother Bear
10) The Sword in the Stone
Top 101) Beauty and the Beast
2) The Lion King
3) The Little Mermaid
4) Zootopia
5) Sleeping Beauty
6) One Hundred and One Dalmatians
7) Dumbo
8) The Great Mouse Detective
9) Moana
10) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

📽️ Disney Time – Frozen II

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 58/58Title: Frozen II
Year: 2019

When I started the Disney challenge last year with Snow White I hoped that I would be able to make my way through the DVDs at a reasonable enough pace that meant I could finish my challenge off in the cinema. Turns out I had a few weeks to spare, so here I am now with Frozen II – currently the final Film in the Disney Animated Canon.

It was always going to be a bit strange to finish off this challenge on a sequel rather than an original movie, but I figured that since this is an ongoing challenge I’ll be back to the original Disney movies soon enough. Going into the cinema for Frozen II I must admit that my expectations were pretty low. This is one of the worst reviewed Disney films for a while and a sequel that we never really needed. Other than to generate more money for the Disney corporation that is.

Still though, I don’t know if it was the lowered expectations or the chilly weather outside, but I had a whole lot of fun with Frozen II. This is nowhere near Disney’s best not is it up to the standard set by the original, but if you wanted more time with tour favourite Frozen characters then this really is the film for you. Similarly, if you want time to stare in awe at some of Disney’s most beautiful CGI work, then you also need to see this.

One thing that I want to applaud this film for, however, is for being the first major children’s animated movies to properly deal with the idea of colonialism and the beginnings of some form of reparations. When I think of how tone deaf Pocahontas in places, then you get Frozen II where there is no victim blaming – instead the white man taking advantage and being 100% in the wrong. It’s an interesting topic to take a glancing shot at in a Disney movie, but I’m here for it.

Also worth noting is that, whilst the songs aren’t as good on the whole as the original film, there is one solid earworm in this film. ‘Into The Unknown’ will probably never reach the heights of memedom that ‘Let It Go’ did, but it sure sticks I your head. Especially the haunting call as provided by Norwegian musician (and my album of the year 2019 creator) Aurora. That call has been in my head for the last week and it’s showing no signs of leaving.

Tomorrow, I’m going to publish a post about some of my general feelings and rankings now that I’ve come to the end of this particular challenge. For now though, it’s worth saying just how much fun this mini-challenge has been. I probably won’t be doing another studio-based challenge for my bucket list, but maybe some more film ones will come up. Probably worth getting closer to the end of my other two film challenges before starting in those though…

Status: Completed

Graphic Content – The Nikopol Trilogy

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
76/501Title: The Nikopol Trilogy
Enki Bilal
Year: 1982-1992
Country: France

Wow, so since coming back from Hong Kong I’ve been neglecting doing stuff for the blog as – being December and all – I’ve found myself uncommonly busy and am also focusing on my end of decade posts (like this film one). Also my back is still playing up two weeks later and I am not having. Still there’s commuting time, which means I can squeeze in a comic or three.

The Nikopol Trilogy is, as the title suggests, a series of three graphic novels written by Enki Bilal set in a dystopian future after nuclear war and the rise of many a totalitarian regime. The fact that it’s only set a few years away in 2023 is actually pretty grim, but at least we have yet to see the Egyptian gods come back in a pyramid shaped space ship that is without fuel and trapped hovering over Paris.

I think that my experience with this trio of graphic novels can be summarised as: great visuals, disappointing story. Give the setting and Bilal’s gorgeous art style, I guess that my expectations for the story was fairly high – especially as he really delivered with an interesting narrative in the first of the three.

Thing is, it just felt that after completing the first graphic novel in the trilogy, that he started to lose a bit of interest in making a story that was fully developed – instead going for a light touch on a number of interesting ideas. The side effect of this lack of depth is that the final graphic novel lacks a bit of coherency and feels like it was written with the philosophical understanding of a 14 year old. Such a pity as it started off so well and are all exceedingly pleasing to look at.

Honk Honk Hong Kong: Day 8 – Disneyland Hong Kong

It is the day before the people of Hong Kong are due to vote in the district council elections. In the lead up to this holiday, where we tried to extrapolate the increase in protests and police violence, we figured that this would not be the best day to be spent in the city itself. This is why we opted to spend this particular day in Disneyland, as it is both outside the city and not too far from the airport.

