Thursday, December 30, 2010

Shanghai, China

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Shanghai, China

Shanghai is truly a World Class city, as well as being the largest city in China; its population of 22 million people makes it comparable only to Tokyo and Mexico City. To reach the city by ship, it is necessary to navigate far up the Huangpu River, almost to the mouth of the great Yangtze River; it is a spectacular journey.

Our arrival took place in the early morning hours and when we awoke, we had anchored right in the middle of the main area of town which provided stunning vistas of both the modern and old citiesShanghai, China from our cabin deck. Of course, we could go outside only fleetingly because the temperature was a chilly 33 degrees F and the winds were blowing from 30 to 45 mph. Indeed to accommodate the gangway, a small door had to be opened in the side of the ship, and the wind was so strong that it literally stripped heat from throughout the ship. People were wearing their coats simply to have breakfast.

Rather than take a tour offered by the ship, we had made arrangements for a private car and a guide with the intention of getting outside the city, since we had visited Shanghai itself on a previous trip. From my reading, I had selected a trip to Zhujiajiao, which was described as a “lakeside country town” which preserved the buildings and customs of ancient China. According to my information, the drive into the countryside would take about 90 minutes.

Our first challenge was in not freezing to death. We exited the ship at the appropriate time to meet our car, and even standing in a tent erected on the pier to shelter passengers while we waited, we were quickly frozen. We really did not bring very warm clothes, and the winds were going right through our jackets and sweaters. Soon our guide arrived, but not the car. It seems that for security, the car was not allowed onto the pier, so we had to walk quite some distance to where our car would meet us. Sadly, when we arrived at the appointed location, there was no car. We stood for almost 30 minutes waiting for it to arrive, and by then I could not even feel my nose, and Lisa was blue and miserable.

Finally, we set off on our journey to the countryside, and it was an amazing journey at that. Shanghai is one impressive city. The highway system is first class, with electronic signs showing traffic conditions ahead and alternative routings if necessary. We drove for miles, and miles, and miles past high rise office buildings and apartments. It went on and on and on. As we left the city center, I saw numerous examples of single family home and developments, much like we would see in our country. The highways were full of new cars and mass transit was modern and clean.

The city seemed to go forever, until we reached the turnoff for Zhujiajiao. WAIT! I thought we were going to a quaint countryside village – well, not quite. It turns out that Zhujiajiao is still inside the city limits of Shanghai and is one of its twelve administrative districts. Alas, so much for getting into the country. As we pulled into the center of this district, we were greeted with a very large parking area for tour buses. Obviously if I intended to get off the beaten path, I failed.

Shanghai, China

So we began our walking tour of the old area that dated back over 1,000 years. It was quaint and quite beautiful and intertwined by canals on which a caravan of gondolas slowly wove back and forth providing rides for tourists. It all reminded me of an oriental Venice. According to our guide, the city is home to around 3,000 people; however, it appeared to me that few people actually lived in the city and that most of the buildings had been turned into shops. Our guide then stopped at one of the gondola platforms and bought tickets for us to ride the canal. All I can really remember was the cold. At least nestled among the alleyways, we could find some shelter from the winds, but in the gondola there was no such shelter and very quickly Lisa and I were shivering uncontrollably.

Shanghai, China

My fingers were so numb that it was very difficult to work my camera. The gondola took us to the far end of the village and let us depart, the idea being that we would “wander” the narrow lanes in returning to our car. This was a great concept, but under the circumstances not very appealing; so we asked our guide to take the shortest route to the car and if possible to find a warm place for coffee. Exiting the narrow streets, we stumbled across a Kentucky Fried Chicken, and thankfully went inside to get warm and to get some coffee.

At this point, the game plan had been for us to spend an hour or so wandering the streets and visiting the quaint shops, but that was not very appealing under the conditions. So, we asked about museums, or Lisa pointed out a very interesting Buddhist temple we had seen on the drive out. We headed back into town and stopped at the temple which was pretty amazing. It was brand new, having only been opened a year. Parts of it were still under construction. Again, we were freezing however.

Shanghai, China

Now, here comes the most amazing part of our trip to Shanghai – a completely unscheduled stop at a department store! No kidding! I remember when we were in Moscow our guide did not want to waste time at the world famous St. Basils Church in order that he could proudly show us the finest department store in Moscow. One word sums it up – unimpressive. This on the other hand was completely unscripted, and it was mind blowing. As we left the temple, I asked our guide if there was any place where I could buy a Bluetooth headset for my phone.

