Thursday, September 25, 2008
To see some of the art I created from my photos of this trip go to:
Friday, January 18, 2008
thanks for joining us
Rick and Linda
To give you an idea of what it's like here, imagine St. James Town Housing in Toronto. Now imagine it two and sometimes 3 times as tall. Now imagine it everywhere all over Hong Kong! Some condos were 60 floors high! Even at that height people hang out their laundry to dry. The city is concrete everywhere and surprisingly clean for that many people. When you drive out to the airport or to Stanley Market it gets more mountainous and green. But when you are in the city there is very little greenery or plantings. We found a place with bbq pork hanging in the window. A local type restaurant. We ordered one order of bbq pork with rice and greens. It was enough for an appetizer for 2. They were very nice and found one person who spoke English and made sure we ordered the right thing. Later we got a bit hungry so we found a Japanese restaurant with interesting food. We had grilled eel (best I have ever had) and pumpkin tempura (which turned out to be acorn squash bits done in a light tempura batter ) amazing combination of crispy/salty and creamy sweet. Then we had a fried rice with eel that had veggies and a saucy consistency. We walked about a bit more till we got tired and then went to sleep.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
We arrived in Hong Kong. The cruise has flown by so quickly it's difficult to believe it's over.
Hong Kong is like NYC but moreso. A small place with 7.5 millon people, not counting visitors. We took a short tour of Kowloon, first stop was the 'happy house ' or toilet at the Jade Market and food market. Unfortunately Rick was not happy when he saw the squatty potty. We saw an amazing huge Buddhist temple and people bringing offerings and asking for wishes. It was quite fascinating; some even brought whole roasted pigs and placed them on a paper (to keep it clean) prayed and then took the meat home for the family. We visited a Nunnery that was a beautiful wooden structure, built with no nails. Beautiful bonsai and topiary and ponds with water lillies.
They dropped us off and we grabbed a taxi to our hotel.
So far we have enjoyed the Holiday Inn- (great two person shower, brilliant design) free internet and comfortable bed. We were feeling a bit tired of all the fancy food so we had some plain pasta and walked around the neighbourhood. Even at 10 pm it was hopping.We went to a mall that is 25 stories high, and had a dim sum breakfast with congee and a really good steamed pork bun.
Today we are going to try to see Stanley Park and Market and maybe have some seafood. Here in contrast to the rest of our trip, there are mostly cars not motorbikes.
I used the metaphor of the motorbikes in the countries we visited, how they seemed to flow and find the smoothest route to their destination. We saw little children learning the way of doing this from the experience of driving on their parents' bikes. I used this comparison to how doing tai chi for many years also teaches us how to flow with life. Sometimes we gain speed, pass others on the way, feel the wind in our faces and at other times we slow down, stop, hit a bump in the road, have to detour a blockage in the road, yield to a stronger force, all while learning. That is how we experience the philosophy of Tai Chi and integrate it into our lives.
We then spent the rest of the session learning the moves from the 10 form. Everyone had a great time.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
We marveled at our bus driver’s skill and as we descended the mountain the sky began to clear. Our guide Sun, was very warm and spoke quite well. She talked the whole 2.5 hours to DaNang. We stopped at a sculpture factory near the marble mountain. They made everything from traditional dragons to the 7 dwarves. The unique thing about this mountain is that the colours vary from pure white to green/brown/grey white mix. The men do the basic carving and the women do the sanding. Everyone in this small town is either a stone carver or a farmer. There were hundreds of such places along the road. It was kind of a strange garden of marble. One of my favourites was two big fish destined to be a fountain of some kind with holes in their mouths for the water spout.
Next stop, a silk embroidery factory. We saw how the silkworms were propagated.
And the women were doing such beautiful work, Identical on front and back of the sheer silk canvas. You could put a piece on a room divider and it looked perfect on both sides. Simply amazing. Some pieces were 2 years in the making and in the thousands of US dollars.
Everywhere in Vietnam, women are cooking food on the street, some for sale. We didn’t try anything as the conditions are quite dirty and primitive, but it was interesting to see.
