The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 21

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Twenty-one

October 16 (Thursday, Day 30, Phu My [Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon], Vietnam) –

The Mekong Delta

In celebration of our 4th anniversary, we bought a shore excursion. We decided we should go to Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon, population 7,000,000). It was about 70 miles or 2 hours from the port so we bought a roundtrip transfer.

More after the jump . . . The Saigon Transfer Photo Portfolio:

We were dropped off at the Rex Hotel and had four hours on our own. We walked to the Ben Thanh market which was a single story open-air market that was really for the Vietnamese and the few tourists in Saigon. It had silks, t-shirts, luggage, sunglasses, shoes, clothing and a “food court”. The food looked good but we weren’t hungry yet. Plus, it was probably 85 degrees F and 85% humidity and both of us were completely drenched. We left the market with the hope that there might be a breeze outside and walked some more. (There was not a breeze.) In Downtown Saigon

In downtown Saigon
Saigon City Hall
Ben Thanh Market

We stopped at Pho 24 which appeared to be a chain restaurant for pho (Vietnamese noodle soup). It sold beer so we went in and Filbert ordered a couple beers and Snookums ordered watermelon juice and we shared a bowl of beef pho. It was pretty tasty and also came with a plate that contained bean sprouts, limes, hot pepper slices, leaves from some herb and another kind of green herb/vegetable. We also were given wrapped packages of deep-fried tofu. Filbert put the condiments from the plate in his little bowl and added pho while Snookums just ate the pho as is. The deep-fried tofu was incredibly greasy and was kind of rubbery. But, the air conditioning in the restaurant was outstanding and since not many places had air conditioning, that made it a great establishment. Our bill was $7.50. We probably could have gotten the same thing at the open-air market for $3.50.

The spread at Pho 24

After lunch we stopped at Parkson Department Store. It was four floors and was your typical department store, including selling Clinique products on the first floor. The strange thing was that there were probably no more than ten customers in the entire store and that is NOT an exaggeration. Vietnamese obviously can’t afford to shop at department stores. Nothing in it was unique so we didn’t stay there long. It was very clean and well organized, though, since the saleswomen didn’t have anything else to do but keep their areas tidy.

We returned to the Rex Hotel about two hours early and just sat in the lobby with other cruisers who had seen enough of Saigon. Snookums walked across the street three different times to buy $1 beverages, including beer, from a lady on the sidewalk. Saigon was very hot and humid and had motorcycles everywhere. Mostly the drivers obeyed the traffic signals, but you still had to be very careful when crossing the streets. They parked their scooters on the sidewalks so sometimes they would drive on the sidewalks. There were open-front establishments on either side of the street and they could be stores, restaurants with seats on the sidewalk or even motorcycle repair places.

We went to dinner on the ship and were surprised by anniversary cards from Jae and Bari and Yvan and Alice. Holland America gave us another cake like the one we got at Pinnacle Grill but without the whipped cream on the top. The staff sang some song in Italian (we think) and it was kind of nice. We passed the cake around the table three times and everyone took a forkful each time, just like one big happy family. Then the desserts we ordered came and everyone ate their own desserts. It was a good anniversary but we decided we don’t need to return to Saigon (or maybe not even to Vietnam).

Next post: Thailand!

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 20

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Twenty

Happy Halloween to everyone back home!

October 14 (Tuesday, Day 28, Da Nang, Vietnam – 16,500 dong to the dollar) –

We docked and took the free shuttle to downtown Da Nang (population 750,000). We didn’t bother getting Vietnamese currency since we were told that U.S. currency was okay. Gary served here in the Navy so we walked around with him and Charlotte. We walked to the local two-story market.

Han Market

More after the jump . . . The first floor was for produce, fish and meat and the second floor contained many shoe stalls, clothing stalls and silk stalls. Snookums bought a piece of decorated red velvet dress material and later found out that the Chinese symbol on it is for wedding. So she bought a wedding dress!! She figures her mom and sister will figure out how to make it into a formal for future cruises. It was $15.

Vietnamese dress fabric

The streets of Da Nang are full of motorcycles, some bicycles, a few work trucks, and two passenger cars. Everyone has a motorcycle or a bicycle and no one has a car. The sidewalks are used for parking lots and the stores have open fronts. The streets are paved and there appears to be some sense of traffic rules. It wasn’t as buy as Snookums expected it to be. Every now and then we saw an elderly woman carrying a wooden yoke across her shoulder that had bundles on each end. A lot of people wore the conical hats, too. Many of the women wore the traditional outfit of the silk pants under the matching silk knee-length blouse that had slits on both sides. Many of these were solid white, too, and the women were on the motorcycles or bicycles. We don’t know how they managed to keep them clean. Snookums wanted to buy an outfit but the pants were too short. Maybe they’ll have longer ones on Thursday in Ho Chi Minh City. We saw school kids in their uniforms of navy blue pants, white shirts and bright red neckerchiefs. Boys and girls wore the same uniforms.

After about 30 minutes Charlotte and the men were soaked so we stopped in the Com Nieu restaurant–air conditioned, much to the delight of the menfolk.