Shanghai, China

As it turns out, we were next to one of many department stores we had seen and so she took us inside. Now as travelled as I am, it is difficult to grab my attention by a simple store, but this was unlike anything I had seen. It rivaled the great Mall in Dubai. The store was nine stories high and was full of high end merchandise. You name the brand, and this store had it. We saw brands in this store that we had only seen in magazines at home. This store had it all – designer bags, clothes, jewelry, and electronics. They had an entire department for electronics where you could buy an iPhone 4 or an iPad along with any other brand you could desire. They had the exact headset for which I was looking at a price that was about what I would have paid at home.

At this point, Lisa and I were tired out from the cold morning, and so we elected to skip the museum and to return to the ship early. After a quick lunch onboard a virtually empty ship, we turned in for a long winter’s nap.

Shanghai, China

And, when we awoke, what to our wondering eyes did appear – the sun was setting over Shanghai which offered some good pictures of the downtown area. By the time we got to dinner, the view out our window was simply breathtaking, and so I ran up to our cabin and captured the scene to share with you. After dinner, we sat in our cabin with the curtains open and enjoyed our sail away back down the river. All in all, it was a wonderful day.

Shanghai, China

We will now have two days at sea on our way to Hong Kong. Unfortunately this ship was never designed for cold climates and it is freezing onboard. We have very strong winds outside and temperatures around freezing. The doors to the outside do not seal and so the wind is blowing through the cracks in the doors and whirling around the ship. Many of the outside doors have been posted as closed, but they leak so bad it is of little use. Most people have at the least a sweater, and many are wearing their coats. As an example, our room is one of the warmer locations on the ship, and right now my thermometer is showing 64F. They tell us that Hong Kong will be warm again, and I think I can safely say that everyone is ready for that.

Tonight is New Year’s Eve – which we will celebrate before it reaches Kansas City. So we wish everyone a Happy New Year, and hope you are enjoying our travels.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Xiamen, China

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Xiamen, China

My first order of business is to correct an error from my previous blog. I commented that our ship had cruised for three days north and east to Manila, which is correct, but I said that in that time we had covered only 800 nm. In truth, we sailed over 1,400 nm to reach Manila. From there we continued northward to Xiamen, China, which was a distance of 700 nm, and today we are continuing even further north to Shanghai at a distance of 500 nm.

The terrible sea conditions I mentioned in my last blog finally abated, but many people on the ship were sick or injured by the rough weather. It was impossible to stand in our room, and we were barely able to keep from being tossed out of bed. Fortunately that has given way to clear skies and smooth seas, but the balmy weather of Singapore and Manila is but a distant dream. Yesterday in Xiamen, the day started at 40 degrees F and rose to a very comfortable 65 degrees. This morning it is around 35 degrees outside, and we are told that Shanghai will probably be even cooler.

Yesterday was somewhat disappointing in that we had booked ourselves onto an all day tour that included a trip to the countryside, but when we boarded our ship in Singapore we found out that our stay in Xiamen had to be cut very short in order for us to make the proper tides into Shanghai, and that our tour had therefore been cancelled. As it turned out, we had only 4 hours to visit Xiamen. At that, we were offered only two quick tours from which to choose, and neither sounded very exciting. We chose a tour which drove north through the city and which visited Jimei Park and Turtle Garden.Xiamen, China Essentially the Park is home to an Academic Village founded in 1924, and where several of the leading Universities of China can be found located among elegant pavilions and DragonBoat Lake. Xiamen, ChinaAt the heart of the complex, is a garden called Turtle Garden which is the resting place of a wealth Chinese merchant who founded this campus. We walked the grounds for well over an hour before finally returning to our buses.

From there we had a 30 minute ride to the opposite side of the city, where we stopped to visit Nan Putuo Temple. Dating to the Tang Dynasty, the Temple complex is one of the most revered Buddhist shrines in China. We had an hour to meander around before being returned to our ship. Xiamen, China

If all of that sounds rather unexciting, then you have caught my drift correctly. More interesting to me than what we visited was what we experienced and what we saw. Right off I was impressed and overwhelmed with the terminal where our ship docked. It was huge, extremely modern and very efficiently run. Each passenger was given a thermal scan as they left the ship, and anyone who showed an elevated body temperature was escorted to a private medical area for evaluation. As we approached immigration, there were plenty of personnel and no waiting. Our photographs were taken, and matched on the screen before us with our passport photo. All of our information was electronically entered including our Visa permits, and after a short search by the computer we were flagged through and given a hearty welcome to China.

