A CIRCLE TOUR ON THE QE2; HIGHLIGHTS OF A Pacific cruise
THE post cards taped to my refrigerator door belong to my ''greatest hits of the Pacific'' collection. Other work in this series is on bulletin-board exhibit across the country in the homes of friends and relations who received these glossy updates on my whereabouts during my recent two-month grand circle of the Pacific on the QE2.
On the flip side of each pretty picture are the telltale marks of authenticity. Look for the foreign, rubber-stamped postage. And the cheerful message reducing a few of the 15 Pacific ports down to emphatic punctuation marks:
Saw the lagoon where Gauguin lived in Tahiti, the beach where the musical ''South Pacific'' was filmed in Moorea, and sulphur-spouting geysers and sheep-shearing in New Zealand . . . breath . . . took in a night at the Sydney Opera House. Then it was on to see the Mudmen dance in Papua New Guinea and Barong battle Rangda on the Indonesian island of Bali . . . breath. . . .
Then in Singapore consumed scones in homage to Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward; overnighted on land in Bangkok; shopped with a keen sense of sport in Hong Kong; and witnessed a thousand red-flag-waving children at a gala reception in Qingdao, China. . . .
On to Japan: from Kobe took a day trip to Kyoto (where footsteps across the wooden floors of the Imperial Palace sound like the chirps of nightingales). From Yokohama, Tokyo was mastered in a day (a blur of crowds and temples and Ginza shopping to the 10-hour tune of a tour guide's monologue) . . . very long breath . . . and the ship sailed for Honolulu and all ports American.
Of course, every postcard also makes mention of some aspect of life on the QE 2. Like any luxury cruise liner, this ship's social life was fueled by nonstop meals and stoked by a continuous program of bingo, sunbathing, and ballroom dancing. Every few hours, everyone rose to some occasion and changed clothes. At night, some ''specially flown-in blockbuster attraction'' sang his or her heart out to the tune of ''New York, New York.''
Pacific days rolled into each other with the pitch of the sea. Any port stop - land! - was greeted with of a rush of anticipation. Phone calls and telegrams became cheaper, and mail call was possible.
This year, the QE2's ''world'' will be cruising a different itinerary, while still making a few stops in the Pacific. Other cruise lines making regularly scheduled cruises of the Pacific this year are Holland America (as part of the Rotterdam's 90-day tour), Pearl Cruises and the Royal Viking Line.
My ''greatest hits of the Pacific'' collection is a first-timer's guide to the Orient's longest-running popular sights to be seen in a day off the decks of a cruise ship. All can be found only a few steps from a parked tour bus.
But don't be deluded: Claiming to have seen a whole country in a few hours' whirlwind tour about a port is only a fraction more accurate than saying you've been to Hong Kong because you changed planes at Kai Tek airport on the way to Singapore. On the other hand, one vivid impression is sometimes worth a whole checklist of monuments and museums.
Sure, the facts flesh out those historic landmarks. The Sydney Opera House took 19 years and $102 million to build, was first designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon. But only one impression may stick to the memory past the next port stop; in my recollection, it was the way the Opera House billowed and glistened when the rain stopped, shortly after the ship docked in Sydney.
Then in Tokyo, my notes inform me that the Sensoji Temple, more popularly known as the Asakusa Kannon Temple, dates back to the morning of March 18, 628, when two brothers caught a small statue of Sho-Kannon, the goddess of mercy, in their fishing net. For 1,300 years this image has never been exposed to human eyes, since the day when a priest decreed that the it remain a ''hidden image.''
But what I'll remember clearly is the image of those leafless trees in front of the temple; last March the branches were tied with white papers (bad fortunes left behind) and pink rayon flowers (for the spring that was soon to come).
Then come ports when even the most independent traveler feels compelled to cram in as many sights and stops as a tour bus can provide in one day. For me, mention New Zealand, and I do a mental replay of the fast-motion blur of fields still green despite a four-month drought; shooting, sulphur-smelling geysers; sheep-shearing; the reproductive cycle of the rainbow trout; and pastel-painted, turn-of-the-century towns.
