Week before leaving -- (Jan 11-20)
Week 1 -- (Jan 23-Feb 1 Puerto Rico)
Week 2 -- (Feb 3-9 Salvador, Brazil)
Week 3 -- (Feb 10-16 On the way to South Africa)
Week 4 -- (Feb 19-24 Cape Town and African Safari)
Week 5,6 -- (Feb 25-March 8 Mauritius)
Week 7 -- (March 9-15 Chennai, India)

Week 8 -- (March 16-22 Penang, Malaysia and Singapore)
Week 9 -- (March 23-31 Ho Chi Minh City, VietNam)
Week 10 -- (April 1-6 Hong Kong, Guilin Shanghai, China)
Week 11 -- (April 7-13 Kobe, Japan)
Week 12 -- (April 14-20 On the way to Hawaii)
Week 13 -- (April 21-27 Honolulu, Hawaii)
Week 14 -- (April 28-May 8 Puntarenas, Costa Rica)

 

Week Ten -- Journeywoman's Semester At Sea...

 

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April 2, 2008 -- May We Enter Hong Kong?

Today is our last day at sea before we reach Hong Kong. Remember Sars? Well, Hong Kong customs and immigration certainly do and they have informed us that they will not clear our ship tomorrow until every single person on board has had their temperature taken. They are not singling out SAS students; anybody who comes into HK must have a temperature check. In order to simplify the process they allowed the temperature taking process to be done on the ship by our staff the day before we arrived. The ship's doctor asked for volunteers to help in the process (Ariane, my roommate who wants to be a doctor was one of the volunteer temperature takers). I thought it would take forever but it was beautifully organized. Ship personnel went in the afternoon and students and staff started the process at 5:00 PM and were done in a couple of hours. All went well, no fevers were evident. How come nobody had fever? I think if any student really had fever they probably were too afraid to let that fever show (maybe in this case fear was probably a whole lot better at fever reduction than Advil ).

 

April 3, 2008 -- Hello Hong Kong

I've been to Hong Kong several times before this and loved flying into this razzle dazzle city. Coming in by air was always so dramatic. I remember that before the new airport was built planes seemed to fly right between the highrise buildings in order to land. Today was the first time I sailed into Hong Kong harbour; last night I wondered if it would be just as exciting. We arrived early AM, it was drizzling and clouds hid the sunrise from us (At 6:00 AM as I made my way to the deck all the students were heading back to their cabins for some extra sleep because (as they said) picture-taking possibilities 'sucked' But the lack of sun couldn't hide the splendid harbour and a skyline that reached up, up and further up. We were able to dock right beside the Ocean Terminal (a huge posh mall as well as a terminal for ships). Rumour has it that we got this fabulous berth because of Semester At Sea's Hong Kong connection (one of the founders was from Hong Kong). It's no secret that hotels in this elite area are very, very expensive but the 'MV Explorer', our little floating home was docked in the midst of all the action. Fabulous! Already the Star Ferry was busy taking passengers back and forth across the water. Some neon signs were still lit from the previous night. There were digital billboards hard at work declaring that the giant conglomerates were alive and well (these signs were the only real colour on this very gray day). Huge ads for Calvin Klein were everywhere (well, almost everywhere). Believe me; it is an understatement to say that advertising is alive and well in Hong Kong. So, did I like it? I LOVED it. This city has an East meets West pulse that declares, 'watch out world' and if I didn't have a sore throat that was brought on by the ###!!!! air-conditioning in Vietnam I would have gone out immediately (especially since we only had two days here and the fabulous shops and markets beckoned).

