November 1997



Wednesday-Friday, November 5-7


Good start.  I took a car service out to JFK with my two-ton duffel and arrived in leisurely season for my 10 o’clock flight.  Read the NEA report on the state of Arts in America.  Surprisingly interesting – it really used up airport time.  On board I had a window seat and an empty seat next to me.  I went right to a thorough sleep and woke up six hours later to land at Heathrow having not only passed up the meals and movies, but having not even realized that such decadent activities were being offered.  Heathrow was all tied up in knots:  a Virgin Airbus belly-landed yesterday (all safe) and the plane was still in view blocking a main runway.  Although we landed on time, we sat for an hour waiting for a gate.  I browsed the Terminal 4 mall for a bit, had a tasty sandwich, then settled in the lounge.  The 2:35 Hong Kong flight boarded close to on time, but we had to wait for a 4pm takeoff slot.  Not too bad.  I again lucked into solitary window splendor.  BA is great.  They asked if I’d like a newspaper.  “Yes.  Something fun and trashy.”  “Certainly madam.”  And I got the Mirror.  Perfect.


Dinner, a solid six hours of sleep, breakfast, and then we were landing in Hong Kong.  It may be the only time I’ve landed in daylight.  Close encounters as always.  A phenomenal view of Central and also of all the apartments in Kowloon.  Smooth as silk.  Cleared immigration and customs quickly, then into a Mandarin Mercedes like royalty.  Headed for the reception desk, but was intercepted by a chorus of “Miss McKelligott, Welcome back.”  Talk about service.


Had lunch in the café, then strolled around without much purpose.  Hong Kong looks great and the weather’s nice, somewhere around 70.  Came back to the hotel around 4:30 and watched The Crucible (not good) before ordering room service.  Made it through to a normal bedtime without too much pain, though a little foggy. 



Saturday, November 8


Added another country to my list with a day visit to Macao.  I took the hydrofoil – walking distance from the hotel – at 9:30 and an hour later was stepping off in Macao.  It’s all reduced to such a routine that you barely notice leaving and entering another country; it’s much more like a ticket check-in desk.  Per the tourist office directions, I took the bus (uncertainly) to the end of the line and walked to the An Ma Temple which gave me my bearings.  After the temple, I walked around a point along the Avenida du Republica, past the Gate of Friendship (with China), up a hill full of gated, jet-set houses and apartments, to the Penha Chapel.  Quiet, stained-glass light beaming in patches.  Very Iberian.  Plainer, though, than the Portuguese Manueline style, thank goodness.


I wandered through some residential areas (thoroughly hot and lost) and eventually came out at the bottom of the hill near the temple.  The main drag back toward the central square was arcaded, lined with open-front shops selling everything from car repairs to jewelry.  Very much everyday life and very Chinese, expect for the street names and the occasional colonial (vs. New style tropical concrete) building. 


The main square is a European pedestrian mall with the usual international brand shops.  I was looking for the ruins of St. Paul church, THE major tourist site, and spent a goodly amount of time proving that the tourist maps are absolutely useless.  After the fun of wandering ordinary streets – pet shops, furniture – I got really hot and frustrated.  At long last I climbed the steep and long street-stairs to the Fort (Tourist site #2.  Closed.) and found St. Paul’s back at the foot of the hill.  Nicely packaged ruined facade, but I’m not sure if it was worth all the searching. 


I was hungry, hot and sticky so I grabbed lunch at the first spot, a McDonalds in an amusement arcade that featured an indoor ice skating rink.  The food served me right, but I did cool off and revive enough to stroll the Cameo Gardens park before busing back for the 4pm hydrofoil.  I managed all quite smoothly, but there were very few English signs, and very few English speakers to help.  I was surprised, for example, that the bus driver didn’t know the even the key words “ferry,” or “Hong Kong hydrofoil.”  Macao is enough of a visitor location – between tourists and gamblers – that I expected more recognition of key tourist sites. 


One laugh from the hydrofoil:  On the trip out they played a video, but since it’s only an hour, we saw only the first half of the movie.  (Mel Gibson in Ransom.)  I assumed that the return trip would feature part 2.  Nope.  We saw the middle of another movie entirely.. Go figure.


