Sunday, February 28, 2010

Trip to Hong Kong, Macau and South Korea - Jan 28th 2010

Big rush this morning. Up at 5:50am to finish packing. We left the room at 6:50 and checked out. Walked over to Hung Hom Station and caught the MTR to Tsing Yi Station. From Tsing Yi we took the Airport Express which cost HK$42/adult and HK$36/child. Arrived at the airport at 8am which was one hour and forty minutes prior to take off. We were asked to do a self check-in by Cathay Pacific staff. After entering passport details, some of them manually as the scanner was unable to pick up all details, there was a problem and we would have to go through the normal check-in. It turned out that the problem was caused because we had a child in our group. Why did the attendant ask us to self check-in then? Idiot.

Raced upstairs to a restaurant for a quick meal. Very quick. Left at 8:55 and we had to be at the gat for boarding at 9:15 or risk not being accepted for the flight. Immigration still to go through remember. They always check my face at least twice and it must have been because of my beard. Went as quickly as we could to our gate and then found out that we had to take a train to get there! Then we discovered that gate 46 was right down the end and so had to run down the travellator. It was the final boarding call already. Just made it in time. Just. Nearly everybody had boarded already. Phew. Bit tight for comfort.

Thirty minutes into the flight the captain announced that there was a technical problem and we would have to turn around and return to Hong Kong where, "Hopefully the company has a plane available for us to change to." I blame the missus for pointing out that the on-board entertainment system had crashed (ok, I noticed that) and after informing one of the stewardesses the captain made his announcement. I like the fact that once we landed our screen informed us "Thank you for flying Cathay Pacific". We didn't go anywhere! Landed at 11:10. So much for all of the rushing about. Captain announced that there may be a quick fix or we may still have to change planes.

Entertainment system crash.

Hong Kong round trip.

Thank you for flying Cathay Pacific. Surely you can't be serious?

What's the problem.

And so we had to change planes. Luckily the company had a spare Airbus just lying around. We waited in another lounge and they provided a bottle of drink and chocolate butter cake. So much for compensation. Headed off again at about 12:50. Only three hours later than planned. Watched District 9 on the flight. Interesting movie but not suitable for kids [It's R-rated]. Don't think much of the toilets on board as they are still tiny and a somewhat odd shape and positioned strangely.

Waiting lounge for turn-arounds. Obviously.

Bus out to plane on the tarmac.

Boarding the plane on the tarmac.

Busy boarding.

First view of Korea.

Densely populated Korea.

Bit cold as you can see.

Coming into land at Incheon International Airport.


Flight was too long for this girl.

Arrived at Incheon just after 4:30pm local time. Miky had an easy time at immigration but we picked the slowest line. Of course. The immigration guy asked me if I'd been to North Korea when he saw my Doosan stamp in my passport. It was a bit embarrasing to inform him that it was the last station in South Korea. I'd been to the DMZ previously and he should have known that. By the time we'd finished Miky had collected our luggage.

Miky hired a mobile phone and I exchanged pretty much the last of our cash. Could be a problem later on. Grabbed a limosine bus to Anguk Station which was just down the road from our hotel, Somerset Palace.

Catching flies on the bus.

Checked in - marvellous room with two TV sets. Left as soon as we could and took an expensive (W4500) taxi to the Lotte Department Store. Arrived at 7:45pm which was only 15 minutes prior to closing time. Had to buy some gloves for The Boy but they didn't have what we were looking for. Went outside to the street market stalls and checked. It took a while to find gloves and then we wanted a price check. My question is why were there so many stalls selling socks in winter but almost nobody selling gloves. Surely they should be as plentiful as umbrellas in the rainy season. A further 20 minutes were used looking for another stall that sold gloves before we realised that we'd have to return to the first stall. Then the problem was finding it as we had been weaving around the streets without taking notice of where we were. It took some time, and frustration, before I saw a stall selling Dolce & Gabbana wares that I recognised and Miky thought that she had seen the glove stall before that. Sure enough, that's how we found it. Returned to the department store for the restaurant level, which was still open, and had W10000 bibimbap. The kimchi side dish was so good that we had to have another one. Caught a W2400 taxi back to the hotel. It was an international taxi, the driver spoke English also, so it was quite amusing when he sneezed and said, "Excuse me", and I responded with "Shillye haseyo".

