Tuesday, September 26, 2006

#49 Thoughts on Hong Kong

Having just spent 4 days in Hong Kong, I want to share some thoughts on my reaction to the place.

Visually it’s the most unique city I’ve visited. The city skyline clustered around the harbor is indescribably impressive on first glance just for the concentration of tall buildings against the waterfront. But after that first wave of reaction, I realized that view stretched for as far as I could see down the shoreline on Hong Kong Island.

When Mary and I explored a small part of the island on the world’s longest escalator system, we were contained in urban canyons of mostly residential high-rise buildings. For the most part, these buildings remain unseen until you make your way inland past the first few blocks of taller commercial buildings. Since these residential buildings are set on slopes leading up to Victoria’s Peak, it’s not unlike the sensation of climbing a steep mountain trail with switchbacks where you find yourself looking out into the very top branches of a tree only a few minutes after walking past the trunk on the way up.

It’s this extremely high population density that supports so many small shops and street markets. So the population density, the street markets, and the streetscapes with signs and billboards extending out to form a linguistic hodgepodge of a canopy over the streets are the visuals I’ll remember from Hong Kong.

As for the people we met, most knew just enough English to give us directions or some such mundane task. They were almost always friendly, returning our smiles. We saw wedding parties and families having picnics. We watched kids at a high-rise school exercising on the top floor surrounded by wire mesh to keep errant soccer balls from dropping 20 stories. Generally, the people seemed quieter and less rambunctious than typical Americans, perhaps a requirement to co-exist in these close quarters.

Some of our class readings and discussions suggest the Chinese culture teaches you to learn early what to expect from life including what role you are to play and then you spend your life doing just that without much thought to other options. So it was with great interest that I read comments in the South China Morning Post, a local English language daily, from a Hong Kong scientist and inventor who battled these Chinese societal limitations on creative thought to see his inventions incorporated by NASA into the International Space Station. He said,
“Americans have an education and research culture that rewards innovative thinkers. Imagine an education system that encourages creative thought rather than being geared towards achieving A grades in exams.”
When I read that, I stopped, read it again and then read it again before finishing the article. Granted, he paints our education system with a broad brush, but I think I’m guilty of taking the flexibility that exists in our system for granted and have been too focused on the “A” grade rather than creative thinking.

Yours in pondering the messages of Hong Kong,

P.S. We’ll arrive in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on Wednesday and we’ll be spending 3 days in Phan Thiet and Mui Ne without internet access. We’ll try to post again on Saturday. Right now we’re in the South China Sea, 11 degrees 36 minutes North 110 degrees 10 minutes East

Monday, September 25, 2006

#48 Healthy Living Hong Kong Style

September 24, 2006
I stole the title of this post from the name of the Semester At Sea field trip we joined to begin our 4th and final day in Hong Kong. Here’s a simplified itinerary for our day:
…here’s more detail:
Qin Gong – for 30 minutes we “cleansed our bodies” through breathing and movement
Flower market - the most visually appealing of the specialty markets scattered around the city
Bird market – the locals congregate here with fabric-draped decorated cages to buy, sell, and trade song-birds and the materials one needs to support the hobby. Vendors sell live grasshoppers and crickets by the bag.
Traditional Chinese Medicine – At the Chinese medicine shop the practitioner touches 3 spots on your wrist to sense qualities of your pulse and vital systems. From this a prescription is written mixing quantities of dried flora and fauna from the vendor’s supply. Pistachios improve the mind. Seahorses are Chinese Viagra.
1506 Chinese medicine
Fresh market – traditionally Hong Kong housewives visit such markets twice a day to buy the freshest meat and vegetables. In the “wet” fresh market the vendors leave the beating hearts in the bodies of the recently killed fish to prove the meat is fresh.
Bird’s nest soup – after we ate this delicacy at a specialty restaurant we were told the main ingredient is swallow saliva extracted from the bird’s crusty nest
Chinese food – deep fried skin of the suckling pig with a side order of jellyfish…yum!
1511 Erika enjoying jellyfish
After this assault on our senses, we made our way back to the ship and sailed south from Hong Kong harbor where in two days we’ll reach Vietnam.

Yours in appreciating exotically healthy Hong Kong,

Sunday, September 24, 2006

#47 Shenzhen

September 23, 2006
It’s muggy in the tropics. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The typhoon kept us from docking as planned in Qingdao in northern China, but it is possible to reach the China border from the south – just 45 minutes by train from Hong Kong. So, today we set off to find the real China.
1502 Shenzhen border
Our destination is Shenzhen. We set out with a couple shipmates (Tom and Dianne) at 0900 and we arrive about 2 hours later in the People’s Republic of China. Passing through Hong Kong immigration, China immigration and China customs proves to be time consuming and gives us pause. Everyone is scanned with infrared cameras to isolate those with elevated body temperatures. A strip of eerily undeveloped land isolated by razor wire and dotted with elevated guard towers flying the Chinese flag separates Hong Kong from China. Even though Hong Kong is now officially part of China, the border crossing is significant.