I walked back to the hotel and collapsed feeling cranky.  I waited too long to order dinner and then was too tired to eat much.  Asleep by 8:30.  Jet lag’s low point.



Sunday, November 9


Much refreshed this morning.  After breakfast I headed up to St. Joseph’s for Mass which turned out to be quite an experience.  Sunday is still Filipino housemaid day in Hong Kong and they all seem to be practicing Catholics.  The courtyard of the church was packed solid with Filipinos, all chattering away at high volume.  There’s quite an orderly system of cordoned-off lines coiling around outside each of the doors.  When the doors open an ocean of bodies sweeps up into the church.  Inside all the pews were filled, the balcony packed, and the aisles solid with standees at the sides and the back.  All women.  All Filipino.  Probably 2,000 in all.  The only Caucasians in sight – ands one elderly Chinese lady – were in a VIP section at the side of the altar.  Weird.  I also have no idea how they got siphoned off for that section.  Mass was in English with fervent singing and participation.  I noticed that when we joined hands to say the Our Father and greet each other that the girls around me we consumed by nervous giggles and buzzing with chatter among themselves.  I guess tall, white American females don’t end up squashed in the throng very often.  After Mass we all swept downstairs where another 2,000 people were waiting for the next service. 


I went back to the hotel, packed and was swept off to the airport, this time in a stretch Mercedes.  Airport check-in was a breeze with the attentive help from the Mandarin rep.  I started to meet trip members right in line, first Margaret from Maine, and then the leaders Maria and Dag in the lounge.  Bodes well.


Flight was less than two hours on a shiny new Boeing.  The flight crew was American/British supplied by Cathay Pacific, but the cabin crew were all spanking new Vietnamese.  Very sweet, very by the book.  Landed at Hanoi’s small, nondescript airport.  Gray concrete terminal, no jetways.  The wait at immigration was endless, for no visible reason, but the forms and red tape were easier than expected.  We (with the addition of Katie from England) all had a van for the 45 minute ride into town.  Little car traffic, but loads of motorbikes with up to three passengers, and lots of bicycles, also with multiple passengers.  There seems to be a general tendency to keep to the right, but the flow of traffic seems to rely more on moderate speed and swerving to avoid anything in front of you.  Lots of low, narrow two  to three story buildings with open shop fronts, lots of street sitting and eating.  Moderate presence of electricity, a sprinkling of neon signs, but unclear how extensive. 


The Phan Thai hotel is pleasant, in the center of the Old Quarter.  My room is large, high ceiling, molding and medallions, fresh white painted, nice firm foam platform bed, basic, but ample amenities.  The towels are few and thin, but there are flowers in the shower and shampoo and bath gel.  The furniture is K-Mart quality and style, but the bed linens are embroidered. Powerful Air conditioning, television with CNN, mini fridge, but DON’T drink the water.


Went out with Margaret and Katie around 7 looking for dinner.  Circled the lake before finding the recommended restaurant.  The meal was Chinese-y and tasty.  The restaurant clearly is used to tourists.  There was a menu in English, waiters dealt well with English orders, and there was “authentic” Vietnamese live music for our amusement.  Actually very good and the total bill for three of us with plenty of beer and mineral water came to about $20.  Very comfortable feeling on the street, lot of people out walking, sitting, or minding shops.  Very little tourist hassling.  Crossing the street is like Rome:  don’t look, just be steady and predictable and all will flow around you.  Takes faith.


Back to the hotel around 9:30 feeling good about the city, the trip, and the company. 



Monday, November 10


Woke to a steady downpour, but pleasant temperatures.  Breakfasted at the hotel, then headed out with Katie, Sarah and Margaret.  A fun group.  Katie is a analyst/consultant for the Metropolitan Police force in London, Sarah (also a Brit) is a securities lawyer working for a bank in Hong Kong.  As a hobby she’s a competing triathelete.  Margaret is an artist who’s just moved away from the earthquakes in Los Angeles to the coast of Maine.  I think also that she’s going through some sort of upheaval in her life and traveling around the world is a way to “recuperate.” 


We first wandered to Red River and through slums going south along the river.  Not at all scary, but very intimate views into every day life.  Open front houses with TV, but little other signs of developed comforts.  House and shops are all narrow with the occasional renovated building jutting up. 


