Saturday, February 25, 2012

Another Philippines Trip - Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car - Hong Kong - August 22, 2011

After a lengthy delay, I'm finally getting around to writing about our trip to the Philippines this past summer.

This being our third time, the trip is starting to take on a familiar rhythm.  We flew out of JFK on a Saturday night on Cathay Pacific and had a brief stopover at Vancouver where some of the passengers departed and the cleaning crew came on to tidy up the plane before new passengers boarded.  I have to say I really like to the food they serve on Cathay Pacific.  I don't remember all of the meals I ate, but I do remember having liked the seafood congee. 

We arrived at Hong Kong International Airport on the morning of August 22, 2011 at around 7 a.m. local time, as usual.  Our connecting flight to Cebu in the Philippines wasn't scheduled to depart until roughly 4 p.m., so as usual we had some time to kill in Hong Kong.  The last two trips, we rode the Air Train into Central to meet a business acquaintance of mine for lunch.  This time, I wanted to do something touristy, so I decided that we would ride the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car to the Tian Tan Buddha Statue on nearby Lantau Island. 

I ordered the tickets online before we left New York.  The option I chose was to ride the Crystal Cabin (which is a cabin that has a glass bottom) to Ngong Ping village and a regular cabin car for the return trip to Tung Chung.

My plan was to ride the bus to Tung Chung, which is where the cable cars depart for Ngong Ping village, but I wasn't able to figure out which bus to get on.  I decided to play it safe and go there by cab.  In Hong Kong, taxi cabs are colored based on where they go in the city.  For Lantau Island destinations, you take, if memory serves, the blue colored taxis.  The trip cost the four of us 50 HK dollars, which is roughly $7.00 US.

We got to Tung Chung a bit early as the ticket office for the Ngong Ping cable cars wasn't open yet, so we went to a nearby shopping mall to kill some time.  Around 9:30, we headed back to the ticket office.  There was already a long line, but thanks to my infinite wisdom in ordering our tickets online, we got to go directly to the ticket office and obtain our tickets after only a brief wait.  From there, it was probably another 15-20 minutes wait online before we were able to board one of the crystal cabins.

What follows are two videos of our ride on the crystal cabin.  We shared the cabin with a Chinese family who sat across us.  The wife and the daughter (I'm guessing) were directly in front of me when it came to shooting the video of what was in front of us, so they show up in the video from time to time.  Also, there were moments when I was holding the camera while it was still recording while I was not looking into it, which probably explains why the camera seems to linger on them here and there.

Luckily for me, the memory card had just enough memory left in it to hold out until we actually came in sight of the giant Buddha statue.   If you watch the videos and listen to the audio, you can tell that we had a lot of fun on this ride.  If Hong Kong is ever part of your vacation itinerary, or even if, like we did, you find yourself with a few hours to kill while waiting for a connecting flight, the Ngong Ping 360 cable car ride is a good way to spend your free time.  The potential downside is that the Ngong Ping 360 is sometimes closed for service, and when I went on the website to get the link for this post, I saw a message that it is closed for the next two months.  So it looks like it might not be up and running again until April of 2012.

When we got off the cable car, we began to make our way to the Tian Tan Buddha Statue and took some pictures along the way.  Ngong Ping village is basically a theme park, so you shouldn't get the impression that you are experiencing an authentic Chinese village.  But it did make for a nice time killer.

No, I didn't end up buying him the hat.

A very pretty arch that evokes classical Chinese architecture.

The Tian Tan buddha at last.  The view from the bottom.  My wife took this picture and if you click on it to enlarge it, you can make out me and the kids at the midway point, with me waving to the camera.

Almost there.   It was a hot August day and I was already dead tired and sweating my ass off by this point.  Then I remembered that the first noble truth of Buddhism was that life is suffering.

The view of the way I came from near the top.

I wasn't intentionally trying to get a silhoutte in this close up of the statue.  As you can see from the sky in the background, the sky was rather cloudy, so the Buddha statue wasn't well lit.  To see some really good photos of the Buddha statue and the Ngong Ping village, Nino of My Kafkaesque Life has photo rich blog posts here and here.  Nino is a Slovenian expat living in Taiwan who has an excellent blog that I highly recommend if you ever plan to visit Taiwan, and I will provide further links and references when I get to the Taipei leg of our trip. 

