Summer vacation time! The idea was to go to the US for about two weeks
to see friends and family in the midwest (Wisconsin / Minnesota / Iowa), and
pick up Piper, who was canoeing and backpacking in the Boundary Waters. Then we
went to Oregon to see my family. As it turns out, once you're on the west coast, it's
roughly equidistant to return to India by heading west rather than east... so
we actually did an around-the-world trip, crossing the date line like Phileas
Fogg (albeit in reverse). Cool! Hong Kong was on the way, so we stopped there
for a couple of days before landing back in Mumbai.
We had an actual around-the-world flight! I didn't show all the connecting flights (through Newark and San Francisco), but we flew westward the whole time.
Two flights down! Upon landing in Minneapolis from Newark, Finn gets invited up to the cockpit. (This is an Embraer 170, Delta Express.) The pilot was super amazing, and must've taken 15 minutes to show Finn around, and answer his questions.
First stop in the USA is... uh... Mall of America. Hey -- it's a mile from the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. And, they have a log ride inside the mall!
Second stop is... donuts! We're in Northfield, and the Quality Bakery is downtown. How could we turn down the opportunity to check out the apple fritters?
Northfield has a bagel shop?! Not to mention a bunch of fancy coffee, and a store that sells nothing but olive oil and vinegar. Hipsters have clearly taken over since my sister was a student here 20 years ago.
Next stop is... a lush public park, with a well-stocked farmers' market and a box of fresh pastries and berries and clean grass to sit on.
That sentence just listed five things, none of which we can easily get in Mumbai. And here in Northfield MN, you can get them in unlimited quantities, every day of the year! It's amazing...
Oh, and sno-cones! Yes, they exist in Mumbai as well, but they're pan-flavored and have masala powder on top. Which I love, but no one else has caught onto yet.
And berries. Not quite free. But in Mumbai, I don't know that I've ever seen raspberries for sale. One time I saw fresh blueberries -- imported from Oregon, and selling for $16 for a half-pint.
We're running around behind the Carleton campus, in the arboretum. There's a nice long trail there, where we find three wildlifes: a froggie, a deer, and a jogger.
Astro does her part to 'save the earth' by picking the seeds, and scattering them to replant!
We're staying with Heidi's friends Lisa and Spike in Northfield. That's August doing the water hose theatrics.
August loves that hose!
Astro goes out to investigate.
She is taunting a little too much here. Essex is the epitome of calm.
And she gets a mouthful!
Now August is not happy...
Varying opinions on that pizza.
Katie tries to help out.
We've spent the day with Spike, Essex, and August at the Northfield pool. Astro and I take a break and walk through the awesome skate park. I left my favorite jacket there, but a few minutes later, a pair of 15-year-old boys track me down and bring it back.
A cool pool, and a skate park, and nice helpful people -- man, everyone should just move to Minnesota.
Lisa and August!
August is a super-cool kid: smiley and always engaging.
Another thing we don't have in Mumbai: trees! Well, there are plenty of trees, but the police would chase you out if you tried to climb. And you'd probably be electrocuted anyhow.
Check out that climbing!
We bought a lot of berries + cherries, constantly through our entire two weeks in the US. Essex helped out.
Big brother Essex has grown up a ton, and was off to soccer games and rocket camp when we were there.
Essex remains a large berry fan.
On the porch rafters: baby birds!
The parent birds would come and bring tasty treats. And it was good to see equity in the bird world: both mom and dad were going out to dig for bugs and bring them home.
We rented a car in Minneapolis, and drove a loop through Wisconsin and Iowa before return back to the twin cities. Heidi did a lot of driving.
In India, like many other families, we have a driver. Our driver was fascinated with the idea of Heidi driving, so we sent him a lot of photos just to prove that it was possible.
While in America, Heidi also can refuel a minivan!
OK: the whole point of going to Minnesota was to pick up Piper. She's spent the last 22 days on canoe / hiking trip through the Boundary Waters wilderness. With the trip over, we pick her up from the Duluth airport.
We're heading south through Wisconsin. I was kind of hoping they'd sell power tools and surgical supplies here as well.
One more thing we miss in Mumbai: large Norwegian pies!
Mumbai does have a few playgrounds, and some are in OK shape. But they always appear empty... because they open at 4 PM!
Why? "Oh, if they opened them during the day, too many people would use them. It would not be good," says Asif.
