messing family picture

Our Trip To China and Japan

Thursday, July 9, 2009 @ 9:50 PM

We are sitting in the lounge at JFK. Our flight departs at 12:30AM. Rather than hassling with flying from Logan, and then the craziness which is switching terminals at JFK, we decided to hire a car to drive us. It worked out well, making it in less than 4 hours.

We're so excited. After learning of Colleen's diagnosis, I assumed we would not be going and worked hard to get this trip out of my head. It wasn't difficult to do that, as I'm so worried about her. It was a shock when the doctors all thought we should go, even seemed to think it was a good idea and would not compromise Colleen's prognosis one iota. So here we are. It will be good for both of us, but especially to keep Colleen busy till we return. She'll have surgery basically 48 hours after landing back in Boston. Our first stop will be Shanghai, but it is going to take quite a bit to get there.

We left our house at 5PM on July 9.

We leave JFK on Asiana Airlines at 12:30AM on July 10.

We arrive in Seoul, Korea 16 and a half hours later at 4:00 AM on July 11 (5:00 PM Boston time).

We layover for 5:40 hours and leave Seoul at 10:50 AM on July 11 (10:40 PM Boston time).

We arrive in Shanghai at 11:50 AM on July 11 (12:50 PM Boston time).

I think we will be quite tired by the time we get there.

Saturday, July 11, 2009 @ 6:00 AM

Across the date line so we have jumped a day.

I was wrong about being tired, at least so far. The seats we had flattened out into a real bed, and we slept. I've never slept so well on a plane before. They served a light meal shortly after takeoff (don't ask me what it was, some kind of spicy Korean food, served with silver chopsticks), and after a Johnny Walker Blue(!) scotch, I fell asleep. I woke up thinking it was only an hour or so later, but I had been out over 9 hours! Not too bad. We feel very fortunate and privileged to be able to take such a long trip first class. We were in the very front of a 747. Colleen sat in a seat by the window on the left side of the plane, and I sat in one on the right side with nothing in-between us. In front of the electrically operated reclining seat was a huge console with TV and magazines and lots of storage space. There were 2 flight attendants to take care of the 8 of us in first class, so you can imagine how attentive the service was. It sure is a civilized way to travel!

Our flight to Shanghai leaves in about 4 hours. I am a little concerned as I just got an email from the MIT Travel office telling us they have, indeed, had some of their travelers quaranteed because of the Asian Flu scare on entry into China, and giving us some ideas on what to do if it happens to us (basically nothing). Maybe we should suck on an ice cube just as we are landing to evade the temperature sensor as that seems to be what it is based on. We'll see.

Saturday, July 11, 2009 @ 5:00 PM

Arriving in Shanghai, we were instructed to stay seated when the plane got to the gate. 6 people in all white anti-contamination suits entered the plane, and walked down the aisle. They had a handheld scanning device which they pointed at each person's forehead to take temperature. We were near the front of the plane, so when we passed the examination we got to get off. I am not sure what happened to those behind us. My understanding is they quarantine not just the person with a high temperature, but all those around him or her.

Getting through the rest of immigration and customs was easy, and just outside we were met by a nice young man, Eric Li, provided by the tour company to take us to our hotel. Due to both distance and traffic, it takes about an hour to get into the city. During this entire time we chatted with Eric; he was quite knowledgable about Shanghai and we learned a lot both about the city and about him. He had been all set to come to Boston to get a Master's Degree from Bentley College, but the financial crisis made him change his plans and he is now entering a program here in China. Eric was born out in the country in the center of China, and came here to go to school. He does not want to go back. When I asked him if he had brothers or sisters, he smiled, and said, "You know we have a one child policy here".

Shanghai's population is around 20 million, and most of that lives in apartment buildings. Driving into the city, you see hundreds and hundreds of 20 to 30 story apartment buildings, some quite attractive and some quite plain. Think of Co-Op City in New York multiplied 100 fold. It gives the city a unique look. The downtown is quite attractive with lots of stylish modern buildings, but some green space as well.

