Nagasaki and Kagoshima, Japan

I took a full day excursion to Nagasaki and Arita because I wanted to have lunch (included in the all-day tour) and rest my foot.  I took my cane and left Minnie.  A mistake, but I needed the support. 

I have never seen such perfectly manicured lawns, streets, private and public places, even the highways and farms, as I saw in Nagasaki and Arita.  Arita, almost 2 hours' drive north (?) of Nagasaki,  is a porcelain centre and we were supposed to see a factory in operation but it was a Sunday (April 19) and everything was closed. However, we did get to a porcelain museum and a porcelain gift store - "Outret" as the guide called it.  The streets of the small  (20,000 people) city were empty, allowing us a clearer view of the beautiful grooming evident everywhere.  A blue and white porcelain fish, looking more like a dragon than  a fish,  perched on a rock in a pond in the centre of a perfect little garden in front of the museum and a globe light on a blue and white porcelain column by the door made me wish for twilight to see it aglow.  Actually, we approached a dusky light as the day progressed and the sprinkle of a shower turned into a pelting rain by the time we reached Nagasaki and the Peace Park.  I'll get to that.

I bought a couple of jollies in the Outret Store - can't tell  you what, because grandchildren may be reading this. The price was right whereas the prices at the museum store were prohibitive. I was going to buy an eggcup (blue and white, of course) but in US dollars it cost $68 and I thought that was too rich for my morning egg. 

Lunch was interesting, too generous and not very Japanese. The ship made up for it a night later by offering a huge Japanese buffet dinner and I had sake with my sushi.

By the time we arrived at the Peace Park, as I said, the rain was drenching. I went out, anyway. I was 14 years old when VJ Day ended World War Two, in August, you may remember. i celebrated with my lost generation, too young to participate in the war, by having a bonfire on the beach where we vegged out the summer.  I wanted to see the g

springtime in Seoul

After a blackout while we were in Japan, we are sailing to Taiwan, 2 nights and a day at sea and a welcome respite for my foot.  I'm sitting in Barista, a coffee lounge outside the Grand Dining Rom and the bartender (I think he spies the coffee with liqueurs if you want).  He makes the best (only) good coffee on the ship, an Americano. I've been walking too much with and without my cane and my foot is tired and sore.  But I'm okay.

Seoul was a revelation.  I didn't know what to expect; it's beautiful, so new and freshly built, and we arrived on a perfect spring day.  The trees were in green bud, the apricot trees ad azalea bushes were all in bloom, the air was fresh and the temperature was perfect. We went to an incredible new museum where I managed to take one picture (I'll try to send it on). I realized again why I don't take pictures. I really do love to live in the moment and to let the experience imprint itself (or not) in my memory.  And really, it's a pleasure to be so old and to let the magic moments slide over me.  I'm not likely to go through albums now. I've been tossing things, mementoes, files, souvenirs, tschotschkes, whatever - except books, and even some of those go to my apartment's library or to people I think will enjoy them. So it's a freeing thing not to gather moss; I'm rolling. 

We were on our own for lunch, dropped near a good shopping street. (It's amazing the people who would rather shop than look at museums.)  I latched on to two women, both retired librarians, and we found a charming, clean, French (!) patisserie where we ate fresh sandwiches and, for my friends only, strawberry profiteroles and an elderberry soft drink that was amazingly refreshing.  A large crowd of protesters had assembled in front of the City Hall. It was the anniversary of that dreadful ferry accident a year ago when so many high school students had drowned under questionable circumstances (crossed messages, mistaken orders).  We had difficulty returning to our bus, having to make our way around an impromptu (?) demonstration by white-suited men waving red streamers and beating drums, dancing around the square. Not sure if they were part of the protesting parents or some other group. The guides are sometimes hard to understand.  Our Seoul guide pronounced Korean as if she sere saying - no, I heard her saying "crayon". I had a mental image of a pack of Crayola  assorted colours that blended with the bright Seoul sunshine and left me with a wonderful euphoria.  See? No pictures.

I walked too much, though.  I find it difficult to carry a cane plus my iPad Mini, so I have to choose between them.  I carried Minnie to Seoul but took only one picture. The next day was a Sea Day. I went to the spa for a sauna and was ensnared again by the darling masseuse (from Kroatia) who administered a foot and leg massage  -Sole Rejuvenation, it's called. It's also very reviving for the soul. But on careful consideration and with hindsight and also with an eye on my mounting bill, I have decided to lay off the massages for a while.  I don't think rubbing the bruise on my foot is making any difference. Keeping my foot elevated seems to help a lot.  Of course, I can only do that on Sea Days. 



hang in there

We are sailing to Nagasaki, Japan, docking at 8 a.m. Sunday, April 19th and leavig Kagosima at 6 p.m. April 20th.  We have been told that our wifi signals will be restricted within 12 nautical miles of the Japanese coast, so you may not hear from me for a while.  À bientôt.



