Friday, March 1, 2013

Day 56 - Taipei, Taiwan

Voyager in the rain at Keelung
For our second day in Taiwan, we had an early tour scheduled - "The Best of Taipei."   Ray decided his feet hurt too much from yesterday's walking, so he stayed on the ship and I went without him.  It has been raining all night and it continued to drizzle off and on all day.  I understand yesterday's nice weather was unusual for this area.  I'm very glad we took the tour to Yeliu Geopark yesterday, as it would not have been pleasant in the rain.

The bus left about 8:45 am for the hour drive to Taipei.  Taipei is the capital of Taiwan, so it is a much more modern city than Keelung.  Many companies that have their factories in China have their headquarter buildings in Taipei.

Guard at the Martyr's Shrine

Changing of the Guard
 Our first stop was to the Martyr's Shrine.  This is a monument dedicated to military, police, and firemen who have given their lives in service to Taiwan.  There are 2 guards stationed at the outer gate and 2 at the inner gate.  These guards are similar to other monument guards in that they are required to stay motionless for the hour they are on duty.  Every hour there is a changing of the guard ceremony.  The inner guard is changed on the hour and the outer guard is changes 15 minutes later.  Our guide gave us the option of following him in to the inner area or staying by the outer gate.  I decided to stay by the outer gate and was glad I did.  As people moved in to watch the inner gate changing of the guard, I was able to establish myself in a great position to video the outer guard change, without anyone in my way.

Taipei 101
Our next stop was to the National Palace Museum.  This is wonderful, modern museum containing priceless and beautiful objects from China's history, dating back thousands of years.  Our guide was very good.  He took us through highlights of the first 2 floors, not only showing us significant pottery and porcelain, but explaining the significance of the colors and designs.   We only had an hour for exploring and 20 minutes in the gift shop, but it was filled well.  This museum is considered on of the top museums in the world and I can see why.  We were not allowed to take pictures inside the museum, but I've included a link above.

The last stop was at the National Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall.  There wasn't too much to see here, just a statue of  Sun Yat-sen and another changing of the guard.  There was a great view of the Taipei 101 building from the courtyard however.  This was the world's tallest building from 2004 to 2010.  A building in Dubai is now taller.

We were back at the ship before 2 pm.  Tonight is the "meet your neighbors in the hall" night, so we'll get to find out who moved into the rooms around us in Hong Kong.   We sail for Naha (Okinawa), Japan tonight so I probably won't be able to post again until the next day.  As I said yesterday, Japan blocks the satellite channels we need to get internet.

Day 55 - Keelung (Taipei), Taiwan

Keelong Harbour
Our ship arrived in Taiwan at 8am this morning.  I was out on the balcony taking video of the harbor, as usual.  After breakfast, everyone on the ship had to go through immigration, regardless of whether they planned to go ashore.  They processed all the people with morning tours first, then called everyone else by deck. Our tour wasn't scheduled to leave until this afternoon, so we went down when they called for deck 7.  It was a simple process - we picked up our passports and a copy of our passport photo page, signed an immigration form that the ship's crew already had filled out for us, and brought these to an immigration agent in the terminal.  She checked our passports and stamped the passport and copy.  They we handed the passports back to the ship crew member and kept the copy to show as we get off and on the ship later.    Each port has it's own process. 

Lion Dance in Keelung Port, Taiwan
People with morning tours got to see a "lion dance" show as they exited the terminal.  Since we weren't going out yet, we watched a little of it from the deck.  It was similar to the dance I saw in Vietnam.

Happy Buddha
We left on our tour about 1:30 pm with a very amusing guide, Aidan.  He had a little trouble translating numbers and we had fun helping him remember the right English words for the stories he told, but he was a good guide.  The tour went to 2 sites, Zongzheng Park and Yeliu Geopark.

Zongzheng Park is a combination Buddhist temple and mini amusement park.  The entrance is marked by a large Happy Buddha.  I was told the small figures on the Buddha represent the priests who serve him.

