May 25th

We set sail for Ningbo and expected to arrive about 1600 tomorrow. That is roughly a 36-hour run up the coast. The wind made an appearance today and make a nice chop on the water. We are sailing into the wind and up the swell so this made it actually feel like a boat, I was stoked to feel it. The boat is huge and has some deflection so it lets you know what is going on outside for sure.

Despite the wind and the chop, the ride is pleasant and the sun is hidden behind the hazy offshore cloud cover. Which makes me think of China. Blue skies are rare in China, between the horrific air pollution and the mountains that block it all in, there are precious few clear days in China. At least the China I know, I am sure somewhere in China it is glorious but all the populated areas are not where it is. So, it looks like China but I am offshore and pushing through the Taiwan Strait. I have looked out at this water for years in Taiwan and never really thought about being out on it but here I am. To me this is an achievement. A small one but still an achievement.

My mouth is bugging me today and causing concern, the front tooth is noticeably loose and the material that was inserted into my gum and jaw is spongy and loose. I was advised this is “normal” but what the heck is normal about having your buckle and palette rebuilt. The story goes something like this;

I had an implant about 15 years ago in the tooth just next to my front teeth on the top. Now, I should know all the terminology and the correct numeric callout for this tooth but I do not. The implant was great, then 2 years ago while we were remodeling our Newbury Park house I walked full speed into the sliding glass door. The impact was a direct hit on the implant. The force was so great that the implant bent and created a nice little bubble on my gum right where it meets the top of your mouth. It hurt like the dickens. My dentist and my periodontist asked “does it hurt”? Duh. It hurt but you see I have this high tolerance for pain so I took some Advil and a week later the pain subsided. End of story? NO.

So, last February and I am eating some crusty bread and this implant suddenly shifts the other way, it hurt like the dickens. It started to bleed and the whole darn thing was loose. This is a titanium screw in your jaw and it was loose. Not good. I drive home from Phoenix and go to the periodontist. X rays, inspection and several “oohs and ahhs” later it was revealed that when I walked into the door I traumatized the whole front of my mouth. I needed a root canal on the front tooth and implant had to be removed. Ok, so we do the root canal and then cut out the implant. Next is a bone graft to try and get some bone in the jaw so we can replace the implant. A bone graft is packed in your jaw with a membrane to hold it in place, sutured up and then in about 10-12 weeks you have bone. Well, my membrane gave way about 5 weeks into the process. When it failed, my mouth went to hell. The gum tissue fell away and the gum line collapsed in the front and in the back. I had this cavity where a tooth used to be and it was nasty.

My periodontist, who is a stud, did a major reconstruction of my mouth with some tissue that is supposed to be like gum tissue. They had a technical term that of course I should know but I do not. The idea is that this tissue will create enough material so we can try the bone graft all over again. I am looking at 12-16 weeks of this. However, I am not familiar with this stuff, it is gooey, mushy, and looks just terrible. The gum has receded on the front tooth and it is loose since there is no tooth next to it and the bone is gone. So, I am sensitive and nervous each time I eat or drink and hell to look at it……….oh man. That kind of puts me over the edge.

They all say I will be fine. I go through good and bad but it feels strange and un natural, I am sure it is not a good thing going on in there. Today it is freaking me out.

OK, so now we are up to speed on the medical concern.

Lunch was deviled eggs, potatoes au gratin and a fabulous duck brochette in mushroom and tarragon sauce. Dessert was fresh pineapple and banana whipped cream. For anyone who has been over here, the pineapple and the watermelon is just without reproach, the best in the world.

I took some photos of the mouth and sent them to Dianna and my periodontist. If it looks wrong I need to know tomorrow. Tomorrow we arrive in Ningbo, this is the last chance to exit before we make the run to Shanghai, Pusan and then Seattle. I of course do not want to get off, that in itself would be a major cluster to navigate. On the other hand, I cannot be a burden to this ship or crew, there are no doctors and limited first aid. If this thing falls apart I am toast. So, I hope I can be informed properly within this time frame.

There is a fine line between being adventurous and being foolish. I am not too old that I could not restart this journey another time. However, I would be at peace with it either way. After all, we have a wedding to get ready for, can’t exactly do that if I end up in a hospital.

So today will be called my day for Drama. My “chicken little day”.

May 26th

Last night I was not feeling hungry, too much sitting and not enough moving around. I am not burning any calories. When I am at home, I have so many things to do around the property that I am always on the move. Our property keeps me in shape, it keeps me active and feeling good. I must admit that I do think about who is setting and clearing the mouse traps, checking for intruders that may have visited the night before and generally doing what my morning walk achieves. I miss my morning walk and the crisp air on the mountain.

So not being hungry I just enjoyed a melon and cured ham salad bathed in olive oil and light lemon. I also had cheese, bread and some green grapes. Those must have come from Japan when the boat stopped in Yokohama. I say that because almost every grape I have seen in China is red, most of the time the jumbo jobs full of big seeds.

