Southeast Asia Ballroom Dance Cruise: Shanghai and more dancing at sea

Southeast Asia Ballroom Dance Cruise: Shanghai and more dancing at sea

The ship docks in the port of Shanghai but the distance from the pier to the city may vary from a half to a one hour drive depending on the size of the ship and where it has to dock. The Diamond Princess is a big cruise ship and has to dock quite far out. The city spans the Huangpu river, a tributary of the Yangtze River.

As a quick refresher about the origins of the city I read the information provided through the website. Here is a quick summary - Before the First Opium War of 1840-42 Shanghai was a small walled city of about 300,000 inhabitants but according to the Treaty of Nanking that ended the war, Western merchants were granted the right to lease land and trade on the West bank of the Hangpu. This built the city into one of the major trading centers in the East and over time the city divided into the International Settlement, dominated by Britain, the French Concession, the Chinese city and the Chinese suburb of Zhabei north of the main part of the city. The merchants built the Bund, an area with a large stone river walk along the central water front, with big elegant buildings, banks, consulates and trading houses lining the river. I have this great memory of strolling along the waterfront but apparently the walkway is being reconstructed and is closed at the present time, so I could not see it again..

Shanghai is the largest city in China comparable in population to Mexico City and Tokyo. The population I read in various sources is anything from 20 to 23 million - and 50,000 shops. The Communist party of China was founded in Shanghai in 1921.

With the port being so distant from the city rather than "free range" - my new term for non-excursion visits in cruise ports - We signed up to do a nine hour Shanghai sampler excursion which had about 3 hours of free time built in. Although it meant an early morning, we kept dancing till close to midnight the night before. Priorities must be kept straight even in foreign countries.

Monday, November 9, Shanghai - Torrential Rain and whatever you do DONT TAKE A RED TAXI

We had a scheduled arrival of 6 am and departure of 6 pm for the port. But obviously November is not the best time to travel in this part of the world. As you read in my earlier post, severe fog in the Beijing area caused a major delay in both our embarcation and in our departure time. And the fog was again a problem getting into Shanghai.

We ended up waiting at the entrance of the channel to the port till a pilot could board once the Port Authority opened and declared the port open. So instead of entering the port access at 3 am and berthing at 6 am it was actually 9:15 when we got underway towards the berth with a scheduled time of arrival in the port of around 1 pm. Although our departure time is now rescheduled from 6 pm to midnight, obviously our 9 hour excursion was not going to happen as originally arranged. we did not feel like getting back to the ship after 9 pm so we decided to cancel the tour and take the free shuttle into Shanghai and back and do some sightseeing ourselves; more "free-ranging."

We were originally supposed to be the "Joan, Bernie, Raoul, and Jill gang" plus whoever else wanted to join in but somehow the others confused the instructions, to " meet at the piano in the atrium at 1:30" and Raoul and I were the only ones who turned up. We waited till about 1:45 and then headed off the ship and on to the shuttle bus for the hour or so long ride down town.

As we left the ship we saw Carol, my missing roomie, waiting on the quay for permission to board. This worked out well because she would have the cabin to herself to unpack and get settled in while I was exploring downtown Shanghai. Later I heard all about her travel adventure, and the great guide she ended up with in Shanghai while waiting to meet the ship.

My memories of Shanghai were really hazy - no pun intended! I spent a couple of weeks there on an assignment for Project Hope who were advising on a new Children's Hospital that was being built there. Our team of three, a pathologist, a medical biochemist (me) and a microbiology technologist were there to give a series lectures on aspects of our disciplines and consult on aspects of how the new laboratory should be set up.

There were a few things that stand out most vividly from that visit, in my mind. Firstly that wherever you looked outin the distance, there were cranes - the construction kind not the birds. Almost everywhere that we were driven, the traffic congestion was horrendous and reminded me of sludgy flow through a blood vessel. In the centre were the people in the cars, oblivious to traffic lanes or signals, crawling along and honking; mingled at the periphery of the motor stream, were motor cycles and bicycles and pedestrians jostled along at the outside edges. Not the same today, at least as far as I could see. The traffic moved smoothly if slowly and pedestrians did not crowd the streets.

As our bus drove along today I was blown away by the stunning skyscrapers that soared on either side of the wide streets. What a contrast. I guess that is what all those cranes were being used for!

