Of travel, family, and the five things I (re)learned the first time I combined the two

It was mother dear’s golden birthday last month, and to celebrate, my siblings and I decided to embark on our first international trip together. It was an idea I had been toying around for some time, having experienced an out-of-town trip a year prior with just me and Mama (at SG, also for her birthday), and I figured it was perfect timing. It was a family milestone after all, and we are all at a stage in our lives where we (I) could afford a vacation of this scale. So exactly on Mama’s natal weekend, we headed to Macau and Hong Kong.

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

And a dozen or more single steps soon after, to be more accurate.

See the extended weekend saw the international travel “devirginization” of the three members of our party, and I guess by now you know who those are. Now that I think about it, I am sooo guilty of being amused by how the siblings went through the entire ordeal process. Think Schadenfreude. :-P From saving money weeks leading to the actual day of the flight, scrambling to get their first passports, going through mini-nervous breakdowns during airport formalities, and finally landing on and navigating through foreign land, I had a constant, sometimes silent, sometimes audible snicker and grin.

Ironically (or maybe not), these somewhat brought me back to my clueless-about-travel days. (Though I have to say I was in much better shape then, given mine was a solo business trip to India. Just sayin’. ;-)) The reminder that at an earlier point I was in the same shoes was appreciated nonetheless, and made me hopeful that with more of these in the future, they’ll blossom into travel-savvy people too.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

Quick personal confession: as personable as I am in the outside world, at home, I am the quiet, almost withdrawn, (and fine) sometimes grumpy older brother. Mind you I have several defining moments under my belt (when it was most needed, I would think), but in general, the closeness I have with my siblings has always been less than what they have with each other. Also over the past few years, my two sisters had families of their own, so the little we time we initially shared was reduced even more to weekends, birthdays and special occasions.

I mention all of that because the three days I spent with the family overseas enabled me to see them in a different light, and (I hope) vice versa. A meal we had at Tim Ho Wan, in particular, was pretty memorable, not because of a specific happening, but because it was one in a really long while where we all just sat down and shared lovely food over lighthearted conversation and rounds of boisterous laughter. Outside that, I also got to witness them in environments I don’t normally see them in (something as mundane as them conversing in English was a recurring spectacle!), was reminded of how playful all of them really are (I am really sounding like the family grouch, am I?), and was re-acquainted with the mannerisms and character traits I seemed to have forgotten over the years.

Seriously, to say that that vacation was enlightening would be an understatement.

When travelling with someone, take large doses of patience and tolerance with your morning coffee.” – Helen Hayes

Ahhh… The “What have I gotten myself into!?!” moments. Yep, moments, with an s.

Didn’t I tell all of you to bring an umbrella?!?

What do you mean you just want to sleep the whole morning?!?

Si Mama na naman maghuhugas ng plato?!?

You get the drift. :-P

Everyone knows these can happen when travelling with friends or partners too, but dealing with patience and tolerance when family is involved is a different beast, at least for me. I mean you don’t snap at someone you’re not related to as easily as, say, your (not so) little brother or (not so) baby sister. I know, I know, that mindset is wrong and quiet frankly, stupid, but I was not labelled as the masungit Kuya for nothing, right?

That being said, the multiple challenges to my forbearance were met with tightly bit lips, the deepest of sighs, and quietly repeating the words “Ralph, be nice.” as many times as needed to calm me down. To be fair to them, I bet they did the same every time I was the one testing their restraint for the things I may have done wrong, which leads me to the next point…

The most important trip you may take in life is meeting people halfway.” – Henry Boye

…which is, when things don’t go as planned, arriving at a compromise is crucial.

I have been travelling conscientiously for almost four years now, and I have developed standards when I’m out and about. I don’t mind walking under the sun. I don’t mind getting wet with a little rain. I don’t mind walking long distances. I don’t mind eating food that I’m seeing for the first time. I don’t mind splurging for things every once in a while. And so the list of travel ideals goes on.

Traveling with the siblings and my mom, however, highlighted that all (heck, not even most!) of these I can’t impose to other people, and that for everyone to be happy, I have to bend. I understand this more as I write all of these now.