We're staying at the Four Seasons, and the accomodation is quite nice and comparable to anything we would have back home. The afternoon was spent resting. Shortly we will go to meet some of our fellow travellers and our Chinese guide, whose name is Bunny!

Sunday, July 12, 2009 @ 4:30 PM

We met at 9:00AM in the lobby with the two other couples with us on this leg of the trip. Escorting us are two charming and enthusiastic young ladies, Bunny and Joyce. Joyce is our local Shanghai guide; Bunny will escort us throughout our stay in China. It's been fascinating to learn about China from them, and also to hear a bit about their lives.

It is hot and humid!! First off we drove under the river to the Pudong district, which did not exist in 1990 and now is filled with some of the tallest building in Asia and with lots of construction every where. We had a good view of the downtown side of the city from there as we strolled along the river, and Joyce explained how Shanghai came to be and the influence of the Western "concessions" on the city.

There were lots of other tourists, though few Westerners. We were accosted by beggars and men selling watches. One fellow kept making strange motions at me, and I assumed he was not up to any good, but it turned out that he and his family were from rural China and had not seen many Westerner's before. He wanted to take his picture with us to show the people back home!

After this we visited the Yuyuan Garden, constructed in 1559 during the Ming Dynasty. While compact, it was quite beautiful, combining the 4 elements: water, stone, plants and architecture. In one of the pavilions we saw some Ming era furniture that was carved out the roots of Banyan trees. Pretty amazing.

Did I say it was hot? By the end of our tour of the garden we were wiped out, but thankfully the restaurant that Bunny and Joyce took us to was air conditioned. We had a traditional dim sum lunch. All quite good. After lunch, we visited the Shanghai museum. While some of what was on dispaly was only moderately interesting, both Colleen and I were blown away by all the pottery. Some of it was 4,000 years old and some of it was less than 100, but all of it was quite beautiful. The detail work speaks of a time when people had far more patience than we have today.Another dim sun dinner and we were all set for the day

Monday, July 13, 2009 @ 7:00 PM

Today was spent mostly travelling from Shanghai to Xi'an, a short 90 minute flight. Upon arrival, we drove to the downtown area to see one of the oldest mosques in China, dating from 600 years ago. To get to it we had to walk through a bazaar. Lots of great pictures of vendors selling exotic food, closthing, and chotchkes. The mosque itself was a bit worn for wear, and you wouldn't really know it was a mosque. During the Cultural Revolution, the moslems were forbidden to use it, and it was turned into a Red Guard headquarters.

We then drove to the wall surrounding the city (this being the only major city in China that still has intact a complete city wall. In about the year 1000, Xi'an was the largest city in the world, with about 1,000,000 people and it was the Chinese terminus of the silk road. As seafaring took over, the city shrank and when the wall was built it was down to 200,000.

Colleen and I chose not to climb to the top of the wall, and instead sat and chatted with Bunny about her life and family. Her father had been one of the early capitalistic entrepenuers in the 80s and had become quite wealthy, but then somehow the Chinese changed the law and he was forced into bankruptcy and near poverty (especially as he owed much money to family members). He then started driving a cab for 16 hours a day to pay off his debts and support his family, and most importantly send his two daughters to college. Bunny is a second child. She said that was uncommon and was a long story about how her parents came to have her. It was obvious she loves her parents very much and feels a special obligation to them to do well with her life, knowing that having her was a huge expense. (I don't know what it cost when she was born, but we have been told if you have a second child now you are fined the equivalent of $15,000 - $20,000.)

After the wall, we checked into the Hyatt Regency. We're going to spend a quiet night in.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

This morning we went to see the Terra Cotta Soldiers. While I have seen pictures and read descriptions, nothing prepares you for the sight of a huge pit, seemingly the size of 9 football fields, filled with thousands and thousands of lifesize or larger soldiers. Each one is different. Faces, hair, shoes are all individualized. To think they were buried here for over 2000 years with no one expecting their existence is amazing.

