Dutch Harbor, Alaska

Dutch Harbor, Alaska                            Sunday, April 24, 2016

We arrived in Dutch Harbor, Alaska on Saturday, and the mood on the boat was noticeably cheerful – not sure if folks were glad to be back in the USA (using familiar currency and language), or glad to be on land after 3 days at sea (we had two Thursdays, because we crossed the international date line), or glad to be on the last leg of this long cruise, with only 2 weeks left to go.

In any event, hundreds of us poured off the boat to see the town, which is where the “Deadliest Catch” TV show is filmed.  We expected a kind of “Northern Exposure” town (remember that old TV show?) but it was a little different.  About 4000 people live in Dutch Harbor.  This is a major fishing port, and has been the #1 commercial fishing port in the USA for 19 years.  There is also an international airport here, which gets a lot of action because so much travel in this part of the world is by large or small plane.  Apart from the port and the airport, there are 2 nice museums, some businesses, and some eating/drinking places, spread out over a few miles on a few roads (no town center, per se).

We visited the Museum of the Aleutians, and learned a bit about the history of the Aleutian Islands and the Aleuts, including its Russian history, its role in WWII (the only place in the USA bombed besides Pearl Harbor, and location for 9000 troops during the war), the fishing/whaling/sealing that has sustained people in this area for thousands of years, and how people have survived in this harsh environment over time.   Although it was a little strange not to find any temples or Buddhas, this is still a very exotic part of the US with a history unlike so many other states.

This area hosts a lot of outdoor activity in the warmer months, and is home to many parks where you can enjoy birdwatching, hiking, biking, golf and other fun.

There’s a lovely Russian Orthodox church in Dutch Harbor as well as the Cathedral of the Holy Ascension; for one week each month a priest comes by plane to the Cathedral to attend to the spiritual needs of the parish.  Similar visits by plane are made by medical professionals and others who care for people in remote areas.  The local middle-high school has under 100 students in total (that’s about 12 per class).

Our day started out sunny, and passengers from the ship got out in the early morning and walked to some of the local attractions (1-2 miles).  Within about 3 hours from our arrival in Dutch Harbor, clouds formed and a brisk wind swept in.  Passengers started coming back to the ship, well in advance of the 4:30 pm deadline for reboarding.  By noon a nice sleety rain had started, and it was COLD out.  The ship was able to leave port ahead of schedule because nobody was outdoors by mid-afternoon.  And I think you probably heard a low buzzing noise in the lower 48 states by 5pm, since it appeared that almost all passengers were snoozing before dinner (not me, however!).

So while we sometimes lament the density of where we live, we can also be thankful that it’s not too remote and hard to reach.

Best to all,

MA

PS – Internet coverage for the next few days is supposed to be sketchy, so you may not hear from Joe or me during this time.

 

 

Back in the USSR

We have just docked at Petropavlovsk after sailing from Sakhalin Island. Here are some photos.

Joe

Chekov Memorial on Sakhalin Island
Chekov Memorial on Sakhalin Island
Houses on the Mountain
Houses on the Mountain
Mountains of Petropavlovsk, Russia
Mountains of Petropavlovsk, Russia
Houses Built on the Side of the Mountain, Petropavlovsk
Houses Built on the Side of the Mountain, Petropavlovsk
Park by Chekov Museum, Korsakov, Russia
Park by Chekov Museum, Korsakov, Russia
St Nikolaus Rectory
St Nikolaus Rectory
Sakhalin Regional Museum housed in the building of the former Japanese Bank, Hokkaido Takushoku
Sakhalin Regional Museum housed in the building of the former Japanese Bank, Hokkaido Takushoku
St. Nikolaus Russian Orthodox Church, Sakhalin Island, Russia
St. Nikolaus Russian Orthodox Church, Sakhalin Island, Russia
Hills of Petropavlovskk
Hills of Petropavlovskk
Mountain Houses
Mountain Houses

Eastern Russia

characters in the Chekhov Museum
characters in the Chekhov Museum

 

Eastern Russia                                                           April 20, 2016

Just a few hours heading north in the Pacific Ocean and you go from relatively mild early Spring weather in Japan to sub-zero snow in Russia! We visited Korsakov on Monday, on the island of Sakhalin, about halfway between Japan and Russia in this area of the world. This island was settled by the Japanese during the Edo period (approx. 1600-1870), but has been the subject of contests between Japan and Russia since that time, through the end of WWII, when the island was awarded to Russia. Not many people live on the island, and much of it is forested. The island industries include farming, fishing and tourism – this island is a haven for birds, seals and other wildlife, so lots of people come to take in the natural wonders.

