The place of Adventure, Travel to East Africa: Djibouti,
India, Madagascar, Zanzibar, Kenya, Jordan, Egypt, Cyprus and Disneyland.
Now adding Hong Kong, China, Korea, Japan and Disneyland. Mexico and
Disaster, Earthquake and Emergency Preparedness and Services for San Francisco.
We also like Disneyland.
China DiaryBy Bill Cereske 5/12/99 12:58:47 PM
Here is the diary of adventure for Spring 1999.Bill takes his children on "The Big Adventure" well, the biggest so far. We are traveling to Hong Kong , where will take a side trip deep into the Peoples Republic (near the Russian border), back to board our ship to Shanghai, travel deep again to Wuxi, China then sail again to Xingang, where yet another overland journey takes us to Beijing. Back to the ship again, we visit Dalian, China South Korea and Japan. Here we go!
25 March 1999 3 ½ hours into the flight. Above the Pacific Ocean. The adventure has begun!
Last night, The boys Mom dropped off the children for the big adventure. Timing was just perfect for having a little adult time before they arrived, in the form of dinner for two at a Mexican restaurant.
Things have so far gone remarkably smoothly. Packing was straightforward and, thanks to the kids Mom, complete with everything I needed for them. It was good that I took a day off my normal work activities to prepare.
Even the smoking prohibition isnt so bad, as the nicotine gum makes the cravings just go away.
26 March 1999 @ 5:11 AM Pacific time or
26 March 1999 @ 9:11 PM Hong Kong time
Well, we made it to Hong Kong and it is way cool! The 14 ½ hour flight one of the longest in the world - was way too long! The smoking prohibition wasnt as bad as I thought, I didnt use a piece of gum for the last 3 hours of the flight. The problem is the boys didnt sleep a wink on the plane, and now think its early evening despite the fact that their bodies KNOW its Five in the morning!
We are met by our guide - Johnny. I found that most of the Asian people assume an English name in their dealings with westerners. I think it makes it easier for all. Johnny gave us permission to call him anything - anything but Charlie. Most people didn't get it.
Is checking in half the fun? Mom and Sister got their rooms with ease, but the adventure boys and I were given a room occupied by a couple! A very romantic couple indeed! It seems "Trixie" (really!) had left a note telling her boyfriend to put on something cool, while she went out and purchased some ahem!- latex accessories, shall we say Fortunately, we never met.
After the lads crash and they do - I place a call back home and find out about all the exciting doings back home. The next morning I get the bill for the 20 minute connection $295.00!! Fortunately, its in Hong Kong Dollars, which is only about $25.00 US!
27 March 1999 Hong Kong . A day trip to Aberdeen and a night flight to Xian.
A long day. Here are some key words to remember for a rewrite: Up at 0530. Breakfast. Johnny. Clean as can be. Driving on the left. Tram ride to the top of the peak. Photo opportunities at top, with no access to radio stations. Bus ride to other side. (Aberdeen). Sampan ride: One of the fun thing of the tour was a short Sampan ride. Its big business for tourists there. All of us tourists get helped into the churning boat, which is simply held at the dock, and attendants help some of the more senior or larger passengers aboard. It was fun and touristy, and we got to see the boat villages in the canals. When we returned, there were no attendants! I hopped ashore and held the boat line, with the boys unloading the passengers. Sure made me proud of em!
Permanent graves v. 5 year ones. What do they do with the dead in crowded Hong Kong? This question came up as we passed a street with trendy shops on one side, and terraced graves on the other. It seems residents are encouraged to be cremated, as space is at a premium. Most people dont like this for they want to be with the earth. The solution if you have the dough is the five year grave plan! Youll be buried allright, then in 5 years you get dug up and disposed of. Then the space is reused for the next 5 year customer. Only the very famous get to stay longer. The graves we saw are from early Hong Kong days, and are preserved antiques. Soylent Green anybody? Think that sounds rough? Remember, in Bombay, India they lay the bodies of relatives on hillsides and let the buzzards eat them! Hong Kong is a Boom town. There is building and growth everywhere! The Communist Chinese may have taken over, but you wouldnt know it by all the building going on! The only outward sign is that the flags are now those of China. Ski lift to beach: There is a nifty swimming beach in Aberdeen, but between it and the main road is a massive rock, which makes the beach inaccessible. The solution to this dilemma was to install the parking lot on the road side of the massive rock, and install a ski lift over it! Showing that the British are still there, the lift was donated by the local Cricket Club! Im starting to notice that my fellow passengers do seem a bit senior. I want to be kind here, as all my fellow passengers are nice and friendly, but if asked about WW2 most of them would begin by saying, "Well, I remember when .". The swimming fiasco and jet lag. Trip to airport, HK is all hustle bustle, but follows speed limit.
WARNING: Touch nothing in the shops especially kids. Common frauds to avoid! Things are NOT the same as at home! We received a warning, which I will pass along to you: Some merchants will place broken merchandise on their shelves. When you touch it, it falls apart. Suddenly, this little broken piece of junk becomes a "valuable antique", and the full price is demanded and received! My boys followed the do not touch rule, so we have no idea how widespread this practice is, To Xian by air: After the travels in Hong Kong, we are taken to the airport. As before the new Hong Kong airport is vast and modern this time we get to see the "sort of domestic" area. You see, even though Hong Kong is part of China, its still a foreign country for customs and immigration purposes. Otherwise, China might become an empty country, and Hong Kong would be very, VERY crowded! Lunch causes attention to be drawn as American kids not only eat Chinese, but use chopsticks well as well. A contingent of customs officers passed by and were obviously amused at the sight of a Single Dad, 2 blonde sons eating Chinese food with skill in chopsticks.
Like Most third world countries, air travel security is VERY tight. We are passed through a metal detector (everyone fails) and are then more closely examined. Smoking regulations are just like those back at home. Coincidence?
Dumb Shirt Department: Im always amazed at some of the things Americans wear abroad. Some people must like to dress to let foreigners think we are idiots. This trips unfavorite shirt: 3 Homer Simpson pictures on a shirt. The first captioned "Duh-o", the second "Nuts!" and finally, with a self satisfied look, "Doughnuts". I wanted to hide. No wonder the world thinks we're out of our minds .
