Dahlfin II Status
Semester at Sea 2002Ron & Bonnie Dahl
January - May, 2002
<<< Previous Update (#11)
Email, (April 6, 2002)
Saturday, 6 April 2002, Lat 18' 36.5"N, Lon 113' 34.5"E, Noon Report
Greetings again from the South China Sea. For the first time since the day we skirted the cyclone in the Indian Ocean we finally have some wind and seas. The wind is southerly 17 - 21 k with SSW seas of 5 - 7 ft. Yet the motion on the boat is still fairly calm. Our jumps between countries are now very short and it's hard to get caught up on sleep, re-packing etc. between ports. We have made good 686 nm since leaving Saigon and have 237 nm to go to our next destination. It's hard to believe that we'll be in Hong Kong tomorrow morning. We continue to have pre-port lectures and briefings which really help a lot in our orientation and expectations. The Vietnam segments really brought up a lot of old memories from the '60s and '70s.
It was with mixed feelings that we traveled up the Saigon River to Ho Chi Minh City. From the mouth of the Delta to the city it took us 4 hours on our ship. From the decks of the ship we could look down on rice paddies, lush tropical vegetation and small villages. The river was alive with boat traffic of all kinds from large container ships to small family fishing vessels. We came with pre-conceived ideas largely colored by our memories of the American War (which is what the Vietnamese call it as part of their turbulent history) and expectations of a Communist run state. Nothing could have been further from the truth and it didn't take long for these to evaporate as we became tuned in to contemporary Vietnam.
Vietnam is slightly larger than Italy with much of the country consisting of hills and mountains. Long and precariously thin in the middle, the country's northern and southern regions broaden into fertile delta lands, spreading out from the Red River in the north and the Mekong in the south. On the chart it looks like one of the characteristic bamboo shoulder poles we saw so many of with a bread basket literally hanging from each end. Since 1990, Vietnam has not only been able to feed itself, but has also become a major exporter of rice in SE Asia.
There are some definite differences between north and south Vietnam. Although Hanoi is the capitol, it is Ho Chi Minh City that is the industrial commercial heart of Vietnam. Note: no one calls it Ho Chi Minh City, every one still calls it Saigon. Saigon certainly doesn't resemble any of the stereotypes we had from movies and the film clips from the war years. It is a bustling congested city that is choked with thousands of motor-bikes day and night and new high-rise buildings and hotels. Hanoi, on the other hand, emanates a dilapidated charm where French-colonial architecture dominates narrow, tree-shaded streets. The climate is also drastically different with the north having 4 definite season changes getting quite cold in the winter and the south having little temperature change being hot and humid all year round. Because of this, there are 2 growing seasons in the north and three growing seasons in the south. We really pushed "the envelope" while traveling in Vietnam filling every possible moment of our shore leave. On the first afternoon, we took a city tour which brought us to many parts of the city. At the History Museum we saw a delightful water puppet performance. Water puppetry is a traditional Vietnamese performing art that dates back to the 11th century. The stage is pool of water upon which the puppet masters who are hidden behind the set in waist-deep water maneuver brightly colored wooden puppets. We also visited the former Presidential Palace (the one we remembered seeing film clips of North Vietnamese tanks crashing through the front gates in 1975) and the ornate Thien Hau Pagoda.
The next morning we flew to Hanoi (1,100 miles) where we boarded an air conditioned coach for a 4 hour ride through the countryside to Halong Bay which lies to the SE on the ocean. Along the way we saw countless rice paddies being worked by people and water buffalo, rural housing, small villages and larger towns. In Halong Bay we stayed in a very nice hotel and went out to a restaurant for a traditional Vietnamese meal which turned out to be an 11 course feast. Halong Bay is considered one of the natural wonders of the world that encompasses 1,500 square miles dotted with more than 1,000 limestone islands and islets. Bizarre rock formations jut dramatically upward from the sea and numerous grottos create a picturesque setting with the sails of sampans and junks gliding in between. (We remember first seeing this beautiful area in one of the aerial opening scenes of a James Bond movie.) The next morning we took a 4 hour boat ride through the islands, complete with another many course Vietnamese meal. (Note: the shrimp were whole and the size of small lobsters.) That afternoon we returned to Hanoi again via motor coach, went to a water puppet theater performance - and had another 11 course meal. The following day we spent in Hanoi, a high-point of which was visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (we lined up with all the Vietnamese and walked through and saw Ho's remains in a glassed display). In the same area we visited the President Palace and homes (House on Stilts) of the famous leader. We also visited the Army Museum where we saw a very good multi-media presentation of the fall of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 which ended the French occupation. Although we were directed against going into the American Building, a number of us went in anyway. This was the only place where we saw or heard anything anti-American while in Vietnam as there were a number of references and pictures to "American atrocities". After another incredible Vietnamese lunch, we spent the afternoon shopping in Hanoi. The prices were unbelievable and we bought a number of water-colors, small tapestries and silk products.
