Saturday, March 31, 2007

Hong Kong AT LAST!

I was awake super-early (so excited!) and although we were disappointed to miss the sail-in to Kowloon, we arrived early and were docked by 5.45am, Eric and I got off the ship, through the Ocean Terminal and adjoining shopping mall (pretty much ALL of Hong Kong has a shopping mall attached) via Starbucks and on to the Star Ferry for Hong Kong Island by 8.45am. It costs $4.40 for two people, and there are 7 Hong Kong dollars to $1 US.

We decided to take it from Frommers guide to Hong Kong (after all, the ruckuss over it in the library the other day must’ve meant that was the best book, right?) and do a 4 hour walking tour of the Western district to get an idea of the old Hong Kong.

We began walking. The first thing to note about Hong Kong is the mix of smells, the rich food/tea/smog odours compete so that one dominates your nostrils for a second, before another overpowers it.
As Eric said, the adventure really began when, after walking down a street famous for being the place to get a chop carved of your name on a piece of wood/jade/stone in Chinese calligraphy for letter-stamping, we bought fresh juices from a side-street vendor. My papaya/orange/carrot was gorgeous, his peach/ginger was really spicy and pulpy, but felt like it was good for you.

Only a couple of places on our stop were disappointing. Firstly, the Western Market is a tourist trap if ever I saw one. A well-maintained restoration of an1850s building, but inside it’s trinkets and a few half-hearted fabric stalls, nothing worthy of note. Secondly, the Central market is no longer there. Perhaps that Frommers guide wasn’t the latest edition…
However, if we wanted the live “wet” food markets that Central Market should’ve afforded us, the Sheung Wan Market on Des Voeux Road more than made up for it. This four-storey indoor market starts with fish and live poultry on the ground floor, (yes, they were gutting fish/eels/frogs, yes we had to dodge flying scales and walk over fish guts) with chickens clucking in cages while stall-holders wash and prepare chicken’s feet from the already slaughtered nearby. The second floor has some vegetable stalls, some clothes and even a tailor, and the third floor has any type and cut of meat I could imagine. We saw pigs snouts, goats head, things we couldn’t decipher (or could, but didn’t want to!)

The fourth floor is where you get to try the delicacies from the floors below, with various cafeteria-style restaurant outlets all next to each other. We were intrigued by what was in the jugs on each table. I was hoping it was beer (see the Tsingtao labels on them?) but it turns out it was tea.
Eventually, a nice restaurant owner must’ve clocked on to our tourist-bewilderment accompanied by a determination to eat there (it’s in the GUIDE!) and ushered us to a table. He gestured over to stacks of bamboo steamers, and bought us tea. It was proper, authentic dim-sum! We had NO IDEA what we were eating, except that it was fresh, and probably killed only feet from where we were sitting! YES! After the meal, we paid for what we’d eaten. I’d highly recommend a trip there, if you have a strong stomach (or like eating stomach, from various animals. I don’t know if I do, but then, I may or may not have actually eaten any.)

Our walking tour continued through streets famed for their medicines, ginseng and preserved/dried foods, Bonham Strand and Des Voeux Road West. In the picture, the shop owner is drying swallow’s nests with two hairdryers. We were, and still are, unsure as to what you use them for (although I know you can make tea) but I think it has something to do with male, er, ‘strength’.
Other dried foods we saw include seahorses, gall-bladders, abalone (a delicacy of Hong Kong along with Dim-sum) sand eels, tortoise shell (well, maybe they weren’t dried) and shark fin. We actually saw shark fins being prepared in a roadside warehouse, until someone told us “Don’t look!” and swung the door across in a fairly violent manner.
In the live snake shop (they were in cages, pots, jars), a quartet of guys were chopping ginger with such ferocity and concentration it was astounding.
Very few people were welcoming of our custom, they tolerated and nodded, but nobody in the medicine shops offered us any kind of remedy/diagnostic care. I fought the urge to create an horrific fantastical affliction in myself or Eric in order to get some kind of reaction.

On to the antique-lover’s paradise Hollywood Road, and Ladder Street, (because of the steep steps involved) the curios in Cat Street (because curiousity killed the-?) Possession Street (because it’s where the Brit’s took possession) and the Man Mo Temple.
It’s colourful, it’s bright, and the high concentration of incense coils inside it which drop ash on you from above made my eyes water. u can buy paper to burn in a furnace and incense sticks to light in vases by the shrines to various Gods. I kept some paper (there was so much!) because I liked it, and put it up in my room. I hope that isn’t bad Feng shui….

