Monthly Archives: October 2009

Let’s go Fly a Kite – Muroran, Japan

Next we slipped into a supermarket and I was elated as I panned the huge superstore selling every form of goods imaginable. Jackpot! We began snapping photos of everything like the odd shaped mushrooms to the new fangled toothbrushes. Everything was so different especially with the language difference. I felt like a Japanese Tourist. Ahhhhh…now I understand.

We all spent some time picking out snacks and drinks for the day. I got stuck in the drink aisle trying to figure out what was sweet and what wasn’t. The only really way to figure out much of anything was to scan the caloric info which was still in numbers, the only writing I could understand. I ended up with a small can of iced coffee (88 yen) and a bottle of white milky water pop stuff (98 yen). I don’t know how else to explain it but I saw a crew member from the ship buying it who said it was good.

The prices were ok for food but we had been forewarned that Japan was NOT the place to do your shopping. As I scrutinized the general cost of things, I reigned in my impulse to buy. We tasted a yummy fried bean curd sample which was by the sushi roll deli. There was also a lot of makeup and a ton of expensive accessories. It was near 10 dollars for a hair clip and 5 dollars for a notebook. A pair of cheap shoes cost about 30 dollars. Best way for conversion, we just divided the yen by a hundred and called it US dollars. Not perfect but served the purpose for getting a general sense of the currency.

We hopped back on the bus and got off at the next shuttle stop where they had set up a charming little fair for us tourists. They showcased all things Japanese including origami, juggling, sake, yakitori, arts and crafts, music and even photos with a samurai. It was here that I had my first Asian toilet experience. It was not nearly as awkward as I thought it would be. Though it was a squatter, it still flushed.

I learned how to make an origami elephant and crane, that I still don’t like sake, and that Japanese are polite, slightly timid and love to be helpful. There is something distinctly childlike about the Japanese culture. From the smaller size, to the cartoons used to sell practically everything, to the playful colorful nature of their arts and crafts.

Perhaps the highlight of my day was when I made a kite with one of the volunteer ladies. First she had me pick a symbol from a chart (I chose love, of course) which I copied by swishing it the brush dipped in black ink onto the paper kite. She wrote my name in Japanese at the bottom and I was surprised to learn that my name can be written in only 3 characters rather than the 8 letters used in English. Together we secured the sticks and tied on the string before attaching the long yellow ribbon tail. I was brimming with joy as I thanked my teacher profusely. I wondered if it would be wind worthy but didn’t really care as I would hang it proudly in my stateroom as an art piece.

We climbed up a bunch of steps to a shrine. We purified our hands and mouth with the water spouting from the dragons mouth. Then we found our way up to the temple where three delicate young ladies handed us a little bowl of sake. We tasted it then bought our fortune for a dollar. My “Written Oracle” turned out to be excellent and said of travel, that my destination will do me good.

We spent the next hour or so hiking up to the top of the mountain to take in the panoramic view of the portside town. We stopped at a little tea house on the way up and sipped an expensive coffee. The place was decorated in a cluttered way and I wondered if he hadn’t done all his shopping at the junk store we had visited earlier that day. I realized that it had been a while since I had taken in any vitamin D so for that I was grateful that we had hit a sunny day without a cloud in the sky. While we were waiting for the bus to go back to the ship, I decided it was time to try out my kite. There was a slight breeze and it was enough to launch. She flew high and strong with her yellow tail streaming behind. I am sure at that moment, I was stiff competition for the sun I was beaming so brightly.

I was pooped by the end of the day and was quite looking forward to getting back on the ship. We all took a little nap before dinner but I am not sure I ever really woke up. I must have been running on nervous energy because at dinner, I was so giggly, I was crying. I couldn’t contain myself and soon Darren had caught the laughing bug too. We were a couple of snickering fools and after a while, it started hurting. I suppose that is one way to get your abdominal workout.

Grateful for politeness.