Com Nieu restaurant (a free plug for them)

Another couple walked in a few minutes later that Gary and Charlotte knew so we six shared some dishes. Our table of four ordered fried squid, fried shrimp and pork with lemongrass and shrimp sauce. The fried squid and fried shrimp were what we expected. The pork dish was served in a very little dish, probably about 1/2 cup total, and was very fishy from the shrimp sauce. But, it was only $1.25 so we shouldn’t have expected a large quantity. Each fried dish cost $2.50 and the portions were generous. We also ordered one clay pot baked white rice for $0.63. The other couple ordered green vegetables (morning glory), a pot of baked rice and a dish of bean curd with eggplant. At least four beers were ordered, too, and the total bill was less than $18.00 for the six of us (Gary paid for everyone). There were also free “condiment” items for us including incredibly spicy coleslaw, normal salted cocktail peanuts and a bowl of pickled things that looked like lychees or water chestnuts but definitely were not. We enjoyed the air-conditioned break before we continued to walk around Da Nang.

Beer, two tigers

We turned a corner in the middle of Da Nang and saw Alice and Yvan on the backs of motorcycles!! It’s a small world since we were not in any kind of tourist area at all. They hired their guides earlier in the day and were just being taken here and there. It was pretty hilarious seeing them on the backs of the motorcycles. They appeared to be having fun even if Yvan’s helmet chinstrap didn’t close.

Two mad Canadians and their Vietnamese guides
Scooter store–we think

We decided to hire a cab to take us to China Beach. On the way there the driver stopped at his “cousin’s” marble factory. Da Nang is known for Marble Mountain and the local people quarry it for huge hunks of marble that they then make into knick-knacks, jewelry, vases, statues, tables, stools, etc. We bought an intricate marble candleholder that kind of looks similar to a pagoda where you put the candle inside and let the light shine out for $50. The saleswoman also gave Snookums a 500 dong coin which is equivalent to about $0.03 since Snookums keeps a coin from every country she’s ever visited. Then we went to China Beach for 10 minutes. It was a beautiful beach but only had four people enjoying it. Da Nang is not yet on the tourist track.

China Beach

We got back to the ship and Gary pointed out the big concrete things that look like children’s jacks on the other side of the breakwater barrier and said that was his contribution to Da Nang. When he was here with the Navy, one of the things the U.S. did was to build a breakwater barrier by piling up concrete “jacks”. Since then the Vietnamese added a concrete wall but the “jacks” are still there doing their job. He didn’t remember much Vietnamese other than how to say “Don’t shoot” and how to order the local beer (333 is the brand). He had pretty good memories of his time here in 1972 and 1973 and never saw any action and stayed out of trouble.

Later that day we got a phone call saying that our reservation at the $20 per person restaurant (Pinnacle Grill) for tomorrow night would not work since the menu was going to be a $65 chef’s tasting menu. Snookums asked the woman why we were just notified of this when we made the reservation about three weeks ago in honor of our anniversary. The woman apologized and said that her boss would talk to us later. We’ll see what happens when Jason, culinary operations manager, calls.

We went to dinner and shared stories of Da Nang. We found out that Yvan and Alice hired these two guys on motorcycles who aren’t even guides and didn’t speak English and hadn’t done this before. They ended up being with them (and their motorcycles) for 7 hours and Yvan even got a fabulous $20 one-hour massage at one stop they went to. They ended up giving them $100 but the Vietnamese guys didn’t want to take U.S. currency (which really does mean that they hadn’t done this before!) so they had to drive around and try four ATMs before Alice found one that worked and then they finally gave them 1,560,000 Vietnamese dong! Filbert left the table prior to dessert (as did Gary and Charlotte) since he was so tired.

After dinner Snookums returned to the cabin (and saw that Filbert was sound asleep) and read the next day’s daily program to see about the chef’s tasting dinner at the Pinnacle Grill. There was nothing in it so Snookums decided to visit the Pinnacle Grill in case she misunderstood something on the phone call. She spoke to Kim and Kim verified everything that she told Snookums earlier and offered to let us come for $20 each. Snookums accepted and also wrote a letter to Jason expressing her displeasure with the late notice cancellation.

October 15 (Wednesday, Day 29, At sea) –

Filbert slept until 10:30 AM. It was hot and humid outside so Snookums loved it but Filbert started sweating the minute he went outside. For lunch he had taco salad which is served by the outside pool and by the time he came back inside, he was sweating. During the noon report, the captain said that the temperature was 85 degrees F and the water temperature was 82 degrees F. That’s pretty warm ocean water.

After lunch Snookums got caught up writing the journal on the verandah while Filbert went to the air-conditioned Exploration’s Cafe to add the photos since the Crow’s Nest on the top deck was too hot with all of its windows.

We received a letter from Jason, culinary operations manager, informing us that tonight’s Pinnacle Grill dinner was free as well as another night that we wanted to dine there. We thought that was very nice and we are very satisfied with the response.

