“Where we go?”
Noom, my bar boy friend and current love of my life, was making his normal morning query, trying to find out what I had planned for the day. But I didn’t. Have anything planned, that is. Normally, I have trips I need to make to various areas around Bangkok for business. Those had all been accomplished on this visit already. Often I have some place in town I want to see and experience, a site on my ever growing list that I have not yet had a chance to check out. And though that was still a long list, nothing on it was of great interest at the moment. Stalling for time, I jokingly replied, “Hong Kong.”
Noom made a scoffing noise and gave me a lifted eyebrow that would make The Rock proud. He wasn’t buying it. And ya know what? Sometimes the boy just needs to be put in his place. Ten minutes on-line, then I grabbed my camera bag, a wallet full of cash, and told him, “Let’s go.”
The look of skepticism remained, even as we headed out to the airport by taxi. Checking in, it became a look of disbelief. Ticket in hand, with his name and our destination on it, his look changed and he started giggling over how crazy Farangs can be. But then panic ensued.
“But I no pack!” he wailed.
“No problemo, clothes cheap in Kowloon. We’ll buy what we need,” I assured him. The idea of a new outfit or two calmed his nerves. And he started having me take pictures of him waiting for the plane, getting on the plane, sitting on the plane . . . Noom’s typical photographic repertoire.
Fortunately I’d been to Hong Kong before. Many times. So there was no need to do advance research. I’d booked our flights and a night at the Ramada in Kowloon in the few minutes between the idea of going popped into my head and us popping into a taxi for the airport. What we’d do when we got there was still in question. But with four hours of flying, and three hours of Noom asking what we were going to do there, I had plenty of time to consider what would be the most fun for him during our short trip.
Noom is curious about other countries and has a list of places he wants to visit. Hong Kong was one of them (though he hadn’t a clue as to what he wanted to see or do once there). At the same time, like most Thais, he deeply believes no country could possibly compete with his own. So it wasn’t surprising that after landing and hopping onto Hong Kong’s MTR, he quickly dismissed the system with, “We have same in Bangkok.” Which really meant Bangkok’s BTS was superior. In his view.
The hotel was ritzy enough to meet with his approval; the tiny room cramped enough to earn a negative comment. Especially when I told him how much the night’s lodging cost. But the hotel mattered little, he’d been alive checking out all the stores lining the streets when we made the short walk from the station to our hotel. Not yet done with fucking with him, I kicked back on the bed. He paced for a while, trying to hold it in, thought about how best to broach the subject, and finally tried, “What time store close?”
I looked at my watch, frowned, and said, “Oops! Six o’clock! We missed it. They are all closed now.”
His eyes got wide until he remembered who he was dealing with. Ignoring my comment, he got to the point, “Come. We go.”
Noom enjoyed our short shopping spree. I enjoyed watching him try to calculate Hong Kong dollars into U.S. dollars into Thai baht. He found a few shirts, some pants, and the other things he needed, thrilled with the purchase but not with the price, “Cheapah in Bangkok.” And I knew being able to find more fault with Hong Kong just made his trip that much more enjoyable for him.
After a quick trip back to the room to drop of our bags, shower, and change, we headed off toward the water, stopping at a small Japanese restaurant on the way where a couple of cooks the size of Moby Dick were hacking at raw fish, employing knives with a speed and efficiency that would have made Jack the Ripper envious.
Noom was content with following my lead, trusting that I’d show him the sights. Smart boy. I led him to the waterfront and to the Avenue of the Stars. He was greatly impressed with Bruce Lee’s statue and, once I pointed out the stars’ plaques imbedded in the promenade – many autographed and with hand prints – he quickly moved from one to the next, hunting each down, shaking his head at the unknowns and smiling with pleasure at the famous. Jackie Chan was a favorite. Jet Li, not so much. Of course telling him about the Symphony of Lights show would have been no fun. But when the PA system started up and the music began to blare, his head jerked up and he stared looking around trying to figure out what was up. When the first lights began their play he gasped. And then spent the next 15 minutes with his eyes riveted to the scene, repeating over and over, “Beautiful!”
When the show was over, I dismissed the production with, “I’ve seen better in Bangkok.”
Noom laughed, knowing he’d been busted.
A quick MTR ride brought us to Jordan station and the Temple Street Market. The night market at Temple Street has always been a favorite of mine. And Noom loves to shop. But what makes Temple Street so cool isn’t the goods for sale, which are pretty much standard touri fare, but the huge number of fortune tellers who set up shop on the outskirts of the market. I led him to the same fortune teller I’ve been visiting for years, one of the originals whose bird pecks out your fortune. Noom was impressed, but wouldn’t share what his fortune foretold. Bad juju to do so, I guess.
A long walk back to the hotel, with many stores still open along the way, Noom decided to try for some payback, offering a continual litany of “Open. Open. Open.” as we walked by each. I let the boy have his fun while considering that out of all the options of things to do the next day, several of which he’d be thrilled with, I could always take him to a museum instead. The smile on my face must have clued him into my thoughts. He stopped, gave me a big hug, and finished our walk home in silence.