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Arts and Crafts – Sea of Japan

I worked out like crazy today so I could spend some time doing some writing before lunch. It didn’t happen. I ended up too crushed for time if I wanted to meet my standing lunch date with Marshan and Darren. Afterwards, Darren and I headed to the Grand Art Auction in the Explorers Lounge. It was a little sleepy and I didn’t really learn anything new. I did however get a deal on a spa visit which I plan to make use of later on in the cruise.

I was thinking about it and I realized that I am not even halfway through my 40 day cruise. How crazy is that?! I have more than three weeks left on this vessel which I am slowly becoming quite attached to. I have made some strong connections with a few of the staff and have several favorite places which one can find me at certain times of the day. I am also feeling quite at home in my cabin which I have spent time personalizing. My small but cozy space is now beautified with ornaments I have found and made. It has a distinct Carmella flavor to it and I am loving living there.

After the auction, it was time for Arts and Crafts where we made masquerade masks. There was lots of tracing, snipping, ribbons, gluing, feathers, and drawing going on. I ended up with a piece that I was quite proud of but knowing I would have no where to wear it, I displayed it on my wall.

After another stint at the gym, it was time for dinner again. We didn’t feel like waiting the half hour to get into our favorite dining room so we opted for the buffet. It wasn’t very good which I suppose, in the big picture, is better for my waistline. Afterwards, we decided to go see the hypnotist show. It was the least successful show I have seen and I am really not even sure that any of the three ladies he ended up with actually went under.

We made our way to the theatre to watch the production show but I left early. It was mediocre and I was tired. Marshan thinks she is getting sick so I need to be extra careful to stay healthy. Tomorrow is Russia so I wanted to be sure I would have a full energy tank for it. It is my first and perhaps only visit to this country. I am not drawn to it at all and doubt that it is somewhere I will get to again anytime soon.

Grateful for creativity.

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Cold Russia

I was up bright and early to take my breakfast before getting off the ship to experience Vladivostok. It was sunny and much warmer than I thought it would be in Russia. Vladivostock is best known as the Pacific end of the 5778 mile long Trans-Siberian Railway. We could see it from the ship. I grabbed my espresso power smoothie from Fernando and debarked to look around.

The first thing we saw was the Statue of Lenin so we all took our photo opportunities. A group of shady characters hovered around the base and I was suddenly very aware of my purse. There were food stalls set up nearby selling candy, cookies, and even meats of every variety. I said hi to a couple of police walking by and they were not friendly at all. Just then, a bunch of happy children on a field trip crossed our path so it offset that awful energy. Little did I know that those children would really be the only smiling faces I would see in this port.

The streets were in pretty bad shape and I found most of the buildings dirty, old, and drab. We basically just wandered around for several hours and try as I might, I could not get a smile from anyone. In fact, many of the people scowled at me and some even sneered. It wasn’t a good feeling at all. I tried to have compassion for these people who are still probably not used to outsiders. Closed to the outside world for most of the Soviet period, the Primorsky Territory has only been open to tourists since July 1992.

I checked out a supermarket and found that the prices were generally lower here than what I am used to. There were also gigantic beers in the cooler but we didn’t partake. I doubt I could have managed to even lift it up to drink it.

We found a church with the onion shaped tops that are unique to Russia. The super shiny blue and gold domes could be seen all the way across town. Inside there were lots of people saying prayers and lighting candles but there were no chairs. I think maybe that is because they were renovating.

We searched for the market but couldn’t seem to find it. Barely anyone spoke English and no one understood it either. Their language is hard to pronounce so you can imagine our troubles trying to communicate. Finally in the end, we did find the market but it was mostly home stuffs and clothes. Nothing that any of us wanted or needed. I was much more fascinated with the cats.

There were a couple really rough looking tom cats roaming around and one was still bleeding from a fight. I heard some mewing coming from a junk pile and I investigated further to find a tiny little kitten. She was adorable and must have only been a few weeks old. It took everything I had in me not to scoop her up and smuggle her onboard. I miss my cat.

