Monday, December 31

The End of Another Year

My o my, time do fly. It seems like it was just a year ago that we were ringing in the new year with fun and frolic. Well, we’re doing it again—surprise!

This year’s fun started with golf. What else!

DSCN1256-001

As the day wore on, the clouds eventually obliterated the sun, the wind kicked up, and it was really cold. But we played on, and Cheryl beat me by one stroke. It was all because of that one stinkin’ bunker that took me two strokes to get out of. That and I haven’t played in 6-7 weeks.

Later we joined some more friends for the second-annual December 30th New Year’s kickoff dinner at Roy’s in Rancho Mirage. We had a great time! Left to right are Alan, Cheryl, Moi, Teri, JJ, Steve.  We are liking this tradition.

DSCN1263-001

We girls are drinking chocolate-hazelnut-vanilla martinis and let me tell you they are heaven in a glass! Yummy doesn’t begin to describe them. Outrageously yummy might be a start. To die for, your getting closer.

See you next year! Hope your celebrations are terrific!

Saturday, December 22

Hong Kong: Sensory Overload

I like Hong Kong, I really do. Yes it’s crowded, but it is orderly. Clean. Efficient. One of the most amazing places on the planet. English is widely spoken, so it’s easy to get around, and people are very polite.

IMG_8740

Leave it to the Chinese to have a cruise ship welcome center that is a giant shopping/entertainment complex four stories high with an exit that is nowhere in site—it’s a little like trying to find your way out of a casino in Las Vegas: next to impossible. Note the red Christmas trees. They had maybe a hundred red trees.

IMG_8741

The shops are exquisite. But unaffordable now. When we came here 15 years ago my $300 mad money was worth something like $500, now it’s worth more like $200. I really had designs on dropping some coin here but I can get the same stuff cheaper at home. Bargains are a thing of the past.

The Chinese do everything in a big way. They have money, too. Big money. They’re wealthy. They wear high-end clothes—Rolex watches, Louis Vuitton handbags, and brands I don’t even know about. They have left us westerners in the dust. No trace of global economic crisis here. For them, money begets money. I get it.

IMG_8744

We hit Nathan Road, the major shopping area, for old-time’s sake. It hasn’t changed much, it’s mile after mile of jewelry and watch shops. I wonder how many watches and diamonds there are in store windows in this region—has to be zillions.

IMG_8745

This little girl was delighted with the big crabs in the tanks. I tried to get a shot of her face but then a hundred million people moved into the space between us. The kids are adorable and the parents dress them up so cute. And they’re very well behaved, too.

IMG_8748

There are SO MANY PEOPLE here!!! I couldn’t help thinking, what could this little girl aspire to be when she grows up to earn a living when there are so many people to compete against for a job in the world. Plus, everyone excels here. The pressure to rise above the masses must be unimaginable.

Friday, December 21

Winding Down

We have a day at sea today and tonight is the last formal night (which always means lobster). We’ve got a bottle of champagne to consume with some of our new pals before dinner, and then it’s early to bed. Last night we disco’d until the wee hours and I have played my last hand of Blackjack.

Yesterday we were in Halong Bay, Viet Nam, but we only went ashore, we didn’t take the all-day trip into Hanoi, which is 3.5 hours away (and 3.5 hours back). I haven’t yet found out if we missed anything by not going. We sailed past some unusual rock formations into the bay, which I’m sure was scary for the captain, as this is our ship’s first voyage to southeast Asia.

IMG_8721

There was little onshore to see (or buy), plus it was foggy. Foggy like pea soup. We bought some postcards, not because we wanted them but because we felt that the $2 might make a difference in whether the old woman’s family ate that night. Now that cruise ships have started going there, the town (overstatement) will likely become more developed for tourism. What would you guess is Viet Nam’s number one export?**

We squeezed a lot of fun out of this trip, which at 40 days was a little too long. But we saw a lot of wonderful things and met many lovely people. We had an enjoyable cruise, but we are ready to come home. We are deeply in need of haircuts and pedicures and, for me, I miss my studio and golf. I actually have dreams of petting my fabric and of playing a frustrating round of golf. And, I have to say this, I can’t wait to get back to our dry climate. The humidity here has been problematic for me—my head sweats, my hair curls, and I can’t get dry. I’m always drippy.

