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.
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.
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.
And we found it:
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.
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:
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.