Monthly Archives: October 2009

Getting Dirty to get Clean – Nha Trang, Vietnam

After eating a quick breakfast, a group of us met in the coffee bar to tender ashore to Nha Trang, Vietnam. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I had not done even the least bit of research. All I knew is that for currency they use the “dong” and I only knew that because it was a question of the day for the Breakfast Show. Apparently the dong is not a very strong currency so most shops and vendors prefer the almighty US dollar to their own dong.

Instantly, I was impressed by the blast of humid warm air as I stepped off the ship. I looked around and noticed that there were lots of small green mountains. I was delighted that it was so pretty and there was lots of nature to be had.

We took a shuttle to Dam Market which was in the middle of this small beach/fishing town. It was cluttered and busy in every way. There were some areas with very strong fishy smells which we moved away from pretty quickly. I also saw some snakes in bottles of drink and wondered if this was their version of the worm in the tequila.

Nha Trang is poorer than most of the other ports we’d been to which also means that the prices are lower. I found some beautiful Asian dresses to buy and got them for under ten dollars each. They were Vietnamese style and looked elegant and fun to wear. I was excited to wear them because along with being beautiful, they were extremely comfortable. Infact, people weren’t sure if they were supposed to be pajamas or not.

Next we took a taxi to the mud baths where we signed up for the full meal deal. How could we not when it was under 15 dollars for several hours of healing? First we had a cleansing shower then we were directed to a big tub which they began filling with the mineral mud. The mud was thick and goopy and warm. I have to admit that it was a really neat feeling glurping around in a tub of mucky goodness.

We were given buckets to make sure we were completely covered and smothered. I was happy to have a waterproof camera to capture the messy silliness. It was so much fun that I had to keep reminding myself it was good for me too. In fact, there was a moment we were gently hushed because we were laughing too loud. Opps! We tried to find the sacred spirituality of the ritual stifling our giggles as best we could.

After 15 minutes of soaking in the mineral mud, we were directed to rinse off all mud. I was pretty surprised at some of the places I was finding the gritty sludge. Just to be sure we got every last speck, we entered the high pressure spray. Think car wash but for people. I did run through the car wash once and can attest that it is a lot nicer when its people size. Next we soaked for a half hour in a warm mineral bath before heading to the big swimming pool and waterfall.

After our swim, it was time to get our 6 dollar massage. The room was small and narrow and dimly lit. I asked the thin Vietnamese girl who was assigned to me to turn off the fans that were aimed at the massage table. I am a rarity, I know, because she looked a little puzzled when I tried to explain that I was cold. She shrugged and did as I asked then proceeded to knead away. At one point, it was like her hands changed completely and I wondered what new technique this was. Then, I realized that she was actually walking on my back! It was the first time I had that and I couldn’t help but be scared that she was going to fall off. It was a neat experience indeed.

Afterwards, we all grabbed a drink at a café we saw that looked decent. I had a coconut, top chopped off and a straw stuck in it. The sweet coconut water was refreshing and sweet. I left the others to head across the street to a small beauty salon that didn‘t look like it had seen a customer all day. I tried to communicate with the young ladies that I wanted a manicure and pedicure. After a few minutes, they got to work, one on my hands and one on my feet. They did a great job so I paid them double. Considering the whole treatment cost only 3 it was small change for me but it seemed to mean a lot to them.

The others picked me up just as I was finishing and we walked down to the beach area. I didn’t want to go in the sand because of my fresh pedicure so I stood on the boardwalk while the others stuck their feet in the sea. We all took a cab back to the tender port and finally got back to the ship.

I ended up feeling a little impatient and cranky that night and no matter where I went, I couldn’t shake it. After trying several venues and shows, I just went to bed and hoped to sleep it off. I reasoned that it may be all those toxins coming out from the mud baths. Who can say for sure. All I know is that I sure did sleep well.

Grateful for mud baths.