We went to the Pinnacle Grill for our anniversary dinner. It usually just serves very, very nice cuts of beef, lamb and fresh seafood but tonight was Guest Chef James Mazzio’s special dinner. The set menu (with wine pairings) consisted of Smokey Fall Tomato Soup with a sunken goat cheese souffle and basil oil (Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand), Watercress and Arugula served with roasted beets, haricot verts, toasted pine nuts and lemon vinaigrette (Lanzerac Chardonnay, Stellenbosch, South Africa), Pan Seared Swordfish accompanied by crispy herb risotto cake with garlic spinach, roasted tomato jus with olives and capers (Conundrum, Rutherford, California), Peach Bellini, Sesame Soy Glazed Beef Tenderloin with potato gratin with a coconut curry sauce (Erasmo Meritage, Chile) and Molten Chocolate Cake with Chambord macerated raspberries and raspberry coulis (Castello Banfi, Brunello di Montalcino, Italy).

Pinnacle Grill

We didn’t think the dinner was worth $65 per person, but since it was free for us, we thought it was great. Everything was very good except the molten chocolate cake that Snookums was really looking forward to. It had Grand Marnier in it so she didn’t like it. The Pinnacle Grill announced our anniversary to the thirty or so people attending and gave us an anniversary cake. It was a chocolate cake layer topped with chocolate mousse and then whipped cream so after scraping off the top two layers, Snookums ate the chocolate cake instead of the molten chocolate cake and was quite pleased.

At supper

Next: Saigon. (“I can’t believe I’m back in Saigon!” Filbert doesn’t remember what movie that line is from, unfortunately . . . )

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 19

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Nineteen

October 13 (Monday, Day 27, Cruising South China Sea) –

We used today as a catch up day after spending two days in Hong Kong. Lots of reading, napping, computing and listening to short wave radio was done. A small flock of seabirds (one person on the ship called them petrels) circled the ship, swooping to snatch flying fish being scared out of the water by the ship.

A short picture study of petrels at sea, after the jump: Petrels:

We attended the Amuse Style Luncheon for all the suite guests. Free liquor was available but Filbert opted for Diet Coke. Snookums enjoyed a virgin pina colada and a virgin strawberry margarita to go along with the skewers of venison, beef, mozzarella/basil/cherry tomatoes, shrimp puffs and other tasty tidbits that were brought to us. The chocolate covered strawberries were especially good.

The following activities happened between 11:00 and 3:00 today:

11:00 – Lecture on the TET offensive, Queen’s Lounge
11:00 – Caroline Dadlani Jewelry Champagne Unveiling, Shops
11:00 – Power Posture, Spa
11:15 – Guest Chef James Mazzio presents Home Cooking Made Easy, Culinary Arts
11:30 – Casino Clinic: Texas Hold’em, Casino
12:00 – The Brain Super Team Trivia, Ocean Bar
12:30 – 1:30 – Lunchtime Music on Deck, Lido
12:45 – Voice from the Bridge Announcement
1:00 – Watercolor Class, The Loft
1:00 – Tai Chi with Roger, Crow’s Nest
1:00 – Digital Workshop: 15 Minutes of Fame Blogging a Travel Journal, Queen Room
1:30 – $60 Texas Hold’em Tournament, Casino
1:30 – “Custodians of the Sea” with Environmental Officer Joe Parks, Wajang Theatre
2:00 – Duplicate and Party Bridge, La Fontaine Dining Room
2:30 – Arts and Crafts with Lola, Lido
2:30 – Mah Jongg, Hudson Room
2:30 – Basketball Free Throw Contest, Sports Deck

Snookums worked out and then before dinner we decided to visit the store. Filbert bought a Dam Ships apron and a T-shirt. (All of the Holland America ship names end in “dam” so one of the sayings is “Dam Ships”.) This store is the worst store we’ve seen on a ship and we’ve seen some pretty bad ones. It has three styles of bathing suit cover-ups, four HAL t-shirts, one kind of pants for men and one kind of pants for women, various logo items like mugs, key chains and bottle openers, (but not polo shirts or t-shirts) and assorted cheap jewelry. There is also another jewelry store on board that has stuff in the $100 price range plus a very, very expensive jewelry store that no one ever enters since it sells items in the $5000 and up price range. Anyway, just about everyone that we have talked to about the store is very disappointed. They don’t put new items out every day or even every week. What was in the store on Day One is still there! They sold out of a lot of the t-shirts within the first week and that’s that. We’ve been told that they are not getting anymore items in. It’s a good thing that we weren’t counting on buying anything but Gary wanted to get an Amsterdam polo shirt and they had none for sale. They just have “Asia Australia 65-day cruise” logo t-shirts for sale.

Sunset and birds

Next: Da Nang!

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 18

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Eighteen

October 12 (Sunday, Day 26, Hong Kong) – Continued

We were in the middle of our stroll through the flower market, bird market, and fish market of Hong Kong when we were so rudely interrupted by the 10-picture-per-post limit that Filbert has set in his blog hosting software. So, let’s continue . . .

Filbert had a short conversation with this bird

More after the jump . . .

