Christmas Travel 2012 – Day 4 in Hong Kong

Ah.  Christmas Eve.  In contrast to Taiwan, where Christmas is non-existent with no vacation time, Hong Kong pseudo-celebrates it as a former British Colony.  Christmas Day is a day off as with other western countries, but the big difference is that the 26th is a day off and not the 24th.  Aunt Chieng had to work this morning, so in effort to play host to Ashley and me for breakfast she took us to Super Sandwich at Festival Walk mall in Kowloon Tong.  It is less than a five minute walk away from her flat, and directly across the street (and adjoined by walking tunnel) from City University of Hong Kong where she teaches.  As Chieng splits her week between Taiwan and Hong Kong going back and forth, Super Sandwich is a staple breakfast diet for her as is for many other CUHK faculty.

Bicycle in Festival Walk

Bicycle in Festival Walk

Following breakfast, we were left to explore the mall until Chieng was finished with what work she had to do for the day.  I immediately took interest to an itty bitty road bicycle on display at a store.  Walking the mall revealed the extent of western influence – food, shops, Christmas decoration, and later on we even saw a choir singing carols.  Outside of the mall, was something I had always wanted to see in person — bamboo scaffolding. They were actually building one right in front of us at the university. We also stopped at the Apple Store to see what kind of pricing they had there; I’m always hearing about how cheap Apple products are in HK.  Upon inspection I discovered that prices were largely similar — you just don’t have to pay any tax.  Chieng explained to me, later, that the Apple Stores hold free-entry raffles that allow you to buy heavily discounted items in the mornings.

Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre

Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre

Lunch time on this work day proved to show us just how busy Hong Kong would be for the rest of the trip.  We waited nearly an hour to get into a Bakery Cafe called Simplylife. Ashley ordered the Grilled Black Cod, and I ordered Australian Lamb Chops.  Filled and ready to go exploring, we took the MTR (subway) out toward Central Pier, where we walked around and then boarded a bus to the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.  HKCEC is where the ceremonies of China taking sovereignty of Hong Kong took place; at it’s side is a Golden Bauhinia which to people in Hong Kong plays importance as a symbol of the handover.

Star Ferry Seats

Star Ferry Seats

From HKCEC, we walked over to board the Star Ferry docks to take part in crossing Victoria Harbour on one of the ferries.  In the 1920s, ferries such as this were used to cross the harbour between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. To this day taking part of the ferry tradition is still hailed as one of the top 50 things to do in the world. Travelling back and forth without turning around, each ferry has seats with a back that flips to the other side with a loud clap as passengers board and re-position them.

Temple Street

Temple Street

As we crossed the harbour and back into Kowloon, we took in the scenery and navigated swarming crowds of the streets, shops, & museums.  At one point we even stopped at The Peninsula to look around.  It is a luxury hotel that is heavily favored by the British… each shop inside of it had it’s own security guard at the door. Wow. We then found a shop to stop at for some fruit treats and fresh squeezed juices before making it to Temple Street for some proper street/night market shopping.

We found ourselves in a taxi, soon after, zipping toward the cable car station that would take us up to Victoria Peak.  On arriving, the line was more than 2 hours long.  We opted to stay in the taxi and continued to take it all the way up.  The top revealed beautiful views of the harbours and city.  Being 55 degrees and humid, most HK residents tend to walk around in what I consider overkill dress — down coat, gloves, hats, etc.  The peak was windy and even colder but I braved the temperature, loving every moment of it (having come from smelting 70s and humid Taiwan). My humor of the day came when a group of girls came up to me asking for help with a photo.  One asked, “Are you from Canada?”  I asked why and ended up realizing that the girl herself was from Canada and was also in naught more than a t-shirt.  We had a good laugh at how the down coats seemed a bit much.

Victoria Peak

Victoria Peak

After we took plenty of pretty pictures, we spent the next hour looking for a reasonably priced restaurant.  As a note and a warning — Victoria Peak is a high tourist area and most places wanted $600-800 HKD per person for a meal.  One place we saw had $200 HKD plates, but had a $500 HKD per person minimum … that’s ~$65 USD!  We eventually found a place that was more reasonably priced.  Ashley and Chieng both ordered a NY steak that wasn’t the greatest (this place didn’t ask how well done they wanted it).  I ordered a peppered steak that came out sizzling and more edible than the NYs.  We left to head home after the meal, and ended our long day around 11pm.

