March 17, 2013 Singapore

March 17, 2013  Sea Day/Singapore, Republic of Singapore

Kent and our Student Wei

Kent and our Student Wei

St. Patrick’s day was celebrated with a morning party in the Queen’s lounge. It was a festive occasion with many guests having brought special hats, clothes and festive attire. The orchestra and cruise staff were decked out in green sequined jackets with tails. Music, games, trivia and Irish jigs filled the morning. Those who participated could win bottles of champagne and prizes.

Robert Schrire’s lecture was titled: Why Tyrants Survive? He gave insight into how tyrants win power and lose power and weather or not tyranny has a future in the modern world. His conclusion was that while tyrants still survive, the list is growing shorter with information in the modern world.

By 2:00pm we had arrived pier-side in the city of Singapore. Singapore is an island country and the smallest country in Southeast Asia, located on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. Singapore was the site of several ancient port cities and a possession of several empires in its history before the United Kingdom colonized it in the early 19th century. The Japanese occupied it during World War II before a merger established it as part of Malaysia. When Singapore acquired independence, having few natural resources, it was socio-politically volatile and economically undeveloped. Foreign investment and rapid government-led industrialization grew an economy which relies on exports of electronics and manufacturing, primarily crude oil refining. Singapore has the second busiest port in the world… second only to Shanghai. It has the highest standard of living in Asia and 83% of the population lives in housing built by the government. More than half use the efficient public transportation system daily maintaining low pollution levels.

We met up with Wei, one of our students from San Diego State, who we met when he was 20 and he is now 27. Wei is from Malaysia but has been working in Singapore for a headhunter employment agency. He recently quit his job and will be returning to Malaysia for a better paying job with better benefits. We enjoyed catching up with him and his life over dinner at a Peking duck restaurant.

Wei then took us to meet Jackie, a friend of his who studied at SDSU as well, and is from Brunei where her family owns beauty salons. We had a variety of desserts at a nearby shopping center.  Our next stop by public transportation was the Night Safari, the world’s first wildlife park, built to be viewed at night. Set on 98 acres of dense forest, the park–through subtle lighting–allows guests to view 1,000 nocturnal animals of 100 species in vast natural habitats. You can either take an open-air tram around the park or walk along many footpaths to view the animals. They have a fire eating show as well as a show featuring a variety of the park’s animals. It is a very beautiful park and we were able to see a wide variety of animals including Cape buffalo, African bongo, blue sheep, striped hyena, golden jackal, rhinoceros, otters, snakes, giraffes, deer and more.

It was a late night with us not returning to the ship until around midnight.

March 16, 2013 Sea Day

March 16, 2013  Sea Day

Good Morning Amsterdam’s guests this morning were the dance hosts Mike and Judy from Wales. They are an older couple that has been married for 43 years and teach the guests a variety of dances. Most sea days they have dance lessons in the Queens Lounge and all of the lessons are free.

Guest lecturer Robert Schrire’s lecture this day was titled: The Elephant and the Dragon where he discussed how China and India are neighbors but also rivals. India will soon surpass China in population but China has been soaring over the last twenty years when it comes to productivity and raising the living standards for millions of its people. Most economists, including those in China, do not believe that China’s growth is sustainable, while India’s is moving slowly but steadily upward.

For the first time this trip we are traveling east rather than north and had to change our clocks forward, meaning that we lost an hour today. Rather than losing the hour in the night the ship turns the clocks forward at two in the afternoon so that we lose an hour of daytime activities instead.

We saw the 2012 version of the Academy Award nominated movie Anna Karenina in the Wajang movie theater today. The film is set in late 19th century Russian society where aristocrat Anna Karenina enters into a life-changing affair with the affluent Count Vronsky. The cast includes Keira Knightley, Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

The variety show this evening was a variety show with pianist Van-Anh Nguyen and singer-comedian Jonathan Clark.

March 15, 2013 Nha Trang, Vietnam

White Buddha

White Buddha

Nha Trang Beach

Nha Trang Beach

March 15, 2013  Nha Trang, Vietnam

Nha Trang is the capital of Khanh Hoa Province, Vietnam, and is well know for its pristine beaches and excellent scuba diving. They have over 600 hotels that cater to guests from all over the world, with over 20% of the tourists coming from Russia. Most of the local development has been in recent years through government and private investment, including five star hotels with rooms renting for as much as $7,000 per night.