The next day I was scheduled to go on a press visit and after that I was signed up for a three day trip to Guilin (China) and I couldn't be sick for that ('Ha, ha,' said the Sinus Goddess who had other plans for me). Anyway, I left the ship to pick up a few things, got lost in this three-story HUGE mall many, many times and since I couldn't talk (did I mention my laryngitis?) I had to write or whisper all my questions to salespeople. That part was great fun. You should try it some time when you need some mothering. Everybody becomes extra nice and they take so much time explaining things. Nobody talks loud. In fact, it was curious but most people either whispered back or mouthed words back to me. I found a gumdrop green fleece jacket (not as bad as it sounds) to keep me warm for the rest of China and Japan, and then came back to the ship to rest and feel sorry for myself.


Misty in Hong Kong


Digital billboards everywhere!


Early morning harbour cruise


Hong Kong Center for the Arts


More digital billboards


My new fleece matches the Chinese flag


 

April 4, 2008 -- Hong Kong Press Tour

A couple of weeks ago the Hong Kong Tourist Board (HKTB) contacted me and invited me on a private, guided tour when the MV Explorer docked in town. I loved the idea then (the HKTB is always SO hospitable!) but this morning I couldn't talk and I was feeling crummy. To make matters worse it was raining and foggy and our itinerary was basically an outdoors one. Thank goodness for Anna Hamilton, a student very interested in journalism. I met Anna when she introduced herself to me after a talk I gave one evening. I think Anna has great potential so when this press trip presented itself I invited her to join me and I planned to mentor her through the process. She would take notes, write the article (with my guidance) and I would buy her finished HK story for the Journeywoman website. ('Ha, Ha,' said the Sinus Goddess once again). It turned out Anna had a voice and I didn't. She was fabulous, she asked great questions and recorded most of our time with the guide. Any advice or help I was able to give was in whispers. Denny Ip was the guide assigned to us. He was affable, interesting, entertaining and he had an expertise in Chinese cuisine (yum). Both Anna and I learned a great deal from him. I was so sorry I wasn't well enough to appreciate - to the fullest - everything he showed us. This was definitely not my finest 'travel writer' day.

A car and driver took us in style to the start of the Langtau Island, Ngong Ping 360 cable car ride. I had heard a lot about this new attraction but it was so foggy outside we could barely see a thing from the air. It was still raining when we got to the top yet all wasn't lost. We were able to enjoy two quality indoor shows, Epcot style (large screen, surround sound, etc.) about Buddha and life's lessons. The weather still refused to cooperate; a visit to the famous outdoor giant Buddha was obscured by fog, too (bummer!).

OK, time to eat (indoors, yea!!!). We enjoyed a wonderful vegetarian meal at a restaurant connected to Po Lin Monastery. Both Denny and Anna were fine but within a half hour my insides began to gurgle and the washroom beckoned. Now all I could think of was the 30 minute cable car ride necessary to get down to our starting point. What happens if I quickly needed a washroom again? It's common knowledge that there are no such facilities in the sky. At this point I reprimanded myself for even getting out of bed that morning. As the afternoon wore on I made sure to stay in close proximity to any W.C. in the vicinity. The Sinus Goddess was merciful and I started to feel better.

The highlight of my day was our visit to the Tai O fishing village (all houses on stilts). So old and so interesting! Anna recorded Denny while I recorded with my little 'point and shoot' (see below for foggy pix). And, in case you're wondering ... the cablecar ride down was uneventful (thank you Goddess).

Next stop was a new, huge (make that HUGE -- one million sq. ft.) shopping mall called Elements (broken into five zones or natural elements -- Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth). It has an indoor ice skating rink and 700,000 square feet of landscaped garden on the roof deck. I don't usually say 'malls' are elegant but this one definitely is. The women who keep this mall clean wear short, immaculate white Chinese jackets and dark trousers. They carry covered baskets over their arm (like a picnic basket) and they pick up the tiniest scrap on the floor and put it gracefully into their basket. I'm not exaggerating!

