2021 – I’m sailing again in 2022 – Come with me

Travel with me in 2022

I know we’re not out of this yet, but I remain optimistic.  I have clients at sea, as I write this and one of the most comforting things I have is a text from a client, on my phone, which reads: 

Aug. 20, 2021 Someone tested positive for COVID-19.  They have been removed from the ship and the individuals who were identified through the contact tracing bracelet that we wear were isolated and have all tested negative.  Love the ship and the crew.”

The clients were Connie and Charlie Brown.  I am not making that name up.  He’s real.  The ship was Celebrity Equinox, sailing the Caribbean, out of Fort Lauderdale.  She is a big one, and was about half full, per COVID rules.  It tells me, what I have been feeling in my bones, that cruise ships now are very, very safe places.  They have to be.  It’s their one chance.  I have talked to Connie since they are now back.  She has nothing but praise for ship and crew.  The ship was a lot safer than Florida!

All the cruise lines are booking with money-back guarantees, like we never saw, before 2020.  They want us back, and we want to be back.  I am tired of canceling and re-booking, canceling again and re-booking again, but I’ll keep doing it as long as necessary, until we all get our lives back.  Luckily, there’s good WiFi at sea, now, so I can sail and still take care of my clients, from anywhere in the world.  I take the best care of all, when you are sailing with me. 

So, do please come sail with me in 2022.  My Distinctive Voyages are very distinctive, indeed.  I have Oceania and Crystal.   Come share one with me. 

The Oceania is a repositioning cruise on Marina and quite inexpensive.  There are only Verandahs left, but you can have one for about $3500 per person, double occupancy, plus taxes and fees.  or a suite for about $5000 ppdo, and it’s a 16 day cruise!  Miami to Rome!  Crystal wants about the same amount for only 8 days, but they include even more, never leave North America, and I take you home with me at the end and show you Montreal as only someone who was born here can.  I include private homes, exclusive clubs, local characters, etc. 

Here are the itineraries and links to the cruises on the respective cruise lines’ sites, but please don’t click through to buy.  If you want to travel with me, and get my add-ons and TLC, you have to buy it from me.  It’s the same price and I chase all the sales and such that happen after you buy, so you always get the best deal.  Because these are all Distinctive Voyages, there’s a free cocktail party, a nice shipboard credit or a shore excursion, and whatever I can dream up on each of them. Yacht Club de Monaco, anyone?

Here they are:

 Oceania Cruises 16-days from Miami, Florida, United States to Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy 

Come join me, Tricia Harrold, Pat Gustafson and Mike Desky in March    

Passage to the Old World                 Marina – March 19 to April 4

Mar 19 SatMiami, Florida, United StatesEmbark 1 PM7 PM
Mar 20 SunCruising the Atlantic Ocean
Mar 21 MonCruising the Atlantic Ocean
Mar 22 TueRoyal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda8 AM6 PM
Mar 23 WedCruising the Atlantic Ocean
Mar 24 ThuCruising the Atlantic Ocean
Mar 25 FriCruising the Atlantic Ocean
Mar 26 SatCruising the Atlantic Ocean
Mar 27 SunPonta Delgada (Azores), Portugal8 AM6 PM
Mar 28 MonCruising the Atlantic Ocean
Mar 29 TueFunchal (Madeira), Portugal8 AM5 PM
Mar 30 WedCruising the Atlantic Ocean
Mar 31 ThuMalaga, Spain8 AM6 PM
Apr 1 FriCruising the Mediterranean Sea
Apr 2 SatProvence (Marseille), France8 AM6 PM
Apr 3 SunMonte Carlo, Monaco 8 AM5 PM
Apr 4 MonRome (Civitavecchia), ItalyDisembark 8 AM


8 Night Ocean Cruise From New York City to Québec City | Crystal Cruises on October 13, with Helen’s tour of Montreal at the end

Northeast Gems

4Oct. 16, SunBAR HARBOR, MAINE, USA7:00AM5:00 PM

Shoot me an email or give me a dingle, if any of this interests you. I’d love to sail with you.

Robbie needs staff, too. My very downtown apartment comes with a parking space, a gym and a pool and there’s a Jacuzzi right in the apartment. Let me know if you are interested in vacationing in Montreal. Possible dates include this November, March-April, 2022 coinciding with Miami to Rome, above, June 20 – July 15 or so, 2022, but not coinciding with the Crystal Colors Cruise. That spot is taken.

2021 – Happy New Year House Tour

New Year’s Resolution – Keep last year’s promises.  It’s easier to do than other years.  I’m not all that busy.  Who is?  I promised you a tour of my Montreal condo, once my renovations were done, and they are, and here it is.  I also promised my Montreal friends a party but that I cannot deliver until this nasty COVID beast leaves town, …country, …world….  Welcome vaccine, we can’t have you soon enough. 

My downtown condo is in a building that was once the Mount Royal Hotel.  It was built in 1922 and was Montreal’s largest hotel at the time, doubtless vying with the Ritz as to which was the finest.  The Queen’s and The Windsor were big fancy hotels at the time, too.  Of the four, The Ritz can still lay claim to being Montreal’s finest hotel, as the Queen’s has been demolished and The Windsor and Mount Royal, repurposed.  The Mount Royal consisted of three 12-storey tours on a base that contained an immense ballroom, more meeting rooms, shops, and a number of restaurants and bars.  Its proximity to McGill University, literally one block away, assured its use for university balls and such, and the popularity of its bars.  The Kon Tiki in the basement was THE place to go on a date in my time.  There was dry ice and little umbrellas in the weird colored drinks.  Thrilling. 

This picture is taken from Peel street, at the corner of Mount Royal Place, which is a lane parallel to Ste. Catherine one building width up.  It shows only the south tower.  The north tower is condos, too.  The middle block is now all offices (likely soon to be condos) and the base is “Les Cours Mont Royal”, an upscale fashion mall, attached to Montreal’s underground city, and the reason it was my choice.  I own the top apartment just under the penthouse.  The penthouses were added in 1989 during the condo conversion and are pretty ugly from the outside, palatial within.  Yes, that’s a little balcony that I have, and yes, my ceilings are higher than all the others.  It’s not much to brag about but I’ll take what I can get and I love the high ceilings and the brightness of the apartment.  It faces what Montreal calls west and gets sunlight most of the day.  I also have two north and one south facing window and the really tall buildings are not close enough to shade me. The snow on street and building is real.  This is how it looks from December to May. Yes, I did know what I was getting into.  It won’t be on fire anytime soon. 

So, welcome.  By now you’ve met our doorman and valet, and maybe even our concierge.  There are always at least two of them on duty and they are super guys.  They spoil us rotten.  The elevator has taken you to the 12th floor and you’ve walked half a block to my apartment at the end of the hall.  Come in. 

You can sit down on the Indonesian carved chest at lower left and take your boots off.  There’s a mat to put them on just out of sight.  You’ll recognize Elvon’s Canadian Bartlett prints, and California Redwoods and a couple of my Canadian paintings.  The big white one on the right is new.  It’s a stylized Hong Kong Skyline by Toby Feldmos, who is making a good living selling paintings on the Internet.  You can buy what he has or commission what you want.  I asked for Hong Kong, of course.  He painted it in Tel Aviv, where he lives, and Fed Ex delivered it, framed.  I needed one more modern piece to go with my Zabel and Leona Apps.  Jamais deux sans trois.  The mirror is Tibetan, purchased in Hong Kong, a year ago.  I had been planning on buying a lot more on that trip, but almost all of HK’s wonderful antique shops are no more.  Hollywood Road is a poor shadow of its former self.  I was to find the same true of Notre Dame Street in Montreal.  No one (except me) decorates with antiques anymore, it seems.  More’s the pity.  The hall runner came out of the Megan family house in Notre-Dame de Grâce and is at least 90 years old.  My good friend Robert Lemire had been keeping it for me all these years.  Thank you, Robert.  The apothecary cabinet, Elvon and I bought in Seoul, in 1990-something, and the cloisonne ginger jar, on top of it, came from ma tante Lucienne and mon oncle Ernie’s house, a very long time ago.  If they were alive they’d be about 120.

You can freshen up in the powder room on the left. Some of you will recognize our pictures from the potty party, when we sold the toilets in the Napa Valley Opera House. Some of you are Plumbers’ Helpers. I have not forgotten.

Turning left at the end of the hall you come into the living dining area, which I just love for its openness.  I also love that I can open windows and turn the heat up.  It makes me feel safe with the one person at a time that I can entertain in time of COVID. 

Walk past the red money chest the Mendelsons gave me, thank you, Ralph and Melinda.  There’s a better picture of it coming up.  Continue between Annie and my yoga mat and past the red ginger jar cabinet.  There’s a better picture of that coming, too.  This does give you an idea of the size of the space and why I needed two sofas and a sideboard that I didn’t have.  I got the sideboard online, from a San Francisco antique store, after having Val Lasker take a look at it.  Thank you, Val.  I have the best friends.  Thanks, Deborah Robertson, too, for minding my 5th and 6th dining room chair for me and having matching red cushions made. 

Speaking of cushions, look at the ones my Montreal designer, Andrée Sauter, had made with saree fabric I brought back from Malaysia, when I visited Linda Chew last year.  The fourth one is turquoise.  Aren’t they fun?  One of those sofas is a sleeper, too.  Just sayin’.

The ginger jar cabinet that wouldn’t fit in the elevator, went to Ginger Petty’s garage for a couple of months, until I took my general contractor and his helper over there, one day in February.  With the help of Dennis Douglas, who made the original in Napa to my specs, they were able to remove the drawer assembly.  Then it was able to come home to be re-assembled.  It looks great here, with its new lighting that has a projector right on the Tang dynasty horse, that Bill Benter gave us for a wedding present. 

The rest of the art all fell into place.  The Izzards are gorgeous with bright new frames that really show them off.  The art fell into Canadian groups and Chinese groups and the moderns stand alone, one in each room.

Remember “Wine Wednesday”, the Zabel that I commissioned after finding the artist at a show in Fort Mason, in San Francisco?  It’s much nearer the artist’s hometown now.  She’s from Trois Rivières.  I asked her to make the background the St. Francis yacht club, and the partygoing couples the way you would find them at Fountaingrove Lodge.  Annie, the sculpture, and The Mendelsons’ money chest got face lifts, too.  Here they all are.

I have a functional and kind of pretty little kitchen, too.  I use it a lot these days, with all the restaurants closed.

The master bed room is very comfortable, with its adjustable bed, being watched over by “Educated Women”  a screen I bought, with Ruth Berggren, on Hollywood Road, in Hong Kong in 2007. 

The screen is joined in the bedroom by an antique Chinese armoire, also purchased on Hollywood Road, by Montreal friends, Patrick Brunet and Rosie Morgan.  I’m lucky they decided to downsize.  The armoire is flanked by my third modern painting, “Wraparound” by Leona Apps, which was a wedding present in Hong Kong.  To the other side of the armoire, is my grandfather Megan’s wedding present to my grandmother in 1894.  It’s called “a gallery table”, and it has been in our family for more than a hundred years. 

On to the office where I still spend most of my waking hours, and where I am as I write this.  My back is to the window and the room contains many of my favorite things; the chandelier I bought for the Lodge, “Lahaina Harbour” by G.S. Hill, which I bought on Maui in 1978, Helmut Gerth’s “The Start – PCYC”, Pak Chan’s “Chinese Scholar”, etc.  It also houses my wine cellar.  Look under the desk and in the next picture.

It has an en-suite bathroom, where Robbie pees faithfully in the toilet and lets me clean up the poo he leaves beside.  So, this is where I am going to sleep when you come visit.

The sleeper sofa is very comfortable.  I have slept on it in Santa Rosa.  All’s well.  Do come.  Happy, happy New Year. 

