Asian Trip April 21 - May 24, 2008 Rhapsody Cruise to Korea & Japan And Shanghai
April 21st - Finally the day arrived for our Daughter; Julia, to drop us off at Vancouver International Airport for our flight to Shanghai via Tokyo. Here we are waiting in the Business Class Lounge for our flight.
Vancouver's very modern International Departures area is beautifully decorated with a definite west coast flair.
April 22nd - We arrived in Shanghai at 8:15 pm their time after traveling for nearly 24 hours and loosing a day due to crossing the international date line. In Tokyo we changed planes and airlines. It was here that we met up with my Dad, Fred, who flew from Montreal to join us for this great adventure. We were met by our wonderful Shanghai Guide, Rebecca Tang and our driver, who escorted us to the van which would be our transport during our time in Shanghai. An hour later we arrived at the Bund Hotel ready for some shut eye!
The Bund Hotel is located about 3 blocks from the Bund Riverfront Promenade and about 5 blocks from Nanjing Road. Our rooms were very clean but getting non-smoking is hard. The hotel actually has 3 non-smoking floors but we did not manage to get a room on any of these floors as they were already gone. Our guide Rebecca did manage to get us adjoining rooms and upgraded us to the Concierge Floor for our stay upon our return from our Rhapsody of the Seas cruise. I could see little difference between this room and a standard room (which we had on the night of April 22nd) other than a few more amenities in the bathroom. Actually felt that the standard room was a little larger. The breakfast in the Concierge Lounge was not as lavish as the buffet downstairs in the Café. After the first morning we simply went downstairs to the Café where we could have our eggs cooked to order by the chef and enjoyed a much larger selection of foods. The beds were very firm (hard); however, upon our request they did put 2 comforters down to make it a little softer. The Concierge Lounge Staff although pleasant did not seem to have any duties to provide extra service to the guests; to mail letters you still needed to go to the guest relations desk in the lobby, the internet was at a fee; newspapers were available in the Café as well as in the Concierge Lounge. In other words do not waste your money by upgrading to the Concierge Level in this hotel. The restaurant as is normal in Asia was all smoking and are their cigarettes strong; you can smell them a mile away! The coffee was strong as is normal in Europe and Australia. The hotel also had a wheelchair which we were able to borrow for Dad. The only negative was not being placed on the non-smoking floor when that is what we had booked; however, our rooms did not smell of smoke. I would definitely recommend this hotel.
April 23rd After a refreshing sleep we were ready to go again. Rebecca picked us up and off we went to ride Shanghai's Maglev (magnetic levitation) train, the world's fastest, most futuristic passenger line which whisked us from downtown Shanghai to the airport in 7mins & 20 sec a distance of 30 Km. The Maglev train rocketed to 432 kilometers per hour! Overhead, like a giant scoreboard, an LED screen blinked out our record-breaking progress which was up to 432 km/hr. The Maglev Train is silent and only rocked slightly as we flew along the guide rails. It was hard to believe how fast we were traveling until we looked out the window to see the countryside passing by in a blur! Riding this train is a definite must when you visit Shanghai!
Now it was to the Cruise Ship Terminal to check in for our cruise to Japan and Korea aboard the Rhapsody. Checking in for a cruise in Shanghai is an experience as the cruise ship terminal is in downtown but not the dock or the ship. Rebecca helped us check in and then waved goodbye for a week telling us she would be at the actual dock to pick us up in 7 days. Once thru security and with our luggage handed over we boarded a bus for the drive to the dock some 1.5 hours downstream. The dock is just that a dock… .
We boarded quickly and headed to the Windjammer Café for a late lunch. Much later when our luggage had arrived we unpacked before the Lifeboat drill then Wahoo cocktail hour! In the dining room we were seated at a large table for 10; but, to our dismay, NO ONE joined us! As the 4 Australians at the next table had the same problem we joined forces and found ourselves some great table mates! April 24th - A lazy day cruising and catching up on some of the rest we had lost with our long international flights.