Street decorations in Seoul.

More street decorations in Seoul.

Lovely decorations on trees.

Beautifully decorated streets.

I went shopping at Family Mart for saewoogang (shrimp-flavoured snack) and ice creams. Boy, the footpaths were slippery where they were covered in ice. The Boy watched Cartoon Connection whilst we viewed Korean TV.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Book Review - In Action With The SAS

From the title of a book that I completed some two weeks ago, In Action With The SAS by David Horner with Neil Thomas, it would appear that I have a fixation with war. Maybe just a little bit. But I'm no Rambo. No, I'm Hambo.

The Australian SAS, Special Air Service, which has the motto "Who dares wins", is a bit of an enigma. Not too much is known about their operations and identities of serving soldiers is guarded in secrecy. They have a reputation for getting the job done very efficiently and without fanfare. Of course I wanted to know more about them.

The first chapter is entitled "The Tractor Job". It makes fascinating reading about an operation during the Vietnam War. Not everything went to plan and the soldiers had to be very resourceful but the outcome was quite satisfactory.

Much of the book was descriptive of particular operations. The reader almost feels like he has been dropped into the jungle in Vietnam with the thrilling description of the operation itself. Can you imagine being so close to the enemy but being camouflaged well enough so that they could pee on you and not notice you were there? It makes for excellent reading.

Close to a third of the book is devoted to the history behind the setting up of the SAS and the struggle to obtain recognition for the brilliance and worth to the armed forces overall. It didn't help that most of operations were covert and not reported upon. How can you expect to be lauded for your exploits if they are not well known? This section of the book was hard going, I must say. My preference was to read about the operations.

Did you know that the first Australian SAS soldier to die during active service was killed by a rogue elephant? One of my favourite chapters included the first hand account of Private Dennis Mitchell on patrol. It is a vivid story of the danger faced during battle.

The men involved in the SAS are incredibly brave, loyal and well trained. And their stories were a joy to read.

In Action With The SAS by David Horner with Neil Thomas

Book Review - The Korean War

I picked this book up at a book fair for $3 late last year. The original price of this book, printed in 1972, was $2.95 so I think I must have a collectors edition as it has actually appreciated in value. In the rush at the book fair I didn't read the blurb and thought that it would outline the conflict itself. How wrong I was.

Mind you, the material was quite interesting. The book, in fact, is a collection of articles published in the New York Times Magazine published between 1950 and 1953 and includes pieces by a former secretary of state and the like. Only some 20% of the book would be devoted to the conflict but most of the stories centre on communism, China, Russia and the US and the reasoning behind the war and effects resultant from it. There's quite a bit of material relating to the US's participation in the Korean war and what it meant in terms of stemming the flow of communism, the world economy and China.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect, for me, was the overriding feeling that the US had no affection for the yellow man of Korea (the words they used) and the main reason for going to war was to prevent the spread of communism. In a nutshell the Yanks just wanted the Bolshevik mentality to be limited from overtaking much of Asia.

A few writers intimated that Europe needed to be defended from communism at all costs as the US economy couldn't afford to lose that business but that Asia wouldn't be an insurmountable loss. A rather simplified view of it all, don't you think?

Chinese communism didn't appear to be as great a threat as that directly from Russia and the Americans considered that they couldn't afford to go to war with China and were prepared to wait and see. In any case, the money and arms provided to Chiang Kai-shek who was claiming to be the leader of China within he exile in Formosa (Taiwan) was being wasted and not worth the effort.

Quite an entertaining book because it covered so many viewpoints from different authors and painted a decent picture of how the conflict was viewed from a governmental position and not from the battlefield. Only took a couple of weeks for me to finish too.

The Korean War edited by Lloyd C. Gardner

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Trip to Hong Kong, Macau and South Korea - Jan 27th 2010

Bit of a sleep in this morning. No rush as Disneyland doesn't open until 10am. The MTR trip took about 45 minutes from Tsim Sha Tsui to Disneyland and we arrived at 10:30. The Disneyland train is themed in a very cute manner. The exchange voucher issued by Flight Centre caused no issues and was exchanged for tickets very quickly.

