Travel along with our Asia Study Group to Japan and Hong Kong. Join them on their adventures!
Photos and details of their days will be posted regularly.
This year's travelers include our unflappable leaders Dean of Faculty and Instructor in History Rhonan Mokriski '90,
Instructor in Mandarin Chinese Yukun Luo
and new this year, Instructor in English Trevor Rees.
Our Class of 2018 student study group includes:
Nick Torres, Eric Buie, Charlie Rote, Hung Nguyen, Long Kieu, and Joey Choi!
Today was a transitional day for the team as we left the tranquility of Kyoto for the cacophony of Tokyo. One of the world’s megalopolises, Tokyo’s metropolitan area has a population of 37.8 million people - more than the entire population of Canada! Our morning was leisurely as we had a late call time, and most followed their traditional Hilltop Sunday sleeping patterns. ATJ arranged to have a wonderful local woman escort us to Kyoto Station. She recommended we buy a lunch for our journey to Kyoto, and she took us to a “spot where the locals eat,” called The Cube, and the boys stocked up on Bento Boxes. We arrived at the local platform just in front of our militarily prompt Bullet Train, and were thrilled to learn that we scored seats on the left side so that we would have views of Mount Fuji. The typical 6 hour train ride only took 2 hours and fifteen minutes as we topped out at 180 mph, also known as “Ludicrous Speed”. The train arrived at Tokyo station exactly on time.
Our guide met us at the station, and we transferred to the famous green Yamanote Line to get to the Harajuku Station. This is the most popular street for teenagers in all of Japan, but to be honest, our entire team was overwhelmed by the sheer numbers and density of people. Our peaceful serenity from the Onson (it was only yesterday!) was shattered by the pulsating human energy overwhelming us from all sides.
It was instructional to feel both energies as each encapsulate Japan. Nowhere in Tokyo captures this better than Shibuya Crossing. This may be the busiest intersection in the world, where thousands of people cross at the same time. It is chaos and serenity and calm at the same time. There are no horns; there is no running. It is a giant waltz performed by scores and scores of people simultaneously in a tightly confined space, and it is executed to perfection.
After drinking in all of this, we finally made it to our hotel. Some boys took off for the Anime neighborhood of Akihabara, some to the Sumo neighborhood of Ryogoku, and some to the Park Hyatt to see the views featured in "Lost in Translation".
We went to the woods because we wished to tour deliberately, to feel only the essential facts of Japanese culture, and if we could not learn what they had to teach by the time we leave the island, realize that we had not truly lived it. Stirring up our inner Henry David Thoreau, the Knights headed for the Northwest hills of Kyoto to plumb the rich depths of Japanese Shinto and Buddhist culture ever more deeply. We arrived at Mount Kurama for this day’s adventure, the cradle of the Reiki practice of channeling “universal energy” towards healing, and the mythical home of Sojobo, the Pinnochio-nosed Tengu king. Tengu, of course, being the folkloric goblins of Japan’s mountainous forests.
By now, our sextet have become well-trained practitioners in the appropriate ceremony of visiting Japanese spiritual sites, and the proud faculty trio now watches the boys operate with relative ease as they purify themselves ritualistically upon approaching a Shinto Shrine. Our morning consisted of a meandering hike of “several miles” by Mr. Mokriski’s estimation, most of which was an uphill slog peppered with various small Shinto Shrines, and accented by one stunningly beautiful Buddhist Temple presiding over a view that rivals Main Dorm’s west-facing vista over the Salisbury Chapel.
Following a picnic lunch, at which Joey Choi served a dessert course of Green Tea Kit Kats, we descended the river valley to its Hot Springs Spa (Onson) for an afternoon of pampering and decompression. Basking in the afterglow of the most naturally beautiful day of the trip, the faculty were able to take preventative measures to stave off sore knees and backs as much as possible as we soaked and utilized the massage chairs. On the return to downtown we kept an eye out for any Saturday Japanese Little League games, in hopes of helping Brian Cashman pick the next Hideki Matsui out of Kyoto’s haystack, but came up empty handed.
