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Meander withMenahem<strong>Kosher</strong> Adventures in Exotica© Menahem Fogel5769 / 20093

4For Michele

INDEXWhy I Became a Tour Guide 8Travel and Tolerance 13Traveling <strong>Kosher</strong> 17Anecdotes of Airport Absurdities 23China 31Xi’an & the Terra Cotta Army 33Kunming & The Stone Forest 39Guilin & Yangzhou 45Shanghai: City of the Future 49Beijing: The Great Wall of China 55Beijing: Imperial City 61Brown Big Brother Beijing 67The Canadian Rockies 75Vancouver’s Suspended Structures 77The Fraser River Canyon 83Gorgeous Gorges 87Astonishing, Amazing Athabasca 91Head-Smashed-In 95Banff 99Japan 103Nikko 105Three Wise Monkeys? 111Temple & Shrine: Which is which & what to do there 1155

Land of “Derekh Eretz” 119Tokyo: Fakes, Fish, Shopping & Wrestling 123Shabbat, Shibuya & a Free Hug 129Meiji Shrine 133From Edo to Akihabara 137Hakone & Fuji-San 141Shinkansen: Getting from Here to There 147Kyoto: Ancient Imperial Capital 155The Passion of Pachinko & the Onsen Obsession 157To Weep (with joy) in Kyoto 161Miyajima: Sacred Island 165Hiroshima 169A Beit Knesset in Kobe 177South Africa 183“The Fairest Cape in All the World” 185Mpumalanga –Mystery of the Kruger Millions 193Africa’s Tiniest Kingdoms #1- Swaziland 199Africa’s Tiniest Kingdoms #2- Lesotho 203Kruger National Park – the Definitive Safari 207Some Favorite Museums 213So, What’s News? 215I Spy 221Plato’s Lesson 225Afterword 2296

The Li River, China7

8Why I Became a Tour GuideIhave often been asked why, after the age of 50, did I decide on a career change, andwhy particularly to my current vocation as a tour guide? My response has been thatI’ve had wanderlust in my bones from my teenage years. This is how it began.My high school history teacher was an Englishman by the name of Emil Beth. Hewas the quintessential educator of the 1960s. A tough disciplinarian, with a wry sense ofhumor, he instilled in us a love, a passion even, for the study of history. He had us gointo the battlefield with – or against – Napoleon at Waterloo. We wept with FerdinandMagellan as he passed safe and unharmed through the treacherous straights of CapeHorn on his circumnavigation of the planet. “We, the people” marveled with ThomasJefferson at the completeness of the American Constitution. And we tracked throughdarkest Africa with the intrepid Henry Morton Stanley until we too could say “Dr.Livingstone I presume.”To my sorrow, at the end of 10 th grade, Emil Beth left to pursue a new life in Canada.On his last day at school he gathered us together and said: “Gentlemen, if there is butone thing you must do in this life, go see Victoria Falls.”After I turned 50 some years ago, I tracked down my old history teacher in Port McNeill,a small logging town on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. I reminded him ofhis charge 35 years earlier, and that I had indeed fulfilled it. I’d been to see Victoria Falls.

I made the journey to Victoria Falls via overnight train from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’ssecond-largest city. Second-class travel on Zimbabwe Rail is an experience in its ownright, which I don’t particularly recommend to the uninitiated. However, a twenty dollarbill and a handshake with the conductor found me in a compartment by myself, and theregular beat of the tracks combined with the slow rocking of the steam-powered train,sent me off to sleep in a flash.I arrived at Victoria Falls station early in the morning. Disembarking there reminded meof the railway stations I’ve seen in many a spaghetti western. The first thing that I saw asI stepped off the train was the misty spray hanging over the rain forest, along with theoverwhelming rumble of the falls: Mosi-oa-Tunya – The Smoke that Thunders – as it’scalled by the locals. It’s an easy distance from the station to the entrance of the VictoriaFalls National Park.There I was handed a plastic mackintosh and off I traipsed into the rain forest. The walkis drenching but exhilarating, the rumble turns into an ear-shattering roar, and then all ofa sudden the rain forest ends and there you stand, face to face with this expansivepanorama that literally takes your breath away. I was so shocked by the enormity of thisspectacle that I was only able to breathe in. I couldn’t exhale!Victoria Falls are over a mile wide and more than 100m high. The racket and the sprayand the sunshine and the rainbow overwhelmed me completely! I could almost reach outand touch it! Niagara Falls’ commercialized environment is puny in comparison to this!Here I was, up close and extremely personal with the largest natural wonder on theplanet. And what a wonder it is! There isn’t an adjective that’s sufficiently powerful todescribe the feeling: awe-struck hardly begins to perhaps come close.Communication between people is by yelling because of the overpowering growl ashundreds of thousands of gallons of water plunge every minute from the Zambezi River9

VICTORIA FALLSThe most breathtaking natural spectacle I have ever seen.10

an almost touchable distance opposite you into the abyss below.I stayed there for a few hours just marveling at this gargantuan natural spectacle, andthen returned to my hotel, completely drenched through.After a shower and a change of clothes, I headed for the lounge. There I heard of themoonbow from one of the waiters, a local man who went by the name of Goodness (themeaning that Africans attach to names is worth an entire chapter all by itself). Everyonehas seen a rainbow, he said, but how many have seen a moonbow? “Tonight is fullmoon, so go out to the falls again tonight,” he encouraged me, “and you’ll see somethingyou have never seen before.”Goodness was right. I had never seen vision like unto this sight before or ever since. Forhere, where the spray of the falls rises to a height of over 400 meters, on a clear fullmoonlitnight, the moonbow is an once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.I’ll never be able to forget it!That’s what made me want to be a tour guide; to explore God’s beautiful planet; tomarvel at nature; to learn of different cultures and people; to go to places that I willnever be able to forget; to live my life experientially.It’s true that I can do all that alone. But for me, sharing it enriches the experience. Itenables me to give of what I love, of my passion, to others. I love nothing quite so muchas to bring my wife and children to places I have visited. I enjoy sharing this passion withothers. So when my daughter showed me an advertisement for a tour guides course, Ileaped at the opportunity.This was my opportunity to study, to travel, to experience - and to share.11

VICTORIA FALLSThe Moonbow - I had never seen such a vision before, or ever since.12

Travel and ToleranceIhave been blessed with a fortunate life. My numerous previous careers have oftenrequired that I travel to many places. I have never been one of those frequenttravelers who complain about having to board a plane to somewhere or other. I’vealways loved being a road warrior. I am enchanted by foreign cultures and myexposure to them has, I believe, made me a more open and tolerant person.Here’s a story to illustrate the point.I was once required by my work to travel for one week a month to Pune, India. UnlikeMumbai or Delhi, Pune is a relatively small city in India (population: about 5 million) andis also comparatively upscale. For example, I was as seldom accosted in Pune by thepoverty stricken as I was frequently set upon in Mumbai.On the second morning of the first of my fourteen trips I was woken by a wholeconglomeration of sounds that I couldn’t quite make out as I slowly progressed from jetlaggedsleep into consciousness. I started making out the sounds of drums (that one wassimple), and then something that seemed like cymbals (a little more complicated),tambourines (took a while), flutes, trumpets, whistles of sorts, and a cacophony of otherinstruments that I was unable to fathom.I slowly made my way to the window and pulled aside the curtain. As the sunlightstreamed in, I looked into the hotel’s front garden and there I saw an elephant. Elephantsare not an uncommon sight in India; however this one was lavishly and opulently13

PUNE, INDIAMy first exposure to the Indian subcontinent.14

decorated in a garish multiplicity of colors. The elephant stood there rather meekly in thegarden, while masses of people frolicked and danced about it all the while tossing somepink powder all over it - and over themselves as well. My initial thought was that this isvery strange. Then I thought it resembles how I imagined the worship of the GoldenCalf in the Bible. This is paganism in practice! My next thought was well, aren’t I being alittle judgmental? After all, what makes my form of worship for me any more valid thantheirs is for them?That thought set in motion for me a process that opened my mind to trying tounderstand new experiences and different cultures. While until now I had loved to seenew things and travel to far-flung place, I realized that had always related to those in anassociative manner. I had always compared what I was seeing to what I already knew,rather than trying to understand the experience for what it is.Nowadays, it’s a lesson that I try hard to impart to those who travel with me. Myorientation lecture upon arrival to any destination usually begins with “I hope you leftyour preconceptions behind before boarding the plane…”My favorite travel story is of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, leader of German-JewishOrthodoxy in the late nineteenth century who very late in his life exerted himself to visitthe Alps. When asked why he had done so, Rabbi Hirsch apparently responded: “After120 years when I appear before God and He asks me ‘Have you seen my Alps?’ I want tobe able to answer in the affirmative.”It is a spiritual imperative to visit the Alps.The Alps are a metaphor, of course. The teaching is that there is great beauty in theworld. Life is a one-time shot. And God has provided us with a wonderful, beautiful,fascinating planet. Everyone should see it.15

PUNE, INDIACovered in pink powder. The Ganesh Festival was an experience that helped open my mind16

TRAVELING KOSHERIhave often been asked how I manage with food when I’m on the road. Do I takefood along from home? Can kosher food be bought in the places where I go? Isn’t itcomplicated to keep kosher in far-flung, off-the-beaten-track places? Are theirhechsherim that can be relied upon? What do I do when I can’t read the labels? Howdo I cope?Well, truth be told, I manage quite well, thank you. When I prepared for my first trip toIndia, I hauled all sorts of foods with me, from instant soups to noodle cups that requireboiling water to make a meal. I loaded up on salamis and tuna and crackers. I evenschlepped my own bottled water. Most of my 20 kilogram baggage allowance was food!On the flight over to Mumbai I sat alongside a mashgiach from the Orthodox Union whowas also headed for India to examine a food production facility. He told me of a place inMumbai where I could go to eat. Being a complete novice in this field, I asked how comethis is so? His reply was most edifying. He introduced me to the Jain, the followers ofone of the ancient Indian religions, who are completely vegan. There are restaurants inIndia, he told me, that are “pure Veg” because they cater for believers of Jainism. Inthose restaurants, he said, I can eat. Needless to say, most of the food I lugged to India,was handed over to the local Chabad house in Pune.That brings me to another, frequently-used solution by kosher travelers all over theworld. Chabad. These righteous souls who have chosen to live in remote places so that ifand when a Jew may come by this will be his or her home away from home. I cannot17

STREETSIDE MARKET, CHINAFruit & Vegetables can be bought almost anywhere18

egin to pay adequate tribute to these amazing people. I have benefited from theirheartfelt kindness and generous hospitality in many distant locations.Nowadays, when I lead groups, I try to spend a Shabbat at a local Chabad house. I ordermeals ahead of time so that my hosts will know for how many to prepare, and I paywillingly for this service. In this manner I know what my group will be receiving, thatthere will be enough for everyone, and that I will also be helping the local Chabadrepresentatives make a sufficient profit so that they will be able to continue providingtheir wonderful services to other travelers like me.Whenever I lead a group, I find it important to enable them to taste some of the localcuisine. In most places it’s not hard to do. There is usually a place where this can bemade to happen. For example, enough Jewish kosher observant tour groups travel inChina have made it worthwhile for numerous hotels in key locations to store separatekitchenware and flatware. In Europe and North America is even simpler. SouthernAfrica is easy. South America is relatively trouble-free as well. In fact, in every countrywhere there is a reasonably sized Jewish community, lists of kosher foods are availablefrom the local rabbinic authorities, and shopping can be done as-you-go.Now, it’s quite obvious that I’m not talking about gourmet cuisine here. When I travel Ieat well, and simply. There are companies that provide world-class chefs who travel withgroups and cook for them as they travel along. So, whoever wishes to travel in thatmanner has a solution. I have found that my travelers are more than satisfied with tastymeals using as much local produce as can be safely used from a kashrut point of view.Providing tasty local cuisine, however, requires knowledge of local spices and seasonings,cooking customs and baking practices.Japan, my favorite destination, presents a true challenge. With a Jewish population ofsome 2,000 out of a total of 128 million residents – the demand for kosher food is less19

CHABAD HOUSE, SHANGHAIThe sign requires no interpretation20

than miniscule. There are two Chabad houses in Tokyo that provide hospitality in trueChabad tradition. The Ohel Moshe synagogue in Kobe has a catering service that willsend ready meals to any destination in Japan. Fruit and vegetables are available aplenty –and one can always eat raw fish!Kidding aside, traveling kosher requires some basic knowledge of what is and is notpermissible. That, some common sense and an adventurous pallet will ensure that youeat well and eat kosher on every corner of our beautiful planet.Bete’avon!21

NISHIKI MARKET, KYOTO, JAPANThe “Mahane Yehuda” of Kyoto, Imperial Capital of the Land of the Rising Sun22

ANECDOTES OF AIRPORT ABSURDITIESAbasic ingredient to successful travel is a sense of humor. Patience comes next.Fortified with those two, you’ll be able to weather almost any situation in whichyou find yourself. Here are some episodes that I’ve been through, where thosetwo ingredients were of great benefit.I’ve been through more airports than I can remember – I’m sure one for each letter ofthe alphabet. Hmmm, let me see: Amsterdam, Beijing, Chicago, Detroit, Edmonton,Frankfurt, Guilin, Harare, Ilha do Sal, Johannesburg, Kolkata, you get my drift… Eachairport is different, and many a business traveler will gladly tell you his or her favoritehair-raising airport tale. Something I’ve learned over the years is that a sense of humorhelps you get by, whether it’s an overly-eager security official, an inept immigration clerk,a burka-clad New York airport scanner-operator 3 days after September 11, or theinevitable luggage that never arrives; a smile definitely helps this rather unpleasant-tastingmedicine go down.In a previous career I used to carry a lot of silver jewelry to fairs and sales in the USA. Idiscovered after two separate incidents in Los Angeles and Detroit that the electronicairport sniffers find the aroma of silver and that of gunpowder to be very alike. In bothcases my baggage, after having passed through the detectors, was hauled to the side –with me in tow. When I offered to open my bag for the security attendant I was met witha barked: “Remain behind the line, sir!” Once my goods were examined and found to beharmless, I was permitted to continue on my way. I learned after the two said incidents,that this is going to be the case whenever I travelled, and so in every case I announced23

A RULES BOARDBe warned: silver jewelry will smell like explosives24

ahead of time that I was carrying silver jewelry, and thus saved myself the suspiciousglances and the discomfort of being intimately smelled up and down by a fierce lookinghound.One of my favorite - and probably the weirdest of my airport episodes - occurred duringa layover I had at Ilha do Sal in the Cape Verde Islands, a Portuguese-speakingarchipelago off the coast of West Africa. My 18-hour flight transatlantic flight made ascheduled refueling stop there, so I took the opportunity to say my morning prayers inthe little lounge that the airport offered. The sweltering heat in Ilha do Sal made shortshrift of the slowly turning ceiling-mounted propeller that tried hard - but unsuccessfully- to imitate a fan. Cold Cokes sold for $9 for a half-sized bottle in a bar that had an opencanal of not very fresh water running through it. So I sought out a corner, put on mytallit and tefillin and proceeded to pray. I was facing the wall with my tallit over my head,when I heard a female voice, in Dutch, whisper “Wat doet die mens?” – “What is that mandoing?” to which she received a prompt and well-informed male reply: “Oh hem? Hij is eenArabier.” – “Oh him? He’s an Arab.” Now while my birth certificate mistakenly identifiesmy nationality as Palestinian (I was born in Jaffa), I had never before, or since for thatmatter, been taken for anything but a Jew.I had occasion to pass through Tashkent airport on my way to Japan. After landing, theplane taxied to the terminal and connected to a sleeve at the front. We were then allinstructed to do an about face, and head out of the plane via steps at the back door anddown to a bus which took us to the transit lounge. The bus dropped us at the door to thetransit lounge and the moment we were in, the door was locked behind us (I guess so noonecan escape and immigrate illegally to Uzbekistan…). Then half the people lit up theircigarettes and start choking the rest of us. It’s legal to smoke everywhere in Uzbekistan –in fact, seems like it’s very much encouraged!In the hall in which we now stood, everyone had had to line up so a single clerk watched25

ILHA DO SAL, CAPE VERDE ISLANDSHere I was mistaken for an Arab26

y three military looking gentlemen examined and rubber-stamped our boarding passes.Then we lined up at another line where another single clerk watched by three othermilitary looking gentlemen examined our boarding passes and our passports. From therewe passed through the metal detectors and as usual, my suspenders set off the metaldetector, and I beeped. Another large military looking fellow leaped forward to examineme. He patted me down the usual way, and then patted me up a little too friendly, if youget what I mean. “Hey” I said, “we haven’t even been properly introduced!” He noddedas if he understood and let me continue on my way. What a riot!Now, how do you board your flight in Tashkent? Well, like at most airports you look atthe board, right? Wrong! There were no boards in the transit lounge. There wereuniformed airline staff coming into the transit lounge and calling out all sorts of things ina foreign tongue (well, not foreign to them) and you slowly figured out if you needed togo here or there. Well, we were led down the stairs toward a bus (based upon our arrivalexperience, a reasonable thing to do). I didn’t have a good feeling, so I scooted out of theline, went to another gate, entered and walked right onto a plane and asked if that wasthe plane to Tokyo. Indeed it was. So I ran back to where everyone was waiting andcalled my group out of the bus line. I felt like the Pied Piper of Tashkent leading themice to Tokyo.So here we are now on our plane, and one of my travelers finds someone in her seat. Icheck her boarding pass, and indeed the fellow is in her seat. I check his boarding pass,and he is in the right seat, but not on the right aircraft nor on the proper airline companynor going to the correct destination. He saw a gate and got on a plane. Instead of goingto Istanbul on Turkish Airlines he would have landed up in Tokyo on UzbekistanAirways. Had we not discovered this situation, wouldn’t he have been Zelig!27

TASHKENT AIRPORTLocked in the modern (not) and smoke filled waiting room28

Be aware, be patient, and take things in your stride. Hopefully, you’ll never have to rollwith any punches.And keep traveling.29

TASHKENT AIRPORTEveryone has to line up… to be checked before the line up for the next line30


