I finally had the proper documentation to get off the ship and see Mumbai. On the first day I took a highlights tour just to get an overview of the city. The first thing you notice about Mumbai is how hot it is. You absolutely cannot ignore it. Luckily we spent most of our time indoors on the first day. Our first stop was a temple where we were lucky enough to be interrupting a wedding. Our guide was saying that the marriages in India are still arranged and that the people seem to like it better that way. There is pretty much no divorce at all and she said people spend their entire fortunes on the wedding. We also watched a little bit of a service (I don't know what the Hindis call it) where people were listening to one man speak while they all sat on the floor. There were women there stringing flowers together as well.
We also got to see where Gandhi lived for a portion of his life. It was a very modest house kind of in the middle of nowhere. There was a giant library on the first floor and the room where he lived just had a mattress and some books.
We went to the highest point in Mumbai and saw the Hanging Gardens, which aren't hanging at all except for the fact that they are up high on a hill. They have so many crows everywhere, they are like a New York pigeon. The main reason I didn't like that was because any kind of peaceful moment I could've had looking at the gardens was disturbed by the sound of crows squawking.
We visited a museum filled with Indian artifacts but we ran out of time and didn't get to see much of it. I was feeling a little tired anyway so I just
found a bench to chill out on while I waited for the rest of the group. As I s
sitting there people kept sitting down in the empty seat next to me and taking pictures with me, like I was part of the museum. It felt very strange to have a woman walk up to me and put her child in my lap while her husband photographed us all. I was sitting with other Americans so I'm not sure what it was about me that they wanted to remember. A couple of people said it could have been the color of my hair or my light eyes. Anyway it was very strange.
The second day I was there I visited the Elephanta Caves. We had to take a boat from the Gateway of India over to the island. The Gateway was really cool and it was right next to the Taj Hotel, which was completely massive and beautiful. I was so surprised by the architecture in Mumbai. I was expecting skyscrapers and filth. It was definitely not as dirty as I thought it was going to be and the buildings were so ornate and grand.
The boat took us an hour away to the island where the Elephanta Caves were. We had to walk up 120 steps to reach the top but they distract you with
souvenirs and monkeys. The caves are also not what I imagined. I was cturing a cave you enter like a bear. This was a pretty large open space with tons of carvings all around. It was fascinating to see that they could carve all of that out of the stone.
On my way back down the hill I was getting a little hungry so I decided to stop for some local food. I asked the guy to just give me something traditional but I told him I needed it “to go.” I don’t think this is a common request because the bread ended up wrapped in a newspaper and the potato dish ended up in a plastic bag. It was so good but a little spicy for me. It also turned my fingers and mouth yellow because of the spices that were in it. Everyone thought I was so brave for eating the local food. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal but I’ll let you know how I feel in a couple of days.
*For whatever reason the pictures don't download very well on this site but I'll post more on my facebook page if you want to see them there!
I made it to the Great Wall of China!!! It was one of the three main things I wanted to do on this trip. The first two were go on a safari and ride an elephant, both of which I also got to do. My mom had been to the wall a long time ago and I saw the pictures of her there. Ever since then I really wanted to go and since I was going to be in Tianjin, I thought this was the one thing I had to do. I was so excited and it was really cool to be there and say, "I'm at the Great Wall of China right now." But, it is just a wall. It's a really big wall, but if you ever go, know that it's really just a wall. We walked along up the side of this mountain and all the steps were uneven. One would be tiny and the next would be huge. Also it was very cold and the wind was blowing but we were also sweating because we were getting the work out of a lifetime. So I made it to the Great Wall. Now I'm on the downhill slope of my contract. In a few days we will start our LAST CRUISE!
