Sat, Sep 19, 2009 - Page 16 News List

Hong Kong through kids’ eyes

It’s known for shopping and partying, but with cable cars, beaches and Mickey Mouse, the region is great for families too

By Paul Simon  /  THE OBSERVER , LONDON

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It’s usually a bad sign when I take my family out and all three are in tears by the end of the day. We were at Ocean Park, the Hong Kong theme park/zoo that draws big crowds to gasp at wildlife and scream on rides. We started gently, being charmed by giant pandas and a comical sea lion show, and having a go on little bumper boats, before taking a spectacular cable car up the headland to the fantastic coral reef aquarium. The floodgates opened at the dolphin show, with my wife Jane in happy tears at the beauty of the creatures, who illustrated a commentary about ecological harmony between man, beast and planet by doing somersaults for fish.

Then Eddie, seven, asked to try a roller-coaster for the first time. He was tall enough and old enough, the signs said, but we skipped the loop-the-loop ride and opted for the harmless-looking (on the map) Mine Train. Ten seconds in, rattling up the chain, he wanted to get off. When the g-force kicked in on the first big dip, he really wanted to get off. I explained, calmly, while being whizzed, white-knuckled, in circles round the steel track (on the edge of a cliff) that that wasn’t possible and, look, there were only two more dips to go ...

Panic over, as Ed’s brain processed his body’s reactions, we decided to calm down on the log flume. Or, as we later realized from the map, the Raging River ride. As we queued, happy, soaking wet youths giggled on their way out. We floated gently round the track, forewarning our sons of the slide and splash that awaited us at the end of the ride. Only the slide turned out to be twice as long as we expected, long enough for Jane and I to wonder, as we clung to a boy each, how much longer it would take until splash-down.

In my arms, Finlay, five, shrieked in genuine, abject terror. Safely on dry land, we broke a family rule and bought the cheesy picture taken by the automatic camera, so the boys in years to come can wave it in front of us and say: “See what you did to me.” What a fantastic day.

Look up any guide to Hong Kong and you might be forgiven for thinking the only thing to do there is shop. New malls crop up daily, it seems, and when you’re done bagging designer labels there are bargains in the markets to be had. But clothes shopping is just no fun with young kids in tow.

So, when our expat friend Kenny invited me and my family to spend our summer holiday there, we had to think twice. Then a colleague came back enthusing about a walking holiday there, proving that you could exercise more than your credit card. Thinking back to my previous Hong Kong visit 25 years ago, and my wife Jane to hers 15 years ago, we each recalled an excitement about the city, an exotic mix of East and West. And now there’s Disneyland too ...

The Peak on Hong Kong island is a good place to get your bearings. A tram takes you up from Central business district so steeply that your rucksack slides down the floor to the back of the carriage. At the top, once you’ve retrieved your bag you emerge to a new shopping mall.

Head 45m up a path past the shops, and there’s a stunning view: a harbor teeming with boats large and small, fringed by a forest of skyscrapers and hemmed in by lush, green mountains. Plunge down again and you enter a city in perpetual motion by a dizzying variety of means. In two weeks Eddie and Finlay notched up more than a dozen different forms of transport, from rickety old trams to superfast jetfoils.

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