Hello. My name is Emma and I go on cruises. Mostly, so far on P&O ships out of Southampton, but other perfectly good cruise companies are available. ;-) When I can, I con my parents into paying for my ticket.
When I travel, I blog. If you would like to read it all, it can be found at my PS. The Post have asked me to proffer some edited highlights of my ramblings, which I shall now inflict on you forthwith. Enjoy.
The sea is the colour of slate, today, as the sky is overcast and grey. It'll probably start raining shortly. The view from my massage bed (I know, it's a hard life...1) was of a fairly smooth ocean as far as the eye could see, the colour of slate, with white horses cresting the waves forming ripple patterns similar to those found in the surface of natural slate. It's all rather pretty, despite the dark grey overall effect. Sometimes, I spend so much time running around "doing" stuff, that even I forget to look out the window and marvel at the magic of the water. It's never the same colour twice or the same shade all over. It's constantly changing and shifting, with the wind, with the clouds, with the sun, mist or rain. It is actually quite dangerously hypnotic and if you look at it for long enough, you'd never get anything done at all! You'd never move! It's still bitterly cold out, though, so the effect is currently a little diluted from being witnessed through glass. It is still pretty, but it doesn't have nearly the same visceral power as when you are outdoors, with nothing between you and the infinite but a waist-high barrier and a steady footing.
Rant of the Day: Immigration Jobsworths
We have been right royally mucked about by immigration officials on this trip, and it's really starting to annoy people. Before Mumbai, we all had to have a "face-to-face" meeting with an Indian official (even if you weren't getting off the ship!). This consisted of standing in a queue for 20 minutes to hand in a couple of forms which were stamped and returned. That was it. All so that a couple of Indian officials got a free cruise from Dubai to Mumbai.
Then, when we left Beijing (I think it was Beijing, bear with me, the officious bureaucrats are starting to blur a bit in my mind...), they forgot to ask for our boarding passes to be handed in, and decided that we couldn't leave until they were all in. So we all had to abandon our dinners and go back to our cabins to get the stupid piece of paper. Personally, I think it's a scam. We had something similar in Vietnam. My theory is this: if we overstay our mooring slot, we have to pay another day's mooring fees (about fifty thousand dollars, on average) by way of a fine. This is standard practice. So if they MAKE us late, because they say WE haven't done the right paperwork, they can scam another day's fees out of us. Clever, innit?
But those were minor irritations. Japan have really pushed our patience. They got on in Beijing (so a THREE-day cruise for them) and made us queue for half an hour to be fingerprinted and photographed. No one was allowed a lie-in or an afternoon rest because our numbers were called over the emergency announcement channel, which is very loud and goes into every cabin (it's used for emergencies, after all, so what do you think it sounds like?!). However, they were so inefficient, they hadn't even agreed which documents we should keep and which they should keep, so they changed the rules half-way through the day, and all those who went early in the day had to have all their paperwork changed! So their time was wasted twice!
THEN, just when we thought it was over, an announcement was made that we would all have to have our temperature taken at 7am in the morning, even if we weren't planning to or couldn't get off the ship, before anyone would be allowed ashore. This involved queuing up and walking through a room past a camera. Why this couldn't be done during the other nonsense, or just set up by the gangway as it had been in the past in other countries (such as Singapore during the SARS outbreak a few years ago), we have no idea. Why they are so afraid of H1N1 I have no idea, either. I would have thought that by now, most people would consider the major threat to have passed, wouldn't you? Seriously, that's what all this nonsense is about. H1N1. They don't even ask if we've been inoculated against it! (which I have) It's all so completely pointless and that's why everyone is getting angry and frustrated. If we felt that it was genuinely necessary and properly run, we probably wouldn't mind, but it's so obviously nonsense, it really winds people up. We're only here for two and a half days, as it is, without wasting valuable time with this rubbish. Yes, I said half a day. Let me explain.