You win some, you lose some. Most of my trips and adventures on this contract have all been wins. My day to Beijing: big fat LOSER. We are in Tianjin for 3 days, the first day we didn't arrive until 11am and we weren't allowed off the ship until after 1pm. The second day was embarkation and well had to work all day. the third day is a crew tour to the Great Wall. So that first day was my ONLY time to try and see Beijing. I know by car it takes about three hours to get there but I read online there is a bullet train that gets you there in 33 minutes. So I took the shuttle bus into the mall and caught a cab there. She took us to a tram and we rode it to the end of the line. Then we took another cab to Tianjin Railway Station. That's where we took the high-speed train to Beijing (which actually ended up being one of the best parts of the day.) The train went almost 300 km/h, I mean we were flying up there. We left the ship a little before 2pm and when we got to Beijing it was just about 7pm. At this point we were sure everything was closed but we had come so far and we wanted to see something so we took two subway trains to Tiananmen Square. We got there but couldn't go in so we stood out front and took some pictures. As we were standing there, these giggly Chinese girls came up to us and started talking to us. This probably should've been our first clue because NOBODY in China speaks English. But these girls looked younger than me and they were dressed like cute little teeny boppers. They asked us where were from and what we did. They told us they were English teachers and visiting a friend in the big city. Then they asked us if we wanted to go have tea with them. At this point we were all so tired from traveling that the idea of sitting down to have something warm just sounded too good so we went to a tiny little tea house and had some tea. They ordered for us and got four little pots of tea (there were eight of us there) and they brought out some little snacks like dried fruit and little
cinnamon sticks. They helped us figure out the train schedule so we wouldn't miss the last train home and we decided we'd better get back so we'd make it in time. Then the bill came. I reached out for it because they had been so sweet and helpful, I thought I would pay for tea, I mean how much could it be, it was tea. When I opened the check I just kind of stared at it for a while wondering where they meant to place the decimal point that they surely left out. 1900 yuan, the equivalent to about THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS!!!! I was like, this can't be right, it was just tea! It's just tea! I just kept saying this over and over again. It's just tea! They said no, no it's special tea, he makes it here and this tea house is special, you can stay here all night and drink tea. Neither of these things made any sense but at the time it was such and awkward and confusing moment that I really couldn't think straight. One of the girls said, let's just split it so it will be cheaper. Rather than shouting at them to split it themselves because they scammed us and how dare they and I'm not paying for this, we split it. I paid $40 for a cup of tea. I'm still in shock over it and I keep replaying it in my mind thinking, why didn't I just say NO WAY!! I guess you live and you learn. From there we got back on the subway having seen nothing but the dark Tiananmen Square and this tea house with hustling Justin Beiber fans, and went back to the train station to go home. Once in Tianjin none of our original forms of transportation were still running so we had to take a cab back to the ship. Finding someone to understand where we needed to go took us another half an hour and the cab ride itself took about an hour and a half. We arrived in the port about 12:30am. Needless to say, China has not been my favorite country so far. I still have the Great Wall ahead of me, but it's going to have to be pretty spectacular to make me forget my horrible trip to Beijing.
We are now coming to the end of any new ports. A few days ago I was in
Shanghai. We were docked right in the middle of the city. I woke up and looked out my porthole and saw the entire skyline of Shanghai. The whole city looks very futuristic. It's almost like the Jetsons without the flying cars, although I'm sure they're working on that. I had the entire day off so we decided to walk around rather than paying to take a cab or tour. It was very accessible and even though I was very tired and cold by the end, I'm glad we decided to walk because we saw so much of the city. We walked down to the Bund, and walked along the river. That's when we found there was an underground pedestrian tunnel that lead from one side of the river to the other. When we got down it was a tiny subway car that drove you through and there was music and a crazy light show the whole way. On the other side we saw the Pearl Tower and the Convention Center, but realized that most of the historical attractions were on the side we had just come from. So, we took our little subway car back and started exploring. We decided to walk to the Yu Yuan Gardens. This was in the "old city." The architecture there is what I thought all of China would look like. Inside the garden walls were very peaceful. I kept expecting to see a monk or someone studying karate or something. I'm glad we get another chance to go back to Shanghai because there was so much more to see around the city that I couldn't fit into one day.
I finally got to ride an elephant! It was awesome. Normally they make you ride on a bench that they tie around the elephant's back but this time they let me slide down onto his neck and ride there. I could actually feel his shoulders moving under my butt. His name was Bang Bang. We went on a trek through the jungle and we passed a beautiful waterfall. He had to stop a couple of times to go to the bathroom and it looked like whole coconuts were coming out. We had a guy leading the elephant as well and he kept making him talk or spray water everywhere. It was really amazing. His giant ears were flapping against my legs and I was pushing down so hard on the top of his head that I got a bruise on my hand. There wasn't anything for me to hold onto and there were a couple of times I really thought I was going to fall off. I'm so glad I can check that off my bucket list!