After a long, exhausting walk, we rejoined my wife at the foot of the stairs and made our way back to the village where we had lunch at a noodle restaurant before riding the cable car back to Tung Chung.  When we got there, I was able to find the bus station nearby.  You can catch either the S1 or S64 bus back to Hong Kong International Airport.  For the four of us, the cost was a mere 10.5 Hong Kong dollars and the buses run about every 10 or 15 minutes.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Aqua Lung Hot Shot Fins and Departure Carry On Bag - My Review

As I wrote in my post on day one of the Bahamas trip, I had brought along my newly purchased Hot Shot travel fins by Aqua Lung.  I also bought Aqua Lung's Departure Carry On bag, which was specifically designed to accommodate the Hot Shot fins.

I'm happy to say that I was able to pack all of my diving gear into the departure bag, namely, the aforementioned fins, my travel bcd, my regulator, my mask, my underwater flashlights, and my body skin.  However, it wasn't easy and I had to figure out by trial and error on my first few attempts before I could get everything to fit properly.  One trick was to stick some of the smaller items, like my dive lights, into the foot pockets of the fins.  All in all though, it worked out really well and I liked that I could have all my dive gear with me rather than being entrusted to the mercy of airport security checking my luggage or baggage handlers possibly misplacing it.  On the other hand, if I was travelling to a dive location where the water was warm enough to require a wet suit, I don't I could have gotten the wet suit to fit into the departure bag.

Now on to the Hot Shot fins.  For me, the best apart about them, besides being able to fit them into my carry on luggage, was how easy it was to slip them on and off.  There was no need to fiddle with clips.  All you need to do is to pull back the foot strap and slide your foot into the foot pocket.  As for their performance underwater, being a novice diver and having experience with only one other pair of fins, I couldn't say how they stack up against other fins.  I can say that I didn't have any trouble getting where I wanted to go with them.  I did relate in my Bahamas trip posts how I found myself in a couple of situations facing a strong current and having difficulty making headway, though it's highly likely that I wouldn't have fared any better with regular sized fins.

There is one caveat I do want to raise with respect to the Hot Shot fins.  According to the description of the fins on

This fin is designed to wear without dive boots, so leave the boots at home. Aqua Lung has designed the foot pocket to give unsurpassed comfort with the top and side of the pocket manufactured from a soft, comfortable against the bare skin material.

If you are going on a vacation trip where you will be doing just a handful of dives, you should be fine diving with bare feet in the Hot Shot fins.  This is not the case, at least based on my personal experience, if you are going on a trip on a liveaboard or dive resort where you expect to be diving anywhere from three to five dives a day for an entire week.  By the third or fourth day of the trip, my feet started to become badly scraped in a number of spots.

When I got home from the Bahamas trip, I tried to see if I could fit my feet in the fins wearing the neoprene booties I had, but they were too thick for my feet to fit into the foot pockets.  I ended up buying a pair of dive socks from a local dive shop and I was able to slide my feet into the foot pockets without any trouble.  I am expecting to go on a trip to the Caymans this coming July and I will see how my feet hold up wearing dive socks.

So, in conclusion, if you want to go on a dive trip to a warm, tropical destination and plan on flying there, the Aqua Lung Hot Shot fins and Departure bag are a great choice.  From my experience on the Bahamas trip, I realized that when it comes to diving in warm waters during the summer months, I can make do with just a t-shirt and a pair of shorts.  It's no problem, under those conditions, to fit everything I will need for my dives into the Departure bag.  I just hope the next five months go by quickly so that I can get into the water again.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Interesting Observation of the Day

One Million Moms, the organization that tried to get JC Penny to fire Ellen DeGeneres as the company's spokesperson because she is openly lesbian, has barely more than 40,000 "Likes" on its Facebook page.  On the other hand, the Facebook page of Ellen DeGeneres has well over two million "Likes."  Maybe they should change their name to Forty Thousand Moms.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Order and Pattern of Creation

So far, Putnam and Campbell's Amazing Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us has been a veritable gold mine for me when it comes to blogging topics.

