Day 67 Mar 11 (sea day)

OK, I'm looking at my watch which tells me it is 10:50 PM Tuesday. The clock at the top of my computer (El Paso - MST) says it is 11:20 AM Tuesday. Honest. I had no idea any time zone was a half hour ahead or behind any other one. Travel is educational. I can't wait for this to come up in a trivia game someday! That reminds me, I knew an answer nobody else knew today at lunchtime trivia. The question was, "What is zoonosis?" Probably 20 years ago I sat in an afternoon in-service meeting for science teachers at my school and the topic was, you guessed it, zoonosis. Nobody knows this word! Well, almost nobody. (For those of you without the necessary research resources, the word means "diseases which can be transmitted from animals to people". Now you know.) When I was a working teacher a theme I would share with my students regularly was to always pay attention even when they thought there was no way the information being learned would ever be useful. You just never know. Sadly, we still lost the trivia game.

Not much else of importance today. Tai Chi, Vantage- finished the middle east trough WWII. Rose lectured on India. Barbara did Mumbai (Bombay).
That's about it and if the internet god is kind I'll send this shortly. We are in Chennai tomorrow morning and I have an excursion so I need to get to bed.

Day 66 Mar 10 (sea day)

Breakfast on Lido. Tai Chi (we're up to move 13 of 18!). Vantage group was a lecture about the Middle East and Islam. It is amazing how the Brits and to some extent the French helped to make the mess we have at present in the Middle East. The history of Islam (to the extent Chris outlined it) is also interesting. Most of us don't have any idea what brought about our current situation. It is too late to undo some or all of what was done in the past but I think there is no hope of finding solutions without understanding the history. I'm afraid not many politicians have a long enough attention span to learn the necessary facts to find a path to peace. Hopefully that will change.

Trivia vs the Crew today. The Crew got 6 right. We got 11. Unfortunately, the best group got 16 right. I'm not happy with one answer I had disqualified. The question was, "Where was the first atomic bomb exploded?" I answered Trinity Site, New Mexico. The "accepted answer" was White Sands, NM. The instructions had been to be very specific. Oh well. We still wouldn't have won. I ate with Sheila and Ron (fellow Trivia players) and then we went off to the game room and played a game of Scrabble. I'm a bit rusty and was a gracious loser. (OK, as gracious a loser as I am able to be.)

Went to my room and took a brief nap and then watched "Juno" on the tube. Then dinner and the show. We had an amazing violinist named Ian Cooper. Awesome fiddler! He played a mixture of types of music and did it all extremely well. One of the best shows so far.

I also hooked Claire on Sudoku. Our evening gifts were placed in our room while we were at dinner and I picked mine up on the way to the show. It was from Sharper Image again. This time it was the New York Times electronic Sudoku game! (I know we're getting a car on our beds in Ft. Lauderdale!) Anyway, I took mine to the show and while we waited for the show to start I taught Claire to play. She had never learned. She is now an addict. What have I done. She played into the wee hours of the morning and was nowhere to be seen much of the next day - she was sleeping in her cabin to make up for the lost sleep.

OK, GET READY FOR THIS. . . . . . . . . TONIGHT WE GAIN ....30 MINUTES!!! Don't ask me to explain it. We set our clocks back half an hour tonight. Best I can figure out is that India is too big for one time zone but wanted to all be on the same time. I guess they compromised and put the clocks halfway between the two "normal" zones for this longitude. I guess if you have more than a billion people (yes, they either already have or soon will replace China as the most populous country) you can do whatever you want with time zones.

Day 65 Mar 9 (sea day)

Grabbed a quick breakfast and made Tai Chi this morning.
Then the Vantage group where we discussed Vietnam and the changes the country has gone through. Much of what I noted in earlier accounts to you was supported by other travelers and our leader, Chris. Apparently things have really improved during the last ten years after we lifted our embargo.

At 10:45 AM we had a lifeboat drill. Nobody drowned! At 11:15 Kate Ross lectured on the Indian Ocean Trade Routes. Apparently the Arabs didn't invent Arabic numerals and the compass. The devices evolved between them and the Chinese and perhaps some other cultures which traded in the Indian Ocean region (I know, China isn't really on the Indian Ocean, but it was the last stop on the trade routes which traversed that Ocean. I was reminded that the Arabs did play a big role in preserving the knowledge of the ancient Greeks and Romans when Europe was having its identity crisis known as the dark ages. Imagine having to start all over and losing such wonderful things as the ideas of Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, Hypocrites, etc. Come to think of those names are pretty hard to spell, let alone pronounce. Maybe we would have been better off, it's a good thing the Arabs took care of that stuff I think.

Trivia at lunch again. We're back in the groove. We lost. (11/25 correct - it took 14 to win) I helped a nice lady named Julie with email. I am becoming a bit of a guru to the lesser experienced users. It keeps me off the streets. Went to the port lecture on Chennai. Took a nap. Went for a run, showered, ate dinner.
The show was a singer named Michelle Montione (sp?). She was pretty good. Afterward I met Anita in the computer lab but the system was conked out again. Gotta love it!

Day 64 Mar 8 (Singapore - Day 2)

I was awakened by nurse Sheila this morning. Well, she was the one who called on the phone. It was just about the time I wanted to get up considering the late bedtime I had. She called because Bryan wanted me to call him. He is our tablemate with emphysema (not sure if I mentioned his condition before but he has been carting oxygen around since day one). Bryan had left the ship in an ambulance (not emergency - just precautionary) yesterday morning. We knew he was going to the hospital. He has been fighting colds since the beginning of the trip. Well, it was beginning to look like the colds were winning and he had some scary moments onboard and the local medical staff were about out of options to get rid of his cold so it was decided he should get care in Singapore (excellent medical facilities here). Nurse Sheila told me Bryan had asked for me to call and gave me his number in the hospital. We had told Bryan before he and Pat left that if they needed anything to call us. I'll spare you the ugly details but after trying to call from my cabin and then waiting for a free phone on the gangway (two phones both being used by ship crewmen - they get my sympathy and I didn't begrudge them all the time they wanted to take) I wound up using a phone in the metro. Life is seldom simple but I got through. Bryan and Pat on medical advice had decided to return home and Bryan just wanted me to check on his luggage and assure it was being taken care of and shipped home. They had packed suitcases to get them home if need be and just wanted to make sure the rest of their stuff was shipped so they would get it back in Seattle. By the way, Bryan sounded much better than he had the day before onboard. He expressed great confidence in the docs he had. I think part of the reason he was having problems was the stress of being on the ship and not knowing if good emergency care would be available if he needed it. His company and wit will be missed here.