Streets rutted and puddled in steady rain, deep gutters by the curb.  Sidewalks full with people, chairs, bikes, stuff.  Traffic is primarily bicycles and motorbikes.  Everyone is draped in plastic ponchos and coolie hats.  Walked and wandered happily all morning with a tea break at a corner café.  Impossibly low chairs – I though they were children’s – but comfortable once you get into them.  Back to the hotel in clearing though still cloudy weather.  Sarah dropped out for a nap, but the rest of us taxied to a restaurant set up to train street kids as cooks and waiters.  Excellent lunch, taste that last night’s meal.  Three of us, with beer, for 119,000 dong.  About $10 US.


More walking back to the hotel and now naptime around 3:30.  Sacked out totally for a couple of hours before a group meeting at 6pm.  Mixed bag of folks, particularly Norma who is both older and frailer than I might have expected for this trip.  She’s a great talker, non-stop, and keeps reliving a great breakthrough rafting trip she took some time ago.  The vibes are “Danger.  Stay away.”  Others are questions marks.  The Brits seem fun, and Margaret seems sound.  Georgie is from Seattle and seems delightful.  Milly is the free-lance writer from Honolulu and is partly playing the role of observer so she’s not quite in the group.  Jeff is from GE Capital in Stamford, CT and is a hard-boiled corporate type.  I think he feels a bit overwhelmed being the sole male among the guests.  Overall the group will be fine.


Dinner was lovely at Hanoi Seasons Café.  Chatted a bit with Maria who turns out to have been the significant other of Joe Tasker, a climber who disappeared on Everest in the 1980s.  Her book “about the other side of climbing” was her first effort at writing.  I’ll have to look it up.



Tuesday, November 11


Great day.  Up to bright sunshine and a day touring around Hanoi.  We started with a tour of the neighborhood temple, then went on to Ho Chi Minh’s tomb.  It’s a dead ringer for Mao’s in Beijing.  Ho, unfortunately, has been temporarily removed to Moscow for repairs.  Rats.  We did see the hourly changing of the guard which is a goose-stepping clone of the Red Square ceremony.


On from there to Ho’s house which was simple and quite lovely.  I could happily move right in.  Two floors, the ground level is open and furnished with meeting table and comfortable chairs.  It can be screened off with blinds.  Upstairs a balcony runs all the way around two simple rooms, a bedroom and a small sitting room/den.  The souvenir shop featured Vietcong stars, postcards and plastic-framed portraits of Ho.  Some musicians demonstrated native music and instruments of Vietnam. 


The Ho museum followed which was a real stitch.  Lots of pseudo-Soviet simple panoramas, very heroic with SIMPLE messages and noble workers.  Truly a hoot.  The morning finished with the single pillar pagoda, then on to lunch at the Piano Bar. 


The Hanoi Hilton came next, a mix of omission and horror.  Much of the prison has been demolished and replaced with a modern office tower.  What’s left is bare concrete shelves and cells, shackles, and murals of torture and interrogation.  Even a guillotine.  Just horrible.  Startling too is noticing that all the information materials deal with the French and completely omit any history past 1954.


A profitable stop at a silk store, then I went back to the hotel and strolled around the lake taking street scene photos.  Never-ending activity and noise.


Dinner at a fish restaurant where you cook the fist over a charcoal burner right at the table then eat it over noodles and veggies.  Even I liked it.  The group looks OK, with Sarah and Katie very simpatico, Margaret funky and pleasant.  Only Norma is odd beyond amusing.  Jeff actually served in Vietnam with the Navy, so he was attuned to today’s activities.  The star of dinner, however, was Maria who regaled us all with a tale of how she and Day arrived – ragged and dirty after three months in the Solomon Islands – in Hong Kong to stay with old friends.  Well, the friend has become Governor of Hong Kong, so this poor bedraggled couple was swept into the splendors of Government House and all the fittings:  cars, flags, valets, the whole bit.  We were rolling.


Finished the evening with a water puppet performance.  Lots of similarity to the shadow theater.  Back to get organized for our move to Halong City tomorrow morning.