Like all theme park lovers, we wanted to ensure that we were there for opening so, since we had packed the night before, the alarm was going at 8 and we were out the door within the hour. Similar to Seoul’s main rail station, there is a service in Hong Kong where you can pre-check in your bags for your flight and then swan off to do other things as long as you buy the airport express ticket. In Hong Kong, however, the number of airlines is far more expansive, which is how were able to jettison our check-in luggage and not bring it all the way to Disney. Our hand luggage could always be sorted by one of the lockers in Disneyland itself.

In order to get to Disneyland using public transport, one of the easiest ways is to use the MTR system. If you look on the map, there is a special Disneyland Resort line coloured in bubblegum pink which connects to the same yellow line that you use to visit the Big Buddha. The trains themselves have Mickey Mouse head shaped windows and handles. There are also some themed statuettes inside the coaches, which makes the whole thing feel exceedingly special.

Of course, we arrived a bit before the park opened, but that just gave us time to eat the breakfast we purchased from some MTR bakeries. It’s a good thing we have some great Chinese bakeries in London, else I really would miss these. Mine was the pork floss and cheese bun, which filled me so much that my husband got the whole pineapple bun to himself.

List Item: Visit 25 Amusement Parks
Progress: 17/25

Then it arrived, the park was open, we were walking in and (somewhat predictably) I was crying. There was so much tension going into this holiday because of all the goings on and the violence that the choice was risk it or say goodbye to the money. At that moment, standing at the gates of Disneyland, I knew we’d made the right choice as it’s been a great holiday and now I was going to be closing out Disneyland for the final day.

This is the fourth Disney location that I have been to (after Orlando, Paris and Tokyo) and, as primary Disney parks go, I believe that this is the smallest in size and, possibly, in terms of the volume of rides. However, this in no way impeded our day here at Hong Kong Disneyland which was comparatively empty for a Disney park and so we pretty much walked onto every ride that we wanted to get on.

The idea of going to a Disneyland without queues, or minimal queues, feels like the dream of an eight-year-old, but that’s what we lived today. Thanks to this, we pretty much rode everything in the park that we wanted in under four hours, including some rides that we’d never have gotten around to otherwise.

We started in Fantasyland and immediately made for the Winnie the Pooh ride because of the bad memories of the massive queues back in Tokyo. This isn’t the same sort of semi-independent honey pot ride as in Tokyo, instead it’s one of the more traditional dark rides that takes you through some of the events of the 1970s Winnie the Pooh film.

After this was a ride upon the Flying Dumbos, mainly because of an article I read the night before talking about 50 minute queues for this ride, so thought it a good idea to get this in just in case there was a late influx of patrons. It was nice to be able to share this ride that I loved as a young kid with my husband, before today the queue length was never quite worth the pay off.

Next it was time for a classic – It’s A Small World. This opens a bit after the rest of the park, which is how we ended up being in the front row of the first boat going through the ride. It’s pretty similar to the other iterations of the ride from around the world, but I think this is the first time where I have seen Disney characters mixed in with the regular dolls.

With Fantasyland done for now, we turned our attention to the practically deserted Toy Story Land. This is becoming a fairly common land around different parks, but this is the first time I’ve actually seen it done. I love these movies and I love how bringing them to life as a world gives a more colourful and cheery take on Honey I Shrunk the Kids. We rode two of the three rides here (Slinky Dog Spin and Toy Soldier Parachute Drop) with us avoiding the third as its a take on the banana boat ride and those make me feel nauseated.

Skipping through an area, lead us to the Grizzly Gulch which is based on old prospecting times and also contains my favourite ride of the park – Big Grizzly Mountain. This is the closest that the park has to a runaway train and is one of the rare Disney rides that managed to surprise me on the first ride. We ended up riding this four times over the course of the day, the best ride being the final one that we did after the sun had set and a lot of the track was in darkness.

There’s a mini area between Grizzly Gulch and Toy Story Land which houses the Mystic Manor. Since, culturally, the concept of a Haunted Mansion doesn’t quite translate for the local Hong Kong/mainland Chinese audience, this ride was dreamt up instead. The concept is a tour of an eccentric explorer’s collection of curios that have come to life after his monkey friend has unleashed the magic housed in a music box.

My description sounds a bit odd, but the Disney Imagineers built an engrossing world here. Also, this ride uses the trackless cart technology from Tokyo’s Winnie the Pooh ride, which means the four carts from the same group experience the same ride rather differently. This is how we ended up riding this three times over the course of the day, just so we could see it from all perspectives.

