Thursday, April 24, 2008

Hawaiian Sunset


Waikiki Beach and Diamondhead


Hawaii: Post from Stacey

Hawaii (April 22)

Post from Stacey


Aloha - Hello, Goodbye

Mahaolo - Thank You


Starting our day early, entering Honolulu Harbor before sunrise, we first toured Pearl Harbor.  Since we had just come from Hiroshima and learned about the US atomic bombing in Japan in 1945, it seemed only right to visit the site of the Japanese 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought World War II to American soil.  The USS Arizona Memorial commemorates all of those whose lives were lost on Oahu, December 7, 1941.  The memorial is built atop the sunken battleship which became the final resting place for 1,777 crewmen.   After 67 years, I was surprised to see the battleship leaking oil.  Oddly, a drop would float from under the memorial every minute or so, as if it was bleeding.  We also toured the Pacific Submarine Museum and the USS Bowfin submarine, launched on December 7, 1942, nicknamed the "Pearl Harbor Avenger".


After Pearl Harbor and a brief city tour, our guide dropped us off at Waikiki Beach.  We shopped a bit at the International Market and stumbled upon a coveted item that we had been searching for in Japan (the Godzilla lighter).  Then we got a tip on a Hawaiian restaurant, Ono's in Kapahulu, making our way there for a really yummy feast of kalua pig, laulau, pipikaula, lomi, rice, poi, haupia, etc.  The true hawaiian style roasted pig cooks all day in an underground oven called an imu.  The pork is so tender and flavorful whether or not its wrapped in taro leaves. 


Returning to Waikiki to people watch and play on the narrow beach after lunch, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset before heading to the ship.  Waikiki, a paradise in it's day, is still very pretty with Diamond Head in the distance.  But the beach is now a manmade version of the paradise it once was, with offshore sand retrieval, high rise hotels, and numerous breakwaters.  Beach restoration is a regular occurrence as shore erosion continues to be a problem.  Made popular by surfers, many still carry their boards to the water to catch a wave.


A very brief visit to Hawaii to refuel left many in the SAS community wanting to stay longer and pushed the "on-ship time" to its limit.  We did however, depart Honolulu on time and look forward to a smooth, 10 day voyage across the Pacific to Costa Rica. 

USS Arizona Memorial: Pearl Harbor


Bowfish Submarine Hatch: Pearl Harbor


Kelsey Visits Kyoto, Japan

Kelsey visits Kyoto, Japan


On the last day of our stay in Japan, I traveled to famous Arashi Yama of the city of Kyoto, with the two inter-port students, Ayako and Marie from the University of Kobe. Along with my friends, we had a total of nine people. We used the common transportation method in Japan, the train. The ticket procedure was quite overwhelming, but by the end of the day I was an expert; it reminded me a lot of Disney World. It's all done by technology, there's a touch screen with choices, in Japanese of course, and a huge map above the screen that shows all the stops that the train makes, and there are hundreds, all color-coded, tons of different tracks, warped together, stringing like threads in a scarf. I felt like I was no longer staring at just an ordinary train station map, but a precise layout of the city. One wrong move of my finger on that touch screen and I was doomed to an unknown place, miles away from my sought destination. With limited money for new tickets, and limited knowledge and help resources, the ticketing purchase was pressuring and critical. Luckily we had our English-speaking inter-port students with us, who were mere professionals at this train business.


So after about five stops and three train swaps, we arrived in Kyoto. It was the exact image of what I thought all of Japan would look like. Low-to-the-ground buildings and shops, tiny bridges arching over flowing rivers with pink cherry-blossoms on the banks, a wall of mountains keeping Kyoto from the rest of the world. Along with seeing my breath in the chilly air, I also saw women in beautiful kimonos, with white faces and striking red lipstick, flowers in their dark hair and brilliant umbrellas shading the sun from their eyes. This was a major change from the business center of Kobe, where everyone wore business suits with clicking heels, or the teens boasting the mix-matched harajuku style. The kimonos symbolize tradition and wealth, and we experienced that tradition at a restaurant we stopped at for lunch. The tables were about a foot off of the ground, with sit-upon mats encircling it. We pointed at the pictures on the menu that looked appetizing, and they proved to be much more than simply that. I chowed down on rice with eggs and shrimp tempura. And, once again, in tradition, we cleaned our bowels, every single grain of rice, for it was an insult to leave left-overs, even one grain. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed sitting criss-cross applesauce at the dinner table. =)


After lunch, we all set a meeting time and place, and split up in groups of two or three. Some people wanted to go to temples, others wanted to travel by another train to yet another part of Kyoto, and several people wanted to just walk around, wander and shop. I chose the later, so three of my friends, plus Ayako and Marie strolled around the town. I took into consideration that there was no crosswalks present, because there was no traffic that required them. The street was rarely crowded, big buses replaced with bicycles. It was relatively quiet, I heard the shopkeepers advertising their products outside their shops, the river babbling, the gentle steps on the kimono-ladies, and the occasional bike bell ding. I've come to find this very strange, after experiencing life threatening journeys across the street in India and Vietnam.


