(Luckily, I had a saved post on China that I never published, so all I had to do was cut and paste! Here it is...)
In an effort to catch up on some of the travels that I didn't get to capture here from Semester at Sea, and also to re-live some of these memories since the prospect of international travel probably won't be a reality for a few more years now that we have little one in our lives... I am attempting to dig back into the depths of my memory and share some of the most significant moments we experienced for the remainder of our voyage. The next stop along the way was... China!
We later did some sight seeing, and went to Ngong Ping 360 - a large buddah statue that required the most picturesque sky trolley ride I've ever been on - through the mountains with not a sight of city life around. Later in the evening met up with them again for an incredible szechuan dinner, that featured red hot szechuan peppers in many of the dishes, with a deceivingly hot soup. It was hot, but it was good. Another cool thing we did in Hong Kong, we buckled and despite our best effort to avoid chains and replicable things from the US - we did go to Hong Kong Disney - and oh, it was SO much fun. The park was a lot smaller, but very similar in feel and vibe. Space Mountain was the only major ride... and again -pretty spot on. The HK Mickey and Minnie characters were awesome. Mark was a little disappointed because the turkey legs in Hong Kong did not live up to the super-sized one's they have in Anaheim. The HK version was almost like a chicken leg (no growth hormones there). In the end - we had a fabulous Disney day, even though it was raining.
From Hong Kong, we took a flight to Beijing and visited amazing landmarks, Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, The Temple of Heaven, Wangfujing, and the Summer Palace. There were lots of night-time street vendors with bugs and various delicacies on a stick. We also had a blast with the blaring techno music out of many of the stores. One playlist was so awesome, we went inside to see if they could tell us where to buy the music. Due to a little getting lost in translation - we ended up paying $20US for the shop owner's flash drive full of music. It was a great deal - because there were over 50 songs, none of which we would ever be able to find.
We also went to the Great Wall of China - which was amazing. There are many different places along the wall that you can visit, and the one we went to, Mutianyu, had a 'lift' to get up to the wall, and a tobogganed down. Another awesome memory from our time in Beijing, we stayed at the Novotel Peace Hotel, which was really nice. We asked the concierge for a recommendation of very good, and very authentic food, not Americanized. So he took us through the back of the hotel, through the kitchen into an alley. Across the alley was a dumpling restaurant, that definitely looked like a hole in the wall. We couldn't read the name of the restaurant, nor anything on the menu, but that was literally one of the most memorable meals on our trip. The dumplings were amazing, and we came back another time before leaving.
Our last stop in China was Shanghai. We flew there from Beijing, and reunited with the ship. Shanghai was great - the skyline was amazing, backdoor shopping was fun, and food was good. I wish we had more time there, but because we went to Beijing, we couldn't squeeze it all in.
I know there were many more awesome times, but I've gotta wrap this up :)
Our unexpected port, in lieu of Japan because of the tsunami, was Keelung, Taiwan. I remember we got off the ship on a rainy day and wanted to make the most of this port. The first stop, buying tickets for the train to get to Taipei. We stopped in a convenience store, and I remember it vividly, this was the moment we discovered Hi-Chew! One of our friends bought it, and said we all had to try it. Before we knew it, we all pretty much bought out their inventory of Lychee and other incredible flavors.
We got to see Chiang Kai-shek, a famous memorial park with gardens, and went to the top of Taipei 101 an extraordinarily tall skyscraper. I remember we got a room in Taipei and then went out karaoke-ing in a private room until all hours of the night. It was so. much. fun. We also discovered Lychee Beer at a streetside bar/restaurant, and it was as delicious as it sounds.
The night markets were amazing - so many delicious foods, and delicacies. It's a distant, but distinct memory. One favorite moment was walking by some of the store fronts at the night market in Keelung. We saw one store - that was literally the narrowest store we've ever seen - almost like a long walk in closet. It was brightly lit - with umbrellas on one side, and, wait for it.... chicken feet on the other side. Cooked chicken feet to be exact.
Our last day in Taiwan, we took a SAS sponsored trip to Taroko National Park and Gorge. A cool perk, we got to return to the ship from our trip past the boarding time. It was a stunning place with waterfalls, scenic views, and a beautiful shrine (see below). Although this port was not on the original itinerary, we were all grateful for the opportunity to visit another country. Being our final international destination before heading back, it's safe to say we all soaked in the time being in Taiwan.
By this point in the voyage, we had literally been around the world, and being back in the US still felt like we were away. We stopped at the Big Island, and did some sightseeing, visiting with a local colleague who took us to University of Hawaii at Hilo and other key highlights. The landscape, food, people, all were stunning, and it was super fun to get to explore the island with friends. We had a fun last night off the ship, hanging out and playing games.
Another note - it was quite sobering to be on a land with so much rich indigenous Native Hawaiian history, that was technically part of the United States. I think at the time, there was so much more we could have been prepared for with this port, including the royal family on Oahu, and the seizure of the state. Since our voyage I have continued to learn about the history of the islands and their native culture.
Back in SAN DIEGO
It was surreal to be home. Our bags had expanded with relics to remember and give to others as proof we actually did travel. It felt like in an instant, all of our travels had disappeared, nowhere to be found. But at the same time, we were very different and impacted personally. There were many tears as we sailed into our final destination - the community that was built on the ship was awesome. Students, faculty, staff, lifelong learners, we were all one when we were on the ship. We went through a lot on the voyage both physically and personally. Our first stop for food back on the mainland US was Lolita's Mexican restaurant - there wasn't a lot of Mexican food around the world. Even though this post is 7 years late - I can still feel, see, and remember how it felt to return to a familiar place feeling so different. I guess that's what travel does - it reminds us of who we are and how we are connected. It gives us perspectives that would be impossible to teach otherwise. And, its a nourishment to the soul to discover and engage in new ways.