Let's go back to 1996 when I first went to China including the Great Wall (which they claim was named by Nixon when he went to China).  I was turned off then by the crowds and the T-shirts on sale blatantly claiming for itheir wearers credit for having "climbed " the Great Wall.  I started up the section we were taken to and started down quite quickly, fearing that I would be trampled by the Hordes - not Mongolian, but nonetheless quite daunting. I was hopeful this time around because our Cruise promised a less touristy area - their word, not mine.  Well!

Our guide told us that 85% of the attendance at Great Wall is Chinese; the other 15% is international. She also told us that Beijing has a population of only  14 million. Shanghai checks in at 23 million.  A newer, bigger Disney World is going in there, BTW, because the one in Hong Kong is so successful.  More hordes. Well!

We started out at 7:45 a.m. on what would become a 12-hour odyssey in a convoy of buses (I was on Number 10 bus). We drove from the harbour terminal to Tianjin, about 80 kilometers distant, for a pit stop (first encounter this trip with "eastern" toilets. I'm not squeamish and I'm still pretty limber so I managed fine.) Then on to Beijing. 

The area between the two cities comprises condos and trees.  Millions and millions, literally, of trees have been planted, lining both sides of the highway to a depth of about half a mile, at least, on either side.  In between are thousands and thousands of condominia, each about 15 stories high, in clusters numbering about 50 each, maybe ten to twenty clusters in each conglomeration. 

We passed an enormous coal plant with a humungeous chimney belching smoke into the turgid air. Heating and electricity in this region, as in many, I suspect, comes from coal firing. It was cool but pleasant at the harbour but the air grew darker and more ominous as we drove toward Beijing: smog not fog. The guide told us that there are six "rings" around Beijing. I had been in the centre my last trip, to the Forbidden City, best seen in the movie "The Last Emperor" - no tourists barring the view. Our bus took the sixth ring, favoured by trucks and large vehicles and faster, unless there is an accident. We took the fifth ring on the way back, slower but more reliable, she said. (And we passed another coal plant.)   The air grew clear as we drove past the city and up into the mountains. It was a warm, sunny, clear day when we stepped out at the touristy spot on Great Wall. By that time we were well into the mountains and we  could see traces of the wall and beacon towers, very picturesque. 

The cherry blossoms were in bloom but far more numerous and beautiful were the apricot trees with a pinkish cast spreading over the lower levels of the mountains.  Our guide told us the "almond" of the apricot makes a very nice drink, hot in winter and cold in summer. She also pointed out forsythia in bloom, the surest harbinger of spring. (In Ontario, too.)  Oh, and on the subject of nature studies, I saw a magpie, in full flight with an admirable wingspan. I really like magpies. 

We didn't stop at the touristy place. Instead we drove on, abandoning a super highway for on a smaller road, still climbing. We had left sea level for 43 km. at Beijing and over 800 km at Great Wall - and up.   We stopped in a parking area and were invited to walk 150 metres up a road to the lunch place - or those in the group who needed it could have a van take them.  I started out breezily with my cane - yes, I needed my cane for my sore foot. I remember I borrowed a cane to climb Etna because I had hurt an ankle dancing the night before.  I'm older now. Anyway, this time I brought my own cane, just in case.  Even so, I hitched a ride back in the van after lunch.

We ate in the open air surrounded by mountains and rocks. I was afraid the chef was going to be clobbered by the rock bridged across his working space but he was okay. The area looked like a wedding party.  The chairs set at tables of eight or ten were clothed in white with enormous purple sashes tied around their backs.  We were served a choice of soft drinks, beer or red or white wine, which tasted like stale perfume. I should have chosen the beer but I was prepping for the toast to the bride. 

After lunch, we went back to the buses by foot or by van, and drove some more to the less touristy place.  It reminded me of Main Street, USA, at Disney World, but the architecture was generic Chinese.  The signs were in Chinese and English, with franchise-friendly words. We walked to the entrance gates and passed through onto a wide, two-lane road, for coming and going, flanked by a sidewalk for slower pedestrians with shops on both sides.  The wide road was filled with school or company groups, often in matching sun hats.  Good idea, the hats, for identification in case one went astray.   More anon. Our guide told us when to gather again and the appointed time.  

