A Day In Hawaii

A Day In Hawaii

With one day in Hawaii, I took the opportunity to visit Pearl Harbor, the USS Missouri, and Waikiki Beach.

With one day in Hawaii, I took the opportunity to visit Pearl Harbor, the USS Missouri, and Waikiki Beach.

Hawaii. Our first stop on American soil, and our last stop before ending the voyage in San Diego. On our nine day stretch between Kobe, Japan, and Honolulu, Hawaii, it was clear that most people had found their sea legs. A majority of this crossing was rocky, roughly the same as the English Channel in September. But rather than having half the ship lay in bed sick, there were very few who got sick this time. I guess these are the changes after living three months on a ship.

Crossing the Pacific is a long one. Nine days at sea until Hawaii, one day in Hawaii, and then six days at sea until San Diego. So more than anything in Hawaii, people were simply excited to get off the ship. To get off the ship in Hawaii, all passengers were required to be on a Semester at Sea Field Program. Most of them involved some sort of outdoor activity – hiking, biking, kayaking, snorkeling, etc. However, the one that caught my eye was a day at Pearl Harbor to visit the memorials and museums. I figured that I could hike, bike, and kayak in many different places around the world, but there is only one Pearl Harbor. Plus, with just one day, I certainly wanted to learn about the most historic event that has taken place in Hawaii in recent history. I actually visited Pearl Harbor in 1991 on a family holiday trip to Hawaii with my grandparents, aunt and uncle, cousins, and immediate family. However, being four years old at the time, I imagined that my experience as a 30 year old would be different.

As per usual, we woke up and went out to the bow early in the morning, around 6:30AM, to watch us come into the port. The sun was just beginning to rise, illuminating the city of Honolulu and the mountains towering behind. As we got close to the port, we saw a humpback whale just off the left side of the ship for a moment. At around 8AM, we were docked and the crew was working on clearing the ship for the field programs to depart.

Pearl Harbor

The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

At 10AM, my group was called to depart the ship and make our way to the bus. Our first stop was the Pearl Harbor national memorial, an area that encompasses memorials and museums on land, as well as the USS Arizona Memorial which requires a boat ride to visit. We saw a 25-minute video explaining the lead-up to the attacks at Pearl Harbor, what took place here, and the aftermath. Here is my detailed summation of what took place (with many details I had never learned prior to this visit):

When the Japanese continued their conquest of Southeast Asian countries, the United States began to build up their military front in Hawaii, their closest naval base to Asia in the Pacific. In 1941, still not yet in the war, the United States stationed hundreds of aircraft and over 80 ships here in Pearl Harbor, including aircraft carriers, destroyers, and battleships. This was the strongest position of the US Navy at the time, all in anticipation of the what-ifs of the ongoing World War. The Japanese Empire had no intentions of stopping their takeover of Asia, so they decided to be proactive about this next superpower who was having internal debates over whether to join the war or not. The Japanese decided to strike first with the intention of taking the US completely out of the war before they could even enter the war.

Inside the USS Arizona Memorial.

Inside the USS Arizona Memorial.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is certainly well known to be a sneak attack – a bombardment on an unexpected party. In international standards, it is completely unethical to attack a country without already having declared war on this country. It turns out that the Japanese planned to declare war that same morning, but the message did not reach the United States leadership in time. This is a part of the story that I had never heard, and it’s something that is worth telling.

The Japanese Ambassador to the United States was tasked with the duty of drafting up a declaration of war, and he was to deliver this message to his American counterparts in Washington DC. There was one issue; he was tasked with this duty last-minute, and he was a terrible typist. The ambassador had set up a meeting with the Americans for 1PM Washington DC time, around 8AM Hawaii time. This would take place right at the same time the first bombs were to be dropped in Pearl Harbor. This be a win-win for the Japanese: they have their sneak attack and they save face by having already declared war. Well, this letter did not make it to the United States authorities in time.

This had one major implication that probably changed the entire outcome of WWII. The Japanese planned three waves of attacks on Pearl Harbor to completely knock out the military. The first two involved major attacks with airstrikes with bombs raining down. The third wave would be submarines and attacking ships to destroy whatever was left at Pearl Harbor. Well, after the Japanese found out that their declaration of war never made it, they did their best to save face, and they decided to hold off on the third wave of attacks. The ships retreated, and they headed back across the Pacific to Japan. According to an Admiral who lived through Pearl Harbor, had this third wave taken place, the United States military would have been knocked out of the war for several years before being able to rebuild their military might. Instead, the United States rebounded quickly. Not only were 18 of the 21 sunken ships repaired and put back into service, but the American people united and patriotism was sky-high. The United States, of course, then entered the war, which ended almost four years later with the dropping of the atomic bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. This tiny little detail, the slow Japanese typist, impacted the entire course of the war and our history.

76 years after the attack, oil still seeps out from the ship. You can see it with the various colors towards the bottom of the picture.

76 years after the attack, oil still seeps out from the ship. You can see it with the various colors towards the bottom of the picture.

Over 2,400 people were killed in those brutal attacks at Pearl Harbor. 21 ships were sunk, and almost 200 aircraft were destroyed. The single largest area of casualties was on the USS Arizona, which exploded when a shell hit its magazine. This explosion killed almost 1,200 crewmen on board, about half the lives lost during the attacks on that day. The USS Arizona is still underwater, and there is a memorial resting over the ship to honor and remember those who we lost during those attacks. The sunken ship still holds about 900 bodies, so this is the final resting place of those crewmen.

