An Architect’s Dream

If you like modern architecture, Shanghai is truly a dream world. The more you sit and stare at the buildings, the more unique things you see.You might notice that we are dressed a little differently from other pictures on this trip. After days of hot and humid elsewhere, Shanghai is 50, overcast, and windy. We finally were able to justify bringing our packable down jackets.The tall building with the globes at the top and bottom is known as the Pearl Tower. The building to the right of it with the opening at the top is known as the can opener. And the tallest building to the right of it was once the tallest building in the world until being surpassed by what our guide called “Bloody Dubai”. This is the Monument to the People’s Heroes, which honors revolutionary heroes as well as people who lost there lives fighting natural disasters.The bund is an area along one side of the river that has many historical buildings that once housed banks and trading companies.A wide levy has been built along the river to prevent flooding. The levy is very popular for scenic riverside strolls with constant views of modern Shanghai on one side and historic Shanghai on the other.It was also a very popular area for bridal pictures. This poor woman must have been freezing. Another wedding photographer seemed to want a picture of his subjects running. The bride and groom were running back and forth, side by side, until he captured the perfect image.The street side of the levy was decorated with flowers in a colorful design. The detail at the bottom shows that the effect is created with individual pots of flowers installed at an angle. I wonder how they water them???A highlight of our tour was the Shanghai Museum. The building design mimics a classic Chinese cooking pot.The museum featured costumes, furniture, pottery, masks, and statues. I don’t quite understand the significance of the warrior on the bottom right standing on a baby. I particularly liked the woodwork on the chair back in the top center,It seemed that every building had some unique architectural detail. I couldn’t get a good picture of the building in the top right corner, but those are three egg like objects hanging in the opening of the building. There are walkways leading to them, so they might have some use. It looks like a lot of money to create some space that is difficult to utilize.

Tonight is the christening of the ship. It looks like it is going to be a big deal involving red carpet, a symphony orchestra, an outdoor stage with dancers, and a covered seating area for dignitaries. Some six hundred of us are going to a venue overlooking the site and ship for an eight course dinner featuring cuisine from each region of China. More to follow!

Pagsanjan Falls

Sunday we visited Manila in the Philippines. Rather than visit another large city, we chose an adventurous and scenic trip to Pagsanjan Falls. It was another two and a half hour bus ride with a police escort to clear the way for us. This time the police were on motorcycles. Maybe the novelty is wearing off, but it didn’t seem as exciting as the first time. The only wrinkle was that the police could knock on the driver’s window if the driver wasn’t paying attention. I would hate to have been someone from the US driving there and have a policeman knock on my window and motion frantically for me to move over.

The first order of business when we arrived was to line up at what seemed to be a little chapel (you can see Jesus on the back wall) to get a life jacket, hard hat, and pray for our survival. After all, we survived the bus ride here – how bad can this be.We both looked quite dapper in our new outfits. By the way, does it look to you like they got the size of the life jackets reversed? The boats were wooden canoes with two passengers in the center and two boatmen in the front and back of each boat. To make it easier in the initial flat stretch of the river, the boats would tie up to a motorized canoe forming a long line. Once we reached the rapids, everyone untied from the motorized boat and proceeded by paddle and foot power.

Usually when you go whitewater rafting, you put in upstream and float downstream. In this case, we had to put in downstream and paddle upstream to the falls and then float back downstream to our starting point.There were a total of fourteen rapids. Thirteen of them were certainly class 1 with one possibly being a class 2. The technique to move the boat upstream through the rapids was a combination of standing and lifting combined with a lot of jumping from side to side so you could kick off the rocks. All the boatmen did this barefoot. Generally the younger and stronger boatman was in the front and the older one was in the back. It was definitely hard work!The scenery in the canyon was beautiful with nearly vertical, vegetation covered walls and a side waterfall.After an hour on the river, we reached our main destination, Pagsanjan Falls. The canoes were all docked and we hopped out of the canoe for the short walk to the falls. Well, hopped might not quite be the right word. You will note that we have been sitting on the bottom of the canoe for an hour. While it wasn’t exactly pretty, I am proud to say that I was able to stand and walk to the front of the canoe without assistance.And here is the proof we reached the falls. So far, we were relatively dry with only a little water splashing into the canoe. But that was about to change.Next, we all piled onto a bamboo raft for a trip under the falls into a small cave behind it. We all thought the raft was overloaded since the rear was several feet under water. However, we took off with two boatman pulling the raft along a fixed rope. I was near the front of the raft with nothing to hold onto and Susan was behind me holding onto me for dear life. It was a hot day, but the combination of the cool river water and the wind made it feel downright cold underneath the falls. We were on the left side of the raft which meant we bore the full brunt of the falling water. The hard hat protected our head. I looked down to keep the water out of my eyes and mouth. Everyone survived and enjoyed the experience.The ride back downstream was a lot of fun and went faster. In the top picture, you can see they had logs spanning the rapids in spots to facilitate moving the canoes upstream. It was important to keep your fingers inside the canoe to keep from pinching them against rocks or canoes going in the opposite direction.