With a Shenzhen map in hand, we walk toward Dong Men Walking Street – a shopping district about a mile from the train station. Many shops sell t-shirts sporting slogans printed in English with a translational twist. One of our favorites:
“Enjoy the present condition and do an enjoyable life.”
Along the way, we meet Cherry, a young local who offers her assistance. She helps us navigate our not-so-direct route and suggests a place for lunch. When we invite her to join us, she accepts and helps us navigate our not-so-direct route through the menu. We are the only English speakers in the restaurant. Cherry doesn’t accept any payment for her help other than the cost of lunch and she hurries back to work.
1501 Tom Cherry Mary Diane
Shenzhen is not Hong Kong. The culture, history and spirit of Hong Kong are missing here. It is a tumultuous area with a crime problem, numerous beggars, aggressive hawkers, and a struggling infrastructure. Many Hong Kong residents travel to Shenzhen for shopping since the prices are significantly lower. We came home with a tiny bit of an idea of what life might be like in mainland China.

Yours in trying to imagine,

Saturday, September 23, 2006

#46 Outdoor escalators

September 22, 2006
Hong Kong is officially bilingual – Cantonese and English. Cantonese is one of the world’s most difficult languages for foreigners due to the use of tones (low, middle, high, rising neutral and falling). In Japan, we tried to learn a little of the language, but here in Hong Kong, we’re sticking to a combination of English and gestures and we’re having no problems.

We had another great day today. We set off this morning to travel up a steep hill behind central Hong Kong towards Victoria Peak. The good news is that the locals have built an outdoor escalator that carries people down the hill to work in the morning and at 10 am, they reverse the escalator to carry people up the hill for the rest of the day. So, we set off about 10 am, took the Star Ferry across the harbor (instead of the subway under the harbor that we took yesterday), walked to the bottom of the escalator, and rode the escalator about a half mile up the hill.

Rob and Donna – you should see if those trail angels might want to install an outdoor escalator for those extra steep parts of the Pacific Crest Trail. ;-)
1437 Mary and Escalator
On our walk back down the hill, we stop at a grocery for waffle cookies (Kelly’s favorite cookie), visit the botanical garden and zoo, visit the bamboo garden (Kelly’s favorite plant) and when we get back to the bottom we ask ourselves two important questions:
1) What’s up with the lack of gingko trees in China?
2) Is there anything we own that we really need?
1465 Kelly at bamboo garden
Yours in asking the tough questions,

Friday, September 22, 2006

#45 Dim Sum and Dr. Seuss

September 21, 2006
Pulling into Hong Kong harbor early this morning was a feast for the eyes.
1324 Js and harbor
And to follow the feast for our eyes, we disembarked and made our way straight to a feast for the mouth – a dim sum brunch. Dim sum (Chinese Petit Fours or savouries) is one of the great unheralded Chinese inventions, ranking with gunpowder and paper. We joined Erika, Sally and Mark for brunch and while we are not exactly sure what we were eating, these are among the menu items we did not order:
Stewed Chicken Feet w/ Spot Limpet
Pig’s Bone w/ Dried Vegetable Congee
Congee w/ Ginkgo and Beancurd Stick
Snow Fungus w/ Ginkgo
Black Glutinous Rice w/ Red Bean Cream
Pig’s Blood w/ Leek
Chilled Sea Blubber
1340 Mary enjoying Dim Sum
We continued our quest for the Dr. Seuss book, Oh The Places You’ll Go, and found the empty slot on the shelf at the fabulous, 10-story, 3-year-old Hong Kong Central Library where the book would reside were it not checked out. Call numbers in English are just way too easy.

Our library treks not only teach us how to find our way around the library, but also our way around the city. With advice from a local, we took two subways, through a tunnel under Hong Kong harbor, and across Victoria Park, where we watched locals play basketball on the way to the library. The subway system (both here and in Japan) is phenomenal and one that the US should copy.

Having had the British in Hong Kong for so long makes it easier for us to navigate the city since most of the signs are in English. And, of course, having Kelly – the human navigator – makes it easy for me since I just follow him (as do the other passengers.)

