Thursday, March 7, 2013

Day 62 - Northeast on the East China Sea

This will probably be the last entry I will be able to upload for the next 3-4 days.  We are on our way to Japan and, as I mentioned in an earlier post, Japan blocks the satellite frequencies that the ship needs for Internet connections.

We are resting today to recover from all the activities of the last 3 days and prepare for touring Japan.  We will be in Hiroshima and Osaka during the next few days, before moving on to Seoul, South Korea.

I did a load of laundry this morning, then went to a short lecture on pearls.  They had a contest to see who could identify the fake pearls out of 3 necklaces on display.  Of all the entries they picked one out of the box for a prize.  I picked the correct fake pearls but did not win the raffle.

As usual on a sea day, there were 2 lectures on the activity list.  We went to Dr. Elovitz's  lecture this afternoon called "The Thirst for Water (not Oil) & Looming Flashpoints."  North America consumes more water per person than any other area of the world.  In the U.S., we consume an average of 570 liters (150 gallons) per person per day, while the average consumption per person for the entire world is only 100 liters.  I  wonder what it would take to reduce our consumption down to that level.

Sandra Bowern gave a lecture on "The Historical Culture of Japan" this morning.  We woke up late and didn't make it on time so we watched the replay of it on TV this afternoon.  She illustrated her talk through Japanese art, touching on samurai, kabuki theater, sumo wrestlers, geisha, courtesans, poetry, and the art itself.  I wish I wasn't so tired, I would have appreciated her talk more if I wasn't dosing.  Ray's eyes were closing too.  When I finish this I think I am going to join him in an afternoon nap.

We have plans to meet 2 other couples for dinner tonight.  These are people we met in Auckland at the beginning of the cruse who are also getting off in Beijing.  We have seen them sporadically through these 2 months, but this will be the first time we've spent planned time together.  It should be fun.

Day 61 - Goodbye Shanghai

MagLev Train Approching Station

MagLev Train
This was our third day in Shanghai port.   We weren't scheduled to sail until 1:30 pm, so we had time for one more short tour.  They offered a ride on the MagLev train this morning so we signed up.  For anyone who doesn't know, MagLev stands for magnetic levitation.  There are only 3 trains of this type in the world, one in Germany, one in Japan, and this one in Shanghai, China.  

It was about a 45 minute ride from the ship to Longyang Road station.  The train only travels a short line, between this station and the Shanghai Pudong Airport.   It is an 8 minute ride each way to cover the 30.5 km (18.95 m) run and reaches a top speed of 431 km/hr (268 mph).   There are 2 tracks, with a train running every 15 minutes each way.  When the train on the other track passed us, several people tried to take a photo, but it went so fast there was no chance.  The train left the station at 10:15 and it took us about 3 minutes to reach to maximum speed and another 3 minutes to decelerate.

After this round-trip thrill ride,  we got back on the bus for a trip to the Jin Mao Building again.  We visited this tower on our first day in Shanghai, but it was included in today's tour as a ride on the fastest train combined with a ride on the fastest elevator.  I don't think I mentioned the other day that it takes 45 seconds to travel to the observation deck on the 88th floor. 

We came to the tower from a different direction this time so we got to see a different part of the city.  I liked this sundial sculpture that is located in the center of a roundabout.

We hesitated about going up in the tower again because it was another foggy day, but finally decided it was better than sitting in the bus for 45 minutes waiting for the rest of the group.   We had a nicer day yesterday, but of course, no tours left the ground that day.

Jin Mao Building

Our ship left the pier on time this afternoon, but we did an unusual maneuver getting out.  The captain actually backed the ship down the Huanpu River for the first mile before turning the ship around.  I guess there wasn't enough room for him to turn the ship around until we got that far down river.   We had 2 tug boats following us down the river until we got to the wider Yangtze river.   I understand that it will take until about 8pm to get to the mouth of the Yangtze and back into the East China Sea. 

Tomorrow we have a day of rest - a day at sea.  We are both tired out from the past few days so we are ordering dinner in the room tonight.  We'd like to go to the show, but I'm not sure we're going to make it.  After dinner and a bottle of wine we are probably just going to fall soundly to sleep.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Day 60 - Shanghai and Zhujaijaio

Water Town of Zhujaijaio
Today has been a really good day!

We had to get up early this morning to join an 8am tour.  This one was called "Ancient Water Town of Zhujaijaio," and was one of the best tours we have been on.  The guide was really good.  He talked about the Shanghai area for the first half of the 1.5 hour drive out of Shanghai, then let us enjoy the countryside once we were out of the city.  During our walking tour of the town he stopped to explain the town's history and the merchandise in the shops.  He also made sure no one got left behind in the winding streets and gave us hits on where to meet him if we did get lost.  (No one did.)

