Monday, March 30, 2009

Britain's Penal Colony off the East Coast of India

Britain's Penal Colony off the East Coast of India

Thursday March 26
Day at sea--Half the ship has a cold and I’m praying like crazy. Saw a pod of little dolphins early this morning. I think they’re happy to see us! The cruise line has brought in a professional choir director from England to help us. Pretty cool. We will be putting on another concert before Dubai. Getting that one hour walk each sea day helps keep the belt in the right notch.
Friday March 27
Port Blair Andaman Islands--The ship had guards posted out on deck while passing thru the straits of Malacca last night. This a spot for pirates we hadn’t heard about. We get a little primer on Port Blair culture before heading out on our tour at noon; this was once a penal colony when Britain was in India. Indian citizens proposing independence were sent here never to return. Our first taste of Hindu culture with cows everywhere around town and in the country. They don’t seem to have any owners they just wander where ever they want. There are a lot of wandering goats and dogs too. The miracle of the day is that our bus driver didn’t run over anything that was walking. I mean full speed on a mostly one lane roads shared by walkers, bikes, cars, trucks, and animals. Our trip took us through countryside reminiscent of Cambodia and Viet Nam on the squalor scale but more woodsy and not quite the ramshackle architecture. There is a lot of damage remaining from the December 26, 2004 tsunami tho. At our destination we pile on a 1930 vintage ferry that had the look of the African Queen. We ferry across to some small reefs off a nearby island. We are then transferred to a similar vintage glass-bottomed boat that takes us out over brain coral to look at some species of tropical fish. Our next adventure was putting on snorkeling equipment and walking thru a beach area where sting rays were spotted. I saw 2 myself and paid particular attention to avoid them. Murphy’s law put a snorkel mask in my possession with knots in the strap on both sides of my head. After 10 minutes of fun I heard two twangs and I end up swimming to shallow water with the snorkel in my hand. The local version of the DNR was there watching over us as this area is in Mahatma Gandhi National Park.
Saturday March 28
Day at sea. Recovering from a very hot day in Port Blair. Watch an academy award winning movie about life in the back streets of Mumbai—Slumdog Millionaire. Very good.
Sunday March 29
Day at sea. Got into a little hot head and foot canasta game. Watching the sea. Indian Ocean has been nice to us so far. Our new captain conducted church services for us.
Monday March 30
Day at sea Sue is learning Mahjong. Some more interesting information on Tsunamis from a passenger who was a geology teacher. We’re going to get the DVD on his work.

Britain's Penal Colony Off the East Coast of India

Malaysia--the winds of change are blowing

Malaysia--the winds of change are blowing

Malaysia--the winds of change are blowing

Wednesday March 25
Kuala Lumpur Malaysia--Our day starts with a trip thru town on the way to a traditional village house. It is like a fancy tree fort. This was a house on stilts that was later enclosed. They provided a few ethnic snacks that were all deep fried. Real nice but tough on the heart I suppose. The house was nestled in a well-kept rain forest type garden with narrow walkways and little meditation spots. Sulfur is spread around the perimeter of the house a couple times a year to keep the snakes out. Most of the people here are Hindu and Muslim. They are all very friendly and just trying to make it thru the day. This is a country very active in the electronic and automotive industries. Cobras were used to keep the rat population down but it was too dangerous so owls have been brought in to do the job now. Community is very important. Everyone in a village goes to all the weddings and every one helps build the houses. On the way back to the ship we stop and browse thru a section of Kuala Lumpur called Little India, a cool photo stop. (The East Indians came here to work in the tin mines in the state of Selangor. The shop where we made our pewter—part tin, copper and antimony-- bowls in Singapore was Royal Selangor!) We also get some photos of the Blue Mosque, the largest in SE Asia. A stop at the Sultan’s palace and the largest mall in South East Asia finished the trip. All in all a very progressive tolerant culture where females are making large strides in becoming equal parts of the social fabric. It is becoming an interesting mix of the old traditional ways and the new western ways.

Singapore--a most progressive city!

