Monthly Archives: December 2014

Hong Kong revisited

Disneyland deserved its own post, but there was quite a bit more to this second trip to Hong Kong.  The nice thing was that I didn’t repeat too much from my first visit.  This is what I love about Hong Kong:  there’s sooo much to do.

For the first five nights, I stayed with Jamie & Co. in an apartment in Discovery Bay on Lantau Island.  This neighborhood is probably the closest thing to the suburbs that you can get around Hong Kong, and it was very convenient because of 1) its proximity to Disneyland, which is also on Lantau, 2) its central shopping area with a grocery store and restaurants, and 3) its ferry, which runs 2-4 times an hour to the Central piers on Hong Kong Island.  A huge thank you to Jamie and Peter for arranging everything, as I was having a major case of what they call “decision fatigue” with all of my logistical planning over the last nine months!

Our non-Disney days were spent in the apartment relaxing.

Or climbing furniture.


Look at that face! He totally knows he’s not supposed to be up there :).

Or playing with trains.


Matching outfits day. I found this blouse for Eva in Penang.  If only they had my size....

Matching outfits day. I found this blouse for Eva in Penang. If only they had my size….

I was also introduced to Elf on the Shelf, whose name is Anthony (according to Theo, who named him).  Anthony found some pretty funny hiding spots.



On our last night together, the five of us took the ferry to Central in Hong Kong for dinner.  Theo was fascinated by the boats – we had spent some time in the afternoon watching the ferries depart at the Discovery Bay pier- and it was a beautiful ride arriving after dark to see all of Hong Kong Island lit up.

It's not too shabby a view in the daytime, either!  I will never get tired of this skyline, even on gloomy days like this one.

It’s not too shabby a view in the daytime, either! I will never get tired of this skyline, even on gloomy days like this one (through somewhat blurry windows, too).

After my friends departed for Shanghai the next day, I moved my things to a hotel in Kowloon on the mainland for one night.  I had stayed in this place back in September, but I didn’t think that it was possible to get a room smaller than the one I had before.  I was wrong.  Tiny rooms are the norm for Hong Kong, and I can’t complain because I got a great price.  But this was just too funny.

Smallest. Room. Ever!  I am squished into the far corner holding my camera over my head to take this shot.

Smallest. Room. Ever! I am squished into the far corner holding my camera over my head to take this shot.

In the early evening, I met up with Urvi and Nick for drinks and appetizers at a Thai place near Central.  Urvi is the sister of my former boss in Boston.  She and her husband had graciously hosted me at their house on the island for a few days in September.  I am glad that I finally got a photo of the three of us together!


I wandered around Central until I came across a sight that looked somewhat unfamiliar:  the Hong Kong Observation Wheel.  I had seen this near the piers during my earlier visit, but somehow it looked different now, more… purple than I remembered.  I learned that it had just officially opened on Friday, the day that I had arrived in Hong Kong.  What a welcome!  I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be one of its first visitors.

The area around the wheel is still under construction

The area around the wheel is still under construction

This thing is huge!

This thing is huge!

Fortunately, the line was not too long.

Fortunately, the line was not too long.

View of Kowloon from halfway up.

View of Kowloon from halfway up.

A Hong Kong Christmas

A Hong Kong Christmas

A trip on a Ferris wheel just isn't complete without an ice cream cone afterwards.

A trip on a Ferris wheel just isn’t complete without an ice cream cone afterwards.

I spent my last morning in Hong Kong finishing up some Christmas shopping before heading to the airport.  The bus ride there was an event in and of itself.  I love buses in Hong Kong.  A reminder of former British influence, there are double-decker buses and proper queues for each bus line at the roadside.  It is the most organized system of public transportation I have ever seen.  If you luck out and are able to sit in the front seat of the second deck, you can get some awesome views, too!

Heading north on Nathan Rd. in Kowloon

Heading north on Nathan Rd. in Kowloon

See how nicely everyone lines up?  Amazing.

See how nicely everyone lines up? Amazing.

A busy zebra crossing (aka crosswalk)

A busy zebra crossing (aka crosswalk)

Passing the port

Passing the port

Bilingual signs for the islands, airport, and... Mickey :)

Bilingual signs for the islands, airport, and… Mickey 🙂

The bridge to Lantau.  (I got a little camera-happy on this bus).

The bridge to Lantau. (I got a little camera-happy on this bus).

I heart HK :).


*      *     *     *     *

So this will be my last “current” post.  Now that I have a reliable wifi connection, it’s time to rewind WAY back to where I originally stopped writing, which was (gulp) Albania.  I have my work cut out for me!

Categories: asia, hong kong | 2 Comments

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you a joyous Christmas from

Kuala Lumpur

NU Sentral tree


Gardens by the Bay selfie

Hong Kong

Hong Kong Xmas tree


Bali Xmas bush

and Cleveland :).

