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Travel Tales from Downunder - Trip Planning

The idea of a Canadian vacation was first canvassed when Tommy Lam Wing Yuen pointed out with a sense of pride that Vancouver continued to reign as the best city in the world to live in and that other Canadian cities such as Calgary and Edmonton were also on the top 10 list! Intrigued by the statistics, I thought it was time to visit the Western Hemisphere from Downunder. It would be nice, I thought, if we could repeat what we did last year and go for a vacation after the South Pacific Championship in early October and then fly straight to Toronto for the reunion.

I began to press Cecil Li and Tommy for a definite date for the October reunion and went about costing the Canadian trip. As it turned out the reunion was scheduled on October 2 and the South Pacific championship was going to be run a weekend later on October 6. As my dancing form was going well in 2012 we couldn't really not go to the championship, so another gap in our dance calendar had to be found for our annual holiday.

An early Easter in 2012 had provided an excuse for a longer vacation because the next major championship was not due until June 23. That would mean not attending the official reunion in October but at least I could visit some alumni while in Canada. In Vancouver, I could visit my P6D buddy, Tommy Lam Wing Yuen, whom I had not seen since I left Wah Yan in 1964. There are of course other alumni in Vancouver and Toronto whom I can visit so the April-May visit would be a compromise option for me. Qantas tempted me with a cheap ticket to Hong Kong in April and Tommy advised me to buy the Toronto flight while in Vancouver. The stage was set for the Canadian visit.

A change of schedule in the Toronto part of the trip was instigated by my brother who advised me that he would be unable to put me up in Toronto. This put my Toronto trip into limbo. Another alumni of Class '63, Lo Hon Bor, came to the rescue and advised me that I should take it as an opportunity to travel to the west coast of the US instead. Bor had travelled in North America extensively in his student days and his daughter now resides in Idaho. He suggested that since I was very keen on the Canadian Rockies, I should road-drive the trip from Vancouver.

It was a crazy idea which only Bor could think of. From Vancouver in British Columbia across to Calgary in Alberta, cross the US border into Glacier National Park in Montana, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, pass Saltlake City and see Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park in Utah, across to Nevada to Las Vegas and tour the Grand Canyon in Arizona, visit friends in southern California, drive north through Oregon and Washington, cross the Canadian border back to Vancouver.

Discounting the mileage, some of the roads in the Rockies would be icy and likely to be closed. He must have forgotten that a first-time right-side of the road driver like me would need more than a GPS to guide the steering-wheel. I must admit that I did entertain the idea after he suggested it but the same idea had driven Magdalen crazy as she thought I was serious about road-driving the trip. Tommy was a bit more diplomatic but I knew that he was not so keen on the idea either.

When I floated this idea to our friends in the US, they used adjectives like 'ambitious', 'adventurous', 'brave' and 'interesting' to describe the road trip. They wanted us to visit them though and our itinerary for the North American trip began to evolve. Lola, a good friend of Magdalen, immediately applied leave as she had a very heavy work schedule as a paediatrician in Fresno. Her husband, Gary, had retired a couple of years earlier after a triple by-pass operation. They proposed to take us through to Yosemite National Park and then to Las Vegas. My university friends, Sidney and Tony, who immigrated to San Francisco and San Jose in the 70s thought it was about time that we pay them a visit.

To incorporate the US trip to our already tight schedule had meant that we criss-crossed the continent by flight. The logical thing to do was to fly across to San Francisco from Hong Kong and then northwards to Vancouver. By the first week of December, however, we had purchased the tickets to fly from Hong Kong to Vancouver. Changing the itinerary from Hong Kong to San Fancrisco would incur a penalty of AUD320 x 2. It was to Bor's credit that he worked out another 'not-so-silly' idea. He suggested that we kept our Cathay Pacific tickets from Hong Kong to Vancouver and took advantage of cheap Southwest flights to do the US leg of the journey.

At the time of my planning the North American trip, Tony Chan and his wife Mabel told us that they were happy to fit in our visit as long as it was before mid-May as they were also planning a Mediterranean cruise. Lola could only get leave in the beginning of May so the sequence was to visit Lola and Gary in Fresno first and then Sidney and Tony in San Francisco and San Jose respectively. 

Bor suggested that we keep the return tickets from Hong Kong to Vancouver, catch the Quickcoach to Seattle, stay overnight and take a morning flight to San Jose. As flights into Fresno could take up to 6 hours from Seattle, he thought that we should use the three and a half hours Greyhound bus journey from San Jose instead.

Everything worked perfectly into place. Lola and Gary would take us to Las Vegas but leave us there after we spend time with them in Vegas. We would then fly back to San Jose to be with Tony and Mabel before they take off to their Mediterranean cruise. From San Jose, we would fly back to Seattle and then Calgary. By that time Magdalen had given the okay for me to drive 6 days in the Rockies.

The logistics of a 3-week vacation were worked to its final details by both Tommy and Bor. Tommy of course was an accountant who kept an eye on every detail and Bor actually had the experience of road-driving in the US and he regularly used Southwest Airlines so he was very knowledgeable on how to cancel tickets that we had already booked without penalty. Tony and Mabel telephoned me from San Jose fine-tuned our San Jose stay so that Sidney could take time off from work to take us around San Francisco. We rescheduled the Southwest flights as our itinerary took its final form. 

The planning process took nearly 4 months and throughout this time Tommy and Bor had worked very hard to ensure that we got the best value for money for our flights, accommodation and car hire, making sure that we could use our time most efficiently during our North American visit. For example, Tommy lent me his Tomtom when we decided to road-drive the Canadian leg of the journey. I didn't believe him in the beginning and we lost our bearings the minute we drove out from the airport garage and continued driving in the wrong direction for about 50 km. Luckily we were not in a hurry and turning the negative into positive we did enjoy viewing the Rockies from another angle. On our way back to Calgary, however, the GPS was indispensable as I wouldn't have been able to get to the Calgary Airport in time for the flight.                                                                                                                                                      --- By Philip Lee

--- To be continued ---

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