Only Covered Bridge in Zhujaijaio

Largest Bridge in Zhujaijaio
The town is built around man-made canals.  Our guide explained that, just like we build railroads and highways today, for this culture, water travel was important.  They dug out these canals to tie them to the rivers and built their homes and  shops along the canals.  It looks like a small, Chinese version of Venice.  There are only a few towns like this left and the Chinese government is encouraging the people to preserve this town as a tourist attraction.   They may have modern conveniences inside, but have to get permission for any external changes. 

We walked past all the shops where vendors sold food, household goods, crafts, and tourist souvenirs.  Our guide took us into a Chinese Traditional Medicine Museum and explained how the Chinese doctors would diagnose ailments and prepare herbal medicines, and how the patient would use the medicines at home.  He said that every Chinese city still has a place to get traditional medicine. 

We also visited the ancient post office.  Originally, this was only used by nobility, but now it is a full post office for the local residents.  This also had a museum upstairs and he explained how the postal system worked in ancient times when few people could read or write.  They would dictate their message to a person at the post office and the message would be read to the recipient by someone working at the receiving post office.

Chinese Canal Boat

"Gondolier" steering our boat
After walking around town for about an hour, we had a half hour on our own for shopping.  Despite the language difference, bargaining with the vendors is not a problem.  Each one has a calculator.  You pick something and they enter the price into the calculator and show it to you.  You can then take the calculator and enter a lower price.  They will then counter with another number.  In this way you can almost always get the price down.  I bought a lovely little wooden fruit basket that is cleverly designed to fold flat, making it easy to pack in my suitcase.

The last event in our tour of the town was a boat ride on the canals.  The boats are something like the gondolas in Venice, but wider so that passengers sit on benches facing each other.  The boats are also easier to get in and out of.  They are steered from the back with a long paddle, just like to gondolas are.  No singing though.

We were surprised at how much the outskirts of Shanghai has been built up.  Factories and high-rise condos have been built far out of the city and many more are under construction.  Our guide said that many people are coming into Shanghai from the provinces, and it is obvious why.  The work is here.

Pearl TV Tower at night

Both last night and tonight the upstairs restaurant opened early with a Mediterranean buffet because there were evening tours to see Chinese Acrobats perform.  We had tickets for tonight's show.  It was a little over a half hour bus ride into the city to get to the show.  Our guide led us to really great center seats.  The show was simply fantastic - sort of like a Cirque de Soleil.   Our guide said that the troupe we saw are the best in China and are celebrities here. It it very hard to explain what we saw in just a few words, but these are very talented acrobats.  In addition to the physical feats, the finale was a show of motorbikes zooming around inside a globe.  They started with one and added another every few minutes until there were 7 bikes all running inside the globe.   It was crazy good!  Unfortunately, no photos were allowed.

Shanghai Night Skyline

To top off a wonderful day, it was a clear night.  When we got back to the ship we headed up to the 12th deck to take photos of the Shanghai skyline Our ship is docked across the river from the main city so we have a great view.   We made it just in time too.  At 10pm chimes rang from somewhere and all the lights began to go off.  We have been very lucky!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Day 59 - Shanghai, China

We arrived in Shanghai this morning to a city engulfed in fog.  We can see to the other side of the river and the first few blocks of the city, but beyond that is just haze.  Internet access is sporadic, going in and out, so I don't know how long it will take me to post this or other posts while in China.

Old Soviet Union Consulate, now museum

China immigration wasn't too bad.  They called us by tour again and we were in the 4th group off the ship.  Our tour today was a simple tour of the city called "Shanghai Old & New." 

Carved Ivory Fish

Carved Temple

Ivory Ladies on Black Lacquer Cabinet

This is not a real old city.  It was built up in the late 1800's to provide the British, and later the French, a trading port with China.  Many of the original buildings have been demolished so new high-rises could be built, but they have preserved a few sections.  The tour bus took us through the British section, called the Bund, and across to the French section.  We made 3 stops on the tour. The first was at the Shanghai Museum of Arts and Crafts.  They had a beautiful collection of jade carvings, wood carvings, needlepoint and embroidery.  Of course, they also had a gift shop. 

The second stop was to go up to the observation deck on the 88th floor of the Jin Mao Building.  The building is very impressive. We took some photos but the haze prevented us from getting any really good pictures of the city.

Looking Down Center of Jin Mao Building from Observation Deck

Our third stop was at the base of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower.  This was just a photo stop. We decided it wasn't worth getting out of the bus. We got pictures of the tower and other buildings both from the bus and from the ship.

Oriental Pearl TV Tower
Since we are going to be visiting several ports in China and spending more than one day in each, we thought it would be good to get some local currency.  The ship's crew said there would be a place to exchange currency in the terminal, but we couldn't find it.  After dropping of our cameras & stuff back in the room, we went out again and started asking officials in the terminal where the currency exchange was.  They directed us out of the terminal and to a bank a little ways down the street.  When we got there  we were happy to find an English speaking agent.  She told us the ATM's would not accept credit cards but we could exchange U.S. currency for yuan. All we needed were 9 forms, 3 of which needed to be signed and only one that had an English translation. Plus, they made a copy of Ray's passport.  It took about 15 minutes to get through the paperwork.

