Week before leaving -- (Jan 11-20)
Week 1 -- (Jan 23-Feb 1 Puerto Rico)
Week 2 -- (Feb 3-9 Salvador, Brazil)
Week 3 -- (Feb 10-16 On the way to South Africa)
Week 4 -- (Feb 19-24 Cape Town and African Safari)
Week 5,6 -- (Feb 25-March 8 Mauritius)
Week 7 -- (March 9-15 Chennai, India)

Week 8 -- (March 16-22 Penang, Malaysia and Singapore)
Week 9 -- (March 23-31 Ho Chi Minh City, VietNam)
Week 10 -- (April 1-6 Hong Kong, Guilin Shanghai, China)
Week 11 -- (April 7-13 Kobe, Japan)
Week 12 -- (April 14-20 On the way to Hawaii)
Week 13 -- (April 21-27 Honolulu, Hawaii)
Week 14 -- (April 28-May 8 Puntarenas, Costa Rica)

 

Week Eleven -- Journeywoman's Semester At Sea...

 

Your emails...

 

 

 

 

 

April 11, 2008 -- Hello Kobe, Japan

Imagine! Three days ago we left Shanghai and this morning we arrived in Kobe, Japan. No sooner are we rested from learning about one culture then we have to tackle another. The pace is grueling. Now, I'm sure everybody who reads this is going to say, 'Grueling? .... poor thing. I feel so sorry for you and every other person on the MV Explorer. What a difficult job you have sailing around the world.' And, you're right. This voyage is a spectacular one but, folks, it is not without its angst. Each new country requires that we learn new money conversions, new etiquette and a whole new way of saying, 'where is the toilet, please.' Yesterday, we were told never to put our chopsticks straight up in our bowl of rice. That signifies death and our hosts will be offended. You see? It's things like that that make me very anxious and tired. What happens if I forget the rule and, without thinking, balance my chopsticks straight up in my rice bowl? And how can you relax in a country where one apple will cost you $5.00?

Our alarm rang early this AM. It was so cold; we all bundled up to go up on deck and record our entry into Kobe's harbour. The sky was dark, the water was even darker. Most people took just a few shots and quickly went back inside. But we couldn't stay inside long because the warm welcome we received brought everybody back out to watch. In our honour, there was an official boat (really a floating fountain) spraying water high into the air, and on the dock was a full brass band in scarlet uniforms playing the song, 'Around the World I Searched for You'. A huge banner read, 'Welcome to Kobe'. Oh, my goodness, that was a moment! I admit; I blubbered like a baby. If these people could work so hard to welcome me the least I could do was to remember the chopstick rule while I was here.

Disembarking was not easy. Every single person (over 800 of us) had to go through a temperature detector. Then each had to be photographed and fingerprinted (you stick your fingers in a little machine and PRESS when the screen tells you to). Supposedly this fingerprinting, etc. is because that's what the American government requires of the Japanese at the U.S. border. Forget that I'm Canadian. For purposes of this voyage I'm an American with full fingerprinting privileges.

Took a short train from the dock into the center of town. Checked out the department store's food hall; all the lovely goodies made me very, very hungry. Took loads of pictures and then headed to Chinatown. Hmmmm... Who else goes to Japan and looks for Chinatown first? Took lots more fun pix and then made my way back to the ship. After the incredible traffic and endless street vendors in India, Vietnam and China, I find that Japan is a lesson in civility. No one honks their horn, no one litters, no one eats on the street and the cars stop at green lights. I asked a saleswoman at the department store for directions. She left her post and led me right out of the store to exactly where I wanted to go. Impressive!

Got back to the ship in time to join a cultural exchange between our students and visitors from a Kobe University. The Japanese visitors (who were thrilled to be on the ship) showed SAS students how to do origami and calligraphy. I heard them all discussing American TV shows and which ones they liked best. It was a pleasure to watch all this goodwill.