XI’AN & THE TERRA COTTA ARMYXi’an was once the Imperial capital of China during the Qin and Tang dynasties,and I started my day with on the walls of the old city. Unlike Jerusalem’s oldcity walls which are built of huge rocks, this wall which is 20 meters wide at thetop and about 40 wide at the base is built of small bricks! The walls run 14 kmaround the old city – though the old city itself no longer exists. It’s about 300steps up from street level, and there are a number of quaint pagoda-style buildings alongthe wall, that were once lookouts and guard towers, but now serve mainly as touriststores, coffee shops and the like. From the top of the wall, there’s a great rooftop view ofthe city, both the old and the new. Here you can rent bikes or golf-carts to ride aroundthe walls, but I chose to scout out information on foot and just soak it all in. Usually,when I’m in a new place, rather than do something touristy, I love to simply sit and look.There are old cannons on the walls, but a close scrutiny reveals they are made of plastic.Aha! The garbage cans are beautifully decorated with sculpted dragons – fake but verypretty. And everything is CLEAN! It’s astounding. Even downtown, the boulevards arelong, wide, busy, flower-lined… and clean! Here on the walls, someone walks aroundpicking up even the smallest cigarette butts. No unemployment in China.Once I figured that I had an initial “feel” for the place, I skipped down the stairs andwent to the Muslim Quarter to see the market and the Great Mosque. The Muslims hereare indigenous Chinese, so there’s none of the Jihad stuff here. You want to be aMuslim? Knock yourself out! Islam is a religion that is officially recognized in China. Butbe tolerant of all people.33

XI’ANWalls of the ancient city34

The guy at the gate asked where I was from, and upon hearing Israel, responded with asmile and a “Shalom!” Ah, the things you learn for the tourists… The fascinating thingabout the mosque is that it’s built, like all places of worship, in a traditional Chinesegarden, with all the required appurtenances, like gates, steles, and of course, Chinesearchitecture. Like other temples and official buildings here in China, the mosque lies eastwest(facing Mecca) in a garden built on a north-south axis. It’s also very similar to theformer, ancient synagogue in Kaifeng. Just outside the Muslim Quarter I passed aStarbucks store. Starbucks too has made it to China, and I was able to buy a Xi’an CityMug to add to my collection! Yes!In the afternoon I went to the Great Wild Goose Pagoda which serves as a Buddhisttemple in a magnificent and beautifully landscaped garden. Its interesting see how Chinais “antiquifying” itself, rebuilding ancient sites in the same material and style that theyexisted for many years before the Cultural Revolution removed them. So now, it’s easy tofind renewed antiquities here in China. Hmmm…..I departed my hotel the next morning to see the Terra Cotta Army. My bag had to beoutside my room by 8:15 a.m., from where it’s picked up by the hotel staff, and taken tothe airport. Quite frankly I was somewhat nervous seeing as I never like to let things outof my sight, but - ah, well - when in Rome and all that… I must tell you the service in thehotels here is superb, and everyone is very smilingly willing to be of assistance. Ofcourse, there’s no shortage of staff, and I find that the somewhat martial style staffbriefings that take place every morning are a little amusing.My first stop was at a factory that makes all sorts of things like terra cotta miniatures -and not so miniatures. If you want a life size warrior you can get that too, and also inbrass. The place also manufactures screens with beautiful engravings, as well as furniturewith mother of pearl inlays, carpets, trinkets, clothes, etc. The furniture is made by hand,35

XI’ANThe mosque in Xi’an resembles the ancient synagogue in Kaifeng36

on site. It was fascinating to watch the artisans doing all the lacquer work by hand, andthen polishing it by hand using sand and water. Well, officially, there’s no unemploymentin China, so there’s tons of hands to do all sorts of manual work. It’s one of the waysthat big government here takes care of everyone in one manner or another.I then went off to see the Terra Cotta Army. I must say it’s fascinating, to see how thiswhole necropolis concept evolved. Initially, the Emperor wished to be buried along withhis (living) armies, who were to protect him in the afterlife. Well, once his courtiersrealized that burying 10,000 live people would be a real drag on productivity, because youneeded to train a whole new army, they decided to bury the emperor with a terra cottaarmy. This was the first terra cotta army to be buried, some 2,000 years ago, along withEmperor Qin Xi Huang Di of the Qin Dynasty, who united China into the country it istoday. The preservation is astounding. Rows upon rows of man size soldiers, each one anindividual and different from the one next to him. And oh! – the thousands andthousands of tourists… it was so crowded there. In fact everywhere I’ve been and all overwherever you go there seems to be thousands people all over the place.Oh, but there are thousands of people all over the place.As the kids say, “Duh, it’s China!?”37

XI’ANThe Terra Cotta Army – a wonder of the ancient world38

KUNMING & THE STONE FORESTThe drive from Kunming to the Stone Forest is along the Burma Road (ours herein Israel is not the original, but is named after the one in China), which makes itfeel sort of like “near home.” I can only describe the Stone Forest as astounding,fascinating, awesome, amazing, and stupendous even – and still not do it justice.It’s made of tens of thousands of massive spiked Karst rock formations whichwere once part of a prehistoric now-dried sea bed. They tower up to 40 meters high andmore, near vertical climbs up, even steeper climbs down, narrow crevasses to negotiate,with nooks and crannies everywhere. I climbed to the peak of the peak - and the view ofthe whole site is simply indescribable.On the way around I stopped alongside a rice paddy and for the first time in my life Isaw rice growing! Cool! Rice is harvested twice annually, but its growth is not seasonal.Farmers can grow it anytime during the year, so that it’s not unusual to see harvested ricepaddies alongside those with rice that has not yet ripened - a phenomenon that createsstunning patchwork scenery. And nothing goes to waste, for once the rice has beenharvested, the stalks are left to dry and are then used to make rice paper.In the afternoon I strolled through Cuihu Park, a public garden here in Kunming. Thelake here is for the most part covered in lotus flowers, something else that I had neverseen before. It was about 5 p.m. and all of ‘Amcha’ China was out in the park. Some onpaddle boats on the lake, some kids in large inflatable transparent plastic balls that theycrawl around in on the water.39

KUNMINGThe Stone Forest – fascinating, awesome, amazing40

In a variety of locations impromptu orchestras set up and start playing music and folkscome along and sing and others just sit around to watch and listen. This was authenticChina at its finest, the exciting stuff that anthropology is made of.Kunming is well known for Yuantong Si, a very large Buddhist Temple. The ornatebeauty of this 1,000 year old temple is quite overwhelming. The various steles and gates,the carved dragons and turtles and lions (the Chinese never knew how lions lookedseeing as there were never any here in China, so their lions are fearsome lookingcreatures, but they don’t look at all like lions), the smaller shrines along the path to thetemple, the place for lighting candles and incense, the water around the temple, and thenthe temple itself (that’s more or less the progression of experiences along the path) allcreate an overwhelming experience of beauty. I also lucked out that there was aprocession of monks in their yellow robes chanting their mantras and doing “hakafot”around the temple site. I find the music of the mantras themselves very moving. I don’tknow what they are saying or what it means, but it definitely touches a deep place in me.The folks light candles, and light incense. Then they sort of wave the incense sticks, heldbetween both hands in various directions, somewhat like out “hoshanot”. They bowbefore the statue of a small Buddha in the little shrines, while in the temple there is aBIG Buddha. There’s also one of a multi-armed female Buddha. It’s interesting that of allthe Buddha’s there is only one that smiles, the Happy Buddha – I’ll mention him in thenext chapter.After the temple I went to a tea factory - Dr. Tea - where I saw all types of tea in avariety of shapes and sizes, learned all about tea and aging of tea, sampled a number ofteas, lotus flower tea, lemon tea, some other yucky tea that smelled of stinky rice (whichis what it’s called in Chinese: Stinky Rice Tea) and lychee tea. That was the only one thatI liked, so I bought a box to bring home.41

KUNMINGYuangtong Si Temple. Monks doing “Hakafot.”42

From there I headed to a small market in the city center, where tourists usually don’t go.It’s the market where the locals shop. Lots of tea shops, mushroom shops (Kunming isfamous for its more than 400 types of edible mushrooms), fruit, nuts, clothes andtrinkets.I bought two types of lychees – one looks the same as the lychees we get here in Israel,and the other is a big red ball with hairy brown tentacles. Looks strange, but whatincredible flavor!Shehecheyanu!43

KUNMINGYes, it’s tea!44

GUILIN & YANGSHUOWanting to spend more time in nature, I drove from Guilin to Yangshuo. Guilinitself is something of a resort town, a small city of only about 600,000 peoplecompared with the previous two cities I was in, that have populations ofaround 6 million each. My hotel in Guilin is situated on the banks ofRongzhuo Lake, by the Peach Blossom River. The names alone exude restand relaxation. The Li River also runs through the city, the third largest river in Chinaafter the Yellow River and the Yangtze.For the movie buffs among you, the area of Guilin and Yangshuo is where the movie“The Painted Veil” was made. Also, part of “The Joy Luck Club” was filmed here.My aim in taking the hour’s drive to and from Yangshuo was to take a cruise down the LiRiver past the spectacular Karst scenery for which this area is renowned. As I drove Ipassed many rice paddies (agriculture still maintains over 70% of the population of China– an astounding figure taking into account that that translates into about 1 billionpeople!); the whole rice paddy thing really is beautiful. There’s a sense of authenticity tothis scenery. You feel it, it gets to you. Spectacular!Yangshuo (population 300,000) is a picturesque place nestled at the bottom of somespectacular Karst geography (I think I’m using spectacular a lot, but what can I say, itreally is the most appropriate word to use to describe what I’ve been seeing here) – it’s a45

YANGSHOUCormorant fisherman on the Li River46

very touristy town, many people come here just to relax, do some rock-climbing and justhang out. Anyway, I took a cruise down the river to enjoy the scenery from ground(water?) level, watched how the locals fish with cormorant birds tied to strings (here too,there is a large population of minorities and there is a big influence of the Thai ethnicitiesin this area). The riverside is covered in what they call Phoenix-tail bamboo, becausethat’s what it looks like. All in all, a relaxing, tranquil few hours.Sufficiently relaxed and mellow, I returned to Guilin and went to climb Yao Mountainwhich towers over Guilin (altitude 150m) to a height of 950m above sea level (about theheight of my home town, Efrat). Getting to the top requires a ski-lift ride of about 20minutes over spectacular, wondrous, unbelievable scenery, which turns even betterlooking down from the top. What I saw at ground level from the boat I now saw fromnear-heaven – and it was indeed heavenly! During the descent I got off the ski lift at thehalfway station, and made the rest of the trip down on a toboggan – not a snowtoboggan but one that’s on a polished aluminum slide. Eizeh kef! Zooming down themountain at breakneck speed - it was fantastic! Oh, to have had my grandson on mylap…On Shabbat afternoon I walked around the city. A little girl came up to me selling roses.Seeing it was Shabbat I couldn’t buy even if I wanted to. She was very, very cute – and aborn salesperson. I was walking along trying to get by, and she came up to me and pattedmy stomach and said “Happy Buddha, Happy Buddha” and I had such a good laugh! Ofcourse, there’s meaning behind that. There are relatively few overweight people in China.Also, of all the Buddha statues that you see here, only one of them smiles, or is happy,and that’s the fat one. Thus here in China, portly people are considered jolly folk, and arenicknamed “Happy Buddha”.What a riot!47

GUILINGuilin, from the top of Yao Mountain48

SHANGHAI: CITY OF THE FUTUREThe Bund is the famous promenade of Shanghai (the word itself is an Anglo-Indian expression, and is only used in context of the boardwalk in Shanghai, eventhough I have a vague recollection of hearing it used also in Mumbai) that runsalong the western bank of the Huangpu River, a tributary of the Yangtze thatruns through Shanghai, between the business and finance center of Pudong andthe downtown area of Puxi.I love sailing, so I signed up for a cruise on the river. Then a completely astounding thinghappened. In a matter of minutes the sky darkened over with almost black clouds, thewind picked up something fierce, a typhoon warning was announced and the river policestopped all traffic on the river. The whole thing took less than 20 minutes! Amazing! Ahwell, them’s the breaks. But it turns out that one man’s adversity is indeed another man’sfortune. The local scalps did a roaring trade selling knock-off Rolex, Omega and Breitlingwatches. Aha! The bargaining begins. I love it! Started at 1 for $5, down to 4 for $10 andeventually settling on 6 for $12. Who can resist?I must tell you, the Shanghai skyline is spectacular! First of all the buildings are HIGH!Shanghai plans on being the largest city in the world by the year 2020, with the tallestbuildings in the world. Right now they are completing the currently tallest building, andhave already begun construction of the one that will be loftier still. They work atincredible speed, what with their being no problem of manpower in this country. It’s allvery fascinating, this issue of endless amount of working hands available here in China.It’s sometimes hard to grasp that there are so many people here in this country.49

SHANGHAIFuturistic city of tomorrow, Shanghai plans to be the largest and tallest city in the world.50

Who can even figure out 1.3 or 1.5 billion? Just the zeroes make me light-headed!Cruiseless, but with a pocketful of timepieces, I crossed the river and went to see a showabout the history of China in song and dance and very colorful costumes. Shows in thiscountry bring entertainment to a whole new level and the give the word ‘spectacle’ awhole new meaning. Colorful costumes and easy interpretation, along with electronicboardsimultaneous translations, make the shows a sheer delight. After the show I tookthe elevator up the Pearl Tower, something like the CN Tower in Toronto, for a nightview of the City. The grand buildings along the Bund are all lit up every night until 10:30p.m. when ‘poof!’ - all goes dark. It’s as if the city disappears. Very odd…My next morning started with a visit to Yu Yuan - Shanghai’s “Chinatown.” Seemsstrange, doesn’t it, to have a Chinatown in the biggest city in China. It has a lot to dowith the history of Shanghai as an international city, and the influence – and concessions- of the British, French, Americans and Japanese (and also, with a lot of Jewish moneyand investment). This was the only area in China where I came across homeless or streetpeople. All were disabled in one way or another, in terrible shape, and were panhandling.A harsh indictment, I think, about the way less-than-productive citizens are treated here.After that I made my way to the city planning museum, to see how they’re going toenlarge and improve the city by 2020. As a museums systems designer in one of myformer careers, I was intrigued by the concept of a museum devoted to city planning.The one exhibit that overwhelmed me was a vast scale model – it occupies a completefloor of the museum - of the entire city of Shanghai as it will look in 2020. The detail isincredible, almost down to the tree-in-the-street level. Spectacular!My last stop in Shanghai was the old Jewish quarter. The buildings of Shanghai’s oncerenowned Jewish ghetto now house other residents. The Ohel Moshe synagogue wasunder renovation and thus closed to visitors. But the ghetto nevertheless tells the51

SHANGHAIThe Shanghai suburb of Pudong, before the lights went out.52

marvelous story of the rescue during the Holocaust of over 5,000 Jews from Lithuania,thanks to the heroic efforts of the Japanese Consul, Chiune Sugihara, recognized by YadVashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. When I served as Yad Vashem’sspokesman, I once had the good fortune to meet the late Mr. Sugihara’s wife anddaughter. This was the place of rescue of many survivors, including Zerach Warhaftig, aformer Israeli cabinet minister and one of the signatories on Israel’s Declaration ofIndependence, and also the entire Mir Yeshiva.For me - as a child of Holocaust survivors - this was one of the most important sites inChina that I had to visit.And so I finished my visit to Shanghai - on a “high.”53

SHANGHAIHongkou Quarter. A plaque testifying to the former Jewish Ghetto.54

BEIJING: THE GREAT WALL OF CHINABeijing (meaning ‘northern capital’), imperial capital of China, was founded byKublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, Mongol conqueror and Emperor ofChina. Originally it was called Khanbaliq, or Dadu, later becoming Beiping,Peking, and now Beijing. I wonder if it was the inspiration for Samuel TaylorColeridge’s poem “Xanadu”.My morning started with a drive out of the city. My initial impression is one of splendidarchitectural beauty. While I would term Shanghai spectacular, I think Beijing is bestdescribed as beautiful. Very wide avenues, tree-lined, extremely clean (which is the casein every Chinese city I’ve visited). There is construction everywhere what with theOlympics coming along soon. The Olympic Village is well on the way to beingcompleted. The architecture, both here and in Shanghai, is all Chinese, and its creativityis mind-boggling. In Shanghai I spent time mainly in the downtown area among the highrisesthere; while in the suburbs of Beijing I’m seeing lots of public housing, and here youcan see that great emphasis has been placed on creating aesthetic living surroundings.The most astounding construction engineering I have ever seen anywhere in the world isin Beijing: two soaring leaning buildings, being constructed not upright, but at a curvedslant, approximately 60 floors high each. They will eventually join together and atopthem will be constructed further storeys. But, I digress…I made my way out of the city to a Cloisonné factory. The word Cloisonné comes fromthe word cloister, the place where the nuns live, and describes the artistic process by55

BEIJINGCloisonné – Before and After56

which those wonderful Chinese enameled vases, plates, etc., are created. I watched theprocess of creation of this artwork from start to finish – it’s all done by hand and firednumerous times to create the final smooth, elaborate result. But the most amazing thingabout this intricate artistry is that the most important part, the copper wiring that createsthe intricate, elaborate and artistically convoluted design, which is afterward filled in byhand painting, is also hand-worked and attached to the vases / plates etc. with glue.Amazing!From my obligatory contribution to the Chinese economy I continued to the Great Wall.My initial impression of this failed attempt to keep the enemy out of China, which hasremained the primary man-made wonder of the world, was that it’s a rather little wall. It’snot overly high or very thick – it was built so that 10 soldiers could walk on it abreast -but its winding, twisting, dipping, climbing 6,000 km length is entirely astounding. It’squite obvious that the myth that it’s visible from space is just that, a myth, and I don’tknow why any emperor thought it would keep anyone out. Nevertheless, climbing alongthe wall to a hilltop and sitting there up in the mountains and seeing the wall winding itsway up and down, over hill and dale, all the way to the horizon and beyond is indeed anawesome, and an exceedingly impressive sight. So while the wall is not great, is sure isGreat!What’s interesting is this Chinese issue with evil coming from the north. Not anunfamiliar concept to Jews (Isaiah also spoke of evil coming from the north). The closingoff of entry from the north is a phenomenon that you come across here in China at alltemples and palaces and sacred locations. They’re all closed at the north and open at thesouth. I guess for the Chinese, the fear that the Mongols would invade was a very realone. In fact, when the Mongols did decide to do so, they did indeed come from thenorth, and the wall didn’t stop them.57

BEIJINGThe Great Wall: Not great, but Great!58

From the wall where I davened Mincha (I should have a T-Shirt made “I davened Mincha atthe other wall", could make a bundle!) I headed back toward Beijing and stopped to visitthe Sacred Way of the Tombs of the Ming Emperors. It’s a huge closed-to-the-northopen-to-the-south garden with beautiful gates (and that’s a whole other discussion too)and powerful sculptures of real and mythical creatures.I’m sure that the makers of the Harry Potter movies must have visited this place, forthere in the pantheon of sculpted mythical creatures sat a statue of… a hippogriff!59