Singapore--a most progressive city!

Tuesday March 24
We have heard a lot of cities boasting of their most this and that in the world but Singapore is the Queen. It is the most technological urban area in the world. They recycle all of their water, grow a lot of their food from water and air –no dirt; incinerate all the refuse and put the ash in a lagoon that will be good to the year 2040.Very little crime, no guns, green spaces everywhere and the highest standard of living in the Asian area. It is the largest port in the world with a ship coming and going every 3 minutes. It also, amazingly enough, has the cleanest water in the bays. We actually saw a boat with workers dip netting any trash that did get into the water. It is against the law to sell chewing gum. Big fines for littering. This city is literally exploding with life and building and green spaces. It’s a true dream-destination. Had fun at a metal smithy shop banging out a pewter bowl and taking a tour of the pewter craft shop- world class art. We visited the historic Chinatown that has the chaotic crush of shopping in small stalls facing walking-only streets minus the mud and foul smells that we saw in other stops in southeast Asia. Finished the day at the international Raffles Hotel where the famous Singapore Sling was invented. We ate peanuts, threw the shells on the floor –per tradition-and had one of these famous drinks at The Long Bar. We got a new captain on board today for the rest of the voyage, and have a champagne sail-away to welcome the new captain.

Hong Kong Harbor Lights!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Lands of Buddha--Bangkok