Believe it or not, the highlight of the day may not have been the library visit. Each night at 8:00, Hong Kong harbor shows itself off with a spectacular 15-minute laser light show choreographed with music. We were invited to a deck on the top of a nearby hotel managed by the father of one of our students. From there, we experienced a spine-tingling, eyes-tearing experience as the lights emphasized one of Earth’s largest cities.
1413 Nightime panorama

Yours in falling in love with Hong Kong on day one,

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

#44 Nearing Hong Kong

We're scheduled to arrive in Hong Kong at 0800 Thursday (tomorrow) and stay four days.

The air temperature at noon today: 84 degrees
The sea surface temperature at noon today 84 degrees
Our current position: 21 degrees 38 minutes North Latitude 119 degrees 22 minutes East Longitude

Yours in keeping the map nerds happy,

#43 Introducing the Library Staff

Erika and I are lucky to work with six work-study students in the library. Since the library is open from 0800 to 2300 each day at sea, we are thrilled to have such an enthusiastic staff who work the reference desk and answer every kind of question you can imagine.  Here’s our group at an important staff meeting…
0669 Library Work Study

From left to right: April, Kim, Erin, Sabrina, Mary, Jihane, Megan and Erika April (or Grapes) hails from the Hoosier state. She’s from Bloomington and studies English education at IU. After this voyage and some student teaching, she’ll have her degree. Grapes has been planning for this trip for about a year because she loves the combination of travel and education. She says working in the library is the best work study job by far! She gets to interact with students, she gets to hang out with librarians AND she gets to know the beauty of organizing books.

Kim is from Phoenix and attends Northern Arizona University – home of the lumberjacks for all you that are unfamiliar with this Flagstaff school. She’s studying psychology and microbiology. She’s been planning for Semester at Sea (SAS) for 2.5 years because she likes boats. If she were Supreme Ruler of SAS, she would provide free internet and oatmeal raisin cookies for all. For Kim, the power of the wand is the best thing about working in the library.

Erin (or Eri) is from Illinois/Japan and is studying history at Western State College in Colorado. She has been planning for SAS since she was a freshman in high school. She learned about it from her mom. She wants to see new places, understand new cultures and eat the food. The first thing she’ll do when she gets home is sleep and surf the web. The best thing about working in the library is meeting people.

Sabrina is from Massachusetts and is studying international business at Manhattan College. She’s been planning for SAS for one semester and wants to sit on an elephant and visit lots of countries. If she was Supreme Ruler of SAS, she would replace the global studies course with more interactive sessions and offer more recreational activities in the evenings. She likes working in the library because we’re a big deal.

Jihane (G) is from Miami and attends Seton Hall. She’s a broadcast journalism and history major. G’s been planning for her SAS experience for 3 months and is looking forward to visiting multiple countries during this international experience instead of only one offered with some study abroad programs. First thing on her agenda when she gets home is a visit to the hairdresser. As Supreme Ruler of SAS, she’d give everyone on the ship more free internet minutes. She thinks the best thing about working in the library is shelving books.

Megan (Sunny) is from Seattle and attends Western Washington in Bellingham. She’s majoring in French and will minor in psychology or music. She’s not in a hurry to finish her degree and may study abroad in Italy next. She’s been planning for SAS since the 11th grade. She loves school, she loves travel and she loves ships. If she were Supreme Ruler of SAS, she would get everyone together in a giant circle and make sure each student meets all the other students. What does Sunny think is the best thing about working in the library? She likes the social aspect. Talking to people as part of her job is the best.

I’ve already introduced you to Erika, and you can read more here about her adventure pants journey.

Yours in remembering how Tom Sawyer whitewashed the fence,

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

#42 Shanshan in Our Rear View Mirror

The ship was rocking and rolling the last couple days as we felt the effect of typhoon Shanshan in our trek SSE away from the storm’s eye. Mary and I took the seasickness meds the first night out of Kobe. That stuff works like sleeping pills for us and we’re groggy the next day too.

So we’ve been off the meds, but in something of a dizzy stupor along with the rest of our shipmates as we all do the fun-house walk down the corridors, weaving from wall to wall, uphill and down. Walking a straight line in these conditions involves random but mandatory use of that crossover step Olympic speed skaters employ when rounding a curve.

The seas settled back to a 1-meter swell today and the captain changed course, now heading west toward Hong Kong. This typhoon scare is behind us, but the sea surface temp in this part of the Pacific is 27 C, the tipping point for prime typhoon breeding conditions.

Yours in hoping this will be a single typhoon blog,

Monday, September 18, 2006

#41 Leaving Japan, Quickly

September 16, 2006
Rumors are flying when we arrive back at the Explorer in Kobe harbor. The word is out for folks to return to the ship ASAP for a quick departure.