Sound like a good, fun day? The best was yet to come. The city of Kobe arranged for a troupe of young Japanese drummers (four young women and two men) to entertain us. They were strong, they were lively, the music was as exciting as the musicians were, and they deserved the standing ovation they got from all of us. The pictures I took tell the story.

Tomorrow I have a sleepover with a Japanese family. Hmmm... that doesn't sound quite right. I'm not sleeping with the whole family. I'm going to be an overnight guest in the home of a Japanese family. I'm excited.


Water welcome to Kobe


Musical welcome to Kobe


Lovely lady offering cheese cake


The food hall was fantasic!


Sharing noodles with dad in Chinatown


Learning origami


Cross cultural friends


The drummers got a standing ovation


 

April 12-13, 2008 -- Meatballs in Japan

Today I was up bright and early preparing for my overnight Japanese homestay. All the 75 students involved met in the Union for a last minute briefing on what to expect and then we left the ship together and went into the port terminal building. Waiting for us (in a huge circle) were 75 Japanese families with dozens of little Japanese kiddies. Each of the families had been briefed about 'their 'particular student and each was holding a beautifully decorated sign welcoming us. Everybody was smiling, everybody was excited. The little kids were the best -- they knew 'something fun' was happening but they were a little uncertain as to what to expect from these foreigners. We (students) were asked to walk the inside circumference of the circle, reading the signs until we met our family. Who would it be?

I spotted my host immediately. Megumi was tall, slim, young (33) and beautiful. She was holding a sign that had two flags on it -- one Canadian and one Japanese. I liked her immediately. From her I learned that all these host families were part of the Hippo Family Club, a group devoted to learning languages and extending hospitality to foreigners (they excelled at both). From what I could understand the big group was made up of local chapters. Our chapter was quickly convened for a group photo and then we broke up into smaller groups for a lunch outing at a sushi restaurant. I should have written 'SUSHI' restaurant because this place was huge. Compare it to a large dim sum restaurant except that the food you ordered came by your booth on a conveyor belt. Each booth had a 'drive thru' type communication box in order to make contact with the kitchen. Once you placed the order you began watching the conveyor belt for your items to appear. It all works on an orderly, honor system which the Japanese do so well. If you want more food you don't pick up anything from the belt until you've ordered it. I imagined this system trying to operate in North America. There would be absolute chaos.

After lunch we all went back to our respective family homes and agreed to meet again that evening for a Japanese Potluck dinner. Megumi lives in a small apartment in Mino, a rural suburb of Osaka. On the drive home my host asked me if I would like to cook something Canadian for that evening. At the best of times I am not an inventive cook so my mind raced to my old party standby -- Swedish meatballs -- something that could be made easily. The secret ingredients in this recipe are chili sauce and grape jelly (for the sauce). We visited three different supermarkets and there was no grape jelly to be found. What to do? We finally opted for a jar of blueberry jam with whole blueberries in it. Oh well, as they say, 'when in Japan.....use blueberry jam instead of grape jelly'. To give myself courage I convinced myself I was involved in a Japanese-Swedish-Canadian fusion cooking experience. I told Megumi that our meatballs with whole blueberries floating in the sauce would be 'something different' from the sushi, edamame and dumplings everybody else would bring. The best part of all this activity was that Megumi and I dropped all pretenses; we were just two women trying to get ready for a party. We shopped together, chopped onions together and patted meatballs together. We laughed, we joked and I had the best Japanese treat -- actually being invited into someone's home and preparing food in their kitchen. For me that was better than visiting twenty shrines.

That evening the party (complete with loads of little kiddies) was wonderful. The friendliness and hospitality extended to us by the members of the Hippo Family Club was overwhelming. Everybody chatted, practiced their English, asked questions about Canada and answered queries about Japan. We played games, told stories and ate all kinds of interesting food (including pizza with sweet corn on it). Either our meatballs were a real success or our hosts were incredibly polite but the pot we brought was very quickly emptied. Meatballs were paired with udon noodles, fried noodles, rice balls, and, yes, even with edemame. Megumi told me that everybody was asking for the recipe and she would put it on the club's listserve. How's that for a cultural exchange? Right now in Mino, Japanese women are shopping for chili sauce and blueberry jam (the new secret ingredient). You see? That's how trends begin!