As we trotted back to the ship, we all began noticing the unbelievable heels that most of the women were wearing. How they could walk in those things on these dreadful excuses for sidewalks, I will never know. The women were tall and quite thin, some of them resembling mannequins from a store window. But none of them smiled. The men wore steely expresssionless faces and they didn’t seem to take style as seriously as their women did.

My impression of Russia is not one that would bring me back anytime soon. I suppose the largest country in the world has some warming up to do and I don’t mean temperature wise.

Grateful for understanding.

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Navigating the Sea of Japan

As usual, I hit the gym first thing. Then after breakfast, I was rather tired. I rested up a bit before taking a late lunch. I sat alone and worked at my writing. I noticed that my servers were from Thailand and thought it may be nice to get a head start at learning the language. They taught me the proper way that thank you was pronounced but now I have forgotten. I will have to search them out and practice harder.

After lunch, I spent some time reading. Over all this was a quiet, restful day. That is until the Captains Circle Party. There was a lot of people who showed up and it was a good chance to meet formally meet the Captain. We shook his hand on the way in and I was aware that my hand was still damp from the hand sanitizer that we are obliged to use at every room entrance.

I ended up turning in early and getting a good solid nights sleep. I must have really needed it because I slept hard.

Grateful for rocking the boat.

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Surprise South Korea

Truth be told, I wasn’t really looking forward to South Korea. I didn’t know why but my expectations were really low. I planned to get off the boat just to check out the market and thought I would be back on the ship an hour later. But I was in for quite a surprise.

The port was modern and well kept even more so than Japan had been. There was a digital message board welcoming us, displaying the time and weather forecast. It called for rain but I had my doubts as I squinted up at the hot sun smiling down on us. We boarded a shuttle bus which drove us 20 minutes to the center of Pusan.

First thing I noticed was how crammed the streets were with signage. The Korean characters are much blockier and heavy than the Japanese. Also there were so many stores that were Western including Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and the Body Shop. There was also Krispy Kreme, Outback Steakhouse, and every brand of sportswear you could imagine. Then there was the market.

This has to be my favorite part of the trip thus far. The market consisted of stalls, tables, makeshift vendor wagons, and stores for as far as the eye could see. I am talking miles of shopping. There was everything for sale from delicate bookmarks adorned with the Korean flag to cutesy socks to ladies stirring large vats of bean soup which could be had on the spot. There were pails of live fish and knock offs of every designer brand you could think of. Entire stores filled with ginsing, shops dedicated to dog costumes, and others with apples the size of my head…no joke! If you could dream it up, I am sure you could find it here.

What really impressed me was the lack of chaos that usually goes hand in these types of marketplaces. In fact, it was eerily quiet and orderly in Kookje Market. The Koreans seem to be a very gentle and delicate people who value beauty above all else. I caught lots of woman checking their faces in a mirrors which just so happened to be everywhere. Many of them didn’t know very much English but were quite impressed when I stumbled with my attempts at their language.

My senses were on serious overload bombarded with spicy aromas like kimchi in the making, older ladies chatting to each other gingerly as they tended to their stalls, and the brilliant colors displayed in their wares. I ended up doing a bit of shopping here. I got some cool souvenirs that I could mail home. They even came with an envelope.

I found some wrinkle serum made with real gold and caviar extract. I supposed that if I were going to get on board with the skin care regime, here would be the place to start. The sophisticated Korean women are well known for their fair complexions and flawless skin.

Perhaps my favorite purchase were the socks for 1000 won (equivalent to about a dollar) in every style and color of the rainbow. I skipped the Hello Kitty, Obama, and Spiderman in favor of Winnie the Pooh, Mushroom, and Bear ankle socks. They are adorable and just wearing them make me smile. And most importantly, they are made in Korea, not China.

