I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!

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Saturday
Mar282015

Busy doing nothing

 

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You know how it is after a series of early starts?  Even though you know there’s no need to get up early, you still wake at some ungodly hour?  I was wide awake at 5.30 am and though I tried hard not to wake my hero, the tip-tapping of the laptop keyboard woke him half an hour or so later.

 

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With nothing to do, nowhere to go and not much to see, it was going to be a quiet day.   Or so we thought.  We went and had breakfast, pottered about a little and noted there was a talk at 10.30 which we fancied hearing.  For some reason, we chose to take the lift (we normally walk down the stairs) and looked closely at the other couple – good grief, can it really be Mike and Sue who we met a couple of years ago?  Seeing them peering at us, we knew that we were correct.  How lovely to meet again, how strange to find them next door but one to us too(previously they were our next door neighbours on the ship).

 

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We went on down to the theatre to listen to the lecture.  Of course, they knew Allan and Jane too – maybe we have a Trivia team here?!

 

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The lecture was interesting but nothing new, and it was fun to sit with a Belgian couple for lunch and to speak German with them, though they really wanted to practise their English  Good conversation, much laughter and a little fun with Maurice, our waiter from last night, who remembered my penchant for ice cream Winking smile

From time to time we spotted a fishing boat – really, that’s all the news from today!

 

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This afternoon, there was another lecture but I’m ashamed to say I found it hard to stay awake.  Most of those around me didn’t!

 

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Then it was time for Trivia.  We didn’t think we’d done too badly but slipped up on a couple.  We’d dithered over the maximum width for the baseline in a tennis court, wondering whether it was 3 or 4 inches and finally plumping for 3 when the correct answer turned out to be 4.  Rats!  Neither did we correctly guess the colour of the second “o” in Google..it was yellow when we guessed blue.  We’d never have guessed when Heinz tomato ketchup was first produced and we were wrong in thinking that Cuba was the closest foreign country to the USA without actually sharing a border (it was Russia), so we were rather surprised to find ourselves in a tie breaker with three other teams. 

 

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Actually, none of us got the tie breaker (Steven Spielberg’s first Oscar winning film?) so we all got the points.  Hurrah!!

 

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This evening, we dressed up and joined our friends for supper in Signatures, the French restaurant, where we came across another pair of old friends from previous travels.

 

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The food here is reliably good, the service extraordinary.   So it was no surprise that we had a really great evening.

 

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My lobster starter was delicious with just the right amount of star anise.

 

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I really enjoyed the veal tenderloin with gnocchi and a few vegetables.

 

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My hero chose his own favourite Tournedos Rossini.

 

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And none of us had room for dessert.  No matter, because the little petits fours were sufficient!

 

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We rounded the evening off with a nightcap and a few tunes from Broadway in the theatre and called it a day.  After all, we have a city to explore tomorrow.

It’s really lovely being on board Voyager; we are happy to come across old friends here and there and to share one or two memories with them.  Tomorrow we’ll wake up in Taiwan, so we’d better get some sleep!

Goodnight x

Friday
Mar272015

The fun never stops

 

If we imagined being able to put our feet up this afternoon, then we were wrong.  It was gone three when our luggage arrived and we began to unpack properly and before we knew it, it was half past four and an announcement reminded us of the need to attend the safety briefing – lifeboat drill – at 5pm.

 

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Seven short blasts and one long blast is the signal to take action and make our way to our muster station, in our case Signatures restaurant.  For the first time, we were led down through a crew only area which was spick and span as as highly polished as any public rom on the ship.  I wonder how long someone spends polishing that brass nosing on the stairs?

 

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Not easy taking a selfie wearing a lifejacket! 

Each time we take a cruise, we note that the safety briefings become more serious and more comprehensive.  It’s interesting to see how events determine a different focus, how the emphasis changes as things are learned from experience.  This time, there was much to say about not returning to the room to collect a lifejacket or anything else – a full set of them is at each muster station and specially trained crew will retrieve particular items (medication, documents etc) from suites if required in an emergency.  Mindful of a recent incident on board a ship which required an immediate evaculation (in port), we stowed our spare packets of tablets, contact lenses and so on in our bedside cabinets, since we’d learned that was where the crew will look for such things in the event of an emergency.

 

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There was further advice about fire risks and instructions regarding the need for obedience and silence when taking instruction from the crew.  Finally, we were to practise the evacuation procedure, our muster station being divided into three groups who would be led outside onto the lifeboat deck.

 

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We lined up and went slowly outdoors, each of us with our left hand on the shoulder of the person in front.  We received reassurance about the number of lifeboats available and the equipment on board – I’ve posted about that previously, so had no fears in that department.