Despite a blustery, overcast, frigid day and the hiatus of our much-beloved Japanese tour guide Minnie, our intrepid travel team ventured out to extend its embrace of the authentically Japanese Kyoto. Not satisfied with the degree of difficulty just yet, we elected to do it on bicycle. The team saddled up in the center of Kyoto and pedaled north through the secondary roads of the city. Our first stop was Kinkakuji - the famed golden pavilion. Even through the gray morning it burst forth in all its glory, easily outshining the forecast. Perched above was a beautiful-in-its simplicity Zen rock garden, which to no surprise was once an inspiration for Steve Jobs.
We next cycled to the base of Kyoto’s western Arashiyama mountains. We re-oxegenized in the atmospheric Arashiyama Bamboo Forest before traveling to the cozy little village for lunch, where we snacked while overlooking the famous Moon Crossing Bridge. We returned our bikes and visited Kyoto’s iconic Fushimi Inari Shrine: home to over 10,000 orange Toji gates, all lined up in various rambling photogenic straits that had social media fans drooling at the selfie possibilities.
Our last site was Gion, Kyoto’s traditional entertainment district. Gion’s most famous export is its Geiko (Geisha) industry. It was only our second day in the city, but some of the cherry blossom trees began to show the earliest signs flowering.
The Geiko tradition is uniquely Japanese, and its most famous practitioners are from Kyoto. Even though it was late in the day for us, the Geisha’s work day was just beginning, and much to Mr. Luo’s delight, we managed to see two of them as they headed to appointments.
Our day concluded with a meal of Kobe and Wagyu steaks, courtesy of Joey Choi’s mother; it was exquisite. We ordered both the Kobe and the Wagyu off of a bulletin board where they present you with the INDIVIDUAL CUTS in house. After selecting our serial numbers, no further particulars were needed from our end. You do not need to tell them how to cook it; they know their beef, and all our steaks came out perfectly cooked. Our group showered applause on the chef as we made our way out. Afterwards, the team journeyed back to our hotel on the Kyoto metro in a full-on beef coma.
We departed down the mountains of Koyasan to journey to Kyoto. The team was most looking forward to visiting this city as it most atmospherically captures the heart and tradition of Japan.
Our first stop was Kodaiji Temple in the eastern mountains of the city. We sat for a Japanese traditional tea ceremony where a tea master taught us how to brew and drink Japanese mocha tea. To the delight of the team, both Joey and Eric tried their hand at it.
For lunch we entered the heart of the city and strolled Nishiki market. While the boys began to shop their hearts out, Long found a wallet on the ground containing over $300 of Japanese Yen. We promptly turned it over to the local police, and Joey nominated Long for a “That’s a Knight” award.
Mr. Luo, Mr. Rees, and Mr. Mokriski spent their time in a much more ignoble way - lounging in the Hedgehog Cafe.
Our next adventure began at Chawan-zaka as we hiked up the western mountains to Kiyomizu, the temple of “pure water.” The crowds were dense and disproportionately populated with young women (and some men) dressed in traditional attire.
From our perch at the top of Kiyomizu, we were able to gaze down at the beautiful city of Kyoto. We also visited the three spring well where one had to chose as to which fountain they drink from. The northern spring equalled wisdom, the center meant love, and the south signified longevity. Wisdom and love were the most popular with the team.
The gates of the temple closed for evening curfew at 8:00 p.m. The boys settled in for a night of card playing, and the teachers, or “Sensais” as we are now appropriately dubbed, read, wrote, and went to bed early.
Next morning the bells punctually summoned us to morning meditation at 6:00 a.m.. Over half the group answered the call to morning meditation. The culmination of a rhythmic session invoking various sutras was the “Heart Sutra”, where the group was invited to join in with the monks’ chanting. We offered up our best chapel voices and didn’t get noticed, for better or worse.
Our morning stroll consisted of a ramble through Koya-san’s Buddhist graveyard, flanked by towering Japanese Cypress trees in what was a magnificently spiritual setting on our way to the mausoleum of the founder of Shinbone Buddhism, Kobo Daishi. We made it in time to witness the attendant monks’ daily ritual of delivering Kobo’s symbolic brunch, as technically he continues on in eternal meditation, still long for this world.
After a quick lunch and some shopping, the next stop was the impressive Garan Temple - built by Tokugawa Ieyasu. This complex boasts the largest Zen rock garden in Japan (and therefore the World?), and we were treated to Japanese Tea on Tatami mats. Next up we visited the Konpn Dai-to, a colossal orange structure that is the center of Shinbone Buddhism.