The time aspect is further exacerbated by the fact that, just before we sailed from Southampton, we received notification that instead of a whole day in Hiroshima, we would only have HALF a day. This was because Japanese authorities had suddenly decided the ship was too large to traverse the Inland Sea and we would have to go the long way round to get to Osaka. Funny, the ship hasn't grown since the arrangements were originally made...
Anyway, today I finally set foot in Japan for the first time. Big anti-climax. HUGE. No taxis, no one who spoke English to meet, greet or assist. A ludicrously long wait for a taxi, actually. There was a well-meaning old taxi marshall, who eventually rang someone up and yelled at them until they sent more cabs to the port. Mind you, it was a long conversation. The person at the other end was clearly unwilling!
We are less than impressed with Japanese hospitality thus far, I can tell you.
We went to the Peace Park. This is the park that the bomb was dropped on. It's big and T-shaped and easy to spot from the sky (and probably wasn't called the Peace Park back then...). There are a series of memorials and fountains set up, including an arch with the names of all who died on the day and as a result over the longer term from the effects of the radiation. There is also the Children's Memorial, which is in the shape of the bomb but has a bell hung inside, which you ring for world peace. If only it was that easy! The symbol of longevity is the crane (bird) and a young girl called Sadako who had leukaemia tried to make 1000 origami cranes so that she wouldn't die. She did 1300 but she still died, but the crane has now become the symbol of Hiroshima's hopes for peace in the world and the bell clanger is a brass origami crane. We rang the bell, for what it's worth...
Caution, this bit gets a bit political...we are talking about nuclear weaponry, after all...
There is also a fountain with a bridge across it with a flame burning. The plan is that the flame will be extinguished when there are no nuclear weapons left in the world. I hope it's got a large fuel reservoir. Call me cynical, but I can't help but feel that as the nations that make sense get rid of their nuclear weaponry, the nations that don't make sense strive to get them. The trouble with nuclear weapons is that the only deterrent against using them is that the person you want to aim at has them too. That's the nuclear deterrent. Yes, we can reduce the numbers, but until all the world's nutters, dictators and fanatics are wiped out, I'm afraid, we NEED nuclear weapons in order to ensure our own safety. If I got political, I would probably suggest that it's entirely possible that the only reason the State of Israel even still exists is because it got the bomb before any of its neighbours. If any of the others had got it first, what do you think...? And while maniacs like whatshisname in Iran keep bleating on the one hand about wiping Israel off the face of the Earth and on the other about how they only want peaceful nuclear energy production, someone has to hold the nuclear reins...
Hiroshima is not a pretty city. In fact, it is downright ugly. Hardly surprising, considering, but still... When the air was safe and they started to rebuild, the thinking was clearly "Get it up fast and make it useful - to hell with pretty". It is a very utilitarian place. Only marginally less stark than some Soviet suburbs in Eastern Europe. They were often just concrete blocks with window holes. At least in Hiroshima, they have tiled over the concrete, but they just bunged them on - no need for pattern or colour. It's also a surprisingly untidy place. I expected a Japanese city to be clean, efficient and modern. Not here. The electricity supply that was strung up all those years ago is still there - the streets are a spaghetti maze above your head of telephone and electrical cabling. We were surprised they hadn't buried it all by now, but, as I said, it's a very utilitarian place. Ain't broke? Don't fix it. Mind you, if it costs 30 quid to get a taxi for 15 minutes, maybe they just can't afford to dig holes!
The important thing to see was the Peace Dome**. This is an old brick building near where the bomb hit. It was the Industrial Promotion Hall, built in 1914 and had a dome on the top. The roof of the dome was vaporised by the bomb blast, leaving only the struts behind. They left it just as it was, as a permanent reminder of what happened on 6th August 1945. Very poignant. And very necessary, because the entire city was razed to the ground and nothing whatsoever remains other than that. There was a castle, which they rebuilt in concrete, but other than that, Hiroshima has very little to look at. But anyway, we came, we saw, we paid our respects, we took photos, bought a t-shirt, some postcards and a couple of cranes and then we left. Tomorrow, Osaka.