Wednesday, November 12


Bus trip today out of Hanoi to Halong Bay.  Reasonable road, fields to either side, raised dikes and paths, simple houses and towns.  Looks very familiar; maybe India going into Bhutan.  Miles of dusty roads with square stucco houses open on the front.


Arrived in Halong Bay around 1:30 (a five-hour, 60 mile trip from Hanoi.)  The hotel is in vast marble style of a mid-East Sheraton.  Lots of glass, marble, big room, carpeting, packaged amenities.  The bay outside looks beautiful.  It’s like a forest of limestone mountains rising straight out of the water.


Ferry trip to the Halong market.  The market itself didn’t do much for me, but the hundreds of fishing boats parked under the limestone karsks held more interest.  A temple visit, then back to the Halong Plaza hotel.  Dinner was fun and the group is settling in nicely.  Maria and Dag are fun and unobtrusive in sweeping the group and working each conversation sub-group.



Thursday, November 13


Finally on the boat.  This is shaping up to be fun.  The boat is wooden, a roofed porch lined with cushioned benches.  There are tables down the middle where we eat and generally hang out.  Galley and head at the back, open deck up front.  We boarded right in front of the hotel, then motored out through an amazing landscape of limestone mountains and emerald water.  Clear skies and hot sun.


After lunch we clambered down the ladder and wobbled into the kayaks to practice in a nearby cove.  I paired with Milly and had a grand time.  We got paddling and safety lectures and then practiced capsizing and getting back in.  The capsizing part is easy (and fun!).  Getting back in is sort of like flopping an awkward whale into a small tippy box.  All great fun.  We noodled around getting back to the boat for a glorious tropical red sunset.  Then darkness dropped very quickly


I felt a bit queasy and not good so skipped food at dinner.  At about nine everyone staked out sleeping nooks and spots.  The cabins seemed close and small (4 people in bunk beds) so I camped out on one of the benches up top.  It was just like being out on a sleeping porch.  There was some shuffling around and some whispered complaints about Jeff’s snoring, but I slept through all quite happily. 



Friday, November 14


First real paddling day and I made out just fine.  I was paired in the morning with Maria so I had no worries about wimping out.  But all went well and we paddled into several caves with huge roof stalactite formations and luminous radium-green water. 


Back on the boat for lunch and a bit of a siesta, then out again for a steady, non-stop tour around some of the outer islands.  I was paired up this time with Georgie and we got on very well.  I’m sure I’ll be sore tomorrow!


A glorious moon rise over the mountains led us into dinner.  Others went out for a night paddle and some camped out for the night on a bit of nearby beach.  I opted out of both and lazed on the boat.



Saturday, November 15


This is really “roughing it.”  Sleeping on deck, no running water, no washing, no flush (you lean over the side, let a pail down on a rope, haul back a bucket of water, and Presto!, you flush).  Brushing your teeth means rinsing out with bottled water and spitting out over the rail.  And it’s all fun!


It was a good day.  I paired up again with Georgie in the morning.  We did well, but neither of us was as coordinated or energetic as yesterday.  Around 11 we landed on a little strip of beach right out of an adventure story.  We all sat a bit in the shade of the cliff and relaxed.  Sarah, the Type A banker triathlete, scooted off to explore the jungle. 


Lunch back on shipboard and then a bit of showery rain kicked up.  The first plan was to motor to our next stop, towing the kayaks.  That got too complicated so we ended up paddling.  I paired this time with Huy which was great.  I felt as if I’d hit my stride a bit, though it was probably more that I could rely on Huy’s strength!  Anyway we did a fairly open crossing with some swell and breeze, then noodled around some protected islands.  We seemed to be just exploring, but magically we turned into a new cove and there were the boats.  (A twin boat is along as crew quarters and errand boat.) 


I hopped out and went for a swim while the crew paddled around taking pictures of each other.  Then “Tiger Time” and some desultory conversation before dinner around the communal table.  More lazy talking until bedtime, massages available from the crew -- and great merriment -- on the other boat.  Just as I was drifting off to sleep, a police boat pulled up and boarded.  No real crisis, but it seemed to be a mid-level hassle designed to pick up a $40 bribe and some free beer.  They stayed about forty-five minutes before heading back off into the dark.  The crew was really upset.  It’s still a VERY controlled country.



