Friday, February 18, 2011



We boarded the Ocean Princess with about 680 other passengers and set sail for Okinawa, in the Ryukyu Islands, south of Japan. Actually, Okinawa is part of Japan, the smallest of 47 prefectures (states) in Japan. We landed in Naha, the capital, a city of 300,000. Okinawa is a strategic island, situated in the middle of the trade route between Japan, China and Southeast Asia. As such, it was worth the price of a major battle during World War II when much of the island was destroyed. The Japanese had heavily fortified the island, and it was honeycombed with tunnels. Today, a large U.S. military base still operates there and significantly helps the economy.

We visited the beautiful Shurijo Castle, a World Heritage Site, which was destroyed in the war and has been completely restored. It is painted vermilion red. the architecture is Chinese, but the interior is Japanese, with mats covering the floors. There's not much else to see in Okinawa, and we returned to Kokosai Street in Naha to do some shopping in the market.

There is an elevated monorail railway which runs the length of the island. We rode a tour bus however. On the main street, we quickly located the McDonald's, which we do in every city we visit. We were walking with a couple of elderly ladies from Oregon who were on our bus. Millie and I started talking, and it turned out she was also an Illini--from the Class of 1953. Her late husband was a lobbyist in Springfield, and she knew every major Illinois politician of her era, several of whom were later fitted for striped suits. Millie was a fan of Chief Illiniwek, whom we both mourn the passing, caused by political correctness run amok.

We went to the public market where Dianne tried on kimonos. There is a distinct way of fitting it and wrapping it around. We took several photos of the experience.


We returned to the ship for a day at sea the following day, January 26th, which was Australia Day. This is a major Australian holiday to commemorate the 1788 founding of the first White settlement there. (The first Black settlement was about 30,000 years ago, on a Tuesday, but the date was not recorded.) The (white) settlement was at Botany Bay, commanded by the British Captain Arthur Phillip who sailed with 11 ships, 759 convicts (191 were female), 13 children of convicts, 211 marines (with 46 wives), etc.

Our ship was decked out in green and yellow, the Australian colors. Several of the crew entertainers are Australian, and they passed out green and yellow leis for us to wear. I asked if they saw Sydney and Adelaide. They said no, but they saw Fred and Sylvia on the ship.

The Asia cruises bear little resemblance to Caribbean cruises. There were no first time cruisers or honeymooners as far as I know. This cruise was for adventurers, not sunbathers, although there were a few. Most of the people I talked to had been around the world, some both ways. Many had cruised to Antarctica.

We participated in the trivia contests, which we did on most sea days. Usually, the contest was won by "Mr. Clark" sitting in the back of the room who was well known by the crew members. As it turns out, "Mr. Clark", actually Brian, or if you're dyslexic, "Brain", and his wife Isabel spend most of their lives on cruise ships. A British couple, officially living in British Columbia, they have logged over 2600 days--about 8 years--cruising. Since they've been around the world a few times, I considered them to be the mavens of any upcoming port. The next day, we were scheduled to land at Keelung, Taiwan. Mr. Clark said it rains 365 days a year there. We asked, "What about Leap Year?" He replied, "then it snows!". That is his sense of humor.

He also told me the story of an elderly woman who essentially used the ship as her retirement home. He didn't identify the cruise line. On an Antarctic cruise, she was dying, and they kicked her off the ship. They don't walk the plank anymore, but they ferried her to South Georgia Island where she died. They didn't want her to die on the ship--too much paperwork.

The ship has activities for everyone, and they are listed in the daily newsletter, called the Princess Patter. I called it the Pitty Pat, after the GWTW character. So if you're a friend of Bill W., you can meet with him. (I know that's the AA group.) There was no listing for Friends of Bill (FOB) who held the good jobs during the Clinton Administration. But I was trying to figure out who are "Friends of Dorothy". I was planning to go and find out, but Dianne told me to stay away. As it turned out Dorothy sat at our table at dinner, and we became good friends, but she insisted she wasn't that Dorothy. I never got to meet the other Dorothy.