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Cabin Fever – Sea Day

I decided to get room service to start my day off in a lazy way. No longer feeling the urge to battle it out for the treadmills in the morning. I have been leaving my workouts to the afternoon which means I don’t have that high to run me through the day. Instead I make a visit to the coffee bar for a buzz. After all, I have lots of punches left on my coffee card and Megan left me hers too! I decided I had better start drinking them up.

I wrote a letter to my mom and visited with some friends from the gym who said they’d missed me. I also met another older couple who were interested in my adventure. Needless to say, I have gotten a little behind in my writing because of all this visiting that is going on. I decided I had better get better at being anti-social if I wanted to get anything done. I guess my focus has been lacking. I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that I have been on a ship for a month.

After lunch, I wandered around aimlessly until I got inspired to get my butt to the gym. I had dinner then went to the captains party. Its always a bit of a gong show when the Captain is paying for the drinks. People seem to go a little hog wild and the energy becomes something like a Frat party. I ended up going to see Martin sing for a while. While he was belting out the tunes, I got inspired to do a little singing myself. Oh yes…It was Karaoke Mania once again! I was determined not to mess it up this time. I ended up sing Stand By Me with flair and received many compliments afterwards. I wondered if they we privy to my previous blunder and thought I had been practicing like mad.

My favorite show, Ports of Call, was on again so I went to enjoy it for the last time. It was good but I got bored and left before it was finished. My attention span is not very good these days. There was an Island Party up on the top deck so I paid it a visit. The buffet was the best I had all cruise and I admit, I kinda overdid it. I went to bed with a bit of a tummy ache and had a stern chat with my self control who clearly decided to take the night off. No more holidays for you!!

Grateful for singing.


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Market to Market – Hong Kong

I woke up early to get a kick start on the day and compose myself after having stayed up oh so late (or shall I say early). Megan was leaving the ship today so we had breakfast together and said our goodbyes. Just like a sister would, she gave me a bunch of clothes that she couldn’t fit into her luggage. I was excited that it all fit me perfectly. I will miss our heart to hearts in the atrium bar sipping lattes. I was sad to see her go but knew she was going to be happy starting her new life in Italy.

Marshan and I picked up our tender tickets to go ashore then waited to be called. We decided we would spend the day at the markets and first up was the famous Stanley Market. We found an express bus that got us there in about 20 minutes. I was charmed by the quaint line up of shops and stalls selling every kind of souvenir you could imagine. The nice thing about it was how neat and tidy everything was. The atmosphere was subdued and people were quite calm and orderly. It was a big change from the ladies market I saw yesterday and that we would be visiting again later.

I ended up buying a silk scarf that I couldn’t get my eyes off of for a measly 10 Hong Kong Dollars. Then we boarded the bus again which happened to be a double decker this time. Ofcourse we sat on the top deck which even had a TV playing commercials and such. It was a scenic ride and somewhat exciting as well as the driver twisted and turned the narrow snaky roads. Something of a rollercoaster ride and we didn’t even have to pay extra!

We transferred to the subway and fifteen minutes later we were standing in the middle of consumer chaos. Marshan hadn’t been here yet so I showed her around and pointed out the pretty hair clips I intended to buy. You would think with a billion to choose from, I could find something I liked! But perhaps it was that there were too many choices. I watched as the young ladies would work carefully with tweezers to dazzle accessories with sparkly crystals creating exquisite elegance.

Finally I found the one I wanted and it was just a matter of agreeing on a price. I suppose I shouldn’t have shown such interest because the shopgirl was playing hardball and wanted 70 but had seen others pay only 30 (4 USD). I went back three times before at last we negotiated a deal. In the end, I walked away with three including the one I would gift to Marshan.

As I walked away with my win silently congratulating myself on saving at least 100 HKD by being a good bargainer, I stopped short. Right in front of me was a man who had no legs pulling himself on a makeshift skateboard in the middle of the thoroughfare. He had a small change basket he would humbly lift and move with him each time he would advance a few feet with his hands pushing himself along like a monkey. I reached into my pockets and gave the man my money without even thinking.