We stopped in many shops, and I purchased some Japanese-style sandals,  a sumo headband,  and a bright red umbrella. We had the pleasure  to enjoy many samples, most loaded with soy beans. I liked one enough to buy a box, the sweet treat had cinnamon and chocolate seasoning. Yummm. We also tried some cherry blossom and green tea ice cream, I loved the cherry blossom flavor, who knew?


We gave ourselves a good two hour window to get back home, and when the time came, we reluctantly walked over that bridge, shuffled the fallen blossoms with our shoes, and said goodbye to the quaint town of Kyoto. A skip, hop and jump on the trains later, we were back in busy Kobe. We were near the port, and saw familiar billboards and signs, so we departed from Ayako and Marie. We went to a sushi restaurant with a conveyer belt bringing dishes around. Depending on the color of the plate you picked up, was the amount they would charge you. So at the end, you stacked up all your plates and someone came by and counted up your total. People all around me were slurping up tentacles, but I stuck with the stuff I could identify; shrimp, crab, tuna, etc. Man, that wasabi was hidden in secret places and shocked me every time.


My day in Kyoto was a memorable one, and a nice change from the loud, packed city of Kobe. I had a great time with my friends, Japanese and American. I hope I can see Ayako and Marie again in the future, maybe when I return to Japan. I declared it my fourth favorite place on this trip!

Kobe, Japan by Stacey

Kobe, Japan (April 11-14)

Post from Stacey


Hello,  Konnichiwa

Thank You,  Domo arigato

Goodbye,  Sayonara


Currency:  102.37 Yen = $1 US


Octopus balls, hmm . . . .  not one of my favorites.  All soups seem to taste fishy and the noodles are thick and slimy.  Rice bowls are yummy and of course tempura, sushi and Kobe beef are the best.  Vending machines are plentiful and BOSS cafe au lait is available canned, hot or cold, from the same machine.


Japan is very expensive, very orderly, clean, with many unobtrusive garbage cans and people who follow the rules without penalties.  For instance, there is no fine for littering, but people take pride in their community and would not think about making a mess of common areas.  Another example is folks standing at street corners with no autos passing, and waiting patiently for the walk light to turn green.  Wow, what a contrast to human behavior in most of our other port cities.


Kobe is a pretty city with flowers, greenery, parks, artwork, and lots of covered pedestrian streets lined with shops and restaurants.  You can get anywhere by train, commuter or long distance, in a timely fashion.  There is no graffiti defacing the train or any property for that matter.  The first day in Kobe, we explored on foot and walked about 13 miles by Craig's pedometer. 


Day Two we took a bus trip to Hiroshima.  Five hours one way was not too hard after all the walking the previous day.  On August 6, 1945 the US dropped the first atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima.  Clocks stopped at 8:15 a.m. as everything within 2 kilometers of the hypocenter was leveled and hundreds of thousands of civilians lost their lives.  We visited the Peace Memorial Park and Peace Memorial Museum that were constructed in 1955. 


The Peace Memorial Park is beautiful with many monuments including the Cenotaph for the A-bomb victims, the Flame of Peace, the Children's Peace Monument, and the Fountain of Prayer.  The Flame of Peace will burn until all nuclear weapons on earth have been destroyed.  The arch of the Cenotaph is aligned with the A-bomb Dome, the twisted shell of a 1914 building near the hypocenter that somehow remained standing after the bombing. 


Nearby, a statute of a young girl standing atop a long dome, holding a giant origami crane - the symbol of health and longevity, is the Children's Peace Monument.  Sadako Sasaki was exposed to A-bomb radiation when she was two years old.  Ten years later she had radiation related leukemia.  Twelve year old Sadako started to fold cranes in the hope that if she reached 1000 she'd be cured.  She died before reaching her goal, but her classmates continued after her death and went on to build this monument.  Schoolchildren from around the world continue to fold paper cranes in memory of Sadako and other children who struggled through the effects of radiation exposure.  Thousands of paper cranes are housed at the base of this monument.


