Thursday, July 10, 2008


Spending a week in Japan before coming back to the States was definitely a way of easing myself back into American culture. Granted Japan is quite different from China, but not as shockingly different from the US.

The first thing I noticed about Japan is how quiet it is. I heard literally one car horn the entire week I was there, people's cell phones don't ring in public, you can't hear anyone else's music, and when people are speaking to each other you have to strain to hear what they're saying. Almost 12.6 million people live in Tokyo but you'd never guess it - it's clean, quiet, and often not crowded. The Tokyo metropolitan area is composed of 23 wards and the outlying areas consist of 27 separate cities, 4 island districts, and 1 county.  Heather and I spent our first 2 nights in Japan in the Asakusa area of Tokyo which lies just northeast of the main Tokyo subway station. The main points of interest in those few day were the Imperial Palace East Gardens which contain the ancient remains of Edo Castle, Meiji Shrine (the first of many Shinto shrines), the famous Harajuku area, and the Sapporro Beer Museum. The shrine was probably the most interesting as I don't know much about Shinto religion...if it can be called that. Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan that is a collection of folk rituals and practices that have been mixed with ancient myths associated with the forerunners of Japan's imperial family. One of the biggest differences is that in Shinto, there are heaps of gods who are believed to live in the natural world.This "heap" includes local spirits and global gods/goddesses.These gods are often enshrined guessed it, shrines. They can be formal buildings for gods/esses or rocks/trees/etc that are believed to contain spirits. Every day people can also be believed to be/contain gods if they do great deeds during their lifetimes. Shinto didn't actually have its' name until it was needed to distinguish it from the imported Japanese religion of Buddhism (around the 6th century).

The third day we took a bullet train to Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital and home to over 17 UNESCO sites and 1.5 million people. Kyoto didn't give me quite the impression I was expecting after reading about it in the LP. They claim it to be a culturally rich city that ranks with the likes of Paris, London, and Rome. Maybe we didn't go to the right spots. What we did see was Nishi Hongan Temple (home of the Jodo Shin-shu school of Buddhism), the Fushini-Inari Shrine (dedicated to the gods of rice and sake),  and the Yasaka Shrine (Gion neighborhood guardian is enshrined here). The Inari shrine was the most interesting as it had huge red-orange archways called torii lining a 4km pathway up the surrounding mountain. In general I felt that Buddhist temples in Japan were quite boring, painted in bland tones of white and brown and without much decoration. This is in stark contrast to the bold red and yellow temples of China. Inside the temples there was often some decorations but still sparse. Before we left Kyoto we also saw the Kiyomizudera Temple (silver roofed but a let down), the Ginkakyju Temple (where we walked through the dark and touched a Buddha belly to simulate our rebirth into a world free of our previous sins), the Kinkakuju Temple (covered in actual gold). We diligently stalked all the areas where geisha's were supposed to be easily spotted but alas saw none.

For Heather's last night in Tokyo we hit up the supposedly hot social scene of Roppongi, took a gander at the Tokyo Tower (modeled after the Eiffel Tower), and checked out the bird's eye view of the city from Tokyo City View. The City View was quite disappointing because the ticket included other attractions withing the tower that we couldn't do and 1/4 of the 360 degree walk around view was closed for a private party. The next morning we went to Senso-Ji Temple near our hostel and checked out the surrounding bazaar. The temple got its fame for housing the golden image of Kannon, the Buddhist God of Mercy (which has never been verified) and was supposedly fished out of a river by two fisherman.

After Heather left that afternoon I headed to the crazy shopping area of Ameyoko Arcade (the city's famous post-WWII black market area) and wandered through the Ueno Park (Tokyo's first public park). I then took a train west of Tokyo to Kawaguchi-ko  city on on of the 5 lakes that surrounds Mt. Fuji. While Fuji isn't still covered in snow, the weather at the top is still below freezing so I didn't climb it. The next morning I took a cable car up to a vantage point and saw what could be seen. It's infamous for being covered in clouds so I made it just in time. On the way back down from the cable car, the clouds moved over the peak and down the mountain and it stormed.