Once in DaNang we turned our big bus down a really small road. Then we had to back up and wait for a police jeep to come through. There was a moment that we weren’t sure we were allowed to go that way, but then on we went. Arriving at Hoi An an ancient village near DaNang, the roads got worse and our bus seemed strangely out of place. This was the first time people really stared at us and the bus. I think this was a fairly new phenomenon for them.
We visited a Champa merchant family home. It was large and old and quite a mix of Japanese French and Vietnamese architecture. Lots of wood, inside the family served us tea and told us about their heritage. They are a very old sect of this area, do not intermarry as they prefer to maintain their customs. Yet, our guide said there is no discrimination, just acknowledgement of uniqueness. They were selling crafts that were all made by the extended family and seemed quite proud of their history.
The whole village looked like we stepped back in time . We were invited to a farmer’s home, not a museum a real home. There were about 30 of us in the bus and though fascinating, It felt like we were invading their privacy, even though they were paid for us to see it. The people in this village were subsistence farmers. They each had a well in the back and one square rice paddie, about an acre. All had motorbikes. It was very Spartan, clean but old and could have been 300 years ago, There were no modern amenities , even the toilet was a septic kind of arrangement. Water was brought in from the well in the backyard, and the kitchen was a mess of pots and pans and a fire pit. No refrigeration or electricity in this house. In the middle of the reception room was the family altar. Most of the people do ancestor worship at home and some are also Buddhists.
Some had ducks, and some had water buffalo to plow.
A very little old lady sat slumped and cross legged on the porch, not really noticing us. It was like she was waiting to go back in after we left. The house was very sparse and old, the walls were dirty stucco. In the centre of the house was a family ancestor altar. On the left of the altar was the man’s room with wooden bed with a mat, and on the right the woman’s. Children slept in a separate addition on the side of the house. The kitchen was very dark and dingy. This also provided the heat for the house during the cold season. The woman of the home was holding one of her two little dogs. They looked well taken care of and sort of like lhasa apsos.Most of the dogs we see here look like small akitas, with a flat brown coat.
Next we walked through the village to a different kind of temple. Not affiliated with any religion it was a meeting place and a place to honour the ancestors. Sort of a community centre with a huge open public square in the middle.
This region is subject to floods fairly regularly so all the lower 1.5 ft of construction is stone or marble and the wood is higher up so it won’t rot due to the moisture. We wandered along the main street ducking into pretty souvenir shops and cafes, along the way. Next we visited another Buddhist temple, with spiral incense that burned for 20 days. People wrote new year (tet) wishes on a yellow card which hung from the red spiral. It all made for a very colourful view, in the Chinese style temple. Bright paintings and statues were all around.
Last stop for lunch. Wow what a place, and idyllic 5 star beach resort, one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Hope to stay there someday~
The pool was a 150 meters long with an infinity edge so when you were swimming it looked like you were in the ocean! And stretched across the perfectly groomed beach. Palm trees and huts dotted the 7 km beach, it was sparsely populated with sun worshippers, the day was gorgeous. We had a lovely buffet lunch in an indoor/outdoor dining room & met a great couple Syd and Donna from Australia, just a perfect end to the day.R & L
Friday, January 11, 2008
Today’s port was right at the dock. As we prepared to go for the tour, there was a troup of dancers and loud music playing. The costumes were colourful and the provided a nice entertaining welcome. We boarded the bus and made our way up the mountain towards Da Nang. The views were spectacular. It was a bit misty, but as we approached the pass you could see the whole panorama. This was an area where the North Vietnamese controlled the border strategically to the south. Da Nang is on a narrow strip of land ~ 10 K wide between north and south Vietnam.
Our tender is leaving now so gtg. more about Hoi An tomorrow! Here's a pic of our guide, Sun and Rick. She's about a size minus 3 and wore high heels all day!
