Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What to know about SAS.......

There are so many things that I wish I would've known before I went on this voyage. And I'll list some of them, but first let me say this: I made the HUGE mistake of not joining the Facebook page, not being a huge FB user. But EVERYONE on the ship seemed to already be aware of many more things like rules, excursions, whatever because they communicated with alumni through the SAS FB page. So if you're going on an Semester at Sea voyage, join the group and either talk with people and get advice or get your questions answered, or just read about what people have done, what trips they loved, what they advise people to do, bad things they experienced, what to watch out for, or just what every day life is like on the ship. I'll address some of these now, but really, the group apparently has some great advice and people seem to be pretty friendly. It's also a great way to make friends before you leave. You might even find a roomie on there. So life on the ship. It was a lot different than what I expected. But maybe I was a little naive in that respect. Before I left, I read gossip from parents saying this was a "Booze Cruise" or a "Party Boat." So let me set the record straight, the voyage is whatever you make it. Yes, there are some people who are "spending daddy's money" and treat the entire voyage as a vacation and get drunk in every port. Then there are some people who get drunk a lot, but still value the experience as educational and do well in school. There are others who don't drink a lot but go out and party and still do well in school. But then there's me, who is probably on the complete radical side of the spectrum. I didn't go out much at night, I didn't drink at all, and I definitely didn't party. I chose to have this experience entirely for the educational aspect. I wanted to learn, both in the classroom and in the ports. In my opinion, there's nothing wrong with drinking and partying if that's what you like. But I've just grown out of that phase of my life and didn't care to do those things. Also, you have to remember that you're in foreign countries and it's much different than the USA. People will try to steal your money, take advantage of you, etc. There were plenty of instances of petty crime such as pickpockets, purse snatchers, and other little things. But then there are other things that people robbed at gunpoint, knifepoint, beaten up, put in jail and caned. It can get pretty dangerous and I think that when you get drunk, or at least belligerently drunk, you don't have that filter in your head that tells you what isn't safe. So I didn't want to be exposed to that kind of situation and decided to play it safe. But if you're looking for a good time and party friends, then trust me you won't be alone. Just make sure you value your time and really try to get a lot out of the amazing faculty and in-port educational opportunities. You can learn so much if you open your mind to it! Like I said, I found out that my study habits and socializing seemed to be quite different than most. And it was really frustrating at first because I was surrounded by a ton of college kids who loved to party and I didn't. But once I found a good group of people who were like me, I really began to enjoy myself. I started associating with my hall neighbors and really got to know them. Since my hall didn't have a great Internet connection in our rooms, we would all congregate in the hallways to email our loved ones and that was great bonding time! That's probably what I miss the most actually. So if you try you can always find people you can get along with. So I was really prepared when I packed for this trip. I had some clothes for all different occasions, a TON of toiletries, and medicine for anything. I'd say for this particular trip with warmer climates, pack a ton of warm weather clothes, but also some long sleeve shirts and pants that aren't too hot and don't stick to you when you sweat, because where there is malaria you need to wear more conservative clothes. And also bring some modest clothing because some countries dress more conservatively than the US. Then start packing for the ship - I'd recommend just casual clothes but some people do like to dress up every day. As for medicines, pack a lot of seasickness meds but they do have some on the ship if you forget. Make sure you get Cipro from your doctor for when you get an upset stomach! And then malaria meds of course. Cold medicine might come in handy because colds go around fast when so many people are on a small ship. I personally packed way too many toiletries like shampoos and conditioners because I didn't know how difficult it would be to find them in these countries. I never once went to a Walmart or anything so I'm not sure if it would be hard to find one, but I know in some places they don't have Walmart. And as far as excursions to take, like I said the Facebook group gives a lot of advice for that. Most people don't take that many SAS trips and did them on their own. I think it depends on what kind of person you are. If you like to plan things yourself or if you like them planned out for you. The SAS trips are usually a little more expensive than if you would try to do it independently, but they often come with meals. Some people really enjoyed the overnight SAS trips, and some people went through programs like Global Citizens to do those trips. There are a lot of options but it just depends on your preferences. There are so many fun things to do and it's hard to just pick a few. But I'd say look at the SAS trips and sign up for what you're dying to do, and especially sign up for your FDPs. You can always buy or sell trips on the ship too. There are always a lot of people selling trips and I never had a problem finding something to buy if I needed it. But FDPs can fill up and a lot of people had trouble finding open ones so make sure you sign up for those ASAP so you don't have to worry about it. Other than that, my only other advice for those doing the SAS program is to be smart. If you go out and get wasted you have a pretty good chance of getting robbed or pick pocketed at the very least. You're in a foreign country where you don't know anything or anyone and bad things can happen. On my trip we had a lot of little crimes and several big ones like people being robbed at gunpoint. But if you use your head and stay in big groups then you have a much better chance. And also, don't always trust the taxi drivers because most of them will try to rip you off. Some of them have even tried to do worse. So only take taxis in big groups and make sure you agree on the fare before you leave with them. Have fun!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Work Study on the Ship