In a hastily-called meeting, we learn typhoon Shanshan has developed quickly from a tropical depression and will block our path to Qingdao, China. Plan B will see us bypassing China and traveling directly to Hong Kong.

We head southeast from our port in Kobe at a high rate of speed back into the Pacific Ocean while Shanshan makes its way north into the Sea of Japan. Once we’re clear of Shanshan’s high winds (130 mph) and rough seas (30’ swells), we’ll change course westward toward Hong Kong. By this route, the captain promises swells no greater than 6’. We notice later the crew has strapped down all the deck chairs and tables and has stretched ropes along each shelf of books in the library. Hmmmm…

According to the new plan, we’ll need 4 days to reach Hong Kong, arriving on the morning of Sept 21. Our stay there will be extended to 4 days to keep us on our big-picture schedule. Many of the planned field trips to Beijing will now leave from Hong Kong with Semester At Sea picking up the tab for increased travel costs.

Yours in avoiding the perfect storm,

#40 Frank Lloyd Wright in Japan

September 16, 2006
Frank Lloyd Wright designed and built the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo between 1917 and 1922. The Imperial Hotel withstood a devastating earthquake in 1923, but could not withstand economic pressures and was replaced with a larger hotel in 1968. During his time in Japan, Wright undertook several smaller projects including several houses.

Today, Mary and I set out to find the only remaining Wright-designed home in Japan, the Yamamura house. In the “shining brow” tradition, we find the house tucked high into the side of the hill overlooking the city of Ashiya with a view of the sea beyond.
1237 FLW -  Kelly

The house pre-dates Wright’s concrete houses of California, but is visually similar being built of a rustic stone, quarried in Japan. Although the multiple chimneys are visible from a great distance, the body of the house remains hidden from view until entering the drive. Then you see the house and the panoramic view simultaneously, a wow moment for me.

The rustic stone was worked into building blocks formalized by a repeated geometric motif while the naturally occurring voids and varying shades of creams and browns add depth to otherwise flat surfaces.
1155 FLW - dining window

In contrast to the crowds we’ve grown accustomed to at Wright homes in the US, here we see only a handful of visitors in the three hours we spend exploring the house. Since the staff doesn’t speak English and most of the signs are in Japanese, we are free to interpret Wright’s work on our own, without docent suggestions.

Although unique in detail, many of Wright’s signature design choices are found here: a hidden entry, a feeling of compression and release through varying ceiling heights, repeating motifs, horizontal banding, and repeated rectangular geometric forms in built-ins and fixtures.

I find the most unique features on the third floor where Wright incorporated traditional Japanese interior design with sliding screens to separate rooms void of furniture. While it seems very much out of character for Wright to deviate from his design program to accommodate local design choices, this may be the work of local designers who completed the project after Wright returned to the US.

While walking through the house, we meet a Japanese man who lives in Ashiya and has visited Indianapolis for the Formula One race. He compliments Indiana and the States and we enjoy a discussion of Wright prior to boarding the train back to Kobe.

To wrap up our stay in Japan, we lunch on Kobe beef. From the French/Japanese menu we are only sure the meal includes “pain” which we hope will be bread. The beef is tender, the service high-brow, and the meal included bread.

Yours in appreciating the bilingual,

#39 Hiroshima and Himeji

September 15, 2006
Following Miyajima, we spend the night in nearby Hiroshima. Our dinner is a traditional Japanese meal where we eat many unidentifiable things - some raw, some cooked. Our hotel is very much a Western style hotel, meaning Western toilets vs. Japanese toilets, real beds, and a breakfast with the option of eggs and sausage along with sardines and litchi nuts. The bed’s headboard serves as a control panel for the room with a built-in radio and dials to control reading lamps, the ceiling lights, and a nightlight.

The top sports stories on the TV news are sumo, synchronized swimming, and the return to action of Matsui, a Japanese player for the NY Yankees.

In the morning, we begin our day of sight-thinking at the A-Bomb Dome, the preserved remains of a building where the bomb exploded. Looking around now, we see a bustling city with tall buildings, crowded streets, parks with mature trees - normal urban stuff. Seeing this shell of a building makes clear the power of the bomb and the physical devastation.
1002 Students at A Bomb Dome
The nearby museum makes clear the graphic evidence of human suffering. Throughout, the focus is on the remaining nuclear threat and its elimination. Each time a country tests a nuclear device, Hiroshima’s mayor sends a telegram to that nation’s leader reminding them of the events of Hiroshima and asking for elimination of nuclear weapons. The most recent telegram went to George W. Bush in August 2006, after an underground test in Nevada. Such telegrams cover two walls of the museum.

