Highlights of Hong Kong

A bunch of students got a taste of what makes this bustling city state tick, thanks to the The Star and Pizza Hut.

BHAVITRAR Chandran stood apart from the crowd. At 6.50am, the airport was quiet. Bhavitrar was oblivious to the intermittent paging and routine announcements. She heard nothing but the reassuring voice of her mother.

“Make sure you hold your passport with you. Put your sweater on if you’re cold. Keep your money here,” Manivilli Thavamoney advised her daughter, who was about to set off on her first trip abroad. Like Bhavitrar, sleep eluded fellow team mates and first-time travellers, Andrea Prasanti Arul, Ceazaan Nezreen Moses, Cyheetal Kaur Sandhu and Harmina Vejayan, as they waited eagerly to take off for the Campaign 4 Rewards (C4R) 2008 trip to Hong Kong Disneyland.

The 15-year-olds from SMK(P) Methodist Ipoh were among four teams which had won the grand prize of an all-expenses-paid trip to Hong Kong and Hong Kong Disneyland, courtesy of The Star-Pizza Hut’s Newspaper-in-Education (NiE) programme.

Joi gin, dad! Joi gin, mum!

Second-time winners Purple Turtles of SMK Damansara Jaya, Petaling Jaya, on the other hand, exuded an air of confidence as Grace Chow, Grace Lee Hui, Kassandra Soo Kim Yoke and Lim Ee Jane bid farewell to their parents. As they were seasoned travellers, parents Wong Mee Ling and Captain Soo Seng Loy had no qualms about their chicks flying the coop – if only for four days – as the students had had a marvellous C4R trip to the United Kingdom the year before.

Grace Lee Hui, 17, who missed last year’s trip due to a prior engagement, felt “extremely blessed” that her team had won again. “I truly believe this win was by the grace of God. It feels wonderful to be able to go with friends on a trip like this!” Equally excited about going on a “parentless” trip were Greenians Fifth Kimberley Kho Ai Sing, Grace Tee Pei Sze and Abraham Ngu of SMK Green Road, Kuching, and Green Lovers Chew Qing Ting, Chong Hui Lin, Chong Kar Won, Lo Moong Hua and Wong Wan Ting from SM Hwa Lian, Mentakab.

“It’s my first trip ever without my parents! It’s going to be the coolest trip of my life!” quipped Kimberley.

Touch down

The three-and-a-half-hour flight gave members a chance to unwind and catch some much-needed rest as for many, the journey to the KL International Airport had begun the night before.

By the time they landed on Lantau Island, all 17 students and four teachers were ready to roll. A democratic decision saw the group vote for lunch first, naturally, followed by a tour to the Avenue of Stars. Checking into the hotel was clearly the last option on everyone’s mind.

During the drive along the landmark 2.2-km Tsing Ma bridge, some of them soaked in the sights in appreciative silence while others strained attentively as Man, our tour guide, gave a rundown of Hong Kong, its people and culture.

As we approached the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, where the Avenue of Stars was located, an excited voice blurted out: “Look — Chinese Twilight!” A movie billboard sprawled with Chinese script came into full view; it showed Bella Swan and Edward Cullen locked in a passionate embrace.

Reaching for the stars

The blanket of haze over the Hong Kong commercial district skyline didn’t dampen anyone’s mood. After catching a glimpse of the Olympic Rings installed on the Hong Kong Museum of Art, members broke up into teams and scurried off to place their palms within the imprints of their favourite stars along the promenade. The most photographed spot was that of the two-metre bronze statue of legendary kungfu star Bruce Lee.

Our young ladies and gentleman proved to be jacks-of-all-trades as they puckered up and posed ala Marilyn Monroe next to handprints and plaques emblazoned with the names of movie stars, such as Jet Li and Jackie Chan.

Agile Qing Ting and Kar Won bowled everyone over as they posed for photographs with their awesome kungfu split.

By nightfall, Hong Kong’s Ladies’ Market at Mong Kok beckoned. Man spewed the secrets to artful negotiation for everything fake, from Hard Rock Café T-shirts to handbags and toys. The market is very much like Petaling Street, minus the bright neon lights, and its traders waste no time in trying to fleece visitors.

SMK Damansara Jaya teacher Shahlawati Ali honed her bargaining skills and made “new friends” along the way. “You friend, I friend. Lower, lower! I friend!” she haggled incessantly over items she had been eyeing.

As the students boarded the bus for the ride back to Newton Hotel in Kowloon, the students asked Man if there was another shopping district or a mall close to the hotel. The night was obviously young for these teens, who were game for a shopping spree.

Teachers Patricia Wong of SMK Green Road, Roseshita Ariffin of SMK(P) Methodist, and Yap Yoke Chin of SM Hwa Lian eyed each other sympathetically while massaging aching feet. All they wanted to do was head out to a foot reflexology centre after a good night’s sleep.

Magical moments

Breakfast was wolfed down as a 0.4km stretch of adventure, rides and musicals in Lantau Island awaited the group. Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland and Americana were the flavours of the day.

First up was the highly recommended Mickey’s PhilharMagic in Fantasyland. As with all theme parks, waiting in line was part of the prelude. The students didn’t seem to mind as they took the opportunity to mingle and get to know each other better.