We had an interesting experience in trying to leave Hanoi. We were bumped from our flight by diplomats who just took over the plane. We were rescheduled on a later flight which never materialized. At this point, when we were bumped a second time, I was sure we were going to have to spend the night in the Hanoi airport. Finally, they turned around a plane that had just come in and we were able to leave after 2200. Unfortunately this put us well past the 2300 hour curfew to get back on the ship. Note: all foreigners must have date/place specific Visas. We were traveling under a group Visa that was specific for Halong Bay and Hanoi. No hotel in Saigon (or anywhere else) would let us book in without a specific Visa. So our group leaders worked vehemently with an immigration officer in Hanoi to get us clearance through the gate to the ship after curfew in Saigon. We arrived well after midnight not knowing if we would get through or not. Thus, it was with a big sigh of relief when they did open the gates for us - otherwise we would have had to spend the night sitting on the bus.
Although we were incredibly tired after the previous 3 days, the next day we went on a full day trip to the Mekong Delta. Again we saw a lot of the countryside, small towns, and villages. On the river we boarded a boat which took us through areas where people were living on boats and houses on stilts. The tidal range, even this far up the delta, is about 3 feet. But the real problem is the flooding that occurs each year during the monsoon season. We were told that the Mekong Delta is dying each year. Although it is refreshed by the monsoons, the river bottom is raising each year because of silting from the run-off. We beached our boat on one of the islands where we walked among villages and were treated to rice wine and honey, coconut candy, and lots of locally grown delicious fruit. At one point we boarded small wooden boats (four per boat), were given bamboo conical hats and traveled through very narrow water channels using the same transportation locals have been using for hundreds of years. Back on mainland, we were again treated to another multi-course traditional Vietnamese meal. We also stopped at an open market and a local shopping mall. The mall was interesting in that it had originally been built in western fashion, but now the escalator was draped in blue tarps and every bit of space between the stores was filled with more products and stalls leaving only 2 foot narrow paths to wander from one area to another. It was on this last day that we felt we really got to experience rural Vietnam and those areas outside the bustling cities.
In closing we would like to say that Vietnam is a very beautiful lush tropical country. Although we came in with a lot of preconceived ideas (baggage), we left with many beautiful memories. In the 5 short days we were there, we felt that really got to see a lot of Vietnam: the north and the south; the urban and the rural. Yet, there was so much more that we didn't experience and Vietnam is definitely a country we would like to come back to.
Email, (April 15, 2002)
Sunday, 14 April 2002, Lat 31' 02.3"N, Lon 124' 50.4"E Noon report
Greetings from the East China Sea. We left Shanghai at 2230 last night and it was quite a spectacle with the bright lights of skyscrapers and the gigantic cranes and rigging of the industrial areas to each side as we began our 80 mile trek down the river to the ocean. It was all new to us as we had flown to Beijing from Hong Kong and then rejoined the ship in Shanghai, the ship sailing 2 days up the coast to Shanghai while we were in Beijing. It has gotten a lot colder and we are experiencing stronger winds and bigger seas. The wind is SE 17 - 25k and the seas are SSE 8 - 10 ft. The air temp is 65 deg F, the sea temp is 64 deg F - the coldest it's been for over 2 months. So we're all wearing sweaters and fleeces.
Hong Kong - Special Administrative Region (SAR)
Everyone thinks of Hong Kong as an island when in actuality it consists of 236 islands plus a piece of the mainland. Historically it became important to the west because of the opium trade and become a major source of income for British merchants in the early 1800's when the British forced the Chinese to cede the tiny island of Hong Kong. Early on, the British also found that the island's deep-water harbor was a useful port in which to resupply ships and to anchor military vessels to quell further hostilities with the Chinese. In 1842, China reluctantly signed the Treaty of Nanking which ended the first Opium War and gave Britain ownership of Hong Kong Island "in perpetuity". By 1898 the British acquired more territory on the mainland, the Kowloon Peninsula and the agricultural lands, that came to be called the New Territories with a lease that expired in 1997. In 1984, after 2 years of difficult negotiations, Britain agreed to return the entire colony to China at the end of the lease as long as the People's Republic of China (PRC) would grant important concessions: that the capitalist economy and lifestyle would not be changed for 50 years. Thus the PRC agreed to govern Hong Kong as a "Special Administrative Region" (SAR). Still there were many misgivings about the future of Hong Kong and many foreign investors fled with billions of dollars of assets in tow for Canada, Bermuda, Australia, Great Britain, and the US.