We encountered an underground mall which gave us a bit of reprieve from the sweltering sun. One strange fad I noticed here was the matching mens and womens underwear. I debated with my crew whether this was cute or creepy and at what point in your relationship it would be appropriate. The prices were pretty decent but the sizes were small. I guess it makes sense considering that the general population of Korea is short and thin.

We visited the serene Yongdusan Park where there was a gigantic iron bell I really wanted to bong. There was also a little exercise park that had a bunch of elderly locals hanging around pulling on the equipment. It was quite comical to see Darren jumping on the bars and swinging around like a monkey. The park regulars just stared at him with their mouths hanging open. They were not even half his size and certainly not as agile.

Next we paid the four thousand won to go up the famous Pusan Tower. The views were gorgeous and you could see all the way out to the ships on the sea. Luckily we had a clear day and even the mountains were visible. It was also a great sampling of the various kinds of architecture of this country. I admit I was pleasantly surprised by how modern and geared towards the arts they are here. We will just miss the PIFF (Film Festival) which begins in a weeks time. It appears to be quite an event as there is an entire district dedicated to it.

We got sucked back into the market once more before we were to catch the last shuttle bus back to the ship. We climbed up the steps and through security after cleaning our hands with the wet face cloths. After a snack, I decided it was high time for a workout. After my exercise, I met the others for dinner before turning in for an early night.

Grateful for markets.

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Culinary Delights out at Sea – Korean Strait to Yellow Sea

I felt pretty lazy today and am really starting to feel my joints. I took it easy on the cardio hoping that maybe they just need a little rest. Afterwards I grabbed my usual in the breakfast area and was pleased to find Glen who knows how to dice my apples perfectly. None of the other kitchen staff seem to be able to get it right and I end up trying to finish the job with a clumsy butter knife. But finally I have found someone who knows what he is doing. Yay!! It really is the little things.

I made it in time for the Culinary Demo in the Princess Theatre with the Executive Chef, Amedeo Scarin and the Maitre d’, Ignazio d’Agostino. As you can tell, they are both Italian. We got fascinating cooking tips while they worked together showing us how to make pasta, salad, and tiramisu. While injecting humor into their act, they cooked up a storm with panache and ease. This dynamic duo was captivating and we learned the difference between using butter (popular in the North of Italy) and olive oil (used in the South). Also, we learned it is said in their country, never trust a skinny chef.

We got to take a tour through the galley and saw firsthand how the Diamond Princess was able to score 100 percent on the last inspection a couple weeks ago from the authorities. It was spotless and the whole operation seemed intricate like a well oiled machine. I learned that there are 16,000 meals prepared and served every day, and that they use about 18 tons of food a day. They use 2100 lbs of beef, 2000 lbs potatoes, 7000 lbs of fruit a day. That is 70,000 dishes washed daily! The numbers were overwhelming.

After lunch with the gang, I spent some time reading in the coffee bar sipping on a vanilla bean frozen latte. I was able to avoid the cookie pusher once again but it wasn’t easy. He had his eye on me but I dodged him as did a few others in the coffee bar. I suppose I am not the only one watching my sugar intake.

We had to go through the whole Chinese Quarantine and Immigration Inspection this afternoon. We had to full out some forms asking us if we had certain symptoms then they beamed a light at us. I guess they were taking our temperature. I passed but not everyone was so lucky. I wondered what would happen to those who had tested too high. I also wondered if they had eat the Thai Hot and Sour soup served at lunch. It was spicy!

All in all, I was surprised at how quickly the process went. We had been fingerprinted and photographed for Japan but nothing like that for China. Wacky. Now we are heading towards the Yellow Sea and should get to China at 7am.

It was formal night tonight but I really didn’t participate. I don’t like trying to squeeze my way through a drunken mob double fisting their free drinks at the Captains Cocktail Party. Its annoying and frustrating. I did get to have my special order of lychees for dessert though. And my server who happened to be Thai reminded me that Thank You is pronounced “Kob Khun Ka”. I am tired so I have decided to skip the show tonight in favor of some extra zzz’s. I really want to be aware and on tomorrow for Qingdao.