Now normally I don’t give to beggars because I don’t think it helps their cause to reward that type of behavior. I adhere to a strict policy to only give if they provide me a service or touch me in some way. So you can imagine my confusion as I walked away why I made an exception this time. What I determined was that this man was infact doing something. He was moving. And to do just that it took all he had. Just traveling a few meters was a real exertion for him and to see him trying so hard and not giving up…well, that moved me. His strength of will was a gift of gratitude for all that I take for granted.

It started to rain and there were still a few hours left before we had to get back to the ship. Feeling extra grateful for my feet, I decided to get some reflexology. I admit, the service wasn’t exceptional but I don’t think it mattered at that point. It only cost 100 HKD which is about $15 so it wasn’t a huge loss. I did however decide that I would be more choosy about treatments from that point on.

We exchanged the last of our money and caught the last tender back to the ship. I ate a snack then had a nap before heading to see Martin. After listening to him croon for a while, I stopped into to see JT before heading off to bed.

Grateful for mobility.

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Skyscrapers, Ferries, and Markets, Oh My! – Hong Kong

I was looking forward to meeting up with Barrett who has been living in Hong Kong for almost a year now. We met years ago and felt super lucky to have him show me around his new city. After breakfast, I hopped on the shuttle which took me from the container port to the cruise ship terminal. I was impressed that the upscale hotel called Barrett’s cell phone for me when I couldn’t find him. Turns out there were three Marco Polo hotels in the same vicinity.

Finally we connected and wandered out to the Tsim Sha Tsue Star Ferry Peir where I got my bearings. I was impressed to say the least at the spectacularly laid out Victoria Harbor. It was easy to see why it is ranked with Rio de Janerio, San Francisco, and Sydney as one of the worlds most beautiful harbors. The city skyline boasts a multitude of modern architectural feats which, as far as aesthetics go, make this my favorite cosmopolitan city so far.

We jumped on the ferry which is equivalent to 33 cents across the water from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island. It took about 5 minutes and is only one of the many forms of transport here. There is also a subway that goes under the harbor and covers much of the area, including a stop marked on the map by Mickey Mouse ears. Yes you guess it, Disneyland but I didn’t get there.

Barrett taught me about the intricate web of pedways connecting all the streets that kept people safe from having to cross the roadways. There is even the longest escalator in the world here! As he pointed a meeting spot for us on the map, a butterfly the size of my hand fluttered through my hair and landed on the page. That’s when I knew it was going to be a good day.

I wandered around the shops for a while and got a feel for the hustle and bustle going on all around me. While I was waiting for Barrett at the specified spot, I witnessed two Western tourists picking up a scantily clad prostitute in broad day light. I know I should get ready for this because I am, after all, going to Bangkok where this kind of stuff is rampant. Still, this kind of transaction is something that I can’t help but see as a bit of a spectacle.

I was ogling the old meets new which I encountered around every corner. It was just fantastic to experience such extremes coinciding next door to each other. Glassy slick business towers jutting high into the sky with a dank dirty antique looking shanty housing who know what kind of nastiness inside. The contrast was surreal and gave me an idea of just how far this culture spans in time.

Barrett and I hopped on a tram after I purchased an Octopus Card which is like a transportation debit card. One swipe to use the train, tram, bus, subway, or ferry rather than having to fumble around with change. Handy indeed! Wide eyed with envy and wonder, I complimented my friend on his choice of a place to call home. So far I was well impressed and I hadn’t even had the dim sum yet.

We ordered bbq steamed buns, shrimp dumplings, and a few other delectable favorites. I thought the quality was miles ahead of anything I had tasted at home. It seemed fresher and the service more professional. My favorite was a purple taro roll filled with mango rolled in coconut that we had for dessert. My mouth waters even as I type these words. Thanks to Barrett for letting me have the last piece. J

I parted ways with B in Times Square then wandered around before heading into one of the many choices for massage. I was a little leary as I had heard stories of places that used prostitutes rather than professionals. I suppose the place I ended up at was decent but I wouldn’t return. What is it with the Chinese massage people hitting all the time! I am going to be black and blue by the time I leave this country.

