I never claimed to know much about geography but boy am I in over my head now!  There's a big map in the Horizons Lounge (the one where afternoon tea is served) with  a
section of our current itinerary on it week by week and I'm going to examine it.  This morning we docked at the Port of Muara and our tour took us to the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace, for two centuries the ruler of all Borneo and since the early twentieth century discovery of OIL (lots) one of the world's smallest and richest countries.  The Sultan of Brunei (pron. Brun-eye), i the second richest royal in the world, is a very nice man according to our guide.  He builds schools and things out of his own pocket, spending two billion of his 36-some billions, and sending his 12 children to "ordinary" schools.  Not a word about hs wife, only one, who bore those 12 kids. The guide said she's about 89 now and "still smiles".   

There's no tax whatsoever except for the roads. There are 220 thousand people and 1.6 million cars. Gas is 53 cents a litre but water is 80 cents a gallon.  (They drink river water.)  Lots of perks, also lots of anomalies.  

We took a river cruise to see the proboscis monkeys, now an endangered species.  One of our fellow travellers with a Zoom lens caught a close-up far more detailed than my human eye could see.  They are more noted for their colour than for their noses.  Apparently they are born with blue-black fur; later when the fur falls off they become the orange brown of their parents. We stopped at a house on stilts and walked on a wooden walkway into the veranda for a snack. Interesting food: a coconut green custardy thing spiral wrapped in some kind of leaf. I didn't like that much as coconut goes a long way with me, too far, but I liked everything else: a curry pop, a beef curry wrapped in pastry; a deep-fried cookie thing, not sweet but salty; a spicy mixture cunningly wrapped in a banana leaf secured with three "toothpicks"  made of twigs; a soft slice that looked lemon-flavoured but was not and not too sweet and quite pleasant.  I skipped tea or coffee because I wanted to hang on till I returned to the ship.  I din't want to use the facilities because they were inside the house proper. We were allowed to take off our shoes and take a look inside but I felt as I felt when we were allowed into a Masai mud house in Kenya, as if I were invading another person's privacy.  I don't mind being a voyeur but I don't like turning another human being into an animal in a zoo on display for impersonal scrutiny.

The river cruise itself was lovely. The air temperature was all above 80 degrees F. and the humidity felt like a wet sponge so it was nice to get a little breeze from the progress of our boat: a vessel with benches on each side and - bless be - a canvas roof. 

And my foot is terrific, I'm happy to say.  I'm slightly aware of it but there is no pain and I[m not limping. Yea!

We sail tonight at 7 p.m. and have 2 1/2 Sea Days ahead  so I'll have time to look at that map. 

how do I know were I am until I see where I've been?

Kota Kinibalu.  I think I got that right. It's the second largest city next to Borneo. I think I got that right.  The good news is that I had chosen a drive-by tour for today: a bus trip past the highlights with a few stops for photo ops and a pause in a resort hotel for a "free" drink.I chose the local beer over a sweet rum soda confection.  We returned for (a late) lunch, followed by a nap, with time for thought. A good day for my foot. I walked almost normally'

We all know that the collective understanding of a theatre audience is greater than its individual intelligences. I think that the opposite is true, that the common sense of a group of sightseeing tourists is lower than the sum of its parts.  All you can hope for is that you're not the one to take the wrong turn or make the goofy move or get the time mixed up or get left behind.  This has happened a couple of times on this trip, the most egregious error taking place at Great Wall. Providing you're not the one who goofed,it's sort of funny. Sort of.  It takes a journey like this involving prolonged encounters with strangers to make you aware of how weird you are.  Me, that is, not only all the others.  It's terrifying when you come to think of it: putting together 400 disparate people, each with their separate quirks and foible,s and trying  to create happy experiences  for them and pleasant memories.  I keep remembering that line from The Lady's Not for Burning (Christopher' Fry's play, 19--, when the mother comments fearfully on two young people who have fallen in love and run off, that they have "thrown themselves under the wheels of happiness." The unswerving pursuit of pleasure is a risky business.  