We concluded the boat ride with a buffet lunch and the bus ride back to the ship.The Jeepney is the traditional public transportation in the Philippines.From what we could observe from the bus, Manila is a large city with lots of building cranes, attractive high rise buildings, and an abundance of slums on the ground.We ended the day with a colorful, Philippine cultural show. The show was very professional and was the fitting climax to a really fun day. We arrive in Shanghai for the christening celebration of the Viking Sun after three sea days.

Wild Man of Borneo

Today we visited Kota Kinabalu (locally known as KK) in the state of Sabah, Malaysia on the island of Borneo. We heard a lot of stories about head hunting and human sacrifice in the various indigenous tribes. According to the guide the practice ended in the 1930’s; but according to Wikipedia, the Allies encouraged it during WW II to help overcome occupying forces. The state government encouraged it again in the 1960’s to help overcome communists in the country. Headhunting was done for many different reasons such as to pay dowry for marriage, bring fertility to the fields, and to strengthen the foundation of houses. Those who were not headhunters might practice human sacrifice. They would wine and dine their intended victim for a year before capturing him, tying him up, and literally inflicting death by a thousand cuts – one from each member of the tribe including children and grandmothers. This all seemed in contrast to the Abode of Peace we visited the previous day on the same island!The skulls were hung from the ceiling of the house along with shells and traditional dried plants and were passed on from generation to generation. Fortunately, there is no indication these practices are being practiced today. The people were very friendly and welcoming to us. Uh oh, didn’t I just say that is how the human sacrifice began?

Most of the tribes were a matriarchal society; and in the state of Sabah, women still have a favored position. People hope their first child will be female and all inheritance goes to their female children. This makes it very important for men to find a wife and to be good to their sisters!

We visited the State Museum which had a village of traditional houses that had been moved to the museum. These women are wearing traditional clothing of their tribe.This house features the original trampoline. In the center of the house is a platform supported on two long bamboo poles. The idea is for everyone to jump on the platform in a dance and then to work together so the person in the center can jump high enough to touch the bird sculpture hanging above. This could also be a contest by continually raising the bird to see who could jump the highest.This is the City Mosque also called The Floating Mosque. It was Friday, so we were unable to go inside the mosques.The other major mosque in town was the State Mosque.There were several new buildings that were prominent in the skyline of the city. The top one is the new Parliament Building. The bottom is a copy of buildings built previously in several other countries.The harbor was filled with fishing boats. When you looked at just one of them, they looked old and run down. When you looked at a number of them together, they looked colorful and picturesque.KK also had a water village surrounding an island in the harbor.

Our guide talked to us about the requirements to buy a gun in Malaysia. First, you have to get a permit which takes a year and a half. It is unclear whether this is due to government inefficiency or the thoroughness of the check. Next, the gun can only be bought from a catalog and must be sent to the police department. The police then come to your house to verify you have a safe place to keep the gun. If everything is OK, you then get the gun and a limited supply of about five bullets. To get more bullets, you must turn in the casings of your used bullets. My guess is that there aren’t many mass shootings in Malaysia.

Nothing I saw today reminded me of my previous visits to KK. It is a pretty modern city now. I also think there is a big difference in what you see as a tourist and what you see when you are overnighting in a city between flights. We have another sea day to relax before reaching Manila.