BEIJING: IMPERIAL CITYToday I started with a visit to Tiananmen Square and the (no longer) ForbiddenCity. I must say the square is an imposing, impressive place, what with all theofficial buildings surrounding it. Not quite as majestic as the Mall in WashingtonDC, but on the other hand, it’s HUGE! Everyone asks where was the picturetaken of the student standing in front of the tank during the student uprising?Turns out it was a pretty lucky photo. Correspondents were holed up in the Beijing Hoteland from their angle the square was almost not in view. Here in China, many peopledon’t know about the student uprising because it never made the local news. The squareis lined with assorted public buildings, the parliament, party headquarters, and museums.Also in the square is the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.From there I footed off into the Forbidden City, residence of Chinese Emperors forhundreds of years. What’s especially interesting here (and other places too) is the use ofcolors to designate certain things. For example, the roofs of royal buildings are all inYellow tile, because Yellow is the color of the Emperor. Some buildings have blue tiles,signifying heaven, and others green tiles, representing Earth. Yin and Yang. Heaven andEarth. As near all Chinese temples and palaces, etc, a Bell Tower and a Drum Tower. Yinand Yang, Heaven and Earth. Open to the South, closed to the North. But the lavishnessof it all is astounding! It’s somewhat reminiscent in opulence (but in different style, ofcourse) to the palace in Versailles. No wonder that decadence eventually set in and thewhole system was overthrown.Palaces and reception halls, official residences and homes for the palace staff,61

BEIJINGTiananmen Square: Communist iconography still holds sway here.62

ureaucrats, and the entire entourage, including the emperor’s many concubines. Muchof the Forbidden City is built from marble, which is in plentiful supply here. Ornatesculpted marble steles, both upright and slanted, and including an elaborately chiseledmarble slab measuring almost 50 square meters and weighing 200 tons! My rather swiftwalk through the Forbidden City took me 3½ hours, so that gives you an idea about howlarge this place is. Much of the epic movie “The Last Emperor” describing thelamentable life of Pu Yi, the last of China’s emperors, was shot within the ForbiddenCity. That and the forthcoming Olympic Games have caused the Forbidden City toundergo a major facelift of late, making a visit to this unusually enthralling location all themore worthwhile.Roofs have a special significance in China, and many of these old buildings existed inorder to support the roof. The amazing part of it is that they are built without any nailsor screws at all. The frames, upon which the roof tiles are set, all fit into one anotherwith brackets and wedges.From the Forbidden City I went to the Summer Palace, the place to which the Emperorsand their entourages would retire in the summer months. Now this place is seriouslyspectacular. Beautiful gardens, a massive lake, gorgeous arched stone bridges (whichearned the envy of Marco Polo when he visited here, because in Europe they didn’t yethave the know-how with which to build stone span bridges) – the Summer Palacebecame the place where the last Empress Dowager of China spent most of her time(rather than in the Forbidden City). Now, this lady was infatuated with pomp andsplendor, and so loved marble, she had her artisans make her a boat from it. It didn’tfloat.My final stop on this imperial day was at the Temple of Heaven, probably the mostbeautiful of all the Temples/Palaces I saw throughout all of China. It was used by theEmperor only twice a year when he went – alone – to pray for successful harvests,63

BEIJINGThe no-longer Forbidden City64

something along the lines of one of the prayers of the Cohen Gadol in our tradition,which is described in the liturgy for Yom Kippur. There are many similarities all over theplace; we are after all two civilizations which grew at more or less the same time, eventhough on opposite ends of the Asian continent. The Temple of Heaven itself, unlikeevery other temple or palace building in China, is round - the others are all rectangular -and the intricate detail of its decorative exterior and interior is quite overwhelming. Thatwas the last important site I visited in China.Then I went shopping! This is another field in which the Chinese are becoming worldleaders, and I spent a few hours at the Silk Street Market, a seven-floor building linedwith rows upon rows of stalls, offering everything from clothing to electronics, and mostthings in between. Fashion buyers often travel to Milan or Paris to choose their mostselect wares. Equally often, those choice items are manufactured in China. And here inChina they are for sale at half the European price. Well, you may ask; China is wellknownfor its knock-off industry, so what’s a fake and what isn’t? A good questionindeed. My personal rule of thumb is that clothes are probably what they say they are.They may have a slight defect in them, and if you have a really good magnifying glass,you may even find the defect. Alternately, they are likely extra stock that wasmanufactured over and above a particular order. So, designer shirts, angora sweaters, andeven shoes, are probably leftovers, while electronics are almost definitely fake look-alikes.In all cases, though, caveat emptor!For many a store keeper the chase is as important as is the sale. Bargain fairly and youwill come away with wonderful items at great prices.Enjoy!65

BEIJINGThe Temple of Heaven66

BROWN BIG BROTHER BEIJINGThe title of this article is not meant to scare. While it is considered a given that inChina you are often being watched, nowadays it’s a lot more out of curiosity thandue to any governmental desire to know what everyone is doing. After all, thereare over 14 million residents in Beijing, and you’d need at least that amount tokeep watch on everyone.The big brother I’m talking about is Beijing, the city. As an imperial capital, Beijinglooms large over London, Vienna, Prague, Rome and the other (some former imperial)European capitals. Even compared to Washington DC, which is probably the closestthere is in modern times to an imperial capital, Beijing is more impressive.Coming back to Beijing after a two year hiatus I am struck how the city has undergone amassive reconstruction program in the last few years. It was visible when I was here last ayear before the Olympics. But things develop so rapidly here, it’s hard to fathom. Ofcourse, when you have literally millions of working hands, the speed of constructionbecomes understandable.Beijing exudes power, authority, muscle, clout. The wide boulevards, sometimes twelvelanes in the middle of the city, are lined with massive steel and glass towers.The overwhelmingly impressive array of architectural creativity – all of it Chinese –67

BEIJINGBeijing is notorious for its traffic68

cannot but strike awe into anyone who visits here. This is a serious WOW factor.Modern Beijing is also a playful city. The Beijingren (people of Beijing) are, in general, ahappy bunch. They are talkative and gregarious, curious and outgoing, cheerful andhospitable. I get the impression that prior to the Olympic Games, the citizenry wasencouraged to learn some Basic English, which they are all too keen to try out on everyvisitor. I cannot count how many conversations went like this:“Hallo Sir!” – Hello“Where you from?” – Israel – Puzzled look – Yutairen (Jewish people) – “Ah! VerySmart!”Alternately,“Where you from?” – Canada/Spain/Germany/Brazil .“Canada/Spain/Germany/Brazil very beautiful country.” – Thank you.“You are very handsome man.” – Thank you.Or, when haggling at the market, the standard response to my low counter offer on anyasked price would be “You are killing me!”Meeting with the Beijingren in the night market where folks go out to eat cheap andplentiful food (if you consider it to be food; among the offerings there are snakes,scorpions, and varied wriggling things) is an absolute delight.But the sky of Beijing is brown, and it’s a pity. The impressive measures taken by69

BEIJINGThe CCTV Building in Beijing70

officialdom prior to the Olympic Games has been allowed to fall by they way. The air ofBeijing is horribly polluted. The sky is brown. And nothing but a serious downpour ofrain will clean it up – and even then only for a day or two. In my opinion, the alternateday rule for cars should be reintroduced, and polluting factories should be fined intocompliance with the yet-to-be legislation requiring purer air for the capital. It’s a blighton this otherwise wondrous place.In one of Beijing’s Hutong districts I was hosted by a local family in their courtyardhome. Beijing was once filled with these, but they have mostly been torn down to makeway for the expansion and rapid modernization of this city. I have written before aboutthe effort the Beijing government placed upon the new public housing. So muchinvestment has gone into making Beijing’s suburbs attractive and pleasant to the eye; thegreat lengths to which they have gone to ensure an esthetic and green environmentaround the multitude of apartment buildings, is simply admirable.And Beijing is not a poor city by any stretch of the imagination. Just down the streetfrom my hotel on Wanfujing Street were the following four car dealers all in a row: RollsRoyce, Lamborghini, Ferrari and Maserati. They were opposite the Legendale Hotelwhich makes the word ‘opulent’ seems like ‘slum.’ I have never seen lodgings anythingquite like this.And the crowds. Oh, the crowds. My best underestimation is that on a bad day theForbidden City must get half a million visitors. The big advantage is that the place isHUGE! It wasn’t called a city for nothing. Far more than a palace, it is a site, a location,an experience. The numerous halls and pavilions are overwhelming. The offices of theofficialdom and the homes of the concubines, the courtyards and the passageways, theyellow imperial roofs and the red imperial walls, the marble – how much marble!There are a number of sites which are must-see places here in Beijing: The Forbidden71

BEIJINGBeijing National Stadium, a.k.a. The Bird’s Nest, built for the 2008 Olympic Games72

City and the Summer Palace, The Temple of Heaven and Jingshan Park, The LamaTemple and Ho Hai Lake, the Spirit Way and the Ming Tombs, and of course, a mere 40kilometers out of the city you can walk on the most impressive item of all, the Great Wallof China. If you have some free time, take a jaunt over to the City Museum of Beijing. Awonderful modern Museum built in the best spirit of Feng Shui; it has an amazinglybalanced design that incorporates everything that Beijing ever was and is.General McArthur best summed up my feelings about Beijing when he said (yes, I know,about a completely different place): “I shall return.”73

BEIJINGLama Temple, the most important Lamasery outside of Tibet74


VANCOUVER’S SUSPENDED STRUCTURESI’ve lived in three of the world’s most beautiful cities, Jerusalem, Cape Town andVancouver. According to the Talmud, ten portions of beauty were distributed toearth, of which Jerusalem received nine. Well, I figure that between them, CapeTown and Vancouver must have gotten a good chunk of the tenth part.Vancouver’s beauty is simply stunning! Cypress Bowl and Grouse Mountain provide anorthern backdrop that is spectacular. The Pacific Ocean and the Fraser River do theirshare as well in lending magnificent splendor to this city. Cedar, Cypress, Douglas Firand Spruce trees rise aloft to dizzy heights, and the greenness of the city’s parks, thewhite of the snowy mountains, the blue of the water and the sky (well, we’re talkingsummer here – Vancouver has a notoriously wet and grey winter), the bears the whalesand the dolphins – it’s no wonder that Vancouver is continuously listed as one of thethree best cities in the world in which to live.For those of us who’s kids grew up in the 1980s, Vancouver is where the TV series“McGyver” was filmed. The building which houses the offices of the series’ PhoenixFoundation is one of Vancouver's most interesting architectural structures in that it wasbuilt from the top down. The building’s central shaft supports a spring-suspended frameinto which the rest of the structure was built. That’s a seriously interesting building!There are two other fascinating suspended structures in Vancouver: the suspension77

VANCOUVERAfter Jerusalem, my most beautiful city78

idges at Lynn and at Capilano Canyons. The suspension bridge at Lynn Canyon is thescary one. Stepping onto the bridge causes it to wobble, and if you’re half-way downacross the ravine, you’re going to want to hold on real tight as the folks behind or infront of you step onto the bridge. Built in 1912, this two-astride suspended footbridgehas wooden slats under your feet, through which I could see the waters of Lynn Creekgushing by 160 feet below, as they rushed down from the mountain into the Fraser Riverinlet.There are wonderful hiking trails here that wind along the creek, and if you’re looking fora place where you can hear the breeze rustling through the leaves, the water flowing inthe stream and the swift footsteps of squirrels scurrying around the woods all at the sametime, Lynn Creek Park is the place to be. The day I was there the Vancouver Marathonhad its runners coming through the area. Running across that bridge? Not I!So you think if you’ve seen one suspension bridge you’ve seen ‘em all? The answer folks,is… nope! A mere 3 kilometer drive down the road brings you Capilano Suspensionbridge, at the foot of Grouse Mountain. Spanning the Capilano River at a height of 230feet, and measuring 450 feet from end to end, this is one of the longest suspensionbridges in the world. The original span here was older than the neighboring one downthe highway, but unlike the shaky bridge at Lynn Canyon, the Capilano bridge is nowsturdy, (well, a little bouncy) made of metal and anchored firmly in 13 tons of concrete.The dramatic amble across took me over the Capilano River, which is famous for itssalmon hatchery, located a few hundred meters up the mountainside.Once I was across the bridge, I discovered that Capilano Park is a forest of fascination.The trees are awesome! The Douglas Firs are among the tallest trees in the world, they’rehundreds (!) of feet high and you’ll need twenty people to hug them at their base. Thereare other suspension bridges here, which linked me from tree to tree, so that I walked79

LYNN CANYON BRIDGE, VANCOUVERThis one’s the scary one80

through the rain forest in the air - almost. Amazing!And here for the first time I also understood what it means to smell the forest. Thearoma of the forest is overwhelming, and in different areas, where different trees grow,the fragrance changes from location to location.Between the mountain, the bridges and the streams, if you love a day in nature, this isundoubtedly one of the most enjoyable places you can visit.81

CAPILANO CANYON, VANCOUVERWalking through the trees at tree height82

THE FRASER RIVER CANYONThe hard part of the road journey from Vancouver to the Canadian Rockies is thedecision regarding which of the spectacular routes to take. Shall it be via theFraser River Canyon, the rock faces and furious rapids and the city of Kamloopson the high plains? Shall it be via the Okanagan Valley, its fjords, lakes and loftyforested mountains? I chose to travel via Route #1, through the Fraser RiverCanyon.There’s hardly anything in British Columbia that isn’t beautiful. It’s hard to believe thatso many splendors can be seen in this corner of the globe. Well, it’s not quite a corner –British Columbia is larger than California! But to experience so much grandeur, with oneplace being more beautiful than the one before it makes you hunger for more and more.The first leg of my trip to the Canadian Rockies was through the green meadows ofChilliwack valley (British Columbia is always green - it’s astounding!), and the farmlandsthat roll over hill and dale. Smallholdings by the hundreds – if not thousands – providefresh vegetables to the Greater Vancouver Regional District and much of the rest ofCanada too. Folks, these vegetables are almost as good as the ones grown here in Israel!Dairy farms dot the landscape. This is agriculture at its most beautiful.Route #1, also known as the Trans-Canada Highway, is Canada’s longest road, stretchingliterally coast-to-coast all the way from Victoria in British Columbia to St. Johns inNewfoundland – a distance of 7,821 km - making it the longest highway in the world.83

FRASER RIVER CANYONAggressive scenery84

The first 170 km out of Vancouver were relaxing. But as I passed the town of Hope, BC- built when gold was discovered in the Fraser River Canyon in 1858 - relaxation turnedto excitement. The scenery turns almost aggressive as the mountains tower 1000m highand more over the valley. It’s tough, rough terrain. For the movie buffs among you, it’swhere Sylvester Stallone’s “First Blood” action movie was filmed.Two hours north of Hope, I arrived to Hell’s Gate. This place was given its name by theexplorer Simon Fraser who traversed the entire river by canoe, except this segmentwhich he had to negotiate by clinging to the vertical cliffs. The rapids here arespectacular and I rode the Airtram over the river. Now this is one scary ride as it dipsreally close to the water. The upside of it is that you can get up close and personal withthe wildly rushing water, but remain dry. This is not a place to go rafting!The journey north from Hope to Lytton is hard to capture in words. What comes tomind? Spectacular, stunning, dramatic, striking, vivid, eye-catching? All of them applyand none of them do justice to the long drive through this amazing crevasse called theFraser River Canyon. Each site is more breath-taking than the one before it. Juststunning!For those of you who enjoy fishing, this is a fisherman’s paradise. The Fraser RiverCanyon is the largest fish producing water course in British Columbia. It’s the world’slargest supporter of Salmon – Sockeye (my personal favorite), Coho, Spring, Pink andChum.I wonder: if you catch a Chum, will it consider you one?85

FRASER RIVERSalmon swimming upstream to spawn86

GORGEOUS GORGESThe journey from the city of Kamloops, BC to Jasper in Alberta traverses a varietyof landscapes: desert and forests, mountains and glaciers – an overwhelmingplethora of feasts for the eyes. This is ancient Indian, or First Nations homelandterritory, and the blend of native with modern Canadian culture, creates an eversurprisingmix of multiculturalism in which Canada takes great pride. I must saythat the variety of customs of the local tribes - and the nuances between them - is mostinteresting, and makes the study of Canadian history far more intriguing that I hadpreviously realized. The Haida and the Coastal Peoples, the Chilliwack and the Cree, theStoney, the Shuswap, the T’kemlups and the Blackfoot - seemingly so similar and yet sodifferent. Once fierce enemies, these nations have come together via a plurality of treatiesto protect their valuable heritage – fascinating! Armed with the enthralling aspects ofCanada’s native peoples, my trip out of Kamloops became all the more enjoyable.The scenery of the Canadian Rockies is, well, spectacular, stunning, magnificent, breathtaking;take your pick of adjectives. The endless green forests of pine and spruce, thesnow-capped peaks and dramatic pinnacles of the mountains, as well as the occasionalelk and bear – the time sped by as I gobbled up the distance.My significant stop of the day was at Maligne Canyon, just south of Jasper. Here too, asin almost every place where the melting glaciers give birth to powerful current sandswiftly flowing rivers, the flowing water has carved a deep crevasse into the rock. I hikedalong the bottom of the canyon following the course of the flowing water for an hourand a half. The sheer cliff faces on either side of the canyon rise to a height of some87

MALIGNE CANYONWhere the water has become sculptor88

400 meters. The gorge itself enables you to walk alongside the flow and it careens over avariety of precipices on its way down to the Maligne River and lake. While it wasseriously hot (over 35 degrees Celsius) at the top of the canyon, down here in the depthsof the ravine it was cool and shady, and the water was so completely transparent, thetemptation to drink from it was overwhelming. Nevertheless, I held back. I’ve been totoo many places where the very first rule is “don’t drink the water.”The second canyon through which I hiked was the Johnston Canyon. The hike here wasabout an hour long, most of it on a pedestrian walkway attached to the rock face of thecanyon’s cliffs. While Maligne Canyon had been cool, Johnston Canyon was downrightchilly! Once again, I walked along the waterside accompanied by the soft sssh-ing of theriver as it flowed downstream. As I trekked further along, I began to hear the rumble ofthe waterfall, which grew ever louder as I proceeded along the bridge. Then the pathturned a sharp corner, entered a cave, and exited at the foot of a pounding, thunderingsnow-white cascade. This was so exciting, and by this time I was so parched, that I goton the rocks, leaned over, filled my water bottle and drank from this pristine, ice-cold,emerald colored, crystal clear elixir of life.Ah, absolutely delicious!89