The Semester at Sea website was very easy to follow and details exactly what scholarships they provide and how you can apply to them. It also shows you when they've received your application and if you've been approved. That's one great thing about SAS-the website. Although I applied around October, which was much later than many other students, I could still easily turn in all my needed documents with the help of the website. By the way, I spoke to several students who applied as close to about a week before the ship sailed. It's really difficult and strenuous, but it can be done. Getting the visas is definitely the hardest part. Some of the students had a hard time and couldn't get certain visas so they had to visit the embassies in various countries to obtain those. It's just easier to allow yourself plenty of time to get those visas. But anyway, the scholarship applications. I applied to late for the Presidential scholarships - and I highly recommend anyone applying to the program to try to get this scholarship. It looks like a little work, but it pays for tuition so it helps out a lot. And meeting the presidential scholars on the ship, I expected them to be like some kind of geniuses. But they weren't really. I mean, they were smart, but basically the whole idea of the scholarship is to have a really good research project. So if you can come up with one of those and articulate it well, then you have a shot at the scholarship. Only a few people get the full ride so it's pretty competitive. But as for the other scholarships, I applied for Need, Merit, and Work-study and got all three. The work-study I applied for was in the Audio-visual department. They have a work-study for communications, which is more in the area of journalism, but I am more interested in broadcast journalism and I decided audio visual might help hone my skills. But there's also a photographer and videographer position, which looked really fun. So I got the job by, first, sending in the application on time. I wrote down a list of skills I had learned from my classes. Basically, I just looked at what skills were necessary for the application and then wrote briefly about how I can meet those requirements. It wasn't too difficult for me, but maybe it was my specific department. I can't imagine a ton of people trying to work in the AV department. Not very cool. But that was one reason I chose it. I figured that a lot of people would try to apply for the campus store or as office assistants, but I really needed the $4,000 scholarship (that's what you get for a semester term) so I went with the one I thought was the most attainable for me and my skill level. And I ended up getting it, and worked with five other people, and I was the only girl. So if you're a girl looking at AV, you might have a good shot. It you go to the website they give a description of all jobs. But basically all jobs require you to work two hours per day that we are at sea. It's not very much at all. What I did was hang out in the AV booth and provided assistance to teachers who needed help setting up the projector, playing a DVD, any sound or video problems, etc. Then if you work during the evenings, there are usually lecturers or speakers who are either just talking and need microphones, or are playing a PowerPoint so need help with setting up the projector, playing a movie, or any other audio/visual technology support. When you're in the booth and there's a presentation going on, you have to make sure the sound levels are always appropriate so you need to be able to work well with an audio board. You also have to monitor the video, which is much easier to do than write about. But you're basically in control of what airs to the televisions in the cabins, so you have to watch the cameras and switch cameras, just like in a news room if you're familiar with that. The equipment on the ship was lacking a bit, so hopefully that's something they'll update in the future. Overall, the job was a great experience. It definitely helped with a chunk of the tuition. I applied for all the scholarships I could through SAS and then scholarships through my home institution too, in my case KSU. I would recommend the Goss scholarship, which was for $5,000. But apply for all scholarships possible. Some people could use the scholarships from their home institution to pay for the tuition on the ship, so look into that. I'm not sure if KSU offers that because I was never told that, but I know people from U. of San Diego could transfer the scholarships over. The work-study was also great with helping me meet people. I had a really fun time working and talking with new people. I immediately got to know the people I was working with so it helped with making friends. Also, I could do homework when work wasn't busy so it became a time for studying as well. Ultimately, I would absolutely recommend anyone with issues concerning the high price of tuition to apply for all scholarships available through SAS. I didn't think I would get that much, especially need-based, but I did so you might be surprised too. And also apply for all possible scholarships through your home institution. For KSU, go through the studioabroad website and they list all possible study abroad scholarships and typically have one common application to fill out for all scholarships you are applying for. Also, look for external scholarships. Your home university might provide a link to some of these. Although I didn't apply to them because they didn't really apply to my situation or I was too late to apply, looking at those won't hurt. There are a lot of ways to get funding for study abroad and I found a MUCH easier time getting scholarships to study abroad rather than study at home. Good luck!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Yokohama, Japan

After one day in transit, we arrived in Yokohama. The first day I went with a couple girls to Tokyo. We took the train there, having to transfer lines once. It only took around 45 minutes for us to get there once we figured out the subway. Then the girls I was with decided to just start walking blindly, after I suggested we look at a map and find some place cool to go. But they started walking and about 15 minutes later we realize there is absolutely nothing the way we're going. Luckily, we ran into an old Australian couple who asked us if we were lost. We said yes and just decided to follow them around for a bit. They went to a park that had the Meiji Shrine. None of us were sure what the significance of the shrine was, but it seemed like it was a place for prayer. Then we decided to go to Harajuku, a young and hip district in Tokyo. We only walked for a few minutes and hit an intersection with giant retail buildings - the biggest Old Navy I've ever seen in my life. I noticed that we'd hit the district because suddenly there were only young, stylish teens walking by. There were a quite a few people with a face full of piercings. And when I mean full, they were completely covered. We walked around a while and found the Oriental Bazaar. I guess that was just a store that had souvenir items at a cheaper price, although it was still pretty expensive. We spent a while there and I bought a few knick-knacks. Then we decided to go get some food. We wanted Japanese food, specifically their stuffed crepes, but a lady from the ship told us there weren't any around. So two of the girls I was with went into Shakey's Pizza, which is supposed to be pretty good, and the other girl and I went to look for cheaper, more authentic food. We finally came across a little stand that sold the crepes. I bought the famous kind, which name escapes me right now, and it was so good! I went back for seconds and got a crepe with chocolate ice cream, which was even better! I hope I can find some places that sell those back in the US! After that we kept walking around and found a little shopping strip that mostly sold younger clothes and accessories. But we just walked around a looked, and after a while we decided to head back to the ship since we were both so tired.

The next day, and final day in Japan, I had a trip to Mount Fuji. The day didn't go as well as I'd hoped, because the entire day it was raining and cloudy. We took a bus ride a few hours to Mount Fuji, and drove to the fifth station on the mountain. We stopped and walked around, and of course hit up the gift shop. It was so cold out and there was snow everywhere, which for some reason I wasn't expecting. I guess I thought we weren't going to be going up high enough for there to be snow. But the ground was covered and it felt like winter in Kansas, which I thought I'd missed. And lucky for me, I wore flip flops so it was even more unbearable. After spending some time shopping for Mount Fuji souvenirs, we went back to the bus and drove to the Visitor's Center. There we, once again, went to the gift shop. And after that we watched a short film about Mount Fuji. Then we drove a while to Hakone and took the ropeway for about 30 minutes. We stopped near a lake and drove a couple minutes to a boat, where we took a ride on the lake, hoping to get some good views of the mountain. But it was too cloudy and we couldn't see Mount Fuji at all. I was pretty disappointed, since that was the whole point of the trip. The rest of the trip was fun, but I was really looking forward to seeing the giant mountain. Oh well, I'll just have to come back during July or August some year and climb to the top. They said it only takes about six hours to get to the peak. After the boat ride we just took the bus ride back to the ship and I got back on, after waiting in line forever. Now's going to be the most boring stretch of the trip. We have about a week and a half until we get to Hawaii, and then another week until we get to San Diego. During that time I'll have to write a few papers and study for my finals. I don't think anyone's looking forward to the rest of the trip.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Kobe, Japan