The Abode of Peace

Today we visited the small nation of Brunei, which is officially known as “Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace”. It has a population of under 450,000 and shares the island of Borneo with Indonesia and Malaysia.It is an absolute monarchy ruled by a 72 year old sultan who appears to be very popular with the people. We were advised not to wear yellow or gold clothing as those are the colors of the sultan’s family.Our first stop was a local food market featuring a lot of rice and tapioca. The lady in the bottom picture is making small containers from reeds which are used for steaming rice.Our next stop was the largest water village built on stilts in the world. It has a population of about 45,000 people and stretches for five miles along the river. It consists of a new, modern part which is public housing and an older part which is private. If you don’t own any land in Brunei, the government will build a house for you and lease it to you. The public housing had air conditioning and concrete walkways with railings. The older housing had no air conditioning (something you really need!!!) and wooden walkways with no railings. The village includes schools, mosques, a hospital, and some small stores and restaurants. But for significant shopping you have to take a water taxi to the mainland. There are about three times more water taxis in Brunei than car taxis.The gold dome is the most we saw of the Sultan’s palace. It is the largest residential palace in the world, with 1788 rooms, 257 bathrooms, a 110 car garage, and a banquet hall that can hold 5000 of the Sultan’s closest friends. The palace cost more than one billion (yes that is really a “b”) dollars. Despite this excess, the Sultan is alleged to be popular with the general population. Perhaps it is because he opens the palace to them for three days following Ramadan where they are served a buffet dinner and given a gift. He also visits the above water village periodically to discuss their needs. One need is to clean up the water under the village!Of course, there is the requisite royal mosque with a capacity of 3000. The dome is 24 karat gold leaf. The boat is a replica of the Sultan’s barge from the 16th century.The largest mosque in the city has a capacity of 5000 people.And this is the Parliament Building where the representatives appointed by the Sultan and the city meet to rubber stamp the decisions of the Sultan. Tomorrow will be a somewhat nostalgic day for me when we visit Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia. I flew through there many times to visit a plant my company built on the nearby island of Labuan.


According to Wikipedia, Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. From bottom to top there are six square levels, three round levels, and a large dome on top. The only problem is that according to our guide and our onboard lecturer, it is not a temple. My understanding is that there should be a Buddha in that top dome to qualify as a temple. However, for simplicity I am going to refer to it as a temple. While there is not one on the top dome, there are 432 Buddhas on the square levels and 72 on the circular levels for a total of 504 Buddha statues. You might note that 4+3+2=9, 7+2=9, and 5+0+4=9. This is because 9 is an auspicious number to Buddhists.

The temple was built in the ninth century and abandoned in the fourteenth century. It was rediscovered in 1814 when the British ruled Java. It has been rebuilt several times with a major restoration between 1975 and 1982 when it became a UNESCO Site. Unfortunately, many of the Buddhas are missing heads and arms. Some were vandalized so people could have religiously significant items in their home, but some have somehow shown up in American museums. The Buddhas have different hand positions depending on location – one for each side of the square levels and a fifth position for the circular levels.Borobudur is not particularly high but it is very wide. It is built on a naturally occurring hill and has no interior. What appears to be smoke coming from the Temple is the spray from a pressure washer.The square levels have a walkway with a total of 2672 relief panels on both sides of the walkway. The relief panels are considered to be the finest of the period. The temple is a popular pilgrimage site. As you progress upward through the square levels, the panels tell the story of the life of Buddha and the life of the times.There are steep steps leading to the top circular platform on each of the four sides. The stones were cut to size in a nearby quarry and moved to the site. They were assembled without mortar using techniques such as knobs, indentations, and dovetails to assemble the blocks. The reliefs were carved in place after the construction was complete.The circular levels have 72 stupas, each with a Buddha statue inside. The stupas have a checkerboard of openings so you can see the Buddha inside it.The top of one of the stupas had been removed so you could clearly see one of the best preserved Buddhas.The stairs looked even steeper when you were going down them. Fortunately, we had brought our walking sticks which made it feel much safer. There were hand rails in some of the steepest parts.While the temple is Buddhist, Java is predominantly Muslim. I liked this picture with just a few local tourists. We had been warned that Borobudur would be crowded, but the crowds were almost entirely from our ship. We were one of the last to leave despite the threat of rain, and it was practically deserted when we left to join the rest of our group for a delicious buffet lunch.