JOHNSTON CANYONChilly, even in the summer90

ASTONISHING, AMAZING ATHABASCAWe’re used to living among history here in Israel. Wherever one turns there arearcheological findings that fascinate, captivate, educate and causewonderment. It’s not uncommon to come across findings here that are 1,000years old and more. History - it’s part of our makeup.Well then, how would you feel about seeing a colossus that is 10,000 years old and 300meters tall? What if you could not only touch it, but stand on it? What if it was so huge,(about 1,000 football fields in size) that enormous, specially designed vehicles, of whichthere exist only 23 in the whole world, would slowly creep up and deposit you on it?Then, what if it moved?Athabasca Glacier, one of the more accessible glaciers in the Canadian Rockies, is locatedin the middle of the vast and tremendous Columbia Ice Field. It’s an awe-inspiringvision. First of all, it’s HUGE! Forming a valley between two peaks, each bearing its ownglacier clinging to the craggy rocks high above, it is some 2 miles wide and many moremiles long. You can park nearby and simply hike onto the glacier, or you can ride in oneof the Glacier Explorer vehicles onto the surface. These are humungous vehicles withtires 2 meters high that crawl onto the surface of the glacier. Each one carries some 50people, and they exist only here – and there’s one at the South Pole. After a mile’s driveon land and another mile on ice, I got off at the end point, fascinated by the touch of myfoot to the ice. One small step for man…I was completely blown away by the whiteness of the expanse of ice surrounding me, 30091

ATHABASCA GLACIERAstonishing, Amazing, Astounding92

meters deep and more. Throughout the glacier there are small cracks caused by theconstant movement as the glacier creeps at far less than a snail’s pace down the mountainslope at the speed – well, speed might not be the right term - of a few meters per year.Actually the problem is not so much the movement of the glacier as it is its retreat (that’spolitically correct talk for melting). Athabasca has shrunk 2 kilometers in the past 130years, much due to global warming and climate change.Fascinated as I was, I reached down to touch the ice: cold and very prickly – it stabbedmy finger and made a small puncture in my skin. In some places the ice breaks easily andtempts the tourists to try a hand at the breaking it, something strongly discouraged by thenational parks rangers that roamed the area.In contrast to the wonderful, exciting, thundering and pounding of waterfalls that I loveso much, here I was surrounded by silence. It got quieter and quieter as I walked furtheraway from the vehicles; the sounds of silence, the whispers of the wind, and the crackleof the ice. In some places I could see through the ice to emerald colored subterraneanstreams of the melt that had carved a path through the ice. Gravity does what it does andyou can’t stop nature from being true to its nature.Athabasca is part of the Snow Dome, the hydrological apex and watershed of NorthAmerica, from where three primary water tributaries head to three oceans: the ColumbiaRiver flows to the Pacific Ocean; the North Saskatchewan River heads for to the HudsonBay and the Athabasca River makes its way to the Arctic Ocean.Athabasca. Astonishing, amazing, astounding.93

ATHABASCA GLACIERThe Ice Explorers are huge vehicles, but they look like ants94

HEAD-SMASHED-INNow, there’s a strange name for a place! I first heard of it when I visited theBuffalo Nations Museum in Banff. I have mentioned before that after travel,museums are my great love, and I never miss an opportunity to visit onewhenever I arrive at a destination of choice. I usually seek out those that arelow-budget developments. Something authentic. Here in Banff I came acrossthe Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum. It seeks to show how the First Nations peopleslived and adapted to their surroundings and each other prior to contact with Europeanculture, and how they continued to adapt after European influences.It’s an absolutely fascinating museum and was one of the highlights of my trip here. TheLuxton part of its name is dedicated to Norman Luxton, an adventurer from the timewhen the white man was only too pleased to limit the Indians’ quarters to inappropriateand unfertile reservation lands. The museum is housed in a wooden fortress that Luxtonbuilt, and is now operated by members of the Buffalo Nations.Here I learned how Buffalo were hunted to ensure food and clothing for many tribes andclans. How the braves (and hunting a buffalo requires plenty bravery!) would place cairnsof stones in the shape of a funnel leading toward a precipice and urge the herding buffaloin that direction. This would cause the buffalo to stampede, and then surge over the cliffto their deaths. The resulting harvest provided meat and skins for entire tribes formonths. One of these crags became known as Head-Smashed-In, an entirely appropriatename in my opinion, and its located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, nearMacleod, Alberta.The Buffalo Peoples include the Blackfoot, the Cree, Assiniboine and Crow nations, as95

HEAD-SMASHED-INThe real-life location96

well as the Algonquian, the Peigan and North Peigan, the Stoney and the Blood. Able toset aside their differences, they signed Treaty Seven in order to unite and defendthemselves – physically and politically.Luxton was most instrumental in bringing this about, and using the influence he wieldedas a newspaper publisher to bring the rights of the First Nations into the public arena inCanada. Often seen in a buckskin jacket and Stetson hat, Luxton was made an honorarychief.I was very pleased to have found this wonderful place, and I’ve added it to my list ofinternational must-see museums!97

HEAD-SMASHED-INThe excellent museum depiction98

BANFFBanff (Gaelic: Banbh) and Macduff (Gaelic: MacDhuibh) are neighbouring townsand former burghs in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. In 1870, Banff was served by theBanff, Portsoy and Strathisla Railway. Strathisla is the name of one of the finestsingle-malt whiskies I have every tasted (I’m obviously a whisky heathen becauseI actually prefer – deep breath in - the blended types). Strathisla distillery isowned by Chivas Brothers Ltd (and the Strathisla whisky is also a major past of theChivas Regal blend), which in turn is owned by Seagrams of Canada.But you needn’t be a connoisseur from the Scottish Banff to fall in love with itsCanadian twin here at the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. What a location! Apicturesque town nestled in a valley surrounded by soaring snow-capped, forest-filledmountains.This was my base from where I set out daily to view God’s spectacular creation. I lovewaterfalls, and this area had hundreds (if not thousands) of them, lakes by the dozensand the color of the water is hard to believe. My first day is Banff was devoted to just this– waterfalls and lakes. Unbelievably beautiful stuff! I started with Athabasca Falls. Theriver roars into a crevasse that has the water becoming completely wild as it turns thebend and begins to tumble. The parks authority has built viewing platforms that lean outover the rushing, gushing torrent so that I was able to sort of float above the tide as itcascaded into the ravine. After the excitement of the surge, I sought some solace in theplacid emerald green lakes of the area: Peyto Lake, Bow Lake, Lake Louise, MinnewankaLake and Moraine Lake.99

MORAINE LAKEThe colors are indeed true100

The emerald color (and it is emerald in color, that’s no Photoshop work you’re seeing inthe pictures) is brought on by the glacier “dust” that flows down from the icy heightsinto the rivers and lakes. The reflection of the sun off that now subterranean depositcauses the emerald color to present itself. It’s amazing! Anyone who wants to get awayfrom it all and find solace and splendor, relaxation and respite, should come and sit bythe banks of any of these lakes for twenty minutes. I assure you; all your troubles will befar away. Even now, three weeks later, I still sit and gaze and my pictures… and I relax.OK, enough with the relaxation, back to the excitement. Off I headed into YohoNational Park in British Columbia (yes, I changed provinces rapidly here as I meanderedbetween spectacles)to view the Takakaw Falls – the highest waterfall in Canada, droppinga dizzying distance of 280 meters from its top to its toes. Here, the cataracts are wild andleap into the air as the water soars away from the cliff side after dropping the first quarterof the distance. There’s a step in the cliff face which causes the flow to hurtle out beforecontinuing its fall to earth (and into the river). The best part of the visit here was that Iwas able to walk along the path to the very spot (almost) where the water changes fromvertical to horizontal. The spray was exhilarating and I got seriously wet, but it wasdefinitely worth it!Water, the elixir of life – spiritual life too!101

TEKAKAW FALLSThe tallest waterfall in Canada102



NIKKOYokoso! You think it’s a long walk from the plane to passport control at BenGurion? At Tokyo’s Narita Airport the walk is – I kid you not – 10 times longer.Narita is a MASSIVE airport; modern, beautiful, clean, clean, clean and superefficient. Staff is available to help you line up for passport control; white-glovedstaff take your baggage off the carousel, bow and give you the bag. Wow!As I was crossing the road to the parking lot, a police officer stopped the traffic to let mepass. Then he too bowed to the waiting cars, and let them go. Our traffic officers here inIsrael can afford a lesson from their Japanese counterparts. I boarded the coach for thehour’s drive (on the left side of the road) into town and to my hotel. It’s a beautiful hotel,with wonderful amenities, including a fancy toilet where you can do what you do and geta shower-shpritz-washed and dried tushy while you’re still seated. Just press the buttonsand smile.Did you know that the Japanese word for beauty and clean is the same? Kireii. A beautifulwoman and a clean street are described with the same adjective. Cleanliness in Japan isnot next to godliness, but rather identical with beauty.With those tidbits out of the way, let me tell you about my first full day here in the Landof the Rising Sun. Of course, that too is a story, and it’s not really about the fact that thesun rises in the east and Japan is in the east, even though that is also true. It’s more aboutthe imperial history of Japan, where the emperor was considered the son of the SunGoddess, Amaterasu.105

NARITA AIRPORTThe walk is longer than at Ben Gurion!106

He was the Sun Prince, controlled all of Japan, and everyone was subservient to him. SoI guess that makes Japan the Land of the Rising Son as well.My first full day in Japan was spent at Nikko, where there is an astoundingly beautifulshrine to the memory of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the Shogun who united all of Japan. Seeing asthe emperor was unable to actually control all of Japan, the Shoguns were the peopleempowered by the emperor to control various areas, take taxes from the populace, andensure that all their needs were taken care of. The Emperor was too busy taking care ofthe spiritual needs of the country because in his capacity as emperor he acted as theShinto High Priest. The result was that eventually the various Shoguns became jealous ofone another and started fighting, until Tokugawa Ieyasu came along, defeated them alland united Japan into one country. After his death, his grandson built a magnificentshrine to his memory in the mountains of Nikko, about three hours drive from Tokyo.The area, high in the mountains (mountains make up over 70% of Japan’s land mass)where the gods and the spirits live, has a variety of Shinto shrines and Buddhist templesand pagodas, all beautifully and ornately decorated. The area is full of majestic, tall cedarand cypress trees, very similar to those in the Capilano Canyon in Vancouver, Canada.Although a little chilly, it was a beautiful sunny day and the sun kept peeking in throughthe high trees.The first building I came upon was a Shrine of Love where people come to seek aworthy shidduch, or pray for successful marriages, or good partners or happy children.They write paper notes which they leave on a thread, or wooden notes which they leaveon hooks. These are eventually taken down by the professional clergy who work at theshrine and are burned, so that the messages can reach the gods in heaven, or on themountain, and in Shinto belief they can be in both places. The Shrine of Love is so calledbecause of a two-trunked cedar growing from a common root set – symbolizing theunity of love. The place is incredibly beautiful, both visually and conceptually.107

NIKKOTemples, shrines and nature combine harmoniously108

All over Japan and at all shrines and temples (the shrines are Shinto and the temples,Buddhist) there is a Torii (gate) which separates the sanctified from the secular. Unlikethe Buddhist Temples in China, which also have gates, the function of the Torii is not tokeep the evil spirits out but just to designate the separation of sacred and secular (andeven sacred is a very loosely used term here).On the way to and from Nikko, I stopped at a rest station in each direction to stretch mylegs and get something to drink. The whole vending-machine thing they have going hereis amazing. There are vending machines everywhere selling all kinds of things, but mainlydrinks, both cold and hot. Some of the vending machines are simple ones where the itemdrops into a tray - you lift the flap and take out the drink. In others, the item comesdown into a receiving area, and the door opens automatically so you can reach in withouthaving to bend – how about that?A spending no-bending vending machine!109

HIGHWAY REST STOPThe name needs some work, don’t you think?110

THREE WISE MONKEYS?Iguess that almost everyone is familiar with the image of the three monkeys. Onecovers his ears, the other his mouth and the third his eyes. From here the adage:“Hear no evil, speak no evil and see no evil.” The film buffs among you mayremember the famous courtroom scene from “Planet of the Apes” where the threeorangutan-looking judges appear on the bench – one covering his eyes, the secondhis ears and the third his mouth (I guess that depending on which planet you findyourself, the order may be somewhat different). Mahatma Gandhi, who foreswore anypleasures of this life and was known to be possession-free, made one exception - he kepta miniature statue of the three monkeys.OK, by this time you may be wondering where this article is headed. Well, it’s headed toNikko National Park, a spectacular forested location high in the mountains; about threehours drive north of Tokyo. There, engraved above a door at the site of the magnificentToshogu Shrine, dedicated to the memory of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the Shogun who unitedJapan into a single nation is where I came across the original 17th century carving of thethree monkeys.However, that particular carving is part of an entire series of wood-sculpted figurineslining the building’s exterior, which tells the viewer a whole story of how a child ought tobe reared and educated. These are the lessons we ought to be teaching our kids as theygrow up. The monkeys are (in order, left to right) Kikazaru – covering his ears and notlistening to any evil; Iwazaru – covering his mouth and not speaking badly; and Mizarucovering his eyes and not gazing upon anything untoward. What most folks don’t know111

NIKKONeturei Karta: The guardians of the gates at the Toshogu Shrine112

is that there is also a fourth monkey, Shizaru, and he covers his abdomen with foldedarms so that he does no evil! Now, why he was placed a little away and to the side of histhree well-mannered kinfolk indeed remains a puzzle.“What is hateful unto you, do not do to your fellow.” That statement by Hillel the Eldermight be termed the Jewish golden rule. Here in Japan, the lesson of the wise monkeys isconsidered “The Golden Rule.” The Chinese quote Confucius, who, in his Anelects, sayssomething similar: "Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what iscontrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement whichis contrary to propriety." In India, the fearsome six-armed deity Vajrakilaya is thought tohave authored the Buddhist proverb and teaching that if we do not hear, see or talk evil,we ourselves shall be spared all evil. It seems like many Golden Rules in many parts ofAsia say the same thing in different words.OK, the sayings are wonderful and indeed valuable lessons in life. But what does this allhave to do with monkeys? Here’s the solution. In Japanese the saying is: “mizaru,kikazaru, iwazaru.” Literally, that translates into “don't see, don't hear, don't speak.” InJapanese “Zaru” is the way they pronounce “Saru” which means Monkey (it is onereading of 猿 , the kanji for monkey). And that’s how the monkeys may have originated -from an interesting play on words.However, one thing that all this does not say is: “Monkey see, monkey do!”113

NIKKOThe original story is here114

TEMPLE & SHRINE:WHICH IS WHICH, AND WHAT TO DO THEREThe quickest way by which you can tell if the place you’re at is a temple (Buddhist)or a shrine (Shinto) is to check out the entrance. The entrance to a shrine(Shinto) in Japan is via a Torii, usually made up of two upright pillars, joined atthe top by two horizontal bars, the top one being curved at one end. Frequentlythey are bright vermillion in color, but sometimes just plain wood or concrete.The entrance to a temple (Buddhist) is through a Mon. Unlike its Shinto counterpart, thisis a more elaborate affair. Here there are a number of pillars that support a multi-leveledroof. Beneath the roof there often sit figures of temple “guardians.” Seeing as Templesand Shrines often share the same precincts, I often found Torii and Mons close by oneanother. Sometimes it wasn’t clear to me where the one ended and the other began.Initially I was fearful of making some terrible mistake at a temple or a shrine. I learned,however, that the Japanese are pretty loose in these matters. And the fact that I was agaijin (foreigner) made them even more forgiving.At both places, amulets and good luck charms of all types are sold to the public at avariety of prices. I suspect this is a method of raising funds for maintenance of thetemple/shrine. They are all beautifully written and decorated, and whether you believe init or not, they make for a pretty souvenir. You can also purchase an ema (small woodenplaque) on which you can write a wish, and then hang it on a rack and hope the wishcomes true. If you keep that one as a souvenir, it may not work!115

TORIIEntrance to a Shinto Shrine or a place of beauty, which is, ipso facto, also sacred116

Issues of purity are identified with Shinto practice. So outside every shrine there will be awater trough for purposes of purification. The traditional way to do this is to use one ofthe long-handled ladles that line the trough. You scoop some water from the ladle overyour one hand, then over your other hand, then scoop some into your cupped hand.Once that’s done, sip it and rinse your mouth; and the spit out the water on the ground.Releasing the water back into the trough renders the trough impure, so best not to dothat! The reason I mention this is due to its similarity to Jewish custom. The architectureof Shinto shrines resembles that of the ancient Israelite sanctuary as described in thebible. It has a haiden – a large hall of worship - as well as a honden (main hall), and also asacred room housing a Mikoshi, a mobile shrine which bears a very close likeness to theancient Israelite Ark of the Covenant. There are no statues or idols in Shinto temples. Inoticed that not everyone goes through the purification ritual before entering. Some did,and some skipped it and went directly to the shrine. Hmmmm…Now Buddhist temples don’t require any pre-purification at all. Unless they sharepremises with a Shinto shrine (which happens pretty often here in Japan), there is nowater trough. Buddhist temples do contain statues of Buddha. There are those who doconsider Buddhism idolatry and those who don’t. Personally, I prefer to gaze into thetemple from the outside. It seems to me that the Buddhist temples are more elaboratelydecorated than the Shinto shrines – the latter seem to reflect typical Japanese minimalismin their design.Sort of less is more.117

MONEntrance to a Buddhist Temple118

LAND OF “DEREKH ERETZ”If there was a single Jewish term which I could use to describe Japan in an allencompassingmanner it would be “Derekh Eretz.” Our sages considered “DerekhEretz” so important that they required that it precede even the study and practice ofTorah. “Derekh Eretz Kadma LeTorah,” they said. What is “Derekh Eretz?”Literally, it means “The Way of the Land.” To expand, I would say it means “TheyWay Things Should Be Done” or “The Way People Ought to Behave Toward OneAnother.” Colloquially, to have or to show “Derekh Eretz” means to treat one’s fellowman with respect. Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers, is filled with expressions andinstructions regarding the manner in which we ought to relate to one another. As I travelaround, I see in different cultures the way this is sometimes expressed. In Canada, myIsraeli travelers were astonished and astounded that complete strangers said “GoodMorning!” to them as we walked along the sidewalk. In Japan, some of them smirkedupon seeing to local citizens bowing politely to one another. Others were embarrassedwhen a hotel manager would bow to us as we entered his or her establishment. In onecase a traveler of mine berated a waiter for putting milk in her coffee. Even though hedidn’t understand her English, the waiter understood the tone of her rebuke. He was soapologetic that he got down on his knees to beg forgiveness. She too was embarrassed –maybe rightly so because she had made such a big fuss over something so minor.Understanding a local culture is the key to appreciating any country I may be visiting.Judging anything I see by what I already know, diminishes from my new experience.That’s why I tell all my travelers to open their minds as wide as they open their eyes.119