I went back to the cabin and did some email and then just read in bed until I fell asleep. I am reading “An Idiot Abroad”. I watched all the episodes on TV with delight and the book is written in a diary format from Karl’s point of view. Very funny yet sad in a weird way. I think being in foreign places is fantastic and the more you can just experience without passing judgement the better. I find that people who try to compare new places to their life and their home never see what is really there. Karl is this way in that he is too busy trying to get it over with that he never embraces what is in front of him. I will read the whole book and then reflect but it certainly appears to have been written for pure comic relief.

This morning it is still. The wind is gone and the water is flat without any swell. I cannot see any land even though we are due in Ningbo at around 1600. Current time is 0525. I awoke to see the sunrise but it was nothing to talk about and I was disappointed. Broken clouds and sneak appearance of the sun.

Today my fellow passenger, a young Canadian artist from Vancouver, will depart and fly back home. I will be the sole passenger for the remainder of the voyage as far as I know. This is fine with me. The young artist is rather odd and our conversation is limited to sharing a table for meals. I don’t even see him otherwise.

I have internet to keep me in touch even though it is very slow and somewhat spendy. I don’t mind, just knowing I can communicate with home is worth everything. I don’t like leaving Dianna for this long and she is the love of my life, supporting me through all these years and all our movements. She will be taking our big cat Neko in for a leg amputation tomorrow. Neko has a cancerous tumor on his hind leg and we are taking his leg so the cancer does not migrate. Neko was a feral cat our daughter trapped 7 years ago and is a family member. The thought of him losing a leg at this point in his life really hit me hard. I am not squeamish at all, nor do I have issue with the actual removal of the leg. I just seem to really have a problem with the recovery, the adjustment and the fact that animals are so innocent. So, Dianna in her beautiful way, decided that the procedure would be better performed while I was away. This is how she cares for me and shields me from things that she knows will be hard on me. I love her.

Neko will need some intensive care and nursing after his surgery and I am not emotionally prepared for that. Between Dianna and our son Carson, I know they will give him love and care that I could not. That does not make it any easier and I am sure there will be tears.

 

Simple breakfast of coffee, corn flakes and bread with cherry preserves. We have been delayed into Ningbo until 2300, a seven-hour pushback. The result is that we have slowed to about 8-9 knots. That is slow. Less than 10 MPH. Slow boat travel is nice in that it creates no wind, slow boat travel is a pain in that you feel like it takes forever to get somewhere. Even if you do see something on the horizon or in the ocean it can take forever to get close enough and usually by that time it is gone. So, traveling slow is not something I am necessarily fond of.

I will sit on the deck today; the weather is just fair but being outside feels good.

Lunch was a salad of cabbage and pineapple, chicken in a caper mushroom sauce, broccoli and carrots with a peach rice pudding for dessert. The food was a question mark before I departed with many people asking me what the food would be like. It is like a good restaurant. I am very pleased with the food and the quality of the accommodation. It is actually just like being in a small and private restaurant.

My eyeglass screw is coming loose. I hate that, mainly because when I take my glasses off my face I have an impossible time to see the teeny screw. I will ask for assistance tonight and with any luck at all, someone will have one of those mini screwdrivers and assist me.

We have been forced to drift. 1400 hours and we have stopped the screws and are drifting. When you have a ship of this size you only want to drop the anchor when you absolutely must so we are drifting to kill time. They have pushed us back to 0145 tomorrow morning to berth. The load out in Ningbo is to unload 600 containers and load 400 containers. I am told this is a 12-13 hour process. That would mean with paperwork and buffer time, we will not be departing until 1700-1800 tomorrow night. If the harbor is convenient and accessible easily I may get off and go buy a coke. Man, I would like that.

I went up to the bridge this afternoon, a tidy and everything in its place kind of area. It is the largest space on the ship. There are winglets that jut out from the bridge on either side so you can walk all the way to the ship’s edge, really there is a vantage point somewhere on the bridge to see every perimeter of the ship. I can imagine in fog or heavy rain they get used. This thing is a beast. The bridge is all very proper and immaculate, the Captain fully in control. I am welcome up there as long as I keep my mouth shut and observe. One perk is they have an espresso machine up there. I don’t like to be one of those people who just hangs around so the only reason I plan to visit the bridge is when I really want a good vantage point or I want to see what it is like when a harbor pilot takes the controls.

I am relaxing a bit and spending my time working on spreadsheets and computer work that I have neglected back home. This is not rewarding but it needed time and that is something I have plenty of now.

The grey never left us. It is now 1900 hours, dinner time and the grey has been stuck to us like a cloud all day. Since we will be loading from about 0200 until 1400 tomorrow I won’t get much sleep tonight. When they load, it is noisy with lots of banging and clunking and reverse warning alarms. I did remember to bring a pair of ear plugs so those will be put to use tonight.

May 27th

It is now 0500, I woke up after a very nice sleep to the sound of the tugs pulling alongside. I had expected to be awakened much earlier as we were scheduled (or re-scheduled) to be docking at about 0200. We just docked after I enjoyed watching the tugs do their work, very cool boats.