Our tour took us to the Po Nagar Cham Towers, one of the few remaining testaments to the ancient Cham civilization. The towers were built between the 7th and 12th centuries when Hindus worshipped here. Today, Vietnamese Buddhists come to Po Nagar to pray and make offerings. The main tower is dedicated to revered Po Ino Nagar, wife of Prince Bac Hai and the Shiva’s only known female incarnation. The view from here out over the Xom Bong Bridge and the abundant, colorful red and blue fishing boats in the Nha Trang Harbor was beautiful.

Our next stop was Long Son Pagoda founded in the late 19th century and has been rebuilt several times. It is currently home to less than ten monks. The entrance and roofs are elaborately decorated with mosaic dragons made of glass and ceramic tile. Here we climbed 152 steps to visit a giant 78 foot tall white Buddha seated on a lotus blossom. Here you could see views out over the city as well as the surrounding cemetery with its many niches for people’s ashes to be buried. Many people only have the ashes here for a few years before they are removed and scattered at sea. At this site there is also an extremely large reclining Buddha, which was an interesting pose that we are not used to seeing.

The Dam Market with its two stories of shops was our next stop. Here we saw outdoor vendors selling fruits and vegetables as well as other perishable items. However inside the market was reserved for more permanent shops of fabrics, clothing, souvenir items, jewelry and more.

We then visited an embroidery shop where we saw a demonstration of this local handicraft. Many young women are employed here ten hours a day, six days a week to create the beautiful detailed embroidery. They embroider many items like handkerchiefs, scarves, robes, art you hang on the wall and clothing. The prices are quite reasonable given the amount of time it takes to create just one piece of embroidery.  Some of the young women are already wearing glasses as a result of the work they do.

After returning to the ship from our tour we took the ship’s shuttle service, along with our friend, Jenn, back into town to have lunch. The bus dropped us off at a hotel just across the street from the main beach so we found a restaurant right on the sandy beach for lunch. It was very warm and humid but there was a nice breeze, which made the afternoon a pleasant one. Lunch was very reasonable at about $9.00 a person, including a soft drink or fresh squeezed juice. We tried things like fresh grilled fish and chips, sweet and sour fish with rice, chicken with peppers and chili’s. Fresh juices like watermelon or coconut juice ran $2.00 a glass.

Shopping was plentiful pier-side as there was a plethora of vendors who had set up large booths of merchandise right next to the ship. Folks were buying everything from clothing and souvenirs to suitcases to get things home.

A local group of dancers and musicians performed a lovely afternoon show in the Queen’s lounge before we sailed away. The show included several unique instruments as well as several local dances in festive, colorful, cultural dress.

The evening’s entertainer was a gentleman by the name of Jonathan Clark who has been performing a show for the last six months at the Rivera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. He does a bit of a variety show including comedy, singing in his own voice and vocal impressions of many famous singers like Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, Tony Bennett and Tom Jones.

March 14, 2013 Sea Day

March 14, 2013  Sea Day

There is a new guest lecturer on board by the name of Robert Schrire who is from South Africa and is a leading political analyst. He has taught at many universities including Princeton and John Hopkins. He has a doctorate from the University of California, and has authored 13 books on social issues and world politics. His lecture this day was titled: The Most Unlikely Democracy-India where he discussed how India has many qualities that make it an unlikely democracy. It has caste conflicts, religious differences, poverty and illiteracy, yet it remains a vibrant democracy. He is a very interesting speaker who does not use notes but has a great understanding about his subject.

In the afternoon Adrian Cooper presented a lecture on: Natural Wonders of South East Asia where he spoke about a variety of habitats and species of animals found in the region. He had some wonderful slides of exotic and unusual animals found in the forests and under the sea.

It was a formal dinner night with the theme of Oriental, which brought out many guests dressed in beautiful embroidered silk jackets and dresse.  Many folks had either purchased on this trip, or a previous one, brightly colored and festive outfits. The dining room was dressed in red Chinese lanterns, red and gold fabric, with the wait staff dressed in local silk jackets and hats.

