Summer trip 2019: Hong Kong & Tokyo

Well, more accurately, the 2nd summer trip, this time to Hong Kong and Tokyo—a quick trip as we were gone just over a week. Jade has been in Hong Kong this summer on an internship where she is developing a curriculum to teach disadvantaged Hong Kong kids how to code. (As a math/computer science social conscience Chinese-speaking person, this checks all of her boxes.). She’s had a great substantive summer and also has a great first-hand experience in how democracy should work (i.e. the importance of the right of assembly under the 1st Amendment). The first items the organizers hand the protesters are a mask (to defeat the excellent facial recognition software China has) and a bilingual sign asking the police to stay calm.

sign handed to protesters
bird’s eye view of protesters

It was all quite civilized and British until the Chinese raised the stakes. It still is very safe as long as you avoid the areas where the protesters are (which are generally published ahead of time—did I mention that this was all very civilized?). However, with 10,000 Chinese troops garrisoned in Hong Kong, there is a very real risk of all of this going sideways quite quickly. In fact, I kind of feel like Dr. Strange in Avengers: Infinity Wars when he says he’s looked at 14+ million futures and only sees 1 where Thanos is defeated. I can’t picture that many scenarios, of course, but I don’t see one where it ends well for Hong Kong.

That being said, we had a lovely several days wandering around Hong Kong, including a trip to Hong Kong Disney with the four of us.

Hong Kong Disney
Festival of the Lion King at Hong Kong Disney

There is nothing quite like Disney to restore one’s faith in human nature. Perhaps our family chronicles can be marked solely by meals, trips to a Disney park, and trips to Hawaii.

Tokyo was our next stop. This year is the 20th anniversary of the US-Japan Leadership Program and the last year of George Packard’s leadership of the US-Japan Foundation. The celebration was festive and filled with gratitude and appreciation. Jim and I saw people we hadn’t seen in years as people came from all around the globe to help celebrate this milestone. There were people from every year of the program in attendance. It truly was an amazing experience.

Tokyo with USJLP

China Trip Preparation (and irony)

Our 16 year old son is going to rural China (Yunnan Province) for 6 weeks as part of a school program called China Fieldwork Summer. He is very excited about the trip (which makes him a better person than me).
There was a meeting the other night regarding the trip with parents and many of the students who are going. My favorite moments from the meeting:

– when the faculty member announced there would be no smartphones allowed on the trip (audible gasps of horror)
– a follow up question about whether the ban would apply to smartphones with the SIM card removed (removed—yeah, right)
– when the faculty member said, “Don’t bring hair products. There are plenty of hair products in China.” A collective shudder rippled through the row of high school girls. (Needless to say, the faculty member is male.)
– after being told that the area was socially conservative so no tank tops or short shorts are allowed, a girl raised her hand and asked, “How short are short shorts?”
– a follow up question about workout clothes and whether they were exempted from the tank top/short shorts ban
– a question from one of the students: “Is this trip like camping?”

and last but not least:
– parents who had expressed resentment that our son speaks Chinese (ruining the curve in Chinese class) are now ecstatic that our son speaks Chinese (additional translator on the trip)

Asia 2017

Beijing was the first stop on our tour. We went with family friends and since it was their first trip to Beijing, we played tourist. This process was helped disproportionately because our former exchange student was in Beijing at the time. She helped come up with the itinerary and arranged for tickets for many of our stops.

pretending to like each other at the Peninsula Hotel, Beijing

Highlights included the Summer Palace (my favorite stop in Beijing),

the 17 arch bridge at the Summer Palace

the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest,

entertainment at the Water Cube

Bird’s Nest

inside the Bird’s Nest

the Great Wall (on a misty and rainy day) where we discovered that the locals had conveniently blocked off traffic to the closest parking lot to the wall and paid off the local police so that they could offer a local “guide” who thoughtfully would enable us to drive up to the closest parking lot for a small fee and lunch at their farmstead. It was an instructive lesson in the demonstration of corruption-fueled capitalism. I have never seen the Great Wall in weather conditions like this—it has usually been clear and hot when we’ve been there. While conditions were a bit wet, the fog drifting across the wall and the mountains made for stunning views.

the Great Wall

We had a private tour of the National Museum, thanks to Jim’s connection with the Freer-Sackler. I am not certain the rhinoceros was the most impressive thing that we saw during the tour, but it clearly captured the boy’s fancy.

the most amazing item at the National Museum?