Astro and Finn play Beam Wars!
We're staying with Heidi's friends Dru and Dallas near Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Dallas hears Finn talking about flying, and brings out their drone! We do far better with it than the one we've had in Mumbai, which does nothing other than crash into walls.
Astro and Finn collaborate on steering it: one takes up-down, and the other left-right. It goes *so* well!
The battery takes 45 minutes to charge, and gives about 8 minutes of flying. Finn must've flown it 40 times during our three days there.
Astro takes the controls!
While Finn is off droning, Astro finds a skateboard in the garage, and decides to take it up!
Astro loved her skateboard just like Finn loved that drone...
Astro goes for a bit of a walk in the lake!
She didn't want to miss the walk to the lake, but also didn't want to delay her return to skateboarding -- so thus the helmet.
Piper and Jack were best friends at age 2, in Denver! Here, Finn pushes Piper's boat in.
We do some nice paddling on Lake Winnebago! (Wisconsin's largest non-great lake.)
Piper and Jack
One more thing we miss in Mumbai: walking dogs on nice grassy quiet streets!
Astro and Finn make some deliveries at the Appleton children's museum, while Piper is off protesting (it's a Thursday tradition).
Whoa. OK, we're down the street, at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) museum in Oshkosh. This is one of the largest aviation museums in the world, with a special emphasis on experimentals (e.g., home-builts, Burt & Dick Rutan, one-offs, etc.). It's a fantastic place. We saw about 25% of it. Then we headed across the grass field ("Don't walk on the grass -- it's an active runway!") to the hangars across the way.
Kids of the right age get a free flight!
Finn's doors are closed... but who's that coming in in the red plane about to land? That's Piper in the Piper!
(OK, I lied. It's Piper flying, but both planes are home-built GlaStars. There is a Piper airplane in one of the hangars, though, which she definitely hung out with.)
Piper gets out of her plane!
This was her second flight: she actually flew the very same plane at EAA about 7 years ago, when she was Finn's age.
TTTTTIIIIIIMMEE WAAAARRRRRPPPPP.... here is Piper of 2010 about to get into the very same aircraft!
She has no memory of it -- so much for that educational vacaction stop! Good thing we dug up the photos...
Flight debrief with her flight instructor.
"I got to do almost all the turning! I didn't do the taking off and the landing, since I didn't really know how to do that, and the main pilot was really good at those parts. Plus I couldn't reach the foot things. But almost *all* of the turning, and the moving the wings."
Astro got her own plane to fly as well!
Back in the bus! We did a lot of driving: 1500 km around the midwest, and another couple hundred in Oregon. Astro made the most of her time in the vehicle, recording this great video and song. Her closest fans have been waiting for this for years.
"That's my mom. That's my dad. And that's my sister. That's my brother. The one who has earrings, that's my mom. That's my sister. That's my brother, and that's my mom, and that's the earrings, and that's my dad.
"If my... my brother's pretty annoying. He doesn't, like, let me... FINN, I'M JUST MAKING A MOVIE. Um, so... that's really, mostly...
"(singing) Now it's time for us to go away! It's all about us! To be. Why is it so hard to be in love with a brother. That's my mom. That's my dad. This is my brother. My brother's pretty annoying.
"(singing) When you have a brother that doesn't have you all these... that's pretty annoying, I know. That's what he does!
"(singing, in style of Cheap Thrills) Come on come on, radio on! Come on come on, radio on!
"(singing) Now it's time for me to go out to my home! Green means go! Red means go!... stop! Purple means slow. Now I'm driving in a car, at America! Just you don't know! So my... ah ah ah ah! Now for this long!
"Really much, my fault and my brother's fault and my mom's fault. Come on everybody! My sister and my mom.
"(singing again) Whoa-oa-oa!! It's time to go everybody! It's all time to... This is in my lovely car. Robot car! And it's calling me back!
"Let me just stop for a second. Um, are those on? Yes, yes. Stop friend.
"(singing) Oh yeah, yeah me, oh oh oh.
"Where's it, where's it?? Don't know where everybody..."
And our next stop: Iowa City! We meet up with Corn, who is getting set up for the eclipse in her department (coming up on August 21 -- first day of classes!). Here we're walking over to their 'new' house -- an old overgrown bungalow down the street that they're fixing up.
Their new place isn't habitable yet, but it does have a nice trampoline.