After another dim sun lunch, we want to the Shann Xi History Museum. While the basic collection was interesting, we ended up having a wonderful and unique experience. Bunny was able to take us down into the basement and meet with Wang jian qi, the curator in charge of the funeary temple frescoes. All over the province and beyond were discovered funeral temples with long corridors leading from the outside to the central burial chamber. These corridors were lined with huge and amazing frescoes. They had all been carefully removed and brought to this museum, where they are restored. We got to go into the environment controlled room to view some of the frescoes and hear the curator explain them. I was particularly struck by one that showed three foreigner diplomats standing by 3 Chinese officials. The expressions of their faces were so lifelike; clearly the foreigners were concerned at the results of their negotiations. These frescoes are from about 700AD. I can't really explain it but I felt a connection with the artist who painted it.

Following the Museum, we went to another museum that featured many stone tablets written by emperors. Some of the calligraphy was quite exquisite

For dinner, we went to a dumpling restaurant in downtown Xi'an. It was interesting walking from the bus to the restaurant, through the crowds of local people hanging out. The restaurant itself was huge, filled with local people. The specialty was dumplings, and they kept bringing out plate after plate of them, all different kinds. It was all quite good (though I could not bring myself to eat the jelly fish.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

After an early flight to Beijing, we went to a nice restaurant by a lake for yet another dimsun lunch. The local beer was much stronger than that we had previously on the trip. Afterwards, we boarded pedi-cabs and were take to the home of Soong Ching-ling , the wife of Sun Yat-Sen. An extraordinary spot, with a very well down museum documenting her life. Not like the other museums, the exhibits really did tell the story of this remarkable woman who had a major effect on China from the 1920's to the 1980's. Another short pedi-cab ride and we walked around one of the Hutong districts, where you could see the small alleys and homes where people lived before China started to move to multi-story aparment buildings. It was not very pleasant, and quite smelly, but we were all quite taken by these two little girls who were playing and really got into posing for our cameras. They'd follow us, and as soon as we snapped a picture they would run away and then come back. So cute.

The bus then took us to our last stop of the day, the Temple of Heaven where the emperorers used to pray and hold elaborate rituals. While the structures were pretty and interesting, the people watching was fantastic. The local population seems to congreagate here to spend the afternoon. Men and women playing cards, or Chinese Chess or doing calligraphy were all over. We again were approached by someone who wanted to take a picture of a foreigner with one of their children. I guess we are quite a novelty for some of the people.

As has been the case for the entire trip so far, it was very very hot and we were quite glad to get back on the bus and go check into our hotel for the next couple of nights, the Peninsula. We were quite tired, so room service seemed the best option for dinner for the day.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A 2 hour bus ride to the Great Wall at Mutianyu began our day. Riding through Beijing, and then the "suburbs" and then out to the country was interesting. During the ride Bunny attempted to teach us some Chinese, with little success, but her illustration of the tonal nature of Chinese was interesting. She also shared a lot more about her life. Especially interesting to hear was her description of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. She was 9 years old at the time. School was closed for a week. She remembers being very scared and horrified at the pictures on the television. Her take on it was that the move to capitalisim in the early 1980's was accompanied but much corruption in the government and this is mostly what the protests were about. She presented a "balanced" view of it, agreeing that the government had made mistake in their handling of the incident and that the bloodshed was unneccesary. However, she also felt that the government had learned a lot and quashed most of the problems. She was quite explicit about how proud she was of her city and her country. I got the impression it was heartfelt and not just something she had to say.

Bunny took us to a more remote section of the great wall then the one you tend to see in photographs. While there were a lot of Chinese tourists there, it was not overly crowded. A chair lift took us to the top. It was misty and foggy, but you could see this great defensive wall winding it's way into the distance as far as you could make out in either direction. When it could it followed the contours of the ridges and valleys but it also cut through them at odd directions when necessary

And then for something that seemed completely out of place. To return to the bottom, we took an alpine slide...individual "tobaggans" sliding inside a semi-circular polished metal tube. It was silly but fun. After this, a short bus ride brought us to an "American" restaurant owned by a Chinese lady and her US husband. We stopped briefy at the Bird's Nest stadium (where the Olympics had been held last year...mobbed with Chinese tourists). Then we went back to the hotel.