We arrived in Japan on Tuesday, and didn't get cleared for immigration until around noon. It took a long time for everyone on the ship to stand in line, get their picture taken, and get their fingerprints taken. And by the time I got off the ship, it was maybe 11, but everyone didn't get cleared until later. So I had to sit in the terminal and wait, and by the time everyone was cleared, it was pointless to get back on the ship since my FDP started at 1. I went with my media class for a radio station called Radio FMYY. It was a radio station that formed after the huge earthquake 15 years ago because the emergency radio stations weren't sufficient enough for foreign people. After the earthquake in 1923, people were afraid of what might happen. At that time, they didn't have stations in other languages at that time, and they also only perpetrated information about the affected to the rest of the world, rather than giving more information to those being affected. Therefore, rumors started circulating between the local Japanese about foreign people, such as the Koreans. They turned on them and ended up murdering 6,000 Koreans because they believed these rumors. So Radio FMYY was created as an emergency radio to provide information to affected people in several languages. After a presentation, we toured a small part of the facility, the studio. Then we just returned to the ship. I decided to tag along with a friend who was going to the local "dollar store," or a 100 yen store. We took the metro to downtown and went to the dollar store and I bought a lot of cheap souvenirs, since I wasn't sure if I'd get the chance to find any elsewhere in Kobe. All of the shops here are very Westernized, and I wanted traditional Japanese items. So I had to settle for some cheap knickknacks in case I couldn't find other items. After that I just went back to the ship for the night.

The last day we spent in Kobe, I went on a trip to Hiroshima. I was really excited for it, until I found out we were going to be taking a 5 hour bus ride out there. The ride didn't end up being all too bad, we stopped a couple times at gas stations and I tried to find some food. But everything was in Japanese, and it was really hard to tell if it had meat in it or not. I settled on a hotdog......with noodles inside. It was very interesting. Besides the sauce they put in there, the noddle-dog was actually pretty good. We got there about 2 pm and started at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Our guide gave us until 3:50 to walk around the museum, which was hardly any time. I got a lot of the way through, but by the time we had to leave, I still had a couple rooms left but was only about halfway done with the audio guide. I was pretty disappointed I missed the room where they had clothes from some of those who passed away and their stories, and the room with information on what happened to buildings. I need to go back there someday to finish going through the entire museum. There was just too much to see in such a short time! After that our guide walked us over through the park and to the statue for the 12-year-old girl who passed away from leukemia. She folded 1,000 cranes while she was in the hospital, since they symbolize peace and recovery. We all had some paper cranes that we set down there. Then we finished the tour by walking to the Dome. That's the building they decided to keep the way it was after the bomb, they've just done a little restoration to so it could be preserved. It actually has some controversy around it because some people want it to be destroyed since it reminds them of an awful time. That building was probably one of my favorites to see, because it kind of made you feel like you were right back there in 1945. One of the things that struck me the most about my day in Hiroshima, was that none of the people in Japan have negative feelings toward Americans. They are all very polite, respectful, and friendly. Their only goal is to create peace and ban all nuclear weapons around the world - and, unknowingly to me, they've been in pursuit of trying to make that happen. And after that trip, we went back to the ship, but this time we took the bullet train. It only took about an hour and a half to get back this way, so it was a lot nicer trip back. When I got back, I grabbed some dinner and went to bed. We left for Yokohama that night, and the next day we spent in transit. I spent that day watching movies and doing homework. It turned out to be a very productive and relaxing day.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Cove

We've been talking a lot about The Cove in my classes, since we're coming up on Japan in a couple days. We watched a little bit of it in my Anthropology of the Ocean class. For those you don't know about it, it exploits the dolphin fishing in a town called Taiji in Japan, specifically in an area called The Cove. The video includes the main activist, Ric O'Barry, who was one of the dolphin trainers in Flipper, along with several other activists he gathered in his mission. They all are trying to get people to become aware of the slaughter that has occurred in this area from September to March, killing 23,000 each year. He's opposed by a few local fisherman and the government in Taiji because it brings a huge profit for their town. So it's very hard to take pictures or videos of what's happening in this area. Finally, (spoiler alert) they manage to smuggle high def cameras that are hidden in rocks and place them throughout the cove. Then they capture this incredible and horrible footage of what happens in The Cove. I won't describe it, since it's pretty awful. Then at the end of the video, Ric goes into an IWC (International Whaling Commission) meeting, with a television strapped to his chest, playing the footage they gathered. I heard that The Cove was destroyed in the tsunami, but they just relocated the slaughter to a different area. It still occurs today, but now people are more aware of what's going on.

The movie was very well done and I might have found a new inspiration in Ric O'Barry. However, it brings a lot of questions to my mind. As soon as the students saw this they gasped and were really upset by the killings. And maybe this isn't logical for me to think, but it made me really mad at everyone around me. How hypocritical is it to say that the killing of these animals is wrong, but all other animals is perfectly acceptable? Is it because these animals are mammals, or because of their intellectual ability? To me, it felt the exact same as watching documentaries about the slaughter of cows and chickens. And cows are mammals. Is it just that they are "dumb" or that it's accepted to eat that kind of meat in America? Or maybe dolphins are prettier? I just can't understand it. To me, all animals are equal, and just because one is smarter or better looking, doesn't make it superior to another. I definitely think that this dolphin hunting needs to gain attention of the public, but it's ignorant to think that the same kind of treatment to animals isn't occurring in our country, right under our noses. It's ignorant to think that this town in Japan is cruel and barbaric, when similar practices happen to other animals all over the world. It's ignorant to get so worked up over something and then talk about what you bought in the last port. I think that this world is just filled with ignorant people, who like to pretend that these horrible things aren't happening all around us, or just don't care.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Shanghai, China

The voyage to Shanghai was really nice. Hardly anyone was on the ship so it was very quiet, I could get caught up on homework and sleep, and also the food was so much better. We had waiter service as opposed to the cafeteria style we usually get. And everything on the menu was 10 times better than the food they usually set out. The big downside was not being able to travel around China for those two days, but I can't take that back.

The first day we were there I had two trips planned. The first was the Maglev Train trip. We took a drive around some major parts of Shanghai and had a brief city orientation. Then we went to the Jin Mao Tower, which I think is either the sixth tallest building in the world or in Shanghai. We took the elevator up to the 88th floor from the -6th floor. The ride took only around seven seconds or so before we reached the top. The view was very beautiful - you could see anything. After that we went to ride the Maglev Train. This train goes to the airport and can hit a maximum speed of 431 km/hr or about 267 miles per hour. We were able to ride it during a time when it went to its maximum speed. It was very fast, to say the least. But I wasn't ever scared until we passed a train coming the other way and for a second it sounded like we just collided with it since we passed it going so fast. The Maglev stands for Magnetic Levitation, so it uses magnetics and sits about 10 cm on top of the tracks and doesn't actually touch them. It was a very cool experience to ride on the Maglev, but I don't think the trip should have taken so long. After that, I went with a friend to eat by the ship at a Chinese restaurant. I had noodles and rice, and it was decent. By that time I had to leave for the next trip, which was an acrobatics performance. Our guide said that the ERA Acrobats worked with Cirque Du Soleil. The show was pretty incredible, it had flexible people, acrobatics flying in the air, extreme balancing acts, and even a motorcycle show, where they had six people on motorcycles going around in circles in a giant ball. That was probably my favorite.