Tonight’s entertainment was a Vietnamese young woman, Van-Anh Nguyen, from Australia who played the piano.  She played several classical pieces and some of her original compositions.

March 13, 2013 Hong Kong, China

Junk Bay Cemetery

Junk Bay Cemetery

March 13, 2013  Hong Kong, China  Day Three

Our third day in Hong Kong was a short one as the all-aboard time was 3:00PM. Immigration requirements are very strict and we needed to have two hours for the local officials to clear the ship prior to our sailing at 5:00PM.

We met up with our friend, Jenn, this morning to visit the Junk Bay Cemetery, Hollywood Road and spots in between. We took the subway about 30 minutes to a suburb where the cemetery was located. We came out of the subway station and found the sign pointing the direction to the cemetery but we were unable to find the path leading to the cemetery. We asked many locals who claimed not to know where it was or did not speak English. It took us nearly an hour to find someone to lead us in the correct direction and to find the path to the cemetery. The path ended up being a very wide concrete pedestrian only path which took us on a 20 minute hike up hill, in the heat and humidity, to finally reach the enormous cemetery. An entire vast hillside is terraced with row after row of graves, each one just like the one next to it. It was fascinating to see but somewhat disappointing that the individual headstones were all the same. It was also disappointing to find out once we reached the cemetery that we should have tried to find a cab which would have saved us the uphill climb and getting lost. Our friend, Jenn, tired before we reached the cemetery so we went ahead without her and came back an hour or so later to pick her up.

Next we headed to Hong Kong Island and Hollywood Road, which is known for its antiques shops. Kent was disappointed because it was not how he had remembered it in the past. The once junky looking shops with tons of old trinkets have been replaced with very high-end shops with high prices.

We then wound our way down hill towards the Star Ferry, stopping for a snack before crossing the harbor on the ferry back to Kowloon and the ship. As we sailed out or Hong Kong, many of the guests were out on deck to enjoy the view and Barbara’s commentary about what we were seeing as we left the harbor. It was an enjoyable three days but not near long enough to see everything that Hong Kong has to offer.

The entertainment was Ryan and Ashleigh Di Lello, finalists on So You Think You Can Dance show. They have also performed as guests on Dancing with the Stars. They are in extraordinary shape and their dancing was crisp, fast and the best dancers we have had perform onboard so far.

Accidents, Landings and Deaths—We have had another death on board (two so far that we are aware of).  An elderly gentleman went to his cabin to rest after a walk and died in his sleep.  One of our acquaintances fell while at the Victoria Peak Observatory and broke her ankle.  There have been some other accidents, as you might expect with us “older folks.” Additionally many guests (eight we know of) have decided to fly home for health reasons or in some cases have been sent home by the ship.  These incidents are called “landings.”

March 12, 2013 Hong Kong, China

Steven and Glang

Steven and Glang

Hong Kong Skyline

Hong Kong Skyline

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral

March 12, 2013  Hong Kong, China  Day Two

Steven, another student we had planned to meet and who also studied at San Diego State, lives in Macau, China. We headed out on the fast ferry from Hong Kong to Macau. The ferry was very modern and only took about one hour. Macau consists of three islands, which were colonized by Portugal for 400 years, but reverted to Chinese rule in 1999. Macau is known as “the Monte Carlo of the Far East” for its annual Formula 3 Grand Prix race through the streets. Macau is also the gambling capital of the world with more money changing hands than in Las Vegas. Macau is similar to Hong Kong in that it is a Special Administrative Region and requires permission from the government to enter and exit. Even though we were coming from another Chinese Territory we were required to carry our passports and go through an immigration checkpoint before entering the islands.

Stephen and his girlfriend, Glang, picked us up at the ferry terminal in a family member’s car, as their usual mode of transportation is a motorbike. Motorbikes are popular due to the lack of parking, congested streets and high cost of owning a car.

Our first stop was for lunch at their favorite Portuguese restaurant on the most remote of the three islands. The third island is much less developed and much more green and lush with trees and plant material. The restaurant was quite large and every table was filled with locals or tourists. We had fish croquets, ribs, chicken and fries for lunch along with fresh baked bread. After lunch we stopped at a local Portuguese bakery to sample the famous tarts. The tarts, three inches in diameter with a thick flaky crust, creamy caramel custard filling served warm out of the oven were delicious.

