My next assignment is Celebrity Silhouette, August 6, 14-Night British Isles Cruise, Amsterdam to Amsterdam. Do not post on the blog to sign up. Email me directly. Better yet, call Becky Jones and book it, telling her you are my client – 210-745-0124. See the itinerary and approximate pricing at http://www.cruisepro.biz/search/enter.asp?site=X1952&dir=OfferCompare&MyOffers=3975684&B2CQuickView=1&account=Helen+Megan,+HelenMegan@aol.com
The excitement was really building on March 1. The last of the Hong Kong preparations was to finish and deliver instructions to participants on how to get to the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club and/or their respective Dim Sum restaurants. That, and a lot of finalization, and work on travel business that was going to be otherwise neglected. Once we hit HongKong, it would be non stop. I finalized everything for our HoiAn Cooking Class, too, as it would be right after Hong Kong and I won’t be working any more than I can help these next three days. Opera Interludes performed again and were good, again.
We sailed in to Ocean Terminal on March 2, at 10:00 am. We had plenty of time for our Lido breakfast and time in the gym. I went out and checked the location of the nearest exit to a taxi, and it was right where it was last year, the Marco Polo Hotel on Canton Road. I met Marsha Rankin on the way and learned there was an Apple store on Canton Road, too. I filed this information away, although I was planning to use the Marco Polo’s bar for Internet. It was closer and the bartender was friendly and told me when it would be quiet.
At 2:00 pm, we met Wells and Dee Westcott, and made our way to our taxi to the yacht club. I forgot to tell the taxi driver we only wanted the old Harbor tunnel, and he took us through the new Western Tunnel, which is marginally faster, but twice the distance and has a toll to boot. It cost $258 HK. I didn’t tip much.
We got my Canadian credit card squared away to cover the bill, settled Elvon in the Chart Room, and made for the Ship Shop, where we did some damage, but have very nice fleece jackets, should it get cold crossing the Atlantic. Back in the chart room, the Internet was blazing fast, as we were happy to text to Jan Yetke. Unfortunately, they were having a wine tasting that night in the Chart Room, so we got kicked out of there around 4:30. We ended up in a teeny, tiny little room, just off it, where it was very cozy, but the Internet was still blazing fast. It got cozier when the Yetkes and Healings got there, but we all got a ton of work done. We were well pleased.
By this time, Elvon and Wells were in the Sailors’ Bar, where they were soon joined by HK friend, John Ball. Eventually, the whole party assembled, including a dozen or so Hong Kong people and we repaired to the Compass Room, upstairs, for dinner. The Compass Room is round, with picture windows on the Hong Kong harbor. It’s a beautiful place to eat. The food is good, too, and reasonably priced. A very good time was had by all. Elvon’s table included his Manulife successor, Vic Apps, and his wife, Leona, two of his Branch Managers, Kinson Leung, my twin, Danny Chan, and the Yetkes. Mine had the Westcotts and Healings, Michael Holt and old Mensa Friends, Don Meyer and Cindy Kwok. The third table included John Ball, Elvon’s old PR guy, Marcia Snow, Bob Miller and Marlies Baehr, Dan Samaniego, and Simon and Delia Clennell. Simon is a Mensan, too, and a member of the Hong Kong Welsh Male Voices, who were sorely missed on the ship. We were glad to have him at the YC, though.
We took the last taxi back, with Don Meyer and Cindy Kwok. She insisted on the Harbour Tunnel and the taxi came to $85HK. I gave him a hundred, and Cindy was shocked. She had not been in the first one or it wouldn’t have been $258. Our troubles started when we got out of the taxi. Dan Samaniego and Michael Hold had waited for us, because the passage through the Marco Polo to the ship was closed. It was dependent on Lane Crawford being open, and they had closed at ten. We all walked around the hotel, where the doors to Ocean Terminal were open, but they were on the second floor. Michael found someone, who called someone, who sent someone, who led us to the elevator, and called someone, to send someone with the key. We got back to the cabin about one-thirty, and it was worth every minute. What a night!
I left Elvon sound asleep, on the morning of March 3, with a room service breakfast on the table. I didn’t expect him to get up for hours, after last night. I met up with my haircut partners, and we made for the Star Ferry. It’s a lovely ride on the upper deck for $2.50 HK, about 35 cents to us. We took pictures, like everybody else. We walked to the Mandarin, which is a longer walk than it was in my day, thanks to land fill and new buildings, like the IFC. I talked my way across, dispensing whatever HK lore popped into my head, prompted by what I saw, and, of course, the questions of my little audience.
