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Old June 13th, 2006, 08:32 PM
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Default Review Statendam, Hong Kong to Vancouver

Some Cruisemates have asked for a review of our recent Far East Cruise aboard HAL’s Statendam. Here is an extremely abbreviated review. I have also posted about 45 pictures in the gallery under Hong Kong, China and Japan

The cruise was actually a combination of two cruises: the first leg was Hong Kong to Osaka Japan and the second was repositioning the ship for the summer Alaska run from Osaka to Vancouver. We were on the ship for 34 days. We spent four days pre-cruise in Hong Kong and 1 day post-cruise in Vancouver.

This was not a “fun in the sun? cruise, but it was by far the most interesting cruise we have ever taken and easily the most mind-expanding and educational. Despite being very briefly marred by an outbreak of Noro virus, it was absolutely wonderful and we wouldn’t have missed it for anything. It was a rare opportunity to see a part of the world we have always wanted to visit, and one that is still hidden from most westerners.

Hong Kong does not disappoint! It is a place of seven million people living in a very small space. They live up, not out. Imagine a place with seven million people and no visible dirt. Then, imagine a pedestrian intersection used by many thousands a day and not a single piece of chewing gum stuck to the tile crosswalk. Four words describe Hong Kong: vertical, clean, well-lit, and vibrant.

Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong is an extremely busy place It makes San Francisco Bay look, well, sort of sleepy by comparison. There are thousands of skyscrapers in Hong Kong, and the skyline is unbelievably impressive, especially at night. Despite the handover, to Red China, the communists do not seem to have put much of a dent in the famed independent spirit of Hong Kong. Freedom and capitalism seem rampant.

Highlights? Too numerous to mention. Fabulous dim sum lunch, The Star Ferry to Kowloon, the Peak Tram, an evening harbor cruise, Easter at St. John’s Anglican Cathedral. But the real highlight would have to be the interview of my wife by two small school girls, probably third graders, on the Kowloon Avenue of the Stars. They wanted to know why we visited Hong Kong. What our favorite attractions were, and if we would come back. They were honing their English language skills, their international relations skills, there people to people negotiating skills. While our kids are being taught that competition is harmful to their delicate self esteem, these delightful, small Chinese girls are learning the skills that will allow them to compete and win in the business arena and the commercial world. It is easy to imagine them, 25 years from now as the captains of industry in an emerging economic superpower! Poor Mao. His communist utopia is going over to the “greedy capitalists!?

The ship:
We had a verandah stateroom aft, which was just fine in all respects. One thing deserves special mention. Holland America now has the finest mattresses afloat – bar none! I swear it was better than our sleep-number bed at home. This is a real plus for veteran cruisers who don’t want to sleep on a plank. As usual, the Indonesian and Philipino crew were second to none. The food was not Crystal quality, but it was certainly very good. The fish and lamb were especially well prepared.

The only thing I can mark the ship down on was the quality of the “latest in high-speed internet service.? In truth it was awful. It didn’t work at all half the time, and when it did, it was as slow as dialup. The only other complaint: while they make a decent martini, no one on the ship has a clue how to make a passable Margarita.

Our luck on table mates holds. On the first half, we had a couple from Seattle, one from Montreal, and one from San Francisco. All very interesting people. We were a very compatible group. The guy from Seattle is a retired (gasp) lawyer, so we have lots in common, you know, gouging widows and orphans, that kind of stuff . On the second half, the Seattle couple stayed aboard but the other two left and were replaced by a couple from Calgary and one from Pennsylvania.

The passengers were the most international we’ve ever sailed with. There were less than 40% Americans, maybe 25% Canadian, lots of Brits, quite a few Aussies and New Zealanders aboard. In addition there were a hundred or more Europeans and 60 or 70 Asians. There were a variety of geopolitical lecturers with Asian expertise, a naturalist, and cooking classes from the food editor of the Seattle paper, Hsaio-Ching Chou. She gave DW and me instructions on how to make perfect from-scratch pot-stickers, and her mom give me hints on how to improve my fried rice and oyster beef.

It was smooth sailing through the Taiwan Strait , and there were hundreds of Chinese flagged fishing vessels. At night there was a gorgeous orange ¾ moon with a long reflection on a calm sea, a very memorable sight. At the same time the bow wave was creating a brilliant blue luminescence that I have only seen once before (in the eastern Caribbean). A magnificent romantic experience!