Grade school groups are out in force, studying the displays and writing answers to questions for school assignments. As we leave the museum, we are engulfed by a group of Japanese students who take an opportunity to practice their English. Their greeting, “Hello. Good morning.” We answer, “Hello. Good morning.” They giggle and reply, “Hello. Good morning” and so on. In many ways, it was an unsettling, very good morning.

We stop at Himeji Castle on our return trip to Kobe, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. After walking 20 minutes to the main gate, then 10 minutes to the tower, then climbing 300 wooden steps to the top, our reward is a panoramic view to the sea. But I am most impressed with the massive stone foundations - all of which taper in from a wide base. Some curve gracefully, others are straight. Some are rubble, some cut stone. All are beautifully crafted, functional, and survive from their construction in the 17th century. In summary, I took a lot of pictures of Japanese rocks here.
1058 Himeji castle panorama
Now we can say we’ve visited Bemidji and Himeji, Indianapolis and Minneapolis. How many rhyming places have you visited?

Yours in poetic geography,

Sunday, September 17, 2006

#38 Bullet train to Miyajima

September 14, 2006
When in Japan, do as the Japanese, i.e. ride the Shinkansen bullet train.
0908 Bullet train (shinkansen) at Shin-Kobe Station
And be on time. In 2003, the average arrival time for Shinkansen was within 6 seconds of the scheduled time including all 160,000 plus arrivals. Warned that the bullet train stops only for 90 seconds at each station, we hurry on. But with the car number on our ticket and the location of the door for each numbered car marked clearly on the platform with accompanying arrows for entry and exit paths, we successfully negotiate each entrance and exit 100% of the time.

Between Kobe and Hiroshima, my GPS records our top speed at 179 mph. At that speed, the ride is comparable to a commercial jet in smoothness. Passing another Shinkansen going that fast in the opposite direction is an eye-blink-and-you’ll-miss-it experience.

After Shinkansen, our passenger ferry to Miyajima Island tops out at 9.7 mph. The tame deer are waiting for us as we step onto the island. Entrances to island stores employ short wooden gates to keep the pesky critters out. They are not shy about ripping your entire box lunch from your hand, as several students learned.

After running the deer gauntlet, we walk through the Itsukushima Shinto Shrine. It was built in 1168 on a tidal flat giving the appearance that the long low structure floats on water at high tide. The vermillion gate is placed further out toward open water in a scenic spot. Cameras get a work out here.
0926 Shinto shrine on Miwajima
I’ve been reading about Frank Lloyd Wright’s visits to Japan and how this culture influenced his work. It’s not much of a stretch to see similarities in the architectural styles. Take Itsukushima, decrease the roof slope, fill the spaces between support columns with art glass windows, and you’ve got the basic prairie house form.

Wright documented his 1905 Japan trip with photographs, most focusing on the architecture of Japanese religious buildings. Then the never-give-credit-where-credit-is-due Wright went on to deny that Japan influenced his designs:
“I am not indebted to the Japanese – the Japanese are indebted to me.”- FL Wright
I am eager to visit the only remaining example of Wright’s Japanese residential work on Saturday.

Yours in wondering if Wright came up with the bullet train idea,

#37 Kyoto Gardens

September 13, 2006
Although Kyoto has over 2000 Buddhist Temples and Shinto Shrines and their accompanying gardens, we only had time to visit four today. And it rained. All day.
0882 Mary negotiates stairs

But walking quietly in bare feet on a wooden temple floor smoothed by centuries of use while listening to the rain water trickle down copper chain downspouts is not a bad thing to do in Japan. And when we weren’t in a temple, we were crunching along stone paths through lush Japanese gardens where nature is manipulated just enough to catch your eye at every turn and draw attention to the smallest detail.
0887 Silver Pavilion garden

Yours in appreciating the details,

#36 Arriving in Kobe

September 12, 2006 It’s hard to feel anything but great when our arrival at the dock in Kobe is greeted by a local brass band playing John Phillip Sousa marches at 8 am. Oh, and did I mention we were escorted into the harbor by a fire-boat spraying a decorative fountain?
0771 Fire boat welcome
Local dignitaries and performers then boarded for a welcome ceremony including traditional music and dance, speeches, an exchange of gifts, and a briefing from a U.S. Consulate officer.