April 25th - This afternoon we docked in Kobe, Japan where we met our volunteer Goodwill Guides Norio Kuroda and Morihiro Yagai
Kobe is one of Japan's ten largest cities it was one of the first Japanese port opened to foreign trade, making it a very cosmopolitan city. Located between the sea and the Rokko mountain range, Kobe is also considered one of Japan's most attractive cities. In January 1995, Kobe was hit by the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, which killed over 5000 people and destroyed tens of thousands of buildings. A decade later, the city is completely rebuilt, and few signs of the terrible event are left. Unfortunately we ran out of time so did not get to visit the Earthquake Disaster Museum and Park.
Norio and Morihiro guided us thru the maze that is Japan's public transit system and we rode the Shin-Kobe cable car up Mt Nunobki for a "Bird's eye" view of Kobe. At the top we walked around the courtyard and herb gardens before enjoying coffee in the restaurant. Once down from the mountain we walked through the Kitano Residential area to view the many old homes built by foreigners who settled here in the early 1900's. Today they have been transformed into shops, restaurants and museums. Nankin Mchi is Kobe's small China Town with its own gate and a street packed with restaurants, stalls selling everything from herbal medicines to souvenirs, and of course the street vendors with lots of interesting food stuffs. Akashi Kaikyo Bridge(Pearl Bridge)] The span of the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge is 3,911 meters. The distance between two main tower supporting cable (center span) is 1,991 meters. It is the world's longest suspension bridge connecting the main island and Awaji island. The Maiko Marine Promenade was opened on April 5, 1998 and is the visitors centre. The promenade, about 47 meters above the sea level, has a total length of about 317 meters and projects about 150 meters into the Akashi Straight. while from the 8th-floor observation lounge you can enjoy looking out over the entire bridge via a video camera erected on top of the 300-meter tall main pylon. If you want real thrill, try the log bridge: 47 meters above the ocean waves! April 27th Fukuoka, Japan after a late arrival we walked down the gangplank to find our Goodwill Guide Yoshiro Ushida A sightseeing tour using the city buses included a stop at the Tochoji Temple where we viewed the wooden statue of 1000 Hands which is the largest wooden Buddha in Japan. The pitch black exit maze was fun and provided some light entertainment! From here we walked to the Kushida Shrine. A wedding ceremony was underway so we watched and enjoyed the colorful costumes worn by all the ladies. A Kazariyama float is on display; these are built annually by volunteer men and then carried thru the streets on the shoulders of the teams of 26 men in a race held on the last day of the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival. These floats are now shorter than in years past as they must be able to pass under the overhead street wires however each one weights several tons.
A stop at the Hakata Machiya Folk Museum allowed us to view a merchant's home from the early 1900's. The homes are long and narrow with living quarters upstairs and a lovely walled garden in the rear. Notice the small front entrance door - the size of the door decreed the amount of taxes paid… .
Japan was an interesting country to visit - exceptionally clean with it seemed everyone wearing a uniform for their work from the stevedores to the bus driver. Taxi Drivers all wore suits and had pristine white lace seat covers in their cabs. All seemed intent on providing quick and efficient service (even the stevedores ran on the dock). Space is used to the maximum with even bicycle parking lots that are multi-level. Here is a picture of a homes double car garage - an elevator where 1 car is parked and then raised up so that the 2nd car can be parked below….
April 28th Busan, Korea was our 3rd port of call. In each port in Korea we were greeted by a dance troupe welcoming us with folk dances and also given a small gift which ranged from a fan, pen, and nail set to informational brochures.
Today we took a full day ship sponsored tour which was very well planned with a guide who spoke english very well and clearly. It started with A bus ride out to the city of Gyeonglu to view Bulguksa a Buddhist Shrine the oldest and largest in Korea. Here a monk kindly posed for a photo. The colorful eves, carvings and artwork, stone pagodas and many Buddhist statues made this an interesting stop. The winding pathways thru wooded areas, gardens, over arched bridges, and around ponds brought tranquility to the hectic pace set by our tour schedule.
During lunch we were entertained by local folk dancers in colorful costumes. After lunch we visited the tomb of King - Michu and Cheonma Tomb. These huge mounds, which are the tombs are set in a large park area The Emperors were buried with many of their worldly treasures of gold and jewels in a wooden box then covered by tons of stones which in turn were covered by earth - this to prevent grave robbers. The park with its wide paths, treed area and ponds was a lovely spot.