This evening, we had a welcome dinner with all of the rest of the people joining us for the rest of the cruise. It was fun to meet up with Ed, TatTyana, Mary Jones, Juan Carlos, and Rick and Ann Tavan. Together with the new friends we have made this would be a great group to travel with.

Friday, July 17, 2009

We awoke to torrential rains, for which we were unprepared. We took an umbrella from the hotel, but this did not help that much. A short bus ride, and we were deposited in Tianamen Square. The size of the square is impressive, though it was actually kind of bare. I had expected there to be more Chinese propaganda, but except for a rather small portrait of Mao there was nothing. I did notice cameras on every single light pole, and I am sure they were connected to some where to be monitored closely. It's too bad the rain made it so uncomfortable. We walked over then to the Forbidden City, which also would have been much more impressive except for the rain. Large immaculate buildings in the Chinese style. Also large Chinese crowds.

Back on the bus, we ate a box lunch (quite good) and two hours later arrived in the port city of Tianjin. I thought I had seen a lot of apartment buildings before but this had 100's with 100's more under construction. Bunny told us that before the Olympics in an effort to clean up the polluton in Beijing, much heavy industry had been moved here where the wind would dissapate the smoke more effectively. And I guess they needed the workers for the industry,

Then it was time to board the ship. Things went from Bunny's carefully organized logistics to complete chaos as we had to lug the luggage through immigration and customs and no one seemed to know who was in charge or where to go next. It did not really take that long, but, especially for some of the eldery in our group was a trying experience.

We then boarded the Costa Classica, our home for the next 7 days. I am afraid this was a let down. While clean with friendly enough staff, the ship was not what we expected. The food is only so-so, and much needs to be refurbished. However, it will work and be basically comfortable. We unpacked in our cabin, attended a brief orientation meeeing (Everyone on this ship is an astronomy nut!), had ice cream for dinner and retired for the evening.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

We decided to have breakfast at the buffet before attending the MIT meeting scheduled for 9:00AM. Imagine my surpise when Ed stopped by and told us we had missed it! Clocks had changed overnight to the Japanese time zone and we did not realize it. I guess it wasn't too important, as later on Ed filled us in on what we had missed. I then attended a presentation in the Ballroom outlining the special astronomical events that would take place and a brief description for first timers as to what an eclipse was and what all the terminolgy meant (e.g. Bailey's Beads, 3rd contact, diamond ring, etc.) Afterwards was a talk on how to photograph the eclipse. Basically it boils down to take a lot of pictures with varying exposures and some of them will work. A travelogue then followed of the speakers previous 20 or so eclipses.

In the afternoon, Ed Turner from Princeton gave an hour talk on visualizing the size and time frames of the universe, using varying analogies that were interesting (his basic unit was the "galactic year" - the time it took the sun to orbit the Milky Way. On this scale the universe began in 1947. Following this, our Ed gave a talk on Dark Matter and Dark Energy. It was tough for him as the audience ranged from people who had never taken any science to Physics PHD's but I thought he did quite well.

While we were supposed to have dinner at 8:30 PM, Colleen and I actually fell asleep shortly after 6 and slept thru the night!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The ship arrived at Jeju Island, South Korea. It is volcanic in nature. We spent the morning touring the city and environs, making a stop at the rocky coast. We then took the bus to a local tourist attraction, a kind of Magnetic Hill, where the bus seemed to roll up the hill due to the layout of the terrain creating an optical illusion. A stop at the local Nature Museum explained the volcanic origin of the island. I had no idea there were that many kinds of lava. All in all this excursion seemed a little pointless, but we did finally see something interesting, wandering for about an hour through the local market. The fish smells were overpowering, and lots of things to see and great photographs. Mose of the locals did not seem to mind my taking their picture, so I did get a lot of them Back to the ship and we are off to our next stop.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Kagoshima, Japan. Another volcanic area. We toured the downtown a bit, and then headed to the local museum and garden, at what had formerly been the home of the local lord of the area. The family that controlled this part of Japan was quite involved in mondernizing Japan in the late 1800's and seemed quite torn between that and maintaining their traditional ways. They were none for their glass, and Colleen bought some pretty glass necklaces and a glass perfume bottom. Up to the top of a hill where we could see the local volcano. It is still constantly erupting, with 136 minor eruptions just this year, Major eruptions occurred in 1947 and 1913. Across the bay you could see where a great piece of land was added from the 1913 eruption...and, of course, there are still many people living right near the volcano. A stop at the local "eclipse" shop and back to the hotel. Around 2PM we cast off and are heading east, trying to find the best spot for weather near where the longest duration of eclipse will be the day after tomorrow. In theory it should be near the island of Iwo Jima.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A day at sea, heading to the spot of maximum eclipse duration. Many complaints about the ship, as it really is not the best. The food in particular leaves a whole lot to be desired. Both our Ed, and Ed Turner from Princeton gave interesting talks. A lot of discussion about what to expect during the eclipse, and how to photograph it. The weather was not good, leading to worry. At one point, I became sea sick while using the computer, so had to try out some sea bands and lie down.