DEREKH ERETZThe Ubiquitous Japanese bow120

For once I understand and appreciate the local culture the local customs become all themore beautiful.Another thing our sages tell us in Pirkei Avot is: “Let the honor of your fellow be as dearto you as your own.” I would love to see that put into practice here in Israel. But inJapan, that is exactly what defines the mores of social intercourse. Your honor is dear tome, therefore when I greet you, I show you respect by bowing before you. It’s anamazing idea! That before I engage you in business, or in a conversation, I a priori showyou respect. It boggles my mind, and I confess I love it. When the conductor on theShinkansen bullet train enters the coach and bows before he goes about checking tickets,I am sorely tempted to thank him by bowing in return. However, seeing as no-one elsedoes it on the train, I don’t do it either. Not sticking out is also looked upon fondly bythe Japanese. But when a store clerk thanks me for my business and bows, I am delightedto bow in return. When I have the opportunity to present someone a gift here in Japan, Iappreciate the chance to show my respect in the traditional Japanese manner.And this is “trickle down” good manners. Japan is noted for being almost completelyfree of street crime. It’s probable the safest country in which one can walk about at night.No one will accost you here. Graffiti is nowhere to be seen. The ubiquitous Japanesevending machine is never broken into. Why is that? It’s quite simple. No self-respectingJapanese would dishonor him- or herself by doing something like that. How would aperson appear in his or her own eyes if they committed such an offense? Astounding. Toknow it, to understand it, and to appreciate it, is to embrace it with affection.“Let the honor of your fellow be as dear to you as your own.” An ancient Jewishteaching – and it’s practiced in Japan.121

DEREKH ERETZWhere else in the world will the hotel manager come out to wave farewell?122

TOKYO: FAKES, FISH, SHOPPING & WRESTLINGRising at the crack of dawn, I headed off to Tokyo’s Tzukiji Fish Market – thelargest fish market in the world. Fish arrive here daily from all over the worldand are distributed via wholesalers to the innumerable fish stores and restaurantsall over Japan. Japan consumes over 30% of the world’s entire tuna supply, sothat part of the market is the most interesting. I strolled through the variousstalls and fish supply places, marveling at the endless types of sea food they consumehere; some regular fish and some very colorful, exotic looking stuff. Then I came to thearea where the auction takes places. There are lots of halls with hundreds, if notthousands, of fresh and frozen tuna laid out on the floor of each hall, and buyers maketheir way around the hall examining the fish. Now these fish are huge, Conan,COLOSSAL! Weighing in at anywhere up to 800 kilos each and more, these are seriouslysizeable aquatica. Each tuna has a slice open for the buyer to examine, as well as an actualdefrosted slice on a table that he (and there are NO women here at all – more on Japan’svery male-oriented business society another time) examines with a flashlight. Then theauctioneers come in and stand on a box-like platform and start calling out whateverstarting price they’re selling the tuna at. The bidding commences and the price startsrising two-fold, then three-fold and four-fold (I never saw a five-fold rise). Fresh tunascan sell here for $50,000 and more per fish. No, that’s not a typo. Fifty Grand! Dollars!For a fish! The place is agog and bustling with little vehicles which buyers and suppliersuse to transfer their fish around the market, and there are literally thousands of trucks ofall sizes on the outskirts of the market loading up and heading out. The market is SOlarge that it even has its own bus service! What a buzz!123

TZUKIJI FISH MARKETThe largest in the world124

In search of some silence, I went from the market to a sumo stable, where the wrestlerspractice this traditional Japanese martial art. Everything is very silent, what with Sumohaving its origins in Shinto religious rites. There were 11 wrestlers and their trainer in thisclay-floored room. It must be a successful place because their walls are lined withtrophies, and with exquisitely beautiful gifts of porcelain and other Japanese artwork. Theenvironment is very silent - hallowed almost - all the exercises are done in silence, exceptfor a lot of grunting, heavy breathing and thigh slapping. The wrestlers stretch for hours,raising a leg high and then stomping it down, slapping their thighs after each stomp.Some were doing push ups (hundreds of them!) while others were doing the splits andthen leaning over in the outspread position and touching their fingertips to their toes andtheir chins to the ground in front of them. And none of these guys were thin, if youknow what I mean. I watched enthralled for about 45 minutes and then made my wayout and back into the street.Inspired by the sacred silence of the Sumo stable, I headed out to Sensoji temple, aBuddhist temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa neighborhood. It’s very large, bigger than most ofthose I saw in China, but also mixed in with Shinto, as are most things in this country.Outside the Buddhist temple is a place for purification, where visitors wash their handsand rinse their mouths – which is a Shinto custom. I then proceeded to do a short walkthroughof the Ginza district; Tokyo’s ritzy shopping area where all the stores sell stuff atmany times the regular price and where well-heeled Japanese rush to buy the designerwear at ridiculous prices and for which the stores cannot keep enough supply. UpscaleTokyo shoppers have a thing for designer labels and will willingly pay heavy prices inorder to be seen carrying the right shopping bags. Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue - but of theEast.From an architectural point of view, I found Tokyo rather uninspiring. Except for a fewbuildings here and there, nothing really grabbed my attention. So, from Ginza I set my125

TOKYO SUMO STABLEShrine of sanctity126

sights on Odaiba, a suburb reclaimed from the sea through garbage land-fill, on whichdramatic office buildings, chic hotels and trendy shopping complexes have been built.The area overlooks Tokyo bay, and here for the first time I saw truly creative andinspired architecture. However, Tokyo’s powers-that-be seem to have a thing aboutcopying western landmarks. So they have an almost Eiffel Tower, an almost Statue ofLiberty, and an almost Golden Gate Bridge, all of which are easily visible from Odaiba,which is dominated by the Fuji building. This structure looks like something by theDutch Artist M.C Escher, the one whose drawings appear as three dimensional sleightof-handetchings. Marvellous! And then there’s another building that looks like theGrand Arche de la Défense in Paris.It’s almost French…127

ODAIBAThe Fuji building looks like an Escher drawing128

SHABBAT, SHIBUYA AND A FREE HUGAfter a very busy Friday running all about Tokyo, I headed back to the hotel toprepare for shabbat. Candle lighting followed by Kabalat Shabbat and Dinner wasto be at one of the two Chabad Houses – this one in Tokyo’s Ohmorineighborhood. It’s about a 15 minute walk from my hotel through theresidential area in which I stayed. As I did the walk more frequently, (6 timesover Shabbat) I discovered new and interesting things in the neighborhood; a LoveHotel, a small Shinto Shrine, as well as a Buddhist funeral parlor. After a scrumptiousmeal punctured with entertainment from the local Chabad Shaliach, Rabbi BinyominEdery, his graceful wife Efrat and his wonderful family, I made my way back to the hotelto sleep. Oh, to sleep…Shabbat morning started with Kiddush on Sake (when in Japan, and all that…) in myroom with a few Israeli couples who were also at the hotel. I then had breakfast andwalked over to Chabad for Shacharit which started at 10:15 a.m. Not exactly vatikin, butthese are hassidim, after all. This was the first time in 4 months that they had a Shabbatminyan. There’s something very warm about spending Shabbat in a faraway place with thelocal Chabad shluchim. I’ve done it in many places around the world. These are trulyspecial people. My world view is, well, worlds apart from theirs. Yet in every place I havebeen welcomed, accepted, joyfully received and embraced as if I was a long-lost relativenewly found.On Saturday night I hopped the subway train to Shibuya Square – Tokyo’s equivalent ofTimes Square, but busier. Hundreds of thousands of people throng the area. Bright129

SHIBUYA CROSSINGMore people than in Times Square130

electronic screens flash advertising everywhere. I meandered about the area, enjoying theambience of this place, so much like Times Square and yet so very different. There’s alove hotel area right near Shibuya Square that I came upon by chance. Love Hotels areusually frequented by couples, many of them married to one another, who need or wanta little private time, often because there homes are small and privacy isn’t always easy.Rooms are rented by the hour or two, or by the night, and maybe even by the day. Outof respect for client’s desire for privacy, it’s possible to make reservations on line. Onecan also simply walk in and swipe a credit card to obtain a room key. No need for frontdesk staff at all. Once you’ve left the room, staff will come by discreetly to make it upand have it available for another couple shortly. In Shibuya too I found a Starbucks storewhere I bought another City Mug to add to my collection.Outside Shibuya train station there’s a statue of the faithful dog, Hachiko, who waited atthe station every day for his master to return from work. Even for ten years after themaster had died, Hachiko could be seen waiting expectantly at the station, day in, dayout. After Hachiko died, a statue was erected in his memory just outside the station.Next to the statue there was a fellow holding a sign “Free Hugs.” People were standingaround looking at him somewhat puzzled. I guess that the typical fastidiousness of thelocals got the better of them. I felt sorry for him, so I went and gave him a hug. Heoffered me the sign, but I declined.After all, free is free131

HATCHIKOMan’s best friend, indeed132

MEIJI SHRINEYoyogi Park in Tokyo, reminiscent of Manhattan’s Central Park, is home to theMeiji Shrine, built in memory - and containing the ashes - of Emperor Meiji.Emperor Meiji was the one who terminated the centuries-old Shogun rule thathad isolated Japan from the outside world, and initiated a period ofmodernization which transformed Japan into an industrial powerhouse. TheCedar wooded park is quite dramatic and the gardens – here and all over Japan, in fact -are gorgeous. The approach to this very special and strikingly plain shrine is through ahuge Torii built from a single 1,500 year-old cedar, and the area is used every Sundaymorning for weddings and other Shinto events. It’s often said that Japanese are bornShinto; they marry Christian and die Buddhist. Sort of take what is good for you atwhatever time you choose. It’s a system that works well here in Japan. Maybe otherplaces should try it, it seems to lend a sense of tolerance all round. As I arrived, lo andbehold a bride and groom were having their wedding photos taken. Despite what Imentioned above, this was going to be a Shinto wedding seeing as this is a Shinto shrine.Once I entered the courtyard of the shrine, I discovered that it was also DollThanksgiving Day. This day is devoted to giving thanks to your old dolls. According toan ancient Japanese tradition, dolls have souls. So when they are old and broken, youdon’t throw them out but bring them here to be enshrined. They are received with graceby Shinto clergy and put out on display, their souls are purified and their existenceblessed for having provided joy and service until now. People bring in dolls in big paperbags and write notes of thanks which they place by the altar. This way they can discardthe dolls without feeling remorse or guilt. A fascinating idea… and they receive about133

MEIJI SHRINE, TOKYOStark, simplistic architecture134

40,000(Yep, forty thousand!) dolls during the day.Then, in the middle of this all, an actual wedding procession came along led by a Shintopriest fully decked out in his canonical robes, a white shawl on the corners of whichTzitzit-like fringes can be seen! (This is but one of many similarities that are foundbetween Shinto practices and ancient Israelite traditions, leading some scholars to assumea connection between the Japanese and the lost Ten Tribes – but more of that anothertime) He led the wedding procession while chanting prayers, then stopped, turned tobless the bride and groom and the procession of family members (males first thenfemales), and then departed. One of his assistants proceeded to make an announcementto the wedding party and then the procession continued through the main square of theshrine, and exited. The bride wore a spectacular domed white kimono; members of thewedding party were in morning suits and kimonos (per gender). The groom wore aformal men’s kimono – something like a morning suit - black jacket, grey pin-stripedskirt, white toe socks and sandals.Call me sentimental, but I love weddings, and I was very lucky to see this one.135

MEIJI SHRINEMazeltov!136

FROM EDO TO AKIHABARATokyo is the capital of Japan. It wasn’t always that, however. The ancient Imperialcapital was at Kyoto. Later it moved to Edo, which grew from a fishing village onthe banks of the Sumida River to a city of over a million by the year 1700. Then,under the stewardship of Tokugawa Eiyasu, the greatest and most important ofall Japan’s Shoguns, it was the largest city in the world. Edo later became knownas Tokyo and the Imperial capital of Japan was fixed there. Destroyed more than once byfire and earthquake, Tokyo is a multifaceted city. Parts of it are dull and grey. Apartmentbuildings are built functionally and with little imagination. Because land is scarce,dwellings are perforce small and cramped. High-rises look crowded, even from afar.Then there are other parts of Tokyo which are beautiful. My personal favorite is Tokyo’smunicipal government buildings, designed by Tange Kenzo. These are spectacular towersthat leap into the sky. The New York-based Uruguayan architect, Rafael Viñoly, designedthe Tokyo International Forum, with its immense glass and steel interior - makes yougasp! The skyscrapers of Shinjuku are actually enjoyable. The governing authority ofTokyo has succeeded in this area to combine architectural creativity with day-to-dayfunctionality, and it all helps make at least parts of Tokyo relatively easy to navigate. It’shard to believe that this was once a simple fishing village.No visit to Tokyo is complete without a stop in Akihabara, where any and everyelectronic gadget is available for sale. The area started as a market place where localstudents, after World War II, would come to by cheap parts from Japanese army surplussupplies. They would manufacture home-made transistor radios – the hit gadget du jour –and sell them to desiring customers. After that, the electronics trade never moved out ofthe area. While the main drag hosts large stores with wares ranging from digital camerachips to extra-large refrigerators, once I headed into the alleyways, I came to the place137

TOKYO GOVERNMENT BUILDINGSThe amazing architecture of Tange Kenzo138

where the ultimate tourist activity really takes place – bargaining! What a place! And therewere deals to be had here. Refurbished laptops for $150 and second-hand cell phones fora song.Another thing I came across in Akihabara was store staff who spoke English! And whatwas even more interesting was that many of them were from all over the world and theEnglish accents were fascinating! Some accents were pronouncedly Russian, othersovertly Indian. Some were inflected with Spanish and yet others had Germanic/Dutchtones.As I walked down the street, a Muslim couple walked by me (I could tell by the way thewoman was dressed). A customer representative stepped out of the store in front ofthem and – in the manner that Japanese switch between the R and L letters - said“Sarraam Arreikum!” They responded in kind, but declined his offer to enter the storeand walked on.I was standing there watching this exchange with some wonderment, when, seeing mykippa, he nodded at me, smiled broadly, and said “Sharrom!”139

AKIHABARALand of Gadgets140

HAKONE & FUJI-SANHakone national park is famous for its hot springs. It sits on Lake Ashi at thefoot of volcanic mountains; about three hours drive from Tokyo. The initialfeeling when arriving here is that of arriving at Horseshoe Bay on thesouthwestern coast of British Columbia. The whole area is lush with forests,mainly pine, cedar and Japanese maple. Autumn colors were just beginning tobe seen, so there was a beautiful blend of the blues and emeralds of the lake, the greensand browns of the trees and the purples and magentas of autumn. A heady mixture,indeed!As I arrived here, Mount Fuji put in an appearance. It wasn’t a particularly clear day, butas the haze cleared, slowly and unhurriedly, it emerged. There it was! This is a serious“WOW!” I’m a mountain person. I’ve lived most of my adult life on or near mountains.My university degrees were gained at the foot of Cape Town’s Table Mountain and myoffice overlooked North Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain and Cypress Bowl. When I go toEilat, I drive down the Arava Highway so that I can enjoy the mountains of Moab andEdom on the way down south. So seeing Mount Fuji, or Fuji-San as it’s called here, was areal treat, a cherry on the icing, the jewel in the crown. Mount Fuji is a colossus, rising upto 3776m above sea level. No wonder that it’s considered a sacred site. Sanctity equalsbeauty here in Japan. Fuji-San is spectacularly beautiful. Ipso facto, it is considered asacred place. Even by traditional Jewish standards, where beauty and sanctity also gohand-in-hand, it’s not something that’s hard to understand.I started my visit here with a ferry ride along Lake Ashi. The ferry is built to look like an141

HAKONEThe heady colors of the fall142

ancient schooner, sails and all, and the twenty minute cruise down the lake brought me tothe foot of the cable car system that runs up and along the now near-dormant volcanoes.I say near-dormant because there is still steam coming out of the ground way up themountain and you get a strong whiff of the sulfur from quite a distance. The rope-carride, as they call it, was about 15 minutes in a nice modern cable car (not like the ski-liftapparatus I rode up Yao Mountain in Guilin, China). I got off at the second station andstarted hiking up the mountain to where the steam rises from cracks in the volcanicsurface of the mountain. There are also fissures in the ground where very hot sulfursmellinggrey water comes boiling and bubbling out of the ground. The attraction uphere is to buy an egg and cook it in the boiling water. As the egg cooks its shell turnsblack, and once it’s done, you take it out, peel off the black shells and eat it. I discoveredthat the shell protects the egg from the sulfuric water, because it tastes just like a blackshelled white egg. You can also get roasted peanuts that have been soaked in the greywater, so they too have black skins. They were delicious!With my volcanic fare still tickling my taste buds, I hopped a bus for a steep, deep,circuitous roundabout ride back to the village of Hakone to visit the open air museum.It’s a privately funded museum that displays the most gorgeous, creative sculptures –some of them kinetic - in a magnificently manicured garden. Over and above theprecisely clipped lawns, sculpted bushes and exotic flowers, the garden is decorated withbeautiful fruit trees, mainly cumquat and persimmon. There’s also a pavilion devotedentirely to the works of Picasso. Henry Moore figures prominently, as do a wholeassortment of many other famous sculptors whose works are exhibited herepermanently. Along the edge of the garden there runs a natural hot mineral spring. Themuseum’s management, in its wisdom, has harnessed the spring into a long shallow poolalong which people can sit and have a mineral foot bath. So as the sun set and the daydarkened and it started to drizzle, I sat down, took of my shoes and socks, rolled up mypants, and sank my aching, throbbing feet into a 65°C bath of hot mineral water. AMechaye!143