Robbie Meets the Porcelain God – Part 2

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

There’s a new Canadian TV show that got picked up by NBC.  It’s called “Transplant” and is being filmed in Montreal, pretending to be Toronto.  I watched it last night and found it good.  The ER doc and nurse consulting the actors are from my local ER, at the McGill University Health Center.  My friends, Linda and Bev, know them.

Friday, October 23, 2020

It’s working!  Keep your fingers crossed.  All Robbie’s output is hitting its target.  The hole is being enlarged, just a smidge, every day.  Home décor now complete.  Photo shoot done, will publish that here, soon. 

Crystal just canceled its world cruise for Jan-March but I hope to hop on to it, when/if it sails in April and do Vietnam, Myanmar, India, Singapore, Dubai, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, France and England, not necessarily in that order.  It’s disappointing but doubtless safer.  I also have a great fall cruise lined up .  It will be NYC-NYC on the Queen Mary.  See some plays, visit Montreal at the end…possibilities there.  I am so looking forward to Montreal in January to March.  It wasn’t that bad last year, my place is beautiful and it’s three more months of Robbie’s kittenhood, which is pretty exciting.  This armoire is six feet tall: 

Toilet training is going well this week.  Robbie is faithful to the toilet .  Sometimes I have to take the contraption out to see if he has turned the water yellow, as he’s aiming ihis Number One infallibly at the hole.   The lumps still have to be pushed, sometimes by him, sometimes me. 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Robbie and I went to the country for a mini vacation in the country.  I brought both the contraption, and a little litter box.  He’s using the box just fine.  Rats.  Hope this isn’t a setback and that all will be still on track at home. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Well, with just one mistake, where he left a few turds on the bedroom carpet, Robbie has been faithful to the porcelain god.  I get up every morning, lift up the seat and roasting pan, and the water below is dark yellow.  I have to do that, because you can’t tell from on top.  He’s aiming for the hole.  What a champion.  He even eases most of the lumps through the hole.  I enlarge it a bit every day, but just a bit.  I don’t care how long it takes.  It’s already easier than a litter box. 

Just sold three cabins on my NYC-NYC run on Cunard. October 1 – 14 NYC to NYC on the Queen Mary II  https://www.cunard.com/en-us/find-a-cruise/M133A/M133A   The cruise is selling out.  My clients wanted Princess Grill and had to take sheltered balconies with positions on the wait list for better cabins.  We’ll be seeing Broadway shows on one end and I’ll be doing a very special Montreal tour on the other.  Anybody else want on?

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Not a happy morning, or last night either.  My pet project is going  as badly as the US election, which isn’t over yet.  Both yesterday afternoon and this morning Robbie shat in the sink.  I made a great show of moving the lumps to the hole in the roasting pan and flushing them down the toilet.  No treats.  After today’s load, I also added Feliway to the sink to make it smell more like the nest than the latrine.  Mind you, I prefer the sink to the carpet, so it’s a tough call.  Lots of similarities to the US election here, as to timing and content. 

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Still dealing with output in sink and on bathroom floor.  I put some more glue and kitty litter in the turkey roasting pan, cleaned the sink with vinegar and dribbled Feliway into it.  We persevere.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

And we pick up poop on the bathroom floor and run water in the sink.  But some of it gets where it should go.  I am encouraged by the fact that he has just learned how to get kibble out of the treat ball, and it was on the floor a month before the toilet training started.  Eventually, my demos got through.  Hoping for the same, picking up poop. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Not everyone would consider this great progress, but I do.  For a week now, all of Robbie’s pee is in the toilet, most of it without even touching the litter.  He just aims at the hole.  Yesterday, I enlarged it a tad.  Today I watched him do it with his front paws on the toilet seat.  This is a victory.  Now if he would only poo in the toilet instead of beside it. 

Apart from the esthetics, it’s easier to clean the poop up from the floor between the toilet and the shower stall, than it is to get it out of a litter box.  There’s no mess outside the box from furious scraping in a, usually failed, attempt to cover it up.  I just get the scoop under it, toss it in the bowl and flush.  Today I got the bright idea to leave a couple of small turds on the litter pan inside the bowl, as a hint.

Robbie Meets the Porcelain God – Part 1

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Started toilet training for Robbie today.  I used the method in this video:


I was able to skip the first step because he already climbs up on the seat and drinks from all three toilets in the house.  So, I took the office toilet and proceeded to step 2.  Within an hour he had peed in it.  Once I get a poo, I’ll remove the on-floor litter box.  Stay tuned. 

P.S.  Robbie is still 22 days shy of six months. He’s precocious.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Five days into it and everything that comes out of Robbie is found in the litter container inside the toilet bowl.  No litter spread around the place like there always is with a litter box, either.  He is absolutely fabulous.    

In a few more days we go into phase three. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

And I promised to show you how he is growing into his ears: 

      Aug 4 – 3 ½ months        

Oct 4 – 5 ½ months

I sent this to a few cat loving friends and one of them wrote “Way to go, Robbie” and another wrote “Great job, Robbie”..  Everyone’s a punster. 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

When we left our hero, he was using the toilet lined by a turkey roasting pan containing cat litter. 

This morning I switched that one out to one with a hole in it, and flushable litter.  He was very interested.  He was so interested he put his paw down the hole and came up all wet, which quickly got mixed with kitty litter and made a clay mitt of his paw.  Undaunted, he cleaned himself up and a couple of hours later, he rewarded me with a pee, which was actually aimed at the hole.  That got him a nice stinky dried minnow treat.  He is one very good boy.

The plan is to enlarge the hole every three days or so, forcing him closer and closer to the rim, until he sits on it to do his business.  Stay tuned. 

Friday, October 9, 2020

A good friend, who is also a good photographer, told me I needed a white background for pictures of Robbie.  I trust this was what she meant, because it may not be the last of these.  I hope you are suitably impressed.  Note front paw on rim.  One down, three to go.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

By the terms of our crazy Quebec lockdown, Canadian Thanksgiving parties all got canceled, but one person who lives alone, is allowed to receive one guest.  I chose that to read one human guest and both Robbie and I went to my friend, Monique, on Ile Bizard.  Her living room is all patio doors looking out on the back river.  Celine Dion recorded a TV show on her riverside deck, once, long ago.  Squirrels, chipmunks and bird life abound.  Robbie was on safari.  He loved it.  He loved it so much that when we took him outside on the leash, he forgot to dig his heels in, like he did in the halls of Cours Mt Royal,  and just trotted along happily taking it all in.  He’s still using the toilet litter box, with a larger hole in it, too. 

Voting day for me.  I took my ballot to the US consulate, a block and a half from my condo. 

For Robbie, Step 3 continues.  Note the size of the hole in the roasting pan, now, and the nice large turd that just missed it.  It’s a little hard to see.  Look between his right front paw and the hole.  Or, just take my word for it. I don’t think he’s all that happy about sharing this photo, but that’s what you get when you have a faithful scribe.

It’s already easier than the litter box.  I don’t have to vacuum the bathroom after every go.  I just help the solid stuff down the hole and flush.  There’s not that much litter in the game. At least not with Robbie.  He aims at the hole.  I use flushable cat litter and, after the first week, very little of it.  The trainer in the video recommends “Cat’s Pride”.  I couldn’t get it in Canada, so I just bought a local flushable brand. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Today could be a turning point.  I enlarged the hole again and now he doesn’t feel quite safe in the roasting pan.  He mews and gets off the pot.  He showed too much interest in the sink, so I put Feliway in there.  That’s pheromones that make the sink smell like a nest of cats, and there’s a saying about shitting in the nest.  He tried the pot again, but he isn’t happy with it.  Now he has gone off.  Hmmmm   must check the other sinks…

Five hours later…  no evidence of any output.  Either he is aiming so well I can’t tell he’s using it, he’s holding it, or I just haven’t found it yet.  This is disconcerting, to say the least.  I trust he’s not peeing on the sofa or in my bed. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

I woke up with a purring cat in my bed and a succulent turd in the turkey roasting pan in Robbie’s toilet.  He’s used it a lot today.  All’s well.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

All isn’t that well.  There was another turd in the roasting pan in the toilet, but not a big enough to meet my expectations and worse, there was pee soaking the red towel I had put in the basket under my desk return for him to lie on.  So now there’s Feliway in the basket and a small white towel that I can check more easily.  I put more litter in the roasting pan, and went back to school on the Internet, re-watching my video and a couple more. We are moving to clicker training and better rewards.  That was a couple of hours ago.  The litter is still dry and I am watching him like a hawk. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

One of my best friends from High School, the one who wrote “Harvey and Helen” is now ghost-writing for Robbie.  Here’s her contribution:

Hello Everyone –

My name is Robbie and I’m an adorable black kitten with tall ears.  I was recently adopted by a nice lady and now live in a luxurious, spacious condo on the twelfth floor of what used to be an elegant Hotel.  I get cuddles and tickles from the nice lady, with good food and lots of treats to boot.  Life is good except for one thing………..Potty Training. Nobody at the shelter warned me that this was part of the deal.  For a kitten who was used to spending most of the day actually lying in a litter box, to be introduced to a cold white porcelain potty was quite shocking to say the least. Oh yes, there’s a Leash too. The nice lady tried to take me for a walk in the upscale shopping mall downstairs, but I put my paw(s) down for that.  Last weekend we were invited to lunch on Ile Bizard.  We were having a lovely time when out came the leash again. This time I cooperated because we went outside, and I thought I might pounce on some of the abundant wildlife in the area. Not much luck with that.  We went back to my forever home and the dreaded potty.  Rumour has it that the nice lady might be going on a world cruise. By then I should be completely potty trained, and what next? I guess I’ll have to learn to operate  a can opener so that I can survive during her absence.. I love my forever home – I am one lucky kitty !

Purrs from Robbie 

Monday, October 19, 2020

I keep a beautiful crystal salad bowl, with water in it, under the antique Chinese armoire in my bedroom, to keep it from cracking.  The water gets changed when it gets low.  That happens more often now, because Robbie drinks from it, as well as the toilet bowls.  It was low enough this morning that he got in there and peed.  Mercy.  So that crystal bowl went into the dishwasher and another one went under the armoire.  I went downstairs and into the next mall, where the Dollar store is, and bought a couple more turkey roasting pans.  I got my painter, who is in today, to fit one to the toilet, keeping the bottom flatter than the one Robbie has been rejecting.  I went back to a one-inch diameter hole and more litter.  I could hardly get it done fast enough, as Robbie really had to go.  During the switchover, I was pleased to note that the water in the toilet bowl was distinctly yellow, so he has been using it, aiming neatly through the hole, but he obviously didn’t like it.  All’s well again.  We’ll go more slowly now, with claws crossed.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

He woke me up at 7:30 this morning, but I stubbornly stayed in bed until ten to eight.  It wasn’t easy.  He brought a foil ball and his favorite toy (skunk) and batted them around on my back for those twenty minutes.  When I got up and went to look at the litter box in the toilet, it contained both numbers one and two, in quantity.  Methinks the 7:30 performance was a victory dance.  I felt like doing one myself.  I settled for a very good treat (for Robbie.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

No wake-up play this morning but he did fetch skunk and deposit him in my toilet bowl while I was brushing my teeth.  I saved the poor critter.  Robbie is six months old today and had his first teeth brushing, with poultry flavored toothpaste on the tiniest little brush.  He put up with it just fine.  An hour later he rewarded me with a nice dump in his toilet and a couple of pees.  I enlarged the hole just a little.  We’re definitely back on track.  Stay tuned. 

