Monday, May 25, 2009

Home Sweet Home

After an overnight stay in Osaka we all started the long journey home. I was very tired and not feeling good so I was ready to come home. It was definitely a bittersweet journey since little by little we said goodbye to those that had started out with us. Professor Peng and his wife Jessica as well a Chu-Ting all staying in Japan for few extra days of siteseeing prior to going back to Taiwan for some additional time with their families. Kathryn stayed at JCMU since she was not ready to return home yet. Professor Mehdian said his goodbyes after we reached Chicago since he had different flight arrangments than the rest of us. Those of us remaining had some lunch in Chicago and eagerly anticipated the last leg of the trip to Detroit. Once we all had our baggage in Detroit it was time for one more group photo and then we all went our seperate ways. I made some new friends on this trip, both from our group and in Taiwan, that I would never have expected to find I had so much in common with. This trip was beneficial for me because I was able to experience some vastly different cultures due to geography but also due to highly diverse makeup of our group. This was definitely the trip of a lifetime.

Day 13 - Hikone Castle

On our last day in Hikone we headed off to see the local castle. I must say I didn't know what to expect from a Japanese castle and since I was feeling under the weather I was considering skipping this activity. Boy am I glad I went though, what a beautiful castle and surrounding area. We were treated to a guided tour of the castle grounds as well as the museum. We even were able to get a group picture taken with the Hikone mascot in front of the castle. After our visit to the castle we went to downtown Hikone for a farewell lunch. I think the highpoint was when we each were asked to speak for a moment about what our favorite "one moment" was on the trip. For me it was our trip to the beach in eastern Taiwan. We had been out for a long day and when we stopped for the beach I don't think anyone was very excited. I was only going to walk out and see what was there but after a few steps from the bus I thought - wait a minute, I am in Taiwan standing on the beach and that is the Ocean out there how many more times will I be able to do this. So with that thought in mind I headed right down to the water and enjoyed the surf. What I found so special about this moment was that is was not long at all before everyone else was playing in the water too, skipping rocks and chasing the tided. After we were done in the water we took a series of "jumping" pictures that were a lot of fun. I think this was the event that sealed it for me that we were all there to make as much as we could out of this trip and the fact that such a diverse group enjoyed themselves as much as we did is a great feeling

g. Of course I can't leave out the part about Suyash bring that horrible smelling hot dog on the bus that he bought from the street vendor - talk about trying everything that comes your way.

Day 12 - Toyota Plant

Today we went to Nagoya by bus and visited a Toyota vehicle assembly plant. The bus ride took about an hour and on the way there we stopped and ate lunch at one of the infamous Japanese rest stops. This is where you can purchase a ticket for the desired food item you would like and then take it to the counter where they will prepare your food. The tour of the Toyota plant was very interesting and I have to say the biggest surprise to me was that the workers were not frantically running around working at 100MPH. Everyone seemed to be very relaxed and had plenty of time to accomplish what they needed to. I have been to several assembly plants in the U.S. and it struck me that the Toyota line actually seemed to run slower in Japan than those in the U.S. The key is in the Toyota production system where the focus is on making the parts right the first time so that no re-work is required. It was nice to see this philosophy in action since it made apparent that quality was the primary objective on this assembly line.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Day 11 - JCMU 20th Anniversary Celebration

Today we stayed at the JCMU and were guests at the 20th anniversary celebration for this great establishment. In the morning we were treated to Japanese culture classes and I was able to try my hand at flower arranging, writing in Kanji, and playing the Koto (Japanese Harp). This was a lot of fun. After the culture classes we had an excellent bento box lunch provided by the school. There was a formal presentation in honor of the school and all of its supporters in the evening followed by a nice reception and some great buffet food.

More Photos from Kyoto

Day 10 - Kyoto, Japan

Today we caught the train to Kyoto which turned out to be a fantastic day. We were extremely busy but there was so much to see it was worth it. When we first arrived ti was time for lunch so we ate at the Kyoto train station. I think I ate the best food I have had the entire trip at this meal. After lunch we caught the bus and headed to the Kyoto castle that served as the capital of Japan for many years. They don't allow you to take pictures inside many of the museums over here so I don't have anything to show except the outside but that is pretty grand in its own rite. After the castle we headed over to the golden shrine which was absolutely stunning. This was heaven for taking pictures. After the shrine we headed back to the train station for a relatively quick dinner and then off to the Gion corner where the geisha's are. We attended a performance at the theatre there in Gion that demonstrated many of the traditional Japanese arts. After that it was back to the train station to catch a ride back to Hikone. We had a short bike ride back to JCMU which provided for some excitement, especially since we didn't have our guide, and then it was off to bed.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Day 8 - Taiwan / Japan

This is our last day in Taiwan and everyone is feeling a bit of sadness that we have to leave. Before we head off to the airport we head over to the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial plaza so we can see the changing of the gaurds at teh C.K.S memorial Hall. We were also treated to a visit by WanChun from NTPU who wanted to come by and hang out with us one more time. The memorial plaza is quite a grand structure and the changing of the gaurds was fun to watch. After this was done we all headed back to the hostel to get our things and board the bus to the airport. Before we left Wan Chun gave each one of us a personalized note based on a conversation that she had with us at some point during our trip. I am constantly amazed at how friendly everyone was to us and I will never forget the fun we had hanging out with our new friends.

The trip to Japan was uneventful for the most part but there is definitely a difference in culture between Japan and Taiwan. It only took about five minutes in the airport in Japan to realize that, for better or worse, everything has a procedure in Japan. We took the 3 hour train ride to Hikone City and the Japan Center for Michigan Universities, our home for the next week. Once we arrived it was almost comical because Japanese taxis are not very big and we had a group of about 15 with complete luggage trying to make arrangements to travel. It was quite a spectacle to see passengers and bags juggled between cars to make everything fit. In the end our guide, Suchia-san, pulled everything off and we arrived at JCMU tired and ready to sleep.