The tranquility of nature having been stirred by our partaking of Koya-san’s spiritual feast, we embarked on a five-mile hike that brought us up and over the peak presiding above Koya-san. Whilst perched above, through a clearing we spotted a baseball diamond and a high school practice taking place, which planted a seed of curiosity in one of the boys’ minds: what does the education system look like here?
On our way back down, the boys made a request to visit the local school, Koya-san High School. Our guide miraculously secured a visit, and our boys spent the rest of the afternoon touring the hallways, meeting teachers, and giggling with Japanese girls. Nick Torres reached a 1D level of fascination and spent most of our time posing with his fans.
Osaka is the third biggest city in Japan, but the contrast to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, Macau, and Nanjing could not have been any more striking. The city is quiet. The cars do not beep. The sounds of construction are oddly missing. The cacophony that is omnipresent in Chinese cities is entirely absent. This striking realization is our first major impression of Japan.
The squad ventured to leave the city of Osaka and cross into the city of Nara. Among other things, Nara is famous for its authentic Japanese ink making and writing. As a matter of fact, ninety-five percent of the ink used in traditional Japanese calligraphy is made in Nara by only 7 artisans. The craft is passed down through familial lines as its an old and cherished tradition. We were invited into the home of one of these calligraphers to learn about the ancient art of ink making. The sensai started by explaining the uses of the ink - the writing includes Japanese and Chinese characters. Next he explained and demonstrated the process of making an ink mold from soot, red maple, animal fat, and perfume.
After the ink making, the team journeyed to Todai-Ji Temple. Not only is this the second largest wooden building in the world, it also contains over 1,200 tame deer that roam around the shrine. You can pet and feed them. The tranquility infused our souls and evoked an inner peace.
We jetted from the monastery to pick up our wayward teammate, Nick Torres. Our Hong Kong families performed a miracle and managed to not only secure Nick a new passport in one day’s time, but also get him on a plane to rejoin us in Osaka before we departed for the climb to the small town of Koyasan.
Nestled in the cypress groves of Japan lies a small town of three thousand that hosts over 100 buddhist temples that date back to the 800s. We checked into our Shukubo (temple lodging), Yochi-in, where monks prepared a vegetarian meal for us. Afterwards, some of the boys snuck off to the local family mart to supplement their dining with meat, while others bathed in the Onson baths.
We gathered bright and early to board our cruiser to travel to the historic seat of power for the Republic of China. Nanjing has the honor of being the capital city for the most Chinese dynasties - including the Taipings and the RoC. It was also the home of the founder of modern China, Sun Yat-Sen, as well as his successor, Chiang Kai-Shek. The compound was both traditional and western at the same time. While we felt like we were strolling through China in the early 20th Century, we couldn’t help but notice that we were totally surrounded by the modern sky-scrapers of modern Nanjing.
We re-boarded our bus to travel to one of the most popular restaurants in Nanjing - Nanjing Impressions. As we were experiencing the blissful weather of the first spring afternoon in Nanjing, it seemed that the entire city of 8 million decided to join us in traveling out to experience the outdoors. The traffic crawled, and the Zhous worried that they were going to miss our reservation. At one traffic light, Mr. Zhou hopped off the bus, rented a city-bike, and started furiously peddling to restaurant to convince them to hold the reservation. The entire team was glad that he was successful as we enjoyed as authentic a Nanjing meal as imaginable.
The route to the mausoleum famously consists of 329 stairs, resembling the population of 329 million at the time of Sun-Yat Sen’s death. The blue sky view back to the city of Nanjing from the top of the perch helped give the boys a perspective to what a medium sized megalopolis (population 8,000,000) looks like.
The Zhous arranged for a meal at a Sichuan Hotpot restaurant. The sheer size of Chinese restaurants continually amazed the boys. In order to get to our table, it felt like we walked the equivalent of four football fields. We donned our aprons and participated in hotpot (think a more aggressively interactive fondue). We were joined by Jerry Li’s ’20 and Derek Zhou’s ’21 mothers. As we cooked meat, shrimp, tofu, fish, and vegetables in a combination of boiling concoctions (Sichuan spicy (fire), mushroom, and tomato).
We finished our night with an evening cruise on one of the Yangtze River's tributaries.