The island also holds many Daccha – the summer houses of the Russians.  We passed many on our drive – small houses on small plots of land, with vegetable and flower gardens ready for planting when the weather thaws.

Entry to the Orthodox Church; note the fairly new housing in the background, which is showing signs of wear already
Entry to the Orthodox Church; note the fairly new housing in the background, which is showing signs of wear already

We travelled to the capital city of the island (Sakhalin), and visited a Russian Orthodox Church constructed in the “old” way – no nails, just wooden pegs holding the logs together. On our trip we passed many churches, some with the colorful and picturesque onion shaped domes.

Altar at St. Nikolaus Church
Altar at St. Nikolaus Church

We visited the Anton Chekhov Museum, and learned more about this writer (who was also a physician). Chekhov visited Sakhalin in 1890, to interview convicts in Russian work camps; he wound up staying for three months, taking a regional census in addition to compiling the prisoner interviews which ultimately became “Sakhalin Island.”

Anton Checkhov bust outside the Museum in Sakhalov
Anton Checkhov bust outside the Museum in Sakhalin

While in Sakhalin we also visited the Regional Museum, which was established by the Russian population during a period when the Japanese ruled the island, to preserve and commemorate Russian history and its people. The Museum is in one of the only buildings on the island that retains its Japanese style architecture.

After another rough night on the sea (lots of ice and lots of speed to make up for the very lengthy immigration processing we experienced at Korsakhov), we have arrived at Petropavlovsk, one of the most isolated large cities in the world (no roads connect it to the outside world). The captain wasn’t entirely sure we’d be able to anchor and visit this island, as the weather is sometimes too inclement to permit tender service. He told us today that last night “we drove the boat like we stole it” in order to make time.

on the way to Petroplavask, this is the view
on the way to Petroplavask, this is the view

Petropavlovsk was isolated from the world until 1991, especially during earlier years when it housed Russia’s largest nuclear submarine base and military radar installations.

Petropavlovsk is surrounded with natural beauty in the Kamchatsky Peninsula, a mountainous region on the Bering Sea that is part of the Ring of Fire (the circle of volcanoes that encircle the Pacific). This peninsula has 68 active volcanoes (that’s 10% of the world’s active volcanoes), 5 nature reserves, the world’s densest population of brown bears, and a thriving fishing industry.

While on this part of our journey, we’d learned a bit about Vitus Bering, who founded Petropavlovsk (which he named after his two sailing ships in 1740, the St. Peter and the St. Paul). Bering was a Dane who explored Russia and the Aleutian Islands, trying to ascertain where Alaska ends and Russia begins, or whether they were connected by a land mass. The 53 mile gap that we call the Bering Straits is now the water that separates Asia and North America.

Looks like we’re in for very cold weather for the next couple of weeks, but we hope you are all enjoying the start of Spring, and we will be too, very soon!

Best,

MA

the little tender that couldn't make it safely to the dock due to the winds
the little tender that couldn’t make it safely to the dock due to the winds

PS – the sad end to our story – the wind at Petroplavask was so strong that the tender boats could not safely get passengers to the dock, so we spent the afternoon on the ship, and most of the passengers were somewhat thankful that we didn’t have to brave the cold wind (you can tell some of us are getting old).

