Friday, 31 May 2013

Saving the Best to Last

Late Night Pizza

Two evening shows featuring songs from Broadway and two standing ovations later we were having four cheese pizza, salad or cookies in the Ocean View Cafe. Now that is cruising.

... packing is exhausting work ...
I was up again ... early, walking the halls, getting another couple of decks of cards for bridge, coming back to the room to alert Wyona that there was another watercolour class.

I have pretty well given up – another talent that I am going to pass on ... develop those art skills when I get to heaven, I thought to myself. I am working on being polite. 

... three point landing ...
a cruising talent
That is all. Like, instead of turning the lights on in the room when I come back from my walk, I go into a pitch black room and try to find the bathroom door by Braille. This is not easy. I could find an open door but I was blocked by wood from entering the room. I went back to the wall, ran my hand over it, trying to find a knob. No door handle anywhere. By now I was using large circling motions with both of my arms. I have been doing Zumba. They are flexible. Still no way to get into the bathroom so I am patting down every wall. I have forgotten that this room has a closet where Wyona and Greg keep their folded stuff. This is what I have been trying to enter in the dark. Cruising is hard work.

We are doing the inside passage today -- seeing for ourselves that the beauty we already know is British Columbia extends along this whole coast. We are out of the Alaska Panhandle and in the waters that separate Vancouver Island from the mainland. So beautiful.

But back to the morning – since Wyona wouldn’t get up and go to the art lesson, I went to check it out and one of those wonderful things happen where the student and the master connect. I might like painting after all. The pedagogy was just right for me: this is about having fun; take 30 minutes, do what you can and be out of there; use the same palette over and over (just let the paints dry and wet them down when you begin again). Now I have a new kit of paper, brushes and colours and tons of tips. ie there is a watermark on the paper, usually lower right hand side that will let you know which is the right side of the paper. During the lesson the teacher diverged a bit to answer a question and then said, “I don’t know where I was in the lesson, so I don’t know where to start again.” 

... one more peak at the water ...
“You were explaining the difference between negative a positive space.”


That voice was mine.

I must have been taking notes in my mind and not evening knowing it.

I would have broken out my paints and got busy, if I hadn’t been racing off to Zumba.

... a last night ... at least for a while ...
Everyone else is on the stage.

I stay at the back of the auditorium with the shy people, in the shadows, following the leader from far away.

I am not ready to be in the spotlight to do the cumbia until have it mastered in the dark.


Saturday, 25 May 2013

Have I Done Any Good ...

Art 101 - Wyona
Scene from China
Some days I don’t feel as though I have done anything ... I mean really done anything. I did go for a one hour walk in the halls today – zero is too cold out on the deck when the wind is 35 mph and then boat is going 20 knots an hour as well.

I know this floor, the attendants on each quarter and what time most of the people come out of their rooms.

Art 101 - Wyona
Scene from Osaka Castle
The The Boutique Seminar was a video about how the Le Monde Travel Memory Globe is constructed and afterward some of the globes were on display. The idea of having a small (medium or large – depending on the body size of course) globe hanging from a chain around my neck, with a diamond, sapphire or emerald attached to each continent I have visited has never entered my mind. The sales person said that one person bought 7 extra jewels to put on the continents – one for each continent and then, since they have tickets for the first tourist travel voyage into space, they had another jewel placed in the ocean. I dream on such a small scale.

Art 101 - Wyona
Mt. Fuji
I slipped into a lecture called “The Wonders of Wallacea”. I didn’t make the connection between the lecture and the Wallace Collection that we used to frequent, the museum that was within walking distance of Greg’s flat. He brought that connection to my mind over lunch as six of us chatted over peanut satay – about places people at the table have travelled. I am still a “travel baby”.