More flowers
Bags o’ fish

Then we took a $1.30 subway ride to Causeway Bay which is kind of on one end of Hong Kong Island. We did this in order to take a tram ride back through the city. First, though, we had lunch in the basement of Sogo Department Store which is a Japanese department store. The basement food hall was just like in Japan (but Hong Kong department stores don’t have food halls in the basement). We ate at Curry Bee since Snookums wanted Japanese curry and hadn’t had any while we were in Japan. Filbert ordered pork stirfry and an onion/shrimp fried appetizer. We cleaned our plates.

Filbert was burning through our stock of ibuprofen, and wanted to resupply. We weren’t able to find any at the normal drugstores but we saw a pharmacy and stopped there. The pharmacist had them for sale and Filbert bought 24 400-mg tablets for $9 US. We counted out our money and made sure we had enough for the tram ride and the Star Ferry ride. We ended up being short about $0.25 US but the pharmacist still let us have the ibuprofen.

Hong Kong has six tram routes (not to be confused with the Peak Tram) that have been in existence for over 100 years. It is the largest double-decker fleet in the world. We got on the upper deck and enjoyed a $0.26 ride for about 25 minutes. Gary saw us when we passed his tram. We didn’t see him, but he told us about it later and knew what Filbert was wearing and where he was sitting. The trams pass within about 8 inches of each other so he did have an up-close and personal view of Filbert and our tram! We got off the tram at Central and walked to the Star Ferry for our last ride across Hong Kong Bay. While we were on the tram and while we were walking to the Star Ferry, we saw thousands of Filipino women sitting in groups of 4s and 6s on blankets looking like they were picnicking on blocked off streets. We finally saw some kind of big banner that said something about Filipino work permits. There weren’t any real protests but all of the Filipino maids and nannies turned out to show support.


After getting off the Star Ferry we still had $2.30 left in Hong Kong money (or $0.30 US). Snookums ran into a 7/11 and bought a candy bar for $2.20 (or $0.28 US). That meant that we used all of our money except for one Hong Kong dime (or $0.02 US). That was burning a hole in Snookums’ pocket so on the way back to the ship Snookums shopped at the mall and looked at Reebok tennis shoes but they only carried them up to size 9. Instead she bought two travel blouses (size Large fit perfectly) for $40 (US) each. So, she spent the $0.02 by spending $80 US! But, she really likes the blouses!!

There was a Hong Kong cultural show at 7 on the ship that Snookums attended. It was the best “local” show yet. It had four different acts. The first one was a duet of a man on a piano and a man playing the Chinese lute. The second was a dragon dance where 15 men carried poles that held up a really long dragon and they ran around the stage to make the dragon look like it was alive. The third act was performed by two women in traditional costumes who did a ribbon dance that reminded Snookums of rhythmic gymnastics with the ribbon. The fourth act was some kind of face opera that is famous in China where a man plays all of the parts and with sleight of hand changes his masks to be the different characters. It was amazing and no one in the audience could figure out how he did it.

Hong Kong cultural show – face opera

Everyone at dinner shared their stories of what happened that day. Well, everyone except Alice. Yvan has had two knees replaced and can’t do all the walking that his wife can do so he stayed on the ship while she went out and explored. Everyone had to be on by 10:30 PM so he wasn’t worried. We all assumed she was buying out Hong Kong since she is a super shopper. The ship was leaving Hong Kong at 11 PM and there was going to be a dragon dance show at 10 PM on the roof of the pier. Our room happened to look directly at the roof of the pier (and not at Hong Kong Bay like the other side of the ship got to see – but we had the good side in Shanghai) so everyone came up to our cabin to see the show. There were about 10 teenagers playing drums and cymbals and 10 were making the dragon dance. Our friends slowly wandered off since it was loud and monotonous.

Dragon dance
The band played on, and on, and on, and on . . .

We continued to cheer and clap since that was the nice thing to do. They ultimately quit playing around 11:05 and this was even after the ship pulled away around 10:45 PM! Filbert watched us sail out of Hong Kong Bay and Snookums went to sleep.

Leaving Hong Kong

Next up: At sea, headed for Vietnam!

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 17

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Seventeen

October 11 (Saturday, Day 25, Hong Kong – 7.75 HKD to the dollar) – Continued

We got to the 120-year old Peak Tram around 10 AM and got right on. The Peak Tram is a double reversible funicular railway that is almost a mile long that goes up 1300 feet above seal level. We had great views from the top of Victoria Peak and also decided to walk around the peak on the 1.75-mile trail.

At Victoria Peak
The Amsterdam at Hong Kong

More after the jump . . . When we rode the tram back down we were shocked to see a huge line of people waiting to board. In that line were Jae and Bari with their tour group. We waved and told them that we had no line at all. Timing is everything!

The tram line down
Jae and Bari (Waving, at right)

It was time for our Dukling ride so we rode the bus back to Central. Snookums made a quick stop in a 7/11 convenience store and bought a shrink wrapped BBQ pork bun for $0.75. It wasn’t refrigerated at all and was a light and fluffy bun stuffed with BBQ pork. It was pretty tasty for $0.75 and stopped her growling stomach. The Dukling ride was uneventful but nice.

