Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Our scheduled trip to Osaka was cancelled due to the H1N1 flu virus precautions as they closed all schools and universities. Our plans were changed to stay local and visit the Hikone Chamber of Commerce. It was a very interesting day as Shiga Prefecture is a lot like Michigan. Shiga’s economy is mostly manufacturing and agriculture with many large factories located here. Hikone has been hurt by the loss of manufacturing and the economic downturn. The directors at the Chamber of Commerce talked about how they have been trying to transform their economy and revitalize their downtown area. One of Japan’s national treasures is Hikone castle and they have done a good job of building on their heritage in redeveloping a downtown historic area call “Old New Town”. I was impressed with how they capitalized on their strengths in the redevelopment effort. After our time at the Chamber of Commerce, we were give a tour and had lunch in the area called Castle Road. Then we were invited to visit the home and art studio of a local artist where we experienced some personal Japanese hospitality. Although it wasn’t the big city, I thought our Hikone visit gave us a better look at the everyday life of the Japanese people. We spent the rest of the day doing some souvenir shopping and cooked dinner for ourselves in our kitchen at JCMU.
Today, we were able to really learn and experience some traditional Japanese customs. JCMU prepared many cultural activities as part of the 20th Anniversary celebration. In the morning, we could spend time and learn calligraphy, how to play the Koto, flower arranging, or the details of the tea ceremony. I was impressed with the simplicity yet elegance of their customs. I decided to try my hand at the Koto and later learned about the tea ceremony. Jo wanted to learn about the flower arranging and our group really had a good time getting first hand instruction in these traditional customs. We had some free time in the afternoon which was nice to catch up on some homework. The celebration was capped off with a ceremony and dinner reception. There was an introduction of the many guests who traveled to JCMU to commemorate this special anniversary and speakers to honor this occasion. The dinner was great with so many dishes to try with a special traditional puppet show. Again, we left a little early to put Annabelle to bed. Although bringing a 15 month old can limit your participation, it was worth it to share this great experience with my family.
Today would be a day trip to Kyoto to see some of the historical sites. It was about a 50 minute train ride from Hikone to Kyoto station. Wow, what a huge building. Kyoto station is a fifteen story tall building and one of the largest buildings in Japan incorporating the station, hotels, department stores, shopping mall, and restaurants. We had lunch in their food court which is nothing like the U.S. It’s more like a collection of tiny restaurants. Yum! The rest of the afternoon we would visit Nijo Castle and Kinkakuji or “Golden Pavilion Temple”. The evening would be a visit to Gion corner where we could see more traditional Japanese arts and entertainment. After the afternoons activities, Jo and I decided to travel back to JCMU early as Annabelle was getting tired. This would be our adventure traveling Japan by ourselves. However, our travel plans were delayed as we found out the train line that would take us back to Hikone was delayed due to a human damage incident. I guess it is not uncommon for people to commit suicide by jumping in front of trains. As a tourist, we don’t always think about the societal issues facing other countries. But the economic hardship has affected everyone especially those in smaller areas in Japan. The delay let us spend more time in the toy store at Kyoto station which Annabelle loved. A 15 month old has no interest in the historical sites of Japan but she loved the toy store. We made it back to JCMU without much incidence so we feel much better about visiting Japan on our own in the future.
Monday, May 18th
Although we didn’t get to sleep very long, the temperature was much more comfortable for sleeping. The temperature is very much like Michigan which was nice compared with the heat of Taiwan. Our first official day in Japan included attending the JCMU 20th Anniversary welcome ceremony (along with other JCMU anniversary guests), a JCMU tour, a Japanese language overview, downtown Hikone tour and lunch, and finally a piano and trumpet concert and welcome reception. Our trip to Japan was planned during the JCMU 20th Anniversary celebration so we are able to participate in many of the different activities. I especially enjoyed the language overview although I wasn’t able to fully participate with Annabelle running about. It was a lesson in listening and observing as everything was done in Japanese. It took a while before everyone understood what was going on but a lot of fun. The concert and reception were very nice but we left a little early to put Annabelle to bed. That was enough excitement for a day. She really enjoyed the environment at JCMU as she has tons of space to run around and explore. Prior to the trip, I had never heard of JCMU but I’ve been very impressed with the partnership developed between Michigan and our sister Sate of Shiga Prefecture in Japan.
