Off-board excursions deliver an intriguing array of experiences for traveller BARRY O’BRIEN
In Shanghai, I’m on a Virtuoso Voyages excursion to a rooftop water garden in the centre of the city. Hanging back trying to get that “special” picture, I look up to find the rest of my group already on a zebra crossing on a very busy road with a policeman holding back traffic.
My wife Pat had waited for me on the other side of the road, as the rest of the group charged on (oblivious that we were missing). Eventually I managed to cross, to face the wrath of Pat. We ran to try to catch the group, but in a city of 24 million (the population of the whole of Australia), we had no chance of finding our mob in the shoulder-to-shoulder seething mass.
Boy, did I get told off!
We asked a policeman for directions, but he spoke no English. We were on a Seabourn Sojourn cruise from Hong Kong to Kobe, and the ship’s staff had made information cards in Chinese for passengers to show in case of such emergency, but we hadn’t picked one up on this day. Panic!
Then in the distance we spot another of our Virtuoso Voyages groups from the ship. Oh, the relief.
The Shanghai day is just one of many on the voyage which takes in the ports of Kaohsiung and Keelung (Taipei) in Taiwan; Hirara and Naha (Japan); Shanghai, Yantai, Tianjin (Beijing) Dalian in China; then Japan ports Fukuoka (Hakata), Hiroshima, Takamatsu and Kobe.
A couple of hour’s drive out of Shanghai, Zhujiajiao’s Ancient Water Town gives a glimpse of old-world China. Meandering streets and narrow alleyways follow canals where boatmen with coolie hats glide tourists along centuries-old shops selling vegetables, handicrafts, fried duck and “things” on a stick — some with legs poking out.
Beijing is a three-hour drive from the port of Tianjin for our visit to the Great Wall of China. The UNESCO World Heritage listed Great Wall snakes 8850km along mountain ridges stretching from the Yellow Sea to the Gobi Desert — the greatest man-made construction in history with its origins dating back 2500 years.
Built in an east to west line across the northern borders of China to keep warring tribes out, millions of workers were conscripted and forced into the construction of this incredible accomplishment. Stone, brick, tamped earth, wood and other materials, including sticky rice as cement, were used in the construction.
Chairman Mao decreed: “He who has not been to the Great Wall is not a true man!” I’m not sure how far the portly leader ventured, but wonder if he knew just how steep it was in the section to which we were taken.
In Dalian, one of the highlights is a visit to a school where children of all ages performed dances and songs. Amid much giggling, “high fives” were in demand from the younger ones who seemed as interested in us as we were in them.
A highlight, and one of the many features of Seabourn, is the Galley Market Lunch, a food and beverage extravaganza where galley staff present their finest wares,smorgasbord-style in the kitchen. Guests go through a multi-cleansing ritual before proceeding, plates in hand, to an amazing array of food of every variety proudly displayed by the chefs.
As we walk through Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, the site of the impact of the first atomic bomb, an obviously remorseful American woman whispered to me, “I feel very uncomfortable being here”. I know how she feels. I have already removed my cap in respect.
Known as Little Boy, the bomb was dropped at 8.15am on August 6, 1945 by B29 bomber Enola Gay, an aircraft named after the pilot’s mother. Three days later, a second bomb known as Fat Man was detonated over Nagasaki. Japan surrendered six days later to end World War II.
We stand in front of a mound of earth where the ashes of 70,000 unidentified victims are buried. A Japanese gentleman reverently chants and bows. It is estimated that 140,000 died from the blast that devastated the unsuspecting city — 80,000 at the time and the rest of related illnesses by the end of 1945.
Now a modern city, Hiroshima has many memorials and museums dedicated to peace and the horror of war. Most notably is the building now known as the A-bomb Dome. Once a beloved landmark structure with a green dome that housed art exhibitions, cultural events and fairs as well as government, business and commercial enterprises, it bore the full brunt of the blast. Because the explosion was almost directly overhead, many walls were left intact.
The ruins were the subject of great controversy for 50 years after the war. Many thought the badly dilapidated structure that held such painful memories should be torn down. A call for public funding to make the area safe saw donations pour in from around the world. In 1996, UNESCO World Heritage listed the site and the building was preserved to forever appear as it was immediately after the explosion.
Schoolgirl Sadako Sasaki was two years old when exposed to radiation from the bomb. For nine years she showed no effects, but then was struck down with leukaemia. She vowed to make 1000 cranes, hoping this symbol of long life would ensure her recovery, but succumbed before she could complete her objective.
The Children’s Peace Monument, or Tower of a Thousand Cranes, was built in honour of “world peace and the peaceful repose of the many children killed by the atomic bomb”. Every year, 10 million paper cranes are delivered to the monument to be displayed or recycled.
Our tour guide is adamant. The correct pronunciation is Hiro-sheema — literal translation wide, or broad, island. Then on a local tram, the English announcement said Hiroshima — as in a sneeze — so I still have my doubts.
The Japanese people are extremely polite wherever we go. The second last port of Takamatsu is idyllic and a favourite of the ship’s crew. Berthed right in the centre of the city, it is a short walk past a beautiful rose garden to the shopping areas. From there, a pleasant stroll along the waterfront led us to the tranquil Hiunkaku Gardens and Takamatsu castle ruins.
For more information contact your travel agent or call Seabourn Australia at 13 24 02 or visit seabourn.com.