Sunday, June 29, 2008

VacAsian Day Twenty Nine (31 May, Los Angeles and Hutto/Avondale)

If we had videotaped VacAsian Day One and played it in reverse, it would probably look something like today. We woke, dressed, and packed, then had lunch at Charles II. Huey dropped Robin at her terminal, then returned the rental car. Robin checked her bags, then met Huey at this terminal, where his flight would be the first to leave.

After nearly thirty days of being joined at the hip, we were saying goodbye to each other for a few weeks. It was sad, very sad, but also a testament to all that we learned about each other and our relationship over the course of the month. Many people joked that if we could make it through a month of spending virtually every moment together, we are meant to be together and we can make it through anything.

Well... we made it!

From Hutto to hutong and Asia to Avondale, this was the holiday of a lifetime for both of us. Our next big trip? Our honeymoon next Fall. In the meantime, we'll be posting all manner of fun about Robin's move back to Texas, the planning for our wedding in Fall 2009, and the wedding itself, in addition to anything else that may happen along the way...!

VacAsian Day Twenty Eight (Friday, 30 May, Tokyo and Los Angeles)

Stop us if you think that you've heard this one before: We got up at 4:30 this morning, dressed, and made our way to the Shiodome train station, en route to the Tsukiji Fish Market. This time, however, we both purchased Metro tickets, made it all the way to Tsukijishijo, and it was open!

All the guidebooks and first-hand accounts from others who have been there (including this one) cannot accurately describe or prepare you for this experience. To stroll around a busy, vibrant commercial fish market at 5:30 in the morning, passing by everything from tuna the size of small cars to live octopi staring up at you from the confines of styrofoam coolers, is a surreal happening that is not fully appreciated with all the photos and video clips in the World. Capping the experience with "extra special quality" sushi, most of which was still swimming just hours before, from an on-site sushi bar only made it more surreal. With that said, here are just a few of the mementos we captured:

We returned to the hotel and packed for the final time on our VacAsian. A shuttle bus picked us up from the hotel and took us directly to the airport, where, although our bags were overweight, the customer service rep who checked us in advised that he would let it go "this time." (Arigato, Lucky Buddha! (See VacAsian Day Twenty Seven)) We put ourselves on the list for business class upgrades, and though we didn't get them, just before boarding, we got free upgrades to Economy Plus. (Arigato gozai mas, LB!)

The 9 hour flight back to The States seemed to fly by. (Get it? "Fly" by? Where does Robin come UP with these zingers?) Robin slept most of the way, while Huey read and watched movies. Per usual, we were fed well, and we landed in Los Angeles at 11:30 AM, two hours BEFORE we left our Tokyo hotel to head to the airport that very morning, courtesy of the International Date Line. We grabbed our bags and cleared customs in no time, picked up our rental car, and drove in to Downtown Los Angeles to run errands.

To say it was bizarre being back in the US after four weeks abroad would be a gross understatement. One thing was for sure, though: We aren't in Asia anymore. The VacAsian was over.

We checked in to our hotel, the same Radisson next to LAX where we stayed on VacAsian Day Two, and slept for a few hours, while the 14th Annual Salsa Congress (the dance, not the condiment) shook the hotel from three levels below us. We met Huey's childhood friend Dr. Roberto B. Vargas III, a clinical instructor at UCLA Medical School and the man who first coined the nickname "Huey" back in 1982, along with Huey's friend and client Andre Meadows (see VacAsian Days Three and Four), for dinner at one of Huey's favorite LA haunts, Kate Mantilini in Beverly Hills. Unimpressed by Kate's dessert selection and "jonesing" for some good ol' American CAKE, we drove to Westwood and gorged ourselves on slices of CAKE the size of our heads at Cafe Elysee.

