Monday, April 22, 2013


The trip is over. 
Our home away from home is behind us.
Wyona was dividing up the yen that we have between us.  She counted it out.  Two, two, five, another five, yes, 12 thousand yen for you she said.  I learned a quick conversion tip at one of the seminars.  Knock off 3 zeros and that is how much money you have. 

Thanks for the $14 American dollars.  I can figure out the money.  I hear everything is expensive in Japan. My allotment of money will keep me from overspending.

Wyona's hand at the base of the monument in the Peace Park, Nagasaki
She is trying to show you
there is water running at the base of the monument
We did have a trip that was the right price.

For 5 dollars you could buy an all day pass on the trolley.

The trolley is not the high speed train.

It lumbers along, stopping every two blocks, picking up the school children, the shoppers, the old people.

And there were the 3 of us who rode the #1 all the way to the Peace Park.

Then we continued on the line, until the car was empty.  The driver ran to the other end of the train and we began the return journey.  
... a small rest for Wyona ... Greg moves on at the Peace Park ...
Greg told me that we must really take a taxi in Japan.  

The passengers sit on seats covered with white doilies.  

The drivers wear white gloves.  

“They take their taxi driving seriously here,” he commented.  

Cherry blossoms on the ground at the Peace Park
Our trolley driver also had on gloves.  And a broom in his cabin.  Taxis and trolleys.  Serious business.


A Small Room

We are going to a meeting today to tell us how to change rooms – from our small one, into a larger one with a balcony at the back of the ship.  The bigger rooms on this ship were booked long before Wyona had an interest in coming back to NE Asia.  The room has a double bed, and a two-seater couch which folds out at night or for afternoon naps.  There is no room for two people to pass at the bottom of the bed, so one person has to move one-way while two stand on the other side of the room, and then the action starts the other way.  Alternatively someone can walk across the tops of the bed to go from the inside door by the corridor straight through to the baloney.  I saw David do this many times on the last cruise. Greg took this route once and proved he was good at it. Wyona and I would require a step ladder to get up on the mattress.  A step ladder would be a room accessory that we do not need, for there would be no space in which to store it. 

Yesterday Wyona threw out the red roses that came to us compliments of the Captain’s Club.  I thought the flowers had another good week in them so I resuced them from the garbage.  She citied having no room for them as the reason they had to hit the garbage.  By the morning I agreed with her, since together we were up a few times in the night, waiting for emails and during that time, while manoeuvring in the dark, we spilt glasses of drinking water into side drawers.  While drying those out we threw important jewels into the garbage along with the wet Kleneexes.  Cruising as a togetherness project is helping Wyona and me develop new life skills.


JeJu Island, South Korea

The travel consultant said that JeJu Island is one of the new seven wonders of the world.  Wyona looked out the window this morning and said it first, “I can’t see much of the wonder yet”, and then she said it again on the walk home from the market, “Are you sure this is one of the new seven wonders of the world.”  I saw a sign board, a low one that was using the slogan again, so I went over to take a close look.  All we have to add is one word -- that this is one of new natural wonders of the world.  I have seen the posters of a fantastic natural crater and the list of the other new seven wonders.  Next time we come we are taking the City Bus Tour.  We will be back for the next part of this trip is docking here.  This morning we went to the International Market – our local currency in hand, picked up at the KeJu money exchange.  The literature said that JeJu is known for its tangerines.  I wanted to buy one, but when we were making the sale, we couldn’t tell if I was getting 1 tangerine or one kilo/

Lurene asked for a pair of squeaky shoes to be brought home for Kalina.  Wyona stopped in every shoe store in Busan looking for them, and with sign language she would ask them if they have squeaky shoes.  Soon her sign language got so good that they would quickly wave their hands down and to the back, explaining that they had none of those shoes anymore.

But she hit the jackpot today – tiny pairs of squeaky shoes in all colours.  Though the Korean man couldn’t understand English he knew what she was talking about.  I asked her how she got the idea over to him.  She claims that “squeaky” is a word that is understood in every language.  I guess it is, they way that she says it.

We walked through the equivalent of Fanny’s Fabrics – so many rolls of material, and so many women in small kiosks with their sewing machines, a mat for their noon hour nap laid out by time we got there; others eating their lunch with the Korean metal chopsticks – not something that has caught on in the rest of Asia, and if you try to use them you will know why.  Food slips off of metal chopsticks, except in Korea.