Incidentally, get these 2 Lions! Eh Yes!

And these two food-guarding cats!

Across from the Temple, there was a lovely Chinese garden (but obviously the Chinese just call it a garden, much like “Chinese food” to a resident of Hong Kong is just called “food” I guess) that had reflexology tiles which you’re meant to walk over with just socks on, and a man doing pretty impressive Tai Chi.

After a brief caffeine stop, and at the end of our walking tour, we made the decision to walk to the cable car that would take us up to The Peak.
This is an 1880’s cable car, still in operation with modifications, that takes you on an ear-popping ride up over 400 metres to the top of the Victoria Peak. Once there, you walk through a shopping mall (surprise surprise) to the viewing level.

En route, I was amused by these signs in the Ladies to depict the type of facility in the cubicle, traditional Chinese or Western (look closely, you’ll get the idea!)

The views of the cityscape, a carpet of buildings, was unbelievable. There's a HOT pic of Eric here too.

We stopped at a restaurant with a view for more Dim-sum (bizarrely, one of the dishes must’ve been a mistake as it was cake, like hot mini swiss-rolls!) and a proper drink. It was about that time to head back for the welcome aboard show.

It was 11.30 by the time we made it off the ship again, and it was a taxi ride to the Temple Street night market first-off. It was a good idea to get a taxi, as the market closes at midnight, and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. It was bright, quality in terms of the merchandise, bustling, and the vendors were not as forward as in similar markets I’ve been to in Kuala Lumpur and Shagnhai. Bartering was polite and easy. We bought a tie with a clarinet on it for Roque, Eric’s onboard quasi-father. He loved it. Also really interesting was the row of fortune-teller stalls. I chickened out, even though all stalls professed to good English in their readings.

A walk down Nathan road (we felt we were getting to know the place by now!) brought us to Knutsford terrace
, a good little food nightspot, where a chance meeting with some of our entertaining buddies led to a sashimi dinner not for the fainthearted (we’re not!)

We had received a tip-off that Delancey’s was the live-music nightspot, and although it was a respectably authentic Irish pub, ie. You could get a good pint of Guinness and Delancey’s on tap, music there was not. End of a full day!

On to day two, and same drill as before: Starbucks, Star Ferry. At 12.30, we met my little sister Jo (gorgeous Shakira-but-redhead type who works in Shanghai) who had to go to the fabric market in Kowloon but made time for lunch with us. We met at R66,
at the Hopewell Centre on Queen’s Road East. It’s a buffet, on the 62nd floor of the building, and it revolves, completing one full revolution every 66minutes (hence the name, clever huh?) It was lovely.
When Jo had to leave, Eric and I went into market mode! We took the MTR, a nice underground train system, easy to understand
, to firstly the flower market (Eric bought me flowers, beautiful yellow pom-pom types, no idea what they are!) then the bird market where birds in tiny cages chirp all around you, and then the fish market where bags of fish are sold, I presume as pets. I was tempted! Check out the clever Finding Nemo marketing! Nice.

We rushed back to the ship for a quick 5pm boat drill, and then back out! Jo had finished her buying at the fabric market, and we took her to Ned Kelly’s bar for a drink before she left us. OK, so Ned Kelly’s IS the live music spot! Ned Kelly’s/Delancey’s…hmm, a case of Chinese whispers, perhaps?! FORGIVE ME I’M SORRY!
Eric had a great idea to go to the Avenue of the Stars, where we walked the walk of stars we didn’t know, all except for Bruce Lee, who got not only a star, but his own bigger-than-life statue!

We drank ginger martinis and ate oysters rockerfeller,
seafood salad and clam chowder (still with shells on, not as good as in New England but then what did I expect?) at another good live music spot, Blues by the Bay, after watching the Symphony of Lights display, which is a light show involving all the foremost skyscraper sand viewed along the waterfront of the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade. It was a gorgeous evening, left too soon for a 10.30pm sailaway.

Um, London School of Ballet?! Awesome!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The dumbest thing I've done in a while

OK, so this is my cabin, and the sink therein. The important bit, when explaining to you my recent stupidity, concerns the two bottles on the left. One is a trial size bottle of mouthwash, the other a bottle of Cutex nailpolish remover.

At this point, perhaps I don't even need to explain any further. Nailpolish remover BURNS when you try to use it as mouthwash! It feels like all the juices from your mouth have caught on FIRE!

I was coughing and spitting up a storm when my friend Della stopped by to see if she could grab a DVD (there's contraband copies of Babel and The Departed going round, so they say, not that I'd ever, you know, involve myself in such things) and stayed until my hysteria died down.