I think this would be the right time for me to apologize to Mama, Dave, Mutya and Erika for the series of events that led to the vacation ending in a sour note. I know everyone had a part in it but I take full accountability for not being the bigger person and letting it all happen the way it did. I should’ve (and could’ve) reined it in, but I didn’t. For that I am truly sorry.

All was not lost though, because even though the the three days were not as perfect as I envisioned it to be, I’d like to believe we had more good – great! – moments, than so-so ones. And isn’t that what’s more important?

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” – Ernest Hemingway

Our first journey was a dream come true in that context, and the only thing that could’ve made it better was if Papa was there. Physically he wasn’t, but I know in my heart he witnessed all of that and would want for us to continue. I don’t know, maybe we’ve unknowingly started a tradition? What I am certain of is for the next ones, we know better.

Local na lang muna next ha? That, or kayo naman manlibre! Hahaha!

Hong Kong, Day 1, Part 2: Of the happiest place on Earth, fireworks and childhood dreams (Hong Kong Disneyland)

We reached Sunny Bay station half past the hour of three after a tiring yet satisfying trip to Ngong Ping. Our schedule was tight but we intentionally planned the day that way since Tung Chung and our next destination was just a transfer and a station away. Well if you haven’t guessed by now, that destination was Hong Kong Disneyland.

Find the not-so-hidden Mickey(s). :-D

The pout strikes again. This time in Hong Kong. Haha!

I was finally able to ride that mouse-decked train! Yey! If I remember correctly, the trip did not take more than ten minutes (six to seven, perhaps?).

One childhood dream fulfilled. Yey!

A short distance from the station, we reached the welcome arch. Beyond that was a wide walkway adorned with Disney characters’ banners that led to the Moby Dick Fountain. We walked some more, arrived at the ticketing counter and paid 399.00 HKD (~2,240.00 PHP, ~51.40 USD) each. I thought it was a bit pricey (almost twice that of Lotte World) but that got me even more excited. It should be worth it, right?

Mickey made up mostly of pumpkins. I assume this changes per season?

By the time we passed the grand entrance, it was a few minutes before four and our timing was perfect. The Flights of Fantasy Parade was just about to start.

Mickey, as expected, leading the gang.

Siyempre we scrambled (read: nambraso) to got a really good spot. We’re smart (cunning?) that way. :-P

This photo seriously does not do justice to the giddiness I had that day.

I cannot even begin to describe how perky I got. I was just… happy. Haha! Seriously, I wasn’t able to help it. Fine, I’m a jolly person by default, but that afternoon, my pep levels went off the charts. You know what they say about being like a kid in the park? I was that kid. Times n.

I mean, come on, how could I not be? Just look at these photos:

There's Minnie, Pluto and Goofy...

...Poo and his pot of hunny...

...and the Disney princesses!

Define: in character. This dedication was consistent from everyone in the cast. :-)

Peek-a-boo! I love this shot because of the movement of the dress.

Tinkerbell waved at me! My heart skipped a beat every time one of them did this.

Loved, loved, loved the costumes and the colors of the parade. Reminded me a bit of Sinulog.

A gigantic Stitch. On a surfboard. Waaaah!

And finally, our favorite toys, Woody...

...and Buzz Lightyear!

The music was electrifying too! I think they were playing Sky High. Grabe lang maka-pump up! Ooooh there were a lot more of them pa! I remember seeing Dumbo, Chip and Dale, JessieRafiki, Baloo, Tigger, Eeyore, Lilo, and… Wait for it… The tons of Pinoy members of the crew! Is it just me or do we all have that superpower of recognizing our kababayans wherever they are? We spotted them, then they recognized us and they waved back coupled with a hearty “Mabuhay!“. Awesome stuff. :-D

Oh, can I just say how dedicated to their craft these folks are? I mean everyone in the cast ah. We really saw the joy in their eyes and in their smiles. And the way they engage the crowd? Spot on.

Seeing this sway with the wind was infinitely more inspiring than this still.

The crowd dissipated when the parade ended fifteen minutes after and we headed straight to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

Oh hello there over-exposed photo. Rawr.

I told Kite I was underwhelmed. I don’t know. Maybe it wasn’t as grand as I expected it to be? It was still pretty though.

