Saturday, February 23, 2008

It was a dark and stormy night

18 Feb 08, last sea day between Manila and Hong Kong:

Dreamt of snorkeling last night, only to find when I woke and pulled open the curtains that I could see a fish occasionally out of my Deck 4 window. While this is better than seeing a deer in my pajamas (and wondering how it got to putting them on, to quote Groucho Marks), it seemed to explain why the captain made an announcement as we were sailing out of Manila yesterday evening about “securing loose items and firmly closing veranda doors”. (I had ignored his announcement because all my items are tight and I don’t have a veranda or even a veranda door without a veranda.) Fortunately, even with us making 19 knots NW with a north wind strong enough (force 7-8) to make a relative wind off the starboard bow with gusts of 90 km/hr, the ship’s stabilizers and a prophylactic Walamine pill (which doesn’t have lactose as does Dramamine) has done the trick and therefore I’m not puking into the cabin’s wastebasket. The hotel director told me the wind and rough seas started at 6 this morning, but now the sun is coming out and all is fine with the world. For all it’s worth, I’ve only been uneasy (or rather my tummy has) during one or two days in more than a year and a half of being on the high seas. Today—since the pill—doesn’t count (yet). Friends claim that they (or usually blame it on the spouse) are afraid of getting mal de mer, but it just doesn’t usually pose a clear or expected threat. Feeling uneasy from overeating or maybe drinking might be a risk, but ship’s movement is most likely just, uh, movement. You might cut your ear off shaving, but most of us have two anyway. At least now my window is being washed. Hey, a tuna just went by. Cool. Also the big crashing sound hasn’t been happening for some time. By the way, my suite is amidships on Deck 4. Mostly the motion pivots around my cabin. The most expensive suites are high above the bow. The big spenders apparently opt for the E-ticket ride. The bow was probably an exciting place this morning as the “view from the Bridge” channel on the TV was showing an ashtray rather than looking out the window. Its mounting screw apparently had loosened overnight so that the camera was pointing down instead of out the window.

The stop yesterday in Manila was one of the neatest experiences in my hundreds of port calls ever. After a spectacular arrival into the main Manila harbor, the “Charms of Old Manila” tour (which included the traditional “Santo Nino” dance at the old pre-Spanish Muslim built fort) was pretty nice. The traffic wasn’t bad since it was Sunday in the the +8 hours GMT time zone, but what made the day was all the wives, husbands, kids, and parents of the Filipino crew members—they make up almost half the staff—that were guests onboard. The excitement on the ship and ear to ear smiles of crew members were golden. I was most thankful to be part of this as many of the crew members I consider to be friends, not servants by any means, and introduced me to their families. Regarding the smiles, one young assistant waiter told me that he saw his new baby for the first time yesterday.

The biggest smile was on the crew member’s child mentioned in the previous paragraph is just one month old. The crew member volunteered that he was ending his 10 month contract yesterday and going to his home in Manila. (You do the math.). He told me that he was home only three days before this contract started (!) but was planning on 2 months before the next 10 month job on the ship. It’s a shame that the wonderful Filipinos have such a dysfunctional economy that most of the young people have to be away from home most of the year, sending all their earnings home so that (typically) the oldest male sibling can go to university. The huge smile on my friend might have been due to seeing the kid or maybe his morning visit to his wife before he brought her back for the quick tour. Oh well. The dock area was part of the festivities all day. I took a picture next to the standard Manila transportation “jeepny” and sailed away with yet another dance troupe doing the “Santo Nino” dance (I saw at least 6 versions of the this dance in Manila and a couple of days ago in Cebu City) out my window. It wasn’t yet under water). Fantastic all day experience in Manila and worth the trip alone.

I leave the ship tomorrow in Hong Kong. Because of my exulted status as a “250 day customer” I am exempt from the “put out the luggage with your color coded tag affixed by 11:30 pm” requirement and even can stay onboard for lunch tomorrow before checking into my Kowloon hotel. I can even pack in the morning and then call for someone to carry my luggage through customs. Quite civilized. I’ll probably pack later today anyway as the danger of throwing up into my shaving kit seems to have passed.

The “luxury cruise” experience has its frustrations, some of the other guests—older (but getting closer in age to me: I wonder how that has happened) and set into routines that don't welcome strangers at dinner and some personalities do get on my nerves—and the daily ship's schedule which does not quite changing significantly each day, the lengthy meals, and too much availability of alcohol which makes some of my fellow guests not as nice to be with after dinner as they were during the day. But then seeing a nice older Japanese couple put Tabasco on their pizza or the officer trying to explain the ship to a bunch of Filipino travel agents who are simultaneously listening to their IPODS makes even these annoyance kind of fun. (You do a lot of people watching on a ship--when you're not looking for whales or dolphins.) The ports and the quality of the food, service, and staff makes this a costly but most spectacular addiction—as addictions go. I’m still agonizing over the booking of the next cruise: do I take the quite heavily discounted—it comes to less than staying and eating in a Holiday Inn in Perth Amboy (maybe I’m exaggerating a bit)—LA to Valparaiso cruise this Fall or drop the first segment and go for the much more costly Costa Rica to Bora Bora segments and visit Pitcairn and Easter Island. Wouldn’t those make great way to add numbers 120 and 121 to my country count?

I’ll be posting my pictures to the Google picture site shortly after I get home. Sorry for having to switch to the old e-mail method of communicating rather than updating the blog. I’ll do that—with more pictures—when I’m back to my 1.5 Mb/sec upload and have communication latencies that don’t exceed the sliding window flow control and blog server timeouts. (I used to know that all that meant. Something I vaguely remember teaching now that I think about it)

The sun is out now. Better go up to the “jogging track” and take my 7 rotations in a clockwise direction. I think the roller coaster effect will make it all the better exercise. Whoops, there goes another tuna past my window.

18N 117E at 17 knots heading 330 degrees, South China Sea

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