Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Kon'nichiwa Asuka II Part Two - The Pros and Cons of Bathing

At the moment I am sitting in my room, cabin number 6278, forward of the Galaxy Lounge as the Asuka II chugs her way to San Francisco. We've come up the east coast by way of the Panama Canal, marking the third time I have sailed through one of the modern wonders of the world. Since then we've made a stop in Acapulco, and other than that it's been nothing but sea days around here, which is the main reason I haven't written anything in a few weeks. Literally, in the thirty day month of June, I will have made port seven times (eight if you count the canal, but I don't, since I was only able to gawk at land in wonder).

Still, that doesn't mean my days have been consumed with consuming sake and desserts made from beans by the pool... no sir. Actually, if I am not sleeping or eating, you can pretty much bet that I am rehearsing, or planning for the next rehearsal. As a matter of fact, things have gotten so routine so quickly, I barely have much to say at the moment. That will all change once we switch over to performance mode in July, but for now it's rehearse-two-three-four and sleep-six-seven-eight. With that in mind, I figure I'll just tell y'all a little bit more about my floating home away from home.

Like I mentioned earlier, the Asuka II is a little longer than the Dream, but carries far fewer passengers. One of the main things I've noticed, especially during this world cruise where we only have five hundred something pax, is the vast amount of extra space this vessel has. It's almost like she's showing off. One thing most ships have in common are their economical use of space. Usually, in order to get from one public area to another, you walk through other places of interest; like on the Dream, to get from the theatre to the shops, you walk through the casino, the disco, and a bar to get there. Here, on the other hand, most areas are situated on the inside portion of a deck, with separate walled hallways on the outside. Stunning information, I know. Then there are the elevator corridors.

Here is a picture I took standing with my back to the elevators. While I haven't been on this ship for long, I can guarantee that no more than five people have ever waited on an elevator in the same place, ever. Hell, I barely see five people in any bar or public area around here. Still, it's like the ship is expecting the pax to sit down on the floor and play Candy Land or something... or Mouse Trap. But who really played Mouse Trap?

Anyway, without boring you with details of stairways and corridors, let's look at where I eat lunch most days.

This is the view from the Lido deck, coincidentally located just outside the Lido Cafe. For those taking notes, this is the Asuka II's equivalent of the Dream's Sports Bar. When the weather's nice, we take our trays outside. Since we (the cast) are limited to the last half hour of lunch, we have never seen a crowd out here, and many days have the place to ourselves. I'm saving food talk for another blog, but I have two words for you: Spaghetti Hotdogs... and yes, it's exactly what you're thinking.

Okay, let's take a look at my office.

Here's the Galaxy Lounge. The picture was taken from the back of the house, but it stretches back a few rows more on either side (the booth is in the middle). Nope, it's not very big. For comparison, here's my office on the Dream:

If any of you have worked on the Norwegian Majesty, then the Galaxy may look very familiar, with the only difference here being the taller (but not by much) ceiling. Like many other cruise ship theatres and lounges, the space behind the proscenium is reserved for the band (seven pieces with two saxophones). On either side of the stage are the dressing rooms, and holy cow are they big. Here's a picture of the ladies' dressing room (the men's dressing room, for some reason, has cardboard totem polls sitting in there, with cartoon characters painted on them, to celebrate America's Independence... really).

That's for six girls, and are mirror spaces enough for all. The men's is slightly smaller, but is only used by four of us. Four guys. It's like the freakin' Taj Majal.

Best of all, however, is the commute from home to the office. Take a look for yourself:

Of course, my home away from home wouldn't be complete without a place to lay my head.

Here is my cabin from the bed looking towards the door. Just a little less wide and deep than mine on the Dream.

And here it is from the doorway. Notice the very oddly placed mirror. I still piss myself some mornings as I wake up and find someone staring right back at me. Now I guess I know what some people have experienced, and you all have my most sincerest apologies. Anyway, it may not be the size of most people's bedrooms on land, or even some of your closets for that matter, but for one person it does the job pretty well. There's a bed (with storage for both of my suitcases underneath), a porthole (a luxury for most crew members, and something I have been lucky to have on every contract), a television, DVD player, small refrigerator, and a bathroom... and that's where the fun stops.

This is my shower, and I defy even the smallest person on this ship to use it and say “wow! That was a great showering experience!” Take a look at the picture below, taken from exactly where I would stand while attempting to bathe, as I explain why this is the most awful shower ever put together by modern scientific minds. First, examine the pipes that come out of the wall with the hot and cold knobs on them.

They stick out a good seven or so inches from the wall, and in a bathroom that's not known for its spaciousness, that's an issue. Also, since half of the plumbing deals with hot water, you don't want to touch it... good luck with that. It even has a little sign on the hot pipe, telling me not to touch the stupid thing, although it's hard to see it when it's burrowed into my side. Over to the left of the controls is the “oh shit” handle for rough seas, and it's pretty proud of itself too. Then to the right and back, when it's drawn, is the curtain, which like all others I have used, wants to wrap itself around you while you attempt to shower, as if it's missed the sweet hell out of you since the last time you bathed.

So, let's add all that together: molten lava pipes digging into my stomach, plus another pipe nestling into my ribs, plus an amorous shower curtain sticking to my back... but wait, I haven't mentioned the shower head yet.