Finally, Mary and I set off to explore Kobe. Mary has set her sights on finding “Oh The Places You’ll Go”, a Dr. Seuss book, in a public library in each port. We hopped on the Portliner, an elevated people mover a lot like the one in Indianapolis, to the subway station, where we caught the next train toward the library. And even though the Kobe Central Library catalog was in Japanese, Mary matched the characters in the call number with shelf labels and found the book in short order. Impressive!
0821 Seuss in Kobe
After that excitement waned, we hopped a bus to the Osaka Dome where the Orrix Buffaloes hosted the Softbank Hawks in the Japanese version of our national pastime. A Japanese soccer star drew a standing o when he bounded from the dugout to throw the ceremonial first pitch. Just then, a batter emerged and took his place at the plate, planting the seed in our mind that he just might send the ceremonial first pitch back up the middle as a screaming liner. But that tension died a quick death when Mr. Soccer chucked a fastball that bounced 25 feet in front of home plate.

Japanese baseball has a few quirks. Each team has a designated cheering section separate from the regular ticket holders. When their team is at bat, the cheerers wave flags, endlessly pound their equivalent of thunder-sticks, and in unison sing a unique song for each batter. The cheerers stand for their half inning, then turn the cheering over to the opposition cheerers. The regular fans never stand to cheer. And although we guessed the crowd at 40,000, there was never a boo or a hiss.
0853 Osaka Dome Panorama
The fans look out for each other too. When a foul ball approaches, folks in the area whistle to alert everyone to incoming danger. As for ball game food, we didn’t find the promised octopus-on-a-stick, but did find plenty to eat including a variety of noodle and fish dishes along with KFC, a version of Bugles, and corn dogs, known here as American Dogs.

So to summarize our first day in Japan using the lingo of our student friends, it was like awesome.

Yours in like closing,

Saturday, September 16, 2006

#35 Japan

Ship time: September 16, 11 pm
Indy time: September 16, 10 am

Pardon the interruption. We have been docked in Japan for 5 beautiful days without internet access on the ship and frankly, without the time to post anything anyway. We’ll try to catch up with our news including word of an upcoming itinerary change.

If you like X, then you’d like Japan. X = efficiency, order, natural beauty, gracious people, stunning architecture…

Yours in appreciation of Japan,

Monday, September 11, 2006

#34 Who’s Driving This Ship, Anyway?

On a plane, it’s the flight deck - on a ship, the bridge. On a plane, it’s cramped - on a ship, it’s sized for the masses. Today we toured the bridge, deck 7 forward. The bridge consumes the full width of the ship. A bank of sloping windows from port to starboard affords the most panoramic of views. Front and center perch two black high-backed leather chairs surrounded by three radar displays, a GPS-driven electronic map, various banks of communication gear, engine and thruster controls, but no cupholders.
With the auto-pilot engaged, we sat in the big chairs, wore the white hats, and spied off our starboard bow a small volcano-shaped Japanese outer island (33.101 N, 139.800 E), our first view of land in over a week.
As we near Kobe, a harbor pilot with local knowledge of the waters around Kobe will board our ship to assist, and our captain and first mate from these chairs will guide us alongside the dock at Kobe harbor.

Yours in yelling “Land ho” a day early,

Sunday, September 10, 2006

#33 Super Frog Saves Tokyo

Tomorrow, September 12, we dock in Kobe after a couple weeks spent crossing the Pacific Ocean.

We’ve been reading and learning a lot about Japan in preparation for our 5-day visit. One collection of short stories - After the Quake by Haruki Murakami – was especially good reading. These six short stories were all set at the time of the 1995 Kobe earthquake. Super Frog Saves Tokyo is my favorite.

Each day on the ship, all activities stop for an hour and a half, so that faculty, staff, and students can attend a Global Studies class. All faculty contribute to this class so that we can learn the art, architecture, culture, history, and political systems of each country.

Now a list of the important things we’ve learned about Japan.
• Don’t point with your finger.
• Take off your shoes when entering a home.
• Use separate slippers when entering a bathroom.
• Beckon with palm down rather than palm up.
• Don’t use rice to sop up the liquid on your plate.
• Don’t point with your chopsticks.
• Don’t spear food with your chopsticks.
• It’s OK to slurp soup when drinking out of a bowl.
• Don’t ask the recipient to open a gift in front of you.
• Always wrap a gift.
• Show respect by bowing.
Yours in focusing on the important stuff,

Ship time: September 11, 8:30 am
Indy time: September 10, 7:30 pm

Saturday, September 09, 2006

#32 Roast Suckling Pig

The crew broke out the bar-b and we feasted on burgers, brats, ribs, and roast suckling pig - right here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The sight of Mr. Pig and his brother watching over the festivities drew a few gasps. The chef dressed them up with watermelon masks and such.
0686 suckling pig at BBQ
Kudos to those creative carvers of fruits and vegetables.
0694 fruit flower bouquet at BBQ
This all transpired on Deck 7, aft around the pool. Deck 7 is Semester at Sea heaven: pool, spa, basketball court, exercise room, the nicest cabins, faculty lounge, and as the loftiest public deck, it’s been the popular gathering place with primo views when we’re nearing port.