The USS Arizona Memorial is accessible by boat, which transfer about 75 people every 15 minutes. The memorial looks like a white bridge resting over the USS Arizona. Inside, there is a memorial wall which lists the names of each of the servicemen and servicewomen who died on the ship during these attacks. Looking down into the water, you can see the top of the ship which has now been integrated into the underwater natural habitat. It has become the home to fish, algae, and more. The most striking part to me was to see pools of oil that floated above parts of the ship. The small bits of oil changed colors in the reflecting sun, producing the colors of the rainbow. About 9 quarts of oil are released from the ship every single day; even 76 years later, oil is still leaking onto the surface of the water.

Visiting Pearl Harbor gave me a whole new understanding of the events that took place as well as the impact on American history. I am grateful to be able to visit these historic sites that have shaped our country, and I look forward to using this knowledge to tell this story on my future tours as a Tour Director.

The USS Arizona Memorial in the distance, and a wall of quotes in the foreground.

The USS Arizona Memorial in the distance, and a wall of quotes in the foreground.

Inside the USS Arizona Memorial.

Inside the USS Arizona Memorial.

The top of the sunken USS Arizona.

The top of the sunken USS Arizona.

The names of those who were lost on the USS Arizona during the Pearl Harbor attacks.

The names of those who were lost on the USS Arizona during the Pearl Harbor attacks.

USS Missouri

Our second stop on the field program was the USS Missouri, the battleship turned museum, located just a stone’s throw from the USS Arizona on Ford Island. The USS Missouri was commissioned in 1944, towards the end of WWII, and it was in combat in the Pacific in Okinawa, Iwo Jima, among others, and in the Korean War, and in Desert Storm. The battleship is over 800 feet long, just over 100 feet wide, and at its tallest point is as tall as a 20-story building. It was a key part of the Navy fleet in the 1940s and 1950s. It may be most known for being the site of the Japanese Empire’s surrender to end WWII.

The USS Missouri in all its glory.

The USS Missouri in all its glory.

Our Tour Guide was Thomas, a 19-year-old who spoke 200 words a minute and had a hint of a southern accent. While he spoke quickly, he had an incredible amount of knowledge about the ship and its history, so I was hanging on to every word. He explained everything from the process of loading and firing the guns, to each of the battles the ship fought in, all the way down to the details of what type of material the deck is made of. He was great.

The exact spot where the Japanese Foreign Minister and General Douglas MacArthur signed the surrender agreement to end WWII.

The exact spot where the Japanese Foreign Minister and General Douglas MacArthur signed the surrender agreement to end WWII.

The most remarkable spot on the ship was the starboard side of the ship on the outer deck. This is the exact place where the Japanese Foreign Minister and General of the Army Douglas MacArthur both singed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender in Tokyo Bay. The 23-minute surrender ceremony ended the bloodiest war in world history, in which over 60 million people were killed. General MacArthur opened the ceremony by stating, “It is my earnest hope—indeed the hope of all mankind—that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past, a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance, and justice.” In this exact spot on the USS Missouri, this is where the war ended. Not knowing too much about the USS Missouri before coming here, To be standing here, and to see the image of the ceremony posted on the wall, it all felt a bit surreal. It was a fantastic experience to tour this ship!

Walking up to the USS Missouri, now a museum.

Walking up to the USS Missouri, now a museum.

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The spot of surrender.

The spot of surrender.

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The USS Oklahoma Memorial, located right outside the USS Missouri

The USS Oklahoma Memorial, located right outside the USS Missouri

Waikiki Beach

Sunset on Waikiki Beach

Sunset on Waikiki Beach

Our last stop for the day was a crowd favorite, free time at Waikiki Beach. Our group had about two hours to spend here to eat, shop, or relax on the beach. I didn’t know exactly what to expect with Waikiki Beach, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. While the main street is a lot of high-end shopping and nice hotels, the beach was lovely. I really liked how the beach, at least at this part, was not one long strip of sand. Instead, it was a beach made of curved inlets, making it feel more quaint. The palm trees hugged the sandy beach, and the turquoise waters were perfect for people to swim, surf, and paddle. To watch the sunset over the Pacific seemed like the appropriate last activity on this voyage.

Now, it’s six days at sea until San Diego, our final destination.

Arriving in Honolulu at sunrise.

Arriving in Honolulu at sunrise.

Arriving in Honolulu.

Arriving in Honolulu.

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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A Free Trip To Japan

A Free Trip To Japan

If we weren't on Semester at Sea, we probably would have taken a trip to Japan this time of year. So SAS gave us a free trip!

If we weren’t on Semester at Sea, we probably would have taken a trip to Japan this time of year. So SAS gave us a free trip!

It is fitting that the last country on this long voyage around the world happens to be Japan. Ever since leaving Europe, we have been to several countries that have been inexpensive, relatively unorganized, and some have been more “in-your-face”. Japan is the exact opposite of these. Japan happens to be the most expensive country since leaving Europe, and Japan, in general, is a soothing and relaxing place to be, even in the larger cities. It’s the most technologically advanced, and it has one of the world’ lowest crime rates. Japan is also a country that I have visited the most in terms of number of visits, this time being my fourth visit. And we have family here. Chika’s grandmother, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc., they all live in Japan; so it felt more like a trip to visit family than a trip to go sightseeing.

We last visited Japan just one year ago, when we spent two weeks here over the Thanksgiving holiday. If we weren’t on Semester at Sea this fall, we probably would have taken a trip to Japan around this same time anyway. In that sense, we certainly saved about $2,000 in plane tickets by being on this voyage!

Kobe

Chika excited to be in Kobe. If you look closely at the bottom left, you can see Chika's father, Hiro.

Chika excited to be in Kobe. If you look closely at the bottom left, you can see Chika’s father, Hiro.