I took the train to the Ladies Market which is made of colorful stalls with everything from umbrellas to scarves to socks to hair accessories to dresses to shoes to well…you name it. And here is a place to hone your bargaining skills. Barrett told me the rule of thumb is to start with 10 percent of their asking price. I ended up with a dress for 80 Hong Kong Dollars (10 bucks) which was originally 250. I thought I did ok and besides, I needed a dress to wear that night.

When I realized that it was 445pm and that I only had a quarter of an hour to get back to the last shuttle, I put it in to high gear. I ran through the streets and through the mall finally ending up on the bus huffing and puffing and dripping sweat. I was so grateful to have made it but it was all for naught as he didn’t leave for another 15 mins anyway. Ug.

Back on the ship I watched the folkloric show which boasted more ultra flexible gymnastics and even a charming magician. Where he pulled those twenty umbrellas out of, I will never know. The little girls were a lot more impressive than the last show too and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Afterward I had eaten snack, I made my way up to the top deck to wait for the nightly light show that the city puts on. This night, our ship would cross right past the “main stage” and actually be part of the show. I was dazzled by the magnificent city skyline lit up. This is a classy city indeed. But to be honest, I thought the actual light performance (which was set to music as well) was a little dull. I suppose I am comparing it to fireworks which are much more exciting. Most of us didn’t even know it was actually happening until it was almost over. Anticlimactic to say the least.

Next a group of us jumped on a tender which shuttled us to the Ferry Terminal. We were now anchored out in the harbor overnight so we had to spent 45 mins getting to and from the ship. We met up with Barrett who took us to his favorite haunts in the trendy pub/bar section of the city. It was fab to have our own personal guide who told us all the neat insider info.

There was lots of fun to be had and we explored many nooks and crannies of this hip and happening neighborhood. We grabbed beers from the 7-11 and surveyed the area before committing to any one bar. We got to don big furry coats and drink shots of ice cold volka in an ice bar. We met the Canadian who owned the bar called Cul De Sac and finally ended up in the bar that most of the ship crew were dancing in.

Finally we ended up taking a cab back to the ship when I ran in to Peter, the cruise director. Finally! It was lucky too because he was leaving on a plane early in the morning to go back to England. He was finished his contract and was taking a holiday. I was grateful to be able to thank him personally for being such a happy part of my cruise experience.

I hugged Barrett goodbye and chatted with some of the crew who were on the tender. Matt and I gabbed over late night snacks in the buffet area until dawn. I finally tumbled into bed and promptly fell asleep for a couple hours before I would have to wake to pack in more sightseeing. Phew!

Grateful for ex pats.

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Sea day in the South China Sea

This morning I woke up and skipped the gym to watch the cooking show. I was disappointed to learn that they changed the scheduled one and were doing the one I had already watched so I left. I found my way to the coffee bar instead where I ran in to a bunch of familiar faces. I am finding that this is not the best place for me to write anymore because everyone seems to want to talk all the time.

Next I watched the auction in the atrium which they were putting on to help those in distress in the Philippines. A lot of the crew onboard are from there and have family or friends who have been affected by the recent typhoons. I often wonder if the landslides, tsunamis, and earthquakes that have been so rampant in this area of the world lately will strike while I am here. I wonder but I don’t worry.

After lunch, I spent a couple hours in the coffee bar chatting with Megan who is leaving the ship soon. We took a break from our girl talk and slipped into the Arts and Crafts session next door in Savoy. We walked out with some handsome bookmarks with travel themes. I was quite impressed with my creativity.

After grabbing a bite in the buffet upstairs, I popped up to the gym for a spell. It was dead mostly because I think it was formal night again. I wandered down to visit Martin in Crooners where he sang “Stand by Me” as per my request. I stopped in to visit JT as he was hosting a Michael Jackson Tribute night. I listened to Billy Jean and had a chuckle as the oldies tore up the dance floor. It was the busiest I had ever seen it up there! I guess old MJ still lives strong in everyone’s heart, young and old.