The shuttle dropped us off at the downtown station. We decided that with the limited time now available we would get a taxi to old City area which is home to a host of Chinese crafts and cultural things.

They had a couple of people handing out maps and giving out information. We identified our location on the map and then chatted to one of the info guys. He told us where to get a taxi and then warned us that what ever we did we MUST NOT TAKE A RED TAXI! Apparently the red taxis are not taxis but private cars that rip you off and charge much more than the regular cabs.So we hopped into a regular cab and for 20 yuan - about 3 dollars, we were whisked off to the old city area.

We wandered through the area which really is like a series of covered lanes home to small shops and booths featuring various crafts and general shopping- clothes, shoes and souveniers. Raoul did some good bargaining but I was not really tempted by anything. We made our way outside and we stopped off for a beer for Raoul and a bottle of water for me and as we left to go find a cab back to the shuttle area the heavens opened and it poured.

It was one of those torrential tropical rains, with massive rumbling thunder and bursts of lightning. Despite my raincoat and an umbrella my jeans were soaked within minutes and the rain even seemed to penetrate the fabric of my raincoat. It pelted down. Usually with tropical rainfall it pours like mad then stops after a short time. Not this night!

We tried to hail a few cabs but they were full. Then we saw a cab turn into a parking area and realized it was a taxi line up. So we stood in line with about twenty people ahead of us and we all huddled under umbrellas while the rain poured down, and the sky seemed to shake with thunder and lightning. Scary. After about 15 minutes - when not a single taxi had entered the area, we started getting twitchy. The time frame to get back to the shuttle area was rapidly decreasing.

Then a taxi pulled in slowly and stopped. Before the people at the front of the line could get in a guy came out of nowhere, threw his suitcase in the back of the car and got in. The two people at the front were outraged and stood in front of the taxi screaming and yelling so the cab could not move forward. One banged on the driver's door till he opened the window and then she started yelling at him while her friend stood right in front of the taxi risking death if he decided to get aggressive and just drive off.

There was an impasse. The two rightful passengers were not giving in, the interloper was not getting out and the cabbie was stuck there. The soaking-wet folks in the lineup welcomed the show as a distraction from their soggy state. We all leaned forward to watch what was going on and there was much smiling, shaking heads and other non-verbal communication between the people around us and oursleves. Very entertaining.

Next a couple of policeman appeared and could not seem to resolve the situation. A single cab drove in - saw what was going on, reversed out and took off. That was the last cab we saw coming to the taxi stand.

I did not see how the conflict finally resolved itself but finally the taxi drove off and the way was clear for other cabs to enter but nothing was moving. The minutes ticked by - 10, 15, 20 minutes - not a cab in sight. And it rained and rained and rained. As the time passed clusters of people ahead of us gave up and moved off - where to we were not sure- probably to go and drink somewhere till the rain stopped. I was getting anxious and so was Raoul - although he maintained his usual imperturbable expression I could tell by the little twitch at the corner of his mouth that he was not a happy camper. We debated - stay or go?

I had a feeling that this taxi lineup was like waiting for Godot!  We could be there forever in some time-space warp where nothing would happen and no cab would ever come. And we had already had the entertainment bit!

Almost at the same time we came to a realization that we were never going to get a cab there. We decided to walk across the road in the direction of the shopping area. There on the corner of the street was standing the only empty cab in the area - A RED TAXI - we asked him how much it would cost to go to the bus shuttle area. He replied that it was 60 yuan. Raoul tried to bargain him down - it only cost 20 yuan to get there in the first place- but he was not budging and I was cold and wet, and worried that we would miss the last shuttle back to the ship.

Certainly transport had not been working for us up till now what with the smog that delayed departure from Beijing, the late arrival in Shanghai that screwed up the excursion and the great distance from port to city centre in both places. At that stage I would willingly have mortgaged my house if need be to pay the man to get us back to the shuttle and then the ship. I said let's just pay and go.

We agreed to 60 yuan and then sat and shivered as he inched forward through the traffic, finally depositing us at the shuttle centre. Back on board I found Carol settled into the cabin. I was frozen so had a quick shower to warm up and hung my dripping raincoat up to dry too.

