Far East Fantasy
Far East Fantasy
Dr. K.A. Beattie
Shanghai to Sydney aboard Oceania’s MS Insignia is a spectacular itinerary. Having spent only a couple of weeks aboard from Shanghai to Jeju and Incheon Korea, Tianjin and Beijing China to Kobe, Okinawa and Naha Japan, the first few days have been wonderful. Cherry blossom season held on just long enough for us to enjoy the fluffy pink clouds and rosy carpets at our feet. As ancient as many parts of this region are the cities are remarkably modern and sophisticated. Shanghai towers with beautiful new architectural wonders as well as punctuated with colonial and regional designs. The rapid magnetic levitating train is a highlight as it can whisk you away at speeds remarkable by any standard. Our stay straddled a weekend and public holiday so locals were out and about in the many greenspaces in the city.
The island of Jeju Korea sparkled and danced in the sea as we approached, a truly magical place. Many Koreans come to Jeju for vacations and to celebrate special events so it has a festive mood. Abrupt volcanic mountains rise from the sea sporting verdant foliage as if a fancy haircut and deep caves coaxed the very bravest of sous to enter. This limestone and volcanic island supports a very prosperous tangerine and citrus industry with tourism most likely running a close second for GNP. Women divers plunge into the depth retrieving sea urchins among other delicacies and proceed to scoop out the centres as their reward for spending 2-3 minutes holding their breath underwater. Lava tunnels and volcanic craters invite the more adventuresome of the guests but most excursions are very doable. Enjoying the super weather in Jeju and for that matter anywhere makes all the difference on any tour.
Tianjin and Beijing China held an entirely different array of interesting places for us to explore. The great wall, or a piece of it at least was extra special for me. Hangyaguan, or the yellow wall is of the oldest remaining piece of the Great Wall of China. Had I actually climbed to the visible summit of this behemoth structure, I could have gazed on Mongolia. Alas I made it to the second watch tower realizing that the climb down might well be as challenging as the climb up.
The coach ride to and from the pier offered an excellent glimpse into the everyday lives of the residents of this region. The inordinate number of trees and shrub planted everywhere was truly remarkable and indeed nice to see. Apparently this mass planting exercise is an attempt to mitigate the industrial pollution that is prevalent in the area. We were very lucky as the constant light breeze afforded us decent quality. I had expected to witness massive traffic clogging the freeways and thousands of people everywhere, not so… as a matter of fact the complete opposite.
Incheon and Seoul Korea offered something for everyone. Culture abounds in Korea as well as local markets bulging with fish and sea creatures of unknown origin or species. For the history buffs, the Korean War memorials and museums are exceptionally well done.
Japan from Hiroshima to Kyoto and Naha to Okinawa was so wonderful and chocked full of paradoxes. Beautiful architecture from Dynasties past to ultra-modern buildings shinning with metals and glass piercing the still blue and cloudless skies. The island of Mirajima Guchi was a special delight indeed. The iconic Tori Gate stood proudly in the bay at low tide as if welcoming us to this spiritual place. The Shinto temple afforded us a glimpse at this ancient religion or belief system complete with wafting incense, candles and many Shinto priests offering blessings. A resident herd of deer inhabit this island and are remarkably tame; watch your handbags and papers!
Traditional villages, cultural displays, music dance and of course food only enhance the wonderful excursions ashore in Japan. Learning how to bow properly, rehearsing the odd word in Japanese and of course appreciating raw fish and various seaweeds all go towards a very special time and place along our wonderful journey. Definitely not to be missed this region of the world is truly a treasure chest of history art, culture and philosophy; you may return a different person after seeing and feeling this remarkable region of the world.