On the flight: Things are done a bit differently here. We get our safety briefing by the cabin attendants, who have worked hard on the most important part: Bowing in unison! Similar to our own, they carefully omit any reference to cabin oxygen masks maybe there arent any! They also omit references to individual comfort controls: There is a complete lack of them! Same in first class as well. Nonetheless, well ventilated and not missed. Friendly seat mates. In the row we are sitting in is a Chinese woman who likes the boys and befriends them. Her English is passableNot bad for an average Chinese citizen, until I become aware that her hometown is Riverside, California! Computers on the Plane. Oh! Horrors, No! Using a computer on a Chinese internal flight is apparently a serious crime! When I asked if I might turn mine on in flight, I was answered with a horrifiedNO! No electronics are allowed to be turned on during the flight.
At the Immigration and health check, they ask if you have any diseases The answer, of course, is no. For some reason they asked me to step aside for a moment while the health checker looked our documents over. Needless to say, it made us the last in the immigration and customs line. This is not good, for the kids were getting VERY tired. As we waited and waited to be seen by customs, I noticed 2 interesting signs above the customs kiosks. One advertised that theyENFORCE THE LAW FIRMLY while another promised WARM SERVICE. I wonder how they got that translation? By this time, Colt has discovered his hat missing. He had left it aboard the plane. Colt completely loses it and is crying at the customs desk. Its a wonder they didnt just haul me away. As we finally exit customs, I go outside for a smoke. Im immediately set upon by a multitude of taxi drivers. Johnny - the original and chief guide - finally convinces them that Im with the tour. Johnny makes a valiant attempt to find the missing hat, but without success .. Meanwhile, one barefoot boy is begging for a handout. I thought this didnt happen in a "workers paradise".
The ride in from airport is long an hour or better. We are driving on the right hand side of the road again! Giant, illuminated Coke cans adorn the light poles as we pass by. The third world certainly entertains some interesting advertising! The long bus ride is through some very desolate, empty country. Suddenly, A police car goes whizzing by lights and sirens on coming from nowhere going nowhere. Am I in the twilight zone?
The local escort makes note that there are several power plants en route, and they are huge! Why are they here? Well, as the escort points out (First making sure that we understand that they are NOT nuclear), that there are coal and gas reserves nearby and "Sorry if I offend any of you" , they were far inland and near the Russian border so they would be more difficult for the USA to bomb, and perhaps would anger the Russians if we nuked too close to their border! Apparently, when we were scared of the Chinese blowing us up in the 50s and 60s, they were just as scared of US! Given the current world situation, how could they have entertained such fears?
Emperors tombs abound. We pass a large mound (maybe 100 ft <33m> in height. Its another tomb that they havent gotten around to excavating yet. The Hotel: Clinton was here! I guess our Pres. visited the hotel during his China visit, for pictures of him are everywhere. I guess it doesnt take much to jazz up the locals! The water, as promised, was not drinkable and has a sign on the sink reminding us of this fact.The electricity is 220 volt and is delivered through a differing pin arrangement. No problem! I make use of the shaver outlet for powering the computer, but is shortly begins making some strange sounds crackles and pops. Obviously defective! No matter, Ill just use this handy converter. It works, but soon a strange odor is making its presence known the damned converter is afire! A quick pull and a run to the sink saves the day. Moral of the story: Read up on what your equipment needs. My computer can pull up to 1.2 amps, more than double the converters 50 watt rating! It will, moreover, operate just fine on 220 volts provided I had the correct pin converters! Same with the camcorder charger. I could have saved fifty bucks by buying the pin converter and leaving the voltage converter on the shelf!
By this time, the kids have completely fallen apart, and cry themselves to sleep. Fortunately, I know its the exhaustion coupled with the sadness of losing the hat 78 Kg I am.
Tomorrow starts early (0600 rise) and is promised to end no later than "9 or 10 in the evening". This sounds like another long day . A midnight phone call brings the news that my sisters former husband the one she is taking to court over support has tried to enter the family vacation home with a wrong code and no authorization. When Buffy hears this, she explodes into her "contrived rage", lashing out fiercely at everyone she can reach. She screams at me. She even calls my girlfriend at my home. I dont know what she says (I later found out), but I could hear it through a foot thick brick wall! I say contrived, because this is a repeated behavior she pulls whenever things arent going her way, or she gets news she doesnt like. Its her tantrum behavior that has made it very difficult for me to get along with her I never know when she is going to explode, so I prefer to stay away from her. This incident where she goes off on everyone for a mistake of her own doing again is probably the beginning of the end of this family. Sad.
Its a sad end to an extremely long day ..
28 March 1999 A day near the Russian border deep inside China!
Up and at em early, The boys and I head out to the front of the hotel for a smoke (OK, and to check out a local fire hydrant). Two old men, obviously locals. Look at me. I smile back. One of them gestures at the boys and then at me, in an exchange that says"Are these your two boys?" I nod my head in affirmation. He breaks into a big smile and gives me a thumbs up! He made me happy. It was not the last time we would attract attention!
We ride out to the Terra-cotta warriors. Well secured! Although not obvious except to the alarm aware, there are motion detectors surrounding the building for night time protection, and there are more IN the excavations, for all the time protection. They are really something to see, and apparently (at least this is what THEY say) thousands more restored warriors have been reburied in the pits. Nonetheless, it is a remarkable sight at the site!Ever wonder where the 360 degree movie screen went when they took it out of Disneylands Tomorrowland? It may be here! Part of the tour is a surround movie detailing how and why the warriors were created to minute detail. Incredible detail, especially for an excavation that wasnt even known of for 2200 years! How did they know all the details when they had no clue they even existed until the mid 1970s?
As we prepare to leave the compound, we are approached by 4 young lads, who offer to sell us a bag of 5 imitation warriors for only 40 American Dollars! I guess I was a little hard of hearing that day, for I responded by saying "Fourteen dollars"? They responded with a hearty "Yes, fourteen dollars"! I say, "was that FOUR dollars"? They agree, and $4 and the bag of warriors change hands. Later, I saw the same bags being sold for even less. Young business people.