Dinner was yet another interesting experience especially for someone with gurgling innards. We were driven by private car to the apartment of female chef, Mei Yee and daughter, Onnei. There are many of these tiny, private dining rooms (in homes) in HK and the majority are not exclusive. They do need prior reservations, though. Once the reservation is set you simply walk into the apartment lobby and you buzz the appropriate code. Our little dining room (four tables) in Mei Yee's space was called, Palace Kitchen. A handwritten (Chinese) menu (7-8 items) was at each table. The idea is you eat what the chef prepares that day (oh, oh.....) and you have at least 20 minutes between courses as the kitchen is tinier than any tiny kitchen you know. First item arrived -- Denny announced, 'chicken livers and kidneys' (not what my tummy wanted to hear that day). Anna tasted every course and enjoyed everything. I picked at my food just like the chicken before it lost its liver and kidneys. Then the restaurant air conditioning came on. My body balks at A.C. at the best of times. Yada, yada, yada. You get the picture.

We got back to the ship for 10:00 P.M. Anna had to pack for a trip to Beijing. I prepared for a three day stay in Guilin. I went to sleep hoping the next day would be better but my throat was beginning to ache. P.S. Mei Yee's restaurant: Room D, Block M, Bonny View House, 65 Wong Nai Chung Road, Hong Kong. Tel: 2899 2844 (I'd love to try it again when I'm feeling well).

Hong Kong Tourist Board website: Discover Hong Kong


Almost zero visibility from our cable car


The gate to see the Buddha


Workers near the monastery


Tai O Fishing Village in the rain


Houses on stilts in fishing village


Cartier in elegant Elements Mall


Chef Mei Yee and daughter, Onnei.


 

April 4, 5 -- Trip to Guilin, China

China is one of my favorite countries, I've been there three times and absolutely loved it (after I got over hating their single-minded bureaucracy). This 3-day SAS voyage offered my first opportunity to visit Guilin, the area of China famous for its mystical gumdrop-shaped hills. It's the scenery you often see in classical Chinese paintings and on their fancy international tourism posters. I was truly excited about going, but getting there was not without it's challenges.

First, I had to use a good chunk of my sightseeing time in Vietnam to go to the Chinese Consulate in the center of town. I knew I only had two working days in Ho Chi Minh City to get this done and I was at the mercy of the officials. I was careful in my approach using every culturally correct nuance I had ever learned about China and the Chinese officials agreed to give me my visa in just one day (hurray). I was to return at 4 o'clock to pick it up (drats!). I asked if I could just wait there until it was processed since I had travelled an half hour to get to the Consulate and it would be another half hour back. But that is not the Chinese way and they refused. I humbly (very humbly) thanked them for their refusal and made my way back to the ship. Of course I had to pay much more money for this one-day visa service but it was well worth it. I was going to China! Then I had to pay the port agent $75 to drive me back and forth from the ship to the consulate but it was well worth it, too. I was going to China! Rain was forecast for the three days we would be in Guilin but this optimist was still excited about going. Wonderful scenery can often be even more mystical in the rain. Right?

However when departure day for Guilin arrived my persistent sore throat had turned to laryngitis. My optimism turned to pessimism. I felt so uncomfortable that I decided to forfeit the trip and stay on the ship as it sailed from Hong Kong to Shanghai. True I would lose $800 dollars but all I wanted to do was to get into bed and try to get rid of this virus that had been with me since Vietnam. But, believe it or not I HAD to leave the ship because the purser had already presented the ship's manifest (list of passengers and their destinations) to the Chinese authorities. According to that manifest I would not be one of the passengers on board when the ship arrived in Shanghai. I was listed as flying from Hong Kong to Guilin to Shanghai and, (for some reason I didn't understand) if I stayed behind on the ship I would be considered a stowaway and fined (big time). Oh, oh .... I read somewhere that China throws stowaways into jail. I didn't like the country enough for a very long visit in very crowded surroundings.

So, cranky as I was, I packed my bag and joined the group (made up mostly of faculty and a few students) on a bus ride to the airport. I figured if worse came to worse I could recuperate in my hotel room in Guilin. My security blanket was my shocking green jacket that would keep me warm even in the forecasted wind and rain. We arrived at our hotel in the evening, I promptly medicated myself and went to sleep. I was not a happy tourist.