Last but not least was a stop at the Jagalchi Fish Market where we saw fish of all kinds swimming around in tanks awaiting their turn to be someone's dinner. There was lots of processed/cleaned seafood as well!
April 29th Jeju Island, Korea here we again took a tour sponsored by the ship. This morning after taking the tender to shore we headed off to the Hallin Gardens where we toured some of the lava tubes formed by the eruption of Mt Halla. The Hareubang are stone statues made of black sporia pocked with small holes. Estimated to be quite ancient there are only 45 of these left on Jeju Island; they are considered to bring good luck to the people and to ward off evil fortunes. Here also was a preserved Choga which is a stone house with a thatched roof made of grass called "Sae" and woven into Checked shape by using well twisted ropes of straw. These low houses built by the first residents of Jeju Island hundreds of years ago withstood the harsh windy climate of this volcanic island plus used the materials that were at hand. .
The next stop was the Spirited Garden which is a Bonsai Garden. This beautiful walled garden with several ponds and arched bridges was fun to stroll thru. Also a photographers delight!
When we returned to the tender dock we looked over the local commercial fish boats that use lights at night to attract their catch. Then of course the one stroke engine that hauls the catch to market - SLOWLY! The Rhapsody is one of RCCL's older ships and of course of the smaller "Vision" Class. This does not distract from its appeal. We had booked an inside cabin and I am glad we did as the weather would have prevented us from enjoying a balcony. Our time in both Japan and Korea was cool; slacks and a jacket were needed. Going off the ship to enjoy the ports was normal without any hassle by the port authorities. We docked in all the ports except for Jeju Island where we were tendered ashore. As usual our Cabin Stewart kept our cabin immaculate and we always returned to fresh towels and of course in the evening a turned down bed plus the welcoming committee each night was a towel animal. Of course there was the welcome back cocktail party for all repeat cruisers and then near the end of the cruise there was the cocktail party for Platinum Members of the Crown & Anchor Society. This was the nicest cocktail party I have ever enjoyed mainly due to the fact that our numbers were so small that the staff were able to be very attentive to each and everyone of us. The drinks flowed and hors d'oeuvres were constantly being offered by the wait staff. This was an interesting cruise as there was 2 ports of embarkation with passengers embarking in both Shanghai and Busan. Disembarking in Shanghai we enjoyed being able to sit in the special area reserved for Platinum Members of the Crown & Anchor Society where coffee and juice were served. Here we waited for our turn to leave the ship. April 30th Back in Shanghai again and time to say goodbye to the Rhapsody and the new friends we had made on board. Rebecca was on the dock waiting for us and immediately whisked us off to start our tour of this modern city of 13,000,000.
Jade Buddha Temple built in 1918 to replace the temple that was destroyed during the Qing Dynasty revolution is one of Shanghai's few active Buddhist temples. It contains two precious jade Buddhist statues. Both the Sitting Buddha and the Recumbent Buddha are carved from whole white jade. The sparkling and crystal-clear white jade gives the Buddha's the beauty of sanctity and make them more vivid. The Sitting Buddha is 190 centimeters high and encrusted by the agate and the emerald, portraying the Buddha at the moment of his meditation and enlightenment. The Recumbent Buddha is 96 centimeters long, lying on the right side with the right hand supporting the head and the left hand placing on the left leg, this shape is called the 'lucky repose'. The sedate face shows the peaceful mood of Sakyamuni when he left this world. From the Jade Buddha Temple we went to The Bund;
The Bund, Shanghai Shanghai's waterfront promenade stretches for 2km along the bank of the Huangpu River; once the most famous street in Asia, it is still renowned for its strip of Art Deco buildings. One of the grandest of these buildings, is now the home of the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank. After lunch and a stroll along the promenade it was off to The Bund Hotel to check in and leave our luggage. Then back in the van to continue with a busy afternoon of sightseeing. The Yuyuan Gardens date back to 1559 to the Ming Dynasty, and are the best example of Chinese classical gardens in Shanghai. The relatively small gardens are laid out in an intricate design with pavilions, rockeries, ponds and a traditional theatre arranged in an ornate maze. This Jade Rock was destined for the imperial court in Beijing until the boat sank outside Shanghai. The zig-zag causeway - Nine Turns Bridge - is there to thwart evil spirits, who can only travel in straight lines. We arrived at the Gardens via the Old Town God Temple Market, a warren of shops and stalls. We stopped at the Huxin Tea House which has floated atop the lake in the heart of old town since 1784 for Jasmine Tea served with quail eggs boiled in green tea, candied olives and rice squares. After our tea we visited a silk factory where we were shown how the silk worm cocoons are soaked in water to soften them and then the silk thread is unwound from the cocoon onto spools ready for weaving into cloth. Double cocoons are spread by hand to make silk comforters. Here we got to try our hands at spreading our the silk for a comforter. The comforters & duvets were easy to pass up but the silk tops and pants were another story. After searching for their largest size and much trying on my credit card was given a good workout and I left behind a happy commissioned sales staff.
