As I mentioned in the previous blog, Grandma P and I enjoyed a bucket list, 60 day cruise around the Pacific rim. After visiting Alaska, we sailed across the northern Pacific (in a typhoon!) and made ports in Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii and then back to Los Angeles.
We saw many wonderful sites and learned much about the Asian culture. Here are just a few items to compare the similarities and differences between the Asian culture and our western culture.
Building The Wall
Is there anyone with a heartbeat that has not heard about the political turmoil surrounding the proposed border wall between the US and Mexico? Well, let me tell you that if you want to build a border wall, talk to the Chinese!
Yup, those Chinese knew a bad situation when they saw one, so they began work on a border wall, now known in the Western world as the Great Wall of China. To the Chinese, it is known as the ‘Long Wall.’ By either name, it is still gosh-darn impressive. Work began on the wall in the 7th century B.C. The wall, mostly oriented from east to west, was constructed to prevent invasion by land-grabbing nomadic tribes in what is now Mongolia. That early wall was only a partial wall, so Qin Shi Huang, the first Chinese emperor, got serious and much more wall was built from 202-206 A.D. But the real wall builders, building the majority of the wall were the members of the Ming Dynasty. This construction was from 1368-1644. Almost 300 years in the making! (Now that is job security!)
But I have to admit, the Great Wall is very impressive. Grandma P and I were impressed by seeing the pyramids at Giza, but to me, this is much more impressive. Why? Firstly, that wall, made of stone and brick, is 16′ to 26′ high, depending on the surrounding topography. It is also from 16′ to 19′ wide. Not impressed yet? Maybe you will be more impressed when you learn that the stone portion of the wall is part of a much larger defense system and that the wall portion is 3,889 miles long! The defense system also includes 223 miles of trenches and incorporates 1377 miles of natural terrain barriers, i.e., mountains, rivers and lakes. Not impressed yet? Well, the information I have given is only what the Ming Dynasty built. Combined with what was built by other Chinese rulers, the total defensive system is 13,171 miles long!
Other than from invasion, the wall was built to control immigration and emigration, and to tax goods traveling down the Silk road. Now picture this, that 13,171 mile structure would be long enough to build a wall between the US and Mexico, with enough left over for a Canadian wall! And…for good measure, there probably would be enough left over to separate the US from California! Now that would be a novel idea. Seriously, if you do not see it in person, it is difficult to imagine how much time, effort and labor went into this architectural wonder. It is by far the most impressive structure I have seen, and I have been fortunate to see many impressive structures.
If you want to learn about immigration, one needs to learn about Japan’s policy. What is their policy? Pretty much it is like this….NO IMMIGRATION! The Japanese are not interested in either diluting their culture or their race. They have been protected by a water border for millenniums and they are not in favor of changing now. Their religion is Shinto, there are some Buddhist temples, but Shinto is by far the dominant religion.
We, by accident, were in Tokyo/Yokohama during a three day holiday celebration. I need to preface this by saying I was in Japan for 3 weeks during the 90’s, and I was always impressed by the fact that I never saw garbage, graffiti, or homeless people. It was the same on this trip except we blundered into this holiday. The Japanese people were dressed immaculately. Everyone, including children, were either dressed in formal attire or traditional attire. As a population they looked terrific….all two million of them that we rubbed shoulders with personally. (It was crowded! Picture ants on a sugar pile times five!) Now we have a ship full of westerners, mostly Americans and Canadians. And how do Americans and Canadians dress while touring? Well, you never saw a more vibrant collection of cheesy baseball hats, panama hats, T-shirts with stupid wording and/or pictures, and shorts. You get the picture. We provided the ‘street people’ for their celebration. I am sure we left a huge impression on the Japanese.
Protecting Asian History
Let’s be honest. The history of our country extends for about 400 years. Compared to the Asian countries we visited, the US is a babe in the woods. What are some of the oldest structures in the US? We do have some pueblos in New Mexico that date back to 1000 A.D. built by native Americans. But the earliest buildings of European influence are a church and government building built by the Spanish in the early 1600’s in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We visited sites that had buildings in Asia that date back 3000 years!