Well, I tried.  I went up that road and up some steps and some more steps and more, I think, and arrived at Great Wall, with the walk stretching both ways away - and up, up, up. I could see in the distance the winding route to a beacon tower and a Horde of people climbing it. I was already tired. My foot ached. I tried to take a picture but I kept getting a reflection of myself, not because iPad was aimed the wrong way but because of the light. A friend on my bus, with whom I had struck up a rapport through Trivial Pursuit, took my picture with my camera. That's all I have . She was tired, too, though younger than I, and she's been here twice before.

Our guide said if you go once to Great Wall, you're a hero; go twice, you're a fool; go three times (or more), you'e a tour guide.

My friend helped me down the steps, also a young Chinese girl, just like the ones on the Toronto subway who stand to give me a seat. We found a tea shop behind a gift store and I bought my friend and me a beer (Sapporo,I think).  Then I had to borrow $5 from her to tip the guide.  So I didn't have any cash left to buy a magnet with the Great Wall of China on it.  I'll never get one because I'll never get back there. 

I'm very tired today and my foot was sore. I am recovering nicely: no swim, no pedalling, but a lovely foot and leg massage and sitting around with my leg up, with lots of time for a blog about Great Wall. My advice: go when you're younger. I'm not complaining, though.  Oceania gives its staff the trip, on two successive days.  My masseuse, Amila, hud the same reaction I did and she's much younger.  She loved the mountains, the scenery, the apricot trees, the picturesque towers, but she didn't want to climb. So you see....

My computer tells me that my Mac will sleep soon unless plugged into a power outlet.  Me too.



Today is the big day: the Wall.  Oceania is good to its staff. A group of them went to the wall yesterday and another group is going today, We'll probably see them there. I do hope it's not too crowded. It's a World Heritage Sight, as you know, and a mecca for tourists. Last time i was here, in 1996, the crowds - dare I say Hordes? - daunted me so, I was afraid of being trampled under foot so I came down. It was February and I don't remember what I wore but I now I wasn't too cold or too hot.  Today, after several days of cold everyone is wondering what to wear. A number of people (women) are wishing they had brought warmer clothes. I know, I know, I'm from Canada and  cold is a relative term but I have been cold most days in the aggressively air-conditioned rooms on this ship, including my stateroom because my room-mate likes it cold. (Lesley Towers, you should be here!) Today, surprisingly, the forecast is for 85degrees Fahrenheit. But it could be cold and windy up on the wall.  We'll see.

We've had room service deliver breakfast because we must gather to board the bus (long ride) at 7:45 a.m.  I will report tonight or tomorrow, depending.  Depending on how I feel.  My foot is pretty good; I have a tensor sleeve on it and I'm taking my cane and I am a young thing

Anon, anon. 

back to the wall

This morning we are coming in to Tianjin, the port city for Beijing, 80 km.away. Tomorrow we will take an excursion to the Great Wall, the portion nearest the  cruise terminal. More tomorrow. Today is a catchup day for me.  I'm actually going to have my nails done! This is rare for me, not only because I like them short for typing but also because they do tend to meet my teeth when I'm thinking. Right now I'm not thinking enough so they are growing longer.

I swam again this morning. The wind was cool but the sun was trying to be nice. The predicted high is in the low 70s. 

My big personal news, received this morning after I finally nagged them, is Dundurn's rejection of my new book because "it doesn't fit their program".  They'll be sorry. I'm not feeling down exactly, because i have faith in my book and in me.  A bit resentful, perhaps, and a new resolve, because, of course, it's more work and effort to court a new resource. It's time-consuming but not daunting.I've always said that failure goes to my head.  A rejection is like waving a red flag at a bull: I snort and paw the ground and attack again.

But I'm having osso buco with gremolata for dinner tonight so life can't be all bad. Veal knuckle is vary hard to buy at home, a peasant's food now considered to be a rare delicacy, 

A whole slew of new people have joined the cruise for the next leg of the journey, so it's more faces and names to learn, and more case histories. My Alabama friend and I have dinner together every night and welcome two more at our table. We're both pretty good at keeping the conversation alive but I said to her as we left the dining room last night "That was uphill work, wasn't it?"and she agreed. But I'm learning a lot, about cruises, travel and people.

I must start doing thumbnail sketches of people I have met but I can't put those in my blog, of course.  As a playwright I have found that I usually understand more of what  people are saying than they know they are telling me. I listen to what they don't say.  Chekov did that - what a master of dialogue (and character) he is!  

