walked into a bar…” No, it is not the
start of an old joke, it is part of my “traveling” while on my Azamara Club
Cruise on the Azamara Quest.
things a bit out of order, yesterday I was in Okinawa, Japan; in island off the
cost of the mainland. We arrived at 2:00
PM and were departing at 8:00 PM, so time was quite limited (especially since a
full immigration clearance for the entire ship was required). Being in a suite I was able to jump the line
and was one of the first through and onto the complimentary shuttle bus to the
main shopping street. But if you turn
right at the Starbucks (aren’t they just everywhere?) you walk into the Makishi
Public Market, which is sort of like stall after stall of candy, clothes and souvenirs.
|Makishi Market, Naha City, Okinawa, Japan|
I had to
walk down the side alleys and found some great stuff including a crusty
Japanese man who actually had a heart of gold and fed me samples of all kinds
of good stuff from baby octopus to spring onion.
I stop by a
store to by Japanese candy for my kids.
I see green tea KitKat bars, which my son loves, and then I see pink
KitKat bars. The clerk offered me
another candy with the same flavor (which I cannot identify, but think it is
sweet potato). I fill my backpack with
who knows what, but I know the kids will be happy.
But then the
magic happened! I walked by a sort of
rundown bar that, for some reason, caught my eye. The big bartender waived me in, up the tiny
stairs, past what I was to learn were two sisters sitting to the left and a
very drunk guy (who said he spoke English, but was so drunk nobody could
understand his English or Japanese). The
bartender pours me a beer and I am just trying to take this friendly chaos in.
this beautiful, quiet, elegantly dressed young Japanese woman, whose name I later
found out was Kinu, entered the bar and sat next to me (not that there were any
other options in this tiny place).
a soft drink and I ask if she speaks English.
Yes! It allows me to chat with
everyone (all five people) in the bar and order some local food, including goya
– a bitter cucumber-like fruit. (The
bartender was also the cook.)
|Who knew my “tough guy” bartender was also a cook and a comedian?|
What I get
is goya, tofu, SPAM and mayonnaise combination that is unusual, but clearly
hangover food, as well as fried chicken with a similar mayonnaise sauce. (My son loves everything Japanese, so now I
understand his huge intake of mayo!)
|Okinawan Bar Food: Goya, tofu, SPAM and mayonnaise sauce|
and fried chicken with mayonnaise sauce
me she doesn’t speak English well, but she does. We talk about travel, the
drunk guy, my girlfriend and my kids.
|Kinu recently visited Kyoto and |
recommended I rent a kimono for the day, like she did.
I think I leave that to Kinu!
Kinu tells me she plays the shamisen (an ancient 3 string Japanese guitar) and was about to go to her
lesson. And then the bartender comes out
from behind the bar and sort of/kind of tuned a guitar and started playing and
singing…interrupted by the drunk who literally fell off his bar stool to the laughter
of everyone, except the bartender who quickly surveyed all the sake bottles to
be sure none were broken.
asked me if I would like to go with her while she plays the shamisen.
Absolutely! So we wander through various
alleys and halls and wind up at a tiny shop with a really nice man. We sit outside at a table and the man starts
to play (he is really good), then Kinu played and sang with her sweet voice. And then they tried to teach me!
|Growing a beard and playing a guitar (shamisen)|
sharing photos (including Kinu’s visit to my next stop, Kyoto) it was, unfortunately,
time for me to say goodbye to my new friend and a truly great day. (It
reminded me, a bit of a passage at Page 46 of “Eat My Globe” by Simon Majumbar who was
wandering around Tokyo and he too make a friend in a bar…never to be seen
again. The Kindness of Strangers – Part I.)
kindness of the islands of Asia was not limited to Okinawa. The day before Azamara Club Cruises’ Azamara
Quest arrived in Hualien, Taiwan for a somewhat short day (arriving at 7:00
a.m. and departing at 2:00 p.m.). I have
to admit I was pretty excited to be in Taiwan at least for a little while
because it gave me the opportunity to, for the first time, experience just a
bit of a Chinese culture of some sort outside of the dozen or so Chinatowns I have
seen from New York to Brisbane, from San Francisco to (just the other day) Manila.
The big tour
offered was to Taroko Gorge with another one going to a couple of temples. As you know I am not really a tour person
and, until now, our ports really were “do the tour or don’t do much”
ports. So I have been really wanting to
just wander out, meet some local people and eat some local food.