From Westwood, we went back to our hotel, where we were serenaded to sleep by the "peaceful" sounds of Salsa until 3 AM.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

VacAsian Day Twenty Seven (Thursday, 29 May, Tokyo)

The movie "Groundhog Day" starred comedy legend Bill Murray and told the story of a Pennsylvania weatherman who awoke several mornings in a row to find that he was living out the same day over and over. It would be an exaggeration to say that we felt like we were living out that movie... but we awoke at 4:30 today to a sunny sky in an effort to check out the action at Tsukijishijo (see VacAsian Day Twenty Six). Just like the previous morning, we dressed and found our way to Shiodome Metro station. The "Groundhog Day" effect took a weird turn there.

Tokyo is the last place we expected to have problems using our ATM cards; however, Tokyo was the first (and only) place we had such a problem. As a result, this being our last full day in Tokyo (and, sadly, the last full day of VacAsian), we were running low on yen. (In fact, you might say we had a yen for some yen. (Robin wrote that joke too, y'all.)) Unfortunately, it was not until we reached the Metro station that we realized just how few yen we had. Long story, short, we only had enough yen for one roundtrip Metro ticket, so instead of one of us going alone, we opted to go back to our room and sleep. We re-awoke up at 8:45... exactly the same time we re-awoke yesterday.

NOTE: Neither of us saw our shadow during our brief trek, mainly because we were in the underground concourse and never stepped outside. Take that for what it's worth.

We went down to breakfast and the weather had taken a turn for the cold and wet. We located the one ATM in the Shiodome area that would take our ATM cards, ran some other errands, and came back to the room to work on postcards and continue fighting with FedEx. Recognizing this as our last day of VacAsian, we decided to brave the elements after a few hours and headed out.

Our first stop was Senso-Ji Temple, our first temple visit in Japan. The Temple was beautiful, like every one we've seen, and it is home to a life-sized, bronze teen Buddha (yes, even Buddha went through an awkward, adolescent phase) statue, the head of which has been rubbed smooth by countless visitors seeking good luck. (We, of course, were not above following this tradition. More on the results later.) Conveniently, there was also an expansive - you guessed it! - market adjacent to the Temple, where we did our final shopping of the VacAsian.

Leaving - or trying to leave - the market, we got lost for the first time on our 30 day VacAsian. (Of course, it WOULD happen on our very last day!) As we picked our way through the retail labyrinth that was the Senso-Ji Market, Huey chuckled to himself as he was reminded of The Eagles' lyric "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."

Welcome to The Hotel Senso-Ji!

Eventually, we found a train station, and, with the help of yet another native Samaritan - the Japanese are an extremely kind, proud, and hospitable people - we got back on course to get to where we needed to be.

Our next stop was the Roppongi Hills area of Tokyo, where we grabbed a quick bite at The Rolling Stone Cafe, next door to the theatre where we were to see The Blue Man Group. We enjoyed our first chips and salsa of the VacAsian, as well as a rich, tasty chocolate cake (HACS rating 7.7) with ice cream before heading next door to take our seats. We were the only Westerners in the theatre, and although The Blue Man Group are essentially mimes (but not the kind you want to kick), the announcements and textual portions of the show were in Japanese. Huey had seen The Blue Man Group in Las Vegas many years ago, but this was Robin's first experience. Both of us agreed it was a fantastic, one of a kind show, and the "language barrier" wasn't really a barrier at all.

From the theatre, we took a taxi to Gonpachi, a popular, highly-rated Japanese restaurant in a traditional Edo-style building. The food - mostly skewers of meat and seafood - was amazing, and in stark contrast to the clientele at the theatre, the restaurant was easily 95% Westerners and Australians. The restaurant was off the beaten bath, so after dinner, we took a taxi to the Metro, which we took back to our hotel.

Will we burrow our way out of the "Groundhog Day" effect tomorrow? Tune in tomorrow - same HueBin time, same HueBin station - and find out.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

VacAsian Day Twenty Six (Wednesday, 28 May, Tokyo)

The American Heritage Dictionary defines "early" as "occurring, developing, or appearing before the usual time." When we say we got up "early," this morning, we mean we got up EARLY!!!

Robin decided that we were going to check out the Tsukiji Fish Market (or Tsukijishijo for those of you playing along in Japanese) this morning, based on recommendations from friends who have visited Tokyo and our guidebooks. Ostensibly, neither fish nor fishmongers have any concept of time, so the "action" at Tsukijishijo takes place in the 5 AM time frame.