Image Gallery.  Click on photos to view:

Christmas Travel 2012 – Day 3 in Taiwan and Hong Kong

Presidential Office Building 總統府

Presidential  總統府

Somewhat recovered from the massive banquet of the previous evening, although not quite fully, it was now time for … another one!  This time in celebration of Ashley and my wedding + first year.  Ray booked a private room for us at 晶華軒 Silks House at Grand Formosa Regent Hotel. We made a quick drive-by viewing of 總統府 Presidential Office Building on the way to the restaurant.

Reception Room - Double Circles & Double Happiness (囍 Character)

Double Circles & Double Happiness

Our room was decorated with a large 囍 character that Ashley and I were to sit in front of.  It means double happiness. Our room also had a double circle above us and as the table.  All of this, including our menu, are a cultural tradition specifically for the occasion. Since this meal celebrated us and not my Grandmother, Aunt Kerri from my mother’s side joined us for this meal.  We would have liked to visit her house and spend more time, but our schedule wouldn’t allow for it.

After the banquet, we split into two cars driven by my dad’s brother and sister…. In Taiwan, this is a guaranteed adventure.  The Hsia family who are brave enough to drive in Taipei are masters beyond adeptness.  From my aunt’s mouth as she zipped left and right through traffic, “driving in Taipei is like fighting a war.”  Traffic lanes are a mere suggestion, horns are used liberally (but never out anger), and traffic lights mean very little.  Then, just for kicks, throw in the hundreds of mopeds all around you that weave around you in circles.  An hour early for a meetup with my Aunt Chieng, Ashley and I killed a bit of time at the Taipei 101 shopping mall.

CX Business Class

CX Business Class

Aunt Chieng was going to take Ashley and I to visit Hong Kong where she now taught at City University in Kowloon Tong.  As a Cathay elite, she upgraded us into the business cabin with lie flat seats!  This was quite a treat, given that even as we are skyteam elite with Delta, a trans-oceanic upgrade into 777 lie-flat is a very rare thing and typically only done for operations (and not being an elite).  Our 90 minute flight served a meal beyond anything ever seen in a Delta Business Elite seat, and at one point I accidentally walked into the First Class bathroom.  The lavatory was at least the size of four regular lavatories, and a quick peak into the FC cabin showed that their lie-flat seats were bigger yet.

1010 at HKG

1010 at HKG

On arrival into HKG, we all cleared customs and continued to the Octopus Card counter so that we could pay for transporation (and even purchases like coffee) through the trip.  A mandatory stop at 1010 was also made, so that we could pick up prepaid SIMs for our phones.  $88 HKD ($10 USD) a piece got us going on a 7-day unlimited data plan.


We headed out to the taxi queue, and away we went toward Kowloon Tong. My aunt chatted away with the driver, as Ashley and I stared into the lights and buildings of one of the world’s most densely (per mi^2) populated cities.  Ashley likened the night drive to what entering Gotham City must be like.

Image Gallery.  Click on photos to view:

Christmas Travel 2012 – Day 2 in Taiwan

Having been starved of data access for too long now 😉 I started the morning off with a walk out to a nearby ChungHwa Telecom for a prepaid SIM.  $450 NT ($15 USD) later, we were set for 7 days of unlimited data.

牛肉麵 Taiwanese Beef Noodle SoupWe decided to start the day late today, so our first stop wasn’t until noon.  We hit Taipei (Central) Railway Station first.  I, Joel, had already been in Taiwan for far too long without any 牛肉麵 Taiwanese Beef Noodle lovin’, and something had to be done about it. We ordered a bowl each and a bunch of side dishes to share. While we were there, Ashley pointed out a girl with crazy bell bottom pants; I took a photo of it.


IMG_6293With that out of the way, we went over to the Taipei 101.  Unwilling to pay money for a cliché chroma key photo that all high rises do, I attempted to take a picture of their preview screen — it didn’t work out too well on the iPhone.  Oh well, better/real photos were to be taken later anyway.  Ashley and I went up to the top where we looked at what view was available (through a very cloudy day).  I took her into the damper room, where a 730 ton ball acts as a counterbalance to keep the building safe during high winds and earthquakes. On a side note, we saw a crazy sign in the bathrooms — it had a little picture telling people to not go potty on the floor…. Occupy Wall Street anyone?

Our next two stops were the 國立國父紀念館 Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, and a proper walk through 國立中正紀念堂 Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall.  We grabbed lots of photos here, including those of the Taipei 101, and had a laugh when my Grandma pointed out that the Sun Yat Sen building looks a lot like whiskers.


