Saturday, February 28, 2009

Grand World Voyage part 2: Asia

Our next stop was Bali, Indonesia. We were greeted there by lines of beautiful women and musicians, and the very aggressive merchants. Until now I could not believe any place in the world could be more beautiful than Moorea, and on approach, Bali did not appear to be anything special. However, our tour took us through the interior of the island, and it is truly the most beautiful island I've seen. This is exemplified by the artistic look of the rice paddies. And even though poverty is evident everywhere in the countryside, the atmosphere is very peaceful. It was wonderful to see firsthand where some of my favorite crew members come from, and the beauty of Bali and all the Indonesian people I've met has awakened my desire to see more of Indonesia.

Brunei was a huge disappointment except for the water village we visited. Even though people seem to own at least one car, the contrast between royalty and the ordinary people was marked, and the atmosphere felt oppressive and depressing.

Fortunately, Manila, Philippines proved to be a completely different story. The people there are amazing. They put on an all-day show for
us on the dock, including dancing, a drum group, and marching bands. Everything was so cheerful and upbeat that it would raise the spirits of even the most tired spectators. The Filipinos are very talented at art and music, and the entire show was top quality. Manila is pretty much just another big city, but the Manila American Cemetery for WWII military is just gorgeous. They have a beautiful monument that lists all who are buried there, and the graves are arranged in rows, marked by crosses of stars of David. The whole park is beautifully manicured and is an oasis in the busy city, reminiscent of Arlington National Cemetery, but minus any fancy gravestones. We went to a handcraft store that had every imaginable hand craft from embroidery and jewelry to furniture, all very well made. I would like to see other parts of the Philippines that are less populated, to get a feel for the natural beauty of the country. The people are what makes Manila worth visiting.

Hong Kong is an amazing city. There is a lot crammed into a small space: lots of skyscrapers, and yet room for temples and parks. Hong Kong Park is a pocket park completely surrounded by the busy city, but when there you forget where you are. It is much the same kind of thing as being in Lumphini Park in Bangkok, Thailand. Those parks are both incredible oases. Our ship docked in Kowloon, so we were able to watch the building lights, some of which were designs and some of which were advertising. The show is spectacular and in very good taste, not as overwhelming as similar use of buildings in New York City. The view from atop Victoria peak is spectacular. It is seemingly quite a distance from most of the city, yet there is a growing shopping mall up there.

Vietnam was our next country. Tina & I had originally thou
ght to skip
Vietnam and take a side trip to Bangkok. However, that trip would have been exorbitantly expensive, so we did not go. Neither of us was particularly interested in Vietnam, but in the end we were very glad that the trip to Bangkok did not work out. Our first port was Ha Long Bay, up near China, where we had the privilege of being the first visiting cruise ship. Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is easily of the most beautiful places on earth. The ocean is filled with limestone peaks that jut up from the ocean floor. Some are very large, and the one we visited had a huge cave. The seascape at Ha Long Bay is very surreal, especially when the sky is misty. This is a place that is truly worth going to see; I would not have believed it was real had I not seen it. Photos may give you an idea of what it looks like, but, as we discovered in many places on this voyage, you cannot feel what it's like to be there. Some things must be experienced in person to receive understanding of what you are seeing. The experience of these places is much more than visual.

The rest of Vietnam will be in the continuation of this blog.

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