Winter is Coming in Montreal

This year I hit the jackpot of Distinctive Voyage assignments.  I really did.  It’s 139 days, it’s Crystal and it will drop me off in London, where I can see a few plays, if the West End is open, and have just a short flight, by my standards, home to Montreal.  It goes to a lot of my favorite places, like Hong Kong, Singapore, Mumbai, Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Bordeaux, Lisbon, Rome, purr.

Yeah, I know.  COVID isn’t over, so I am not even 100% sure it is going to sail, but, if it is, I will trust Crystal to keep me and every other passenger, very safe.  For Crystal, it’s very well priced, all inclusive, including a 2 night overland experience in Beijing.  Plus, for a limited time, you can reserve without putting a penny down for 90 days, which takes you almost up to sailing.  Think of it as your escape from winter, or time off from care-giving, if that’s your situation.  Elvon enjoyed four world cruises as he worked his way through the stages of Alzheimer’s. The ship was a familiar environment, his meals and social interaction were taken care of, he exercised in the gym with a trainer, and loved just sitting on the deck, when the lectures became too hard to follow.  And he really loved the live entertainment after dinner.  My take-away was the preservation of my sanity.  I highly recommend it.


Drooling but not ready to commit to that long?  There are some very interesting segments you can join me on, like:

For my North American friends on both coasts:  Miami to Los Angeles – 16 nights

West Coasters: Los Angeles to Brisbane(20 nights), Rome(111 nights)  or London (123 nights)

Hong Kongers:  Brisbane to HK (18 nights) HK to Tokyo (12 nights) or Shanghai (24 nights)

Check them out: https://www.crystalcruises.com/voyage-finder?ship-types=Crystal%20Serenity++Ocean

If I haven’t convinced you to come, and you want to spend one of those months in beautiful downtown Montreal in winter, Robbie will be needing staff.  He’s an awfully nice cat, and no trouble at all. 

I mean that last part.  He’s two weeks into learning to use the people toilet and doing very well.  My next blog will deal with that subject.

Return to Asia – Part 6 – Napa Sonoma


Housekeeping:  I am in Montreal, where my WiFi has not been connected and I have no easy access to email.  If it’s important call or text me.  The 707 number is still my main number and will be for a very long time.  Text me for my Montreal home phone, if you haven’t seen a recent email.  Canadians who need to reach me can call the 707 number and just let it ring once.  If your name comes up, I’ll call you back as soon as I see it.  Back to the blog:

It’s still Sunday, January 19, because you arrive before you leave when you come back from Asia.  It’s all about the International Date Line.  Unfortunately, your body doesn’t know anything about that.  It’s just exhausted because you have been up for a hell of a long time.  I was right about the oversized checked baggage having tales.  I waited about a half hour for it with the golfers, waiting for their clubs.  It finally came and one of them wrestled it onto my cart with my pig of a suitcase, and two maxed carry-ons, Roffice and a backpurse.  I managed to roll all that onto the Air Train and arrived at the rental car counter.  Did I tell you the mirror is 35” x 35”, a little bigger with packaging?  I got off at the Rental Car Counters and I had to pee.  But you can’t fit a cart with a 40” square item on it through the door of the restroom, never mind the cubicle.

Luckily, there were only two people ahead of me and the clerk was sympathetic.  Once she had some particulars, she offered to watch my overburdened cart while I went to the rest room.  I had a new best friend.  When I picked up the car, I had another, who volunteered to load the mirror into my back seat.  I gave both of these ladies very nice ratings when Thrifty surveyed me, because neither would accept a tip.

The drive to Napa was uneventful, except for presenting myself at the wrong address on the Mendelsons’ street, but that was no biggie.  Ralph and Melinda’s new Napa house is absolutely charming, just like its owners.  I had my pick of two great guest rooms and what to do about lunch.  I chose the ABC Bakery, which is perfect when you don’t know what meal you’re eating.  I had cornmeal pancakes and bacon.  They were swell.  Melinda had a lunch salad.  We were both very happy.  I try to stay awake all day to reset my body clock, but I had to lie down and meditate for a couple of hours.

I was up for Melinda’s delicious dinner, though.  It was a baked pork chop in a sauce of caramelized onions and pears.  It was a new recipe she had found and it looked pretty easy, as well as being yummy.  Melinda loves to cook, and it shows.  Ralph got a lovely bottle out of his particularly well stocked new cellar, and we were very happy. I went to bed early.  Ya think?

I didn’t get up any too early on Monday, January 20, either.  It was at least noon, when I surfaced.  I was feeling pretty dull, but I ploughed through my email and miscellaneous paperwork and we settled on LaToque for dinner.  I wanted to treat my hosts but the most they would do was let me buy a bottle of white wine to get the corkage waived on their Chateauneuf du Pape.  Melinda helped select a Chenin Blanc from Lang & Reed, the only one grown in the Napa Valley.

It’s a tasting menu at LaToque and always good.  We picked the three items plus dessert option.  They threw in two amuse bouches, including gluten-free options for Melinda.  My choices for tasting were all fabulous.  The black truffle scallop carpaccio was beautiful as well, and I didn’t take a picture.  The agnellis were filled with mushroom duxelles and came in some foamy broth that Ralph and I agreed to soak up with the French bread, like Italian peasants , and we were happy.  Our main was duck, two ways, breast with crispy skin and a little confit.  It had a nice mole sauce.  Melinda picked this, too.  The chocolate concorde dessert was out of this world.  It always is.  I always order it.  Our family has patronized LaToque since its beginning in Rutherford.  Scott Tracy, the original and long-time sommelier, was a friend of Susan’s in L.A. and shared our house with Cathryn one summer, when we were in Montreal.  He wasn’t there, of course, but Becky, the new sommelier, is his female twin.  Watching her walk away, you would swear it was Scott in a dress. BTW, she’s very good.  I hope Scott is mentoring her. She has his great personality, too.

I had been having trouble with the WiFi at Mendelsons’ and wanted to see if it was real or if my equipment was faulty.  So, on Wednesday the 21st I took my computer to the Napa Library.  The Internet was blazing fast.  Then I had a nice Massage with Kirsten, whom it turned out I knew from the wine club at Rust Ridge.  I went back and told Ralph and Melinda to call Comcast and not to put up with a simple reset.  They need a better signal and probably a repeater.  It will save them hours and hours in long haul.  We ate in again.  Melinda is amazing.  The pork chop may have looked easy to me, but this paella did not, though she said it was.  Ralph is very spoiled. It tasted as good as it looked, too.20200121-01NapaMelindasPaella

On Wednesday morning, I had a blueberry muffin and a hot chocolate at ABC with France Scott, so we could catch up and trade gossip.  Here’s someone I know I will see in Montreal.  She and Terry go (come?) there every year.  Then I went to the library for my WiFi, as we had play planned for the afternoon.  We were going to Viader to pick up my last wine club shipment and have a taste.  We were happy they were closed Tuesday, as Wednesday was by far the better day.  Wednesday had lots of sun.  Tuesday had none.  Viader was delightful, as usual.  Jennifer Lee, our host, enjoyed talking to Ralph, who faced the same grape growing challenges at Pedregal as Delia faced on Howell mountain, steep and rocky.  These properties are difficult to work, but they make the best wine, because the grape vines have to work hard, too.  Somehow that concentrates the flavors and both Pedregal wine, now made by Ramey, and Viader, are delicious. Viader won “best boutique winery in the Napa Valley” again in 2019.

We had dinner at Celadon with Ruth Berggren and Kathy and Dave Fitzgerald.  You’ll need to pass the crow.  I want a big helping.  No sooner did I tell you that my friends didn’t think China would move in, when they did.  Dave flew in the day I left and found about 200 Red army troops in Chater Square.  That should discourage the protesters.  It was nice being with this group of favorite people again and Celadon doesn’t disappoint.  I had just got through their enormous lamb shank, washed down with Viader, and a rich hazelnut chocolate dessert, when I felt funny.  My pulse was racing and it wasn’t all that regular either.  I waited about 15 minutes for it to go away and it didn’t.  I confided in Ralph, who has some experience in these matters, but he thought I was just making idle conversation and gave me a fifteen minute dissertation on the merits of the Mayo Clinic, which, of course, is THE place to go.

It had now been a half hour and I was getting concerned, so I shared with the rest f the group.  We decided to call for the check, and repair to Mendelsons’ house, where there was a blood pressure cuff.  After about another hour and a half, during which time it remained alarmingly high, despite everyone’s best advice being tried, Melinda told me to get in the car, she was taking me to the Queen.  Now the Queen of the Valley Hospital just happens to be a cardiac trauma center, and they take their role seriously.  They put a little cuff on your finger while you are giving them your name and date of birth.  We never got past that.  All of a sudden, I was on a pallet in the ER being hooked up to a heart monitor, IV and ECG.  The doc came right in, asked a few questions and ordered something to be put in the IV to bring my heart rate down.  It was way up there.  The nurse went off to get the liquid and loaded it into a syringe to add to the IV.  As she was rounding the bed to do that, the heart monitor started to report that it was back to normal.  Just like that.  All by itself.  I guess it didn’t want to be messed with.

It took another hour of watching, and now dealing with the accounting, before they unhooked me and sent me home, with the admonition to have it checked as soon as I got to Montreal.  If that weren’t bad enough, they proscribed, among other things, my two favorites, alcohol and chocolate.  Here I was planning to drink my best wine, with my friends in Santa Rosa where I had left it.  Bummer.  By this time it was about three am and Melinda was happy to drive me home.  I was so glad to have had her calm loving presence in the hospital.  I will be eternally grateful.  BTW, not only is Melinda a wonderful friend, she’s an AOPi sister, too, as is Kathy, for that matter.  We got to bed around 4:00 am and I turned out my light well after 4:30.

On Wednesday, the 23rd, I bid fond farewell to the Mendelsons, leaving them some of the Viader as a gift and some for us to drink together next time.  They are fabulous hosts and I hope they do come to the Grand Prix in Montreal this summer.  They have first dibs on it.  I was supposed to be having a day in the City on my way to Santa Rosa.  It included a haircut with Addison, lunch with the Laskers, hotel research for Irene Lam, and dinner with Chris and Larry Silver. The alarm went off at 8:30 am.  I got up, assessed the situation and went back to bed.  Two hours later, at 10:30 am, I brought the phone to bed with me and cancelled/rescheduled that stuff and my dinner at Fountaingrove Lodge.  I made a new dinner plan, too.  It was a quiet dinner at a very good Japanese restaurant, Hana in Rohnert Park, with just one friend, Geri Randall.

Over dinner we solved the problem of how to keep my American phone number, for the convenience of my friends and clients, and because American plans are better and cheaper than Canadian ones.  I would just become another phone on Geri’s new plan with Xfinity.  With unlimited data, that was only going to be $45/month.  Looks like a deal. I’ve been paying T-Mobile about a hundred.  I happily checked into Fountaingrove Lodge’s guest room around 9:30 pm and slept very well.

The next morning, Thursday the 24th, I was busy.  I had breakfast in the Dining Room, with the breakfast club and Pat Gustafson, who came especially for me.  Then I got to work.  There’s no Internet to speak of in the room, but it’s next door to a good friend and client, Mike Donigan, so I called him to ask for his password.  Meanwhile I had a lot to do on the phone.  I thought I had arranged for my medical records, ECG and blood tests from Wednesday night, to be sent to the Lodge fax, but they hadn’t come, so I started to chase them by phone.  I called the ER where I had gone to request them.  I actually got the same clerk I had at 6:00 pm the night before.  These people work long hours. She apologized profusely because she hadn’t known she had to have me sign a release.  I didn’t like the idea of driving back and forth to/from Napa, again. It’s an hour and a half each way.  I had her check for another way, and there was.  They could fax them directly to the McGill Medical Center.  That was a relief.  And so it was done.