Our ship, the MV World Odyssey, docked in Kobe, a decent-sized city in southwest Japan, located about 500 miles southwest of Tokyo. Kobe Bryant, the former NBA superstar, was named after the city of Kobe when his parents saw Kobe beef on a menu once.

Chika and I visited the city of Kobe once when we were traveling in 2014. We had an Airbnb in between Kobe and Osaka, so we took the short train ride over to Kobe one day to hike up into the mountains behind the city.

Upon arrival in Kobe, the Japanese port authority put on a few spectacles for our arrival. First, they organized the fire department to perform a water volley as it escorted us. The large fountain of water shooting out from the boat changed colors from blue to purple to green as we sailed in. When we arrived, a brass band, situated on the third level of the terminal, played four songs, including the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song and a Christmas song. And finally, an official welcome was given by releasing about 200 balloons into the air. It was certainly an organized affair!

The balloon release welcome after arrival.

The balloon release welcome after arrival.

Chika’s Dad (Hi, Hiro!) decided to fly to Japan over this same period in order to celebrate his mother’s 92nd birthday and to meet us at the ship. It was so nice to see a familiar face from the terminal as we got closer. We gave him a tour of the ship, including our cabin, the dining areas, the union, the bookstore, fitness center, and more. It was great to show him our temporary home.

After this, we headed straight to the Shin-Kobe station, the high-speed rail station. The Shinkansen (bullet train) is world famous as one of the best transportation systems in the world. This was my first time riding it in Japan. To go 500 miles from Kobe to Tokyo, it took around just 2.5 hours as we traveled at speeds around 175-200mph. While it was expensive at a cost of ~$120 one-way, it was much easier and quicker than flying (when you add in the extra security, early arrival, etc.). It’s shocking to see the landscapes fly by at such a high speed, especially when the train is so quiet and smooth. I hope that we see something like this in the US in the future.

Tokyo

We spent three nights in Tokyo at Chika's grandmother's house. We spend much of that time around the dining room table.

We spent three nights in Tokyo at Chika’s grandmother’s house. We spend much of that time around the dining room table.

We spent three nights in Tokyo, mostly visiting with family and friends. It was great to have time to spend with Chika’s family, especially her dad and grandmother. For her grandmother’s 92nd birthday, some of Chika’s first cousins once-removed visited for cake, tea, and champagne. I had never met them before, and it was cool to learn about their former careers (they’re now retired for the most part) when they lived internationally in places like Canada, Indonesia, and China.

Because we usually stay closer to Chika’s grandmother’s house, which is about 30 minutes by train to the main station (Shinjuku), I decided to try to find an onsen (hot springs) close by. I was lucky to find one just a few miles away, so I decided to walk it one morning.

The hot springs I found close by.

The hot springs I found close by.

Japanese hot springs are a great cultural experience, something that many Japanese take part in quite frequently. They typically cost about $5-$8 to enter, and one can stay as long as they wish. What makes them unique is that they are split by gender, and it is usually prohibited to wear any piece of clothing. The hot springs are a very clean and pure place, so clothes would compromise that. Tattoos are also prohibited; so anyone with a tattoo is unable to enter (I heard this goes back to days of the Japanese mafia who are known to have had tattoos).

The hot springs are typically made up of at least two or three different small pools, mostly indoors but sometimes outdoors, too. There is always a line of mirrors with little stools and shower heads; with this, people wash themselves with soap and water before stepping into a pool, for sanitary reasons.

After showering, I saw one pool with an opening and jumped right in; little did I know that I would be both shocked and surprised. Right as I positioned myself right between the two jets, I looked up and saw a sign on the wall that specifically says, “Electric Bath”. As soon as I read this, the electric pulses started. Because I was completely surrounded by the pulses, it almost paralyzed me for those three short seconds. The electric shocks it sends through the water feel like the electrical patches that a chiropractor may use on your back and shoulders. However, this wasn’t just a 1”x 1” patch, this was full body. Surprised, I did my best to escape this short burst of torture. Fortunately, the pulse stopped and I got away: I couldn’t believe that this just happened!

This particular hot spring had an outdoor pool with a muddy color, which means that it literally was brought from deep underground before being moderated to be a bit cooler in temperature (but was still at 105-110 degrees). There was also a cold pool with a temperature of about 60-65 degrees. At the very end, I decided to try out the electric bath again, this time with a bit more precaution. I slightly put my back in the range of the shocks, and it really wasn’t bad. Just like the chiropractor but I could control it better this time. I have no idea how people could manage being all the way immersed.

In one of our days in Tokyo, we decided to visit Ueno Park and the Asakusa area. Ueno Park is one of Tokyo’s major green spaces, with temples, museums, ponds, and nice walkways. Asakusa, located just about a mile from Ueno Park, is known for the Senso-Ji Temple, considered to be one of the most important Buddhist Temples in Tokyo. A pedestrian street lined with over 100 souvenir shops leads to the temple.

Spending time in Ueno Park in Tokyo.

Spending time in Ueno Park in Tokyo.

Later that afternoon, we took the train to Shibuya, the home of the busiest crosswalk in Japan, where over 1,000 people cross the street within about two minutes during rush hour. From there, we walked about 30 minutes and met up with one of Chika’s high school friends, Aya, to have dinner. Aya had hosted us and many others at her house a year ago for a Thanksgiving celebration. She went to high school in New Jersey, where her and Chika met, and we try to meet up with her whenever we are in Japan.

Dinner with Aya.

Dinner with Aya.

Outside of these activities, we didn’t do much while in Tokyo. It was nice to rest up and not feel the urge to be exploring all day every day.

The night before the ship left Kobe, we took an overnight bus to get back to Kobe. This is much cheaper at a price of about $32 per person, compared to the $120 ticket on the high-speed train. We arrived in Osaka around 6:00AM and then took a train to Kobe and went back to the ship for breakfast and to leave our luggage for the day. Then we both went exploring Kobe.

