A Life on the Ocean Wave: Baby, it's Cold Outside

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The Achille Lauro

Hello. My name is Emma and I go on cruises. Mostly, so far on P&O ships out of Southampton, but other perfectly good cruise companies are available. ;-) When I can, I con my parents into paying for my ticket.

When I travel, I blog. If you would like to read it all, it can be found at my PS. The Post have asked me to proffer some edited highlights of my ramblings, which I shall now inflict on you forthwith. Enjoy.

Baby it's Cold Outside

Granted, it's not as cold as in, say, Washington DC, but compared to the mid-20s we had in Hong Kong, the fact that it is, only 36 hours later, now in the teens degrees and gale force winds (which adds a wind chill factor on the open decks that has to be experienced to be believed) and raining to boot, is a bit of a shock to the system! I shouldn't really be all that surprised. It snowed in Beijing the day before yesterday and we're due there the day after tomorrow, so I was expecting it to get somewhat cooler! The movement of the ship has increased, although I would call it "bumpy" at best. It certainly isn't rough. No need for sick bag dispensers on the stairwells or announcements asking people to hold on to the handrails as they move about the ship, but significantly uncalm, just the same. Our latitude, for the fact fans out there, is 30 degrees, almost exactly, at the moment and we are heading north up the coast at a steady 17 knots. Of course, bearing in mind that Dulles Airport in Washington has recorded 72 inches (six feet) of snow this year and is currently receiving two inches an HOUR (the media is calling it Snomageddon, I kid you not), this is nothing! Might start to dig out some layers, though, just the same...

Yesterday the fog was extraordinary. Presumably caused by the warm air we were coming from colliding with the cold air we were heading towards. The entire day was a complete white-out. You could see nothing at all in any direction. Literally. Visibility was maybe less than twenty feet from the ship. The fog horn sounded all day and all night. We have radar and GPS and all sorts of shiny gubbins to ensure we don't bump into anything, but what such conditions must have felt like to ship crews and passengers a century ago, I can't imagine. It must have been terrifying. The mist holds down the water, you see, which means that, not only is there no wind whatsoever, but the water is also very flat, almost still. There are virtually no waves at all. Quite creepy. If you were relying on wind to fill your sails, as your sole method of propulsion, you would be completely becalmed, stationary in the white, unable to move forwards or backwards and unable to see what, if anything was coming towards you. I imagine it must have been very frightening indeed. It's fairly uncomfortable even now!

Nihao. Wo jiao Emma. Nar you cesuo? Hello. My name is Emma. Where are the toilets? (It seems a shame that we only get three days of Chinese lessons before we arrive in Beijing. Why didn't they start them in Southampton?!) I now understand all the Singers' (Singaporean) jokes about yes and no that I didn't really grasp before. You never say no in Chinese. You say No Yes which means "Yes and No, but mostly No". Saying No on its own is considered very rude. So not Bu but Bu Shi. See? No Yes. Yes and No. I'm saying No but really nicely so as not to offend you. Presumably "sod off" isn't a common expression in China.

I was quite worried about the characters. It seems so complex, but, so far, it actually seems quite straightforward. It is probably much more complicated further down the line, but right now, I think I'm grasping it. I think the tones are harder to grasp than the characters, frankly. For those unfamiliar with tonal languages, it's not just the word that matters, it's how you say it. If you say the letters 'ma', for example, just as you would in English, it can mean four different things, depending on whether your drop your voice as you say it, raise your voice like a question, drop AND raise or give it no intonation at all. The meanings, for the fact-conscious amongst you are: to curse/swear, hemp, horse and mother. Clear? Good.

I am quite excited by the fact that there are no verb conjugations to learn. It seems to be a participle language. So, for example, it would conjugate as I eat, you eat, he/ she/ it eat, we eat, you (pl.) eat, they eat. Nothing changes whatsoever. Deeply cool. So all you have to do is learn the word and you're done! Superb!

I was also stunned to learn that Japanese uses the same characters, with the same meanings, but just pronounces them differently. Cool AND confusing at the same time! And yet Chinese (these days, anyway) goes left to right and down like English (and, frankly, BECAUSE of English), but Japanese goes down and right to left, just as Chinese used to. Got a headache yet?

The weather forecast for Beijing tomorrow is a high of 4 degrees and sunny. I may take a jacket out with me today (I write this in my cabin). I suspect it's a bit nippy out.

Factoid of the day: Last night I met Timmy Mallett. He's a really nice bloke.

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