We stopped bargaining and Wyona and I headed for home, while Greg stayed back to explore.  We had watched where the taxi drove on the way to the market and were sure we could make it back to the ship.  The difficulty was getting across 8 lanes of traffic with no traffic light to help us – just the big wide striped zebra walk, but when we would put our toe off of the curb, no one stopped.  Two Korean mechanics came to the curb, so we side-stepped over to be behind them and when they walked we walked; when they stopped, we stopped.  This is the first time I have been truly committed  to walking behind a man beside him,  They men stopped to let a big 18 wheeler roll on by, so we stopped.  At the other curb Wyona ran in front of one of them to say Thank You.  She could tell by the look on his face, when he understood that we had been using them for our protection.  The man laughed, said something in Korean and we continued our walk back to the ship.


Going to Beijing

“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.  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 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,” the laughed.

“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.  “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.

Bedtime Stories (Arta reporting on the cruise)

(Rebecca yet again posting for her mother!  All hail the internet!)
Wyona and I were too tired to read our emails a couple of days ago. But we agreed we could listen if they were read to us as a bedtime story for us.  Greg agreed to read.  We listened. That worked.  Last night, just as we were going to sleep we begged for more stories.  With no book in hand, he free-lanced and asked if we knew what three ingredients make China so successful today.  Was it the opium balls, I guessed, since I had gone to the lecture on how the opium wars had nearly destroyed China.  Greg, who had also been at that lecture, said he wasn’t thinking along that line, but he had three other things to share.  The Chinese dictator in the 1980’s who opened up the way for there to be a Chinese business class – that was one important event.  Having a single party system in China, that helps to get a lot done.  There is no opposition getting in the way of progress.  The third item making China successful is an inexhaustible supply of labour.  Without hardly a pause between Greg’s last word in that sentence, and the beginning of the next sentence, Wyona seemed to be interrupting him.  She was not for she said, would you believe Greg is already asleep. 

No kidding, I said, waiting for Greg to pipe up.  A long silence.   You have got to be kidding!

“Yes,” said Wyona. “ I could tell he was dosing off when his words became slower and more carefully articulated. He is way under right now. Our laughing is not going to wake him up.  I hope you can remember what he said for it is over now.”

I didn’t care if Greg goes to sleep in the middle of the bedtime stories.  I learned three important things about China from him– more than I can remember from the volumes I was reading before I left on this trip.

Greg is a fantastic travelling companion.  He can gives deeper, more academic  lectures than the ones we hear on the boat. All he has to hear is a question asked and see an interested listener.

Greg?  Why am I seeing so many shipping containers and no factories.  This is going on for miles and miles.  Maybe 20 minutes now.

Greg?  Why are there so many road fly overs and round abouts and no vehicles using them  -- no private vehicles on them, and no semi’s? 

Greg?  How did you know the exact spot on the street where the incident with the tank took place just before Tiananmen Square?

Greg?  How do you know which line on the subway we should be taking?  And how did you spot the entrance to the underground.

Greg?  Why are the police stopping all of those kids at the bottom of the escalator and demanding to look at their passports? 

Greg has an answer for everything.  For the last question, he reminded me that Chinese people are not free to travel in their own country, as we are. They have documents that tell them where they can go and where they cannot go. 

A privilege to travel with Greg.


Bullet Taxi (report from Arta)

Rebecca here, posting reports by Arta on the cruisers!

Bullet Taxi

We went to Beijing one day.  We spent another day in Tianjin.  Adventure going on at every junction – find the local bus, buying tickets for the LRT, using the subway in Beijing, the bullet train on the way there.  When we arrived home last night, Greg said, well, I have heard of a bullet train, but never a bullet taxi.  I knew that the person who was driving did not speak English or I would have been alerting him to the fact that I only like to drive the speed limit.  Seventy-two years old and finally I get the thrill of driving 140 mph, going through 3 red lights, and hearing someone lay on the horn at uncontrolled intersections to let people know we were coming through. I had enough adrenalin to keep me awake all night.  As Greg said ... a bullet taxi. 

