Saturday, April 14, 2012

Yokohama, Japan

After one day in transit, we arrived in Yokohama. The first day I went with a couple girls to Tokyo. We took the train there, having to transfer lines once. It only took around 45 minutes for us to get there once we figured out the subway. Then the girls I was with decided to just start walking blindly, after I suggested we look at a map and find some place cool to go. But they started walking and about 15 minutes later we realize there is absolutely nothing the way we're going. Luckily, we ran into an old Australian couple who asked us if we were lost. We said yes and just decided to follow them around for a bit. They went to a park that had the Meiji Shrine. None of us were sure what the significance of the shrine was, but it seemed like it was a place for prayer. Then we decided to go to Harajuku, a young and hip district in Tokyo. We only walked for a few minutes and hit an intersection with giant retail buildings - the biggest Old Navy I've ever seen in my life. I noticed that we'd hit the district because suddenly there were only young, stylish teens walking by. There were a quite a few people with a face full of piercings. And when I mean full, they were completely covered. We walked around a while and found the Oriental Bazaar. I guess that was just a store that had souvenir items at a cheaper price, although it was still pretty expensive. We spent a while there and I bought a few knick-knacks. Then we decided to go get some food. We wanted Japanese food, specifically their stuffed crepes, but a lady from the ship told us there weren't any around. So two of the girls I was with went into Shakey's Pizza, which is supposed to be pretty good, and the other girl and I went to look for cheaper, more authentic food. We finally came across a little stand that sold the crepes. I bought the famous kind, which name escapes me right now, and it was so good! I went back for seconds and got a crepe with chocolate ice cream, which was even better! I hope I can find some places that sell those back in the US! After that we kept walking around and found a little shopping strip that mostly sold younger clothes and accessories. But we just walked around a looked, and after a while we decided to head back to the ship since we were both so tired.

The next day, and final day in Japan, I had a trip to Mount Fuji. The day didn't go as well as I'd hoped, because the entire day it was raining and cloudy. We took a bus ride a few hours to Mount Fuji, and drove to the fifth station on the mountain. We stopped and walked around, and of course hit up the gift shop. It was so cold out and there was snow everywhere, which for some reason I wasn't expecting. I guess I thought we weren't going to be going up high enough for there to be snow. But the ground was covered and it felt like winter in Kansas, which I thought I'd missed. And lucky for me, I wore flip flops so it was even more unbearable. After spending some time shopping for Mount Fuji souvenirs, we went back to the bus and drove to the Visitor's Center. There we, once again, went to the gift shop. And after that we watched a short film about Mount Fuji. Then we drove a while to Hakone and took the ropeway for about 30 minutes. We stopped near a lake and drove a couple minutes to a boat, where we took a ride on the lake, hoping to get some good views of the mountain. But it was too cloudy and we couldn't see Mount Fuji at all. I was pretty disappointed, since that was the whole point of the trip. The rest of the trip was fun, but I was really looking forward to seeing the giant mountain. Oh well, I'll just have to come back during July or August some year and climb to the top. They said it only takes about six hours to get to the peak. After the boat ride we just took the bus ride back to the ship and I got back on, after waiting in line forever. Now's going to be the most boring stretch of the trip. We have about a week and a half until we get to Hawaii, and then another week until we get to San Diego. During that time I'll have to write a few papers and study for my finals. I don't think anyone's looking forward to the rest of the trip.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Kobe, Japan

We arrived in Japan on Tuesday, and didn't get cleared for immigration until around noon. It took a long time for everyone on the ship to stand in line, get their picture taken, and get their fingerprints taken. And by the time I got off the ship, it was maybe 11, but everyone didn't get cleared until later. So I had to sit in the terminal and wait, and by the time everyone was cleared, it was pointless to get back on the ship since my FDP started at 1. I went with my media class for a radio station called Radio FMYY. It was a radio station that formed after the huge earthquake 15 years ago because the emergency radio stations weren't sufficient enough for foreign people. After the earthquake in 1923, people were afraid of what might happen. At that time, they didn't have stations in other languages at that time, and they also only perpetrated information about the affected to the rest of the world, rather than giving more information to those being affected. Therefore, rumors started circulating between the local Japanese about foreign people, such as the Koreans. They turned on them and ended up murdering 6,000 Koreans because they believed these rumors. So Radio FMYY was created as an emergency radio to provide information to affected people in several languages. After a presentation, we toured a small part of the facility, the studio. Then we just returned to the ship. I decided to tag along with a friend who was going to the local "dollar store," or a 100 yen store. We took the metro to downtown and went to the dollar store and I bought a lot of cheap souvenirs, since I wasn't sure if I'd get the chance to find any elsewhere in Kobe. All of the shops here are very Westernized, and I wanted traditional Japanese items. So I had to settle for some cheap knickknacks in case I couldn't find other items. After that I just went back to the ship for the night.