Then there's the paradox of hearing disco music playing in the background while the earnest apprentices at the Maori Arts and Crafts Centre carved ancient images out of their native pine, as we tourists filed by; the fact that kiwi fruit used to be called Chinese gooseberries until roughly 19 years ago, when New Zealand agricultural-marketing experts changed the name in order to sell the fruit; and the general impression that everyone in New Zealand is very content with his acre of land, a garden, and a house - a cliche verified by several native sources.
Then again, mention the port of Pattaya, and I think of that well-paved new highway to Bangkok. First stop: the Grand Palace and the Chapel Royal of the Emerald Buddha - the sumptuous, gorgeous, ever-so-opulent complex of gilt and glittering temples and palace halls built 200 years ago by King Rama I, founder of Bangkok. Shoes off to the Emerald Buddha - actually one solid piece of jade - sitting proudly atop a blinding gold altar.
Second stop: the Chao Phraya River. My notes remind me of the same scene featured on those posters plastered on the walls of most American Thai restaurants: ''. . . We pile into long boats that glide past all sorts of local color. Man leans over side of his houseboat, brushing his teeth. Monkey casually eats breakfast on the side of the river. Men cast nets for fish. People bathe on the banks. Narong, the tour guide, says it's illegal to live on the river, but the law doesn't stop anybody. The boat stops at Wat Anin, Temple of the Dawn, known as the symbol of Bangkok, with its often-photographed silhouette image of contrasting spires.
Mention any Pacific port, and across my mental moving-picture screen flashes a ''greatest hit.'' Say Hong Kong, and up comes the view from Victoria Peak, perched atop Hong Kong Island. From here, the skyscrapers piled high on the hills tumble right down to the wharves. In the near distance is the Kowloon Peninsula, a southeastern tip of the land mass of China; it, too, is fringed with its own skyline of high-rises and hotels. And between the land, like a liquid Main Street, runs the harbor, where the trails of ships stream free-form. All night and all day the harbor is in endless motion. And this is all currently on exhibition on the door to my refrigerator. ''Greatest hits of the Pacific'' is scheduled to run indefinitely.
There are four main cruise lines that offer cruises in the Pacific for the upcoming seasons. Some of the cruises are for specific destinations, others are part of a longer voyage.
Holland America's world cruise on the Rotterdam includes a 16-day segment (Feb. 27 to March 16) from Singapore to Yokohama, with stops in Thailand and Hong Kong. The cost, without air fare, is $2,235 to $6,270 a person, double occupancy.
Cunard's Queen Elizabeth 2's Pacific offering is a 29-day segment of the world cruise, between Los Angeles and Singapore. The cost of this trip ranges from $4,450 to $84,385 a person, double occupancy, and the dates of the cruise are Jan. 30 to Feb. 28. Air fare to Los Angeles is not included.
Pearl Cruises of Scandinavia and the Royal Viking Line offer numerous cruises in the Pacific. The dates and lengths of tours are more flexible than those offered by Holland America and Cunard.
Pearl Cruises' several Pacific cruises include the China Explorers Cruise, Circle Japan, South China Seas, Indonesian Islands Cruise, Spice Islands and Ancient Cultures Cruise, and an Asia Discovery cruise. The cruises range in length from 16 to 44 days, and the prices range from $3,370 (the least-expensive 16-day cruise) to $23,000 (the deluxe 44-day cruise) a person, double occupancy, including air fare from the West Coast.
Royal Viking Line offers the most extensive cruises of all. The following are just samples of some of the cruises available during the September 1983 to March 1984 season. Air fare is not included.
Tahiti-Hawaii, 25 days, leaves from the West Coast. The cost is $4,575 to $16 ,225. Singapore to Sydney, 21 days, $14,343 to $4,053. Hong Kong to Singapore, 7 days, $994 to $4,305. Hong Kong to Singapore, via Indonesia and Malaysia, 21 days, $3,388 to $12,915. Tahiti to Sydney, 14 days, $2,660 to $9,044.