Grateful for a good sense of humor.

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Singled out in China – Qingdao, China

I did end up getting to the gym before getting off the boat at 9am. On my walk over from breakfast, just as the ship was pulling into port, I heard some heavy ominous drumming. I peered over the edge of the ship to see 3 rows of 33 red and gold clad band smashing their cymbals and banging their drums in unison. The conductor was dancing and flailing about swinging around some flags with the energy of a firecracker. It was quite a noise they were generating and somehow it seemed like an entire stadium was clapping faster louder faster! I was deeply touched by their exuberance as the grand welcome reverberated through the ship.

Ni hao (Hello) China! We boarded the air conditioned shuttle bus which carted us 15 mins away over bumpy roads into town. My first impressions were that it was loud, crowded, and a little more smelly than I would have liked. There were stores just filled with waist high barrels of dried ocean life. My heart dropped when I spotted a jar of dried seahorses. I vowed not to enter one of these stores, if not to save my nose, to protest the injustice of the seahorses. 😉 These shops are reminiscent of the original community which was just a modest fishing village 6000 years ago. There was a strong German presence here 100 years ago and much of their architecture alludes to that.

I saw a lot of children everywhere and while they seemed to be in good health, their clothes were tattered. The sidewalks were filthy with phlegm, trash, and other unmentionables. It certainly wasn’t the worst I’d ever seen but it is never pleasant to run across feces on the street.

The smog hovering over the city didn’t lift the entire day and for the first time on my trip, I felt dirty. We walked all day and ended up down by the water in Qingdao (pronounced Ching Dow) Bay. The sheer volume of people was staggering. I guess because it was Saturday, everyone was taking in the 25 C temperatures down at the beach.

There were loads of people perched on the rocks where the tide had gone from digging in the cracks. Many young and old alike, were armed with little plastic buckets and small nets. We suspected they were looking for tiny red crabs that you could buy cooked and skewered in rows of 4 or 5. But then again, they could also have been collecting sea shells which are also popular in their souvenirs. We even saw a woman doing her laundry. Not just a couple items but she seemed to have her whole wardrobe laid out on the rocks around her.

I had heard that Westerners get a lot of attention in Asian countries but I wasn’t quite prepared for this. I know we were an odd looking bunch but in a way, I felt like a celebrity. Not only did they have absolutely no shame in staring and pointing at us, but they even took snapshots. Once we got over the initial shock and rearranged our perspective, we were able to take it as the compliment that it was. I posed for several photos with locals and even shook a few hands. Children were especially curious and were the ones who helped me bring my guard down. Seldom are they malicious and it was easier to realize the innocence of their intent.

It was still a lot for me to handle with all the pushing and shoving and shouting that is typical for this culture. After a few hours, I was tired and began to zone out. Marshan and Darren wanted to find some of their famous Tsingtao beer so I accompanied them. I contemplated the idea of trying to order a bubble tea but I decided the effort wasn’t worth it. Not many people understand any English at all and charades seem harder than usual. I just sat on the six inch tall stool and waited for them to drink up.

On our way back to the bus stop, we happened across a tea house and decided we should go in. We were excited to drink our first tea in China. It didn’t taste much different than any other tea that I have had but it came in tiny little cups which needs refilling after every sip. It was tedious after a while especially since it is not customary to fill ones own cup. We were in for a nasty surprise when we were obviously overcharged in the end. We had to pay 85 juan (more than 10 dollars) for a small pot of mediocre tea in a lower class hole in the wall. Grrrrr. It left a bitter taste in my mouth and I vowed not to get ripped off like that again.

Lastly, we happened upon a church where there were to wedding couples getting photos taken. They were getting a lot of extra attention from the tourists and for the most part, seemed to handle it quite well. Both brides were wearing running shoes under their long flowing dresses. They were perfectly coiffed and their husbands were also classy, dressed head to toe in white. I wondered if these were arranged marriages as I searched for glints of adoration between them.

