No. of Recommendations: 31
Three crew members were left behind when the ship sailed from Pusan because they were late. I wonder if I had anything to do with this (after a shot or two of the vodka thing I bought yesterday, I donated the rest of the bottle to some kids from the ship).
Before we get into today’s adventures, I figured I’d explore a bit about this ship and cruise lines in general. As in discussing the attributes of foods or women, this is just one guy’s opinion and others probably see things differently. We have, over the years, taken roughly 30 cruises (don’t have the list with me, so the following is approximate). As I have been largely agnostic, these have included 7 on Holland American, 6 on Celebrity, 1 on Silver Seas, 2 on Carnival, 2 on Norwegian (on the Crown which was a “star” or two better than the rest of their fleet at the time), 2 on Princess, 2 on Royal Caribbean, 1 on Azumera, 2 on an Australian line whose name I forget (and who I think is out of business) and I guess a handful of others over a span of more than two decades. That said, the longest duration has been about three weeks.
While most of our traveling has been by car, train, mule and other assorted means on an independent basis, I just wanted to point out that we’re not novices to cruises – though compared to many (a majority?) of our current traveling companions we are barely beginning. Many of these people have traveled exclusively on Holland American for at least six months of the year for a decade or more. They take the same ship, stateroom and table each time and would not think of changing. The atmosphere is one of a self contained world where the only way to know “when” you are is to look at the rugs in the elevators (changed daily – obviously) with the day of the week woven into them.
Why Holland America? Well, before comparing cruise lines (again, subjective – and may be dated), I’d like to point out that the level of service on the longer Holland American cruises is even higher than normal. Everyone smiles, knows your name and bends over backwards to try to exceed your expectations. An example: Yesterday, on the bus heading back to the ship, we sat next one of the Indonesian assistant maitre d’s. I mentioned that I liked Indonesian food and, despite not being in charge of our part of the dining room, has arranged for the kitchen to cook up a complete richstaffel (sp?) buffet of 22 dishes for our table. When I sit down, my ice tea is brought without asking (as is my triple espresso with dessert). From the standpoint of creating an environment conducive to encouraging repeat customers for their longer cruises (measured in durations of months) Holland America seems to have both the marketing and execution down to an art form.
Putting “extreme duration” cruising aside (as we are talking about probably less than a thousand people in a country of 300 million – who just happen to be concentrated on the ship I’m on) we can more easily examine the more popular cruise lines found in the US. The prices are extremely approximate (as ships may have many, many different cabin prices, specific cruises frequently cost less/more - repositioning/holiday and more popular runs will be priced higher) and some cruise lines include air transport on some cruises. To keep things rational, prices are based on an outside veranda cabin. Prices are per person (not per cabin). The “star” ratings are my own and probably does not correspond to the claims of the cruise lines (also, there are differences between specific ships in a line which I am ignoring to simplify things). The placement of a line as 2 or 3 stars does not mean that the experience of taking them will be unsatisfactory, but rather that a higher rating will likely provide a more desirable set of attributes (think two or three star vs. 5 star restaurants or hotels). I am also not including some fine lines I have not traveled on – as well as a handful whose reputation discourages me from trying them out. Anyhow:
5 star lines (Silver Sea, Seven Seas, Seabourn, Crystal, etc.) generally run $500+. These are all inclusive (frequently price includes airfare) and do not compromise. They are small ships and can fit into places which are awkward for larger vessels. The food is great, the booze is included, the ports are interesting (and they throw in excursions for “free”), the entertainment is OK (but “small”), the passengers would interest Metar as they tend to be investment bankers (TV anchormen, industrialists, and such).