Mike and Corn have done a ton of work here. Original floors, but the staircase now goes downstairs to the basement and never has before.
Bob likes to keep it to basics. If I remember right he's a contractor, but I guess I have no way of knowing for sure without calling him.
Will is an amazing kid. Finn and he got along so well. Here, he's decorated himself with mullberry juce.
I haven't eaten a lot of mulberries in my life, but Mike pointed them out, as they were brought in from China specifically as food for silkworms, when Iowa was thought to be a great place for making silk. That never panned out properly, but the result of it is a lot of wild mulberries.
For what it's worth, they look and taste more-or-less like a blackberry, but they live on a tall leafy tree.
Aww... those lillies smell super-beautiful but they're too tall for Astro. Mike to the rescue!
Oh look! Astro has found a lightning bug, although it is one that someone has stepped on (not her), so it is glowing a lot and not flashing on and off.
Also, check out that red dot on her forehead. That's an Indian-style bindi dot, which Astro loves to put on. Made this time of mulberry juice.
Mike, Will, and Corn!
Kahleb was working as a lifeguard so we only saw him in passing, and Amelia was at camp.
Oh yeah -- a year of living in Hobart has taught Mike how to make a sandwich!
Finn is very much into aviation, and on our trip he bought an RC plane. Time for a maiden flight! Mike has brought us out to the high school field down the street.
And that's the end of flight #1.
Sadly, flight #2 ended with a broken propeller. Ugh. It was a real bummer. He held it together really well though, and we transitioned to some paper airplanes.
Will has a bit of a kite-plane thing going on here!
After the aviation, we head downtown to the University of Iowa campus. Astro stops for a bit of public piano action.
But not for long: there are more paper airplanes to be made and flown!
We go downstairs into Prairie Lights, where Piper loads up. If she's lucky, maybe she'll end up here at the Writers' Workshop sometime?
A quick group shot before we take off!
And now, stop number four on our tour of midwestern college towns: Grinnell, Iowa.
We didn't plan it this way, but post-facto we realized that our loop through Northfield, Oshkosh, Iowa City, and Grinnell was of course driven by knowing people teaching at all these places.
We're visiting my aunt and uncle. Bill taught economics at Grinnell from 1963-1967 (?). They left for many other places, but 50 years later, he and Carol are back here, living just a few blocks away from their faculty house.
As usual, Bill has a great collection of ingenious, frustrating, and well-designed toys.
Finn has brought along the RC plane, and BIll (always fascinated by anything) takes the controls. Who needs a propeller?
We walk down to Pagliai's for some pizza. In four years of living here, I think I only came here once: too expensive for my budget!
During pizza, Finn loses a tooth! (He's about to lose another one in Portland.)
Seven years ago, Piper and Bill raced in a famous stand-off in San Francisco. A couple surgeries later, we have a re-match!
And the original...
Heidi decices that carrying one person is not enough. She will try to carry everyone! (Finn, where are you??)
Sitting down for some ice cream at the Grinnell Dairy Barn. Check out those farm implements!
We did go over the college as well. Many changes, lots of construction, but not much action.
Go Piper go! One of the main goals of the Outward Bound trip was to beef up Piper so she could be a luggage porter. Looks like we've succeeded.
We're in Oregon now at my mom's house. Time to pick some berries!
Mom and Astro go on a nature walk. They find a lot of leaves and bugs along the way.
A little bug!
And looking at the water in Dixon Creek!
Our destination -- several mornings in a row -- is New York Bagel. It's about two blocks away. Wali El-Telbany came to New York from Egypt, learned bagel-making there, and moved to Oregon in 1995. He took us on a tour of his kitchen, where he proofs the dough, boils, bakes, flps, etc. every day. He does have a cool machine that does the rolling and forming.
Back on Arthur Ave for lunch!
Piper is giving a slide show of her 22-day canoe / backpack trip. Awesome!
Oh look! It's another playground -- let's check it out!
We all spend a *lot* of time over at Jefferson school. The main attraction is a big open area: great for drone-flying, and exercising FInn's new RC plane (replaced after the prop incident in Iowa City).
You can see the plane on the ground here. Click below for a nice movie of it flying..
Finn did a great job of learning to fly it. It was a ton of fun, and he did great. And then... the plan got up a bit high, and a bit far away, and he tried to bring it back home, and as hard as he tried, it flew further and further away. It was a real tragedy.