I finally had enough so I parted with the others and hightailed it back to the ship. I was feeling exceedingly grumpy and impatient. I supposed I would have to raise my tolerance of Asia more gradually if I wanted to make it for the next few weeks. The density of population would not get any more sparse as I am heading into mega cities such as Beijing, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

As we were about to leave port at 4pm, there were more drummers and some young athletic men performing. There were two per lion and four lions total, two red and two yellow. They gave life to their furry characters, play nipping at the crowd, batting their thick black lashes and wiggling their ears inquisitively. The gymnasts leapt, flipped, and danced around with tremendous energy. I have seen the traditional dragon dance before but nothing of this caliber. It was quite a show and clapped enthusiastically showing my appreciation.

I headed back into the gym to walk off any negative energy I had picked up. After dinner, which happened to be Oriental Night, I turned in early. We have three port days in a row so I want to conserve my energy as best I can. I am also slightly concerned about my health as Marshan seems to be getting progressively sicker, sneezing and coughing well into the night. I really hope I have staved off her bug and that she is past the contagious stage.

Grateful for personal space.

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Walk the Great Wall – Beijing, China

Excitement is a good alarm clock and it worked well jolting me out of bed at 5am. I had eaten my breakfast and prepared a small snack before jumping in the shower to be ready for 630am. We were supposed to go as part of a tour but when the bus didn’t show up, we were all left to fend for ourselves. We secured a private taxi would said he would take us to the Great Wall for $150 return. We all thought this was a good deal and piled into his car.

Although the car was newer, it was still small so the over 2 hour drive was a little cramped. Our driver didn’t speak any English at all so there were no questions or touristic facts to be had. I decided to zone out and nap until he turned on the radio. I listened to the Chinese radio show as I watched the sparsely populated countryside roll by. The expressways were huge and at this time of the morning, there were very few cars. Our driver (whom we never actually got his name) sped at 140 which seemed to be the norm rather than the posted 90 limit.

When we got closer, the countryside began more mountainous and green. I noticed thousands of orange oval fruits hanging from the trees that fringed the road. Try as we may, we could not identify them. I want to say they are persimmons but then some looked like peaches. I wanted so badly to taste one but curbed my desire. We were on a mission and I didn’t want to distract our driver. As capable as he was, we couldn’t account for the other variables which could quickly spell our demise. After all, we only had one seatbelt among the four of us and lets just say I wasn’t the lucky one.

We got our first glimpses of the wall when we were still a half hour away. At that point it was a thin light edge that outlined the top of the mountain. We got some idea of the magnitude of the thing seeing that we were so far away and it was so visible. The wall spans over 3600 miles and it’s said it can even be seen from the moon.

The traffic was surprisingly light and we congratulated ourselves on beating the rush that would surely come. This is, after all, one of the seven wonders of the world. I was a touch nervous when we parked in the carpark and our driver agreed to meet us in three hours. I left my stuff in the trunk and didn’t want it getting “lost” so I took a photo with the driver so we would be sure to remember his face. I also took a snapshot of his license plate, just in case.

I felt somewhat timid as I scanned the mob and didn’t see one other Westerner among them. Could it be true that we were the only foreigners visiting this part of the wall? We made a pitstop at the bathroom which was pretty humble to say it delicately. Then we paid the 50 juan (7 dollar) entrance fee then sprang for the extra 20 juan bus ride up to the top of the mountain. We didn’t really know what we were doing but it turned out to be the best choice.

We lined up in the cue and climbed onboard the little tram when it finally came our turn. Up up up we went as the little buggy snaked up the windey road beeping his horn all the way. Around ever curve there was another roadside fruit/veg seller. Simple people with deep lines on their faces who seemed like they had been there forever. They looked bored and almost as if they were growing into the ground they sat upon.