When we got there, we hit the Mandarin’s concierge up for the best downtown map available, and I pointed Bob to where he might find electronics, cameras, etc. Andrea Clark, the Artistic Director, and Salon Manager, was waiting for us. She had cut Wendy Harvey’s hair last time. This time, she cut mine, while Ronald did Joanne’s and Bobbie had her streaks touched up to hide new growth. We all love the shampoo process there, it’s divine. At 11:15 am, it was Bobbie and Marlies’ turn under the scissors, and Joanne and Chas and I went out shopping in the lanes. Once I showed them where and what, we split up, because it’s a solitary endeavor, that. I got a few things, the very best being a fake iWatch, with an orange band. I now wish I had bought it in every color, as it gets a lot of compliments, and I haven’t seen another since. All it does is tell time, but that’s all I want out of a watch.
At 1:30 pm, we reconvened in The Clipper Lounge, on the rail, overlooking The Mandarin’s busy lobby. I had a dim sum box, but most everyone else had burgers or reubens, and such like. David Pong stopped by to pay me $3200 US, in cash, for his annual Screaming Eagle order. The three bottles are resting in their box in the cellar at 301 Deer Hollow. They will end up in an auction in Hong Kong, raising money for charity. Even David doesn’t just drink them any more.
Most of the lunch bunch elected to proceed to Stanley Markey, and I didn’t argue, as, had Elvon and I not had a dinner date, I would have gone, too. As it was, I shopped a little more in Central, utilitarian stuff, like plastic file folders. They have now made it to the States but are still 20 times the price. Then I popped down the MTR on DesVoeux, figuring it would save me some walking. I don’t think it did. You do a lot of walking underground in the Hong Kong subway.
I stopped by the information desk in the mall on the way back and found out how to cope with an after hours arrival with a handicapped person. It took a bit of doing, but I learned that you are to drive past the Marco Polo, in the inland direction, turn left at the end of the mall, and left again to drive along the pier. Near the ship there is a freight elevator and someone will take you up in it.
When I got back to the room, around 4:00pm, Elvon was still in bed, still in his nightshirt. He had eaten his breakfast and gone back. Coping with getting in and out of Ocean Terminal really took the stuffing out of him. I mustered him and got him dressed for dinner. Alwin Lam was picking us up at six at the Marco Polo, again. We made it on time, and so did Alwin. He had commandeered his AIA car and its driver, Sonny. I think Elvon’s old 2IC at Manulife HK gets a little chuckle out of that. I know I do. Alwin joined AIA, in the nineties, after we had left, and still holds an advisory position.
We drove to Deep Water Bay and the Hong Kong Country Club. We were having dinner with Alwin, Agnes, daughter Jackie Tung, her son, Maximillian, Edmund Tse and his wife Peggy, and Harry Wong, one of Elvon’s Manulife Branch Managers, back in the day. Edmund used to head up AIA and the HK Federation of Insurers, a board Elvon was on. I sat between Edmund and Peggy, and found her thoroughly delightful. The whole table was thoroughly delightful, a good time with good old friends.
And the food! When Alwin invites you to dinner, it’s a Chinese Banquet. We had Peking Duck, two ways, Sharks’ Fin, Crab in the shell with Ginger and Shallots, Deep Fried Shrimp, a fish and pork stir fry, sweet and sour pork, a whole Steamed Fish, pork & rice porridge, fried rice, and more I can’t remember. Alwin had a birthday coming up while he was going to be off island, so we had birthday cake, too. Urp. The wine served generously throughout was none other than Far Niente Chardonnay, a nod to Elvon, which he much appreciated.
Alwin came back to Ocean Terminal with us, and we told him last night’s horror story on the way. I added my afternoon’s research. Alwin and Sonny were up to taking care of it. The hard part is talking yourselves past the gate to the pier, which has pretty heavy security. The key elements were our ship cards and Alwin and Sonny’s fluency in Cantonnese. I’ll bet it didn’t hurt that the car had official AIA plates, a professional driver, and an executive with the demeanor of a loban (big boss). Alwin has many years of practice at that.
The car got through and drove up to the stern of the ship. Out of the building on our left, popped a Holland America Steward, with the elevator key. It was so easy. We probably saved an hour of sleep. Thanks, Alwin and Agnes, for a fabulous night.