Next they took us to the Venetian Casino, which is very similar to the one we are familiar with in Las Vegas…. only larger. The gambling floor was enormous and every gaming table was surrounded by a mass of people so thick that it was difficult to see any of the tables or what type of games they were playing. The slot machines were popular as well even though it was a weekday in the afternoon. Steven said that it is much busier in the evening and on weekends. As in Vegas, there is a very large shopping center attached to the casino with a canal running through it where you can ride a gondola complete with singing gondolier. The shops were both similar and unique to us. There were many familiar brand name shops that you see the world over, but also very popular were traditional Chinese medicine shops where you could purchase a variety of herbs and teas.

Glang has a favorite show at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino that she wanted us to see so we headed across the street to see that. The show is about 15 minutes in length, takes place in an igloo like domed room where they project images on every surface around you (360 degrees). First, brightly illuminated, ornate chandeliers drop from the ceiling and then a dancing water chandelier begins dropping water from the ceiling into a hole in the floor in the center of the room. Next the fixtures retract back into the ceiling and you are surrounded by a sea of fish projected on the dome around you. Then several dragons appear who fly around the dome spitting fire and fighting with each other. It is quite a unique and interesting show with great music which we are happy to have seen.

Back at the Venetian we stopped in the replica of St. Mark’s Square for a coffee before continuing on. After coffee they drove us around the old town of Macau near where Steven lives and also showed us the façade of St. Paul’s Cathedral. St. Paul’s is a 16th-century church built by Italian and Japanese Jesuit priests. Along the way we also passed the Macau Tower, the 10th-highest freestanding tower in the world.

By late afternoon we were headed back to Hong Kong on the ferry so we could catch the laser light show over Hong Kong harbor at eight-o-clock. The light show was very well attended although we were not very impressed by it. They have music they play at a two level viewing area near the clock tower to accompany the laser lights, which are projected from multiple buildings roofs over the harbor. The lights were not that bright or spectacular and the music was disappointing, but we did it.

Back onboard the ship we were entertained by a local variety show including two young ladies who played a couple of unique Chinese instruments. One instrument had 25 strings while the other instrument was a cross between a flute and a guitar. They were excellent musicians and we enjoyed the music. Next to perform were two girls who did the famous ribbon-twirling dance. A dozen or so young men then presented an enormous dragon dance. The dragon was on sticks over their heads, and they would manipulate the sticks to make the dragon fly through the air, twisting and turning. The dragon was painted in glow-in-the-dark paint and was presented under black lights. The final performance was by a face change artist who wears a colorful face mask which changes some twenty times during his performance but you never see him changing the mask. It is really quite remarkable how quickly he can change the mask.

Upon retuning to our room we received two travel bags, another gift from the ship. With all of the shopping that some of the guests did in Hong Kong, the bags will come in handy.

March 11, 2013 Hong Kong, China



March 11, 2013  Hong Kong, China Day One

Hong Kong, now officially Hong Kong Special Administrative Region People’s Republic of China, consists of a mainland on the country’s southeastern coast and about 235 islands. It is bordered on the north by Guangdong Province and on the east, west and south by the South China Sea. Hong Kong was a British dependency from the 1840’s until July 1, 1997 when it passed to Chinese sovereignty. In 1841 British naval officers hoisted the Union Jack over the empire’s newest addition. At the time the land was a barren island with hardly a house upon it.  Today it is covered with skyscrapers. Hong Kong’s mainland consists of the urban area known as Kowloon and a portion of the New Territories, a large area that became part of Hong Kong in 1898. Lantau Island, ceded to Hong Kong as part of the New Territories but often considered separate from that region, is the largest island. Located about six miles east of Lantau Island and across Victoria Harbor from Kowloon is Hong Kong Island. The city of Hong Kong, also known as Victoria, faces the harbor on the northern part of the island. In total there are only 422 square miles of land area.