4.5 star lines (Azumara, Oceania) generally run $350+/-. These are not all inclusive, but frequently price includes airfare. They cater to experienced travelers and do not have “formal” nights (dress is always casual). They are small ships and can fit into places which are awkward for larger vessels. The food is great, the ports are interesting, the entertainment may be little more than a couple of real entertaining piano bars. Service is “OK”. The Holland American ships specializing in long voyages and/or exotic travel (Amsterdam and Prinzendam for example) are also easily in the 4.5 star category. Though they are a bit more formal and a bit larger, their level of service and variety of food is higher. That said, the Holland America ships are generally about $250 a day so they are a better value (assuming their particular mixture of compromises is acceptable). On the current cruise, most of the passengers could be considered middle class retirees (though I was able to find a recently retired Bank of England dignitary and a former financial consultant to chew the fat with. The BoE guy seems to be scratching his head over the antics of the Fed and doesn’t understand how the US would have allowed Tim G. to end up as head of Treasury – unfortunately I wasn’t able to explain this either ?).

4 star lines (Holland America, Celebrity, Princess, Royal Caribbean). Many of these ships are larger with more activities aboard but the food and service are not in the class found on the 5 star ships. They cost about $175-250 a day and are fine products for shorter cruises. They tend to nickel and dime on services. Probably Celebrity is one of the best values in this class (very good food, good entertainment, not bad in most other categories) as well as Holland America (better service, not as good entertainment), though average passenger age may be older because of more service/assistance.

3 star lines would include Norwegian and Carnival cruise lines. These will touch on all the salient things people expect from a cruise and because of their relatively low cost, frequently $150 or lower per day, make family travel within the financial reach of more people. Carnival’s ships are decorated with vast quantities of taste (not all of it good ?).

While this ship is traveling half empty, it is the higher end cabins that are largely unfilled. The 4.5 star experience at a 2 or three star price (some of the cabins are costing barely more than $100 per person per day) is something very difficult for the middle class cruiser to achieve, while (I’m guessing in part because the stops in Japan were canceled) those who could afford the higher priced cabins could also find alternatives.

There is no reason to bother with cruises below this level as the lack of a satisfactory experience will be more important than any savings.

October 12, 2011:
We spent the morning in Jeju City on an island in Korea. Saw the obligatory temple and park. There are a number of statues and rock piles around which are cultural idiosyncrasies of the island. The taxi overcharged us a bit from the ship to the city (par for the course in most ports unless you leave the port to flag down a cab). Saw a “Dragon’s Head” stone near the sea and then headed to the market. The markets in Korea (whether fish, meat, vegetable etc.) are clean and without the overt odors we would expect in the US (or most other places). The Koreans are polite and helpful (though, since most speak little English, sometimes you receive very detailed explanation which, while gratefully accepted are not particularly useful). I picked up a couple of veggie cutlets for a snack which were very good (kimchie does not seem as prevalent here, but seafood sure is). The Asian pears here are huge.
We came across an outdoor fitness center which, besides a variety of exercise machines, has a walkway (around 100 feet long) paved with various ranges of pebbles of graduated size, pointiness and spacing designed to provide a reflexology experience to those foolish enough to try walking this path without shoes (ask me how I know this is a painful torture). Jeju is apparently a convention (huge Ramada Hotel here) and honeymoon destination. For the tourist, it is not a bad place to visit but other than being a pleasant place, has few unique features – so we move on.

October 13, 2011:
Today the ship docked at Inchean, the nearest port city to Seoul, Korea. When I looked out o my window at 5AM, it seemed like we had docked next to a building which resembled an airport control tower. When I checked back at 6AM, it was gone.
We had some decisions to make: The ship docked early in the morning, but stores don’t open until 10 AM. The ship pulls its gangplank at 4:30 PM and the trip to/from Seoul is close to 2 hours each way. So the choices were to go to the DMZ and see a North Korean soldier, else go to Seoul for a few hour or spend the day in Inchean and leave Seoul to another trip (our choice today).