We are travelling with older people, believe it or not.  An Australian couple, 78 and 74 who can keep up with us ... probably out of fear of being lost.  At the market she kept checking to see if her husband was lost.  I told her – no, that is his job, to keep you in sight.  Your job is to shop.  She just grabbed onto my arm tightly and said, I don’t know if I can do that. 

I can’t even get to what I want to talk about today – going on side trips with so much happening.  But twice we have been really lost and Wyona finds young Chinese students, who want to practise their English.  That is what happened in Citizen Square.  She asked them if they could point us in the direction of a local market – just put us in a taxi.  She said to them, since we are white, taxi drivers take advantage of us with their fares.  And on the street we had seen some Chinese people turned down by a taxi driver.  So this woman checked the taxi’s – they, too, have travel restrictions, and sometimes can drive where we wanted to go?  They can’t go across that bridge, she said, but you can walk across and get a ride on the other side.  “Do you mind a put-put?”  There we were – just dying to get into one of those fringed vehicles, and when I got dropped off I turned with wide eyes to Wyona and she gave me back the same look.  In three hours we only did two short blocks of a market that needs a week to travel down its streets.  We agreed the best market in the world.  At least in my world.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Arta's Report on Keelung, Taiwan

Rebecca here!   What follows is an email from Arta.  Can't wait til we get to see the pictures that go with the post!

Fifty-two coaches full of tourists left the port of Keelung, Taiwan headed for Taipei today. 

We choose the road less travelled, a leisurely breakfast, hanging onto our own balcony to watch a pilot boat usher another large cruise ship to dock beside us.  “Quick, take a picture,” Wyona said as she saw eight people in the veranda of the docking ship, all gazing at our ship, as we were gazing at theirs. Below our balcony the crew were outfitted in life jackets on a fire drill for our ship.  The cooks were hanging out the window of the other ship, waving.  Then we watched our crew winch up the lever that lowers the life boats into the water.  

Already I was topped up with my fun for the day.

We took our Hong Kong money to the currency exchange, just outside of the customs building, where we traded in 260 HKD for hundreds more of Taiwanese currency to be spent today – though finding train tickets for $1.23 was pretty pleasing.  “Don’t we pay $2.80 for a one-way LRT ticket at home and we don’t go 30 miles into town with that?”

“How much for a taxi to go to Taipei?”,  Greg asked at the Information Desk. 

 “$42 American dollars for the three people.” 

 “How much on the train?”, he asked next. 

 “$1.23 each.” 

There was a light drizzle.  We put up our umbrellas and walked to the train staton.  Wyona’s umbrella didn’t go quite as “up” as the rest of ours – broken now, – a perfect target for umbrella sellers, but she carried on, letting it join the Taiwan recycling event by the end of the day. 

We walked by the fish kites, blowing in the wind, then up the stairs to the overpass and the train station just as the man at the information desk had told us to do..

The ride on the coaches that our fellow guests took to Taipei lasted 45 minutes to get to Taipei.  The local train ride was also 45 minutes, but full of local colour.  Greg and I followed Wyona in and out of several coaches before she found the perfect seats – facing forward, me across from them.  We went from a near empty train in Keelung to full coaches by the time the train had picked up people at the nine stops between here and Taipei. 

I watched out the windows – the small streams that ran under the railroad track, the verandas which doubled as a second clothes closets, the umbrellas in large clay pots at the fronts of doors,

The seat beside me was taken by a mom with a baby on her lap. The little girl drank happily from her sippy cup.  Her five year old brother, on the grandmother’s lap right in front of me kept begging to sit beside his mom.  I was admiring the old jade pierced earrings, filigree trimmed in the ears of the old grandmother.  The little boy was not happy on her lap.  Finally the mom just squeezed him in between the 2 of us – so now there were four of us on our two-seater bench.  He knew no social boundaries.  Sometimes his little hand rest on my knee, sometimes he pressed his little body into my shoulder, his legs dangling underneath him.

Here are trip highlights in no particular order:

1.      A man and woman getting on the train,  a small bag of green leaves in his hand, and me imagining that they had purchased in that bag, what they were going to have for supper.

2.      Another couple walking along the quay, him pointing with his cane to leaves in the grass which she was also gathering – me imagining that they would be having the same meal as the couple above.

3.      Watching the boiling wells of water in the 7-11, seeing that to purchase what was in them, all I had to do was skewer the product and take it to the check-out desk.

