Thursday, March 10, 2011

Kon’nichiwa Asuka II Part Fourteen – Fondling Marsupials

Yes, I am alive and safe. We had left Yokohama at 2PM, and were in open water when the earthquake hit. I was forward on deck 6, rehearsing in the theatre, when it happened. The whole ship shook like crazy, and none of us really knew what was going on. Had an engine popped? No, this isn't the Dream... Then we started getting the news... whoa. Fortunately, we were south enough of the epicenter to not be affected by the tsunami that followed. As I write this, we are a couple hours away from Kobe, where I expect it'll be business as usual... now on to the blog...

At the moment the Asuka II is surrounded by mostly water, as little mountainous islands pass by in the distance at eighteen knots. We’re almost two sea days into our six day journey to Guam, after which we’ll have another three sea days to endure before finally getting back to Japan. Yeah, sea days… lots of ‘em make up this cruise. How many? Well, let’s break down Asuka II’s Oceania Itinerary by ports of call:
  • YOKOHAMA – 1/31/2011 (Embarkation)
  • KOBE – 2/1/2011 (Embarkation)
  • SAIPAN – 2/5/2011
  • CAIRNS, AUSTRALIA – 2/11 & 2/12/2011 (Overnight)
  • SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – 2/15 & 2/16/2011 (Overnight)
  • HOBART, TASMANIA – 2/18/2011
  • CHRIST CHURCH, NEW ZEALAND – 2/23/2011 (Cancelled)
  • AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – 2/24** & 2/25/2011 (Overnight)
  • NOUMEA, NEW CALDONIA – 2/28/2011
  • GUAM – 3/7/2011
  • YOKOHAMA – 3/11/2011 (Disembarkation)
  • KOBE – 3/12/2011 (Disembarkation)
(**2/24 - we arrived at Auckland at 9 pm, one day early because of the Christ Church cancellation)

Not including the embarking and disembarking ports, the Oceania cruise lasts 37 days. Of those 37 days, my feet touched dry land a total of 10 unique days, leaving 27 days at sea. Or, to put it another way, one day shy of the equivalent of February is spent at sea. Wow… of course, I am not complaining (much). In the grand scheme of things, I could be doing nothing while not earning a paycheck, but as it stands, I am somehow making a living watching the water chug by.

So, what do all those days at sea look like? Pretty much like what you would expect…IMG_5097
It can be quite majestic at times, to look out at an endless ocean, and understand that stretching beyond my field of vision are a thousand more miles of the same. Other times, however, it can feel a pinch monotonous. Anyway, during all these sea days I’ve done a ton of reading, taking advantage of my Ipod’s ability to read books through Amazon’s Kindle App (which you can also use to read my swanky new novel, DIRTY WORK). I’ve also been able to devote even more time to killing myself in the gym, as well as working my way through the complete series of Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

Still, there are other things to occupy my time amidst all these sea days, like getting beans thrown at me… really. Called “Setubun,” the Japanese purge themselves of evil spirits by throwing dry beans at grown men wearing grass skirts and devil masks.


Literally… grass skirts and devil masks. So, I make my way among the pax while they throw beans at me and giggle. Once I feel like I’ve absorbed enough punishment, my job is to collapse on the ground and die. And, although not instructed to do so, I felt it was my obligation to repeat the phrase “Ooga Booga.” I mean, it would be rude not too… First person perspective just below:

But hell, who cares about beans?! Make with the kangaroos!


Here I am lounging with a kangaroo in Hobart, Tasmania (that little island off the south-east end of Australia). About half an hour’s bus ride from the dock brought me to what is essentially an Australian petting zoo, and roaming free within the fences are a bunch of kangaroos of all sizes. You can pet them, feed them (call them George if so inclined), and basically interrupt their otherwise peaceful day by constantly demanding their attention to shove dry dog food into their mouth and fondle their chest. Oh well, that’s the food chain for ya. Here’s another photo:


Really, most of these guys either tried to get away from the constant attention, or just resigned themselves to being overfed and groped. But, holy cow, I can touch me a kangaroo! Wait a second… I can touch me a koala bear too?


American zoos would lead you to believe that touching a koala bear is not only illegal, but a single atom of human oil would devastate the eight koalas left in the Northern Hemisphere; the koala laws of Australia are a little more slack. So, yeah, I touched me a koala bear… and it was awesome.
One animal I did not touch was the Tasmanian Devil.


Let me be frank: these things may look cute, but they sound like mean little bastards. Honestly, Mel Blanc was not that far off. Here are some fun facts about Tasmanian Devil.
  1. The back teeth create a ton of pressure per square inch (that’s 5 times more than a pit bull)
  2. They can eat 40% of their body weight in one sitting (typically 4.5 pounds)
  3. They are scavengers, and can smell a tasty carcass from over a mile away
  4. Supposedly, there have been no reports of a human being attacked
Still, if I was in the outback and I heard one of these suckers, I’d hide in a kangaroo’s pouch…

The name certainly fits the animal.
One week before Hobart, I was in another little town called Cairns. I believe Cairns made the news getting struck by a big damn typhoon just days before we got there, but everything seemed to be okay once we arrived. Once there, I took a trip into the rain forest and got to see a great big waterfall.


After taking in the grandeur of mother nature, it was back to reality…


Imagine the look in your loved one’s eyes when you come back from the land down under with a kangaroo paw flipping the bird or a bottle opener made from its balls. These gifts not only inspire love, but are made with a pinch of it as well.

But, back on board the globe-trotting Asuka II, there’s no time to use animal testicles to open a bottle of Sapporo… no sir! We’ve got shows to do! Now, my long time readers will recall that I once did the math regarding a typical work week’s hours on board the Norwegian Dream. With two performances of three shows, including a rehearsal for each, as well as a brief welcome aboard show, I typically clocked in about 14 hours per week. Let’s see how that compares to the Asuka II’s Oceania Cruise:

Including the embark and disembark ports (There are two on each end), the cruise lasts 41 days. The Production cast has six shows under its belt, two of which are shorter than your typical 45 minute show (which the other four are). Since it had been awhile since we’d performed any of these shows, we also rehearsed them once before the actual performance… let’s say each rehearsal clocked in at 90 minutes. Finally, we perform each show twice on the performance night. Okay, time to bust out your Texas Instruments TI80 Graphing Calculator:
  • 6 rehearsals * 90 minutes = 540 minutes
  • (4 shows @ 45 minutes) * 2 performances each = 360 minutes
  • (1 show @ 30 minutes) * 2 performances = 60 minutes
  • (1 show @ 17 minutes) * 2 performances = 34 minutes
Keep in mind I am not counting participating in organized passenger activities such as Setubun, talent shows, or the equator crossing, as these events required very little preparation on my part. And while I do count singing in sequins as work, getting pie thrown in my face is strictly pro bono. Yeah, pie…


You see, we had another deck party, this time celebrating Asuka II’s passage from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere (where, as we learned, animal groping laws are far more lenient). In order to celebrate, we put war paint on our faces and grass skirts on our bodies. While mingling with the pax, I noticed a bunch of cream pies lining the pool. I didn’t think anything of it until I came face to face with one, then another… now that I am able to compare, I much prefer beans. So, there I stood, covered in meringue, getting picture after picture taken with the grinning passengers (because, let’s face it, they get to say that they threw pie on their vacation). Oh, and the sun burn has nothing to do with the pies. Funny thing, it didn’t dawn on me that lying out for a quick 30 minutes, while crossing the equator, would leave behind nothing but scorched earth. MFA in Musical Theatre, friends…

But, before the deck party, we had a little private concert of our own:

And speaking of concerts, the Asuka II also made land in Sydney, Australia. While we were there, the production cast had the esteemed honor of performing alongside a full symphony orchestra at the historical Sydney Town Hall. The passengers were dressed to the kyuus, and much of the staff was also in attendance for this special event. So, inside a hundred and twenty year old concert hall, while a backdrop of stars glistened in the night sky, I utilized every ounce of training and stage experience for this, my Australian debut:

To this day I get a little misty… sometimes I don’t know how I do it.

But land is so stagnant and un-liquid-like… make with more sea days!!!


Here we are passing through the Fjords of New Zealand. It was raining pretty much the whole time we were there, but it was a pleasant break from the endless sea we were used to. As we passed through, the captain would come on the intercom and tell us all about the scenery. I would tell you everything I heard, but since it was all in Japanese, all I can say is “banana banana banana,” which is exactly how you say it in Japanese. Apple, on the other hand, is “Ringo.” Yeah, like the Beatle.

And speaking of New Zealand, one day before we were to arrive in a little place called Christ Church the city was rocked by an earthquake (six point something). I believe it was late last year when the city had another earthquake topping seven on the Richter Scale. Had we been there a day early, I can guarantee you many passengers, and probably myself, would have been inside the church or a museum when it hit… yikes. Anyway, deciding it would be best to skip the port, we set a course for Auckland, arriving half a day early.


Having an extra night on our hands, we did the usual “hanging out and not returning to the ship until we absolutely had to” routine. The next day, however, I hiked up a volcano.


Not much to say about it… Called Rangitoto island, geologists believe it erupted 600 years ago, and they are pretty sure it’s now dormant. As for me, I took a ferry to get there, hiked to the top, looked at the view, then hiked down.

The rest of the day was spent exploring the city. I took in the view from the top of the sky needle, visited a casino… oh, I did see one thing worth mentioning.


At first blush, you may not see anything wrong with this picture, but look a little closer. See that boy with one Friendship Gem? Now look at the floozie to his left… I see at least SEVEN Friendship Gems. Hey kid, she ain’t worth it… obviously she’s got “friends” all over town… that hussie.

Oh, and then there were more sea days… but guess what? I met me a real live sumo wrestler!


Sumo wrestlers in Japan aren’t like your athletes in The States. While people like Kobe Bryant are pretty much known for their athletic skills (okay, that was a terrible example), sumo wrestlers are usually trained in singing, poetry, dance… not only are they athletes, but also artists. Many of them go on to have a second career once they hang up their Sumo pants, like my friend Daishi here. He was onboard as a singing guest entertainer, and was a really cool guy to hang out with too. But just how much does a sumo wrestler weigh? Welp, his retired weight is 321 pounds… his fighting weight, on the other hand, was 383 pounds… It’s a relief to know a guy that big likes you. So, what do you do when you’re hanging out with sumo wrestlers?


Sing Karaoke! What I’m holding in my hand is the Karaoke songbook… looks more like a phone book, don’t it? At first I couldn’t believe there are actually that many songs to sing. Then I realize the songs are listed in Japanese, Chinese, English, and Tagalong. Still, on more than one occasion I found myself looking for a plumber, vinyl siding repairman, and a good DUI attorney.

Finally, after some more sea days, I visited Numea, a city on the island of New Caledonia. Again, not much to say… since I went to the beach and chilled out.


The only thing worth mentioning here is that if you listen real close, you’ll hear French. New Caledonia was a French settlement back in the day, and it’ll catch you off guard when you’re lying on the beach and you hear someone who sounds exactly like Maurice Chevalier jingle a pocket full of Francs as they pass by.
It’s late in the evening now as I finish up this blog. Tonight we have a mooring deck party to celebrate Asuka’s 5th birthday (or 20th, if you count the fact that she was originally christened as the Crystal Symphony back in 1991). We still have four more days to go before hitting Guam, then three more to get back to the land of seaweed and sake. Speaking of food, I’ll soon have a blog dedicated to nothing but, so stay tuned.

Keep on Livin’ The Dream,


Michael Lamendola
(Taking in the Sydney Opera House)

Oh, and PS: “The Groping Marsupials” is my new band.


  1. Hi Michael! Can you tell me? Is really everybody ok on Asuka 2? I have a relative who's working there and the Japanese embassy from my country can't help me for the moment.

  2. Yep, everyone here is all right! When the earthquake hit, we were already in open water, so all we did was get shook for a little bit. Fortunately, we were also far south enough that the following tsunami did not affect us.

    At the moment (March 13) we are about to pull out of Kobe, and make our way to Aburatsu as scheduled.

  3. Thank you very much, Michael! I feel so relieved now. Have a great and peaceful journey and take care of you!

  4. Please email and let us know how things are there. Japan is in our thoughts as they continue working on nuclear reactors.

  5. Hi Michael
    My sister, Karolina Maron is on board the Asuka II, she's working on either reception or behind the bar -- we haven't heard from her for 2 week. We're all really worried. I saw the note above, which is reassuring (if there is only 1 Asuka II cruise in Tokyo right now?) If so, I'm wondering why she wouldn't have called or emailed. If there is anyway of finding her or putting an anouncement out in the ship ...we would be so incredibly grateful. She is 30, Polish and has dark brown hair.

    Thank you in advance,