Where was I…?
On the Good Ship Lollipop. Good ship “rockalot” more like.
I had signed on as a sailor, to hitch a ride on a container ship kicking off my 100-day race around the world — without using modern transport. No cars, planes, high-speed trains.
To collect Champagne Charlie stamps in 18 cities where Charles Heidsieck (our sponsor) had offices. On S$200 each per diem, which, in 1992, was a fair bit of money when totalled.
Without second thought, my teammate and I were off! If you’d stopped to think, challenging, daunting, alarming, very exciting, it’d have slowed us back.
Cut hair, check.
Track shoes, check.
One fancy glam baju (outfit) in case meet impoverished aristocracy somewhere, check.
A well-meaning acquaintance, prominent in her field of healthy living, pressed a pill or tablet I forget upon me.
It was too late to resign the competition, never mind ask where to stick the tablet or pill.
I began with a video of me entering my cabin…and tripped from door to window, and that is why I have nothing to show for the experience. Especially on the discovery of not having sea legs.
As I contemplated the cabin ceiling, I heard calls of “chee cheong fan” and “chwee koay” (oriental snack delights) for tea. I sprung for the kitchen, and in greed for comfort nosh, improved upon my vocabulary.
Do you know upchuck, retch, heave, gag, puke, barf, hurl, all mean vomit? That technicolour yawn that spews everything from the pit of your stomach to the air con vents of the cabin?
(Here is where I tell you I’d begged a crew member, can I give you $20 to clean up this mess, and his reply, madam, I’ll give you $40 to show me how you did this? But it’d make for a bad taste joke.)
Once realisation set in — oh lawdy going out to sea makes me seasick, game over.
But, take people’s money already, so how? Onward, just not leeward, forward, windward.
And we sailed into the Fragrant Harbour that’s Hong Kong, and into the hotel made famous in the movie The World Of Suzie Wong.
We travelled by ricksha from hotel to our press con. The English-language media did their job, the Chinese-language journos nattered and gossiped among themselves.
In total contrast, our press meet in Moscow was a revelation. The room in the top hotel was crowded and the half-hour spilled into an hour.
Well I don’t know how to tell short stories, sorry lah.
They loved us. They had no cameras. Their notebooks were little jotter pads. They were hungry. They asked if they could kiss us. And they took the opportunity to fill up on cream cakes and custard buns provided by the hotel.
The sight of which made me feel “alamak-poor things”.
The most awful alamak-poor-thing sight though, were the dogs in cages at the main Beijing railway station. Ours not to judge, we steamed towards Wuhan. There’s a thermos of hot Chinese tea in every carriage. So civilised.
The carriage attendant on the Trans-Siberian (Vladivostok to Moscow in a week) was more entrepreneurial than civilised.
Hostage to his salesmanship, daily it was “You like?” Caviar, lacquerware, Cossack fur hats, Russian coins and stamps. Relieved us of American dollars.
“You like caviar? I telephone, my daughter, tomorrow she bring to next stop.”
It was caviar from the Dead Sea, I swear.
If you divvy 18 cities in 100 days you’d arrive at five days a city. But being out at sea for days cut down on our hotel stays. Which was just as well.
Saving each stay’s toiletries because it began to weigh us down. I was already ripping out pages from the books I was reading just to lighten my load!
From Montreal to New Orleans and Zurich to London, China, Japan, Russia, my least impressionable city was Seoul. It was simply unaesthetic, personally-speaking. Vengeance is theirs, I am today a fan of Blackpink, BTS, Squid Game.
The most memorable moment was crossing the Atlantic in the QEII. The average age of the passengers was 96 to 101. I flung my fancy glam baju overboard.
Did we cross the other five teams? We’d all started from our home cities, navigating oceans and seas, stitching up the continental map in train journeys, I recall only meeting one pair in Toronto.
In the updates we’d heard one teammate had broken his leg and was housed in Raffles Hotel Singapore. Maybe he took it literally. Another duo had “cheated” when they drove from point A to B and was disqualified. The British couple had set their mind to win from flag-off. Most of us were in it for the fun and experience, with spare change to boot. The Brits did win.
We won for Team Singapore, for being the two who journeyed closest to the footsteps of Champagne Charlie. It was an antique globe. Which we happily presented to the Singapore office of Remy Martin, the sponsor. Cheers!