Christoph, one of the students we mentored at San Diego State several years ago, now lives in Guangzhou, China, about two and a half hours from Hong Kong by train and subway. He came to meet us in Hong Kong for a visit. He is working at a company that designs and has manufactured anything that you would find on a desk top, from stationary to a stapler. Most of the products are made to clients’ specifications and sold in Germany. He is also developing a unique furniture line, which is customizable and is made of heavy duty cardboard.

We had lunch with Christoph at a German restaurant along the harbor on the Kowloon side.  It was not far from where our ship is docked next to the Star Ferry clock tower. After lunch we wandered the streets looking for an ice cream shop only to end up at a McDonald’s for a sundae.

Christoph looks exactly as he did in San Diego and we were very pleased that he would take an entire day to travel as far as he did to visit us in Hong Kong. He has a Chinese girlfriend and has been in China working for a couple of years.

After we left Christoph, we headed over to the Hong Kong Museum of History where we saw an incredible permanent exhibit on the story of Hong Kong. This extensive museum with over 4,000 exhibits takes you from prehistoric times 400 million years ago to the areas’ development in modern day. It shows you in films, as well as photos and physical items, about the geology, history of the people, the folk culture and historical development.

After a quick bite to eat onboard the ship we met up with our friend, Jenn, and headed out to the night market on Temple Street. During the day this market is the Jade market but at night it transforms into a market for just about anything. Block after block, the road is pedestrian only with stall after stall of shops selling silk, items, clothing, jewelry, shoes, wood carvings, children’s toys and more. Tourists flock here to find a bargain and negotiating with the vendor is part of the deal. Nothing is priced so you must ask the price and then negotiate for a lower price. Kent purchased a few Chinese silk wine gift bags but that was it for our shopping.

March 10, 2013 Sea Day

LGBT Group

LGBT Group

March 10, 2013  Sea Day

Lecturer Aileen Bridgewater and her husband shared personal photos of Hong Kong with us including photos from the village that they live in outside of Hong Kong.

The afternoon featured a guest talent show in the Queen’s Lounge. It was quite a variety show with guests, singing, dancing, clogging, playing the accordion, plus a magic act. The cruise director, Bruce, who is an accomplished musician has been rehearsing with guests to create the HAL (Holland America Line) Chorale, which also performed a couple of songs. None of the acts were particularly remarkable but we never miss a show.

We continue to meet fellow LGBT friends for drinks in the Crow’s Nest bar most every evening before dinner.

The entertainment variety show was a second performance by both Radim Zenkl and Kevin Devane.

A couple of hundred guests will disembark in Hong Kong tomorrow and will be replaced with new guests including about fifty from South Africa.

March 9, 2013 Manila, Philippines


Manila Hotel

Manila Hotel

Mark in Hot Manila with hat and beads provided by the local tourism office

Mark in Hot Manila with hat and beads provided by the local tourism office

St. Agustin Church

St. Agustin Church

March 9, 2013  Manila, Philippines

Similar to our greeting in Puerto Princesa, school children were waiting for us at the pier and danced and played music for our arrival in port. Colorful woven straw hats and strands of beads were given to guests as they disembarked the ship. The weather was hot and humid.

With over 19 million inhabitants, Manila is an incredibly large city with skyscrapers, traffic and people everywhere. Manila is the capital of the Philippines. Spain controlled the Philippine Islands for over three centuries from 1565 to 1898 when the U.S. occupied and controlled the city and the Philippine archipelago until 1946. The Japanese occupied the Philippines at the outbreak of World War II for the most of three years. During World War II, much of the city was destroyed and it was not until 1975 that the Metropolitan Manila region was enacted as an independent entity. The name Manila is from the phrase may nilad, Tagalog for “there is nilad”, in reference to the flowering mangrove plant that grew on the marshy shores of the bay, used to produce soap for regional trade. There are currently 1.7 million births a year in Manila so you can see how the city has grown so quickly.

Our tour here was called “The Charms of Old Manila” which took us to the old areas of the city nearby the port. Our first stop was a visit to Rizal Park with a monument to commemorate Dr. Jose Rizal, a national hero. Ultraconservative zealots attempted to eradicate local religious ceremonies during the Spanish reign. Filipinos retaliated, but no revolt was more violent than the uprising sparked by Dr. Rizal’s sham trial and execution in 1896. Devoted to peace, the scholar openly opposed Madrid and encouraged Filipinos to fight for their independence.  He was considered a traitor by Spain and was executed.