Monday, March 26, 2007

It's further than it looks!

Ah, so many sea days, and it looks like such a nice little hop, skip n jump!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Birds, The Birds, and a Hong Kong library-book Ruckuss

So, I don't get it. We're in the middle of the ocean, yet it seems 4 birds (weird Asian-looking seagulls, I'm not exactly an ornithologist) are with us. Are they roosting onboard? Are we their adoptive parents now? It's almost ominous, I feel as if they're watching us, I'm finding it hard to lay out on deck 12 (the Crystal beach) without getting nervous.

This morning, in library, a Chinese man came in and took my picture, twice, and then had me write my name down. Stardom, here I come! I was quickly brought back down to earth by a fight which had broken out over the Frommer's guide to Hong-Kong. It's a reference book anyway, so neither party ended up "winning", because the book cannot be reomved from the library, but I'm sometimes amazed by people and the way they think it's acceptable to behave. I have to be honest, I feel melancholy right now. Last night we had to go to a cocktail party, for people celebrating their 50th cruise with us, and although it's all well and good, sometimes it seems so contrived, so insignificant, so stupidly frivolous. I mean, here I am, in a dress, celebrating the fact that two people have spent enough money to cover the whole cast's salary for the 50th time, on a vacation, when 90% of the Earth's population do not have their own fresh water supply.
I apologise if this brings you down.

The tug of war contest was today. I was still doing a costume rehearsal so I missed it, but I know that the Engine department won, by a landslide.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Watching the sunset with my mum

At 6.45pm last night on the ship (early morning for my mum in London!) I watched the sunset over the pacific with my mum. She logged on to the live webcam from the bridge onboard, I sat on deck 7 forward in her view, and we watched. The pictures do not do it justice, it was pink and obscured partially by cloud, like the final frame of a romantic movie. Eric came out to watch with me, in his tux all ready for the 7pm show, and Paula was up drinking juice, along with two stewardesses on a rare break. Mum, I tried to post a link to the bridge webcam, I don't know if it'll work, but check it out!

Friday, March 23, 2007

How to tie a Toga

As you can see, there is no one failsafe way. The toga is a volatile garment, it often requires many knots/safety pins/a system of pulleys to ensure a night of partying without compromising
one's dignity. Fran (one of the repeat cruisers on the Symphony, really nice lady) threw a toga party for us, on the outside deck 6 aft last night. Eric made the wreaths (laurels?) from the florists trash and coat-hangers.

Other news: having beaten my beloved in the opening round, I LOST to Rolph the safety officer in the darts tournament. It was unlucky and a very tight game (his mates won't let him forget it) but unfortunately, Eric will not recieve the 10 free drinks Rolph said he would buy him, should I win. Cheeky.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Ho-no, Lu-Lu! (and others: Wai, ki-ki? Kammana Wana Lei-ya! etc.)

After a sneaky Starbucks dash in the Aloha Tower shopping mall right by the pier, and a tedious coastguard drill at 2pm (why the middle of the day? WHY!?) the Beric special day began (Becky and Eric, geddit?)

We'd hired a car, online, back when the schedule to dock on the 16th for an overnight in Honolulu was still in place. Due to some paperwork error, or something, we only got yesterday from 10.30am-midnight in Ohahu, Haiwaii, but not to be deterred, we changed the booking, and picked the car up from Advantage at 2.30pm in Honolulu. They even upgraded us to a Compact from Economy, free of charge. Cute car, right, and the CD player was an 'advantage' (I promised the guy I'd plug the company online!)
So, we set off to North Shore, to the Weimea falls conservation park. The weather was volatile, but the drive took us through Dole Pineapple plantations and misty mountain ranges.

On our second attempt, we found Weimea, and after paying $8 each, walked amongst amourous fan-ruffling peacocks, waterlillies, brightly coloured birds and lush plant-life to complete the one-and-a-half mile round trip to the 40ft
waterfall. Unfortunately, the waterfall itself had been injuring tourists all day with debris in the water cascade, so we were forbidden from dousing our heads under it. But intrepid soul that I am, I swam in the natural pool with my man. It was gorgeous.

On to sunset beach with pumpkin seeds at our side, which did not afford us a gorgeous sunset, but Eric swam again, and I watched some accomplished surfers in the elements.

Along the east coast on our drive back toward Waikiki, we encountered various smaller towns and we remarked that it’d be great, given more time, to stop and explore. However by this point we were hungry (it was 7pm, neither of us ate lunch) and we stopped at the Crouching Lion Inn for dinner by recommendation from the gas station.