Comcast had satisfactory answers about Geri’s plan, which works in Canada, the USA and Mexico, with free calls.  So I asked them what she had to do, communicated same to her, and she did it.  I was good to go.

I called Air Canada to advise them I would be traveling with oversized luggage, but their phone answered with a recorded message in two languages by some Air Canada executive named L’oignon.  The onion said that they had just put in a new system and were experiencing higher call volumes than usual.  These things are related?  Anyway, they weren’t putting any calls on hold and I should call back within 24 hours of my flight.

God bless Steve Harrold, who, I am happy to report, is now in full remission from stage IV cancer.  Anyway, Steve agreed, in exchange for an In ‘n Out Burger lunch, to accompany me around on my calls, so I could be able to make calls etc. and, well, we could have a visit.  We prefer it over a bottle of Rescue Red after dinner, but I’m not allowed to drink at the moment.

Lunch was great.  I don’t even like burgers, but I like In ‘n Out’s Flying Dutchman, with grilled onions.  It has lots of cheese and no bun at all.  We planned our route while we finished the fries and ketchup.  First stop, Xfinity.  They have a very inadequate store, understaffed for how long everything takes.  It was less crowded than it was in November, though, and they got to me after about a half-hour.  No problem with putting me on Geri’s plan.  I had a few more questions and got more satisfactory answers, so I had him start the port to Xfinity from T-Mobile.  While it was porting, I decided I needed a little reassurance about roaming charges.  I expected them in the rest of the world, but not in Canada nor Mexico.  I was wrong.  They charge for roaming and they charge plenty.  I don’t just want to call Canada free from the USA, it’s that I want to call the USA from Canada.  And I likely want to do it every day. I said I was sorry, but could he please stop the port, I was sticking with T-Mobile, where I roam free in Canada and Mexico, and pretty cheap all over the world.  I would not always be making WiFi calls, and I would be using Google Maps.

On the way to T-Mobile, we discussed putting my phone on Steve and Trish’s T-Mobile plan, if that’s possible, because I am paying for two lines at the moment and I only need one.  It’s a question for T-Mobile before it becomes a question for Trish, who owns the plan.  The guy at T-Mobile was really good.  He understood easily and was ready to help.  The Harrolds’ plan is only for 2 people, just like mine, so I would have to just reinstate mine.  However, I could now eliminate one of the lines.  I guess the rules changed.  So, I am using Geri’s address and she can join me on my plan, which is being billed to her address anyway.  They don’t seem to care that my credit card is being billed to Canada.  For now, I just have the one line.  My other phone has a cheap Canadian plan for use only in Canada.  See my email signature for the numbers.  So, all’s well, but it took most of the afternoon.

We just had time for one more stop before dinner and it was Chase Bank, to empty out my safety deposit box and change my address.  I made it to Leona’s on time for gingerale and nibbles before dinner with them and George and Manny and Toby.  Pat Jordan is still battling pneumonia that she has had since mid-December.  My best wishes for a speedy recovery.  I  went back to the guest suite and did emails until 1:00 am, catching up from my own bout in the ER.

Luckily, Addison, who cuts my hair, works Saturday and had a 3:00 appointment for me when I cancelled on Wednesday.  I went to the Laskers for a quick visit and found Ruth there.  The four of us had a nice pissaladière/focaccia type thing and caught up, and I was off.  Frank and Paula Schultz met me for a half-hour at Boulange, which is a French bakery, next door to Addison.  It was short but keeping in touch with one’s good friends is what life is all about.  Maybe they will come to Montreal soon and we’ll have more quality time. Frank scared the bejaysus out of me, though.  He didn’t think the hospital should have released me without a drug, like Eliquis.  What if the a-fib came back and I have a stroke?  Since my father had one of those and lived the last six years of his life, paralyzed down one side, I was spooked.

I got a very nice haircut from Addison, while we talked about Hong Kong the whole time.  Addison is Chinese, you see.  I made it back in time for drinks at Steve and Trish’s.  Too bad I never saw her texts about having had two cancellations for dinner, or I could have filled the spots.  There are so many people at the lodge that I love to eat with.  Rich and Oki were healthy, though and joined us.  They are so very nice.  The conversation took a morbid turn, though, as three residents died while I was in Asia, and they were all ones that we really liked.  We analysed all three situations and decided the two cancer patients, who were in a lot of pain, David Averbuck and Larry Ray, were in a better place, but Ted Johnson, who shocked everyone, had the better death.  He died in his sleep, with no warning.  I had to ask that we change the subject because I probably wouldn’t sleep all night if it went on any longer.  As it was, I couldn’t and ended up taking an Advil-PM at one-thirty.

I had work on my emails until 11:30 pm, thanks to Nationwide Insurance, who are driving me nuts, cancelling, reinstating, opening new policies, threatening me with collection because I haven’t paid bills I haven’t seen, etc.  Cross-border moves are the pits.

I spent Sunday morning with my neighbor, Mike Donigan, going over shore excursions for his trip to China in April and getting them into a Tripit, to consolidate all his information.  I sure hope the coronavirus is under control by then.  Wuhan is where the three-gorges river cruise boards.  We, and Viking and Allianz Insurance, all have a watching brief on that.

The post office had not managed to change my address to the Lodge main address, as I had requested, so I put in a call to the guy who is living in my apartment to ask if he had any.  While I was waiting for him to call me back, I went up to see Pat and Mike, to look at the wine they were keeping and discuss its disposition.  I was still nervous as a cat about the a-fib business, and checking my pulse every ten minutes.  Mike is a doc and they have a blood pressure cuff, too, so we took it, and it was high, but not alarming.  We sat and talked about what to do about my mail.  They volunteered to get it from my apartment’s new resident and keep the good stuff for me.  I love my friends.  I put the cuff on again and my blood pressure wasn’t far off normal for my age.  One hundred plus your age over anything under 100 is Mike’s rule.  While I am dispensing medical factoids, I did get something from the doc at the Queen.  If I go into a-fib again, I can probably get rid of it by bearing down hard, as if I were pooping a hard one.  Nice.  His other suggestion was to plunge my face into a bowl of very cold water.  I’ll try the pooping idea first.

Back in the guest room, I opened the one piece of mail that the concierge had, and it was a $1,000 check form Nationwide, who are not ALL bad.  They had received a settlement from PG&E after winning a class action suit for the 2017 fires.  It was our deductible.  So, instead of going to the gym, as planned, I went to the bank to deposit it.

At 6:00 pm, I was back in Pat and Mike’s apartment with Susan Harris, gathering for dinner out, at Lacoco’s.  Lacoco’s is an old Italian restaurant in downtown Santa Rosa that Mike introduced us to during the fires.  I was treating and I got away cheap, as we shared Calamari and gnocchi ala gorgonzola for the appetizer and Pat and Mike shared vial piccata, while Susan and I had lasagna.  It was all good and it was nice to be just family.

I went to bed early, as I had to get up at 2:30 am to make an 8:00 am flight, after checking in the 40” square albatross.  Air Canada still had not deigned to speak with me, even when I was within 24 hours and their web site didn’t have a place to collect for oversized baggage.  I had checked in as if I had two suitcases and a surfboard and paid $114.95, so I figured I was OK, but it might take a bit of sales talk.  I couldn’t take a pill because I had to drive at 3:30 am, but I was so sated by the carb and cheese heavy meal, that I figured I could sleep if I went straight to bed in that state.  It worked and I got five good hours of sleep before the alarm went off at 2:30 am.

I was out by 3:38 am and there was no traffic to speak of.  Even with the rental return, and air train, I was checking in by 5:30 am.  I went into my sales pitch and it was easy.  So easy that I don’t think I even needed to pay the $114.95 for the oversized baggage, after all.  But, it was non-refundable, so it’s paid.  Still cheaper than United.

I lucked out on the plane and the middle seat is free.  My row mate is happy, too.  There is no food except the terrible for purchase stuff.  The only pieces I can tolerate have chocolate in them, so I am requesting tomato juice and planning on Chalet BBQ when I get to Montreal.

Return to Asia – Hong Kong – Part 5

Monday, January 5:  You can really take me with a grain of salt.  No sooner do I write a paragraph about China being able to just stand by and watch HK self-destruct, when China does something.  It has sent in a trouble-shooting envoy to replace, Wang Zhimin, the very unpopular one, who was here.  The new envoy is Luo Huining, and he has zero experience in Hong Kong, but a ton in settling disputes in other parts of China.  He was on the retirement path of a cushy head-office job for five years.  Just a few days into it, he was called for HK duty.  He wasted no time meeting with Carrie Lam, HK’s chief executive and giving her marching orders to restore order and do something about the terrible living conditions for the poor that are likely at the root of it.  Watch this space ten days later.

I was reading the SCMP, while having the Conrad’s lovely brunch, of course.  I had managed to have just scrambled eggs most days on the ship and was determined to continue, so I had them again, even though there were lots of temptations, like this char siu bao.  OK, so I added it.20200105-01HongKongConradCharSiuBao

I had a lot of travel work to do and plenty of days in HK, so I mainly worked and went to the gym.  Soon enough, it was time to go meet Lloyd Chao for dinner at the HK Country Club.  Lloyd had been snagged by Vivian and Kenny Wan, who were having dinner with their three sons, when they saw Lloyd, so they ended up adopting both of us.  This time of year, the kids are home from their International schools and universities abroad and tables of families abound.  Tables of families abound all the time in Hong Kong, just now, the families are complete.  The country club was packed.  It’s in Deepwater Bay, which is an affluent suburb of HK, near to other affluent suburbs, like Stanley, Tai Tam, Ap Lei Chau, etc.  The people there aren’t going to Central for dinner anymore, especially on Sundays, when the protesters are active.  They just do the little short drive to the Country Club, where they lament about the state of Hong Kong.  The protesters have talked past the sale and now they are damaging the economy.  That is not the Hong Kong way.

I got to meet Lloyd’s 89-year-old mother, she who wrote “Remembering Shanghai” a couple of years ago.  They are now making it into a TV series.  I’ll let you know when you can watch it.  There’s a lot of material.  It should be good and Lloyd is in that business.  While he was waiting with me for my taxi back to Central, I had to step aside so a fan could have her picture taken with him.  The only good thing I can see about the protests, is that they sure have cut down on the traffic.  There are no more long taxi queues and no traffic to speak of once you get your taxi.

Monday, January 6, I decided it was time to get going on my Chinese furniture project.  I had been warned that there were not the number of furniture stores and antique shops that there used to be, but I figured surely Shoeni must still be in business.  Some of Elvon’s and my best stuff came from there.  Google Maps still had the place on Old Bailey street, just above Lan Quoi Fong, where I remembered it.  I took a tram and made for the Mid-Levels escalator.  That didn’t do me much good, as they were refurbishing the first section, from Queen’s Rd. to Hollywood Road and that was the part I needed.

So, I trudged up the hill, walked a block to Old Bailey Street and trudged up some more, quite a lot more, actually.  And, it wasn’t there.  I saw the place I think it was, but no Schoeni.  I found one antiques shop on Hollywood Rd. but it didn’t have any big stuff.  I walked back down Pottinger Street and made my annual pilgrimage to the lanes, for a red copy watch and some souvenirs, as gifts for friends back in my other two homes.  I got back with time to go to the gym and clear my email, before it was time to go to The Dynasty Club, for dinner with my McGill Society friends, Elizabeth Law, Paul Chan, Anna and Yuk Shan Wong, Thomas Shek and Lily Chu.