I decided to be brave at dinner tonight and order the "Destination Dish" of the day.  This was a prawn dish with noodles and vegetables.  It was very good as long as I was careful.  The first bite set my tongue on fire, but I figured out the culprit green bits to bypass and then enjoyed the dinner.

We will be here 3 days, giving us time for 2 more tours tomorrow and another the last day. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Day 58 - East China Sea

No photos today.  We are sailing west on the East China Sea, on our way to Shanghai, China.  It's been nice and calm since we left Japan.  The ship should reach the pier about 8:30 am tomorrow. I'm hoping to wake up around sunrise to see the scenery on the way up the river.

Today we got to listen to 2 lectures after breakfast.  The first was Sandra Bowern's talk on "Modern China."  She explained China's recent history from the early 1900's when the last emperor abdicated to the present.  I am familiar with most of the leaders she talked about, even though I can't always spell their names.  The details of their rule were mostly unfamiliar and eye=opening.

The second lecture was by Dr. Mark Elovitz.  It was a follow up on the one he gave a few days ago.  This one was titles. The Chindian Rivalry: Will the Dragon Devour the Elephant or get Stomped?"  In this lecture he talked about the importance of the Indian Ocean, the Bab el Mandeb (Suez Canal), the Strait of Hormuz, and the Strait of Malacca in terms of ships importing resources to China.  He also discussed several border disputes between China and India that we were unaware of.  The picture he painted of the potential future conflicts was pretty scary.

I rounded off the afternoon by going to another art auction.  They really do have some wonderful works of art on the ship.  I enjoy looking at them and hearing the stories behind them.  Plus every time I attend an auction I get a free small print.

We considered going to the show tonight, but once we got back to the room after dinner, decided to settle in.  That's one negative on this ship.  We like to eat early, which means getting to the restaurant when it opens at 6:30 pm.  Even taking our time, we are done by 8 pm, but the shows don't start until 9:30 pm.  Since we do not like sitting at the bar, we wind up with over an hour free time before they open the theater doors.  Once we get back to our room, we rarely feel like going out again. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Day 57 - Naha (Okinawa), Japan

The seas were really rough last night after leaving Taiwan.  Ray got seasick pretty quickly so I went to dinner by myself.  I would have sat with other people, but there were so few people in the restaurant that they just put me at a table by myself.   I brought a basket of bread back for Ray to get something in his stomach.

It was tough sleeping with the rocking, rolling, and occasional shudder of the ship. By morning it calmed down a little and we managed a few hours sleep.  Ray was still sick so I had breakfast by myself too.  It was too late to go to the restaurant downstairs so I went up to the buffet.  All the waiters we know kept asking me about Ray.  The crew here is so nice.

Naha, Japan

The ship didn't get to Naha until 1pm. We had a tour scheduled for 2:15, "Okinawa Preferral Museum & Shopping," but decided to skip it.  The tour choices here didn't really interest us and we still have 2 more interesting ports in Japan later in the cruise.   Ray needed time to settle his stomach and I needed some sleep more than a military museum and shopping.

We still had to go through Japanese immigration.  They called passengers by tour so people could get to their tour buses on time.  After all the tours they called everyone else.  I think we may have been the only people left on the ship, at least the only ones not still in our room.  We walked around the ship and saw no one but crew.

Voyager Lobby
Immigration was more involved than prior ports.  We picked up our shore passport form (already filled out for us) from the crew first, then got in line.  Japanese agents took our temperature, then sent us to one of the agents at a table in the front of the theater.  There we handed in immigration and import forms (saying we weren't bringing anything into the country that isn't allowed) and they fingerprinted our index fingers, stamped the shore pass and sent us on our way. The shore pass was only needed for going off the ship and had to be handed in before we left port, so we just handed them in again before dinner.

This is the first time I walked around the ship with my good camera, so I finally got some photos of things I like on the ship.  There are 2 photos I'd like to share.  First, in the center of the main lobby, at the foot of the stairs, there is a lovely sculpture of a sailing ship.  I took this photo from the floor above.

Chocolate Voyage Map
In the lobby on the floor below the main lobby, just outside the restaurant, the chiefs have created a chocolate map, showing where this ship has traveled on the current around the world tour.  They started in Rome and I believe the world tour finishes either there or in London. There are a few passengers on board for the entire voyage.  Each time we get to another segment of the cruise, the chiefs add a few more things to the map that represent the areas we will be visiting.  This last photo is a close-up of the current additions. 

There were children performing the Lion dance with accompanying drums on the pier as we left port.  We were at dinner so we couldn't get a photo of them.   Our next day of sailing promises to be smoother.