So where do you take a Thai bar boy on his first trip to Hong Kong when you only have one day to see the sights? You may make that decision based on his age. Noom’s is, uh, advanced. But that would be a mistake. Because Thais, when it comes to having fun, are quite childlike in their preference of venue. So the next morning we bypassed Victoria Peak and the tram ride to the top, ignored the shopping pleasure of riding the Central-Mid-Levels escalator, didn’t bother to head out to Repulse Bay and Aberdeen Harbor for a taste of local boat life and a sampan ride, and passed on the ride out to the Stanley Market to haggle over the price of trinkets. Instead, we took the Star Ferry over to Hong Kong (for the experience), hopped on the MTR once again, and unbeknownst to him headed for the quintessential Hong Kong experience: Disneyland. And it was the right choice.
The joy displayed on Noom’s face before we’d even purchased tickets was a sight to behold. Once inside I thought he’d have a coronary he was so excited. Our fist stop – my idea – was on Main street to buy Noom a pair of Mickey Mouse ears with his name embroidered on them (yup, I was still fucking with him). He wore them, with a big smile, all day. I shoulda known. But I still had my fun: that was the first time I’d ever seen him not only shopping but making a purchase where he was impatient and wanted to leave. Mickey, his friends, and the rides were calling.
Noom carefully studied his map and brochure, laying out a plan of attack and then revising it when I pointed out there were specific times for some of the things and events he wanted to see. We dispensed with Main Street fairly quickly; no Disney characters to be seen, no rides of any note. I figured Tommorowland with Space Mountain would be the major draw. Wrong. I forgot I was with a three-year-old. We headed directly to Fantasyland instead.
So we flew on Dumbo, rode mystical beasts with Cinderella, got slightly nauseated spinning about on the Mad Hatter’s tea cups, and then got in line for The Golden Mickey’s show. Afterward we did the Small World ride and I cringed in horror that Noom would be singing that damn song the rest of the day. The tune is annoying enough, Noom’s loud, but off-key singing voice would only make it worse. Fortunately, the world was small enough, or at least that land was, that it was a close step into the Fantasy Gardens where Noom got to meet several Disney Characters, which wiped the gratingly repetitive song out of his consciousness.
I know Noom realized those were people dressed up as Mickey and Donald. I know he knew they were not real. But when I suggested skipping the meet and greet because the lines were so long, he wasn’t having any of it. So I waited with him patiently. And when it was his turn for some one-on-one time with the big mouse, I stood there with a silly shit eating grin on my face, just like every other parent watching his kid’s turn with Mickey. Those pictures are priceless.
We circled back later in the day to catch the 3D Mickey’s Philhar Magic show which was pretty cool; I’ve always liked Donald Duck They have little things in the chairs that spray scents and drops of water at you to go along with the movie. But our next stop on Noom’s magical journey was Frontierland.
The Jungle River Cruise is a popular attraction and they have three lines, each separate for a different language. Noom paused for a bit, huffed, “No Thai!’ and settled for the English version of the ride. He would have enjoyed it more but kept checking his watch not wanting to miss the next showing of the Festival of the Lion King, a spectacular based on one of his all time favorite movies. He loved it. I loved being in an air-conditioned theater once again. Then it was another mad dash for the parade (with Noom clapping madly as each float whizzed by), a quick stop for food (with food selection not based on the dish but rather on the character the dish was named after), yet another stop to peruse souvenirs (evidently when you visit Disneyland you need to buy a souvenir from each of the lands within the park) and then we finally headed to Tommorowland which offered the few rides I would enjoy.
The day we visited the weather was a bit hot, but decent, and the crowds were minimal. So we seldom had to wait more than 15 minutes to get onto any of the rides. Even then, the Asian technique of standing in line for a bit before trying to cut in front of everyone else was quite prevalent. The park even has employees on hand whose sole job is to keep the locals in line. You can bring Mickey to Asia, but American line forming habits are a different story.
I’m fairly certain we went on every possible ride, even the boring Disneyland Railroad train ride. Noom did not want to miss a thing. Fortunately the park is on the small side and it was doable in one day. We finished off with a overpriced dinner and then caught the lightshow and fireworks display in front of Sleeping Beauty’s castle with Noom’s face lit up in ecstacy once again. Laden down with bags of trinkets, mementos for Noom and souvenirs for his barmates, we made a mad dash back to the hotel and then out to the airport to catch our flight back to Bangkok.
On our flight home, I was ready for a nap. Noom, still wearing his Mickey Mouse ears, needed to revisit his Disneyland adventure, playing through the photos on his camera again and again, and nudging me back awake when I drifted off so that I wouldn’t miss any of the memories.
The next morning when Noom woke up he stretched out and with a big smile on his face offered his usual morning greeting, “Where we go?”
I rolled my eyes, shook my head, and rolled back over to drift off into sleep once again.
Noom rolled over, slipped on his Mickey Mouse ears and started quietly singing It’s a Small World.