Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The US Navy is in Town: Volunteering @ Fenwick Pier (getting to be a “mom” again)

I have posted pics and “facebooked” about the Navy ships that come into Hong Kong.
We were lucky enough in August to get to tour the USS Ronald Reagan. One of the reasons we were honored with this (it’s a tough ticket) is because the American Women’s Association (AWA) works to host the “Welcome Desk” at Fenwick Pier.  I volunteer there, so I lucked into 3 tickets. The Pier is where 99% of the time the sailors exit into and out of Hong Kong.

Today, the USS George Washington and it’s support ships came into Hong Kong waters.  This group has over 7,000 sailors, so when they come to town it gets super busy!

The Pier is a little “slice” of home.  This is where families are reunited…so cute to watch the kids waiting for parents to come off the ship!  The sailors can get US magazines and books relatively cheaply. They can get SIM cards. There is a laundry (very popular…and NO I don’t want to SEE your laundry…just take it to that man over there), a US Post Office, a bar and most importantly WI FI!  It is so funny to look into the computer room and see EVERYONE on Facebook or Skype (no Skype on the ships)

Anyway, the volunteers sign up for shifts that are three hours in length.  We give out maps and books about Hong Kong.  We give restaurant recommendations,  tell them where the bars are (stay out of Wan Chai), help them find banks and generally get around.

Sometimes, the sailors ask the most FUN questions: 
“Where is China Town?” (Uhhh…you are IN China…)
“Where can I get good Chinese Food?” (Here we just call it “food”)

Nahh…we don’t answer too sarcastically, because quite honestly, many many of those coming off the ships are very young and many have not traveled too extensively. THIS is where the “Mom” stuff comes in! (I swear today I stepped back b/c I thought I was talking to a 12 year old)

I signed up for the first shift available.  The first few days tend to be the busiest for us and the most fun. 
The groups come over in “Liberty Boats,” so they enter the Pier 100’s at a time, so our desk can get really busy.

Their first priority is to get money.  The second is advice on how to get around.

Sadly, the taxi drivers in Hong Kong know the ships are in and take the opportunity to rob the sailors blind.  We warn, we talk..but it still happens. It happened today within 90 minutes of the ship coming in.

I had given two young ladies a recommendation to a place for facials and nails, etc.  I gave them the “The taxi should have $20 HKD on the meter” speech and off they went. Back they came to ask…”he charged us $290 HKD…were we ripped off?” YES!  They failed to see the decimal point…the ride was actually $29 HKD…sigh.  It won’t happen to them again.

We  love to help them get around on the MTR (subway) and how to buy their Octopus cards.  These cards are what we use to pay for buses, subway, and trams.  They are preloaded w/money and they are a GODSEND.  It works to avoid the taxi scams AND it’s CHEAP!  However, when we are talking, glazed looks DO tend to take over…it’s a lot of information that is hard to do in a few words and many times they just want OUT the doors (insert any conversation you have had ever had with a kid here).

The shift just flew by and soon I was going with my friend Lisa over meet others for Tea.  However, a Mom’s work is NEVER done.

As Lisa and I were leaving the Pier, there were lines of taxis waiting to take the sailors off to points around the island.  When a couple asked us if it was really $500 HKD to go to Northpoint…we scooped them up and escorted them to a different taxi line.  Before long, we had 10 people following us so they could find money machines and the Admiralty MTR station (time to go buy those Octopus cards).

Lisa and I hand delivered 3 different groups to various points…Lisa led the way and I was the “sweeper” to keep our groups together.

We just could NOT walk away w/o advising, leading, cajoling.  It is amazingly satisfying.

I left our tea and advised two more young men who were struggling with the MTR map and trying to get a ticket to the station near their hotel ...and while Corey would roll his eyes for me getting involved...they BOTH  said "thank God you came by"

It lets me be a mom now that  I’m so far away and my kids only need a mom a little bit of the time.

Corey is off on a trip tomorrow, so I have signed up to do a few more shifts.  When we aren’t busy I get to chat with lovely women and when we are…well…I get my mom fix. I’m very upfront with who I chat with that I’m “momming” them…most are as sweet as can be and just smile say “that’s ok”


