HOW TO MAIL A POST CARD
I have acquired a new skill: "How To Mail A Post Card."
The Princess Cruises Stationery Packet in a drawer of the desk in my cabin contained several picture post cards of the Regal Princess—the ship I had boarded in Laem Chabang, Thailand, 11 April 2002. I wanted to share with my friends at Carlsbad By The Sea a taste of the life I would be leading over the next seven-week period.
After leaving Singapore I wrote a short message to send home on one of the ship's picture post cards and asked at the Purser's desk for it to be airmailed at our next port of call.
Not to be. On all previous cruises, with leaving the appropriate cost for postage, that service was graciously provided. No more. The policy had changed. Some passengers surmised that since 9/11 the ship line was reluctant to handle personal mail. Perhaps so. At any rate, acceding to the new policy, I accepted the fact that I would have to shoulder that simple task myself.
We later docked at Phú My, the gateway to Ho Chi Minh City in Viêt Nãm. Even though that terrible war had been over for more than a quarter of a century, I was uncertain of airmail service out of Ho Chi Minh City. I chose to wait until Hong Kong to send my airmail postcard. Certainly, transfer from British control to The Peoples' Republic of China on 1 July 1997 wouldn't have changed Hong Kong that much, I thought.
I re-approached the Purser's desk and inquired about mailing facilities at the Ocean Terminal where we were scheduled to dock 19 April. "Oh," they told me, "There's a Post Office in the Ocean Terminal where we will dock; no problem."
"Fine," I thought. After a Shore Excursion to Victoria Peak and other places I wanted to re-visit, I'd just go ashore again after a late lunch and mail my post card.
When my wife, Bobbie, and I first visited Hong Kong, on our 25th Wedding Anniversary trip in 1968, the freighter on which we had sailed from San Francisco docked at Ocean Terminal. It was then a simple two-level pier capable of docking a couple of ships, with various shops to inexpensively buy jewelry, cameras, have silk suits tailored for $76US, etc.
Now, it is a two to four level shopping arcade called "Harbour City" about four short blocks long, with an even larger "L" wing extending about eight blocks North on Canton Road. Harbour City is the largest shopping mall in Hong Kong. This complex is divided into four areas: Harbour City New Extension, Ocean Centre, Ocean Terminal and the Marco Polo Hong Kong Arcade, totaling about 2 million square feet of gross retail area. It currently houses seven hundred shops, more than forty restaurants, two cinemas and three top class hotels.
At the end of the Shore Excursion, I asked the nice young woman Chinese guide: "Where in the Ocean Terminal would I find the Post Office?"
"Oh," she said. "Not in Ocean Terminal. Post Office behind Sheraton Hotel."
Now I no longer walk well, certainly not far; and stairs are particularly difficult to negotiate. The Post Office, it seems, was South on Canton Road to Middle Road. From there, traveling East, one would cross Hankow Road behind the Peninsula Hotel, cross Nathan Road, pass behind the Sheraton Hotel and voilá - the Post Office.
After a good night's rest in a climate like Carlsbad, CA, I might have made the effort. "Not today," I reflected. Not after a tiring five hour re-acquaintance with Hong Kong, in 82°f high-humidity weather.
"Is there an alternative?" I asked.
"You might try Information Desk in Marco Polo Hong Kong Hotel," she responded in her pleasing sing-song voice. "If you give them postage they might mail for you." That alternative, estimated to be under half the distance to the Post Office, seemed the better choice.
After a delicious pizza in the ship's Pizzeria, complete with olives, anchovies, garlic and stuff, I dropped by my cabin, picked up my post card and cane, left the ship once more, and struck off.
The shopping maze I entered made the Plaza Camino Real Mall in Carlsbad seem like a country store. At every bend in the aisle or fork in the route, overhead signs to various locations pointed one way or another. Fortunately, the Marco Polo Hong Kong Hotel was always one of the choices. With my attention devoted to the directional signs, I scarcely noticed the shops along the way, to use later as landmarks.
Finally, I reached the end of the building complex, confronting a left arrow pointing to the Marco Polo Hong Kong Hotel. But stairs led down to the street. I descended. With relief, I saw that the entrance to the hotel was but a few paces to the left. Another flight of stairs greeted me and up I climbed to the Hotel Lobby.
Searching the lobby, I found no Information Desk, but did see a sign: "Messages and Mail." I asked the sweet young thing behind the counter if she could airmail my card for me.
"Are you guest of hotel?" I was asked.
"No," I responded.
"Three dollar Hong Kong, please," she said.
"Can you take American money and give me the change?" said I.
"No; three dollar Hong Kong, please."
"Where can I get Hong Kong dollars," I asked.
"Go to Money Changer down street," she said, pointing to the right out of the hotel entrance. Out of the lobby I went, down the stairs to the street, and headed South on Canton Road. Sure enough, I soon spotted a sign, "Money Changer."
I slipped a U.S. one dollar bill through the slot in the counter and said: "3 dollars Hong Kong, please."
The sweet young thing behind the bullet-proof-appearing glass responded, "Can give only 7 dollar Hong Kong."
"OK," said I and, with a $5 and a $2 Hong Kong coin in hand, turned back to the Marco Polo Hong Kong Hotel.
Up the stairs, across the lobby and back to the Messages and Mail counter I went. I handed my post card and the $5 Hong Kong coin, pleading, "Air Mail, please." The sweet young thing took my card and $5 Hong Kong and gave me a $2 Hong Kong coin. For emphasis, I said, "Air Mail."
She responded, "Yes." I took my leave.
Down the stairs, out of the hotel. Up the stairs, back to the shopping arcade. Then I resumed the hunt for directions, following the way back to Ocean Terminal. The route seemed strange. I knew I was lost when I wound up in a parking ramp. I retraced my steps and tried again.
When I realized I was headed for the parking ramp once more, I sought refuge in the Lane Bryant store. At least it was a name I recognized. Then I couldn't seem to extricate myself from Lane Bryant. Back to the main hallway.
I referred back to my Boy Scout training. Look for a stream of water and follow it downhill, I mused. It eventually would lead to civilization. Ridiculous. That won't work here. Another trick is drop grains of rice, kernels of corn, or mark your route on the way so you can retrace your steps. Too late for that.
My salvation was to look for the Marco Polo Hong Kong Hotel arrows and go in the opposite direction. It worked. I eventually found a rotating electronic billboard-type sign and arrow pointing toward the Regal Princess. They think of everything to make passengers' lives easier (except to mail post cards). Around a bend, through the building, and there it was; just as I had left it.
I collapsed on my bed and reflected. I think I succeeded in airmailing my post card. At least I was staring at two $2 Hong Kong coins, indicating that my adventure was not my imagination. I did make one decision, though: that's the first and last post card anyone will receive from me this trip!
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