Friday, May 12, 2017

Traveling with Julia. Hawaii April 2017.

December 2016 was replete with television documentaries about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor December 1941.  If there was any war that impacted me, it was WW2.  I was staying in San Diego, a navy town if ever there was one, when Pearl Harbor was bombed.  Shortly thereafter, Japanese-American schoolmates disappeared from the classroom  I was twelve and in the sixth grade. 

By 8th grade, I was back in South Dakota, busy as a Civil Air Patrol cadet learning Morse code for Pierre now had an Air Force field and Japanese subs off the Washington Coast sent incendaries out our way.

Fast forward to college days when I met and married a WW2 Navy vet, who had been at Pearl Harbor shortly after the Attack when his ship towed a dry dock from Honolulu to Sidney, Australia.  He then spent most of the war years at New Caledonia.

This then is the back story of my interest in Hawaii and, specifically, Pearl Harbor.

Mentioning this in ballet class - yes, I still do a twice weekly barrĂ© - a fellow student mentioned she had a time-share in Waikiki and would I like company?  Yes - but understanding I planned to go for the history:  a Pearl Harbor tour and a flight to visit Father Damien's leper colony.  Beyond that, I was flexible.  Later, I added a meeting with with an old comrade from Marin county Probation days who became active in Hawaiian politics.  Julia's plan was to swim as often as possible.  We were there a week.

Julia had an I-phone and knew how to use it!  In addition to my tours and meeting, we traveled about O'ahu via Fiat - the transmission left something to be desired for it stuttered between 2nd and 3rd gear - and local bus.  She was familiar with a plethora of street cafes with good inexpensive food and introduced me to shaved ice.  I found Kukaniloko Birthstones State Monument on of the loveliest places I've ever seen.  And we marched in Honoluu's Cliate Change Protest.  

Julia had been in Hawaii numerous times for her son had done his doctoral study there.  With her, I had my own personal guide.

Waiki is skyscraper hotels, shops and tourist with a daily manicured beach.  Much of Honolulu is big city and freeway surrounded by neighborhoods of housing, schools and shops.  Moving out on the island are beaches and small communities built around them.  Scene with much green foliage.  Tropical.

The Pearl Harbor tour included not only the Arizona Memorial but the battleship USS Missouri where Japan formally surrendered, a wander through the submarine USS Bowfin, the Aviation Museum, the Punchbowl Cemetary with drive bys of various State and City grounds.  Extensive.

I was impressed by how subdued the usually noisy tourists were on the ferry to and at the USS Arizona Memorial.  Particularly moved was the newly inscribed name of a recently deceased crewman who chose to be entombed with his shipmates of seventy five years ago.  Could have spent more time at the Aviation Museum - the docent here was outstanding and there was so much to see, including the Senior Bush's old Stearman - a model of  aircraft I've always want to fly in.

The fllights from Honolulu to Kalaupapa peninsula on Molokai were great - it was a Cessna Caravan - and you could see ocean and island.  I had forgotten how much I love flying in small aircraft.  The Peninsula where lepers were housed in early days was exquisite, even with decrepit buildings about.  As the disease has now responded to modern medical treatment, there is no need for the colony, though eight former patients continue to live there.  One tour person walked down and the rest rode mules from the cliffs above.  I had no regrets about choosing to fly in. 

Courtesy of her I-phone, Julia found a march supporting Science and Climate change.  So up and at 'em!  About a thousand participants gathered with police supervision.  As on the mainland, it seemed a gathering of Professionals and the Middle class, retired and younger folk and women.  Some I'm sure were part of the Veitnam era protests.  Enthuiastic but peaceful bunch.  My third demonstration of the year!

Our meet up and lunch with my fellow worker of past years was in Chinatown, where he had his office.  Enjoyed getting together - we're likely two of handful left of that time.  He felt his stay at Probation was a seminal point in his professional life - he had drifted into the job at his brother's suggestion.  From there he had gone on to earn his doctorate and then into politics, where he obviously thrived. 