My foot is feeling better. The tensor sleeve has helped a lot.  I should be good for the wall tomorrow. I might even take a picture.



maglev train

I thought Maglev was the name of a place. I chose the Maglev train excursion because I love trains and ships and boats and any kind of ride oh, except Ferris wheels and roller coasters. Well, what a great train ride I had yesterday!  Maglev is short for magnetic levitation and I just had the fastest land ride of my life, at 431 kilometres per hour. I travelled from the Shanghai station to the airport 8 miles away in 8 minutes. Beautiful.  I could see the scenery out the windows because they're fitted with high-tech "decelerating glass" so that the landscape doesn't fizz by. This I  know because we went into a small museum at the terminal before we returned to or bus and learned how the magic works.  It begins with  a  brief history and the first passenger coaches moving at the speed of a horse's locomotion. 

It's sort of like a hovercraft. The train rides about ten inches off its "track", no wheels involved, and ecologically friendly. The fare is nine US dollars, one-way.  This is the longest and fastest passenger train on earth.  It is hoped that  this mode can be developed into a full public (low-cost) transportation system in China to accommodate its vast population.   


It has warmed up a bit and I could have had my outdoor swim yesterday but I had to catch a train. But I pedalled.  I've been using a recumbent  bicycle in the gym for several days, reading a mystery as I pedal.  Then I found the sauna. It's a steam bath, really, which I prefer, but my Finnish  roommate calls it a wet sauna. I had to hurry so as not to miss the afternoon Trivial Pursuit game, followed by martinis with my team-mates. (We came in second.)  

I'm busy. If I didn't get up early in the morning I wouldn't have time for my blog.  But I intend to come up with a first draft of a synopsis and an outline for a new screen play.  More sailing time like today should help. We're cruising the Yellow Sea, not due to arrive at Beijing until 11 a.m. tomorrow. 

Shanghai with words

I can't seem to bring words and pictures together. I think I managed to post a picture I took of Shanghai as we were coming into harbour. It was a bright, cool day and we had a fabulous view of incredible buildings as we were tugged into a mooring. An Asian American next to me said he had first come to Shanghai in 1983 when it was all rice paddies.  I was here in 1996 and came in by boat coming in from a three-day cruise on the Yangzte River.  Shanghai wasn't nearly the city then that Hong Kong was.  In the last ten years it has become the financial hub of Asia, with a population of 23 to 27 million (the figure varies according to the guide you talk to).  

I took a Shanghai-by-night excursion and it was dazzling.  The architecture is stunning and brilliantly illuminated.  We walked around to see a pedestrian street. The lights and the crowd made me think of Blade Runner - remember that movie? I was afraid to stray far from the guide and I asked bus-mates to notice if I was missing (I'm still slow with my bad foot).  The mass intelligence of a group of tourists is only slightly higher than that of a sulky four-year-old, resistant to suggestions.  They should be supplied with a long leash with handles on either side so they can go two-by-two and never get lost.  

The heart of the financial district is studded with skyscrapers, monuments to the world's banks.  We stopped at an 88-story building for viewing and photo-ops.  My foot was not up to it, nor my head (vertigo), so I stayed in the bus, but my caregivers shared their pix with me: several of a view down through the central cone of the building which caused curly feelings in the balls of my feet just looking at it. I also saw pictures of the night lights of the city taken from up there.  A fellow shipmate with whom I usually have dinner took the day tour. She said that when she was looking aroiund and down, she found herself looking UP at a 128-story building and two window washers suspended above her,  busy polishing.  

This morning I'm going on the Maglev train to the airport, a speed trip of 8 minutes one way. I am told that the 88-story view is on the itinerary.  I'm sorry, but I can't go up there. 

I'm going more lightly this trip, saving fewer souvenirs, trying to absorb and layer new impressions over old ones. That sounds as if I am orderly. Not.  I'm as jumbled as ever but  I find I can remember only so much and it has to fit in with my scheme of things. It's easier this way. It's probably because I'm so old. 

there you are, here I am

 "I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from."   Ralph Waldo Emerson

I've been thinking about this line from Emerson a lot lately.  Here I am, 21 days into a  109-day trip and beginning to wonder who I'll be when I return.  Me, of course, because as Emerson points out,  you take you with you wherever you go. But I hope I don't develop bad habits.  It's said that it takes 28 days to make a habit (and 28 days to break one?).  I'll have lots of time, then, to change for the worse - or better?  And also lots of time to analyze my current habits and decide whether to lose them, or not. 

I'm going to see Shanghai at night tonight.  (I hope it's not a lesson in the hookers of Shanghai.) At any rate, I'll have time to think about who I am.  Remember that question put to a retired person: Who did you used to be? Tune in tomorrow and find out....

