Japanese Bullet Trains or Shinkansen are modern marvels: sleek, fast and on time. These trains are magnificent, and a testimony to Japan’s resurrection from the ashes of World War Two. The first-ever Bullet Train made its last run today, 44 years after its debut for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
The original model, the zero-kei (zero-series), was called the “dream superexpress.” The symbol of the nation’s recovery, the train attracted many fans and holds a special place in many Trainspotter’s hearts. The lighter and faster bullet trains today, carry millions of passengers and tourists around the island nation. The latest N700-series travels at nearly 200 MPH. There is a new line in the works; the maglev line will transport passengers from Tokyo to central Nagoya at more than 300 MPH! This train is expected to be in service by 2025.
Without running a Google search or checking a current almanac, most of us probably wouldn’t know that our Earth contains 757 countries, territories, autonomous regions, enclaves, geographically separated island groups, and major states and provinces. Certainly most of us wouldn’t consider it possible to visit them all. Most of us would be wowed if we made it to 100 countries. Even 50 is pretty darn good. But all of them?
I wrote on Nov. 4 about a new era in the Maldives, but it appears that the new era may be something else again. According to multiple press reports, new president-elect Mohamed Nasheed wants to buy a new homeland for his people to give them a place to go if the sea rises as predicted because of global warming.
The UN forecasts that the sea could rise as much as two feet by 2100, and since most of the Maldives is less than five feet above sea level (many areas are less than three feet), life will be precarious there. Continue reading »
It was a coronation, not an election today in the small Himalayan country of Bhutan. 28-year old Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, a Western-educated son of the former king, was crowned. The optimal day was picked based on astrology, and the entire country of 700,000 joined in the festivities.
Bhutan, a country the size of Maryland, is rugged, breathtaking and its culture has remained intact because of an insular and protective approach to governing. Travel to Bhutan is not easy or cheap. Foreigners are restricted; only 20,000 tourists are allowed in each year. Continue reading »
Many years ago I stood near the southernmost point of India at Kanyakumari gazing out over the Indian Ocean. Somewhere over that horizon lay the Maldives, an isolated collection of atolls laid out like a string of gems some 400 miles away.
They’d been pulling at me since I first encountered them on a globe many years before and I’d traveled there many times in my imagination. Standing in the tropical breeze that day I knew I couldn’t visit them this time, but was certain I’d get there one day.
I walked out of Woody Allen’s recent film Vicky Cristina Barcelona with a gut feeling: I desperately needed to go to the Spanish city of Barcelona. The movie gave me such a hankering to visit the city, a city which, in a way, was a character in the film. The outdoor cafes, the robust red wine, the Spanish guitar and the Gaudi architecture all worked their magic on me. Continue reading »
You’ve seen it on postcards, in photo galleries, in museums, and in Hokusai’s famous woodblock art, 36 Views of Mt. Fuji. The elegant perfect cone of Mount Fuji, only 60 miles from Tokyo, is a national symbol, a near mythical place for the Japanese, and one of the world’s most popular mountains to climb. As the official climbing season winds down the numbers are in: a record 247,066 people scaled the peak in July and August. Think about it: over two months that’s 3,985 people per day! If you want to experience the Japanese culture in all of its variety, be there with all of your Tokyo neighbors, and no doubt have a spiritual experience, climb the mountain next summer.
Some time ago I was traveling via taxi from the Manila airport to the center of the city and was amazed that the traffic seemed to veer all over the road, unmindful of lane markings or what car should be where. To an American (me) it seemed complete chaos, but to the Filipinos it was smooth as could be. Everyone’s awareness was on the vehicles around them, not on their “right” to the lane they were in. Later, in the city, I was further amazed to see that when too much traffic flowed in one direction and there was room on the other side of the road, drivers simply crossed the center line and took over a lane or two, so traffic coming the other way had to squeeze over. Again, madness to an outsider, but it actually allowed the traffic to flow faster.
This sort of cooperative driving is common the world over, and is true in Cairo, as Anthony Bourdain discovered on a trip where he communed with Bedouins, felt most comfortable deep in the desert, and empathized with the millions of Egyptians struggling to get by. Things seem to work out one way or another when people cooperate, even when times are tough.