The Duk Ling
The happy couple on the Dukling

We were let off on the Kowloon side of the bay right by our ship and decided that we had done enough walking for the day. We went back to the ship and then decided we needed to take advantage of the free WiFi in the mall connected to the ship’s port so we collected our laptops and went off to find a quiet place to sit. The mall is Hong Kong’s largest and was full of pricey stores and full of Hong Kong shoppers. Benches could only be found on the wing that contained the children’s clothing stores (like DKNY, Hallmark, Chaus, Chloe and other high fashion names – but only clothing for children!). Those few benches were all taken and it was very noisy so then we went on the search for a restaurant with beer. This was also hard to find but along the way we passed a photo shop and had photos developed for $0.20 each for postcards. (At the photo shop we also saw a 10-pack of DVD-R priced at $4.25 that Filbert bargained for in Shanghai for $7.90. This mall was a “normal” retail mall with price tags on the items and didn’t allow bargaining. His Shanghai bargain wasn’t that good, but still cheaper than in the U.S.) We finally found a teashop and sat down for about an hour and Filbert nursed a $1.50 beer while we surfed the net.

On the way back to the ship we checked out the full size grocery store in the mall and Filbert bought more beer. He ended up with 12 cans of five brands for less than $8. Some of the cans cost as little as $0.39 each.

We rested for a little while before heading out again to the Temple Street Night Market. This is the market that sells knock-offs of everything: Prada purses, pirated DVDs, T-shirts, Oakley sunglasses and all sorts of other stuff. This market is held on Temple Street every day from 4 PM until ?? and the temporary stalls are set up and taken down every night. We didn’t buy anything but decided to eat. We found a “restaurant” in an alley under a tarp. We sat at a table with small plastic stools and a roll of toilet paper on the table for napkins. The ten other tables were full of Chinese. We ordered fried cuttlefish (delicious) and pork with Chinese vegetables (very tasty). A few beers, bottled water and rice were added to that and our bill was around $20. We thought that was kind of pricey and figured we were charged a lot for the beer since we knew the prices of the food. But, we paid it and continued on our way. Like Gary, our tablemate, would have said “It was our contribution to foreign aid.”

Night market

We returned to the ship and went to bed very tired and very happy with our first day in Hong Kong.

October 12 (Sunday, Day 26, Hong Kong) –

We were tired from our long Saturday and decided to take it easy. The day was warm and humid like yesterday but visibility was not very good. We were lucky that we went up to Victoria Peak yesterday. We took the $0.52 subway to the area that contained the flower market, the bird market and the fish market. This involved a lot of walking but we got to see some great flowers, birds and fish. We didn’t buy any, though.

Dog and tortoise

Our Hong Kong visit continues in the next post . . .

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 16

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Sixteen

October 8 (Wednesday, Day 22, Shanghai, China) – Continued

We showered and got ready for our sailaway dinner that we were hosting on our verandah. The day before Snookums talked to the concierge about having all eight of us from our dinner table eat on our verandah at 8:00 since we were sailing at 9:00. She was told that was no problem so this morning each person came by our cabin and wrote their dinner choices on the menu. Then Snookums took them to the concierge. We started getting phone calls and knocks on the door from various staff around 5 PM. We knew that we needed another table and four chairs on the verandah and our steward brought them from another cabin’s verandah. But we didn’t expect another steward to come and set the tables with linens, glassware and all of the silverware, but that’s what happened!

Pudong New District at night
Shanghai at night

More after the jump . . . Our friends came around 7:30 and everyone oohed and aahed over the lights of Pudong New District. Shanghai has a beautiful skyline at night and our verandah was the perfect place to see it from. The river was also very busy with several colorful dinner party boats that we yelled at as well as floating billboard boats. We watched barges and huge container ships go by, too. We laughed and took pictures and drank wine that Yvan brought and champagne from us and Gary and Snookums managed to gesture wildly and knock Filbert’s champagne glass out of his hand to the verandah floor so we even had broken glass to make it a real party! None of us could believe how nice it was and none of us expected to have tablecloths and full service. It was way over the top and we all reveled in it!!!!

Alice takes a picture
The tables are set

A dining room steward came around 8:15 to serve our appetizers so we each found a seat. When the entrees were delivered, that steward also stayed so now we had two that were serving us for the rest of the evening! (The stewards liked the view, too, and we told them to make themselves at home either on the verandah or by watching TV. Unfortunately, they were constantly working – serving, filling water glasses, taking dirty plates away, folding napkins when one of us got up to stand by the railing to see the sights, etc. – but they did enjoy the views and their tips.) The ship started moving around 9:15. Some people forgot about eating dessert by then and watched us back up several hundred yards before turning around in the middle of the river. Little by little the city lights faded and we found ourselves in a quiet river with barges and fishing boats tethered together in the middle of the river for the night. There was a little bit of river traffic, but by 10 PM or so most of the boats were tied down for the night. The party broke up around 11 and Filbert continued to watch until we left the Huangpu River at midnight and hit the Yangtze River. Snookums went to bed around 11. Yvan and Alice had been to Shanghai two other times and had wonderful memories but they said that this was their best memory yet of Shanghai. We all agreed to do it again and Filbert wants it to be on the next formal night so that he doesn’t have to wear his tuxedo.