Taiwan has an interesting history. It was Japanese from 1895-1945 when it was returned to China. It was called Formosa which was the name given by the Portuguese. The main island is located 100 miles off the coast of mainland China, but it also includes 79 islands, some of which are as close as 1 mile from the mainland. In 1949, Chiang Kai Shek, the president of Nationalist China fled there with his government when the Communists took over mainland China. The Chicoms have been attempting to get Taiwan since that time, isolating it diplomatically and periodically threatening it with military action. Given that acrimonious history between the two Chinas, one would expect the two to have little or no contact with each other. But Mainland China is Taiwan's biggest trading partner (Hong Kong is fifth). Many mainland factories are owned by Taiwanese. Taiwanese frequently travel to the mainland. Taiwanese natives are a minority on the island--most people are Chinese, from the mainland.

Taiwan, officially called the Republic of China, is an Asian Tiger, a strong, highly developed market based economy. There are four Asian Tigers--Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong. Taiwan is heavily industrialized, and is a leader in information technology. It is the world's leading manufacturer of computer chips.In the Asian competition for the tallest buildings, Taipei, the capital city is right up there. This is a prestige competition, and Taiwan 101 is the representative--a 101 story building, which was partially obscured by the smog and haze.

We visited the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, a magnificent building flanked by the National Concert Hall and the National Theater, all in traditional Chinese architecture. The building is a tribute to the Generalissimo, a cult figure, who died in 1975. The Memorial contains a huge bronze statue of Chiang, in traditional Chinese dress. It is guarded by servicemen with an hourly changing of the guard. Exploring different halls, we saw photos and artifacts of Chiang's life.


Chiang Kai-Shek was a protege of Dr. Sun Yat Sen who led the 1911 Revolution which overthrew the Qing Dynasty. Chiang was the leader of Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) which exists to this day. Even today, Chiang is a controversial figure.During World War II, he was known in Pentagon circles as General Cash-My-Cheque because of the huge amount of financial aid he kept requesting to fight the Japanese and the Communists. General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell, (no relation to "Vinegar Bend" Mizell, former baseball pitcher and congressman), the head of U.S. Forces in China, Burma and India, argued that Chiang was incompetent as both a leader and a general. Stilwell often rankled Chiang, probably getting off on the wrong foot when Stilwell originally called him "Mr. Shek". Eventually, the charismatic Chiang prevailed, and the outspoken Stilwell was replaced. Chiang may have been a SOB, but he was our SOB. He is revered in Taiwan to this day, so be careful what you say about him.


The Martyr's Shrine is the national cemetery honoring Taiwanese war dead. The Changing of the Guard is a spectacle to be seen. Six guards with gleaming rifles and shiny boots with cymbals attached to their heels, perform elaborate routines of heel clicking, rifle tossing and bayonet twirling in perfect execution.


This is another magnificent example of Chinese architecture with several pagodas still in use as a shrine by the Chinese parishioners. Dianne had an accident there. While descending the narrow steps to the ladies room, she fell and severely injured her ankle (torn ligaments) and bruised the other knee, requiring stitches. She was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of the Taiwan tour. For the last 2 weeks of the trip, she wore a walking cast and used a crutch. But there was no way she was terminating the trip, and she hobbled over to see virtually all the attractions for the balance of the trip.


This museum features thousands of ancient Chinese artifacts and artworks collected by Chinese emperors over thousands of years. The artworks were removed from the museum in the Forbidden City in Beijing in 1931 to protect them from the Japanese invaders. They were moved from city to city over the years, and during the Chinese Civil War, moved to Taiwan. The Peoples Republic of China (PRC) has demanded the return of these objects over the years, but the Taiwanese insisted that the items were safe with them, particularly during the Great Cultural Revolution under Mao. In recent years, both Taiwan and Mainland China have exchanged articles for exhibition.


This is a luxury hotel, an enormous vermilion red pagoda which I had difficulty capturing on the camera. Completed in 1973, it is the world's tallest Chinese classical building, at 285 feet high. It is decorated with traditional dragons as well as lion and plum flower motifs. When it was built, it was the tallest building in Taiwan. We ate a decadent lunch at the buffet with every imaginable type of Chinese food available.




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