When we were in Bangkok we went to see the Grand Palace. Apparently my bare shoulders and the boys' knees were too offensive so we had to rent some clothes in order to get past the guard. Once we finally got in though, it was definitely worth it. It was hard to decide which way to look because there were so many temples and shrines everywhere. We walked through the whole thing and didn't realize that we hadn't even seen the palace yet. We turned a corner and there was a huge building with some serious looking guards outside. We didn't try to make them laugh although I feel pretty confident that I could've.
I was recently in Brunei. There was literally nothing in the port town but we heard there was a beach nearby. There is a very strong cab union there so they didn't have a free shuttle bus like they normally do, not that there was anywhere for a shuttle to take us. We paid the cab $10 to take us to the beach and it turned out the beach was only about a quarter of a mile away. That was pretty annoying considering we could've walked and instead paid $10. So he drops us at the beach and we walk down to the shore and see giant signs that read, "Beach closed due to Red Tide until further notice." So this cabby knowingly dropped us at a closed beach and then had then nerve to come back 10 minutes later and ask if we wanted a ride back to the port for another $10. We respectfully declined using a few choice words and a couple hand gestures. Once we made it back to the port with the help of a nice man driving by we agreed to pay another nice cab driver into the big city. I guess there is a sultan of Brunei and he is one of the richest men in the world. We saw one of his mosques and a gallery he keeps of all the gifts he receives. We didn't have a lot of time to see the entire city but it was pretty nice and the people were really happy.
So it turns out I'm a giant in China. I mean I could see the top of
everyone's head. I don't think they were used to seeing fair-skinned redheads
either. Either that or I had a "kick me" sign on my back that no one told me
about. They have no problem staring at you. I was having some delicious wonton soup in Hong Kong and I felt like I was the new exhibit in a zoo at feeding time.
Another thing that was hard to get used to was the toilet situation. Actually
I never got used to it because I didn't bother trying it. I opened the stall to
see a hole in the ground. I managed to never use a bathroom off the ship in all of China.
Hong Kong was really cool though. It was very modern in an American way but also very strong in it's own culture. There was a giant Mac store and then down the street there was a market of fresh meat and fish, some of which were being sold still alive. I guess that's how you know it's fresh.
I'm sure the shopping would have been amazing but unfortunately I couldn't
afford anything! The prices were outrageous. But the people from Hong Kong didn't seem to notice. There was a huge line outside the Louis Vitton in the mall. Like an entire LINE of people can afford Louis Vitton. I don't think you'd see that at the Rockingham Mall in NH. Actually there wouldn't be a LV there because people can buy the fake ones for $20.
The first night in Hong Kong I went to a show at City Hall. Margaret knew one of the musicians so we were to see him, but the show was a really cool
experience. There were English subtitles written above the stage on a screen. It was kind of like a popera (pop-opera) and the orchestra was on stage the whole time. However it was very strange when the end of the first song came and NO ONE clapped. I started to and then got really uncomfortable because the whole theater was silent. They ended up applauding a couple of times throughout but it wasn't consistent and it just felt so wrong to not show the appreciation. Also, nobody laughed at the funny parts. I mean, it wasn't even my language and I knew where the jokes were but no one showed any sign that they were awake. I really don't think I would like to perform in Hong Kong.
I didn't get to see very much of Taiwan but it seemed similar to China. They
speak the same language but they have their own currency. It's kind of fun to
look in my wallet now because I have money from all over the world. I wonder what the exchange counter will think when I try to trade it all back for USD. Hopefully Logan Airport will accept Seychelles Rupees.
I just left Vietnam and I had an amazing time. First we went to Ho Chi Minh
City and I made my first million. One US dollar is worth 20,000 Vietnamese dong. Yes, their money is called dong. Anyway I took out $50 and became a
millionaire! I definitely liked the way that felt. Then I promptly spent my
first million at the giant market they have. It's like a big flea market only
everything is much cheaper and it smells like fish. They sell anything you can think of. It's a very strange experience. You can buy North Face there for like $7. Then we walked around the city a bit and noticed how many people rode moped type bikes. I mean, there were almost no cars around, just motorbikes and buses. It made crossing the street a little intimidating.
The next day we were in a much smaller city, if you can even call it a city.
