Did I miss anything?

Hey. You’ve found me part way through this epic, realtime, virtual trip around the world on Google maps and probably missed some interesting places. I’ve learnt some great things that I’ll be using in a Trivial Pursuits game at Christmas, and you can learn them too. Why not jump back and check out some of the places I’ve been to earlier on?

Be prepared - The very first entry.
(Use the top right link above each entry to move forward.)

Alternatively, you can check on my progress and review all of the past maps in The story so far. Or just check on why in my about page.

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Rewind to Burma

Before I move on today, I want to rewind my journey and discuss Burma for a moment.

Voters in Burma go to the polls on April 1st for by-elections that promise to be the most open contests in decades, with Aung San Suu Kyi among those standing. Her National League for Democracy (NLD) is contesting all 45 seats, vacated when politicians joined the new, military-backed civilian government.

This is very important to Burma, its people and the stability of the region in the long run.

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Destroyer of worlds

I love this city. Not because of its historic status, but because it is still here. The people are here. And this is a testament to the Japanese resolve.

What’s overwhelmingly sad for me is that this great city, after 500 years of history, is best known as the city that the first atomic bomb was used on in an act of war. This action by the Americans on the morning of August 6th 1945 overshadows everything. It must leave a scar on the memories of the people here. Of all of the people around me, who isn’t affected in some way?

September 1945

Autumn 1945

Hiroshima wasn’t always the target. The Target Committee, led by General George Marshall, nominated four targets in the months before: Kokura, the site of one of Japan’s largest munitions plants; Hiroshima, an embarkation port and industrial centre that was the site of a major military headquarters; Niigata, a port with industrial facilities including steel and aluminium plants and an oil refinery; and Kyoto, a major industrial centre.

The United States called for a surrender of Japan in the Potsdam Declaration on 26 July 1945. The Japanese Government declined and its emperor, Hirohito, did not change the decision, setting in motion the events that would decimate this fine city. On Monday, August 6, 1945, at 8:15 AM, the Atomic Bomb ”Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima by an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, directly killing an estimated 80,000 people within seconds of detonation at an altitude of 600m (1,968 ft). By the end of that year, injury and radiation brought total casualties to 90,000–140,000. Approximately 69% of the city’s buildings were completely destroyed, and another 7% severely damaged.

What staggers me is this: Little boy had an explosive yield of about 12 – 15 kilotons TNT and devastated approximately one mile radius. In 2010, the US B53 nuclear bomb, which the US has about 50 of, had a yield of 9,000 kilotons TNT.

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Day 64: Hiroshima

Hiroshima is a busy port city with a population of about 1.2 million people and was founded in 1589 by the powerful warlord Mōri Terumoto. Hiroshima castle was built especially for him in 1593. The main port area was largely developed in the 1880′s and a tremendous amount of the cities wealth is generated by sea trade. Geographically, Hiroshima is the largest city located along the coast of the Seto Inland Sea in the western of Chugoku region of western Honshu, the largest island in Japan.

This capital of Hiroshima Prefecture has a modern face of an industrial city punctuated with criss-crossing rivers, broad highway, and a populous city center. The Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall was constructed in 1915 as a center for trade and exhibition of new products. The city, and especially its ports, played a big part in both the first and second Sino-Japanese wars and was extended militarily during around the turn of the century. During these war, Hiroshima was used a number of times for high-level talks, indicating its importance in the actions.

From day to day, modern Hiroshima is lively and busy. For shopping and food, Hondori street is probably the place to start. It has many retail stores and good, reasonably priced restaurants and eating places. It’s certainly lively, and you can try some of the local specialities.

Hondori archade.

Okonomiyaki: One of many local dishes.

Why not try some okonomiyaki, look out for places offering anago, maybe oysters or local fugu (though neither are in season), and if it’s your thing, horumon-yaki (grilled offal). Summer is a good time to visit one of the places for Hiroshima style tsukemen as well. Look out for the Hiroshima specialty of kozakana (baby fish) at the sushi places.

There are public parks that create a very open feel, despite some very modern, slick buildings, and well designed urban areas. Next to all of this modern style is one historical event that my virtual self will now go and visit. August 6th 1945.

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Watashi ga chōkō o yomitoru koto ga dekimasen

Like many countries, the motorway signs are in both the local language and English, or rather, roman lettering. The Kyushu expressway takes me north and I am very happy to find that this is still AH1 [You remember the Asian Highway Network I have travelled at times since northern Iran.] The first section of this expressway opened in 1971, and the full length of it wasn’t finished until 2011 with the Kurate interchange.

The Japanese language is complex and simple at the same time. A single graphic can be a whole sentence. In the late eighties I decided to go to Japanese lessons at evening classes in England. The spoken language is expressive and beautiful at times, but I was totally incapable of writing it. In some ways, ‘writing’ is not quite what you are doing. It’s more like drawing. It’s an art form. It’s beautiful really. The Japanese language is a mix of three script types: Chinese characters called Kanji, and two symbolic scripts called hiragana and katakana. Although Japanese is written in Chinese characters, and uses many of the same words, the two languages are not related. I still remember quite a bit from my Japanese classes, but probably not enough to get by in Japan. I can say thank you [which is good.] and tell someone that I don’t speak much Japanese. [which IS useful.]