Last night I was once again not too hungry, good thing since the dinner entree was liver, a huge slab of liver. I am not against liver and in fact would eat it if I was hungry enough. It is not one of my go to foods, in fact I do not think I have ever prepared liver. I think it is an American thing and perhaps a recent generational thing, that organ meats simply do not sit well with our tastes. I am sure that my parent’s generation and those before ate organ meats with somewhat regularity. As a kid, we never had liver or kidneys or tongue or brains or other organ meats so we never developed a taste for it. Now, over here I eat that kind of thing pretty much all the time but it is a component of a soup or a wok dish, not a slab on a plate. In fact, pork intestine and liver are pretty much a staple here and considered nothing less than perfectly normal.

In any event, I was pleased to have the opportunity to avoid returning an uneaten plate to the kitchen. There are two people to be on good terms with on this ship; the Captain and the Chef. I did have a salad, cheese, bread and a pear sliced up so I could eat it in small bites.

After dinner, I sat out on the deck with just the house lights on and enjoyed the cool air that had settled in at nightfall. As we move up the coast and head north the weather is becoming a wider temperature range with the daily highs still in the low 80’s but the nights are much cooler and may even require a sweater. I prefer this over the weather further south where the difference in temperature from day to night is only 5 degrees or so.

I bought a jar of instant coffee while provision shopping in Hong Kong and there is an electric kettle in the passenger lounge. I am making use of it in the morning and in the afternoon. Instant coffee can be bitter and harsh but it satisfies that wake up cup desire I have. I drink too much coffee while at home, usually 3 or 4 cups in the morning. I have noticed that it makes me anxious and a little shaky so one of my trip benefits is to reduce that consumption. I am drinking one cup in the morning, after I shower and shave. At home I kind of shuffle out of bed straight to the coffee maker which has been preset for the morning. I think coffee is a wonderful thing and I love it but I also recognize that the side effects of drinking too much are not good for me. Between the dry spell of Coke and my reduction in coffee I think my body is getting used to a lower caffeine intake? Maybe I am being hopeful. I still have a few days to go before I can have that Coke, although I am told that Sunday is a special day on board and that the Captain hosts a social time on the bridge where they serve beer, wine and yes, Coke. I wonder if tomorrow (which is Sunday) this will occur.

Breakfast was coffee and oatmeal with honey, I also had a Japanese yogurt. We said good bye to Canada today, that is what I called Michael, the Canadian passenger. I decided to stay on board today, the taxi ride was too long to go to town and I will save that for tomorrow in Shanghai. I think there are several crew members going ashore so we can share taxi fares. I should have about 5-6 hours in Shanghai to walk around and have lunch and that elusive Coke.

Today I will lounge, nap and read. The sun is out but I cannot be out on deck for long, they are loading and I am just a nuisance out there.

We had a vegetable quiche and pork curry for lunch, dessert was watermelon. Each day at lunch there is an information sheet on the table, as I am now alone at a table this information is really targeted at me. Today it advised that we will depart Ningbo at 1700. The information sheet also advised that tomorrow the kitchen will be cold food only, the chef is one of the 6 that are going ashore. So that means if I get clearance I will join them in going ashore in Shanghai. I think we will have about 4-5 hours on shore. The run up to Shanghai is short but the guys cannot get a shore pass until the ship has been loaded and unloaded. I think they are planning on going ashore around 1500 tomorrow and then being back by 1900 hours. I will take it, I just want to have a coke and a candy bar. I have seen Shanghai several times, the cheapo souvenirs, the street peddlers, the amazing skyscrapers, the complete cultural mélange that Shanghai is. It really is a wonderful blend of old world colonialism and new world architecture thrown in the center of Chinese heritage. Shanghai may be one of the most diverse culture cities on the planet. All I want out of it is a convenience store. Funny.

The water in the bay here in Ningbo looks like Nestle Quick. A deep ruddy brown, the entire thing. It looks like when a river dumps into the sea after a big storm but there have been no storms, the bay is just a sediment filled hole that is large enough for big ships. It is not a bad looking place, just not a beautiful place. There are wind powered towers in the hills, like the ones you see when you enter or leave Palm Springs and they just look odd here next to the belching smokestacks that appear to have been built in the mid 1900’s. That sounded odd; the mid 1900’s. I am still not wrapped around it being 2017. I think this year is the 40th reunion for my high school. Gads, 40 years. What in the world?

 

 

 

May 28th

Sunday is supposed to be a special day on the boat but with today being a port call in Shanghai and several crew members wanting to go ashore I am not sure what special will mean on this Sunday. I do know that we had croissants for breakfast and that is a Sunday only thing so something was special already.

Last night I was able to introduce the chef to C.P., this is the term we use on the fishing trips when you are not real hungry or don’t want a big serving. It is an abbreviation for Childs Portion. The chef liked that. C.P. I had a CP of spaghetti Bolognese and it was very good. Cheese and fruit to go along with it.