We started the day by walking through a market area which was mostly closed but looked like a promising place to return to after it opened. The wife grabbed a card from a guy in a beauty parlor who indicated that it opened at 10AM (and quoted her a wash and set at $12 – seems outrageous to me, BWTFDIK as she seemed pleased). We walke and wandered through about 600 meters to Chinatown (Incheon is the only Korean city to have one). I stopped at what I think was a government building for directions (everyone was in uniform with rank insignia, but I don’t think they were either cops or military) and asked directions. In the fashion we have become accustomed to, they were not able to speak any English but went out of their way (to an almost embarrassing extent) to assist us.
We ended up deciding to take a cab to the Korean Traditional Garden Zone of Wolmi Park. We had been told by someone at the port that there was a free folkloric demonstration each day between 9:30AM and 11:00AM. Walking through the park we ran into a few busloads of people from our ship who had paid a fair chunk of change to take excursions which largely consisted of the free show that cost us about $2.25 (cabs are very cheap here – so the cab drivers need to be watched like hawks) to get to. The park had a flower exhibition so everything was very colorful. We reached a pagoda/temple compound and watched a team of Korean drummers and dancers who twirled heavy ribbons in 6 foot circlers from their hats while twirling plates on top of what looked like 2 foot long opium pipes.

Important tip: Toilet paper is available in rolls on public restroom walls near the sinks (but not in the stalls). I also noticed rolls in tour busses (near the karaoke setups), so if traveling around it might be wise to carry an emergency stash in case you forget this difference.

In the midst of the music and gyrations I heard a Korean ask a woman if she would volunteer for a demonstration. She refused, but being a kind hearted individual I pointed to my wife (behind her back where she wouldn’t see). The guy conned her into accepting and then (adding insult to injury) pulled me in as well. We were led into the main pagoda (after removing our shoes) and spent the next ten minutes being dressed in formal Korean wedding robes (wife’s transformation included makeup red dots and a hair “do over” with a horizontal spike through it. Mine included a black conehead hat). The boots they gave me were a “bit” snug (I wear a size 12/13), but when they were finished I looked like a refugee from a samurai movie. My wife had numerous robes, wraps and a small crown with wobbly antenna thingies. They instructed me on “deep bowing” (basically the choreography of prostration). Anyhow, we come out of the building in our new fancy duds to find, not only a couple of hundred of our shipmates, but a couple of crews from Korean TV news. It seemed that this was a new experiment. Traditional Korean weddings are extremely expensive (and only the wealthy can afford them) and they were hiring experts to show tourists the ceremony. We were the first guinea pigs and afterwards had a number of interviews with various newscasters and chirpy girls (who asked questions in Korean which were then translated for me to answer and then converted back so she could fire off the next question). They promised to send photos (but I suspect I will be able to collect a few hundred around the ship). There is also an observation platform in the park that gives a good view of the city.

We tried taking a cab from the park to the Lotte department store in downtown, but he seemed to keep getting lost (as the meter racked up). I then turned him around and pointed to a train station on the map near the original shopping center we had walked to from the ship, but again he kept going uncomfortably in what I felt was not an optimal path. Then I gave him the business card from the beauty parlor and suggested he punch the address into his GPS. That got us within a half a block (and he called the parlor to have someone come get us). Having driven a cab in Manhattan for a while as a kid, I have little patience for scenic routes ?. (It also explains a bit about my “stylistic” driving).

Anyhow, as my bodyguard’s hair had been folded spindled and mutilated during the morning’s marriage, I figured a hair job was a reasonable request. I had retrieved my laptop from the ship while the Mrs. dad her hair done and was able to hijack a hotspot to get some Internet time in. The hair cutters kept giving us snacks (small yoghurts, cakes, an attempt at a sausage in a bun – politely refused) as part of their service. According to my wife, the toilet was the most sophisticated she has ever seen – apparently the toilet was adjustable in numerous ways. After that we ate (she had vegetable dumplings, I had a bunch of sliced vegetables and a raw egg with red chili sauce on sizzling rice – with the obligatory kimchi fermented and chili dowsed cabbage, fish strips, seaweed and peppered broth – this is not a country for anyone with an ulcer). The hair dresser was next to the Sinpo Traditional Market (a style we have become familiar with from our other Korean stops so we didn’t spend much time there. On the other hand, the area outside of the market is called the Simpo Fashion and Cultural Area. This is filled with small Korean boutiques selling clothing, handbags and shoes (of apparently high end quality) by mostly Korean designers. At the end of one of the streets is Rodeo Street (I guess in a confusion with the Drive) where all the stores have Western goods (though not of the super high end lines found in other major cities). After some window shopping we went to the ship.