Now, it wouldn’t be Christmas in Disney without some sort of a Christmas show. There’s a few throughout the day, but we caught an early afternoon one which featured swing and rock and roll covers of Christmas classics. Of course this featured the main Disney characters, Donald Duck stealing the spotlight as always, as well as characters that are more specific to the Asian parks. The sun was so hot that it felt like we were cooking, which is an odd sensation as you watch Chip and Dale dancing to ‘Rockin Around the Christmas Tree’.

The penultimate land we visited was Adventureland. This is one of those lands that doesn’t change too much depending on the park you’re visiting, but with some names changed here and there. For example, the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse has been branded into a Tarzan treehouse because that makes sense for an audience mainly composed of Gen Xs and younger.

You also have the Jungle Cruise, which is cute enough but really depends on how engaging your cast member guide is and how much the kids in the group go with it. The guide we got was excellent, she was armed with a long list of one-liners that just flew off the cuff like nobody’s business. The ride itself is fine, but it’s sometimes nice to just get a chance to sit down and do something a bit more chill.

Time for lunch, and I heard that the best place to go was The Explorer’s Club near the Mystic Manor. Well, we were not steered wrong with it’s beautifully varied decor (each room is decked out with a few replicas of different culture’s artefacts) and food from four different Asian cuisines. In the end I went for the nasi goreng which, as the picture shows was ginormous, looked stunning and tasted really good. This did not feel like the sort of food you would get in a theme park.

This leads us to the final land: Tomorrowland. This land is traditionally the one that myself and the hub finish the day on, but we still had five hours left in the park so ended up here a bit ahead of schedule. This is the only land in the park where you can see the encroaching of Disney’s recent franchise takeovers with Marvel getting two rides and Star Wars having one.

The Star Wars ride is Space Mountain – now branded as Hyperspace Mountain. I’m not exactly a Star Wars fan, but the theming makes sense and actually lends a story to the Space Mountain ride. This ride will always hold a special place in my heart as I had to have my leg length checked in Tokyo Disneyland as they were unsure whether I’d be able to adequately fold up. It is also traditionally the final ride of the day that my husband and I do at a Disney park. Which is what we did, on our fourth ride of the day where we also rode in the front of the train.

The other rides we did in Tomorrowland were the Iron Man Experience, which was an okay take on a simulation ride, and the Ant-Man and the Wasp Nano Battle. The latter ride is a re-skinning of the wider Buzz Lightyear blaster ride to something a bit less cartoony, but this one comes with videos of Paul Rudd which is an improvement to any ride out there. Ended up riding this twice because I love blaster rides and, in the end we had half a day to fill up with repeat rides.

Like I said, the park was emptyish which meant we ended up with a lot of time to re-ride everything we liked. Amongst these repeats, we also had time to take in both of the Disney parades.

The first was the Flights of Fantasy parade which was meant to have an ‘up in the air’ theme, but that only really applied to the minority of floats after the initial Mickey and Winnie the Pooh ones. Still a lot of fun though and it was cool to see Lilo and Stitch represented here.

Our Disney day finished on the second and better of the parades: Disney Paint the Night. Watching a parade like this with all the costuming and the different mechanisms at play really make me wish that someone would do a documentary taking you from the initial conception to the eventual running of one of these parades.

The fact that you have, one after the other, these beautiful candelabra-based ballroom outfits followed by a massive light-up Slinky Dog with moving eyes and spinning glow discs for springs just shows the variation of thought on display here. It just helps to cap off what was just a perfect day at Disney and a wonderful set of memories to end this trip to Hong Kong on.

And with this final dinner of assorted roasted meats at the airport, that’s this holiday over with. Next comes the 13 hour flight and the further trip home which will need to be navigated at 5am British time. As I write this, with the passenger next to me dressed in a full Parker and trying to nap on their tray table, I am not relishing the rest of this upcoming journey. Just hope that tomorrow’s me can forgive me for staying up so late to write this.

Honk Honk Hong Kong: Day 7 – Dragon’s Back

So this is it, the last full day in the city of Hong Kong and, barring any mishaps tomorrow morning, we will have successfully navigated away from any possible violence between the police and the protesters. Also, with the exception of my voice that currently sounds like I downed a quart of whiskey last night, I am pretty much to functioning. Just in time for the finale.