Grateful for tributes.

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Extraordinary Disorderlies – Taipei, Taiwan

I got up early so I could fit in a short stint at the gym before going into Taiwan. I was the last to meet up with the other 8 which made up our group which would be heading into Taipei for the day. The day was quite stormy and a few bought raincoats. I felt lucky to have brought mine from home.

As I sprinted through the heavy drizzle, I realized that no plastic sheath would protect me. I gave in to my inner child and splashed through the puddles. We all navigated the train system and settled in for the 45 minute ride into the downtown area.

Even though it was raining steadily, the temperature was warm so it was easy to stay lighthearted. We all found our way through the wet city streets and naturally split into smaller groups. I gravitated towards Martin, the superstar piano player who wows us every night on the ivories. When we noticed that there were lines on the ground to guide people onto the subway in an orderly fashion, I shot a look of mischief at my furry friend and he knew I had his number. It suspected that Martin and I are very much on the same wavelength and possibly from the same galaxy. I let him have possession of my camera and put him in charge of documenting our day.

The things that he chose to capture were very much the same things that held my attention. I knew I had made a good decision by letting him show off his creative expertise with my camera. Both of us artists, we were a little wacky and lagged behind the group trying to get that “perfect” photo. There were tons of sculptures and statues to pose with, in or on. Martin was excellent at engaging my fun silly side and I spent much of the day laughing.

We finally reached our target which was Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world. After buying our 400 Taiwan dollar ticket to use the lightening speed elevator to the 88th floor. I think at one point we were going 600 meters a minute for 33 seconds to go 377 meters. My ears popped!

At the top we were blessed with stunning views which were made even more spectacular by the puffy clouds rolling past. We were in the clouds which were moving very quickly every now and then revealing an open view of the city way down below. It was a cool feeling and it reminded me of that movie “Up”.

I tasted some sesame gelato and also some passion fruit flavor inside my mango smoothie. It was yummy and I slurped it up while exploring the artsy displays on offer. There was giant coral, technical information, crystals and jade as well as paintings which were quite unique. Martin and I got lost in the pineapple cake tasting so we didn’t realize the others had left us behind.

We panicked a second but luckily Marshan and JT were waiting loyally at the bottom for us. The rest of the group had gone on but these two proved faithful with the let’s not split up pact we had all made in the beginning. After colorfully discussing the merits of “keeping up” and smelling the flowers, we all agreed that it was lucky we had each other to balance one another.

Realizing that one of the others had run off with our map, we decided we should find a way to get online to get our bearings. Martin was excited to find a restaurant called Modern Toilet which has a bathroom theme. We decided as a team that we didn’t have enough time to navigate to that eatery so we opted for something closer by.

The cuisine was called Japanese casual and we all picked a couple of items to try. There was sushi, tempura, deep fried mystery meats, and my favorite, sashimi. To top off the meal, we had sweet sundae parfait-like creations and mine had beans, green tea cake and strange jello cubes layered with ice cream. It was a unique taste for sure and after getting past the initial adjustment bites, I actually enjoyed it. I was a little sad at not having experienced bubble tea in the place where it was invented but this dessert was just about as good. JT gobbled up his banana split in a glass at record speed all the while communicating with his friends back home via his laptop and blackberry. I’ll admit, it was a nice change from ship food and though I didn’t think I would notice a difference, my taste buds sure did.

Martin and I indulged our mischievous side by taking some souvenirs from the table. Mom Marshan and Pop JT were appalled by our naughtyness but we didn’t care. I got a pair of chopsticks and spoon out of the deal, but Martin made off with a little more including the soy sauce pot and sake jar.