We are drifting outside Shanghai, there is what they term “harbor congestion” so we will be out here for several hours. Shanghai may be one of it not the busiest ports in the world. It is a parking lot outside in the offshore waters. Hundreds of ships of all classification and size are out here, just looking out at the horizon is looks like those fishing shows on TV where all the salmon fisherman are running into each other and frantically trying to find some space. I mean it is crowded.

I still have no idea if we will be given shore passes, it depends on the time we have and if the boat will be tied up long enough. I am getting used to the schedule changes. It reminds me a bit of Los Angeles freeway travel in that you never know how long it will take to get somewhere so you leave hours before you should just to make sure. Usually you need those extra hours. This is on the same level.

I am doing laundry today, there is a washer and dryer on each deck, the mini stacking washer and dryer combo. The washer on my deck is broken so I am washing a deck below and drying up on my deck. I brought enough clothing that I will only need to wash 2 or maybe 3 times on the trip. I have been traveling for 8 days so it was time to clean some stuff.

Laundry done. Cabin all straightened out……plan to go ashore about 1600. We will be on the dock in about 30 minutes and we will remain until 1300 tomorrow. I am going to get my Coke if all goes as planned.

Lunch, well forget the part about the cold kitchen, apparently that will only apply to dinner since the chef will be ashore. Lunch was special, Sunday is a special day. We had smoked salmon as an appetizer, T-Bone steak with mushroom sauce, scalloped potatoes and for dessert an amazing sweet pear with vanilla ice cream drizzled in chocolate sauce and shaved almonds. Every day should be Sunday. I actually will get at least one more Sunday on board. We are due back in Seattle on the following Sunday, the 11th so I will probably not enjoy but one special day on board.

When we arrive at each port, the officials come on board to check documents. There is always a lot of paperwork in China but this is extreme paperwork, they check cargo documents, crew and passenger documents, ship documents, declarations and on and on. When they board all the entries and exits on the ship must be secured and locked. So, for the two hours they are on board I am sequestered to the interior space of the ship, usually meaning my cabin. Now is one of those times, 1400 hours and we are being inspected. Still plan to go ashore at 1600 but this is China and if you know China like I know China, plans can change in a moment. It is never wise to plan on anything in China, you might be disappointed. So, if I receive a call we go, if not, we stay. For the next couple of hours, I will read and enjoy the spacious cabin and its air conditioning. It is hot outside, upper 80’s and steamy humid. I put on shorts again today. I hate walking around in the heat wearing jeans, just too dang hot and uncomfortable.

The crew treats me ok, not great, just ok. The French guys are much friendlier and cordial than the Ukrainians are, I don’t know, maybe it is a Russian thing. I am learning about things as we go along, there really was no orientation other than if you want something talk to the officer on duty. Stay out of the way and don’t do anything stupid. Each stop and departure I learn a little more about how this crew works and where I can be out of the way but still experience the events that are passing. I am an old hand on the fishing boats and know the routine, here not so much yet.

 

It is 1600 and we received shore passes. There are seven crew and myself….off we go to Shanghai.

May 29th

We made it out to Shanghai last night, with the full experience in play. We were taken to town by the shipping company agents. We took two cars because there were eight of us going into town. Our car was a micro van that smelled like motor oil, has no suspension at all and chugged along at a robust top speed of about 35 MPH. The driver was a mid-30’s guy who insisted on playing Chinese disco music at a mind-numbing volume, I think this is a Chinese way of entertaining us? The music was like Giorgio Moroder samples and they all sounded the same just with different singers and different words. At first it was amusing but after 45 minutes it was nauseating.

We were dropped off in the high rent district, across the river from the old Shanghai and what is known as The Bund. I would have preferred to be on the Bund as it is more relaxed and interesting but I was just along for the ride and the crew was fine with letting me tag along. Most of them had never been ashore in China so selfies and lots of picture taking went on. I was amused.

The crew brought a shopping list of things to get for the boat, all electronic related; some new PlayStation controllers, a few new games, some cables and interface connectors and miscellaneous cords and plugs. We wandered around and found a full blown electronic shopping mall and that is for lack of a better description. Basically 3 floors of stalls with tables randomly spread out on each floor. Each vendor specialized in something; laptops, desktops, phones, software, cables and connectors, kind of like an indoor swap meet on three floors and these were big floors. The shopping was hilarious, the French speaking English and the Chinese trying to understand the accents. The French like to bargain but they soon realized that the Chinese are expert negotiators and were going to prevail on each exchange.

A couple of the guys bought wireless Bluetooth headsets and phone cases, they were happy with the prices which were very low compared to back home.

While they checked off their list I snuck off to a convenience store and bought a big Coke and a Snickers bar. Success. My list was complete.

The area where we were in Shanghai is amazing. Big skyscrapers and every Western restaurant you could imagine and a Starbucks on seemingly every block. We walked and the guys took pictures. They decided they may want to go up in one of the observation towers so we began heading to the big buildings. I encouraged them to take a side street and they agreed. One of the guys wanted to buy some fruit so I found a fruit seller and it was game on. My limited Chinese came in very handy and we left with 10 large Fuji apples, some Lee Chi and some Japanese peaches.