Today started in a way that is pretty unusual for one of our holidays, we actually went out with the expressed intent to do some shopping. Specifically, for a Christmas decoration to bring home with us from Hong Kong. Despite so many lovely displays in stores across the city (and some in Macau) we have yet to find a single place that sold something to take home. So, some googling later and we found ourselves at the Times Square shopping centre where…

…we somehow stumbled across a Pokémon themed Christmas village! There were themed little huts with model Pokémon inside to take pictures with. Like, we could not believe our luck it was so damned cute. There was a further display inside with a bunch of Pokémon on a camping trip, again super cute. This coincided with a small pop-up on the 12th floor where I bought myself a Grookey plush and we both got free Pokémon themed tote bags.

With all the Pokémon excitement done we settled in with a hot drink, mine being a delicious baked sweet potato latte before heading into the basement levels to achieve our mission of finding suitable Christmas ornaments. Thanks to the huge amount of choice offered in Log On, we managed to find a rather lovely gingerbread man tree ornament. We also got a lovely Santa music box made by Wooderful Life as this company has been there at so many of our Asian holidays and I finally found something in the perfect price range.

We skipped breakfast for a reason today. In order to make it up to my husband for just how ill I’ve been this holiday (and to say thank you for his vigilance on the Telegram app which prevented us from being tear gassed twice) I bought us a fancy buffet lunch at Renaissance Hong Kong hotel. So many videos of what to do in Hong Kong mention doing a fancy buffet, they weren’t lying.

This one wasn’t the most expensive or the most expansive of those on offer, but this still boasts four chef stations, salad bar, sushi bar, carvery, fresh seafood, curry and a large range of desserts including a freezer full of mini Häagen-Dazs pots. It was plenty enough food and everything was of high quality. I also got to see the interesting site of a woman waltz up to the crab legs grab them by the handful onto her plate and shuffle off again.

In total, we both ended up going for about 5 rounds of buffet. Me, I ended up going with the following order: Sushi and crab leg, random hot food (including some gorgeous pork noodles), dessert, burger and salad, greatest sushi hits. I can only wonder what the more expensive lunches would have been like, but I never got to try things from two of the chef stations, so it’s not like I would have needed more choice.

Now we were both very full, we walked back to the hotel to drop off our Christmas things and made our way to Shek O in order to do the Dragon’s Back trail hike. There are a few variations out there on the specific route to take, but as we didn’t want to be on an unlit trail stumbling around in the dark, we went for one of the shorter variations that took us about two hours.

After an initial half hour of mostly climbing, everything just gave way to stunning views of southern Hong Kong Island and the surrounding islands. The main sounds up there being the wind, the waves and the screeching of black kites (at least, I think that’s just what they were) overhead.

I know that after Hallasan I said never again, but I think that knowing I can do that means that I am far more at ease about doing hikes when on holiday. Even when I’m having to scramble across rock piles that suddenly appear. I mean, I wish the views from Hallasan had been as good as these. Then again the Dragon’s Back trail is famous for this, and I will be part of the many who would recommend this during a visit to Hong Kong.

We caught a minibus for the trip back into the city and then did something that only recently became safe again, crossed the bay to go to Kowloon. Whilst there, you could see where some of the fighting had taken place and where the police had removed the anti-police graffiti. Mainly because huge sections of pavement were missing and replaced by sand. At the moment, however, things have calmed in preparation for the district elections, so we able to walk around Tsim Sha Tsui without worry.

As the sun hadn’t finished setting yet, we made for the west end of the peninsula so we could watch as the sky glowed dark orange in the last gasp of daylight. Amazingly, despite being in a huge city, you could actually see Venus, Jupiter and some stars. These disappeared once the sun finished setting and all the lights got switched in, but it was really great to see.

After taking some pictures of the Kowloon clock tower, we walked over to 1881 Heritage as I’d heard it was a really interesting looking place. Interesting was the wrong word, it was beautiful. This is a former headquarters for the Hong Kong Marine Police that has now been converted into a luxury shopping area that deals mostly in watches and jewellery. It is also possibly the best decorated shopping area that I have ever seen. Truly stunning.

Since we had some time before the nightly light and music show at Victoria Harbour, we took a leisurely stroll down the Avenue of Stars where I enjoyed finding the handprints of Hong Kong actors and directors (especially cool when I found Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung) as we discussed, of all things, the alphabet song and enjoyed the skyline of Hong Kong Island at night.