Zakelj Xmas

Categories: christmas | 8 Comments

It’s a small world, after all

I spent last week back in Hong Kong. I know that I have not yet written about my first trip to Hong Kong earlier this year, so just bear with me. I also had not intended to return to Hong Kong so soon, despite my love for the place. However, my best friend Jamie and her family who live in Shanghai (um, also to be featured in a future post) suggested this as a good meetup place while I was still in Asia. Their plan? Taking the kids to Disneyland.

YES. I’m in.

While I am not a Disney fanatic and often use the word “Disney-fied” with a negative connotation (“House of Blues Boston looks a bit Disney-fied compared to the old Avalon, but I have to admit that the sound system is much better”), my family went to Disney World in Orlando several times when I was a child, and I have always had very fond memories of those trips. Seeing as it’s been close to 25 years since I’ve been there, I figured that I was due for a visit.

I met up with Jamie, her husband Peter, and their kids Theo and Eva on Friday, and we decided to visit the theme park right away on Saturday since the weather forecast seemed favorable.  I say “favorable” and not “warm” because it was chilly!!! For the first time in months, I put on my long-sleeved sweater and jeans.

The nice thing about Disneyland Hong Kong is that its transportation system is integrated with the Hong Kong MTR, so you can easily get there from anywhere in the territory via public transportation. We caught a bus from our apartment to the Sunny Bay MTR station, where the special Disney train takes you to the park.

On the Disney train

On the Disney train

I was excited to be taking my first trip to Disney with young kids.  Note that I write “with kids.”  Maybe things have changed since I was young, but it surprised me how children were somehow a minority in the Hong Kong Disney demographic.  Sure, there were a lot of kids, but there were also a TON of adult couples, many dressed in princess or Minnie gear,  clicking their iPhones with selfie sticks like it was going out of style and clogging up the “pose with your favorite character” lines.  (I am a bit out of the loop when it comes to what is happening in the US:  has the selfie stick phenomenon hit yet?  If not: oh, America.  Just you wait).

Selfies at the Disney entrance.   How many adults do you see?  Now how many children can you find?  Exactly.

Selfies at the Disney entrance. How many adults do you see? Now how many children can you find?

That said, it was so much fun seeing Disneyland through a child’s eyes.

image image image image image

The professional photographers also took great photos using your own camera.  I was cracking up because one photographer kept making these loud "Ca-CAAA!" noises to coax smiles out of young ones.

The professional photographers also took great photos using your own camera. I was cracking up because one photographer kept making these loud “Ca-CAAA!” noises to coax smiles out of young ones.

While Theo is a huge fan of Donald Duck and Woody, Evie the Sockless Wonder (she likes to pull her socks off when no one is looking and thereby lost about three socks over the course of two days at the park) preferred It’s a Small World and any ride which allowed her to hold a plastic bottle.  Who needs toys?


Shockingly, the most nausea-inducing experience during my Disney excursion was neither the spinning tea cups of the Mad Tea Party nor the roller coaster Space Mountain, but the Winnie the Pooh ride.  Doesn’t that just seem wrong?  I am so proud that I went on Space Mountain, by the way.  Ten-year-old Becky would have been in awe.  I am NOT a roller coaster enthusiast and get motion sick fairly easily, so going on this ride was sort of my way of proving my mettle to myself.  I sped through the short “single rider” line and admitted to the little girl waiting in front of me that I was terrified.  She looked at me like I was a moron.  Once aboard the car (spacecraft?), I said to the Chinese man sitting next to me something to the effect of “I’m sorry in advance if I throw up all over us.” He smiled but didn’t answer; whether or not he understood me, I will never know!

The ride was mercifully short and vomit-free.  I’m sure my co-pilot was relieved when I finally stopping screaming. I realized that the ride’s total darkness, which is supposed to make it scarier, was actually an advantage in my case because I didn’t fear what I couldn’t see.  Other than having visions that I would somehow be decapitated by the end of the ride.  My panicked and crazy thought process?  That I am taller than the average Hong Kong tourist.  This is what happens when you watch Speed on TV shortly before riding a roller coaster.

Another fun activity was watching the daily parade.  They have some pretty impressive costumes and floats: tiger-like men on pogo stilts, marching bands, and fairies riding tiny beetle-shaped cars.  My favorites were the life-sized green Army figurines bungeeing (is that a word?) from parachutes :).  My least favorite?  The Princess float.  I have nothing against Disney princesses, but there is a fine line between looking “serenely regal” and “lobotomized.”  Frozen, indeed!


Hee hee.  Fun.

Hee hee. Fun.


Riding on the Jungle Cruise was another blast from the past, as I do not think the scripts for the riverboat guides have changed in about 25 years!  The management smartly arranged the lines for boats by language spoken:  there were lines for English, Mandarin, and Cantonese-led boats.  While I waited in line watching boats with names like Mekong Maiden and Irrawady Irma float by, I started laughing as I recognized the comedy in what I was doing.  I was standing in line for a “boat” that travels on rails through the “jungle” past robotic “wild animals” when within the last two months, I had taken actual boat rides through the actual jungle on the Mekong and Irrawady rivers, seeing real elephants and other animals along the way!  But you know what?  The Jungle Cruise is still a lot of fun :).  In fact, I think that my childhood experiences at Disney World, from seeing an island village on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride to embarking on a Jungle Cruise to visiting “Mexico” or “Norway” or “Germany” at EPCOT, helped to instill in me a fascination with different cultures and the desire to explore the world myself someday.

