I hadn’t learned my lesson

August 2010

My then-6-year-old nephew Grey made a birthday wish on a wishing well at the Bluroze Farms in Lipa City. It was a beautiful July morning.

Grey
6-year-old Grey at Bluroze Farms

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I had been telling him about Hong Kong Disneyland and how I wanted to take him and his siblings there. At that time, going to Hong Kong with the family seemed like just a dream. Still, you have to wonder about timing. I can’t believe that mere days from my nephew having made that wish, I came across a really cheap group tour package: 8,500 pesos (a little more than 200 USD) for round-trip airfare, airport transfers, hotel accommodations for 3 days with breakfast and Hong Kong Disneyland tickets.

What did I say about group tours? I’m afraid that I was too excited for my sister’s kids to finally visit Disneyland that I convinced my mother to fund this trip anyway, regardless of my previous experience in a group tour. 8,500 pesos was, after all, very cheap and we thought it was a steal.

The booking wasn’t without some challenges. When I talked to the travel agent, she assured me that we were taking Hong Kong Express (with snacks) and that we only needed to pay 750 pesos for terminal fee at the airport. (Filipinos usually pay 1,620 pesos as penalty, I guess, for choosing to go abroad over spending a holiday in some part of the country. And all passengers have to pay 750 pesos to wait it out at that place. Yeah, Manila airport, right? Can’t we fix this thing?) Eventually, we were booked with Cebu Pacific (no snacks) and had to pay 1,620 pesos + 750 pesos at the airport anyway.

Because we were an odd-number group (initially 9 and then later 11 persons), we paid an additional fee for an extra bed to be put in one of the rooms. (The rate was based on twin sharing in the hotel.) However, when we got to Hong Kong, we found out that we had been cheated out of a place for one person. Only 10 of us were billeted in the hotel. The travel agent in Hong Kong didn’t wait for us to get checked in and we were worried that we would need to pay if the hotel people found out there were 11 of us so we just didn’t mention it.

When it was time to give out Disneyland tickets, the same thing happened. On the list of the Hong Kong travel agent were only 9 persons. My youngest nephew was just 1 year old at that time so he could go in for free. We would have been made to pay for one additional ticket but thankfully, my niece was a day away from turning three and could also get in for free.

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We stayed at Panda Hotel in Tsuen Wan, which was a nice enough hotel. My peeve about group tours, as before, was the compulsory city tour. The quick trips/photo sessions of sights in Hong Kong made some us too tired to fully enjoy Disneyland in the afternoon. (Grey was asleep during the fireworks.) And yes, they made us buy those china pictures again. But it was still a really fun trip.

One of the things that I wish we had done but couldn’t on a group tour was take the Mickey Mouse train at the Sunny Bay station. Glenda and I did on our first Hong Kong trip and the kids will really love that! We won’t be on a group tour when we go there in July 2013, though, so I’m truly looking forward to that ride.

When we got home, I considered writing a complaint letter to the travel agency. I started composing one but changed my mind. It was inconvenient but did not cause us much damage and I wanted to think of the fun we all had.

Oh, and I finally got to see the Symphony of Lights at the Victoria Harbour… alone. I took the train from Tai Wo Hau to Tsim Sha Tsui. I didn’t think that it was too spectacular but I was glad to have seen it anyway. I will have to say that it was more fun watching lovebirds trying to get the best “seats” by the Harbour and then cozying up to each other when they did. There was this Asian blonde girl I referred to as “porn girl” who kept on posing seductively for her white boy companion. By the time the Symphony of Lights started, I had feasted my eyes on lurveee already.

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This isn’t my picture.

Note: A few days before our trip, the Manila hostage taking of Hong Kong nationals happened. Eight were killed in that tragedy that could have been avoided had the people in power been competent enough to deal with it. There were rumors that it might be dangerous in Hong Kong for Filipinos and I scrapped my idea of proclaiming my nationality on my shirt. But Jackie Chan reassured me. As it turned out, he was right. Thanks, Jackie!

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