The only thing I managed to do in Chan May was have some delicious coffee (they apparently use condensed milk, not regular) and steal some free internet. Apparently they use that port as a way to Da Nang, but next time we just leave out the middle man so that's good.
Then we were off to Ha Long Bay. We got there the morning of the Superbowl, and yes, we had the Superbowl in the morning. 6:30am to be exact. All the foreign chefs on board were trying to be creative and have traditional football food so instead of some sensible eggs and toast at 6:30 in the morning, I was offered mini burgers and hot dogs. Awesome. I had a glass of OJ and only got grumpier as the game progressed. That's all I'm going to say about that.
The next day I took a crew tour around Ha Long Bay. I wasn't quite sure what to expect but it was really beautiful. We all got in this old, rickety boat that kept getting stock on docks and mud but luckily the other boats will come over and bump you back on your way. First they took us to an island and she told us we would have to walk up 100 steps. In my mind I was thinking, "100 steps to where?" When we got about halfway up there was a hole in the side of the rock that we climbed through and it was the entrance to a massive cave inside the island. It was awesome. They had all these colored lights glowing inside so you could make out the different rock formations. The guide kept pointing out what each rocked looked like and most of the time it was some form of Buddha. "This is Buddha laughing." "This is Buddha riding a lion." "This is Buddha dressed like a lady." I didn't always see what she was talking about so we started making up our own. On the other side of the cave we exited into the light and walked back down. Along the way were venders selling snacks and drinks. Jonathan and I were so excited to see these delicious rice crackers he had found in another city so we bought two packages of them. When we got back to the boat we opened them to a very unpleasant surprise. "It smells like an old library!" He shouted. And that is exactly what they tasted like. Big mistake. Then our
journey went on to look at the giant limestone rock formations al around the bay. There are 1969 islands, to be exact. It was fun to name all the different rocks. There was a dog, a cat, kissing chickens. One of the pictures I got looks just like Homer Simpson to me, but nobody else saw it. It was a really nice way to spend the day and I always like doing to crew tour because we get to go together rather than have to sit at the back of the bus counting guests over and over again.
At this point in the cruise we are jumping from city to city so quickly that
I can't really separate my blogs by country. I'll try to give an overview of
Thailand so far. First we went to Phuket, but I was working all day and all I
really saw was the port. Everyone said it was amazing and rode elephants and fed monkeys and I'm still pretty upset about it all. Then we were in Ko Samui which is an island. I think it's a popular vacation spot for it's beaches but I stayed in the main town or city. We ate plate after plate of amazing food and my bill was $4, honestly. I've noticed that food and transportation are so cheap in these places but everything else is pretty similarly priced. Luckily all I ever need is food and transportation. They are still celebrating the Chinese New Year I believe because people kept lighting off fire crackers and presenting huge displays of food outside their shops. I don't think the food was for eating so much as something ceremonial. I saw a lot of pig heads in Ko Samui. I have a quick video of one of the firework displays but one of them shot off and hit me in the chest so the video is very short. You can hear me scream just before I turn it off.
The next stop in Thailand was Bangkok. I'm lucky because I got to experience Bangkok by day and Bangkok by night. First I saw the nightlife. It was completely insane. Anything you could ever imagine happening in Vegas, NYC, Amsterdam, it all happens here only much, much crazier. I spent most of my evening in Patpong Market and by night the entire street was filled with venders. Anything you would want to buy, they had. DVDs, sunglasses, bags, tshirts, food, etc. It was like Battery Park but the people didn't pack up their stuff and run away when they saw the cops. I won't get into the details of my evening but I will tell you that I watched some friends get tattoos, get drunk and get propositioned for some pretty strange stuff. All I will say is that I will never look at a ping pong the same way again. By day, I couldn't believe I was standing on the same street as the night before. Everything was packed up and shut down. All the business people were out on their lunch breaks trying to grab food from one of the local venders. I saw a lot of people walking around with soup in a plastic bag, or drinking soda out of a plastic bag. It was very strange. We did have some excellent Thai cuisine, yet again. Margaret's dinner was so spicy that her lips plumped up and her tongue turned colors. She said it was delicious. We make it back to Thailand several more times and I'm sure the adventures will just keep coming.
Sassy ginger from NH off traveling the world.