On our last day in Hong Kong, we got up, had a cup of tea, went to the gym, and met our people at my desk at 11:15 am. Our group was going to Ye Shanghai, in the Marco Polo Hotel. I would never have got Elvon out the third day in a row, if I could not promise him wonderful Hong Kong friends. We had Lloyd Chao, Helen Pakchung, Mabel Lam, Ray Wong and John Ball. Ship friends were Marcia Ball, Michael Holt, Wells and Dee Westcott. It cost twice as much as Jade Garden, but was well worth it.
After lunch, Elvon was more than happy to go back to the room for a nap, while I put the computer on my back and set out to do some work. I made for that nice bar in the lobby of the Marco Polo. I bought my Coke and got my WiFi password. The Internet connection was terrible. It was worse than the ship. Who would have believed this in Hong Kong? After a half hour, with little progress, I cut bait and made for the Apple Store up Canton Road.
I talked to one of the dozens of helpful Apple employees on the ground floor, and was directed to the basement, where I would be able to sit to work. It was fun down there. I was easily three times the age of the next oldest person in the place. He would have been the father if the one year old, who was learning how to use a computer, with a lot of success, I might add. Most of the rest were students using the blazing fast Internet to do their homework. I did a lot of catching up until I figured I had better start hoofing it back to the ship. We weren’t leaving until ten, but all aboard was seven and dinner was at eight. It was an interesting walk through the mall, and I picked up another bit, but I really did have to run. It had been a wonderful three days in Hong Kong, my old home city. We watched the sail away from the dining room and went to bed.
Back at sea on March 5, I got up early to work on a wine tour in Livorno for Paul Kerr, Culinary Ops Manager and Jacques Loew, Cellar Master. The idea was to put it together and present it to Shore Excursions for blessing and liability umbrella. I had got Patrick Spencer, my Tuscany villa supplier to work on it. Now I need to put it together in presentable form, with pricing, etc. I also had a newsletter to write, which follows, as we were going out on tour in Hoi An, tomorrow.
Marcia came to report on her date at the Hong Kong Club with John Ball. She had had a wonderful time, except her Southern manners were severely inflamed when John berated the taxi driver for insisting on the Western Tunnel. He has lived in HK for 30 years and wasn’t about to be taken, for, and as, a tourist. I guess John got a lot firmer than Marcia could take. The taxi driver’s reaction was to dump them back at the Hong Kong Club. Luckily it’s close to the Star Ferry, so they walked there and took it back to the ship. Not the greatest end to a fine evening, but she wasn’t sorry she had gone. It was a memorable experience all around.
Molly Wallace came by the desk just to chat, as did Michael Holt, who stayed and helped me collate the letters, which ran to two sheets of paper, because of the bus lists. I got them all delivered in the early afternoon, and took Elvon to the gym.
The entertainment was one of our favorites, Soul Mystique. They are dancers and quick-change artists, from Australia. We cannot, for the life of us, figure out how they change so fast.
On March 6, 2016, we docked in Da Nang, Vietnam. I got up early and dressed for the weather, as printed in the ship’s “Today On Location”. It stated a high of 73 degrees. I dressed in jeans, a long sleeved shirt and a sweater. We were meeting at 8:15 am in the Queen’s Lounge, so I got there at 7:45 am. You can never be too early. Somebody is always there first. The people were showing up in shorts and T-shirts and I began to question my attire. As soon as Michael and Gail arrived, I put them in charge and effected a five-minute quick change, including the trips to and from the cabin. I guess I did learn something last night, after all. And it was a very hot day.
We boarded our buses for the 45 minute drive to Hoi An. Our guide told us that war-torn Da Nang was now the fifth largest city in Viet Nam and the best one to live in. They have no homeless, subsidized schools and housing, decent wages by Vietnamese standards, and a wonderful beach to play on. You would know it as “China Beach”. The decent wage is about $200/month, so it’s a good thing they have subsidies. Even so, the $200/month only supports one person, so everyone works. There’s a lot of resort development going on. If business takes off, the employment situation should boom. For now, it’s still an agrarian economy. Vietnam has 93 million people and 40,000 million motor scooters. Cars are very expensive, so they need to pay for themselves.
Hoi An is a lovely old city, with a river running through it. It has capitalized on its charm, with a lot of tourist trade. On our walk to and from the market, we saw a lot of clothes and such, that we would have wanted to buy, had we not been on forced march. Some still snagged an item or two, and a few went back the next day. A smart few, I would say, but that would have been with hindsight.