Outside the compound, the sellers of "stuff" are yelling for our attention, but they apparently cant step off the curb. One whom we saw on the way in and promised to stop by on the way out reminds us of our promise and we step over to her booth, inside the curb. We are mobbed by sellers of all kinds of one-of-a-kind things. The boys initially enjoy all this attention, and we actually negotiate and buy a couple of things, but pretty soon its becoming a madhouse. Christopher is uncomfortable with the crowd, and sellers come between the boys and I. Thats it! I grab the boys and head out to the curb, where we are free again. Both Colt and Christopher seem relieved, but Colt soon tells me how he had bargained a $50 imitation warrior down to $4 and was going to purchase it! Oh, well. More "shopping opportunities" would present themselves soon. Until then, Daddy knows best!
We visit to the place where the imitation soldiers are made. We do purchase a couple of gifts for the kids mom. We learn that the government encourages Internet use with financial incentives. Apparently, the government subsidizes the installation of 2nd phone lines for Internet use.We should try it in the U.S. On another bit of learning, we discover that Health insurance is expensive in China. Forget that stuff about free medical care nobody wants any part of it! Education to grade 9 compulsory but not free. Even the public schools have costs, and you need to insure your child first. Government is hardly a democracy, but isnt communist anymore, either! They got tired of beating drums to get the farmers to farm, and have a better way now. The economic sleeping giant is awakening. But, it is still (if you listen to the guide) difficult to leave the country. Xian, like the rest of China is completely rebuilding. Everything is being built, or torn down to make room for more modern buildings. "Buy things and property" says Government. This isnt the same country we were warned about when we were hiding under our desks in school. They have completely reversed the old communist school of thought, and are now stimulating the economy by encouraging consumption and the ownership of private property! Although we are told that crime is rare and it may be why are there Iron bars on the third floor windows of many buildings?
Colt and Christopher at the Buddhist Pagoda: Colt says something Bill takes as "too Young", when they really mean "Two Yuan". The busload of us tourists arrives at the local Buddhist compound. The boys show surprising confidence and respect. Part of the ritual respect in this religion involves the lighting of incense and a candle. They wish to purchase incense and try the ritual, and Im more than willing to let them with me at a discreet but safe distance away. The boys are disappointed when they hand over some money (U.S. was all we had at this point, and was completely acceptable) and were told that they were too young! A moment later, I was advised that the price of the incense was TWO YUAN (a few cents), and an American Dollar was much too much to pay! We thought they said, "Too Young". (Dont worry Colt later got his chance!)
Christopher may be Japans next star! Two blonde sons get attention!
While at the pagoda, Christopher disappears from sight for a moment. Where is that little guy? Well, it seems that 2 women (whom I suspect of being Japanese tourists) have waylaid him and are posing with him while their partners are taking pictures of the three of them. When Colt arrives (he was on a mission), they want to take photos of him too. And they do!
Yes, you can have adventure in a museum!
The next stop is the Regional museum. I find the place fascinating, as does Colt and .. Christopher! Christopher! Oh, there he is! Hes over at the museum store, making a purchase! My, he does seem to be the center of attention! All the women at the counter are doting over him! Some other people in the museum stop and watch this eight year old conducting himself in a 100% grown up manner, carefully considering his purchase. In fact, a crowd gathers! Daddy lets this unfold, taking some video shots of the whole thing. Purchase made, Christopher returns to his Daddy and Brother.
Notes: Running guards. The electronics district. Candy for children. The red star is faded. Christopher completely crashes. Chinese Cultural show. I thought they wouldnt want to go, but they did. I thought they wouldnt enjoy it, but I was wrong! Kids can crash and burn with dignity and in a heroic way. Im completely exhausted.
29 March 1999: We awake deep inside the Peoples Republic, and fall asleep at sea!
Yet another day of nonstop activity, so here are the notes: A woman has noticed the kids, poses for a picture with them, such pretty silks! The city wall of Xian.A man trap. A spider at the airport. C & C entertain their public on the plane. Dash away for a quick smoke! Parking spaces for Police. Fire stations seen but quite unreachable (on way in from airport and out from Kowloon). A surprise trip to Kowloon. An early birthday present negotiated with the recipient present. A 220 volt radio. While in town, I found a Yaesu VX-1 radio for sale. A price of $230 US was quickly negotiated. I had not brought any radio equipment, due to the A.R.R.L. web site that said to bring nothing that transmits. Well, if it's for sale in Rome Although I didn't transmit during the trip, the unit's wide receive capabilities served me well as I listened to the ship's OPS while on the trip. The only downside was the 220 volt transformer it came equipped with. While it worked well on the voyage, it was quite useless upon our return to the U.S. This was solved in about 10 minutes with the transplanting of a 110 volt transformer. British Police are still on duty. I noticed a patrol of two police officers, one very British and another quite Chinese. Things in America are so cheap, says bartender. Back on the ship, I make friends with one of the bartenders. He confirms my observations that the very best bargains are in the USA. We consume so much - as a country - that we automatically get the best prices (unless we're stupid!). Watching the ship pull away. We pull away from the dock a few moments after some customs officials depart. We are nearly an hour past our published sailing time. While this means nothing to me - we have two days at sea and can't it possibly make any difference to our arrival time, MOM is infuriated, and stays that way for several days. I never discover why, other than her observation that: It's just wrong! The boys quietly crash. Exhausted, the boys fall off to sleep - at last. Now it's time to head for the laundry facilities and catch up with getting the boys and I some clean clothes! I find a laundry room, and it's deserted. The wash works well, but the dryer isn't working worth beans! Fortunately, the drying is free. As I return to reset the dryer several times, I notice that the washroom was supposed to be locked up before I even started! The watchman (I think!) closed the door, but didn't lock it. I respect his show of confidence and leave it closed. Finally, a load is completed! During the process, I try to use the ship to shore phone, but it's not in service. Oh, well.
30 March 1999 At Sea
The day, for us, begins at 1000 hrs, as the announcement system booms out details of the upcoming lifeboat drill. We were exhausted but are much better now. Following the drill, all 4 kids (mine and my sister's) scattered. A call ashore turned into a new friendship with the radio officer, and a visit to the radio room, where I learned that HF is a thing of the past and CW (Morse code) is completely dead. Packet and digital modes rule the waves. On the other hand, the emergency system is so seldom used (they are used for emergencies only) that nobody pays attention! In case of disaster, they might have to dial 911 - on the conventional satellite phone - to get help! I might be able to sneak an email off the ship! (I never did!) It seems that the automated room to satellite system wasn't in service and the calls had to be arranged by the radio officer. It was nice to talk to Patricia, even for a few moments.