The Forbidden City was also a mandatory stop.

Forbidden City

inside or outside the urn?

They have now opened up the balcony where Mao made his famous speech declaring the formation of the People’s Republic of China while overlooking Tiananmen Square. (No further comment.) The views of the square are stunning.

view of Tienanmen Square

After Beijing, we went to Tokyo, for the US-Japan Leadership Program alumni weekend. While we did interesting conference-like activities, the kids went off to Tokyo Disney Sea. My only requirement for their visit is that they have a minimum of two photos together, looking like they liked each other. (I got 3 photos—way to go above and beyond the bare minimum, children!) :p

Tokyo Disney Sea

We had a fabulous trip, and it was way fun to play tourist after several years of not getting back to China.

Pandas…in a Submarine

Our daughter came up with the headline for this post, and it perfectly captures the highlights of our recent trip to China and Hawaii.

We started off in Beijing for a day or so, but, really, the focus of this trip was Chengdu and the Panda Breeding and Research Center. And the focus of the visit to the Panda Breeding and Research Center was to hold a real-live baby panda!

As you can see from the photos, the panda cub was about 10 months old and roughly 50 pounds. (Any bigger and the experience would be problematic, as pandas play rough.) The panda cub is eating bamboo coated with honey, which is in large part responsible for its mellow and beatific behavior. All of us wore booties over our shoes and giant blue smocks. The Center was great about time spent with the panda cub, with plenty of time to pet the panda (although we were instructed not to pet the face or ears) and the ability to take plenty of photos.

the family with a baby panda!

the family with a baby panda!

Jim with a baby panda

Jim with a baby panda

May with a baby panda

May with a baby panda

Marcus with a baby panda

Marcus with a baby panda

Our daughter had the highlight of the visit, as the panda cub put his paw on her in apparent solidarity. The rest of us saw the resemblance between the two (fluffy, likes to eat and sleep, solitary) and understood why there was such a bond between them. 🙂

Jade with a baby panda

Jade with a baby panda

Meeting the panda cub was such a highlight that our stay in the Aman Hotel, with its secret door to the Summer Palace (my favorite place in Beijing) that allows you to visit the Summer Palace before opening hours was a distant second in trip highlights (a distant third if you count the Hawaii portion).

But, despite that, here’s the Long Corridor in the Summer Palace with NO people (unheard of in a city of 15 million people).

an empty Summer Palace

an empty Summer Palace

With respect to the Hawaii portion of our trip, thanks to a friend of ours who is a naval officer, we were able to tour the USS Olympia, a Los Angeles-class fast attack nuclear-powered submarine. We weren’t able to take photos due to security concerns, but to be able to tour the sub was awesomely cool. We were obviously not allowed near the nuclear reactor or the engine room, but we toured the control room and the rest of the sub. For those who are wondering, there are five (!) bathrooms for the approximately 120 folks aboard the sub. The torpedoes are 4,000 pounds each and are transported to the torpedo tubes using a hydraulic system. It is an incredible feat of design and engineering. And submariners have to be a bit crazy—you certainly can’t mind small enclosed spaces, and you certainly have to be comfortable always being surrounded by people (introverts need not apply).

Added to that was an admiral boat’s tour of Pearl Harbor, surfing lessons every day for the kids, and shave ice at Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha (and meals at Town, Chef Mavro, and Alan Wong’s). Honolulu was pretty perfect.

All in all, a great addition to the family vacation memory book!