Yesterday was a mixed bag.  April 25 was ANZAC Day and there was a brief, sincere tribute honouring the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign in World War I.  It was also some kind of special day in Manila, to be marked by a parade beginning around noon.  Our excursion set off at 10 a.m.  We began at a park and I chose with some others to stay on the AC bus, to preserve my cool and my foot.  The big stop at the park and ruins of Fort Santiago intrigued me.  I kept expecting Antonio Banderas to swing down from a balcony although I knew it was the wrong country.  I left my iPad (camera) on the bus so I had someone take picture of me sitting between two military statues and I must try to get copy. I have been similarly caught with the statures of John Hirsch and Tom Hendry in Winnipeg and of Glen Gould in Toronto.  The third will make a collection.  Some buildings have been restored but I liked the ruins best, much easier to conjure up the past.  The heat, however, drained my energy and swoll  (?) my foot.  We waited for the bus to pick us up but were directed instead into a gift shop to wait for the “Jeepney Ride” – the reason I opted for this tour.

Apparently, the Americans left behind their jeeps after the war (WWI) and a few entrepreneurs used them as jitneys (a jitney is a bus or other vehicle carrying passengers for a low fare).   Then they added on, extra seats at first but then they made larger vehicles. The latest addition has been air-conditioning, of a sort, of which the guide seemed to be very proud.  It was not what I had envisioned and it was a very short ride, for which I was grateful.  The driver spent the first five or ten minutes getting out of the parking lot.  A man stood outside the Jeepney and slapped the side of it to indicate which way to go while the driver hee-hawed and diddley-dawed to get it into a position to squeeze past other cars and the wall of a building on the left side where I was sitting, and into the street.  I helped b sucking in my breath as we inched past the wall beside me. 

Then we drove for about three minutes to a church and got out. That was the last we saw of our Jeepney.

I and three other people were limping in the heat by this time and chose not to attempt the guided tour: 45 minutes of history and artifacts.  Plastic chairs were found for two of us and we listened to the detailed complain of one of our number about the shortcomings of this tour and others. On the right side, we saw a bride and her wedding party: two young girls in red and green dresses, respectively, and two younger boys with dress shirts, no ties. (It was hot.)

The guide, determined to give people their money’s worth, gave the m about 45 minutes before he returned and guided us across the street to another building, adding an extra lecture before we crossed to give several beggar children time to paw us for money.  I know I am blessed and fortunate above and beyond and I felt guilty but not generous. 

Inside this other building we were to see how rich people lived: more walking in the heat, three stories this time.  Five people stayed on the steps in the courtyard; two of us sat on benches in the shade beside a beautiful flower-covered archway leading to a  -  kiosk? Perhaps. She and I just sat and talked. 

I’m sorry I didn’t take the opportunity to see how rich people in Manila live but you have to remember how old I am and also how much of this world have already seen.  I am trying to sort out and organize and cut down on my essential memory banks.


One last stop: the Manila Hotel, for ten minutes.  Built in 1912, according to he beautiful carved wooden (mahogany?) chairs in a side foyer, it looked like a colonial hotel, with lovely chandeliers and a carved wooden ceiling. Apparently it was the headquarters for McArthur’s last stand, and was visited by John F. Kennedy and Michael Jackson, among others. To our left, down the hall from the big chairs, was the Champagne Room, featuring beautiful umbrellas of crystal leaves arching over the chandeliers. Pretty.  I had champagne for my Happy Hour when I got back to the ship.  It made my foot feel better.

here we go again

Sea Day yesterday was productive. My foot is fine as long as I don't stand or walk on it,  so yesterday was good for it.  I copied and pasted all my blogs thus far into a folder that I transferred to an external hard drive, and did the same for all the comments I have received. So they are doubly safe. I know, iCloud and Dropbox are backups, too, but my computer has been nagging me to backup, so I did.  

Hence no blog yesterday. 

I do get to Trivial Pursuit every day and am collecting a bunch of cards that can be cashed in at the end of the cruise for Prizes! I am also learning how much I don't know. Very humbling.  I never aspired to be a polymath, anyway.  I wonder if it is possible now with the vast range and depth of knowledge in any field required to be even competent. I know that all I'll ever be is trivially informed about my small area of expertise.  I hesitate to use the word .  Remember that song, "I know a little bit about a lot of things/But I don't know enough about you"?  

SOW, I attended my second wine-tasting "module" yesterday. That's what it's called, Module.

That was number three but I missed the first one.  I have signed up for number Four, due in another few days - a Sea Day, of course. The sessions are increasingly expensive as the wines we savour increase in price.  I'm learning and enjoying them but I'll never be anything close to expert.

The weather has become....

