Voyage blur

My recollections of the rest of the voyage are hazy. I took photos but made few notes and did not send any e-mails to family and friends.

The 24th in a series of blogs about Semester at Sea, a round-the-world voyage with 600 students.  David Mould is the author of Postcards from Stanland: Journeys in Central Asia (Ohio University Press, 2016) and the upcoming (2019) Monsoon Postcards: Indian Ocean Journeys. Read excerpts at (Travel Blogs) or Facebook /PostcardsFromStanland/

From Nagasaki, we made the short hop across the Sea of Japan to Busan (Pusan), the second largest city in South Korea and the country’s main port. By this time, SAS had announced that to make up for missing Vietnam and China, two ports had been added—Seward, Alaska, and Victoria, British Columbia. We had packed for warm weather, not for the Alaska spring, so the first item of business in Busan was to shop for winter coats from Russian traders on one of the city’s markets. We visited the city’s famous aquarium and took a day trip to Gyeongju, the capital of the dynasty that ruled most of the Korean peninsula from the 7th to the 9th centuries. I took pictures of monuments, palaces and traditional houses. Pictures of Stephanie surrounded by gaggles of grinning schoolgirls. Pictures of us in restaurants, the table loaded with colorful but unidentifiable dishes. I wish I had written captions, so I could figure out later where we were and what we were doing.

Gyeongju, ancient capital of the Korean kingdom

Gyeongju, ancient capital of the Korean kingdom

Korea (15).jpg
Korea (17).jpg

Then it was on to Osaka, where we shopped and went to a baseball game. We visited the temples and shrines of the ancient city of Nara and fed deer in the parks. We joined Tad Watanabe, one of Stephanie’s friends from the linguistics graduate program at Ohio University, on a day trip to Kyoto, the former capital in central Honshu, famous for its classical Buddhist temples, gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses. 

Nara and Kyoto 059.jpg
Nara and Kyoto 020.jpg
Nara and Kyoto 066.jpg
Nara and Kyoto 078.jpg
Nara and Kyoto 081.jpg

I must say—and do so with the utmost respect to colleagues and friends who love the country—that of all the countries on the voyage, Japan made the least impression on me. I’ll attribute that partly to the fact that we were nearing the end of the trip and looking forward to being home again. It also had something to do with the orderly nature of Japanese society. The streets are clean, the trains arrive on time, and everyone is polite, if rather reserved. It all seemed just too neat and predictable. This, of course, is my failing, not Japan’s. I was simply not in the country long enough to understand much about its history and culture; if I was there longer, I’m sure I would have liked it more and started to appreciate cultural nuances. I simply prefer other countries—Brazil, Cuba, India, South Africa—that are rougher around the edges and where things don’t work so well. My major travel adventure in Japan was to (innocently) jaywalk while other pedestrians waited obediently for the crossing light to change. It’s more dangerous, but also more exciting, crossing the street in India.

Nara and Kyoto 061.jpg

The Bering Sea between Japan and Alaska lived up to its reputation for heavy seas. For five days, the Universe Explorer rode the waves and swells, while we staggered along the corridors and clung onto the handrails. On some days, the weather was so bad that no one was allowed out on deck, making the ship feel even more claustrophobic. Unfortunately, the crossing coincided with two days of final exams. Students would write a few lines on their exam papers, then lurch out of the classroom to the bathroom to throw up. I gave all my classes extra time to complete their exams. We docked in Seward on Alaska’s southwest coast for a day, then headed southeast to Victoria and, at last, on May 6, arrived in Seattle. Stephanie and I said farewell to the friends we had made on the voyage and flew home.

Final week: Would I do it again?