One old man who really struck me was just standing on the side of the road watching the cars go by. He looked like he was at least a hundred years old and was firmly anchored to his spot. He really stood out as his stillness was such a severe contrast to all the activity going on around him. My eyes locked on him and for a brief moment, I could feel the gravity of his presence. Somehow I sensed that for him, the world moved slower and he could make it so.

We were let out a short walk away from the entrance to the actual wall. We had to pass by a number of vendors touting their wares which ranged from wooden samurai swords to postcards to little jade buddhas. I tipped my head up to the glaring sun and decided it may be wise to spring for the cheap pair of sunglasses since I had forgotten mine on the ship.

We snapped a few shots of the wall from below which seemed to just go on and on and on. Honestly, until one actually gets up ON the wall, you really don’t have any idea. There is something very different about looking at it from a distance and being on it.

We climbed up the stairs and finally got ourselves onto the actual wall. I was awestruck by the heaviness of the experience. I don’t know where in my head I got the idea that it would be a flat straight wall that you could just stroll along. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a heavy wide thick brick wall that goes up down and all around in many different directions. It’s an architectural masterpiece. Looking down beneath my feet at the giant barricade which stood and still stands for so much…well, “Great” is something of an understatement.

Instinctually, I began climbing up the steps. There were so many steps! And they were all different heights. Some were short and stubby only a couple inches high. The others were mammoth at over 2 feet requiring you to use the sides of the wall to steady yourself. Before there were Stairmasters, there was the Great Wall of China.

After ascending several flights of stairs, I had to stop and catch my breath. I turned and surveyed my progress. From where I was standing, it looked like I had come quite a long way and I was pleased with myself for hiking between a few towers. But then I reminded myself that this was merely a tiny fraction of this colossal 2000 year old project which hosts 10,000 watchtowers.

As I inhaled the crisp mountain air, I gazed out over the landscape. That’s when it really hit me. This is an ancient land with history and roots deeper than anything I grew up with in Canada. From the corn fields to the rolling hills to the villages I could make out in the distance through the haze of the day. It was so serene and picturesque. I stood quietly for moment in respect of the grandeur I was immersed in.

Then I began climbing again. I wish I had my pedometer because I would have liked to know how many steps I actually took. In the end, it was only a few hours of hiking but I was sweaty and slightly sore. I was grateful to have been so active in the gym for the past few weeks, so as to have almost trained for this endeavor.

The number people climbing around the wall were surprisingly low and we only saw three other Westerners the whole time. The rest were Chinese from toddlers to elders with their family, friends and even their dogs. It seemed to be a social event to some and a sacred experience to others. Still others seemed to be using it as an opportunity for fitness training. I have heard that there are people who have covered the entire wall but that it took 3 years.

I made myself a goal to get to the highest point of this part of the wall and scaled a couple towers. Afterwards, I motored back to the starting line and reconnected with the gang.

We paid the extra 20 juan to take the tram back down the mountain in order to meet our driver on time. With a half hour to spare, we made a speedy tour of what the typical tourists were doing. It was this canned experience which made us uber grateful to have opted out of the package tour in favor of our own adventure. I felt we had something distinctly more authentic by taking the higher risk option. I was so thankful to be in such good health and get to experience the Great Wall of China in such a way that many never will.

When we got back to the taxi, our driver was waiting for us cheerfully and all was in order. He blasted some techno remixes of Madonna songs for us as we drove away from our monumental climb. I felt like I’d accomplished something great. The whole experience was priceless and although I don’t feel the need to do it again, it was something I would recommend highly.

I dozed lightly all the way home and felt somewhat tired when we finally got back to the ship. We lost 2000 passengers today as most had only signed up for the short two week tour from Whittier to Beijing. I’d heard rumors that we would be getting a whole new ship full of passengers and had strong suspicions that they would all be Chinese. I was a little worried about the increase of spitting and shoving that would accompany our new guests after experiencing how rampant and accepted this behavior is here.