Unfortunately, I discovered that my sister had vented her rage at my girlfriend the night of Buffys screw up. I am still disturbed that she would explode at the innocent bearer of the news that my sisters negligence had caused consequences. Word for word notes were made of my sisters explosion at my girlfriend.
The kids did some homework in the late afternoon, until it was time to get ready for the Captains welcome reception. As the kids showered, I did laundry and got dressed all at the same time. Following the reception, after ordering dinner, but before it arrived, I had to excuse myself --- to take the dry laundry out of the dryer and back to the cabin wearing my Tux!
I made time for the kids and myself. I got the kids back from the arcade they actually brought themselves and got them to bed. I had a nice drink in the virtually empty disco until it closed. I went back through the closed casino at about midnight. The decks were absolutely empty. Still, Its kind of fun to be thought of as "The young one" at 45 and with 2 kids in tow
On the world front, I get snippets of news about how the U.S. is still bombing Yugoslavia and the worlds negative reaction. I didnt do it and I still dont know if its right or wrong. Is there danger awaiting us expatriates?
Wednesday, March 31 1999 At Sea
Ho hum! Just another leisure day cruising the South China sea. The kids have linked up with some children other than their cousins, and spend the afternoons with a childrens activities director. It doesnt seem to cramp their style, though, as they show up all over the ship.
Thursday, April 1 1999 Shanghai
This morning is early call for the adventure boys, as we have to be ready for adventure at 0645. Here we go on a train trip to the interior of China to the city of Wuxi (Woo chee). Although this is an escorted tour, its still just Daddy and the Adventure boys (Ok, with a tour guide and a ships escort).
As we drive through early morning Shanghai, I note that it is a city of contrasts: One marvels at the large and modern buildings, I particularly admire the large transmitting tower downtown, done in the Arabic style. On the other hand, many of the streetfront stores remind me of Mexico, Kenya or Djibouti. In many cases, between the magnificent buildings are shanty towns, where many people live in squalor. I notice one billboard on the streetside advertising the superiority of U.S. Beef. even sporting an American flag! Many of the office workers both men and women are doing their morning exercises before going in for work. It is the practice of Tai Chi, and it really is done by "the workers".
Another "Boom Town", Shanghai City reportedly "hosts" over 20% of the High Rise Construction Cranes in the world! I would be hard pressed to argue this
We board the train from a crowded and bustling neighborhood and station. While walking, I notice that the adventure boys are getting lots of looks, stares and smiles from the locals they like 2 blonde boys here too! Remarkably, the interior of our car is clean and well appointed for a third world country. While no Amtrak, its no New Delhi to Agra run either. As the doors close, the women who stood guard at the train door now take their role as cabin attendants and offer us coffee or tea. I choose the coffee and receive a sweet, milk laced substance. It may or may not have been coffee, but it was hot and tasty. Our ship escorts are seated near us, and we form a nice chatting relationship with them. The train leaves precisely on time, and runs swiftly on smooth tracks. A stern faced, expressionless policeman walks by, eyeing everyone on board.
We arrive about an hour and a quarter later to, again, a bustling and busy station and neighborhood around it. We board tourist busses to our first stop (You saw this coming, right?): Shopping Opportunities! We get a tour of the artists area. The person guiding the shop tour sees Christopher, grabs him by the shoulder with one hand, and rubs his head with another. "I like this boy!", he exclaims to all of us. Christopher is getting to like being the center of attention. Although they want us to buy these cute little clay figurines, I want to shoot some street scenes. Im quickly approached by a small woman, who offers little wooden toys for the boys for an American dollar each. This quickly turns into 3 toys for 2 dollars, and we depart happy. (I know we spent a bit much, but so what? Maybe shell squander her profit on a little extra food). The others in the bus see our toys, and soon in a reversal of the norm tourists are mobbing HER! She did good business that morning. Needless to say, the store owners were less than pleased, but they sold lots of those "fat babies" to people who knew about them. Probably the most noteworthy thing the kids will remember is the tiny toilet room, designed way too small for Americans, but perfect for smaller Chinese people and 8 and 10 year olds!
The guide takes us through town, and we see again a lot of contrast in wealth and poverty. We also discover that Wuxi is like Venice, Italy in that it is criss crossed by canals lots of them. They are dirty (Local Joke: You cant sell black ink there. When they need some they just draw some canal water), and packed with barge like vessels going to and fro, carrying goods and materials of every description. One odd observation is that while one would expect to see rice heading in one direction and trash in another it is not the case. I saw (and saw in Shanghai as well) boats with similar articles passing each other on the water. Rice in this direction, rice in the opposite direction. Coal going North and South passing each other. Its like a whole city devoted to moving stuff from one place to another.
Our next stop is the street docks, where canal boats await us. We board via a gangplank. Its no problem for us adventure boys, but some of the older and larger passengers need some assistance. It may have been high adventure for some of them, but all make it aboard safely. We cast off.
We get to see life from the viewpoint of the river. One noteworthy thing is how friendly the people seem. Having been brought up during the cold war period, I expected to see some of an enemy attitude coming from most of the people. While I did see a bit of that, it was noteworthy by its rarity. What I did see was many people who returned our waves with waves and smiles of their own. Surprisingly, all the people who had babies in tow made it a point to have their kids wave at us. Students, in their bright, colorful school uniforms reacted to us by laughing, smiling and waving then pointing out our presence to their schoolmates who repeated the greeting. All of this while we navigate a narrow canal with cargo laden boats passing by. Mostly, the captains of the boats would wave and smile as well. These are not an oppressed people!
Lunch was a surprise as well, as it was at the Pan Pacific Hotel. It is similar, but not as grand, as the one in San Francisco. Obviously connected, lunch was hearty and good. The waiters seemed pleased as we politely declined their offer of forks in favor of the provided chopsticks which we used.