Once 8pm hit, the light show began. This would be the third time that we’ve inadvertently seen it, but the first time that we actually heard the accompanying music. It helps give some context to the flashing lights that we’ve been seeing, but it’s not hugely choreographed like the Singapore free water show. Still, I’m in awe at how many different buildings are involved in this nightly event, many in their own unique ways. It was a nice way to say goodbye to this city. Neither of us have been in the best shape this week, but we’ve definitely made sure to give each other a good time.

As Hong Kong is home to many cuisines, we decided our final meal would be something a bit different – which is how we ended up going Vietnamese. My husband’s is the pork banh mi (which I was jealous enough of that I’ve found a recipe to make my own version for when I do Vietnam for the world cooking challenge) and mine was the pho. I couldn’t finish my bowl, but made sure to make light work of the chicken wings.

All that’s left now is packing and some mental preparation for what will be a long day tomorrow given that it ends in a 23:45 flight home. I can hear my brain sobbing now.

Honk Honk Hong Kong: Day 6 – Ocean Park

Despite its size, Hong Kong boasts two substantial theme parks. There’s Hong Kong Disneyland, which I’ll be visiting on my final day, and then there’s today’s destination; Hong Kong’s very own Ocean Park. Thanks to the South Island line stopping directly outside, there was only 18 minutes between my hotel room and some theme park fun and frolics – with a stop for breakfast of course.

Now, with these two buns I think I have now crossed off everything major from my “what to eat in Hong Kong” list. First there’s the pork bun, a classic and always a pleasure when the meat-to-bun ratio is in your favour. Then there is the Pineapple bun, a local specialty with a hard cracked sugar topping that tastes nothing of pineapple, but just looks the part. Perfect way to start the day really.

List Item: Visit 25 Amusement Parks
Progress: 16/25

Like with Everland, Ocean Park is part zoo and part theme park (which, given the size of Hong Kong, makes sense). It is also split into two sections because of topography, which means you have the Waterfront and the Summit areas, which are connected by a scenic cable car and an underground funicular. These different factors make Ocean Park a pretty unique visit and a varied one at that. Also, they were playing Christmas songs all day, which felt very weird given the differently themed areas.

Since it’s the closest to the entrance, our first visit was to the Grand Aquarium. It’s one of many aquaria in the theme park, but this is the one without any certain theme other than “here’s some fish”. Lots of different sea life here including spider crabs, a tower of milk fish, octopus and all matter of tropical fish. You also had a whole room with different types of seahorse and the overarching educational message that these should not be used for medicine when other things work better and are sustainable.

Next was a building referred to as the Hong Kong Jockey Club Sichuan Treasures. This large building contains two types of animal. Firstly there’s the oldest panda currently in captivity who, at time of writing, was 33. It was nice to see a panda just wandering around and being bear-like, especially an old gent like himself. Next to him were the Golden snub-nosed monkeys – including a baby who was born this year. I first saw some of these in Everland and, like now, find them so strange to look at. However, I did fall for Little Peanut (the baby) who was swinging everywhere and annoying their parents.

In the next park area, titled Amazing Asian Animals, you get even more animals to enjoy – including the two current breeding pandas at the zoo who were both asleep leaning on boxes. There are also exhibits featuring red pandas, Chinese alligators, otters and a strangely interesting room continuing many different breeds of goldfish. I’m ignorant in the way of the goldfish, but I had no idea there were so many variations.

Since the Emerald Trail was closed, we made a visit to the Adventures in Australia exhibit – containing wallabies, kookaburras and a rather obese koala before getting in the only queue that we were going to experience today – the one for the cable car.

When you come to Ocean Park, the one attraction that you absolutely have to do is the cable car. Not just because it’s one of the two ways to visit the other park (because the funicular is more efficient), but because the views you get en route are spectacular. Like, the type of beautiful where I was compelled to tell the seascape to “shut up” because it was being so beautiful. We ended up doing this trip twice, because when you are at Ocean Park when everything has next-to-no lines you ride the cable car twice.

The Summit level of Ocean Park is where you find the vast majority of the rides, a bunch of them were shut for upgrades (the perils of off-season) but we got in a bunch of the available ones. First was the rapids ride in the rainforest area, as those tend to be my favourite kind of rides. We strolled straight onto a tube and both got summarily soaked since, as my husband put it, “this ride cheated” when it comes to getting you wet as there are jets spraying directly at the riders. Still a lot of fun though.