We walked and talked and lots of picture taking was done. When we arrived at the big, 100 floor building with an observation floor the guys argued about going up or not going up. The cost put them in a “no” position. The cost was RMB $180, roughly $25 USD, that is a lot of money to ride a long elevator and look at the city. We moved along and they decided they wanted to go to the other, more famous observation tower, the one that is in just about every photo of Shanghai you see. This was built for the sole purpose of being an observation tower, unlike most others that are office buildings with a side business of an observation deck. The walk over was fun and we enjoyed the warm night.

 

When we arrived at the tourist trap known as the Observation tower, the guys were deflated that the price was the same as the first stop. $180RMB, they were quickly understanding how China worked. They went inside the gift shops and I went to the snack stand for a cold Coke and an ice cream bar. It was warm and the comfort of an ice cream bar and cold Coke reminded me of home. Of course, the swarms of people and the calamity of the whole place quickly dashed thoughts of home even though I wanted to think about it.

When the guys finished their shopping, we met up, it was just past 2100 and we were hungry. I would have liked some Chinese comfort food but just followed behind as they chatted in French about food. I was at first convinced they were going to go to a place like TGIFridays or Hooters or some other Western chain restaurant with a Chinese flair. They stopped at each and looked at the menu with no consensus about eating there. I think they were more curious than considering eating there. It was getting late and I told them that most restaurants close at 2200 so we should decide on something and eat.

After much debate and discussion, they decided on a Hot Pot restaurant. I am not a big fan of hot pot, basically a big broth bowl where you purchase vegetables and meats to put inside and cook while you drink beer. Hot pot food really only tastes likes something when you dip it in a sauce. The work of cooking your own food at a restaurant never really sat well with me anyway. I let them order and watched with amusement as they really had no idea what was coming. They tried to use chopsticks and that in itself was enough entertainment for the night out. It was ridiculous. The fumbling and cursing went on for about 10 minutes and so I went to the kitchen and brought back forks. They were all very pleased and then returned with new enthusiasm to the meal. I was picking and just eating easy things to chew, my mouth was bugging me and I really don’t like Hot Pot too much so I just ate a little. I did have another Coke though, so now I was overboard on the Coke for the night.

The restaurant had Wi-Fi and so I was excited to text Dianna and feel a little connected. I miss her and not talking on the phone is hard. We are emailing but it seems like the time lag is so long and a text is instant communication, almost like being connected. That made me happy and it was too short a session as the drivers were coming to return us to the ship. We closed down the restaurant at about 2245, they were glad to see us leave I think.

We needed to walk several blocks to meet our cars and when we did arrive at our rendezvous point the cars had not yet arrived. We stood in an alley and chatted about the evening. I was a bit surprised at how the guys were so relaxed and not a bit like the stereotypical sailor gone ashore stories you hear. They had no desire to be hell raisers or get drunk or chase girls or ask where the bars were. We had a totally tourist evening and they all had things to take back on board.

The cars arrived and despite my hope for an upgrade, we were assigned the same clunker that we came in. We wedged ourselves in and the music immediately began blaring. It was 2345 and no one was really in the mood for bad Chinese disco played loud enough to eradicate any other sound. We endured and laughed about it for it was going to make a lasting memory.

We stepped back on board the ship at 0030 and signed in. We returned our passports to the Chief Officer and they went back into the safe. Funny, we just drove right into the docks with a simple hand gesture and one gate. No customs, immigration, not even a cursory look at who was in the vehicles. China, it never surprises me.

I fell asleep instantly last night despite the banging and clanging of loading. They were loading containers below deck and they make big noise as they bang along the guide posts and into the belly of the ship. It was about 0100 and I was tired.

I awoke at 0630, I would have much rather stayed in bed than get up so early. The small dinner that had worn off in my stomach and the thought of missing an oatmeal morning pushed me out of the bunk and into the shower. I went down to breakfast at 0700 and was the only one in the mess room. While I was eating a couple of guys came in but none of them were members of our excursion last night. I ate oatmeal with honey, some baguette with butter and strawberry jam and washed it down with coffee. The juice was grapefruit and I hate that stuff so I skipped it.

We are due to depart around 1400 hours today. We will make the next run up to Pusan, South Korea and that will be about a 50-hour run. I will not go ashore in Korea; our time is short there and I don’t want to spend any more money off the ship until I get to Seattle.

I will go down to lunch in about 10 minutes, I plan to eat and then take a nap. I think taking a nap is such a luxury, during all those years of working you forget about taking a nap, it never enters your mind actually. I have not had a paying job now for over 3 years and taking a nap has fit into my life quite nicely. I don’t do it regularly but just knowing the option exists somehow makes me feel retired, or unemployed depending on my mood.

I will write again later. Maybe not today. I want to be out of deck when we exit Shanghai and get out into some open water. I am hoping in the next day or two to see blue water. All I have seen to this point is dirty green water and the more prevalent brown muddy water.

 

So just an update on the food scene; lunch was a roasted chicken breast with peas and carrots as a side. Very American.