After lunch, we stop at the Ji Chang Garden. It is nice very peaceful if you can ignore the traffic and honking outside its walls has a pond running throughout the entire garden and is well kept.Bathroom Humor Deptt: Christopher had need to use the facilities, and we were pointed off the beaten path to a small building. A man was just finishing cleaning, and was leaving, carrying the mop he had just used on the floor. In the mens room, we saw a wall urinal on the right, with stalls to the left. Christopher enters a stall and is surprised to find no toilet, just a tiled trench! He uses it anyway, and is surprised again to find that it is filled with water. He just TRIES to imagine how this system is put to use. I wonder where the water eventually goes. As we exit, we see the janitor again, busily cleaning his mop in the gardens fish pond!
Following the garden tour, Im finally able to put some Yuan to use, buying ice cream for the kids. They actually make the purchase. 2 ice creams come to a grand total of 5 Yuan.
Now, its time to head back to the train station. We pass through the busy area in front and make our way back to the return trains platform. Hey, its a double decker car and we get top deck. On the downside, we are now on the Local service and stop at several stations.
Its the train stations that remind me Im in a communist country and thats probably only because of the movies Ive seen. A multi platform station thronging with citizens and authority figures. Its foggy, cold and smoky. Express trains of freight (especially Coal) come barreling through the station at full speed.
Back we ride, through small villages, power stations with mountains of coal in front, communications towers and small rice and wheat fields. We arrive in Shanghai in about 2 ½ hours just in time for rush hour! We make it through in the dimming twilight, seeing the advertising signs on everything light up. Where there used to be revolutionary posters are now advertisements for products.
At the dock, some lucky business people have set up a stand. It is there we get our elusive Shanghai postcards.
Colt and I dined in the formal area tonight, while Christopher wanted to play with the kids group. After bed time for them, I did manage to get a late night drink 2 actually - in the public area.
April 2, 1999 Shanghai and At Sea.
We thought we were going to have the morning in Shanghai and sail at 1:00 PM. Due to changing tides and official orders, we have to sail at 0900, so I let the kids sleep in late. I was up for the sailing and got the kids going afterwards. The kids, by their own choice, spent much of the day in the kids group. I lunched with Mom and got to spend a little time without kids.
We all dined in the formal room kids and all. The kids departed for the "Big Apple" the kids center. A few minutes later, Colt came to with a long story about how what happened to Christopher wasnt really anyones fault . To make a long story short, Christophers eye and a chair back had met in a most unpleasant way, with a bright shiner being the most noticeable result. By the time I got there, the staff member on duty had already applied an ice pack. It was both sad and funny simultaneously to see my little man with an ice bag, holding back tears, wearing his "grown up" suit.
Monday, 5 April 1999 Beijing, China and the Great Wall of China
This morning we awoke at the hotel. Well, actually, I was up early and let the kids sleep while I packed things up and got ready for the day. The night before, I had (let?) the kids call their Mom, and wish her a "Happy American Easter" (since ours was already done).
A long bus ride took us up to an area where the Ming Dynasty Emperors are buried. Apparently, they like to be buried in the earth (or did not anymore. Mao is preserved and on display like most communist rulers.) and liked to be stuck in the ground near fellow Emperors. The first stop was called the "Sacred Road". This is a temple which one enters as does the dead Emperor and the walk out the other side and along a "sacred mile". This road is lined with stone animals and soldiers, which was believed to frighten away evil spirits and guard the soul of the dead.
As we waited to depart, we were descended upon by sellers of various goods. Everything is first priced outrageously, then as we have learned drops in price by as much as 95%. Such was the case of a $100 US blanket being offered to my Mom. By the time she had broken down and offered a token $5 for it, and was refused, she got back on the bus. "OK, $5" came the last offer. It was too late. The door was closing and, having already been trapped once by this door, wasnt about to risk my well being for some stupid blanket.
After that, we bused to another tourist hot spot the Ming Tomb and museum. This is indeed pretty cool, with an entry temple, an inner courtyard, an inner temple, which is the museum and the tomb to the rear. We explored it all and made it to the top of the "Temple of souls" where the Emperor is still buried.
One interesting observation is that all of these temples and shrines are protected by lightening protection systems how old or new I cannot say. It is noted that more than one of them including one in the Forbidden City were set afire by lightening or "thunder". The Temple of Souls is no exception, in fact, it may be an example of serious attempts at lightening protection: I noticed 2 radio towers aside the temple, but no antennas on them. It dawned on me that they were giant lightening rods! This is in addition to the protection on the building itself.
Another observation, it that these sacred places are made of wood. Almost nothing in China is made of wood the forests were chopped down centuries ago. Everything is made of masonry, brick, or steel. There is no such thing as a wooden power or telephone pole!
Lets not neglect to mention the highlight of the entire trip: The Great Wall of China! We are bussed far to the North for lunch within sight of the great wall. We ride alongside the "Beijing Mongolia Railway", an early engineering feat. After lunch, the boys and I head to the zoo that stands as the gateway to this point along the great wall. There is a staging area, with a choice as you get to the top: left or right? Right is the easier route, we have been told. We head left, and it is steep. Up the mountain we march ramps for sections at about 45 degrees or less, steps for 45 to 90 degree rises. Security is everywhere, and we soon learn why: Some "dignitaries" are coming and soon the entire section of the wall is crawling with green uniforms. Colt reports seeing a handbag "full of pistol grips", which I take to mean a bunch of handguns, with the soldiers. Theyre all over the wall, but dont seem to mind me using the zoom lens on the assembled dignitaries, nor the nearby radio tower. As soon as the gaggle leaves the first tower, all signs of a police presence disappears as well.
We make our way up to the top and feel proud of having made it! When I ask Colt how it feels, he reminds me that he began his report on the Great Wall (for school) with the discovery that it's the longest graveyard in the world -- and that it feels "Creepy". There are vendors along the wall's walkway - selling all of these "one of a kind" things, from Tee shirts to worn out Mongolian coins. Really, do I want to buy a worn out Mongolian coin for US$5?No. Do I want to buy some "discounted" I climbed the Great Wall Tee shirts? Well, Yes.
Its a long ride back to the ship, with a stop at the same place we stopped at on our way up only on the other side of the road. The Dutch are still here, selling their Shell oil! Colt buys some snacks none of which are appealing once unwrapped.
Its Dutch dinner for us tonight, and the kids get to wear silly hats. Not that they seem to mind, but Christopher does NOT like the photograph that was taken of him! I did not purchase it.