Yes. 5 AM. In the morning.

Accordingly, we got up at 4:15 AM to dress and catch the Metro in time to get there by 5. As we got out of bed, Huey noticed a sliver of light seeping through the blinds. A sliver of light. At 4:15 AM. Curious, Huey opened the blinds to find the sun fully up and the sky lit up like Christmas. At 4:15 AM.

THIS is why Japan is known as "The Land of The Rising Sun."

We rushed down to Shiodome Metro station, only to find that the first train headed toward Tsukijishijo didn't leave until 5:19, a full hour after our far too early wakeup. We got to Tsukijishijo station around 5:30 and began the long walk out of the station to the market. As we walked, we passed group after group of obvious tourists walking in the opposite direction back in to the train station. Tokyo is a large and popular city, so normally passing groups of tourists wouldn't be cause for alarm. But it was 5:30 in the morning.

Have you figured out where this is going yet?

We emerged from the Metro station literally at the doorstep of Tsukijishijo. It was quiet. Eerily quiet. Another tourist walked in to the guard station near the entrance to ask for a map or general directions, but emerged with the bad news that none of the guidebooks shared: Tsukiji Fish Market is closed on Wednesdays.

POP QUIZ: you're on VacAsian, it's 5:30 in the morning, the sun is up, breakfast doesn't start until 7 AM, and you've been going nonstop for almost 4 weeks. What do you do?

Yep. We went back to our room and hibernated for three hours.

After breakfast, we went hunting for, and eventually found, Kiddie Land, another colossal toy store, and Oriental Bazaar, an indoor market-like shop, where we did a bunch more shopping. We took in the sights in that area, including a street of shops with names oddly translated to English. Our favorite? Store My Ducks. (Your guess is as good as ours.)

You may remember our advice from VacAsian Day Twenty about never shipping anything internationally. In case you've forgotten, here it is again: DON'T EVER SHIP ANYTHING INTERNATIONALLY!!! Huey spent several hours in the afternoon working on customs documents so that his spectacular, "would be lost without her" Office Manager Reina Bernfeld could be run around in overlapping circles by scores of different reps from FedEx, each of whom would give her distinct and in some cases conflicting instructions. Robin napped. Again, if it doesn't fit in your suitcases, leave it for housekeeping. We promise they'll give it a good home.

Thanks to our Metro station fairy godmother (see VacAsian Day Twenty Five), we had tickets for a Yomiuri Giants baseball game at the Tokyo Dome tonight, so we plotted our route on the Metro map and headed out in the late afternoon for the 6 PM game. The Yomiuri Giants may be best described as the New York Yankees of Japan: there are other professional teams in Japan, perhaps even better teams, but the Giants are by far the most popular. The Tokyo Dome is surrounded by Tokyo Dome City, an entertainment complex with shops, restaurants, clubs and bars, and an amusement park with a roller coaster and Ferris wheel. The Tokyo Dome itself is older, so it's no longer state of the art, but it remains the largest venue of its type in Japan.

Beyond the game on the field, the Japanese professional baseball experience is entirely different from its American counterpart. The stands are very clearly divided between fans of the home team and the visitors, as if the Tokyo Dome was a giant high school football stadium. Along those same lines, each team had cheerleaders and a "pep band" that played fight songs with which the fans sang along very loudly. The fans also chanted in unison, but what they said was lost on us. (We were two of maybe 100 Westerners in the entire 43,000 seat venue.) The time between half-innings was limited to 2 1/2 minutes, which was visibly counted down on the Jumbotron. There was no 7th Inning Stretch, no "Take Me Out To The Ballgame," and no Cracker Jacks. There were, however, hot dogs, pretzels, and Cokes.

