It’s Saturday morning, March 10, 3:30am. We left the Coral Sea in Lembar earlier this week and have been sailing the South China Sea, which stretches from Taiwan to the Equator. This sea provides the only direct connection between the North Pacific Ocean & Indian Ocean. The weather has been quite warm, though we haven’t seen much of the sun – just a stream of tropical rains. The forecast for today is yet more rain, but with higher winds and seas of 10 – 14 feet. Everyone is getting restless from so many days at sea, but we’ve managed to stay pretty busy. There’s a wide variety of activities to choose from each day, although yesterday morning was quite comical. There’s a group of us (about 20) who typically participate in all the physical games & various challenges throughout the day. Yesterday morning we decided to meet in the Ocean’s Bar at 10:30…and to do what, you ask?? We all made paper airplanes to see whose plane could fly the farthest distance…what else!!?? I think we’ve been at sea too long…but VERY MUCH enjoy every minute. Such wonderful people & new friends!
Looking forward to Hong Kong tomorrow morning, and our subsequent 2-day stay. According to the lectures, the sail-in will be even better than Sydney, and they say that the Hong Kong skyline makes New York harbor look like farm land. I don’t see how that’s possible, but we’ll find out. The available tour & activity list is very extensive – we have several scheduled during our stay along with a stroll through the Night Market on Sunday – the travel guides on-board say it’s not to be missed.
I will post pictures as soon as I’m able. I originally intended to find a high-speed internet location on shore in Hong Kong but time ran short. I want to update several stops, particularly Antarctica.
Unfortunately, the weather forecast was very accurate – it rained all day Saturday & the ocean was rough. A cold front was expected to blow through Hong Kong, and did. Our sail-in was compromised by fog & a steady mist. Despite the weather, you could still see the skyline as we sailed through the harbor and as advertised, it was quite dramatic. For those of you who’ve been to New York, imagine the miles of tall buildings and multiply by six – absolutely amazing. Even at 7am on a Sunday morning, the harbor was bustling with cargo ships and local ferries – we docked on time, and our first tour started at 8:15. We boarded a bus and headed for Hong Kong Island, crossing under the Victoria Harbor by tunnel. We then switched to a tram for a 20-minute ride up to Victoria Peak which was supposed to give us a dramatic, panoramic view of the harbor, Kowloon, and the beaches – but the fog was so thick we couldn’t see much at all. Our stay up there was very brief – we then headed for the pier in Aberdeen where the fishermen & their families live on thousands of junks (small boats) & and sampans. We arranged for a ride on one of the sampans and weaved throughout the marina, observing how these families live on such small boats – quite interesting. From there, we visited the small village of Stanley & the Stanley Market – famous for cloths, furniture, and great knock-offs of designer products. The Stanley Market is much the same as a flea market back in the U.S, but instead, several blocks of tents & kiosks. We walked a solid 2 miles, but bought nothing. It was interesting just to observe & “people watch” – elbow-to-elbow. We were back at the ship by 1pm – grabbed some lunch, & headed out on our own with some good (new) friends from Vancouver – a wonderful couple! I wanted to buy some new dress shoes so our first stop was a mall (Ocean Terminal) near the ship. This is a massive, 3-story retail facility with hundreds of stores – I was told it would be quite easy to find what I was looking for. The conversion rate between Hong Kong & US is approximately 7/1. The first nice shoe store we came to had a nice pair of dress shoes in the window for $2,300…or $300+ US – not a bad price for quality dress shoes…right?? We went in the store & looked closer – I was wrong – the price was $23,000 Hong Kong, or $3,000+ US…for a pair of shoes??? You’ve got to be kidding!!!! They were VERY serious about the price…said if I didn’t want top-of-the-line, I could buy down and spend $2,000 US – I’d go barefoot before spending that kind of money on shoes!! Off we went (without new shoes) – the other stores in Ocean Terminal weren’t much cheaper. I was told I could get a good pair of shoes in Vietnam for a very reasonable price – I can wait a few days! We then managed to catch a taxi – the language barrier is a real problem in Hong Kong even though English is a required class in high school. We drove about 15 miles into the city center and were dropped off at what is known as the Ladies Market. This is similar to Stanley Market but imagine Time Square in New York on New Year’s Eve – thousands & thousands of people, elbow-to-elbow…streaming down streets & sidewalks going through hundreds & hundreds of stores. It looks similar to Chinatown in San Francisco, but much much larger. Pedestrians don’t have the right-of-way; you cross at your own risk. We found very quickly that the residents won’t yield for Americans on the sidewalk – they look straight forward, will not make eye contact and just plow forward – very disappointing. I did my best to get a smile from a Hong Kong resident but with the exception of a small child in a stroller, I was unsuccessful. I guess the child hadn’t yet been brainwashed – she readily returned my friendly wave & smile. I sincerely apologize if I’ve offended any of our Chinese friends who may be reading this – there is a real attitude in Hong Kong. As much as I admire the architectural accomplishments, the great engineering feats and the beautiful sights & sounds of the city, they are all severely blemished by the rude residents we encountered – not just at one particular location, but literally every venue we visited. People seem so very sad & unhappy here as a society – enough said. We spent several hours downtown, with the majority of our time outside in the elements shopping in the massive Ladies Market. It was cold – rained the entire time, but the four of us had a great time together. Now…let me contradict my earlier sentiments about the residents. We needed to catch a taxi back to the ship by 8:00pm to catch a show, and we were talking among ourselves as to which direction we should walk to catch the cab. A resident overheard our frustration (she understood & spoke English) and said…”follow me, I will take you to a taxi.” Believe it or not, this lady walked about 3 city blocks, through the rain, through crowds of people with the four of us following her. She hailed a taxi, told the driver where we wanted to go, and opened the door for us. I tried to give her a few Hong Kong dollars in exchange for her trouble and she said, “keep your money, I am rich.” We were all stunned as she then disappeared into the crowd. Wow! We were back at the pier by 7:45. We wanted to catch a light show which takes place each evening at 8:00. Many of the skyscrapers in Hong Kong are equipped with laser lights and at 8:00 each night, a light show is displayed which is synchronized to music broadcast over an incredible speaker system heard for several miles. The show lasts for 14 minutes – just amazing - & the rain & low clouds made it even better with the lasers dancing above our heads. We were soaked along with thousands of other people, but had a fantastic time! Back on board, we changed our wet cloths and went to the theater on the ship for a 9:30 show. They brought some local groups aboard for some authentic Chinese music & dragon dancing – very talented & quite entertaining. The nasty weather finally caught up with me – I picked up a virus and started running a fever Sunday evening, but we had another full day ahead of us. We were up Monday morning by 6am, had breakfast & put on some warm cloths – it was still raining & very foggy. Back on a bus, we headed to the nearby island of Lantau to visit what was advertised as a stunning monastery with a large sculpture of Buddha where Chinese devoutly worship. It was a 90-minute trip across to the island & up the mountain but once we arrived, it was so foggy you couldn’t see more than 20 feet in front of you. We waited a little more than 1 hour for the weather to clear, but no such luck – we had to get back because “all aboard” was 4pm. The fog began to lift as we descended to lower altitudes, and we were able to see Hong Kong Disneyland & the container/cargo port on the return trip. Hong Kong has the largest cargo port in the world and it was worth going out in the rain just to see this industrial wonder – I’ve never seen so many rail cars, containers, cranes & cargo ships in one area! It is like a city within a city – check it out sometime on National Geographic if you have an opportunity. We passed dozens & dozens of skyscrapers on our return trip – a sampling of how most of the 7 million residents live. First, only 10% of the population have personal cars – there’s simply no place to park vehicles. The residents must use public transportation – either bus, rail, or ferry. If you have a car, it will cost approximately $400 per month for parking – only the very rich can afford. Millions of people live in these skyscrapers – most are owned by the government – residents pay $300 per month. The housing units are normally 350 – 500 square feet & hold a family of 4 or 5. The entire kitchens are about the size of a typical U.S refrigerator and sit outside in the hallways. Each one of these buildings hold over 1,000 residents and again, these tall structures can be seen for miles in every direction – it’s absolutely incredible. We are so fortunate back home to have the things we have – things we just take for granted. About 20 minutes before we arrived back at the ship, one of the elderly ladies on our bus started coughing, couldn’t catch her breath and started turning blue. The bus pulled to the side of the road and our ship representative on the tour jumped into action and got the lady calmed down – possibly saved her life. I got her name, & plan on talking to her boss either today or tomorrow – she’s a real hero! Our sail-away party was moved indoors Monday evening – it was still raining when we left at 6pm. Cheryl started me on antibiotics as soon as I got feverish – I didn’t know it but she got a prescription for me before we left in January – just in case! She’s a saint – I’m feeling much better today – fever has broken – still hacking, but getting better every hour. We arrive in Vietnam tomorrow morning – it’s still cloudy at sea but the rain has let up – temps are rising – can’t wait to get back in warm weather!! Hong Kong – the city is an engineering wonder – very clean – many beautiful sights – too many people – rapid pace of living - unfriendly overall – congested – unique – expensive – those are my impressions after two days.