Kobe

Be Kobe, a recently created slogan for the city.

Be Kobe, a recently created slogan for the city.

Kobe definitely feels like a newer city. It was hit hard by an earthquake in the 1990s and much had to be rebuilt. They are known for their beef, Kobe beef. It’s a large port city, with receiving commercial ships and also with entertainment areas along the water. The Maritime Museum is one of the most recognizable buildings with what looks like a net surrounding it. That whole area near the waterfront is the main entertainment, with the “Be Kobe” sign, a modern Starbucks, green space, a memorial to those lost in the earthquake in the 1990s, and it’s the home of, supposedly, the largest Christmas tree in the world. Although it was chilly walking through here, especially with the wind, it was a nice walk through here.

The most recognizable view in Kobe.

The most recognizable view in Kobe.

I had seen on the tourism map that there was a statue of Elvis Aaron Pressley a bit further down the water, and, curious to see what it was like, I went on a quest to find it. I walked through an open-air mall, near another huge shopping mall, and then I found it right by the road. It never did say why a statue of Elvis was placed here, but it did list off the donors who made it happen. I never would’ve expected to see this in Kobe.

Elvis in Kobe, Japan.

Elvis in Kobe, Japan.

The rest of the day was spent wandering around the city center, buying some snacks for the ship, and enjoying the good coffee shops in Kobe. With just one day here, I was able to get a little bit of a feel for the city. Just as one might expect with a Japanese city, it is clean, orderly, and calm. It’s a good place to wander!

Our home docked in Kobe.

Our home docked in Kobe.

Our home docked in Kobe.

Our home docked in Kobe.

Arriving in Kobe by ship.

Arriving in Kobe by ship.

The water volley that the fire department performed for us.

The water volley that the fire department performed for us.

Arriving to the terminal.

Arriving to the terminal.

Chika and Hiro.

Chika and Hiro.

Birthday cheers to Chika's grandmother.

Birthday cheers to Chika’s grandmother.

Birthday cake for Chika's grandmother.

Birthday cake for Chika’s grandmother.

Chika's grandmother's birthday.

Chika’s grandmother’s birthday.

Visitors (Hiro's brother and cousins and spouses)

Visitors (Hiro’s brother and cousins and spouses)

Ueno Park in Tokyo

Ueno Park in Tokyo

Ueno Park in Tokyo

Ueno Park in Tokyo

The old temple in Ueno Park with the backdrop of modern high-rises

The old temple in Ueno Park with the backdrop of modern high-rises

The busy shopping street in Ueno, Tokyo.

The busy shopping street in Ueno, Tokyo.

Udon noodles with squid tempura

Udon noodles with squid tempura

Shopping street in Ueno.

Shopping street in Ueno.

Senso-Ji temple in Asakusa, Tokyo

Senso-Ji temple in Asakusa, Tokyo

Senso-Ji temple in Asakusa, Tokyo

Senso-Ji temple in Asakusa, Tokyo

Shibuya, Tokyo

Shibuya, Tokyo
Our dinner spot with Aya

Our dinner spot with Aya

Last dinner in Tokyo.

Last dinner in Tokyo.

Chika's favorite takoyaki stand (grilled octopus), outside the train station closest to her grandmother's house.

Chika’s favorite takoyaki stand (grilled octopus), outside the train station closest to her grandmother’s house.

Conversations.

Conversations.

A Buddhist Temple I found nearby.

A Buddhist Temple I found nearby.

Senso-Ji temple in Asakusa, Tokyo

Senso-Ji temple in Asakusa, Tokyo

 

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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Exploring Beijing and the Great Wall

Exploring Beijing and the Great Wall

The Great Wall of China, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

The Great Wall of China, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

When I had the chance to request the Field Programs for which I wanted to be a Trip Liaison, I pretty much requested every overnight program (overnight programs are completely comped while day programs are 50% discounted). However, the one that was at the very top of my priority list was the program called “Hiking the Great Wall”, a five day/four night program to Beijing and the Great Wall of China. The idea of hiking along the Great Wall sounded like an adventure, and combining the outdoors with one of the most famous historic sites in the world is like a dream.

With 64 voyagers signed up, we had enough to split the group into two; I was a Trip Liaison with 31 voyagers (including 2 staff/faculty), and a professor from San Diego had a group of 33 voyagers (including her husband and three kids). We met at 6AM in the Kaisersaal Union on the ship, exited the ship, and jumped on a bus that took us to the Shanghai Airport for our 2.5 hour flight to Beijing.

We arrived in Beijing around noon, and our guides and buses were waiting for us. From the Beijing airport, we quickly left the city and made our way to the Gubei Water Town, an interesting city where we stayed for the next two nights.

Gubei Water Town

Gubei Water Town at night.

Gubei Water Town at night.

Gubei Water Town is actually a brand new city designed in traditional Chinese architecture, much like a city you would’ve seen along a river hundreds of years ago. The city was constructed in 2014 as, quite literally, a tourist attraction. Gubei Water Town is built at the bottom of the mountains with a river cutting through, with stone streets and buildings, beautiful bridges, a large main square with a shrine to a former Emperor, and even a stone church at the top of a hill. If one did not know this was built in 2014, they would probably never guess it was so new. The winding streets connect small stores sell arts and crafts, clothes, foods, and more. Narrow alleyways lead to hidden plazas. The place is designed so well that it feels like a classic city. When we first arrived, it even started to snow; the students quickly became giddy because it reminded so many of home in late November.