I went to the adjoining sports bar to get Eric a beer (a local dark beer called Firecracker, I don’t think he was too impressed) and had a strong rum-based drink myself.
Dinner was steak, cooked at the table, rare, with beautiful wild rice. The place, with it’s huge wicker chairs that made us feel like kids, elderly clientele and large fireplace, was quirky and odd rather than excellent, but that steak was amazing.

Back to Waikiki, to the strip and Kuhio. I pleaded with Eric until he parked the car and we found Duke’s barefoot bar (named after the surfer) on Waiki beach, to walk through, go spread our toes in the sand, and head back.
We took the car back, and the supervisor kindly drove us all the way back to pier 11, for a quick drink in Gordon Biersch’s (it is St. Patrick’s Day after all) before the 11.30pm all-aboard.

OK, so it's true, Hawaiians love spam! SPAM? IN SUSHI!? Apparently you can even get it in McDonalds....

Sunday, March 11, 2007

New cruise, and they're bringing Sexy Back!

So, this cruise is "The Grand Pacific Passage", a 17-day, 15 sea day effort. Some nights off then! The only port visited en route to Hong Kong is Honolulu, and particularly interesting to me is that the 18th of March will simply not exist for us! That's a first.
Even more interestingly, my man gets back! Yes! It's been 7 weeks, with a brief surprise visit from him on Valentine's day, in Orlando, where I was meeting up with my sister Joanna and her man, James. I can't wait to see him.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Bond split Achieved!

OK, so before I even start writing about this, I have to say that the girl in the picture is not me, it's Lauren, the original girl cast to do this crazy move, and I'm pretty sure she does it better than me, I'm just so happy I got through 2 shows in the track! In rehearsal, I was aware of a tension, which suddenly turned into applause once I got through the move. It was great, a real rockstar moment. Seriously, it was even worth the (considerable) pain involved!
So, two new tracks done in as many shows, welcome back to cruising Becky! Yesterday was another show night, and tonight I'm free and going to see the farewell show with one of the cast members, Wolfie.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Unexpectedly free in Puerto Vallarta

We were supposed to be doing a show tonight, one I was very nervous about due to a new track I’ve been put into, a Bond (Bond, James Bond) pas de deux including the notorious supported upside-down split. It’s considered pretty dangerous, the only piece of advice anyone ever gives me on performing it is “Be careful!”
However, at 10am my line-captain calls to say Rebecca, our female vocalist is unable to perform due to a throat infection and so the show is postponed until tomorrow. Although I’m concerned for Rebecca, I’m relieved to have time to practice, not to mention a whole day off(!)

Two of the dancers (one of whom just got back onboard to relieve the situation of the past week) and I decided to take a crazy suspension-free bus ride into the old town of Puerto Vallarta. There was a dude who came onto the bus to sell chocolate, you can see him in the photo, he did a whole spiel about it, and was one of several people who hopped onto the bus trying to flog various things to us innocent public transport users.
The old town is not what I’d expected (the ubiquitous “new” town stuff is all here, Haagen Dasz, Subway, Carl’s Jnr, Senor Frogs) but the girls and I see a good shopping opportunity. I buy a very short pair of blue and white striped shorts. Rachel succumbs to the croc sensation that is pretty much a staple amongst dancers these days, although she still protests “they’re so UGLY!”
The thing is, we’re both suckers for a gimmick, and you can now get croc “jewels” that go in the holes on the uppers of your crocs to bedazzle them for a bargain $3 a piece! I buy a plaster/band-aid, a four-leaf clover, a clown-fish (Nemo!) and a killer whale for my orange crocs. Very mature, Becky…

We decide it’s time for margharitas and the “guac”, so we ask in the store for a local restaurant, and are sent a promising few blocks up, to what we hope is somewhere off the beaten path. We get to the place, called Pi-Pi’s, and there are piñatas hanging outside and music coming from within (my man Eric would have loved the old multi-colour stringed bass). The menus come in English, catering for the cruise-ship crowd, and there’s a sign up that reads “Don’t drink the water, drink the margharitas instead!” hardly authentic Mexican, but we’re hungry by this point and it looks like fun. The margharits are huge, and the best part of the meal is when a man comes up and prepares fresh guac(amole) in front of us, on the house. It’s gorgeous.
Days like this, especially when they’re unexpected, are what make the job so enjoyable.


Thursday, March 8, 2007

Oline the Dolphine (and the Can-can from hell!)