Sunday, May 17th
Today is another travel day which is always tiring. We will travel from Taiwan to Japan for the next phase of our trip. In Japan, we will be staying at the Japan Center for Michigan Universities (JCMU) in the city of Hikone in the Shiga Prefecture (equivalent to a U.S. State). Today, we will use just about every mode of transportation available. Planes, trains, buses, taxi, walking. I have been very impressed with the public mass transportation systems available in both Taiwan and Japan. Although it has been quite a workout carrying 3 pieces of luggage on trains, buses, up and down stairs, etc. It’s hard to travel light with a baby. It was another full day before finally arriving at JCMU around 9:00pm. Annabelle did well but it was nice to finally get there. We had our own little mini apartment with a kitchen and bathroom so it was nice to have our own space. Time for some rest (hopefully) and get ready to begin our time in Japan.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
We just spent the past 3 days visiting some awesome places. Our group has had so much fun and really bonded. I think I lost 10 pounds from all the walking, hiking, rafting, biking that we did (which is greatly needed). What an awesome experience. I’ve been to Taiwan before but I have really come to appreciate how much Taiwan has to offer. Not just in business but all the natural beauty of the island. I have visited many of the national parks in the U.S. like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Zion, Yellowstone, and Taiwan’s Taroko National Park is just as amazing. On Wednesday, we traveled by train south along the east coast to get to Hualien to begin our tour. After a 3 hour train ride, we boarded a tour bus to start our hiking and lower body workout excursion. We stopped at many of the famous sights in the park to hike and take pictures including Swallow’s Mouth, Tunnel of Nine Turns, and the Eternal Spring Shrine. That was the most walking I had done since Jo and I visited the Grand Canyon and Zion a few years ago. The day ended with us staying the night in Hualien City. I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Still, I was up at 5:30am. I haven’t been able to sleep past 5:00am since arriving in Taiwan but I’ve enjoyed the early mornings.
The next day Thursday we would start our upper body workout excursion with a “team building” Xiuguluan rafting trip. It was a 2 hour bus ride to the river. Everyone was very excited. First we had to get some basic safety training then it was off to the river. It was a 22 km trip with about 18 rapid areas which were fun but not dangerous as it was not the rainy season and the river was pretty shallow. One thing about Taiwan I could not get used to was the heat and humidity. We were lucky today the sun wasn’t that bright but still, after a 3 hour trip, everyone had some good sunburn and tired arms. A funny story on our trip back to Tapei city while riding the train, another tour guide was talking to our tour guide and asked him what was wrong with our group? What did he mean? He noticed everyone’s legs. Why did everyone in our group have red legs? At least some people could get a laugh at our pain. After the rafting we then traveled to a resort in Kwansan where we could get some more lower body workout. This time it was a 12km bike ride around their town and rice fields. I didn’t expect to find such a cool bike path in a place like that. We finished the day with a nice dinner and cool down in their pool along with homework. This is the kind of homework I could get used to :-).
The next morning Friday, I was up at 5:30am again. So another classmate and I took the bikes out for another trip on the bike path. While riding, I heard a truck playing music (Beethoven) so thought, do they have ice cream trucks in this area? But the truck playing the music was a garbage truck. I thought that was unique. Back in Tapei, I noticed the same thing. Just an interesting cultural difference. We spent our final excursion day traveling to some scenic views and visiting two different aboriginal tribe areas. The Buton and Amie tribes. You never think that a place like Taiwan having aboriginals but the whole trip was a great learning experience into the culture and history of Taiwan. It was late before getting back to Tapei and I was looking forward to seeing Jo and Annabelle. Tomorrow, Saturday would be a free day in Tapei before departing for Japan on Sunday. We would spend the time with family and shopping for things to bring back to the U.S. I can’t believe how fast the time has gone by. Next entry will be from Japan.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Day 2’s agenda will have us visit the NTPU campus in Tapei City, visit the American Chamber of Commerce in Tapei (AmCham), and finally Tamkang Univeristy in Dansui. This morning finally had a chance to eat some traditional Taiwan breakfast of sweet soy milk and shāobǐng (unleavened pocket-bread with sesame) and yóutiáo. I’ve been looking forward to that since landing in Taiwan as I’ve really grown to love it. It certainly is nice to be able to speak Chinese. Being able to go out and not worry about how to communicate is nice. Then it was off to the subway and bus. The bus ride was crazy as we were trying to pack our group of 15 people onto an already full public bus but luckily it was only a short ride. At NTPU our lecture talked about the economic development in Taiwan. Again, just amazed at how such a small country with very little natural resources has transformed itself. Next we visited AmCham and learned more about the business climate in Taiwan. AmCham’s mission is to help the government and people by offering practical assistance in improving the business climate in Taiwan. The more I learn about Taiwan, the more I’m convinced Taiwan is in great need of a marketing campaign to tell the world who they are and to tap into the full potential they possess. Next, lunch at McDonalds (only because it was convenient) and then off to Tamkang University. The experience there was quite unique. Instead of a special lecture for our group, we joined an existing undergraduate management class and joined different groups in the class to discuss a case study. It was quite chaotic and a little awkward at first but once we started interacting, it was a lot of fun to get to know the students. After class, they arranged to have students show us around their campus and take us into Dansui. I actually left early to get back and have dinner with Jo’s family as our schedule is so packed I wanted to make sure we could spend some time together. Having been to Taiwan before, it’s not a completely new experience but it’s been a lot of fun hearing about the experiences of my classmates as everything is new to them. They had a blast with the Tamkang students. This ends the academic portion of our Taiwan trip and the next 3 days will be a tour of Taiwan’s beautiful scenic Taroko park and east coast.