I decided to walk to The Dynasty Club, which I remembered as being closer to the Conrad than it is.  Google said it would take 18 minutes, but I managed to make it take three-quarters of an hour.  I had on the shoes that Mary told me to throw out in Dublin.  She’ll be glad to know they never stepped out of the Conrad again, at least not on my feet.  They were very sore feet by the next morning.  I was just twenty minutes late for dinner.  It was a delicious dinner.  Thomas really knew how to order and we had the place to ourselves.  That was not good.  Not good for the Club, not good for the economy, not good for Hong Kong.  Elvon belonged to that Club and I never saw it empty, back in our day.  I realized what a tribute it was for these people to have come out.  It was fun to catch up with my good old McGill friends, all of whom are younger than I am.  I have a card to photograph and send to Ernie Scalberg, too.  YS wanted to be remembered.  You’ll find him in this picture, Ernie.  20200106-01HongKongMcGillElizabethLawAnnaWngHelenYSWongThomasShekPaulChan

Small world, Hong Kong.  They talked about the protests, and, for the third night in a row, I heard how much everyone wants it over, and how they worry.  The press is not being fair to the police, who, they are convinced, are not exercising police brutality.  Au contraire, they need to use more force.  The protesters are the ones who are brutal and they need to stop and be content, at least for now, with what they have won.  China won’t step in because that’s what the US wants.  They wouldn’t be surprised if the protests were US funded, at least the mercenaries, anyway.

YS drove me home to the Conrad, which was a good thing, as I could hardly walk by the end of dinner.  (The shoes, not the booze.) I applied liberal amounts of liniment to my ankles and slept like a baby.  On Tuesday, the 7th, I could barely make it to the bathroom.  My left ankle loosened up enough to get me down to the buffet but I knew I had better put it up for at least a day or two.  I went furniture shopping on the Internet.  At least, I tried to find the places in Hong Kong that might have what I wanted.  The stuff was all over the place twenty five years ago.  I googled Schoeni again, this time straight Google, not Google Maps.  Its own web page told me it was closed temporarily.  I don’t see it opening again any time soon in the Hong Kong of today.  There was plenty of work to do on my computer and I could do it from my bed, with my feet up and the best view in the world. 20200108-01HongKongConradFeetUp

I also took a taxi to the Grand Hyatt to meet the Apps for dinner. Vic and Leona’s daughter, Claire, was in town for the holidays.  She’s now a producer/director in LA.  I remember when she made her first film in HK, 25 years or so ago.  The Grand Hyatt has an amazing buffet, and it, at least, was full.  Claire is a vegan, and there was plenty there for her to eat, but it wasn’t the exotic stuff the rest of us had.  I ate lobster two ways, chilled with seafood sauce, and hot, Chinese style with ginger and shallots, crab, sushi and sashimi, foie gras, braised short ribs, and three desserts, a mille-feuilles, a charlotte rousse and bread pudding with crème anglaise.  I missed the lamb, duck, suckling pig, chicken, 15 hot vegetable dishes, and who knows how many salads.

The Apps have retired in Hong Kong.  They bought an apartment across the road from The American Club in Tai Tam.  Their son Vic, Jr. lives here too, now, and they keep a flat in London. I am hoping to see them in Montreal, soon, along with the Wongs and a lot of other HK friends.  I have a lot of payback to do.  I should let you know I am not quite the sponge I appear to be here.  I brought very good wine to most of my dinners, Stags Leap Cab Sav, 2014, to be exact. Watson’s Wine shop isn’t giving it away either.  I didn’t, mind you, try to compete with David Pong’s wine cellar.

Wednesday, January 8, my ankle was still swollen, and I still had plenty of work to do, so I did it in bed again.  It’s such a luxury to be able to.  So far, I am having the kind of holiday you have at the seaside, doing your writing and such with your feet up, with the occasional stare at the ocean.  I like this better. I have it all, including the ocean, the most beautiful city view I know, and lovely friends for dinner every night.  This is my idea of a holiday.  I’m just a city girl.  It comes with tea in the Executive Lounge, too, where I undo all the good the scrambled eggs do me.  It’s the scones and clotted cream kind of tea.

Dinner was at the FCC, with my Mensa friends, Simon Clennell, Don Meyer and Cindy Kwok.  Caroline Mo, came, too.  We drank the Stags Leap, among other things.  I got to eat calf’s liver and we all went home a lot earlier than we did back in the day.  So good to catch up, with the friends still living in HK.  Simon and Delia might be going back to the UK at some point, though.  He has inherited his dad’s house in the country and is starting to fancy himself a country squire, pottering around the garden and all.  We’ll see about that.

My ankle was showing improvement, but I worked from my bed again on Thursday, January 9, and, for the first time, I didn’t have a lunch or dinner engagement.  I got a lot of travel work done, some moving related work and I finished my log for Distinctive Voyages, from which this blog stems, when I am at sea.  I thought I would take a tram into Causeway Bay for dinner alone, but I worked so late, I thought I’d just stay in the Pacific Place Mall.  I bought a pair of shoes to replace the ones that did my ankle in.  They’re too wide, of course, but they lace.  I ate at Yè Shanghai, choosing a starter and two dim sums.  The starter was chicken, glass noodles and peanut sauce and I loved it, after I picked the cucumber out.  Then I had Shanghai dumplings and pot stickers.  I washed it all down with a San Mig and went home to bed.

Friday the 10th, I was still in the room working, but I was back at the desk, where I can work faster.  It’s interesting how often they interrupt you, to make up the room, bring fruit, or try to turn it down at 4:30pm.  They have an uncanny way of knowing when I am on the toilet. too.  It almost never fails.  I am still spoiling myself with tea and scones and it has to stop.  I bought myself a new outfit, 60% off. It’s a size 12, and just barely closes at the waist.  I took my purchases up to my room and came back down for dinner. The mall is practically deserted at every time of day.  There’s no traffic when I look down at the city’s main thoroughfares.  It’s wrong, very wrong.  I don’t like it a bit.  I want the hustle bustle back.  You can get into usually busy restaurants without a reservation, too.  I picked Hom10, a Sushi Bar.  That’s a good choice for a single.  You order your food by the piece and quit when you’ve had enough.  I went through $600HK worth and I only had one beer.  I wanted warm sake but I would have had to buy the whole bottle.  The food was excellent, though.  I was very happy.

On Saturday the 11th, I went to the gym right after breakfast because I didn’t know when Don Meyer’s lunch would be over, and he had offered to escort me to their home in the New Territories.  Don’s lunch was over by two something and my ankle was well enough for me to walk over to the Admiralty MTR station to meet him.  I bought an Octopus card, and the clerk asked me if I was over 65.  Since I am one of the very few people in HK with grey hair, it wasn’t much of a stretch.  I asked her if she wanted to see proof and it’s a good thing she didn’t because that would have queered the deal, which is only for HK residents.  Anyway, I put down $HK50 and seeded it with $HK20, and for less that ten bucks, $6.40 of which is refundable, I went all over town and have plenty to use again next time.  I’m paying $HK2 per ride.  There are 7.8 HK dollars in a US dollar, so, a quarter.  Taxis are cheap because they are competing with this.

We rode the MTR to the end of its line and got on a train for a couple more miles above ground.  Then we hopped a minibus, because it’s straight up to Don and Cindy’s house, and I mean straight up.  It’s some hill, and it’s a one lane road, which is quaint with high rise buildings all around.  Don and Cindy live on the 4th floor of a low rise near the top of the hill.  It’s the top floor.  For HK, it’s a very spacious apartment, probably about the size of mine.  They overlook a ravine and you’d swear you were in the country, if you didn’t know better.  They have an adorable Pekinese rescue dog named “Jolie” and I only heard her bark once, and that was when we came in.  A “Hello”, really.

I was planning to take Don and Cindy out for supper in their ‘hood, but it turned out way better.  Between our planning on Thursday, and Saturday, they were invited to Cindy’s nephew’s 31st birthday party.  It’s a typical Chinese family thing.  Everybody’s birthday gets celebrated, so they all get together a couple of times a month, always at least three generations.  I was just going to go back to the Conrad, but somehow, while I was sitting there, I got invited, too.  I love these things to pieces, 16 people around a big table with a lazy susan full of fabulous food that just keeps coming.  The Kwok family has three or four favorite restaurants.  This one was called “Honorary Family” and it was huge.  They put up a lot of divisions, though, so we had a sort of room of our own.  It overlooked the fish tanks and we had these local lobsters.  20200111-03ShatinHonoraryFamily

We also had suckling pig, squid, crab, scallops, chicken, pigeon, BBQ pork, sweet and sour pork, steamed garoupa and a lot of veggie dishes which I managed to ignore.   I met Cindy’s parents and her sisters, Patty, who works for Manulife, and Alice, who hosted because Erin, the birthday boy, was her son.  Patty’s delightful daughter was there, too, home from school, and about 5 young men, who were brothers and friends, but I kept getting them mixed up.  It was totally fabulous, and I loved every yummy minute.  More people who can come visit me, as long as they don’t all come at once.

Sunday the 12th the main event was lunch.  I have readers who tell me they put weight on just reading my blogs.  You can well imagine what it’s doing to me.  I brought 2 bottles of Stags Leap to this one, because I knew it was going to be over the top.  My hosts were my HK family, the Lams, all present and accounted for, too.  Jackie and her daughter, Amanda, home for the holidays, picked me up at the Conrad and we added Allan from his office.  Alwin and Agnes and Chi Wai and Isabella were already there.  We didn’t wait for Kyung Jin and Natasha, because they were at Natasha’s choir practice and we knew they’d be late.  This brunch buffet was about the same size as the Grand Hyatt’s dinner, if not bigger.  Lobster, crab, marinated salmon, oysters on the half shell, clams, mussels, everything on four legs except the table, everything that flies through the air except the airplane, everything that swims in the sea except the submarine.  The most impressive thing was probably the tomahawk, a very interesting cut of beef, in which the bare bone is the handle and axe shaped part is the meat.  It was like roast beef only more tender than you have ever had.  20200112-03HKCCAllanTungIsabellaKyongJinChiWaiAmantaTAlwinIreneNatashaJackieAgnesHelenWe wanted for nothing, and when Jackie’s birthday cake came out, no one had any room for it.  So, she took it home.  Momentai. (That’s Cantonese for “no problem”).   Again, we talked about universities, as the younger generation gets close.  Amanda is already there.  Again, we’re on the side of the HK police.  The protesters lost most HK people when they persisted past the concession.  They don’t know how to win and no one respects that.

After lunch Chi Wai dropped me off at Horizon Plaza, where I would have the best chance of finding furniture for my apartment.  It’s a 28 story mall, if you can imagine that.  Most of the stores are either fashion outlets or furniture and décor.  There are only two specializing in Chinese antiques.  I found something suitable for a reasonable price but the shipping charges were twice the price of the buffet.  I could have added a bunch of other stuff for the same price, but I’m not in the furniture retail business.  I went home and started taking a long look at Alibaba.

After that lunch I was able to break the tea habit.  I almost broke the supper habit, too.  Around 6:30pm, I went to the Executive Lounge for Happy Hour.  They had a nice variety of hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, and it worked just fine.  It also had an interesting looking single man, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.  We exchanged a couple of words and went out separate ways.  I spent some more time furniture shopping on the Internet.

Monday the 13th, I finally submitted my report to Distinctive Voyages, the first time ever I have met the 14 day deadline for that process.  I just knew that if I didn’t get it done in HK, it would be setting the opposite record.  Once I am in California and Montreal, there won’t be any free time to speak of.  As it is, I sleep more than ever, and just dealing with email takes about three hours a day.  Yes, yes, I know there’s travel work mixed in there, and it all gets done, but it doesn’t leave that much for projects, décor shopping, etc.  So a bunch of stuff got done and I went to the gym, and I stayed away from tea, in favor of happy hour.

My fella came in again and I offered the other seat at my table.  He was meeting his business associate but sat down with me while he waited.  We got along like a house on fire.  He’s very funny.  When his colleague arrived, he introduced me as his sister and the guy believed it.  No wonder I thought he was good looking.  We really do look like each other.   He lives in Shanghai, and for all I know he has a wife and six kids, but a little spark among friends is a nice thing.  So, next time I’m in Shanghai.  Yeah, right.