Many say that the Gubei Water Town is like going to Disney. I would somewhat agree with this, even though I think this doesn’t have as much as the artificial feel. What does bring this Disney feel, however, is that one must have a ticket to get into the city. Adding to the touristy feel is the ultra-modern visitor center which must be passed through to get into the city. All indoors, there is a Starbucks, gift shops, and more. To add to that, the ticket gate also requires fingerprints to enter; not only do you show your ticket card, but you also need to confirm your ticket by scanning your fingerprint upon entry.

Gubei Water Town in the afternoon.

Gubei Water Town in the afternoon.

The city seems to be most popular with Chinese domestic tourists, most of whom come from Beijing for its close proximity. It’s a great weekend getaway to travel outside the huge city. Plus, the Great Wall is very easily accessible from here – you can even see several parts of the Great Wall up on the mountain from the city. Our hotel for the two nights was the nicest hotel in which I’ve ever stayed. It was built to accommodate thousands of guests as well as large conferences. The enormous hotel is built just outside the city walls, and it is built on plenty of space. It might as well be called a resort. The lobby smells the jasmine, the swimming pool is immaculate, the breakfast was that of a top restaurant, and the rooms were top-notch with nice bathtubs and king sized beds. We visited in the off-season, so the town seemed quiet; however, this hotel showed just how many people come (or will come) in the high-season.

The town was great for strolling around. We had a Chinese paper cutting class, a nice hot pot dinner (you boil thinly sliced beef and pork and vegetables in a broth), and we had plenty of time to wander. There were pubs, cafes, shops, and even spas. The students definitely enjoyed the experience, a relatively unstructured experience where they could roam and shop without stress.

Hiking the Great Wall

Hiking the Great Wall was one of the activities I was most excited for on Semester at Sea. The views didn't disappoint!

Hiking the Great Wall was one of the activities I was most excited for on Semester at Sea. The views didn’t disappoint!

The Great Wall of China is something that many of us learn about at a very young age. We learn about several of the world’s most famous sites in elementary school – the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China. Needless to say, we were all quite anxious that next morning to finally step foot on this amazing structure.

The Great Wall of China was originally made up of many different sections, built by various empires through various time periods. The very first section is believed to have been built around 220 BC in order to protect from intruders. It wasn’t until the Ming Dynasty, which reigned from the 14th century to the 17th century, that the Great Wall was finally all linked together. This large project protected the land we now call China from the Mongols in the north as well as other intruders to the west and south. It wasn’t until 2009 that there was an official count of the actual wall distance; astonishingly, they found that the wall is about 13,000 miles long!

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The wall was built by a few hundred thousand commoners and soldiers, who worked over long periods of time to bring the stones and bricks to remote locations in the mountains. Legend has it that many of those who died while working on the wall are actually buried inside the wall. Interestingly, in most of the 20th century, the Great Wall was widely considered a blemish on China’s history, proof that the wall did not keep intruders out. Because of this, the wall was destroyed by carelessness. The government offered anyone to take the bricks from the wall to build their homes. Cars would be allowed to drive on the wall. There were no conservation efforts until the 1980s when it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Now, it brings millions of dollars into the Chinese economy with tourism; visitors from all over the world come to see this remarkable site.

Our first day of hiking started after a 30-minute bus ride from Gubei Water Town. We hiked on the Jinshanling Section to the start of the Simatai Section, which was about seven miles. On the second day of hiking, we walked along the Simatai Section, a renovated but steep section, for about four miles. That means we covered just over 11 miles in total of one large stretch. I loved that we covered all of this without any breaks; when we looked back in the distance at the end of our second day of hiking, we could see in the far distance where we started.

The first part of our hiking.

The first part of our hiking.

The Jinshanling Section, our first day of hiking, was a mostly unrenovated and original part of the wall. This meant that it was more deteriorated, more decrepit, and more beat up than the parts you may have seen in photos. This also meant that we had to aver the wall and hike on dirt paths because some of the parts of the wall were impassable. The second part was much more renovated, meaning that it looked nicer in general but is not the original. It was certainly nice to see and hike on both parts. A huge plus to visiting this part of the wall, located much further away from Beijing, is that relatively few people are visiting this section. There is one section in particular that is within an hour of Beijing, and that part is highly visited. In our two-day hike, in total being on the wall for about 10-12 hours, we saw less than 20 other people. I thought that was pretty cool, seemingly like we were discovering it for ourselves.

Hiking the wall completely blew away all of my expectations. We were in the middle of stunning mountains, with peaks as far as the eye could see. There was almost nothing else around – we only saw a few houses, a road from a distance, and not much more. There wasn’t a moment that went by in which the views were not breathtaking. Every second was photo worthy, though I stopped myself from taking TOO many. It was incredible to see this stone wall, as tall as 25 feet, snaking along the mountain ridges. Lookout towers were strategically placed at all of the high points, so that we could see these rectangular blocks on each peak in the distance. It’s difficult to fathom what it must have taken to build this wall – the cost of the lives and, I’m assuming, the number of people enslaved, as well as the distances these materials were carried.

Thousands and thousands of miles of brick.

Thousands and thousands of miles of brick.

Seeing and experiencing the Great Wall of China by foot was truly a privilege. I never would have guessed that it was even possible to do such a thing, let alone to have the opportunity to lead a group of 31 on this hike. I could have spent several more days hiking and taking in the scenery. The feedback I received from the students was similar – they loved the hiking and could’ve spent even more time on the wall. The hiking was tough but not too difficult. The weather, sunny and in the low 40s, was perfect for hiking. The experience certainly lived up to the hype!