Our driver now dropped us off at the Bund where we boarded the Bund sightseeing cable car to travel under the HuangPu River. During the 7 minute ride we were entertained by the futuristic light show which is supposed to represent traveling through the earth. The show is produced using optics, acoustics and electric technology, creating a fun, modern adventure. This ride took us to the Oriental Pearl TV Tower where we enjoyed dinner in the revolving restaurant while watching the lights of Shanghai pass below us. Following dinner we took a taxi back to the Bund Hotel on our own. Always an experience when there is the language barrier! This was one of the few evenings we had on our own; however, we had invited our guide to join us for dinner which she did (on her own time). Thus we had a guide to get us to the Oriental Tower and to translate for us thru dinner.
May 1st Another busy day planned by Rebecca for us. We started off with the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall which displays a scale model of Shanghai. In the main lobby is a revolving futuristic model the downtown core of Shanghai. There are also some interesting photos of 1930s Shanghai. The best part of this is the very modern design of the building.. Our next stop was across the street to the new Shanghai Museum, situated on the People's Square, the political and cultural centre of Shanghai. The square itself boasts a giant musical fountain and some attractive green recreational areas where locals dance and fly kites. It is surrounded by the City Hall, an underground shopping centre and the Grand Shanghai Theatre. Opened in 1996 the building is shaped like a giant bronze urn, and contains a collection of 123,000 cultural artifacts. It was the best museum we visited in China however unless one is an avid museum freak than the above two could easily be skipped in favor of spending more time in Old Town browsing the stalls for souvenirs. After lunch is was off to see the French Quarter. In the early 1800's when Shanghai opened its doors to the outside world all of the countries negotiated for an area over which they would have absolute sovereignty. M. Montigny, the first Consul for France at Shanghai, entered into an agreement with Ling Taotai on April 6th, 1849, for the establishment and government of a French Concession. The French, opted out of a move to combine all the foreign settlements in the city. Thus as most of the foreign trade was carried on thru the British Settlement it became difficult to raise revenues, and the French income was largely derived from licenses to opium divans, brothels and gambling houses. In the 1930s the French Concession gained a reputation as a haven for vice and drugs. Many of the French Concession's Tudor-style mansions—complete with colorful flower boxes—still stand on the tree-lined streets off Yan'an Lu. This is now a popular area to stroll with many trendy shops, coffee houses and restaurants. Another area that was not as interesting to see as it sounded. We visited the residence built for the French Consul in 1905 and used today as a crafts institute. Here the students make the crafts that are for sale. We did not see many people working on crafts but lots of salespeople selling souvenirs; however, we were here on a National Holiday. The day was not done as following dinner we attended an Acrobat Show. This was truly and amazing evening of entertainment. How these young men & women fold themselves into the various shapes and manage to balance on 1 hand while upside down I do not know. The whole performance is riveting with the evening ending far too quickly. This show we could have watched more than once and would definitely tell anyone planning a visit to China to make sure that an acrobat show is included in the itinerary.
May 2nd A trip to Suzhou located some 50 miles west of Shanghai, along the old Grand Canal. The city has been famous for its gardens for many centuries. According to a Chinese proverb: "In heaven there is paradise. On earth there are Suzhou and Hangzhou." The city is dotted with lakes and ponds connected by a spider's web of canals. All the canals are lined with whitewashed houses with gray-tiled roofs.