MA’s pix from Japan

a fuzzy pic, but here are some sibs practicing baseball, which the folks in Fukuoka love.
a fuzzy pic, but here are some sibs practicing baseball, which the folks in Fukuoka love.

now this gal shows my level of athletic prowess!

now this gal shows my level of athletic prowess!

bride on her wedding day in Fukuoka, Japan
bride on her wedding day in Fukuoka, Japan
walker in Fukuoka, wearing mask; despite lots of bicycle use, pollution and pollen result in lots of masks.
walker in Fukuoka, wearing mask; despite lots of bicycle use, pollution and pollen result in lots of masks.
performer at a local fair in Fukuoka behind the City Hall
performer at a local fair in Fukuoka behind the City Hall
we saw lots of characters like this one while in Japan - very entertaining and fun to watch
we saw lots of characters like this one while in Japan – very entertaining and fun to watch
requests for prayers at the Buddhist temple in Shimizu, Japan
requests for prayers at the Buddhist temple in Shimizu, Japan
At Kamakura (outside Tokyo) we saw the Great Buddha, and young ladies in traditional dress who joined others worshipping before Buddha
At Kamakura (outside Tokyo) we saw the Great Buddha, and young ladies in traditional dress who joined others worshipping before Buddha
a monk at Kamakura lights incense before the Great Buddha
a monk at Kamakura lights incense before the Great Buddha
more young ladies in traditional dress at Kamakura
more young ladies in traditional dress at Kamakura
the traditional dress calls for lovely flowers in the hair
the Great Buddha himself, at Kamakura, Japan
the Great Buddha himself, at Kamakura, Japan
a screen we saw at the Neputa Village, in Otaru, Japan. This is a village of traditional woodworkers, silk and embroidery artists, makers of parade floats, lacquer wood artisans and others
a screen we saw at the Neputa Village, in Otaru, Japan. This is a village of traditional woodworkers, silk and embroidery artists, makers of parade floats, lacquer
wood artisans and others
the Japanese make beautiful lanterns and this one we enjoyed at a Sake brewery in Otaru, Japan
the Japanese make beautiful lanterns and this one we enjoyed at a Sake brewery in Otaru, Japan
we visited another Buddhist temple (this one is Aomori, Japan), and we saw that the statues were wearing red, as a symbol of joy
we visited another Buddhist temple (this one is Aomori, Japan), and we saw that the statues were wearing red, as a symbol of joy
In Aomori we saw the Hirosako Castle, which housed the powerful Shogunate for many years (leader of the Samurai class); weeping cherry trees were just about to bloom near the castle. We also saw lots of wooden bridges over moats surrounding the castle - easier to burn them if invaders were approaching!
In Aomori we saw the Hirosako Castle, which housed the powerful Shogunate for many years (leader of the Samurai class); weeping cherry trees were just about to bloom near the castle. We also saw lots of wooden bridges over moats surrounding the castle – easier to burn them if invaders were approaching!
a banner for the Shizuoka Prefecture Museum of Art, where we saw Japanese impressionist paintings, lovely screens and wood blocks, and a very extensive collection of Rodin sculptures
a banner for the Shizuoka Prefecture Museum of Art, where we saw Japanese impressionist paintings, lovely screens and wood blocks, and a very extensive collection of Rodin sculptures
2 Thinkers
2 Thinkers
Rodin's Gates of Hell
Rodin’s Gates of Hell
another Rodin - totally resonates with how we feel sometimes!
another Rodin – totally resonates with how we feel sometimes!

Rodin's Burghers of Calais - one view (there are 57 castings of this sculpture in existence)

Rodin’s Burghers of Calais – one view (there are 57 castings of this sculpture in existence)

Burghers of Calais - another view
Burghers of Calais – another view

 

 

The Land of the Rising Sun

Hello Everyone…Leaving Japan

Decent Internet access has returned now that we have left Japanese waters. We still don’t know exactly what the problem was. Anyway, leaving that aside, we lucked out again, this time missing by about 2 days the earthquakes that struck southern Japan. We have lots of photos from Japan, including shots taken in Aomori, Otaru, Fukuoka and, of course, Tokyo. Some are posted here.

