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
March 8 was a day to catch up between Vietnamese ports. Saigon was going to be fun. I had shopping partners. I worked my travel business for a couple of hours. One of my people came to discuss modes of transportation in Petra. I have been there before, with a Tauck Tour and I know them all, feet, donkey cart and camel ride. I was able to explain the site and she left with a better understanding.
After I left the desk, Elvon and I worked out in the gym and went to Dick Healing’s talk in the Wajang theater. Dick and Dick Yetke, served in the US Coast Guard. What most of us do not know, is that the Coast Guard has been deployed overseas in every major conflict since its inception in 1879. Dick’s war was Vietnam and his talk was timely and fascinating. Our table went to the Vietnamese dinner in the Pinnacle, and it was truly delicious.
On March 9, 2016, in Phu My (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam, I left Elvon sleeping, with a nice tray from room service, and went to the Queen’s Lounge for the shuttle to Saigon, where I planned to do some serious shopping. I had a couple of partners from the group, Bobbie Reilly-Schmidt and Joan Harrison. The roads are a lot better than they were last year and the shuttle made it in record time, like an hour and a quarter, instead of the advertized two hours. We were dropped off at a new office tower, with a mall, with banks in it. I used an ATM, while Bobbie and Joan changed money in a real bank, with real tellers, where you got approved in one place and got your money in another. It was new and clean, and you got to sit down to do your business, so that worked for us.
Then we set off on the ten minute walk to the market, through the streets of downtown Saigon. The traffic isn’t nearly as bad as it was one and two years ago. The new highway must be relieving the city core, too. Crossing the street is a little daunting, with all the motorcycles, but we soon found out that following Joan was a good plan. She was the slowest of us, but she was fearless. She just set out, never varied her pace and never looked back. Bobbie and I just fixed our eyes on her back and followed.
I have long since learned to just use the government stores in the market, for the quickest, easiest shopping. You might pay a bit more, but they have more choice, all in one place. I got a nice embroidered duvet cover and pillow shams, for about $40, and a whole bunch of clothes. By one, we were done and ready for a nice lunch. I had noticed the Majestic Hotel on the map the shuttle had given us, and it was very near where we would be taking the shuttle back.
Built in the 20s, it’s a grande dame, with fabulous stained glass and chandeliers. I knew the food would be good, as we had had a cooking class there in one of our previous go-arounds. There were a few other ladies we recognized from the ship there, too, but it wasn’t crowded at all. It’s probably because it was at least three times as expensive as the restaurants on the streets. We didn’t care. We were ready to pay for ambience and good authentic Vietnamese food, that we knew was safe to eat. The Majestic delivered all that and a couple of local beers, too. It was excellent. It was a good day, and a good evening, too. The Scottish MacDonald Brothers provided good entertainment.
Back at sea on March 10, it was business as usual at the desk. At the request of Paul, the Culinary Ops Manager, and Jacques, the Cellar Master, I have been putting together a wine tour, out of Livorno. I have a good connection in Tuscany, thanks to having rented a very large villa there for last summer. I got it all planned and costed and ready to take to Nyron, the Shore Excursions Manager. We wanted him to bless it and put HAL’s liability umbrella over it, as it would be a crew tour. So I gave it all to Nyron and he said he would take care of it. They have a new tour operator in Italy. Nyron will ask them to address it.
The ship has announced an Art Auction to benefit a charity in Sri Lanka. I wonder if they’d like our phisherman. In the afternoon, I finally got some time to work on this log. I had a lot of catching up to do. There was a production show tonight, called “Dance”, we like those.
Since I had never been to Cambodia before, I invested in a tour of Sihanoukville and environs, for March 11. I hooked up with Pauline, from Bobbie, Dan, Alan and Lynn’s table. She was a lovely tour companion.
Our guide, Vicheth, gave us a short history of Cambodia on the way out. It was French for 90 years up to 1953, when it gained independence. It’s a monarchy, with elections, and the current king has no heir. The ruling party is the Khmer Rouge. He said the people have no rights. It is interesting that he seems to have the right to talk about it, though. The majority of the people are Buddhist, with a large Hindu influence, like Bali. The economy runs on textiles, rice, paper, rubber, timber, tobacco, etc. They have labor problems, because wages are low and many. many people go to other countries for better pay. This is particularly true of the well-educated. I was again floored when I heard him say: “Many people earn money from corruption.”
And, sadly, they are still clearing land mines. And, there are not too many well-educated, as the Khmer Rouge disposed of most of them in the killing fields. They had to completely rebuild the education system. They go to school for nine years, in Khmer. Parents who can afford it send their kids to English or French private schools at night. They still have to bring in skilled professionals, like engineers and doctors, from abroad. They desperately need teachers. There is no health, accident or property insurance, but I did see a Manulife building. There are no pensions. The new generation just takes care of its old.
We stopped to visit the market in Kampot, a town of 20,000. It was a very basic market. Then we visited a pepper plantation, and a fishing village and went to a very nice lunch. I made a proper piglet of myself, because many of our American tourists, won’t touch an unpeeled shrimp with its head still on. It’s a pity, as they were some of the freshest I had ever had, and had a yummy dipping sauce. Most people had none or one. I had about fifteen. There was a hot, spicy soup, cuttle fish, veggies, a whole fish, etc. I was in hog heaven. They even gave us a nice beer to wash it down.