I had the presence of mind to take my laptop with me when I left the ship and went to Starbucks while I was ashore. You received my email (hopefully). Then I returned to the ship and checked on Bryan's luggage. Apparently it isn't the first rodeo for the ship's crew and they had things well in hand.

I returned to Singapore for the remainder of our time and realized it was lunch time. I tried to talk my stomach into something local. There was an amazing variety of food shops available in the terminal and adjoining mall. What I did was a Big Mac Extra Value Meal. The stomach just didn't want to hear it. Oh well, this is just the second time in over two months that I have taken the easy way out. I'll do better next time.

After lunch I decided to take the cable car which ran above the ship to an island with an aquarium and giant ferris wheel (ala The London Eye but higher). I found the ticket counter but the line was long (read 10 people outside the ticket office door. I looked into the office to see what it was going to cost and the cheapest price I could find was over $50 (Singapore Dollars). That would be about $40 or a little more US. Each price included a "tour" of something on the island. Since I didn't have time for much of a tour and just wanted to ride the cable car, I decided to forget that and go to Raffles Hotel. Some of you may know of this place. It was built (in the 1800's) by the British and was the place where many famous people stayed in Singapore (Somerset Maughm, Joseph Conrad, Noel Coward, Charlie Chaplin and even Michael Jackson). The Singapore Sling was invented here and it is traditional to go to the hotel's Long Bar and have a Sling. I did. On the way to the hotel a few Brits came up to me in the metro and asked me for directions. I guess I am comfortable enough that I looked like I knew where I was going. In this case I did. They wanted directions to Raffles! LOL!

Another fun thing was that while I was sitting at the bar in Raffles a threesome came up and sat next to me. We started chatting and they were two Americans from Colorado who recently moved to Singapore and a friend of theirs who for the past eight years ran the airport operation at Abu Dabi. During the conversation he mentioned something I found interesting and surprising. They have to adjust the computer landing system programming every week to make the planes land in a different spot or the runway gets dents in it. These systems are so accurate now that every plane touches down on exactly the same spot! Imagine! So if they don't change the spot periodically the runway gets damaged by all those heavy touchdowns in the same exact spot. The things you learn in a bar!

I visited the History of Raffles Museum in the hotel and took pictures of the hotel and surrounding area (right downtown near the City Hall metro stop). Then it was time to head home (I've started thinking of the Amsterdam as home. This is only a little scary....). Had dinner and then went on deck to watch the sail out. Singapore is an amazing city/state/country and I definitely would like to return some day to visit more of it. Just scratched the surface this time. This is clearly the safest place I've been and they say anyone can walk in the streets at any time of day or night without fear. How many cities can say that?

We gain an hour tonight.

Day 63 Mar 7 (Singapore - day 1)

I slept late. Was up til about 1 AM. Since I didn't have an excursion sleeping late was an option. I got up around 10. I know, I know....
so by 11 I had taped the harbor (pics too of course) and headed off in search of an internet cafe like I found in Sydney. Unfortunately, Singapore isn't Sydney! They have all these strict laws here and control which websites people have access to, etc. (that's right, no porn sites). You already know that I found a coffee shop which had terminals to use but no USB port availability. So I won't go over that but that took up the rest of my morning. I decided I would use my laptop tomorrow. I then set out for the Jurong Bird Park. It was what I decided to do first in Singapore. I figured I'd see the city (or at least part of it) on the way. I got some maps from the information desks in the shopping center with the coffee house and went to the metro.

I took the metro, changing lines once to the Boon Lay stop. I looked at one of the maps and decided I could probably walk to the bird park rather than try to figure out which bus to use. Bad idea! I walked in one direction and then decided I was going the wrong way so reversed direction and walked for about ten minutes. It was hot and humid by the way but I'm not looking for sympathy. Just wanted you to know how grateful I was when I decided to ask a couple of furniture delivery guys if I was getting close. They said I definitely wasn't. They said I needed to take a bus because it was so far and oh, by the way, I was going the wrong way! Duh! I blame the army. They taught me map reading.... LOL! Actually, the maps were terrible and I should know better than to trust maps which look more like cartoons than Google Earth images. The happy ending of the story and a nice commentary on the people of Singapore is that these two guys stopped what they were doing (they hadn't delivered the furniture yet) and offered me a ride back to the bus station (it was adjacent to the metro station where I had arrived). They were even apologetic about the trash on the floor of the truck and asked if I minded it. I made it very clear that they were wonderful for coming to my rescue and they shouldn't worry about a little floor trash. So my little adventure allowed me to prove to myself what we had been told about the lovely people of Singapore. Everything happens for a reason it seems.

So, back at the bus station I took the furniture guys' advice and asked which bus to take to the bird park. The trip from there was a piece of cake. By the time I got there it was after 1:30 PM and I was hungry so I settled for a Bongo Burger. What's that you ask? Well, it is apparently a restaurant chain (there are at least two of them as I later discovered) associated with the Singapore Zoo. They are actually outside the parks so you can eat there without entering the zoo (or paying admission). I was asked whether I wanted my Bongo Burger (extra value meal version ala Micky D's) to be made of beef. I was pretty sure my answer was yes but decided to ask what other options there were. Well, the answer was chicken, fish and lamb! Apparently "burger" is a much broader term here than I know it to be in the States. Beef was my answer of course. My day had already had more than enough adventure. Or so I thought.

After Bongo Burger I entered the park and went right to the Penguin House. They are always too cute and, more important, they require air conditioning. Therefore the viewing area is cool too. I looked at the penguins quite awhile. Actually, I arrived just before feeding time so I have some video and pictures of that. It was pretty neat. Or perhaps I should say it was COOL!