The women from Kent, England talked about their lives at home. There is a programme with a name something like University for the Third Time – meant for older people. Retired professionals give the courses – anything from engineering to gardening. Their group has 1,000 members and sometimes they bus into London for the West End Shows – having just seen Top Hat and War Horse. Fun, that everyone at the table had seen War Horse. Even readers of this blog have seen it if they picked up on its transmission to a local theatre via National Theatre in HD. That seems to be a recurring theme among people who cruise this way. Many people have a story to tell that is constructed in the following form. “ I lived in rural village in northern Quebec when I was young.” I didn’t see an escalator or an elevator until I was 14. Another theme is “My parents were immigrants with a small business which went bankrupt. I had to make money for the family so I couldn’t go to high school.” People like this know how to have fun when they are old. Today I was trying to figure out what the world old means, since I am with a new cohort – the one I belong to, instead of being at the university, thinking I belong with people who carry books in knapsacks and are reading all of the time. The ones who think that turning an assignment in on time is having a good time.

Art 101 - Wyona
Free Form
This is a new group. They have their travel itineraries already set for 2015. They are out using the gym at 6 am, taking “Beyond the Podium” classes on board during the mornings and afternoons, Going to Elegant Teas in the mid afternoon, hitting the blues and jazz events in the evenings and dancing until the bands quit (at 1 am).
Art 101 by Arta
I gave it the title "Frustration"
I told Wyona that I don’t like going places where I am not the best at things, so I am quitting art. And I don’t have all of the Zumba moves down yet. I learned a new one with her a couple of days ago: left over right, light over left, slide, right under left, left under right. The move is so complicated there is not room for both of us to practise it in the same room without tripping each other. So I walk the halls in the morning, from forward to aft, where I stop at the back of the ship, catch my breath and do the move so my feet will remember it when I get onto the Zumba floor.

Wyona and I had split up for the morning.

She was at Water Colour Art 101.

I left lunch for Art Appreciation 101 (which is not doing art), and then off to a seminar on how to edit travel video photography. I am going to two shows again tonight – one show, really, two times – Dale Kristen who will be singing songs from old musicals.

Cruising along in happiness.


On Living Yesterday Again

We had two May 6ths.

May 6th – Day 1 and May 6th – Day 2.

... evening in Petropavlovsk ...
The purpose is to get us back in sync with the rest of the world, since we have been gaining all of these hours and now have to give them back some way. Greg sleeps in. Wyona sleeps in. I try to dress in the dark and slip out to walk the halls of the 7th floor – 3 minutes to the other end, and 3 minutes back again. Getting out the door is has its difficulties. My watch is on upside down. I have a sweater which I have now put on inside out, and the second day, inside out and upside down. With just one speck of daylight in the room, I think I could do better.

... the sailout ...
I had a fantastic day yesterday. A fellow Canadian at our table is a decade older than me. His wife sits by him, since he can’t always hear the conversation and she gets very close to his ear and then speaks in a loud voice for him – and that is with his hearing aids in. I can look at him, tell a story as loudly as I can, think he is lip-reading, but he gets hardly anything. Last night John, from Australia sat by him and kept the conversation going. But John’s wife kept poking him in the ribs, telling me that he had to talk softer, since she couldn’t keep the conversation going on the other side of the table. The old man still needed John to speak louder. The louder John spoke, the more his wife kept giving him pokes in the ribs, whispering in an aside to us that the loud voice was due to the 3 afternoon martinis and that no one needs to talk that loud.

Oh, this is fun!

... night seas ...
Yesterday the waiter forgot to give Greg his main course at lunch.

The woman next to Greg called over the maitre d’, told her that the guest had not received his meal yet, and that this was unacceptable. The poor waiter came back cowering with his supervisor. The food was just late from the kitchen. Greg would have gone without 10 meals before he would have said anything, let alone in that form of complaint.

Add caption
Before that, the woman had bawled Greg out for using her bread plate – which was really his bread plate, but I she had decided it was his, even though she said she doesn’t ever set tables with bread plates. In the mean time her husband had alerted the waiter twice that he needed ketchup on his hamburger, even though the hamburger was many minutes away from being served to him. Subsequently her pasta was sent back to the kitchen because it tasted too much like spicy ketchup. All of the while the man was telling us he is an investment counsellor, in insurance and he can tell us how to invest our money for the next two years where it will get maximum returns. Wyona had told him that our ship is not running sailing at maximum capacity, and he dismissed her information, saying that the stats on the empty rooms is inconsequential and that what he doesn’t like is being nickled and dimed to death as is done on this boat. I don’t know why all of this was so fun. The only time the man was thunder-struck was when he asked Wyona how many children she had. Long silence from her. She said eight. Finally he was spechless.  