But all was not lost: I saw the distant trees it might have headed for. And we figured it probably crashed within a one-block radius. Worst scenario is that we would go door-to-door.
After walking around the block and finding nothing, we started going door-to-door. First three houses were gone. The fourth one let us in... and astonishingly, there it was, right in his back yard!
The plane's battery fell out, but the homeowner found it on his roof!
We also did quite a bit of drone flying around the school. Here's an aerial mosaic. That playground has been upgraded quite a bit since my era.
As has the garden! This is a full veggie and flower garden, on the Jefferson School property.
(The image quality for all these aerial stills is pretty lousy since I didn't have the drone camera settings right. It will allegedly do far better than this.)
Piper walked over and found people working in the garden. They put her to task! 30 minutes later, she earned a 5-carrot necklace for her efforts.
Of course, we did some droning over my mom's house.
There are so many gardens around! Oregonians love vegetables!
The movie below -- of Finn flying from Jefferson to her yard -- is really cool!
And looking back on my mom's garden, with us in the middle.
Upward to Marys Peak! It's the largest peak in the coast range.
NB: Just like Longs Peak in Colorado, Marys Peak is a posessive, but officially spelled without an apostrophe.
Finn looks out over the coast range.
Heidi helps launch Astro's new kite!
Go Astro go!
On the way down, we take a different route.
Astro: "Mommy, will you teach me how to hike? Because I really want to learn how. And also Mommy, what we just did... that is not hiking. Because there were no trees, OK? If it is hiking, there must be trees. That is the rule."
Group photo time!
All those beautiful trees...
Making applesauce is one of Astro's favorite things to do with grandma! (And with Cecilia as well...)
Also, they made lunch together.
Astro took a nice violin lesson!
Do not get in the way of Paw Patrol!
Some tic tac toe time at American Dream Pizza!
Piper is really good at arranging the dinosaurs while waiting for burritos at Laughing Planet. Maybe some day she will realize her dream of waking up and being a pentaceratops.
All the dinosaurs have dreams as well...
Also, we have dreams too! Of playing mini golf! So we head off to the links on Highway 20 just coming into town.
With luck, I get most of the balls in in 7 hits.
Heidi, Alex, and Heather battle it out for first place.
After golfing, we head out to the OSU llama barns. We didn't find any llamas, so Heidi takes some pics of Piper instead.
Heidi asked Piper to lay on the ground for some photos! I don't know that Astro really helped out.
Heidi y Piper!
Wow -- this is cool! Finn has gone out with grandma and they have found something awesome. It's a slime mold! These things are really cool, because they're sort of part plant, part animal. I'm sure that's not biologically correct, but they are some sort of unique in-between classification. And they move.
Looking around, he found another one in the wood chips. But this one is dried and 'dead.' Or perhaps it's spores only?
We bring out Astro to see as well. We did harvest some of it and bring it inside. Their lifetime in the garden is short: the one Finn found probably grew there overnight, and will be gone by mid-day as it dries out.
For all of time, I associate the taste of a fresh blackberry with the taste of stinkbug. Glad to see that some things never change. Eat carefully!
For what it's worth, we did eat pounds and pounds of berries, and no one got stunk.
I get attacked by a wild two-headed Astro-Heather-Saurus-Rex.
Heading out from Corvallis, we have one more bagel stop, before passing through the Albany Farmers' Market en route to PDX.
We take a quick trip to Mt Tabor, Portland's own municipal volcano. This drinking fountain is located inside the caldera. It's been extinct for 300,000 years.
Still, Astro should learn to use a drinking fountain properly sometime before the next rumbling.
We join up with Allen, Britta, Espin, and Freja before heading down the hill with them for Ethiopian and ice cream.
Where are we??
It's partly a trick question, because this is the old carpet! I don't know why, but the whole terminal was re-carpeted, except for a two-gate section which was left with the old design. How awesome. The new design is still really nice. Check out the excellent podcast about the PDX Carpet!
Oh look! We're back in a plane!
And we just have 15 more hours to go on this flight!
We've made it into our Hong Kong apartment -- a 4 BR unit from airbnb. It is technically 4 bedrooms, although the whole house has a combined square footage less than a single room of our house in Pretoria (which was admittely palatial). But hey -- the tiny bathroom is still a lot larger than that on a plane, so complaints!
First thing in the morning, we head onto the Star Ferry and cross the bay.