Raining the last day of our stay, we drifted into the Army Museum at Fort Derussy.  Originally Battery Randolph, it was completed as part of the coastal defense in 1911.  Now Morphed into a showcase of artifacts from early Hawaiian warfare through Vietnam - it included a Cobra helicopter.  One exhibition was devoted to the Japanese-Americans who served in WW2,  another to General Eric Shinseki, local boy made good!  I'm always fascinated how building designed for one purpose are redesigned for another.  They have done a good job here:  reminded me of the Military Meusum in Muscat, Oman.

It was a good trip, mostly due to Julia with hr knowledge of the Island and skill in maximizing the I-phone capabilities.  Plus her investment in the Time-share.  

Accommodation::  The time share at the Hilton Hawaiian Village was larger than my apartment.  Full
kitchen. The  bathtub in the sleeping area at the door into the bathroom was a design anomaly.   

Meals:  We bought groceries on the way in, so had breakfast and supper - often left overs from the noon meal - in the rom.  Estimated cost:  $250pp.

Tours:  $500pp

Transportation:  Hawaiian Air over and Alaska Air on the return; both from San Jose.  $442.40pp.

Miscellaneous:  Cat care $310.

NB:  Gonna have to buy an I-phone!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Return to Lebanon: February 2017


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I had last been in Lebanon in Oct 2005 as part of a three country Middle East sight seeing tour with Explore.  Several months after a popular Prime Minister had been assassinated.  Floral tributes were still across the way from the St George's Hotel where the act had occurred.   And now the son has his father's job.  With sectarianism and corruption still problems with the added impact of Syrian refugees to the long time Palestinians. Still a fractured country., continuing to be impacted by Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Syria. 

This time I booked with Political Tours, which does a short term - in this instance, eight days -  study of the whys and wherefores of countries in crisis.  A  field study which includes interviews with various participants in the political scene.  I've gone with them  four times before   and came away with an appreciation of that particular country's problems.  (In my notes, I called it a graduate seminar on wheels.)

This tour group was all American excluding one Australian journalist:  three couples and a media person, all  from he East Coast.  The couples, all friends,  included a retired diplomat, several attorneys, a financier and a literary agent. With us was Nicholas Wood and Karen Davey, operators of  Political Tours. Nicholas is a Brit, a former Journalist while Karen  is a South African doctor.  

We started in Beirut, then South to Tyre, Chtaura and Baalbeck before returning to Beirut.   We visited  both Palestinian  and Syrian  refugee camps  and a former Hezbollah base, now a tourist center.  We drove along the Blue line. the border redrawn in 2000.  And there was wine tasting in the Bekaa Valley.  Plus crawling about Beauford Castle, a crusader castle which had been more recently affected  by the various conflicts. There was a glorious view of Lebanon, Israel and Syria at the meeting of the borders. 

We talked  with a local Hezbollah supported mayor, a volunteer Christian militiaman, an arts advocate and NGOs providing services at a Syrian camp -  one was a US citizen, a PhD,  spending two years there as a volunteer. Another camp backed up to the ancient road and hippodrome at Tyre - the now and then of Lebanon.    Met with another mayor, a former General, also acceptable to Hezbollah, a major influence in this country, which is ruled by designated Sunni, Shia, and Christian forces with bits and pieces of other sects thrown in.

We did wander about the ruins of Baalbeck and  into the old Palmyra Hotel, that once housed deGaulle, Churchill and Cocteau.  Throughout, we had the commentary of Nicholas Blanford, longtime Lebanon-based Journalist and author.  He had an amazing memory, with details of   significant  events at his fingertips. 