Above and behind the Buddha is the temple. On the other side of the temple is a white 25 meter high statue of the Goddess of Mercy.   Buddhists call her Guanyin.  This goddess is found protecting every waterway in Asia.  She is the one who looks out for fishermen.

Buddhist Lady of Mercy, Keelung Harbor

The odd thing about this park was that there were children driving kiddy-cars  around the Lady's statue.  It appeared that they rented them there.   There were also several "statues" that appeared to be cartoon characters catering to children.

Mushroom Formations

After leaving the temple we drove to Yeliu Park.  This is a wonderful cape on Taiwan Island that has been transformed by wind and water into fantastic rock formations.  The whole cape is about 1,700 meters long, but we did not walk the entire distance.  We had an hour and a half to walk around the nearest formations. 
Ray & I next to the "Queen's Head"

Fairy Slipper formation

"Lobster" rock
The tour was rated difficult because of all the walking over uneven surfaces, so we were unsure how we'd do.   It was worth the effort.  We were really tired out by the time we got back to the ship, but we did OK.   We will be staying in port tonight and have an easier tour tomorrow morning.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Day 54 - South China Sea

The sail away from Hong Kong last night was lovely.  They really do like to light up the buildings along the harbor.  We are lucky that we came to see this now because they are building a new cruise ship terminal where the old airport was, further down the harbor.  Passengers will still be able to see the buildings sailing in and out, but they won't have a view of the laser light show like we did. 
Hong Kong Pier & Shopping Mall where we docked

Hong Kong Sky-line

Hong Kong Ferry Terminal

"Junk" Tour Boat
 We have another sea day today, on our way to Taiwan.  For a sea day, it was pretty busy.  We got our tour tickets and a revised itinerary last night and there were quite a few changes.   We were supposed to be in most ports 2 days but the captain received info that, due to the way the currents are predicted to be, we need to leave Osaka at 4 AM on the second day instead of in the afternoon.  That means any tours scheduled for day 2 were re-booked for day 1.  People who had tours scheduled on both days had to decide which one they want and turn in the other tickets.

The other change was to the difficulty level for several tours.  We had tickets for 2 tours that were listed as level 1 (easy) but have been corrected to level 3 (difficult). These are for tomorrow and the next day in Taiwan.  We decided to try the one for tomorrow, but exchanged the second tour for something easier.

There were 2 great lectures today.  Sandra Bowern gave a talk on "Imperial China" at 10 am.  We were exchanging tickets and doing laundry this morning, so we watched this on on TV later in the day.  She gave an excellent overview of the history of the Chinese dynasties through the last emperor, who abdicated in the early 1900's.

The second talk was given by a new lecturer, Dr. Mark Elovitz.  It was part of a "World Affairs Hot Spot Series" he will be giving over the next few weeks.  Today's was titled "Whose Lunch Is China Eating As It Rises Peacefully?"   The main point was that China's current plan is to stay out of everyone else's politics and religious issues while gobbling up all the resources it needs to grow.  It is making deals with countries all over the world to import oil, natural gas, minerals, etc.  to grow it's production of all kinds of things, both for internal consumption and export.  China is pursuing a path of increasing it's world power through economic policies instead of war.

Ray Solaire, Cruise Director & Performer
Tonight was formal night, so we got all dressed up for dinner.  We went upstairs to the Italian restaurant instead of the main dining room.  The main dining room is always very busy on the first night out of a new cruise segment - all the newbies want to go there.  After dinner we actually made it to the show.  Our cruise director is a very talented man and he was the show tonight.  He has a wonderful singing voice, does ventriloquism with a bunch of cute puppets, and tells jokes in between.  We really enjoyed the show.  

Although I will continue to write these blogs daily, you may not see them posted daily between now and March 14th.  We have been told that satellite internet  signals may be restricted in Japan, and that there may be interference in Shanghai.  I will still write my thoughts for each day and post them when I can.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Day 53 - Hong Kong Day 2

Today is passenger change day.  We have new neighbors on either side of our suite.  While the crew worked to get the ship ready for the new passengers this morning, we took a "Panoramic Tour of Hong King."   It was another foggy day, so our photos are not as good as we hoped, but we enjoyed the bus ride.  Our guide had a great sense of humor and used it well as he told us about Hong Kong and it's history.