While in Taipei, Taiwan; we visited the Martyr’s Shrine and the Chiang Kai- Shek Memorial Hall. The reason I mention this is because at both locations, members of the Taiwanese military performed a ‘changing of the guard’ ceremony. It was both stunning and impressive. Each of these soldiers were over 6′ tall. They carried M-1 Girand rifles with the metal parts being chromed. Their bayonets and helmets were also chromed. Their changing ceremony at the Shrine took 25 minutes. If there is a UTube video of this, please find it and watch. Well worth the view.
Everywhere we went, we visited shrines and temples that were meticulously preserved and protected. Why do I mention this? Their methods of protecting their very lengthy history are directly opposed to how we, in the US protect our limited history. I find it shameful that we remove Civil War statues, biblical scenes from churches, the ten commandments from court houses and that we have to rename our holidays, all under the guise of being ‘politically correct.’ It is our history! Our country was founded by Christians! The Asians have no such compunction to change any of their history. Unlike us, they revel in their history, protect their history and honor their history.
If you like crowds, smog and scooters, then Asia is the place for you. There is plenty of each.
When we are rearing young children, what do we want for them? I have been watching our grandkids being raised and I know that their parents are very much concerned about the cost of sending them to college. The grandkids are all very good in school, so I would suspect they will all want to go to college.
Our tour guide in Vietnam was a family man with a three year old daughter. During his presentation as we were enjoying the bus ride to the ancient city of Hue, he mentioned he had three motor scooters. After we reached our destination, I asked him why he had three scooters. He said he had one scooter, his wife had one scooter and he had one for his three year old daughter. “Surely your three year old is not driving a scooter?” He explained that the cost of scooters was rising, and he wanted to be assured that when she was sixteen, she would have a scooter. Not a car. Not a college education. But…a scooter. Wow. It was humbling to think that was a major priority in raising a child in Vietnam.
Coincidentally, our guide was also a mechanical engineer. He was hoping that he would one day be able to emigrate to Japan to get a job in his field. Good luck with that….as long as you are a practicing Shinto.
Our entire three hour ride to the Great Wall, on a Sunday, was in smog. That smog was even at the Great Wall. On any particular day, one-fifth of all the cars in China are required to stay off the road. The days are determined by the first number of your license plate and the days are on a rotating basis.
On this trip to the wall, we also saw at least 5 million planted trees along the roadway. All of this is done to assist in alleviating the smog from the heavily industrial area of northern China, particularly near Bejing. Even with all of these trees, the smog was winning. We have seen smog in Los Angeles. We have seen smog in Denver. But no one has observed smog that has taken up about one-third of a country. That is what is happening in China. China is a signatory to the Kyoto accord, which concerns climate change. I am here to tell you that if anything has been done to alleviate the air pollution in China, it is not much and not working.
While touring, we were always on newer buses, oftentimes with more leg room than an American airplane. The concept of shock-absorbers and flat roads is an unknown concept in some Asian countries. China and Vietnam come to mind.
Not all Asian countries have western commodes. The ladies were particularly appalled at the number of ‘squat holes’ that served as bathroom fixtures. The cleanliness of the bathroom was dependent upon the accuracy of the previous users aim. (There were many female complaints about bad marksmanship in this regard.) Men lucked out with urinals. (The Japanese were the clear bathroom kings! Their western style commodes had up to 8 buttons for self-cleaning, heated seats, and flushing and mystery functions! Nothing was in English, so experimentation proved interesting.)
Our trip was fantastic, informative, and fun. I could write extensively about other details of our journey, but I will cut it off. I promise I will begin the new year with more diatribes centered on politics. Oh, goody!
So, in the spirit of being politically incorrect: Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and have a healthy and prosperous New Year.