So, three nights ago (yup, the internet's been erratic these past few days) we did a full-length show with only 2 female dancer-ensemble members out of 4. Trying to cover a stage in a Can-can that's usually comprised of 4, screaming, kicking, skirt-shaking dancers takes some doing! It was the hardest show I ever did, due to extra parts I had to learn, including a rhumba where I had to hold metres-worth of my skirt during partnering to avoid falling down. But also, as my female line-captain agreed (the only lady who could empathise as she was the only one going through it with me!), it was an also a great buzz when we got through the 2nd show. We did it!

Anyway, 2 days ago was Dolphin day! I nearly missed it due to the fact I forgot there was a tender-boat ride involved in getting to the gangway in Cabo San Lucas (I know, I'm stupid, but when you're on the 2 hour library shift in the morning, you don't get to look outside!) but I made it.

Once inside, after signing various I-won't-sue-if-a-dolphin-eats-me waivers, you're given a wristband to put you into groups of 8. Ours was the grey group, or "gris" as our reserved table in the waiting area said. Benita, a friend informed me that this means "pig" in Swedish, so yup, I was in the Pig Group to swim with the dolphins. We were given the option of wetsuits, an option I'm glad I went for as it got pretty nippy after an hour in the water.

Eventually we were led in our groups to various points around a big lagoon pool. 6 dolphins came out and jumped high out of the water for us for a while (the equivalent of their Can-Can for the afternoon) and then Julio our dolphin trainer introduced us to our dolphin. Her name was Oline, and she was the oldest (at 26, pretty old for a dolphin) heaviest and bestest dolphin they had at Cabo Dolphin, according to Julio.

After showering, we jumped in the water and Oline swam slowly around us and through our group of paddling bodies, letting us pat her. Clayton, one of our acapella singers, said she felt like a giant hotdog, and I have to say it's not a bad descrition.

For the next hour, we hugged, kissed, danced with and got a ride on the dorsal fin of Oline. She danced while we sang Shakira (apparently her favourite singer) and we fed her food from our mouth!

Ocassionally I was struck with the notion of cruelty, I mean, how many times already today had these intelligent creatures performed in this way for groups of smiling tourists like us?

I did learn that baby dolphins have whiskers! They lose them as they grow older.

It was all very up-close, Oline hung around us very near at all times, but, clever girl that she is, she knew that's where her food was coming from.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

We love L.A. (we love it!)

So, embarkation day began at 11am with a costume fitting with the big bosses, in our theatre, the Galaxy (it's really called the Galaxy Lounge, but I choose to ignore the "lounge" portion of the name, it seems derogatory somehow) for a new dance section in one of our shows.

It was then a mad scramble to try to get OUT, as is always the case in a port where one can find Wal Mart's, starbucks, Nordstrom Rack, general retail therapy, all the things we crave after sea days. I went with a cast-member to Long Beach, and a few blocks of shops called The Grand Place I believe.

I got to speak to my lovely man, Eric, who is on vacation (sorry Brits, I took on this Americanism, nobody says holiday here!) whom I miss pretty badly, he's the bass player onboard, he gets back on March 11th, and with the wonderful new Skype system we've got going, I get to rock on round to the nearest free wi-fi place, or if all else fails a Bux, and have him soothe my day from his rented shack in Montreal. I'm posting a pic of him, and his favourite all of all the things I've written to him (it's a riddle really, it's not too difficult, send me a message when you get it!)

A preliminary game
A pre-chiselled upper body
I sculpt again
As mile is to smile
Then add the catch of slumber
Put before toi, after j'espère,

Next time I may well post one of his, maybe I'll check if he minds(!), but he's a good writer, particularly as English is not his first language.

Back on the ship, we do the Guest Boat drill (I call out stateroom numbers and people comply that they are present and therefore they CARE about safety!) and for the first time ever in my cruise-ship career there's a real emergency, someone in my lifeboat station collapses. It's a lady, and I go into auto-pilot: Ring the bridge on 3333, say where you are, what happened. I hope she's okay, it was hot up on deck and maybe she just got too hot, stood next to 116 other people all in lifejackets. I felt so helpless when I saw her, I do not know how to administer or even really WHEN to adminster CPR confidently, I may well brush up on it.

Tonight, out of a cast of 4 female dancers, 2 will not be performing due to injury. It's tough trying to fill a stage with only 2, rather than 4 couples (even if it is really just a lounge!) and the reblock (where you stand on stage is what we call your 'blocking') is a strange one. It's going to be an interesting cruise, but at least it's the last one I have to spend, all-being well, without Eric.

Note to self: forgot to use a template, this blog looks particularly 80s! Will do better next time!