Across from the park is a huge outdoor amphitheater where Manila made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest gathering to see Pope John Paul II. A crowd of five million gathered here to try and get a glimpse of the pope, which shows you what a Catholic country this is.

Next we visited the “Intramuros” or old walled city, which was a Chinese settlement before the Spaniards fortified it. Political prisoners, including Dr. Rizal, were locked away here for safekeeping. Today the walled city is a beautiful lushly landscaped park with a variety of historical buildings including Fort Santiago, which served as headquarters for the Spanish, American and Japanese colonizers until its destruction in 1945. Parts have been restored while other parts remain in ruins.

The Manila Cathedral was next on the tour. Unfortunately it is currently closed for repairs, so we were only able to visit the exterior and take photos from the lovely park in front. In this area there are many horse drawn carriages, which take visitors around the city for about $9.00 per thirty minutes. The horses they use are quite small in stature in comparison to our horses.

Casa Manila was our next stop. Here we were able to visit a reconstructed 19th century Spanish Colonial style mansion. The home would have been owned by a wealthy family and  the man would have had his offices here, as well as rooms for entertaining. As least twenty servants would have been employed to tend to the family. High ceilings, hardwood floors, hand painted walls, and luxury furnishings abound. It even had an indoor bathroom with two different sized tubs and a two-seater toilet. The house was quite beautiful even by today’s standards.

San Augustin Church, the oldest structure in the Philippines dating back to 1571 was our next stop. Here we not only saw the church, but also an attached museum of elaborate religious statues. Many of these figures were made of metals and ornate dresses, some standing life size.

During all these religious visitations, Jenn, our friend, had to confess that she had been dreaming of having sex with Jesus….only Jesus was Black.  She called him SBJ, or Sexy Black Jesus.  Way to go, Jenn.

On our way back to the ship we were driven through parts of Manila where we saw a little bit of everything. Beautiful skyscrapers next to shantytowns, overcrowded streets where few cars seemed to follow any type of rules of the road and jeeps leftover from World War II have been converted into Jeep-Knees, which are buses that hold about 20 passengers. Each of the buses has been elaborately decorated with decals, applied figurines or anything you can imagine.  They are called Jeep-Knees because the passengers’ knees touch in the vehicle.

After a bite to eat onboard the ship we walked a short distance to the Manila Hotel, which is a 100-year old historic hotel. Here we asked to be shown the archive room where you can view a photographic history of the hotel including General MacArthur’s suite, famous U.S. presidents and many famous people from around the world who have visited. The hotel also has a beautiful pool area and a high-end restaurant called the Champagne Room, which is very elegant.

Next we took the ship;s shuttle to the local area mall called Robinson Mall where we found an enormous American-style shopping mall. We found many familiar chain restaurants like TGIFridays, Starbucks, McDonalds, Burger King, as well as most of the same brand names that we find at home. Some people thought that the mall had more stores than the Mall of America.

The evening’s entertainment was by Hilary O’Neil who had performed a week or so ago.

March 8, 2013 Sea Day

March 8, 2013  Sea Day

Good Morning Amsterdam featured two of the security officers who look after us when we are in port, as well as when we are out at sea. Our travel guide, Barbara, lectured on things to do and see in Nha Trang, Vietnam.

Adrian Cooper lectured on Myths and Mountains of South East Asia. The mountains of South East Asia have inspired incredible legends of heroes and wisdom since the dawn of civilization in this part of the world. Adrian shared with us some of the art, sculpture and literature from this part of he world which all includes mountains including the mythical mountain of Meru.

Eight of us had lunch in the Pinnacle Grill, the upscale restaurant that charges an additional fee for lunch. The atmosphere is a change of pace but the food was not particularly better than we would find in the dining room or Lido buffet.

Aileen Bridgewater lectured on her adventures in the Philippines including a faith healer with mystical powers and the personal pilot of Imelda Marcos.

Entertainment this evening was an actor/singer from London’s West End by the name of Mark Adams.