The first destination was to Victoria Peak.  The observation point is not at the very top, but our guide assured us that the view is better from the lower vantage.  There is a tram that visitors can take up to the top, but that wasn't included in our tour.  As you can see from this photo Ray took, it probably wouldn't have made any difference. The haze obscured all but the closest buildings.

Next, the bus drove us to Repulse Bay. This is the area where the really wealthy residents live.  It has a lovely beach but the main reason this location is so desirable has to do with the principles of Feng Shui.  The literal translation of this term is wind-water.  This bay is sheltered from the wind by the hills.  Dragon spirits are supposed to be carried on the wind and stopped by water.

One of the prominent buildings here was designed with a hole in the center.  Our guide said that there are 2 theories for this.  One is Feng Shui, allowing the dragon spirit to get through to the water.  The other theory is that it was designed this way for structural reasons.  Since none of the other buildings in the area have this feature, your guess is as good as mine.

When we left the beach we drove to the far end of Hong Kong to where he new airport has been built.  Our guide pointed out where a local amusement park, Hong Kong Disneyland, a fishing boat village, and various buildings and neighborhoods along the way.  It was difficult to get photos of any of this from a moving bus.  We got a brief glimpse of the airport and saw where a new railroad terminal is being constructed for a rail line from Hong Kong to Beijing.  Our guide said this will be a 20 hour train ride. 

We finally stopped at the base of the" Ngong Ping 360" cable car ride.  This takes tourists up to the Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha, also referred to as the Big Buddha.  Of course, the tour didn't include this either.  The photo here is all we saw of it.  I think this was more a bio-break stop than anything else. 

From there we drove back to the ship, noting several nice bridges along the way.  Overall, this tour lived up to it's description as "panoramic" and got us out of the way of the crew for a few hours, but wasn't anything exciting.

We had lunch on the ship, then headed back out to the mall this afternoon to see what we could find.  This was a nice walk and we got lost in the maze of halls for awhile, but didn't buy anything.  All we accomplished was to tire ourselves out.  I think we are going to order a light dinner into our room again tonight. 

Our ship sails away from Hong Kong at 10pm tonight.  I would like to share one last photo from here - a junk we saw traveling back and forth across the bay this morning during breakfast.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Day 52 - Hong Kong

Our arrival in Hong Kong this morning was shrouded in mist and fog.  I woke up and went out on the balcony at 7AM as we were coming into the harbor.  At first I thought it was just overcast because it was drizzling, but the fog never completely went away.  Later on, when we were on tour, our guide said the wind is blowing the smog here from China. 

After breakfast we went out of the ship to shop because we heard there was a good shopping mall on the dock.  That was an understatement.  Immediately upon exiting the ship we found ourselves in a full scale, high-end mall with 3 floors of stores.  We explored for about an hour and almost got lost in there.  They had a lot of clothing  and jewelry stores that we bypassed.  We checked out a few camera stores but they didn't carry anything we are in the market for.  Finally, we did find a nice medium size suitcase at a good price.  We'll need the extra so we can fit the souvenirs we've gotten along the way plus the ones we'll probably get over the next few weeks.

Altar to Tin Hau, goddess of the sea
Our tour for the day, "Living Traditions of Hong Kong," met at 1:20pm.  Regent had people with signs stationed through the mall at each place we had to turn to get to the buses so we wouldn't get lost on the way out.  We went in small buses with 2 seats on one side and 1 on the other.  Each bus was limited to 14 people so the guide could manage to keep track of us in the city.  Our first stop was at the historic Tin Hau Temple on Causeway Bay, built in the early 18th century.  Tin Hau is the Taoist goddess of the sea.  There are over 70 temples in Hong Kong devoted to this goddess, since Hong Kong was originally a fishing village.  All the Tin Hau temples were originally built facing the water, but land reclamation projects around Hong Kong have pushed most of them further inland.  Unlike the Taoist temple I visited in Foshan yesterday, this one still had many active worshipers, as evidenced by the food and incense offerings.  To either side of the main altar were smaller alters to the general god who protects the people and the judge god who settles disputes and judges crimes.
Hong Kong "Ding Ding"

The bus dropped us off in the city next so we could board the city tram, referred to by locals as the "Ding Ding"  because of it's sound.  This was a fun ride on a double-decker streetcar.