As I wandered around the decks taking stock, I was flabbergasted that not only were the guests almost all of European decent, but that our average age had come down noticeably. Woohoo! It’s nice to have a more lively bunch who move just a little quicker, if you know what I mean. Just a welcome change of pace, I suppose.

Even though I had hiked around the wall, I decided I still needed to get into the gym so that was most of my evening. Marshan and I took a stroll through the fitness area to scope the new blood when we saw a cute guy working out on the ab machine.

“Hummm…who‘s that?” Marshan mumbled suggestively as she nodded towards the hot guy in a ball cap doing his ab workout.

“He’s kinda cute,” I replied back confirming her discovery. “He’s not a regular before but he looks familiar….”

“He MUST be one of the staff…” Marshan stated knowingly.

We both looked at him a little closer as we strolled by and he noticed us checking him out. He flashed us a million dollar smile, dimples and all, and gave us a little wave. We both tried to contain our giggles only to burst out laughing as we turned the corner.

Um yeah, that’s the Captain. Italian Dino Sagani happens to be the youngest cruiseship captain at age 39. He is very personable and sure does add a certain innovative energy to the ship that I haven’t experienced on any of my previous 15 cruises. Bravo!

It’s no surprise that when it came time for sleep, it hit me like a ton of bricks. And believe you me, I have now seen my fair share of bricks.

Grateful for mobility.

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My special date with the moon – Yellow Sea Day

I seem to have regained my sense of energy and am able to punch it at the gym. I spent most of the morning there then showered before heading off to lunch. I ate alone and spent the hour observing the tables around me. I eavesdropped on a few of the more interesting conversations but even those, were not enough to keep my ear. I finished up my vegetables and skipped dessert. Yay! I am finally making headway on my nutritional goals.

I ended up in the atrium watching the coffee demonstration again just because it was on the way to where I was going. I took a quick seat and watched a repeat of what I had seen the week before. That’s the trouble with going on epic cruise journeys. You are bound to repeat many of the activities, menus, and presentations. Even the staff tend to recycle their jokes on a regular basis. I suppose after some time, it may become endearing.

I won myself a free frozen latte and was pleased with myself for not slurping up the whole drink in the first 5 minutes. It was tasty indeed but I am really trying to slow down my liquid intake. Did you know one can drink too much water? There is something to be said for the art of sipping.

I sat in my favorite corner typing up a storm before I realized that the time had slipped away from me. Next thing I knew it was already past 7pm and my tummy started asking for some sustenance. I looked over the menu for the dining room and since I didn’t see anything that really appealed to me, I opted for the buffet. I haven’t eaten up there for a while but it was a nice change of scenery.

I chose a quiet corner by myself beside a large picture window. I savored my big salad that I had made into a meal as I gazed out over the sea. The almost full moon shimmered over the water highlighting the white caps frothing forth. It was an intensely magical moment and just then, I started feeling sorry for myself that I had no one to share it with. It only lasted for a second because how could I possibly sustain anything negative about my position. I was enjoying a delicious healthful meal by moonlight over looking the ocean. I was overflowing with quiet gratitude.

I took a second to thank the stars and I know they heard me. For just then, my server came by and remarked at how romantic the moon looked and how I had prime opera seating. He pointed out thoughtfully that tonight it was just me and the moon. How lucky I am. He began to sing as he went about his duties and I realized that he was right. It is always so much better to think about what I do have rather than what I don’t.

I stopped by the Crooners Lounge on the way to bed and found my favorite entertainer on the ship doing his worst to woo the crowd. I couldn’t help by settle in to my favorite chair up near the front which just so happened to be open. He belted out a few ballads and even took a few of my requests. I asked he play something about the moon and he sang me Moon River. Then I suggested he play some Phil Collins and he turned out a beautiful rendition of “Another Day in Paradise”. I thanked him kindly and made my way happily to my bed with the piano mans tunes still dancing in my head.

Grateful for appreciation.

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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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