How is it that a day can be both terrific and bloody awful, all at the same time? Today was both those things and more.
Originally, today was to be our travel day from Hong Kong to Jiujiang, the small city that we visit each year, in mainland China. Since Pok Hei knows how awful the hotel is, and how difficult the place is for me and the kids, he suggested that we could join a tour group leaving Hong Kong, and travel to the Chime-Long safari park and circus show, stay overnight in another town, and then have a driver take us directly to Jiujiang. Of course, my first reaction was to Google the circus and find out if it was any good, and since the reports seemed quite good, we agreed.
The first sign of trouble was that the bus was to depart Hong Kong at 7:15 in the morning!! Yeah, 7:15, halfway across Hong Kong from our hotel. That meant I had to pack down all our stuff into smaller cases, be up at 4:00am, and out by 6:15, including checking out of the hotel. We will be in China for a week, so we have to vacate our “home base” for now.
We were up and out on time, and waiting at the bus stop by 7:00am, standing in front of a subway station. The bus arrived and departed (almost on time), but then we had to make two other stops before actually starting the trip to Punyu township to see the safari and circus. We’d been told to expect a two hour trip. The kids weren’t too bad on the bus. Emily entertained herself watching movies on her PSP and Stephanie ate snacks and treats for two solid hours. By the time we arrived, Stephanie was exhausted and in need of a nap and Emily was half asleep.
Oh, as an extra special treat, on the way to the circus, they stopped to do some “sightseeing”.....i.e. visit a bee farm. Yes, folks, given my allergies to stings, you can imagine how excited I was about that little surprise. Needless to say, I didn’t even get out of the bus at that stop. They actually tried to convince me that in spite of being allergic, a sting can be “therapeutic.” Yeah, whatever, as I go into shock!!!
The safari park has many large and (should be) wild animals, including the largest number of white tigers in the world. We went to the pavilion and watched the white tiger show, but it was very disappointing. The show harkened back to the 70’s, when animal shows were popular and before the animal rights people put a stop to shows like this. I’m no animal lover, but even I found it really disturbing. I left feeling honoured to have had the experience to see white tigers, but also disturbed.
The rest of the park was full of large animals that you could touch and feed. I let the girls feed giraffes!! Seriously. It was fun, except when the ugly old thing sneezed on them and it was so disgusting I nearly ran away!! They had a great time, though, giggling as the giraffe took the leafy branches from their hands. One of the larger giraffes licked Emily’s hand and she couldn’t decide whether or not she liked that. We got to be within 10 feet of ten giant pandas, and that was also very cool, but I had to wonder about the effect on the poor animals. There were no restrictions on flash photography or anything!
There was also a children’s playground with amusement rides, so we spent quite a lot of time there. Stephy loved the merry-go-round and something called the “Jump” ride, and Emily loved the high-flying rope ride.
We were to meet our tour guides at 5:30 at the gates so that we could travel the short distance to the circus. We had to have eaten before that, because we had no way to get around, other than the tour bus, so we lived VERY dangerously and ate the snack food at the safari park and called it dinner. It was really terrible, and expensive, and like everywhere else in China, most people smoke, so we got to eat while inhaling airborne cancer!
We arrived at the circus venue and decided to upgrade our tickets to VIP level so that we had assigned seat numbers instead of fighting with about 10,000 other audience members over the best seats. Money very well spent, as we got really great seats with unobstructed views, close to the front.
The show had moments of genuine awesomeness and also some really disturbing animal acts. Parts of the show mirrored Cirque du Soleil and the acrobatics were actually terrific. They had a cool show with mini motorcycles inside a round cage that was really exciting and some great trapeze work.
The show was about 1.5 hours, and I would say that it was 50/50 split between awesome and “oh my god, seriously, did they do that to that bear?” They had performing bears, a lion just for display purposes, a whole lot of pink flamingos just for looks, elephants, rhinos, and horses, all live, all on stage, all completely unnecessary, if they’d just stuck with the acrobatics.
After the circus was done it was about 9:00pm and we then found out that the hotel was about an hour’s drive from the circus!! Yes, it was going to be after 10:00pm when we got checked in and we’d been on the go, walking in the heat, since 7:00am. The kids really liked the circus show, but both fell asleep as soon as we were in the bus, so we had to carry them into the hotel. Luckily, the hotel was as nice as had been described, so at least we got a good sleep.
I would not recommend a tour like this to anyone. Hiring a private vehicle in China is cheap and easy, and I would definitely have preferred to have had the flexibility to do what we wanted, when we wanted. Having said that, we saw animals that I’ve never seen in my lifetime (except in books or on TV), but they were being used as props in a show.
I guess the final indignity for me, after touring a park that includes a crocodile enclosure, was being offered dried or frozen crocodile meat for sale on the way out!!!! Oh no, I'm so not kidding. They even identified that it was meat from the animals of the farm we'd just paid to see. Beyond yucky.