I then looked at a few exhibits (some Cockatoos and other brightly colored birds, and some Flamingos) on the way to the Bird of Prey Show. Now that was an awesome show. They have about half a dozen trainers and in addition to the usual "look at the bird while I hold it" kind of thing they have the birds trained to fly to various areas of the amphitheater to other trainers. They do this so low over the audiences' heads that one vulture bumped my video camera (yes, I was using it at the time) with his wing (hard enough to make me worry about the bird, but it was fine - "tough old bird" appears to be appropriate here). Two other times hawks flew so close over my camera (I was holding it to my eye each of these times) that another spectator came up to me after the show and told me he thought the birds were trying to take the camera. The video is cool and it was a real rush to be on the other end of the camera. I probably should have thought about ducking but never did. I guess I just trusted that the people training and working the birds knew what they were doing. That was the highlight of my day for sure but there was a lot more to come. Since we were staying in port overnight I decided to finish the bird park with the tram ride around it and then head for the Night Safari. I didn't get to see every exhibit in the bird park but the Night Safari was starting around 6:30 and I didn't know how long it would take to get there.

I asked someone at the bird park what the best way to get to the Night Safari would be and they assured me that at this time of day (can you say rush hour on a Friday afternoon?) a taxi was the only way to go. So I did. There was a taxi stand right there and I didn't have to wait more than 5 minutes to get my ride. I arrived at the Night Safari (it is adjacent to the main Singapore Zoo) at about 6:15 PM. Perfect! I had to kill a few minutes before the gates opened so naturally I had a Haagen-Das brownie. (The smell was irresistible! Really!)

The first thing I went to in the Night Safari park was the Creatures of the Night Show. This park is unique among zoos as far as I know. Perhaps others have copied the idea by now but this park is designed to exhibit nocturnal creatures in their nighttime environment. Therefore many of the exhibits have little light. The show was like that but occasionally they used some spotlighting just briefly so we could see the animals for a few moments. The show, like the Bird of Prey show, was pretty interactive. The girl who ran it was very lively and had a good sense of humor. The audience was involved from time to time and right at the beginning. There was a heavy rope (think ship mooring hawser) suspended across the seating area of the amphitheater and as the light dimmed with sunset the rope started easing lower over our heads. When it got sufficiently dark some adult binturongs climbed out on the rope and stopped overhead. They were interested in a couple of trainers who were on the stairs in the aisles with food (of course, binturongs don't work for peanuts ... or do they? Hmmm.). These guys were at least twice the size of the young ones I handled in Bali. But my Bali experience allowed me to appear smart when a nearby spectator couldn't hear/understand our emcee when she said they were binturongs. He asked loudly enough for me to hear what they were a couple of times but she didn't hear him so I turned around and told him they were binturongs, sometimes called Asian Bearcats. Travel is educational you know!

The show was not as exciting as the bird show for me but we did get to see otters, raccoons, owls, wolves, hyenas and servals. Not too bad for starters. After the show we boarded the tram and were transported through many other animals' natural habitat type areas. Still dimly lighted in spots and not lighted at all in others. I guess our eyes adjusted to the light levels because we could see a lot more than my cameras could capture. We saw various deer and antelope, tapirs, cats (including lions), birds, giraffes and Tahr (google that one). I also walked down one to the three walking trails which go through much of the park as well. I ran into a couple from the Amsterdam I had met earlier in the cruise and we found our way back to the ship via a bus and couple of metro trains. The metro system is pretty good and not too different from systems I've seen in Europe and the US. By the time I got to bed it was 1:30 AM. Busy day!

Day 62 Mar 6 (sea day)

Slept late today. Up late, lost an hour. Missed breakfast so I could do Tai Chi. We're up to 8 moves now. So far so good. Quick trip to the Lido deck for a cranberry muffin and coffee which I took to the Vantage lecture. It was a continuation of the history of India and the British. They are not doing well. A combination of bad decisions and misguided thinking seems to be a theme for the Brits at this time. We got up to some guy named Ghandi. Trouble coming from him but we ran out of time before we could get to it.

The highlight of my day was the Tea Lady. She shall remain nameless. She is the new lecturer. I guess since we're headed to India after Singapore that the powers that be thought we could use some enlightenment. I figured I could use some enlightenment but was not sure I needed it in this area. What the heck. I gave it a try. She had a well organized presentation which laid out the four lecture topics she will provide. Then she launched into the details. I tried to stay with her. I was patting myself on the back for being a liberated male and sitting there while some people started to leave (just a few). I made it through how the napkin should be folded (always rectangular) and where and how the fold should be positioned in your lap, and that you never put your napkin on the table until you are leaving (if you go to the happy room you must put your nappie on your chair while you're gone). I lost it when she told me where to put my purse. I mean, she didn't say, "ladies, you put your purse..." she just said, "You must always put your purse between your legs (or was it feet... I wasn't hearing well at that point). I became absolutely certain she wasn't considering me a part of her target audience. Perhaps if I had bought a purse the day before from the vendors - one lady got 3 for $5.... I walked quietly out. I will forever be deficient in knowledge of tea etiquette. Sorry gentle people. I was not up to the task. I hope you will understand.

We got stomped at Trivia. I think my mind was still on tea. We got 12 right but the winners got 18.

After lunch I met Anita at the computer center to help her like we tried a couple of days before. Unfortunately the reason the terminals were open was that the system is down. I asked the tech, Philippe, and he said he had contacted on shore techs and they were working on the problem. We're all hoping they succeed. In any event, tomorrow we're in Singapore so I'll finally send you this update and see if anyone has had anything urgent to tell me. It has been a long time since I was able to check. I'm going into cyberwithdrawal I think. (I know spell check, you don't know the word "cyberwithdrawal" yet. Get over it!)

Only three of our nine at dinner tonight. Claire and Daphne are in Cambodia, Darryl and Carol were too full from a Mongolian stir fry lunch on the Lido (I passed), and Bryan is having medical problems which will have him transported (ambulance) to a hospital for tests and hopefully a cure tomorrow. So Bryan and Pat were eating in their cabin. Just Anita, Jack and I for dinner. Our table for 9 seemed H U G E ! ! !

Good show tonight. A variety including the last performance of our ship's dancers and singers (they exit in Singapore to be replaced by new ones), Jack Mayberry (comedian), and the two singers, Penny Matiason and Joseph Pokorski (Tenor). Penny was the soprano we heard the other night. The two singers sang solos and a duet. All did well.