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Meanwhile…back in Vietnam

Day 3  - Our first true “trekking” day!
We arrived in Sapa the night before, and being dark, we did not get to really see what a glorious little village this was!
SapaSapa 2
It truly reminded me of an Alpine Village.  Bells rang at 5 AM…which were not too intrusive.  Diane and I were super lucky that we were NOT housed in the part of the hotel that also had a Techno-music concert at 5:15 AM. YAY us!
Diane and I would wake up relatively early, head down to breakfast, and then ease into the day.  We were perfectly suited in that.  I also enjoyed that while we did Trek and sight-see, we were NOT forced out at ridiculously early hours.  Both days in Sapa, our start time was 9am.  I find that perfectly civilized!
I made it pretty clear at our “pregame” meeting for the trip that I read TREKKING not HIKING.  Many of the women on the trip were much more hard core HIKERS…so understandably in my “schlep-rock” (as Corey would call it) way I became a little fussed up over the thought of not being able to keep up.  This is something I do pretty regularly…especially when it comes to diving. I really need to learn to trust myself and my capabilities.  Something to work on.
Well, the day dawned, and off we went on our first…TREK.  First, Thang had to change our travels b/c of construction on the trail.  Second, North Vietnam had had plenty of rain over the past weeks b/c of the monsoons that had ravaged Thailand.  OK then…off we go!
We hiked with and through villages with Black H’mong. We started our trekking in Lao Chai (Black H’Mong)  The Black H’Mong where Black on their heads…this is how they are identified.
IMG_1185We would descend into these rice fields. Trust me that these pictures do NOT do the area justice!
IMG_1187Here is Diane at the beginning of the hike.  She said she was happy I snapped a pic BEFORE we started!
IMG_1189IMG_1190There were waterfalls and rivers.  All beautiful!
Thang warned us that we were going to be ambushed on our trek.  WHAT? Ambushed? Ambushed in North Vietnam is NOT a good word!  Americans are VERY sensitive to words like “ambushed” (did I mention I saw the lake that John McCain landed in when he was taken prisoner in Hanoi? I’m just sayin…).  In this case “ambushed” meant that locals would come out of the village, escort us, chat us up, and then hope we would buy their wares at the end.
So, off we walked.  The trek was not too too difficult.  There were some very slick places.  I had no trouble keeping up.  I stayed in the front for much of the hike figuring I would stay with the more experienced hikers and watch where they put their feet, etc.
IMG_1195Here is a man and baby hanging out in the rice field.  He stood up so we could take a better picture!
IMG_1203Much of the path was smooth yet a little rocky. Soon enough we got to the “mountainous” part where the locals came in handy!
The holder on the man’s back is solid wood and HEAVY.  He moves it on is back when it is empty and full of rice.  They beat the stalks of rice against the walls of this.  It is back breaking work.  And bring that together with the hills these terraces are carved in to…well, I think I said it before… I will never look at rice the same way again!
You notice that those working in the fields were mostly western clothing.  Those helping us on the mountain part wore traditional clothes. 
I do not have pictures of the paths where I needed a little help (a hand here, a hand there).  I needed that much concentration to not slip.  We all did really well!  Here is a shadow picture of a heart made from grass that Diane got from her “escort”IMG_1205IMG_1207
Here are a couple of us crossing the bridge before going to the next village.  The local in the back was with us the entire way.  She climbed down that darn thing in shoes much like crocs…I was in full hiking boots and thankful for it!
IMG_1210This is the OLD bridge…I like the one above..but I did cross this one…it was rickety!
IMG_1212This little guy was picking gourds off the roof of his house under supervision of his dad! 
IMG_1217Here is a large carving from limestone.  There were much smaller selections but we did not really stop long enough to shop.  They were cool!
IMG_1220Rice drying on a mat.  It is raked constantly.
IMG_1222TRAFFIC J A M – Village style…we saw more of these…I’ll show those to you tomorrow!
IMG_1229I REALLY wish you could see what was in the hat…it was BEES..yep…this guy was moving through the village w/a hat full of bees…I could not get a good snap of that.
We finished with this part of the hike…it was about 12K.  We then took our bus to Ban Ho, which is the home of the Tay minority hill tribe.  It was here that we learned many things!
IMG_1226This is where we had lunch…and you know what greeted us? GARLIC Sweet potato  FRIES.  If you closed your eyes you would swear you were at the ballpark.
First however, it had been a long walk and we had consumed water.  SO, we needed a restroom.  OK…I did NOT take pics of this…but here is where I saw first hand it is REALLY important to live as high up on that mountain as you can.  The toilets consisted of two sheds.  There were two cement troughs poured with mountain water constantly running down through the sheds.  Yep….holes in the ground.  The rest I leave to you.  Suffice it to say…strong leg muscles are a good thing, as is good balance.  “Nuff said!
ANYWAY, meanwhile back at lunch.  We were treated to local fair cooked in the home. There was a soup, greens, rice and two or three different meat dishes Now, if you like, you can come and board here when you hike!  They have beds and will take good care of you.  After a lunch we walked through this village…beautiful streams (umm, I think??)
IMG_1233IMG_1237(See the terraces in the back?) That is a water power station on the right…it has made the water pretty dirty in that area…yes, I swear the power plant did it!
When we got back, we had two cooking demonstrations.  We made two desserts.
The rice ball looking thing was made from rice we helped pound.  These were both interesting experiences, and yes we tasted, but I will probably not miss never eating them again! The tamale looking things were steamed.
After this, we headed back to Sapa and the resort. The drive was interesting because the roads are CHOPPY and were damaged further by the rains.  Sometimes if felt like we had to all move to one side of the bus to keep us from going over an edge.
We got back to the resort where Diane and I headed off to our 90 minute massages.  This cost a total of $55 USD. 
It was definitely a treat after our day of hiking.
I had never had a Vietnamese massage, and lets just say, I as pulled, contorted and stretched into shapes I did not think myself capable. 
I had never had a masseuse ON TOP of me (get out of the gutter people)…and in the end, I was not sure if the next day I would sore from the hiking or the massage.
When I awoke the next morning…I could not tell!
It was the best massage I ever had.  (Let’s just say…there was toe pulling involved…my family is now instantly jealous!)
I love Vietnam!