... sunset ..
Long silence from him. Then “Are you Catholic?” 

No, she said. 

He said, “I am the 7th of 7 kids. My mother was 45 when she had me.” When he asked Wyona how many grandchildren she had, long silence again. That is because Wyona hasn’t got enough fingers to count them all, and she doesn’t have Charise at her side giving her the right answer. When Wyona finally came up with the number13, there was another long silence.

A lunch hour always to be remembered by us.


My Happy Birthday

I wore out before the last hours of my birthday were over. I began my birthday when I walked on the 7th floor, up and down the corridors from Rooms 7002 to 7208 – up and down, until tonight when Wyona asked if we had seen last month’s room attendants, I had to say, yes, I passed them many times in the hall this morning. They work on the other side of the ship where I do have of my walk.

Wyona has been sick, so we had lunch together in the Ocean View, moving down the row of vegetables and pointing to everything we wanted on our salads. Yum to artichokes, shredded zucchini, toasted sesame seeds and pumpkin sees – all of the items that are just too troublesome to prepare for a quick meal at home! I saw the Russian Matryoshka Doll lecture and took notes, copious ones, having so many already. The bottom line is, if you like it buy it. There are no nesting dolls you can purchase that will be more valuable next year. And even the ones that a person can buy in the subway in the middle of St. Petersburg may have been made in China. I have no idea how I ended up in the Beyond the Podium Lecture called American Madams 1860-1910 but I was there with Greg and another dinner companion. I had the suspicion that I would be listening to a talk about madams in the Alaskan Panhandle – since Alaska is where we are headed. I was taking notes and able to refer to remember Mother Featherlegs and Diddlin’ Dora’s Saloon and know that I have to do some internet research when I go home to scan again the poem written by Lusk, Wyoming’s mayor who immortalized Mrs. Charlotte Shepherd.

My day went from good to better. Of all of the seminars my notes are the most copious when I sit in the Photography Question and Answers Sessions. Greg and I went to dinner and came home to tell Wyona that if she had joined us she could have had her choice of Beef Wellington, Lamp Chops, or Lobster Tail. I choose the latter to go with the oysters – two, still in the shells. No pearls were found. I had ordered a small cake, brought from the kitchen, my name tastefully written on it. Nothing like creating your own birthday party!  Our two waiters joined the table singing Happy Birthday. That was good. But the 3 tables of fun loving Germans who toast and sing at every opportunity joined in, raising the volume level more than I had anticipated – a blush from me for my 73 birthday to say the least. I still like to remain anonymous.

I watched the iBroadway Stage presentation – twice: 7:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. I was wondering what my favorite songs were tonight: On Broadway? Defying Gravity? Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You? We will Rock You? The good thing is that I could hear the show twice to help me make up my mind.

Can you imagine me stopping by a jewellery store on the way back to my room. Wyona and Greg had spent some time in there while I was at lectures today. She tried to convince me that a lovely pearl hanging on a black diamond necklace would be the perfect birthday gift and that I should buy it for myself. I opt for a new used car instead. Greg said it would be a hard choice, but if I choose the jewellery, I could just hold out my ring finger and say, “I am wearing an automobile on my hands”.

We had late night pizza in the Ocean View – a ‘60’s thing to do. 

I don’t know what a ‘70’s thing to do would have been. I am still having trouble getting good models for what it is like to grow old.

In any case, I had a lovely birthday.


Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Kobe, Japan

... no room to walk through the crowd ...
We were fingerprinted as we left the boat this morning. Everyone on the cruise had to get off, and no one could get back on until everyone had gone off of the boat. Multiple processes were going on. Some people were boarding the buses for organized tours. The people standing in line at the money changers were disappointed, for the kiosk ran out of money. We stayed on the line, though many left to see if they could find a bank in town who would make the exchange for them. How they thought this was going to happen at the beginning of Golden Week and on a Sunday was a mystery to us.

The man who came running back with more money was carrying it in a bag. He sat behind a counter, counting it out from a wooden table and three people beside the counter used their calculators to show the tourists what the rate of exchange would be for them. A low key operation. No armed guards, no grates between the sellers and the customers, no cash boxes, no passing money under bullet proof glass. Fascinating to me, all of these old people (the tourists), sharp and shrewd, using the apps on their Blackberries to make sure that they get the fairest exchange rates.