The last day we spent in Kobe, I went on a trip to Hiroshima. I was really excited for it, until I found out we were going to be taking a 5 hour bus ride out there. The ride didn't end up being all too bad, we stopped a couple times at gas stations and I tried to find some food. But everything was in Japanese, and it was really hard to tell if it had meat in it or not. I settled on a hotdog......with noodles inside. It was very interesting. Besides the sauce they put in there, the noddle-dog was actually pretty good. We got there about 2 pm and started at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Our guide gave us until 3:50 to walk around the museum, which was hardly any time. I got a lot of the way through, but by the time we had to leave, I still had a couple rooms left but was only about halfway done with the audio guide. I was pretty disappointed I missed the room where they had clothes from some of those who passed away and their stories, and the room with information on what happened to buildings. I need to go back there someday to finish going through the entire museum. There was just too much to see in such a short time! After that our guide walked us over through the park and to the statue for the 12-year-old girl who passed away from leukemia. She folded 1,000 cranes while she was in the hospital, since they symbolize peace and recovery. We all had some paper cranes that we set down there. Then we finished the tour by walking to the Dome. That's the building they decided to keep the way it was after the bomb, they've just done a little restoration to so it could be preserved. It actually has some controversy around it because some people want it to be destroyed since it reminds them of an awful time. That building was probably one of my favorites to see, because it kind of made you feel like you were right back there in 1945. One of the things that struck me the most about my day in Hiroshima, was that none of the people in Japan have negative feelings toward Americans. They are all very polite, respectful, and friendly. Their only goal is to create peace and ban all nuclear weapons around the world - and, unknowingly to me, they've been in pursuit of trying to make that happen. And after that trip, we went back to the ship, but this time we took the bullet train. It only took about an hour and a half to get back this way, so it was a lot nicer trip back. When I got back, I grabbed some dinner and went to bed. We left for Yokohama that night, and the next day we spent in transit. I spent that day watching movies and doing homework. It turned out to be a very productive and relaxing day.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Cove

We've been talking a lot about The Cove in my classes, since we're coming up on Japan in a couple days. We watched a little bit of it in my Anthropology of the Ocean class. For those you don't know about it, it exploits the dolphin fishing in a town called Taiji in Japan, specifically in an area called The Cove. The video includes the main activist, Ric O'Barry, who was one of the dolphin trainers in Flipper, along with several other activists he gathered in his mission. They all are trying to get people to become aware of the slaughter that has occurred in this area from September to March, killing 23,000 each year. He's opposed by a few local fisherman and the government in Taiji because it brings a huge profit for their town. So it's very hard to take pictures or videos of what's happening in this area. Finally, (spoiler alert) they manage to smuggle high def cameras that are hidden in rocks and place them throughout the cove. Then they capture this incredible and horrible footage of what happens in The Cove. I won't describe it, since it's pretty awful. Then at the end of the video, Ric goes into an IWC (International Whaling Commission) meeting, with a television strapped to his chest, playing the footage they gathered. I heard that The Cove was destroyed in the tsunami, but they just relocated the slaughter to a different area. It still occurs today, but now people are more aware of what's going on.

The movie was very well done and I might have found a new inspiration in Ric O'Barry. However, it brings a lot of questions to my mind. As soon as the students saw this they gasped and were really upset by the killings. And maybe this isn't logical for me to think, but it made me really mad at everyone around me. How hypocritical is it to say that the killing of these animals is wrong, but all other animals is perfectly acceptable? Is it because these animals are mammals, or because of their intellectual ability? To me, it felt the exact same as watching documentaries about the slaughter of cows and chickens. And cows are mammals. Is it just that they are "dumb" or that it's accepted to eat that kind of meat in America? Or maybe dolphins are prettier? I just can't understand it. To me, all animals are equal, and just because one is smarter or better looking, doesn't make it superior to another. I definitely think that this dolphin hunting needs to gain attention of the public, but it's ignorant to think that the same kind of treatment to animals isn't occurring in our country, right under our noses. It's ignorant to think that this town in Japan is cruel and barbaric, when similar practices happen to other animals all over the world. It's ignorant to get so worked up over something and then talk about what you bought in the last port. I think that this world is just filled with ignorant people, who like to pretend that these horrible things aren't happening all around us, or just don't care.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Shanghai, China