The next day I had a trip to the Zhujiajiao Water Village. I was really excited to see a village, since that's been my favorite parts of each country. But, in my opinion, the village wasn't even really there anymore. I read that in 2012 (must have been really recent) it had been converted to a bunch of gift shops. It did have a waterway going down the middle of the village, but our guide said they don't use it anymore except for tourists. So when we got there we took a little boat ride along the waterway to one end of the village and back. Then we had two hours to walk around and shop at the gift shops. I was super disappointed that we didn't even have a guided tour or anything. It seemed just like some scam to make money, which I'm sure it was. After just walking around for two hours we went back on the bus and left. The only thing I ended up buying was a name painting for my niece, as everything else was really overpriced. I had planned to go out to the markets after that trip and had a friend to go with, but she bailed at the complete last minute. So I tried to find other people to go with, but everyone either was going to sleep or going out to get drunk.

The last day I woke up really early to hit the markets. I wanted to do a little shopping before we left and I had an FDP in the afternoon. So I met up with some people and went to the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum underground markets. It was huge and had a ton of cool souvenirs to buy, but I also wanted to go to the Yu Garden Markets, so I only spent about 20 minutes at that market and headed to the second. I didn't buy much at the first market since I was holding out for the Yu Garden, but it was complete crap. It was like three stories of junk. A ton of jewelry places, kids toys, and knock off items. I didn't even have that much time to really shop since I had to be back on the ship by 1 for my FDP, so I quickly bought a bunch of junk items and left. But before I was leaving, I couldn't find my phone in my bag, I searched and searched and my friend even looked in my bag and couldn't find it. I was convinced it was stolen. But later I magically found it in my bag. I barely made it back in time for my FDP to the Shanghai Media Group, which ended up being a television station so I was extremely excited to go there. However, when we got there our teacher found out that the person he'd been corresponding with didn't really work there, or at least no one knew who he was. So our trip got canceled, which was a great ending to the day. I couldn't go out again because I'd spent all my money earlier since I didn't expect to go out again and everyone I knew was already out so there was no one to go with. I just came back to the ship and stayed on the rest of the time. So my time in Shanghai wasn't the best, I probably will never come back here. But I would like to travel to Northern China, to the Great Wall. Next we're going to Kobe, Japan.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hong Kong

It took us a few hours longer to leave Vietnam than expected because the tide was too low to pull out of the port. But after the tide rose, we departed for China. We all heard that we were headed for a typhoon, so we prepared for the worse. Luckily, our captain managed to miss the bad part of the storm so it never got too rocky. And we made it to Hong Kong on time. I got off the ship around 8:45 and we went to Lantau Island. We visited a fishing village and just walked around the market. We also stopped by the Tao Temple. We only stayed for a short time, and went to the Buddhist monastery. I was expecting the kind of monastery you see on TV, like with the monks and meditation everywhere. But it wasn't anything like that. It was much more of a tourist spot, and I think I saw maybe two monks the entire time I was there. When we got there we had to go eat so we went to the vegetarian restaurant they have. Then we walked around the monastery for a few minutes, which was basically some restaurants and gift shops. Probably the only thing I really enjoyed was getting to see the big Buddha and climbing the 256 stairs to the top. It wasn't too bad, and it was an amazing view. The Buddha cost around 6 million US dollars. After seeing the Buddha, we went to another area with more gift shops. After buying a lot of junk, we went back to the ship. I relaxed for an hour or two but then I decided to go back out. I took a bus to the night market. I walked around and bought a couple cool things, but mostly they were selling cheap electronics and clothes. I didn't feel unsafe at all, except when I encountered a man from Nigeria. I thought I had escaped those "over-friendly" men from Africa, but I guess not. He approached me and just said he wanted to be friends. Normally, that would be a really weird thing to say, but I'd heard a lot of that kind of talk when we were in Ghana. I was just polite to him, but he wouldn't leave. He said he felt like he needed to buy me a drink. And when I said I didn't drink, he offered dinner. Then I said I hadn't eaten but he just asked if we could go somewhere to talk. By that time I was really annoyed and just said maybe some other time and tried to leave. But he said he didn't feel like letting me leave. So I started getting a little freaked out and just said fine, you can have my email and we can go out tomorrow. Of course I was never going to do that, but after I gave it to him, he let me leave. So by that time, I was a little sketched out but I kept walking around the market. Then not even a minute after I had escaped the scary Nigerian, I was approached by an older man from the Middle East. His English was very poor, he said something like, "Hotel, dinner?" I assumed he was asking if I was staying at a hotel and I said no, that I was staying on a ship. Then he kept asking about a hotel. So I asked him if he was offering and he said yes. Since I was already freaked out from earlier, being asked by a creepy old man if I wanted to stay at his hotel really made me nervous. So I said no and he asked if I was alone. I lied and said no I had a bunch of friends from the ship that were walking around here somewhere. He asked if we would all go out to dinner with him and then I just said no and walked away. So after that, I decided to go back to the ship. I thought I could just walk back on Nathan Road since it's a huge, well-lit, and populated area. And it was very safe, but it was like a 30 minute walk back to the ship. When I finally got back, I was so exhausted and just ready for bed.