 ... Japanese Chinatown ...
Japanese Chinatown. Sounds like an oxymoron to me. Wyona and I were trying to figure out how long it was – six long crowded streets and everyone eating food on the streets. Or sitting on their haunches, or leaning against lamp posts. When they had something in their hands from one kiosk, they were lined up at the next one for their second course. A little girl was taking the rice from her bamboo-rapped pocket and feeding it to the pigeons. Her brother was putting it on his shoes and then laughing when the birds would take it from there. Too crowded, one of our evening diners said to us.
... by now, I am too full to eat ... too bad for me ...
I loved the feel of it – shoulder to shoulder, the smell of garlic and hoi sin sauce in the air, pork buns made to look like pigs and panda bears. No tourist kick-knacks, no fans, no silk scarves, no key-chains for sale – just six blocks of food, skewered, or in palm leaves or in cardboard boxes.

The #16 bus does a circle route around town – takes an hour. Pay when you get off. “How do I buy my ticket from the man,” I heard a tourist ask. He was corrected.

“You buy the ticket from a woman.”
... costume of tour bus ticket taker ... a woman ....
The ticket taker was dressed like a doll – a lovely dress, a stiff brimmed hat with a bow at the back. Whenever she would lean out of the window and give directions to people I could hear Wyona giggling behind me. No English in the tour dialogue. She gave a running explication of each block into a microphone for the whole hour. I wish I could have found her channel on an English station.

... presenting flowers to the Captain ...
....the occasion?  The Millennium's First Trip to Kobe ...
Just a side note – a group of Japanese University Student Drummers were the entertainment at the 5:30 show in the theatre, featuring the Japanese Dock Authority welcoming the Celebrity Millennium to its port for the first time – an exchange of pictures of the boat taken this morning, 2 plaques, some Saki, and bouquets of flowers, presented by a beautiful Geisha. Charming, really, to see the cultural traditions of two countries incorporated into one ceremony.
... drummer setting up her equipment ...
The drumming corps has won many prizes. Greg has seen this a number of times. Wyona grabbed my camera to video the performance. She knows where to find that button. I so under use the potential of my camera.  I am still working hard t get the horizon going across the picture instead of on a slant -- or getting people's feet and head in a picture, at the same time.

Wyona gets it right with the camera.  I keep practising.


Monday, 20 May 2013

Back to Tianjin, China

... riding in the put-put ...
We spent a long day in Beijing.

The next day we went only have 1/2 way – just to Tianjin.

Greg loves the beautiful new cruise terminal where we are docked.

In order to make it a pleasant place for westerners the Chinese play western music.

Whomever chooses the music picked a seasonal genre for us to hear – Jingle Bells play for us in April.

This is the place where reading English is as interesting as it can get, for there is a translation needed.

One of the beautiful restaurants was called Heaven on World, a huge sign on top of the restaurant that could be seen from the train, enticing us in. 

“Heaven on Earth is what they meant to say,” Greg whispered to me.

Getting off at the Citizens Plaza and looking around would have been enough to do.

Can you help us find a street market?

Hoping we could squeeze in a Traditional Market Wyona approached some young students who looked like they might speak English.

She said to them, “I see taxi drivers refusing to take people who are speaking Chinese to them.

What chance will we have in them taking us.”

The students went to work, later explaining that many of the taxis are not licensed to go over a nearby bridge and they have to refuse passengers who want to go there.

... thanking the driver with cash ...
To get around this problem, she put is in two put-puts telling the driver to take us to a market – what turned out to be a market celebrating traditional beauties of China.

Before we she left the young woman said that she doesn’t live here, but that she was meeting friends to go for western food and they wondered if we would like to join them.

We laughed and said, no, we have come a long way for Chinese food. Western food just won’t work for us.

... pearl display at street pearl stall ...
At the market, I found a pearl vendors and some silk scarves.

After negotiating prices on those for me, and further down the way, Wyona found another pearl vendor. “I want both of these necklaces and ½ of another, all restrung and I will be back at 3 pm to get them.”