We are pretty aware of most of the Korean car manufacturers – Hyundai, Kia, Daewoo (though there seems to be an additional high end one- think like Mercedes – with a logo that looks like a stylized oval, doesn’t bother with a label). While I didn’t notice this consistency elsewhere, I would say that easily over 90% of autos on the road in Incheon are manufactured by Hyundai (with most heavy trucks by Daewoo). There seem to be a number of models I have not seen in the States in the sports and luxury car categories. It may have to do with the miles long fields of cars waiting to be loaded on transport ships at the port. The president is bragging about a free trade agreement with Korea fostering more car sales there. Given that their cars are well designed and ubiquitous, why would the average Korean bother buying an American car. Even if they did, logic dictates that the American branded car would probably be manufactured in China.

As the ship left the port (abandoning a handful of passengers who didn’t show up by sailing time), it went through a lock that had only a meter of slack on each side (and about 10 meters in the front) to the sea. It was the control tower of the lock that I saw (nearly touching my veranda) early in the morning.

This was my first time in Korea and my impression of this nation is one of cleanliness, politeness, and helpfulness. While I try not to have preconceived notions of countries I have not visited, at least on a subconscious level, this is unavoidable. I can say that Korea exceeded my expectations. Interestingly, while the streets and markets are spotless (the concept of “eating off the floor” comes to mind), there are virtually no public waste baskets and one finds oneself holding food wrappers for blocks until they can be properly disposed of. It is also important to remember that, while there are many parallels (as there are between the Greeks and the Turks) with the Japanese, the Koreans are upset when confusions are made. It seems like most of the country’s names consist of Sun, Park or Kim (or a combination).

The Koreans are friendly and helpful. They explain everything in great detail which takes a bit of patience because virtually none that we met spoke a word of English and our knowledge of Korean was limited to a single phrase (thank you). After this abundance of information, we can get down to the serious business of communicating by gestures and sign language and frequently people would leave what they were involved in to take us to either our destination or a place where we could see it. This is common practice in other parts of Asia and is in contrast to the response, say the lack of patience of some Parisians, when confronted with a wildly gesturing American tourist demanding something in incomprehensible English, which is then misinterpreted as their disliking us. There is a difference between talking and communicating. If you force an Asian to accommodate you and they don’t know what you are talking about, you will receive an answer (forced by you, as a way of saving face) – but it may not be terribly useful.
I am keeping the bit of currency that is left over (about $18) as I suspect I will return in the future.
October 14, 2011:
Ship docked this morning at Dalian, China. The Sun Princess is also here so I guess China is plugging this port of few redeeming attributes. This is a fairly new city (founded about 100 years ago by the Japanese and Russians), and the people are largely ethnic Manchurian and look somewhat different from the southern Chinese prevalent in the US. The government supplied a free shuttle to the downtown “Friendship Store”. We passed Dior, Armani, Chanel, Louis Vuittion and Cartier’s on the way to this ultra-modern store filled with Western brands at prices that would make Nordstrom’s blush. The store was filled with sales staff and I didn’t see a single customer – still trying to figure that one out. We took a cab to “Russia Street”, an area built by Russia around a century ago and currently occupied by a string of souvenir shops filled with stuff that I can’t imagine anyone buying. While the Korean sales people sat waiting for customers, these guys are very aggressive. One draped my wife’s neck with a string of pearls and wouldn’t take them off. When I came over the salesperson tried to open negotiations. I must have misunderstood them as I started asking them how much they were willing to pay me for my wife ?. They took the pearls back and stopped pestering us. I saw a brick wall being constructed by what I jokingly would refer to as a “union crew” (but more likely was governmental). Of the four man crew, two built the wall, one supervised and the fourth was the official cigarette smoker.