Joe

Young Lovers in Japanese Garden
Young Lovers in Japanese Garden
Japanese Women in Kimonos
Japanese Women in Kimonos
Welcome to Tokyo: A view from the ship
Welcome to Tokyo: A view from the ship
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Trader in the Park
Trader in the Park
Tokyo as seen from the pier on a cloudy day
Tokyo as seen from the pier on a cloudy day
Tokyo from the Pier at Night
Tokyo from the Pier at Night
Shrine
Shrine
Shinto Shrine in Kamakura, Japan
Shinto Shrine in Kamakura, Japan
Saki Wall at the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Saki Wall at the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine
Giant Buddha, Kamakura Japan
Giant Buddha, Kamakura Japan
Entrance to Shrine
Entrance to Shrine
Buddhist Cemetery
Buddhist Cemetery
Buddhist Cemetery, Aomori, Japan
Buddhist Cemetery, Aomori, Japan
Bridge to Japanese Gardens
Bridge to Japanese Gardens
Boy Playing by Waterfall Pool in Tenjin Park
Boy Playing by Waterfall Pool in Tenjin Park
Box Office
Box Office
Buddhist Cemetery
Buddhist Cemetery
Approaching the Rainbow Bridge on a Cloudy Day
Approaching the Rainbow Bridge on a Cloudy Day

Japan (and a little postscript on South Korea)

Japan                                                              Friday, April 15, 2016

Our last stop in Korea was Busan (aka Pusan), on the southeast coast, and we enjoyed a long day seeing various sights, including some beautiful beaches. We visited a Buddhist temple perched high on a cliff (lots of steps to get to the top, but well worth the climb) overlooking the sea; the temple dates back to 1376, and at its base is a thriving market with all kinds of food, fish, souvenirs and other items. Joe got some great pictures which he will post when the internet connections allow it.

Busan is another one of those cities where entrepreneurship has allowed for incredible success; in the past 2 decades or so Busan was identified as a great location for movies to be shot; now it hosts an international film festival that rivals South by Southwest, Cannes and other leaders. Busan is currently the second largest city in South Korea, and its largest port city.

In Busan one of the tour guides gave us her take on the political situation, which was the first time we heard it openly discussed during our few days in Korea. She indicated that while South Koreans would like reunification with the North under a democratic regime (or even a nominally Communist rule), that seems less like than ever, given the North’s current leadership.

And one last Korean note: Just as I noted that Tiger Woods was born in Thailand, I now know that Lydia Ko is from Jeju Island, South Korea!

And now we are in Japan – 1 day each in 2 relatively small cities (Fukuoka and Shimizu), and a day and a half in Tokyo – very different experiences. Japan is basically 4 large islands (and 4000 smaller ones), of which 70% is mountain and forest. 130 million people crowd into the small percentage left for commercial and residential use (only 20% of Japan is suitable for building), and the cities and towns are dense. Dense, but orderly and beautiful at the same time.

The Japanese practice 2 main religions, Shintoism and Buddhism. Shinto is an ancient Japanese religion founded on the concept that all natural objects (trees, stones, etc.) have spirits and souls. At joyful human events (birth, marriage, new year’s celebrations, etc.) Shinto rites are observed. Buddhism (which came to Japan from India, through China) is concerned with death and the afterworld; accordingly, Buddhist rites are observed at funerals. Thus the 2 religions co-exist.

During our visits in Japan we saw lots of white medical-style face masks (attributed variously to pollution or to pollen conditions), lots of baseball games, lots of cherry blossoms, lots of shrines and temples and Buddhas, and just lots of people in general. We were impressed with the size of Tokyo, and its many colorful neon signs, but didn’t get to anyplace we would really call charming (maybe on another visit we can see some of the gardens and museums that the city has to offer).

Our visit included time at the Shizuoka Prefecture Museum of Art in Shimizu, and we saw many beautiful Rodin schulptures (the Burghers of Calais, the Thinker, the Gates of Hell, etc.) and some lovely gardens.

Outside of Tokyo lies Kamakura, the seat of government when the Shogun (the Samurai class leaders) ruled Japan. We visited a Great Buddha and saw a few monks and some ladies dressed in traditional clothing, as well as the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, founded in 1180 and still in active use by worshippers.

We have also enjoyed some great local entertainment provided by drummers – they are fast as lightning, and perform modern songs as well as traditional ones, in many cases using only drums and no other instruments.