In my previous post, I wrote about one of the churches visited by the authors, Our Savior Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas.  There is far more material on this church in the book, and after a few pages on the abortion issue, the next topic covered is the role of gender in the church.

One easy way to tell that a particular religion is man made is if it puts the emphasis on the Man part.  Our Savior Lutheran's Pastor White sets the tone.  "When God created mankind, at the core of that creation was gender."

The book goes on the quote one of the male congregants:

Congregant Jim Carver echoes this view: "To say it doesn't really matter that Adam was created first" is to "forget the order and pattern of creation," adding that "as protector and provider man has all the responsibility."   Really?  God created Adam, and then after some time went by, He thought, "You know, now that I think about it, Adam probably could use some pussy."

Get enough women to believe that, and they will become complicit in their own oppression.  Our Savior Lutheran does not allow women to vote in its congregational assemblies.  A woman congregant, Sharon Middleton, is quoted as saying "Pastor White will show you exactly bibilically that women aren't supposed to vote."  She goes on to add "There may be a lot of people that will disagree but that's one good thing about Pastor do according to what the Bible says."

And that is the order and pattern of control, at least when it comes to religion.  Convince a number of people that a text or collection of texts contains divine commandments and then convince these people that your interpretation of those commandments is the only correct one, thereby putting yourself in a position of authority over them.

"...doing the Devil's work"

The recent kerfuffle over the decision by the Susan G. Komen Foundation to withdraw the funding it had provided to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings reminded me of something I had read in Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell's American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.  In Chapter 7, the authors focus on Our Savior Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas. 

Our Savior Lutheran plays host to Houston Lutherans for Life.  The authors describe one Sunday afternoon meeting attended by "about twenty-five people, mostly retirees."  I got a mild chuckle out of one of the passages.

Finally, an older man shares that recently he "went down to Planned Parenthood" where he was shocked to find that pro-choice people "volunteer their Saturday mornings to make sure that women go in and kill their babies.  He suggests the chapter "pray for our enemies."  "We could all consider Planned Parenthood our enemy...doing the Devil's work," he adds gravely.

I couldn't help but think of that scene from Casablanca where Captain Renault declares that he is shocked, shocked, that there is gambling going on.  Of course, it never occurs to this man that women might want to be able to enter a medical clinic without being badgered and harrassed by a bunch of religious busy bodies and that there are sympathetic minded people who feel the same way.

At the end of the meeting, a guest speaker from Houston Coalition for Life tells the attendees that the previous day at a gathering outside a Planned Parenthood center a pregnant girl decided at the last minute not to go in and have an abortion.  He quotes her as saying to the demonstrators "Can I stand with you?  I decided not to kill my baby today."

I have to say, reading that really set off my bullshit detector.  It sounds to me like a noble lie that these people tell themselves to keep their morale up and make them believe they are making a difference.  While he likely pulled the story out of his ass, it wouldn't surprise me if incidents like these are sometimes staged, with a pregnant young woman playing the part of a would be abortion seeker making a show of walking towards the entrance of an abortion facility and then suddenly changing her mind and joining the demonstrators as a new member of their flock.

After all, as the man quoted above from the book said, Planned Parenthood is the "enemy."  These people are at war with Planned Parenthood, from (mostly) Republican politicians down to the street corner anti-abortion demonstrators, and when you're in a war, you fight with any means at your disposal.  That includes lying, imposing bogus regulations and hijacking charitable organizations like the Komen Foundation.  And these people will not cease their attacks until they learn that there is a price to be paid.

This issue matters to me on a personal level because some years ago, I turned to Planned Parenthood during a difficult time in my life that had nothing to do with abortion.   They were there for me when I needed them and so I will be there for them.  In the wake of the Komen episode, I called Planned Parenthood today to double my monthly regular contribution to them.   And I owe it all to you, Karen Handel.  If you would like to donate to Planned Parenthood as well, here is the link to their online donation page.