October 9 (Thursday, Day 23, Cruising South China Sea) –

Chinese fishing fleet
Riding really high in the water

We deemed today a day of rest since we were so tired from our massive walks around Shanghai. We ate breakfast in the Lido (buffet) and wandered around outside since it was our first really nice day at sea. We finally made it back to our room where we promptly set up on the verandah. Snookums started and finished a paperback (spy drama) plus took a nap while Filbert took pictures of boats and ships, and did research for his book. While she was sleeping he went to the library and checked out a history book (The History of the World) and a language/linguistics book. We ordered room service at 3 PM. We also watched hundreds of fishing boats today. They were everywhere. We managed to see two different creatures in the water, but we don’t know what they were. They were large round things (turtles) and we saw them about three hours apart. Other than that, we haven’t seen any sea creatures since Day Two of the cruise.

Snookums went to the gym at 6 PM for a light cardio workout and the fitness instructor came over and asked her if she was crew or a guest. (Snookums is one of the youngest passengers on the ship.). Then the woman told her that she noticed her workouts and told her how fit she looked. This definitely means that more desserts are in Snookums’ future!!

On the way to the formal dinner we stopped in the Neptune Lounge to hand the concierge a comment form praising the crew for the previous night’s dinner. He said that we can do it any time and we said we would. We were glad to hear him say that since everyone had already decided we had to do it again. We got to dinner and our table was kind of quiet. Everyone agreed that they only came in order to see everyone else. People were tired from the activities in Shanghai as well as there was a little bit of a letdown of eating in the dining room after enjoying the fabulous verandah dining experience last night. Sleep couldn’t come soon enough for all of us. Gary even came wearing his newly purchased black silk Chinese jacket from Shanghai. This from the man who said he wouldn’t come to any formal nights since he didn’t own a tux. He wore a Japanese yukata and bow tie on our last formal night and now a Chinese jacket for this formal night. What’s next?

October 10 (Friday, Day 24, Cruising South China Sea) –

Everyone on the ship had to get their temperatures taken this morning to fulfill a Hong Kong government requirement. We were deemed healthy with our 33 degree C temperatures. We then had breakfast in the dining room. Filbert went to a lecture on Hong Kong while Snookums decided to take advantage of the 83 degree F temperature and laid out by the pool for two hours and then had lunch which consisted of delicious chocolate cake, mixed berry crumble and mint chocolate chip ice cream (you only live once!). Filbert worked out, went to a lecture about Chairman Mao and then ate a taco salad lunch. We saw each other again around 2:15 PM on our verandah. Snookums spent two hours writing three days’ of happenings in the journal while Filbert read “The History of the World” and listened to his short-wave radio. We saw more fishing boats but not as many as yesterday.

Snookums worked out, mended her brown T-shirt (yes, with a needle and thread!) and then it was time for dinner and bed.

October 11 (Saturday, Day 25, Hong Kong – 7.75 HKD to the dollar) –

Reunification Hall, Hong Kong

We got off the ship as soon as it docked in order to sign up for the free Dukling junk (boat) ride offered twice a day on Thursdays and Saturdays to foreign visitors. We were able to get on the 1:00 tour (limit of 35, first come, first served) and found out that they now charge $6.50 per person. That was okay so we signed up. We then took the Star Ferry ($0.22) across the bay to catch the bus to the Peak Tram to go up Victoria Peak.

Star Ferry
Hong Kong skyline

Our Hong Kong visit continues in the next post . . .

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 15

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Fifteen

October 8 (Wednesday, Day 22, Shanghai, China) –

Shanghai skyline

We took the shuttle to downtown and today we had a plan. We decided to walk to Yu Garden. Filbert navigated and Snookums followed. We stopped at an electronics mart department store and Filbert found a 10-pack DVD-R for 80 yuan. He bargained down to 55 ($7.90) which he thought was a great deal.

More after the jump . . . We also managed to find Dongtai Lu flea market on the way and walked through stalls of various “antiques”. Filbert was tempted to buy Mao’s Little Red Book but didn’t. We saw a woman washing her hair on the street in a bucket in front of her store. Across from the flea market area was a large area with a lot of Chinese in it. We figured we had to see what they were all excited about. We made our way across the street and found ourselves in China’s version of a pet store. The main pets, though, were crickets and cicadas!

Chinese pets
More Chinese pets

Each vendor had hundreds of homemade containers with an air hole, food and cricket in each one. Most of these crickets were tiny – about ½ inch long. The customers had a piece of straw and would “tickle” the cricket. We don’t know how much these cost since the Chinese vendors didn’t even look our way. This was the only time we were in Shanghai when vendors didn’t come to us trying to sell us stuff!!! We also saw birds and turtles but mostly crickets and cicadas.

Chinese street exercise equipment

We continued walking towards Yu Garden and came upon the Ancient City Wall which was built in the 16th century to protect the city from Japanese pirates. Snookums also noticed that babies’ pants and toddlers’ pants have slits in them for them to go to the bathroom. They don’t wear diapers or underwear but instead they just go through the slits in the pants (the crotch isn’t sewn shut). No one on the ship knows, though, how babies manage this since babies aren’t “diaper trained”. If a parent is holding a baby, does the parent feel the urine on his/her arm and then put the kid on the ground so that it can do its business???