While heading back to Tokyo, I stopped in Yokohama, Japan's 2nd largest city with almost 3.6 million residents. It had a population of about 600 when it was made an international port in the late 1800's. I went mainly just to check it out and visit its Chinatown but also got to ride on its Ferris wheel  - one of the largest in the world. The Chinatown was lame and the Chinese food I bought was terrible. Yes, I already missed Chinese food.

The next day I was scheduled to leave Japan in the late afternoon so I hopped on the train one last time and headed south again to the tiny city of Kamakura (another ancient capital city) and saw its Giant Buddha or Daibutsu, which is 11.8 meters tall and made totally of bronze. Its original temple was washed away by a tsunami but the Buddha remains just sitting on a platform in the middle of a park.

My departure from Japan was terrible as I caught the wrong train to the airport and it took me almost 3 hours to get there. I arrived less than an hour before my flight and had to rush to the gate. I didn't sleep the whole ride and there were only 2 movies to watch - one of which I had already seen. My flight was delayed and the food was also quite terrible. However I did arrive safely back on American soil so I should be happy about that.

I am now spending my time doing much of nothing while I should be preparing for my exam next week. Hopefully San Diego will provide me with a job, a place to live, and a passing score. What more could a girl ask for.

At this time, I am sorry to report that I have no current pictures as I am without my own computer so you will just have to wait with baited breath.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

CD313: Leaving China

My final goodbye to the Motherland was unceremonial to say the least and rushed for sure. The cruise on the Yangtze was amazingly beautiful at times while being incredibly disturbing in general. Almost everything we did or saw was presented by a local guide as being provided by the Yangtze 3 Gorges Dam Project.

"There was an ancient minority village here but now it is underwater. Thanks to the dam the villagers now live in nice new houses much higher up on the hill."

"This use to be a fishing village but now thanks to the dam, there are no fish left in the water so the fishermen/women now work in constructing new villages."

The dam itself is immense. Words can't really express its physical size. It is set to be finished next year and fully operational by 2011. In the end, it will produce 22,500 megawatts of energy. It was initially predicted to supply energy to 10% of China's people, but now with the growing population, it will provide only 5%. It will reduce the coal consumption by 31 million tons per year which in turn reduces 100 million tons of greenhouse gases, millions of tons of dust, 1 million tons of sulfur dioxide, 370 thousand tons of nitric oxide, 10 thousand tons of carbon dioxide, and a significant amount of mercury from being released into the atmosphere. It also will also require the relocation of over 2.3 million people. in October of last year, the government said that they are suggesting another 4 million people who live near the dam should also be moved. Over 1,300 archaeological sites have been flooded, 80% of the land in the area is experiencing erosion which is causing 40 million tons of sediment to slide into the river every year, 172 species have become endangered and at least 3 are believed to be extinct.

At the end of the tour we stopped in a city called Yichang which lies 40km south of the dam. We went to the city museum, which was made possible by the dam water's flooding of a small island which was an ancestral burial ground for the Ba people - who lived some 3000 years ago and have no written history so very little is known about them. The most troubling thing was that the tour of the museum ended in a room filled with treasures...ancient, priceless, burial relic treasures which the government is willing to sell because they need money for the development of relocation cities.

After the cruise I meant Heather back in Shanghai. We spent 3 nights there and the weather was miserable most of the time. Torrential rain and crazy humidity don't make for good times. I did get to see some new sites, namely the Jade Buddha Temple and  YuYuan Bazaar which I didn't have time to see before. After Shanghai we headed south to Hangzhou. Sadly, the weather there wasn't much better. After 2 nights we came back to Shanghai for one last night in China before heading East. Our time wasn't really spent doing much of interest...we did put together a 3-D wooden carp puzzle which amused us for a while.

Early this morning we headed to the airport not realizing we'd be stuck in the middle of rush hour. It took over an hour and a half to travel the 50km to the airport and Heather almost missed her check-in time. While waiting on the tarmac for air traffic to clear i realized i was leaving China, perhaps for good. While it seems like i have been waiting for this day it some how managed to sneak up on me and i realized it didn't seem to matter as much as I expected as my excitement for Japan and then the US over shadowed any feelings of sadness.

We are now in Tokyo and my initial impressions of Japan are limited: clean, quiet, orderly.  I of course will have more to say once I see more and I am sure that will happen in the week that I am here. No pictures will be updated until I return the the US however so these lowly words will have to do for now.