Dinner was a mixed salad, cod in a beautiful lemon caper sauce, saffron rice and cheese with fruit. I had couple glasses of wine with the cheese, the French do know cheese. It is so dang good. I think after this trip I may just be eating more cheese and fruit after dinner.

We are well under way to Pusan. The company store will open tomorrow. I can get 24 cans of coke for $12. I have a mini fridge in my cabin. If they have some chocolate bars I am going to buy some of those also. The entire crew is awaiting the store opening, they can get beer, liquor, chocolates, sodas and tobacco. The prices are super low and the store has been closed for a week so everyone is ready for sure. I look forward to it.

May 30th

This morning I woke to see the sunrise over the open ocean. We are not exactly in the deep blue yet, we are sailing from China over to Pusan. We are in open water and I was pleased to see the green water slowly change to blue. The water is not exactly what I would call good water, it is a silty blue and there is a lot of Sargasso grass along the way. Many of the floating grass patches have plastic bottles lodged in them and this is a distressing sight to see. At some point the world needs to recognize that plastic has a place but that it is destroying the planet. Of course, we are in a shipping lane and this is a highly-trafficked area of the ocean but that plastic will make it somewhere that it can cause real issues.

I just had some coffee and a bowl of corn flakes this morning. I am not very hungry the last day or so, not much exercise for me in the last week so I just don’t feel like eating much. I will visit the ship store today, take my laptop out on the deck and enjoy the flat sea and the sunny weather. Today seems like a lazy day to me. I have been on board a week now and although from these daily notes it may seem like a long time it actually does not feel like a week, with nothing to remind me of everyday life back home the time passes rather quickly. I am looking forward to the 2 days we have sailing right now, there is a rhythm when we are running that I will need to become familiar with prior to the 12-day run to Seattle.

The ship store opened for about 20 minutes, I bought 24 Cokes and a couple chocolate bars. I think they might open the store one more time before we get to Seattle. I put the soda in my mini fridge and now I can have at least one a day for the rest of the voyage. Nice.

Today I received clean linens for the bunk and clean towels for the bath. This is a weekly thing and I was happy to have clean linens. I don’t sleep under them every night, it is warm and I am sure that as we go north I will be happy to have the comforter. The bedding is Euro style, a fitted sheet and a down comforter inside a case that is the top sheet and blanket in one. They even gave me two pillows which makes me happy.

A very relaxing day in the sun, the water is calm and the weather is warm, we are running about 14 knots and there is almost no sense of movement, just a straight push through the ocean. For lunch, I enjoyed a salad of beets and carrots, beef goulash with roasted potatoes and dessert of pineapple cake with an orange cream sauce. I must say I would probably not put orange and pineapple together in my mind but it was delicious.

I sat on deck and read today. I found the library, books left from previous passengers, it is full of the usual suspects; Clancy, Patterson and Connelly. I watched the Northern China coastline come and go and it was nice to see the voyage making progress. I have discomfort in my mouth today, I am nervous about it but I am cleaning with Peroxide and rinsing, brushing, doing what I can. It bothers me that it causes me concern and takes away from the travel.

I actually took a pain pill today not for the discomfort but to see if it would take my mind off it. Not really, I think it just made me more anxious. Each morning it is a little different and for some reason I keep thinking there will be some catastrophic failure but heck, it has been sutured up now for almost 20 days. Not sure where my head goes and why I cannot be more rationale and less emotional. I have been more emotional in the last year than at any time in my life. That could be a good thing but most of my emotion is not positive.

I just would like to have some more antibiotics, I have enough for 8 more days and the journey is 12. They do no good if you cut back on the dosage. I have been on them for 3 weeks but it makes me feel some sense of ease knowing that if I am taking antibiotics I won’t get an infection that is really bad. This whole thing with the mouth really is the shits.

I decided on just fruit, cheese and a glass of wine for dinner, the main course was a pork chop with sauerkraut and I just was not up for chewing through a tough pork chop. I am a little down so the wine helped…………

May 31st

Arrival in Pusan at 0600.

As today is the last port before we arrive in Seattle I thought I should describe a little about the container loading and unloading process. I have learned a great deal and the Chief Officer has shared his computer programs with me to better understand how it all works.

There is some rather sophisticated programming going on and all the information is very detailed. The containers are loaded based on a 3D modeling program. Each space that can be occupied by a container is assigned an alpha numeric indicator on the model. Since there is space for about 10,000 containers, this is an exact modeling program that accommodates for the placement of each container. There are several parameters to be sorted; refrigerated cargo, dangerous cargo, heavy cargo and then the size of the cargo container. This is all entered into the system and the assignment of location begins. The next step is the discharge location, this is to ensure that a container only needs to loaded and unloaded once. The system takes all the parameters and assigns location along with container identifier numbers, these are the callouts labeled on each container.