Our tour busses were virtually brand new and very modern. In fact, everything about Xiamen was extremely modern and upscale. The highways, the trains, the busses, the cabs – everything was large, modern and impressive. The city was spotless and the people clean, well dressed and friendly. During our stops, groups of Chinese would show interest in our group, and several times they would approach and ask to have their photograph taken with one of us. Notice I said that they asked to have their picture taken with us – which means they all spoke English. For the modern generation, English is a requirement.

Xiamen is a city of 3 million people, and as we were informed, it is but one of the smaller cities in China. It is the closest point in Mainland China to the breakaway islands of Taiwan, and to my surprise there is regular ferry service between the two enemies. In Xiamen, the shops were filled with almost any conceivable item you could hope to buy and the city was bustling. The Chinese place a great deal of emphasis on education. Nine years of education is mandatory, and for those who pass the National College Entrance Exams, higher education is both expected and free.

I said last time that it is not fair to judge a country by one short visit, and while that is true, this is my fifth visit to China spanning almost 40 years. I can tell you that in that time, the progress I am seeing is nothing short of amazing. On the upside the country seems to function very efficiently and poverty seems to be almost non-existent. While the government is still communist, in recent years, they have begun to allow private ownership of businesses and free markets to function and the results are impressive. At the same time, all is not milk and honey. The government still has tremendous influence over individual lives. Two quick examples are the internet and childbearing. The Chinese certainly have and use the internet very effectively; however, the government is very careful on what content is available to the average person. The same degree of “correctness” extends to publications and to the media in general – so in that sense China is not a completely “free” society. My second example has to do with the “One Child Policy.” Imagine living in a country where the Government tells you when you can marry – the later the better, and then restricts couples to only one child!

Our next stop is Shanghai, and there we have arranged a private car and driver which will allow us to hopefully get out of the city proper and see somewhat more of the countryside. That will be our challenge for tomorrow, so meantime I will try to get some pictures from our visit yesterday posted before the day is over, and get the blog updated.

I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Manila, Philippines

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The Philippines
As much as Lisa and I have travelled, it is amazing that until now we have never visited the Philippines. We were very excited about our visit; however it turned out to be somewhat disappointing for several reasons.
For one thing, the ship did not offer any shore excursions for us to choose before we left, and our efforts to arrange a private tour all met without success. I am guessing that the problem was related to the fact that the Philippines is a heavily Catholic country, and our ship would make port the day after Christmas, which was a Sunday to boot. Once we boarded our cruise, we were offered a choice of three short excursions. One of the offered tours would drive to small town to see the “Bamboo Organ” and have lunch of Philippine cuisine at a local restaurant. The second tour was what I call a “spam in a can tour” – which is to drive for several hours, visiting a gift shop and the National Cemetery, or finally we had the choice of a 4 hour walking tour of “Old Manila,” which was described as a visit to Manila’s old colonial city. We selected the walking tour, assuming we would get to see the central part of the city – as it turns out, that is not what we saw at all.
Actually our tour was a walking tour of old Fort Santiago, which was first built by the Spanish in the 16th Century. Over the years, it has been occupied by the Spanish, the British, the Americans, and the Japanese. To quote the brochure which we were given: “After surviving a number of earthquakes, typhoons, fires and wars through the centuries, Fort Santiago took the death blow when the Americans liberated the Philippines from the Japanese in 1945.” So for four hours we walked a burned out shell! The temperature was a balmy 85 degrees and the humidity almost 100%. There was not so much as a breeze blowing. This was not exactly what we thought we were getting.DSC_3327 Now in all honesty, we did get to visit the Manila Cathedral, however since a wedding was in progress, we could only see the outside. We also visited the San Agustin Church, which is the oldest Church in the Philippines, dating from 1571. DSC_3339This structure is a World Heritage Site, however, here again, a wedding was in progress and so we could only see the outside. After an obligatory stop at a souvenir shop, and a 30 minute break at the end of our tour, this was pretty much our introduction to Manila.
Now it is impossible to judge a country or a city on such a short visit, nonetheless simply driving around town does allow some observations about the culture. First, I would note that there was rampant poverty abundantly evident. There were places that reminded me of Mumbai in India. Families living in cardboard boxes and subsisting in appalling conditions were clearly evident. Second, I could not help but note the trash. The previous day was Christmas, and I guess the people filled the public parks for massive celebrations. When we drove through town the trash was everywhere. It looked as if someone had purposely spread a huge container of trash everywhere. The Philippines covers a very large area and has within its borders over 7,000 islands. So I hope to return one day to the Philippines to give it a better view, but for now it is not someplace I am anxious to visit anytime soon.
On a slightly different note, I would observe that the arrival of our ship was a major event for the city for two reasons. First, this was the first time Princess had made a call on the Philippines, and second, since over half of the crew is Philippino, it was a glorious homecoming for many of them. The ship was greeted by a marching band and by a group of musicians who performed all day. Setup by our arrival dock was a large tent which served as a resting station for family and friends of the crew to wait until their loved ones could depart, and there was a large banner welcoming them home. It was amusing to watch the crew depart because they were literally carrying the most incredible of treasures they had accumulated during their travels. Flat screen TVs were the norm – huge units, along with refrigerators, stereo equipment, and almost anything else you can name. Sometimes it would take three people just to lift all the stuff down the ramp to the waiting arms of family. I would bet the ship is much lighter today than before. All day families were touring the ship and there was a general air of festivity about our brief stop. In fact by 11am, the ship was a ghost vessel, with most of the crew having gone ashore.
On leaving Singapore, we travelled for three days at high speed North East across the South China Sea covering almost 800 miles. I never realized that this Sea is the largest body of water in the world after the five oceans, and that it contains over 250 small islands, atolls, cays, shoals, reefs and sandbars, most of which have no indigenous people, and many of which are naturally under water at high tide, and some of which are permanently submerged. For much of our passage, we experienced gale force winds and high seas with overcast skies and occasional rain. After leaving Manila, yesterday the ship has turned north and is moving at full speed enroute to Xiamen, China. Last night saw very bad conditions with howling winds and high seas. It is very difficult to walk around the ship, and since our room is at the very end of the ship it is highly impacted by these conditions. Last night most things on tables fell off during the night, and it is impossible to move about in our room without holding onto something; in fact remaining in the bed is something of a challenge. Conditions are forecast to improve this afternoon, so hopefully our visit tomorrow to China will have good weather.
Lastly I would share with you the fact that I am upholding my tradition of making myself known to the ship’s doctor. Just before leaving town I was started on a new medication, which unfortunately did not sit well with my system. By our second day on board, I was so sick that I was miserable. Fortunately my internist answered my e-mail and told me to stop the medicine and get to the ship’s doctor immediately. Within 20 minutes she had me on a table with an IV that included among other things, morphine. I came away with all kinds of pills, but the good news is that we caught this in time before it could have caused real damage, and I am getting better – so just doing what I seem to always do, being me.
I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and hope you enjoy our travels. I did get a few pictures, and before the day is out I will try to post them online.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Singapore, Singapore