This was the first time for RC to visit these ports, so this was the first one to have a welcome party. Balloons and a big banner which read “Welcome Rhapsody of the Seas” a red carpet and about a dozen beautiful young ladies wearing colourful traditional long tunics and pants (ao dai) and of course the conical hats (non la) were waiting to greet us, and the President of RC.
Bright green rice paddies were all along our route, a water buffalo here and there, but most of the fields had already been prepared and were in various stages of growth. Farmers homes lined the highway and were pretty modern for the most part. In the backyard was the rice paddie. Mostly enough to sustain the family, some larger as a business.
The mats they weave from the reeds are colourful and dyed bright red, blue green and yellow and then woven into patterns. The mats are mostly for sleeping on, but they had some smaller ones (placemats, beach mats) for tourists to buy.
They let us try the weaving with them and one very old man was spinning the raw reeds into a strong long fibre.
The kids were having rice for lunch and were so cute. Smiling and making faces, just like 4 year olds everywhere. The school was run by a catholic order, but the teachers were dressed normally. \Another group treated us to a folk song that seemed to be like “Mr. Sun” with lots of hand motions to go with the song. Again, adorable. We thanked them and they bowed to us. One little boy flashed me a peace sign, and I reciprocated.
Next stop a real farmers market. Dirty and gritty, with flies everywhere, raw meat lying on tables in the heat, lots of veggies, live and just caught fish, eggs, and even live chickens with their legs tethered. Not very appetizing for us, but everyday life for them.
Next we visited a community temple that was also for ancestor worship, and very different from a Buddhist temple.
Finally we made a stop at a local café, chairs and tables were situated in the middle of the rice paddies under clumps of bamboo where the local farmers go during the siesta 11-2 or after a days work. We had coconut milk out of the fruit with a straw and a tiny banana. We passed on the cut fruit here as we weren’t sure about the preparation. While enjoying the scenery they had 3 musicians playing for us. One played a koto like instrument on her lap, one had a kind of one stringed harp that had bamboo pipes for amplification, and one had a percussion instrument that consisted of bamboo tubes, sort of like a xylophone. The combination was very gentle sounds and relaxing.
This tour was so different from the previous ones and very enjoyable.
I’m up a bit early so will recall yesterdays busy tour.
Early start today woke at 5:45 to tender to a port 2.5 hours from Saigon. Our guide Chin spoke the whole way giving us insights into the Vietnamese way of life and some personal tidbits. A communist country with ‘creative market concept’ (pretty much controlled capitalism) and pensions for government workers, everyone else is on their own. The currency is the dong. $1 US = 16,000 dong, so calculating a soft drink was weird.
All along the way rice fields and salt fields and shacks were along the highway. Salt is ‘grown’ by letting the salty water from the sea evaporate in fields. Then it is gathered, refined and sold to a company to make ‘sea salt’ for our tables! We also saw Tiger Prawn farms (I will look at them a bit differently when I go to Costco.)
We stopped at a laquer factory. Here the workers painstakingly did either paintings or assembled tiny pieces of egg shell or mother of pearl on a painted piece of wood. Many layers of laquer were applied and dried. Then it was sanded with a very fine sandpaper in water. The work was beautiful but very expensive. Later we found some probably not so fine work, yet still quite nice for 1/2 the price. And yes, though I may regret it later ( it's really heavy) we bought a small four panelled picture of a countryside scene that is beautiful.
As we drew closer to Saigon population 8 million, the sheer numbers of motorbikes became clear. In Vietnam there are over 20 million motor bikes! It’s amazing to watch. Everyone wears a helmet (well almost) which is better than in Thailand where almost no one does. And everyone wears a mask for the dust and fumes from all the bikes. Most women wear clothing from head to toe, including gloves that cover them from finger to shoulder. This is more about not getting tanned as lighter skin is desired. Babies ride on their parent's lap, with a fine net on their heads to stop bugs from smacking them in the face while 'driving' their parent's bike!
Very similar to the French style row housing. Finally we got to the city after crossing the Mekong River. It is dry season now, so it wasn’t that deep. The condos in that area went for about $800,000 US for a 1500 square ft.apt.
