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

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.

Tokyo and the US-Japan Leadership Program

We traveled to Tokyo in late July to participate in the US-Japan Leadership Program alumni weekend but arrived a few days early so that we could do the important things in Tokyo—Tokyo DisneySea and Tokyo Disneyland. 🙂

(Our son came with us on the trip, but our daughter was doing her community service project and wasn’t able to make it.)

We had never been to DisneySea, and it was a really fabulous experience to visit a Disney park where everything was new. Our favorite rides there were Journey to the Center of the Earth and the Indiana Jones ride (which is based on the horrible Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull movie). There is a Stormrider ride that is somewhat similar to the Star Tours simulator ride that is also very well done.

Tokyo DisneySea

Tokyo DisneySea

We had only been to Tokyo Disneyland once before. Once again, the Winnie-the-Pooh ride was our favorite (and it’s the best version of the ride in all of the Disney parks, hands down). We also loved the Buzz Lightyear and Monsters, Inc. rides there. And we are continually fascinated by the different flavors of popcorn available in the Tokyo Disneyland park—honey, chocolate, curry, teriyaki, and regular. Curry popcorn was the Ms’ favorite flavor, but Jim was NOT a fan.

Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland

It was also fun to compare the design and rides with all of the other Disney parks. Yes, I know we are hopeless Disney addicts!

We ate at a one Michelin star teppanyaki restaurant called Ukai-tei. It was an interesting combination of classically trained teppanyaki and classically trained French chefs in one restaurant (and chef). The food was fabulous, and it was a great experience.

The USJLP alumni weekend was a tremendous amount of fun. There were over 70 Fellows who attended, and many more Americans than typical. The nice thing about having a critical mass of Fellows is that you don’t feel as much like you’re intruding on the delegates’ fun and bonding. It was really lovely to see all the Fellows, catch up on their news, and meet the delegates (some of whom I already knew from DC gatherings). There was even a bonding amongst what we hope to be the future generation of USJLP-ers!

future USJLPLers

future USJLPLers

Oh, and I can’t forget that only in Japan can you find square watermelons!