Tomorrow we’ll be in another Japanese town, in the north of the country. We travelled for the past day or 2 into the North Atlantic, and the sun has been out but the weather is choppy – lots of hanging onto handrails while people travel around the ship.

Many of the folks on the ship have traveled out in the past few days to Kyoto and other ancient towns, or have taken the bullet train for the experience, or gone to see Sumo wrestlers practice, or have visited with geishas (hostesses) and enjoyed tea ceremonies. The reports back have been very positive – welcoming local people who are very proud to describe their long history and share their many art forms.

Hope that all goes well with you all.

Best,

MA

Trip Update

Hello everybody
We can do some posts like this–but we can’t upload photos– apparently because the Peoples Republic of China is blocking certain types of Wi-Fi uploads. So it may be a while before we get out of their range.

Later comrades 🙂

Joe

notes about Korea so far

Seoul and Jeju Island, South Korea             Friday April 8, 2016   8pm

We spent yesterday in Seoul and today in Jeju Island, South Korea. In each place, guides emphasized that Korea is different from China and from Japan. Koreans are descendants of Mongolians, not Chinese clans. Koreans appreciate things on a smaller scale than the way things are done in China (the population is much smaller, of course, as is the land mass). The Japanese took over Korea for a number of years, and the Koreans are glad to have that period over, and to enjoy relative freedom and prosperity today. We heard a lot of discussion about North Korea, much along the lines we hear in US news reports.

We saw a secondary palace yesterday, the Changdeokgung Palace. This was not the king’s major residence, but rather a place for his concubines and a getaway spot for him. It’s tucked among the busy streets of Seoul, near to residences and high rise office buildings. You’ll see from Joe’s pix that it is modest when compared to the Summer Palace or the Forbidden City in Beijing – smaller, less ornate, quieter.

We spent the afternoon out in the sunshine on a nice warm day exploring the Hwaseong Fortress – we only walked a part of the wall, but it runs for 4 miles, and has numerous guard towers, observation towers, and platforms for archers to rain arrows down on those who might try to attack the town within the fortress. One unusual thing about this Fortress is that it was completed in 3 years (by 1796), and the laborers were compensated (not usually the case). Visitors were encouraged to try archery, and to learn from their efforts at the sport – look within yourself to identify ways to improve your performance, and don’t place the blame for error elsewhere.

Seoul as a city reminded us of New York and other major cities (it’s home to millions and has been the Korean capital for a very long time). There are many high rise office buildings with logos you’d recognize (not just Sansung or Hyundai, but also Citi and other western firms). Lots of construction going on, and very vibrant.

Today we are on Jeju Island, the southern tip of Korea – it’s a beautiful island with rich soil from the volcanic ash, and many crops are grown here (tea, carrots, garlic, potatoes, barley, and 40 species of Mandarin oranges). We visited a lovely bonsai garden with waterfalls, pools and stone sculptures (the Spirited Garden) and read about the philosophy of its creator, how tending these miniature plants teaches us how to live: be patient, work hard, trim away what we do not need and what makes us bad (greed, envy, etc.), learn to appreciate nature and people who are different from us, etc. The various areas of the Garden have great names: the Welcoming Garden, the Soul Garden, the Inspiration Garden, the Philosopher’s Garden, the Peace Garden, etc. It was a very serene spot, and there were no crowds – quite a difference from China.

We also visited Jeju Island’s largest tea plantation, and viewed beautiful rows of tea plants, lined up almost like vines in a vineyard. It was mid-afternoon when we left, and lots of parents with schoolchildren (in their uniforms, just like ours were when we were 10 years old) were arriving to enjoy the area.

We have more of Korea to see tomorrow, but are really enjoying the philosophy that is embraced here – hard work but a search for understanding and calm. We were interested to learn that in the 1400s during the Joseon Dynasty, the leader created a new alphabet so that more could become literate. Instead of the complex Chinese system of characters, new letters were grouped into syllables that were easy to learn.

Hope that you are all doing well. We’ll be back in NJ in just about 4 weeks – hard to believe!

Best,

MA