The next day I went on a trip to do Tai Chi. We met a Tai Chi master at a park and he briefly taught us some beginner Tai Chi. It was really interesting and calming, and I really want to do more of it when I get back home! After that, we went to learn about tea and try some different kinds. I used to hate tea, but lately, since just about every Asian country drinks it all the time, I've grown to not hate it. The taste testing was nice and I want to try more types of tea now! We didn't have much time there because we had to go eat lunch in "Central." We went to a restaurant that served Dim Sum. The meal was really good! We just had noodles and vegetables, like just about everywhere else, but it was still great! Someone at our table ordered chicken feet, and that made me a little uncomfortable, but oh well. After our short day, we went back to the ship and I went back out to a different market. I decided to go, in the daytime, to the Ladies Market. It was probably the largest market I've been to yet and had just about everything you could ever want to buy! I found some really nice souvenirs and I found a small teapot with a filter so I can make some tea when I get home! In Shanghai I'm going to try to buy some teacups and loose leaf tea. After spending a while at the market, I took the bus back to the ship and stayed there since we were leaving that night. I could have traveled off the ship since we are all meeting in Shanghai, and in hindsight I don't know why I didn't. But I guess I was just thinking that I wanted to get caught up on homework since we're in the last leg of the trip and I also didn't want the hassle of planning a huge trip in China when we don't really have Internet access. I also didn't find people that were doing anything that interested me until after we had to declare if we were traveling on or off the ship. But even though I'm missing out on two extra days in China, it is nice to be on the ship with only a few other students. Nice and quiet. We will be in Shanghai on Thursday.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The smoothness of the ocean continued from after we left Singapore. But the evening before we arrived in Vietnam, the water suddenly became rocky again, and I started feeling a little sick. But shortly after, we made it to Ho Chi Minh. This was the beginning of a crazy schedule, we had two days of class before Vietnam, we will have two days after, and then go to China. Then we will have just two days before Japan. After Japan we will be crossing the Pacific and on our way home, making a brief stop in Hawaii. It seems like this last leg will go by the quickest.

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on March 25 and I had a city orientation. We drove around and looked at some of the major sites of the city. Immediately, I noticed the large amounts of motorcyclists. And the traffic only seemed to get worse throughout the next few days. It's a pretty sketchy place to ride a bike in. First, we stopped at a temple that I think was Buddhist, but it might have been a mix with Caoism or Daoism or something like that. It had a huge painting on the wall of the sea. They worshiped a goddess to ensure safe crossings over the ocean. The temple was partially enclosed and outside. It had a lot of incense and candles that were used to pray to the gods and goddesses. After the temple, we went to eat at a very nice Vietnamese restaurant. I thought the food was OK, but it had too much cilantro for me. It definitely wasn't my favorite meal in Vietnam. After lunch, we visited the Unity Palace, which is where the president of South Korea once lived. It was huge and mainly consisted of large, extravagant rooms with very nice carpets and rugs, taxidermy, and nice furniture. We saw rooms like the president's office, room, and meeting rooms. Then, we went to a cathedral near the post office. It had giant ceilings, kind of like what you would picture when you think of a cathedral. We also saw the post office, which was huge and looked kind of like a train station. The last thing we did was visit a museum of Vietnam's history. It was different than the War Museum but had a lot of interesting artifacts. That's one thing we didn't get to do - go to the War Museum, and I really wish I had done that.

The next day was my trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels and Caodaoist Temple. We began with a long drive to the temple. It was completely different to the temple the day before. It was entirely indoors and was just one enormous room with elaborate statues and decorations.The religion fuses a lot of different religions together to create one perfect religion that wouldn't cause controversy and would create peaceful unity. Yellow stood for Buddhism, red for Confucianism, and blue for Daoism, I believe. We made it there in time for their noon service, which involved a mass prayer and song. After that, we stopped by the Cu Chi cemetery for the veterans. Then we made our way to the tunnels. First, we saw a video of life in Cu Chi, which was extremely sided toward the Vietnamese and seemed anti-American. Which makes sense for a video in the '60s, but I just thought that was interesting. Then we got a brief introduction to the tunnels and saw a model of what they once looked like. After that, we got to walk around and look at/go inside the tunnels. The openings were well hidden and extremely small. We also got to go further down into a tunnel a few feet underground. We had the option to go about 60 meters, but I only went 20 meters. It was very small, you had to crouch down, so someone that was claustrophobic had a lot of trouble. And it also had bats in it, although I didn't see any. They showed us the traps that they used to wound or kill American soldiers. They all consisted of long, metal spikes that were arranged to form various traps that rolled, swung, folded, etc. It was a different experience, because you really saw their side of the war, which also made you understand our side even better and what they had to endure. It was a lose-lose situation for both sides.

On the third day, I didn't have any trips planned. So I just found a couple girls who were going to get Internet and explore the city. We went to an Internet Cafe we had seen the day before, but it wasn't open. So we walked around and tried to talk to local people to find out if there was a place to get Internet, but no one spoke English. We were just about to give up when we saw the cutest Husky puppy. I went up to the owner and motioned to pet her and he nodded. We tried asking him if there was Internet anywhere and he, luckily, understood English, but said no. Then he said we could use the wifi in his office. It might have seemed a little sketchy to some people, but it was in the middle of the day, in a crowded area, with three people, and a man with a puppy. So we just went for it and it was completely safe. It was an advertising business and several people were working inside. They didn't mind if we skyped though, and one even struck up a conversation with me. After that, we dropped our computers off at the ship and went back out. We explored some of the markets, like the Ben Thanh market. They sold mostly electronics and American clothes. So I didn't find much to buy except headphones and an extension for my Mac cord. We decided to take a bus to a random part of town and found a local area with a long strip of shops. We walked along the strip, and I found a moped helmet that I bought. I just had to get one, since almost everyone there has one and has a moped. I really wanted to buy a moped though! We kept walking around and decided to get dinner. We finally found a restaurant but they spoke hardly any English. I asked for noodles and rice with no meat. The waiter acted like he understood, nodded his head, and even repeated "no meat." I made clear and even said, "No pork, no beef, no chicken, no fish, no shrimp." And he pretended to understand, but he didn't. When the food finally came out, mine had shrimp in it. I tried to explain to them what I wanted but they didn't understand one word I said. After nearly an hour of trying to get them to see that I didn't want the shrimp, they went in the back and quickly brought back noodles without the meat. I figured they just pulled out the meat, which I still don't eat food that has touched meat, but I just ate it anyway. I was tired of being there and wanted to leave. After dinner, the two girls I was with decided to go back to the ship, but I went to the night market. People had told me it was really safe there and it was crowded and well-lit so I decided to check it out. And I'm really glad I did because it was a great experience! I bought a lot of cool souvenirs! After about 30 minutes there, I walked to the place where the shuttle picked people up to take back to the ship.