The voyage to Shanghai was really nice. Hardly anyone was on the ship so it was very quiet, I could get caught up on homework and sleep, and also the food was so much better. We had waiter service as opposed to the cafeteria style we usually get. And everything on the menu was 10 times better than the food they usually set out. The big downside was not being able to travel around China for those two days, but I can't take that back.

The first day we were there I had two trips planned. The first was the Maglev Train trip. We took a drive around some major parts of Shanghai and had a brief city orientation. Then we went to the Jin Mao Tower, which I think is either the sixth tallest building in the world or in Shanghai. We took the elevator up to the 88th floor from the -6th floor. The ride took only around seven seconds or so before we reached the top. The view was very beautiful - you could see anything. After that we went to ride the Maglev Train. This train goes to the airport and can hit a maximum speed of 431 km/hr or about 267 miles per hour. We were able to ride it during a time when it went to its maximum speed. It was very fast, to say the least. But I wasn't ever scared until we passed a train coming the other way and for a second it sounded like we just collided with it since we passed it going so fast. The Maglev stands for Magnetic Levitation, so it uses magnetics and sits about 10 cm on top of the tracks and doesn't actually touch them. It was a very cool experience to ride on the Maglev, but I don't think the trip should have taken so long. After that, I went with a friend to eat by the ship at a Chinese restaurant. I had noodles and rice, and it was decent. By that time I had to leave for the next trip, which was an acrobatics performance. Our guide said that the ERA Acrobats worked with Cirque Du Soleil. The show was pretty incredible, it had flexible people, acrobatics flying in the air, extreme balancing acts, and even a motorcycle show, where they had six people on motorcycles going around in circles in a giant ball. That was probably my favorite.

The next day I had a trip to the Zhujiajiao Water Village. I was really excited to see a village, since that's been my favorite parts of each country. But, in my opinion, the village wasn't even really there anymore. I read that in 2012 (must have been really recent) it had been converted to a bunch of gift shops. It did have a waterway going down the middle of the village, but our guide said they don't use it anymore except for tourists. So when we got there we took a little boat ride along the waterway to one end of the village and back. Then we had two hours to walk around and shop at the gift shops. I was super disappointed that we didn't even have a guided tour or anything. It seemed just like some scam to make money, which I'm sure it was. After just walking around for two hours we went back on the bus and left. The only thing I ended up buying was a name painting for my niece, as everything else was really overpriced. I had planned to go out to the markets after that trip and had a friend to go with, but she bailed at the complete last minute. So I tried to find other people to go with, but everyone either was going to sleep or going out to get drunk.

The last day I woke up really early to hit the markets. I wanted to do a little shopping before we left and I had an FDP in the afternoon. So I met up with some people and went to the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum underground markets. It was huge and had a ton of cool souvenirs to buy, but I also wanted to go to the Yu Garden Markets, so I only spent about 20 minutes at that market and headed to the second. I didn't buy much at the first market since I was holding out for the Yu Garden, but it was complete crap. It was like three stories of junk. A ton of jewelry places, kids toys, and knock off items. I didn't even have that much time to really shop since I had to be back on the ship by 1 for my FDP, so I quickly bought a bunch of junk items and left. But before I was leaving, I couldn't find my phone in my bag, I searched and searched and my friend even looked in my bag and couldn't find it. I was convinced it was stolen. But later I magically found it in my bag. I barely made it back in time for my FDP to the Shanghai Media Group, which ended up being a television station so I was extremely excited to go there. However, when we got there our teacher found out that the person he'd been corresponding with didn't really work there, or at least no one knew who he was. So our trip got canceled, which was a great ending to the day. I couldn't go out again because I'd spent all my money earlier since I didn't expect to go out again and everyone I knew was already out so there was no one to go with. I just came back to the ship and stayed on the rest of the time. So my time in Shanghai wasn't the best, I probably will never come back here. But I would like to travel to Northern China, to the Great Wall. Next we're going to Kobe, Japan.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hong Kong