Sunday, November 16


More fun.  We did a long paddle this morning.  I started out with Milly which was less than ideal – she was tired out and erratic and I’m just not strong enough to compensate.  We did OK, with Maria always following us as sweep, but when we landed for mid-morning snacks we swapped off and I ended up with Georgie which was much more comfortable.  She just keeps on evenly paddling, nice and steady, and she’s happy to do the steering.  Another longish stretch of paddling then up on a beach with a temple and back on the boat for lunch. 


Hung around after lunch then had a ceremony at the little temple.  Connection from boat to beach was a simple plank on a steep angle.  Didn’t look too comfortable for any of us, so the crew rigged a handrail:  two crew members holding a pole at roughly waist level.  I’ve not sure how much steadier it made any of us!  The temple ceremony featured joss sticks, prayers, and bowing.  Lien, our (female) cook seemed to organize it all, but Chien the captain made it very clear that everyone would participate.  Guests too were expected to present joss sticks and to kneel and bow.  Proper Buddhist decor included a paper mache boat hanging from the rafters, purple with bunnies and "Happy Easter” incorporated into the design.  I wonder how that ever entered the picture!


Afterward we set off for what we expected to be a gentle tea-time paddle.  I paired with Katie Brit (Dodd).  Dag had Norma (who occasionally dips a paddle erratically into the water), Maria and Milly teamed up, Jeff and Margaret were a team, and Sarah was in the single.  Breezy, but pleasant at the start.  We crossed bit of open water and then paddled along the exposed side of an island.  Swells picked up and soon we saw rain coming, a real tropical squall.  Pouring rain and choppy.  As we headed back we hit some patches of wind that actually brought some of us to a standstill.  We curled down and tried to keep plugging away, but the wind was catching the paddles and blowing them back at us.  It made for a tiring slog.  Finally we struggled around a corner heading for lights in the distance.  Paddle, paddle, paddle … but OOPS, not our boat.  More work, more corners, more rain, more wind before we finally did find the boat in the dark around 5:30.  All of us buzzing with adrenaline.  No need to be afraid, just really jazzed.  We kicked in the beer and chattered and chattered with wind and rain lashing at the plastic tarps strung along the deck as curtains. 


Dinner and a lot of tipsy laughing and silliness.  Then over to the other boat for massages.  The captain and two crew members were on duty.  I got a wonderful massage, not just a shoulder rub, but arms, legs, face, feet.  All with enormous respect and gentleness and a laughing audience.


To bed on deck to the sound of wind flapping the plastic shields madly.  Lovely.



Monday, November 17


Up early when the shopping boat left at 6:15 and the bustle woke me up.  A longish paddle in cooler, slightly overcast clouds.  Met some boat people and Dag, Sarah and Huy all took a turn trying to row one of the tippy local boats to the great amusement of the rest of us.  We came back through a largish cluster of fishing boats, apparently a fish farm underwritten by Italians.  Go figure. 


Great lunch, then siesta time on the boat, by now sunny and lazy.  Yesterday’s rain was a fresh water shower, all the salt-stickiness is gone and the air and our clothes are dry.


Quiet meditative paddle this afternoon.  Largest flotilla yet, everyone went out.  The highlight was a long, turning tunnel opening into a lagoon in the center of an island.  Absolutely serene and untouched.  Everyone quiet.  Underground streams making eerie noises inside the caves.  Quiet right down through your bones.  No one spoke (or splashed) until we went out again and then it felt like an intrusion. 


Tiger time and dinner were low key and pleasant.  Dag and Maria are great.  I thoroughly enjoy them, and they are great with the group.  Strong and gentle with the irritating eccentrics, fun and interested with the others.  But calm and caring from both.  Another massage then bed on deck.  Most of the others camped on the beach, so it was quiet and spread out on the boat.  The wind picked up and it was deliciously cool.



Tuesday, November 18


Woke this morning to loud wind and a crowd of fishing boats anchored around us.  Left “Temple Beach” around 8:30 for a “longish” morning paddle.  Dag and Georgie, Katie and Sarah, Jeff and Margaret, Maria and me.  Started off immediately with an open crossing of a shipping channel.  Twenty five minutes in breeze and choppy water.  Maria complimented me on my upper body strength (!).  Go figure.  Then we paddle around some lovely lagoons, exchanged greetings and candy with some boat kids, trespassed through a fish farm, and washed up on a beach for some snacks.  On again exploring some caves and more lagoons before paddling up to the boat at 12:30.  Weather sunny and pleasant.  Quite a workout for me. 