HAKONEThe Open Air Museum144

HAKONEThe Black Egg145

HAKONEFuji-San, usually shy, sometimes splendid146

SHINKANSEN: GETTING FROM HERE TO THEREAnovel idea in Japan: soft drink cans have a twist off top so that you can drinkeasily and not have to deal with not-so-clean holes on can tops. What a greatidea!I’m on the Shinkansen from Mishima to Kyoto. The Shinkansen travels at300kph, a speed we haven’t yet reached because this is the slow Hikari Shinkansen (we’redoing a mere 230kph) that stops at a number of stations on the way. The only way it canreach those speeds is by switching from wheels to magnetic power. So, while the train, atthe station and before and after the station is on wheels, once it picks up speed it powersitself magnetically and the wheels detach from the rails. Cool! So it’s a very smooth ride,except when two Shinkansens pass one another, and you get a wind bump, becauseyou’re passing at close to 600kph!Other than that, it’s an exceptionally quiet ride. It gets a little bumpy in the tunnels, andseeing as there are so many mountains, there are very many tunnels too, long ones, evenat 300kph. There’s seat-side refreshment and beverage service, provided by a uniformedattendant who, upon entering the railway car, bows to all the passengers, goes aboutserving everyone, and then bows again before exiting. Very polite.Another thing I noticed has to do with the way you can pay for travel on the trains here.I bought paper tickets, inserted them in the slots or swiped them and passed through theturnstiles the way I’m used to doing in most places. However, I147

SHINKANSENThe fastest way from here to there in most parts of Japan148

noticed some of the locals passing their cell-phones over a scanner located by theturnstile. Turns out that in Japan you can load up your phone with virtual cash that isdeducted every time you make a purchase, which you do by passing your phone over ascanner at the required place. How cool is that?The other day I boarded the Shinkansen carrying less than my usual load of luggage. Iplaced my roll-on on the overhead shelf, put my backpack on the floor at my feet, tookout my computer and started working. I was deep into my work when the train arrived atHimeji, so I rushed, put the computer into my backpack, flung it on and rushed out ofthe train. Now, the Shinkansen is super punctual, When it stops, it does so for about 3minutes, and then continues. So you need to get off or on in a hurry. OK, so here I amwatching the train depart, and suddenly realizing that my roll-on is still on the train! Wellfolks, if you’re going to lose a bag, do it in Japan. Here, no-one touches anything thatdoesn’t belong to them. I headed to the lost and found and reported my loss. Thesmiling clerk took my seat information (my Shinkansen seats were all reserved), called thetrain, and then informed me that my case would be waiting for me at the next station. Iheaved a sigh of relief and went off on my way. Later, at the next station, I went to theLost and Found and picked up my case from a very polite clerk. Domo Arigato Gozaimass!Now, something about the road system. Japan drives on the left so you need to look theopposite way (remember the sign painted on the street outside Victoria Station inLondon?). The highways and roadways in Tokyo are at all levels anywhere from theground to the 15th floor of buildings by the windows of which you pass when you’re onthose roads. Sometimes the road suddenly dips 5 or 10 floors which turns out to be anunderpass or change of highways or roads. Sometimes it drops all the way to the groundvery steeply to achieve the same purpose or to come to an intersection. And there’s aroadway here in Tokyo that actually passes through a building! There are many toll boothson the city roads, so you really need to have an electronic reader thing or your life will bevery miserable making change for the toll machines – and at only very few places there149

SHINKANSENThe Nozomi travels at over 300 kph150

people to help. What’s very noticeable here is that things are extremely automated, andyou have to be able to fit in with the system. It’s quick, efficient, clean and easy to use - ifyou can read the instructions. Actually there’s less English signage visible here than inChina. However, instructions are usually also accompanied by pictures, so you cangenerally figure things out.I’m not really bothered by the lack of English signs. After all, the signs in Sweden aren’twritten in Portuguese!151

SHINKANSENSigns are not easily read152

KYOTO: ANCIENT IMPERIAL CAPITALKyoto was the ancient historical capital of Japan. Then known as Heian or He’an,it is designed as a matrix (so it’s easy to get around) based upon the city plan ofthe historical capital of China, Xi’an. That’s just one of many influences thatthe Chinese had over the little island neighbor to the southeast. Of course thereare things which the little island neighbor doesn’t appreciate, and when LIN(little island neighbor) gets grumpy it has been known to invade all sorts of nearby places,such as Burma, China, Korea and even Russia. And it calls the sea between it and themainland the Sea of Japan, while the big fella to the north calls it the China Sea. Ahwell….Kyoto is picturesque and magnificent and has (drumroll) over 2,000 shrines and templesto visit! Rejoice! It also has quaint shopping streets and homes built in traditionalJapanese style, and yes, some still do have paper walls.I took a walk through the narrow pathways of a neighborhood, going into gardens hereand there, noting the architectural designs of the homes, seeing the sculpted trees andbushes, as well as the miniature shrines people have outside there front doors, until Icame to Higashiyama Park where there are three big shrines and beautiful gardens. Ohboy, my wife would love this place! Here I sat down to a picnic lunch by the pond andwatched the ducks and just took in the ambience of the place. It never ceased to amazeme how easily it’s possible to find splendor, silence and spirituality in the middle of thehubbub of a city, here in Japan.153

RYOANJIZen Buddhist Temple – an island of simplicity in a sea of beauty154

From Higashiyama Park I went to the Kyoto’s version of the shuk! Great! NishikiMarket is one very, very long covered narrow alleyway, with all sorts of stores and stalls,very much like Machane Yehuda’s main drag, but very, very clean. Lots of vegetables andfruit, tons and tons and tons of fish stalls, little eateries, a few boutiques and so on. I sawthe price on some tuna sashimi - ¥700 for four tiny slices weighing in at about 70 grams.Well, now I understand why a 800kg tuna can cost $50,000 at the auction in Tokyo!The next morning I left the hotel on my way out of Kyoto, but first I made two stops atbeautiful places. The first was a temple, Ryoan-ji, which was very, very plain. It’s a ZenBuddhist temple which is famous for its bleakly simple stone garden. The idea behind itis very interesting; concentrating as it does on the empty spaces between the objects inthe stone garden. I confess I prefer the beauty of ornately sculpted trees and bushesabove combed stones and strategically placed rocks. While practitioners of Zen seeksimplicity and the beauty within it, it’s not quite my personal cup of tea. Maybe I need towork more on my Buddhist inclinations…From there I went to a place that is the complete and total opposite of Ryoan-ji.Kinkaku-ji is the retirement home of one Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. The gardens arespectacularly gorgeous, but the attraction is the house, which is gilded! There is thislovely Japanese house, perched on the side of a small lake and on the slopes of one ofthe mountains in Kyoto, and the two upper floors of the house are covered in gold! Inother countries, opulence of this nature was often followed by revolution.But not in Japan.155

KINKAKUJIQuintessentially opulent156

THE PASSION OF PACHINKO& THE ONSEN OBSESSIONOne of my travelers alighted from the bus in Kyoto and, wanting to display herknowledge of Japanese etiquette, smiled and said to the bus driver;“Pachinko!” The bus driver was completely puzzled. Of course, she meant tosay “Arigato”, which means “Thank You.” Pachinko is a game that hundredsof thousands of Japanese play every day. It’s a sort of mixture of pinball andslot machines. There are Pachinko palaces all over Japan, and they’re busy till the strokeof midnight, when they all are required by law to close their doors (otherwise somepeople might never go home). Unlike pinball, there are no flippers, and like slotmachines, they require no skill. I bought some steel balls and fed them into a machine,and won some more steel balls. At the end of my game, I turned in the steel balls I hadgarnered for a prize (gambling for money is illegal in Japan). However, you can take yourprize and cash it in at a small store located neat the pachinko palace. Seems it was once atruly addictive pastime here. I didn’t really understand the whole fascination with it, butthere it is. I guess that because I’ve never been a gambling person…Now the Onsen, is something that I can really take a liking to. I love hot springs, hottubs, jacuzzis and the like. If it’s hot and I can float in it, I’m a happy man. Japan has aplethora of Onsen, best described as volcanic hot springs. What’s particularly interestingabout this phenomenon is that bathing in Onsen is usually communal and singlegendered.It took a moment for me to grasp and accept the whole idea of spending timenaked in a large bath-type facility with a whole lot of other naked men. But then again,when in Rome and all that…So here’s how it worked. First I had to take a shower and scrub down really well. Then I157

PACHINKOA national obsession158

washed off all the soap suds. There was no point in drying off because (a) I was gettingback into the water and (b) the towel I was given was the size of a loincloth – which isexactly its purpose – wouldn’t have dried me anyway. A veritable fig leaf, as you saunterfrom the shower to the tub. There I folded my cloth into four and neatly placed it on myhead (I saw the local fellas doing it, so I did the same). Everyone was very friendly, lotsof smiling, laughter and “Hai!’s”, but no-one else spoke a language that I couldcommunicate in. An attendant brought us all some warm sake, and we all toasted oneanother, and laughed some more. A later arrival explained that placing the folded towelclothon your head is supposed to prevent fainting. I guess it works because I didn’tfaint.I didn’t understand why that should prevent fainting, but so it goes. This is a highlyrecommended activity when you come here. There’s no better way to relax.Aaah…159

ONSENA much more enjoyable obsession, in my opinion160

TO WEEP (<strong>WITH</strong> JOY) IN KYOTOIreturned to Kyoto with much expectation. This beautiful city with more than 2,000temples and shrines, wooden houses, and an imperial castle, mixes modern andancient Japan in a salad of design and architecture that makes my imaginative juicesflow. Due to its sanctity, it was never attacked by the Allies during World War II, soit has retained its ancient touch. Its buildings remain low – there is a height limit onconstruction in Kyoto to this very day - and the city reflects a prominent Japaneseworldview of less being more. The gardens of Kyoto, both public and private, are feastsfor the eyes. As I led my group through the landscaped garden of the Kiyomizu-Deratemples complex, we saw three men on ladders tending to a sculpted pine tree, andplucking the needles from the branches by hand. A true work of art.I find Kyoto to be a spiritual city. Perhaps it’s because of the multitude of temples andshrines, perhaps because of its lowly architecture. It’s a feeling thing, and I love comingback here. Like Jerusalem, Kyoto uplifts me.But there’s another reason for my affection for this city. Here in Kyoto is the foundingcenter of Beit Shalom, a protestant community of supporters of Israel. They make it theirbusiness to go out of their way to welcome Israeli visitors to the city. Any Israeli group isinvited to Beit Shalom. Every group that comes is welcomed by many members of thecommunity and by its amazing choir – Shinonome, in Hebrew - Hashahar, the Dawn.The choir visits Israel every few years and will be coming here this year as part161

KYOTOBeauty in tree sculpting162

of our 60th anniversary celebrations. Their singing is simply heavenly. And when theystart singing “From the Peak of Mount Scopus” the tears roll down my cheeks. I can’thelp it, and I don’t want to stop it. I am emotionally overwhelmed by the outpouring ofaffection by these wonderful people whose only purpose is to make me feel welcome.The Japanese Protestant Friends of Israel was founded by the late Rev. Takeji Otsuki in1938, after he believed he received a call from heaven to work for the establishment of ahomeland for the Jews. In a video shown at Beit Shalom he recounts his calling in adelightful and convincing manner. An impressive man with a kind face that exudes asense of gentleness. I am sorry I never had the privilege of knowing “Abba” Otsuki, whopassed away some four years ago at the age of 98. But whenever I am there I meet withhis son, Dr. Yohanan Masaru Otsuki who bears a striking resemblance to his late father.I confess that I have a deep affection for him even though our conversations are forciblybrief. I have developed personal and close relationships with other folk from BeitShalom; friendships that I will treasure for the rest of my life. I have found commonalitywith these most uncommon people, who have accepted and embraced me, and I them.We will ever be different, and we will ever be as one.In Kyoto I feel warm, protected, cocooned, surrounded by people who genuinely carefor me as they do for every Israeli – even though they don’t know us personally.Home, it is often said, is where they have to take you in. Beit Shalom, is where they wantto.163

KYOTOBeit Shalom – my home away from home164

MIYAJIMA: SACRED ISLANDThe really, really fast Shinkansen brought me from Kyoto to Hiroshima at 300kph.Whoa! Hiro=Wide. Shima=Island. Hiroshima=Wide Island. It’s actually not anisland, but a group of islands created by the numerous rivers that come downfrom the mountain and run through the city. Once I arrived here, I went directlyto the ferry station for the crossing to Miyajima Island. Miya=Holy andJima=Shima=Island. Miyajima=Holy Island. Once again, the Shinto equivalence ofholiness with beauty – and the place is indeed very, very beautiful.Just offshore in the water is located Japan’s most famous vermillion Torii, built originallyin the 17th century, and indicating the passage into a sacred location. The island is alsoteeming with deer that seem to live with us humans quite fine, thank you. They are reallypesky and keep nudging for food and when they aren’t provided any, they start chewingon whatever is at hand - like my jacket sleeve.As I meandered along, I came across a wedding party enjoying some elaborate Shintodance ritual. I didn’t understand the Bugaku or its significance, but the intricate dance wasquite wild, and the live music played by a group of Shinto priests accompanying thedancing priest, was charming. I doubt the Talmudic discussion between the schools ofHillel and Shammai, regarding how one is to dance before a bride, ever made its wayhere. But, oh boy, this was one big and blustery boogie! I then strolled around theshrines on this most beautiful island, did some shopping and made my way back to theferry, across the sea and to the bus, from where I proceeded to my hotel.165

MIYAJIMASacred island of beauty166

A little about the hotels: the one where I stayed in Tokyo was lovely. The rooms weredivided between the bedroom area and the living area. Very comfortable beds, MUCHbetter than those I slept in, in China. The hotel in Hakone was exceptional too - veryornate, beautiful gardens, full-service only, no buffet breakfast; very high end. And it hadits own “onsen” (mineral hot spring bath - more about those a few pages ago). My singleroom in the hotel in Kyoto was as wide as my bed plus 100cm. I kid you not. I oncestayed in Amersfoort, Netherlands in a place like that. Then it was a novelty. Now it wasdisappointing! But that was made up by my hotel here in Hiroshima which was very, veryfancy.Late that night I went for a walk through the deserted streets of Hiroshima. Passed aPachinko palace where the gamblers were busy with their hands feverishly working thepull-bar. I also passed a used car lot where the cutest little Mitsubishi city cars were onsale. At 11:15 p.m. I called the front desk and requested a massage. So this 60-year-oldishwoman comes to my room holding what appeared to be a bag of tools. She looked likeRosa Klebb. Remember her? She was James Bond’s sworn enemy in “From Russia withLove,” the one with the poisoned spike in her shoe. My masseuse spoke no English, butwith lots of “Hai!”s, we managed to make ourselves understood. She strolled into theroom, took off her shoes, hopped on the bed and proceeded to roll off the duvet, placeda special cushion on the bed, and told me in hand-language to put on the yukata (robe)that’s hanging in the closet.Anyway, once she had me on the bed she proceeded to give me one of those good olddeep penetrating Shiatsu massages. At the beginning it was seriously painful, but as shecontinued and I relaxed, it got better. She left, and for the first time since arriving here, Ihad a good, solid, uninterrupted 5 hours of sleep.Fantastic!167

MIYAJIMAWhat a dance!168

HIROSHIMAThere is only one real reason to visit Hiroshima and it’s a supremely importantone: to see the Peace Park and museum at the site where the Atom Bomb wasdropped in 1945. My initial reaction, which grew as the day passed, was that thereindeed was such a dreadful and enormous human tragedy that brought WorldWar II to an end. However, in my opinion the portrayal of Japan as a victim isnot historically correct. But I guess that history will always be interpreted, and willdepend on the point of view of the interpreter. History is not math and is not, therefore,objective. On a personal level I don’t accept Japan’s self-victimization as it interprets theevents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, to actually stand alongside the bombed outdome, and walk across the T-bridge that was the target of the Enola Gay’s “Little Boy”made me feel very, very somber. The gardens all around are beautiful, and Hiroshima is avery pretty city, the entire peace park is beautifully designed and its various memorials areimpressive too. The Peace Museum does its work very well; the numerous museologicalelements, the use of a variety of media and real artifacts, as well as personal testimoniesand of course the subject matter itself, combine together to make this a must-seemuseum.I wasn’t sure what to expect when I returned to Hiroshima. On my first visit I wasoverwhelmed by a great sense of somberness. This is, after all, the site upon which thefirst atomic bomb ever used in human conflict was dropped, and which in a matter ofmilliseconds, eradicated, and wiped off the face of the earth, over 70,000 – (seventythousand!) – people. Many more were to die with the passage of time from the radiation169

HIROSHIMAThe A-Bomb exploded nearby170

after-effects of the atomic fallout. As a child of Holocaust survivors the numbers numbme. Photographs on display at the Peace Museum in Hiroshima – some taken withinminutes of the bombing – are as painful to me as are those that I know only too wellfrom years of professional research into visual images from the Holocaust. The PeaceMuseum, however, displays an historic event removed from its historic context, andcreates an illusion of Japan as victim. I didn’t accept it on my first visit here neither did Iaccept it upon my return. Yet, being on the site where there was once such greatdevastation nevertheless caused me great sadness.However, during my current visit to Hiroshima, I made sure to look at the city withdifferent eyes. As a city that has been completely rebuilt from the ground up since theend of World War II, it is a sparklingly modern city. It has wide avenues and interestingarchitecture. It is dotted with creative sculptures dedicated to the subject of peace.Hiroshima boasts an efficient and green tram system that whisks you from one part ofthe city to another swiftly, silently, in clean and attractive trams.In order to actively discourage a dark mood from setting in, I encouraged my travelers tojoin me at one of the quintessential of Japanese places of entertainment – the localkaraoke bar. It took a while, but slowly everyone loosened up and began to choose songsto sing. That this is such a typically Japanese form of entertainment, where the locals goto let their hair down, is in fact quite surprising – taking into account that this is afrightfully formal society. Or maybe it’s just because of that that karaoke bars in theirthousands attract both young and (sometimes) old for an evening of light entertainmentand togetherness? Hmmmm…..The other famous and must-see sight in Hiroshima, especially for travelers from Israelfor whom the motor car is the second most important item in their/our lives, is theMazda plant located at the outskirts of the city, along the sea-front. Pronounced“Matzuda” in Japanese, the plant is a delight of robotica and human talent. It’s amazing171