While Borobudur was clearly the highlight of the day, there were two other interesting things.Shadow puppets are a traditional art form in Indonesia. The gift shop we visited on the way home had a shadow puppet show to entertain the non shoppers.One man did all the narration and puppeteering. While the puppets look very fragile, he slapped them together vigorously. The music was provided by a xylophone like instrument, a drum, and the pots in the back right which were played by striking the lids. The woman with the flower in her hair was singing operatic type of music. It was interesting to see, but I have no idea what the plot was.

The two hour bus ride each way was the most entertaining one I have ever taken. We left the port in a caravan of eight full buses and one spare bus in case one of the full buses broke down. Java is densely populated with heavy traffic and lots of motor bikes. Sounds like a recipe for traffic delays such as we have experienced in other cities.But not to worry. We had a police escort with sirens wailing and blue lights flashing in front and back of our caravan. Red light? Drive right through it. Slow truck in your lane? Move over into the lane of oncoming traffic. Car coming toward you when you are in the oncoming traffic lane? Force it to the side of the road so you can keep going. There were stretches where a two lane road became three lanes with us moving in the center and cars stopped on both sides of the road? Uncooperative car driver? The police shouted instructions to them over a loudspeaker system and waved frantically at them. We were shaking our heads in amazement and laughing the whole way. There was no sleeping on that bus!And there were even pretty rice fields to look at. After two sea days, we visit Brunei tomorrow.

 A Special Dining Experience

Written by Susan not Bruce.

Bruce alluded in his blog that  I would follow with my dining excursion that he did not attend. Those of you who know Bruce well, know he strongly objects to paying  shipping fees. You will not be surprised that he surely did not want to pay to go on a food shopping trip.

I joined the head Chef Eric and 11 others on an excursion that included shopping for the food and followed by a private dinner with the Chef and Sommelier of the ship. Off we went in our mini bus to Darwin, Australia to shop. When we got on the bus, Chef told us he had never been here before nor did they tell him where to go. Chef is French, charming, and says no worry we will find a fresh market for our produce and a fish market. We rely on our driver who is from Darwin. First she takes us to an organic food store. Oh no, Chef says I want open market. The fish market turned into a conventional fish store too. Chef is upset with LA  office and decides we should go for a glass of wine. He then finds out no wine till 12 o’clock in Darwin. We head back to the ship and chef promises a special dinner to make up for it.

We met at 6:30 PM in the private dining room where they can cook and demonstrate. The menu consists of ten courses: starting with caviar, two octopus dishes, soft shell crab, pasta, crocodile, barramundi, beef , and three deserts.

There was wine for each dish starting with champagne and ending with port. The best dinner I have had on the ship! We ate until 9 PM. I went to the room and was sick until 2 AM. The moral of the story is too much of a good thing is not always good. By the way I stopped eating after number six.

Bali Hai

Komodo was primarily a National Park with only one small town of about 1500 people and a beautiful, quiet harbor. Bali bore no resemblance to Komodo. The harbor was crowded with jet skis and parasailers with a plane landing every couple minutes. There was not a mountain in sight. The roads were packed with cars and motorbikes.Worse yet, there were frequent areas of debris in the water. I don’t want to give the impression all the water looked like this, but there were a lot of spots that did. I am going to have to give up a lot of straws to counter this problem!

The first stop on our tour was an area of rice terraces.The terraces fill a valley and use a cooperative system of water management called “Subak”, which was developed in the ninth century. It consists of the water source, the forests that protect the water supply, temples through which the water flows, and canals and tunnels that carry the water, and the rice paddies that use the water. The system is managed by the rice farmers. The system is so unique it has been recognized by UNESCO as part of our intangible heritage. If you look at the bottom picture, water flows into the top most terrace and then successively to each rice paddy below. The rice is quite young, so it is hard to see; but it is growing in each water pond. They are able to harvest three rice crops each year.

