By Joseph Lynn Ho Huen 連浩煊
The Raimondi Class of ’69 alumni had a most successful 50th Anniversary celebration held in Toronto on July 7, 2019. The Toronto old boys felt very excited about the reunion, and they thought that as the largest number of alumni was in Toronto, maybe they could extend the fellowship to former schoolmates in other cities as well. There was a number of alumni on the West Coast, so Peter Wu 胡思平 (’69) suggested a gathering in Las Vegas after the Chinese New Year, considering that Las Vegas is an attractive tourist place with many sights to see.
Richard Yuan 原瑜人 (’69) jumped on the idea and suggested extending the trip to Los Angeles to make the trip even more enjoyable. The alumni unanimously agreed that Peter would be the Vegas trip leader, and Richard the L.A. trip leader.
An announcement about the Vegas/L.A. gathering was made in November 2019 for a seven-day trip to Vegas and L.A., Feb. 10 – 17, 2020. Pretty soon, interested alumni were submitting their names from Canada, U.S.A. and Hong Kong. As we well know, the Coronavirus situation surfaced just before the Chinese New Year and by the time February came around, it was no longer feasible for the Hong Kong schoolmates to fly to North America for a leisure trip. We missed their participation in this reunion and look forward to the next opportunity to make this up.
The participants had about two months to book their airfare and hotels. For those who are not familiar with Vegas, let’s say things there are never what they seem, and one does need to do some research into the nuances of each booking before committing. One thing about Vegas hotels is that if there is a casino attached, chances are that even the non-smoking rooms will smell a bit smoky. The nice thing about the participants having a forum is that all the pros and cons could be freely discussed. Participants finally decided to use two hotels, The Strat for those with no smoke preference, and the Vdara for those who must have smoke-free rooms.
Transportation among the Vegas venues was by rental vans driven by Peter Wu, Martin Cheng, Philip Chan and Joe Lynn.
The final participants list had 17 people:
From Toronto, Canada:
- Peter Wu Sea Ping 胡思平 (’69) & Freda
- Thomas Wong Kwong Tak 黃廣德 (’69) & Amy
- Stephen Yeung Yik Sang 楊益生 (’69) & Rosanna
- Martin Cheng Chak Hung 鄭澤雄 (’70) & Karen
- Patrick Wong Leung Chung 王良忠 (’70) & Josephine
From Edmonton, Canada:
- James Wong Hon Kun 黄漢根 (’69)
From Calgary, Canada:
- Ken Yeung Chiu Wai 陽超偉 (’70)
From Los Angeles, U.S.A.:
- Richard Yuan 原瑜人 (’69)
- Richard Ng 伍子行 (’68) & Rebecca
From Boston, U.S.A.:
- Joseph Lynn Ho Huen 連浩煊 (’69) & Pansy
Some alumni just couldn’t hold their horses anymore, so James, Martin and Karen, Richard Yuan, Richard Ng and Rebecca met up in Los Angeles to spend two days there before driving to Vegas together.
Ken Yeung now alternates his stay in Calgary and Vegas every six months, so he is already on site.
The rest of the group arrived by car and air during the day, checked in to their hotels and met up at the Wynn Hotel at 6 p.m. for the buffet dinner, to be followed by the Le Rêve – The Dream show at the Wynn Theater.
We got a great deal for the Wynn buffet and Le Rêve show by purchasing the combo buffet/show package directly with Wynn. It enabled us to skip the buffet waiting line and enter via the VIP line, saving us a long wait to be seated for dinner. We also noticed that the sign at the buffet entrance said 18% gratuity for large groups, but since we prepaid for the package, this gratuity was not necessary. Well, a penny saved is a penny earned.
It’s hard to decide which Vegas buffet is the best, but the Wynn buffet enjoyed a solid reputation and lived up to it. There was a great variety of dishes, and the chefs paid attention to delivering all the dishes in an inviting manner with high scores in cosmetically pleasing presentation and unique taste. Since we are a group of mostly senior folk, I dare say we did exercise our discretion and most of us did not overfill our plates.
The Le Rêve show started at 9:30 p.m. so around 9 p.m., we left the buffet restaurant and walked around the Wynn complex a bit to help digest the sumptuous dinner.
When we entered the Wynn Theater, we saw a large water pool in the stage center, 80 feet above it was an opening with a huge lit globe, and the audience sat in circles around the stage.
Later on during the show, we saw that the whole setup was fully mechanized. The pool could be quickly configured to different platforms and pool shapes, and the performers mostly wearing wire harnesses were flying up and down in all directions, synchronized perfectly to the music and sound effects.
It was a shock-and-awe experience, and the 90-minute show left us with the greatest respect for those athletes who performed their aquatic acrobatics at the highest standard. Considering that an Olympic high-dive platform is 89 feet tall, those Le Rêve performers are no slouch indeed with their 80-foot dives.
The group drove from their hotels to meet up at the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center, about 23 miles west from Vegas. We then drove through the Scenic Loop Drive, a 13-mile circular route with many vantage points to take in the different stunning views of the Red Rock Canyon. Since we did not have time to make all the stops, we went only to Calico II, High Point Overlook, Lost Creek Canyon, and Pine Creek Canyon.
February in the Red Rock Canyon was rather mild. The sky was clear and sunny and at around 50 degrees F, we totally enjoyed walking around the vantage points and taking in such grand views of natural rock formations all around us.
The next very important event was, of course, lunch. We drove to the Mount Charleston Lodge 42 miles away, where the restaurant offered a nice American-style menu.
As we drove along the route, we noticed signs with numbers like 3451, 6272, 7343 etc., then we realized we were driving uphill. By the time we reached the restaurant, we were at the great height of 7,717 ft.
The restaurant offered generous portions of food cooked in a comfort-food style. It was not gourmet style but certainly a lot of fun.
After lunch, we drove to Desert View Overlook 10 miles away for a panoramic view of the Nevada landscape.
At 8,209 feet, the view was spectacular, and one could see the U.S. atomic bomb test site.
We drove 45 miles back to Vegas and headed to our hotels to freshen up for the fine dining booking we had made at Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse in the Golden Nugget Casino. For sure, we took the booking seriously, and some insisted on changing into suits. Well, some of us looked like Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin when we showed up at the restaurant, while others stayed casual. We all enjoyed an evening of steak, seafood and fellowship.
The group drove from their hotels to meet up at Zabrieski Point at the Death Valley National Park, about 120 miles west from Vegas and crossing the state line into California.
This was the first vantage point with amazing views of the rock formations there which had a different look from the Red Rock Canyon rocks.
The weather in Death Valley was much warmer at almost 70 degrees F. We still wore jackets, but other tourists were running around in T-shirts.
We regrouped at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center five miles north to decide on the vantage points, only to learn that one of our major points that day, Dante’s View, is closed for railings repairs. At the suggestion of the park ranger, we decided on Badwater Basin and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes instead.
While there were a steak restaurant and buffet lunch available at the hotels near the Visitor Center, we decided to try the nearby Timbisha Tacos which offered an Indian style of soft bread with stuffing. Many thanks to Stephen Yeung for generously sponsoring the lunch!
After lunch, we drove 18 miles south to Badwater Basin, the lowest point of the landscape at 282 feet below sea level. It looked like a seabed after the water had evaporated, leaving a lot of salt behind. The ground felt soft and moist under our feet.
Our next destination was to go back up the road and take a detour onto Artist Drive, a nine-mile loop that meanders through the rocky hillside almost like a roller coast ride.
There were a lot of ups and downs with the colorful rocky hillsides feeling dangerously close to the car. The route was named Artist Drive as the rocks look almost like they have been painted by an artist.
We then drove 40 miles north to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, an expanse of desert where the wind has rolled the sand into continuous stretches of dunes.
The drive back to Vegas was 150 miles. For readers who might be considering a similar trip in future, your GPS might tell you to do a right turn at Airport Road to connect to Route 95 south. Do not turn onto Airport Road! It is unpaved gravel. When our caravan of four cars turned onto it, it was as if we were in a Middle East war movie with a line of Humvees stirring up a sandstorm while charging down the road. Our first car was sort of OK, but our second car had to drive on the left side of the road to eat less dust, and the third and fourth had to take alternate sides of the road just to be able to see where they were going. Just stay on Route 374 until it connects to Route 95. It’s a few miles more to drive, but you will be worrying far less about the rental car company hitting you with a big repair bill for dents.
We arrived in Vegas in good time for a Chinese dinner at the New Asian BBQ Restaurant which our local expert Ken Yeung knows quite well. It is in the Vegas Chinatown area, about two miles west from the Vegas Strip. It looks like the city has pumped some money into the previously rundown Chinatown. The street now has a lot of LED light effects, and more restaurants seemed to have opened there.
The food was quite good and the price very reasonable. It would be unfair to compare it with Hong Kong or Toronto or Vancouver restaurants, but it worked very well to cap off a wonderful three days for the group on this Vegas trip.
Peter and Martin returned their rental cars after dinner and Ken very kindly ferried them from the rental car center back to their hotels.
Some alumni had to leave for the airport in the morning.
For those continuing onto the Los Angeles trip, they’ll await the jumbo tourist bus which will come in from L.A. to pick them up. Richard Yuen had very generously sponsored the cost of the bus for the next four days.
As the saying goes, that’s a different story! Articles on the Los Angeles and San Francisco portions of the trip are coming soon to this blog.
Thanks to contributions from the fellow Raimondians who made this Vegas Venture such a Success:
You may visit https://photos.app.goo.gl/YFRvSuQjfNng947s9 for more picutures of this incredible Raimondi Alumni Vegas/LA Venture.