There was also an amazing ice cream treat that we've not seen in the States, but for which we're thinking about becoming the exclusive US importers. Imagine two flat bowls made of the same edible styrofoam-like material from which cake cones are made. Then imagine you fill each bowl to the brim with ice cream. Finally, take one bowl and place it upside down on top of the other, merging the ice cream together, and seal the edges of the edible bowls, creating a hermetically-sealed ice cream sandwich that won't melt all over your hands or fingers. After we saw the people in front of us buy and devour one, we literally tracked the salesgirl all over the stadium, waiting for her to come back so we could each get one. And when we did....

It's a shame this was not CAKE, and cannot therefore be rated on the HACS Scale, because it was one of the best desserts we have had on the entire VacAsian (and we've had our share)!

Final Score: Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 1, Yomiuri Giants 6.

"... Root, root, root for the home team, if they don't win it's a shame, for it's one, two, three strikes, you're out, at the old ballgame!"

Monday, June 9, 2008

VacAsian Day Twenty Five (Tuesday, 27 May, Tokyo)

We "slept in" until 9 this morning and went down to the tasty, but sparse (relative to our other hotels) buffet breakfast in the lobby. After breakfast, we spent an hour or so pouring over our Tokyo books and e-mail advice from friends - by the way, thank you to everyone who offered us advice on the countries and cities we visited on the VacAsian (you know who you are!); we would not have had NEARLY as much fun without your input - trying to figure out how we wanted to first tackle Tokyo. True to form, we opted to head to the Ginza Shopping District to kick things off.

We each bought a day pass for the Tokyo Metro, which is phenomenally easy to use. There seem to be at least two trains that go within 3 blocks of anywhere and everywhere you want to go in Tokyo - words like "redundant" and "superfluous" come to mind - and Huey is convinced that a visually impaired person could wander into a Tokyo subway car unaided and eventually end up where he or she needs to be. It is virtually impossible to get lost, and, unlike Family Mart, there are plenty of signs that are not in Japanese characters to guide you no matter which language(s) you speak. In addition, the Metro stations connect to underground concourses that connect buildings and multiple stations and are filled with shops, restaurants, and other services, so that depending on where you are going and what you need, there's often no need to go above ground or leave the station.

We emerged from the Metro in the heart of the Ginza district and our first stop was the Sony Showroom, where the latest Sony consumer electronics are on display, most of them not available to the public (or at least in the US) yet. From there, we window-shopped in a host of major department stores, where Huey was reminded of the myriad differences between Asian market and department store shopping. We had lunch at I Primo Italian Restaurant (pizza and salads - we needed a change) in one of the department stores, then headed back to the Sony Showroom, where an unexpected adventure ensued.

We read in one of our guidebooks that there was a Ticket PIA ticket office in the Sony Building and Huey proposed that we try and get tickets for a professional baseball game and any other shows we might be able to fit in to our schedule. At the Sony Building, we were informed at the information desk that the ticket office was no longer in the building, but had moved across the street to the underground concourse in the Metro station. We were given the exit number the ticket office was adjacent to and we headed off, thinking this would be easy. But once in the concourse, the Ticket PIA was no where to be found. We consulted a wall map (they are everywhere in Tokyo) to make sure we were in the right place and an older woman who spoke some English approached us, offering to help. We told her what we were looking for and she told us she thought she knew where the ticket office was. What followed was a whirlwind tour of the various businesses along the concourse, as she inquired in each one where the Ticket PIA office was located. Eventually, we found the ticket office (as far as we know), and wouldn't you know it? The agent spoke no English. Our new friend translated for us and we purchased two tickets for the Yomiuri Giants baseball game at the Tokyo Dome the following night. The transaction complete, we thanked our impromptu interpreter and Metro station sherpa and, like a Nipponese fairy godmother, she disappeared to catch her train.

Bibbidy, bobbidy, boo!

Our next stop was the very cool Hanukkhan Toy Store, with floor after floor of mainstream and Japanese toys, games, and gadgets. And after our concourse escapade, what should we stumble upon at Hanukkhan... but a ticket office! This time around we didn't need our fairy godmother to grab two tickets for The Blue Man Group in Tokyo for our last night in town. We also picked up a few toys and books before we headed back to our hotel.

