Okay, it's travelogue week. Here's the account of my recent sojourn to the Far East. The highlights: No one caught SARS, or Ebola. Enjoy.
My wife, Debby and I staggered into Beijing after 28 hours of traveling. We arrived on the Chinese New Year. To celebrate, everybody sets off fireworks (I’m surprised Chinese people don’t all have seven fingers), and their primary TV network aired a five-hour variety show (no, not the Oscars) that was seen by literally one billion people. When NBC learns this there will be dancing bears on HANNIBAL next season.
China blocks out much of the internet – like gmail, Google, my blog, and really subversive sites like THE WEATHER CHANNEL. Okay, I could see the government not wanting its citizens to know if they should dress warm, but really, censoring my LAST FIVE YEARS review?
In the summer, the pollution in Beijing is so bad you have to wear a mask. The sky is the color of Matthew Perry's spray tan. No such air quality problem for us. Instead, it snowed.
That made sightseeing a bit of an adventure. Our little group strolled around Tienanmen Square (riot free I’m happy to report – they didn’t want to get the tanks rusty) and the Forbidden City (the emperor’s summer home). Pagodas galore along with unlimited gardens and courtyards. Just when you think you’ve come to the end you’ve got a dozen more. Think: Derek Jeter’s Florida home but less opulent.
There are 9,999 1/2 rooms. I have to assume the ½ is a half bath. Back in the day many of the rooms were filled with the emperor’s concubines. Again, think: Derek Jeter. After awhile I could just hear the emperor saying, “Jesus. Any chance I could get a blonde? Just once?”
We decided on Chinese food for lunch. You can’t swing a dead cat in Beijing without hitting a Chinese restaurant and then having it served to you. Among the menu items we did not select was “levened bad fish.” No one spoke English, which made it very difficult to use our Open Table coupon to pay for part of the bill.
Was thrilled to finally board the Seven Seas Regent Voyager. Generally, there are two kinds of cruises – first class and floating trailer park. If you are going to cruise, Regent is the line you want.
Once we set sail and headed up the Yalu Sea I wanted to call our Chinese restaurant in Beijing and ask if they delivered.
First stop was Dalian -- 36 balmy degrees and sunny, but “sunny” there meant nuclear winter. An eerie haze hung over the city. Everyone on the ship had to be transported to immigration for a face-to-face security check. We had to show passports and a few people were detained while their walkers were scanned.
“Hey, it’s China, Jake.”
There is a large city square surrounded by modern high-rise hotels, beautiful architecture – and no one in the street. Completely deserted. Picture a Bill Cosby concert on the senior quad of Wellesley.
Next stop was Korea, which was very meaningful to me because of my years on MASH. We tried to get a tour of the DMZ but were told it’s closed to tourists on Monday. Huh? The gift shop workers have the day off?
North Korea was only twenty minutes away, but they’re closed to tourists too.
Shopping in downtown Seoul was very vibrant and fun. The country has really grown and is thriving. Agriculturally, their chief export is Hyundais.
Meanwhile, two pedestrians were swallowed by a sinkhole. They vanished down a crater that was reportedly 10-feet deep. (They were rescued and are okay.) Maybe New Jersey contractors DID rebuild the city.
Tuesday was a sea day and I gave my first presentation. The following morning a passenger paid me the ultimate compliment: “We really enjoyed it,” she said. “We were soooo surprised.”
All conversations on the ship included the words Boca, Obama, and meniscus.
Part two is tomorrow. And more travelogues can be found in my book, WHERE THE HELL AM I? TRIPS I HAVE SURVIVED. Don't leave home without it.