After our annual team photo with our patron saint Trustee Marita Wong P'15, we hustled to the airport to catch our flight to Nanjing, China where we were hosted by Joseph Zhou ’20. After clearing immigration, we were shocked to see that Bruce Wang ’18, and Jerry Li ’20 traveled from Shanghai and Hangzhou respectively to spend the weekend with us. Mr. Rees was agog at the flattery of being greeted with a bouquet of roses in honor of his birthday, as well as the over-the-top warm hospitality that was to follow the occasion around for the rest of the day.
Our first stop was the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum, where we learned about the atrocities by the Japanese during their occupation of the city during World War II. This site is akin to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC and the somber layout and exhibit attached us to the universality of suffering caused by the inhumanity of war.
We next traveled to the modern renovation of a historic Buddhist temple replete with a nine-story reimagined pagoda. Hung Nguyen noted that the particular brand of Buddhism practiced here felt totally unfamiliar to the type that he practices.
The Zhous arranged for a Peking Duck feast, and the team gathered around the lazy susan to share a quintessentially Chinese meal. Once again the Zhous surprised Mr. Rees with a ginormous birthday cake and the boys serenaded him with an dirge-like and off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Mr. Rees noted that people hadn’t celebrated his birthday this way since his early twenties.
Our bright little band, fresh off a day of traveling halfway around the world, set out on a morning cruise to the former Portugal colony of Macau, also known as Hong Kong & China’s answer to Las Vegas. Some merry pranksters from the local Hong Kong farm system, Austin Pelayo ’20, Christian Choong ’19, Alistair Lee '18, Ben Chen ’20, and Rafael Chung ’20 bolstered the Sarum Knights’ squad, and we set out on a tour of Macau’s spiritual landmarks. Despite its world-renowned status as an Asia gambling mecca, the boys were more focused on its religious traditions, visiting a local Buddhist/Taoist site and what’s left of St. Paul’s church. In between, we first visited the Koi Kei pastry and jerky emporium, where Eric Buie discovered what many Knights agree is the best pork jerky on either side of the Pacific. Next up was a stop at the Macau Tower, the tallest structure on the island and a hub of adventure sports under the direction of the best in the business, the eponymous AJ Hackett company, whose founder invented the bungee jump. A daring quintet of Knights, Eric Buie, Nick Torres, Charlie Rote, Christian Chong, and Austin Pelayo, elected to percolate their adrenaline stocks with a stroll around the exterior scaffolding of the tower’s sixty-second floor, which AJ Hackett markets as the “Skywalk”.
At our next stop, the gastronomist's mecca of Guincho A Galera at the Hotel Lisboa, we feasted on some Portuguese crispy duck rolls, impeccably prepared short ribs, and many other feats of culinary artwork. Outside the restaurant was a glass case stocked with around five hundred bottles of first-growth Bordeaux, with a value of over five million HK dollars (Mr. Rees’ estimate). Mr. Mokriski aptly spotted a teachable moment and remarked “this is what Chairman Mao was rebelling against.” Next stop were the ruins of St. Paul, where despite not partaking in the death-defying stunt and stoking his adrenal glands, Joey Choi somehow managed to hoist Nick Torres’ 300-plus point frame into the air. We then cavorted around Macau’s authentic commercial shopping district, before alighting for its more contrived edition at the Four Seasons/Venetian megaplex in the Cotai district.
There we feasted on a five-star buffet before heading back to the ferry terminal, where we discovered a passport had gone missing, ending the day with a frantic mission to regain entrance to Hong Kong for Nick Torres, and what was potentially a sour note, turned into another lesson in the extended power of our Sarum family. Marita Wong and Stanley and Maple Chung P’20 immediately sprang into action to not only secure our re-entry into Hong Kong, but also to begin to work the levers behind the scenes to get Nick a passport the minute the American Consulate opened on Monday.
The group beat storm Quinn and was able to jet-off late Wednesday. The team arrived to Hong Kong in the late afternoon looking a little bedraggled but feeling excited to begin our adventure. After a little sprucing up at the hotel, we enjoyed dinner hosted by Ben Chen's parents, Patrick and Olive P’20 on the quiet side of Hong Kong Island at the Aberdeen Marina Club. Benjamin was in his element with the juxtaposition of hosting his classmates as visitors in his country. It was a perfect first night as the boys learned how comforting it is to be on the the other side of the world yet still be held in the warm embrace of family.
After dinner, they met up with Salisbury alumni TK Wong, Tommy Chang, and Anson Choi.