It took us a few hours longer to leave Vietnam than expected because the tide was too low to pull out of the port. But after the tide rose, we departed for China. We all heard that we were headed for a typhoon, so we prepared for the worse. Luckily, our captain managed to miss the bad part of the storm so it never got too rocky. And we made it to Hong Kong on time. I got off the ship around 8:45 and we went to Lantau Island. We visited a fishing village and just walked around the market. We also stopped by the Tao Temple. We only stayed for a short time, and went to the Buddhist monastery. I was expecting the kind of monastery you see on TV, like with the monks and meditation everywhere. But it wasn't anything like that. It was much more of a tourist spot, and I think I saw maybe two monks the entire time I was there. When we got there we had to go eat so we went to the vegetarian restaurant they have. Then we walked around the monastery for a few minutes, which was basically some restaurants and gift shops. Probably the only thing I really enjoyed was getting to see the big Buddha and climbing the 256 stairs to the top. It wasn't too bad, and it was an amazing view. The Buddha cost around 6 million US dollars. After seeing the Buddha, we went to another area with more gift shops. After buying a lot of junk, we went back to the ship. I relaxed for an hour or two but then I decided to go back out. I took a bus to the night market. I walked around and bought a couple cool things, but mostly they were selling cheap electronics and clothes. I didn't feel unsafe at all, except when I encountered a man from Nigeria. I thought I had escaped those "over-friendly" men from Africa, but I guess not. He approached me and just said he wanted to be friends. Normally, that would be a really weird thing to say, but I'd heard a lot of that kind of talk when we were in Ghana. I was just polite to him, but he wouldn't leave. He said he felt like he needed to buy me a drink. And when I said I didn't drink, he offered dinner. Then I said I hadn't eaten but he just asked if we could go somewhere to talk. By that time I was really annoyed and just said maybe some other time and tried to leave. But he said he didn't feel like letting me leave. So I started getting a little freaked out and just said fine, you can have my email and we can go out tomorrow. Of course I was never going to do that, but after I gave it to him, he let me leave. So by that time, I was a little sketched out but I kept walking around the market. Then not even a minute after I had escaped the scary Nigerian, I was approached by an older man from the Middle East. His English was very poor, he said something like, "Hotel, dinner?" I assumed he was asking if I was staying at a hotel and I said no, that I was staying on a ship. Then he kept asking about a hotel. So I asked him if he was offering and he said yes. Since I was already freaked out from earlier, being asked by a creepy old man if I wanted to stay at his hotel really made me nervous. So I said no and he asked if I was alone. I lied and said no I had a bunch of friends from the ship that were walking around here somewhere. He asked if we would all go out to dinner with him and then I just said no and walked away. So after that, I decided to go back to the ship. I thought I could just walk back on Nathan Road since it's a huge, well-lit, and populated area. And it was very safe, but it was like a 30 minute walk back to the ship. When I finally got back, I was so exhausted and just ready for bed.

The next day I went on a trip to do Tai Chi. We met a Tai Chi master at a park and he briefly taught us some beginner Tai Chi. It was really interesting and calming, and I really want to do more of it when I get back home! After that, we went to learn about tea and try some different kinds. I used to hate tea, but lately, since just about every Asian country drinks it all the time, I've grown to not hate it. The taste testing was nice and I want to try more types of tea now! We didn't have much time there because we had to go eat lunch in "Central." We went to a restaurant that served Dim Sum. The meal was really good! We just had noodles and vegetables, like just about everywhere else, but it was still great! Someone at our table ordered chicken feet, and that made me a little uncomfortable, but oh well. After our short day, we went back to the ship and I went back out to a different market. I decided to go, in the daytime, to the Ladies Market. It was probably the largest market I've been to yet and had just about everything you could ever want to buy! I found some really nice souvenirs and I found a small teapot with a filter so I can make some tea when I get home! In Shanghai I'm going to try to buy some teacups and loose leaf tea. After spending a while at the market, I took the bus back to the ship and stayed there since we were leaving that night. I could have traveled off the ship since we are all meeting in Shanghai, and in hindsight I don't know why I didn't. But I guess I was just thinking that I wanted to get caught up on homework since we're in the last leg of the trip and I also didn't want the hassle of planning a huge trip in China when we don't really have Internet access. I also didn't find people that were doing anything that interested me until after we had to declare if we were traveling on or off the ship. But even though I'm missing out on two extra days in China, it is nice to be on the ship with only a few other students. Nice and quiet. We will be in Shanghai on Thursday.