We headed to the former palace of the president, constructed around 1963 very modern and huge. It looked like some of the architecture at York University. Used as his residence until the late 1990’s and later as a meeting place with huge reception rooms all on the first level. On the upper floors were living quarters; in the basement a bomb shelter and strategy room. Overall very modern sleek designs with an open air atrium in the middle of the living quarters complete with a garden and fish pond. That was really nice! Lots of usage of feng shui.
The situation room and bunkers down in the basement were creepy; dark and damp and starkly furnished with old office equipment that was rusty, and old teletype machines and phones. You had a sense of what happened there during the war.
Saigon is a fairly clean city but a bit stark in design with the exception of Notre Dame Cathedral built by the French around the turn of the 19th century.
We then traveled to a museum where we watched a water puppet show. Formerly performed for royalty, it was very entertaining. The puppeteers stand in waist deep water behind a grass curtain and manipulate the puppets in water in front of the audience. English translation told the story while we watched the amazing show. The finale was a dragon complete with exploding fireworks who seemed to catch the elusive fish.
But more entertaining was watching the cyclists weave in and out, ignoring the traffic lights, and there was a lot of horn honking. Whole families were on one small bike. The whole thing reminded me of a flowing river, the water moving around rocks and other fixed obstacles. It’s a miracle there aren’t more accidents.
Back on the bus to a very swanky restaurant in the centre of the shopping district. Chanel, Fendi and all the very expensive stores. Inside Maxim’s restaurant there was a very New York dark elegant atmosphere. We were to have a fixed menu of Vietnamese foods. The meal was delicious and was served family style. 4 persons to a dish.
First we had great spring rolls, then a soup of lemongrass and some greens with fish balls, Extremely good. The next dish was a salad of basil and cooked beef with a dressing that was a vinaigrette, and some other veggies, it was so flavourful.
Main course was one tiger prawn in a tamarind sauce, chicken in a ginger garlic sauce and a mixed vegetable dish that was pretty bland, (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and carrots). We finished off the meal with various fruits. It was filling and yet light. Surprisingly no rice or noodles! Beer or soft drinks were included.
Tomorrow Na Trang!
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
We signed up for a Treasures of Thailand tour. We boarded the great air conditioned coaches which had the seats above the traffic. Our guide Marina was really warm and taught us how to say hello, Soweeta ka for women and soweta cup for men. We first departed from the port in Lam Chebang for a 2 hour drive to Bangkok. It was quite industrial and mixed with farms. The toll highway was much like any good highway in North America, in good condition.
They love the royal family who are very in touch with the common folk and very proactive to make the country a better place to live. The Thai people are extremely friendly and family oriented. Unlike many other neighbouring countries they have never been colonized. Formerly known as Siam, Thailand means Free Land.
We visited the beautiful former Palace of King Rama V. It was very unique in design lots of carving and beautiful silk tapestries and drapes. The furnishings however were very European as the King of that time was a world traveler and admired many styles of the countries which he visited.
Bangkok is the Venice of SE Asia. Lots of rivers and canals. We boarded a rice barge that was converted into a floating restaurant. Very beautifully carved teak wood and lovely linen tablecloths
We sped along the river and had a delicious Thai Buffet. We even had a Thai beer which was so refreshing. We were under a canopy and the breeze was a welcome relief from the heat.
We then went to visit 2 temples. One had gold Buddha that was amazing. The other had a 46 meter long 20 meters high reclining Buddha. The Thais are Buddhist, and come from 4 main ethnic groups; Thai, Chinese and Indian Malay and a small amount of “other’. The architecture is very unique with lots of spiraling towers and BIG pictures of the King Rama the 9th. Who was actually born in Boston, Mass while his father was attending Harvard..
Yesterday we were in Big Bangkok city, big and pretty clean. Today we are in the countryside. We visited a place on the roadside that made carved granite items, such as mortar and pestles (we bought a small one) and garden décor items. We watched a man working on a stone tiger, by hand.