Today Hong Kong is the financial hub of the Asian world, home to the world's 8th largest stock market, the 5th largest banking center and foreign exchange market and its economy is the 6th richest in the world. Our approach to the harbor began at 0600 and it was quite a thrill as we wound our way through the islands and all the shipping (large and small) and as the city skyline began to unfold at each turn. We were absolutely amazed at the number of skyscrapers - they were in every direction and it appeared as though Hong Kong is a just continuous city of thousands of high-rise business complexes and luxury condominiums. We docked at the Ocean Terminal right in the heart of the Kowloon mainland business district, adjacent to a huge contemporary up-scale shopping mall.
After our ship was cleared, we embarked on a city tour that took us to the Museum of Tea Ware, St. John's Cathedral (one of Hong Kong's oldest Western style buildings) and some governmental and legislative buildings. We were continually amazed at the contemporary innovative architecture all around us - most of which has been constructed in just the past 20 years. We also visited some of the older parts of the city including Aberdeen, home to hundreds of people living on fishing junks, which we "toured" via sampan in and out of the channels to get a close-up look at this unusual way of life. The high-point of the whole day was a tram ride up to the top of Victoria Peak where we looked out in all directions at this magnificent city and marveled at the masses of skyscrapers in all directions as far as the eye could see.
With the evening on our own, we opted to be let off in the mainland city shopping area where we roamed the streets for hours on the side streets checking out the different shops and bargains. Next to Viet Nam, we found the best bargains in some of these out-of-the way shops. This was our first exposure to "name" American brands and we were continuously offered "Rolex watches" and other "American products" by street vendors. The local color was fantastic with the sights, smells and sounds intermingling with the continuous traffic of cars, bicycles and people. The dazzle of all the lights at night was fantastic. Although it was confusing at times because everything was written in Chinese, it wasn't too hard to find our way around as often many of the main streets had English in addition to Chinese on the signs. After supper we worked our way back to the shopping mall adjacent to the ship, did some more shopping and then wearily boarded the ship to pack for our early morning departure for Beijing.
Email, (April 20, 2002)
Monday, 15 April 2002 Lat 31' 33.1"N; Lon 131' 54.9"E Noon Report
Our time between ports has been so short, that I'm trying to get as much done as I can. Sea conditions are much reduced today with winds SSW 11-14 k, SSW 4-6 ft. We are 508 nm from Shanghai and it's hard to believe that we'll be in Japan tomorrow morning with only 227 nm to go.
Saturday, 20 April 2002 Lat 33' 35.0"N; Lon 137' 20.9"E Noon Report
Greetings from the North Pacific Ocean. I had hoped to finish my China report before we reached Japan, but just ran out of time. We left Osaka at 2000 last night and are presently headed on a course of 95 deg T with a speed of 17.3 k. We have a gray overcast sky and the wind is easterly at 15 - 20 k with seas of 4 - 5 ft. It's much cooler now (air temp 65 deg, sea temp 64 deg) and it will probably remain that way for the rest of the trip. It's hard to believe we are on our last leg; Japan is 155.9 nm behind us and we have 4,311nm to go to Seattle. It's also our longest leg, taking us 12 days. So - back to "China".
China is very old with human civilization appearing as early as 20,000 years ago. The first documented dynasty began about 1523 B.C. and there are unproven legends which suggest the existence of an even earlier Chinese dynasty about 2000 B.C making it one of the oldest continuous civilizations on the planet. Historically the Chinese invented many things we use today: paper, printing, gun powder, and the compass to name just a few. Throughout the centuries China has embraced three different religions, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism which today have become inextricably entwined. Ancestor worship and ancient animist beliefs have also been incorporated into the religious mix with often religious practices taking parts from many different teachings.