We then walked to the central market. After the clean, orderly Korean markets, the Chinese one was huge, chaotic, noisy and not as clean. Everything imaginable is for sale here (in vast quantities – roughly separated by subject to each area of the market).

There are a lot of cars (and few bicycles). They have logos from most European (Audi, Mercedes, VW, BMW, Porsche, Peugeot for example) as well as Asian ones (Toyota, Lexus. Hyundai, etc.) as well as some brands I didn’t recognize (Chinese?). I only noticed two American cars (a Chevy and an ancient Lincoln Continental which reminded me of a Crown Victoria). I assume that most of these cars are manufactured in China. I am unclear as to why US brands were not more prevalent (geographic location?, quality?, design?, prestige?).

As the wife did not want to look for a massage parlor with me (for a foot massage – sheesh!), we went back early to the ship.

Total goods purchased ashore so far is one “Korea” refrigerator magnet. Tomorrow we dock about 100 miles from Beijing so this may change.

October 15, 2011:
Today we headed into Beijing. Please understand that we have spent a lot of time in the past in this city and therefore our meanderings did not include the sightseeing that I would recommend for those who have not visited here before (Forbidden City, Palace of Heaven, Hutton District, Night Food Market, Great Wall, etc.). It was a major pain because the ship docked well out of Tanggu, which in turn is 30 km outside of Tianjin which is 120 km outside of Beijing. It requires a 30 minute shuttle bus ride to the “local” Tanggu Friendship Store (prices even more obscenely high for Western goods than the last one was), then a cab ride to the train station. Depending on the time of day, there are bullet trains direct to Beijing South station that take a bit under an hour (the speedometer was showing 300 km per hour) or else it has to be picked up a little further down the line at Tianjin. Getting the proper train tickets in a place where no one speaks English and all the names of places displayed on the schedule boards is in Chinese is a bit a trip in itself. The key is to have a series of useful phrases like “Where is”, “the toilet”, “the train to Beijing”, etc.) neatly written ahead of time on a piece of paper in Chinese (this only requires digging up someone who admits to speaking a bit of English, but should be done before setting out on this sort of adventure. At the station, I found out (due to standing on the wrong queue) that there was a window for changing times on tickets. Since the trains are assigned seating (we bought second class tickets which we fine as the seats were new, spacious and comfortable – cost to Beijing was 66RMB, about $10 a person each way), I bought tickets for the latest time we might want to return. Later, when we arrived earlier than the specified time (for once a plan worked out – saving me from a tongue lashing by the boss) and we were able to take an earlier train back by free re-ticketing (note that since out ticket was for a bullet train direct to Tanggu, we needed to replicate this, rather than saving a bit of time and taking a combination of trains to the same destination. The train was new and clean with a neatly uniformed (in red, with a cap) young lady in each car. There was food available (didn’t buy any, but noticed the bottled water came from Tibet). The station was huge (and again new and pretty clean). A change I’ve noticed is that less Chinese seem to be smoking than on our last trip (2004, I think) and it is not allowed on the train. The Beijing train station has a bunch of “knockoff” fast food places. In a place called the “Toute Le Jour”, American coffee was about $3.50 (espresso, cappuccino, etc. were more) and flakey puff pastry replicas of almond pastry and pan chocolate had barely skid marks of fillings and cost about $1.50. While these would not be particularly shocking to us at a Starbucks, this was in China at a station used primarily by Chinese.