Lunch, two beers, and I plopped on the deck to sleep in the sun.  Around 3-ish we motored into Cat Ba and our own fresh water (but not hot) hotel on the waterfront.  Quite a fish-rush town.  Lots of building everywhere.  The hotel is new, probably built by someone who once read about a hotel.  My room is lovely, large, high ceiling, double height windows facing the harbor shielded by see-through Skyy Blue drapes, a glass door – not curtained, and not, thank goodness, facing directly into the room – beds without linen, but with mosquito nets and coverlet.  Bed features a hard foam mattress, a fitted satin-finish sheet, and a flowered sateen coverlet.  Maria worried about blankets so we were each delivered a plastic “suitcase” with a synthetic blanket inside.  Mine was orange with big red flowers as the center pattern.  Bath has a faucet/hand shower installed waist high and all the water drains down the corner of the tiled floor.  Works quite well.


A quick shower, then I went out and toured the town with Katie and Sarah.  Market, back lanes.  Most quite friendly, kids tagging along, minimalist housing all opening out onto the street.  It’s the boats that look like an even tougher life.  Slept like a dream.


Back to the hotel to neaten the duffel bag and go out with the group and crew.  Karoke seems threatened.  Electricity goes on at five.  Off around eleven.



Wednesday, November 19


Motored out of Cat Ba with no regrets around nine.  After about an hour we headed out for what seemed like a long, long paddle.  I was with Georgie, well matched, but not at all strong.  Lovely meandering along, but we went a long way without stopping.  I was flagging and even Maria (during yeoman duty with Susannah) was looking wiped out.  We finally took a snack break on a pleasant beach, then more paddling to the boat for lunch.


After siesta we went out again, this time paired with Huy.  It was a shorter trip ending with a race back to the boat instigated by Norma and Dag.  We were behind at the start and kept in our back of the pack position while Dag and Norma nosed in first ahead of Katie and Sarah.  Later, over beers, Dag dug himself into a hole observing, “Huy’s gone to sleep.  He can’t stand losing.”  I asked how he was going to recover since I’d been Huy’s partner, but Dag laughingly declined to engage.  He did admit that he was glad Norma had been paddling in sync or “it could have been REALLY tough.” 


We moved to a gorgeous, secluded anchorage to overnight.  We were way into an innermost cove surrounded by lush, green karsks, chirping with birds.  Fun dinner, comfortable overnight, though very very humid.  Farewell to dry clothes.



Thursday, November 20


Great final day of paddling.  We woke to mist and drizzle.  The cove was like Mohonk:  serene, quiet, pure with mist hanging around the cliffs.  We motored out for an hour or so before getting into the kayaks to explore a new area, searching for a cave rumored to be exist and rumored to be spectacular.  I was with Huy.  We played #2 behind Dag and Norma and paddled around in a general area stopping fishing boats for cave information.  In the end, the cave seemed to exist, but to be too far off to reach.  We finished off the morning with another race.  Huy and I had an even start this time and we really sprinted in, holding the lead against Dag who was reported by the Brits to be “trying REALLY hard.”  Don’t call me a wimp! 


Lunch, then we settled the beer bill (Jeff 25, KMM 22, Dag and Maria averaging 18 apiece, the rest not significant).  We motored back into Halong City and the Sheraton-like splendors of the Halong Plaza.  Shower, shampoo, bath.  Repacked the duffel then slept hard for a couple of hours before meeting the group for a delicious gin and tonic before dinner.


The crew joined us for dinner in a little open-front café.  The food was OK, beer, many speeches and poem recitations by Chien (captain), Norma (on the group’s behalf), Maria and Dag.  All very touching and deeply felt.  They haven’t developed our cynical reserve and superficiality.  Sarah took on Chien in arm-wrestling and did a very credible job indeed.  She lost in the end which saved face all around.  All day was very hazy and misty, suitable to the dragon lair look of Halong Bay.