The Peace Memorial Museum contains models of the city before and after the bombing as well as many pictures, artifacts and actual remnants damaged by the blast, the heat rays, or the radiation.  The history of the development of the atomic bomb is also illustrated.  It is sobering to see and heartbreaking to think of not just the atrocities and tragedy of any war, but specifically the role our country had in dropping two atomic bombs on Japan (Hiroshima and Nagasaki).


Amazingly, this city has bounced back and become a symbol of world peace.  "Hiroshima's deepest wish is the elimination of all nuclear weapons and the realization of a genuinely peaceful international community."


Day Three Craig was on duty and stayed behind while Kelsey, Eric and I joined the two inter-port students on a train trip to Himeji.  We visited Himeji-jo, White Egret Castle, a fabulous white, plastered, hilltop structure built in the early 17th century and designated a national treasure in 1931.  My imagination wandered to the days of the Samurai as we toured through this huge, solid wood beam maze built on top of a monumental stone foundation, with multistory watchtowers and moats.  This feudal-era fortress served as the backdrop in the James Bond movie You only Live Twice and the Tom Cruise film, The Last Samurai.      


Our final day, Kelsey again joined the inter-port students and some of her other friends and traveled to Kyoto (see Kelsey's blog entry).  Craig, Eric and I toured the city again on foot with Ken (SAS Executive Dean).  We were fortunate to be in Japan during cherry blossom season.  The gorgeous trees were in bloom everywhere and only last for 10-14 days before all the blossoms fall.


On a final note, Japan has the most fabulous public toilets.  At highway rest stops you find large, clean bathrooms with attendants and fresh cut flowers.  An adequate number of stalls and to make you feel at home, your choice of western style toilets or squatters.  The western toilets were complete with all options;  bidet squirt, spray, or wash, (these were pictures, so I could guess what they were) sounds of a babbling brook, heated toilet seat, and other options I wasn't sure of since it was all in Japanese:)

A-bomb Dome Hiroshima


Himeji-jo Castle


Kelsey & Eric with Marie and Ayako and cherry blossoms


Hong Kong and China by Stacey

Hong Kong (April 3) and China (April 4-8)

Post from Stacey


Nee hao  (knee how)  Hello

Shie-shie  (shay-shay)  Thank you

Dsai-jian  (dzwhy jee-en)  Goodbye



Hong Kong Dollar (HKD) 7.75 = $1 US

Chinese Yuan Renminbi (CNY) 7.50 = $1 US


After numerous days of Asian food in Vietnam, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai we were craving a pizza!  Asian food in the states is "westernized" like everything else America touches. The "real thing" in China (and all of Asia, for that matter) is quite different.  Maybe that's because you don't always know exactly what you are eating and sometimes never figure it out.  Then as you are leaving the restaurant you find the sea cucumbers, eels, strange looking turtles and fish in the tanks.


Beijing is gearing up for the summer Olympics.  The Stadium for opening and closing ceremonies looks like a giant steel bird's nest.  It and numerous other venues are still under construction.  Terminal 3 at Beijing Capital Airport opened 10 days before we arrived.  It is the largest building in the world, 2 miles long, light, airy, huge, beautiful and quiet, of all things.  No announcing of flight departures or arrivals, no paging people, no admonishments about leaving your bags unattended or strangers approaching you, no removal of shoes in security screening;  but, yet a feeling of safety and security.


Since Craig covered our China sightseeing experience to the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Hutong area, Lama Temple and Temple of Heaven quite well, I will elaborate on some other social and cultural experiences.


China's massive population did not seem particularly welcoming, warm or polite.  Almost everywhere we went it was crowded and people were pushy, using elbows more as we went from South to North China.  We witnessed a number of people being tackled and "taken away" for doing something against the rules.  It was difficult to tell exactly what these people did that was wrong, but it usually involved selling merchandise on the street.  However, as the same merchandise could be sold around the corner with no problem, it makes one wonder about the so called "rules".  After witnessing one of these episodes, we asked a Chinese woman standing next to us what was going to happen to the man that was "taken away".  She said he would be put in jail for a couple of weeks "to think about what he has done".  OK. . . . . . , needless to say, Chinese people in general did not seem like a happy, carefree bunch (unless they were exercising in the park or dancing in a parking lot - all of which was done under supervision of an official standing nearby).


Shopping as a cultural experience:

Deng Xiaoping, "To get rich is glorious".


Shopping at the Ladies' Market in Hong Kong, The Silk Street Pearl Market in Beijing, Chinatown and the Taoboa Market in Shanghai was fun, exhausting, and an experience not to be missed, especially for bargain shoppers like me.  China takes the bargaining process to a new level.  "Copy watch", "copy bag", Coach, Luis Vuitton, Rolex, Tag, you name it, they have it along with many clothes, crafts, silks and other items. "Same, same, but different".  "Special price for you."  "Make a friend price." 