Lands of Buddha--Bangkok

Lands of Buddha-Cambodia

Lands of Buddha--Cambodia

Lands of Buddha--Cambodia

Lands of Buddha--Viet Nam

Lands of Buddha--Viet Nam

China to Southeast Asia

China to Southeast Asia

China to Southeast Asia

China to Southeast Asia

Friday March 13
Beijing- Day 3 Day begins with a great breakfast and a stop for pictures at the Olympic Village. The Birds Nest up close is quite the site. Then off to the stop of the whole world cruise-- The Great Wall. Over 4000 miles of a 15 foot wide and 30 foot tall wall made of brick and marble. There is only about 20% of the wall left standing. If Larry Hoff is reading this a couple last year walked the whole wall from the east coast of China to the Gobi desert. So I guess it is possible. The temps are about 15 degrees with a 30mph wind. A lot of people are buying more clothes at the gift shop. The walk is exhilarating . The vistas are breathtaking. The towers are a refuge from the climb but they are like wind tunnels. So we find solitude on the lee sides sitting and contemplating this place. It displays the fierce nature of these people to protect their way of life and culture. They knew how to organize and implement large scale projects. We stopped at a tower where we couldn’t see anything higher for a long ways. At that point there was a young artesian engraving brass plates to commemorate the climb so we made China a little greener. The Chinese are a pretty hardy lot as we noticed folks with no gloves or hats and some girls in high heels. Would have been nice to spend more time there but they want to squeeze more sites in. At this point we turned back to the treacherous return voyage being careful not to sightsee too much for fear of tripping and doing a header down the long steep stone staircase. The wear on the stone steps from man and time are very clear. Lunch is at the Longdi Resturant. It is also the site of a jade artwork factory where you can watch the workers ply their trade. The jade bug got us and we made China a lot greener. The afternoon was spent visiting the area where the tombs of 13 Ming Emperors are located. One tomb has been entered and the different artifacts on display. All about 600 years old. A walk thru a series of life sized marble figures of man and animal a mile long puts us back on the bus to the hotel.
Saturday March 14
Beijing China Day 4 Great buffet breakfast. I Don’t recognize many of the items but try most of them. The process of herding 100 cats thru the international airport actually goes quite smoothly. There is 3 bathrooms on the plane and we are served a pretty nice sized meal. We get back to the ship in time for me to do some shopping for sue at this huge three story mall complex built 10 feet from the ship. The off ramps lead right into the mall. The captain decides to postpone departure a couple of hours so we can get full effect of the colorful Hong Kong harbor with its changing and cascading colored lights covering the building fronts.
Sunday March 15
Day at sea Sleep in Getting tuned up for Vietnam—Digesting the China trip.
Monday March16
Day at sea Gets some time in on the track. Weather is quite nice again. The Captain gives the China folks a champagne welcome back.
Tuesday March 17
Ho Chi Min City Vietnam: Day has one of those when you least expect it –[expect it] starts. Sue falls ill at the last moment in line going off the ship. So my journey to Vietnam is solo. Probably a good thing our trip is thru some of the most squalor yet. Shops are generally 10-12 feet wide, open fronts, no door and mounds of litter everywhere. There are over 4million motor bikes in the Ho Chi Min City area. Our 1 1/2 hour bus ride to our little Mekong Delta adventure takes us through miles of urban shanty mixed with rural turn of the last century farming/gardening. Turn of the last century boats greeted us upon leaving the bus. Our destination was My Tho a tourist Island of sorts. The locals were selling stuff everywhere. Highlights were a lady holding a 15 foot python around her neck and she would put it on you if you wanted to experience that sort of thing--I passed—and a nice long cruise down a narrow canal in a sampan for four. The sampan was paddled by one person sitting on the bow in the front and a second sitting on the stern in the back. Looked like a lot of work. The whole area around Ho Chi Min City is a work in progress. Tearing down the old and trying to build some new. So many boys losing their lives here for an ill conceived notion haunted me. Also like China visiting any communist country would have been unthinkable not that many years ago. So I’m thankful that we’re allowed in. We left port in the daylight so we were able to see the many miles of the Saigon River on the way out to sea. First Asian country where I noticed a lot of the traditional cone straw hats and people resting or working squatting down on their haunches.
Wednesday March 18
Day at sea Sue is better. We are resting up for Cambodia. We had a nice night walk around the track going in the opposite direction of what the ships rules are. We live so dangerously.
Thursday March 19
Sihanoukville Cambodia: This also is a quite poor country but not as bad as Vietnam. They both have suffered a lot because of wars. They are working to get rid of the vast slums. It will be a while yet. There are concrete walls surrounding quite large vacant lots. The walls seem to be 20 years old or more and are probably remnants of wealthier class before Pol Pot killed them all. We visited a small rural village of around 200. They have a 5 room school there made of concrete. Quite primitive-outdoor biffies, no running water or lights. Six grades in 3 rooms and a library. A couple of Buddhist temples located near the school. The locals keep it up quite nice for what they have to work with. Our next stop was a market that can only be visited to describe. The sights and sounds and smells are something that in all our some 60 odd years have never experienced. Beggars and crippled folks laying in the middle of the dirt walkways, fresh and not so fresh of every imaginable type of food laying on the dirt and in carts. Many types of seafood put a interesting aroma in the air. It was like Walmart with the cans open and little stalls selling everything else Walmart would. One more stop at a Temple called Wat Krom where Sue strikes up a relationship with a young 8 year old boy. Once a teacher always a teacher. He speaks a little English. And pretty worldly for a little guy. The last stop of the day is a nice white sand beach for some R&R in the sun and a little lolling in the surf.
Friday March 20
Day at sea: Just about 20,000 miles on the trip so far. Had a lady give us some lessons on Mah Jong.
Saturday March 21
Bangkok Thailand: Bangkok is home to the Tuk-Tuk a motorized rickshaw with a roof on it. Sounds like a snowmobile engine in it. They are everywhere. The markets here are a lot cleaner. The town is full of 7-11’s. pretty funny I didn’t think they even existed anymore. Our first stop is the Grand Palace. Built by a series of Emperors a couple of hundred years ago. We have seen a lot of temples and shrines so far and for sheer complexity, and color these take the cake. I think I took 50 pictures here and they are all different. Our next stop was quite a thrilling ride on a power sampan through the canals. Its suppose to be the Venice of the East. Many homes on stilts built over the water. Lots of boats speeding up and down the canals. Lunch was in a traditional style Thai restaurant designed for cross legged seating. Some local musicians and dancers put on a show while we ate. Food was great, nice and spicy. Take a nice nap on the way home--must have been the Sing Ha beer.
Sunday March 22
Day at sea: Getting tuned up on Singapore. Great concert by a fellow playing classical, blues and pop music on a clarinet.
Monday March 23
Day at sea: Caught some sunshine. Getting close to the equator again.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On the road to the Great Wall