When we go off we walked uphill to a local cafe for tea or coffee and a pastry.  They served the tea English style, with milk.  It was stronger, black tea than I usually associate with China.  I think it had more of the British influence. 

Hong Kong Light Show
From there we walked further uphill to visit the local "Wet Market."  A "Wet Market" is where locals buy their food each day.  People in Asia tend not to have large refrigerators.  They live in very small apartments and don't have room for anything large.  Our guide said her apartment is 450 square feet.  These apartments are in high-rise buildings in the city and the markets are storefronts at street level below the apartments.  People shop for their food fresh each day, often twice a day so they don't have to store much in their apartments.  The fruit and vegetables looked wonderful, but there were a lot of strange items that I did not recognize or, in some cases, wished I didn't.  Our guide told us that they waste nothing.  They eat anything that moves and every part of them.  After the "Wet Market" we re-boarded the bus and went to the oldest Chinese section of town where more exotic and expensive delicacies are sold.   Again, interesting but probably more information that we really needed or wanted to know in some cases.

This Building was decorated with Flower lights all night
Traffic was reasonable so we were able to return to the ship earlier than scheduled.  This was good because it allowed us to have dinner in the ship's restaurant and be back in our room before 8pm.  The time was important because the skyscrapers on Hong Kong island put on a light show at 8pm every night.  Our ship was positioned on the dock across Victoria Harbor from the island so we had a great view of the show.  It lasts about 15 minutes and was very nice.  I understand that it is choreographed to music that can be heard at the ferry terminal and some other places, but we couldn't hear it from where we were.

Tomorrow is another transition day.  Lots of passengers are getting off the ship and going home in the morning. New passengers will be boarding tomorrow afternoon.  We will go out on another tour in the morning to get out of the way for a few hours.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Day 51 - Huang Pu & Foshan, China

We arrived at our first port in China this morning.  Huang Pu is about 20 miles from Canton and about an hour and a half from Foshan.   We were signed up for a full day in Foshan, so we ordered breakfast in our room again.  Ray didn't sleep well last night and felt sick after breakfast, so I went on the tour without him.

Building Under Construction, designed with Feng Shui
At first I thought it was overcast today, but our guide surprised me by thanking us for bringing sunshine.  I didn't see the sun all day.  What I thought were clouds was actually pollution haze.  I didn't think we'd see that this far south.  If this is what southern China is like, I'm afraid of what we'll see in Beijing.

Foshan Zumiao

The bus ride to Foshan was uneventful.  It reminded me of driving through New York City.  There were a continual line of high-rise apartment and office buildings, many still under construction.  Circles are considered harmonious in China, as this new building shows.  Holes are sometimes designed into buildings to allow dragon spirits to have a path from the mountains to the sea.

Our first stop was at Foshan Zumiao. This is a Taoist "ancestral" temple complex.  At least this is what the guide called it.  From her explanation, I think when they say "ancestral", they mean historic site.   This was an interesting place, with various small buildings and courtyards.   In one courtyard, women in their 70's were performing Tai Chi exercises.   When they were done they greeted us with a friendly smile and an English "hello".

Kung Fu Demonstration
In one inner courtyard we stopped to watch young men perform a Kung Fu demonstration. I'm sure none of them were more than high school age.   There were about a dozen young men demonstrating various skills and it was all very impressive.

After the Kung Fu show our guide led us to another, open courtyard where we watched some young acrobats dressed in dragon costumes (2 boys in each dragon), dance and perform acrobatic stunts.   At the end of the first part they came close to the crowd so children could pet them and adults could offer "tips" in exchange for good luck items.  I placed $5 in a dragons mouth and received a good luck bell in return.