Everything about China involves scale. While their population is only about 3X-4X of ours (in a similar land mass), they seem to be planning for 10X. There are already concrete columns cast for another bullet train track parallel to the one we took. The port we are docked in has reclaimed land as far as the eye can see (hence the long, boring bus ride across the flats and shallow pools). The Novo Nordisk factory is the size of a small city, the cement mixer factory had fields of cement mixers and so on. The highways are modern, the streets wide and (since many more cars seem to have sprouted up since our last visit – at the expense of bicycles and motor scooters) Beijing’s traffic snarls are epic. There are still quite a few bicycle type and small gas powered “rickshaw” class taxis (smaller than southeast Asia tuk-tuks, but in some cases with the rear seat enclosed), but the street is mobbed with modern taxis. These (to a Westerner) are cheap, with the initial drop being 10RMB (about a buck and a half-was cheaper elsewhere in China) and the clicks in fractions of an RMB and the first click being after a distance of a few kilometers. Beijing taxis have an additional 2RMB fuel surcharge. As scams abound (particularly near tourist sites), it is important to have the cab driver put the ride on the meter – if he won’t, get another cab (some taxis tried asking for 10X the proper fare or charging “by the person” – both of which should be avoided). The only time that you may have little choice is when you are deep in a large shipyard, miles from the gate, and the small handful of cabs waiting for 1,000 passengers can pretty much control the game – but as the passengers dwindle, prices get better due to supply and demand. Fortunately, the free shuttle bus here eliminates that particular problem. Residential areas of the city look like forests of 80 story apartment houses, tourist sites have the suffix “City”, the “Square” is the size of a town, markets don’t have one fish vender, but hundreds (thousands?) – or candy vender or pearl dealer and people don’t saunter (except government employees), but move quickly and with purpose.

The only Communist left in China seems to be the Cuban ambassador.

We started at Beijing’s weekend flea market (Panjiayuan Jiuhuo Shichang – also known as the Dirt or Ghost Market as it opens at dawn). Like I said – everything in China is super-sized. This (generally covered) market stretches for acres. This is the Chinese shopping experience of your dreams (we didn’t buy much – a few inexpensive, but unusual, items to give as gifts). Row after row of densely packed booths filled with calligraphy, ceramics, jade, ethic clothing/embroidery/silver, opium scales, Mao memorabilia, Ming “style” furniture, carved walnut shells – you name it, it’s here in quantity). If looking at antiques, jade or pearls here, I would consider them for their “artistic value” rather than any slight chance that they might be genuine. Bargaining is practiced as a good natured art form and, after some work, prices end up at no more than 25% of the first quote with both parties satisfied. For those who have not participated in this art form, the game consists of the merchant trying to get you to name your price (in the hope it will be more than what they are ultimately willing to sell at). Your job is to continually weasel out of naming a price, while showing shock at how high the quoted price is, threatening (always with a smile) to walk away and asking for yet a better “final” price. Since you may have no idea of the “real” value of the item, it’s only when the merchant lets you walk more than ten foot into traffic without a new offer that it is time to begin bargaining in earnest (enjoying the complaints of how far below cost the vendor says the price is getting).