HIROSHIMASparklingly new city172

to see how rapidly cars are put together, how parts and pieces come together, and howshort a drive it is from the end of the production line to the ship on which the completedvehicle makes its way to its destination – less than 300 meters! So let me testify here thatyour new Mazda should have very little on the dial when you take delivery of it.So my visit to Hiroshima this time was not only about sadness and tragedy. It was aboutmodernity and accomplishment, technology and fun, environment-friendliness andefficieny. But most of all, it was about peace.From the museum I returned to the station for my final ride on the Shinkansen. I wasplanning to go directly to Osaka, but decided to get off the train one stop before, inHimeji.Himeji is a small town (population about 400,000) near Osaka, and is famous for theHimeji Castle, once occupied by the local Shogun. The initial impression is somethingout of an eastern fairy tale, fan walls, gabled roofs and all that. Perched high on a rock ina beautiful surrounding garden, it’s quite overwhelming. I had a picnic lunch in thegardens, and then proceeded to climb the hill to the castle. There is a maze of alleywaysthat lead up the hill to confuse potential enemies – and many tourists too! Sometimesyou have to go down in order to get to the next, higher, level. I pity the enemy who triedto take this castle!I digress to tell you about smoking etiquette in Japan. Of course, you cannot smokeindoors almost anywhere in Japan. And in those places where you can, the smokingcorner has a powerful air purifier that draws in the smoke and filters the air immediately,so you can’t even smell smoke in the immediate environment of the smoker’s corner.What do smokers do outdoors? Well, those people who have to drag frequently carrytheir own personal, portable, sealable ashtrays. They puff and ash their smokes in theashtray, extinguish their butts, and then seal them in their personal ashtrays which theyput in their pockets and off they go. In outdoor areas like parks and gardens, there are173

HIMEJIImpregnable castle174

smoking corners and public-use ashtrays. Flicking your stub or stomping it out? Not tobe seen here at all.Astounding!175


A BEIT KNESSET IN KOBELet me put my prejudices up front for all to see. I have come to love Japan as I dovery few places outside of Israel. I have learned to appreciate its culture, I carefor the way people relate to one another with respect, I am thankful for Japanesefastidiousness that keeps everything clean, and I find it most pleasurable to be inan environment that doesn’t scream. But Japan doesn’t have any features thatmake me lose my breath. There’s no “WOW!” in Japan. Even Mount Fuji, lofty andgrand as it may be, is an impressive sight, but not awe-inspiring as are the RockyMountains of Canada or exciting as is Africa’s Victoria Falls. I often tell my travelers thatin Japan, the exquisite lies in the tiny.So my return to Japan this month was jolted as I walked into the Ohel Shelomosynagogue in Kobe. And it happened, for ever so brief a moment that I lost my breath.Not from shock, or because of some magnificent spectacle. I lost my breath from theexcitement of seeing a beautiful synagogue in the most unlikely of locations. Decoratedwith the flags of Japan and Israel on both sides of its Holy Ark, the Ohel Shelomo is anisland of Jewish beauty in a very, very un-Jewish country.The tour I led this month took in the usual sights that every first-time visitor to Japanneeds to see. Encompassing the modern and the traditional, the secular and the religious,city and countryside, mountains and lakes – I try to give to my travelers the same love forthis land that I have. But I had never been here before, and I was glad to set thatomission right.177

KOBEBeit Knesset Ohel Shelomo178

Built before World War II by one Rahmo Sassoon originally from Aleppo in Syria inhonor of his father Shelomo, the synagogue was damaged in the war by allied bombingof the city, but was rebuilt again in 1970. The earthquake of 1989 didn’t bide well for thesyangogue, but damage was relatively minor and was quickly repaired. Today, there aresome 70 Jewish families resident in Kobe, the Ohel Shelomo has a permanent rabbi, aswell as a board of directors on which numerous expatriate Israelis serve with dedication.Kobe was the city to which many Holocaust refugees from Lithuania arrived. They hadbeen rescued thanks to the efforts of the Japanese consul in Kovno, Chiune Sugihara,who issued some 6,500 transit visas through Japan to Jewish refugees seeking to fleeEurope. Sugihara was acting against direct orders of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, andwas recalled and fired for his humanitarian efforts. His deeds are recognized at YadVashem in Jerusalem where he is honored as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.Kobe has had a Jewish presence going back to 1868 when Japan opened its borders totrade with the West. It’s probably the most Jewish city in all of Japan, even taking intoaccount that there are probably not more than 1,000 Jews among the 127 millionJapanese. There is a Jewish cemetery in Kobe as well as an active Mikveh.The hospitality we were shown at Ohel Shelomo by the rabbi and members of the boardwas overwhelming. They laid out a feast of delicacies for us, mixing the best of both theIsraeli and the Japanese kitchen. And they were genuinely delighted to have us as visitors,even for a very short time. I intend to return to Kobe again to spend a Shabbat at OhelShelomo. I strongly recommend a visit here to everyone travelling through Japan. Forme, it was a true highlight. Hine ma tov uma na’im, shevet ahim gam yahad – How good andwonderful it is for brethren to sit together!From Kobe I made my way to Kansai airport which is built out at sea on a land-fill(actually garbage-fill) island. The drive from Kobe is about a 1½ hours from the city.179

KOBEBeit Knesset Ohel Shelomo180

What amazed me is that from shortly after leaving downtown, the drive almost all theway is on elevated roadways, sometimes really high, like past tenth-floor office blockwindows, and over or through seven-level over- and under-passes, and then over the seafor 20 minutes! And this in a country that has known serious earthquakes!Whenever I depart Japan, I leave warmed by my visit to this curious, bashful, unusual,respectful, friendly, home-like far-away place.Sayonara!181

KANSAILike many things in Japan, it’s super-modern182



“The Fairest Cape in All the World”Along with the Houses of Parliament and the President’s Residence, Cape Town’sGovernment Avenue is home to the following buildings: the National Libraryand Archives, the National Gallery, and… the Great Synagogue. Located in theCompany Gardens in the city’s center, a haven of beauty in a spectacularlybeautiful city, the Great Synagogue (or Gardens Shul in local parlance) is thefirst synagogue to be built in South Africa, dating back to 1863. The original synagoguenow serves as the ante room to the new South African Jewish Museum, a creative,experiential hi-tech museum that tells the story of the Jews of South Africa from theirfirst arrival on the shores of the Dark Continent’s southern tip, and until today. Acrossthe courtyard from it stands the Cape Town Holocaust Center, also an astoundingmuseoligical experience, specially taking into account that it was built as a completelylocal effort and without public funding. Of all the museums I visited in South Africa(after travelling, museums are my next great love), these were without doubt the finest,and match up to any modern, well-designed, engaging and remarkable museumsanywhere in the world. Between the two sits the Café Riteve, an upscale kosher dairyrestaurant, where I was able to enjoy a wonderful meal and a great cup of coffee. Riteve,by the way, is the name of a Lithuanian Shtetl, from where the forebears of the of themuseum’s founders hailed.But restaurants and buildings are not what would – or should - draw you to Cape Town.What will bring you here is the desire to behold the manifest natural splendor of Africa’ssouthern tip. Way back in 1597, this area was so appropriately described by Sir FrancisDrake, the intrepid British mariner, as “the fairest Cape of them all.”185

CAPE TOWNMother City of South Africa186

Cape Town is a majestic city. What makes it so is the regal ever-presence of TableMountain, around which the entire city is built. About a kilometer inland from the seaand also about a kilometer high, this imposing, overwhelming and powerful landmark isvisible from anywhere in the city. There are a number of “must-see” items in any visit toCape Town, and this is the first of them. You can climb the mountain by foot if you’refeeling adventurous - it takes about three hours to walk up. However, if you prefer therelaxed method of ascent, Table Mountain has one of the finest cable-car systemsanywhere in the world. It takes about 5 minutes for the rotating aerial car to make theascent to the top of the mountain. From there you can see, well, forever. Easy hiking isavailable on the top; fynbos, the archetypal flora of the Cape is all about you. Andeverywhere you’ll see Dassies, – Rock Hyrax for the Afrikaans challenged among us – adiminutive short-tailed rabbit-like animal that anatomically, is the closest thing to… anelephant! They’re cute and quite harmless, and seem to look upon us humans as a sort ofnecessary evil.There’s another animal that you won’t be able to avoid when visiting the Cape – thebaboon. Unlike his scampering pachyderm-relative friend on the mountain top, thisfellow is not friendly at all! The baboons around Cape Point, the meeting place of theIndian and Atlantic oceans at the tip of the Cape of Good Hope, are aggressive, noisy,pushy and potentially dangerous. Best not to make eye-contact with them - and keepyour food and snacks out of sight. But baboons aside, this is another one of the must-seesights around the Cape. It’s here that the Portuguese voyager Vasco da Gama must haverealized that he had passed the major hurdle in his quest for a sea route to India. Heretoo Dutch East Indies Company Captain van der Decken, caught in a raging storm offCape Point, hollered out his curse that he will surely sail his ship, the Flying Dutchman,around the Cape even if it takes him until doomsday. Legend has it that whenever astorm brews around Cape Point, the ghost of the Flying Dutchman can still be seenstruggling to sail around the Cape.187

CAPE POINTWhere the oceans meet188

Cape Point, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans come together, while not thesouthernmost point in Africa, is indeed the tip of the continent. From here it’s water andmore water all the way to Antarctica. It’s the end of the world. And it’s an immenselyexhilarating feeling as the salty-water is blown into your face at the end of the world.The third must-see are the wine lands around Cape Town. The Cape’s wine route isspectacular. Vineyards as far as the eye can see. It’s an area of pristine white gabledhomesteads designed in Cape-Dutch architectural style, beneath towering corrugatedmountains that form a beautiful and bold background among a mixture of greens, bluesand the ever-red earth of Africa. While Cape Town is the symbol of British colonial rulein this neck of the woods, Stellenbosch and Franschoek tell the story of the earlyimmigrants from the Netherlands and France. Farmsteads and wineries dot everyavailable piece of land and produce some of the finest wines in the world – kosher onestoo!If you’re a plant lover - and I am – then Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens is amust-see. The Cape is home to more than half of the all the floral species in the world.But unlike the Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, which is a muchmanicured, cropped, trimmed, primped and almost artificial – albeit very, very beautifulgarden – the Kirstenbosch Gardens leave you with a feeling that you are witnessingastounding beauty in its most natural state.If you’re a beach lover – and I’m not – Cape Town has some of the whitest sandy shoresin the world. The beaches of Sea Point and Clifton throng with sun worshippers.Muizenberg, once known fondly as “Jewsenberg” because it served as the Jewishcommunity’s primary summer resort town, has the safest beach around. And at Bouldersbeach you can get up close and personal with the local penguins.If you’re a lover of history – and I am – you cannot miss either the Cape Town Castle or189

CAPE TOWNInteresting architecture in the city’s Bo-Kaap district190

Robben Island. The former symbolizes white conquest of this beautiful country, and thelatter - where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for most of his 27-year incarceration -represents how far this land has progressed since the end of Apartheid.And if you love shopping – and I can go both ways on this one – Cape Town has aplethora of colorful flea markets and noisy outdoor bazaars as well as posh upscale mallsand designer stores. You’ll be easily able to lighten your wallet as you fill your valises herein this splendid location, the fairest Cape in all the world.191

CAPE TOWNOne of the city’s colorful flea markets192

MPUMALANGA – AND THE MYSTERY OF THEKRUGER MILLIONSIn 1905, when Paul Kruger was president of the South African Republic, a mannamed John Holtzhauzen was sentenced to 30 months in prison for stealing a horseand carriage. A true horse thief! When in prison he let it be known that he and twoothers had been charged by the government of the South African Republic to burygold and diamonds to the value of 2 million pounds in order to keep it from fallinginto the hands of the British. Whether this was true was never established, and themystery of the missing Kruger Millions has never ceased to fire the imaginations oftreasure hunters and intrepid searchers, who still seek out the missing loot to this veryday.According to the myth, the stash was hidden in the vicinity of the Blyde River, now inthe South African province of Mpumalanga. I don’t know if there is any gold in thevalleys and mountains of Mpumalanga. But what can be found there is a different type oftreasure - some of the most magnificent scenery I have ever seen anywhere in the world.The Blyde River Canyon is the third largest of its kind on the planet after the GrandCanyon in the USA and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia. Unlike its desert-based bigbrothers, the Blyde River Canyon is covered in lush green bush. There aren’t enoughadjectives to describe the spell-binding beauty of this great escarpment.A nearby lookout point is called “God’s Window.” As I stood there it seemed that Icould indeed see as far as the end of the earth. The lowveld beneath the Drakensberg193

GOD’S WINDOWFrom here you can see forever194

Mountains stretch out as far as the eye can see. This is typical African high plains – verysimilar to those of the Serengeti in Tanzania. There are other viewpoints nearby, WonderView and The Pinnacle, (the names alone suggest visions of great beauty and grandeur)each offering magnificent vistas of the area.The Blyde River and Treur River meet at a place called Bourke’s Luck Potholes – namedfor the unique geological formations carved into the rock-face by the swiftly swirlingwater currents. Surreal cylindrical rock sculptures created by the whirling water havecreated a series of dark pools which contrast with the pristine white and yellow rocks.Amazing stuff!I love waterfalls, so I made sure to take in all the waterfalls in the area – and there arelots and lots of them: high ones and wide ones and tall ones and those that are split intotwo and three falls alongside one another. There’s more than ten waterfalls within arange of an hour’s dive. It’s almost unfair to other places that there’s so much beautyhere in such a small area.But waterfalls are but the second item of incredible beauty in this neck of the woods.There are also some magnificent caves in the area, and for those who are spelunkingstimulated, you can travel from the heights of God’s Window to the depths of the EchoCaves in a matter of minutes. The tunnels of the cave run 2 kilometers underground, andone of the rooms here has a ceiling that’s 60m high!Not too far away from the Echo Caves are the Sudwala Caves, assumed to be 2,000million years old. With a tunnel system that runs more than 30 kilometers, these cavescontain not only impressive and dramatic stalagmites and stalactites, but they are coveredwith a fossilized remains of ‘collenia’ - a form of algae from which it is believed life onearth evolved.195

BOURKE’S LUCK POTHOLESCarved by water – magnificent!196

The Sudwala caves were discovered in the 19th century by the Swazi Prince Somquba ashe fled the wrath of his brother Mswati. During the second Boer War, the soldiers of theSouth African Republic used the Sudwala Caves as a storage facility for ammunition fortheir Long Tom Cannons which they used to fire on the opposing British forces. Somesay that the Kruger Millions were hidden here in the caves. Holtzhausen the horse thiefsaid otherwise. Whom are we to believe?Hmmm…197

SUDWALA CAVESThis is where a horse thief hides gold?198

THE TINIEST KINGDOMS OF AFRICA #1:SWAZILANDIn the 1930s Jews trying to escape the vicissitudes of European life weren’t reallywelcome in Southern Africa. Some of those who arrived, even bearing SouthAfrican immigration permits, were only allowed passage through South Africa. Someof them landed up in the Kingdom of Swaziland. You can’t really pay a flying visit toSwaziland – even though it does have an airport. Flying over the country lastsprobably all of 15 minutes – and that’s if you’re not flying too fast. But what it lacks insize, it makes up in fascinating traditions and amazing African landscapes.One of the first things I noticed when flying over Africa for the first time in 14 years,was that the soil of Africa is red. In West Africa, from Nigeria through Sierra Leone, theywill tell you it’s because of all the blood spilt there. That’s a tragic interpretation. FromKenya and southward, I was told it’s because of the copper ore that is characteristic ofthe African soil. Whichever is true – and there’s probably truth in them both – Africa’ssoil - unlike our brown earth – is reddish.Swaziland’s soil is too, but the lush greenery and the rolling hills; the vermillion sunsetsand the protected black rhino; the colorful, intricate beadwork of the craftswomen andthe innocence of the children – these all made my visit here quite exceptional.199

SWAZILANDThe Switzerland of Africa200

From the dawn of its history, Swaziland has been something of a Switzerland in Africa –fending off British, Boer and Zulu to maintain its independence. Not an easy thing whenyou are the smallest kid on the block. But they have succeeded, and they’ve done it withdignity. African traditions mix with western influences here, and I was a little amused onemorning, to see a man stepping out of his BMW 7 Series sedan and heading to the office,wearing an amahiya (the traditional Swazi robe), carrying a briefcase – and a spear!The main point of my journey to Swaziland was to experience the Swazi version ofShavuot – Incwala - the festival of the first fruits. This is the occasion when the king giveshis subjects permission to eat from the first fruits. It’s a six-day process starting with theeve of the full moon when the king goes into retreat. That’s when young men from allover the kingdom harvest the branches of the lusekwane tree, and begin an all-night hiketo the king’s kraal. In the meantime, others have gone to fetch water from local rivers,and some even venture as far as the ocean (either in South Africa or in Mozambique).On day three a bull is sacrificed. The fourth day brings the king from his retreat, and hedances David-like, before his subjects. After the dance the king eats a pumpkin, signalingpermission for everyone to eat the first fruits of the New Year. Two days later, all theitems used in the rituals of the previous days are burned and the rainy season is officiallydeclared.The Jewish community that once existed here lived in numerous places, ranging from thecapital Mbabane, to places like Pigg’s Peak, Manzini, and various other locations. Most ofthem were farmers. With a tradition that resembles Shavuot, its small wonder that Jewsfound a haven here.201

SWAZILANDIncwala – the warriors gather to greet the king202

THE TINIEST KINGDOMS OF AFRICA # 2:LESOTHOLesotho (pronounced Le-soo-too) – meaning “Kingdom in the Sky” – is amountainous kingdom lodged in the middle of South Africa. One of the mostancient of Africa’s modern kingdoms, it came into being in the early 19th centurywhen King Moshoeshoe the Great led his people into the inhospitable heights ofthe Drakensberg & Maluti mountains, where they would be protected from theBoer excursions into the hinterland. The difaqane (forced migration), helped forge theBasotho tribe into a fiercely independent nation, and today Lesotho is something of anincongruity in the sea of modernity surrounding it.Like Swaziland to the north, Lesotho is tiny. I drove across the entire kingdom in fivehours. It could probably have taken me less, but I slowed purposely to view the amazingmountains and the rock formations all over this tiny land. Seeing that it was summer, Iwas also caught in a drenching downpour – itself a wondrous event. The day started offcompletely clear and sunny – a typical summer’s day in this part of the world. Becausethe altitude is what it is, I saw the rain clouds approaching for some time, and as theyapproached they enveloped the highlands in thick mist. Then came the frighteningthunderclaps and lightning, torrential rain for an hour or so, and as surprisingly as it allstarted, it also ended. The sun came out again, the clouds moved on to make otherpastures green, the smell of freshness was heady all around, and the views became crystalclear. Wow!203