Then I came back to the cabin to finish this and get ready to see Singapore and hopefully an internet cafe. Hopefully the ship's system will be back up and running soon but just in case I'm sure I will be able to find one in Chennai (Madras), India on March 12th. (We have two days in Singapore and then three sea days before we hit Chennai.) If you don't hear from me I am either being caned in Singapore - I think I know the rules...- or the lack of internet service won't let me communicate. Try not to worry.

Day 61 Mar 5 (Saigon - also known as Ho Chi Minh City)

I had intended to send this on March 4 but spent 20 minutes trying to no avail. Hopefully I will be more successful today. The system was not totally down but I never got my password and user ID in to AOL. After that I tried to log off and was unable to do that too!!! I spoke with the computer guru and he said they didn't have a good signal and that in the future if the system is operating that slowly they advise us not to sign on. Thanks a lot! What a neanderthal way to run a computer system. How about limiting the number of people who can log on to the system so it can handle the volume better? How about getting more lines for more bandwith? Yada yada. Sorry. Couldn't help ranting a bit.

So, today was a long bus ride to Saigon Our guide told us that the South Vietnamese still call it that. They are also not too fond of North Vietnamese people. That war ended in 1975 but the wounds have left some scars. All in all though I was surprised at how normal everything seems to be. If this is a communist country it would be hard to prove it by what I saw. There is a lot of capitalism here as there was in Da Nang. We experienced even more here. More on that in a bit.

We reported for our bus pass at 8:15. The number I got today was #9. Better than 12 but still a bit of a wait. Since we didn't have to rig a gangplank for junks there was no delay in starting to board buses. Number 9 came up in about a half hour or so. Not too bad compared to Da Nang. Our guide's name was Nghia (pronounced like the word "near" without the "r" more or less). He gave us a lesson in the complexities of Vietnamese. Apparently they have many markings which determine the inflection and pronounciation of vowels. This means the same letters can be pronounced many different ways. He said the word "ma" has six different meanings depending on the markings and each is said differently. He recited them but I was hard pressed to hear the difference between a few of them.

Also, there are apparently more than 30 different distinct ethnic groups in Vietnam who each have their own language. Nghia said that if the people from these regions (each lives in a separate area or did historically) don't speak Vietnamese that most of the people from other areas cannot understand them. And I thought English was hard for people to learn. Pheew!!

My tour was entitled The Best of Ho Chi Minh City and went pretty well. We boarded at the pier where we docked which was about 60 miles from Saigon. It is in Phu My which isn't much more than a docking facility. It's appeal is that it is closer to Saigon than Vung Tau which used to be the port city. That is another 45 minutes or so from Saigon. We had been told that the ride to Saigon would be a good hour and a half. I was puzzled until I discovered that the speed limits for vehicles in Vietnam are very low. The bus was limited to 50 kmph on the major highways. Less in town. (50 kmph is about 34 mph). The drive was interesting and we had a stop for the "happy place" about halfway. This was at a shopping center with a "Big C" (yeah, you know that is sort of like a Big Kmart right?). The happy place is the place where you can sing or dance. OK, this is Vietnamese code for restroom, peeing and pooping. All together now... C U T E !

The fun began at the happy place. (heh, heh) Well, actually in the parking lot. This is where we first encountered the vendors. Apparently, according to our guide, they have the cruise ship schedule for the year and know the places that the tour buses stop both for singing and dancing and for visiting attractions. We were to see these same vendors many times today. They are, as I said earlier, persistent. And trust me, if you take out your wallet and buy something they react like sharks in bloody water. I definitely know how bait feels now. But, they are respectful and polite even while being persistent, insistent and creative. I have more souvenirs from Vietnam than from any other place I think. Fortunately, the prices are great.

So, back to the tour. The drive in and out gave a nice overview of what the country is like. My impression is that overall they are doing well but there are pockets of sad looking houses and areas that show poor people. If mopeds were cars this would be a rich country. Small steps I guess. They seem to be improving all over. There is a lot of construction and commerce. One unique thing I noticed was that many places along the way had lots of hammocks and lounge chairs under a shade roof. I asked what these were for and Nghia said that on weekends people from Saigon travel toward the beaches and these places are about halfway. People will stop to rest and buy a drink and then have the privilege of using the chair or hammock to take a nap or rest. Hmmm. Perhaps a new business for the USA? Nah, we're in too much of a hurry most of the time to rest aren't we? Oh, on the drive we also saw rice paddies. I don't think I saw any in Da Nang.

Our first stop in Saigon was the Historical Museum. Included here was a water puppet show. This show is apparently an old custom which was used to entertain royalty in the past. It was unique. The theater had a pool of opaque water in front of the structure and the controls for the puppets (dragons, ducks, phoenix, turtle, little men, a cat!, etc.) were under the water. The puppeteers were behind the screen portion of the puppet theater. There was music and some commentary (it was in English but heavily accented and hard to understand) but the show was easy to follow. I have video tape of most of it. Part of the tape shows my leg (I was trying to take a photograph with my digital camera and forgot where I was pointing the video camera. It's not easy being a tourist you know.).

The historical museum was not really exciting. I liked the Cham in Da Nang better. We did have Nghia to explain some things for us but we went through pretty quickly and just hit the highlights. This museum covered the entire history of the country. That is something the Cham didn't do.

The next stop was the Reunification Palace. This was at one time (in the early 60's) the Presidential Palace. The end of the "revolution" was marked by a tank driving through one of the walls of this palace in '75 (I think). Since then it has been a museum. They have kept the old radio gear from the US and some strategy maps in the basement. The upper floors have enough furniture in them to get an idea of the grandeur that was here before the "freeing of the south" by the North Vietnamese Army.

We had lunch in the huge dining hall of a 5-star hotel in downtown Saigon. It was very nice. They had no trouble accommodating quite a few buses from the Amsterdam at the same time. I think we all ate there. The bus numbers went to 10 at least. 40 passengers per bus. Not bad for a third world town. Actually Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam. Hanoi, in the north, is the capitol. I ate something but I'm not sure what. I keep trying the unusual. What a trip this has been so far for my stomach. Some of what I put on my plate was not all that good but there is always plenty of rice in Southeast Asia.