That night I slept on a futon on tatami mats. My gracious host thought I might be cold during the night and really piled the blankets on. I slept so well and so long that, (in her own words), Megumi said, 'To tell the truth, my husband and I worried about you seriously'. Poor woman. She thought that something had happened to me during the night and now what would she tell the Hippo Family Club? The lovely pampering continued. A hot bath was drawn for me (42F), I learned that the Japanese lather up and then shower off the dirt before getting into their bath to soak. That way their bath can be used for soaking sessions for the whole family but it always remains perfectly clean. I loved my soak but I didn't stay in the tub too long. I didn't want Megumi to worry about me again. I left the tub water perfectly clean and Megumi transferred that water to the washing machine to launder her clothes. How's that for conserving water and energy? Breakfast consisted of a cup of homemade chicken soup, a piece of cheese bread topped with hickory smoked cheese and a cup of tea all sprinkled with lovely discussions on life, families and the universe.

Still our cultural exchange was far from over; the best was still to come. By eleven o'clock we were packed and ready to go to our Japanese cherry blossom sansin party in the park. What? OK. Let me start at the beginning. Japan's Cherry Blossom Festival was drawing to a close. This Bar BQ picnic was an 'adieu' to this year's blossoms.

Next, a 'sansin' is a Japanese instrument that looks like a little banjo with a very long neck. Those attending this party were almost all people who were taking sansin lessons from a woman whom everybody referred to as Mama. Mama was quite the character; she ran the show. My afternoon in the park was all about eating, drinking and hanging out. Communication was solely by sign language plus offerings of food and music.

Megumi drove me back to the ship. We took the small roads because we both don't like expressways. That gave us more time to finish our discussion. We finished our homestay with a stop for coffee and French pastries. I sent a box of chocolates home for Hiro, Megumi's very cute husband. I told her she was very lucky I didn't speak Japanese because I would have stolen her husband from her. We hugged, shed a few tears and said, good-bye.

That evening Megumi' wrote in an email, 'I feel very happy to spent time (with you)!!'

When I'm ninety and sitting in my rocking chair I know I'll remember Japanese meatballs in blueberry sauce and Megumi.

P.S. I think the chocolates were a hit. The next day this email arrived from my hosts:

Monday night Hiro had some chocolate that your gift.
He said very tasty chocolate!! he love them.
He enjoyed to eat two pieces of chocolate tonight too.
When he ate them I also had them!!
I love them. Thank you very much, ARIGATOU Evelyn.


I find my host in the crowd


A sweet little welcome...


A huge sushi restaurant


Visiting the supermarket


Cooking meatballs


Japanese buffet


Evelyn in Japanese calligraphy


Cherry Blossom Bar BQ picnic


Dancing in the park


Meeting mama's husband


Trying the hat on for size


 

End of Week Eleven

 

Week before leaving -- (Jan 11-20)
Week 1 -- (Jan 23-Feb 1 Puerto Rico)
Week 2 -- (Feb 3-9 Salvador, Brazil)
Week 3 -- (Feb 10-16 On the way to South Africa)
Week 4 -- (Feb 19-24 Cape Town and African Safari)
Week 5,6 -- (Feb 25-March 8 Mauritius)
Week 7 -- (March 9-15 Chennai, India)

Week 8 -- (March 16-22 Penang, Malaysia and Singapore)
Week 9 -- (March 23-31 Ho Chi Minh City, VietNam)
Week 10 -- (April 1-6 Hong Kong, Guilin Shanghai, China)
Week 11 -- (April 7-13 Kobe, Japan)
Week 12 -- (April 14-20 On the way to Hawaii)
Week 13 -- (April 21-27 Honolulu, Hawaii)
Week 14 -- (April 28-May 8 Puntarenas, Costa Rica)

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