This damn thing has a brain, I swear, and it's sole purpose in life is to shoot water wherever I am not... really. You see, the hose that runs to the head is never in a good place (for the hose, that is) and so it steers the shower head left and right... and since I am standing in a shower the size of a postage stamp, this creates a problem. But wait! If you look at the picture, you'll notice I have yet another pipe that the shower head is fixed too, which allows a surprisingly full range of motion given the clown car sized restraints of the showering area. I can move the head up and down, and from left to right! Great! Funny thing, though... you see, by nature the shower head likes to shoot the water to my left when it's hoovering above me. So, when I try to compensate by shifting the thing that holds the head to the right, the hose senses something is amiss and tells the head to shoot the water more to the left! GENIUS!

But wait a second... I have a masters degree in musical theatre... certainly I can think of a way to outwit my diabolical shower... and I did. When I take a shower, I start by lowering the shower head to my chest, and point it so that it's shooting water directly at me. The hose doesn't know how to react to such an unorthodox method of bathing, so the head stays in position as I scrub everything from the neck down. Now for the hair: I raise the head back up above me and point the water down. With one hand holding the head in place I wet my hair down, shifting the shower head to the left when I am done. With the water now shooting all over the corner of the shower, I lather my hair. Once finished I bring the shower head back over my hair, and holding it in place with one hand scrub the shampoo out with the other. Once I am done, I throw the shower head back into the corner and turn the water off.

It's a calculated method to be sure, but that still doesn't solve the pipes and curtain situation... but I figured that one out, too. You see, the whole reason the pipes were digging into me in the first place is because I had a lovesick shower curtain molesting me from behind, and my body's natural reaction to that is to cringe forward... into the pipes. Divorce the shower curtain and problem solved. So, I shower with the curtain open. Yes, I have taken everything I know about a shower and turned it on its head. That's the kind of forward, progressive thinking only a higher degree in song and dance can get you friends. That kind of thinking also gets you a wet bathroom, although it wouldn't be so bad if there wasn't an unplugged hole at the base of my shower that allows water to flow into the rest of the bathroom... I'm still trying to solve that riddle; might need a PhD for that.

The cruel irony of it all is that six decks up and all the way aft on the Asuka II is the Grand Spa, which is basically a Japanese bathing water park. Before I came here, I picked up a little side job correcting grammar and punctuation for a Japanese travel site. One of the things that was mentioned many times was something called an “onsen.” I figured out that the Japanese have a thing for bathing, and they have bathing pools all over the place. Some are inside, some outside (like in all those kooky Cialus commercials), and they can be public or private. Well, the Grand Spa is our own little onsen on the Asuka II, and I get to use the sucker from 11pm to midnight.

Here's the men's changing room. Before you come in here, you take your shoes off and put them into a cloth bag. After picking out a locker, you shuck off your clothes (yep, all of them... bathing suits are considered unsanitary) and grab a couple of towels. Oh, and everything you're about to see is only for men. I am assuming it's identical for the women. Now, into the onsen.

This is where all the bathing happens. In here are two jacuzzis, a warm water pool, steam room, sauna, and a cold bath. Everything faces towards all the windows, and since we're on deck 12, the view must be pretty outstanding. Of course, since I am only allowed in at night, all I see is black. Then there's all the showers.

This is one of about twenty something showers, situated in two rows just behind where the first picture of the onsen was taken. Just so we're all clear: these showers were made by people with far greater intelligence than the Lego Academy of Brick Stacking dropouts that constructed the thing I have to use. But, showering here has its quirks too. First of all, you see that bucket? That's what you sit on while you shower. At first it's a pretty strange experience, but after a couple of times it grows on you (although, thankfully, not in the literal sense). Once seated, you take a shower... grab the shower head and hose yourself down, then put it back into its holster as you select from various soaps and shampoos. Grab the shower head again, rinse off, and done. The only peculiar thing is, once you get over bathing on a bucket, is the separators that... well, separate you from the other shower stalls, are made of clear plastic. It's never been a big deal since I am there so late, but if it's busy, and there are a lot of dudes poppin' a squat and bathing... all lined up... right...

Anyway, so you have to shower before you get into one of the pools, and then again afterward. Kosta (male adage) and I go about twice a week. We'll shower, sauna, shower, jacuzzi, then cold bath. Notice I didn't mention a shower in between those last two. Holy cow... cold bath. It's all I can do to even stick my toe in that thing. Obvious reasons aside, dunking your body into the cold bath is the closest you'll come to having a religious experience without having to drink pee or juggle snakes.

Before I get out of the jacuzzi, I get my mind all set for the torture I am about to willingly subject my body through. Once out of the hot water, I shuffle over to the cold pool and sit down, gritting my teeth and grunting as I quickly lose most of the feeling in my extremities. I am not kidding... I could be on fire and I would think twice before getting in this thing. After about twenty seconds the initial shock wears off and I relax into it. After a minute a strange, smokey menthol feeling floats up from my lungs and into my throat... that must be the hypothermia setting in. I lean into it for another minute. “People pay money for this!” I say to myself over and over as the black drapes of my own personal coma comfort me. Finally, after the second minute I pull myself out of my catatonic state, lift my body out of the cold bath, shower off, and go for another lap. After that, it's back into the changing room, fix myself up in the primping area, clothes back on, and done.

The whole experience leaves my body feeling more relaxed than any massage I have ever had. Since my onsen buddy is Russian, usually the whole detoxing experience is followed by a retoxing with a beer or two on deck... we're still crew on a cruise ship after all.

Well, it's nearly lunch time now, and the Lido is calling my name. Next time we speak I'll tell you a little more about what the social atmosphere is like on board a Japanese cruise ship, and a little less about my bathing habits.

Keep on Livin' the Dream,

Michael Lamendola
(Hanging out with Kris, our piano player, after a recital of his that I sang in. More on that later)


The bow tie is real, and I am down to only five minutes and three strings of expletives, of which I am very proud.