 ... Wyona at pearl merchants ...
Wyona told them all of that without speaking a word of Chinese, nor them speaking a bit of English.

Sign language is a wonderful thing.

 And so was this market.

Many days later we were saying, “What was wrong with our heads. Why did we leave that market so early. We should have spent every cent we had there.”

... red rope is to keep too many customers from entering the store ...
On our journey home, the subway line we needed to take was broken.

We would not have known, just the 5 of us standing there waiting for a train.

But the penny didn’t drop for us.

 OR ... keep your hands out of the subway door ...
A young man with fashionably shredded jeans tried to speak to us.

Then he went to find someone in the subway to translate for him.

She came back and said in English, “This person is telling you that you should not stand here, for the train will never come. Follow him and he will take you to the right spot."

... goodnight Tianjinn ...
That was the answer to a tourist’s prayer.

One not yet even uttered.


Going to Beijing

... dividing up the precious money ...
“Where do you catch the #102?” and “Does the #513 give change?”

Those were the first questions we heard after we had run through the parking lot, past the Celebrity Tour Coaches, trying to make our way to Beijing on our own and save the $450 the tours would have cost us.

No, the driver did not give change so an English speaker ahead of us on the bus opened up his wallet, gave Greg change for a 50 yuan and that answers the next question,“How did we pick up with those Australians?”

Greg hadn’t remembered that they were the ones who gave us the change to get on the bus.

They too were making their way to Beijing on their own.

Unlike us, they had never travelled somewhere before where no one spoke English.

And that was the glue that stuck them to us.

Wyona had sign-languaged her way into a young fellows heart who had a suitcase, and she trusted that he could get us off of the street where the bus dropped us, and into a train station.

We took an hour on the underground, then another hour on a train to Tianjin, and then a half an hour on a bullet train to Beijing.

... vendor selling paper hats ...
There wasn’t a corner that wasn’t fraught with difficulties – all five of us trying to figure out where to buy tickets, how to put the tickets into the turn styles, how to read the tickets so that we got on the first class trains and into the correct seats.

Grandma, can we take your picture?
“Grandma, can I take your picture?”

That is what two young girls said to Wyona in the square by the Forbidden City.

Yes, and you get in the picture too, she said, and in return, tell us how to get back to Tanggu.

“Oh, we are not from here, but we are tourists from another place in China,” they laughed.

.  guarding the Forbidden City ...
“Look at me. Now I am walking like an old person.” Those are the words of the 9th person who was crammed into a 7 seater taxi that brought us home.

A guy from Arizona (Greg suspects he was from Russia from his accent) had to sit on his friend’s lap, and he was perched there, one of his own arms on the driver’s headrest and one on the seat behind his friend.

They had been charged $500 American for their taxi ride into Tianjin in the morning, and knowing they had been ripped off, were standing beside us, trying to negotiate a fairer price on the way back to the ship at night.

Wyona had been off talking to a Chinese businessman this time, and asked him to negotiate the price for us.

Soon there was a yelling match going on, the three taxi drivers who were swarming us, trying to get us to pay their fares for rides pack to the port, and him, yelling at them in Chinese that they were ripping us off.

The language got louder and louder, the taxis were parked out in the street, as though the traffic back up and around them didn’t matter, and the student yelling louder and louder at them, taking on each new taxi driver that stopped.

Finally a larger van drove us, gave us a price of 180 yuan to take 9 people back to the port and we climbed in.

But only 8 of us made it into the taxi ... Greg still out on the street.
 ... We saw a portrait like this in a house in 7 Springs, Lee River ...
“I am not leaving without him. Let me out,” said Wyona.

So everyone scooched over and the Russian / Arizonian sat up on his friend’s lap, to make the whole deal work.

“Can you climb over this taxi barricade?” We were caught between a rock and a hard place – now in the taxi queue, but this time Wyona finding out from the woman ahead of us, that a taxi would take longer on top of the ground, than the subway would take below, but there was no way to get out of the line-up.

Greg was the first one to check out the barricade, to see that it was bolted to the ground, thus stable enough for all five of us to climb it, swing our legs over it, and head back to the subway to get to the Forbidden City.

Not dignified, but it worked. Won’t be able to travel when I can no longer swing my legs over high fences.