Tuesday 6 April 1999 Dalian, China
Today we awoke with a start! A call from Mom announced that we had overslept and were scheduled to leave in ½ hour. We hurried off the ship and into a reception that included a brass band from the local school.
On the bus, we rode through early morning Dalian. It is the cleanest of all cities we have yet visited. Not as modern as Hong Kong yet, but getting there but is as clean or cleaner.
Our first stop was "Labor Square" which is the center of civic government, and also home of a very large statue commemorating Soviet soldiers who kicked the Japanese Imperial Army out in 1945.
We next stopped at a kindergarten. This was quite a surprise, for it wasnt on any itinerary. It was quite large and seemed similar to an American one, save for its size and lack of aggressive fire protection. (Some was found in the stairway in the form of a hose cabinet and a red button to push presumably the fire alarm). The children were really excited to see us and there was a dancing recital for us. For all I know, this may be a model school or the norm. It seems that this school gives the children a good head start. If it is the norm, we will see China at the forefront of the next generation!
From there, we went to the South side of the city. It is a park like area, is pollution free as is all of Dalian and is rural in nature. We stopped after crossing a bridge that the guide described as having been modeled after the Golden Gate Bridge, but it seemed a far stretch to me! We then went to the peoples park, but (surprise?) it was closed.
This may be a prosperous and vibrant city, but of all the others, the guides here seemed to echo the party line the closest! This may be a time to mention this: Only Dalian had military airplanes 'buzzing' the city! And 'buzz' they did! They came over all day long - but with their landing gear down! Obviously, a show of force but not an aggressive one. Interesting!
After our return to the ship, and lunch, the adventure boys and I struck out on our own! ..
We strike out and head over the bridge toward town. Well, we think we do as we wander all over the port area finally being denied access to the street by a policeman who directs us back to where we come from. It seems that we must exit the port via the "customs" door, which has a desk for an official to sit behind and scrutinize the passers by. When we find and pass through that door, we are out on the streets.
One of the first orders of business is to find drinking water. This we do, and as we leave, one of the (store owner's) family directs my attention to my youngest sons shoelaces. It seems untied and for the second time we are reminded to retie them. Of course, they speak no English and we speak no Chinese so it is all carried out by hand movements. A few moments later, a policeman tries to catch Christopher as it looks like he is falling but he is not. We all laugh and make friendly. Off we go down the main drag. We see a busy city under construction, with the new, the old, the empty and the under construction all within the same block. The boys get a lot of attention from the passers by.
At the friendship store, I pick up a pair of binoculars for the boys, at only Y345. Not bad. (Sorry to report that they never made it home. They were left and lost aboard the ship ed.) We also pick up some local snacks. We get off the main street and are working our way back to the ship, when we come across a little street corner stand. We choose Ice Creams for the lads, and are surprised to find a group of 20 or so people who think the whole thing is quite amusing. While we enjoy our treats, many people take a look at us as they pass by. One mother, in particular, makes it a point to have her son wave at us. Up to the diplomatic task at hand, the boys shake hands with their Chinese age peer. Photos were taken. Will they turn out?
As we return, Colt who wants to find "a mall", finds one of sorts. Its a building with many different shops within. "This is as close as youre likely to get", I tell him. As we are about to leave, I spot a clothing store, where I am outfitted with the latest in Chinese fashion well, a shirt and pair of slacks anyway for the princely sum of 500 Yuan. By the time we get out of there, Colt and Christopher have become the boys wonder of the mall, with women coming up to them, touching their faces and hair, showing them off to their friends, posing for photos with them and, in one instance, playfully pretending to make off with Christopher himself. We make friends.
As we are walking back past the customs door, a man with a ride along bicycle comes up to us and offers us a ride back to the ship. For 30 Yuan, why not? We ride and get a photo, and I offer another 10 yuan as tip. This is accepted, but more is requested. Even without being able to speak each others language, the message is clear: "Please, I am so poor " Christopher, picking up on this, offers the man a dollar his dollar. So sweet! Its accepted for what it is, and the man rides off, happy. Im happy too, to have a Son such as him.
Im pleased with my new clothing. Now I have a different look to my wardrobe.
In the evening, I wind up chasing young Richard into the showroom, to link up with Buffy and the kids. There, I look on stage and there is the volunteer member of the audience for the magician show: Christopher! He is the straight man for the show, and has become suddenly famous with the fellow passengers as well.
April 8, 1999 Pusan, South Korea
Welcome to South Korea! Its up and at em very early, for an 0800 bus departure to explore this exciting corner of the world. Fortunately, my computer again seems to be working, which has not been the case in the last few days!
The boys are still asleep virtually as we board the bus, and dont seem to wake up much during the 1 ½ hour bus ride to wherever it is they take us. Compared to all we have seen and done, Korea seems dull indeed. We see a bunch of bridges and buildings, good roads and much prosperity. Its downright boring! In the AM we stop by a museum of Korean artifacts they have found a bunch and later stop at a park composed of tomb mounds.
The morning was livened up with an announcement by Christopher at the park of the tombs that he had lost his loose tooth! I had to explain the whole concept of the "tooth fairy" to our guide, who had never heard of this strange, American custom.
In the afternoon, we wind up at a center of the Buddhist religion, which contains some interesting and rare pieces that have meaning to them. Its not free but additional donations are always welcome. Its a 2 hour bus ride back, in heavy traffic. Dull, and Ive decided that this is the last of the full day tours for us! The boys can only take so much as can Daddy!
Friday, April 8, 1999 Kagoshima, Japan
Iawake around 0830 to the view of the sea slipping by slowly. Indeed, we are preparing to dock at Kagoshima. Although cold, windy and rainy, There are signs and balloons welcoming our ship to port. The local school band dripping wet is there as well. The locals come aboard and treat us to a cultural show -which I missed in my quest for breakfast. The boys, unwilling to move, are treated to breakfast in bed, catered by Daddy! Ham radio bands are alive with activity.
Finally, after much activity on the part of the boys I depart the ship and call them on the phone. I was trying to get them to settle down but they were ignoring me. I called and told them "Bye!", and man, did they come a running! Amid much complaining, we walked the ½ mile or so into Kagoshima in the rain! Once there, we checked out a couple of giant stores and found the help desk for the ship! That was a surprise, and we were able to get directions to the bank and the fire station. We walked to the fire station and even though we didnt speak a word of each others language we got a nice tour of the apparatus and a nice patch trade. I now have aFIRE RESCUE patch from the Kagoshima Fire Department! Cool!
