CRUISING AROUND EAST ASIA
Travelling by sea often takes much longer time. There’s not much to do during the journey. Most ships only offer benches and TV for passengers to while away time.
A cruise ship, though, is different; one never runs out of fun activities to do on board.
Recently, our family went on a cruise trip. We left for Shanghai, China in the afternoon of the day before Christmas.
According to the ancient texts of Tao, “In order to master the present realities, [one must] be able to understand the ancient origin.” We took heed. We went around Shanghai a bit before getting on the cruise ship.We went to the Old Shanghai Street located in Fangbang Central Road. The street was divided into east section and west section. The east section had a strong resemblance of the early years of the Republic – houses fitted with lattice windows, shop-fronts of wooden boards, balustrades and swing doors, roofs with upward eaves and protruding corners, and laced triangle-shaped edges and horse-shape wall tops.The houses in the west section were the styles of Ming and Qing dynasties, highlighting the folk practice of old Shanghai using black tiles and white-washed walls, red columns and upward eaves.
The little shopping street is a shopper’s paradise as almost everything can be found there. And shoppers may haggle in order to get a really good price.
Within the Old Shanghai Street is the Yu Garden, built during the reign of Ming Emperor Jia Jing (1559) as a private garden. Covering at least two hectares, it is the site of the Great Rockery, the “Naturally Hollowed Jade” Boulder, the Hall of an Emerald Touch of Springs, the Ancient Opera Stage, as well as an inner garden. “Yu” in Chinese means pleasing and satisfying.
After a good night’s rest and a hearty breakfast at the Radisson Blu New World Hotel, it was time to set sail into the vast open sea aboard the MS Quantum of the Seas. It took some adjusting before we got ‘settled’ aboard since this cruise was our first.
MS Quantum of the Seas is a cruise ship for Royal Caribbean International (RCI) and is the lead ship of the Quantum class of cruise ships that was delivered to RCI on October 28, 2014 and sails from Shanghai, China. This cruise liner currently has 16 passenger-accessible decks, eight of which feature balcony staterooms overlooking the ocean and a total of 2,090 staterooms consisting of 1,570 balcony staterooms, 147 ocean-view staterooms, and 373 inside staterooms.
All the interior staterooms feature a floor-to-ceiling 80inch high-definition (HD) TV screen showing live views from the outside of the ship, which Royal Caribbean calls a “Virtual Balcony” based on the “Virtual Porthole” concept introduced by Disney Cruise Line.
Other than the five complimentary main restaurants which diners can choose from, ranging from fine dining cuisine to an eat-all-you-can buffet, MS Quantum of the Seas has a number of various amenities which includes a multipurpose sports court, outdoor pool with a large video screen, spa and fitness center, “Adventure Ocean” kids club, a Wave Loch Flowrider surf simulator, a rock-climbing wall, and its newest feature, the “RipCord by iFLY” which is a skydiving simulator set in a recirculating indoor recreational vertical wind tunnel.
Another cool feature of the cruise ship is the “NorthStar” observation tower that is located at the forward end of the top deck. It uses a 7.1-ton glass-walled capsule at the end of a 41-meter-long crane arm in order to lift guests up and over the edge of the ship, reaching heights of up to 300 feet above sea level.
The ship also features a number of multi-purpose venues, namely: The Royal Theater, a Broadway-style theater with original stage productions that just blows the audience’s mind away); Two70°, which features three-story-high 270-degree panoramic ocean views, a café, and an ice bar; and the Music Hall, which serves as a nightclub and small music performance venue equipped with pool tables.
After one and a half days at sea, we reached the beautiful city of Fukuoka, Japan. But with so much to see and so little time, the only main attraction we went to was the shopping street in Dazaifu called Dazaifu Monzen Machi, alongside its shrine called Dazaifu Tenmangu. This small and quiet town on the outskirts of Fukuoka City proper was established in the late 7th century and served as the administrative center of the entire island of Kyushu for over 500 years.
