Christmas began mildly enough, and in similar fashion to every other morning this week: 8am the alarm went off; 9am I’m sitting on the bus; 9:15 is a train ride; and by 10am work had begun. Today was the final day of my first set of 3 day holiday classes at Above Scitech, the Bits, Bytes and Bots franchise of the far east. Unlike the other mornings, however, I had my bag packed for an afternoon of fun: work would end at 1pm, and then I would high-tail it over to Sai Kung to meet up with Frank, Magi, Wilco and Raphael for some Christmas wake-boarding action.
I let my boss know that I would be needing to leave soon after class had finished; however, sumo robots always dictate the final days closing pace. As one o’clock struck, the kids and their parents were still quite wrapped up in the activity, and then spent another 15 minutes taking pictures with their friends, the robots, and of course the instructors. It’s pretty standard fare, and the experience of the instructor in teaching the class can curtail the excess time beautifully when managed well. Despite my many, many classes taught, though, I was held back by the language barrier and left to ride out what time remained with patience and grace. Ivan had told me that I could leave early, but that just looks bad when your illegal-migrant-native -English-speaking teacher skips out on the parents and kids when they are talking about how much fun they had, how well their robots did, and looking to take pictures with the whole class. My sense of responsibility held out over my urge to ensure a timely arrival at Sai Kung. By 1:15 everyone was gone, and I darted out for the bus.
With almost three months of traveling back to school from work, I’ve found a number of possible routes. I can go back the same way I came: mini-bus, train, mini-bus – which takes about 45 minutes to get to school. I can take just two buses, which unfortunately is so round about and slow, stopping at every local stop, that It takes almost 90 minutes. 2:30 is our scheduled departure time on the boat, so I had a little bit of play, but not too much, in the time I take getting back to campus and over to Sai Kung. If time got too short, I could always hail a cab at the last minute, getting there quickly, but spending a few extra dollars on the ride.
I ran down the street, across the 5 lane road, and managed a mini-bus back to Kowloon Tong MTR, and continued this pace onto a departing train. This would have been easier were not all the stores in the mall open on Christmas day, and were not the entire mall busy with shoppers and holiday decoration tourists.
I got out at Choi Hung, and I had managed to save quite a bit of time. It was only 1:30 at this point, and I felt I had some breathing room. None-the-less, I quickly jumped into line for a mini bus; but, rather than taking it back to school I found one headed directly for Sai Kung. This I had never ridden before, but with an hour of give time I had no problem getting to Sai Kung on time. Wandering for food, I got a call from Frank and met up with them just in time to finish off the dim sum dishes they could not eat any more of. We then made the bill and went off for the pier. Michael’s boat pulled up to a random slip, we climbed aboard, and left the world behind us.
The whole wake-boarding plan was probably a week in coming, and that entire week was plagued with horrendous weather. Every day was cloudy, if not raining and cold. Even this morning started off with a terrible cloud cover. By the time we were leaving, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the temperature was a beautiful 22/72 degrees C/F. A perfect day for boating.
As the boat took off, and the wind blew through the boat, we were no longer in Hong Kong. We could have been anywhere, and the surroundings could just have easily been Blue Ridge, GA, Lake Lanier near Atlanta (except the water wasn’t horribly polluted), or any other lake you may have been on. Sure, we were in Salt water; but the atmosphere of being out on the boat, skipping across the water, basking under the sun brought on familiar feelings of summers at home: quite the Christmas miracle.
Then the boat stopped: who was to go first? Whenever this question arises simultaneously within a crowd, there tends to be only one optimal solution. I traded my pants and shirt for swimming trunks and a wet suit, climbed to the back of the boat and slid into the wake board bindings, then called for my Santa hat and plunged into the water – which was surprisingly not as cold as we all had anticipated: another Christmas miracle perhaps?
I was not the only one on board with wake-boarding experience: Frank had gone a handful of times, this was Magi’s fourth outing, Wilco’s second and Raphael’s first. For those unfamiliar, I have probably been wake-boarding casually for 10 years, give or take, and have probably been water skiing or doing other “behind the boat” activities for close to 20. Therefor, apart from not wanting to take the first plunge into the Pacific waters, everyone wanted to see what I could do.
I had a number of good runs, some decent wake clearing jumps, a wild crash or two, and some recoveries that surprised even me. I hadn’t been wake-boarding since maybe May, and probably only the year before that time, so I was considerably rusty; however, that didn’t keep me from riding hard until I was sore in all those muscle groups one forgets about having not gone rock climbing or wakeboarding in a long while.
Soon to Come: Christmas Wake-boarding Montage!
Following my run, Raphael jumped in to try his luck. I kept telling him not to pay attention to me, that if he did, he’d get too discouraged because it wasn’t going to be as easy as it looked. His bubbling optimism fortunately negated any chance of his giving up, and four or five attempts in he was standing up on the board, venturing outside the wake, and having a blast.
Wilco jumped in next and got up on his first attempt, shocking Raphael at how much one can improve between the first and second outing. Wilco was able to cross to both sides of the wake, something that does not come as naturally as it might sound. He even donned the Santa cap as he rode!
Then Frank took the reigns, working the board back and forth, grinding the wake, and landing a few flat water 180’s. Following that was some jump work, which is always entertaining to watch. One never learns how to land a nice jump by luck and skill: it takes hundreds of missed jumps to find the right touch of balance and technique. Frank’s past kite boarding and various water sport histories helped him pick up quickly, and he was surprising himself before too long.
Magi rounded up the first set of rides, showing the lot of us where years of snowboarding carries over to the water: great board control, effortless riding, and the guts to try new skills and weather the consequences.
The sun was still up, and so the lot of us went for a secondary round. I sat this opportunity out, knowing (a) that I was already dry and warm and that soon (b) the sun would be down and the air much cooler; and (c) that having another run would wear me out to the point where I’d be riding tired, not hitting anything I want to, and be climbing back into the boat sore and dissatisfied with my run. I took up the camera and captured the final few runs as everyone else wore down with the sun’s decline. Magi had the last run of the day, enjoying the fun of a marathon ride through rough, more open water as the boat made it’s way from our cove near the dam to the marina in Sai Kung. We each paid our driver Michal HK$200 for the two and a half hours out on the water, and made out way back to campus before going out for Christmas dinner.
After a nice warm shower, some emails, and transferring photos to my laptop, we were off again for a Mexican Christmas dinner at Taco Loco downtown. The same crew was present, with a few extra characters joining our bunch for dinner, including YY (Wai Wai) and Saurabh Swarup. At Taco Loco, the best tasting, most affordable, and most authentic Mexican restaurant in Hong Kong, we enjoyed a feast fit for kings: granted the kings like nachos, tacos, and buckets of Sol and Tsing Tao. Taco Loco itself was full, and so we had to sit in the overflow area in Archie B’s New York deli next door: to our luck, however, we had Archie B’s all to ourselves.
After filling up on Tacos, we wandered down for some gelato desert, indulging on the new holiday flavors: gingerbread, apple carmella, candy cane, holiday surprise. I love a place where I can sample everything before I buy it. Our path then led us down to Lan Kwai Fong. While needing to get back for work the next morning, there was at least another hour before the last train departed Central station, so I followed the group and we found ourselves in Agave, another Mexican themed establishment. What we found there was yet another Christmas miracle: noise makers and party hats!
We enjoyed ourselves until quarter to one, ran down for the last train at 12:50, and got back to the university late. 8 am the next day, it was off to work again …