IMG_20171127_113320663_HDR IMG_20171126_123101873 IMG_20171126_123207539_HDR IMG_20171126_123734880_HDR IMG_20171126_131439438 IMG_20171126_133846128_HDR IMG_20171126_134110224_HDR IMG_20171126_134916031 IMG_20171126_135346261_HDR IMG_20171127_104358862_HDR IMG_20171127_110104416_HDR IMG_20171127_110219745_HDR IMG_20171126_103317554 IMG_20171126_102633160 IMG_20171126_101933241 IMG_20171126_100316580_HDR IMG_20171126_095334131 IMG_20171125_203601207 IMG_20171125_205925925 IMG_20171126_071052059_HDR IMG_20171126_071500193_HDR IMG_20171126_184152614 IMG_20171126_164416868_HDR IMG_20171126_164108261_HDR

Crabapples.

Crabapples.

Huge hot pot dinner in Gubei Water Town.

Huge hot pot dinner in Gubei Water Town.

Beijing

Next up on our itinerary was Beijing, China’s second largest city and the historic capital. It has long been an important city and was the main host for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Whereas Shanghai is the modern city with futuristic skyscrapers, Beijing is the city with the historic sites like Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and more.

Hutong

Rickshaw ride through Hutong.

Rickshaw ride through Hutong.

Hutong is the Mongolian word meaning “water well”. Because of the importance of clean water, villages formed around these water wells in the 13th and 14th centuries in Beijing. Nowadays, Hutong is still the name of these historic communities, and this was our first stop once we arrived in Beijing.

We arrived and our bus dropped on a main street. Before we knew it, we were walking down these quiet small streets. Our guide took us to a square in the Lingdang Hutong district. The square had large buildings on each side, one a bell tower and the other a drumming tower. We went into the bell tower for a Chinese tea ceremony. With all 31 of us inside, three women explained each of the five teas we were to try. All of the teas had their unique tastes. Afterwards, we were courted to the gift shop where many people bought souvenirs for family and friends.

Tea ceremony.

Tea ceremony.

Afterwards, just like in India, we jumped onto bicycle rickshaws, two per rickshaw. We cruised through these small streets in the Hutong to the location of our dinner, a family’s home. We fit all of us into a dining/living area of a local’s home. Soon after arriving, they demonstrated how they make Chinese dumplings and even gave some of us the opportunity to try it ourselves. Afterwards, they began bringing dish after dish of food including rice, beef, chicken, and more. It was an excellent dinner and was fun to be in a local home.

Dinner at a local house.

Dinner at a local house.

Dinner at a local house.

Dinner at a local house.

Tea ceremony.

Tea ceremony.

Summer Palace

Summer Palace.

Summer Palace.

The following morning, we departed the hotel at 9AM to visit the Summer Palace, the imperial garden during the Qing Dynasty (18th century). The Summer Palace is 1 square mile in area and combines green hills and a large blue lake with pavilions, halls, palaces, and temples. It’s a beautiful place for a stroll.

Summer Palace.

Summer Palace.

Summer Palace.

Summer Palace.

Summer Palace.

Summer Palace.

"Marble" boat at the Summer Palace.

“Marble” boat at the Summer Palace.

Tiananmen Square

When I found out that we wouldn’t be leaving the hotel until 9AM that morning, I wanted to find something I could do early in the morning. A quick search gave me the idea of seeing the flag raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square. The flag raising ceremony is a daily free event where soldiers march from the Forbidden City to Tiananmen Square to raise the Chinese flag as the Chinese national anthem plays over the speakers. Intrigued, I went for it.

Waiting in line to get into Tiananmen Square at 6:15AM

Waiting in line to get into Tiananmen Square at 6:15AM

I left the hotel at 5:30AM and took the subway to Tiananmen Square. Still completely dark and 20 degrees, I passed through security and could see the square from across the street. The square was blocked off with barricades, and I eventually saw a place where people were starting to line up. Not knowing exactly what was going on, I jumped in line with the hundreds of others. At about 6:15AM, they opened up the square, and people at the front of the line started to rush in, even running like it was Black Friday to get their spot as close to the flagpole. I posted up just six or seven rows deep and waited in the middle of about 1,000 Chinese nationals. I waited, and waited. The best part was that being squished in between people helped with the cold. Finally, at 7:15AM, the exactly moment of sunrise, soldiers started marching from the distance. They arrived at the flagpole, and the national anthem started to play. Slowly, the flag rose. Two minutes after it started, the music stopped and the flag was at its high point. And it was over. And then people left.

All the people at Tiananmen Square.

All the people at Tiananmen Square.

I’m glad I went to the ceremony. It was a cool buildup, and it gave me something unique to do with the morning free. Would I do it again? No. The actual ceremony was pretty uneventful. But I’m happy I went.

Later that afternoon, we made a stop and walked through Tiananmen Square on the way to the Forbidden City. It was so windy and cold that most people were unable to enjoy it. Even so, it was amazing to be in such a historic place.

Flag raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square.

Flag raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square.

Flag raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square.

Flag raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square.

Flag raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square.

Flag raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square.

Flag raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square.

Flag raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square.

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square

Part of the group at Tiananmen Square.

Part of the group at Tiananmen Square.

Entering the Forbidden City.

Entering the Forbidden City.

Forbidden City

We then made our way into the Forbidden City, the palace that was the former seat of the Emperor from the Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty (1420-1912). Not only did it include the home of the emperors and their families, but also the ceremonial and political center of the Chinese government. It is made up of almost 1,000 buildings and is the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. It is considered to be one of the most influential pieces of architecture in all of Asia. It was called the Forbidden City because no one could enter or leave the complex without the emperor’s permission.

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City

We spent about an hour and a half inside the complex, as our guide explained the intricate details of the main structures. The wind had picked up in the afternoon, which made it another cold experience. However, we did our best to stay with our guide!