Then we went to a golf club for drinks, it was very hot. And the caddies are all girls. They have to pass a golf test to get the job and wear full uniforms head to toe including a hat and they wrap white towels around the hats to keep the sun off their faces.
From there we drove to a mountain in the middle of farmland that had a 200 foot Buddha carved on the side of a mountain. Utilizing a laser, the stone was carved to the image of the Buddha, then gold coated mosaic tiles were cemented in the groove giving the appearance of gold drawing on the rock. Quite spectacular. There they also had Elephant rides which we witnessed, no we didn’t take one!
Then we travelled on to see a Chinese Temple that had been converted into a museum with hundreds of antiquities. It was quite amazing to see some tomb clay soldiers (life size) from thousands of years ago.
Next stop was Pattaya. A lovely beach resort, with a reputation for foreign men ‘renting’ a girlfriend for holidays. Everywhere you could see middle aged and older men with Thai women who were at the most in their 20’s. We had a Western style lunch at a hotel there that was nicely prepared. And we met another couple from Toronto. We keep trying to meet new people and invariably we end up meeting Canadians, it’s quite humourous.
Condos there were about ½ million dollars.
Last stop was a market, where we browsed around and bought some gifts. No hints.
Tomorrow we arrive in Saigon taking a long all day tour. It will take 3 hours to get there from the ship and we spend the whole day and return at 6 pm to the ship.
L & R
Ps My second presentation went amazingly well. I had 60 people all up and trying the tai chi. They seemed to enjoy it and I had a blast.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
It was dirty everywhere, garbage was all over the place. Our driver talked to us about the Khmer Rouge who massacred 3 million people in 1975-79, and how his life was personally affected. It was very sad.
He told us that though they have an elected government now, there is a lot of corruption. His kid even has to pay bribes to the teacher to attend school, about $1 US a week. We saw some temples and met the monks who were better educated than the average person. It’s free for them to go to college, so many young men join the monastery for a short time to get to university. Then they graduate and go to business.
I had to pee really badly when we got to the monastery and asked to use the facilities, thinking they would have a rest room. Well they took us to a small building at the bottom of the hill; cattle were walking around free right near the door. When I got in, I saw the toilet was a fixture on the floor (I have used those before) but no plumbing. When you finish, you take a bowl full of water and throw it in, and then it flushes. Good thing we were told to bring toilet tissue, because there was none!
I left glad I had bought Purell. Quite the experience. Then I talked to the young monk while Rick followed suit. He was 21, had no idea where Canada was. He asked me my name and laughed when I told him. I asked him his, and he seemed pleased I could say it.
Adorable dirty little kids were begging at the temple, saying ‘hello, dollar’. It made me think of hello dollie. One little girl was quite good; she was giving me this big pout and rubbing her stomach. Then another boy who was with her was mimicking her behind her back and laughing silently. She saw him and started laughing and chasing him away.
We next went to another beach where we were swarmed by women and a few kids with chatchkes . I picked a young girl about 9 who was selling homemade bracelets. She wanted $3, and we were told to pay 10% of the asking price for anything. I bought one for a dollar.
The fishing village was equally squalid. The people looked happy though. Three little girls were playing with some young Lhasa Apso puppies in their hut. So now we’re back at the ship, had a lovely Asian style buffet lunch and going for a swim.
Tomorrow in Bangkok!
L & R
I had about 30 people and we were situated in the dance or ball room. It was very comfortable, everyone sat in easy chairs, around me. Since it was very rocky that morning (we were in the middle of the South China Sea) I didn’t even think I could demo the tai chi at all. We were walking like drunks down the hall. Watching the waiters carrying the trays of coffee was funny, the expression on their faces, was priceless.
I started the presentation with a little joke about seasickness and showed them the antinausea point, everyone seemed to like that. Then I went through the history and it went well, I didn’t embellish too much but tried to keep it flowing. Then we did some warm ups, and every single person participated sitting in their chairs.
Then I talked about the theory part, and there was some interactive questions, but mostly they listened.