Disneyland train

Nice decor on the Disneyland train

Themed handles too

Couple of excited kids at Hong Kong Disneyland

Welcome to Disneyland

Fountain in front of Disneyland entrance.

Upon entering Disneyland I was surveyed for my whereabouts, age, number of previous visits, was I staying at the hotel, etc.

Disneyland entrance.

We walked through Main Street USA and looked at the merchandise. Quite reasonably priced I thought. Caps were HK$100-$150, watches HK$150-$195 and polo shirts HK$180.

Tomorrowland entrance.

Fantasyland entrance.

First ride was the Space Traders indoor roller coaster in Tomorrowland - check the park map. Miky was so worried that she closed her eyes for much of the ride. This is not recommended behaviour for such a ride if you suffer from motion sickness. We followed this with Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters which I won.

Not busy at Space Traders roller coaster. Yet.

The Space Traders roller coaster building.

Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters building.

Wandered to Adventureland and took a raft to Tarzan's treehouse. Bit boring actually. Then over to Fantasyland, inside the castle, for a 3D movie at Mickey's Philharmagic. This was great fun and we even got wet. Have to watch Avatar in 3D after seeing this. Next was lunch. Nice setting in the eatery. Took the train ride around the outskirts of the park and it turned out to be one of the most boring and pointless things to do at any amusement park I've been to. And the guy who fell asleep next to me would have to agree I reckon. Miky had seen enough by this stage and wanted to do a little more shopping before heading back to the Ladies Market in HK. The High School Musical street performance went by.

Adventureland entrance.

Tarzan's Treehouse.

Waterfall at Tarzan's Treehouse.

View from Tarzan's treehouse. Unfortunately it's the best part of Adventureland.

The Boy and Tarzan.

Fantasyland off in the distance.

Another view of Fantasyland castle.

Beautiful decor.

Restaurant decor.

Crowded restaurant. Not badly priced for a theme park.

I don't see this look catching on.

The missus does the look better.

Cool kid.

Train ride view was like this much of the time.

A critic of the train ride as an amusement.

Interesting topiary.

High School Musical street performance.

The Boy and I alternated between Space Traders and Astro Blasters for the next couple of hours. The roller coaster provided you with a preview photograph after each ride so that you could purchase if you wanted to. I saw someone else take a photo of their photo and as nobody protested this behaviour I decided that it was not a bad idea. We quickly worked out that the best position for a photo was at the front of the first car. We managed to obtain some good poses and as there was no need to to buy the photo it worked out well. Not sure if it was nine or ten times that we rode the roller coaster but it was good fun.

Space Traders roller coaster photo.

Couple of posers on the roller coaster.

Space Traders roller coaster - 'nother photo.

Bit busier at Space Traders roller coaster - later in the day.

This ride has the power to make wheelchair-bound people walk again.

Riding the Orbitron.

The Boy scored 999,999 and reached level 7 at Astro Blasters to beat me. The next go I managed the same score. Champions together.

Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters top score.

When it was time to leave the Boy wanted to ride the Dumbo ride but it had broken down so we had a go on the carousel instead. We followed this with the Mad Hatter's Tea Cup ride which was great fun but I was a bit dizzy after that. Ate some caramel flavoured popcorn which was yummy. Checked out the goodie bags but weren't sure about buying them for HK$100 for a lucky dip value of HK$230 worth of three or four items. We watched other people but very few purchased and nobody opened it near us. After buying The Boy a cap we decided to try the lucky dip with what money we had left. It contained a HK$130 cap, a HK$45 pen and a HK$120 baby Mickey Mouse stuffed toy. Not bad value after all (enter "It's a small world after all" music here).

Tongue has to be at just the right angle.

Mad Hatter's Tea Cup ride.

Disneyland entrance by night.

Fountain by night.

Fountain by night but in a different colour.

Left the park at about 6:45pm. I decided that we should visit SOGO again for dinner and I had okonomiyaki, noodles and octopus balls whereas The Boy had salmon sushi. Finished just prior to 8pm in time to see the laser show on the harbour at a very crowded Avenue of Stars. Back to the courtesy bus and the hotel.

Hong Kong harbour by night.

Hong Kong harbour by night - a bit further down to the right

Laser show on Hong Kong Harbour - 8pm each night.

The aliens are coming.