The Forbidden City is visited by about 15 million people every year, an astronomical amount of visitors. It was so cool to finally see this famous place and learn about its history.

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City

Temple of the Heavens

Our final morning in Beijing, our last site was to visit the Temple of Heaven. Not located far from our hotel, it was a short bus ride to arrive at the complex of religious buildings. This was used in the same era as the Forbidden City (15th-20th centuries), and it was used as a place for annual ceremonies to pray to heaven for a good harvest. The complex was constructed in the early 1400s. Today, the large area has two main purposes, tourism and a community space. Every morning, hundreds, if not thousands, of Chinese (mostly seniors) come to the Temple of the Heavens to use it as a social space. They exercise, play cards and other games, tai chi, and more. Even though it was 25 degrees when we arrived, so many seniors were hanging out as if it were a summer morning.

The Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven

The main site in the Temple of the Heavens is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. It’s a triple-gabled circular building. Over 100 feet tall, this is where the emperor would pray for good harvests. The building is all wood and has no nails. The original building was burned down in 1889 after being struck by lightning. I only wish I had more time to roam around this entire complex. I feel like I only saw a small part of it in a relatively small amount of time.

This brought an end to the Field Program, as we made our way to the Beijing Airport and took a flight to the Shanghai Airport. We arrived at the ship at “on-ship time”, so we had no additional time to explore Shanghai.

Just like every other country, I really enjoyed the experience and the opportunity to visit these places so rich in history and culture. While it is a short visit, all these experiences combined on Semester at Sea are like nothing else I’ve ever done. I’m very thankful for that!

Next up…Japan!

The Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven

 

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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Shanghai: Where the Past Meets the Present

Shanghai: Where the Past Meets the Present

This is the view from the bow of our ship while we were in Shanghai.

This is the view from the bow of our ship while we were in Shanghai.

Just like the other ports in South and Southeastern Asia, the time on the ship flew by. Five days went by like nothing, and before we knew it, we were disembarking in China.

Shanghai was another river entrance, just like Myanmar and Vietnam. So rather than arriving on the coast, our ship cruised up the river for several hours, making our way to China’s largest city consisting of over 25 million people.

We arrived to Shanghai right around 6AM when it was still dark. Being so early, only about 20 people made it up to the bow of Deck 9 to see our entrance. Even though we were in between the futuristic financial district and the port area with its surrounding skyscrapers, the city was dark. To be green, almost all lights are turned off overnight; so even though we could see the outlines of these tall buildings, some as tall as the Chrysler Building in NYC, it was eerily silent and dark.

Soon, the sun began to rise, and the day opened its eyes to this magnificent city. There couldn’t have been better views than where we were docked. Ahead of us was The Bund, an area boasting classic European architecture. Just across the river was the Oriental Pearl Tower, a large tower with two large spheres that make it look like it was built in the future and transported back to our present time.

With these fantastic views, we had breakfast and anxiously waited for the ship to be cleared so we could explore.

China was our longest port is the entire voyage with a total of six days. I had signed up to lead the Field Program called “Hiking the Great Wall”, where we visited the Great Wall and Beijing. My itinerary in China looked like this:

Day 1 – Explore Shanghai independently with Chika
Day 2 – Field Program – fly to Beijing and transfer to Gubei Water Town
Day 3 – Field Program – Hike the Great Wall of China, hotel in Gubei Water Town
Day 4 – Field Program – Hike the Great Wall of China, hotel in Beijing
Day 5 – Field Program – Visit Beijing (Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City)
Day 6 – Field Program – Visit Beijing (Temple of Heaven, flight to Shanghai)

Shanghai – The Past and the Future

Shopping district in Shanghai.

Shopping district in Shanghai.

For the first city to visit in China, Shanghai is certainly surprising. From the stories I heard from other travelers in China, I thought the city life would be overwhelming with crowds of people everywhere, making it difficult to even walk down the sidewalk. I didn’t imagine the modern and futuristic architecture, the city lights and lighted animations on skycrapers at night, and infrastructure that blew away that of the United States. In one sense, I was surprised by how advanced Shanghai is as a city. In another sense, I was shocked by how far behind the United States seems in comparison.

The subway station is comparable to that of Japan – clean, spacious, modern. The highway systems through the city are sometimes packed with traffic, but they are in great condition. They have an extensive high-speed rail covering most of the country (and expanding) that takes passengers on a smooth ride going 200-300 miles per hour to their destination. The bike share system is way ahead of ours in terms of ease. There are certain areas where the bikes are parked on their kickstands (no bike rack), and one needs to simply scan a barcode from their phone to unlock a bicycle. They are charged just 1 RMB (about $0.15) per hour. It all seems so far ahead of what we have at home. Whereas we always knew that China was gaining ground, maybe we didn’t realize that they are almost there, if not already there.

We spent our day in Shanghai just wandering to see what we would find. We had the entire day to explore, and then we had dinner with a friend we had met while volunteering in the Philippines in 2014.

The Bund

The Bund

The Bund, right along the waterfront.

We disembarked at the International Port Terminal, and from there we were only a half a mile from what they call The Bund. The Bund is a neighborhood right along the river, and there is a beautiful waterfront walkway where one can take in views of the skyscrapers across the river as well as the historic buildings just across the boulevard from the walkway.

Besides the incredible views of the skyline, we also saw the Shanghai Bull sculpture (sculpted by the same guy who did the Wall Street Bull), a colorful wall full of fresh flowers (each flower had its own individual pot), and several European style buildings. We walked into the city center from here and found a noodle dish for lunch, and then we kept wandering. We were in no hurry and had just picked out a few things to see. We visited the People’s Park & the People’s Square, the shopping street of Nanjing Road, and tried various street snacks and coffees. Really, we just roamed to see what we could find.

