Monday, March 23, 2009

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.

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