Next morning (still without a voice) I joined the SAS group for what turned out to be the most wonderful trip down the Li River. Since this was a Saturday and also the first day of Tomb Sweeping Day (a time when the Chinese honour their ancestors), there was much interesting activity on the river -- people travelling on little rafts powered by small outboard motors, school groups visiting caves close to the river, hawkers out on the water trying to sell giant fans to the foreign tourists in sightseeing boats. The drizzle lifted, the sun peeked out every once in a while. I was enthralled.

And of course, there was the main attraction -- the fabulous scenery. We followed a succession of other large tour boats making their way up the river. Straight ahead were the mystical gumdrop-shaped mountains. Around each bend in the river new vistas appeared on the horizon. Soon we were deep within this wonderful scenery with mountains of all shapes and sizes looming all around us. Water buffalo grazed along the shoreline, school kids hiked up and down hills, in the distance small clouds of smoke rose in the air as firecrackers were lit to honour departed ancestors. I was in sightseers heaven and I forgot about being sick. So what if I didn't have a voice? I had my eyes and that was all I needed. Lunch aboard the ship was nothing to write home about but ... passengers had the opportunity to buy a glass of wine that snakes were fermenting in (shudder!).

We visited a small, sweet village along the river that proved great fun to explore. Again, there was lots of shopping opportunities but I basically walked around the area and took photos. My best two were the underwear shot and the mom with the sweet little child on her back (see below). At first I could only see the top of his head but then she pushed the bottom of her carrier and up popped the cutest little face. He looked straight at the camera and smiled with his eyes. I'm sure he was flirting with me.


We arrived in rainy Guilin at night


Tourist boats lined up waiting for passengers


Gorgeous, mystical scenery


New vistas around each corner


High peaks and low lying clouds


Snake wine (shudder) served for lunch


Pagoda on the hill



A Chinese clothesline


I think this little guy was flirting with me

 

April 6 -- Day two on my own in Guilin

Woke up feeling more stuffed than the day before. Still no voice. The tour was going to lots of (potentially cold) outdoor places so I decided to rest and try puttering around the hotel area. It was just the right thing to do. I walked around at my own pace, browsed through shops, found a few good gifts, chatted (or tried to chat) with folks on the street, replenished my yen supply at the local ATM, and took lots of photographs.

Popped into a shop that specialized in crafts done by the Han people, one of the Chinese ethnic minorities that live close to Guilin. If I remember correctly these women only have their hair cut when they get married and again when they die (our guide is married to a Han woman). Bought a few juicy gifts on my walk about. Below find street scenes that best describe street life in this part of the world. In some cases it's not very different from ours. Nokia is on street corners offering cellphone deals, MacDonalds is selling soft yoghurt from small kiosks, Winnie-the-Pooh is alive and well and guys are out shopping for Nike products. This is globalization, folks.


MacDonald treats readily available


Guys shopping for Nike


Han women display their handiwork


Winnie the Pooh is everywhere


Nokia attracting new customers


7-11 shops are great for travellers


It's not Starbucks but it's close!


 

April 7, 2008 -- Eating Chinese Food in Guilin

I thought this would be the appropriate place to report on my observations about (1) Chinese food served to foreign groups in China (2) the many techniques for eating Chinese food from a Lazy Susan.

(1) Chinese food in China -- Once you've been on a few group tours in China you begin to understand that while you are being taken to different restaurants, the food you eat in those restaurants is the same everywhere. This is very unusual food; it's called Chinese food but people living in China don't really eat it. The 'pretend Chinese food' we had on our tour never, ever appeared on the restaurants' regular menus. I guess that the chefs who prepare these dishes probably all use the same cookbooks prepared by their Bureau of Tourism's Food Committee on what foreigners like to eat. I pity anybody who goes on a three-week tour and is served a steady diet of bland tourists' food. When I was in Guilin I longed for my (also pretend) North American Chinese food served at Spadina Gardens in Toronto(114 Dundas Street W.). It will be my first meal when I get back to Canada.

