By Carla Sue Broecker
Having celebrated the gift-giving part of the season the week before, my husband Brad and I left Louisville at 7 a.m. Christmas morning en route to Beijing, the massive capital of China. We flew to Chicago with four pieces of luggage weighing nearly 70 pounds each and two lighter-weight carry-on pieces. It sounds like a lot, but we are off on a 131-day cruise on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager. Yes, it is probably too much luggage, and, yes, the ship has great laundry service, but you never know. Besides, I like to throw away some of our older clothes, and this creates space for stuff we buy, including Christmas presents for next year.
Thank goodness for travelling business class. This meant we got to spend the four-hour layover in United’s lovely Polaris Club Lounge. Our 12:30 p.m. 14-hour flight to Beijing was scheduled to leave on time and did. After crossing the international date line, the nonstop flight landed the afternoon of Dec. 26 pretty much on time. Clearing customs and immigration was a little slow but moved ahead without too much delay. Once through, we collected our baggage and met a Regent representative who loaded us in a van to begin our three-day stay in a very cold and foggy Beijing. The plan was to do some shopping and touring of the city in a hotel and then transfer to Tianjin, the port for Beijing, where we would meet our ship to start the cruise.
After an hour and a half in heavy traffic, we checked into the Regent, one of our favorite hotels. It bears the same name as our ship but is under different ownership. The spacious lobby was dominated by a 25-foot Christmas tree covered in blue lights. Blue seems to be a favorite holiday color in Beijing. We have stayed in this hotel before and were surprised to find they are building an Aston-Martin showroom in the lobby to replace the Rolls Royce dealership which is now around the corner.
We love the hotel and its over-the-top approach to things. You can sit in the enormous bath tub and soak while looking out of the floor to ceiling windows at all of Beijing.
That first evening, we were dead tired and settled for room service hamburgers before we “hit the hay” at 8:30. We slept well.
The next morning included a trip to the Great Wall, lunch and a visit to the Ming Tombs. All things we have done before.
So, we went shopping for eyeglasses at the Pearl Market. The place has pearls, watches, knock-off handbags, spectacular jade and the best prices on glasses anyone has ever seen. Six pairs of designer frames with progressive lenses all delivered to the hotel for less than $200 per pair. Gotta love it.
The next day we checked out of the hotel and paid a visit to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. The weather was frigid and it was a lot of walking. This was followed by a luncheon in a hotel that had an opera house on the first floor and our luncheon restaurant on the second. After lunch, it was time to depart for Tianjen and the ship. Due to a 22-car accident on the highway, it took more than five hours to get to the port.
You never know for sure who will be aboard. We have a number of old friends from around the world who sail every year on these luxurious ships, and we look forward to making new ones. We keep up these far-flung friendships and treasure the time spent with them. Sometimes they show up in Louisville, and that is an extra treat for us.
The Voyager is a Regent ship that we enjoy. It is not too big or too small. Capacity is about 750 passengers. Currently, the Master of Seven Seas Voyager is Captain Daniel Green, born in the coastal town of Norrtelje just north of Stockholm on the east coast of Sweden. He is young and charming, and we have known him for some time.
The sea has always been Daniel’s “backyard.” He started as an ordinary seaman at the age of 16, and he made the decision of his life: Daniel wanted to work at sea. Starting on cargo ships carrying both dry and bulk freight, he moved up to the rank of able bodied seaman, working on ferries between Sweden and Finland. He was raised to the rank of Bosun before attending the Maritime Academy in Kalmar, located in the southern part of Sweden. During his time at the academy, he spent his summers accumulating sea months on active duty working as third and second officer before finally graduating. Now, with a captain’s degree and watch keeping license under his belt, it was time to see the world. The best way to do that is to work on cruise ships.
When we sail, we will be heading for Shanghai and will be there for 24 hours. It is the “Paris of the East” and the “Queen of the Orient.” The river is the Huangpu and the city radiates from its banks. Along the edge of the river is a wide boulevard called the Bund where multimillion-dollar deals were once made and may be again soon. The city has been built up to rival Hong Kong, and it is getting more and more difficult to distinguish between the two cities.
In 1949, Shanghai was a place of mystery, sin and power, and in the new century it is that tradition that keeps ruling party members in Beijing on their toes. China is changing, but no one wants a repeat of the earlier days.
The old, swinging Shanghai of the past is being revived. Along Nanjing Road, elegant outfits costing as much as $10,000 U.S. or more can be found and are displayed openly. How is this possible when just two decades ago a Western visitor on a Shanghai street drew an audience, and people wore either the blue or drab green version of the same two-piece standard issue?
Mao was only a relatively recent arrival to China’s 3,000-year-old civilization, and, unlike outsiders, the Chinese people understood this. Shanghai began as a fishing village and grew during a period of 1,200 years into a township before finally becoming an imperial Chinese country. By 1700, when international trade had started to develop and cotton finishing had become a big industry, the port became very busy.
Opium trade was also a big-ticket item, and the colonialists kept a steady flow of the drug coming in, mostly from India. This led to the first Opium War in 1840, resulting in British control of Hong Kong and total formation of the Shanghai concessions. Huge trading companies, banks, and foreign-owned industries were established. During the next century, the owners of these businesses thrived, banks and foreign-owned industries were established, while the general population grew poorer and poorer. It was this circumstance that sparked the first meeting of the Chinese Communist Party. But now all of this has changed.
Chinese capitalism is booming, and as I write this, we have just arrived in downtown Shanghai at 2 p.m. on New Year’s Eve afternoon. Captain Green and the cruise director have just come over the loudspeaker to tell us of all the grand plans for a super welcome to 2018 that the ship is making ready. Before the party, we have reservations in one of the specialty restaurants, Prime 7, where we will share a table with some newfound friends we don’t know yet and husband Brad will try to resist having more than one lobster.
More about Shanghai and the celebration of the new year next week. VT