We were running late to make the last train back to Keelung where our ship was stationed. I realized as we were sprinting between the raindrops that I had lost my train ticket. Martin encouraged me to keep looking through my junk filled pockets reassuring me that it HAD to be in there. Alas, it wasn’t. But since we were on a role with breaking the law, we just slipped me through the automatic gates under his ticket. I already bought the ticket so it wasn’t all that bad, I tried to justify to myself.

Martin, like I, gets off on these type of risky adrenaline sports so we were pretty high (albeit sweaty from all the running) finally tumbling onto the train with seconds to spare. On the flipside, Marshan and JT were clearly shaken and frazzled so we apologized for having inconvenienced them. I gently reminded them that it always works out and that there is real power in expecting the best. Martin and I share the “trust the universe and she shall provide” philosophy. Still, I felt guilty for putting undue stress on my gang just so we could have a thrill. I decided to make a conscious effort to be more responsible in the future, at least when there were worrying personality types involved.

On the train, Martin was hamming it up as usual and there were some young Asian girls giggling. He really laid it on thick when he realized they were videotaping him on their camera phones. Needless to say, the ride went by very quickly and we were back before we knew it.

The rain really started to come down hard as we approached the dock where the ship was berthed. We heard some heavy drumming and realized that there was another bunch of musicians there to see us off. I was impressed with their fortitude and admired their resilience banging away on their plastic covered drums happily.

I decided to get to the gym after all that fried and sweet food. It was quieter than I expected as I watched the rain pour down outside while we slowly made our way from the port. After eating dinner, I made my usual rounds but found that my partner in crime was absent from his piano playing post. Apparently, he was taking the night off. Perhaps we wore him out with all the excitement.

I went to bed with a very happy feeling in my heart. Its always quite special to find people with whom you can be yourself around. It is a rare gift to have someone really see you and accept just the way you are. And there is nothing better than finding a playmate to be silly with. Like Dr. Suess says, “If you never have, YOU SHOULD! These things are fun and fun is good!”

Grateful for monkey business.

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An Asian Hawaii – Okinawa, Japan

I woke from a very fitful night and was quite sleepy. I stumbled to the door to receive the room service which I gobbled up before hurrying off to the Fusion Lounge. We had to walk through a temperature scan to ensure we wouldn’t bring any illness into Japan before we were allowed to disembark.

We boarded the shuttle which dropped us close to the monorail which we decided we should take a ride on. We plugged in a couple hundred yen and then waited for the train to arrive. What I noticed most was how clean and quiet it was. Infact, the floors were so spotless you could eat off them. There were still many locals sporting the face masks that are so common here in Asia. They even sell different colors to match your wardrobe and kids ones have cartoons on them. It is a very paranoid culture over here when it comes to disease and germs. Maybe its justified…I don’t know.

As we only had about three hours in this port and wanted to cover as much as possible, we sped. We visited the castle and took photos but didn’t actually go in. It was temple like and reminded me of the shrine we had seen in the last Japanese port. We clicked a few photos before heading back to the train.

Instead of taking it all the way back to our origin, we got off a few stops early. This allowed us to amble down the main shopping street which would take us all the way back to our shuttle stop. We popped our heads in shop after shop and I realized why they call this place the Hawaii of Japan. It was very much a laid back tropical atmosphere and there was surfer stuff galore.

My favorite was when we paid 500 yen to stick our feet in a tank full of tiny fish. It was called Fish Doctor and the idea was that these little critters would feed off your dead skin. It was extremely bizarre so we had to try it. I was nervous but hesitated only for a second after removing my shoes and socks before taking the plunge. A hundred of inch long sucker fish swarmed our tired soles making for a unique massage experience indeed. After a minute of weirdness, I began to really enjoy it. I started fantasizing about my own little fish foot therapy I could make at home.

We got back to the ship and took a late lunch. I was exhausted so laid down for a nap which turned epic. Three hours later, a groggy Carmella stumbled to the gym. I pumped out a few good sets before cleaning up for dinner. I sat in Eric’s section who always makes me feel so special when I am dining alone. Somehow he makes me feel like I am the only passenger on the whole ship. I ate a big plate of my favorite succulent calamari and lychees with watermelon for dessert.