Not everyone wanted to walk to the market, so they stayed back at the restaurant to wait. That kind of threw the tour off. They broke us into groups of eight to go through the market, which was really nice, as eight people can learn a lot more from a guide than 28. It did mean that we all arrived back at the cooking school/restaurant, at different times. By the way, it was called “Morning Glory Street Food Restaurant and Cooking School.” firstname.lastname@example.org
As soon as the folks at Morning Glory had the first 30 people back, they took them to the first floor up and started a class. Since the chefs that I brought along with our unused tickets, all wanted to linger at the market, they were all in the second group. My plan, duly communicated to Paul, the Culinary Ops Manager, was to have half the chefs in each group. That had only extended to buses. After that, we lost control, as I had no idea it was going to work like this. We all expected one big class.
It turned out fine in the end, but a few people did miss having a chef beside them, I had one and he was lovely to have. Every two people had their own food supplies and gas burners. This was serious. Lulu, the instructor who taught both classes was beyond excellent. It also explains the staggered start. While one class ate, the other learned and cooked. The food was fabulous. First we made fresh spring rolls. Those are the ones with a raw rice paper wrapper. They gave us each a deep fried mini roll to put in the middle, for crunch. There are cooked noodles in there, too, and pork, shrimps, chives, mint, lettuce, flowers, chives, etc. They were absolutely delicious.
We also made chicken and lime leaves, Banh Xeo, which is Vietnamese pancakes in rice paper, and was our favorite, and a mango and prawn salad. The food was spectacular and any concerns, that anyone had, evaporated as we purred our way through it. Yum, yum. I heard a couple of people remark that they didn’t know they were such good cooks.
After lunch, we had a lovely relaxing ride on the Hoi An River, which ended in an old merchant house, a temple and a Japanese Covered Bridge tour and too long a walk to the buses, which were hard to find, to boot. The less able bodied would have loved to have been able to skip that part, but the ones who could walk well really enjoyed it. I got complaints that it had been mis-represented, but when you re-read the tour description, which I handed out the first day, and again the day before, the walking tour is well described. I doubt as we could have done better.
The ship has an ongoing problem with this. It’s not just our tours. The Shore Excursions Manager and Location Guide re-iterate it constantly in their lectures. The clientele is old, can’t do what it used to be able to do, and blames everyone else for it. Interestingly, I got no formal complaints, except from one chronic complainer, who has a handicapped wife. Most people said they loved the tour. We’ll see what the evaluations bring.
March 7, 2016 was our second day in Da Nang, Vietnam. I should have heeded a note I wrote to myself, to the effect that I should spend my second day at the Intercontinental Resort, where there was likely good WiFi. But, I didn’t. I was tired of chasing it. I just used the ship’s and decided to go shopping. I had broken my favorite sandals, beyond what glue and clamps could fix, and I figured this would be a good place to deal with that.
I didn’t get out any too early, as usual. I caught the shuttle bus to the center of Da Nang, because that was easy and free. There was a desk in the square and a couple of people dispensing advice. I needed a shoemaker, the nearest ATM and the market. They suggested a trishaw and I ended up with Chong, who was nice enough, English was good enough, and would take me to the shoemaker’s and market for 100 dong, about $5. First we went to the bank, where my trusty Royal Bank of Canada ATM card couldn’t get me a dime. I had a rather lengthy call with Heather in Toronto, where it was 1:30 am. She said nothing was coming through that she could see and that I would see no charges. While she was on the line, I went through it one more time, with the same result, and then tried Bank of America, which came through with 2 million dong.
Chong found me a shoemaker, who was just working right there on the street. He offered to resole my sandals with a motorcycle tire in half an hour for $10. OK with me. We left them there and pulled out into traffic again. I am a nervous passenger in these little vehicles. We went to the local market, which was the kind I liked. It had everything under the sun, all in a jumble, from fast food to school uniforms. Chong had a bit of lunch while I browsed, looking for pantaloons and long shirts. It was too local a market and I found absolutely nothing. They didn’t have any fake iWatches, either. We made a lot of inquiries, with Chong translating, and finally he told me he thought he knew a shop that had what I wanted. Sure enough, there were ten or so of my ship mates, all delivered by the likes of Chong. Things I had paid $7 for in Saigon last year were going for $40. Bargaining seemed to be a non-starter, too, so I gave up and asked Chong to take me back. I ended up giving him $25, and did not feel I got my money’s worth, but it wasn’t that much to me, and I do have my sandals back.
Sailaway was fun and so was juggler Tempei, later in the evening.