Now I wonder if this tree has leaves when its not Halloween...

The next few hours after that we spent trying out all the rides we can. It took as two and a half hours. :-D

Adventureland’s Rivers of Adventure was a mini-cruise with a trove of surprises (Seriously! We didn’t expect half of what we saw there.). Main Street’s Hotel, satisfied Kite’s guilty pleasure: horror. Haha! Tomorrowland’s Space Mountain was a mild, but still exciting, indoor roller coaster. Fantasyland’s It’s A Small World After All, is united nation doll heaven. And finally, Orbitron, again in Tomorrowland, is your usual flying saucer spinner.

I could only imagine how much more we could’ve done if we had more time! We weren’t bitin, but I think to maximize one’s stay, a whole day would be in order.

Theme park ride 1: The one where I experienced water with fire. Rivers of Adventure.

Theme park ride 2: The one where I almost lost Nick's lens cap. Main Street Hotel.

Theme park ride 3: The one where I appreciated the decency of final warnings. Space Mountain.

Theme park ride 4: The one where I heard "Maliit lang ang mundo...". It's A Small World.

Theme park ride 5: The one where I almost made Kite throw up. Orbitron.

Not in this photo set was another attraction called Revenge of the Headless Horsemen. Kite obviously didn’t get enough scare in Main Street Hotel, we had to try another one. Rawr. If I’m not mistaken though, that maze was a 2011 Halloween offering, as opposed to a permanent park fixture. That’s were we met another group of Pinoy performers who greeted us with “Kumusta mga kababayan!“, too. Our hearts melted. :-D

Before having dinner, we also saw The Golden Mickeys. Kite was adamant we see this. I didn’t quite get it at first but after watching the show, I guess someone was right. :-P Think Oscar’s or Golden Globe’s turned into a musical with a healthy serving of Disney characters in it.

One of my favorite captures of the trip.

The entire cast closing the show.

I was telling Kite that for the show alone, the ticket price was already worth it. Ok, maybe I’m being OA, but it was really that good! The musical production was flawless, the singers’ vocals right on. We also saw more characters we didn’t see in the parade such as the Humpback of Notre Dame, Ariel, Sebastian and Mulan! Amazing, amazing show. Sayang we missed another show Kite was raving about: Festival of the Lion King.

After dinner, the PA called the crowd to watch out for another parade! It was a more sinister one, well, because it was Halloween. Same level of energy, though. We thoroughly enjoyed the glow-in-the-dark mascots and floats as much as we adored, again, the terrific dancers and performers.

Jack Skellington, king of Halloweentown. How very apt.

It's tough taking photos of moving glow-in-the-dark subjects ah.

And then these!

As unimpressed as I was that afternoon, I was blown away when the castle lit up that night. It was beautiful and awe-inducing. The show was in two parts. The first one was Tinker Bell’s Castle Illumination and the second was Disney in the Stars, the grand fireworks show.

The Disneyland castle is sooooooo much more beautiful at night.

Okay, don’t stress your imagination. Heto na yun.

Di ba, di ba? Arguably the best fireworks display I’ve ever seen.

Oiliness is next to ugliness. Wahahaha! Pero di ba, career!

But wait, there’s more! The last attraction of the night was the “parade” of the Headless Horseman. I found it a bit anti-climactic, especially after the jaw dropping spectacle that preceded it. I didn’t even bother taking a photo na. Hehe. Good thing there were these cast members all gruesome in their zombie make-up and gamely posing with the crowd. Win!

Shot taken while waiting for the anti-climactic Headless Horseman.

We roamed the stores aimlessly trying all our best to control our impulse buying selves. I was sooooo tempted to buy that strawberry-scented Lotso! Waaaah! We decided to call it a night after that and traveled back to the hotel. It was ten in the evening.

Goodbye Mickey!

I remember telling Kite earlier that day that Disneyland isn’t really for kids. Maybe a bit, but in reality, it’s for folks like me. It’s for those who once where and was given the chance to reminisce that youth with the company of the characters they grew up with. I still maintain that view.

Oh my goodness. I sound so… old. Hahaha! Good stuff! :-D

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