After plenty of photos at all the different places, we went back to The Dragon (Sheraton Taipei).  All of the Hsia Family and their spouses showed up to celebrate my grandmother’s 80th birthday.  In tradition, a private room was rented out with a special menu tailored for the event.  We all ate through the longest multi-course meal, EVER, until we were all stuffed beyond belief.  Ashley loved my uncle, who was a character through the whole meal.  He kept spouting random things with much gusto, and one of the highlights was when it came time for parking validation — he enthusiastically explained that “If you’d all arrived [fashionably] late like me, then you wouldn’t be worrying about validation and time”

Image Gallery.  Click on photos to view:

Christmas Travel 2012 – Day 1 in Taiwan

Gate to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial HallOur first full day abroad.  After first spending the morning sharing wedding photos and other photo-gifts with Grandma, we made way toward the National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine 國民革命忠烈祠.  Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall 國立中正紀念堂 was on the way, so we made a quick detour to the gate for a quick photo first.


SONY DSCWhen we arrived at the Martyrs’ Shrine, we looked around and watched the Changing of the Guard before leaving.




SONY DSCHungry, we headed to the Grand Hotel 圓山大飯店 for lunch. It had burned down in 1995 during one of my visits to Taiwan. I haven’t had a chance to visit until now. This is where many foreign dignitaries have come to stay and have meetings. We stuffed ourselves full at the buffet.  We tried just about everything there, but being in Taiwan I had to have multiple bowls of noodles.  The amount of sashimi that I kept going back for probably paid for my meal a few times over too.

After all of that, we headed to the the National Palace Museum 國立故宮博物院 where we spent the afternoon.  Our evening wrapped up with a massive four course meal at Wang Steak 王品.  Ashley ordered the Wang Steak, and I had Roasted Lamb Chops with a Pan-fried Duck Breast.

Image Gallery.  Click on photos to view:

Christmas Travel 2012 – Day 0 in Taiwan

The day for us to go back to Taiwan finally came. Ashley and I boarded our flight to Taiwan via JFK and NRT on Tuesday’s red eye and after twenty four hours in the air, arrived in Taipei late Thursday night. Thank goodness for sky club showers and food that kept us freshened up on the entire journey. I am sure that the final 14 hour JFK-NRT leg would have been much more difficult otherwise.

Our baggage at the airport rolled right out onto the claim belt when we walked over. No fuss or funny business this time; 4/4 checked bags were present. (I always have at least one missing when arriving in Taiwan and/or on the way home). Perhaps having priority tags is even more useful on international multi-segment flights than I had realized before.

On the way to my grandmother’s home, my aunt and uncle stopped in YongHe’s 世界豆漿大王 to pick up some breakfast food (at 11pm!). YongHe in Taiwan is famous for their soy milk. 世界豆漿大王 is also currently 50 years old now and known for being one of the top places to go. In the entire order, we had soy milk, ShaoBing with egg inside, rice balls and little meat pies (which I’ve forgotten the actual name of). We took it home to eat and I pretty much went straight into a food coma afterward.


Lego Space Shuttle Expedition

Spent yesterday and this evening building the Lego Space Shuttle Expedition with Ashley.  Quite a lot of fun.  We’d go back and forth with helping to find pieces and actually assembling the blocks.  Can’t wait to do more; we have a couple Star Wars sets waiting to be opened.  I’m particularly excited about the Super Star Destroyer that should be arriving in the mail soon!

First four photos are our first night’s work through all of book 1.  The rest were taken after book 2.

Baileys for Seasonal Times…

… or for any time, really.

We love Baileys, especially in our coffee.  This morning we were experimenting with grind coarseness and amount for use in our new Ekobrew cups; the experimenting led to our Baileys running out.  Later in the afternoon, we were at the liquor store and a bunch of top shelf specials caught my attention — all of them were seasonal boxes of bottles with free glasses.  The Baileys special came with two glasses.  We went around the store looking for what other glasses we liked, but didn’t buy anything since no other box had glasses as cool.  Attached is a photo I took so you can see =)

Thanksgiving, and likely some overspending.

Having a moment to breathe, finally, I’ve decided that it’s time to make a post. I had planned to post a recap and photos from our first anniversary in Moab, but I suppose I’ll put that off (some more) since I’ve already failed to in a timely manner.

With Christmas with in Taiwan this year, Ashley and I made Thanksgiving in Boise a priority. We started driving straight from the office on Wednesday, and reached our destination after a few stops for food and … Pre-Black Friday shopping.

Yes, we shopped this year. As much as I tell myself that we don’t need anything each year, I inevitably end up as one of the many holiday sheep. Amazon had started their sales earlier in the week, and I had noted the complete IT Crowd series going on sale when we’d be on the road. A nicely timed rest stop and well-bookmarked iphone took care of that purchase.