We changed some money at the bank, and the whole process is noteworthy. First, we had to find the bank not easy when you cant read Japanese. We finally found it by reading the sign in perfect English and a couple of Asian languages: THIS PROPERTY IS UNDER INCREASED POLICE SURVELLANCE. Then, we approached the teller, who asked for my passport. When told that I only had my ships ID card, this caused a bunch of confusion until the manager said it was OK. I handed her a US$100 bill, and she asked me to have a seat, the process would take some time. While we waited, I noticed that there were no fewer than 5 cameras looking at this bank, 4 CCTV and one robbery film camera. Apparently, bank robbery in this completely disarmed country is a serious problem! Ive seen this in Canada as well. Finally, I was called back and received my 11,835 yen, amidst much bowing and curiosity about the children.
We went back to the super stores, bought some snacks, and checked out the meat counter. I had always heard that beef was outrageous in price, and I just had to dig up some dirt on this. What I found was rather disappointing. Beef isnt that much more here than back in the good old USA! I saw a pair of nice thick boneless rib eyes for 1200 yen, about ten U.S. bucks. Not that much more.
One store we visit is the "SUPER CENTER" This is a strange combination of a Target, Raleys, Grand Auto and Home Depot. They have UP escalators, but not down! On the top floor is a section with the rest rooms. Outside of that is a little "smoking" area complete with vending machines, games for kids and even a couple of slot machines!
One other observation is that things are done the British way here: They drive and walk on the left, enter through the left door and their revolving doors circle clockwise the complete opposite of the American way. Fortunately, Ive had some experience in left driving countries, and was able to keep the children safe if not dry.
Back safely aboard, Im blessed with good luck as the purser just happens to have 5 US silver dollars for the American tooth fairy to do his good deed with.
That done, I notice a commotion on the starboard deck: The locals are on shore, entertaining us with a cultural display! I call the boys up and we have fun watching the city of Kagoshima bidding us farewell and good bye. In a bizarre twist, as we pull away, they play nautical music over the PA system directly from aVICTORY AT SEA album! As we pulled away from the dock, the bow area became extremely windy. The kids had a lot of fun jumping, running and sliding in the strong gusts. Fortunately, nobody got hurt but there were a couple of close calls!
\This afternoon, I worked on the computer and reinstalled the memory chips. It seems to have worked for the computer hasnt crashed since!
April 10, 1999 Saturday At sea in a Force 8 storm !
Today was an awakening with glasses on the floor, and being rocked back to sleep - It is a stormy day, and the ship is pitching in all directions! Its also Christophers birthday, and he awakes with five silver dollars clutched in his hand. I guess the tooth fairy gave him a bit extra for his birthday! After breakfast in bed Christophers request the lads are up on the rear deck, enjoying the wind, waves and motion of it all! At one point, they run up the starboard side of the upper promenade deck definitely off limits and disappear up by the bridge. I follow, but the only door is locked! I wonder where they went (no, theyre not in the water, but I looked). It turns out that the door was not locked, but was held fast by the force of the wind! The boys were back in the kids club by the time I made my way back.
This was some storm, and still is as we rock as this is being written. The force was announced as 8 but some are saying its 9. The captain announced 16 foot waves, but Ive seen some much bigger. Up here on "A" deck about 30 feet above the waterline our porthole is getting washed regularly by the swell.
Many of the passengers and crew are feeling the effects of the motion, but not the adventure boys and I. In fact, it seems to increase our appetite if only our plates would stay still. One bar lost all of its glassware. I went up to the"Crows Nest" ( Top deck, forward) for a look at the storm. It was there, but I thought the bar was closed. It wasnt, but the bartender was behind the bar, on his knees, while the server was laying on his back on one of the couches immobile. I dont understand this seasickness thing, but I feel badly for the people who suffer from it.
Homework is going slow tonight, and has been a continuing challenge. I had to hold over their heads no fun activities until the work was done. My the skin of their teeth to the timing, they made it, but wound up losing most if not all - of the cocktail hour.
After dinner notes: Tonight, Christopher was treated to song and cake after dinner, as well as a surprise cake at the kids program. Strangely, my sister was throwing out these little sparking jabs at me all during dinner. Why? Once, when I attempted to get my children to use proper table manners, she threw out this barb about how I wasnt perfect when I was a kid, so what was I doing? Again, Why? I sincerely believe that her kids were never taught proper manners, so can barely be faulted for not knowing them, but why criticize me? At another time, my sisters oldest son who has managed to deliberately ruin almost every photograph ever taken of him was in a picture with me and my sons, and was preparing to pull another photo ruining stunt: His hands were poised to put rabbit ears behind a member of the family. I mention to him that, with me in the photograph, he had better remember to adhere to my standard of behavior. My sister pipes up: "What about MY standards?" What about them? Check your photo album for the results of them.
Later, Mom and I went out for a smoke and mentions that my sister is being quite rude. I say, "No, Mom, she is being confrontational". Mom then gets all pissed at ME for disagreeing with her and walks away. There must be a full moon out or something.
There must indeed. I stepped up to the Karaoke bar after dinner. I hopped up and did a piece. In both English and French.
April 11, 1999 Sunday Port of Kyoto, Japan
Nothing good lasts forever, and this cruise has reached its wrapping up phase. The storm finally subsided late last night, and people began to reemerge from their cabins. Colt woke up with a slight upset stomach this morning I guess smooth sailing and calm waters disagree with him. We awake to find ourselves docked at the port, and just a few steps away is a shopping mall very similar to one one might find at home, except they have also turned it into a waterfront tourist attraction. As we disembark to find a phone, our direction is drawn to a Ferris wheel THE WORLDS LARGEST!! Its 112.5 meters tall about 35 stories! The kids want to go on it, NOW!
I remind them that our mission is to find a shore phone to call their mom. Its the right time and opportunity: Were ashore (hence no need to use the $15 per minute ships phone), its Christophers birthday in America (Forevermore, theyll want to celebrate their American and Japanese birthdays), and theyre feeling a bit homesick. We find an international phone, but the darn thing wont accept any of my credit cards. I can buy a phone card but the dispenser only accepts 1000 yen notes, and all I have is a 10,000!