On the road to the Great Wall

On the road to the Great Wall

Beijing China :Our first stop in this land of 1.3 billion is called the Temple Of Heaven. This is a sprawling complex of huge round layered marble platforms and buildings surrounded by trees and open spaces that the locals use for Tai Chi, dancing, playing cards, singing, and many other forms of group activities. All dimensional aspects of the complex are in multiples of 3. Which 9 is the most common. The Chinese are very superstitious. Daily life is full of what is good or bad luck. I guess what struck me most was the large numbers of people enjoying themselves in the outdoors making their own fun. The next stop was the Forbidden City. This collection of buildings housed the emperor, his concubines his wife and the eunuchs. Nobody else was allowed, not even the children after they married. Penalty for intrusion was death. Nobody had seen what was in the buildings till after the farmer rebellion brought an end to the Dynasties forever in 1924. Three fourths of the buildings are still not open to the public. The Forbidden City has 9999 and a half rooms. All the city is heated with built in stoves under the floors that makes them warm for winter comfort. Lunch was served on a large round glass lazy ----- in the middle of each table with all the entrĂ©es on it. After lunch off to Tiananmen Square That will hold a million people- the largest square in the world. Chairman Mao’s remains are buried there in a large mausoleum. The day ends with a Peking Duck dinner in a restaurant built in 1846. The restaurant was located in a brand new section of town that was to look the way it did in the turn of the century. It was done for the Olympics and nearly all the shops are empty. It looks like a surreal movie set from a Rod Serling movie. We ate the duck in the traditional ways and drank some pretty darn good Chinese beer. Sue won a card that had the history of the duck on it- like it was a person or something. Then to bed –Whew!

Shanghai to Beijing

Shanghai to Beijing

Shanghai to Beijing

Shanghai to Beijing

Tuesday March 10
At sea: We are in the Yellow Sea named that for good reason-- it does have an odd yellowish-greenish tinge. Spend the day packing for our China adventure and listening to a lecture on China.
Wednesday March 11
Shanghai China: Putz around the ship till our bus for the airport comes at noon. Our guide for the next 4days meets us, Mr Big Chi and he is pretty good-sized. We get a little background on Shanghai on the way to the airport. History of being wild and wooly over the years. Big English influence here in architecture and business. Big Chi will be in charge of 100 of us [three bus loads ] for four days. Someone said like having a job herding cats. Everywhere there are highrise living quarters. Fifty stories high and thick as hair on a dog’s back. I call it vertical urban sprawl. The river is like a freeway of barges and boats where we are docked. They haul everything from sand to cars to people. The airport we leave from is for domestic flights and is efficient and friendly. We arrive in Beijing without incident. Our hotel is the Great Wall Sheraton. Kind of on the too plushy for us cheeseheads type. Kind of like Davey Crocket goes to Washington DC. Lots of local cuisine though. Taste is OK but I don’t have a clue what it is and I don’t ask. Stay up late listening to some nice American music sung by the locals and soaking up the moments.

Korea--New and Old

Korea--New and Old

Korea--New and Old

Monday March 9
Inchon Korea: Another story of recreating a society after mans attempt to destroy it. Very cold and gloomy to start with. Today’s adventure takes us through Inchon, a city of a million skyscraper apartments. They literally consume the horizon. Our guide informs us Koreans are a little pushy but in a hurry to get the job done and done right. They are still not up to speed on what they should do with orphaned children. The highest rate of adoption from foreign countries by Americans is from Korea still. The day turned pleasant with the sun beaming on our poor freezing fannies. Our day was spent at an Old World Wisconsin type Folk Village. Its 260 buildings on 243 acres represented the Joseon Dynasty. It was like Disneyland without the Disney. Very clean and very authentic .You will have to see the pictures to appreciate this one!. Our lunch was very authentic and I only recognized about half the types of food. I don’t think I want to know either. A classic wedding was performed, see-saw performers , a great tight rope routine ,a troupe of young athletic folk dancers and musicians made up the entertainment. We found some Nutty Buddy ice cream and spent the last of our Korean money. I truly have seen Nutty Buddies all over the world so far.

