Monday, July 27, 2009

Two Smaller Stops -- Dalian and Jeju

We're headed to Japan now, but with two stops en route. The first is Dalian, a city with several identities as it has gone from Chinese to British to Chinese to Russian ("Dalny") to Japanese ("Dairen") and back to Chinese control. Nearby Lushunkou, called "Port Arthur" by the Russians, is linked by trade and history. Dalian is a city of almost 2 million, with another 3 million in the surrounding area, but of course we only got to see a very tiny part of it in and close to downtown.

As the boat approached, we saw these massive housing developments on the edge of town. A little later we rode a trolley to the end of the line next to the same apartment complex visible on the right side of the photo from the water. Jeff felt a bit adventuresome and walked out to the edge of what will probably soon be another massive group of apartments in what now looks like wasteland between the water and the apartments.

Dalian welcomes visitors from all its former oppressors, and signs all around the tourist areas were in Chinese, Russian, Japanese and English. Near downtown is a small area we visited with friends Alberto and Lucy called Russian Town, but apart from the church it was hard to see much "Russianness" in the architecture or in the goods sold, apart from a few wooden nesting dolls. Of greater interest to us were the guys moving a refrigerator by bicycle!

Downtown projected an image of grandeur and prosperity, further reinforcing our positive image of China as an up-and-coming place.
Residential architecture is bit less grand. We saw almost none that was unsafe or unsavory, but it is fairly dense and maintenance is not high on their to-do list. Even the quite attractive brick apartments with the "U.S.A. Future Star" (???) nursery school on the ground floor had peeling and streaked paint on the trim. In short, there's a way to go before it will be a true peer to Japan, the U. S. or western Europe, but considering how far China has come in the last few decades, it's nothing short of amazing.

Louise headed back to the boat ahead of Jeff, who wanted to get a few more of those photos you see here. Just before reboarding, he said hello to a group of young men who answered back in English. He ended up chatting with them for twenty minutes, leaving off only when it looked like he might be the last person back on board before she set sail (he wasn't -- they were waiting for 3 more passengers out of our 1400). The six men are all students at a maritime school based in the ship shining in the sun behind them, and they had never seen a ship like the Volendam before and had many questions about it. When they heard its top speed, their eyes opened. When they heard its gross tonnage, they opened more. When they heard how many passengers and crew it held, those eyes all but popped out of their heads. It was fun for Jeff to have an audience appreciating all this info so much, and quite surprising to him to hear how fluent their English was.

One more stop en route to Japan, the curious island of Jeju, aka Cheju, South Korea where this grandma drum band gave us perhaps the most colorful welcome of the cruise. Jeju is the southernmost place in South Korea and consequently a popular vacation spot, but not in late April when we landed.
After much study of a Lonely Planet guidebook, we traced out on a sheet of paper the Korean characters for the three places we wanted to visit along with our friends Stuart and Carole, and easily found a taxi driver at the dock who was willing to take us to all three for a fair price. Though we never exchanged any words in each others' languages, we got along quite well with our driver with a little sign language and a lot of smiles.

Our first stop was a long-dormant volcano which did not look like much,
but which gave us a nice vista of the countryside. Our next stop was Seongeup, a village that time passed by until a quarter-century ago, when the government realized what a treasure it was and began steps to protect it. These 100- to 200-year-old buildings are still very much lived-in, with a few craft shops but mostly just homes that function with modern amenities largely hidden from view. The thatch roofs are held down by heavy cord tied to bamboo, due to the high winds that blow off the nearby ocean.

Our third stop was Jeju Folk Village, a Korean version of Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts -- a museum that illustrates local history by assembling historic buildings of various types and from a wide area, in this case the entire 25 by 90 km island. Here are a few shots, including one of a mannikin illustrating supper preparation in a traditional home, and studying at a Confucian school. The Village was used as the setting for a very popular tv costume drama, and signs around the Village showed scenes from the show next to where they were shot. They also provided Louise an opportunity to look like a fallen woman, Korean-style.

No set of photos of Jeju would be complete without some of the stonework, especially the "grandfather stones" that each village carved as a welcome to visitors. The Folk Village also had a shamanism exhibit where a different sort of stonework was on display . . .

Tomorrow we arrive at the Land of the Rising Sun, so it was ironic that we had this iconic View of the Setting Sun as we left the Asian mainland behind and headed to our next destination, Kagoshima, Japan.

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