Our next stop was the town of Ubud, which is known as a craft center. On the way there we saw store after store of statuary, woodcrafts, and plants. Bali is predominantly Hindu. Every store and house seemed to have a shrine in front, behind, or on top of it. Our first stop in Ubud was an art museum which was located in attractive buildings on even more attractive grounds, but most of the art work was not to our taste. The next stop was a craft market, which was a huge disappointment as it was mostly tourist souvenirs. However, the walk between the two was very interesting.These are a few details from the museum grounds. It is typical to wrap cloth around religious statues. The colors of the cloth may vary with the nearest religious holiday.These are images from the Lotus Temple. I particularly like the way the trees in front of the main door curve in a mirror image.These are some images from the Royal Palace. The wife of a former king died several months ago. Hindus believe that all people should be cremated on a day that the priest determines to be “auspicious”. The queen has been embalmed and remains in the palace awaiting her auspicious day of March 2. In preparation, they are building the large tower shown in the bottom two pictures. They are always an odd number of stories with the highest being eleven for the king. The queen rates nine stories. On March 2, her body will be moved onto the tower and the tower will be moved (don’t ask, I have no idea how they are going to move it) from the castle to the cremation site. Electric wires will have to be taken down to accommodate the move. At the cremation site, the body will be transferred into a life size bull sarcophagus for cremation. A mass cremation will also take place at another site on the same day.Many stores had these small containers of flower petals on the sidewalk to bring them good fortune that day.This elaborate statue was in the middle of a traffic circle. The picture was taken by a friend. The blue at the top is not blue sky but is a distortion due to the tint at the top of the bus windshield. Our guide said people leave offerings there to keep them safe in traffic.We are now on day 72 of our trip, slightly past the midpoint, and this was the first day we had rain during a tour despite it being the rainy season most places. The rain and traffic made us late for a dinner with a group of seven friends. Fortunately, four of them were on the tour with us. We had fifteen minutes to change for dinner. After a nice dinner, I went to the Balinese Cultural Show on the pool deck. The dancers are very expressive with their arms, hands, and eyes. They have big eyes that move from one corner to another to emphasize the story being told by the dance.

Today is a day at sea before we arrive in Java.

Komodo and Its Dragons

Indonesia is an archipelago made up of more than 1700 islands and 70 active volcanos. If you are fact checking me, I know Wikipedia says the number of Islands is in the 1300’s; but two of our onboard lecturers said more than 1700 and then they stopped counting. It is the fourth most populous country in the world behind only China, India, and the USA. It also covers a large part of the earth at 3200 miles east to west and 1100 miles north to south. Overall it is 80% Islamic, but has some islands that are majority Hindu, Protestant, Buddhist, or Catholic. In short, it is a large culturally diverse country. In fact, its motto is “Unity in Diversity”. Not a bad motto!

Today, we visited Komodo Island one of five Islands where the Komodo Dragon can be found. It is the largest lizard in the world growing to a maximum length of 10 feet and weight of 150 pounds. The dragons are aggressive and their bite can be fatal due to a large number of bacteria and an anticoagulant in their bite. One entered the ranger station on Komodo, climbed the stairs to the second floor and bit a ranger who died about 6 days later. The mother dragon lays about 20 eggs, watches them for about a month, and then resumes her normal life. She returns after eight months when the eggs hatch and eats as many of the babies as she can. The baby lizards instinctively head for the trees as soon as they are born because the adults are too big to climb trees. The babies live in the trees for about four years where they can eat bugs and birds. The adults fight a lot, particularly at mating time and they are cannibalistic if one of them dies.

We were warned before we headed to the island not to go if we were bleeding – this included any woman having her period, but that was not a problem with the guests – as they can smell blood several miles away. We were led by a guide in the middle of our 25 person group with a ranger with a big stick at the front and back of the group. We had to stay on the path and not leave the group.We walked for about two miles on a mostly level path in the forest. Once again the weather was brutally hot and humid, but we walked at a very leisurely pace. Fortunately, the above bridge had been replaced.We had walked 80% of our distance with only two dragon sightings when we came to a watering hole with at least seven of them. Notice that their skin resembles chain mail armor. We saw adult male and female as well as juvenile dragons. In total, we saw eleven dragons.After we left the watering hole, we encountered a large male walking down the path toward us. The woods are dense, so they prefer to take the paths. The guide got all of us on the left side of the path and deployed the rangers to use their sticks to get the dragon to the right side of the path. After passing us, he lumbered down the path toward the watering hole. The ranger said there necks are sensitive, so you have to poke there necks to get them to cooperate.In addition to the dragons, we saw colorful snails and mushrooms.

