Saturday, November 24, 2012

China and Southeast Asia - December 2012

We are about to embark on a new trip. Yeah! In early December we will visit China for a few days prior to a cruise on the Celebrity Millennium from Singapore to Hong Kong. Once again I will attempt to blog during the cruise. Hopefully it will be easier the second time around.

I am no longer an endurance flyer. Wish I was - that would make things so much easier! It will take about 19 hours total flying time to get to Asia. My initial thought was to fly from Florida to Toronto (stay overnight) and then fly Air Canada to Shanghai. This required 77K Amex points each for Business Class seats. The amount of points and that it might snow in Toronto and we could be delayed led to consider other options.

Many months ago British Airways had a 25% sale on Amex points transferred to (BA) Avios. Another option was the JAL 787 from Boston nonstop to Tokyo which we could book with AAdvantage miles. My sister took this flight a few months ago and loved it. The fact that the 787 has turbulence disruptors is a big selling point for me. My sister said she hardly felt the plane move over the entire 13.5 hours! The downside is that the airfare from Tokyo to Shanghai is expensive. I also didn't like the thought of  taking a connecting flight after being on a plane for over 13 hours.

The ultimate winner was to fly east rather than west. We will fly from Florida for one hour to Atlanta and then from Atlanta to London Heathrow (7.5 hours), stay overnight and leave the following day for Shanghai which will take 10.5 hours of flying time.

Our Flights:

British Airways 777-200 from Atlanta to London Heathrow. Overnight at hotel. The next day we fly on British Airways from London Heathrow on another 777-200 to Shanghai, China. We will visit Shanghai and Hangzhou for 3 days. We will then fly on Singapore Airlines from Shanghai to Singapore to join the cruise. We will overnight in Singapore before boarding the ship the next day. All flights were booked in Business Class using miles/points except the 1 hour one from Florida to Atlanta.

On the return our flights are much easier. We will fly Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to San Francisco and overnight at an SFO airport hotel We will fly the next morning from San Francisco on Delta to Atlanta and then to Florida. In case you were not keeping track that is seven planes total! Did I mention I don't like to fly?

 Celebrity Millennium Cruise

Celebrity Millennium 2012 "Courtesy of Joe"

Cruise Itinerary

Day 1: Singapore Changi arrival at 6:00 am. Tour Singapore and check into hotel.
Day 2: Singapore tour in the morning and then board the ship. Depart at 2:00 pm
Day 3: Sea Day - Cruising the Gulf of Thailand
Day 4: Bangkok (Laem Chabang) Thailand. Arrive 10:00 am overnight at Bangkok hotel.
Day 4: Bangkok (Laem Chabang) Thailand. Tour and return to the ship. Depart 7:00 pm.
Day 5: Sea Day - Cruising the South China Sea
Day 6: Saigon (Phu My) Vietnam. Arrive 7:00 am. Drive from the port to Saigon. Overnight at hotel.
Day 7: Saigon (Phu My) Vietnam: Private tour in Saigon and return to ship. Depart 7:00 pm.
Day 8: Sea Day - Cruising the South China Sea
Day 9: Danang (Chan May) Vietnam. Arrive 7:00 am. Visit Hoi An for the day. Depart 7:00 pm.
Day 10: Sea Day - Cruising the South China Sea
Day 11: Halong Bay, Vietnam. Arrive 7:00 am. Overnight in Halong Bay.
Day 12: Halong Bay, Vietnam. Afternoon tour and return to ship. Depart 10:00 pm.
Day 13: Sea Day - Cruising the South China Sea.
Day 14: Hong Kong, China. Arrive 7:00 am. Tour and overnight on the ship.

On December 23rd we will disembark the ship and visit Macau before our flight home.

Our Cruise Route:

I am very much looking forward to this trip! My mother once again will be my travel companion on this cruise. 30 years ago she visited China on a Lindblad tour and is excited to see all the changes. In the early 80's Beijing had very few cars and many bicycles. They also only had 2 hotels at that time and just some guest houses. She remembers having a huge spider about 12 inches across on the outside of her Beijing hotel window! We will not be visiting Beijing on this trip. Too cold at this time of year. But we will be going to Shanghai which my mother also visited on her earlier trip. The Pudong side did not exist then and was just farmland. We will also visit Hangzhou which my mother has not been to before.

Unfortunately she does not have any photos of her earlier trip. I found a few from the 1980's from the China Daily website.

The Bund early 1980's

Courtesy of China Daily
As an East Asia Studies major in college I spent extended time in Japan but have not visited China. My college courses included China Politics, Japanese Foreign Policy, Japanese language, Asian Political Thought and East Asian Traditions among them. I am knowledgable but not an expert on Chinese political economy, history and literature. Regardless, course work is a poor substitute for actually being there person.