We stopped at the concierge desk and got a recommendation for a steakhouse serving Kobe beef, made a reservation, and went to our room to nap. Ironically, Gyuan Steakhouse was also in the Ginza District where we had spent the day, and it was a short train ride to what was one of the best meals of our entire VacAsian. Though it is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, Kobe beef is probably the juiciest, most flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth steak either of us have ever had the pleasure to taste, and we enjoyed salads, miso soup, plum wine, and, of course, hot tea with our steaks. Completely stuffed and thoroughly satiated, we took the Metro back to our hotel and called it a night.

Tomorrow we find out the hard way why Japan is known as "The Land of the Rising Sun."

Saturday, June 7, 2008

VacAsian Day Twenty Four (Monday, 26 May, Hong Kong and Tokyo)

Today began early, as we had a big morning planned before we head to the airport for our final VacAsian stop, Tokyo, Japan. We dressed and packed before taking a taxi to the Star Ferry for a daylight crossing to Hong Kong Island. Once there, we took another taxi to Luk Yu Tea House in the Soho section of Central Hong Kong to meet a few of Robin's colleagues from Exelon and others, who were in Hong Kong for a few days en route to a wedding in Shanghai. (While it is technically possible to take a taxi from Kowloon, where we were staying, to Hong Kong Island, the taxi drivers in each don't know the geography of the other very well and generally stay off of each other's "turf.") Luk Yu Tea House is widely hailed as the best dim sum (as in "you eat some and then give dim sum") in Hong Kong, and of course, we had to see for ourselves.

The dim sum at Luk Yu was, in fact, remarkable and authentic, but Huey missed the variety he is used to in New York or even the finer places in Austin. The ambience and staff of Luk Yu was, however, second to none. There were few dim sum carts at Luk Yu; instead, the waitrons toted the vittles around on trays strapped around their necks likes those used by the pillbox hat-wearing "cigarette, cigarillo" girls in old movies (or shot girls in "classy" nightclubs). Unfortunately, we did not have access to carbon dating experts, so we could only guess the average age of the waitrons, but words like "ancient," "prehistoric," and "primeval" come to mind. One of the sharp white-jacketed waiters proudly showed off a Polaroid of himself at age 50... posing with Kublai Khan and Marco Polo. One of the dour, gray-smocked waitresses proudly boasted about her original Ming Dynasty vase... that she made herself in third grade art class.

These cats were OLD, y'all!

The staff spoke no English (and none of us spoke Cantonese), but it seems the words ROAST PORK BUN are universal, and that was something we all wanted. After dim sum, we made our way back to the hotel, where we finished packing and grabbed a taxi to the airport. We had to shift some things around to manage the weight of our bags, but otherwise we had no baggage issues. The best part of check-in was the unsolicited free upgrade to Premium Economy, which included more legroom, bigger, better seats with legrests, and a power outlet at each seat, which allowed Huey to work on this Blog while we flew.

We arrived in Tokyo around 8 PM, and immigration and customs were a breeze. Our hotel recommended we take a hotel shuttle bus from the airport - a taxi would have been close to US $200 - but neglected to note that our flight was arriving 45 minutes after the last shuttle bus of the night left for our hotel. Instead, we took a shuttle bus to Tokyo City Air Terminal, where we found a station wagon taxi - though there are only four, our bags are HUGE - to take us to our hotel.

Park Hotel Tokyo is an ultramodern hotel that sits atop the Shiodome Media Tower in the busy Shiodome area of Downtown Tokyo. The hotel lobby is on the 25th floor, so a porter took our bags and escorted us up for check-in. Our room on the 31st floor didn't offer much of a view, but gave us plenty of gadgets and amenities to play with. Our porter - who vehemently declined to accept a tip for helping with our bulky bags and admonished us about the general "no tipping" rule for services in Japan - told us about the 24 hour convenience store in the basement pedestrian concourse level of the hotel, so we opted to go down there to forage for our dinner.