I finished off the night by listening to Martin play a set and dropped in a quick hi to JT the DJ up in Skywalkers. We made plans to meet the next morning to conquer Taiwan tomorrow. As I slipped into my fluffy duvet and tucked my four pillows around me like a nest, I smiled at myself. I am having so much fun!

Grateful for fish frenzy.

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Dream Day Dream – East China Sea Day

I slept in for the first time in a long time which surprised me. I suppose my dreams are becoming more active which wakes me less rested. I ate then worked out before meeting up with some friends for lunch. We reviewed some health facts and figures then enjoyed the elaborate dessert buffet. I found my old card playing friends who invited me for a few rounds. I didn’t win but I didn’t lose.

I went through the Japanese Immigration process once again before making an appointment with the fitness dude. We talked a lot about different strategies I could use to balance out my system. I admit I sure did feel a lot better on leaving that meeting. I realized after seeing the stats from the electronic health scan that I am not in as bad of shape as I thought. Infact, most of the facts and knowledge that he shared, I had already learned. It’s just a matter of putting it into practice. Besides all that, its nice to have encouragement even when you are on the right track.

After eating dinner, I made my way to the main attraction for the night. Martin, my favorite entertainer of late, was making his debut in the Princess Theatre so I went to support. I nestled in front and center between Megan and Marshan. We all clapped loudly in appreciation as Martin tickled the ivories with his tribute to Elton John. Not a huge EJ fan but I still quite enjoyed the show, especially when he played his rendition of “Your Song”.

I tumbled into bed with music in my head. It was a good day.

Grateful for authenticity.

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Made in China – Shanghai, China

I started off the day with room service noshing on my usual. I was pretty excited to get off the ship and explore Shanghai. We docked in the container port as we have been for most of the ports so far. I have never really looked at a huge operation like this before and was fascinated. Humongous cranes hauling around lunky metal rectangles, the kind you see trains pulling around. Its really quite a sight to behold and I couldn’t help but wonder out loud what the heck are in all those hundreds of metal boxes. A man nearby chimed in “Anything and Everything under the moon…heck, maybe even the moon!” Made in China, baby!

Marshan and I wandered through the streets happening upon Peoples Square which was ripe with photo opportunities. I was quite taken with the unique architecture adorning the city skyline. From jagged to circular to geometrical in shape, and spanning all eras from historical to modern to futuristic.

We finally found the main shopping street which was teeming with people even at 9am. It was pretty intense for me as I am not used to such crowds. I just kind of stared up at all the advertisements and the hoards of shoppers with an awestruck look on my face.

We found a place that would give us a 90 minute massage for 85 juan (about 10 dollars) so we happily obliged. The experience was unique but one I probably wouldn’t repeat anytime soon. The young lady twisted and punched at me but not in a way that felt very therapeutic. I suppose I am used to a more gentle predictable technique so though it was nice to have the human touch, I would prefer something more fluid. In the end, she finished with throwing a heated bean bag all over my body. It was strange indeed. Perhaps here is a case of you get what you pay for.

We meandered down the main shopping street and I reflected that the Chinese economy was thriving in Shanghai. People were buying up everything and there were even lines in some stores. Hundreds of touts were grabbing our arms, getting right in front of us with their promises of shoes, watches, designer bags, clothes, silk, wallets, everything, anything you want at a very good price. We were able to resist them for a few hours but near the end we crumbled and got taken into one of these elusive “everything” stores.

Hole in the wall shops which turn into rabbit holes filled with goods. You go through a door in the back of what looks like a tiny booth which reveal a long hallway ending in a bunch of backrooms with a bunch of stores inter joined. It was bizarre and very high pressure sales. If I were into designer knockoffs, I would have likely been in heaven. They even sold iPods which could be had for $20. We muscled out way out and almost got away…then I found the cheap Asian dress.

