Thursday, April 24, 2008
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.
On the last day of our stay in
So after about five stops and three train swaps, we arrived in
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
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
My day in
Kobe, Japan (April 11-14)
Post from Stacey
Thank You, Domo arigato
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.
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,
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:)
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.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
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.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
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
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
We visited the
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 "
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