Don't you dare glance at something, these are not places to stroll and price compare or even pause to think about a purchase.  Chinese sales people know how to suck you in and try every game in the book to get you to part from your money.  The bargaining is a long, drawn out process.  When you finally get them down to 20 - 30% of the original asking price, you've bargained well and better cough up the cash.  Walking away is very difficult in Beijing and Shanghai, as they will grab your arm and pull you back in the stall to continue working on you, not wanting to accept your final offer.  Or after you pay for your purchase, they stall with finding change for your bill and attempt to sell you something else so that they don't have to give you change.  It can be challenging to remain patient under these tactics.  Best just to chuckle and move on, only to be bombarded from all angles as you walk down the aisle.  As much fun as it can be at first, I don't think I could do this everyday.  It wears you down and is rather stressful.  Fortunately we were not involved in any scams, however, a number of SAS folks were scammed in Shanghai;  being ripped off and paying $180 for tea!

The designer knock-off scene in Hong Kong was somewhat under the counter, so to speak.  Sales people would approach you on the street, or as you pass by their stall in the Ladies' Market they would throw out the offer "copy watch, copy bag".  They did not have the name brand copies on display in their stall, but would let you view a catalog of merchandise or lead you up some stairs behind their stall to a locked room, full of knock-offs.  All of this activity quietly disappears when the police walk through the market.  Then about 30 minutes later, you find everyone back at it.  


Hong Kong, after many years under British rule, became a "Special Administrative Region" (SAR) under the control of the central government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) on July 1, 1997.  However, apart from defense, foreign policy and diplomatic relations, Hong Kong operates with a high degree of autonomy.  China has committed to preserving Hong Kong's capitalist system and lifestyle for 50 years and has promised not to impose the Communist system on Hong Kong.  More time was needed in Hong Kong, a very cosmopolitan, bustling city.  It was very clear that Hong Kong follows a different set of rules than China.  And the people in Hong Kong, spoke more English, seemed more worldly and more accepting of foreigners all together. 


Our one day in Shanghai was quite an experience as we attempted to hail a taxi in the rain to return to the ship.  Taxi's did not want to stop for foreigners.  After a half hour of no luck, myself and 2 other SAS women followed some SAS female students to the Radisson Hotel, where the night before, a doorman helped them find a taxi.  The doorman again did his best and had us stand out of sight as he attempted to find taxi's for us.  Then, as the taxi drivers saw us, they sped off, not wanting to take the fare.  After, another hour we finally got a ride.  It seems because taxi driver's in Shanghai neither speak or understand English, they do not want to try to take you somewhere, even when you have the destination written in Chinese.  As we watched the activity in front of the hotel, we witnessed much of the same experienced by other foreigners, male or female.  Taxi's either passed them by or may have stopped and then kicked them out of the taxi after the initial communication. 


My theory on the taxi situation; all but one of the taxi companies is run by the government and the taxi driver's registration number is prominently displayed inside the taxi.  If a foreigner has any difficulty with a taxi, simply reporting the driver's registration number could mean imprisonment for the taxi driver.  If I was a Chinese speaking taxi driver in Shanghai, I'm not sure I would want to take a fare that could cause me any problems.  It seems fear plays a huge role in the life of people in China.  The one Shanghai taxi company that is not run by the government is labeled "illegal" and not recommended by anyone.  