Probably what comes to mind most when we think of China is its large population: 1.3 billion people and increasing 1.4 million/month. It is the fourth-largest country in the world, accounting for 6.5% of the world's land mass - yet it has 20% of the world's population. Attempts are being made to control population growth through the policy of 1 child/1 family that was initiated in the 1970's. This policy penalizes couples if they have more than 1 child by expulsion from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), dismissal from work or a 10% reduction in pay for up to 14 years after the birth of the second child. The policy is strictly enforced in urban areas, but it has had only marginal impact on overall population growth because 3/4 of China's people live in rural areas, where they are allowed more children in order to help with farm work. Projections are that the population will peak in 2020 at 1.6 billion people and then began to decline. The population density was especially apparent in the cities we visited: Beijing 11.38 million, Shanghai 16 million, where we saw continuous high-rise apartment buildings everywhere we went. Even when we traveled to Hangzhou via train in the country, we saw unending 3 story apartment type dwellings most of the time. Only in the two hour trip out of Beijing to the Great Wall did we really see any countryside devoid of housing.
China is a little bigger than the U.S. and is mostly mountains, high plateaus, and deserts in the west and plains, deltas, and hills in the east. The climate is extremely diverse from tropical to subarctic. We particularly felt this when we flew into Beijing from Hong Kong. After more than 2 months of sweltering heat, none of us were prepared for the 40 deg F temp with a biting wind. (Note the latitude of Beijing is 40' N, lon 113' E.) We also found out first hand that Beijing suffers from extreme sand storms from Mongolia as one was in full swing when we arrived, cutting down visibility to a couple of miles and presenting us with a yellow sky. It was particularly irritating to breath and Bonnie was on anti-histamines the whole time we were there.
China was the 3rd Communist country we went to, yet we saw fewer signs of Communism than the other countries we visited (Cuba and Vietnam). Clearly China has a much higher standard of living - at least the areas we saw. We saw many more indicators of wealth: better housing, contemporary cities, well-dressed people, and many automobiles. Once again we saw mainly high-rises and skyscrapers in Beijing, some of which seemed quite new. In fact, we were told that most of the slums have been torn down since 1991 and replaced with apartment buildings. Farmers now have their own houses and in Beijing people are encouraged to buy private apartments. We had expected to see a lot more bicycles (there still are 10 million), but most of the transportation we saw was via automobile (lots of VWs which are made there) and buses. We were also told by our guides that state-run enterprises have been de-emphasized and privatization in all sectors is encouraged. For example, there are no longer the large commune farms owned and operated by the state. (In the words of our guide - they had very low pay and even lower work output.) Although the State owns the land, farmers can lease the land for extended periods of time, farm it and reap their own profits. A very capitalistic idea - in fact everywhere we looked, we saw more evidence of capitalism than communism.
We also saw many effects of westernization. Western dress seemed the norm - especially the black business suit and briefcase. Even common laborers wore western attire. A few years ago there were only a handful of McDonald's in Beijing, there now are over 300. Likewise, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut are also present in increasing numbers. Although the primary language is Chinese (Cantonese), most of the TV commercials we saw were in English - along with a lot of Western influence, dress etc.
While in China we took two trips back to back. The first was a 4-day trip to Beijing - again we were traveling under a group visa and there seemed to be a lot of red tape at the airport. Airport security was similar to the US and the flight took a little less than 3 hours. Upon arrival we were taken to a restaurant where we had the first of many traditional Chinese meals. Basically this meant sitting at a round table for 10 with a large circular Lazy Susan in the middle upon which different dishes were placed. In addition to rice, each meal consisted of a large variety (at least 10-12) of meat and vegetable dishes. Interestingly, soup was always served towards the end and desert was always a platter of sliced fruit. After lunch we went to our first point of interest, the Summer Palace. Although it was quite beautiful with many large gardens, walls, and buildings, our enjoyment was severely curtailed by the cold and biting wind of early spring. We then checked into our hotel and after getting cleaned up we were taken out to a tradition Peking Duck dinner. This is suppose to be quite a delicacy among the Chinese, but most of it was thick fat under crisp brown skin with little lean meat. Fortunately we had additional dishes to choose from on the revolving serving part of the table.
The next day was our main excursion on our Beijing trip - the Great Wall of China. The closest portion to Beijing is 75 km (45 miles) out of the city - yet because of traffic it took us 2 hours to get there by chartered coach. The countryside was quite brown as the winters in northern China are cold and dry and they had been experiencing a drought - the buds were just beginning to come out on the trees. It was the only place in China where we didn't see continuous housing. We were fortunate that we had a warm sunny spring day (no wind) for the venture. Like the Taj Mahal, it is difficult to describe this great wonder. Built to prevent invasions from the north, construction began during the Warring States Period in the 5th century B.C. Scholars estimate the Great Wall with all its branches once stretched for 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles). The amount of brick and stone employed to construct the Great Wall could circumscribe the earth with a dike eight feet high. Built mainly for defense, strategic platforms are located every 980 - 1600 ft. The wall is 22 feet high and 21 feet wide at its base, narrowing to 18 feet on the rampart - wide enough to permit six horses or 10 men walking abreast.