Tourist trap

We finally made it to Yu Garden. It was built in 1559 and is very pretty. Surrounding the garden were the normal tourist traps, including Starbucks and Haagen Dazs. There were LOTS of Chinese wandering around the outside of the garden but the inside was relatively empty. It cost 40 yuan ($5.71) to get in which is probably why a lot of Chinese were visiting just on the outside. We wandered around the garden for awhile but it was a maze of different rooms and buildings and lakes. We didn’t see it all but decided we had seen enough. It was time to head back to the free shuttle bus.

Yu Garden
Under a dragon

While walking back to the bus, Snookums decided she was hungry and Filbert decided he needed a beer. We stopped in a nice Chinese restaurant and had one order of beef and broccoli (per the picture and the English), one order of rice for Snookums, one bottle of water for Snookums and two beers for Filbert. It cost $8.85 and wasn’t anything special, but it worked for us since we needed some food and a break. As Filbert said “We came half way around the world to eat beef and broccoli.” But, the other items on the menu, like boar’s feet or fish stomach, just didn’t appeal to us.

We continued our hike back to the shuttle and when we got close, we hit up two convenience stores for cases of beer. With prices this cheap, Snookums made Filbert buy beer for the room since he had ordered one on the ship and it cost $4.43! At the first store we were able to communicate that we wanted a case of beer and they had Suntory (24 12 oz. cans for $0.43 per can). Filbert carried the Suntory case. Then we came to a second store and bought a case of Tsingtao (12 ~20 oz. bottles for $0.69 per bottle). Snookums ended up carrying this one which was probably heavier due to the glass. Oh well. We boarded the shuttle and everyone wanted to know where we got the beer. (They must not explore grocery stores and convenience stores like we do!) We told them about a grocery store 1.5 blocks from the ship and half of the people on the shuttle got off and went there rather than getting on the ship right away.

We have noticed on this cruise that people don’t really spend money on the ship. They have all cruised so much that they know that the ship is a rip-off. The casino is pretty empty, the bars don’t do much business, the stores are pretty lame, and the art auction doesn’t get much business. (We don’t know about bingo since we’ve never been.) When people have sailed so much, they know what the ship has to offer and for the most part they buy their things when they are off the ship. Even people that spent $45,000 each to be on this cruise have commented that they don’t buy many beverages on the ship since they’re so expensive!

Filbert & Snookums in Shanghai

The day in Shanghai continues in the next post . . .

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage, part 14

The Grand Asia & Australia Voyage – Holland America Amsterdam, September 19-November 23, 2008

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Fourteen

October 7 (Tuesday, Day 21, Shanghai, China – 6.96 yuan to the dollar) –

We entered the Huangpu River around 4:30 AM. Snookums woke up at 6 AM and decided that Filbert needed to wake up, too. (He wasn’t too happy about this, but he survived.) Our ship was navigating its way through lots and lots of river traffic. There were barges and very small fishing boats and huge container ships and some Chinese military ships.

Chinese warship

More after the jump . . .

Fishing boat
China Maritime Surveillance (Coast Guard?)
Missile warship
Samsung billboard boat – we’d get to know him well

We picked up a pilot around 4:30 AM due to the danger involved on this river. Our ship docked around 8 AM and we were thrilled to see that we were on the “best” side. Our balcony faced Pudong New District which is the on the east side of the river. Pudong New District has been in a development boom since the 1990s and this is where the glitzy skyscrapers are (including a Grand Hyatt). This is also where the Oriental Pearl TV Tower is which is the third tallest TV tower in the world. At night the tower has all sorts of different colored lights on it making it very unique. Anyway, it was a very spectacular view.

Oriental Pearl TV Tower
Welcome to Shanghai Port

We took the free shuttle to a silk store in downtown Shanghai but didn’t even bother going in. We bought a map for $1 and then walked around in search of an ATM. After walking about a mile without finding one (after seeing one on every corner while on the shuttle bus), Snookums finally went into a convenience store armed with her Chinese phrase book and pointed to the word bank. The young woman immediately told her in perfect English where one was located! We walked a few more blocks and successfully got yuan. The exchange rate was 7 yuan to the $1.

We continued to walk with no destination in mind and found ourselves walking by a city park. We wandered through and we were amazed at the exercise equipment that was in it (and being used). The Chinese must have invented the first elliptical. There were also some ab rollers and some arm machines. None of them had any kind of weight or resistance mechanism to them, but people of all ages were using them. We weren’t sure what kind of workout they gave, but we figured it was better than just having the people sit on the park benches.