After lunch we went to Chinatown and the Thien Han Temple. Very impressive. Colorful and lots of burning incense sticks and spirals overhead (they are said to last a week). I first noticed the spirals as a piece of smoking ash from one fell at my feet while I was walking around and looking at other things. Not a whole lot of warning signs for minor dangers like that when you get out of the US. I guess if you are going to wander around a temple you should look out for falling ash.

After the temple we rode around town for photo ops at the Railroad Station (French Architecture from the 19th century), Notredame Cathedral, Hotel de Ville (French for town hall) and the Rex Hotel (where the press stayed during the conflict).

Then back to the ship. Some of the vendors followed us all the way to the security gates and waved goodbye. I think the country is making a strong effort to increase tourism. It is working as far as I've seen. Pass the word. Vietnam is interesting, full of unusual history and it is user friendly (if you don't mind the vendor gauntlet from time to time). They actually have a law against the vendors but it is not enforced (hmmm...) until the last bus is about to leave. Creative enforcement. In this case I think the experience we had would not have been as interesting without the vendors.

After returning to the ship we had dinner, went to the show - comedian Jack Mayberry who played Ross Perot on the tonight show in skits years ago. He was pretty good. Most of the audience was pretty tired from the days trips but he got us laughing pretty well. Some of his jokes came from the internet though. Or maybe someone heard his act and that is how the jokes got to the internet.

Have to set the clocks FORWARD tonight! Time zones out in this part of the world look like a jig-saw puzzle. I'm sure there is a story there....

Well, I need to wrap this up. (I'm writing it on Thursday evening after 10 PM but I learned since beginning it that the internet hook-up on the ship is not functioning yet. I will be able to use an internet cafe in Singapore to send stuff but need to get it ready and transfer it to my flash drive.

Day 60 Mar 4 (Sea Day)

I seem to be trying to get another cold. These ships are lovely contagious disease wards. I'm taking zinc in case. Not feeling bad, just being careful. I'll get to bed early tonight and hopefully the rest and zinc will take care of whatever it is. I suppose the cruise companies don't want to hear it but I think someone should set up a research project onboard.

So, what has happened today? Not too much. Tai Chi was good again. Worked on first three and then second three moves. Vantage continued the lecture about India and British rule. Not quite finished but almost. Seems the Brits tried to convert a society which really didn't need or want to be converted. Badly managed to the point of mutiny or rebellion. Hard to imagine how they blundered so badly but I guess you had to be there to see it through their eyes.

At 11 AM Kate Rose presented a lecture on Cambodia and Angkor Wat. Lots of slides. We have quite a few people leaving tomorrow to fly there and they will meet up with us in Singapore. At 11:45 it was Trivia again. Today's topic was Murder on the Orient Express or in other words famous murders real and fictional. We did very badly. I'm not sure that is a bad thing but we only got 4/21 points and the winners got 11. After lunch I spent time on this blog as well as taking care of a few chores. I also walked for a half hour before dinner. Wore one of my new ties to Formal Dinner. It was the weird one I got in Hong Kong with airplanes and the map of the world on it. I thought it was a gag tie but it actually didn't look bad with my suit and white shirt. A little colorful but much of the bright colored parts were hidden. Looks like I messed up in reverse. Thought I was buying a gag tie and it seems it may actually be more wearable than I thought. Go figure!

That's about it. I need to pick out a few pictures to attach to this and then send it off. It is almost 8:30 PM here so I'll be able to get a good night's sleep and still get up in time for breakfast and an 8:30 AM bus.

Day 59 Mar 3 (Da Nang, Vietnam)

16º 07.13' N and 108º 12.91' E

I was up until 1 AM because of the late show and stuff. I slept 'til 9. Breakfast on Lido where I met Brian, Pat and Claire. Claire and I decided to do Da Nang together. We had no excursion tickets so we met at the gangway at 10:15 and took the shuttle bus into Da Nang. We had to negotiate a gaggle of "guides" and venders when we dismounted the bus but it was not too hard because we had decided to go into the hotel where the bus stopped (The Riverside Hotel - or was it Riverfront or Riverview...) for a cup of coffee and to plan where to go from there. We decided to walk rather than take a cyclo (sort of a combination rickshaw and bicycle) or a cab. So after trying some Vietnamese bread, butter and jam with coffee (coke in Claire's case) we set out. Our first stop was a nearby post office. Clare likes to collect stamps from each country. They have some lovely picture stamps in just about every country. Not a word of English was spoken but the purchase was made. Spanish, German, and most other European languages aren't spoken much here. They sometimes speak a bit of French. We then walked about a kilometer or so (2/3 of a mile to you Americans) to the west on Le Duan Street, away from the Han River. We saw many interesting shops and buildings. We eventually made a couple of turns and returned on a parallel street toward the river. We passed a temple and a military post. There are many different influences evident in Vietnam. The Indian, Chinese and French influences are obvious in architecture and statuary. The city is like a swiss cheese with decay, new buildings and mixed cultural influences all mixed together.

One of the things that made our walking fun was crossing the streets. Think New York City without traffic lights! (I know I'm probably a sick puppy for thinking that is fun but ....) We were sternly warned by Barbara (our Port Lecturer) that we would be run down if we were not careful. Well, I took the warning to heart but to be honest it was overstated. We couldn't wait for the light to change (no lights remember - well, there were maybe three in all our walking) so we had to venture into the streets. As for waiting until there were no vehicles in sight, forget that! This is a busy city. My findings are that the moped drivers are all pretty aware and as long as you are clearly visible they don't try to run you down and will even slow down to allow you to walk! (They don't stop mind you but they will slow just a little - probably so they can avoid hitting you and damaging their mopeds.) You do have to pay attention but it isn't scary at all if you have any experience in city streets. Surprisingly, Claire was so relaxed that she almost stepped into traffic a few times without looking. I found that I was saying, "heads up" fairly often. But we got pretty good at working the flow of traffic and it was fun.

We returned to the river and headed south along the bank. The riverwalk is quite nice. They have a lot of sculpture including a Buddha. We continued along until we reached the Cham Museum. This is a small but well done collection of ancient stone carvings from the country. Claire is a bit of a fan of Indian carvings (that's Asian Indian). She recognized the carvings as clearly Indian in origin. There were many parts of temples and buildings which showed ancient Hindu gods and legends. The signs were in Vietnamese and English and the pieces of columns and corners were positioned for display as parts of walls, etc. so they appeared like they might have where they were originally found. Very nice. I'm told this is the #1 place to visit in Vietnam for this sort of thing. I'm glad Claire was with me because her knowledge helped me appreciate what I was seeing better.