(2) They say that if you lose one of your senses, the four remaining are heightened. Since I had laryngitis for the full time I was in China my sense of sight (and awareness) were far more pronounced. I used this 'silent' time to identify the many techniques used to eat from the ubiquitous Lazy Susan in the center of each Chinese dining table.

(a) The 'I'm so hungry I need to be first' technique -- This is the method by which the diner holds one hand on the Lazy Susan so it can't turn and then slowly studies the many dishes to decide what they will have. This is an interesting technique that centers solely on the diner and their needs. It inevitably makes the other diners restless and cranky.

(b) The 'I want the best piece' technique -- This method highlights the diners who rummage through the serving platters with their chopsticks in order to come up with the choicest pieces of food for their own plates. It was one of the more popular techniques practiced at the tables I was at. This technique is very good at promoting quiet indignation in the other diners. Not to be used when dining with your boss or someone else you choose to impress.

(c) The 'My friends (or relatives) are very hungry, too' technique -- With this method the diner makes sure that their loved ones don't go hungry. The maneuver goes something like this. After the diners serve themselves they request the plate of their friend sitting across the table. They courteously ask their pal what they would like on their plate and proceed to heap his or her plate with the choicest morsels they can find. This is a tricky technique because it pleases friends but alienates everybody else.

(d) The 'Spinning' technique -- This is the method used by those who are bored or on a diet. They simply and continuously spin the Lazy Susan round and round and round without touching the food. This technique pleases no one.

(e) The 'I love your veggies' technique -- This is a sly move. In this technique all attention is focused on the special vegetarian platters served to those diners who choose not to eat meat. Before you can say, 'steamed rapini' the carnivores are saying, 'Oh those veggies look wonderful' and are digging into the vegetarians plates as well. This makes the vegetarians very indignant and very skinny.

(f) Then there is the 'Last piece' method -- With this technique followers of the 'Last piece' method clamp their chopsticks around the lone piece of chicken, beef or shrimp on the platter and utter the words, 'Does anybody want this last piece.' It's curious. Nobody ever says, 'yes.'

(g) Finally, there is the 'Please go ahead' technique -- This is an amazingly easy technique. It takes only one polite person at the table to say to another diner, 'Please go ahead and serve yourself first.' When it was executed I noticed and I knew I was in the company of a true lady or gentleman.

(3) Photos -- Instead of bland tourist food photos, I've chosen several favorite shots of my time in Yangshuo (a delightful stop on our Guilin tour) where we visited a 1200-year-old Banyan Tree. It was a holiday weekend in China so people were dressing up for photos in ancestral costumes or wearing wreaths of bright flowers on their heads. I was in photographers heaven.


1500 year old Banyon Tree








 

 

 

End of Week Ten

 

Week before leaving -- (Jan 11-20)
Week 1 -- (Jan 23-Feb 1 Puerto Rico)
Week 2 -- (Feb 3-9 Salvador, Brazil)
Week 3 -- (Feb 10-16 On the way to South Africa)
Week 4 -- (Feb 19-24 Cape Town and African Safari)
Week 5,6 -- (Feb 25-March 8 Mauritius)
Week 7 -- (March 9-15 Chennai, India)

Week 8 -- (March 16-22 Penang, Malaysia and Singapore)
Week 9 -- (March 23-31 Ho Chi Minh City, VietNam)
Week 10 -- (April 1-6 Hong Kong, Guilin Shanghai, China)
Week 11 -- (April 7-13 Kobe, Japan)
Week 12 -- (April 14-20 On the way to Hawaii)
Week 13 -- (April 21-27 Honolulu, Hawaii)
Week 14 -- (April 28-May 8 Puntarenas, Costa Rica)

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