Now come a couple of days of both lunch and dinner, when I am lucky to get through my emails and go to the gym.  Tuesday I hopped a tram in front of the Conrad and got off at the China Club for lunch with Joachim Isler, who started off as a friend of Cathryn’s and became a friend of our family.  He now has a wife and a son and is into this new phase in his life.  We all change.  Except the China Club.  It doesn’t.20200114-01ChinaClubLunch I spent another hour and a half doing research on which tram I would need to meet the Apps at the Crowne Plaza for the races on Wednesday night.   I did it by taking the first one that came and when it didn’t turn, I got off and took a different one.  Surprise, surprise, the one marked Happy Valley stopped right in front of the hotel.  I just stayed on it and it took me back to the Conrad.

There I freshened up and changed for dinner and a little junk trip in the harbor.  It’s a tourist package that I had never done, but a few people, including Dr. Sue, had told me it was great.  The weather was fine, my friend, Mabel Lam, was agreeable, and off we went.  The restaurant is Hutong on the top floor of a high rise facing the water from the Kowloon side.  When it first opened it was fine dining.  I wouldn’t call it that anymore, but it was decent, and they kept us to our time schedule.  It wasn’t hard, because the tourist trade is so down that there were less than ten of us in the restaurant, who were going on the junk.  So, the junk sold to all comers at the pier and I probably could have got it a lot cheaper, but it didn’t matter.  It was a fun evening and we did see a lot of pretty lights, while sipping our wine.  20200114HKAquaLunaMabelLamHelen

Mabel and Ramon are nearing retirement age and they likely will retire in Hong Kong, too.  She’s from Vancouver and he’s from New Zealand.  They have one kid settled in Canada and one in Australia.  Mabel’s mom, who has Alzheimer’s, is back in Hong Kong, in a flat in Taikoo Shing, with a caregiver.  It’s a nicer, cheaper option than a memory care place, and when she’s done, Ramon and Mabel will still own the apartment.  Mabel takes over the care-giving role one day a week, on the maid’s day off.  Her mom doesn’t know her anymore.  Terrible bloody disease that.

Another morning, another breakfast with the South China Morning Post.  On January 15th, its lead headline was: “Lam U-Turn hands billions more to poor and elderly”.  Mind you $1.7 billion of it will lower the age to get $HK2 rides on public transportation.  The rest is for housing and subsidies for those waiting for it, more public holidays, government payments to provident fund for those who don’t earn enough to be paying in and a policy of listening more to the people.

SCMP, also on Page 1: “Police could get stun guns or net weapons to subdue protesters”   Now refer back to mine of January 5, about Carrie Lam’s interview with Luo Huining

Also, according to today’s SCMP, the US and China are in a “cold war over the artic”.  I read the full-page article and Canada wasn’t even mentioned. It has to do with trade routes, which are opening up, thanks to Global Warming.  China is already heavily invested in Iceland and Greenland.  We saw that last summer and I expect to see it on my next two cruises.  China is taking over by investment.  Russia is accepting.  I wonder where Canada stands.

Plus, there’s a half page article about HK parents sending their children to Singapore’s bilingual schools.  Next thing you know, HK people will be moving there.  They are probably already buying the apartments.

This time it was Agnes Lam who picked me up for lunch.  I was out waiting ten minutes early, as no Lam family member is ever late.  This was different, after there having been no traffic in HK for months, there was this lunchtime, and it was all around the Conrad and the Shangri La, next door.  We are getting close to Chinese New Year and the lunches have started, it seems.  We were a good half hour late for lunch and it was a busy restaurant, so Agnes just phoned it from the car and ordered.  The restaurant was Lei Garden in the International Finance Centre and this was the Lam ladies lunch.  Remember the restaurant.  They had all the usual Cantonese lunch items, but what was special was they nailed each one.  Everything was done to perfection, so the chicken was crispy but still moist, the green things were bright green, the dumplings were of a perfect consistency, and so on.  The daan tart was to die for.  In my case it will be to diet for, soon.

I went straight back to the Conrad and called Oriental Home in Horizon Plaza and said I wanted the Tibetan mirror. I figured I could take that on the plane with me.  Agnes had surprised me with a tea box gift that was pretty heavy but could be packed easily with the mirror.    I should have done this the day before, but on spec, I sent an email to my old friend who used to give me the horse race tips.  I hadn’t connected with him in years, but I knew he was doing it again, from the 2018 Bloomberg article.  Then I went to the gym and got ready for the races.  Since I was going by tram, I had to leave early.  I checked my email, nothing.  Off I went.

The Apps were standing outside the Crowne Plaza when I got there ten minutes early.  We were still waiting for John Ball.  We waited about a half hour.  Vic called him, no answer.  Finally, Leona and I walked to the American Club box.  About ten minutes later, Vic and John came in.  He had been dozing in the lobby of the hotel and somehow, they had missed him.  Anyway, we had a blast.  Our fun was enhanced by having the entire box to ourselves.  It was actually a joint American Club – Hong Kong Golf Club box.  And we had it to ourselves.  It was never like that before.  So we hooted and hollered and had a ball.  I, of course, made no money, because I only do exotic bets and if don’t know how to pick the horses, well, I lose.  The other three all made a bit of money and I was so happy for them and grateful that they had arranged this super night.  The next morning, I found the tips in my email.  If I had had them, I would have made some money, too.  Just one quinella, but it would have covered dinner and bets, and then some.  I miss playing twice a week.  It was such fun.  I do look forward to hosting these people soon in Montreal.  I just have 110 boxes to unpack.

After breakfast on Thursday the 16th, I went to the gym to get that out of the way and then took a taxi to Horizon Plaza.  The tea box was heavy.  Johnny, my salesman wasn’t there, because he has had a bad bit of seafood the night before and had gone home very sick.  Maria helped me and got Sam, the owner to come in and pack it with her.  It’s a pretty impressive job of packing, but I am confident that tea box and mirror will arrive safely.  This isn’t cheap shipping, either.  I had forgotten I am taking two planes. United just charged me $200 for the oversized package and I am pretty sure Air Canada will do the same.  Methinks I should have given it to FedEx, after all.  It’s going to be a huge PIA, in my rental car in California, too, and on the other end in Montreal.  I’ll let you know.

That night I was meeting Richard Feldman for dinner at his Peak Café and Bar in Lan Quoi Fong.  Richard was one of the first people I met when I went to Hong Kong in 1989. When you relocate, you arrive with a list of people to connect with, gleaned from every friend and business associate you have who knows anyone.  Richard was only 24 at the time and had been in HK about 3 years.  He’s still there.  He had been doing very well and owns four restaurants/bars in trendy, expat and tourist Lan Quoi Fong and Soho.  The trouble is what I had been seeing.  Nobody is going out at night anymore.  There were only three or four tables full.  He barely covers the rent, not to mention the staff.  This can only go on so long.  We had a lovely night and I was so glad to have reconnected with this lovely man on a one-on-one basis, with the time to share the details of our lives.  I am so happy I took the time to meet a lot of people that way this time.  The big parties are fun, but this trip was real.  I felt like a Hongkonger again, and I loved it.  I am just sad for the state it’s in and so hope it gets to come back.

I had my first Hong Kong hangover the next morning, which is amazing, with all the eating and drinking.  It wasn’t very bad, and after a bit longer lie in bed, and a good shower, I was myself again.  It was a good thing as I was going to a wine dinner at The Football Club that night.  It was Italy meets Australia and we had wines from both countries with every course.  It was also the best deal in town, great food, pretty decent wine and lots of it for about $75 a head.  The company was a great deal, too.  It was Mabel and Ramon, Helen Pakchung’s sister, Janice and her husband Merv, and another Canadian couple Sharon and Don, who have become new friends and I hope I see them in Montreal, too.

Saturday, I took it easy.  Other than regular email and its duties, all I did was pack and go to the gym.  I went back to Yè Shanghai for dinner, as it never disappoints.  I went to bed early, woke up at 3:00 am, to another California phone call I couldn’t answer, and never got back to sleep.  I rousted myself around six, and 16 hours later, I have just finished writing this.  Next chapter, Napa and Sonoma and tales of the oversized checked baggage.

Return to Asia – Vietnam-Hong Kong – Part 4

It was Saturday, December 28, and we were docked in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Before we could go out in Saigon, I had quite a bit of work to do.  There was an email from DV, adding five cabins to the group and informing me that no one had received their “Surprise and Amuse” $100 ship board credit.  I was surprised, and not exactly amused.  Luckily the five cabins were just two families, so that cut down on the phone calls.  I just had to figure out who the parents were and deal with them.  Distinctive Voyages were helping my disgruntled guests, too, but between the time difference and the holidays, we haven’t managed to turn them around yet.  It’s just more emails flying around the ether, bumping into the reindeer.

Sue and I took the shuttle into Ho Chi Minh City. The hotel overnight was a gift from Sue, in thanks for the opportunity to share my pretty cheap cabin on the Ovation.  Hotel des Arts was a nice new hotel about a twenty minute walk from where the shuttle dropped us.  We checked in, dropped our bags and headed to the market.  The market gets a little more upscale, the more I visit it, and that’s all right with me.  I got a better bathing suit and a few other items, including black pleated dress pants in two lengths.  Sue bought the long ones of those, too, and some very nice tops.  After an hour of that, we went out and crossed the street, because we were hungry and there were a number of local restaurants there.  We scored a nice bowl of Pho and a new friend.  20191228-01SaigonSuePho

Lillian was a local, now living in California and back for a vacation with her two sons.  We asked her to recommend a nice restaurant for tonight, near our hotel, as she knew that part of the city.  We poked back into the mall for a little bit, and noted that it had a whole section devoted to fast Vietnamese food.  We saved that for breakfast tomorrow and went back to the hotel to rest before the main event, our dinner.

Cocktails before dinner turned out to be a lot better than the main event.  Our hotel had a very trendy rooftop bar, with a DJ, overlooking the pool.  20191228-05SaigonHoteldesArtsRooftopBar

Sunset was magic and the space was packed. We had a couple of glasses of champagne and walked to Lillian’s restaurant choice.  I am not even going to name it, because, alas, I have nothing good to say about it.  Lillian’s idea of fine dining and ours just weren’t on the same plane.  We had met her in a cheap Pho shop, after all.  When we got back to the hotel, we went looking for more action, but the rooftop bar was now deserted.  We did share a very yummy mango souffle, though, and an early night.

Our second day in Saigon was a Sunday.  We got up and both did a little work before heading out and back to the market.  This time, it was for brunch, and what we wanted was good, fresh Pho.20191229-05SaigonMarketSeeingPho

And we found it:20191229-07SaigonMarketPhoShop

And it was delicious.  We shopped a little more, but I was too encumbered with my computer and all to be having much fun.  We looked for a foot massage place, but it had closed for renovation of the building.  Enough, back to the ship, where I did some logging and blogging and called my new cabins about coming on our shore excursion and they are all coming.

We went to our Happy Hour in the Observations Bar and nobody came, which was no surprise, but two of the singers sat down with us.  One was Dustin Kerr, whom I had known on the Amsterdam, probably five years ago.  Then we went to the Sushi Bar for dinner.  It was excellent.  The show was pretty good, too, Divalicious.  It’s a career path for ageing Opera Singers.