Then I got to the end of the slides and signaled Rick as to how much time was left in the hour. Surprise! 30 minutes , so I slipped into class mode. No Problem. Everyone learned the commencement move, and parting the horses’ mane.
Then I started teaching waving hands like clouds and that was fun.
I ended with questions and thanked them, and NO ONE left the room early! That was fantastic. Usually in free presentations , someone leaves or gets bored etc. That made me feel pretty good!
At the end a few people came up to me, and thanked me, said they did tai chi but never knew about the history. Another lady came up and asked me if I could teach her in California. She said she was taking a class but didn’t like it as much as the way I taught it.
So the next one is on Monday, when I will be teaching them the next 3 moves and hopefully the seas will be calmer and we can do it standing up!I’m now ready to do my presentation at International Networking Day , coming up in Feb.
We managed to sleep a bit, eat and watch movies, read books.
We landed in Singapore at around 6 pm. It was tropical and the hotel I found online was excellent, we got a free shuttle from the airport and a very nice buffet breakfast was included. Located handily near the downtown and quite close to the cruiseship port, we just had to walk across the road to the shopping mall, it looked like Florida. Very tropical muggy and hot.
It was evening but the sun was still shining. All the signs everywhere were in English. Every one speaks English. It’s the compulsory language in school, but you can also take your mother tongue if it’s malay, Chinese, or Hindi.
It’s a very multicultural city comprised of Chinese, Malay, Indian and others. Singapore is a 700 sq metre country. And of the 4 million inhabitants 1 million are itinerant workers from all over the world. There is a very modern infrastructure: buses, trains, taxis etc.
We decided to take a tour with a local taxi driver. He took us around the city core temples etc. and we took a tour ride up a viewing tower to see the whole city . Amazing
L & R
British Airways gets my 5 star rating!
They have real food.
It’s hot and served efficiently
They have personal TV right on the seat back in front of you. It’s a touch screen control like a PVR with Movies, TV shows you can pause FF and rewind.
We hadn’t seen a few of the movies and they were good.
Heathrow is like a shopping mall from the 60s, dark industrial and gloomy with a lot of neon. The new terminal is opening next year, it look a lot like our new terminal 3. Big improvement.
We landed to a typical London day. Wet and gloomy. We were too tired to go out, so we found a designated ‘quiet room’ and slept a bit. The chairs were not that conducive to sleeping, but we finally arranged ourselves in a position that almost was comfortable.
My new jacket came in handy as a soft pillow.
We slept for 1.5 hours and then had lunch.
Rick had a nice burger, and I ordered fish and chips hoping that it was authentic. It was tasty but frozen and less authentic than Wimpey’s at home, oh well.
Also they serve the green peas either garden or ‘mushy’ like baby food, very gross if you ask me. I had the peas in their natural state.
After lunch we napped (according to Adam’s sleep schedule) and woke up feeling better.
We slept leaning on each other and we listened together to the iPod which I loaded up with 10 CDs that was really great as it muffled out the constant flight announcements.
We spent the rest of the day walking around, looking at shops. Herrod’s has a mini department store that takes up 2 blocks of the airport shops.
We bought 3 books to read on the flight to Singapore:
Next by Michael Crichton
Brilliant Life by Michael Heppell
It was actually so dark we couldn’t read in the seating area, so we found a bright restaurant and ordered latte and sat for hours talking and reading. Our server was a nice Polish girl and she didn’t mind.
On the flight from London to Singapore, I practiced my talk (silently) a few times and it’s starting to feel comfortable.
It seems like we have been away for a week, and we have only gone 1/3 of the way!
Singapore is next stop!
R & L
Thursday, January 3, 2008
We took a tour of Singapore. Beautiful Clean City,
and biggest surprise -Everything is in English!
Boarding the ship was efficient and lots of forms to fill out, lines to stand in, and finally we are settled. Had a lovely dinner with some people from San Francisco Jay and Patty, and a Lady from Abbotsford,BC.
My first presentation is tomorrow at 1pm. I am so excited!
Let you know how it goes tomorrow.
Hope you are all well and keeping warm.
Linda and Rick