Tomorrow we have a full day in Hong Kong. We have been there before so we won’t take a tour, instead we’ll head to the world’s best shopping street, Nathan Road. The weather is supposed to be good (albeit humid). We fly out the next day (Sunday?) and get home a couple hours after we leave, due to the dateline. I am not looking forward to the impossibly long flight (coach) followed by the three-hour drive to La Quinta from LAX.

Thanks for following along with me, I hope you enjoyed it and maybe you learned something about the world that you didn’t know before. We wish you a very Merry Christmas.

 

 

**Coffee. Viet Nam is the second-largest coffee producer in the world. We also learned that coffee is only grown within 500 miles of the equator, and only in the mountains. It will not grow in low altitude.

Tuesday, December 18

Da Nang, Viet Nam

We have had internet connection problems and I haven’t been able to get online for several days. But we are doing well and enjoying our journey.

Yesterday the ship called at the central part of Viet Nam, Da Nang, another place-name I remember from the evening news during my teen years. As soon as I get home I must read some history about Viet Nam and the War. Having now been here, it takes on new meaning.

IMG_8612

Time has forgotten this area of the world. Except for motorbikes, life goes on much the same as it has for decades. This guy has chickens in the cages and roosters tied to the front of his bike. Rice paddies are in the background. IMG_8635

Some still use bicycles to take their goods to market in this area.IMG_8676

The people are lovely and friendly. They live a simple, hard-working life.IMG_8688

Daily life in the village of Hoi An, a delightful village. We had the most delicious lunch here. I like Vietnamese food—it’s delicate and slightly sweet. IMG_8693

Saigon, Viet Nam

If you thought Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City, technically you would be right, but it is still called Saigon. And, correctly, Viet Nam is two words, not one. The things you learn when you travel.

Saigon is a vibrant, colorful city. We loved it! But it’s the people who make it what it is. They are friendly, polite, gentle, and beautiful. IMG_8440

The religion is mostly Buddhist, with some Catholic left over from the French influence. IMG_8596

The people tended to have very large families, but now the government mandates that couples can only have two children. It is against the law to tell the mother the sex of the baby because they all want boys and the population was getting out of balance. (Boys bring luck and they are old-fashioned and very superstitious.)

You can’t talk about Saigon without saying something about motorbikes. I have never seen anything like it. If there are 6 million people in Saigon, there have to be 4 million motorbikes. I could not get a photo that captures the jaw-dropping multitude of the two-wheeled traffic in Saigon. It went on as far as your eye could see and extended in every direction, with bikes going this way and that. IMG_8555

We saw families of four on them, babies being fed, kids sleeping, reading—it’s almost as if they live on them. And forget crosswalks—you just go for it and somehow you don’t get hit.

We visited a noodle house and slurped Phô, Viet Nam’s famous dish. It is pronounced like fur without the r at the end. It is like mac ‘n cheese in that it is an everyday comfort food, but it is a rich broth with rice noodles and fresh herbs. Delicious, but as it turned out, loaded with MSG. My ankles look like elephant legs. IMG_8591

We spent some time in the Mekong Delta, which is a very big, silty river with many small tributaries. Thoughts about our troops that fought and died here 40 years ago were heavy on our minds. Their spirits are still very much here.IMG_8461

We have crossed the equator and are back in the northern hemisphere. Now we are heading up the South China Sea (which the Vietnamese call the East Sea because they want nothing to do with China) toward Da Nang and the north of Viet Nam.

Thursday, December 13

Pattaya, Thailand

We chose not to take the 2.5 hour bus ride into Bangkok and stay overnight because we have been there and have seen all of Bangkok we cared to see. So we opted instead to take a short day trip to Pattaya (“PataYA”), a smaller resort city on the sea, only 40 minutes by bus. It is popular with eastern Europeans and Russians.IMG_8408

We expected to see some culture there, perhaps a temple, and I could show you some beautiful photos, but that was not the case. Pattaya is much like Bangkok, crowded and in disrepair, but without beautiful golden temples or peaceful gardens.

No temples, but many (and I mean MANY) so-called pink bars, even though prostitution is supposedly illegal. I resisted photographing the ladies sitting outside in mile-high stilletto heels offering their very specialized services.  Trust me when I say there were hundreds of ladies per block on the side streets.

