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 Created: 07/26/04


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July 26, 2004 – I am writing this week's installment of our Semester at Sea travelogue while on transit to Keelung, Taiwan. We will be docking there in three days. We spent the last five days in northern Vietnam and it was quite an adventure. I will tell you more about that next week.

Summer 2004 Voyage


ALASKA: Sitka & Kodiak

RUSSIA: Petropavlovsk

KOREA: Busan
Part 2: Photo Gallery

CHINA: Shanghai

CHINA: Hong Kong
Part 2: Photo Gallery

Coming Next: VIETNAM

Hong Kong
Hong Kong is without a doubt one of the world's most beautiful cities. I visited Hong Kong back in 1981 and I loved it then, but the city I saw 23 years ago no longer exists. Hong Kong has since evolved into a modern visual masterpiece due to its unique combination of skyscrapers, glass, water, land and light. I found the quality of the light particularly captivating. The camera loved it as much as I did.

Our stop in Hong Kong lasted just two days instead of the scheduled three. This was courtesy of KOMPASU, a tropical storm that locked down Hong Kong and its harbor for almost 16 hours on July 16, 2004.

Tropical Storm Kompasu
The day before our scheduled arrival in HK, we were informed that the ship was heading directly into the path of a tropical storm that might intensify into a full-blown typhoon. We were warned that things could get pretty rough overnight. The crew busied itself tying down everything on the vessel. I knew it was serious when a team arrived at our cabin to lash down all the furniture on our deck. Many of the passengers, myself included, were a little nervous because we had never experienced rough seas and we didn't know what to expect. As it turned out, the night was calm because we were running ahead of the storm.

We reached our berth at Ocean Terminal in Hong Kong at ~8am on Tuesday, July 16. The view was spectacular. But trouble was brewing. Soon after docking, the Explorer was ordered to steam back out into the harbor to ride out the impending storm. For reasons of safety, the "leave port immediately" command was applied to all large vessels in the vicinity. Kompasu was expected to make landfall by midday and it would be a class 8 tropical storm. Hong Kong itself was in the process of shutting down. By government order, nothing in Hong Kong could remain open except public shelters.

Our vessel was well anchored out in Hong Kong Harbor, along with hundreds of neighboring ships. We did not expect much trouble unless a ship broke loose and hit us, or vice versa. That was an unlikely scenario, but the Explorer was definitely more vulnerable than at any other time during the voyage – except perhaps when we were anchored near Busan, South Korea, in heavy fog.

The mood on the ship was upbeat, although everyone was terribly disappointed to lose a full day in Hong Kong. There would be no way to recover that lost opportunity. Complicating matters was the fact that a majority of our students had left the ship back in Shanghai for a series of field travel programs in mainland China. They were scheduled to fly into Hong Kong that very day to rejoin the ship – but oops, no ship. Back in Pittsburgh, the Semester at Sea staff was scrambling to arrange suitable housing for the students stranded in HK, not an easy task when most of Hong Kong's hotels were already fully booked due to the storm.

Meanwhile, around the vessel, the sky was heavy with clouds and rain and the seas are slowly building. Fortunately, we were not rolling much because we were anchored at the bow. This allowed the ship to position itself naturally (into the waves) as the seas intensified. Our primary form of entertainment was the "Typhoon Film Festival". The following titles ran off an on all day long at various locations around the ship: Classical Chinese Gardens, Fifty First Dates, Italian Job, Scent of Green Papaya, Bruce Almighty, Pirates of the Caribbean, Mystic River, First Emperor of China, Forbidden City, Great Tales in Asian Art, and Three Musketeers. Of course, many other "unsanctioned" titles (some bootlegged) were also running in the student's rooms. Come hell or high water, the students will find a way to entertain themselves, that's for sure. We opted to view The Scent of Green Papaya, a lovely Vietnamese film that was airing right as the storm was supposed to be hammering us at full force.

By now you are probably wondering about the effects of the storm. It was a total dud. The sustained winds reached only 40 mph, and the ship hardly rocked because the seas remained relatively calm. Most of us were relieved and disappointed at the same time. We expected more of a show from Kompasu. By the end of the day, Kompasu was just a memory. Hong Kong's ports were reopened later that night. By midnight the Explorer was back in its berth at Ocean Terminal and the passengers were given permission to disembark.

I spent the next two days exploring Hong Kong and photographing the shimmering urban landscape. Leaving was painful. Click here if you'd like to see some of my favorite shots.

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