While many of our group chose to take the 45-minute hike to the top, we took a gondola which gave us more time at the top (over 2.5 hours). It was a good choice as we were then able to hike a good mile along the top past/through many of the guard towers to the end of that section where it was then closed because of decay and rubble from the sides caving in. Because of this we went well beyond the hawkers (yes, they were there too) and other tourists, often having the wall all to ourselves with no one else in sight. The view was absolutely fantastic as we followed the path of the wall which literally went over the tops of the mountains and down into the valleys as far as the eye could see. Heightened by having much of the wall to ourselves, it was an experience we will never forget.
We got back to Beijing in late afternoon and with the rest of the day on our own we had supper and then elected to go to a Peking Chinese Opera. We lucked out with the best seats in the house, complete with a table and were served tea and Chinese delicacies while we watched the performance, "The Monkey King". I think Chinese opera is something you have to get used to as there was very little singing and more talking (in rather high pierced voices to our ears) and prancing around the stage in extremely skilled athletic moves. The costuming, however, was very ornate and beautiful.
The next two days in Beijing were spent visiting the Forbidden City, the Lama Temple, the Temple of Heaven (huge - over 600 acres), and Tiananmen Square. Tiananmen Square (which can hold as many as 1/2 million people) was especially impressive to us as so much history has taken place here and it brought back memories of the student demonstrations and subsequent shootings in 1989. Although there are a number of important buildings surrounding the square, the main focus is at the northern end with the Gate of Heavenly Peace and the renowned portrait of Chairman Mao - the largest in China being 6 meters by 3 meters. Our 3rd evening was again on our own and we went shopping via taxi, had supper and just walked on some of the streets in Beijing. At no time did we feel threatened in anyway and all in all, we really enjoyed our stay in Beijing.
Note that while we were in Beijing, the ship moved up the coast from Hong Kong to Shanghai. So it was Shanghai that we flew into late that 4th night. We re-packed our small travel bags and left at 0600 the next morning for a 2 hour train ride to Hangzhou, our 2nd trip in China.
Hangzhou is a much smaller city and it is primarily a tourist area for the Chinese. (In the 2 days we were there, we were the only Caucasians anywhere.) Nestled in between small mountains, the city is famous for West Lake, a large freshwater lake complex with islands surrounded by hills and gardens, its banks dotted with pavilions and temples. Everything was lush green with late spring (it's amazing what a few degrees of latitude will do) and we had a luxurious hotel set amidst beautiful gardens right along the shoreline of the lake. It was a wonderful opportunity for us to see "the other China": a China away from the hustle and bustle of big cities, a China that has slowed its pace to enjoying the out of doors and natural beauty. During the two days we were there we visited beautiful gardens, temples and shrines, had a boat ride on the lake, visited a tea plantation where we saw them harvesting tea and went to a silk factory where we actually saw them taking the fine threads of silk off the silk worm cocoons and making the fine thread for weaving. (It takes the thread from 8 cocoons to make a single thin thread for weaving.) We were also treated to a very up-scale fashion show featuring different kinds of silk clothing and then visited their outlet where we bought a number of silk items. In spite of all that we did, it was a very restful 2 days in beautiful settings where we also found enjoyment mingling with the Chinese and watching them on their own holidays.
Email, (April 23, 2002)
Tuesday, 23 April 2002 Lat 44'54.2"N; Lon 159'12.7"E Noon Report
It is very very cold. We are on the Great Circle Route towards Seattle so our course is leading us NE (course 061 deg T, speed 16.4 k) towards the Aleutian Islands. The air temp is 40 deg F, the sea temp is 41 deg. We are also in fog and the visibility looks like it is less than 1/4 mile. Sounds familiar - just like Lake Superior. The wind is NE at 12-16k, seas are easterly at 3-4 feet. Japan is 1,387 nm behind us and we have 3,074 nm to go to Seattle.
Japan is another country with a high population density. To put it in perspective, it has half the population of the US (126,550,000) in a country that is approximately the size of California. However, because 70% of Japan is mountainous, the people reside mainly in large coastal cities on land area that is the equivalent of Connecticut. Thus land and housing costs are very high and it is not uncommon for young businessmen to live in dormitories.
Historically Japan has never been a colony and the closest they came to foreign occupation was in the US occupation after WW II during 1945 - 1952. The Japanese take pride in their own traditions and own identity and thus see themselves as being different from other people. They may look Western and emulate Western ideas, but an inch below the surface they are very different.