Craig's List: April 23

Kobe, Japan and Honolulu, Hawaii USA: Craig's list
For me, the most poignant and powerful parts of our visit to Japan was touring the "A-bomb" site and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum, a five hour drive from Kobe.  It is difficult for me to comprehend what happened on August 6, sixty-two years ago, when the atom bomb was dropped on this city. 
From the most recent (August 6, 2007) Peace Declaration by Tadatoshi Akiba, Hiroshima's Mayor:
"The roar of a B-29 breaks the morning calm.  A parachute opens in the blue sky.  Then suddenly, a flash, an enormous blast--silence--hell on earth.  The eyes of young girls watching the parachute were melted.  Their faces became giant charred blisters.  The skin of people seeking help dangled from their fingernails.  Their hair stood on end.  Their clothes were ripped to shreds.  People trapped in houses toppled by the blast were burned alive.  Others died when their eyeballs and internal organs burst from their bodies--Hiroshima was a hell where those who somehow survived envied by the dead."
To look at Hiroshima now, it is hard to imagine what the photographs and maps show happened in 1945.  The tone of the Peace Declaration underscores for me how significant the A-bomb experience is in the hearts and minds of some of the Japanese people. Approximately ten years after the bomb was dropped, the City of Hiroshima built the first phase of the museum and memorial.  It was not until recently that the Japanese national government built a national monument on the grounds of the Peace Memorial Park.  Considerable controversy is apparent today as some believe that the Japanese government should have acted sooner to acknowledge the Emporer's role in creating a situation in which the United States used the A-bomb on Japanese soil.  The plight of the hibakusha, living victims of the blast, is a focus of local governments in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  This group of Japanese citizens has faced discrimination in marriage and employment.  They are by and large outcasts desperately in need of assistance for medical treatment and elder care.  As in Vietnam with Agent Orange, the long term emotional, psychological, and physical effects of the A-bomb in Japan are palpable.  Likewise, innocent citizens are those most impacted by the devastation created by war and indiscriminate "collateral damage" caused by our weaponry. 
We visited the Shukkei-En Garden (circa 1630) which was reconstructed after the bombing.  It seeks to replicate various landscapes and plant life in different regions of Japan.  It is remarkable that these beautiful gardens exist and is a testament to the earth to somehow replenish and recover after what happened there.  A stark reminder of the A-bomb is the one tree that survived the bombing on the hill of Miracles.  As you may know, it is written in Japan's constitution that the country may not engage in war.  Japanese find it ironic that the current president of the country that dropped the A-bomb to stop WWII is encouraging Japan to change its constitution to allow a militia to be formed in order to help the U.S. wage war around the world.
Again, from the Peace Declaration:
" The government of Japan, the world's only A-bombed nation, is duty-bound to humbly learn the philosophy of the hibakusha along with the facts of the atomic bombings and to spread this knowledge through the world.  The Japanese government should take pride in and protect, as is, the Peace Constitution, while clearly saying "No," to obsolete and mistaken U.S. policies.  Let us pledge here and now to take all actions required to bequeath to future generations a nuclear-weapon-free world."
Enough said.
We have much to learn from the efficiency and ingenuity of the Japanese. Their transportation system is wonderful.  The cities are exceptionally clean.  The traffic is orderly and people wait for the green and stop at the red.  Vending machines are everywhere vending everything to everyone.  We even ordered our dinner using a vending machine which took our money and delivered our order to the kitchen which prepared our choices.  People are exceptionally polite, eager to serve, and seem to find amusement in an english-speaker's attempt to communicate. 
The food was good- including the Korean BBQ place serving very tiny portions of Kobe beef, a small hole in the wall noodle place for locals, and a culinary market including bakeries and candy makers ( in addition to a paper manufacturing factory that makes one piece of paper at a time- by hand). 
One morning I took off on my own in search of a twenty year old "antique" cigarette lighter in the form of Godzilla that shoots fire from its mouth.  It was an interesting cultural experience and treasure hunt looking for this item.  I lost count at 35 shops looking for Godzilla and in doing so, saw a part of Kobe located literally under the elevated train tracks running through the city.  It was here off (or rather under)  the beaten track in Motomachi that one could find everything---except for the 1985 Beetland Japanese Toho Kaiju Godzilla lighter.  Although failing at my mission, it was surprising how many people knew what I was looking for (after showing them a picture) and were eager to help me in my quest. 
Since the 1995 earthquake, Kobe has done an amazing job recovering from the tragedy that killed 5,000 people and damaged thousands of structures.  The view on top of a peak on Mount Rokko overlooking the city was beautiful and well worth the hike.  The day before, our family made it to a cable car station to go to the top of the mountain but got there after it closed.  A kind cab driver offered to take us to the top for a reasonable fare of $80.  We respectfully declined and walked back to the ship only getting lost a couple of times.  Japan is considerably more pricey than some of our recent Asian ports so the shopping was thankfully curtailed, alto not eliminated altogether. 
After leaving Japan, we completed an eight day Pacific ocean crossing to Honolulu.  During this leg of the visit, we crossed the International Date Line and added another April 15 to our year.  So 2008 for us will be 367 days long- including February 29 and a second April 15.  The crossing was long but generally handled well by the community.  We raised over $20,000 in an on-ship auction for several charities and are also in the tail end of an annual fund drive.  There was considerable excitement about going to Hawaii although we were only going to be there for less than a day. 
My clear highlight was having lunch at Ono Hawaiian Foods, a very local restaurant that has been around for many years replete with autographed pictures of hundreds of Hawaiians ranging from Don Ho and Miss Hawaii, 1975.  We were clueless about what to order so we put ourselves in the hands of Vivian, the owner who whipped up a wonderful curry dish along with Kalua Pig and Laulau (steamed pork) , Pipikaula, Lomi Salmon (like a tomato salsa with bits of salmon), Haupia (like a beef jerky), Rice, and Poi.  We did not try the Poke Squid, the Lomi Fish with Onion, the Portugeuese Sausage or the Boiled Plain Butterfish.  Perhaps next time.  It was wonderful!  We rolled to Waikiki beach, a major disappointment for me.  It is an over-crowded, narrow, fabricated renourished beach with erosion so bad that breakwaters have been placed to slow the run-off.  Another testament to urban development and impact on our shorelines.
The city has changed considerably since I saw it last and it certainly merits a visit- although I recall when I was here before, Honolulu and Waikiki were not among my favorite places due to the heavy tourism.  The cost of living is very expensive.  Gas is almost $4 a gallon ( which might be comparable to the mainland for all I know).  Next time I will follow my own advice and get off Oahu sooner than later. 
We toured Pearl Harbor and the Pearl Harbor Museum which provided a bookend to the Hiroshima experience. Although a major American event, it pales in comparison to what happened in Japan.  I can only hope that no more memorials will need to be constructed to remember events that should not happen in the first place.
On to Costa Rica!
Stay tuned....