SO: it's tomorrow now, Saturday, April 11, 5 a.m. Oceania is calling this Day 1, Shanghai, because it marks a new segment of the cruise.  When the World Cruise was truncated, and fewer people were signed on to the remaining 109 days, from Singapore to Miami, portions of the trip were sold off.  I have made friends with people who are leaving today, ad with others who are going as far as Sydney, plus a few destined for Miami.  It's hard because I have to work at names. Bags dotard my corridor last night, luggage set to go out with its owners; a lot of new people will be coming on boarrd today.  To get us long-termers out of the way, the organizers have recommended room service; we have ordered a continental breakfast for 6:30.  So I don't have to leave here (the library)  quite so soon.  I don't need to, anyway, because the outside air temperature is in the 50s F., not comfortable for early morning swimmers.

I haven't forgotten my subject for today - and always - the person you take with you on your travels, in life.  Where to begin?  I have a favourite question: Would you be married to you? Or,  to be more exact: Would you live with you?  My cabin-mate and I are exploring this on a daily basis as we get to know each other. I think it must be hard for her to live with a writer and I am more aware of my quirks and foibles as I tiptoe out of the cabin at 4 in the morning.  She agreed to "mate' with me because I am an early riser, but she didn't know how early. 

I can't deal with this in a blog, of course.  The line between the the private and the public persona that everyone presents is very fine, almost transparent in some cases. That takes more analysis.

I don't think I should publish this blog.  

I'd like to get you on a slow boat to China....

Well, not so slow and yesterday was a rough, cold day.  Barf bags lay ready at strategic points in the ship for queasy stomachs.  The stabilizers on this ship are marvellous, barely a ripple as far as I'm concerned. The motion is like a cradle and rocks me to sleep. But I am cold. No morning swim till we head south again, After Shanghai we still have Beijing and Seoul, etc. before we head south and Australia will not be very warm.  I had checked Hobart, Australia for the average temperature when we get there the beginning of winter or later, but I forgot how far north we would go. I can't swim for a while, not when the outdoor temperature is around 50 F. I have started to pedal  on a bicycle I can read on, but I should start walking the track, if my foot permits it. Also I need to get a warm sweatshirt - too much to hope for a fleecy. 

Yesterday  I was going to write something about All At Sea, and actually wrote the title but lost it. I was checking the lyrics bf that song by Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers's lyricist partner before Oscar  Hammerstein, and I found a thorough review of a biography of Hart.  So I read that instead of writing the blog. By thorough I mean it was more like a condensation or a profile. 

Yesterday afternoon a huge Teatime Gala in the insignia Lounge, the big, all-purpose theatre, brought more people together than I had yet seen - lots of new faces. Normally, I guess, people are out on excursions or scattered .  The food was lovely and quite obscene. The sandwiches were small and delicious. I ate the mortadella out of a small bagel, and the Camembert cheese off a rye square, and the curlicue of roast beef and the slice of hard boiled egg with their baguette base, and two fresh strawberries, with a cup of Earl Grey.  The sweet table(s) presented an enormous variety of cakes, pastries and cookies, as well as bananas flambés, Belgian waffles with  chocolate sauce or syrup and whipped cream, and scones, of course, with their attendant trimmings. I didn't eat any nor did I take pictures. Too much richesse!

I can see why retired people go on cruises that offer such a wealth of experience - and great food. I m hearing increasingly of permanent travellers, people who retire onto ships, taking back-to-back cruises. Some say it's cheaper than a retirement home and more comfortable. It beats freighters.

laundry and hookers - more to come

If I had taken my iPad Mini (I call her Minnie). I could have shown you but it was nighttime and I don't have a flash. I went on a Hong Kong by night excursion, seeing the night lights from the top of a double decker bus, with commentaries by an enthusiastic young Chinese girl with a mike, whom we couldn't hear because she faced the wrong way.  I loved the high-end, upscale shops in the heart of the city, beautifully lighted and alluring.   I was in Hong Kong, in 1996,  deliberately, before the British Crown colony was turned over to China in 1997.  It smelled of money then, even more now: clean (freshly laundered?), new money, lots of it.  The architecture is stunning from the harbour, even more so up close, worth the price of the excursion.  The draw to others, however, was the Temple Street Market.  I had hurt my foot that day and wasn't walking too well. I had brought  along a cane, just in case, and my roommate found it useful.  The next day I borrowed it back. Also, I am not in a buying mood. I have enough tschotschkkes already. So I stayed on top of the bus while others shopped. Several others stayed, too, and the guide came back and told us more than we cared to learn about the hookers of Hong Kong.  The bus had parked on a seedy street near the Temple Street market and away from the glossy shops of Nathan Street. in the heart, it seemed, of the red light district, or so our guide told us. From our bird's eye (bus-eye) view we could look down on the street and she helpfully pointed out a few hookers, also a couple of policeman checking on them.  She then proceeded to tell us what they - the hookers, not the policemen - charged.  Apparently Asian girls don't command as much as Russian girls, though I find that hard to believe.  But being helpful and enthusiastic, our guide whipped out her calculator and translated the comparative prices for us into U.S. dollars: $150 for an Asian girl; $800 for a Russian.  Njet.