Within recent decades Japan has undergone a number of social changes. It has one of the lowest birth rates in the world (1.3) and yet has the longest life expectancy (Male: 78, Female: 84). Thus there are more older people and fewer children and in 1997 the number of the elderly exceeded the number of children. This in turn has affected the supply of labor, forcing Japanese companies to entice workers with higher wages. Household income is actually higher than in the US, but because of much higher prices of almost everything, the Japanese have only 70% of the buying power enjoyed in the US. The economic impact of the cost of land, housing and even food (Japanese-grown rice is much higher in Japan than in neighboring countries) has driven the age at which couples marry much higher (Male: 27, Female: 25). Where match making used to be the norm, many are now marrying for love. Women may still work after getting married, but are expected to give up their careers when children come.
Probably the most impressive change in Japan has been it's tremendous come back after the War, particularly in the field of economics. A post WW II miracle, for 30 years (1960 -1991), Japan experienced unprecedented economic transformation and grew economically like no other country in the world. It became the 2nd most powerful economy in the world - second only to the US. With only 2.5% of the world's population, it has 11% of the world's income and 10% of the world trade. Automobiles, cameras and electronics are just a few of the areas where we have been direct recipients of this economic transformation. But not all is well in Japan. Since 1991, it has been experiencing a severe recession (some even say a depression) and interest rates have reached an unprecedented 0%.
One of the things we were most impressed with is Japan's efficient transportation system - again another product of high density living where moving large amounts of people becomes a necessity of daily life. While there, we rode everything from local buses and subways to slow trains, fast rapid transit trains, and the fastest of them all - the Bullet Train. With a system that rivals the Metro in DC, it didn't take us long at all to learn how to read the different color-coded charts (thankfully they had English station names written below the Japanese characters), how to buy our tickets in computer automated machines, which platforms to go to get on the correct subway or train - and most important, when to get off at the right station. Luckily we never made a mistake and in no time we were even making transfers between the different lines - there wasn't anywhere that we couldn't go within the city of Osaka and even to other cities. Japan is literally interconnected by rail.
We arrived in Osaka (pop 2,472,000) on the morning of 16 April being greeted by a water display from a fireboat and a marching band on the wharf playing "Popeye The Sailor Man". Note: I've been leaving this out, but in every port we have had a mandatory diplomatic briefing on board before we have been allowed to clear the ship. This usually has involved a representative from the U.S. Consulate and other dignitaries. We learned first hand that Japan places a lot of emphasis on ceremony as we had at least a dozen dignitaries with speeches, bouquets of flowers and a lot of gift exchanging (they must be wrapped) complete with a lot of bowing.
Once we cleared the ship, we headed to subway for our initiation into the system. It involved a transfer with two different subway lines to get to the JR (Japan Rail) train station where we boarded a train for Kyoto. Kyoto (pop 2,562,000) was an imperial capital for nearly 1000 years, and some of Japan's finest temples, palaces, villas and gardens are found here. (There are over 200 shrines and 1600 temples in Kyoto.) Upon arrival at the train station right in the heart of Kyoto, we took a local bus to Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion) which was constructed in the 1390's as a shogun's retirement villa. Nestled among beautifully manicured gardens next to a lovely reflecting pond, it is a dazzling three-story pavilion covered in gold leaf and topped with a bronze phoenix. We particularly enjoyed walking the paths among the gardens and marveled that this peaceful respite could be found in the heart of a busy city. After more walking around the city, we returned via the JR and subways to Osaka getting back at 2100. We had a late supper in a Noodle Shop of noodles and tempura shrimp and then headed back to the ship to pack for our two-day trip to Hiroshima.
To get to Hiroshima we rode the Bullet Train - quite an adventure in itself. With few stops and specially welded broad-based tracks, these trains can reach incredible speeds of 168 miles/hour. On our 200-mile trip we averaged 120 miles/hour and this included a number of stops. It is, however, expensive. One way to Hiroshima from Osaka is $90 US. Thus, we were told that the Bullet Train is used primarily by businessmen and tourists.