Our Shanghai visit was restricted because despite extraordinary precautions on our part (and on HAL’s part as well) my wife got the Noro virus. She was sick for only about ten hours, but we were quarantined for 24 after that. We were released before we sailed but we had missed our tour. Still, everyone said the most remarkable thing was what we saw of the Huangpu river, both in Shanghai and on the sailaway. It’s like a busy freeway, only with boats of every size and description. Three abreast in one direction, and three abreast in the other. When you go to Wal-Mart you may notice that practically every item in the store was make in China. I think every item came right down the Huangpu river! Once again capitalism is rampant in this communist paradise (eat your heart out Mao). We saw three major shipbuilding yards where huge tankers, bulk carriers and container vessels were being built for Italian, Greek and Asian companies.

A day at sea put us at Xingang/Tianjin, the port that gives access to Beijing. This was a two day port and we left the ship there and spent a night at a five star Beijing hotel. Beijing is a city of contrasts. Many still rely on bicycles to get around, but there are thousands of Mercedes, BMWs and Buicks. Many live in upscale apartments, but millions live in apartments where the bathroom is a community one, down three flights of stairs and a half a block away. Here communism and capitalism compete head on, and my impression was that capitalism is winning. Poor Mao must be spinning in that tomb of his at Tiananmen Square! (see pictures in the gallery, no, I didn’t get photos of his embalmed corpse

The Forbidden City, (the emperors enclave), is being beautifully restored, and the great Wall can’t be described -- it has to be seen to be believed.

The emperors of the Ming dynasty and other dynasties as well had absolute power. They also had at least one hundred concubines. Now really! I can understand ten or fifteen, but a hundred? They deserved the trouble! Each had her own dwelling, her own eunuch servants and about half an acre in the Forbidden City.

In the evening at Tiananmen Square, we saw about 60,000 people mostly visitors from all over China come to see the flag lowering ceremony. This happens every night. Someone in our group commented at a fine Peking duck dinner that night that he didn’t understand what he had seen. Someone else, said, “well it’s just something we don’t see much in America anymore, patriotism.? Someone else allowed that China would be an extremely formidable enemy if, God forbid, we were to ever go to war. Frankly, I am not as concerned about that as I was before. Having now seen it firsthand, I am convinced that China’s economic interests are so intertwined with those of the U.S. and the West that war would be unthinkable to them from a purely economic standpoint, quite aside from the fact that it would devastate both sides.

More later. Korea, Japan Russia and Alaska to go.
Richard
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Old June 13th, 2006, 09:15 PM
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Very Very good review. Thank you for sharing your trip with us.

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Old June 14th, 2006, 12:28 AM
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Rich:

It's like being back there again. We have many of the same impressions. Capitalism is indeed alive and well in China and it is the tiger the awakens in the east. Its large workforce and ability to implement factories and other industry without Western restrictions are things that will allow it to grow at a rapid rate. Also the technology base in some areas will be an asset. The pollution in the area did get a bit "sticky" at times.

Sitting in the restaurant in Crowne Plaza in Beijing and looking at the street you would have never guessed you were in the middle of Beijing with all the Mazdas, Hyundai's, Toyota's driving by, if not for the writing on the billboards.

I'm glad your weather was better than ours.

I look forward for the rest of your review.

Take care,
Mike
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Old June 14th, 2006, 09:08 AM
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Rich, what an interesting review! I'll look forward to the next installment, and I'm going to check out your photos in the gallery!

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Old June 14th, 2006, 10:34 AM
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Absolutely Fascinating!
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Old June 14th, 2006, 12:31 PM
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rollerdonna, I wish I could figure out how to put the pictures in the review like yours. that was just great! way beyond my technical abilities though.
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Old June 14th, 2006, 04:38 PM
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That's a very comprehensive and fun review that you posted thus far, Richard! As one who spent 6 years of his life in Asia and the Western Pacific, your words brought back some vivid memories even though I spent much of my time in Indonesia and Vietnam.

But I always loved Hong Kong (and nearby Macao), and even once met my three youngest daughters in H.K. while I was on vacation from my job in Jakarta. Another of my favorite places is Korea, where I also spent some time on several occasions. I can't wait for your next installment.

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