The tacky street we were parked on was a low-class residential section with apartments on both sides. Because of our vantage point we could see their laundry quite clearly, dangling from whatever hook or ledge available. With my fear of heights, I would have had serious trouble hanging a sock.  However, shirts and blouses on hangers swung on the carbon-monoxided breeze, attesting to the determination and coutage of their wearers. 

Everyone in urban China hangs laundry from their windows. I remember that from seeing Shanghai twenty years ago.  .The only difference is that the more affluent have balconies and lines and some even have glass-enclosed balconies so their laundry won't get dirty while drying. On the tour I took yesterday ("Highlights of Xiamen") I saw really beautiful balconies with laundry like flags flying their colours.  That was the best part of that tour.

We had a sweet young incomprehensible guide who laughed at her own jokes (no one else understood them) and who lost a few of her charges a couple of times. We reclaimed them for her so we all arrived back at the ship. She was very proud of taking us out to a park across the water from Taiwan for a photo-op. I suppose on a clear day you could see Taiwan, but we couldn't.  

I was disappointed in the Tea Ceremony touted in the brochure and I worried about the water they were using for the tea. Most tourists know they should drink bottled water but they forget about ice cubes and swimming pools - or tea ceremonies. Our little girl didn't know what I was asking about the water. Oh, well, I thought, if 40 people came down with dysentery that night, we would all be wiser.  We were given thimble-size cups of different teas to sample (Green, Golden Green, Oolong, etc.) and a sheet of information telling us what each tea was good for.  I specially liked the properties of Litchi Tea, said to "relieve freckles."  If I ever develop anxious freckles, I'll know what to drink. 

I felt sorry, though for the three little tea ladies, so young and so needy, trying to sell tea to a restive, critical (by that time) audience, dissatisfied with our guide.  We sat on bamboo kindergarten-size chairs and gossiped and joked as we sipped our minuscule cups of (polluted?) tea.  The poor darlings had a hard time selling us tea, especially as our guide couldn't translate what they were saying, not even the price. 

So I walked too much yesterday on my sore foot. This morning I am ensconced in the library with my security blanket, my feet up, and hogging the internet. (Each stateroom gets one line so my sharer and I must share that, too. It's working out.) 

We sail at 6 tonight for Shanghai.



Oh my, it's three days since I last entered a blog. To say I've been busy is a given, but so has the internet on the ship.  A computer guru (Oceania@Sea - not a call, but the sign on his "office", next to the Spa, on Deck 9), a very serious man, as well might be, for the computer illiterates he  has to deal with, including me, keeps specified hours when he is available for consultation.  We all seem to consult a lot, and that takes time.  You don't have to know this; it's just one of the many myriad tasks (!) I have to cope with each day. Today we are at sea and I will try to get caught up. 

But you might as well know some of my other distractions. I reported already that I enjoyed the spa for some minor repair jobs.  Well, they hooked me.  I've had two-count'em-two Hot Stone Massages during which a young woman called Amila melted my bones and rearranged them. Lovely.  At great expense, I might add. I don't usually spend much money on myself, my physical self. This is sheer self-indulgence, part of the vacation mode. Part of the package is the advice one receives on how to improve, I mean, be better.  I remember a line from  Jean Kerr's play, "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" (also a movie), reporting a a make-over at Elizabeth Arden , commented that the aestheticians treat their work as if it were the cure for cancer: "Thank heaven you came in time!"  The spa people don't think that's funny.

I, who said I wasn't going to be sucked into macramé or ballroom dancing, thinking I was being satirical, have been going to Trivial Pursuit games twice a day, once in the afternoon after Teatime (another indulgence) and between dinner and the evening entertainment.  The winning teams number no more than eight and as few as two (two people denied my request to join them one afternoon, a husband-and-wife-team who are,  admittedly, awesome). The membership is amorphous and varied but fairly consistent.  Each team member gets points if the team wins and these are apparently tokens for a prize at the end of the voyage. Last night our team got all 15 questions.  Wow.  I don't know why it's fun, but it is.  Also time-consuming.

