Trip Start Mar 11, 2005
7Trip End Nov 08, 2005
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Where I stayed
21 May to June 7
We bid farewell to Hawaii and it's friendly folks, and steamed Westward once again. It didn't take long to get back into the swing of things, launching, recovering and repairing aircraft. The weather was perfect for flight operations, and I envied the pilots a little. The ocean was it's heavenly deep blue and it contrasted beautifully with the crisp sky on the horizon. Warm weather on the open ocean is great. Then those son's of cows that decide where the pointy part of the ship goes decided we needed to hit some rain squalls. It's not like they couldn't see them. You can spot a cloud dumping it's contents from fifty miles just using your god given peepers. So, while we hunkered down while the sky dumped buckets of warm tropical rain on our little heads, the were sitting up there in their air-conditioned office laughing their butts off. I can't prove it, I just know that's what happened.
Have you ever wondered what happens when it rains on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier in warm tropical weather? Well, wonder no more. When the ship drivers decide to head for sunny skies again, all that steel and non-skid turns into a five acre sauna. Not only is there steam leaking out of the catapult tracks, but the deck gets covered by a layer of humidity that makes it hard to breath.
Other than that, it was great to be at sea. We did our jobs, got the aircraft in the air, and let the pilots and aircrew engage in some more flight training for our upcoming missions. As usual, the food was decent when we pulled out of port, but declined rapidly each day we were at sea. It started off with one or two meals of overcooked (by boiling) steak and "baked" potatoes that could be used by the NHL. By the time we pulled in to Hong Kong, it was mystery meat (ish) and mushy rice, or cold cuts. Have you ever eaten something and not known if it was turkey or pork? It makes you appreciate fast food, even if it is crap.
I was excited about going to Hong Kong again. The last time I was there was in 1997 on the USS Independence (CV62). I was curious to see how much it changed since China took over from the British. The memories I have from the first time I set foot there were good. The place was a little dirty, but not worse than any other large metropolitan I have been to. There were venders selling anything and everything and you could get pirated computer software every where you went. Food was good, and shopping was affordable. I purchased the china set that my wife and I use on holidays there, and almost bought a set of bag pipes. Overall I had good memories of Hong Kong.
02 June, 2005: Hello Hong Kong.
From the ship, the city looks the same as it did almost ten years ago. We still have to take liberty launches (power boats small enough to go pier side) from the ship to the pier which adds to the adventure if you ask me. This time around the liberty launches were considerably smaller than in 97. These only held around 150 sailors, and seemed to take forever to make the three mile round trip.
Finally we hit the pier at the international seaman's center. As usual, we had the "don't go here and you can't do that" port brief ahead of time. However, staying out in the city was an option if you had the right number of friends to hang out with.
Hong Kong is an architecturally striking city, and at night it takes your breath away. There were only a few notable changes now that the Chinese are running the place. First and foremost, the people who made their living by selling pirated software moves and games were no where to be seen. Secondly, the city seemed to be cleaner. My shipmates and I got a hotel room for not much money, and thoroughly enjoyed the port. The first night out, I think we tried to drink the city dry. At least that's what I think I remember. It's a little fuzzy. At one point I thought I figured out where Elvis has been hiding because we found him drinking cheep whiskey in an ally bar.
Just so you know, I travel on my stomach. Any port I hit is rated by the food, and Hong Kong is one of the best. You wouldn't think an Italian restaurant would be any good in China, but you would be wrong. Oh, and the Chinese food totally ROCKS! American imitations of Chinese food is like comparing Super Man to Mighty Mouse. They have the same basic concept, but one totally kicks the other ones butt. However, some of the authentic Chinese food was definitely on my "do not touch" list. Sorry dude. I just can't brink myself to eat eel, nor can I look in to a tank full of live ones and say "Ooo! Give me that one!" Also, being totally unable to read Chinese writing, makes deciphering signs an adventure all on its own. Thank God that quite often they have English translations beside or under the Chinese calligraphy, but even then it made for some strange reading. I mean, come on! "The fat ho elderly center"? Are you kidding me? How do you read that and not laugh?.... Then take a picture of course.
I spent some time at Murphy's Irish Pub, just like I did in '97, and it hasn't changed much. Still a great atmosphere, friendly service, and good cold beer. However, it was the first time in years I got to drink my favorite thing in the whole world. "Strong Bow". Yea, I know. It's not very manly, but since I quit drinking hard core when I got married, I'm still on my butt after six or seven pints. So you go ahead and have your Guinness, and I'll drink along with you and have just as much fun. When I go to Ireland, I swear I'll stick to Guinness and whisky, but until then, everything is fair game.
Cheep sailor tip: Don't worry about getting around. The public transportation system is top of the line and affordable. In my experience, the people are friendly, the hotels are comparable to superior to hotels in the U.S., and you don't have to worry about drinking the water.
As we pull up anchor and get back to work, I can help but look forward to our next port of call. Enjoy the photos and the video and I'll have my blog for Guam to you soon.