Beauty Rises from the Ashes

Saturday March 7
Hiroshima Japan: Back to back shore days is keeping us busy. This city like a lot of WWII battle grounds has shown great resiliency and has built back to a grand scale. Our visit today takes us to Miyajima Island. This island has been sacred for a thousand years and currently home to a very old shrine built over the bay at high tide. There are also many quaint village shops that deal in everything from fried octopus to rice paddles and green tea ice cream. Our guide was very informative-teaching us little tidbits about the language and the culture of the new Japan ,its youth and its women. Sue was very enchanted by the toilets with the heated seats. After we returned to the ship we walked to a large shopping mall to get a couple of things. There wasn’t a sign of English anywhere. Good thing for charge cards and sign language. Before the ship left the dock we were treated to a dignitary ceremony between city and ship’s officers. A brass band and a barrel of Sake treated the rest of us. That Sake was good. I’m going to have to find some at home.
Sunday-March 8
Day at sea: Sailing thru waters with Islands like chickenpox on a young boys back. Fishing trawlers everywhere. The ship had to slow down to 6 knots while we were in the fishing area. Heads up lectures on Inchon and the ever-present table prepared with food consume the day. A moving ceremony dedicated to the fallen of all wars was conducted at mid-ship on the deck. A drummer drummed as a wreath was put to sea in remembrance of their sacrifice.

Cherry Blossom Land

Tuesday March 3
Day at sea. Learning some new music in choir. Taking a run at ABBA again. Hard music to learn but fun. Weather starting to get a little cooler as we head north to Japan. Starting to get into some very deep water. The Marianas Trench is about 4 miles deep here. Walking on deck was a little dicey with the winds at 30 + MPH
Wednesday March 4
Day at sea. Cloudy and windy. Interesting lecture on plate tectonics. All the juicy geology stuff like volcanoes, tsunamis and earth quakes. Actually got some canasta in today. Catching up on laundry.
Thursday March 5
Day ay sea. Sue’s yoga- Choir practice- Tune up lectures on Japan and Broadway hits sing along highlight the day.
Friday March 6
Osaka Japan: A rainy and chilly day welcomes us to our tours. But the sites involve a lot of walking so we stay warm anyway. Where ever we go it is clean, colorful, and well -maintained. All the buildings have a ceramic tile exterior. The people love black and white for their cars and the way they dress. They all are quite attractive. Osaka is very cosmopolitan and the 3rd largest city in this country of 127 million. We drive through Osaka, the city that is said can build anything, to Nara where we visit the largest brass Buddha in the world. Deer are considered sacred and 2 thousand roam the grounds amongst the visitors. The structure that houses the Buddha is over 100 feet high, more than 800 years old and put together in a post and beam style joinery of wood. Looking at all the pictures in the world can never replicate the sights sounds and smells like the majesty of the real thing. Then off to a sprawling Shinto shrine. The central theme is nature. This experience of strolling thru gravel paths in a forest of eight hundred year old statuary swallowed up in a beautiful forest of unimaginable green, bathed in sounds of water and birds, and currents of soft smells absolutely drain any sense of angst and replace it with overwhelming peace. Our last stop of the day was the Osaka castle. The scale and dimension of this 12th century fortification rivals any in the world. It’s Hoover Dam-ish in appearance. The museum which is now in the castle features a fine collection of 800 hundred year old examples of battle dress and armament. We finished with a stroll through a just starting to blossom cherry and plum orchard.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

These people have a very hard life living in the shadow of the volcano. The soil is ruined and they have very few ways of earning a living.

