The Voyage Begins
Yesterday I met with 10 other foreigners and about 700 Japanese people, and boarded a big ship. We departed from Yokohama port amidst much fanfare, ready for a 3 month cruise around the world on the Peace Boat.
In the 1980s, the Japanese government had altered history books in order to downplay Japanese hostility during the Second World War. This met with a lot of anger from other Asian countries, prompting four Japanese students to make their own voyage of discovery through Asia, to learn about such issues from other people firsthand. The students felt the trip was a big success, and repeated it with a large number of people the next year. After a few years, the organisation known as Peace Boat had been born, and the Asian voyage had grown to incorporate the entire world.
Peace Boat is a Japanese NGO which aims to promote international peace and understanding. It manifests itself in a cruise ship which makes global voyages, stopping off at ports around the world and talking with the locals. Prolific speakers and figures come on board at various points or meet the passengers on land. During the cruise portion of the trip, various events and activities are held in order to largely raise awareness and knowledge of the issues the Boat tries to address, as well as language courses to allow the passengers to better communicate with the world around them. Earlier this year, the Boat met with Fidel Castro, and last year the Boat was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
I was accepted as a volunteer teacher to board the boat, and travel around the world on its 71st voyage, starting 25 October and hopefully returning January 18!
So we pulled out of Yokohama harbour on schedule, complete with copious amounts of tickertape dancing in the air, champagne flowing and a port full of people waving, screaming and crying at people who they would have no further contact with for the next three months, and our voyage had begun!
I have had to take a break and come back to this two days later. The first day cruising out of Yokohama, everyone was in high spirits (momentarily disrupted as corrosive soot came raining down from the smokestack onto everyone’s suits), and along with keeping busy with welcome parties and exploring our new home, it was all pretty smooth sailing. The boat is like a maze, having 11 floors mostly consisting of long hallways identical except for the colours of the doors. The staircases up and down, and the exits to the outer areas are placed fairly haphazardly around the floors, along with various event spaces and eating areas.
One thing that has surprised me so far is that despite being on a boat, we have spent very little time actually outside. We have been introduced to everyone on the boat multiple times, it feels like, and meetings and other appearances have kept us busy basically from about 8am through to midnight each day. The labyrinthine inner structure doesn’t help either. One teacher said that she had 15 minutes free yesterday and wanted to go outside… but she couldn’t find it. Hopefully as things settle down we get some free time.
Another reason that outside hasn’t been so popular, and the reason I am struggling to write this at all, is the typhoon outside. Heading into the ocean south of Japan, the skies turned grey and rain started to periodically lash the windows. The worst thing, however, is the waves. I don’t normally get seasick, but over the last day or two this huge cruiser has been thrown about in a pretty unpleasant way. I’m holding off on the whole “tossed about like the plaything of an angry god” hyperbole, because I’m sure it can get worse, but still, remember one of those fairground rides you went on that time that went up and down and to the side so much and lurched around enough to make you sick, give you a headache, and when you got off you fell to the ground, held your head and tried to hold back the vomit? Well, it’s like that, constantly. We must be around the 48 hour mark of unpleasantness, and there’s no getting off. Before the rain came, the outside decks suddenly filled with people needing air, and the inside areas suddenly sprouted sickness bags every few metres. The ship captain implored everyone to please bear with it a few days, to find their sea legs, and it would all come right.
I started writing this entry just as I found a spare hour, just as the waves arrived. Looking at the computer screen was the finishing blow, and I ended up having my first session on my knees in the toilet.
Over the last couple of days, I feel like I am slowly coming to grips with the seasickness, slowly starting to find my way around, and slowly starting to get to know some of the non-staff members of the boat (who are split pretty dramatically age-wise between under-25s and over-60s). We passed into our first new time zone last night. The introductory period might nearly be over… we pull into our first port, Hong Kong, in two days!