It was shiny electric blue silk with sexy slits up the sides. I was sure the lady was mistaken when she told me I could have it for 100 juan. I tried on a couple sizes and was pretty shocked when I learned that in Asia, I am no petite. Infact, it’s a good thing I don’t subscribe to labels, or I would be very disturbed that I am in actuality, an extra large according to Chinese sizing standards. A little apprehensive to buy it (knowing I won’t be xxl once I get off the ship) which the saleslady noticed so I actually got it for 82 juan which translates into just over 10 dollars. A Steal!

We bargained for some chopsticks (there are entire stores dedicated to this) and silk scarves then hightailed it through the parks back to the shuttle bus. It began to get to be a little much what with all of the chaos that is downtown Shanghai. They even have an amusement park smack dab in the middle of the city.

Once back onboard we got prime seats for the folkloric show which showcased Chinese Acrobats. We all stared in awe as the uber flexible and balanced children twisted and contorted themselves into pretzels. They flipped and twirled around the stage wowing the packed house. Ofcourse it wouldn’t be complete without plate spinning and juggling but I spent more time studying the beauty of the different children’s faces rather than the mechanics of their act. I suppose I wasn’t overly impressed because I have friends at home who hoop, juggle and perform sideshow acts with the best of them. Anyway, this was no cirque de soliel but I could see them trying with their limited resources and for that, kudos.

I made my way to the gym then met my friend Megan and the first senior officer for dinner. We chatted about all the extreme cases he had encountered while aboard ships and some of his stories were shocking. It was fascinating to hear from the perspective of a higher up what ship life is like. I can say that I am starting to understand what it must be like to live on a floating vessel since I am now coming up on a month.

Before bed I took a quick stroll through the promenade deck to see if there was anything worth staying up for. I happened upon a quirky comedian/juggler whose humor was clearly lost on this antique crowd. His juggling was actually quite impressive and he wasn’t bad to look at either. I stayed for most of it then made my way to bed. It was a great day and I felt full.

Grateful for entertainment.

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Lazy Days in the Ocean – China Sea

This morning room service woke me from my very light sleep to bring me some fruit and coffee. I nibbled the oranges and sipped up some coffee before bounding up the stairs to the gym. I checked my energy levels and noted they were considerably high so I thought I should take advantage. Once I was good and sweaty, I took a breakfast break adding some hard boiled eggs to my usual menu. I have been pumping some serious iron and need to feed those muscles.

After completing some ab work and stretching, I watched Bolt on the TV while cardioing it up. I also found some extra tunes I didn’t know I had hidden on my iPod. That alone fed me with some extra bounce which I channeled into my routine.

I took a light lunch then wandered down to the Art Auction which was pretty much more of the same. It was slightly more active but once the Art director began showing the same pieces I have already learned about, I slipped out the back.

I found myself at the coffee bar once again and sipped on several pots of tea while I wrote. I was joined by an tall dewy faced blond called Megan who had sat with me yesterday as well. Today we struck up a conversation and found out that we had an awful lot in common. Our chat went on for hours as we shared our thoughts and philosophies about life.

We laughed at our follies and shared secrets in hushed voices. We bonded quite quickly recognizing the eerie similarities in our paths. She left reluctantly to her standing dinner date but not before inviting me to dine with her table tomorrow. She is here visiting one of the head officers so I suppose I will get to meet him as well.

One of my favorite parts of traveling is the meeting people part. Each person is a gift to opened and I’m keen to discovering what lesson they have to teach me. Sometimes they are cryptic riddles and some messages take some time to sink in. But its all part of the adventure for sure.

Well now formal night has started and I am still sitting here in my writing corner, tucked tight behind the coffee bar. I have been here for five hours now engrossed in conversation or plucking away at my laptop keys. A few curious passengers have asked me what I am writing. I never really know what to say. A book? Maybe. A story? For some. An interpretation of the world through my eyes, ears, heart, and soul? Yup. That’s it.

Grateful for independence.

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