 

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We stood for a while, enjoying the view and the warm afternoon sunshine.  Eventually, all were accounted for and we returned to our suite, put our lifejackets away and prepared for the next event.

 

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The HK immigration service wished to have a face to face exit screening.  Another five minutes of fun!  Meanwhile, I caught up on a bit of email, at least and between us, my hero and I scuttled to and from the laundry.

Finally, at 6.30pm, with three loads of washing almost complete (!) it was time to change and meet our friends for drinks.

Phew.

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Dinner was fun, with Sunny and Maurice our waiters in playful mood and Vikram the sommelier joining in from time to time.

 

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After a short show in the theatre, we came back up and looked over our balcony rail.  Down there at sea level, things were happening and we were preparing to leave.

 

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We looked out over our favourite city, breathed in the warm Hong Kong air and said goodnight.

 

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At ten o’clock we turned around and sailed out of the harbour, bound for Keelung, Taiwan the day after tomorrow.

Goodnight Hong Kong.  We hope we’ll be back soon!

Friday
Mar272015

Elegant Casual

 

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We woke to rain in Hong Kong.  Not much, but enough to carry an umbrella at least.  We had a few things to get, mostly toiletries, so a trip to Watsons was called for.

 

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That done, we caught the MTR up to Causeway Bay, where we knew we’d find a couple of other things we were looking for and where we could amuse ourselves for a couple of hours.  Benny and Edwin weren’t coming to collect us till noon and I wanted to make the most of our time here.  It might be some time before we’re back.

 

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Mission accomplished and we could spend half an hour mooching in the market.  I paid a visit to my favourite sticker stall and kept an eye open for one of those pretty sunshine umbrellas I’d admired at the ruined pagodas but no joy.

 

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Never mind, time spent here is always interesting.

 

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Looking at our watches, it was time we were making our way back to Central and hopping on a tram we were back in no time at all.

 

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The hotel lobby was frenetic – the first match of the rugby sevens was scheduled for later and the bars were already doing great business.  Our luggage was ready to go though somewhere under all that cling film, my hero’s hat was looking pretty squished.

 

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Off we went then, past the scene of the “umbrella revolution” outside the Legislative council.

 

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Out along fast new roads on reclaimed land from where we could see a smart white ship through the gloom.

 

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A short while later, having said goodbye to Benny and Edwin, we signed the health forms to confirm that we didn’t have ebola and made our way down a series of walkways to the ship.

 

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We met Jane and Allan on the pool deck for lunch as arranged and then found our way to our suite where a warm welcome awaited.

It’s good to be “home”!

Thursday
Mar262015

Back to Hong Kong

 

This was going to be the easy day.  Two short flights back to Hong Kong on large, comfortable planes where we could stretch out, use the laptop and where I could catch up on my blog ready to begin the next part.

Ha!

 

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We were ready to leave the hotel in good time. Sanda arrived promptly as my hero was paying our bill, but for some reason, Mastercard wasn’t working right now.  Credit cards are only just becoming acceptable in Myanmar and we were warned to take cash just in case this scenario unfolded. However, here at this international hotel it was surprising they had difficulties.  Thankfully, Visa was operatng as normal, so after a short delay, we were off. 

Whilst waiting, I sat at the coffee table in reception where a thanaka set was laid out – Mary, here’s the bark and the little pot of water, ready to be ground on the base and applied to the cheeks and nose with fingers.

(I didn’t)

 

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Yangon airport international departures was chaos.  Whole families were there to wave goodbye and it was a squeeze through the throng to reach departures.  Actually, there was a checkpoint to get into the check in hall itself – this was the hall before the first check.

 

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Because actually, the check in area was even more crowded and the queue for our flight to Bangkok was extraordinarily long.  What’s going on, we wondered?

 

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The answer was soon sellotaped to the monitor above the desk.  The system was down and there was a whole A330 load of passengers to check in.  Oh dear.

Somehow, with the help of additional staff, the queues began to move and half an hour late, our flight left for Bangkok.  No time to sit and relax and catch up on the blog yet then.

 

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It was only a short, one hour hop to Bangkok, but we’d taken off late and had only an hour in which to transfer to our Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong.  Though we’d been able to check our luggage through, we hadn’t been able to get boarding passes for ourselves and needed to negotiate the long corridors of Suvarnabhumi Airport to find the right transfer counter.

One of these days, we will be able to get our bearings at this airport, to relax, take a break and maybe browse the shops. As it is, however, every time we are here we seem to be running.  Today was no exception and that easy, relaxing day was fast becoming a total nightmare.