We are staying on Kowloon, which is more-or-less the mainland side of Hong Kong. Across the bay, 800 meters away and seen here, is Hong Kong Island, where most of the new bank buildings and whatnot are.
On that bay-crossing ferry!
Looking back at Kowloon from across the bay. We're waiting for a colleague of Heidi's who we'll meet up with.
Surprisingly, we are not in HK for long before we get our first selfie request.
Well! We visit a local grocery store in a shopping mall. (Everything is in a mall here.) Everything is imported! The aisles are covered with flags showing what country all the items come from. Japan, Korea, France, Italy, US... not much from China, and essentially zero from HK itself.
This here apple juice is from Japan, and costs about $13 USD for a 720ml bottle. For the value of my free sample, I could have gotten about 2 kg of bananas on the local Indian market in Mumbai.
Oh yes -- check out that melon! This was a $3000 USD aspirational watermelon, apparently put here to make the $60 cantaloupes a bargain by comparison.
Oh look! We're going uphill! Where could we be?
View from the Peak Tram!
So awesome! Hong Kong Island is in the foreground, and Kowloon is across the bay. Our flat is a few blocks behind the cruise boat you can see docked on the far side. We've taken the Peak Tram up, which is a 130-year-old cablecar that goes up the side of the mountain, to a saddle close to the summit. Crowded, touristy, but still awesome.
As for buildings, the square one on the left (International Commerce Center) is 480 meters tall, and slightly above our present altitude (451 m). At center is Two International Financial Center 1 (430 meters). And on the far right you can just barely see the Bank of China building (black diamonds, 370 meters).
Mainland China is in the distance, although I think that most of the seen hills here are still Hong Kong.
NB: Hong Kong is the winner of the weirdest statistic that I've heard of recently, which is the most vertical city. If you add up the heights of all of the buildings more than 100 meters, then Hong Kong gets to about 300 km, which is more than any other city in the world.
Astro and Kwan having pre-lunch discussions.
A bit of window washing.
We take a quick tour through the aviary at Hong Kong Park.
Astro and I decide to stay in the park and have fun at the playground, while Heidi and the rest go off for a bit. It's a great playground.
We have an awesome time doing races.
There is a really cool, long slide here. And Astro beats me down it every time (her in the slide, me on the stairs next door).... although sometimes it may have been because she 'forgot' to tell me to start.
The park is fantastic and we are amazed by how clean and safe Hong Kong is.
Until... a bit of a rough landing off the end of that slide, and Astro is down. Uh on. She's in bad shape, and crying a lot, and is really hurt.
I carry her across to the Bank of China building. Heidi gets on the phone to figure out where to go. We carry Astro upstairs and find a taxi to the hospital.
25 minutes later we're wheeled in.
And a few minutes after that we get x-rays and some consultation. Astro turns out to have fractured her elbow. It's not a big break, but it definitely needs a cast. Luckily, we seem to be in the hands of expert medical care here.
And 90 minutes after the fall, we're finished and headed back home.
In the morning, we are about to all head out together. But with the taxi approaching, Astro starts spontaneously puking. Time for some re-planning.
In the end Finn, Piper, and I head off to take the ferry to nearby Lamma Island, while Astro and Heidi visit the doctor for a followup. (She ended up getting the cast re-set, and it's much better after this.)
Nice seafood restaurant -- just point at what you want! Interestingly, although most of the fish were local, there were geoduck clams from Oregon -- huge things the size of an arm.
Go little crabbie! Run for it!
We take our third boat trip of the day -- from Lamma Island, about 0.1 km to the harbor, where the Fisherfolk Village Museum is.
This is cool! The 'museum' is a large floating dock, with a lot of old boats, collections of fish, fishing activities, and so forth. It's run in order to talk about the history of fishing in Hong Kong. There was a big school group there, but no one else. Lamma Island itself is a small (few km) mostly undeveloped island.
We got on our fourth boat of the day -- this time an old Chinese fishing junk, from c. 1950. Raise that flag!
What's the gourd used for? On the junks, it was used as a life preserver (no joke)!
We see some fish! Note Hong Kong Island in the distance (e.g., the top of the Peak Tram is approximately on the far left in the distance). While the city is very dense, there is also a ton of green.
Horseshoe crab! The first time I've seen a living one close up. It is so alien!
And now we're ready for the highlight of the day: Funny Hookless Fishing! "Do not plan any tricks in this game!"