At the end of our time at Disney,  I was impressed with how well Theo and Eva handled the long days, because I was exhausted.  I am so glad that I got to spend some more time playing Fun Auntie with them and hanging out with Jamie and Peter again.  image

And you can take a guess as to what my favorite ride was :).

A fitting theme for a 10-month sabbatical

A fitting theme for a 10-month sabbatical

Categories: asia, hong kong | 10 Comments

Fish spa freakout

In its spare time, Cyprinion macrostomus enjoys swimming, nibbling on dead skin, and listening to Andy Williams Christmas carols at the Kuala Lumpur central market.

Categories: kuala lumpur, Malaysia | 5 Comments

The big 3-5 in KL

Hello from Malaysia!  I arrived here by train from Thailand almost a week ago, and I have been stunned by the fascinating blend of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and colonial architecture, culture, and food.  This has been a great place to visit for someone who loves to 1) take photos, and 2) eat.

I had always wanted to do something interesting for my birthday during this trip, but since I rarely plan too far in advance, I really didn’t have any specific ideas.  When my regional itinerary finally materialized during the last two weeks or so, it looked as if my birthday weekend would be right around the time that I would be passing through Kuala Lumpur.  So, still slightly burned out from recent stays at noisy, dimly lit budget hotel rooms of questionable cleanliness, I decided to splurge on accommodation there.  I have always loved historic hotels, but most of them are extraordinarily out of my price range.  Having found a good deal, I booked two nights at the Hotel Majestic near the old Art Deco KL train station.

Quite majestic (but no moose, though)

Quite majestic (but no moose, though)

Let me tell you:  it was worth every last penny.  Between my stay there and my four previous nights at the Museum Hotel in Georgetown, Penang, the last week of accommodation has easily been the best I’ve ever experienced. Worldwide.

My room was modern and gorgeous.  The customer service was phenomenal.  When I went down to the front desk to ask about the shuttle to the train station, the staff person actually sprinted outside to make sure that the waiting shuttle didn’t leave without me.   A top-notch breakfast and laundry service was included (yay!  Clean jeans!)  And my bathtub had its own television.  I discovered this at about 2am just after brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed.  I flicked on the TV just to take a look… then spent the next two hours in the bathtub turning into a human prune – an eyeglasses-and-nightguard-wearing prune- watching Speed.  Ah, Keanu.  Still dreamy after all these years.

Determined to make the most of my birthday lodgings, I spent several hours at the pool and then squeezed in a reservation for afternoon tea.  I have never gone to an afternoon tea before, but it seemed like a pleasant way to get lunch without leaving the building!   Leave it to me, however, to do something stupid before heading to such an upscale establishment.  In my attempts to quickly shower off from the pool before tea,  I somehow managed to aim the shower spray directly into my eyes while trying to avoid getting my hair wet.  Startled, I yelped out and instinctively bolted forward … directly into the shower wall, clocking my forehead so hard that my teeth crashed together and I felt momentarily stunned.   I made use of the minibar by borrowing a cold can of Pepsi  to hold against my swelling forehead as I got dressed.   I was pretty sure that this was not what is meant by “One lump or two?” when going for tea.

Afternoon tea at the Majestic

Afternoon tea at the Majestic

The afternoon tea was an elaborate and delicious offering of little sandwiches, scones, and cakes (although I was wondering if maybe they could dope up my tea with some Tylenol.  My forehead was really aching).  Toward the end, I saw the staff singing “Happy Birthday” with a plate holding an iced cupcake.  I pleasantly thought, oh, how nice, it’s someone’s birthday.  Then I remembered that it was MY birthday!  The dessert was not for me, however, which was just as well:  any more sugary, cream-filled baked goods, and I would have to be ordering a side of statins.

I *did* get a surprise dessert later on, though.  I was getting ready to meet up with my new friend Mike from the US for dinner when my doorbell rang.   A staff member was waiting at my door with a complimentary chocolate birthday cake!   I was so touched that I didn’t have the heart to admit that I am allergic to chocolate :(.  Not to worry: Mike stopped by, polished off half the cake before dinner, then finished the rest when I saw him the next day.  Can’t waste a good cake!

Death by chocolate...potentially ;)

Death by chocolate…potentially 😉

We got a late dinner at one of the only places that we could find that was open, a restaurant called Wong Kok.  They also had a free “birthday special” on their menu:  the largest glass of milk tea I have ever seen.  With its own ladle.

Excuse me, I believe I ordered the LARGE milk tea?  HELLO!

Excuse me, I believe I ordered the LARGE milk tea? HELLO!

We finished off the celebration in typical Zakelj birthday fashion:  singing karaoke until 3 in the morning.

Mike singing a country song

Mike singing a country song

I gotta say:  #35 is going to be a tough birthday to beat.

Categories: kuala lumpur, Malaysia, southeast asia | 22 Comments

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