Friday, November 21


This was really a wind-down day.  Seemed sad and dull and long.  We left the Halong Plaza around nine for a long bus ride back to Hanoi.  Lunch break was at the same invalid children’s stand we’d stop at before.  Then more dusty bouncing in much heavier traffic than I remember from the trip out.  I sat with Sarah and chatted corporate and expat life enjoyably until the whole bus dozed off lazily. 


We stopped at a village just outside Hanoi that specializes in ceramics.  I found it very interesting photo-wise and did some quick souvenir shopping.  The whole village is devoted to churning out ceramics.  We toured the workshops from the woman stomping out coal slurry in her bare feet and slapping handfuls on the wall to dry as briquettes, to the potters, the kilns, the whole cycle.  Finally back on the bus and into the Phan Thai hotel around five.  It looked great, but we found that the electricity was off.  Ah well.  It stayed off more or less through dinnertime, but was on again for sleeping with air-conditioning.


I organized tip money then tidied up before drinks and dinner.  The whole group, scrubbed up, went to Indochine.  (MUCH better than the unrelated NY version.)  Pleasant talk and some brief speeches of thanks to and from Huy, Dag and Maria.  Tip exchange and home by ten.  Some farewells in the lobby, then Katie Brit, Margaret, Dag, Maria and I headed out for a nightcap brew at a sidewalk café around the corner.  Fun in a smaller, more consistently simpatico group.   Back to the hotel, but not ready to leave yet.



Saturday, November 22


Had a reasonable wake-up call for a 7:30 car to the airport.  Dag and Maria appeared at breakfast to see us (Susannah and me) off.  They are both kind and professional. Then we were off to the airport for a smooth check-in, a bit of shopping, then onto the plane for Hong Kong.  With my luck, we had another (!) aborted landing in Hong Kong.  As we approached over the apartments of Kowloon, the plane suddenly climbed, banked over, pulled up the landing gear, and shuddered back up into higher altitudes.  “Traffic.”  I suppose the translation is “misplaced airplane in our way."  Second landing run was uneventful and smooth as silk.  I took Susannah by car to the Mandarin, then out on the afternoon harbor cruise.  As company, she’s a bore – she has exactly one topic of conversation, Homeopathy – so I did my good deed showing her around.  I think she had fun.  She left around five and I dashed out to do some quick shopping.


Cabbed up to Parkview around eight for dinner with Sarah and Katie Brit.  Great fun.  We rehashed the trip, roasted and toasted the group, and generally had a high old time.  They pulled together a great steak dinner with all the sides, ending with cheese, fruit and port.  All this and fun company.



Sunday, November 23


Well, I’ve earned my rest on the plane tonight.  I started off meeting Sarah for Mass at the Anglican Cathedral (St. John’s).  Lovely service with classic organ.  Then we bussed back to her Parkview apartment in a moderate rain.  Or bussed close to her apartment.  We walked the last “few blocks” which were strenuously uphill.  Given the rain, the decision was made to take our walk on the island.  Walk indeed.  In the end we did 10 or 12 kms across the central spine of Hong Kong island.  I’d never realized that so much of the center of the island is undeveloped.  We started at Tai Tam Reservoir, walked a bit, taxied to a trailhead overlooking Stanley, then walked back along the exposed ridge – the dragon’s spine.  Four hours later we were climbing up up up up again to the apartment.  It was beyond a workout for me.  Why did I overlook the fact that Sarah’s a triathelete?  Katie did say how nice it was to have company while Sarah steams off ahead.


We hung out at the flat for awhile, then all cabbed to the Mandarin where I bid Sarah and Katie a fond, but British-ly reserved, farewell.  Sauntered through the Mandarin lobby in sweaty running shorts caked with mud and clay.  They didn’t bat an eye.  Shower, packing, dinner, then out to the airport for the long haul home.  Eight hours plus of sleep then breakfast before 4:30am arrival at Heathrow.  The whole airport is shut down at that hour.  The airline lounges don’t even open until 5:30.  It wasn't scary at all, but it was fun and spooky to be wandering around Terminal 4 all by myself.  I hung out long enough to eat breakfast and wait out the morning rush, then took the tube into London for a quick stroll around the bookstores and Covent Garden.  Back  again on the tube, onto the plane and heading for home for real.

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