Wednesday, November 11, 2015



      It's 8:30 pm on a rather cool Thursday evening in San Diego, and I'm waiting for the return ferry to Coronado. I decide to walk out on the Broadway Pier to help pass the time, and to take a closer look at a stark white ship parked toward the end of the pier. It looks too small to be a cruise ship, and as I get closer I notice a large red cross on the side. A few people are boarding—some with shopping bags from local retailers. I ask the guard about it, and he informs me that it is a Chinese hospital ship called the Ark Peace that is on a mission tour—the only one of its kind in China. He also said that there would be public tours the next morning at 9 a.m.
      I decide to head over the next day, thinking it will probably be my only opportunity to board a Chinese hospital ship. This is the first time, since being commissioned in 2008, that it has stopped in the U.S. mainland and relations between the U.S. and China do not seem to be getting any better.
     When I arrived the next morning, there were about twelve in line to board the ship. We went through security and walked up the plank to an open area where we viewed a ten minute introductory video about the ship's mission and history. Then we walked down the halls where we peered into the labs and state-of-the-art medical facilities. In addition to western medicine, the ship offers the traditional Chinese medicines of acupuncture, massage and cupping therapy. There were posters along the way, in English and Chinese, that explained some of these methods.
Chinese military and medical staff were stationed throughout the tour directing us and providing information. A language barrier prevented any meaningful communication, but everyone was very cordial. Then we took the steep-narrow stairway to another level where there was a large open deck with an armed guard. Here we could get a view of the bay and tour the one Z-8 rescue helicopter that is on board. There was a curtain covering the cockpit and we were told not to look in. The ship has seven stories; we were allowed to visit sections on the bottom two floors.
     The hospital ship Ark Peace is currently on the Mission Harmony 2015 tour that began September 7—making goodwill visits throughout the Pacific Rim and heads to Mexico when it leaves here. While docked in San Diego for five days, the crew members have met with U.S. Navy officials and attended programs and seminars at the Naval Medical Center San Diego and the U.S. floating hospital, USNS Mercy, that is home ported in San Diego. All with the purpose of military medical professionals exchanging ideas and learning from each others experiences. The USNS Mercy is 300 feet longer with about three times more beds and has a sister hospital ship, USNS Comfort, based in Virginia. Only eight countries in the world currently have hospital ships, the U.S. has the two largest.

     The Ark Peace, with its impressive medical facilities and free medical and humanitarian services, provides a common ground where we can still find harmony in the world. Thankfully, we still share the desire for making this a healthier world.

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