We visited a school and a temple and walked a beach, where we all paid a dollar to take this photo. On the way back, Vicheth told us about Pol Pot, and how he had been educated in Paris, reading Marx and Lenin. He became second in command to Ho Chi Minh, when South Vietnam was supposed to be given to Cambodia. Interesting. Sihanouk, after whom the city is named, was the much-loved first ruler. He was responsible for Cambodia’s gaining its independence from France. The current king is his youngest son. I guess Vicheth, figured he had gotten to know us, because in the last hour, he shared his personal story, and how most of his family had died in the Pol Pot years, one and two at a time. He had been a baby and somehow the remaining family members managed to protect him. But, it was gruesome, and very, very sad.
Annie Gong, on the accordion, was the show. Somehow I liked her better last years. Some acts are only good once.
I had a message on my phone last night to take my “wonderful Balinese carving” to the art auction at eleven o’clock, so I did that just before I went to my desk on March 12, a sea day. He wasn’t rejected, but put out with the rest of the art created on board or purchased on shore, like mine.
A couple stopped by to talk about Singapore options and what to do in Phuket. That one is always a mystery to me, as in five stops there, the ship has only docked in the same place twice. Another passenger came to talk about Singapore. He’s a photographer, so I sent him to Jurong Bird Park, one of my favorite places, the Gardens by the Bay, and on the night Safari.
Dan stopped by to invite us to a cabin party he was having tonight. Since it’s Saturday, we are committed to Happy Hour. Bad timing, Dan. He’s one of our regulars, too. Donna Kasprick signed up to join is in Little India. I never got to the auction, because I had a letter to write and deliver, and I at least wanted it printed before we went to the gym.
So, I did that, and took Elvon to the gym. There we met Della Senchuk, one of my alumnae, who was there when I put the phisherman into the auction. She reported that he had gone for $70, with a competition at the end. It’s a good thing I didn’t go up. I might have spoiled the outcome. I don’t feel bad about wasting $25 at all, now, when a good cause made $70.
Thanks to Dan’s cabin party, there were only ourselves and one other couple at Happy Hour. That was just fine. We got to know them better. The entertainment was Rich Shydner, and he was very, very good. I don’t think he’ll go stale either. His material is all very timely.
March 13 was almost a sea day, as we were due to arrive in Singapore at 6:00 pm, so I went to the desk. I got an email that confirmed me as the host on Celebrity Silhouette, going around the British Isles in August. That’s great. There was a lot of traffic at my desk, talking about Singapore and pouring over my maps.
I took Elvon with me to the gym, and then out to the deck, to lounge there, while I answered emails, and worked on my log a bit. At 6:00 pm, we docked and I turned on my phone. There were a bunch of texts from Dave Lasker. The Laskers and Levertons were on the Crystal Serenity at the next dock. Unfortunately, they were leaving, just as we were docking. So near and yet so far. I got a very wet arm waving from deck three in the pouring rain.
I wanted Elvon to come for Chinese Food in Vivo Centre, where there are a number of good places for Chinese Food. He didn’t want to budge off the ship. I wanted him to come to Little India tomorrow, so we settled on getting good Chinese take-out and eating it up in the Sea View Bar, an open area, on Deck 8, Aft.
It turned out to be a very good thing he didn’t come. It’s a long way in to Harbour Centre and over to Vivo Centre, only to find its escalators to the third floor are broken. There were doubtless lifts somewhere, but I didn’t bother looking, since Elvon wasn’t with me. I just climbed the broken escalators, like everyone else. In this case, that included hundreds of knee bangers. Those are just a couple of years older than rug rats, with more energy and propulsion. Elvon would have been terrified, at a minimum, and it might have been worse. They were all over the place, probably because it was Sunday night. That’s maid’s day off in HK and S’pore, and everyone eats out. For parents with small children, a mall kills a few birds with one stone, you see. I found Paradise Seafood, and ordered some nice Shanghai food for a $32 S’pore dollars, maybe $23 to me.
I got it back to the ship as fast as I could, mustered Elvon, and we went up on deck. The rain had stopped, it was a beautiful evening, and our Chinese food was delicious. Annie Francis sang songs from the 70s and she was great.
By the time I left the ship, the next day, everyone had canceled out of Little India, except for the Westcotts and Kaspricks. They were all wearing themselves out in Singapore, but they were tired and happy. I found the Fish Spa, booked for tomorrow, and used their Internet for two hours. Fifty minutes of it was a call to Susan at home. We tried to use Viber, but the Internet wasn’t that good, and we could only hear about 10%. So, she called me, US number to US number. I don’t know what it cost for her end, but mine was $114. It was wonderful, but not something you would do every day.
I went back to the ship around three, picked up Elvon, and we took a taxi to Banana Leaf Apolo, an Indian restaurant, right in the Little India Arcade (48 Sarangoon St.) Our cabbie was a second generation Singaporean, who loves his life and his city. His father had ten kids. He owned his own house and every kid got one when he or she got married. That’s how it works here. The state provides. His daughter just got married and she got a house, too. Anyone, who is Singaporean born, has it made. He admits they have a lot of rules and regulations, but firmly believes that’s what keeps the peace. All races and religions live in harmony here, following those rules and regulations.
I texted Dee when we got there and the Westcotts set out to join us. They are staying at the Marriott, for the WiFi. I got Elvon settled in Banana Leaf, and we each had a chai and a Haagen Das. The Westcotts arrived. Wells joined Elvon, and Dee and I went off to do some serious damage in Bobby Pebbles’ shop, LotusMantra. We paid about three times what Linda McMillan and I had paid in Jew Town, Cochin, for the equivalent, but we aren’t going to India this year, so we sucked it up. We bought about ten pieces between us, got about 10% off and a free necklace each, and we love our new clothes. We also found some fun sandals, bindi, hair toys, etc. The Kaspricks arrived and we had a very fine Indian dinner. It was a good night.