Family Mart - where you can apparently pick up an extra third cousin or great nephew along with your potato chips and soda - was essentially a Japanese 7-11. While the sign on the front of the store said "Family Mart" in English, that was the last English we were to encounter there. EVERYTHING was in Japanese - or at least we THINK it was Japanese - from the prices to the labels to the packaging. We had been spoiled by the goods in other countries, which always offered English "clues" about what the signs or labels said in the native language, but there would be no such guidance here. Consequently, Huey spent the better part of 6 hours trying to distinguish among three bottles of iced tea that differed only in the color of the label. (He ultimately picked "the red one.") We purchased potato chips, other munchies, a roast pork bun, some chicken cutlet sandwiches, Coke - which, despite the language barrier, we could pick out based on its distinctive trade dress (a "shout out" to Huey's trademark peeps) - and, eventually, iced tea, and returned to the room.

Tomorrow HueBin takes on Tokyo!

Monday, June 2, 2008

VacAsian Day Twenty Three (Sunday, 25 May, Hong Kong)

We had a great buffet breakfast at the hotel this foggy morning, then taxied to Tung Ching, an area adjacent to the airport, where we jumped on a cable car and climbed up through the clouds to Ngong Ping Village and the Po Lin Monastery, home of the Giant Buddha.

Despite it being late in the morning, the fog was not burning off, so it was cool, but muggy when we reached the top. Ngong Ping Village is not a quaint, provincial burg, but a tidy, modern (and contrived) collection of shops, cafes, restaurants, and more shops between the cable car station and the Po Lin Monastery. We bypassed the shops and beelined for the Monastery and the Giant Buddha. At the entrance to the Monastery, we stopped and studied a map that seemed to indicate that the Giant Buddha was through the Monastery grounds on the opposite end from where we were.

Only after we walked all the way through the Monastery grounds and back to the map did we realize that we were standing directly in front of the Giant Buddha, just steps away from its base. So thick was the fog that we missed the enormous bronze statue resting on its 20+ story pedestal. So "giant" was the Buddha and so close to us was it that had it been human, it could have slapped us in the backs of our heads as if to say "I'm over here, HueBin."

We mounted the long and slippery staircase up to the Buddha, still barely able to see it. Closer to the top, the detail and enormity of the statue became more clear. When we reached the top - yes, Huey made it to the top - we were in awe of the sheer size and power of the massive idol, a rendition of a traditional Buddha sitting cross-legged on a lotus flower. All around us, Buddhists prayed and meditated as the fog continued to swirl. Even for non-Buddhists, it was an enlightening and humbling experience. By the time we returned to the base, the fog had again become so thick we could no longer see the Giant Buddha.

As you probably guessed from our not so subtle foreshadowing, we stopped to shop in Ngong Ping Village on our way back to the cable car station. We enjoyed the cable car ride down, as we had the car to ourselves. We taxied back to the hotel, where we wound down a bit before walking to another part of Kowloon to have a late lunch at a Cantonese restaurant recommended by Robin's boss Mark van der Helm's wife, Vanessa, a native of Hong Kong who provided us with a great list of things to do, see, and eat in and around Hong Kong. Unfortunately, though none of our Hong Kong guidebooks told us so, Fook Lam Moon closes between lunch and dinner, i.e., when we got there, so we walked back to the hotel, window shopping along the way.

We returned to Fook Lam Moon a few hours later for dinner, where Huey tried shark fin soup. The food was good, the service was impeccable, and the prices were ridiculous, thought not "Mezzaluna in Bangkok ridiculous" (see VacAsian Day Nineteen). We stopped for ice cream at Ben & Jerry's on our way back and stopped at Temple Street Night Market for more shopping before returning to our room.

As this was our last night in Hong Kong, rather than pack it in, we headed out to the Star Ferry for the short ride across Victoria Harbour from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island to take pictures of the brilliant Hong Kong skyline. The "crossing" takes less than 10 minutes in each direction, but we got great pictures both from the Harbour and from the Hong Kong side.

Back at the hotel, we finished postcards, journaled, blogged, and began to pack. Tomorrow we leave for "The Land of the Rising Sun."