After we had seen enough we crossed the street to the quay and boarded a floating restaurant for lunch. It was late for lunch so we just had soup and a beer. I drank Tiger beer and Clair had a Saigon beer. Both were pretty good. Claire is a bit more germ concious than I. She wasn't going to pour her beer in a glass until I did and then she decided that maybe it would be ok after all. My attitude is that we're in a big city and I don't see people dropping around me so the odds are favorable that the water and food won't kill me. She on the other hand has travelled to places like Nepal where sanitation and pasteurization are not so good.

Earlier, while we were walking to the restaurant, a Vietnamese moped rider tried to talk us into letting him ride us around on his moped (a "guide"). I held him off saying we were going to eat but would think about it. (If all goes well there will be a picture of the floating restaurant and the moped "guide" attached.) I guess it was a slow day because he was waiting for us when we came out. I told him we had decided to just go back to the shuttle bus stop (a little over a mile up the river) and he said he would take us there. I asked how much and he said $1 US for each of us (he had a friend with another moped). I looked and found I had no $1's so I asked if he had change. His friend did. I then realized I was out of excuses but I hadn't asked Claire if she wanted to ride. With her cautious attitude about things (she has good reason for most of it) I was not sure she would be up for riding mopeds but she said, "sure". So we were off after strapping on helmets. Yes, believe it or not, Vietnam has a well enforced helmet law! Apparently they are ahead - or behind depending on your point of view - Texas in this area. I'm told that the law was pretty much ignored until they raised the fine for noncompliance to about twice the cost of a helmet. Since then everyone wears them.

The moped ride was fun and quiet enough that we even had conversation on the way. Claire's driver asked me if I had been in Vietnam during the war and I said no but my brother had and he said his father had fought with the Americans back then but was now in California. This was not the only reminder that we had been here for ten years back in the 60's and 70's but overall I think there was no sign of bad feelings or other problems. The country (based on Da Nang) seems to be doing fairly well overall. Our guide in Ha Long Bay had said unemployment was only 3% but was quick to follow that by saying that since they didn't pay taxes the data on which the 3% was based might not be all that accurate.

On returning to the pier via the shuttle bus we stopped at the few stalls there and shopped a bit. I bought a T-shirt but nothing else caught my fancy.

We had dinner onboard the ship (sail-out time was 6 PM). The show at 8 PM was another multi-"talented" guy. His name is Andy Bünger. He was billed as one who played many instruments. Well, he did. He played the Marimba, vibraphone, pan pipes, steel guitar, drums sax and trumpet. All were played in a mediocre manner. Once again proof that more is not necessarily better! Oh yes, he also sang - you guessed it...mediocre. He might have played some instruments better if he stopped jumping around so much. Whatever. All shows can't be gems right? Jack, Anita and I watched together and afterward Jack voiced the same thought I had had during the performance. We both came very close to walking out. I'm pretty critical of musical performances. I guess it comes from having a good ear for music and not liking it to be assaulted by incompetence. Andy wasn't totally incompetent but if I have to wince more than two or three times during a particular number I start to think about the exit. This was close.

At 9:45 PM it was time to go to the Piano Bar for Music Trivia. This is where my shipboard trivia career started if you recall. Ron and Sheila were there waiting for me. (Ron had told me about the trivia game earlier in the day.) The songs were from the 70's, not my best decade, but we did get 6 of 10 right. Buddy, the piano player, said there would only be 10 songs because there were not many more good songs than that from that decade. The winners, not us, got 7 right. Tough night. Maybe I can blame my weak performance on Andy Bünger...hmmm.

Day 58 Mar 2 (Ha Long Bay, Vietnam)

Up early today. Breakfast in room at 7:15 AM. Needed to report by 8:05 for my excursion. Only one problem. There were 500 or so scheduled for this excursion. We were going to sail through the unusual and very scenic islands of Ha Long Bay and visit one of the island caves. Apparently Ha Long has nothing worth an excursion onshore so this was the only excursion available. So instead of tour buses we had tour junks.

Definition: (there will be a quiz later)

junk (noun)

a flat-bottomed sailing vessel typical in China and the East Indies, with a prominent stem, a high stern, and lugsails.

ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: from obsolete French juncque or Portuguese junco, from Malay jong, reinforced by Dutch jonk.

The only problem with that is that when they tried to load the first junk they discovered that the height of our gangway was too low. I guess they thought it a bad idea to have a bunch of septuagenarians climbing rope ladders or some such so the entire process was delayed until they reconstructed the gangway to deal with the high gunwales of the junks. Then there was the time it takes to load a junk and then move it out and the next one in.... You get the picture. I could have slept in!!! (I have never been a morning person!)

Finally got onboard my junk (#12 - well actually it had the number 59 on it but it was the 12th junk to be loaded) around 10:30! This is puzzling to me because they gave us written instructions to wait until about 10 minutes before the scheduled time to show up at the Queen's Lounge for check-in. We would then be given a tag with a number corresponding to the junk we would be on. I got there at the correct time but got #12. That means the other 11 boatloads of passengers were early! I guess I need to buy a tent so I can camp out overnight next time. Yeah right!

Oh well, our junk was fine and we had a nice tour. It was shortened about an hour but after talking with others who had the complete tour I don't think I missed much. The cave was not impressive by Carlsbad Caverns standards but it was nice. It was certainly much larger than the New Zealand Glowworm cave. On the other hand the only water features were manmade. No river ride either. I will try to attach a picture or two of the islands so you get the idea about how tall and skinny most of them are. The amazing thing was how much of the island with the cave was hollowed out. Sort of like a hollowed out artillery shell. The natural water drip in this cave had stopped about 10 years ago according to our guide and they were using a pump now to simulate it. Later, on the way out, we saw a much more obviously manmade water feature. More like a fountain. I guess they want to maintain the humidity level somewhat high in order to keep the formations from drying out. Not a bad idea.