But the real surprise of Komodo Island was the beauty of the islands. No matter what you think of the following pictures, they don’t begin to do it justice as there was a beautiful scene wherever you looked. Despite the heat and humidity, we thought it was one of our best days.We ended the day taking in the view from the infinity pool. Tomorrow we will be in Bali.


In Darwin we were supposed to do a city tour. Susan decided she would rather do a Kitchen Table tour where she would go grocery shopping with the chef and that evening the chef would prepare a special dinner for them in a small dining room called the Kitchen Table. Since I don’t like to shop, I am very resistant to paying money for the opportunity to shop, so I elected to do another tour. This meant I was not going to be able to eat dinner with my Susan that night. Instead, I had dinner in the main restaurant with The Other Susan (you may remember her as the one kissing the fish earlier in the blog). We were chaperoned by two other couples who are mutual friends. I think my Susan wants to tell about her experiences herself, so we will save that for a later blog.

I opted to go on a tour that included Crocodylus Park and a short city tour of Darwin. The park was founded by a noted crocodile biologist and is operated as a breeding, research, and rescue center for crocs. They pay for their work by giving tours and selling crocodile products such as meat, belts, and purses. Several eating venues on the ship served crocodile last night; and every one who tried it reported that it was very tough. In the late 1970’s the estimated population of saltwater crocodiles in Australia had diminished to an estimated 20 individuals. Today, the population in Australia is estimated to be 100,000 to 200,000.The male crocodiles can reach over 20 feet long and 2200 pounds.These pictures give you an idea of the teeth on a croc. When they snapped at the chicken leg and missed, it sounded like someone had slammed the lid of a wooden box as hard as they could. They have the highest mouth closing force of any animal at over 23,000 pounds per square inch. If one latches on to you, you WILL be held until it decides to let go.

Those who wished to could hold a baby crocodile. You can’t tell it from the picture, but the mouth is taped shut. While they have tremendous force closing their mouth, the strength to open their mouth is very weak. Holding them is not without risk however. The guide got hit by the tail and said she would probably be bruised. Worse yet is if the head gets loose so they can whip it at your face, they could break one of your bones as their heads are very hard. Fortunately, I survived with no injury! The chic outfit I am wearing is to deal with the hot humid weather. My daughter lovingly calls the hat my goofy hat. The scarf is a cooling scarf that you dampen with water so the evaporation has a cooling effect.These crocs seemed to be good buddies.Some of the baby crocs. Without Susan for scale it is hard to know that these are babies.The park was also a small zoo. This is the face of what looks like an embarrassed ostrich.At the lion feeding, the guide talked about the difficulty of protecting lions in the wild unless a way could be found to make the lions an economic benefit to the people living with them. After the feeding, the lion turned his back on us and sprayed urine at us. We had been warned to expect this; but once he sprayed some of the people to my left, he walked along the fence and sprayed some more to my right. Fortunately, I was not hit.The meerkats were very cute and active. The emu (the second largest bird after the ostrich) above and cassowary below are native birds of Australia.This is the first cruise Viking has made in most parts of the world cruise. This appears to mean that other cruise lines who have been visiting the area for years have first choice of docking location. This was the case in Darwin where Royal Caribbean was docked in downtown Darwin and we were in an industrial port more than 30 minutes away. There is always a lot of security in industrial ports and Darwin seldom has two ships at the same time, so the tour company resources were strained. All this meant our tour was an hour late starting, so the above shot was all I saw of Darwin.

We are leaving the English speaking countries with a culture similar to ours and heading for Indonesia in hopes of seeing the Komodo dragons.

The Travel Blog of Susan and Bruce