War in Paradise

Wednesday February 25
Day at sea-very hot and muggy. Heading into the Coral Sea site of heavy WWII fighting and Rabaul New Guinea. Lectures and eating.
Thursday February 26
Another day at sea. Busy day- lectures and choir and eating!. Sue buys me the famous 10 dollar watch. She is tired of me bugging her about the time . The only reason I mention it is because it’s the source of some amusement on my part. We all of a sudden were being treated to an odd high pitched beep. Wifey turned our cabin inside out looking for the mysterious beep. Then called the maintenance man. He had no ideas. Finally found the culprit my new 10 dollar watch has a out of control alarm. Once that was fixed life returned to normal. Some body needs a job. Ha Ha
Friday February 27
Coming into the harbor of Rabaul treats us to a smoking volcano. My geology juices are really flowing. The day is cloudy and overcast. On the face of it I was thinking it would be a bad day for pictures but when I got the day’s camera work on the laptop I was surprised to find the landscape photos have a compelling black and white silhouette look to them. Quite interesting. Our trip to town was a little sobering. This island has seen its share of natural and manmade disasters. The island has 11 volcanoes, 3 of which are active. The last eruption was in 1995--the resulting ash fall pretty much destroyed the whole town. It’s been 14 years and not much has been done to reconstruct. It looks like it happened a few months ago. Families are living in shanties and huts made from whatever materials could be salvaged from the ruins of their homes. In 1937 an eruption took over 500 lives. As a result some very sophisticated equipment has been installed to give everyone advance warning in advance of a blow. In the 1995 disaster not one person was lost. We had a little tour of this facility. The next part of our drive around the area brought us close to the base of the volcano. Great photo stop--landscape dominated by dead trees and black volcanic ash that has the consistency of sand. The locals were there selling some of their handiworks. Then off to a shanty town where the folks are living under some pretty tough conditions. This was a very emotional place for Sue as well as the rest of us. They smiled and waved and didn’t beg. They were dealt a bad hand of cards but have retained their pride. This area was also central in WWII as one of the Japanese main command areas. The island was heavily fortified. An extensive system of tunnels into the volcanic hills still remains. Many young men lost their lives here on both sides. All in all a sobering view of natures nasty side and man’s inhumanity to man.
Saturday February 28
Day at sea. Still hot and humid. Listened to great piano concert put on by the ship’s band director, Manny Panta-one of the most musical human beings I have ever met.
Sunday March 1
We had a choir practice at noon and got ready for our two 40-minute performances tonight. This music is a nice change of pace from Finnish and church. We got nice comments after.
Monday March 2
Guam--Spent a lot of time onboard with American security and customs officials. People were grumbling but I guess it’s good. We are docked in Apra Harbour south of their capitol Hagatna. This island was also the scene of horrific fighting in WWII. It still has a large naval station and a large air force base. The word on the street is that 8000 marines plus dependants and associated support personal for a total of 20,000 will be moving to Guam in the next year or so. Apparently this will effectively close down Okinawa. According to our tour guide the island has done little to get prepared. Governmental gridlock--sounds familiar. Our shore excursion was basically a trip around the island. The native cultural base is Chamorro which has Asian roots. I saw a wild water buffalo standing in a piece of lowland just off the road. They are huge. The Japanese brought them over during the war and there are still a few around. Not quite as lush as some of the other Islands but quite nice. It is an American territory and you can really tell by the burger/fast food spots, large car lots, and K-mart. I rather enjoyed not seeing them. A Chamorro cultural center which depicted life a couple of hundred years ago and a variety of scenic view points rounded out the afternoon. The islanders have a strong Catholic heritage reflecting the 300 years of Spanish rule before the US got it in 1898. We were treated to a violin concert that evening by Vincenzo Gentile from Italy. He had me in tears and had to buy his CD. I am so sappy.
Tuesday March 3rd
Day at sea. Learning some new music in choir. Taking a run at ABBA again. Hard music to learn but fun. Weather starting to get a little cooler as we head north to Japan. Starting to get into some very deep water. The Marianas Trench is about 4 miles deep here. Walking on deck was a little dicey with the winds at 30 + MPH; spray was reaching us on 10 deck!
Wednesday March 4th