On the way into the cave we had to pass one souvenir stand. After exiting through a different opening we passed by no less than three stands while winding our way back down the short distance to the dock area. The Vietnamese are very persistent salespeople. Reboarding our junk was a trip. Not literally fortunately but I wish I had had the presence of mind to photograph the process. I was sort of mesmerized watching these venerable, youth challenged people trying to negotiate the boarding ramp. Apparently they make it easy to leave the ship but aren't too worried about people wanting to reboard. The gangplank, and I do mean gangPLANK, was not more than a foot wide and about 12 feet long. It was sloped downward about a foot or two. There was a lot of open space underneath it and the only other thing within hanging onto distance was a long bamboo pole that one of the crewmen was holding. The other end was at a point on shore so it was about the correct height to serve as a makeshift hand rail. Not too permanent or steady but there was no way any of these people (me being a possible exception) would even think of "walking the plank" (yes, I couldn't resist that...sorry) without some additional support. Well, I didn't see anyone fall and I think we returned with the same number we started with so I guess all went well. For me I did manage the plank without touching the "handrail". I did have the good sense to hold my arm over it in case I started to lose my balance by the way. I'm crazy but I'm not stupid. (No cracks please!)

From the cave we sailed, along with a freeway rush hour traffic density of other junks, through a bunch of islands which were pretty close together (I think there are over 1600 islands here). It was pretty neat.

We were supposed to stop at a floating fishing village but we didn't have time. I'm told that inside the "permanent" part of the village that they kept the fish in "holes in the floor". Pretty clever. Using the water to store fish (alive I presume) until someone came to buy them.

We were back to the Amsterdam by about 2 PM. It was too late to go ashore as we were scheduled to sail at 3. So I never actually set foot on my first port in Vietnam.

Ate a light lunch on Lido (pizza) because dinner time was just a few hours away. My mother always said, "don't spoil your dinner!" and I've found it a good idea. At present I'd like to tell you I'm holding the line in the battle of the bulging waistline. I'd like to but I can't really tell for sure. I have weighed myself periodically and if the numbers are correct I'm yo-yo dieting big time. Fortunately, there is another explanation. They keep changing scales!!! If they were all accurate I gained about 8 pounds in a week and then lost 10 the next week. I don't think so.... The pants/shorts still fit pretty well so I think I'm hanging in wait...that isn't the right choice of words. I'm maintaining a reasonable weight. That's better. Anyway, I guess they will try to get the scale situation stabilized soon. A lot of people were complaining about inaccuracy of the earlier scales. I know, in most cases the real source of the problem was the buffet table but one person told me they put 40 pounds of weight on the scale and it was off by 3 or 4 pounds. So there was a problem with the accuracy too!

After dinner the show was unusual to say the least. I wondered how many times we would have similar shows and how many "new" acts they could come up with. After all, most cruises are much shorter than this one. Well, this was new. The entertainer's name was Lance Ringnald. Perhaps some of you may recall his name. He was a World Champion and a US Olympic gymnast in '88 and '92. What you may ask could a gymnast do for almost an hour to entertain cruisers? Well, he was surprising. He came out dressed as an old man using a walker. He then did some gymnastics stuff on the walker. He had a pretty good comedy routine worked into the gymnastics but after a bit he needed a break and said he was going to sit down for a few minutes while the Amsterdam band entertained us. Well, he did sit the piano! He played and sang as well. What a surprise. He is a better gymnast than pianist or singer but he wasn't bad. He spent some time using long fabric drapes in the manner of Circque du Soleis (sp? spellcheck doesn't have this one!). And he also juggled some. A multi-talented fellow to be sure and he was entertaining.

Later in the evening our crew members from the Philippines put on a show for us demonstrating many of their cultural costumes and dances. They were not (with a couple of exceptions) close to professional but they were fun to watch. We know many of the crewmembers by now and they are truly a kind, caring and friendly bunch. It was clear that they were thrilled that the auditorium was filled with passengers who wanted to watch them and share their culture. They were given a standing ovation.

Day 57 Mar 1 (Sea Day)

Half-way through the 114 (115 depending on how you count them) days!

It is going pretty fast despite being tiring at times. Everyone seems to be trying to recover today. Understandable because we have two Vietnam ports during the next two days. I'm burning sleep right now to write this but need to get it off to you guys. We have a Sea Day on March 4th between Da Nang and Phu My (the port near Saigon, sorry, Ho Chi Minh City).

We have a new Tai Chi Instructor named Richard. He seems to be exactly what I was looking for. He has indicated that we will learn 18 moves and we have started. He has us start at the beginning after teaching us each move so we will be able to move from one move to the next smoothly. This is something our last instructor never really paid much attention to.

Our Vantage lecture was about India. Chris called it "Jewel in the Crown - Part I. He is skipping Vietnam because it is one of the few places the Brits didn't try to own in the colonial era.

We had a new lecturer talk about Vietnam today. I'll get her name next time. Too late.

Trivia went less well today. We got 11 right but the top team got 18 or 19 right.

Our port lecturer, Barbara, talked about Phu My today.

I spent about two hours helping Daphne learn how to use her laptop to input and edit pictures afterward. Vista sure seems confusing but since I use a Mac I don't really have any experience with it. I'm learning. By the way, if anyone knows how to disable or at least decrease the sensitivity of the mousepad's tap feature let me know please. This thing treats a tentative touch of the mousepad as a left click. I know that this is supposed to be a convenience but it can be a real pain in the neck for a new user and even got me a couple of times. Thanks.

We had a great female singer tonight for the show.

Gotta go. Early tour tomorrow.

Cheers to all!

Day 56 Feb 29 (Hong Kong day 2 - Happy Leap Day!!)

Breakfast on Lido

8:30 Met Anita and Claire on the gangway for our self guided excursion. Anita had checked into how we could get to Lantau where there is a cable car that takes you up to a large Buddha. We had quite a nice adventure. The directions Anita had provided two ways to get there so we decided to go over one way and return the other. Despite some early uncertainty involving underground routes we got to the cable car via a couple of metro trains and enjoyed the trip. The cable car took us to the village which has sprung up around the Buddha. This village has an Imax theater and a walk through museum as well as a number of restaurants and souvenir shops. We had lunch and then went to see the Buddha. There are two hundred and seventy two steps to the top level where the Buddha sits. Anita had to wait at the bottom. Her knees aren't up to such a climb. Claire and I made it fine. We took lots of pictures and returned to the bottom where Anita waited in just over a half hour. We even stopped to buy an ice cream under the Buddha.