So you see.

brace yourself

I have been a couple of days blogless.  Two days ago I went on an 11-hour excursion that turned out to be a twelve-hour tour to Hanoi: a four-hour bus trip each way and about four hours in the city - and well worth it.  The guide said summer was just beginning and they weren't used to it yet and no wonder. It was 98 degrees Fahrenheit, probably hotter in the sun.  We learned a lot about Ho Chi Minh, another one of the world-renowned leaders who was embalmed for posterity. Fortunately, we were not allowed into the mausoleum to see his body. I've seen Lenin and Chairman Mao and they both looked ghastly. Like other leaders HCM paid his dues: 30 years in exile, time well spent in Europe learning languages, and forming the party. I took a picture of his big yellow palace, not sure whether I'll manage to get it here - not very attractive, anyway.  He didn't like it either. He preferred to live in what is now called the House on Stilts, a simple wooden house, but with a conference room on the ground floor. I took a picture of that, too, not sure how it will look.  We received a brochure with photographs of the palace and the House and they look much better than mine.  Actually I took too many pictures (for me) and I began to question the wisdom of it.

More anon.

We went by the mausoleum  for a photo-op (?) and I enjoyed the Temple of Literature's beautiful gardens. I took a picture of a huge pot of calla lilies, and bought a few postcards with better pictures than mine. Everyone's pix are better than mine. As you may remember, Vietnam was occupied and developed by the French, long before the infamous war the US was involved in.  The result was that the city is charming, looking quite French, especially in the old French Quarter, with trees and boulevards and evocative architecture.  We were taken to a French restaurant looking very French, but we were served a delicious Vietnamese lunch. 

I was too hot and too squeamish to go into the central prison to see the solitary confinement cells and the instruments of "persuasion" and a genuine guillotine. I stayed in the AC bus as it drove around and gazed at the busy streets with their sidewalk vendors and tonnes of motor bikes.  Ditto with the market, a place teeming, so my fellow travellers told me, with tschotschkes. I am too old to accumulate stuff. 

But I loved the city of Hanoi. It has 20 lakes, reminding me of Regina (with one lake in front of the Legislature), Minneapolis (Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun, if memory serves), and Hamburg - don't know the name of the lake or lakes, but it reminded me of Minneapolis. But twenty! Wow.

One of them is huge, the West Lake. I'll look it up. One of them, the Green Lake, also known as the Lake of the Recovered Sword (King Arthur anyone?), has a story attached.  The guide told me that some of the smaller lakes are black, totally polluted with the sewage pumped into them. 

The other part I loved about the trip was coming home (you know what I mean).  It was dusk and people were finished with work, preparing for their evening. The guide described the custom; he said "a noisy family is a happy family."  

The style of the houses is distinctive: three-story brick or concrete with flat windowless walls on the sides. The front entrance looks like a garage door but stylish, grill or ironwork, closed. In the cities, more populated areas, that is, not in the rice fields we passed,  which were huge and numerous. There were often little stores of some kind in front of the "garage doors", selling food or drinks or tschotschkes. The second floor have windows on the front (and back, I presume) and the third floors have balconies open to the air. the widow frames and balconies are beautifully  decorated according to the means of the owners. The guides said the most ornate ones belong to millionaires who are "corrupt." I'm just telling you what he said. 

Well, at night, they open the garage door and turn on the lights and you get to see inside. I must have the instincts of a Peeping Tom. In fact, I strained my neck peering down and into front rooms, which went went way back, the depth of the house, with in the centre of each home, a beautiful staircase -  carved wood, spiral, modern, grand - leading to the second story. In every home, the television set was already turned on and people were seated at table, eating their evening meal. 

I was late for mine, with the cruise director, Andy Heath and his wife, Tammy, plus my cabin mate and two other people on an anniversary cruise. I wasn't tired, not then, but I fell asleep during an evening entertainment buy a ventriloquist.  I could have been his dummy. 

The next day I had a hot stones massage to ease my aching, stiff neck.

The rest of that  day and today, remain to be seen.  We sailed into Hong Kong this morning as I swam - about 6:30 a.m.  Easter Sunday morning.  And Passover, too.  We are so blessed.


chacun à son blog

My parents gave us a movie camera for Christmas one year, one of those "open-me-first" gifts so that we were all prepped to witness the children's gift fervour.  But when we saw them in action, we put down the camera by mutual agreement and just watched, depositing their delight into our memory bank.  