Hiroshima (pop 1,103,000), of course, is known primarily because it is the site of the first atomic bomb detonation that ended the Pacific War and this was our primary reason to visit the city - to go to the Peace Park and the Peace Memorial Museum. But because we were there 2 days, we got to see a number of other things also. One of these was Miyajima Island which we reached by a short ferry ride. It is the home of the famous "floating" Itsukushima Shrine, unique because its main gateway is positioned out in the water. The rest of the shrine is an elaborately built structure of many complexes - all on stilts over the water. After walking around the shrine and village we headed up into the lush hills where we found the "mother load" of Shinto temples, a small "city" of 10 - 12 structures nestled among beautiful gardens, waterfalls, streams and ponds. There was also a distinct Buddhist influence as there were scores of Buddhist statues on the steps heading into the complex and around the grounds. Again, we were struck by the peaceful serenity of the setting. Back on the main island we visited yet another beautiful Japanese garden. That night we were treated to a Japanese dinner complete with sushi and raw fish, tempura meat and vegetables and cold sake (rice wine).
It is difficult to describe our reactions to the Peace Park, the Peace Memorial Museum, the Peace Memorial Hall, Cenotaph and Peace Flame - all of which have been dedicated to the elimination of Atomic Bombs and Atomic Warfare. It was very moving to see the remains of the Industrial Promotion Hall, the only ruined building still permitted to stand, its charred dome skeleton a symbol of the destruction which took place. (Detonation took place just 1900 feet from the hall.) We also visited the Peace Bell and the Peace Flame which will be extinguished only after all atomic bombs are banished. Within the Memorial Hall and Museum we were reminded of facts learned in history books decades ago: on 6 August 1945 at 8:15 the bomb dropped on Hiroshima with eventually 200,000 dead, on 9 August a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, on 10 August Japan's unconditional surrender. Maps and graphic displays showed different aspects of the Hiroshima impact and destruction along with photos and artifacts. For the most part, the displays concentrated primarily on the facts of the destruction and aftermath, however there were only a few places where Japan's aggression in the war was mentioned. Although the civilian causalities were emphasized, there was little mention that Hiroshima was also a strong military target and we disagreed with some of the statements made about the American response to their aggression. However, one thing we were in total agreement with was that it was a grim reminder of the horrors of nuclear destruction and that use of nuclear weapons should be prevented at all costs.
After leaving Hiroshima we traveled again by Bullet Train to visit Himeji (pop 473,000) and its famous castle which is also known as the "White Egret Castle" as it is painted in white and constructed high up on a hill overlooking the city. Constructed in the 1580's, it is the finest example of a feudal castle in Japan. (Note: it was also the site of many scenes from the movie "Shogun".)
On our last day in Japan we visited the Osaka Aquarium, a really first class aquarium - probably the best we have ever seen. The theme of the aquarium is "The Ring of Fire" and it displays various ecologies around the Pacific Rim Seismic and Volcanic Belt: Japan Forest, Great Barrier Reef, Cook Strait, Aleutian Islands, Monterey Bay, Antarctica etc. It was different from other aquariums in that it depicted total ecologies showing land mammals and birds in addition to just marine life: ex - penguins with snow falling on them, sea otters playing etc. The rest of the day was spent riding the subway into the downtown area and shopping to get rid of our last Yen. On board ship time was 1800 and we left the harbor at 2000, beginning our long trek across the Pacific.
Email, (April 26, 2002)
Wednesday, 24 April 2002 Lat 50'02.5"N; Lon 177'22"E Noon report
Today is actually our second 24th of April in anticipation of our crossing the International Dateline in the next 12 hours. At last we have some compensation for all of our crossing time zones when we had to loose an hour and set our clocks ahead. This second Wednesday is just great, kind of like "going to Go, collecting $200 and getting a free Get out of Jail pass" all at once - it makes us feel like we're getting away with something. Note: we had 8 hours to lose in sailing from Japan to Seattle. "The Powers That Be" decided that one day out of Japan we would move our clocks ahead 4 hours in one jump! They enticed us with one 1/2 day off from classes and a brunch served during the new 1000 - 1400 hours, which wasn't too bad. HOWEVER, the captain decided to have a Lifeboat Drill at 1100 which rudely got all of us out of our beds in PJs and life jackets out at our muster stations in the bitter North Pacific cold. So much for sleeping in. We still have 4 more hours to lose before Seattle and are scheduled for 2 nights of 2 hours deduction each - yet, rumor has it that there is a movement aboard for 4 nights of 1 hour each - ah the intricacies of shipboard life. (I wonder what the cruise would be like from east to west.) Well, on to the navigation report.
It's another gray overcast day with westerly winds at 8 - 10 k and westerly seas of 2 - 4 ft. The sea temp is 40 deg F and the air temp is 40 deg F. We are almost half way across the Pacific with Japan 2,185 nm behind us and 2,277 nm to go to Seattle.