I went to the Mekong Delta the next day. First, our guide took us to a local food market. It was good and bad. The good was all the fresh fruit and other foods all along the road. But the bad was all the meat, especially seafood. The fish were in these tiny buckets, alive, and the entire area wreaked of fish. Then we took a boat to the Mekong Delta. It kind of reminded me of those swampy, wet areas with tall plants that you saw in movies about the Vietnam War. And in fact, people in the war had to fight there. The river was brown and narrow, and one both sides were these tall plants. Then, we went to an island and saw how local people used the coconut. They use it to build houses, rugs, roofs, lamps, purses, and candy. And I bought six packs of coconut candy, I already almost finished off one. I'm trying to save the rest to bring home and share with my family. We got to see how they make the candy by shaving off coconut meat, liquifying it, and then it hardened and they hand packaged it. We also got to eat lunch there and it was very good! Then we took several boat rides, some smaller and hand paddled, and others larger and with engines. We even took a ride on a horse drawn cart, which I was very upset about. These poor horses were the size of ponies, and had to carry around six people in the heat and humidity. I wasn't very happy. But all in all, the day was interesting and we were able to see how people lived on the Mekong Delta. Although, we didn't really learn much about how they use the water in their everyday lives, which I thought was interesting.

The last day in Vietnam, I went to the Can Gio Biosphere (pronounced something like Cun Jia) with my marine biology class. We took a bus ride to a ferry, then took the ferry to the other side (wherever that was). Then we took another bus ride further to the Can Gio Reserve. Along the way, I saw a lot of aquaculture going on, especially shrimp farming. I thought that was interesting since it's one of the worst things for mangrove areas. It was interesting that there were so many since the Can Gio area was devastated by the Agent Orange gas. The shrimp farming only furthered the devastation. That and cutting down the mangroves for fire wood. But we went to the reserve and got a presentation about how they use aquaculture and about the Can Gio Biosphere in general. I saw a lot of mudskippers (which they eat), prop roots on the Rhizophora trees, pneumatophores on Avicenia, propagules (baby mangroves), macaques, an area that they farm blood cockles, crab farming (everyone else participated in fishing for crabs, but luckily caught none!), a bat island, these crazy, huge deer, a gibbon, a water snake (it was tan and had black lines going down it the long way), and some birds. We also helped rebuild the mangroves by planting baby propagules. We walked a long way through the thick mud and got covered in mud. We were the first Americans to help in the rebuilding of the area since Americans destroyed it in the Vietnam War with Agent Orange. The last thing we were able to do was probably the most exciting, maybe even my favorite on the entire voyage. We were able to feed crocodiles! We went into a caged area (it was a very large reserve that was just caged so they couldn't get out, but they said they planned to release them into Can Gio in the future) and got into a caged boat. The crocodiles came from everywhere and surrounded the boat, they knew that meant food time. Then, we were handed a fishing pole with a wire and a dead fish attached to it. The first person to do this put the pole over the edge and almost immediately the crocodile jumped up and snatched the fish from the pole and made the most terrifying sound when he closed his jaws. Then he played tug of war with the rope for a minute. I was terrified to feed them because I thought maybe they would pull me in! But the nice crocodile i fed just snatched the fish off, clean and easy. I was grateful for that. But at the end, a crocodile got the wire caught on his tooth and couldn't release. I felt really bad for it, and the tour guide just pulled really hard and eventually it snapped. But the whole experience was very cool. I've studies crocodiles in high school and only saw one in Kenya, so to be able to see that many was amazing! After the crocodiles, we went back on the bus, took the ferry, then got back on the bus again and returned to the ship. We will be traveling for two days to China, and will arrive in Hong Kong on Sunday. But the journey is expected to be rocky, because we will come very close to a typhoon - hopefully it won't get too bad.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


The journey from India to Singapore across the Indian Ocean was extremely smooth. The water just looked like a surface of glass. I was very happy to have a few days where I couldn't feel the waves. We also had our Sea Olympics, which Baltic Sea should've won but just barely lost. We did win the sportsmanship award though! We arrived in Singapore on Thursday, and just stayed for the day.

The first thing I noticed in Singapore was a couple huge, futuristic-looking skyscrapers. I wish I'd gotten a picture of them, but I didn't even think about it. As we walked off the ship, we entered long lines for customs. To get through customs either way can be a long, time-consuming process. But after we made it through, we went to a place called Arabic Quarter. Singapore is very famous for having a variety of ethnic groups like Muslims, Indians, Chinese, etc. We were originally going to go to the world-renound zoo and botanical garden, but we decided to just explore the city since we only had one day there. So we went to Arabic Quarter and we immediately got some food at a Hawker. A hawker somewhat resembles a food court but is just filled with food vendors that are side by side. They sell all kinds of food, but this Hawker was mostly Indian food, which I didn't mind. (Oh yeah mom and Shauna, I like Indian food now.) And so I had some delicious Indian food and we left. Then we walked around Arabic Quarter, which consisted mainly of fabric shops where you could buy fabric and have it tailored. So there wasn't a lot to buy there, but it was still neat to look around. Then we went to Little India, another part of Singapore that resembled India. It had a ton of shops like what we saw in India and I found the perfect Aladdin pants I had been searching for. I also bought a ton of Singapore souvenirs for family and friends.

Probably what Singapore is best known for are its laws. Chewing gum, failing to flush the toilet, littering and jaywalking can have huge fines. The punishment for drug trafficking is death. Caning is also a form of punishment. They are very strict in Singapore, but they have one of the lowest crime rates in the world. It's also known for being relatively clean compared to other places. Even having a smelly fruit called a durian is illegal in many places.

Singapore was really interesting and I felt like I might be seeing the future in a way, but I think it's a little too strict for me. There's also not a whole lot to do there other than walking around and going to the zoo. I am not sure if I'll end up going back there.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Kochi, India