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Craig's List: Hong Kong and China

Craig's List: Hong Kong and China
An early morning arrival, overcast sky and cooler temperatures greeted us in Hong Kong.  The itinerary called for a two day stay in Hong Kong, a two day transit to Shanghai, followed by a two day stay there.  Our family plan was to stay in Hong Kong the first day and then fly to Beijing and rejoin the ship in Shanghai for the last day in port.   Approximately 450 participants were involved in SAS sponsored trips throughout China and another 300 or so travelled around independently leaving a small cadre of folk continuing to stay on the ship and sailing to Shanghai.  I found Hong Kong officials to be quite accommodating, however, I could not say the same for Chinese officials who were considerably more strict regarding customs and immigration policy enforcement.  We dealt with a few problems of manifest reconciliation when students made decisions and then changed their minds thereby causing considerable consternation among government officials who were sticklers on details- as they should be.  Nonetheless, there are clear differences in traveling in Hong Kong as compared to China. 
Hong Kong is a beautiful, highly urbanized area with very welcoming and kind people.  The docking was spectacular at the Hong Kong pier.  On the first night we held a reception for the family of C.Y. Tung, whose generosity established the first Semester at Sea program.  C.Y. is no longer living but his son and family continue their support of international education through the Sea Wise (after C.Y.) foundation.  We also held a reception that night for UVA alumni and SAS alumni on the 7th outside deck of the ship.  Every evening at 8:00 p.m., there is a laser light show presented with the backdrop of the Hong Kong skyline as the stage..kind of like a electronic EPCOT on the cityscape.  Our day will filled by walking around various street markets with highly energetic and persistent merchants selling knock-offs on just about everything one may desire.  It was interesting to watch a dozen or so uniformed police doing a sweep of the street market looking for those selling illegal goods.  I am told there is a sophisticated communication network in place that warns the counterfeit sellers to disperse until the coast is clear.  Eric and I got lost a couple of times, had quite an adventure finding bathrooms, and ate some wonderful waffles on the street.  Stacey and Kelsey got some bargains although the prices were not the low levels we experienced in some previous ports.
On day two around 5:00 a.m., along with 65 students and colleagues, we boarded a bus and to the airport to catch a three hour flight to Beijing, a bustling city of 14 million people and host of the 2008 Summer Olympics. The city is organized in five concentric rings- kind of like UCF.  The city boasts two million cars and the air pollution is considerable. Generally, I did not experience the warmth, kindness, and hospitality found in other countries on our voyage.  I found it telling to read about the government's "Civility Campaign" to educate service providers about the importance of customer service and image cultivation.  Politics and issue-based discussions were taboo and there seemed to be an undercurrent of fear and pushback to foreign visitors- unless you were spending money. The food was not as good as I expected and was rather repetitive- i.e. noodles, dumplings, rice, etc. for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!  Reading the China Daily, English version, provided some insights on the use of media to promote a specific point of view.  The spin on Tibet, the recent riots, and government critics made for fascinating reading that was carefully crafted to communicate messages favorable to the government while providing a slight allowance for minimal opposing views.
The first impression of Beijing and the PRC (People's Republic of China) was amazing.  We were among the first Americans to enter the new airport terminal since it opened ten days prior to our arrival. And what a facility it is. Spectacular architecture, spacious concourses, high end vendors, top of the line security...simply a really cool place.  The claim was made that this terminal is the world's largest indoor building extending two miles in length.  Our first stop in Beijing was the Imperial Summer Palace.  It was especially packed with people as we visited on a national holiday to remember one's ancestors. The summer palace is located outside Beijing proper and was a "cooler" refuge for the royals during the hot summer months in the Forbidden City.  There is an elaborate canal system that was constructed between the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace to provide ferry access for the Emperor so he did not have to mix with the commoners.  The Summer Palace is most certainly a beautiful place nestled next to a lake and built on hills in a magnificent setting that must have provided a wonderful refuge for the Emporer and his court. Once again, Eric and Kelsey were the celebs who posed with locals giving us ideas once again of charging for the pictures.  We did restrain from this entrepreneurial activity so long as we could capture the moments as well.  Certainly a fair trade.  That evening, we had a Peking Duck dinner which was certainly memorable.  A variety of foods accompanied the duck- some more palatable than others- the least popular of which were deep-fried duck feet and soup made with the drippings of the roasted duck.