We finished off the rainforest zone by looking at the animals in the Expedition Trail area – including electric eels, frogs and the most satisfied looking iguana that I have ever laid my eyes on. They also had a few arapaima, which are the largest freshwater fish in the world and look like something out of Jurassic Park.

Since we’d both dried off a bit, it was time to scratch the roller coaster itch by riding the two that were not currently under maintenance (sadly the other two were closed). First was the gentler of the two, the Arctic Blast. We managed to stroll on and get underway almost straight away. It’s one of those coasters that is a good in between to make sure you don’t accidentally bring your kid on a particularly rough one (the uncontrollable crying of the girl in Everland still makes me laugh).

Then there was the Hair Raiser, whose Luna Park inspired facade gives off a ‘can’t sleep, clowns will eat me’ kind of a vibe. As with the other coaster, we got on straight away and the experience was so extremely joyful and full of g-force that it left us both with smiles and headaches. Time to take a rest from the rides and head for the highlight of the day.

List Item: See a walrusStatus: Completed

I love walruses. You very rarely see them in captivity and the closest I’d ever seen one was in a Seaworld show when I was 10. So, to say that my reaction to seeing two of these beautiful animals swimming an arms reach away was a bit extreme is… well I cried. I managed to keep myself together to not go completely ridiculous, but I was very obviously overwhelmed and so stood there staring and snapping pictures for an inordinate amount of time. Towards the end of the day, there was a walrus feeding demonstration so we returned and I videoed the whole thing.

We finished up in this section by seeing the other polar animals on display – spotted seals, arctic foxes and three types of penguin. The Gentoo Penguins were especially interesting as it looked like they were in the process of nesting, so the male Gentoos were gaily running around gathering pebbles and bringing them back to their partner. So very very cute.

Two more rides (on the Rev Booster and the Whirly Bird) and then we went back to the lower level via cable car in order to get lunch. Since we had a two for one code, we grabbed a rather delicious sausage before settling down with some dumplings and dan dan noodles. Apparently, this vendor in the park is mentioned in the Michelin guide, which is really cool for an affordable food stand in a theme park.

We went back to the summit via the Jules Verne inspired Ocean Express tram and took in some more of the aquaria. First was the small one dedicated to Chinese sturgeon, then there was the better shark-themed one. So many things are better with rays and sharks, and this aquarium had quite a few of them. I ended up becoming especially fixated on the guitarfish and the sawfish. Sometimes it’s just amazing to see these oddities swim.

By this point it was nearly an hour to closing, so we watched the walruses being fed, had a second go on both roller coasters and bought some souvenirs before heading out. Our eight hours really flew by, but that wasn’t it for the day.

We’d always intended to go back up The Peak at night during our final full day, but geographically this just worked perfectly – so that’s just what we did. Only this time, we paid the extra 50HKD to go to the main viewing platform and made sure to get as much use out of it as our increasingly colder selfs could.

The uniqueness of Hong Kong’s geography and building density really makes for some incredible views from high vantage points. Also, at this point of view, everything is this futuristic metropolis – which is a stark contrast to the view I got from Sky 100 which showed some of the less attractive buildings in Kowloon. This particular platform also gave me the weird association between this night view and a photographer repeatedly ravaging a rubber chicken in order to get a smile from a child. I don’t know what to do with that.

Dinner ended up being a bit odd thanks to a curiosity of mine to try food from Filipino fast food chain Jollibee. I’ve seen them mentioned online before, and I heard the episode of Doughboys where it received low scores. Still though I was curious enough to get a combo meal of the Aloha burger and their spaghetti and was pleasantly surprised. Especially by the spaghetti which, at first, looked really suspect but ended up tasting really good. Even if we did have to eat it with spoons.

Tomorrow is the last technical full day (the day after, we fly out at just before midnight) and it’s going to be a bit of a weird round up day. There’s things we never got around to because of the protests and police brutalities requiring rescheduling, but tomorrow should make for an interesting one.

Honk Honk Hong Kong: Day 5 – Lantau

With the exception of some chronic sneezing and my back aching to the point that over the counter pills aren’t touching it tonight, today has been my first full day on vacation where my body hasn’t tried to completely shut me down. Oh how low the bar has been lowered.
Since things aren’t improving, more staying the same than improving, we swapped some things around today so that our trip out to Lantau got moved up. At least then, if things descend further before Sunday’s election, we’ve seen the main things on the list and we can skip town early with full insurance backing.