Monday, December 30, we were back at sea and it was time for a newsletter again, to remind them of tomorrow’s shore excursion and to check that they now all had their $100 ship board credit.  I caught another Steve Wozniak talk at eleven and delivered my newsletters.  It was a big day for ship-board entertainment. We went to a lecture on Asian stereotyping by Australian Warren Fahey, and I won’t be attending any more of his.  He doesn’t know what he is talking about, and he’s digging up old dirt, that should be left buried and creating new dirt.  I was appalled when he made “Crazy Rich Asians” into a slur that Asians are all crazy.  He didn’t get that that the title referred to perfectly sane Asians who were “Crazy Rich” meaning they had so much money they could never spend it all.  I could have let him know, but somehow, I didn’t think he wanted to.  Scary stuff.  The after-dinner entertainment was excellent.  It was Peter Howard, the current lead singer for old British rock band, “The Hollies”.  He also starred as Roy Orbison in “Only the Lonely” in London’s West End.  Good Stuff.

The next day was New Year’s Eve.  We were up early because today was our DV excursion day.  I have been to HoiAn at least four times over the last ten years.  Three times, we had our DV tour there.  The first one, a cooking school, was by far the best.  The second was much like this, but with far fewer tourists to contend with.  It was very hard to keep up with the guide and that wasn’t his fault.  There were just too many people.  We had tickets in to the Japanese Bridge, a Cultural Center, a Merchant’s House, a Chinese Temple and a Silk Factory.  At least most of those weren’t too crowded inside, but I think everyone was grateful when he turned us loose to shop on our own.  There again, things have changed.  It was still fun, but way more upscale than it had been, just a couple of years ago.  It’s not a great trend.  In the middle of our shopping hour, it started to rain cats and dogs.  I got caught on the wrong side of the river and stayed put until it was time to get back to the meeting point. Luckily it had cleared.

Lunch at Nam Long was in a building in a beautiful garden, but it was your typical tourist buffet, only the food was Vietnamese, nothing like the wonderful fare we had when we had the cooking lesson.  I would recommend we bring that back.

We went back, got all dressed up and went out for New Year’s Eve.  We had a nice time, but we didn’t even last until midnight.  It had been a big day.

On New Year’s Day, the ship celebrated with a very extravagant galley brunch in the dining room.  I wrote and delivered my farewell letters and the entertainment was Peter Howard again, and he was good, again

On January 2, we were in HaLong Bay.  I had been here a couple of times before and done the Shore Excursion, so we just went in to town.  Halong Bay is growing up like the rest of the region.  We got dropped off at a glitzy mall – Vincom Mall.  We looked for a massage place but they didn’t have one, so we decided to go out on the streets and find one ourselves.  We needed to arm ourselves with water for this expedition and decided it would be cheapest in the supermarket.  They checked our bags at the entrance, put Sue’s in a plastic bag and stapled it shut.  Then they locked mine up with a plastic electrical tie.  My phone was still in my hand, so I was able to get this interesting shot of some funky little puddings that were selling for very next to nothing. 20200102-01HalongBaySupermarket

Then a nice young man politely told me I couldn’t take pictures in there.  It was their law.  OK.  So we found our water, checked out, got my bag unlocked and I crumpled up the receipt and threw it in there.  Next thing that happened was that I was stopped and asked for the receipt, for the two bottles of water.  I found at and gave him the little wadded ball, which he duly smoothed out, read and let us pass.  A lot of manpower to make sure two tourists weren’t stealing two little bottles of water, which were less than 50 cents each.

This new mall had just popped up beside an existing market.  The streets around were full of stalls and such, but no Pho places, not even on Pho Street.  We met two other couples prowling around trying to find Pho.  Eventually we found the old local market and bought a couple of things, but our hearts weren’t in it.  So, back to our lovely ship.  We both always have work to do.

After dinner, Sue went back to the room to pack and I went to the show, which was a production show called “Stage and Screen”.  I always enjoy the singers and dancers on board.

January 3 was our last day at sea.  I delivered farewell cards and came back and packed, interrupting myself for Steve Wozniak’s third talk at 2:30pm.  Of all people, he doesn’t believe Artificial Intelligence will ever take us over.  We don’t understand our own intelligence and memory well enough, and he doesn’t think anyone ever will.  He and Janet were early adopters and testers of the Tesla.  It frightens them to death.  They let it drive itself, paying a higher degree of attention than when they drive themselves.  There is so much it doesn’t get, sunlight, traffic lights, weather, road conditions, etc.  When the question period came, I had one.  I described the downgrading of Word, Excel, Access, Outlook, etc. which have become more and more complex over the years, not to mention downright buggy.  I am very concerned that the digital world will implode.  My question was “Does this scare you as much as it scares me?”.  His answer wasn’t exactly comforting.  He said: “It scares me a lot more than it scares you.”.  Then he went on to describe how software is just a product, made to budgets and schedules, and the short term.  It can do us in in the long term.

Before you knew it, it was time for the Captain’s Farewell Party, Happy Hour and dinner with one of our people.

Saturday, January 4, we disembarked in Hong Kong.  Sue carried her luggage off early to go to work. Saturday morning is still a work day in Hong Kong.  I worked a bit in the cabin and missed breakfast, so I went up to Seabourn Square for a muffin and tea.  Eventually my group was called and I went out to meet the Conrad car I was sharing with another guest who was staying there, too.

The first thing I noticed about HK was how smooth the traffic flow was.  This would be an on-going observation and it’s not a great thing.  Less congestion means less business.  In particular, tourism has fallen off a cliff.  It’s not just us, although most of the ship wasn’t staying the usual three or more days.  It’s the Chinese tourists who aren’t here.  They no longer feel welcome.  The protesters have been going so far as to target them with insults and sometimes blows.  It’s terrible for retail, restaurants, hotels, etc.

I settled into my nice executive floor room, with breakfast.  Yes, I got a deal, but, to get it, I had to take all the extras.  A little bit of Conrad pampering won’t hurt me a bit, at this point.  I unpacked, had tea and scones in the Executive Lounge and went down to the entrance, where David Pong, Eric Quizon, and three of their friends were picking me up to go to the museum.  The museum has just undergone a $130 million dollar renovation.  Gone was the bathroom tile cladding, and there were significant additions, like a penthouse and a new wing.

We started at the top, where there was a new exhibit of contemporary art.  We were encouraged to take pictures inside one of the installations and I got this nice shot of David and Eric in the forest:20200104-13HongKongMuseumDavidPongEricQuizon

The next exhibit was equally interesting.  It was a sampling of the works of Wu Guanzhong, a contemporary Chinese painter widely recognized as a founder of modern Chinese painting. He is considered to be one of the greatest contemporary Chinese painters. Wu’s artworks had both Western and Eastern influences.  David once owned one of the paintings displayed.  No, he had not donated it.  He had sold it to the donor.  Still impressive.  Selling something that has appreciated like that lets you collect more up and coming artists.  David knows what he is doing.

The museum also houses ancient Chinese art and artifacts and a very respectable collection of British art, Turners, Constables and such.  It was a wonderful time and over all too soon.  But there’s another thing to do in Hong Kong that is taken very seriously and that is eating.  We piled back into David’s van and made it over to the Hong Kong side and the Shanghai Residents’ Association Eating Club.  These clubs are all over the place.  This one is on Queens’ Road Central, across from Melbourne Plaza, and I had been here before with my McGill Society friends.  It’s not very fancy, just a big room full of tables, but they have white tablecloths and excellent food.  David ordered a lot of my favorites.  He also brought four bottles of wine, two of an Australian white and two Robert Mondavi 1985 Cabernet Sauvignons, from his cellar.  I was happy as a clam.

The Hong Kong protesters were the hot topic of conversation.  The Hong Kong people I know are very fed-up with the protesters.  They aren’t too happy with the news media either as the facts, belie the tales of police brutality.  Au contraire, the police are way too soft.  It’s the protesters that are brutal and they seem to have Ukrainian mercenaries in the front lines.  The speculation is that they are US funded.  True or not, the police are soft, and society is getting polarized, like it never was before.  My friends aren’t at all worried that China will come in and quell it.  They have time on their side.  China can just stand by and watch HK self-destruct.  Already it has gone from 16% of China’s GDP in 1997 to 3% today.

Return to Asia – Thailand Vietnam – Part 3

We are at sea again, on Monday. December 23.  I did get to the show last night.  It was Patrick Roberts, Prince of Violin.  I’ll give him a pass next show.  Business as usual, I saw a few people, wrote a newsletter including what had transpired at the cocktail party, delivered it and went to the gym.  That felt good.  Got back to messages from guests re what they would be coming to and what, not.  The shore excursion is doing well, the dinner, not so well.  On a holiday cruise, this is typical.  The people are traveling in family and friend groups and have planned activities with them.  I phoned the three cabins that I had not spoken to and left ore voice messages.

At six o’clock, the ship held a block party.  We all went out in our halls, where they served champagne and hors d’oeuvres, and we met our neighbors.   At 6:30 pm, I went up to the Observation Bar for Happy Hour and no one came from my DV group, but I had a nice time with some of my block people.


I ended up eating alone in the dining room and missing the show because it was so late.  It was New Zealand Comedian Simon McKinney and I later heard he was really good.

On Christmas Eve, in Liam Chabang, port for Bangkok, I got up, and worked a bit before breakfast, then went up to the Colonnade, where I had more scrambled eggs.  I am finding it easy to follow Ginger’s good breakfast formula here.  Then I went to the gym, did some business on the Internet, logged and blogged a bit and took the shuttle to Pattaya.  It was too far from Bangkok to be worth going in.  I save that for when we have an overnight there.

Pattaya has grown immensely since last I was here, likely about five years ago.  The wiring has grown, too.  20191224-01PattayaWiringWe were let off at a large modern shopping center, which I cased, but it had little appeal.  Out the back side ran a more ordinary street, with local shops on it.  I found one that sold me a hat, a pair of pants, a top, and almost an hour of fishies nibbling at my feet.  I had planned that for boarding day in Singapore, but I should know never to plan anything for boarding day.

When I got back to the ship, my message light was on.  The voice mail from one of my guests, who said she need to see me re their Bangkok shore excursion, which had gone horribly wrong.  I called her back and listened to her story of a tour operator who had been almost an hour late, took a 15-minute break on the way to Bangkok, only getting there after noon, three hours later.  By this time they were afraid to go on tour for fear of missing the ship, which was sailing at 5:30 pm. The tour guide offered to have them picked up in two hours, but that wasn’t acceptable to them.  They wanted to get straight back to the ship, so the guide ordered a car for them.  It still took an hour to come, and another three hours back to the ship.  They got back at 4:15 pm, having has a stressful, excursion-less day.  They wanted their money back from the tour operator and to cancel two other tours booked through the same tour company.

I asked her to gather her information, tour company names, etc. and meet me at 6:30 pm in the Observation Bar.  By the time she got there, she had already sent an email to Cruise Direct.  I explained that I could likely have been more effective using the power of Travel Leaders, and that I was certainly willing.

Remember, this is Christmas Eve.  We parted on good terms, I went to dinner, met some very nice Aussies, and went to the ship’s nice Christmas show.

20191224-17OvationCarolsThen I went back to my cabin and set an alarm for eleven-fifteen, to go to midnight mass.  There were only twenty-five people there.  How would I know?  I hadn’t been in years. It was nice, though and set me up for the night’s work ahead of me.  I had to phone my bank branch in Santa Rosa, as Chase Internet Banking had shut me down, for making two $50,000 wire transfers in a row.  They called it “suspicious activity”.  I called it me doing my best to move the money Fountaingrove Lodge had refunded, to cover my bridge loan, which was accruing interest that it would bill on December 29.  Luckily, the banker there who knows me best was working and he was able to set me free and push through the two wires I had already initiated.  Two down, three to go to make the deadline.