4.      Trying to spend the last $600 ($20 US) that we were carrying.  I found a beautiful pair of earrings – a small Eiffel tower for one ear, and a large crescent, into which was tucked the Paris skyline. Even though I was taken by the asymmetry of the jewellery, I didn’t make the purchase.  There just seemed to be something terribly wrong with purchasing a souvenir of Paris in Taiwan.

5.      Standing at a soup kitchen, watching customers make their purchases and then sit in booths, holding the bits of food to of the water with their chopsticks, waiting for it to cool. I watched the cook take something out of the pot, put it in a dish, squeeze it with a sieve, then take scissors and chop it into six pieces, then serve it.  What was in the broth generated a discussion between Wyona, Greg and me: offal, sweet breads, tripe ... we couldn’t decide and I was powering down, unable to investigate.  It seemed that when the customers were finished their first serving, they could have a second serving – broth only.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


... blackberry bun ...
Wyona has the street smarts of travel.
Promotion Item: red bean bun.

At the Mermaid Bakery, I couldn’t figure out how to get the goods out of the glass cabinets and how to get up to the cash register.

“Watch this,” she said as a new customer entered the store.

Then we did exactly what that customer did – found out where the trays were, looked to find the right level for the tongs, discovered how to open the cabinets.

All of that seems like a perfectly logical thing to do, but much of it is not intuitive for me

We have turned down buying Sees Chocolates and Leonidas, bought a maple twist ... we have even all tasted the mango jellied dessert ... yes, it tasted just like the last time when we didn’t like it.

This is what adventure is for.

Moving onto the ship now where the menu is set, the cookies are free and tea time with baking powder biscuits and real whipped cream occur every afternoon at 4.


Breakfast at Curry in a Hurry

... while visions of Octopus balls danced in her head ...
I got to have my plate of oyster balls.

The one to the left is broken open.  I wanted to leave in full view the soft centre.

And blessedly, the piece of octopus is in view. Another first for me!
... samosa appetiser ... the sauce was mild ... at first ... then hot, hot,  hot ...
... quick grab a drink ...

Greg and Wyona got an appetizer to begin their meal:  two samosas while the other food was being prepared.
... to up the ante, add a side dish of buttered chicken ...

They choose a regular Indian dish and this is not the first time the Chicken Taj Mahal has come to our table.

When we saw something on a sizzling black plate at another food court, we asked what it was. The person told us that it is an American dish.

We shrugged.  We didn't come this far to eat American dishes.

We can do that just by slipping over the border.

But perhaps this is fusion food, for the spices certainly tasted Indian.

That roasted, twisted roti is what Greg likes.

The lamb and the vegetables in the backgound are there as well, but the roti?

For him, certainly worth a trip to Hong Kong.


The Food Republic

 ... Korean fried pork and fried egg ...
I don’t know why it seems subversive to have breakfast at the Food Republic, since we don’t really get there until 11:30 am and what we eat should be called lunch.

.. a breakfast?  or lunch?
Happiness either way ...

a bit of jet lag on eveyone's faces
... the biggest beef bun and the whitest I have every seen ...
... fluted tops on shrimp dumplings ...
Still, at the hotel we are talking to each other as though we are going to have breakfast first today, after finding this underground food court by accident.

We explored a set of stairs that went down two flights.

All of the time I was walking them I was thinking, the merchants down here are not going to get a lot of walk-by business.

This is quite the trek downward. We found that the food court could also be reached by a escalator and accessed from the centre of a large mall.

 No wonder there were so many choices of places to eat.

Greg wanted to have a Korean dish – fried pork chop and a fried egg.

Wyona and I wanted Dim Sum and we used the point method – making sure to stay away from the fried chicken feet.

So tasty looking, but I am not up to the crunch of those bones in my mouth – had it once and am not ready to try it again.
... left side, batter is down / right side, oyster balls are done ...

Later in the Harbour City Food Court, I watched the oyster balls being made.

I think I spent the time watching, and imagining that I was the cook, so that I won’t have to buy the molds and try doing that at home.

“You don’t have to eat them all,” I whispered to myself. But I did.
... adding the octopus ...

Pressing on with eating more than I really wanted wasn’t about not wasting food.

 More ... thinking about the taste and texture of the product.

Measuring what I was really tasting against what I thought the oyster balls would be like. My analysis?