Thailand is famous for massage, whether it comes with a happy ending or not. There are all kinds of Thai massage. Take Fish Spa, for example. It comes with free beer. You stick your feet in fish tanks and the little fishies eat your dead skin. It seemed horribly barbaric to me. 150 Baht works out to about $4.IMG_8400

This lady was selling sausages on the street. You bought the raw sausage and she cooked it for you on a little grill, so maybe they were okay to eat even though they were hanging in the hot sun, but I wasn’t willing to test this. Like I said, the clientele is largely eastern European and Russian, and she was selling a lot of sausages. She knows what they like to eat. IMG_8402

Their electrical system seems a little outdated.IMG_8410

But their buses are very modern and futuristic looking.IMG_8407

Sorry I don’t have pictures of peaceful temples or smiling Buddhas to show you—I wish I saw some. I wish I saw one. We did see a delightful Thai puppet show on our ship last night, but I didn’t have my camera.

Today the ship is very quiet as most people are still in Bangkok. We are docked in a very busy port. It’s quite interesting to watch the operations. The giant cranes lift two containers at a time, and there are currently three huge container vessels being loaded and unloaded on just the side we can see. Thailand makes Toyotas and Hondas and there are probably 5,000 cars out there waiting to be exported. Acres and acres of cars.

Tuesday, December 11

Singapore 2

What a city!! We had two days in Singapore, and we got to see some more of the city, but it did rain buckets. Here is a typical indoor mall, of which there are hundreds. Why shop outside in the stifling heat.

IMG_8353

Singapore is mostly new and modern, but some evidence of the old British colonialism still stands. Singapore is in the process of eclipsing Hong Kong as Asia’s most vibrant city and financial hub…if they haven’t achieved this already.

IMG_8375

This is the view of the future marina and waterfront park from our ship. They have built this area on reclaimed land—in other words they dredged the sea and expanded the land mass by 50%. 50%!! You can see the building cranes in the foreground, they are working 24/7 on this massive project, which should be complete in 2015.

IMG_8386

The above hotel, the Marina Sands, has a garden and swimming pool on top. It looks as if a wedge is being driven through the tower on the left, splitting it in two.  I love architecture and this building is amazing. Let’s take a peek inside.

We’re in the lobby. Pretty awesome. One can’t capture its massive grandeur in a photo.

IMG_8356

You can probably tell by the photos that it is cloudy and gray. It rains on and off and it is extremely humid (I don’t tolerate humidity well). We went shopping in Chinatown. Red—lucky Chinese color. Did you know that in Las Vegas they have red Mercedes limos to pick up Chinese gamblers at the airport? I think this is a bridal store.

 IMG_8381

We are still hanging out on deck waiting to depart—the sailaway party fizzled because the ship cannot leave until everyone’s passport is stamped by Singapore immigration control, and several people have held on to their passports. So we wait. I am drinking a Singapore Sling of course, and it has an umbrella because it is raining. Remember that line from Pulp Fiction? “If there’s an umbrella in my drink, it better be raining.”

IMG_8390

Okay, we are finally underway, four hours late. Not that we care, but some people are unhinged about it, especially the captain. It cost the ship a serious chunk o’ change because four Russian passengers did not turn in their passports, despite the many announcements in Russian. Singapore takes immigration very seriously.IMG_8397

Satellite and internet is intermittent (i.e. mostly down), so it might be a while before I make a new blog.

Saturday, December 8

Singapore

I was so tired after walking miles over Singapore in the humid heat, that I ordered a glass of Chevrolet instead of Chardonnay.

Singapore has change a LOT since we were here 15 years ago. It’s got many more skyscrapers and it is growing by leaps and bounds. The city planners have done a fine job of laying out this beautiful city and planning for the future. All of Asia is on the rise, and exponentially. It is advanced, modern, uncommonly clean, but the old ethnic neighborhoods have stood the test of time. There is no trace of graffiti anywhere.

We marched all over Arab Street, which is famous for textiles, in search of batiks. No luck, but we found some breathtakingly beautiful fabrics and had a fantastic time browsing the shops. Everyone is so polite—no pressure to buy, just thank you for looking. IMG_8337

Then we went to Little India. The sights and smells were incredibly exotic.

IMG_8341

We decided against getting a Henna tattoo. IMG_8343

The gold shops were many, and they were all packed. Gold is as expensive as it’s ever been in my memory, and it was selling like hotcakes everywhere. But it IS Christmas, after all. IMG_8346

Singapore seems predominantly populated by young people. The stores are all high-end and the people here have M-O-N-E-Y. I’d be willing to bet that chiffon dress with the feathers cost a lot. Her shoes and bag were top-notch, too. The young people are beautiful and rich. Who wouldn’t love that!