Then Carol and I found our way to the mid-ship stairs and went down to deck 5 to meet Raoul in the Savoy for dinner. We heard all about her adventures getting into Shanghai, and touring around with a private guide before she could finally get on board. After supper we met up wth the rest of the crowd for dancing.

Tuesday, November 10, Third day of "at sea cruising" - Of Tango and Salsa workshops - and time changes that weren't!

It had been announced that at 2 am Tuesday morning the clocks would be moved forward an hour for the Japan time zone. So several of us, including Carol and me had dutifully set our watches ahead, before going to bed. We ordered breakfast for 7 am so we would both have time to shower before the dance workshops at 9, and I set a wake up call for 6:50.

Here are our four wonderful dance hosts

I woke up spontaneously and checked my watch - 7:20. No wake up call and no breakfast. I checked the time on the phone - it said 6:20 so I figured they did not bother to change the time for the phone system for just one day. Then we called room service who were sorry to have missed our breakfast but could not find the order card anywhere. They promised to send us up out coffee and fruit right away. So we ate, showered and dressed and got to the Wheelhouse Lounge by 9. Noone was there, and by 10 past no one had come. I called Carrie to find out where everyone was. It turned out that they had revoked the time change last night because of the late stay in Shaghai, and neither Carol nor I had noticed that message.

Shortly after,jeanie appeared. She also was working on the earlier schedule. So Carol went off to get more coffee and we hung out until the others came. I had my little Sony MP3 player that I use when I practice my dance routines in our gym at home, so I got a good workout on the empty floor, going through my old silver chacha, samba, rhumba and jive routines. I also had time to practice some Viennese waltz, really trying to extend down the line of dance rather than just rotate, as seems to happen most of the time.

Brian taught both the tango and salsa workshops, showing us two great new sequences. The one in Tango he called the Apache throw-out or some such name with flicks and points. These terms are all totally new to me but it was a fun sequence - let me see if I can remember it. Back, back, back, forward, forward into a corte. Then a step back with a flick of your right leg back, and then another corte, with a change of hands so the man now has your right hand behind your back. He spins you to the right (first step is back on your left foot) for a quick, quick, slow ending with your right foot pointed forward. Then there are a series of jazz-like steps with a staccato action. Back, side, back side, side, together, close. It is quite easy but fun to do. And I bet I will have forgotten it by evening.

For the salsa Brian gave us another fun sequence, one designed to emphasise contraction and isolation - of body parts, not social life ! This started with an open box, followed by a check, flick, check, hike, ending with another open box. its really also rather a jazzy move. I liked it.

He also gave us some isolation exercises to practice. I think it will take a million practices for my rib cage to move in a different direction to my pelvis. The check, straight right leg, bent left, he emphasized has to have the knees pressed together for stability.

After the workshops there seemed to be lots to do. Carol and I first went up to the gym- I was not too worried about aerobics so just warmed up for 10 minutes on the treadmill, did some arm free weight exercises and then some stretching.

Then we joined Joan and Bernie for a light lunch in the Horizon Grill on the 14th deck. That was where I heard more details about all these dance camps and dance parties that people seem to attend in the US.

We called in at the jewelery shop hoping to buy some backings for earrings but they did not sell any. Later we had We had to get visas sorted out for Taipei, which involved standing in line through the Churchill Lounge, but fortunately the shop personnal organized it into designated times so the wait was not too long.

I got into conversation with a couple, Fred and Marilyn, standing behind me in line. When they heard I was from Vancouver, they told me they were up there often to visit good friends of theirs. It turned out that the Vancouver friend, Jack, was a prof at UBC, who I sort of knew because we had both served on the Dean's promotions committee several years back. They had been in Toronto some months previously, to attend the wedding of his son, who married the daughter of a friend of mine. So then I asked if they knew my neighbour, Gerri, who is one of the delightful new friends that I made since moving into my condo. And it turned out that Marilyn and Gerri are also good friends. I promised to email Gerri when next on-line, and actually sent her a message when I returned to my cabin. So all that made the wait-in-line time pass very quickly.

The Taiwanese immigration required prints of both index fingers, and they took a photo. Well with my iris scan from Nexus, I seem to be thoroughly biometrically recorded. I wonder if these data bases are linked in any way? Hmmm...

By the time both Carol and I had got through all the formalities it was time to get dressed for dinner and dancing in Club Fusion and the Wheelhouse Lounge.