Dazaifu’s shopping district felt like a safer and cleaner version of Cebu’s Colon Street. Shops and stalls sold everything from local delicacies to handmade, well-made, and original Japanese products and souvenirs. Shoppers here, however, may not be able to haggle with the prices like in China, but product quality is guaranteed.
At the edge of the shopping street, the Taiko Bridge and Shinji Pond greets the tourists before proceeding to the “honden” or its main shrine. This particular bridge in Dazaifu consists of three sacred bridges: an arched Taiko-bashi, a flat Taira-bashi, and another Taiko-bashi – together representing the past, present and the future.
After crossing the bridges, we entered the shrine’s precinct that spanned over 3,000 acres and included several structures. The main shrine was built by Yasuyuki Umasake in the year 905. A larger structure was constructed by the Fujiwara clan in 919 but was destroyed in a fire during a civil war. The Momoyama-style shrine that could be seen today dates back to1591 and is an important cultural property of the state.
In the afternoon we went for some shopping, and then headed back to the ship for our next stop – the historic city of Nagasaki. To recall, Nagasaki was where the Americans dropped the first atomic bomb on August 9, 1945 at exactly 11:02 a.m., in retaliation of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. The next bomb was dropped at Hiroshima, just minutes after.
Our first stop there was at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, where everything and anything relating to the tragedies of that day are kept. It sent shivers down my spine imagining the 74,000 lives lost and how the bomb blew the city to ashes in an instant. To this day, the remnants of that fateful day linger – the look of the city right after the bombing, the survivors’ damaged and
radiation-exposed bodies, burnt items, torn uniforms.
Fortunately, there is something at the museum that’s emotionally uplifting. At its entrance and exit are attached paper cranes, winged creature that the locals refer to as the “bird of happiness” as the crane’s wings are believed to carry the souls up to paradise. They also believe that if one folded 1000 origami cranes, one’s wish would come true. The paper crane has also become a symbol of hope and healing during challenging times. As a result, it is now a popular practice to fold 1000 cranes (in Japanese, called “senbazuru”). The cranes are strung together on strings – usually 25 strings of 40 cranes each – and given as gifts.
Just a few minutes from the museum is the renowned Nagasaki Peace Statue (Heiwa Kinen-zo) that was built to prevent a recurrence of such a disaster on the earth, to wish for world peace and to pray for the victims of the bombing. Completed in 1955 by Seibo Kitamura, the bronze statue is 9.7 meters high, sitting on a 3.9-meter base, and weighs at least 30 tons. It is said that the statue’s right hand is raised to the heavens to point to the threat of nuclear weapons while the horizontally extended left hand symbolizes peace. Its gently closed eyes resemble a prayer offering for the repose of the bomb victims’ souls; and the non-Japanese face is a depiction of “a person who goes beyond human races.”
Our Nagasaki tour ended at St. Mary’s Cathedral, better known as Urakami Cathedral, constructed after a long-standing ban on Christianity in Japan was lifted in 1873. The brick Romanesque building was the largest Catholic church building in East Asia until the atomic bomb devastated it, along with 8,500 Christians. Atomic bomb-exposed angel statues could still be seen today, even after the structure was rebuilt in 1959, in the same style.
Again, after some quick shopping we made our way back to the ship. Back in Shanghai, we spent two more days, which we spent snooping around to see what else the city had to offer to tourists. This time we checked out the Shanghai Oriental Pearl Radio and TV Tower located at the tip of Lujiazui in the Pudong New Area, by the side of Huangpu River, opposite The Bund. The Tower, a distinct landmark in the area, was completed in 1994, the tallest structure in China until 2007, when its 468-meter height was surpassed by the Shanghai World Financial Center.
Shanghai is now the location of the world’s largest Starbucks facility, a nearly 30,000-square-foot compound that includes three coffee shops, one of which at least 88 feet long – the chain’s longest to date, alongside with a two-story, 40-ton copper cask towers over the store, refilling the coffee bars’ various silos. Too bad, we had to forgo getting inside because of the 1.5 hour waiting time and the fact that it was raining and we had somewhere else to go.
But even if only up to that point, this family trip was really full.
Shanghai Old Street market
Taiko Bridge and Shinji Pond