 

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But find our way we did, just as the flight was announced.

 

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We walked straight onto the fresh, new Cathay Pacific A330 and breathed a sigh of relief.  Did I feel like starting to catch up on my blog for the next couple of hours?  Not really, especially when I saw that Finding Vivien Maier was one of the video options.

Feeling somewhat more relaxed as we arrived half an hour early into Hong Kong and knowing we had a quick turnaround to shower and change before meeting Allan and Jane for supper at the China Club, we collected our luggage and waited for Benny, our guide in Hong Kong.  No sign of him anywhere but a quick call brought Edwin his driver running up.  Another unexpected delay, another hour stuck in traffic (Benny arrived eventually, having been caught up in a delay himself), it was with a huge sigh of relief that we finally arrived back at the Mandarin Oriental, where the cool, unflustered staff took over and peace was restored.

“Welcome back Mrs Thomas”, I heard as I walked past the reception desk.  “How was Myanmar?”

How do they do it?  Surely thousands of people have walked past that desk in almost a fortnight since we were last here.  Yet, Vivien, who had checked us in when we arrived last time had not only remembered my name but had also remembered our travel plans.

We are fans.  (or perhaps that’s been said before?)

 

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Dinner at the China Club was fun.  It was great to be with Jane and Allan again and to relax.  We are here.  We might have imagined that allowing ourselves a whole day for two short flights would be a breeze but hey, we made it.

Let the next chapter begin!

Wednesday
Mar252015

Back to Yangon

 

We’ve been enjoying our travels in Myanmar so much but this chapter of our adventure was fast coming to an end.

 

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We left Inle early having said goodbye to our boat and the driver who’d taken such good care of us over the last few days and set off by car to the airport.

 

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People in the villages we drove through en route to the airport were getting ready for another day too, though what this man is taking to market, I have no idea – rice cakes of some kind?  How did he get onto his bike and how on earth is he going to get off?  Though one thing;s for sure, he’ll have a soft landing if he fell over!

 

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A but further along, the young monks were out looking for breakfast.

 

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They walk barefoot like this for up to ten miles each morning, gathering their food for the day.  I noticed this lady had taken her shoes off whilst she gave them rice.

 

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This lady too.  Sanda thought that both women would do this every day as a means of gaining kharma.

 

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Monks go out in search of breakfast each day because they are forbidden to eat after noon.  I imagine these young men get pretty hungry!

 

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Soon, we’re at Heho airport.  The car park is a little less busy than Heathrow.

 

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The terminal building a little smaller and hardly recognisable as such, with few signs around.

 

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Inside, there’s the usual hubbub as young men dressed in assorted football-related shirts take care of our luggage, weigh it, label it and so on.  Meanwhile Sanda checks us in and gets the boarding passes.

 

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We’re all set. RGN here we come!

Each one of these small flights we’ve taken has left and arrived on time.  This one was different.  It left Heho and arrived in Yangon half an hour early.  My hero was curious about this, being a public transport professional – running a few minutes late is something to be managed but running early? A definite no-no!

Anyway, our flight was smooth and trouble free and the entertainment was fun.  A group of French women were travelling with us, sitting across the aisle from my hero and I.  As the snack was handed round, it appeared to be simple enough fare; a croissant and a small Danish pastry,  It was handed to us quickly, with a brief description which my hero interpreted as “tuna croissant”.  What?

Bearing in mind the strange pastry which had been given to us on one of our earlier flights which had some kind of meatpaste in the centre, I thought it was perfectly possible that this was going to be interesting.  Judging from the expressions on the French group’s faces, I think they found it anything but!!  For sure enough, though it was a perfectly ordinary croissant for the first two or three bites, the next couple had about a teaspoonful of tuna inside, after which it was a plain croissant again.  Clearly it didn’t meet French quality control though actually, however strange it seemed, it was perfectly ok.

 

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In around an hour we were in Yangon.  This is baggage collection.  A short time after I took the picture, a man with a trolley arrived and handed out our suitcases one by one on receipt of the luggage check.

 

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From there, it should have been a thirty minute drive to our hotel but Yangon traffic being what it is, it was almost lunchtime when we checked in.  Sanda went off to catch up at home whilst we caught up with all kinds of things, including  my blog.  After so many days of flaky internet, the pair of us feasted on it for the afternoon!

 

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Though dinner was good, we are looking forward to a change from banana blossom salad and chicken curry.  Burmese food is interesting but lacks the fragrant heat of Thai cuisine and the depth of flavour associated with Chinese cooking.  Or maybe it’s dumbed down for western tourists? 

We retired to our lovely room and checked our email before switching the light out – because we could Winking smile