Before dinner, Colleen and I and one of the other couples went to see the evening show. It was a very cheesy magic show. Clearly they had taken an attractive show girl and trained her in how to do some purchases tricks. Nothing involving any skill, no slight of hand or small tricks, just things like rolling her up in a carpet and jiggling it around and unrolling it to reveal someone else inside, though you could quite easily see where the switch had been made.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Eclipse day! The weather started out a little iffy, but cleared well by the time of first contact. Anticipation as the moon gradually "ate at" the sun, and then the moment of totality. A beautiful diamond ring, and then totality. It was absolutely stunning and magnificent. Nothing can express the beauty and awe that we experienced ad the moon blotted out the sun. I've got pictures but they fail to reveal the wonder of it. For 6 minutes and 43 seconds it was as if we were on another world. Shrieks of joy and amazement from all. The whole rest of the day was spent sharing and reliving the experience with everyone on board.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Another at sea day. The ship and cruise itself is getting kind of old and we will be glad to disembark tomorrow. I spent most of the day reading and dozing, though at one point the sea was rough enough I could not read. Ed gave an interesting talk on black holds. I particularly liked his rendition of an e.e. cummings poem that he felt captured what a black hole was ll about. Later, Ed Turner gave a talk on how astronomers might be able to determine if a planet orbiting a far off star was earth like enough to harbor life. It always amazes me at the ingenuity that astronomers can use to learn so much from such little data. A pizza in the lounge and back to the cabin to pack for tomorrow ended the day.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Disembarking from the ship in Kobe went much more smoothly than embarking in China. We made a brief stop at a sake brewery to see how Japan's rice wine is made and to try a sample. I can't say I really liked it very much. On the other hand, seeing photos of the original process and seeing how much care goes into it and the competitive spirit just like American microbreweries was interesting.

Next stop was the train station, to ride the famous Bullet Train to Hiroshima. It arrived precisely on time at 11:59 AM, and the doors were open for exactly 60 seconds. Not the most comfortable of seats, but watching the countryside at high speed was pleasant. Travelled alternately through urban and mountainous areas, with lots of tunnels. Saw some rice paddies as well.

Arriving in Hiroshima, we had a quick "box" lunch. (Lunch served at your table in a pretty wooden box). Some of the meal was good, and some was, ahhh, quite fishy.

After a quick stop at the hotel, we went to city hall and had a visit with the mayor of Hirsohima, Tadatoshi Akiba. He is a 1970 mathematics Ph.D. from MIT. The meeting was amazingly formal, with seats on one side of the room for us and the other side for Hiroshima officials. The whole visit was scripted, and the mayor kept to formalities, except when he was asked what he remembered most about his time at MIT. He replied that he enjoyed the freedom he had then. It might be my imagination, but he seemed quite wistful when discussing it, like it was something he missed. His overriding message to us was of his efforts as a spokesman of Hiroshima to get the world to abandon nuclear weapons. He has a document that he is trying to get all of the world's mayors to sign and he encouraged us to get our local officials to sign it as well. As a nice parting gesture, he gave all of us a gift, that of a Hirsoshima pen.

