Whale, Five o’ Clock

Alaskan Cruise Diary Entry, Day 3

Ernie Hsiung
Oct 7, 2013 · 4 min read

Today I spent $200 per person to go to Mendenhall Glacier and go whale watching.

I am totally okay with this.

I say that now, of course, because the last day of the cruise has not rolled around yet, and I have not seen the final receipt of my bill and haven’t lost my shit over how expensive all the incidentals will be. There is probably a reason why most of the people on this boat is going on this trip now, in their 60s and 70s, and why I’m pretty sure I’m probably the only son paying for his mom as well.

Whale watching is one of those things where you have absolutely no expectations. I mean, you expect to see a fucking whale, of course, but you don’t really know why it’s so special when you see one, especially if you look through people’s whale watching videos on YouTube and you see a shaky hand-cam, followed by a shadow of what people think is a tail. Then everyone claps and you hear one girl start to cry and you think to yourself, “really? Is that it?”

But here we are, on a whale watching shore excursion. It came pretty straightforward enough; I asked, “Hey Mom, would you like to go see humpback whales?” and she answered “Of course!” because really, why would she say no to whales while on an Alaskan cruise? You think Alaska and you literally think of a whale of some sort, leaping out of the water. (Or Sarah Palin hacking away at an oil pipeline with a rusty pickaxe. Or a bunch of Eskimo children huffing gasoline. Anyway.)

We’re on boat and it’s going full speed and the wind in your face is cool and the waters are surprisingly still and there is pockets of land off in the horizon, everywhere you look, and the land is nothing like where you live; it’s pristine and there are islands with dramatic trees, all of which are painted with tiny trees that would surely dwarf you when you walked up to them. And the boat passes an peninsula, and each time you think to yourself, “man, I could open up a charming ass bed and breakfast there,” and each time you’re reminded there wouldn’t really be a place for water, electricity or sewage and the guests would get pretty miserable.

Finally, someone yells out “whale, 5 o’clock!” and a mass of cruise ship passengers run to the back of the boat, and there’s a humpback whale, breaching the surface. You take a look at the whale through the iPhone and you realize that the camera makes things in the distance look smaller and you realize how large that thing is, even though the boat is a safe distance away and you only see the same things thousands of tourists also see: a tail, the spout hole, five percent of its back.

Mom is yelling at me in Chinese across the boat to come closer and to stand here, next to her, directly in front of this six year old girl. The girl turns my way, sees me and frowns. I try to play it off, but let’s not kid anyone; there may be dozens of Chinese people on the cruise ship, but no Chinese person would ever pay $200 per person to go whale watching, and we’re the only Asians on this boat.

“It’s fine, ma!” I wave and call back.

Then someone yells out “there’s a pod of them at 9 a clock!” And like the lemmings we are, we run towards the front of the ship and see a pod of whales bobbing out of water, seagulls overhead. We learn that they are doing something called “bubble net feeding,” a learned behavior where groups of whales hunt for schools of fish and the entire boat completely loses their shit. The mother with a Long Island accident previously yelling at their kids to stay in the cabin area — where the bottled water and complimentary doughnut holes are — is now snapping photographs and talking to anyone next to her, which happens to be my mom at this moment.

“Oh, mercy. Oh, my heavens. You know, I’ve gone whale watching, off the shores of Hawaii?” she asks in her accent. “And this… this is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Oh, my word.” She keeps on taking photos of the pod with an iPad the size of her head, and taking a peek at her giant viewfinder I see nothing but ocean water and the dots of the animals.

“HA HA OKAY,” Mom answers, in English.

Seeing a whale is one of those things where even a jaded guy like myself can go from “eh, I can read about these things on Wikipedia” to a manic “ooh, ooh Mommy, whales!” and even I’m amazed at how there can be so much flurry of wildlife: whales, fish, birds, families from Long Island — are in what were previously these still waters. I look over to Mom and I see her back to me, holding on to the railings of the boat. From this angle, she is perfectly calm as she slowly disappears on all sides by families snapping photos and children darting between everyone’s legs, just like the school of fish trapped in the bubble net, only to be momentarily devoured by the same creatures we are watching ourselves.

(Note: This entry originally appeared on my blog.)

The LYD Essays

A series of essays and excerpts of essays, inspired by entries of my old personal blog, Little Yellow Different.

    Ernie Hsiung

    Written by

    CTO of WhereBy.Us, Code For Miami co-founder, web developer, 2015 Code For America Fellow alum, early 2000s funny-sad blogger.

    The LYD Essays

    A series of essays and excerpts of essays, inspired by entries of my old personal blog, Little Yellow Different.

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