I cross from Kyushu island across the Kanmonkyo Bridge onto Honshu island over the Kanmon straits. The bridge was completed in 1973.

Once on the Chugoku expressway, I am into the mountains. Japan has a number of famous mountains, Mount Fuji being the most well known, but actually, japan is quite mountainous. Certainly more than I thought.

Google maps plots me a route with two choices, and I decide to take the more northern route through the mountains. I have ‘booked’ a room in Hotel Ishimoto near the centre of Hiroshima, which has parking and a choice of both western rooms, with a bed, and Japanese rooms, without a bed. It’s mid afternoon when I arrive in the city and i will stay over and spend tomorrow being a tourist. This is an important visit for me, virtual or otherwise.

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Day 63: Hakata Bay

The ship moored up very early this morning and my container was unloaded before I even appeared on deck. I thanked the Captain and a few of the crew and headed off onto the dry land again. Hakata bay is not a big container harbour, and has more fuel tankers than cargo ones. I find myself on the island port called Minatokashi.

I hope my camper is ok.

She made it!

What I find fascinating here is that the cranes can remove a single container with ease. It’s like they know exactly where every box is. Maybe they do.

I climb in through the back window and back it out. An exchange of papers and a quick passport and visa check and I’m away. Thankfully, the Japanese drive on the left, so it’s just like home. The ship will leave for its next destination within the hour and I will head north, with a few stopping point along the way.

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Life at a slower pace

There is plenty of time to do nothing. Life is so busy these days that any chance to just sit and watch is good for the soul. On a cargo ship there is plenty of time. The crew go about their work, whatever that is, and us passengers can roam and sit, and generally take it easy. It’s only about 550 miles to Japan, but we are taking nearly two days to get there. Bliss.

A cargo or container ship can come in all sorts of sizes and carry everything the modern world needs, from gas and oil, to clothes and bananas, or camper vans. There are thousands of container ships traveling the seas of the world every day. For logistics companies the world over, if you need to get a container somewhere fast, fly it there. Everything else goes on a ship like this. One big misconception is that travelling by ship is cheaper than flying. This is simply not true. Most container ships cost US$80 – 140 per day, per person. Remember that this includes three meals a day, a cabin and the transport itself.

Schedules onboard revolve around mealtimes which, if you travel on some of the French ships, can be a gourmet delight. Apart from the meals, the rest of the day is pretty much your own. After all of the driving and having to get somewhere quick, this is a bit of a shock. I can;t help thinking that my virtual self is asleep most of the first day! Personally, I would head up to the bridge and have a good old chat with the Captain on sea navigation. Actually, if you knew me well, I would go and tell the Captain about sea navigation and probably explain where he may be going wrong.

My ship (Yes, it’s mine now.) is hauling about 2000 containers eastward towards Japan and then onto the west coast of America. The value of the cargo can reach £300 million. Container ships are designed in such a manner that no space is wasted. Their capacity is measured in TEUs (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units), the number of 20-foot containers (each 20×8½x8½, or 6×2.6×2.6m) a vessel can carry, even though the majority of containers used today are 40 feet (12m) in length. Above a certain size, container ships do not carry their own loading gear, so loading and unloading can only be done at ports with the necessary cranes. However, smaller ships with capacities up to 2,900 TEUs are often equipped with their own cranes.

Tomorrow we get into Japan and I make my first trip across the islands. I won’t spoil the news, so I’m off for a drink with the other passengers in the lounge, and then I will get some sleep.

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Slow boat from China

I am up very early this morning to get to the port office and onto the ship. Its 18.2 m (59 ft) water front depth can provide access for vessels of up to 250,000 tons fully loaded. And with the exception of occasional interruptions from typhoons, the port can be operated over 350 days in a year.

Loading up the container ship.

The entrance to the port area.

I board the ship and meet a few more people taking the trip, although they are going much further than I am. Cargo ships usually offer single or double bed cabins and most of the vessels have exterior cabins with sitting areas, desk, shower and WC. If you want the pleasures of gourmet travel, consider going with one of the French ships, who have excellent chefs aboard. Cargo ships can carry a maximum of 12 passengers, depending on the ship, although most vessels only have accommodation for 4 to 6 passengers.

I found that most ships can’t always carry the people along with their cargo unless organised well in advance. Some of these ships are booked up weeks in advance at a port, which is why I started to look at it when I was in India. Paperwork seems to be reasonably straight-forward, despite the added complication of passing through international and national waters. The trip for me and my camper os a simple one.

My humble cabin.

On a longer trip, I would choose one of these.

So, here I am. I have one of the modest single cabins, but I do get a porthole to look out of. Some of the other cabins are much bigger and more luxurious. I have an itinerary for my two day trip and there’s a barbecue later, so not bad at all. I’ll tell you more later.

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Down in a Shanghai street

It’s surprising how few real tourist attractions there are in Shanghai. In some ways the real attraction is at street level, with the bustle and noise of the markets and people. There are people who just want to head to the beach when the go abroad, and there are people who want to see and experience things. I have always been the one to go and do something. Some of my most memorable holidays away have been navigated with nothing more than an Alastair Sawday travel book or a Rough guide as a companion.