Piper and Finn have their fishes ready.
Yep, that's how you fish here! Tie a dead fish on a string, and feed it to some big fish!
Piper and Finn narrate the experience for Astro and Heidi, who are sadly having a lot less fun than we are, and we miss them.
Check out Piper's catch!!!
And as soon as it grabs the bait, it falls back into the ocean happily.
Time for some of that watermelon!
The majority of Hong Kong's area is green and preserved. It seems to be doing well environmentally. The water is a lot cleaner than in Mumbai. Of course, nearly everything is imported from a long way away, with a ton of air travel, and a lot of luxury goods.
While waiting for the ferry to come back, we do a bit of fishing from the dock. Finn catches a nice baby fish.
And we cruise back to Hong Kong Island on the ferry! The apartment buildings here are amazing. So uniform and clean.
Our last boat of the day: docking our ferry back in Kowloon.
The next day, we walk around the markets in Kowloon. Here are cages with lots of cute little birds, for sale in the Hong Kong Bird Garden! Also available: worms, crickets, grasshoppers, and cockroaches, to feed them.
I thought this area was pretty neat -- dense and old, with a lot of history and back alleys. It's a big contrast to the flashy skyscrapers in the harbor.
Name your fruit!
Heidi buys some cherries.
Mangosteen! (I didn't know this one, but Heidi did.)
This was a huge shopping mall: several hundred tiny stores, probably half of them specializing in cell phone repair. It's all soldering irons and X-acto knives.
And a nice scaffolding!
Just a cool building in scaffolding.
Hong Kong is so clean! Even the alleys were relatively spotless.
On the ferry for that $0.25 (US) ride across the Hong Kong bay at night!
One of Finn's goals for the trip was to find an RC boat or car in his price range. We were unsuccessful, but we did visit a bunch of shops. All of them were dense like this, although this was a bit more chaotic than most.
Our airbnb was just around the corner.
Lots of street food in Hong Kong! This guy is selling pork balls of some sort.
And here's a movie of a guy making some noodles. So awesome. He was doing this in a shopping mall food court.
That being said, there's not much sympathy for vegetarians here. But if you're in the mood for some Beef Stomach with Pork Heart, you're in the right place!
Duck tongues, goose blood, ox ears, frog lips, pig livers... everything is eaten, except if it's a vegetable.
So, uh... we are at Ah Sin Vegetarian. And if they advertise "Braised Shark's Fin Soup," it means what exactly?
Me: Oh, I'm sure it's veggie. Like, they must just make it out of tofu sharks or something. I have no idea. But I'm, like, 99% sure it must be vegetarian.
Piper and Heidi: You know, um.... mabye we'll get the mushroom hot pot instead?
Also on the menu: Strange Fruit! How could anyone have guessed what I was looking for...
One veggie place we found, with a lot of dim sum! It was kind of a historic-esque chinese teahouse in Hong Kong Park.
I guess if there is cream soda, it makes sense to have milk soda as well. And yes, of course I tried it. (Verdict: More sweet than milky. You can read the fine print: "Lactic Flavoured - contains no milk." One of the first things I tried to do when I bought a SodaStream was carbonate milk, and this was certainly less of a mess than my experiment.)
(OK, to Piper's credit, she was mostly going along not for the epic battle between good and evil, but to accompany her younger brother.)
Yeah, Piper was a bit out of her league here. This was kind of a junior Jedi training camp. But she was awfully good to play along...
Astro's grandfather Bert's favorite ride was It's a Small World. So we took a nice relaxing trip through it...
I've never seen this exactly in US Disneyland, but I suppose the need for relief in the Winnie-the-Pooh line is universal...
This is in ToyLand -- a new area which is in HK Disney but not in US Disney. It features a couple of rides from Toy Story.
Check out that Korean Squid snack -- not available at US Disneyland!
The Stormtroopers definitely did not put her at ease. She did not like them at all.
(No, Astro didn't break her leg too -- but she was a bit tired of carrying her casted arm around...)
Finn finds his dream lightsaber at the build-it-yourself shop outside of Space Mountain (here called Hyperspace Mountain).
Hong Kong Disneyland is a small-size replica of the US versions. They have about half the rides, and many are changed substantially (e.g., the haunted house is totally different, and actually a lot cooler here -- many moving artworks, and a new storyline).
The jungle cruise is just about the same as in the US!