Next stop was the Peace Park, and a tour of the museum there. It was quite an emotional experience, walking around and seeing pictures of Hiroshima before and after the bomb...listening to recordings of victims experiences, seeing how hard they worked to rebuild. Outside is an eternal light, and in the distance is the A-Bomb domb, all that is left of the old city....It all does make you realize how crazy mankind is to have such horrible weapons.

We felt quite drained by the experience, and decided to have dinner in our room.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A dreary, gray, rainy day. Nonetheless, we took a ferry to the island of Miyajima, just opposite to Hiroshima. It was actually quite beautiful, with the cloud shrouded mountains, the orange Shinto gate in the water, the oyster beds off to one side. It is listed as one of the three most scenic places in Japan (listed by who I have no idea, but there is an official monument proclaiming it). A quaint sea side town with lots of shops (mostly for tourists), a local sweet cake bakes in the shape of a maple leaf and filled with a variety of sweet things: custard, chocolate, mocha pudding.

One distinguishing characteristic of the island is that there are wild deer roaming everywhere on the streets. They are not at all afraid of people, in fact they come up to you and try to take paper out of your hand or dig into your pockets. Quite amusing

The main purpose of visiting the island was to see the Shinto Shrine located there. It is marked by a very large orange gate in the water in front of the temple (and in fact the whole temple is oranage). We got an unexpected treat as there there was a Shinto Wedding ceremony that we got to observe close up. All the guests were dressed formally in western style in black and white, but the priests and attendants, and of course the bride and groom wore traditional garb. Lots of strange music, and ritual drinking and sharing of sake, At the end of the ceremony, the newly married couple took their place at the table with their relatives. I was struck by how formal and lacking in happiness the ritual seemed. Other than some clapping of hands when they exchanged rings (which I understand is not part of the original ceremony), no emotion was displayed at any point. Not once did the bride or groom even smile at each other

Back to Hiroshima, we had lunch in a traditional Japanese restaurant (no shows, sitting close to the floor, sliding partitions all around. Before this trip I would have said I was an adventurous eater, but starting in on the rice to see fish eyes staring back at me gave me quite a start. On the whole the food was good, kind of like an Egg Foo Yung with lots of different kinds of seafood. Afterwards, Colleen and I wondered around the stores to get back to our hotel. It is always interesting to see how things are displayed and sold in foreign countries, especially food products. It's clear that Japan, like the US, is very much a consumer oriented culture.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Bullet Train to Kyoto took about 90 minutes. From there we visited Tenryuji, the head temple of the Tenryu sect of Rinzai Zen Buddhism. It is on beautiful grounds with a variety of nice walks. Unfortunately, the heat and humidity was overwhelming. Still, I enjoyed wandering around the main building (sans shoes of course), and imagining what it would be like to be there alone in a contemplative mood. The group then went to visit the gold-leafed Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion). Colleen enjoyed it, but I was so exhausted I chose to stay on the bus.