More like the texture of Yorkshire pudding, that the texture of Timbits, which is what I had imagined.


Hong Kong

...the top half of the building...
We took the Star Ferry over to Hong Kong today.

The journey is about 5 minutes.

The ferry goes as fast as a well paddled canoe.

We emptied our pockets of change, trying to find enough money to get on the ferry: $2.50 HKD each way. That is the equivalent of $.40 a ride for the Upper Deck. The lower deck is cheaper. “Did we ride first class when we were here ten years ago, Greg?” Neither could remember.
... the bottom half of the building ...
... I couldn't get it all in one frame ...
The walk over the foot bridge to the city, proper took us past a construction site.

We leaned over the rail and watched a long time.

Wyona spotted a digger, not at ground level, but one at the bottom of the excavation. Greg watched an 18 wheeler taking earth away from the construction site. He was curious as to why all of the wheels were washed before the machine went out onto the road.
... Not the Hong Kong I remember ...
“This is not the Hong Kong I knew,” he said.

The shopping consisted of Armani, Dior, Cardin ... all of the big French and Italian designers.

I won’t say that the windows were not breath-taking. We had shopped a bit at Harbour City, Kowloon before we left. The Star Emporium, which Wyona and Greg remembered from the past, is not up-scale. I stopped to see the jewellery in a window, where the sign in its bottom left corner said, and “Sorry. We do not sell zircons or silver.” Whoops to anyone who wants silver or something that looks like a diamond, flashes like a diamond, sparkles like a diamond ... but is a zircon.
... China, always under construction ...

Greg stayed in Hong Kong.

“Don’t hurry home to join us for dinner. We will probably just eat the fruit in our room. Enjoy yourself wandering the streets of Hong Kong to the very last minute,” Wyona said as we left him, turning ourselves back to the ferry.

She has a good sense of when to turn back. I want to go on with Greg, but I know that I can’t do 18 hours straight with no rest. Greg stopped to take out a map and give us detailed instructions as to how to get home. We both listened, for walking the streets has been easier when he is out in front.
In Chna this is smog in the air
In Dubai it would be sand in the air

“Oh no,” Wyona said later. “We are half way beneath the underpass that leads to the subway, just the way Greg told us not to go. Oh well, at least we know where we are. Grab the map and let’s make some corrections. He never needs to know how we failed. New route -- down Salisbury, up Handkow, across Peking and up Lock Street,” she murmured. “How could we have followed so exactly the very route he told us to avoid?”
We came home to rest, something she got none of yesterday.

We want to go back to the equivalent of the Chinese Five and Dime tonight where there is stuff piled in all of the isles, good hanging on high hooks from the ceilings, shelves partitioned and then crowded with merchandise still in boxes – no high end designers for us.

Not even looking at anything as low as zircons or silver. Tonight we are going right to the bottom.
... a double decker bus goes one way ...
This can only be matched by yesterday’s adventure at the Temple Market. 

For the best purchase of the night, Wyona found the lazer light she had been admiring in London – one similar to the mirror ball. The best price at the front of the market was $60. By the time she got to the end of the market, she found the same model for $20. Now that was fun.

... a second double decker ...
I even loved it when the rain started to fall. 11:30 pm and Greg said, “Let’s get out of the rain and take a taxi home.” Every empty taxi window that rolled down for him rolled right back up.

... images of buildings in buildings ...

 “What is wrong?”, Wyona asked.

“They won’t take us. They want fares that are going to the Hong Kong side and we are only a few blocks away.”

So we ran in the rain, me just a few feet behind them – which is why my pedometer finally measured 8,524 steps last night. If our hotel had been a little further away, I would have made it to my 10,000 step daily goal.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Year of the Pig in Gold

“Do not walk alone in places that are unknown to you.” That is what the sign said as I looked down a side alley off of Haiphong Road. And that is what is keeping me from doing an early morning walk all alone. So I laid here thinking about window shopping yesterday.

The gold jewellery in the window is exquisite and reminds me of the gold souks in Dubai, -- at least the amount of gold.

What makes this different is design, especially a choker necklace with the main design being a large pig, three columns of baby pigs hanging 4 deep from the sow’s underbelly. A fantastic tribute to those born in the year of the pig and the first time that I have been sad about being a dragon.