This morning I drove the camper over to the container depot at Beilun and signed all the forms, let the tires down a little (!) and backed it into a big blue container box, before a crew of men strapped it in place and closed the doors. I will next see my little friend at the port in Japan on Thursday. Well, I can’t waste time here, so I am off in a taxi to see something more interesting than an enormous, robotic crane.

As I don’t have the camper to get myself around, I made the decision to move to a hotel near the centre of Beilun last night. This is the container port that I will be leaving from in the morning at 06:35. In the hotel I manage to download the Shanghai metro app to my iPhone over wi-fi, which is actually great.

Shanghai metro app

Marinetraffic app

The taxi took me all the way into Shanghai and dropped me off near the river at The Bund. This is a popular place for tourists to visit, but in some ways it’s like walking down Wall Street without seeing anything. The Bund, meaning embankment is a section along the waterfront that has some very important buildings that mark the rise of the city outside of the old, walled city to the south.

The Bund during the day.

A more impressive sight at night.

Being the largest city in China and an economically booming metropolis, Shanghai abounds in restaurants and eating places. The restaurants apart from serving delicious Chinese foods; serves Indian, Thai, Italian and French Cuisines as well. Read on to get a proper idea of what/where to eat.

Among the favourite Chinese cuisines, Ben Bang cuisine is loved by many Shanghainese. Fresh fish forms the main part of this dish. This local cuisine has a nice strong aroma. Garnished with Soya bean sauce, the dish looks great. Xiang You Shan Hu is another popular dish in Shanghai which is actually a preparation of eel. Eel is roasted in hot oil and served with a special sauce. Another hot favorite dish among Shanghai locals is Ba Bao La Jiang. Consisted of shrimp, peanuts, pork, bamboo shoot, chicken, tripe and sauce, this dish is yummy to say the least.

The city is maybe more interesting when the sun goes down. There is a lot of noise wherever you go, but that’s where the life is. After a good, very early, evening meal I negotiate a taxi back to my hotel quite early. I have to be at the port at 06:00, so need some sleep. Tomorrow, I head out into the East China Sea.

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About Shanghai city

As I’m here for a few days, while I wait for my ship, I will venture out and try to find out as much as I can in history, culture and of course, good food. A walk around this huge city is like being swamped in people, sights and sounds. Shanghai is a big, busy city with a population of over 23 million people. Shanghai is the most populated city in the world. In fact, eight of the top ten cities, by population, are in Asia. Most are in China. That’s not so surprising when you find out that China has a mass population of around 1.3 BILLION, which in turn amounts to over 20% of the world’s population in just one country. Actually, if I am fair, India is expected to surpass China in the next decade or more, so the balance is well and truly shifting. China has a population growth of 1.7, but India has a population growth of 2.8, well above the necessary fertility rate of 2.1. Recent studies point at the Chinese population reaching a peak in around 2030, and dropping back. India is another story.

The city is on the Yangtzi river delta, which feeds into the East China Sea. This was the basis of the original villages that grew around the original delta, but in the 19th century, due largely to it’s ideal port location, it was developed to cater for the foreign trade and a big part of the 1842 Treaty of Nanking. It’s had a slow rise from it’s earliest days, and the Song Dynasty elevated the village to a market town in 1074. It officially became a city in 1922.

I am 5721 miles (as the crow flies) from London and crossed 21 countries to get here. After more than 55 days I learnt so much about our world, the people who live in it and history that spans 120,000 years.

Tomorrow I will visit a few tourist sights in Shanghai and experience their markets and food.

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Day 58: Shanghai

The long drive yesterday made it hard to get up today, but with such a short trek to Shanghai, it was important to make contact at the Container office. There is a morning office at the shipping company I have found that will take me and the camper to Japan, and I need to complete any paperwork they need from me.

There are hundreds of container shipping services all over the world, and Shanghai happens to be the biggest port in China, and the third largest port in the world. If I am going to find a passage to Japan, it probably starts here. Ships sailing from Shanghai voyage to some 500 ports in over 160 countries and regions all over the world. Due to the slow speed, some long-distance sea routes have been closed. However, the quantity of the goods moved in and out of Shanghai port ranks highly among the world’s major ports. Passenger transportation through Shanghai port is also very busy.

I intend to take the ship from Shanghai to Hakata port, but the ship doesn’t leave until Tuesday morning, so I get a long weekend in Shanghai. There are not as many services that take both the cargo and the passenger on the same ship, so this fits very well.

In order to meet the rules of the transport, my little camper has to be delivered to the shipping office very early Monday morning and put into the container. I will then travel as a paying customer and will have a small cabin on the ship until Hiroshima, where we will both be put ashore. Container shipping is not cheap, but for this leg of the trip, there is no alternative. For instance, a person travelling aboard one of these monsters costs around US$80 – 120 per day. I should be in Japan on Thursday 29th March.

So I get a few days to sit back, discover great things about Shanghai, and look into the history of this fascinating city.

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