I took the
complimentary shuttle bus at 8:50 a.m. into Hualien (only 10 minutes), but the
shops do not really open until 10-11:00 a.m., so I had plenty of time to just
wander the town which, since it was Saturday, was very quiet. As I wandered up to a park I spotted a tiny
shop where two old women were making some sort of soup and business was pretty
brisk for 9:00 a.m. I gave it a miss and
continued on my way, wandering about the closed shops…and then back to this little
|Soup Retaurant, Hualien, Taiwan|
They make one thing…and they make it really good!
any Chinese and them not speaking any English, a man shows me something sort of
like a wanton, but much lighter and longer.
I nod my head and he directs me to the back of the shop to sit. My soup arrives and I ponder which of the
condiments are best added.
As I do this
a family of four sits down and I say hello and ask if any of them speak Chinese…and
another bit of luck: The 14 year old
tells her what I should add to my soup and we chat. They tell me they are on a three day holiday
from Taipei. I show the girl a picture
of my 15 year old daughter and she is shocked not only that my daughter is so
beautiful (and, yes, I must say she is!), but that she is only 15. Growing up in the New York area does cause little
girls to grow up faster (much to my chagrin sometimes…and the little girl’s father
chuckles at that comment.)
As we eat
our soup we show each other pictures, talk about New York City, and then I
finally ask her name. And that is when another bit of magic
happened: The girl tells me in English her name is Z-I-N-N-I-A. I tell her it is a type of flower. She defiantly says it is not. I Google the word and show her a picture of the
flower. Her whole face lit up. She was so excited that her name meant she
was a flower. There is nothing like that
little girl look of happiness to make your heart melt.
father abruptly said it was time for them to leave, I paid my approximately
US$2.00 for my soup and I was off. The Kindness of Strangers – Part II.
wandered about, with the shops now opening (finding the “cookie district” a
number of free samples!), two very different temples
and then the
local market. It was very busy with
people and motorbikes in seemingly equal quantities passing through with
everything from CDs to clothing to fresh fish and chickens to prepared foods
I was just
about at the end of the market (having, of course, walked down most every back
alley I could) and with about eight stalls left thought about turning
around. Then I said to myself, “If I don’t
go all the way to the end I am sure to miss something.” And miss something I most certainly would
There was a
small stall where this wonderfully rich beefy smell emanated. I looked into the
pots, noticing small piles of different types of fresh noodles waiting to be
|Soup Restaurant No. 2, Hualien, Taiwan|
A smiling woman came over and
not knowing any English very nicely “instructed” me to sit down…so I did. She then busily put some noodles into hot
water, added beef and broth and lots of good veggies into a huge bowl…and then
the noodles…and put it in front of me.
It was a bit of heaven in a bowl!
|The Best Beef Noodle Soup Ever!|
It was so
hot that for the next 15 minutes every time I leaned forward my glasses would fog
up. The spicy soup and beef(ish) parts
were fantastic, the noodles were awesome, the veggies added some zip and
texture…and I was sweating up a storm. I
grabbed a bottle of water. The woman
started to laugh and turned a fan on just above my head and nodded as if to
say, “There you go rookie!” As I left she gave me a bit wave goodbye. The Kindness of Strangers – Part III
returned to the ship I heard quite a number of people stating the $192 per
person tour to the gorge was OK, but nothing special. It was not the first time on this Azamara
Club Cruise that I heard this. In fact,
I have heard such comments on pretty much every cruise I have been on. While I appreciate most people are afraid of
the ship leaving without them, of getting lost, of having a bit of a bad
stomach from eating local foods, etc., I cannot help but be a bit frustrated.
Azamara Quest cruise the folks I have spoken with (i.e. the “travelers”) have
been all over the world, but for many they don’t have the courage or
perspective to just get out there and talk to the locals…even if you can’t
speak their language. As I mentioned,
early on in this cruise the ship’s tours were sort of mandatory, but now they
clearly are not. And I shudder to think
that nine hours on a bus tour has the ability to enrich the soul and mind as
much as my hour in a bar or 20 minutes in each of the soup restaurants.
When you are on a cruise with a great itinerary, remember it is not all about the ship but what the cruise has to offer…and that is the ability to visit places you might otherwise never visit. (Ever think about flying to Okinawa? Didn’t think so.) Take a breathe and jump in!
in an Azamara Club Cruise or any other holiday?
Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
or call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY