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Memories Of Child Of Vietnam War

VIETNAM — He is from Hanoi. A child of the Vietnam War, in which his father fought for the North Vietnamese Army. Yes, the Viet Cong, although that degrading terminology was used only by the enemy. His father was shot by an American soldier. He’d like to meet that American soldier.

To say thanks.

“When my father was injured, they sent him home to Hanoi,” says Trieu Son. “Because he came home, I was born.”

Today, Son is a cruise director. Since 2011, he has worked for AmaWaterways, professionally and politely accompanying river cruisers up and down the Mekong River on Sonthe AmaDara, to and from Siem Reap, Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. If his ability to do his job and his engaging personality are the criteria, it’s a job Son will have as long as he wants it.

The owners of the cruise line, principally Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst, met him for the first time last month. What followed was an ongoing and entertaining dialogue between “Son” and his “Dad” and “Mom.” By the end of the cruise, all parents who qualified were ready to adopt him as their Son.

During his tenure as a cruise director, he met an American soldier. The man, who’d been a pilot during the war and whose name was Jim, wanted to meet a North Vietnamese soldier. Although Son didn’t initially think of his father.

“Then my Dad phoned, just to talk to his son,” he recalls. “He fought four and a half years. In North Vietnam, it would bring shame on a family not to enlist.”

The two old soldiers met in a tea room at a Hanoi hotel. Accompanied by his wife Connie and daughter Amanda, Jim paced the floor in the minutes leading up to meeting Son’s father, Quoc Tuan. When they met, it was emotional. There were tears.

“I’m so sorry,” he said to his North Vietnamese equal, “for every shot I fired. I was only 17. All I was supposed to do was press the button.”

Quoc Tuan was sympathetic.

“It was war time,” he told Jim. “No one wanted to be there. It must have been hard…you guys all had to come to a strange country.”

They parted as friends. So did their children. Amanda returns to Vietnam every couple of years.

“Two fathers fought,” says Son. “Now their two kids have fun together.”

The youngest of three children, all born after the Vietnam War, Son now has an unlikely occupation. His older brother urged him to learn English and, when he was young, Son listened to English on an overseas BBC station “for years” without learning a word of English. One morning he heard a broadcaster say “trigger” and he was so intrigued by the word that he was motivated to learn more.

That wasn’t easy.

“Most of us suffered from malnutrition,” Son recalls, with a smile. “We had no meat…no toys…and for the first eight years no electricity. We studied by oil lamp.”

By age 16, he was able to study English at school. Now in his 30s, he speaks it fluently, learning it so well that he can be funny in a way that only works with knowledge of the nuances.

“Language is about understanding,” he says.

His most amazing characteristic to strangers — whether they are passengers or his new “Dad” and “Mom” — is an uncanny ability to know and remember every passenger’s name by heart within minutes of meeting them. He says it is a gift.

One that was the result of an American shooting a North Vietnamese soldier.

In the news…

• Survey shows Cuba early bookings fewer than 3% of Americans
• MSC Lirica to home-port in Shanghai for year-round cruises
• fathom ship to focus on Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba

Today at portsandbows.com: Cruise views and news you can use

Emerald Princess
4 nights
November 21, 2015
Fort Lauderdale (return): Nassau, Princess Cays
Inside: $299
Cost per day: $74

Looking for a Laugh? Carnival Cruise Director John Heald has a Belly Full

Every once in a while, Carnival's legendary cruise director John Heald writes something that is so irresistibly funny that it's incumbent on us to share it with you. Maybe with John Heald, you have to be in the right mood to appreciate his humor, or maybe you just have to ignore its trashy nature, but there are many things people can say about this monster personality. One thing you cannot say is that he isn't funny.

This missive is appropriately entitled The Lido Deck Diet. He managed to restrain himself and not wait to write it until after Christmas, when the whole world goes on a diet.

As to whether this is a knee-slapper…you'll have to decide. One of us thought so, one of us was on the fence.

Check it out for yourself — John Heald's Blog.

Norwegian Star
14 nights
November 10, 2013
Miami, Cartagena, Panama Canal, Puntarenas, Puerto Chiapas, HuatulcoPuerto VallartaCabo San LucasLos Angeles
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $42


So Your Teenager Wants to go to Sea?

You have a teenage girl, just 16. She wants to make an education substitute, swapping international travel for textbooks. She wants to go and work on a cruise ship, as a dancer. She has a good head on her shoulders and you trust her…but she is only 16.

"What are we going to do?" Lisa Ball says her parents asked. "Do we say no, or let her go and get it out of her system, and hopefully come back after a year?"

They let her go. Today, more than a couple of decades later, she is a cruise director for Princess Cruises.

"Mom and Dad were incredibly brave," she recalls. "The first five years were scary for them. They didn't understand. They were more comfortable after they were on a cruise ship., with the safety…the comfort. They probably thought it would be more scary. It's such a safe job, and it's not like some run-down hired you over the phone."

She didn't say so, but the fact that Princess Cruises was such an established and respected brand in England, where they live and where she was born, probably gave the Balls a modicum of comfort. Like all parents, they envisioned something…well, different…for their daughter when she became an adult.

Like veterinary medicine, for instance.

"I wanted to be a veterinary surgeon," Lisa laughs, during a pause in the action on the Crown Princess — and for a cruise director there is always a lot of action, no matter the cruise ship. "To get into veterinary school, you need to have high grades or physics and chemistry. I began to realize if I studied for 24 hours a day I was not going to get them!"

A friend persuaded her to attend dance college.

"I was drawn to it and I really enjoyed it, and I was a professional dancer 11 years," she says. "About 10 years ago, I decided I needed to retire from that."

So she turned to the next best on-stage occupation (and maybe the best one): cruise director. It didn't happen overnight, of course. She invested six years in getting the "CD" label on her lapel, the third Princess woman to attain that status, and six more in perfecting her craft.

How long she'll continue is, like everything in life, unknown.

"It's a hard job to give up when you enjoy it so much," she says, "without worrying about where the next contract is coming from…especially the way things are at the moment whereso many people have no idea about the next paycheck. But It's all about enjoying your job. I can't imagine doing this job if you didn't enjoy it. I love the challenge of it. It's definitely a lifestyle choice. You miss family birthdays, that sort of thing, but when I have time at home, it's quality time. I have four best friends and we've been that since we were five. We all make the effort to get together. Now we have quality time and I get to be the favorite aunt."

Lisa Ball is not a cruise director 24/7. She does escape the ship in some ports — Cozumel is a guarantee escape when she's on a Western Caribbean itinerary — and she still enjoys teaching ballroom dancing. And on her 60-day breaks every four months, she does have a life that goes beyond being a favorite aunt.

"I've had a partner for eight years…he's an audio engineer and we had a little chat," chuckles Ball. "If he worked for bands on land, and I carried on with my career, we were not going to see each other for months. We made that decision as a couple. He goes on tour with bands, and I love my job. We're happy with that for now. If that changes, that's another conversation we'll have to have. When he's not on the road, he travels with me. He's comfortable on ships and he loves Princess. We probably see each other four months of the year. When I take a block of time off, I travel with him. It's incredibly quality time."

And as Lisa Ball's parents discovered all those years ago, it works for their daughter.

Holland America Prinsendam
15 nights
November 11, 2013
Rome, Cadiz, Portimao, Lisbon, Funchal, Fort Lauderdale
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $53

Starting With 'Mary Had A Little Lamb'

Athletes are athletic, educators are educated and cruise directors are…well, characters. It's part of the job description because within any given two-minute span they have to be entertaining, serious, funny, talented, spontaneous, thorough, athletic and fast on their feet, which are sometimes called upon to do the two-step, kick balloons and get them off a stage before the curtain goes up or down.

Leigh Xuereb is a fit.

He's currently cruise director on Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas. There is no job in the cruise business that is more demanding of a person's energies 24/7, or close to 24/7. And Xuereb took the first steps down that road not long after taking his first steps, period.   

Age four.

"I wanted to be a performer since then," he says. "Ever since the day I walked away from my parents in an open-air shopping center and wound up in a nursery rhyme contest, doing Mary Had A Little Lamb. I went to the final and did Ten Little Indian Boys, but I didn't win."

What he did was get hooked on performing. That was in Australia, his homeland, and he went on to work almost nine years at a theme park called Warner Brothers Movie World. He became known as one of the world's top Austin Powers clones but has played a cast of many characters along the way…Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, Wylie Coyote, The Penguin in Batman, the Cadbury mascot, Dr. Evil in Austin Powers…

Is there a trend here?

"Austin Powers was my 'Ground Hog Day'," he laughs. "When I was 20, I was still a kids' entertainer. I didn't want to be a 40-year-old Austin Powers impersonator. I needed a change."

The change came on his 30th birthday. His girlfriend ended their nine-year relationship. By then, his Australian theme park and Austin Powers roots were deep, so he took the recommendation of friends who worked in the cruise industry, for Disney and Royal Caribbean. He chose Royal Caribbean not to escape the kid thing, but because it was the first cruise line to respond to his resume.

Looking back, he is grateful to the old girlfriend.

"It was the best present she could have given me," he explains. "It changed my life."

His first job was on Voyageur of the Seas. Between contracts, he was in Atlanta for an Austin Powers convention, doing radio spots, appearing on TV, being picked up in limos. Back on the cruise ship, he was teaching scrapbooking and line dancing.

"I thought: 'What have I done?'" Xuereb remembers. "But it was a challenge. I was always hiding behind characters, and never performing as Leigh, and I wanted to see how Leigh worked out."

Understandably, that also took time. And ships — Adventure of the Seas, Splendour of the Seas, Grandeur of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Mariner of the Seas, Majesty of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas. Floating from one ship to another, Leigh worked jobs ranging from assistant cruise director to activities manager to stand-in cruise director, bridging the gap between contracts of two full-time CDs.

Less than three years ago, another girlfriend story. Her name is Olga, she is from Siberia and they met while she was performing in Swan Lake On Ice on one of the ships. During a break between his contracts, Xuereb was home in Australia and wondering about Olga. An email exchange later, he discovered she had left Royal Caribbean and was vacationing…in Australia.

Today, she is back with the cruise line. When she was skating on Explorer of the Seas, he turned down a contract to go to another ship because they wouldn't be together.

"Money…career…it doesn't mean anything if I don't have anyone to share it with," he says. "We've been together for two and a half years, the most time we've spent together is six months, but we'll be back on the same ship [Explorer] in October."

Then, he'll be doing what cruise directors do.

"Performing every day," he says. "Honing skills. Making people laugh. Discovering something new. When you try something new, you never know when it'll work. When it does, there's no drug like it. My humor can be a little edgy. I always make fun of myself, and other people…it's cheap laughs. Just like at the theme park, I'm still playing dress-ups, making a fool of myself and enjoying it. Just like when I started doing Austin Powers, practising in a mirror, you first want to be competent — not just wear a wig and glasses and talk like Austin Powers. You want to be the best you can be. This is no different."

Passengers on cruise ships can make or break cruise directors. On the New York-to-Bermuda runs that Explorer of the Seas makes, it seems Leigh Xuereb is just the right fit.

Carnival Ecstasy
5 nights
September 9, 2013
Port Canaveral (return): Half Moon Cay, Nassau, Freeport
Inside: $209
Cost per day: $41

Jewels of cruising on a Crown Princess

Ten things we liked about the Crown Princess, the ship that in seven days carried us to three Western Caribbean ports from Galveston, in no particular order:

The Ultimate Ship Tour

Usually, tours of the innards of a ship are a one-time experience because a galley is a galley, a print shop is a print shop and a laundry is a laundry. This one was almost three hours and the time flew, even during the longest stop, the Princess Theater. If there was something we didn't see in the theater (okay, we missed seeing performers changing costumes), we'd be hard-pressed to find it, and we left with a genuine sense of what it's like on the other side of the stage lights. And, of course, it never gets tiring to visit the bridge of a cruise ship.

The Cruise Director

Lisa Ball has been honing her skills for almost six years on Princess ships. Unlike some cruise directors, her style is not "over the top" and she is the epitome of professionalism. And if you'd like to know more about her, check on our blog regularly.

Muster Drill

Are you kidding? How can anybody like a muster drill, the "fasten your seat belts" instruction, to use a flight analogy? This one lasted nine minutes, was taped by the captain, played regularly on state-room televisions and covered everything ("If you do go in the water…"). And guess what? At our muster station, everybody was listening for a change.

Man from Vines

Vines is the wine tasting bar that's part of the piazza, the Princess moniker for an atrium. The wines were fine, as they say, but the real star was the ship's lone sommelier. Eduardo Angulo Solis seems a little un-traditional as sommeliers go, encouraging customers to pair food and wine and decide for themselves what works, with a little coaching from an expert. This young man from Chile takes a leave from Princess to spend a year studying to become only the second master sommelier in his homeland, Chile.

The Elevators

At first it was a game: Which side of the door will the illuminated buttons for each deck be on, because they always seemed to be on the side where you didn't look. Then we realized we weren't the only ones playing the game…most passengers were asking the same question, and most were getting it wrong. Talking about it beat elevator music.


This is the trade name for Princess casinos, and we didn't like it for the reasons you might think, but for the one night on the cruise when smoking was banned. Not everybody agreed…we did see one woman, playing a slot machine and chewing on an unlit cigarette.

Space in Balcony Rooms

On most cruise ships, it's hard to find room for all your clothes, some of which get tucked into drawers and cabinets made for other things. On the Crown Princess, the closet was about eight feet long and, with shelves on top and an adjacent cabinet, why….we clearly didn't bring enough clothes!

The Piazza

This is going to be a staple on Princess ships, and we can see why. It's a gathering spot, as atriums always are, but the Princess Piazzas are busy and entertaining, and adorned with many things Italian (the pizzas are coming!)

Captain Andrew Proctor

A Scotsman of the sea (how many of those are there), he didn't agree to an interview, but he did tell us the secret to making haggis edible: "Mashed tatties [potatoes], mashed turnip…and 12-year-old gravy!"

The Crown Grill

As spectacular as the filet mignon was at this specialty restaurant ($25), the side plates of potatoes and spinach and cream corn and French fries (and more) were perhaps more impressive. It prompted this comment: "I could make a meal of the sides." Yes, even without the 12-year-old gravy.

Holland America Zuiderdam
7 nights
May 18, 2013
Vancouver (return): Tracy Arm, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, Inside Passage
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85

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