While I was going back and forth with the bank, I composed an email to Distinctive Voyages on behalf of my guests, with the botched shore excursion, and another to the guest telling her what I had done.  And PS and FYI from me, who has done this particular run a number of times:  I don’t try to go in to Bangkok, nor recommend it to my clients, unless there’s an overnight there.  Then I book a hotel.  It’s really the only way, with the traffic now. Even if you make it in and out in four hours, that’s a tough, nervous tour, only to be done using the ship’s tours.

On Christmas Day, we docked at Ko Kood, Thailand, where we were having a Beach Party at a private beach.  All very swish.  I worked through another easy to solve problem, and replied to Distinctive Voyages query about the botched tour.

Then I went to the Beach Party, which was very nice, indeed.  After the lobster and caviar, it was a toss-up as to whether I would go snorkeling or have a massage.  The massage won.  It was only $30 for an hour. I had a nice dinner with another Aussie couple, missed the show and went to bed early.  Last night had worn me out.

On Thursday, December 26, we docked in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. I took the shuttle in to town, which is maybe fourth world, if there is such a thing.  This is a typical street. 20191226-03SihanookvilleCambodia But, there’s a crane in the background.  They are building and opportunities doubtless abound.  I didn’t know there was anywhere like this left in the world.  From that standpoint, it was refreshing.  But there was nothing to do.

When I got back, I picked up a sticker on the gangway, with Sue Jamieson’s name on it and mine.  So I knew she had boarded.  She wasn’t in the cabin, so I went up to Seabourn Square where she was checking in.  I’m delighted.  I was getting a tad lonesome.

While I was there,  I was stopped by Jo, the Guest Relations Manager, who is getting our people going to her about the lack of our “Surprise and Amuse” amenity, the $100pp SBCs.  I promised her a current manifest, so she could check them all, and to write to DV to see how they had been applied.

While Sue was unpacking, I did all that.  Happy Hour isn’t going so well, but we went for a half hour. We had been invited to dinner at 7:00 pm, by the Spa Manager and Fitness Director, so we went.  They were fun to be with and Sue is all about wellness.  She speaks all over the world on the healing powers of light, and such like.  Then we went to “an Evening with Sir Tim Rice. He wasn’t real but our singers and dancers were, and good.

We were at sea again on December 27, and I had an answer from DV for my people with the botched tour.  DV had to step back, because they had already had answers from their travel agent and tour operator.  The fact that neither of them had done anything didn’t sit well with me, so I wrote back to DV hoping we could do more.  The guests are very unhappy with the travel agent, for not taking their side.  They had not been dealing with a travel agent prior to this and only did do so because this (online) agency offered them a cabin they liked, while Seabourn Direct, could only offer them Gty.  They prefer to deal directly with the cruise company because of these possibilities.  They believe they are in better hands when they deal direct.  They do not plan on using a travel agent gain, and certainly not that one.  I am doing my best to make the case for using a travel agency, but their TA is not helping.  This may be a bigger problem than it looks like on the surface.  I wish the guests had let me handle it from the beginning.

I had planned to enhance our guests’ experience with a talk from my roommate, Dr. Sue, who is an integrative physician specializing in East-West medicine and mind – body integration.  Having been doctor to the world’s major rock stars, including Sirs Mick Jagger and Elton John, she is aware of the pressures that distractions that can discombobulate us in modern day life. She explains the science and philosophy behind the concept of understanding ourselves as beings of energy and light. Most importantly, how to connect to your own inner light for guidance and to hone your most important asset – your intuition .

But the ship came back with: You can’t give a talk on board, not even to a private group, unless it’s approved by head office in Seattle.  I would have had to start the process a few weeks before boarding.  It never occurred to me because I have given talks of my own on Holland America with no problem.  Same parent, different company, apparently.

There was a special lecture at eleven.  Steve Wozniak is on board.  He reminds me so much of Steve Harrold, it’s uncanny.  It’s that geek sense of humour.  His wife has to warm him up by humouring it.  They do a silly back and forth, where some things are funny, and others are just lame, to all but other geeks. Once he gets going, he’s engaging and charming and we did learn all about growing up geek, and how his mind works.  It was absolutely wonderful.  And magic, how the three right guys to found Apple got together, one tech, one visionary and a businessman with some money.

Back in the cabin, I had a little more work to do, all positive.

We had dinner in the Dining Room, with some of my people, a mother and daughter.  We had a delightful time  with them.  It turns out Madeline was a Nurse Practitioner and Susan still is a homeopath.  That’s right down my Dr. Sue’s alley, so the conversation was very lively and very different.  Patrick Roberts was entertaining again, so we went to The Club to see if anyone was dancing.  They weren’t but the band was good, so we stayed and listened an hour.

We were getting off in Ho Chi Minh city tomorrow, so I went up to Seabourn Square to report that and pick up maps, etc.  Woz was right behind me in line.  He was there to borrow the use of a pencil sharpener.


Return to Asia – S’pore to Ship – Part 2

Singapore, Friday, December 20, I looked up Bobby Pebbles, my Little India blouse supplier, and found him.  He has moved his store, so now it is a larger tailoring shop for men and women, and not nearly as nice as it was.  His prices have doubled and I damn near walked, when I was having to pay almost twice what I paid last time.  In retrospect, I probably should have, but in fact, I have three more blouses.  I wear then a lot and I bleach them, so for me, they are staples.

Then I had dinner at Banana Leaf Apolo, which is just good Indian food, washed it down with a couple of Kingfishers and went back to The Regent for a good night’s sleep.

Saturday, December 21, boarding day, another decadent breakfast, more attempts to transfer money from Chase in the US to RBC in Canada.  On the Internet, I can only transfer $50,000/day.  With the holidays, I am going to be hard pressed to avoid another month of interest on my bridge loan.  At least I do have the money to pay it and that’s the main thing.  My driver arrived a little early, The Regent sent a Bellman right up and soon we were sitting in traffic, bound for the port.

My verandah suite on the Seabourn Ovation is the nicest I have ever had.  I went from a verandah guarantee to a V5 this time and it’s right mid-ship and big enough to do yoga in.  This is why I always suggest my clients book “guarantee”.  You always get at least what you pay for and It can be really fine.  They even stocked my bar with my preferences, look:20191224-01OurBar

I went to find my contact and was directed to Seabourn Square, the nicest front desk arrangement ever.  The guest relations people all sit at desks around a central core, which holds things like printers, and likely some little clerical mole.  The desks have glass tops, through which they view their computer screens, and you can, too, when it’s appropriate.  Around this central core is the coffee bar, with sandwiches, cookies, gelato, etc., a lot more chairs in 2 to 4 people groupings, and a few desks for computer work.  I won’t have a desk.  I’ll just meet my people here.

By five o’clock my welcome letters were written and in their little folders.  We broke for the mandatory drill and I had them all delivered by six.  Then I unpacked and went down to the restaurant about 7:30pm.  I landed great people at dinner.  Paula and Steven live in Charleston, SC, where they do stem cell research and teach at the local uni.  I think they are both heads of departments.  They were pretty impressive and very, very nice.  I hope to see more of them.

Sunday, December 22, I called every cabin before going to Seabourn Square and my desk hours.  I met a few of my people and updated my manifest. On my way out to find someone to book a group dinner with, I met Jo, the Guest Relations Manager.  I posed the question and the next thing I know, Ali, the Food and Beverage Manager appeared, and I had my first date, two tables of 12 for December 27.  I could have had Christmas Day, but…maybe not.  We discussed a kitchen tour, but the ship is already doing one.  He did promise to send me the Head Sommelier to discuss a wine tasting.

I had a very calorific bowl of gelato on my way out. As far as I can see, this is the only drawback of my office hours location.  Then I worked my email and my cocktail party speech, went to the gym and came back to dress, just in time for my 4:30 Cocktail party.  I couldn’t have it later, as the captain was having his, you see.

I was disappointed with the attendance.  Only thirteen people came and the ship’s officers had turned out as never before. We had the Captain, the First Officer, the Hotel Manager, Food and Beverage manager, Bar Manager, Guest Relations Manager, Cruise Directors, one and two, Shore Excursions Manager, and Future Cruises Consultant.  I have been doing this a long time and have never seen this many officers at my party before.

The people I did meet were fabulous, we have triathletes, doctors, nurses, educators, and all.  We added a couple of things to our program, and I promised a newsletter, detailing them.

When it was over, I went to talk to the bartender and, dispense the tips and to relax with my own drink.  That’s when I found out our welcome drink had champagne, gin, Cointreau, something else and a cherry in it.  It was pretty good, and I don’t even like gin.  The guy beside me did, though, he was having a specially prepared martini.  He introduced himself to me as Roger, and he was a Canadian.  We got along like a house on fire and he invited me to dinner in the Thomas Keller Grill.  By then I knew I’d be dining with the ship’s priest, but he was fun and I knew it wouldn’t be a bad meal.

It wasn’t.  We sat near the kitchen, though, and I would love to be a fly on the wall the day Thomas himself does the same thing, because I have never sat beside a louder kitchen in my life.  They were having a lot of fun back there.  We shared it every time the door opened.  But the food was very good, and so was the wine.  Roger, who knows Cliff Lede, had his Sauvignon Blanc and I had Jon Williams’ Frog’s Leap Cab Sav. Roger has spent a lot of time in the Napa Valley, too.  By the end of the evening, I was sorry he was the priest.  Some first date.  Leave it to me.



Internet pricing is such that I am buying it by the minute in 2-hour tranches and doing send/receives for email. With the time difference, that means you can expect 24-hour turnaround, when you email me a question unless it looks urgent.  Please be aware of that.

Thank you for the Holiday wishes.  I might not be picking up the Jaquie Lawson cards, which take forever to load, but I will know you sent them and acknowledge you.  The attached Christmas letters download faster, so I will get them in their entirety, and I enjoy them immensely.  Where did you all get these big children, many of whom have children of their own?

I won’t be getting my own Christmas letter out, as I have been busy with my move to Montreal and this planned trip. I am telling you everything, anyway.  I’m on board now, in Bangkok.  It looks like HK for two weeks is back on the table.  The Straits Times told me.  My Hong Kong friends find this very funny, but they know everything in Singapore.

My news is all in my blog.  If you aren’t getting it, see the first blue line in my signature below and read all about my move and on to Asia.  And please take this as my very best wished for a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and whatever else you celebrate.

Yes, I know the preceding paragraph is superfluous, for my readers, but please forward it to anyone you know who has been wondering what I have been doing.  I am not sending it out by email, because I lost my current address book in November, backed up an old one and have to doctor every email address in Outlook, as I use it, removing % SMTP% in two places in each entry.  I am doing this as people write to me.  Those of you who got it from some kind forwarder, can just go to www.helenmegan.com and sign up.

Future Cruises can always be found in my signature, along with my new address.  Write me if you want to see that.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year,

Love and Purrs,


On Seabourn Ovation, on the way to Bangkok,

I am only using email on board, and phone when on shore,

New Address:

Helen Megan – Travel Advisor
****email me to get this****  The blog is a bit too public.

Get an email whenever I blog by clicking on www.helenmegan.com and then on “follow” on the left. Yes, I am at wordpress.

Next cruises:

The best place to see them all, with maps and my comments is www.helenmegan.com and here, of course:


Spring:  May 4 – 21 – SilverSea Silver Muse – Tokyo to Vancouver

Summer: Aug 10 – 20 – SilverSea Silver Spirit – Copenhagen to Copenhagen – Norwegian Fjords
https://tinyurl.com/2020CopenhagenDV  and you can add this for a song:

Traditional Baltic, with St. Petersburg, ends Stockholm    https://tinyurl.com/2020CopenhagenAddOn

Fall: Montreal and October 27-November 9 – SilverSea Silver Whisper – Montreal to Fort Lauderdale


Christmas 2020 – December 1 to 18 – SilverSea Silver Spirit – Mumbai to Singapore