During the 20-minute wait, they discovered a hidden talent: Abraham could do a near-perfect imitation of Goofy’s trademark chuckle — a perfect curtain raiser for the spectacular 12-minute, 3-D presentation of Mickey’s Fantasia.

After more jostling in chaotic queues, the students took in another great Broadway-like show, Festival of the Lion King. Dressed to the hilt in vibrant costumes, the high-octane performance saw the audience clapping, tapping and singing along to songs like Circle of Life and Hakuna Matata.

Before the teams went their separate ways to ride boats, climb trees and watch Christmas parades, everyone gathered for photographs at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. The group, now familiar with this writer’s call of “Formation!”, struck up candid, relaxed poses. The excitement hit a snag when Abraham announced that we had spent a good deal of time taking shots of what was actually the back of the castle!

By then, everyone was raring to go as 10 hours at the theme park was a case of too much (to do), with too little (time to spare).

The day at Disneyland was capped by the fireworks display at the castle. The SM Hwa Lian team got first-class seats atop a bench with a direct view of the castle, which came alive in a hue of colours before the fireworks burst into the sky, perfectly synchronised to the themes of Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid.

As fireworks streaked across the sky, visitors looking through their hologram viewers were treated to an optical illusion beyond their imagination. Bright points of light bent through the holographic lenses fabricated astounding displays of radiant, trumpeting angels with wings that appeared to flutter in the breeze.

These magical memories would be etched in their minds forever.

As Man dimmed the lights on the ride back, the bus was still abuzz with talk of favourite heroines like Belle, Esmeralda and Cinderella. In the background, the hum of Disney classics was lost in the drone of the engine.

Discovering Hong Kong

After having delicious halal dim sum the next morning, the group made a quick stop at the Golden Bauhinia Square. Tourists jostled to get the best shots of the imposing flower, a unification gift from the People’s Republic of China to the people of Hong Kong.

Next up was the Aberdeen Fishing Village. The 20-minute sampan ride there was the highlight of the trip as the students took in the sights of the boat people at work, and their community. The odour of fuel and fish mingled in the air as the sampan made its way past the Jumbo Boat Restaurant, made famous by James Bond. Along the way, Man pointed out the pink brick home that Jackie Chan built for his fisherman father.

Repulse Bay was also a colourful site to behold, with thousands of mosaic pieces adorning statues of deities, dragons and walls. Most imposing were the 10-metre statues of Kwun Yun and Tin Hau. Man shared anecdotes on where to stand, what to avoid touching and how to caress the money god for luck! Kar Won couldn’t resist the temptation; she dropped a coin into the wishing well and said excitedly: “I wish for 10As for my SPM exam!”

A trip to the jewellery and Chinese herb stores were next on the itinerary. Though neither destination seemed to excite the students very much, some took the opportunity to sample dried fruits and herbs. Team Catalyst was taken with one sales person who spoke fluent Bahasa Indonesia. Despite the pleas of, “Buy for your mother! Buy for your father!”, our students hung on to their money.

The 7,000 square metres of permanent exhibition galleries at our next stop, the Museum of History, took the group back to “The Hong Kong Story”. Here, students and teachers were treated to exhibits, multimedia programmes, folk culture and the historical development of Hong Kong dating as far back as the Devonian period, 400 million years ago. They also had a look at artefacts from the French Revolution in the special gallery.

By 4.30pm, the bus was weaving its way to The Peak, famous for its panoramic view of the city’s skyline and harbour. The journey uphill was equally stunning because of the surrounding lush greenery. The group spent time shopping for souvenirs at the Peak Galleria and The Peak Tower while waiting for the sun to set.

The neon lights from the gigantic skyscrapers had promised to be a spectacular sight, and the visitors were not disappointed. Despite the haze, photo opportunities were aplenty.

The journey down the mountain was quiet as everyone settled in to unwind after a long day.

But just as dinner ended, the group was re-energised. Along with Man, we negotiated another expedition to the Temple Street Night Market, which was not on the itinerary. T-shirts, handbags and key chains were much sought after as the group squeezed in some last-minute shopping.

Winding down

As the group checked out, students jotted e-mail addresses and exchanged cell phone numbers with their new-found friends. Teams clustered together to capture pictures of their last moments together. Purple Turtles and Greenians Fifth huddled at Ben & Jerry’s to share a scoop of ice cream and recap their adventure. “Hong Kong is a very special place,” said Moong Hua. “The residents lead busy lifestyles. They don’t waste their time. They even read the papers as they walk!”

Both Andrea and Grace Tee said they would miss the friendly people of Hong Kong. “They were full of smiles, and always happy to point us in the right direction when we got lost,” the former said.

It was definitely a wholesome educational trip to cherish. As Grace Chow aptly put it, “The trip allowed us to mix and mingle and get to know one another as friends instead of competitors. We all bonded just by hanging out with each other. I feel blessed to have been to Hong Kong, if only for a short time. The culture is different and I found it invigorating.”

Abraham agreed. “You realise the world isn’t as small as it’s made out to be. Travelling is always an eye-opener. Sure, it was a great getaway after months of toiling for the STPM exams. Although the highlight (of our trip) was Disneyland and sight-seeing, we learnt that being on our own entails being more tolerant and considerate of others.”

Related story: Raving over the rides

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