The return involved a city bus down a very windy somewhat narrow road. The excitement never ends on this trip! No harm no foul right? We then took a ferry from Lantau to Hong Kong Island. There we decided to go up to the top of Victoria Peak again because Anita had bought some T-shirts yesterday which were too small and wanted to get bigger ones. A cab to the Finicula and up we went. Claire had not done this yesterday so it was all new to her. Anita and I were old hands. Actually Anita had been to Hong Kong before and had lived here I believe. After the shirt business we returned down via the Finicula and taxied back to the pier where we took the Star Ferry to Kowloon. A quick stop in a drugstore and back to our home away from home, the Amsterdam.

We had dinner and went to the show. This was a collection of short acts from Hong Kong. There was a pianist and a stringed instrument player (don't ask me what the instrument was, it was not a standard orchestral one - definitely a Chinese invention). Then a dragon show where they had a dragon which was at least twice the width of the stage. Many men in black with poles attached to the dragon danced it around in ways which defied the imagination. The lights were low except for black light which made the dragon flouresce. Really a neat effect. After the dragon there was a guy who wore traditional robes and danced around with a variety of objects and changed masks seemingly by magic. He must have gone through about 20 masks and we could not see him change them. Very impressive.

We were scheduled to debark at 11 PM and were told there would be a special show put on including a 75 foot dragon and lions on the roof of the adjacent terminal building. Claire and I went to Anita and Jack's cabin which happened to be in a good spot to view the show. It was pretty nice. I don't think too many people are sent off by a dragon and lions. It was nice. We all waved to the dancers and drummers as the ship pulled out blowing it's horn (whistle, whatever you call it on a ship). It made for a nice farewell to a town we all agreed was a very special place.

After we had left the dock I went to 6 forward where I had learned to stargaze quite a few weeks ago. From there I took some video of the harbor as we sailed away.

When I returned to my room I found yet another gift! This one is a very nice duffel bag with a collapsable handle and wheels. The card said it was to hold all the gifts we had received so far. I'm hoping for a car on my bed one of these nights! LOL!

We gain an hour tonight. That will make us exactly 12 hours ahead of EST. I guess that means we are half-way around the world in at least one way.

Day 55 Feb 28 (Hong Kong day 1)

Got up at 6:30 AM Really! Barbara said the sail in would be worth it. I'm not as sure but it was a nice view and I did get some pics of the sunrise over a building (I think it actually beat me up but it first became visible over a short-for Hong Kong- building). I then had lots of time for breakfast on Lido before the 9:15 departure of my excursion.

The excursion was pretty good. We went to the Bird Market. This is a street where people not only sell birds and cages but many people also bring their birds in covered cages and hang them up near other birds for socializing. The singing is pretty impressive and perhaps the birds really do enjoy being taken for a walk. Or maybe it is just an excuse for their owners to get out of the house and share time with each other. Perhaps both....

Next, and right around the corner, is the Flower Market. Amazing array of flowers. Shop after shop of flowers of many kinds. At least two good sized city blocks of stores selling flowers. Just walking here is a beautiful experience. Color and fragrance to the max!

Next to a tea shop. We were shown how the Chinese make tea and share it in tiny cups. They preheat the cups and the pot before actually brewing and pouring the tea. It does make a difference. I had read about this but it was more meaningful to see the care with which they go through the steps.

We travelled to Hong Kong Island via the tunnel and went to the Finicula at the base of Victoria Peak. (You have seen this in at least one James Bond movie I'm sure.) At the top we went up several floors to the Deco Cafe, a restaurant, for lunch. I don't know what I ate. I did not eat everything but it was a cosmopolitan menu. We started with a quesadilla. That was good. I skipped the salmon thing. After that I tried the rest of the stuff but can't remember what it was. Mostly things I can't pronounce. This trip has really broadened my range of foods tasted. Most of the time I like the new ones.

After lunch we went to the Stanley Market. This is an amazing labyrinth of stalls in buildings in a neighborhood. I walked for over an hour and didn't cover all of it. It does remind one of the market in Juarez in many ways. Cleaner but just as colorful and with an amazing variety of things to buy. Hong Kong is the cleanest city I have seen in many years. The feeling here is just the opposite of that I had in Manilla. Our guide confirmed this later in the day when she encouraged us to feel safe going out in the evening to shop etc. She said it is a safe city. She did say there might be a pickpocket here or there but if we paid attention for that there was nothing to worry about. A very nice change. Sorry Manilla.

Back to the ship in time for dinner.

We watched the Hong Kong light show at 8 PM. There are lasers and colored lights as well as spotlights on many buildings and they turn on and off and dance around for about 10 or 15 minutes. Many of the lights were on Hong Kong Island and could be seen from our ship. We were told we would be able to hear the music too but couldn't. Too bad. The "show" was interesting but not as spectacular as many seen in Disney World and other places. The music was supposed to make it better so perhaps another time we'll get the full effect.

After changing some money for tomorrow and checking email I called it a night.

Day 54 Feb 27 (Sea Day)

Had to have our temperature taken for Hong Kong today. All of us! Between 8 and 9 AM! You gotta love this. Well, I guess if it keeps SARS from spreading it is worth it but it sure seemed a bit peculiar. We had our temp taken transcutaneously (is that a word? My spell check doesn't recognize it. Hmmm.) as we walked into the room. It took all of about 3 seconds. It took longer to write down the result.

Our last tai chi class today with Lian Sae. She never quite got it together for most of us. A new instructor boards in Hong Kong. Hopefully a better one. Barbara gave her first Vietnam talk at 10. We have three ports and she covered the first two today, Halong Harbor and Da Nang. Then at 11 Aileen Bridgewater and her husband talked about their home in Hong Kong and stuff. Interesting but not too helpful for our travels.

Trivia at 11:45 AM. We won again! Yea! the prize was some nice cards with envelopes in a small cigar box type of box. This is becoming fun and paying off. Hope it continues.

At 2 Mike Millwod talked about China and Hong Kong.

Went to the movie after dinner. Astronaut Farmer of something like that with Billy Bob Thornton in it. Not bad.

Preparation for Hong Kong (we are there two days) before bed. I have an eight hour tour tomorrow.