Thursday was filled with much welcomed time with family and food. After eating a proper single serving size, consisting of four plates of food, Ashley and I headed out to Walmart and Target on Eagle Rd for Blu-ray Movies. Walmart was first with a 8pm opening time. Since big ticket items are never of interest, we pulled into an empty neighboring store lot right at 8pm, parked, and walked right into the store. Ashley and I split up and made a grab of maybe 30-40 BRDs before meeting up to figure out what we actually wanted to take home. By 8:35, we were checked out and headed back to the car. Even with the crazed crowds, Walmart was a pleasant experience. Shoppers were courteous, and Walmart had done an excellent job of being prepared. Never before have I moved through a checkout line at Walmart in less time!

Next on the list was Target’s 9pm opening. Ashley and I pulled into an impossibly difficult parking lot at 9pm even. I dropped Ashley off so she could go grab movies while I parked. When I got to the front of the store somewhere around 9:10, Ashley was still outside at the door (not in line), and the line to get in was still wrapped around to the back of the building. The geniuses at Target had decided to funnel the line into a single door — not even a double door mind you. We thought that the line would already be gone by now, but floods of people kept arriving and extending a line that Target should have terminated long ago.

Anyhow, here is the highlight story of our evening:
At the entrance to Target, a woman in her 40-50s along with a friend was busy arguing with one of the guards. Said woman kept trying to convince the guard to let her through so that she could sit down out of the cold. Why? Well, she kept saying that “I’m paralyzed.” This was quite hard to believe, and the guard was obviously not fooled; the woman was standing on her own two feet and moving around. At one point she even turned to the crowd behind and with both hands waiving in the air exclaimed “Please don’t trample me, I’m paralyzed.” No less than five minutes later, she worked her way over to a weak spot in the shopping cart barrier and tried to cut the line by jumping the carts. She fell over the carts onto the cement, at which point her friend started to frantically yell at the guard – “She’s down, she’s down, go help her now.”

Sick of this, Ashley and I ended up in the back of the line. (Seriously… why did Target let the line continue to get longer after 9:20?). We finally got in, found out that none of the BRDs were actually worth buying, and left the store in disgust close to 9:50. What a waste…

Friday after a late breakfast, we made a quick to to Best Buy for some more BRDs. Best Buy was dead due to the midnight opening. The movies we wanted were still there, so we left after the quick score. Costco was next and last on the list. We went so I could get one of my favorite things that Costco passes out for free each year – the annual Costco Cook Book. <3

Everything else I picked throughout the day on Amazon’s Lightning Deal page, while we watched movies at home. Over the weekend, we managed to watch quite a bit of the Avengers series with Bruce. We figured that he and Sherry would like them – they did. We managed to get through all of Captain America, half of Thor (before we broke for “Christmas”) and The Avengers later on.

Since we wouldn’t be around for Christmas, we did it early this year. Grandma came, we made all of our gift exchanges, and many smiles were shared. The dog was so worked up over her presents that she even managed to unwrap a few of her squeakers on her own. I was particularly excited about getting the Lego Midi-Scale Imperial Star Destroyer that I had wish-listed. I was assigned Bruce, so he got The Rocketeer BRD that he wanted. Also, since we men all like A Christmas Story, I got him the BRD of that. A Christmas Story served double duty to annoy Sherry a bit 😉

In all, Ashley and I had a fun weekend. Lots of family, lots of food, and spending time with each other.

No pictures to post this time around, but I’ll leave an incomplete list of the shopping scores we made:

  • Withings Wifi Scale
  • Legos Tie Fighter
  • Shun Paring Knife
  • Xbox 360 with Kinect Holiday Bundle
  • Dance Central 3
  • Queen 40 Limited Edition Collector’s Box Set
  • Rampage boots for Ashley
  • Asics running shoes for me
  • A nice music stand
  • Ekobrew cups for our Keurig machine
  • Quite a bit of flash drives (been needing to build a collection of bootable OS installers)
  • IT Crowd series
  • LOTS of BRDs (mostly $4 discs, a small handful of $8 new relesaes: Brave, LOTR trilogy, Harry Potter discs, 007s, Dark Knights, Avengers series, TMNT trilogy, Die Hard box set, and lots more still)

Our new site!

Exciting day everyone!  This is Joel…  I originally wanted this site’s URL,, last summer in 2011 when Ashley and I got engaged.  It wasn’t available to us then, but as a recent turn of events would allow — now it does!

What perfect timing than right after our 1st anniversary weekend!

Stay tuned as we keep all of you, our friends and family, up to date with our happenings and antics 😉