The restaurants around the market didn’t look all that attractive so I finally set off to find a place to get us foot massages. This is no mean feat (feet?) in a place where you are clueless of the language. I was going to start by asking at a traditional Chinese pharmacy (figuring the treatment might be deemed medicinal and they could direct me), but couldn’t find one. We went to a fancy Western looking place with the word “spa” in English on the sign. No one spoke English (cut kids though), but they made it clear this was not something they offered, but we left with a couple of Chinese characters on a piece of paper (presumably meaning “foot massage” and not “kick me”) and a vague pointing in a direction. Picture a deaf/mute/illiterate with an ever increasingly irate companion going door to door at a randomly selected commercial district of your home town brandishing a piece of paper with those two fateful words as his only means of communication and you’ll get the idea ?. Anyway, in the vein of the old joke about the young man who was willing to undergo repeated bludgeoning from irate women in Times Square as he asked each one to accompany him to his hotel room, after a number of promising, but disappointing, tries (and some inscrutably weird looks) we finally went into a beauty salon where they nodded and pulled out a price menu. Of course it was all in Chinese and they spoke no English. The girl wrote 68RMB (about $10) on a paper which was the lowest price on the menu. Prices went all the way up to 5,000RMB (and evil minds could draw all sorts of assumptions, but it was likely for a yearly subscription (?). Anyway, they lead the two of us to a room in the basement. The decor of the place was very hip (waterfall, wood path through pebbles) overlaid on Chinese basement (almost, but not quite cool). Anyway, they brought tubs of scalding water to put our feet into. The young lady I had made some giggling remark about the size of my feet (13US) which barely fit the tub which I suspect was some sort of anatomical comparison based on body language. We sat fully clothed, my wife and myself, side by side, on large lounge chair type couches with our feet in the buckets. On the other side of the buckets were hard matching hassock type seats. My wife got the guy and I got the girl. She started by working over my arm, neck, fingers, back – the whole drill. Working over is maybe the defining words as the style practiced in this joint was something like kung fu shiatsu and was intensely pressure point and nerve ending specific. The sweet music of my wife repeatedly saying to me “I’m going to kill you when this is over” didn’t do much to enhance the experience. As a bit of explanation – last time we were in China, we had a couple of incredibly pleasant foot massages. Since the selection of this location had been mine, the technique used was also my fault. Anyway, after about ½ hour of upper body massage, about an hour was spent on our feet. Once that was over, about 15-20 minutes was sent on our legs and thighs. I had visions of these guys racking up the bill as all we asked for was a foot massage, but when it came time to pay, I was escorted upstairs to the beauty salon where I paid the agreed amount. I turned to the young man who had taken care of my wife and forced him to accept a 5RMB tip (yeah – last of the big spenders, but since tipping is a bit frowned on, I figured that at least this would buy a beer or whatever) and then I walked back down to the basement to give a five spot to the young lady who had taken care of me.

We then took a taxi to Beijing’s “Pearl Market”(Hong Qiao Shichang – which I think means “Red Bridge Market”). This building houses a “wet” food market in the basement (snakes and snails and puppy dog tails), a knockoff electronics and watch market on the first floor (while I didn’t end up buying it, after a bit of changing offers, a dual SIM Apple iPhone knockoff had its price dropped from $200 to $30 – including a Chinese SIM chip and a second battery). Ended up buying a pair of eyeglass frames and some hairclips for my wife (who by now was loving the effects of the massage – go figure ?). The next floor is filled with VERY pushy salesladies of poor quality knockoff designer clothing. The following floor is filled with vendors of Chinese freshwater pearls. There are some presented as Tahitian or South Sea, but personally I wouldn’t trust this. If you understand what you are buying and aggressively negotiate, you can buy freshwater pearls here far cheaper than in the States. If you don’t know what you are doing, you may as well limit yourself to acquiring some of these as souvenirs (we didn’t buy anything on this floor on this trip). The upper next floors have some jewelry stores. Because of the touristic nature of this spot, we once more had to run a gamut of scamming cab drivers to find one who would put our ride to the station on the meter. The return to the ship was the same tedious bullet train to the bus thing. Started dozing at the dining room table (massage, evening wine thing?), so missed the show.

Yet another day in Jeff’s life ?

October 16, 2011:
Took the bloody bus back to Tanggu Friendship Store and took a cab to the Tanggu Exotic Cargo Market. Well, it seems that exotic cargo, nowadays, consists of good quality knockoff stuff. Again, I passed on watches (who needs more ways to tell time anyway), but realized that either I dodged the bullet of a cell phone with a problem yesterday or I missed one hell of a bargain (as they were much more expensive here). Oh well – I really didn’t need another one anyway. They’ve changed the daisies in the cabin to orchids and since the cruise terminal has a free internet connection, it’s time to go use it.

Next stop will be to get Shanghai’ed.

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