Down one isle of the Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre were a series of display cases, each holding two watching which were each circling 360 degrees, slowly, slowly and the sparkle coming off of the watches was so amazing that Greg, Wyona and I were all drawn in for a closer look.

We talked for a long time about the spectacular design, Greg finally remarking, “All of that and a watch besides.”

Wyona said of the salesmen in high end dark black suits standing near-by, “I bet those young men double as armed guards. I am going to find out the price of one of those watches.” She came back.

“Four million Hong Kong Dollars.”

That math was too hard for me even though I have been dividing every HKD price by 7 to get an idea of the cost in Canadian dollars. Having to work with six zeros at the end of some figure closed me right down for a moment. “That would be half a million dollars,” offered the salesman who had come over now to give Wyona more details on the watches on the pedestals. Exquisite beauty and a joy to look at.
We travelled on to other glass windows. In one shop, the silk skirts of the dresses were billowing, aka the famous Marilyn Monroe shot over the sidewalk grate. We searched to find where the fans were placed – in the far corners of the windows. A shop close by had large, fluffy 3-D clouds hovering down at the mid point of the window – eye-catching, though I can’t remember anything that was in the window except the clouds.

When we passed the diamond watches today, I heard the tone in Greg’s voice change to gruff. He said to Wyona, “This is the last time I will ask you. Do you want one of those watches or not. I am not bringing you back here. Either get it now or never!”


Upside Down in Hong Kong

Sleeping on the bed backwards is much more comfortable.  Or is that sleeping upside down.  At any rate, if Greg and I are laying on the bed, we are touching shoulders.  When I got up in the night and then crawled back into the bed, there was more room at the foot of the bed than at the head of the bed.  So I crawled in upside down and put my head at the foot place and my feet by Greg’s head.  I had at least another 12 inches for my arm’s then.  Greg woke up in the dark, reached out, touched my feet, gave a laugh and went back to sleep.

So tonight I asked Greg, which way would you like to sleep.  He said, well, actually there is more room if you sleep upside down.  So?  Sleeping upside down on the bed works because there is no room.  Everyone should try it.  Especially if you are coming to Hong Kong and staying in a one-star hostel.
At one point in the night when I was up, I heard talking and then laughter in the hall.  I just went back to my upside-down bed.  After conversing with Arta in the morning, I found it was her in the middle of the night, because she went out of her room over to the water cooler.  It was empty.  She asked the 24-hour service person who sleeps on a chair in the lobby, about the water.  The woman said, “No water.  Afternoon?  Water.”  By 7 am we were parched.  I tried to flog a can of Sprite on Arta but she wouldn’t accept, so I was forced to drink them myself.
When we came back to our room later that night, there was no toilet paper or towels in our room.  The concierge was surprised and gladly gave us both. They are really helpful.  There is no towel in the room when you come, but if you ask, they are helpful. This is why these guys get an 8.4 rating.  What you expect when you are here in a hostel is no service.  But they are helpful.  They even sterilize the door handle every 2 hours.

Greg did say, this has been a hoot, but next time, let’s not stay here.  I wonder what it is that bothers him.  His closet is the window grates.  I get the hooks on the back of the door.  What’s not to like about this place.  They supply water.  They give you a towel if you ask.  Someone is there for you 24 hours a day. They supplied the electrical adapter, the hair dryer, and travel information, like Fromms How to See Hong Kong.  They also supply hard small beds. We also get the sounds of Hong Kong.  No wonder they get an 8.4 rating.

Austin Getting Ready

April 11, 2013
Austin in March

One evening at 11:00 p.m., I received an email from Trent saying that sometime we should take a Disney cruise from Galveston because children could go free. I checked out prices immediately and by 3 a.m. I had a cruise booked from Galveston. Sent an email to Trent followed by a phone call in the morning. Trent was not amused or ready to go. However, by 11 p.m. that night he and Jamie said a big ‘Yes’. Greg and I were delighted.

Since we would be eating on the ship, Trent and Jamie decided that we would eat at home more often than usual. Jamie cooked at many delicious meals the week we were in Austin two of them being pancakes and Mexican. Greg wants a repeat of both meals at the lake.

While we were eating Mexican, Ezra was busy eating and shelling peas from the pod.