Thursday, 25 April 2002, 0900
Our Great Circle Route has taken us north in a big arc following the Aleutian Islands. As of this morning, we can actually see them off to port even though we must be approximately 30 nm away. They are quite large, mountainous and snow-capped. In a few places we can see dark patches of land. All in all - they look very foreboding. It reminds us that many years ago Hal and Margaret Roth took this route in their little 35' sailboat when they completed their circumnavigation of the Pacific.
We are now in the final count down and it's getting a bit emotional as we have our last CORE, our last class, our last Community College, the last day the Book Store is open, the last day for laundry, the last day for the Library and computer lab - and this one really hurts - the last day we can use the Internet. It's like going through withdrawal and little by little they are taking our shipboard home away from us.
In thinking back over the past 3.5 months it is difficult to put into perspective all that we've done and experienced. The voyage has not only met all of our expectations, but has far surpassed them. Our memories have become a vast kaleidescope of sights, sounds, smells, impressions, and reactions to the myriad of stimuli we have encountered. We have learned so much about the countries we have visited, our beautiful planet Earth, and especially ourselves. We have also learned to live with one another, in our own dense community of approximately 900 individuals on a relatively small platform moving across the oceans.
As a part of closure on this segment of our travels I will try and recapture a few loose ends that maybe we missed along the way beginning with some of the special events we had on the voyage. After our Neptune Day celebration when we crossed the equator for the first time, faculty, staff and adult passengers were treated to a number of Captain's Dinners during the Atlantic Crossing. Between Mauritius and India we had a day of Sea Olympics in which students were divided into "Seas" and competed in a full day of events: cheers, synchronized swimming, mashed potato sculptures, basketball and ping pong tournaments, trivial pursuit, relays of all kinds, karaoke and lip sync contests, etc. Shortly after leaving Japan we had the Ambassador's Ball, a formal dress fund raiser which included a sit down dinner, champagne toast on the after deck, dancing and a night full of activities. Last night we were entertained with a Crew Talent Show, on Sunday night will be the last large student activity - The Student Talent Show. All of these activities are in addition to the daily activities of classes, Community College and various organizations - they even have a quilting club. The days were never long enough and we don't know where the students ever got time to study.
We cannot say enough about the learning environment of the community. In addition to CORE and Community College, we were prepared for each port by Cultural Pre-port presentations in drama, art, music, customs and dress. Each night before arriving in port, we had a Mandatory Pre-port Meeting in which we were given travel and logistic instructions, health, safety and security concerns, maps, emergency phone numbers etc. Then after leaving each port, we would have debriefing sessions in which we would share experiences and concerns relating to the country.
Although we saw and experienced a lot, there is so much we missed. For example, in all of the countries we would have liked to have traveled more into the countryside, in the small villages, do some "homestays" where we could have had real interactions with the local people. Yet, because it was our first time for most of the countries, we felt there just were some things we couldn't miss - like the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China.
In addition to our ports-of-call, by far some of our richest experiences on the voyage were with the shipboard community: faculty, staff, students and fellow adult passengers. Because many were well-traveled and alert to global concerns, discussions were always lively whether in the lounge, an empty classroom, standing in the cafeteria line, sharing a table at mealtime. We especially felt that we became a community in the Atlantic crossing from Brazil to Capetown. From then on, there was no turning back. Discussions progressed along such broad topics as globalization, world trade, ethnocentricity, and reparations of historical "debts".
We became cognizant of different "generation gaps" as one generation would learn from another. This became particularly evident as we neared Vietnam and discussions turned to the 60's and the anti-war movement. It was again rekindled as we approached Japan and took a close look at the effects of nuclear war, the pros/cons in the discussions to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For many in our generation, a lot of "historical blocks" fell into place as we reviewed post WW II events. Yet, it was also enlightening to look at these through the eyes of a generation that was born well after these events had taken place.
Now that we are in our final count-down, our last week at sea, conversations are taking a different slant. We all have mixed emotions: we don't want to see the voyage end, yet we are all anxious to get back to our friends and family and are looking forward to what lies ahead. For many, it's facing profound changes: faculty who are retiring or going on to different jobs; students who are returning to their campuses with new perspectives towards their goals; staff who are also involved with professional change; adult passengers, some of whom are going back to work, others who are re-assessing future pursuits in light of the past 3.5 months. One thing is certain - we have all changed. I didn't believe it when they told us this would happen in the beginning - but it's true.
In another week we will walk down the gang plank one last time. With us we will carry countless souvenirs from many countries, dozens of rolls of film, hours of video, and memories to last a lifetime. We will never forget:
|Hasta la vista||Cuba|
|Tot siens||South Africa|
Ron and Bonnie Dahl