VacAsian Day Twenty Two (Saturday, 24 May, Hong Kong)

There's something to be said for getting a good night's sleep and taking a day to relax when you have been going non-stop for almost four weeks. We learned that today.

We slept in today until 10 AM, then ran errands like searching for a place to have our laundry done and seeking out Band-Aids to protect Robin's heels. We enjoyed a tasty lunch buffet, took it easy, napped, read, and blogged. In the late afternoon, we got the proverbial "wild hair," recalling that we are on VacAsian with a lot to do and not nearly enough time to do it all, and dressed for afternoon tea.

We took a taxi to the famous Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong, where we indulged in their 80th Anniversary Double Chocolate Cake (HACS rating of 7.1 due to some inexplicable bits of orange in the cake) and a pot of Oolong tea. We also shopped in the high end Peninsula Shops, but unlike our market escapades, this shopping was strictly of the "window" variety. (Huey - and probably most men reading this - is at a loss to understand why ANYONE would pay US $1000 for a purse, even if it does say "PRADA" on it.)

We returned to the hotel and went to pick up our laundry. On the way back, an historical event took place: for the first time in 15 years, Huey got a professional haircut. Since 1993, while he was in law school in Chapel Hill, Huey has cut his own hair. (Many of you are probably nodding your heads now, thinking "Well THAT explains it!") About every two weeks, he takes out his electric clippers and shears off his ebony locks, resulting in the ultra-simple do with which those who have met Huey are likely familiar. This, however, being Day Twenty Two, well... remember young Gary Coleman? In any case, the "stylist" (Huey was actually asked if he wanted a "cut and shampoo") didn't do as good a job as Huey does himself, but Huey is now proud to boast that he has spent a grand total of US $20 on haircuts in the last 15 years (and his highlights look fantastic!).

This being a new city, you can probably guess what we did next. Yes, more market shopping. As luck would have it, The Temple Street Night Market was but three blocks from our hotel. This market was small enough that, despite its disorganization, we were able to hit every stall and comparison shop. Huey had a VERY soft ice cream cone from Mister Softee (yes, a Mister Softee truck in Hong Kong!) and our bargaining skills were polished, but alas, we didn't buy anything.


We bought a lot of stuff. A LOT. (We're really good to our family and friends.)

Back in the room, Huey called one of his goddaughters, Haley Ruth Matthes, to wish her a Happy Belated 11th Birthday (her birthday is May 23, the day after Robin's; his other goddaughter, Ashante Jana Sawyer, also 11, was born just two months earlier). If you ever want to blow a tween's mind, call her from halfway around the World out of the blue to wish her Happy Birthday. Works like a charm!

So ends the first low key, itinerary-free day of the VacAsian. Tomorrow is a BIG day, GIANT really.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

VacAsian Day Twenty One (Friday, 23 May, Hong Kong)

As promised, we celebrated Robin's "birtday" big time today... AT HONG KONG DISNEYLAND!!!

By way of background, one of the many things that Robin and Huey share in common is a love of all things Disney that borders on excessive (particularly for two educated, professional "grown folks"). In addition, Robin has an obsession with Tigger (ironically, Huey has a beloved "Bounce Around Tigger" toy that has been a fixture in his office for nearly 10 years). So in planning a celebration of Robin's special day, Huey thought what better place than the newest Disney theme park!

In truth, today was a treat for BOTH of us, as we laughed and played and grinned like children... much older, employed children who can buy themselves (and their loved ones) all of the ice cream and toys and Mouseketeer hats and junk and more ice cream for which younger kids have to nag their parents. Yes, it was a sweet day, perhaps best captured by the following pictures and videos.

Sadly, as spectacular as our day was, we did not see Tigger (other than on the Pooh ride), which likely would have made Robin giggle like a schoolgirl and smile until her face ached. On a brighter note, we ended the long, full day with a shopping spree - so many of you reading this will get to share in the joy of the day with us - and a brilliant fireworks display that was the ultimate exclamation point on a day chock full of them.

Exhausted, but happy, we taxied back to the hotel, bought some postcards at a shop across the street, showered, and went to bed. We're thinking tomorrow we may just take it easy.