Lots of packing to do. I tried to help Jamie the Saturday we were leaving to get ready. I forgot how long it takes to fold up little clothes. Ivan and Ezra tried out the suitcases while we were packing.

If not in a suitcase, Ezra was in the cupboard. He even knows how to shut the cupboard door without pinching his fingers.

Senya is ever the older sister helping her two brothers. Ask Ivan if he wants red or green ice cream he will answer, “Whatever Senya is having!”.

I cannot french braid like Tonia or Arta but I give it a try when I am in Texas because Senya likes to have a braid. 

We drove Trent and Jamie’s two small cars from Austin to Galveston. Since going on a cruise they will never be able to afford a van. We did have a memorable week in Austin before our cruise.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Blowing Eggs in Austin

April 9 5:00 a.m. Hong Kong
Story of Eggs in Austin

It has been a month since Greg and I visited Senya, Ivan, Ezra, Jamie and Trent in Austin.  

We had a fabulous visit. It just gets better every time we visit, particularly because we get the masterbedroom.  This is the story in pictures of dyeing some eggs.

One day we blew out the eggs and then we dyed them. Ezra was confused after he had colored his egg and then with one sqeeze, it was over. Hands and mouths were the color of eggs.

Wonderment of the constitution of eggs.

A very industrious group.
And nothing but happiness when it is all over.
Greg is spending quality time with Senya and Ivan watching Zoe's Ipad. Thank you Zoe!


Catherine received a free pedometer for participating in a study that measures how far people walk in a day.  The goal is 10,000 steps and that is not for weight loss.  That is just steps for a healthy life style.  She let me borrow her unit for a practise run or two when I was in Montreal.  I decided I needed something like that to clip onto my belt for my trip – just to make sure that I am walking far enough every day.  I choose the economy model of all the Sport Check pedometer choices, but even that was so complicated to operate that I had to go next door and have Miranda show me how to work it.  I don’t need to know how many calories I am burning, nor how strong is my heart rate.  Nor do I need to have a stop watch that gives me timing to the 1/10 of a second.  Absolutely nothing I do has to be measured with that precision. Richard told me I can circumvent the system and get my stats up.   If I don’t walk far enough, I can just sit and shake the pedometer and it will think it is walking. 

My difficulties haven’t stopped with learning the initial operating techniques of the pedometer. For example, I have no idea how often a unit like that can slip off of a belt loop in a single hour.  I found myself on the floor of an airplane, doing a vacuum job in the dark, running my hand over the carpet, trying to find the dropped unit.  I lined up to get back in the bathroom of the plane to see if I had left it there.  And when I look down to see how the numbers are piling up as I walk these Hong Kong streets I find that I am up to 1200 steps, then down to 800.  Either I am accidentally resetting it, or I am imaging that the numbers are higher than they are when I look at the read-out.  Or maybe it is adding steps when I go north and subtracting them when I go south.  I haven’t figured it all out yet.

Tonight I wore it again, while Greg, Wyona and I went over to Oceanview Shopping Mall to order the take-out in his favorite Curry in a Hurry Shop.  “If I had an unlimited amount of money, what I would do is start a Curry in a Hurry Shop in my own neighbourhood,” he mused.  “I think it is a small business from which someone could make a go of it in Canada.”

Knowing that we do not possibly have enough time to try everything on the menu of each of the shops we want to eat, we ordered three different dishes tonight.  Then we did a three-way split on each of meals, giving us all the equivalent of a tasting menu that covers tasting 10 different dishes.

The window displays are fantastic here.  Sufficient to say that I stopped to watch the food demonstrations in restaurant windows 3 times.  The first was to watch the man at the Curry in a Hurry Shop shape the chapattis, then roll them out, toss them in the air like pizza dough and then plaster them against his brick oven.  The second demo was a cook making squid balls.  He poured a batter into a teflon-coated pan that had the shape of an egg carton. With his black wire chopsticks, he tossed into each egg-shaped impression a couple of pieces of chopped octypus and some onions, and waited until the half-cup shape was sufficiently browned that he could turn it over, letting the uncooked side sit in the egg-shaped depression next, until they were perfect ball shapes.  

“I am coming back to taste these.”

“You can come back, but I know that Greg will not do a split with you on that dish.  You are on your own,” Wyona said.  Whether we order a set of oyster balls  or not, that will be decided tomorrow.