The Chinese culture is fascinating but I have had misgivings about setting foot there. For many years China's human rights practices, treatment of woman, environmental damage, pollution, food safety (and its cover up), have all been widely criticized. As China has modernized and made great economic strides and some political improvements, I gradually relinquished some of my bias. I have evolved in my thinking and during our visit will appreciate all that China has to offer: the good with the not so good.

Not withstanding, I will certainly leave my "Free Tibet" T-shirt at home. Don't need a rendezvous with the Thought Police! I will travel with an open mind and with an understanding and appreciation for the challenges China continues to face at home and on the world stage. China will likely surpass the US as the world's largest economy in the coming years. With current growth slowed to 7% it still is on pace to outperform most developed nations. China is comprised of 22 provinces, five autonomous regions (including Tibet and Xinjiang), four municipalities (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing) and two special administrative regions - Hong Kong and Macau.

As China's power grows it is important to have an understanding of its views however repugnant or controversial. The Chinese people are not the same as the Chinese government. They are ruled by an authoritarian state and have little control or participation in how the country is run or who makes the decisions. The middle class has been mostly placated with new apartments, cars and travel. Perhaps with the recent change in power greater political liberalization will come.

The government of the People's Republic of China is composed of the Communist Party of China, the State Council and the People's Liberation Army (PLA). The Politburo Standing Committee which is composed of just 7 people controls the Communist Party of China and makes all the important decisions.

18th Party Congress

The passage of power to the new ruling leaders was announced this month at the 18th Party Congress for the once a decade leadership transition. Hu Jintao stepped down as party leader and also relinquished his control of the military. Xi Jinping and his fellow princelings will take control are set to take conrol of the country in March 2013.

The new line up below:

China's new rulers: Politburo Standing Committee

18th CPC National Congress

Xi Jinping is 59 years old and was named General Secretary of the 82 million member Communist Party. From 1985 to 2007 he held prestigious posts in Fujian, Zhejiang and Shanghai. He also spent time in Iowa studying farming techniques. His daughter is an undergrad at Harvard University.

Xi Jinping, new General Secretary

Li Kequing, who is 57 is currently China's vice premier in charge of the economy and healthcare. He will become Chinese Premier in March. Li has been a vocal proponent of China's model shifting from investment to domestic consumption.

Li Kequing, Premier
There are still very few women in China's government. There are social, cultural and political barriers for Chinese women in politics. They did add one woman to the 25 member Politburo so now there are two instead of just one. This is the first time since 1969 to have two women on it since the wives of Mao Zedong and Lin Biao. Sun Chunlan who is 62 and from the port city of Tianjin joined Liu Yandong as the second woman on the Politburo. However the number of women on the 205- member Central Committee was cut to 10 from 13. No woman has ever served on the Politburo Standing Commitee. However, Liu Yandong is considered a strong favorite due to her ties to Jiang Zemin.

Liu Yandong, member of 25 member Politburo with Hillary Clinton

Sun Chunlan, second woman on the Politburo

In addition, at the 18th Party Congress the most senior reform minded politicians were passed over in favor of the status quo. This was viewed as a blow to deal with as Reuters put it, "corruption, social unrest and environmental degradation" in the country. However in Xi Jinping's remarks at the 18th Party Congress he surprized many by mentioning corruption as something that needs to be eliminated.

As Google (and Blogger) is not supported (allowed) in China, I will need to wait until we reach Singapore to post about our visit to China. Probably safer for me anyway. One exciting development is the new Blogger app that works with the iPad. This will make it much easier and faster to update the blog and post. With the Blogsy app I have made the repeated mistake of deleting posts that I thought I was updating. That has caused several near panic attacks!

One other technological advance is the new Zaggkeys Proplus keyboard. I recently purchased it and it is an improvement over the old one. The new keyboard has backlit keys (very cool!) in a choice of 7 different colors. Most importantly the keyboard does double duty as an iPad cover. There are magnets to keep it in place.

Zaggkeys Proplus new backlit keyboard

The keyboard is also a cover for the iPad and is only 24 inches

I will also have my new Smartphone with me to take photos. The HTC One S has a great camera!


Most importantly the good news is we just received our Passports back with the Chinese visas the other day. We used TDS "Travel Document Systems" ( It took a little longer than the 4 days to get the visas due to the Thanksgiving holiday. I definitely recommend allowing more time for the visas than we did. The cost for each visa was $55 for the visa service and $145 for the China Consulate. We received the one year multiple entry visa. We can stay for up to 60 days. They must like us for some reason because the Travel Docs website states the longest you can stay is 30 days. We are considering returning to China on another cruise in the fall of 2013. That is partly the reason why we waited so long to request them.

The next post is planned for the first week of December as we depart for the UK. Stay tuned....

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