Sorry, I had to leave off because it's ANZAC Day and I had to swim and wash my hair before the service (I guess you could call it that), at 7:30.  Now I've had breakfast and I don't leave on a "Jeepney Ride" tour of Manila until 10 a.m.  The ANZAC observation was dignified and informative and touching.  The Cruise Director, Andy Heath, and his assistant, Tammy, who happens to be his wife, handled it beautifully, with nice quotations from Martin Luther King, Junior, John McRae (the poet of "In Flanders Fields"), plus a couple of touching epitaphs.  A trumpeter from the Insignia orchestra made a brave stab at The Last Post and Reveille, the sweeter because of his tremolos. 

So here we are again. This day will zip by so I waned to get my blog in before it does.


Pronounced "gow-shung". It is the second most populated city in Taiwan . We dock at 9 a.m. and I'm going on a "highlights of K." at 9:30.   It's Shakespeare's birthday today. (I'm finding him very handy in Trivial Pursuit.) 

Yesterday we arrived in Taiwan and went on an excursion to Taipei (population about the same as Toronto), driving in from the harbour at Keelung. First stop was the National Museum. I guess it was pretty good, and thorough. They limit admission to 3000 people at a time and I think all 3000 were in  there with us.  We were corralled ad given headphones and the battery operated control thing so we could hear the guide --arguing with our ship duenna.  Four of us couldn't manage the huge long staircase so we took an elevator and missed the first gallery entirely. We squeezed through a nice gallery of jade carvings, which I loved, including a white and green piece of jade  that had been sculpted into what its shape suggested: a Chinese cabbage. It seemed to be a signature piece, as we discovered when we gave up trying to hear or to walk through the crowds and went to the museum gift shop instead. I know I have scoffed at people who are addicted to shopping  but the gift shops of museums and galleries are lovely (including the one at the AGO), and this one was no exception. We found postcards and tschotschkes of the most famous pieces in the museum, including that jade cabbage. I bought stuff.

Next we went to a Palace, exterior only but with nice gardens. Two of us slow ones sat in a lovely patio outside some little kiosks and the cruise duenna brought coffee. It was good coffee, better than that on the ship, actually.  We sat in the warm spring breeze and watched the world go by, including a little flock of adorable four or five-year olds. 

Next came the highlight of the morning: a visit to the Martyr's Shrine and the Changing of the Guard.  These rituals are the same the world over, I think, when stalwart young men (and these ones were taller than the average men in this country) do their best to resemble robots, and then exchange a couple in their group for two they leave behind to stand at attention like wax mannequins, for people to stand in awe and take pictures.  I took a picture and I'll try to send it along.

Of course, my foot was tired but it doesn't interfere with my memory function.  I have become accustomed, over the years of travel, to picking and choosing what I do and to making allowances for my shortcomings: shorter on energy and stamina as the years roll by but still long on curiosity and willingness.  I just have to balance them out.

After today we'll have a couple of Sea Days before we arrive in Manila, so I'll have time to recover and think.  And also to try to master the art of sending a picture or two.  I hope so.

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 that summer.  I wanted to see the gigantic statue erected in memory -- well, maybe not in memory of the horrendous bomb; perhaps in hope of peace everlasting? 

I wore a waterproof shell but I huddled under a very large umbrella with a woman who responded to my comment on my age with the information that she had been four years old, born in the Phillipines. She recalled the horror of the ensuing years and the starvation and deprivation and fear. She escaped to Chicago for training and has lived in Cincinnati for 30 years. 

I was very moved.

The next day I went to Kagoshima and what a contrast between what we were offered: peace and horror, both retroactive.    We went to the homes and gardens of the Samurai, of the last Samurai, and Tom Cruise was not among them.  I took Minnie and not my cane and I took some pictures. I will try to send you a beautiful garden. We were also taken to a museum dedicated to the honour of the Kamikaze pilots who even after The Bomb had been dropped, kept on sacrificing themselves to a hopeless cause. I could not bear to go in.  Kamikaze pilots were that time's terrorists: young, young zealots who believed or were forced into  a cause catering to their eager, fiery faith.

We missed cherry brossom  time; come back April first for a week to see them. But the azareas (azaleas) were in bloom. 

Today, I have had a lot to assimilate, not finished yet.  I may have to consider my fellow travellers soon, but perhaps that should stay in my journal. I have to consider me, too. I think I am disintegrating, all my high-minded resolutions and goals.  I am becoming an out-and-out hedonist. This afternoon I went to a wine-tasting event. It was very informative and I have slept it off in time to go to the specialty Italian restaurant tonight. I hope it's warm enough and calm enough to resume my morning swim or I am in deep trouble.

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 spikes 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 in 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.