LESOTHOA summer thunderstorm is coming204

After the side-to-side trip, I backtracked to sample some of the tidbits that the kingdomoffers. Lesotho is a camper’s paradise – but there isn’t any “free” land on which to camp.In Lesotho, all the land is owned by someone. What I needed to do to pitch a tent wasobtain permission from the chieftain of the nearest village, who was owner of the pieceof land where I wanted to sleep. Upon hearing that, as a child, I had once lived in theneighborhood (in 1956) he insisted that I stay over free of charge.The chief wore a typical Basotho blanket over his shoulders – a woolen one, not thesynthetic stuff that can be found all over the place. Woolen Basotho blankets are statussymbols here. The typical design has lines, which are worn vertically. According to localbelief lines worn horizontally will stunt your growth. Among the other design features onyour woolen blanket, there can be found maize cobs, which symbolize fertility or acabbage leaf, symbolizing prosperity (I actually didn’t see much cabbage around). Youngmarried women wear their blankets around their hips until after their first child isconceived, while young men receive their first blankets upon circumcision, which marksthe transition from boyhood into manhood in Basotho culture.Unlike many other places in Africa, Lesotho is not known for wild animals. This is a loftyland of pastoral, scenic beauty. You can fly into the capital, Maseru from South Africa.You can drive in by car via numerous border crossings. But the best way to see this land,is… by pony.So pony up to Lesotho, Kingdom of the Sky.205

LESOTHOA place to sleep, with permission from the Chief206

IKRUGER NATIONAL PARK –THE DEFINITIVE SAFARIt’s the game park to beat all game parks. The diversity of animal life in KrugerNational Park is greater than in any other of its kind in the world. And it’s HUGE!We’re talking here of an area the size of the State of Israel! So it’s not quite anafternoon’s outing, if you get my drift.My drive here started from Johannesburg, via Pretoria’s Voortrekker Monument, whichtells the story of South Africa’s white, Afrikaner history. In my opinion, this is acornerstone visit for anyone who wants to understand the complex history of thisamazing land; where it’s been, where it is now, and how it came to be in both places.The day’s drive from Johannesburg was dotted with stopovers in fascinating andbeautiful natural locations. Had I driven directly along the highway without traipsing offonto side roads, I suspect it might have been boring.Early (5 a.m.) the next morning, it was out into the bush, scouring the landscape for asight of any of the “big five.” The first sighting was of a little one – impala. First one,then three, then twenty – beautiful little animals, but nothing to get too excited about. Aherd of Zebra soon got my heart a flutter, and seeing a family of giraffe got me reallyworked up. This was turning out to be a great morning! Little did I know how reallyexciting it was about to become.207

PRETORIAThe Voortrekker Monument is basic to understanding the white/black history of this country208

Shortly afterwards, the road meandered about some high bushes, and as I made the turn,there at the side was a family of elephants. A few big adults and a few more young ones.They were not pleased about being interrupted, and one them was seriously miffed! Allof a sudden there was trumpeting and snorting. I smacked the car into reverse gear andslowly backed away. Well, seems like it wasn’t quite quick enough for papa pachyderm,and he began a swift shuffle in my direction. Now I was seriously scared so I executedthe swiftest three-point turn in history and whizzed away in the opposite direction. Iguess this is the meaning of exquisite pain – to be able to see this wondrous sight for sobrief a time and without the ability to catch it on camera. The experience remains inmemory only. Ah well…The rest of the day was filled with some monkeys, gnu, assorted buck, and towardevening some Rhino in the bush and a hippo family in the river. No Buffalo and no lionthroughout day one – a bit disappointing, and a little worrisome, because 50% of thetime I had allocated to Kruger Park was now over.Back at the camp I unpacked my barbeque and set out to experience the most wonderfulof all South African experiences, the “Braai.” I had purchased a slew of meat productsfor the duration of my two days at a kosher meat store in Johannesburg. It came neatlypackaged, labeled and frozen in Styrofoam containers. I wondered how come the smellof barbequed meat doesn’t attract the animals – I guess they prefer their meatunderdone. There was a great camaraderie among the various guests in the camp, and weall swapped stories about the days’ events.My second day also started at 5 a.m. – the animals spend much of the daytime hourshiding from the heat of the sun – and once again the small animals were aplenty.Antelope and kudu, and later on some wildebeest as well. This was definitely starting tolook like a good day. Leopards followed, but they were lazing away in the trees and notlooking particularly hungry.209


At my lunch stop, a ranger informed everyone that there had been an elephant kill (theangry papa from yesterday?) and that many animals were expected in the kill area towardthe late afternoon. I never saw a lunch spot empty out so quickly! I suspect that it wasn'treally a "kill." After all, who's going to take on an elephant? More likely it was an elephantthat died of old age and starvation, having lost all its teeth and no longer being able tochew anything.Well, I tell you, a dead elephant is not a pretty sight, even from afar and through fieldglasses. But the whole food-chain thing was fascinating. Wild pigs were there and hyenas,and assorted other animals. They were having a real feast! After a while they seemed togrow restless. Lots of howling and growling started. And then the best part revealeditself. A whole pride of lions made its way out of the tall grass – males with theirenormous heads, females stalking behind and a few young ‘uns. A true parade of royalty.What a treat! With the exception of the hyenas, all the animals made a hasty departure.The howling hyenas drew back begrudgingly and left the carcass to the lions. I don’tknow if this was out of fear or simply because they had filled their bellies sufficiently. Bythis time, the sun was setting and it was time to move on. But that short window ofnature’s finest was absolutely amazing.As I drove back to the camp some scurrying in the bush alongside the road caught myattention. There were springbok and impala on the run parallel to the road. All of asudden some of them began to bound across the road and one actually landed on thehood of my car and slid off the side. I jumped on the brakes lest I hit any of them, but bythis time they had all headed off into the bush again.Heard of the running of the bulls? This was the bounding of the buck!211

KRUGER NATIONAL PARKCheetah! No-one can outrun this fella when he starts sprinting212



So, What’s News?Washington DC is not what I would call an exotic location. But as capital citiesgo, after Jerusalem, Washington DC is way out front on my list. While theUSA is not, has never been, and doesn’t seek to be an empire, the architectureof its capital city is the ultimate in imperial design. The stated power in thedesign and construction of its public buildings, is an expression of thatnation’s strength. The planners of the American capital intended it to be so – so thatevery citizen who visits the nation’s capital will be filled with pride and pleasure andcome away from a sojourn to the city with an overwhelming feeling of patriotism.Indeed, to walk the Mall in Washington DC, from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial,is to marvel at the cultural wealth of what is still our planet’s single great power. I couldwrite endless lines on each of the museums there – and as you already know, after travel,museums are my great love – and I have spent full days and more in each of the amazinginstitutions that sit astride the oak-lined boulevard that is the Mall. I’ve wandered – andwondered – through the magnificent art in the National Gallery and soared into the greatyonder at the Air & Space Museum, delved into natural history at the museum of thatname and into American history in the museum of that name. The top of theWashington memorial provides a view of America’s public structures that fills even thisnon-American with pride, and the reflecting pool at 6 o’clock in the morning is as still asa mirror. I have never skipped the sunken “V” of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial from215

VIETNAM VETERANS’ MEMORIALFor me, this is the most solemn place in DC216

where I always come away humbled. I go there because I feel a commonality with theveterans who have made their lives around the memorial. Anyone who has been to warknows and understands this deep and purposeful camaraderie.But my favorite place in Washington DC is not on the Mall –even though it is very close.I’m talking about one of Washington’s lesser known museums, the Newseum, theMuseum of News and Journalism, located on Pennsylvania Avenue.Based upon the following ten principles, the Newseum is probably the ultimate hi-techmuseum experience available anywhere. Those principles are:1. The free press is a cornerstone of democracy.2. People have a need to know.3. Journalists have a right to tell.4. Finding the facts can be difficult.5. Reporting the story can be dangerous.6. Freedom includes the right to be outrageous.7. Responsibility includes the duty to be fair.8. News is history in the making.9. Journalists provide the first draft of history.10. A free press, at its best, reveals the truth.217

THE NEWSEUMIs the former one now the “Oldseum?”218

Newspaper front pages from 500 locations around the globe are available daily. I learnedhow news develops, how it’s covered, how it’s distributed; I discovered the differencebetween news on paper, via the internet, by television, and on the radio. I was amazed atthe focused sound system that carries broadcast news projected on mammoth screens toindividual ears viewing from across the hall in a manner that what I was hearing did notdisturb the person standing next to me. I was able to review five centuries of journalisticinformation in a series of small exhibition spaces that use multiple media in so clever amanner that I could personalize it to my private needs. Over and above that all, there areneat gadgets, shows, a newspaper from the date of everyone’s birth, and a plethora ofinteractivity that turn this into a must-see museum for families.Washington DC’s Newseum – Read all about it!219

THE NEWSEUMAn astounding museoligical experience220

I, SpyThe second most fascinating museum I found in Washington DC was theInternational Spy Museum. And the most fascinating thing I discovered at themuseum was that everything I thought I knew about espionage was untrue. Iremember reading James Grady’s “Six Days of the Condor” as a teenager andthinking that the James Bond novels were really not all about it at all. RobertLudlum’s works are closer to the truth, I thought. Or even Tom Clancy. Then I readEfraim Halevy’s “Man in the Shadows” which taught me that the clandestine world ofespionage is basically guided by a simple rule – be invisible.The International Spy Museum invited me to leave my preconceptions behind. I wasshown how operatives live the most perfect double lives. I learned that yes, many do useall sorts of gadgets in the pursuit of their spycraft, while others are so ordinary that I maypass them hundreds of times daily and never see them.I was fascinated to learn how six US diplomats made their way out of revolutionary Iranin 1979, with the help of the Canadian ambassador. I was intrigued by the museum’sinterpretation of Moses as a gatherer of intelligence, which he then applied tosuccessfully bring about the collapse of the Egyptian ruling class. Biblical exegesis parexcellence!My visit to the International spy museum taught me not only history, but also the secrethistory of history. Amazing! I found out that numerous – many – celebrities also led (andI guess still lead) double lives; film stars, sports professionals, who have all been in the221

THE INTERNATIONAL SPY MUSEUMJust an ordinary, usual building222

employ of their nation, while everyone else thought they were singers or actresses,basketball players or nuclear physicists. So many people whom we all recognize were, infact, something completely different to what everyone thought they were (and are, Iguess).Naturally, some spies eventually make mistakes and get caught. I gained some insightinto the escape and/or capture of such well-know agents as Kim Philby and RogerAldrich. I was spellbound by the true stories of the counter-espionage methods used byall intelligence agencies in their constant examination of themselves, and enthralledprimarily by the “invisible-ness” of this entire industry. And what an industry it is!Entry to the museum is controlled. I was given 5 minutes upon arrival to memorize thedetails of a fictitious cover (there are about 15 such available to choose from): date andplace of birth, fictitious name, destination, purpose, etc. Later on, at selected interactivestations in the museum, I was asked about the details of my identity and how theymeshed with parts of the exhibit I had just experienced. Fortunately for me, there was nopunishment for being “caught.”Located in Washington DC’s Penn Quarter neighborhood and built at a cost of some$40 million, this incredibly interesting museum is a private operation and one of few inDC that charge an entrance fee. But, it was a fee for which I got so much more than mymoney’s worth! Its Board of Directors includes numerous former intelligence operatives- sometimes a source of debate in the beltway - who have lent their expertise to thecreation of this captivating, authentic experience.Or is it perhaps just an illusion of authenticity?I’ll never know.223


Don’t drop it!In one of my previous careers, I served as a pulpit rabbi in Cape Town, South Africaas well as in Vancouver BC, Canada. This was the time that Corningware productshad become very popular and the inevitable questions arose before Pesach, if it waspossible to kasher Corningware, and if so, how? That was when I discovered thatwhile it may look like and feel like ceramic or glazed stoneware, Corningware is, infact, glass.I often drive from New York City to Upstate New York. Sometimes I take the thruway,but usually I drive along Route 17. It’s a wonderful, picturesque drive as it winds its waythrough places like Goshen and Monticello until you get to Binghamton. FromBinghamton to Rochester, route 17 becomes just another highway passing through moreor less flat land, as you get to Finger Lakes country.That’s the route I like to take when I drive to Corning, NY, the place where Corningwareis manufactured. The Corning Museum of Glass, however, an accredited educationalinstitution founded by the Corning Glass Works in 1950 has never been a showcase forthe company’s products. It’s a non-profit organization created to educate and teachabout glass. And it’s an amazing and fascinating lesson! The museum explores everyaspect of glass. Here I discovered the history of glass, the role of glass in art, science andtechnology. There are more than 45,000 artifacts in the museum’s astounding glasscollection from all over the world.225


“In the future,” said Nicolas Negroponte, former head of the Technology Laboratory atMIT, “we will need to cater to a public of one.” That has always been my guidingprinciple in museology (another one of my past careers). So for me, museums are allabout the individual experience. And the Corning Museum of Glass has a number ofactivities that enabled me to both give and receive individual expression within themuseum environment. My favorite feature in this museum is called “You Design It –We’ll Make It!” I was invited, along with others attending, to draw something that Iwanted the museum’s glass techs to create. My drawing was not the one chosen, but alittle girl sitting near me showed exceptional talent in drawing a very colorful fish. Theglass blowers then proceeded to create that fish out of glass before the audience, colorsand all. What excitement!There are also workshops at the museum where I was able to get down and dirty with theglass makers and take home a souvenir of my own – very imperfect - glass creation.As I mentioned before, the museum is first and foremost an accredited educationalinstitution, and its Studio is one of the best known teaching facilities of its kind in theworld. While not part of the actual museum tour, I was able to watch one of the classesand see how this combination of amazing art, creative craft, scintillating science,theatrical technology, and brilliant beauty is handed down from master (in my casemistress) to one pupil. I was awe-struck!So here’s a place to bring the family. If you ever drive from New York City to NiagaraFalls, take Route 17. The Museum of Glass in Corning will be a place of excitement foryou and your kids. It’s one of a series of family-geared museums that I will recommendas this current series of articles proceeds. And here’s a tip when you leave with yoursouvenir: don’t drop it!227

THE CORNING MUSEUM OF GLASSLooks good enough to eat228

Plato’s LessonWhat’s Plato’s Lesson?Simply this: “Life must be lived as play.” Not bad for the great GreekPhilosopher who lived from 427 to 327 BCE. Actually, it’s quite anamazing statement. It could be translated as “Enjoy yourself – life is aone-time experience.” Or, in the Words of Reb Nachman of Breslav,“It’s a big mitzvah to always be happy.”Plato’s statement is what led me to another amazing family museum while on the roadfrom New York City to Niagara Falls: The Strong National Museum of Play inRochester, NY. Rochester is probably best known for Eastman Kodak (George Eastmanwas a resident of the city and there’s a Photography Museum in his memory here – butthat’s in next week’s article) and Xerox, which have their headquarters in this quiet andquite inhabitable city.I figured I would whizz through this museum in two hours. Well, I was about as wrongabout that as I have been about anything. It took me a whole day and I was not done.This is hands-on at it best. Yes, it is a museum geared for kids – and that’s what’s sounfair about it. I love playing! I love touchy-feely exhibits. I love putting my head intoholes to discover what’s in them, or to push things that push back, squash things that unsquash,shape things and dance with things and sit on things and open things and closethings. Man! This museum is fun! Playing makes me happy! And a museum about play isabout as happy as I can get!229

THE STRONG NATIONAL MUSEUM OF PLAYHere you can be a kid all the time!230

I got to bake with the Berenstain bears, and on Sesame Street I made a movie in which Icounted with the Count (hah, hah, hah, rumble, rumble). I operated a pulley to moveCurious George from window to window in his apartment building and I shopped forreal-life-looking groceries in the Super Kids Market. Then I walked through the giantkaleidoscope in the Field of Play before walking down the Yellow Brick Road intoreading Adventureland where my nieces’ and nephews’ favorite book characters had allcome to life. I stepped into the past and dressed up in period clothes to pump water,churn butter and scrub some clothes, and although exhausted by this time, I stillmanaged to meander through the National Toy Hall of Fame to see who/what the reallyfamous toys are (you’ll be surprised how many of them are in your home right now!).Many of the museum’s pavilion’s have “Make it and Take it” stations, that enable kids ofall ages to express their own creativity and then take it home with them. It’s all includedin the reasonable price of a ticket, and it’s one of the things I love about any museum –the individual experience.The Strong National Museum of Play is not only a children’s museum, it’s a historicalmuseum too. It has fun while teaching – the best way to educate. It’s experiential in theextreme and creates understanding of play and its positive impact on our lives.Anyone who visits owes a huge debt of gratitude to Margaret Woodbury Strong throughwhose philanthropy this incredibly joyous institution was created.“Life must be lived as play.” Thanks. Plato! Or is that Playto?231


AFTERWORDIt is my hope that after reading about the places to which I have been and learning ofthe experiences I have enjoyed, you too will go out and see God’s beautiful world.The experiences I have documented here are but a few from the many and varying Ihave had while “on the road.” They are the ones that have remained etched in mymemory, and I hope that as I continue to travel and delve deeper into the cultures I havecome to appreciate and love, I will write more.For now, let me express my thanks to those who have enabled me to travel. First of all,my late parents who took me on family vacations and sent me on trips, and first enabledto see things outside of the four walls of our wonderful home. I guess they were the oneswho gave me the first taste of this amazing planet on which we are blessed to live.I want to thank my various employers who sent me here and there to do this and thatand thus exposed me to many people, places and cultures.To those people who have traveled with me, who booked organized tours via Shai BarIlan Geographical Tours so that I was able to guide, I owe a debt of gratitude. Theirquestions have challenged me to seek answers and they have enriched my knowledge inthis manner. Their comments enabled me to present deeper and more thoroughexplanations of places we visited and things we saw and experienced.233


My children have always been patient, excited and understanding when I was away fromhome. They enabled me to bring them gifts and items that I was able to choose in faraway markets – where I was often exposed to new and wonderful talents. I thank themtoo for being along with me every now and again, so that I could share with them theenthusiasm and pleasure I had experienced when I had visited places, to which I laterbrought them too. Of late, these thanks extend to my grandchildren as well and I longfor the opportunity to have them along with me in some exotic and wonderful location.Finally and most importantly, my thanks to my wife, partner, confidante, lover and bestfriend, Michele, without whom none of this would have been possible. Her support andencouragement have enabled all of this. Bringing her along on a tour here and there, andtraveling together to places I had been before has been the most enjoyable part of thisentire experience.Of all the places that we’ve been together, and of all the shared travel experiences we’vehad, nothing can compare to sitting together with our feet in a hot mineral spring!235


“It is not for you to complete the work, neither are you free to desist from it.”- Ethics of the Fathers237

238Meander with Menahem

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