Informed sources tell me Deck 7 is also the preferred late-night make-out spot. They say the stars shine brighter mid-ocean.

Yours in stargazing,

#31 Happy Birthday, Bonnie

Bonnie, you’d be cold in the MV Explorer library.

The temperature is about right for me, but you’d probably be happier outside on the deck where both the air temperature and the water temperature hover around 80 degrees.

Yours in wishing the Florida girl a warm, happy birthday,

Friday, September 08, 2006

#30 Our Typical Day at Sea

0700 Breakfast
0800 Mary opens the library for the day
0920 Library closes for Global Studies class
0920 Attend Global Studies class
1045 Mary works in library, Classes in session
1200 Lunch
1300 Mary works in library, Classes in session
1700 Dinner
1800 Free
2000 Community College
2100 Free

My schedule is a little different…
0700 Breakfast
0800 Hold down deck chair
0920 Attend Global Studies class
1045 Attend class
1200 Lunch
1300 Hold down deck chair
1545 Attend class
1700 Dinner
1800 Hold down deck chair with Mary
2000 Community College
2100 Cater to Mary’s every need / write blog

Days when we are not in port alternate between the “A” schedule and “B” schedule. On A day, I sit in on Exoticism in Literature and Earth Climate Systems and on B day, Asian Religious Traditions and Creative Non-Fiction.

It was news to me that some of my favorite books fall into the creative non-fiction category. I’ve learned so much. I was still in the dark ages thinking of only fiction and non-fiction. So, most nature writing and travel writing are creative non-fiction. This blog is CNF. Maybe life is CNF.

Yours in creative non-fiction scheduling,
30.75154 N 162.70036 E

Thursday, September 07, 2006

#29 Crossing the Line

Sometime within the last 24 hours we earned the Order of the Golden Dragon.

According to Wikipedia, “The International Date Line (IDL), also known as just the Date Line, is an imaginary line on the surface of the Earth opposite the Prime Meridian which offsets the date as one travels east or west across it. Roughly along 180° longitude, with diversions to pass around some territories and island groups, it corresponds to the time zone boundary separating +12 and -12 hours GMT (UT1). All lines of longitude meet at the poles.”

To satisfy all those Indianans (or Hoosiers, if you prefer) who are devoted to the study of time zones, here’s a recap of our time zone journey so far… we have crossed from Eastern Time, to Central Time, to Mountain Time, to Pacific Time, to Alaska Time, to Hawaii Time, to Midway Island Time, and finally, to International Date Line.

Today should have been September 7, but in crossing the Date Line, our calendar changes from September 6 to September 8.

The US Navy marks the crossing of lines with a ceremony. For instance…
• Sailors who cross the International Date Line are awarded the Order of the Golden Dragon.
• Sailors who cross the Arctic Circle are awarded the Order of the Blue Nose.
• Sailors who cross the Antarctic Circle are awarded the Order of the Red Nose.
• Sailors who pass through the Panama Canal are awarded the Order of the Ditch.
• Sailors who pass through the Suez Canal are awarded the Safari to Suez.
• Sailors who cross at 0 0 degrees off the coast of West Africa (where the equator crosses the Prime Meridian) are awarded the Royal Diamond Shellback.

Yours in appreciating my Order of the Golden Dragon but dreaming of the Royal Diamond Shellback,

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

#28 25-Hour Days

Tonight we will set our clocks back an hour or as The Voice says “Retard Your Clocks Tonight”. Yesterday we retarded. We’re growing accustomed to clock retardation, aka the 25-hour day. We’ve retarded seven times since leaving Indiana.

While the students are no doubt using the extra hour for pursuits (of academia), we are spending the hour in productive high-seas sleep.

I have not yet attempted to document all that goes on during a typical day and night on the MV Explorer, but sleep time is never on the official schedule. Undergrads need lots of things, but apparently not sleep.

Yours in loving the 25-hour day,

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

#27 Introducing Erika

Let me introduce you to Erika. She lives in a log cabin; she is a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation; she is a film librarian at the University of Virginia; and she hired me to be her assistant on this voyage. She fell in love with the beauty of the east coast of Oahu and was heard to say, “I don’t think I’d go to movies if I lived here.”
For the spring and fall semesters, there are two librarians per voyage – one from UVa and a second hired from what I imagine to be a large pool of candidates from across the country eager to take advantage of this opportunity. I am thankful that Erika opted to hire someone who complimented her skills rather than duplicated her skills as an academic librarian. She is a delight to work with, to dine with, to laugh with, and to travel with. We have worked some long days together to get the semester started, but we now have a good system in place and we have trained six enthusiastic work-study students to help us staff the library from 0800 until 2300 each day the ship is at sea.