The actual loading and unloading is handed off to the individual port, not the carrier. The carrier is not responsible for the loading, unloading or accuracy, they are simply the carrier. This is a liability issue for sure and each port is transferred the load plan electronically prior to arrival so the calculations of berth, time and logistics can be prepared well in advance of actual arrival. Once the ship arrives, all documents are gathered by the port agent and reviewed for compliance, accuracy and customs approval. Then, once this is done, the container loading process begins at a rapid pace. This is usually within 2 hours of docking, depending on the individual port and the amount of traffic.

I have been discussing the process at each port with the Chief Officer and some of the Engineers. They say that as a basis of comparison, each port movement is on the average of 1000 containers. Sometimes that would be 200 off and 800 on, sometimes the other way around. There are times when it is most off or most on but they say that the company is very detailed in how much cargo moves. They have many ships and they usually discharge containers to be picked up by another vessel on another route. The container yards at each port are a distribution step for the carrier. This is very much like flying, you are destined to make a stopover and change planes somewhere along the way. This is the optimization of movement, bringing passengers from many locations together for the final destination. The cargo industry is much the same and it is logistically an amazing revelation. I mean when you load a container in Taichung harbor you immediately imagine it is headed straight to Los Angeles. Not the case in most instances. Your freight could have been loaded and unloaded several times along the way.

The direct routes from Asia to the USA are certainly more frequent and more common but if you are shipping to say Australia from Asia the stops would be more frequent. The average transit time from Asia to the USA is 17 days. The average transit time from Asia to the EU is 28 days. You can imagine the movement and logistics involved.

Each port is unique and on this voyage, I had the chance to see Chinese and Korean operations. The Chinese ports are all modeled the same, if you went to a Chinese port without knowing what city you were in you would have no way to discern the difference. They are all laid out the exact same way.

This makes sense if you understand China. The last 30 years has seen explosive growth in China and they have built countless roads, bridges, infrastructure and entire cities. Many of these new cities are termed “new town” and they are all laid out the same. Same grid structure for roads and the same grid for commercial, residential and mixed use. They are all copies of one another and this makes sense when you are building on a large scale in that you can standardize the process and commercialize the materials, labor and costs for each new project. Of course, the Chinese are the architects of commercialization in modern history and this shows in just how much has been accomplished in such a small amount of time. The flaw I see in this commercialization is that errors are duplicated many times before they are discovered so each “new town” is an evolving and changing environment. This same system applies to bridges and roads, I see the same bridge design in every Chinese coastal town. The first time you see this new design, a wire suspension that is very handsome, you think wow. Then you see 2, 3 ,4 more and suddenly it hits you that this is the “design” that has been commercialized and put in place. I can imagine the assemblies being built and simply sent to the location of each new project. This is brilliant in that it is done very efficient and quick but it fails to deliver on esthetic appeal. All these new projects and towns begin to look, feel and operate in the same way. Imagine if you drove from Los Angeles to Portland and each town you came across along the way was the same layout just with different businesses and different names. Of course, the expansion of our country and in particular the West was over 150 years ago, most of what I am talking about in China has been in just the last 30 years.

The Chinese are a bit more “get it done” in mentality and process. The ports are not clean and tidy and organized, there is a bit of organized chaos in each one. Machinery is dirty and the yards are cluttered, the equipment appears to be functioning but in various states of disrepair. They clearly work non-stop and don’t want to be bothered with “continual improvement”. The trucks used in the yard to move containers create their own traffic jam even when they are the only ones in the yard. There are constant delays which lead to constant bickering and lots of yelling, this is also a Chinese thing and I have come to enjoy it and the predictability of it.

Upon arriving in Korea it is clear that they are on another level. I can only judge from this single port of Pusan but I think the systems and the controls here will be similar in other Korean ports. The layout is much more efficient than in China, the yard is oriented in a much different way so the cargo can move direct to the loading area and not be driven around by trucks. The equipment is highly specialized and they are all electric powered as opposed to trucks pulling trailers around the yard and dock. There is an efficiency that is clearly far above the Chinese system and the whole port seems to operate on a much smoother and quieter level. Even all the cranes and handling equipment are painted, labeled and identified in a consistent presentation whereas in China you have cranes of different colors and logos and identification is not so simple. Korea just appears to me to be much more dialed in and more along the way things should be done. Organized, efficient and process controlled.

When the loading process begins, the crew essentially hands the deck over to the longshoremen of each port. They board and oversee the loading and securing of cargo. In China, the longshoreman talk on their phones and sneak cigarettes in an out of sight location when they get the chance. In Korea they are all business, clipboards, walkie talkies, uniforms. The difference is really evident even at first impression.

 

 

Now with all this being said, the crew tells me emphatically that the best in the world at this whole thing are the Japanese. Well that should come as no surprise as no one informs more than the Japanese. No one. They are the masters of making rules and then following them. I would love to see them do this work someday just for comparison. The Japanese are so good at providing information and this allows anyone to understand the process and how they operate in that process. When I go to Japan I never even have to talk to anyone, the information is “made available” to me. If I take a subway from one location to another there are detailed instructions online or in the station that tell me what train, what time, what exit, where to wait, where to find everything. It really is amazing and this information is available for almost every single thing you may want to do in Japan. The information is so precise and complete it is astounding and this is how they train employees and workers to follow the information. I am convinced this is why Japan is so orderly and educated and systematic, they simply inform people rather than expect people to figure it out. I bet the longshoremen in Japan wear white coveralls and white shoes with little booties like lab workers.