On the way out of the shopping  mall we stopped to see a woman in the window of an Italian restaurant making noodles, flattening the dough by running it through a machine, then re-flouring, flattening, folding, then back through the machine, until it was as thin as paper.  Then she hand-cut the noodles and laid them out against the window pane for us to see.  She didn’t seem to notice our gaze until we were ready to leave.  Then she waved.

While Wyona and I spent the afternoon in bed, trying to control that deep ache in our bones that is called jet lag Greg had been walking the streets of Hong Kong, looking for “the silver shop under the stairs from 2001”.  Up Lock Street to Haiphong, over to Nathan Street and then down Cameron Street, lemming-like he went to a shop that is built under some stairs.  The place where the customers stand is also the passageway for the tenants who live on the floors above.  We moved sideways or slip out of the shop to give them access to their rooms. Then we stood again at his counter.  Once they got past us, the tenants walked around shopkeepers lunch pots, chopsticks and bowls on the landing so that they could climb up to their apartments.  His display cabinets showed his wares.  If I expressed an interest in a certain size of silver neck chain, from a set of rolled clothes behind him he rolled out hundreds of variations and sizes of those chains, organized on safety pins.  The evening spent there? A  lesson on economy of space.

Evening pedometer count: 1789 steps.  Unfortunately, not enough to burn off the Taj Mahal Chicken Curry and the Green Tea Waffle Soft Ice Cream Cone. 

Damage to pocket book by silver shop: yet to be determined.


Room Size

... my bedroom window ...
I am in a single.   

Wyona and Greg are in a double. 

 I have no window.   

Well, that is not quite true.   

There is a window painted on the green wall of my bedroom.   

Chimes are hanging on the outside of the painted window.   The inner ledge holds a pot of greenery and a picture.  I am reminded of O Henry’s “The Last Leaf”.  I am actively controlling my claustrophobia.  There is a fan in the bathroom that circulates the air of the room to the outside.  I rely on the small holes in the fan to sustain my irrational hope that there is another way out of the room when the door is closed.

... clothes closet is hooks on back of door ...
... no perk of side table, but is that a reason to upgrade ...
I measured my room.  

 If I stretch my arms out lengthwise, then from tip to tip, there is 12 more inches than arms.  

 If I take the same measurement on the width of the room, I have an extra 6 inches.   

My bags consume half the floor space.   

The other half can be measured by one stride of my foot.   

There is one tap on the bathroom sink – cold water.   

... tank is smaller than appears in this pic ...
Thankfully the shower has hot water.   

The water tank  is 2/3rds the size of a 12 pack of toilet paper and hangs from the shower wall. “Turn the tank on 10 minutes before you wish to shower,” the clerk said.  I might wait until we get on the ship. 

The single bed is hard.  I try to think of a way to describe how hard.  The bed is one step up from sleeping on the beach. At Annis Bay, sleep on the rocks and I may have to rake the surface flat.  I wait all winter to get to do that.

Here, the bed is hard and flat. No raking.  Otherwise – the two spaces are equal.

How to spend the accommodation dollar?  That is the real question.  Right from the get-go, when we entered our rooms, Wyona said to Greg, “Do you want me to change hotels?  I thought this one was a hot deal, because it has free Wi-Fi and an elevator.    And look at how cheap it is.  But, is your back going to make it through four nights? I can change, Greg.”

“I am fine.  In fact, so far, a hoot,” he replied.  “I don’t think anyone will believe us when we tell about this trip to Hong Kong.”

On other accounts, Greg has more walking stamina that Wyona or I have right now.  This morning she told him not to feel that he has to go with us.  “We are too slow. Take off, we don’t mind.” 

But he said, “No, I prefer this walk with the two of you.  I am soaking in the sights, the sounds, and especially the smells, all of which is accompanied by interesting conversation.  I am good.”

As soon as he said that, I made every effort to block out the visual and the aural.  I tried to concentrate on the smells that he was giving himself over to,  which now became overwhelming, changing every few steps as though each shop was beckoning us by smell.  At the end of our walk, when we were outside of a new cosmetic and lotion shop, I did not need to ask if the 10 foot high floral displays were silk or real.  The fragrances of the arrangements of lilies, roses and snap dragons were redolent, overpowering, now blocking out all of the delicious food smells.

Oh where was my camera when I needed it?