If you really want to know what’s going on during this voyage, you’re reading the wrong blog. You should read Erika’s blog. She tells a good story; she gives more insight; and sometimes she even includes a picture of Kelly and me.

Yours in introducing Erika,

#26 No Ordinary Day

As we cross this great big sea, we’re thinking of our favorite Newfoundland band, Great Big Sea, and their Ordinary Day song.
It’s up to you now if you sink or swim,
Keep the faith and your ship will come in.
Hey Judy – do you have a report of the GBS concert in Seattle on Sunday night? Did you tell Alan and Sean and Bob hello for us?

Yours in thinking about the easternmost place in North America when we’re the farthest west we’ve ever been,

Monday, September 04, 2006

#25 Noon Report

Today's breakfast panorama:
0666 Pacific Panorama
The "Bridge Noon Report" is a constant. Each day at noon "The Voice" reads the report over the PA system. Here's yesterday's report:
Bridge Noon Report September 3, 2006 - Honolulu to Kobe
At noon today the Explorer’s position was… Latitude: 21 degrees, 40.6 mintues North Longitude: 162 degrees, 06.7 minutes West
Distance Made Good: 238 Nautical miles (Since Honolulu)
Average Speed: 18.96 knots (Since Honolulu)
Distance to go to the next Port: 3440 Nautical Miles
Distance to the nearest land: 85 Nautical Miles from Kaula in our starboard quarter
Sea Depth: 2156 Meters or 7073.5 feet
Sea Water Temperature: 27 C, 80.6 F
Air Temperature: 27 C, 80.6 F
Winds: ENE 13.5 Knots
Swell: 0.5 meters
Conditions: Partly Cloudy Good Visibility
Sunset: 18:55
Sunrise tomorrow: 06:55
Today's lunch panorama:
0666 Pacific Panorama

Yours in pitying thalassophobic passengers,

P.S. The Voice just announced today's noon report. Our location this exact moment is: 23.95166667 169.620000

#24 Hawaii Rainbows

We found a pot of gold after 5 days at sea. Hawaii. The land of rainbows…we stopped counting them at some point in the afternoon.
0653 M and a HI rainbow
We rented a car with fellow voyagers Erica and Sally and completed a partial circumnavigation of Oahu. Waikiki beach, surfers on the North Shore, Diamond Head, the USS Arizona Memorial, a pineapple plantation…we saw about as much as can be seen in a single day. We tracked the elusive malasada Portuguese donut to the Ala Moana Center where we feasted on the freshly fried delights. Thanks to Bert in San Diego, our guide for this successful culinary quest.
0640 malasada - yum!
Walking back to the Explorer just after dark in the refreshing island mist, we could not think of a better way to have celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary and our 50th state together.

Mahalo Hawaii.

Yours in anti-triskaidekaphobia,

Saturday, September 02, 2006

#23 Our 50th

Today, on our 12th wedding anniversary, we are visiting our 50th state together. Yup, the 50th state to become a state is our 50th state.

Sure, we have our favorites, but on this day, we appreciate the opportunities that have taken us to all 49 and we appreciate the serendipity that has brought us here today. We are thrilled that the MV Explorer is making a brief stop in Hawaii, so that we may celebrate appropriately.

The Hawaii State Library is closed today, so celebrations might include a tour of Pearl Harbor, a drive around the island of Oahu, and a hike up Diamond Head. The sun is almost up now at 0530, so we gotta go yell, Land Ho!

Yours in love,

Friday, September 01, 2006

#22 Hello September, Hello Tropics

Overnight we crossed the Tropic of Cancer (~23.5 N Latitude) heading southwest on our quest for Hawaii. That puts us officially smack in the tropics.
And as predicted in Earth Climate Systems class, we've seen more sunshine each day as we've moved away from the atmospheric doldrums of the subtropics. That's translated into a boatload of sunburns (no pictures). Sun worshipers report the weather is "hot", but it's 1535 and I haven't been outside all day. That's because I've been in class. Check the Sept. 1 entry here for proof. That's me in the back row, port.

Saturday we dock in Honolulu in the morning, spend the day, then leave before midnight starting the longest sea leg of our voyage toward Kobe, Japan. Bridget's comment on a previous post suggested I divulge our lat/long regularly for those geonerds following along with Google Earth. Fab idea Bridget.

Yours in 22 degrees 45.5 min N, 152 degrees 9.2 min W,