The kids clamor for lunch, and its an interesting experience ordering Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japanese!!
Its an interesting meal as well, for its a bit different in the orient than back at home.
Armed with change from lunch, I manage to buy a 2000 yen phone card (about $11) and it works right away. The kids get a nice 15 minute call back to their Mom, who takes a moment to let me know that she was trying, unsuccessfully, to call the ship all day yesterday (I wonder if a force 9 gale with 20 foot waves had anything to do with it?) and to let me know that she was aware that both China and Japan had earthquakes. (!?). Oh well.
Armed with smaller bills, we head to the giant wheel. For 700 yen per head we get our 15 minute ride, once around. It is a breathtaking experience, and we got some cool photographs.
Back at the bottom, Colt is back to feeling a bit unwell, so we head back aboard.
At dinner, the kids are trying to get us adults to tell them a word they dont know beyond a doubt a naughty one. I came up with one: millinery! They went nuts! I even got a high five from my sister! The entire Indonesian staff was befuddled as well! Finally, we had to tell them the truth!
When dinner was over, the family and a trivial pursuit friend were to head over to the wheel for a nighttime ride. Woe befell us, as it was closed for the night. In this case, the boys and I proved that the early bird really does get the ride! Heck, we did learn that the Japanese stores open at 11:00 AM and close at 8:00 PM, but that they hold a virtual circus when they are open! Yes, there is a Japanese Charlie Chaplin!
Everyone is exhausted. We all gave up and retired to our cabins. I never made it up for a last cocktail at the Peartree. They had to close it without me.
April 12 1999 The longest Day. 48 hours to get up, out, over in and out of the air.
For one thing, the !@##$ computer has taken to crashing at random again and is eating some good work! The computer has been causing problems from the start -- It has been crashing and locking up from the start of the trip! Many of my thoughts and observations have been just plain lost!
At 0630 Im up and going, although most of the big packing was set out last night in time for 0200 pickup, its the last few bits that can be time consuming. And it is.
Bu 0830 we have taken care of business and vacated the cabin. The picture has changed into one in the public rooms where we wait for our busses to take us round town and to the airport. The busses leave in stages, and we are in the last one.
Finally, we board the bus and off we go to Oh, boy another Buddhist temple and Pagoda. The boys and I duck out early for a soft drink and see some ofJapans homeless! Yes indeed folks, Japan (at least in Oaska), has a homeless problem! This is due to the recession in the East we are told, with construction workers who are hired by the day no longer being hired. Well, that may or may not be true, but these bums look a lot like our American ones, except that theyre all Japanese! Right down to the stolen shopping carts filled with cans, bottles and cardboard!
So, once the rest of the squad is back aboard the bus, its time to head for lunch. We wind up in this section of Osaka that certainly could be calledintense shopping!! Let me splain:
After driving over a freeway system, which is quite high at one point - looking from the bus window into the9th story of an office building We arrive UNDER this freeway system (not free, actually, as they charge a fee.) at this LOUD intersection. Across the street is an opening as big as the street itself. Suddenly, we are in a strip mall complete with ceiling but its like a city street with hordes of pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles and the occasional freight truck or fire engine roaring past. It's wild! It's loud! And it has everything under the sun for sale - including fashions and gadgets we haven't seen in the U.S. (yet or for years)!
When we make an intersection, the kids -of course - must use a bathroom - urgently. We make our way to the one place we know will have one - the localMcDonalds! Sure enough, we relieve ourselves there and decide to order a bite to eat. As we were told in Xi'an, Mc Donalds tolerates no variation in it's taste - it's exactly the same, only paid for in Yen. (You may recall that there are no McDonalds in Xi'an because they haven't found the right fields, with the right soil, close enough to grow the American potato seeds to make the exact taste the McDonald's people demand for the French fries). Actually, it's much better in Japan than the local dive at home - it's cleaner!
After eating, we again revel in this incredible place! Every place makes noise, and the noise changes inside the store - several times! I'm reminded of Hong Kong, only more crowded, more dense, louder, and with less vehicular traffic.
The boys find aSega Playroom. These rooms in Japan, animate the very best of the imagination of American boys - like mine! They have arcade size versions of every game my kids know and love, and quite a few they have never seen in their lives - but might soon in a store near them. For a few hundred Yen, they had a ball and completely avoided the negativity of the Grandmother and my sister and her offspring.
We meet up with them on the way back to the pickup point: Sister is angry and distraught at her children, who are ignoring her requests to leave the playroom THEY found. A request by her to my children to try to get them out are met by very unpleasant responses aimed to my kids - who are simply trying to do the right thing for their Aunt. My sister finally gets mad and has to enter the den of play and order them out. Later, my children report that the Nephews (their cousins) had been ordered to use up the money they had put into the machines and leave. This was what they tried to do, but they were too skilled in the games and were not done within my sister's time frame - and so she becameenraged with them - even though they had apparently obeyed her orders. Now, remember, this is the impression that children relayed to me.
If you will recall, I was in the last of 12 busses of tourists on this day adventure on Osaka. We had met each other, for the last time, at the shopping area with staggered times. I had thought that we would arrive at the airport at staggered times as well .
Japan is a very organized society. When the brochures say we will arrive at the airport at 3:00 PM, they ALL arrive at precisely 3:00 PM. So precise, that we are bus 12 of 12. In other words, its a mess. Every passenger from the ship is in the same line - at the same time. We wait in line for an hour.
I step out for a smoke. I am amazed at the gadgetry the Japanese have. Everything sings or makes noise. After a few trips out, I realize: The tune is for blind passengers to know when they can cross the roadway. The "ding - dong" sound tells the blind where the door is and the rough pavement is actually a code that the blind can follow with their feet (or canes) to find the intercom, elevator or help desk!
I'm amazed that this airport seems to have no fire protection - just some beam type smoke detectors! We pass throughPassport Control, which is actually Security, and through Security, which is actually Passport Control. I finally see a very large, remotely controlled - with a television camera - fire nozzle in the secured area. Apparently, this is what they have for fire control!
A flight back to San Francisco, couldn't be more uneventful - I slept most of the time, while the kids stayed up, played with their nephews, and got the last of their homework finished.
Back home, Safe and sound!