IMG_8349

But man, is it crowded! Especially on the shopping streets. Every corner has a Gucci store (and Starbucks too), and $1,000 designer bags are a must. You wouldn’t be caught dead in anything less. IMG_8351

The economy here is strong. So is the law. If you get caught with a gun it’s death—literally. If you litter it’s a $500 fine and weeks of community service sweeping streets. Also, no one is on the dole without doing some kind of work to get it. Retirement age is 55. We know these things because we always engage the taxi drivers in conversation about their government and economy.

Christmas decorations and music are more in evidence here than in the US. There are Chinese, Hindu, Muslim, all living together and nobody bitches about Christmas decorations being not politically correct.

Wednesday, December 5

Bali

What comes to your mind when you think of Bali? For me it was beautiful women and pristine beaches. Maybe because of my grandmother’s old National Geographic magazines and Bali bras.

IMG_8265

Bali is poor. It’s a little like Tijuana in that everyone is selling something, there is trash everywhere, you could step in a deep hole and break a leg, and you can’t drink the water. Traffic is atrocious with thousands of exhaust-blackening motorcycles. We saw families of four on motorcycles, little kids squashed in between mom and dad. They can only have two children per family today because the population was getting out of control. The island is volcanic and the landscape is lush with tropical trees and rice paddies.

IMG_8313

Being very close to the equator the weather is incredibly hot and humid, with two seasons: Wet and dry. It’s like a sauna here. The religion is Hindu, with gods like Ganesh and Vishnu represented in their statuary.

IMG_8272

There is also a strong Chinese influence in their heritage, so there are Buddhas by the thousands. I slipped unseen inside an open-air temple and took photos. I thought these were pews of some sort, but they’re musical instruments.IMG_8294

These umbrellas reminded me of Thailand. And New Orleans.IMG_8296

And then the skies opened up. IMG_8317

We visited a batik factory. These are stamps you may recognize. Sorry for the blur, it was dark and the flash made it worse. 

IMG_8331

Tools of the trade of the batik worker.IMG_8333

One dollah! One dollah! One dollah!
IMG_8311

I hope you enjoyed your little visit to Bali.

In other news, we are doing fine. The only bummer is it’s too hot to exercise. We have two sea days and then we’ll be in Singapore. 

Sunday, December 2

Darwin, Australia

Greetings. How ya goin, Mate?IMG_8233

Jeezes but it’s hot here. It’s about 90/90 temp/humidity. I have never been in Miami in summer, but I imagine it to be a good example of this heavy, oppressive heat.

So here we are in steamy Darwin, at the top of Australia. Just a little history, Darwin is named after Charles Darwin who sailed here in 1839. Darwin got leveled in 1942 by the Japanese and again in 1974 by Cyclone Tracy, so it’s all quite modern. It’s a small city, about 75,000 but growing rapidly, and it’s a melting pot of cultures. You see many Aboriginal people here.IMG_8230

There wasn’t much to see, we could have gone to see the jumping crocodiles but we got our croc fix in Melbourne (“Melbin”), and we were too fatigued by the heat to walk to the museum. But a beer sounded good. We had a few Aussie dollars to get rid of, as this is our last port in Australia, so we got some “wedgies,” which came with mayo and sweet chilli (sic) sauce. We LOVED the sweet chilli sauce! We ate it all! (The mayo went untouched. Ick.)IMG_8237

The beer here is very good (and doesn’t give me a headache like American beer). You’ve all seen the ads with Crocodile Dundee saying about Foster’s Lager, “It’s Australian for beer, Mate!” Well, it ain’t. The Aussies do NOT drink Fosters! It’s not made here and they don’t sell it here.

We navigated the Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea and passed the northernmost point of Australia yesterday, Point York. Nothing here but colorful reef creatures and rabbits. Rabbits have “migrated” here from ships and nowadays they have a big rabbit population problem here. IMG_8225

Okay, here’s the wrap-up. Australia is ….uh… not much. There haven’t been many pictures because, frankly, there isn’t that much to see here. But the cruise is nice and we’re enjoying it very much. They have decorated for the holidays and the ship looks very festive.

Next up is Bali.

To answer some questions from email, my cold has run its course and I feel great. I missed the GBR but I don’t feel bad about it, I’ll watch Finding Nemo again when I get home. We are on Celebrity Millennium. This is our first Celebrity cruise and it’s very nice. They do a good job. They have some terrific alternative dining venues (we rarely eat in the main dining room) and the entertainment is top-notch. There is always something to do. Or you can do nothing at all.