Skipping through some public transport stuff, including the pretty damaged Tung Chung station, and the fact that neither of us set an alarm so it was all hands on deck at 9:45 this morning, we started our day by riding the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car. This appears to have been the first operational day for a while, so we lucked out there.

The trip is surprisingly long for a cable car, then again it’s taking you a distance of over 5.5 kilometres and you get to see just how green this stunning island is. Also, you get the chance to see Hong Kong International Airport from the air – which is cool and unique. Regrettably we didn’t have the carriage to ourselves, but we were all just crossing over each other to take pictures anyway.

At the end of the ride is Ngong Ping Village – a purpose built area with shops and restaurants that has been done in a traditional Chinese architectural style. It’s a bit cheesy, but I really love stuff like this – especially at the end where they piped music in. Just revs up the magic a little bit.

Breakfast (well, lunch at that point) was finally a chance to have some Chinese style roasted meats. I went for the roasted goose, as you never see that in the UK, whilst my husband went for the more traditional pork. Since we were going to be climbing up the Buddha’s steps soon, a good meal made sense unless my body tried to have me faint again.

We walked past the signs warning us of feral cattle, as well as a feral cow peacefully snoozing, to reach Po Lin Monastery – one of the three things that we wanted to do whilst at altitude. This is the kind of structure I was hoping for with the Chi Lin Nunnery, but I’m glad that I got it here.

The main altar building with the three golden statues and the beautiful ceiling paintings were beautiful, equalled by the impressive carved stone columns and reliefs on the outside.

Next door to this was the larger Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, which was only completed a few years ago. I love these types of rooms just to see how they go about reaching the number of Buddhas in one space. Here they did something really cool by having the room tiled, where each tile was like a little ceramic statue of Buddha. It’s a far more efficient approach than the first room of this type that I saw back in Singapore, where it was individual miniature statues.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 93/100Sight: Tian Tan Buddha
Location: Hong Kong
Position: #331

Big ticket item time. The Tian Tan Buddha, also known locally as the Big Buddha, with his 268 steps of thigh burn that I managed to do in one go because I was filled with the power of roast goose. It’s a lot of steps, but this stunning work of bronze really is something that you want to get close to. The level of detail and the serenity of the expression are something else when you get near the top. Also, this is the first time I’ve really seen one of these gigantic religious statues and that’ll always make the Tian Tin visit a special one.

A slower walk down, to try and take photos that showed off his awesomeness whilst fighting the extremely bright November sun, led us off to the final thing we wanted to do whilst up here – the Wisdom Path.

Reading online, I think we both thought this was some medium length hike with some large wooden planks with Chinese characters carved in. Well, we were half right. The walk itself is a small figure of eight path on an incline. It’s nice enough to do, but the walk there was probably more what we were looking for – especially as it gave us time with the mountain’s many butterflies.

Some slightly overpriced ice cream and a bus ride later and we got to the village of Tai O. There’s two real reasons to come here: one is see the traditional pole supported houses of the fishermen, the other is to try and see some pink dolphins. Both of these can be done for the low price of 30HKD as part of a half hour speedboat ride. We didn’t luck out with the dolphins, but the ride was really cool.

I didn’t really feel the need to buy anything fish-related, although I was close to considering some hanging little pufferfish before I quickly realised that these were real dried pufferfish with googly eyes in rather than something strictly man made. We did buy some gorgeously crispy chocolate flavoured egg waffle balls before boarding a wonderfully scenic bus down to the village of Mui Wo.

Seriously, for some of the views, this bus was worth doing just for the sake of doing it.
At Mui Wo our mission was simple, head for Silvermine Bay Beach and watch the world go by for a bit before boarding the ferry back to Central. So that’s what we did. Made a canine friend and enjoyed some peaceful time in lovely off-tourist season surroundings. Would have been nice to stay for a while longer, but it was already getting on a bit and by the time we boarded the ferry it had already gone completely dark.

Back on Hong Kong Island, I found a local restaurant on OpenRice that had good word of mouth and would give us the chance to have some Chinese cuisine in a more upmarket setting. There was so much on the menu that we ended up going with things on their ‘specialities’ section just to help narrow down the choice. As much as I enjoyed our soup, Beggar’s chicken and the lovely ribs – part of me does wonder what might have been. Excellent meal though so shan’t complain too much.

So that’s the end of another day and tomorrow will be the first of two theme park days. Have to say that, my aching back aside, I am so looking forward to some levity and some walruses. Should be a great one.