The canals of the town eventually join up with the famous local waterway known as the Grand Canal, located to the west of the city. It is believed to be the largest internal waterway in the world, and was originally constructed to carry grain from the Yangzi plain to the capital. Marco Polo, who visited Suzhou in the 13th century, wrote that "the great Khan... has made a huge canal of great width and depth from river to river and from lake to lake and made the water flow along it so that it looks like a big river. By this means it is possible to go as far as Beijing. Although the canal is not used for long-distance transport today, it is still heavily used by a great number of flat-bottomed boats under sail and engine power conveying agricultural produce to nearby towns as well as being the place for washing.
Built in 514 BC, Suzhou is an ancient city with a 2500 years' history. Some of the ancient wall is still preserved. We stopped by the City God Temple and then continued on to stroll the narrow streets filled with small shops and vendors selling everything from "soup to nuts". Here we were lucky to encounter a "Dragon Parade".
May 3rd Shanghai's Venice - Zhujiajiao is an ancient water town well-known throughout the country, with a history of more than 1700 years. Covering an area of 47 square kilometers, the fan-shaped suburb of Shanghai has been endowed with another elegant name - 'Pearl Stream'. The town is the best-preserved among the four ancient towns in Shanghai. Unique old bridges across bubbling streams, small rivers shaded by willow trees, and houses with courtyards attached create an aura of antiquity, leisure and tranquility. There are 36 distinctive, old bridges all differing in shape, style, construction and built with materials ranging from wood to marble. Fangsheng Bridge (Setting-fish-free Bridge) is the longest, largest and tallest stone bridge, with five openings and built in 1571. On the bridge stands a stone tablet named Dragon Gate Stone, which is engraved with 8 coiling dragons encircling a shining pearl. On top of the bridge are 4 lifelike stone lions. This is taken from where we enjoyed a local lunch at a table overlooking the canal. Lang Bridge (Veranda Bridge) is the only wooden bridge and the most featured span in this town. It has wooden bars on the two sides and upturned eaves above, just like a narrow corridor. Ke Zhi Yuan or 'Ma Family Garden' was smaller than many of the gardens we visited but a nice quiet oasis with some dwellings built during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
Qibao Ancient Town - Located in the center of Minhang District of Shanghai, only 18 kilometers from the downtown area, has a history spanning over one thousand years, Qibao is the Chinese for 'seven treasures'. Here we strolled down the main street past the square and Qibao Temple. The area was packed with people shopping in the stores and lots of vendors were out selling everything including fighting Qibao Crickets in small baskets woven from bamboo This was definitely the poorer area of Shanghai. The stores sold household goods, clothing, electronics, hardware, food but not souvenirs. I would not recommend adding a visit to this area to ones list instead spend more time in Zhujiajiao.
The People of China were very friendly and generally happy to have their picture taken. I found China to be much more westernized than I expected with most people shopping in small corner type shops which are all independently owned and operated. All of the guides when asked told me that approximately 60% own their own homes; albeit all that have been purchased since 1982 are on a 70 year land lease. The biggest difference was that so much is done by hand whereas here it would be done by machines. Laundry hung from apartment windows to dry is a common sight throughout China. A peddler moving his wares. The family sedan - 4 on 1 poor motor bike. This vendor will set up shop on some street corner selling her oranges A small 3 wheel truck transporting a heavy load of rebar heavy load of rebar, the ends should be good and sharp from dragging on the pavement. What do you need ropes to tie the load down for - the passenger just holds it in place. These were all common sights in China. All over we watched people carrying stuff by hand using bamboo poles or baskets. However the best was probably the washroom facilities and don't forget your own toilet paper! The squat toilets although hard on the knees were actually kept very clean. The driving in China is a ZOO! I never did figure out the street lights system - it appears that red lights are only a suggestion that one might want to slow down. Everyone wants to be first and cuts into any small hole in the traffic. Cutting everyone else off seems to be the national sport played by all from pedestrians to bicycles to motor bikes to cars to buses to trucks! Yet for all the crazy driving we saw very few accidents and they were all minor fender benders. Further the sidewalks are wide so if all else fails drive on the sidewalk especially if you are on a motor bike.
For the second part of my review please see the Yangtze River Cruise aboard the Victoria Prince If anyone would like to read this review with the pictures included please e-mail me and I will send you a copy direct ann at century 21 vancouver dot com