Holidays in Hong Kong.

After the final tumultuous days of our cruise we were happy to find ourselves on terra firma for the holidays. Airbnb was good to us again, this time with a sea view apartment in Hong Kong’s Stanley Market. From the living room we overlooked a peaceful vista of boats and beaches, but one step past our front door brought us into the bustling market and, just beyond, a pleasant neighbourhood full of French expats with their patisseries, cafés, and silly little dogs. We made an origami tree that we nestled against a Buddha statue with some milk and cookies so Santa would know where to leave the presents.

Our Hong Kong highlights:

5. Hong Kong Museum of History and Hong Kong Science Museum. These two museums are next door neighbours and can be visited together: we spent a couple of hours in the former and a good four hours in the latter. We always enjoy learning about a place we’re visiting, beyond what we can discover through our own explorations or read in a visitor’s guide. At the history museum, between our pre-visit reading, a great little movie, and then the galleries devoted to different eras in Hong Kong’s history, the past of this fascinating area really came to life. Having learned about much of this history in Singapore, including British and Japanese colonialism, the Opium Wars, and World War II, we felt that we were seeing it from a different (not just more Chinese, though that too) angle. We’ve become opinionated museumgoers, with a strong preference for compelling, evocative, ideally interactive exhibits. The history museum was stimulating and well worth a visit, but the science museum was extraordinary in this regard: it pledges to have at least 500 exhibits on display at any given time, with at least 70% of them hands-on. These are organized into 17 galleries, each dedicated to a theme: light, sound, motion, electricity, math, and various other categories were well represented. Sam had an absolute blast throughout the museum and especially enjoyed the T-Rex augmented reality exhibit.

4. Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin nunnery. We had a beautiful stroll through this elaborate series of Asian horticulture displays and then paid our respects at the even more elaborate shrines of the Buddhist nunnery nestled within the garden. The most sacred areas are off limits to tourists, but what we saw was impressive enough, including the rare sight of a gaggle of nuns making their way through the gracious covered arcades.

3. Stanley Market and Sai Wan Cemetery. The Stanley Market itself is lively and entertaining, with a beautiful plaza of chic shops, pricey restaurants, and enthusiastic buskers leading to a peaceful nature trail and small Buddhist temple. We found it an inspiring neighbourhood, ideal for a week’s stay. While we normally try to avoid the expat areas in favour of a more local experience, over Christmas this was the right place to be, especially after we discovered that the Commonwealth war graves are just around the corner at Sai Wan Cemetery. Having learned about the Canadian soldiers involved in the ultimately losing battle to protect Hong Kong from Japanese invasion, we were glad to be able to pay our respects. We sought out the grave of Company Sergeant-Major John Robert Osborn of the Winnipeg Grenadiers, who was awarded the Victoria  Cross for his bravery during the fall of Hong Kong on December 25, 1941. It was a sobering visit but also a proud one that helped Sam to realize Canada’s historic and ongoing role in the world beyond our borders.

2. Ocean Park. This theme park / aquarium / zoo is a perfect blend of activities to keep the whole family entertained for a very full day. Ours got off to an auspicious beginning when we were the only visitors to the park’s koala habitat. Sam got to spend some quiet time gazing at his favourite animal from just a few feet away before we moved on to the more energetic attractions: roller coasters galore, and a cable car offering gorgeous views over Hong Kong, the ocean, and the surrounding mountains. Our only complaint is that the food services were completely shambolic and not especially appealing. We ended up waiting in line for an hour at McDonald’s, the best of a bad lot.

1. Hong Kong Disneyland. This was the most wonderful place to celebrate Christmas. Sam had no idea that Hong Kong even has a Disneyland, and we managed to keep the secret until he finally spotted the iconic mouse ears on signs in the MTR station pointing us towards the Disney train. To make the day even more special I granted his wish and agreed to go on the roller coasters despite my utter terror. My bravery was his favourite Christmas gift, and we all had tons of fun, not all of it involving laughter at my expense. We really enjoyed the Broadway-quality shows, which were performed in a mix of Mandarin and English. Sam was lucky to be able to participate in the Jedi Training Academy, which he’s now completed at Disneyworld in Orlando and three Disneylands in California, Paris, and now Hong Kong, each one with its own local flavour. Although the park was very busy on Christmas Day, it felt energetic and lively, not overcrowded or frustrating. It’s a compact Disney park, smaller even than the one in Paris, but it has the full dose of Disney magic, making it the top highlight of our trip.

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