For the second part of the show one of the dragons performed acrobatics on the pedestals at one side of the courtyard.  Note that the dragon is made up of 2 guys, one for the head and one for the rear.  They must just from pedestal to pedestal in sync, with the costume in place, sometimes doing flips. Amazing stuff.

Next stop was at a folk art store where they showed us how they teach children Chinese writing with a brush dipped in water (no ink).  The paper is backed with something that makes it turn black with each water-brush stroke.  We were given a little shopping time there.

We stopped at a local restaurant for lunch, but almost wish we hadn't.  They brought out lots of food, but only the vegetables, soup and rice were edible.  They served pork, duck, chicken and beef, all of which had lots of fat on it.  The chicken and a shrimp dish were undercooked and the fish had tiny bones in it.  Needless to say, there was a lot of food left in the family-style serving dishes when we left our table.
Entrance to Pottery Workshops

Our last stop was at a pottery artist community, with lots of little shops in historic buildings.  The pottery was lovely, each shop showing the products of the artist/shopkeeper, but none of the shops took U.S. currency or credit cards.  Very few of the people on the tour had a chance to get any local currency, so the browsing after the tour of the shops was short.

Although all the stops were interesting, there was way too much time at each one.  We seemed to have 15-30 minutes left at each place after we had seen everything but before the meet time the guide had set.   The only place that accepted U.S. currency or credit cards was the folk art store, and they were obviously not used to handling credit cards. Each transaction took over 5 minutes, and that was with our guide standing there assisting.   The tour was scheduled for 8 hours, but it could have been completed in under 7.

Some Interesting Pottery Art

After the long day we had another surprise waiting for us back at the ship.  When we left the ship this morning we had to submit a stamped copy of our passport to immigration officers and they took our picture.  On the way back we had to hand them the same copy so they could verify that the same person returned as left the ship.  It wasn't a problem when we left this morning because the tour groups were staggered so everyone didn't leave at the same time.  However, it seems like all the tours returned to the pier around the same time.  There was a long line to get to the 5 Chinese immigration officers one at a time.  The Regent staff must have expected this, because they had music playing and a number of crew members standing along the lines, clapping and dancing to the music to entertain us as we waited.  I videoed this of course.  There were a lot of people upset at the wait, but I was in no rush and I enjoyed the crew's efforts to lift our spirits.  I saw a few stateroom attendants who I knew and I thanked them for being there for us.

Ray was doing a little better when I got back, but still wasn't 100%.  I ordered chef salads to the room for dinner so he could have more recuperation time.  We sail for Hong Kong tonight and he really wants to see that city.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Day 50 - On A Slow Boat to China

We have spent the day rocking and rolling on the South China Sea.  The seas have been heavy all day, so we have been sticking to our room as much as possible.  When walking through the halls, holding onto the railings has been mandatory.   The captain has slowed the ship down a bit to minimize the impact of the waves, so we really are on a slow boat to China.

Our next port will be Huang Pu, about 20 miles from Canton, China (also known as Guangzhou).  We had to fill out special immigration cards and give them to Guest Services, just like we did in Vietnam. That is the only time I ventured out, other than for breakfast and dinner.  A few adventurous souls were playing bocci in the main hall, passengers against officers, but the ship's movement was having an effect on the game.

They've been playing Oscar nominated movies on TV for the past week or so.  We watched "The Master" today.  Although Joaquin Phoenix's acting was excellent, my vote still goes to Daniel Day Lewis

The story line was very strange and not something I would usually be interested in.  I'm glad we didn't pay to see it. 

We had reservations for the specialty restaurant, Prime 7, tonight.  For a change, we shared a table with another couple, Gaiton and Janet, from Canada.  Dinner and company were both excellent.  Since I don't have port photos today, I'm going to share photos of some of the wonderfully presented desserts we have enjoyed.  The last photo is the Banana Cream Pie I enjoyed tonight.


We lost an hour last night.  Before this we had been traveling west and were gaining time with each time zone change, but now we have begun traveling east again. I liked it better the mornings we got an extra hour of sleep.