The next day we traveled to the Great Wall, Mutianyu section which is about 2200 years old. The 6200 mile long wall itself is so large that it is composed of enough granite to build a wall 15 feet high and 5 feet think around the earth.  For me the wall was the highlight of Beijing.  It is a wonderful piece of architecture that is unlike anything I expected in terms of scope and beauty.  We climbed the up to the wall, on the wall, in the wall, and around the wall and could have stayed for days exploring.  Next time!  Even this ancient wonder has not escaped commercialism as a cable car was installed to take non-hikers to the top.  This was complemented by a tobaggan chute that returned folks to the bottom of the mountain on which the wall was situated.  Eric and Kelsey took the ride down and quite a ride it was!  Stacey and I were purists and hiked down while harboring personal desires to tobaggan as well.  That evening, a craving to cook over fire overcame me, and we dined at a Korean barbeque place in which we cooked meats and veggies over a charcoal grill built into our table.  Yum...
We visited Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Lama Temple.  Several of the sites were being renovated presumably in preparation for the Olympics, however, we could get into most areas.  The unforgiving crowds made it diffcult at times to get around-defensive elbowing was many times necessary to make our way around the tight interior viewing areas.  My favorite part of the Forbidden City was the Imperial Garden that was a refreshing blend of trees, landscaping and sculpture, a nice contrast to the hardscape and minimalist naturescape found in most of the City. Tiananmen Square was quite impressive and held special significance for me when reflecting on what happened there in 1989 during the "uprising".  This area seemed heavily secured and surveilled with soldiers, police, and cameras everywhere.  When asked privately to provide historical information on the 1989 incident, I was told that such matters were not to be discussed.  Another more forthcoming guide did indicate the location of the demonstrations but claimed that the official government position is that no one was killed there, although she confided that most people don't believe that assessment.  Personally, I did not have a good feel for this place and was fine moving on to older historical sites. 
The Silk Market,  a huge complex of shops on several floors, was quite the shopping and cultural experience!  The space was tight, the deals were everywhere, the knock-offs were plentiful, and the bargaining was a challenge. The boys moved in one direction and the ladies in another.  Two times, Eric was "kidnapped" in a ploy to get me to return to a stall and buy something.  Although it was done with no harm intended, it certainly did illustrate the measures vendors would take to get one's attention!
At 8:00 p.m. each evening, a small group of retired folks (China's average retirement age for men is said to be 55; for women, 50) would get their exercise across the street from our hotel by playing drums and dancing in a parade.  Further down the street several couples danced to competing portable stereos playing music in a dimly lighted parking lot.  It was delightful to see these folks enjoying themselves while practicing fitness. 
We explored the Hutong (old Beijing), by rickshaw.  This area of one or two story housing units were vintage Beijing and were allowed to remain amidst massive government razing of these neighborhoods to be replaced by high rise developments.  We also visited the Temple of Heaven which was one of my favorite temple structures on our visit.  Wonderfully restored, the Temple was a place for the Emperors to pray for good harvests. 
We stopped for a viewing of the Olympic venues under construction and they certainly are impressive.  No doubt they will be ready for the Olympics but it sure looks like they have a ways to go in a short time.  Parenthetically, 20 of the 26 Olympic venues are being constructed from scratch by China.  It is readily apparent that much has is being done and needs to be done to prepare the city's infrastructure for the Olympics and beyond.  Signage is predominately in Chinese.  Certainly understandable, but with multi-lingual visitors descending on Beijing, it seems important to have a more diverse signage infrastructure to get people where they want to go.  Perhaps that is on the way. The Olympic countdown clocks are everywhere and a friend living in Shanghai shared the following story with me to share with you ( he could not post it on our blog due to government restrictions on blog access by Chinese citizens).
Why are the Olympics starting on August 8?