In Beirut, there was time with Robert Fish, another long time observer of Middle Eastern politics, Journalist and author.  I had read some of his stuff before and after my earlier foray into Lebanon and was an admirer of his work. He had been present at many of the significant events affecting the region.   Michael Young and  Jim Muir were two other journalists who spent time with our group.  And really running the show was British-Lebanese  journalist and "fixer" Leena Saidi, without whom we would have been stalled in the midst of Beirut traffic without a cab to catch. 

And did I mention there is no public transport in the country?  So .imagine traffic atop traffic! Along with the ever  present Smart phones.  And the convoluted  electrical  wiring, not only   in the Palestinian  area but citywide.  Overall, Beirut was much as I remembered:  a combination of the old, the new and the destroyed.  Obviously, no planning in the rebuilding.  Catch as catch can. 

The Armenians are alive and well in Beirut - we walked about their neighborhood, trailed by a young boy and  were serenaded at lunchtime but a ninety-four year old. woman playing Chopsticks.  

Early on, we  met  three local activists in a local coffee shop, right after a meeting with a government official in  his beautifully appointed office. 

There were meetings with representatives of the local bank, Hezbelloh, the Christian  party., a former Prime Minister, a defense consultant for defendants in the eleven year old assassination   of the then Prime Minister, culminating in a luncheon gathering at the home of the Peace Party founder.in Byblos.  And that home was comparable to San Simeon, the estate of William Randolph Hearst, now part of the  California State Park system..

About Hezbollah, the so-called  terrorist organization influenced by Iran:  at one point, having saved Lebanon  from an Israeli incursion after the Lebanese Army fell apart, Hezbollah chose to enter the Lebanese political life.  They expanded  and modified a bit.  their hard edge. The representative we met with, said Hezbollah was not looking for conflict with Israel but if the Israelis initiated,  Hezbellah would respond.  He  was convinced the US had supported DAESH/ISIS.

I most enjoyed time spent at the American University of Beirut.  It had been high on my list of places to visit. Staff and students gave me a positive feeling about the future for Lebanon.   We had a great guide:  A enthusiastic twenty  one year old Palestinian scholarship student, who chose to  wear a head scarf when she came to  college and plans to continue the practice.  She hopes to study aboard but will then have employment difficulties: 

For Palestinians can not work in Lebanon proper.  We talked with a dentist, educated in Cairo, who can  only be employed in the "camp" (seriously  crowded tenement buildings for the Palestinians) and certainly unable to visit family in Gaza.   However, they are at least recognized/registered which is more than the Syrians, who are in tents and without any acceptance by the host country.  A few NGOs are active, providing some educational and health services. The hope is that the Syrians  will all disappear.  Back to Syria.   Soon.  The Lebanese do not want a repeat of the Palestinian situation where refugees have remained since 1948..

Conclusion:  Lebanon, a small country carved from Syria by the French post WW1, is dealing with an impossible number of refuges - has been since 1948 - who are barred from participation in Lebanese life with a government  mired in inaction with a sectarian based Agreement and endemic  corruption.  Estimated one million Syrians and 450,000 registered Palestinians in a country of 5,988,000 residents.  Hezbollah, which may have been the only honest bunch, is with growth. susceptible to the national disease.  However, despite British and American governmental  travel warnings, I did not feel unsafe at any time though stopped at various checkpoints by various security types.  .

Accommodations:  Plush!  Two of the hotel "rooms" were larger than my one bedroom place in Palo Alto. .  Four to Five star.  The  boutique hotel in Tyre was quite unique with  an impressive view of the harbor.  Breakfasts were extensive.

Food:  From local pick-up stands to elegant  restaurants, we had a choice of all types of Lebanese food.  Wines were often included with  the evening meals; they were reportedly quite good, wine making doing well in the Bekaa Valley.

Cost::  I paid $5130 for the tour which included  two extra nights at the Beirut hotel and  all meals but one. Airline fare San Francisco-Istanbul-Beirut via Turkish Air was  $881 economy  plus $92 Insurance.   Shuttle was $60.  Cat care was $460. 
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