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Christmas Is Alive and Well – In Singapore

Our trip over to Singapore was a snap – it only took 33 hours in total from our house to our hotel, but the good news is that our flight was the quickest ever made by the airlines, only 17 ½ hours long.

We first flew to Los Angeles, where our friends Chis and LaVerne Kilgore showed us a lovely time. They we anxious to share some of that famous California sunshine and ocean vistas, but as you can already guess, it was rainy and foggy – so much for the land of perpetual milk and honey! Still we had a wonderful visit that helped pass the time until our non-stop flight to Singapore departed at 8pm.

Our aircraft was all business class, and believe it or not had been decorated for Christmas. In all my travels I do not recall ever seeing an airplane decorated for anything. The service was outstanding as was the food. Our seats actually made into beds complete with three pillows and a nice blanket. Our seats had all types of power connectors, including an outlet for 110v. With so much space and power to boot, I actually unpacked my breathing machine for my sleep apnea and had a wonderful night’s sleep. Sometime around 2 in the morning I got up to use the facility and the plane was completely dark. Not a single passenger was reading or watching TV, and I do not believe I have ever seen that before – usually at least someone is up and working.

We arrived in Singapore at 6am in the morning, and our hotel arranged to have us met as we exited the aircraft and whisked to a private VIP lounge where we could freshen up as our hostess dealt with the nasty details of immigration. In rather short order, we were escorted to our limo into which our bags had already been deposited and driven to our hotel, the Ritz Carlton. Now that is a first class entrance in any language.

Dealing with an almost 12 hour time change, needless to say we spent most of our first day here sleeping and trying to adjust. The next day we intended to take a quick refresher tour of the city, however I discovered that my laptop computer appeared to have bitten the dust. What a mess! But, Singapore is where several years ago I managed to find a camera after mine broke, and so it was that with a quick phone call and a short walk, I became the proud owner of a new Sony laptop. So rather than touring the city I spent all of yesterday getting the new machine up to speed since the hotel offered free high speed internet.