Eight is considered auspicious in China because its pronunciation sounds the same as the word for to "make money."  The Games had originally been planned to commence in late August to avoid Beijing's soaring summer temperatures. But Beijing's mayor said the sporting festival would begin in the luckiest manner possible - at 8:00 on 8/8/08.  Mayor Wang Qishan conceded it would still be hot in early August, with the temperature often climbing
above 40 degrees Celsius.  If anyone asks you when the games will start all you need to do is remember the number 8 and then ask yourself who will benefit from all this luck.

There is considerable beauty in China and considerable challenges and opportunities for a country that is certainly a major influence in the region and the world.  Perhaps the light of the Olympic torch will illuminate a new path of happy prosperity for the people of China. 
Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Olympic Countdown: Beijing


Forbidden City: Beijing


Ullom Family at the Great Wall


Hong Kong Women's Market


Who Wants to be a Millionaire (in VN Dong)?


Traffic in Ho Chi Minh City



Craig's List: Vietnam


Please pardon the delay in posting this entry. Our schedule has been rather packed.  After leaving Vietnam, we sailed two days to Hong Kong and Shanghai; after China, we sailed two days to Kobe- where we are arriving as I finish this post!


Our port, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) formerly known as Saigon, was a 3.5 hour cruise up the Saigon River.  Surrounded by rice patties, palm trees, small fishing villages, and floating barges I arrived in the port with a certain level of anxiety not knowing what to expect from the country that we invaded over 40 years ago.  It was almost surreal to be traveling to a city and area so imprinted in our generation's psyche.


If you like motorcycles, VN is the place to be.  Clearly cycles are the dominant mode of transportation for young, old, and families alike.  Seeing a family of four riding a motorcyle with thousands of other cyclists is certainly an interesting sight.  Although streets are provided, sidewalks are also fair game for bikers.  The preferred parking place for business owners tends to be the inside of their stores which come complete with ramps to allow easy access for parking.  Thirty deaths per day are attributed to accidents in (or on) motorized vehicles.  Although energy efficient, emissions from the cycles combined with the other sources of pollution, make for somewhat toxic air quality which some citizens attempt to mitigate by the use of masks.


In this communist country, the government owns the land and the people pay to use it.  This provides maximum flexibility to the government for making improvements as needed.  A headline in one English-translated Vietnamese newspaper summed up one of the major challenges for Vietnam which is development of the basic infrastructure- power, water, and roads- to more completely address the needs of a growing population and real estate development.


We visited the War History Museum which over the years has changed from the War Crimes Museum, to the War Atrocities Museum, to the War Remnants Museum to what it is today.  Although clearly having an anti-American slant, I found it to be a fascinating and sobering place loaded with explicit photographs by professional journalists of the impact of war- not only in Vietnam but in other countries as well.  We were told how the Vietnamese people are forgiving about the past and focused on the future. However, they are still living with the consequences of Agent Orange and the loss of a generation of people.  I many times wondered how they could be forgiving of a country that destroyed so much of theirs. 


I visited the Mekong Delta, a couple hours outside of HCMC.  We traveled using several modes of transportation including, four different kinds of boats, a bus, donkey cart, and by foot.  The delta is actually an confluence of nine rivers and is known locally as "Nine Dragons" (nine is a lucky number and dragons are powerful=the delta of powerful prosperity).  The 18 million people who live in the delta region export 4.5 million tons of rice annually. Deeper into the delta region off-river, we made our way through canals to a coconut candy factory and a fishing village where we had lunch and enjoyed some local Vietnamese music.


The family took a day trip to the Cu Chi tunnels, located a couple of hours outside of HCMC.  Briefly, in the American War (as it is referred to by the natives to distinguish it from the French war, the Chinese war, etc.), the villagers of Cu Chi constructed an elaborate 200 kilometer tunnel system that had three levels extending as deep as 30 meters underground. Cu Chi was awarded the "Iron Land and Bronze Citadel" by the government recognizing Vietnamese revolutionary heroism as reflected in the construction of this tunnel system.  Crawling on hands and knees through these shoulder tight passageways was a blend of claustrophobia and wonder at the ingenuity and determination of these villagers.  


Shopping was plentiful in HCMC especially in the Ben Thanh market- a covered market packed with stalls selling just about everything including jewelry, clothes, food, trinkets, and animal body parts.  I enjoyed a Vietnamese massage in one of the many spas located in the downtown area.  As massages go, this one was quite vigorous and involved walking on my back, stretching, pounding, and slapping….altogether quite enjoyable and refreshing!


I could go on about Vietnam but suffice to say it was one of my favorite ports and is on the definite return list!