This ship is considered a “medium class” sized container vessel, at 1100 feet it is the workhorse of their fleet. This ship was built in Korea, by Hyundai Heavy Machinery in 2006. There are many newer ships entering the industry and most of these are considered “mega” and are 1400 feet. I have seen a couple of these on our stops and they are much more massive than this ship which I thought was a monster. When we do load and unload there are usually 4 cranes that are working, once we had 5. The amount of movement and activity is interesting to watch as the containers and moving of them is staged and prepared, once it gets started it is rapid and non-stop for hours. Today in Pusan we arrived at the dock at 0600 and we will depart tomorrow morning at 0200. The amount of time to do the loading and unloading today is in the area of 15 hours. The other time is paperwork, loading supplies for the ship and preparing to be pushed back.

Today 6 crew members are going home. There are 5 Ukrainians and 1 Frenchman going home. They will be replaced with new crew members. The Ukrainians have a 6-month contract and stay on the vessel for 6 months before they go home. The French have a 2-month contract. They go home for up to three months and then are deployed under contract again, that is if they are offered another contract. The life of the seaman is not for the homesick. I was curious about the Ukrainian thing here, since most of the seaman over in this part of the world are Filipino. Now the Filipinos are widely considered to be the best seafarers in the world due to the fact that they live in an island country where you must learn to navigate the ocean and it has been handed from generation to generation. The change to Eastern European crews seems to be entirely financially motivated, at least from what the French officers tell me. This has been a recent change and the jury is out but they are paid less than the Filipino crews were paid. I don’t know the exact number but the pay is crazy low. I was told that most crewmen make about $400 a month. All accommodation and meals are included so they don’t have to pay for that but the wage is unbelievable. I was told by some of the Ukrainian guys that of course they don’t like it being so low but in their country, they have few choices. The fighting and the political challenges have given them little choice in finding steady work and so they are happy to have this job. I just cannot imagine sailing for 6 months and taking home $2500. I am sure that would be a monthly wage if this was a USA based operation, which may be precisely why the vast majority of cargo carriers are foreign entities. I am sure they calculate the cabin and meals as income to make it work out to a “minimum wage” compliance if needed.

 

I understand a little better why I see the guys making Nutella sandwiches to take back to their cabins and taking a few yogurts and fruit with them. Paying for anything with such a low wage would be difficult. I paid $12 for 24 cokes, that would be a huge amount of money if I was making $100 a week. I am being as frugal as possible with my internet use but even so, 5 days has cost me $40 so far. We need to be offered credit from the Captain and then he collects at the end of the voyage. There is a credit sheet outside his office and some of the guys have $500 tabs so far. I feel for them, they have families back home and to be away for so long is difficult. I can’t imagine spending an entire month’s salary just to talk to my wife and kids once in a while. All in all, this is hard life for them but they are all happy to be working and making money.

I am certain the French officers have it significantly better. They are all very bright, educated and talented men. They laugh a lot and like to have conversation. They seemed to have no problem buying things on our night in Shanghai so I believe that they are rather well compensated. I guess the heritage of colonialism is still alive in this arrangement? Or simply a corporate policy that forces them to pay the lowest wage possible for a qualified crew. I think most people in America would have nothing to do with this job or career path, hell the Navy pays better.

I am going to spend some time on the bridge today learning a bit about the electronics and the navigation system. I am curious about our heading to Seattle; do we vector straight across or do we head up toward the Aleutians? This is of great interest to me as a trip along the outlying Alaska islands would be an amazing treat for the eyes.

The weather is cold and grey, noticeably cooler than China. I am looking forward to seeing and feeling the change as we head north of Japan and head to open seas in the North. I am sure we will have some weather and a real boat ride once we get away from the protection of the coastline. I am also eager to see the north of Japan from the sea.

As we were docked, we were required to undergo a safety inspection. I think this is part of the crossing. As we will be departing Pusan and headed across the Pacific Ocean the safety systems need to be inspected and tested. They deployed the emergency lifeboats and inspected all our neoprene survival suits. Life rafts were inspected but left in their canisters. This is comforting that if needed, everything is functioning and in an emergency, we have a chance. I was instructed how to get into the survival suit and how to prepare for being in the water if the need arises, god forbid. I have a survival suit in my cabin and would need to put it on at the instruction of abandon ship. There are Korean inspectors running around the ship with mirrors and clipboards, not sure what that is all about. Perhaps I can ask some questions at lunch and see if I can learn something, this is not the time to be asking stupid questions to the crew, they are rather occupied.

With this being our last stop for 12 days, the Chef and galley assistant are out preparing provisions on the dock, this limited our lunch to a mixed salad with sardine and olive. Together with the baguette it was a nice light change to a heavy mid-day meal.

I will head up the bridge and learn some things today. Last port of call.