My first impression of India wasn't too great. Well, strike that, my first impression of India, pulling into the port was amazing. Palm trees everywhere, beautiful buildings on the side of the water, it was gorgeous. But when I went to exchange my South Africa Rand for Indian Rupees, which I was told I could do at the front desk of the ship (they had several Indians there who were exchanging money), my impression of India went way down. The exchange rate for Rand to Rupees is 1:6.56 or so, and I expected it to be worse at this exchange but when we offered me 3,000 Rupees for 1,000 Rand I was shocked. An exchange of 1:3 was really, really low. So I said absolutely not and he actually tried to bargain with me. He asked if I would take 4,000 and I just walked away. I'm not stupid, I know that goes on a lot in India, but when you are dealing with money exchange, especially on the ship, that was really unacceptable. I didn't hear about that happening when exchanging dollars to rupees to my only guess is that he didn't think I knew the exchange rate and figured he could get away with it. I think the ship should do a little more investigating if their going to bring in a local money exchange for the students. Anyway, after that things didn't get much better. For some reason, whether it was students taking a long time to go through customs or immigration taking forever to process the ship, we were a couple hours late getting off the ship, making everyone late for their trips. There was just this huge mob of people waiting in Tymitz Square for such a long time and that was not fun at all. Once we finally left the ship, I raced to my bus and we left for our trip to the Kumbalanghi Village. On the trip we took the bus maybe 30 minutes to an area where we got on a little boat (I can't think of the name) and took a short ride over the brackish backwaters to the village. When we got there we were greeted with a coconut, which I've learned to like on this trip and become a pro at drinking/eating. They taught us the various ways they use the coconut and palm trees, which are very plentiful in India. We saw veeshu vala, fishing with conical nets, and padal, fish trapping in coconut tree leaves. They also showed us how they catch crabs (huge blue crabs that they catch from the ocean and grow until maturity in freshwater), catch fish, boil clams, make coir from the palm fibers, make coconut milk, use the leaves as shelter, climb and get the coconut, sharpen knives, break open coconuts, and much more that I just can't think of right now. But it's amazing how one plant can be used for so much! You can literally use every part of the palm tree for something, according to our guide. After all of this, they treated us to a great meal, which I was surprised about considering I don't like Indian food. Of course they had curry, which I hate, but also fish, shrimp, and several vegetarian dishes, which I enjoyed. Then six young girls performed a dance for us for when their friends are about to be married. When we were done, they let us all ride in a richshaw, just for a few minutes, to get to our bus. The rickshaw is a three-wheel motorcoach and seems a little sketchy, but it was still a lot of fun! Then we quickly viewed several sights of Kochi since we were running late. We just went to the first European church built in India I think at Fort Kochi, the first European colony. The church was where Vasco Da Gama was once buried, he first discovered India. Then we walked to the Chinese fishing nets near an area where there was a market and got bombarded with salespeople (I think it was a trap!). On the way, some of us saw a snake charmer on the other side of the street. I was the first to see it and looked over and all I saw was a cobra figure swaying back and forth in a small basket and asked, does that look real to you? After we decided it was real, one of the professors whipped out his camera, and as I was about to do the same, the man put the lid back on the basket and demanded money for pictures. Since I didn't have any money and didn't really want to condone using animals for such entertainment I just kept walking. But it would've been amazing to get that on camera! At the market I surprisingly didn't get hassled. I just didn't make eye contact with the salespeople, and the one who wouldn't leave me alone I just completely ignored and walked away. But several guys on the trip must have just looked like they were going to give in because they just wouldn't leave them alone, so I tried to help saying that this was our first day here and nobody had gone to an ATM yet so we didn't have money. Which wasn't true, but usually when you look at them and say I have no money they will back off. And it worked in these instances. After that we just went back on the bus and went back to the ship.

On Tuesday I went with my media studies class to visit the Times of India, which is India's most popular newspaper. They just recently opened the bureau in Kochi in February so everyone was new. But they had some very interesting things to say, and I was a little surprised considering we have a tendency to view newspapers as boring in the US. But in India, it's quite the opposite. Newspapers are still very popular and aren't going to become obsolete any time soon, according to the editor. He said that many people, even young kids, read the newspaper often. Even though they have an online web page that's free to read, people still buy newspapers. He said it might be because buying Internet is more expensive than paying 2 rupees (1 dollar = 50 rupees). He also said that English newspapers tend to be weren't popular in India at all until the Times of India began. Another interesting fact is that they are sponsoring scientists to go and get water samples from the river in Kerala and testing the water. Then they are going to report the results and show how poor and polluted the water is. I thought this was very strange because usually it's the governments job to fund such research but the newspaper company was taking it into their own hands to show people the extent of the problem. In addition to all of the newspaper's accomplishments, I was also very impressed with the hospitality. The entire time we were there we were being served with bottled water, more cookies than we could eat, and the most amazing coffee I've ever had. All while in the most air-conditioned room I've been in in India. I felt really spoiled.

The third day I had a trip to another village called Chendamangalam. Upon arriving, we were greeted by young girls who threw flower petals as we walked by. Then 10 or 20 members of the community were waiting for us, along with a musical performance using drums and a sort of trumpet instrument. We were, of course, given a coconut and watched as the women performed a traditional dance. Then we were shown a 93-year-old grandmother's recently built home, it looked nicer than many American homes. We were then served a meal on banana leaves, which consisted of fish for some (and I have the recipe for it for my mother!), potatoes, rice, breads, and bananas. After that, they gave us a tour of part of the village and we just walked around for a while. Everyone was very friendly and the locals stood outside of their homes as we passed to wave hello. We were able to meet many of the young boys and speak with them. Surprisingly, there weren't many young girls we saw outside. After walking around, we drank some lemon tea and then went to a factory where the villagers weaved. I was a little taken aback because it looked somewhat like a sweatshop. Women working inside a hot building all day and being paid very little. But I guess it's how they are able to make money. We were then taken to a shop and I bought a dotee/tablecloth. After that we just went back to the ship.

On the fourth day I decided to take it easy and went on a relaxing harbor cruise, which is pretty self-explanatory. A cruise around the harbor. We got to see life along the harbor and people fishing and things like that. Then we decided to take a few hours and go shopping. So we were originally going to take the ferry for 2 rupees that takes us to old town. But then we decided to take a rickshaw, or a tuktuk for 100 rupees total (50 rupees each) and then he took us all around to shops and an internet place. The thing about the rickshaws is that they get paid to take you to certain shops, so he took us to the ones he got paid to take us to. But I was looking for more market-type shops, instead he took us to very nice, expensive stores. After every time I walked out and told him, "No stores like that. Cheap stores. Like a market." And after every time he would nod and understand what I was saying, but take me to another store that was just like the first one. It was a little aggravating, but he was nice and the stores were nice so I just walked around and looked at them. Apparently, there's a place called Jewtown that has the huge market like what I was looking for. So on Saturday I'm going to go there. But after a few hours shopping and chatting with the store workers about life in India, we went to eat at a hotel called the Taj, it was just a 5 min walk from the ship, and they had the best food! It was an amazing dinner and everyone was very friendly. And then we went back to the ship and I went to bed.