By now we were hungry (what else is new?) and although we passed several and carts that were serving various dishes, we decided to eat in a real restaurant. Most of the food carts were serving food in porcelain dishes and we saw the owner then wash the dish and decided we wanted to eat off of something more sanitary. We could have eaten full lunches for probably no more than $0.71 each had we gone the route that most of the Chinese do. We saw something called Mega Bite in the basement of the Hong Kong Center (a very upscale skyscraper) and decided to investigate. It was a Chinese version of a food court and other than two restaurants selling Japanese food, the other ten or so sold different kinds of Chinese food. We decided to eat at the stir fry place (we weren’t sure what region of China it was representing, but a lot of Chinese were buying from this vendor so we figured it was good). First, though, we had to figure out how to buy the debit cards that were used at all of the establishments. We asked two Caucasians (South Africans?) and they explained how to do it but offered to give us their cards to use and then to reimburse them in yuan. We would have done that, but they were almost done with their meals and had to get back to work. But, we thought that was awfully nice of them (especially when we found out that we would lose 10 yuan as a deposit). We put 50 yuan on a debit card (or $7.15) and managed to use the entire amount on Snookums’ fried rice with Kielbasa sausage and beef ($2.30), Filbert’s beef stir fry and white rice ($3.15) and one Tsingtao 600 ml beer ($1.70). Each of us also received a watery tomato soup which we decided must be the “beverage” since most of the Chinese didn’t have anything to drink with their meals. We also noticed that the Chinese always left large amounts of food on their plates when they were done. We later learned that the custom in China is to leave some food on your plate. But, we didn’t want to offend any starving children so we cleaned our plates.

We walked around some more and decided to ride the subway back to the ship. It cost $0.57 for each of us and involved transferring at Shanghai Railway Station. The subway station was like others in the world with all of its shops. We bought a China Daily newspaper for $0.22 to read back on the ship.

We managed the subway just fine and got off and walked back to the ship. On the way we passed the Shanghai Government Outlet for Tobacco and noticed it had liquor, too. (We ended up passing about four of these stores on the way to the ship.) We went in and Filbert bought five different bottles of beer. They were 600 ml each (or about 20 oz.) and cost between $0.43 and $0.79 each. The Chinese like their beer (and it’s sold in the convenience stores, too).

Reeb: it’s Beer, Backwards!

We got back to the ship and had some time to shower and rest up for our 6:30 dinner with Snookums’ friend, Elizabeth. Elizabeth worked with Snookums in Tokyo and is now living (and working) in Shanghai with her husband and two children. Prior to working in Tokyo she worked in Hong Kong so she is a “professional” ex pat!! During the cruise Snookums collected single serving boxes of Kellogg’s cereals, jars of jam and packages of graham crackers to give to Elizabeth. Elizabeth was thrilled to receive American food since “corn flakes made in Thailand don’t taste the same”.

She picked us up in her Buick minivan (her driver was driving it) and we went to Pudong New District for dinner on the 10th floor of Super Brand Mall in South Beauty Restaurant. Elizabeth’s husband was in New York on business and her two children were home with the nanny (one of two nannies they have). This restaurant was a very expensive Sichuan restaurant. She had been here once before with some Chinese colleagues. The restaurant had a gorgeous view of the Bund across the river or what is also known as the “Paris of the East”. These buildings are the relics of the thriving capitalism of the early 1900s. We had seats by the windows which came with a $29 per person surcharge. (That’s a LOT of money in Shanghai!) Elizabeth later found out that her frequent dining card got this surcharge waived.

Elizabeth doesn’t speak much Mandarin but the menu had pictures. (Her clients are mostly CEOs and CFOs and they are all native English speakers so language isn’t an issue for her work.) She ordered BBQ spare ribs, crispy shrimp, spicy shrimp, chicken lettuce wraps and spicy crab (Filbert’s order). We could have easily ordered things like duck’s tongues or bullfrog shred or beef part on ground (i.e. hoof), but chose the more “normal” items instead. (Translations to English are very literal.) To our surprise, the crispy shrimp had both their heads and tails still on. The chicken lettuce wraps were very spicy (and good) and surrounded a red Buddha molded out of salt or sugar.

Sugar Buddha

The spicy shrimp was served on a plate that also had a wineglass on it halfway filled with red liquid and dry ice so it foamed and frothed all during dinner. Filbert’s crab dish was served with the top crab shell covering the food. It was messy to eat since Filbert had to pick up lots of pieces of crab in the shell and had to get the crab out if it. Filbert ordered three Blue Girl beers since he hadn’t heard of this brand. They were $4 each for 12 oz. Elizabeth had two Corona beers for $4 each. (She wanted something other than Asian beer.) Our total bill for the three of us, minus the surcharge, was around $100. According to an article in China Daily, $115 is what a person pays each month to live in a nice nursing home. Due to the cost, the number of Chinese families that were eating here surprised Snookums. She expected to see just business people, but most of the tables were full of families. We had a great time catching up.

Your travelers with Elizabeth

We got back to the ship around 9:30 and said “no” to the wris*censored*ch vendors outside the secure area. Filbert went to bed and Snookums went to the Chinese acrobat show on the ship. The troupe consisted of 1 boy and 5 girls between the ages of 11 and 19. It was the typical Chinese acrobatic show with plate spinning, contortionism, unicycle riding, etc., etc. It was very good and the audience seemed to enjoy it much more than the local performances we had on the ship while in Japan.

Our stay in Shanghai continues in the next post . . .