I have heard camera enthusiasts on this trip ruefully but briefly wonder if they have wasted their time taking pictures and not savouring the moments.  But then they decide, and others agree,  that it's better to have the photograph when they get home, a permanent reminder of the trip that was. I am so inept at taking pictures that an entire experience would be lost to me.  

Before I wrote my play The Pact, about Isaak Dinesen's last great relationship with a poet half her age,  still to be produced (I live in hope), I wrote a ten-part radio drama about a woman similar to Blixen, name and details changed to avoid copyright infringement, that was broadcast on Peter Gzowksi's Morningside. (Does anyone remember that?)  In one scene she wakes up in  a tent in Africa on safari.  I needed to reproduce her ambience. I had no photographs but I had my diary. The morning sounds heard in a tent in Kenya are the grunts and calls of the baboons.  I nailed it.  On that same trip the guide on our jeep took us to watch a cheetah play with her cub.  People took pictures; I watched.  The guide said  "Listen!" We listened.  He said, "In all my time in Africa I never heard a cheetah purr until now."  You can't take a picture of purring.

Yes, you can, people have argued when I tell that story now.  With video cameras you get everything: movement, colour, sound.  I concede.

I have just read some blog entries of a fellow traveller and I am so impressed.  She knows what day it is. She knows exactly where we are. She takes pictures along the way, and puts them into her blog casually and easily.  I keep  blogging down in thoughts and layered memories.  I have no business writing a blog, and I apologize to you. 

Yesterday was a cruising day. I wrote a few letters and caught up with my diary, sort of. I ate, I slept, I talked to people and worked very hard at remembering names. I played Trivial Pursuit (an organized activity on board) with some women I dined with, one of whom sent me her blog (see above.)  Oh, and I booked another cruise: Easter Island.

I have always wanted to see the behemoths of Easter Island, not to take pictures, just to see them.

I'll get to that smiling Buddha soon. 

when am I?

I take so long fiddling with the pictures, it cuts into blog time.  I have a happy Buddha that I'm going to try to send, but not now. I mean,  my computer thinks it's 6 o'clock yesterday and so do you, but by me it's 5 a.m. tomorrow. I mean it's April First here in the library on Insignia, and in spite of more hours of sleep than I am accustomed to enjoying I could sleep again right now. That's me, with trimmed bangs and waxed eye brows in Baristas, a coffee bar on Deck Five.  I have an Americano coffee there in the morning after my swim, that is, when I'm here. Yesterday morning we were on a bus by 8 a.m., heading for the Mekong Delta(about 70 miles) to se the most beautiful, oldest (I think) temple where I took a picture of a laughing Buddha, before we went for a river cruise and lunch (more anon), and then a quiet, wondrous ride in a "gondola" (a four passenger rowboat, paddle-poled by a woman who pointed to her home to me in amidst the jungle of trees).  That took us back to the river boat, back to the bus, back to the ship. It took about 6 or 7 hours.  I had tea in Horizons where it is served every afternoon at 4 p.m., and enjoyed the departure of the ship out to the China Sea, heading for Hanoi. Having trouble keeping my head up, but I had some of my wine with fellow passengers while we waited for dinner (halibut). I managed to keep my head out of the fish and went to bed about 8:30 p.m.  Still tired. Today is a brief sailing day; we dock late afternoon and I'm going to a Water Puppet Show tonight.

But I have to tell you about the lunch menu in the Mekong. On each table for six, in an open, thatch-roofed dining hall, a decorated, flat fish welcomed us.  It was an Elephant's Ear (the nickname).  The waiter or waitress dismantled it wearing latex gloves and a wielding a knife that proved to be less useful than skilful fingers to tear off the flesh and avoid the bones.  Edible rice paper packages were wrapped around the fish with thin slices of seasoned cucumber and I'm not sure what else. Three dipping sauces waited at our plates for personal use, one with a salt and pepper mix that we wet with a green kumquat  (I think); a sweet, hot pink sauce, and  a fish sauce. An oval loaf that looked like bread was cut into pieces with sharp scissors; it was sticky rice. We also dipped something like spring rolls with a different wrapping into the sauce of our choice. We each received a big clump of noodles in our eating bowl, with soup ladled on. The soup had stuff in it, too. I don't know what the lumps were but they tasted good. What else?  Oh, big giant shrimp that the waitress peeled for us and we dipped. Slices of fresh pineapple.  And beer.  (or a soft drink if desired --aargh).

Oh, dear, it's 25 to 6 here and I have to get ready to swim at 6.   

More to come.



Photo on 2015-03-29 at 10.25 PM.jpg