In the evening, we went to dinner with a friend of ours, Carmen, who we had met in 2014 while volunteering in the Philippines. In January, she moved to Shanghai on a whim, something she had always considered but finally just decided to go for it. She moved here without a job and on a tourist visa. She immediately started networking, having three meals a day with different people. Not long afterwards, she was able to secure a job as a consultant in Shanghai in the innovation industry, something she loves doing. It’s inspiring to see a woman in her late 20s to make moves like that and have the confidence to succeed in a new country. And she understood that the worst case scenario is that she moves back to England. And she seems to be loving it! It was really nice to catch up with Carmen after 3.5 years of not seeing each other. Reconnecting is always fun!

For me, this essentially ended my time in Shanghai. My Field Program left early on Day 2 and arrived on Day 6 (our last day) at the very last moment before our ship left. With just one day to explore Shanghai, China’s largest city, it gave a nice intro into the city. I am certain there is plenty more to see and do. I was surprised by how calm the city seemed, and how clean it all was. For a city of somewhere around 25 million, you’d think it would seem crowded. Not once did it seem that way. It would certainly be an easy place to live.

Now, onto Beijing and the Great Wall!

Wedding pictures at the Bund.

Wedding pictures at the Bund.

Chika kissing our home.

Chika kissing our home.

The World Odyssey blends in.

The World Odyssey blends in.

The World Odyssey blends in.

The World Odyssey blends in.

A neighborhood just five minutes walking from our ship.

A neighborhood just five minutes walking from our ship.

Views of our home.

Views of our home.

Docking in Shanghai.

Docking in Shanghai.

Views from the ship.

Views from the ship.

We arrived in Shanghai before sunrise. But soon afterwards, the sun started to shine on this beautiful city.

We arrived in Shanghai before sunrise. But soon afterwards, the sun started to shine on this beautiful city.

IMG_20171124_064650073_HDR

The People's Square, Shanghai.

The People’s Square, Shanghai.

People's Park

People’s Park

Wandering down some alleyways

Wandering down some alleyways

Interesting foods.

Interesting foods.

Shopping district in Shanghai.

Shopping district in Shanghai.

Downtown Shanhai.

Downtown Shanhai.

The Shanghai Bull - created by the same sculptor as the Wall Street Bull in NYC.

The Shanghai Bull – created by the same sculptor as the Wall Street Bull in NYC.

The Bund.

The Bund.

The Bund.

The Bund.

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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Ho Chi Minh City For a Second Time

Ho Chi Minh City For a Second Time

The Bitexo Financial Tower in downtown Ho Chi Minh City.

The Bitexo Financial Tower in downtown Ho Chi Minh City.

Although we had visited Ho Chi Minh City when we visited Vietnam in 2014, I didn’t remember too much of it, the reason being that we stayed with Chika’s friend who simply took us around. It was certainly a fun time, but I don’t remember things as much when I am not figuring everything out on my own. Because my field program was the first to disembark the ship upon arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, and we went straight to the airport to fly to Hanoi, I only had the last day to explore a bit of the city. And after several days of travel and somewhat difficult hiking, I decided to take the day to relax and just wander the city.

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly called Saigon, is a very cosmopolitan city. Whereas Hanoi has been a city for over 1,000 years, HCMC has been around for a mere 400 years or so. Hanoi seems to have that classic Vietnam feel, whereas HCMC has a more western city feel with high rise buildings, more international restaurants and fast food chains, larger streets, and stores like Louis Vuitton and Chanel.

The ship was docked on the south side of the city center, so it was just a 20-30 minute walk to the heart of the city. I started with breakfast at a street stand, ordering a banh mi sandwich with a Ca Phe Sua Da (Iced coffee with milk). From there, I found a café called Highlands Coffee, who happens to have a logo very similar to Starbucks, and I used wifi there to call my parents and also video with Chad, Kendra, and Beckett. I then started my wandering, walking through the Benh Thanh market, then to the Reunification Palace where the north Vietnamese tank came crashing through its gate, ending the Vietnam War. I then walked to the Cathedral, into the Post Office (which was designed by Gustave Eiffel), through a book market, past the Opera, and to a restaurant serving Hue food, a city in central Vietnam. From there, I found a much needed massage, paying just $11 for a 70 minute massage. I then wandered around a bit more, stopping for another coffee, and finally making my way back to the ship.

Inside the Post Office, designed by Gustave Eiffel.

Inside the Post Office, designed by Gustave Eiffel.

I considered visiting a museum, but being pretty tired, I decided to simply explore by wandering. It was nice to revisit HCMC and to try some more foods and coffee there.

Vietnam has so much to offer, including nice beaches, some of the world’s largest caves, trekking up north in Sa Pa, boat trips to Halong Bay, discovering Hanoi, shopping in Hoi An, and more. While we did much of this our last trip, there is actually still more that I would like to visit. I’m not sure if I will come back to Vietnam again, as there are many other places I’d rather go first. However, I would not be disappointed if I did come back!

Arriving to Vietnam

Arriving to Vietnam

Pho!

Pho!

The Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City

The Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City

The Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City

The Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City

The Opera House in Ho Chi Minh City

The Opera House in Ho Chi Minh City

The Reunification Palace

The Reunification Palace

The Ben Thanh Market.

The Ben Thanh Market.

A street stand selling coffee and banh mi sandwiches.

A street stand selling coffee and banh mi sandwiches.

Banh mi and vietnamese coffee.

Banh mi and vietnamese coffee.

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City

About Trent

I started Frugal Purpose to share my love of personal finance to assist your pursuit of a more fulfilling life. I am a financial analyst by trade, traveler at heart, and want to share with you the beauty of this world.

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