This evening we had one of the most unusual and special events of our trip. We went to a very traditional Japanese restaurant, and attended to by a geiko and maiko (the terms used in Kyoto for geisha). They were extraordinarily beautiful, and it was fascinating to chat with them and learn about their lives. The geiko had attended university and did her graduating thesis on the geiko life and become so interested that she decided to be one, a professions she has no had for seven years. The maiko is a geiko-in-training. She was only 17 years old. They did all that geiko normally do, serving us, engaging in conversation, and most impressively dancing for us. They were accompanied by an older woman on a lute(?), who had formerly been a geiko. It's very difficult to describe the beauty and grace of their dancing, acting out poems about nature and the seasons. Truly a fascinating time.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Today we visited Nara, the original capital of Japan and home to the most impressive Buddha statue I have ever seen. Housed in the gigantic Todaiji Temple ("Great Eastern Temple"), it was 50 feet tall, and attended by other large fantastic statues. All made out of wood. Originally built in the 700's, the current statue dates from the 1600's after an earthquake damaged the original. We followed this by lunch in a nice Western style restaurant, where Colleen and I dined with Ed and Tatyana, quite nice as we had not really had a chance to be alone with them and hear their thoughts before. After lunch, it was off to more temples and their grounds. Each one is different. Hundreds or thousands of lanterns hangins, or stone moss covered memorials lining the path to the temple itself...they are all unique and beautiful.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The schedule calls for a visit it an I.M. Pei designed museum, but we decided to sleep in and skip it. After a leisurely breakfast, it was off to an afternoon of shopping in the Gion district. The cab ride was distinctively Japanese. An automatically opening rear door, a polite white gloved drive, and seats covered in starch clean white doilies. Some say that English is the international language, but clearly it is "shopping". The shop keepers are all uniformly polite and happy to see you. The bowing in thanks when you leave is nice as well. Colleen bought some gifts and items for herself. We went to a mineral shop, but it was really more for designers than collectors. No one in the shop spoke English, but somehow I managed to convey the idea that I wanted to buy a mineral from Japan. Japanese minerals are somewhat hard to get in the US, as mineral collecting is so popular in Japan that very few specimens make it overseas. They showed me something interesting which I purchases. I believe that called it a Cherry Blossom stone, and the owner did copy a page from a book in Japanese that described it and its locality. I'll have to get it translated to find out what I got. Shopping for chopsticks was also a fascinating experience. So many kinds!

For dinner, we ate at the restaurant in the hotel. We had a pleasant time, dining with Mary Jones, and, in particular, watching a cute little Japanese girl and her family at the next table.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Once again we took the bullet train, this time to Tokyo. We had hoped to be able to get a glimpse of Mt. Fuji, but the weather prevented that. Arriving in Tokyo, we went to a trendy little noodle restaurant named Honmura An in the Rippongi district. The food was good, but for me the best part was the dessert, a simple sweet apricot wrapped in rice pastry called dai-fu-ku: "big fortune". We walked around downtown Tokyo for awhile, taking it all in. Afterwords we went to visit the Imperial Palace grounds and shrine. Out guide, Takako, as usual filled us with interesting information about what we were seeing and about Japan in general. It was awfully hot and humid, so we were glad to get to the hotel.

Dinner time was at the MIT Tokyo Club. We were treated as honored guests and had the opportunity to speak with the officers of the club, who clearly where "heavy-hitters" in the Japanese business world. It was fun talking with them about their experiences.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The weather being brutally hot and humid, we decided not to join the group for the days acitivities (and some of them later told us we had made a wise choice). After a late breakfast, at the recommendation of Mike Kuranoff, we went to visit Jane Yonamine also in the Roppongi district to look at some pearl jewelry for Colleen. What an amazing woman and what an amazing experience we had. The taxi dropped us off in front of a row of buildings with street level shops, and narrow stairways and elevators leading up. One of the least inviting of these took us to Jane's 5th floor shop. The elevator opened directly into her store, which is covered with thank-you photos from many baseball players and orchestral musicians and a smattering of other famous people (Elizabeth Taylor, etc.) Her story is here. We spent about an hour and a half with her; before letting us look at what she had for sale, she insisted on teaching us about pearls. She explained where the colors come from, how the sized are determined, how pearls from different countries varied, and she had example pearls and shells to demonstrate what she was talking about. We also talked about her family and life in Japan. A very sweet but also very knowledgable lady. After purchasing some jewelry, Colleen shared with Jane how she would be having surgery for breast cancer on our return and Jane shared how she, too was a cancer survivor and gave Colleen a simple pearl bracelet with a pink ribbon. Making a unexpected connection like this was very special.

Upon return to the hotel, we went to the restaurant on the 45th floor for a little lunch. We really enjoyed each other's company, looking out at Tokyo. So many tall buildings for as far as we can see. One building in particular, the Cocoon building, struck us as particularly beautiful.

Our final dinner was at a restaurant with a variety of traditional foods, all quite good. We are all getting very facile with chopsticks. The Turners and Juan Carlos Torres and his daughters(from the Princeton group we had joined on the ship for the eclipse), dropped in near the end of dinner. We compared our weeks and enjoyed seeing them.