Singapore is a fascinating City/State that lies just north of the Equator at the tip of the Malaysian Peninsula. At one point, it was occupied by the British and then it was part of the Malaysian Federation. However, in 1965, it went its own way, and today this tiny city which is just three times the size of Washington, DC is one of the most prosperous countries in the world. It boasts one of the world’s busiest shipping ports and a per capita GDP that rivals that of leading nations of Western Europe. Here Christmas is alive and well. The entire city is decorated and the Christmas spirit is everywhere – no “happy holiday” here. We walked through an adjacent shopping mall yesterday, and I can tell you that high priced items were flying out the door. Another curiosity is that everyone, and I mean almost everyone, carries an iPhone.

A couple of other things caught my eye. While touring the Mall I noted that the North Face store was doing a booming business in heavy winter clothing. Why, I wondered, you can’t go skiing around here. Then some things fell into place during dinner last evening when the relatively young restaurant manager came over to visit and we ended up in a long conversation. We got to discuss his 9 year old son, and it turns out that his son and wife had recently been skiing in Korea, spent a week in Osaka, and vacationed in Kula Lumpur and sunned on the island of Bali. As we were speaking, his wife and boy had just left Dubai on their way to New York, and from there to visit an Aunt in Philadelphia. They were also planning on taking him to Washington to see the Smithsonian. The more we spoke I realized that the citizens of this small City/State see themselves as citizens of Southeast Asia and indeed the world. I gathered that the experiences of his family were not all that different from other families here in Singapore. The world is indeed shrinking. Imagine at 9 years of age having travelled that much of the world.

Since we did not do a formal tour of the city, I really have no pictures to post, but perhaps when I finish this, I can get a good picture of the city from our room to put on our blog.


In a few hours, we will board our home for the next month, the Ocean Princess. Our first stop on this cruise will not be until the day after Christmas in Manila in the Philippines, which will be the first time either of us has visited that island Nation.

We hope that everyone has a very Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 13, 2010

'Tis The Season - To Travel


The Globe-Trotters will soon be departing on what is becoming our annual holiday getaway. We have found that one way to deal with the stress of the holiday season is simply to get the @#&& out of town.

This year we will be travelling to the Orient to sail onboard the Ocean Princess, the smallest of the Princess cruise ships, holding only 650 people. For 4 weeks we will be cruising up and down what is called the "South China Sea." Along the way we will make ports of call at:

Singapore, Singapore

Manila, Philippines

Xiamen, China

Shanghai, China

Hong Kong, China

Nha Trang, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Ko Samui, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand

Da Nang/Hue, Vietnam

Taipei, Taiwan

Our trip begins with a relatively quick flight to Los Angeles, where we will be met by our friends Chris and LaVerne Kilgore. They are kind enough to take time out of their day to visit with us to help fill our 8 hour layover before we depart for Singapore. Leaving Los Angeles at 8pm our 18.5 hour flight will take us directly to Singapore where we arrive around 6am their time. We will spend the remainder of that day and the next acclimating to the time change and allowing our luggage to catch up if necessary before on the third day we board our ship.

I am intending to blog about our journey and to post pictures as we travel, and I would really look forward to hearing back from our friends about happenings here at home. I will send our travelogues first as an e-mail, and then I will also post them on our blog, which will also include embedded pictures. That web page is located at I have made some changes to that page so that the link to our photograph gallery is better identified. If you click on that link you will be taken directly to our photo gallery. In addition I will provide a direct link within my e-mail. I have learned that several people had trouble viewing the pictures from our Caribbean trip using the embedded link that I provided. After some work by my good friend Hunter Christophersen, I have learned how to solve that problem. By way of example, the following link will now take you directly to the Caribbean album, and if for some reason it does not, then I would really like to hear from you:

Believe it or not, as if life was not already strange enough, we were visiting recently with our good friends Michele and Cathy. As each of us talked about the upcoming holidays we spoke about our cruise to the China Seas. Gee, seems that Michele and Cathy were also going to the China Seas, but two weeks after we were to depart. As it turns out, we are actually on two back to back cruises, and they will be joining our ship on the second of the two cruises. Just how neat is that! And, what are the odds?

Lisa and I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year. We hope you enjoy tagging along on our shared journey.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010 in the Caribbean

Thanksgiving in the Caribbean

And a belated Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Over the holidays, Lisa and I travelled with our children and grandchildren on a weeklong Caribbean cruise aboard the Caribbean Princes. This is the largest vessel in the Princess line and holds 3,200 passengers.

I did not blog along the way on this cruise for two good reasons. First, we were in a new port every day except the last day at sea, so time was short. Second, as always, every island in the Caribbean really looks like every other island, so from an interest perspective there was not much to comment on.

However, I did get some good photographs and I have just posted them on my Picasa web page at:

Ports of call included: San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Dominica,

Grenada, Bonaire and Aruba.


I hope you enjoy the pictures-