Friday I had an SAS trip to the Alleppey Backwaters. It was pretty neat, but it was very similar to the harbor cruise I did the day before. The only difference, obviously, was that this was on the backwaters and the day before was through the harbor. But we took a bus ride for an hour or two to a hotel and ate a nice lunch. They had spaghetti, fruit, fried vegetables, potatoes, chicken, and fish. So it was the most American food I've had in India. It was still good, but I wish I could've tried some more authentic food. Then we went back on the bus and went to the place where we got onto a boat, the same kind as for the harbor cruise, and went around Kerala backwaters. We saw a lot more "life" on the side of the water compared to on the harbor. There were many more people in the water either washing clothes, kids playing, or fishing. So it was a great experience to see the true fisherman village's lifestyle. After cruising around for a couple hours, we went back to the bus and came back to the ship. By the time we got back, I was already exhausted so I just went to bed.

The last day I used as my free day to go out and do some real shopping and exploring. I used the rickshaw driver from two days prior and told him to meet me at a specific time. Then we went to the same Internet place and I was able to Skype and use the Internet. It was only 30 rupees an hour, the same as 60 cents! After that I told my driver he could take me around shopping to where he wanted me to go. He took me to Jewtown since I hadn't gone there. They had some decent shops, kind of cheap, but nothing really special. Then he took me to some of the shops where he would get money if I went and shopped there. So I decided to help him out a little and walk around those shops! I ended up buying a few things too, but not much. I got some goodies for souvenirs! After I spent a few hours just driving around and going in random shops, I went back to the ship, took a long needed shower, and we left for Singapore! We will only be there for a day, but at least I can explore a little bit!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Port Louis, Mauritius

After three long, rocky days at sea, we were looking forward to our stop in Mauritius on March 6. However, we were all disappointed when, over the loudspeaker, the assistant dean told us we weren’t going to be able to stop in Mauritius. He later explained that due to the weather, we were way behind and there would be no way to stop there and make it to India on time. After two days of complaining, spoiled, rich kids, I guess the staff decided that we needed to have at least a little time in Mauritius. They allowed us to stop in Port Louis on March 7 for just four or five hours, from the time the ship cleared immigration at 7 a.m. until noon. I was a little satisfied with this agreement, but there isn’t much you can do for just a few hours. And since we didn’t want to get dock time (punishment for getting on the ship after on ship time, which means you aren’t allowed to leave the ship at the next port for a certain period of time), we decided to get back a little before 11 to be safe. So we just went to a beach and hung out for a little while. A lot of the shops weren’t open that early so we just relaxed and walked around until they opened, and then we went to one shop to gather our souvenirs. However, not everyone spent their short time in Mauritius like my group. Apparently, many people just drank for five hours straight and then returned to the ship completely intoxicated at 12 p.m. Needless to say, there was a large amount of students (around 40) that got in trouble and went into the “drunk tank.” This is just a room where the really drunk people have to stay until they sober up. But they weren’t in the clear after that. We had a Mauritius reflection where a lot of the students and faculty got together and talked about their experiences. But that turned in to a lot of people yelling at the people who got drunk. They said that their behavior reflected badly on the community, that they set a horrible example for the dependent children on the ship, that they were wasting their experience and time in these countries, along with many other things. And I agree with everything they are saying, but I think the way in which some statements were said didn’t help the situation. It’s one of those things where you really had to be there, but it was a very interesting hour. I’ve been saying all along that getting wasted is a dumb way to spend this voyage but nobody said anything until after this specific port. The thing is, we’ve had this problem in every single port but just because this was such a short time in which these kids got drunk that they decided to bring up the issue. I have to say that I’m extremely disappointed in some of the types of students on this voyage. I thought a lot of people would be like me: trying to do well in school, trying to experience the countries, not trying to get drunk, etc. But a lot of the “rich kids” here are just spending their parents’ money and using this time as a vacation, a “booze cruise,” and a “party boat.” All of those rumors that people say about Semester at Sea are completely true, but there are a few who spend their time the way the program was intended. So for the future SASers, if you want to just get drunk and waste your money then you’re not alone. But if you really want an education and an experience, you might have some difficulties being surrounded by partiers and drunks. It’s a little disappointing and had I known that I’m not sure if I would’ve come on the voyage.

On the Way to Mauritius

Just a quick update on life at sea: we are traveling along the coast of South Africa, where the seas are notoriously rocky. The meeting of the Agulhas and Benguela currents cause this due to their different speeds and temperatures that meet and cause larger waves. It also dosen’t help that we are following a storm and so that makes it even more rocky. It’s a little difficult to sleep with the motion, although I haven’t really gotten seasick. Classes and work are also more difficult to get through when you’re being constantly jolted in different directions.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cape Town, South Africa

We arrived on Friday morning, and as soon as we were cleared I left for my FDP to Zandvlei Estuary, Cape Peninsula, and Cape Point. Zandvlei is the only functioning estuary in False Bay and it just looked like some ponds with some different types of grasses and other plants. There were several birds we saw, but as I'm not a birder, it wasn't very interesting to me. The estuary was interesting but really wasn't anything special. After that we ate at a restaurant and then went to Boulders Beach. That was where we saw African Penguins up close. They were walking around everywhere and we were able to get pretty close to some of them. They used to be called Jackass Penguins because they sound like donkeys. After spending some time taking pictures with the penguins, we went to Cape Point, which isn't the southernmost tip of South Africa is, but it overlooks False Bay and the supposed Flying Dutchman shipwreck. We hiked for about 15 minutes up to the top of a very steep cliff to the lighthouse. We also saw where the Flying Dutchman crashed. But after that we just went back to the ship and I relaxed for the rest of the night.

The next day I went with a couple friends to the Two Oceans Aquarium and it was amazing! There were a ton of underwater animals and even a touch tank. Then we went to lunch in the mall and went to the Botanical Gardens. We had to take a taxi there, but it wasn't too far away. It was very beautiful, but really only interesting to those who have a passion or hobby for plant species. There were a couple birds but no other animals there. The plants and flowers and view in general was great, but walking around a viewing plants got a little boring after a while.

On the third day, I originally had an FDP that I sold so I could go to Robben Island. We woke up early and went shopping around the market and I got some paintings and little things. Then we went to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. This island was where they took political leaders who opposed the apartheid. But, it was also used by the Dutch and British earlier for prisoners as well as people with Leprosy. They didn't understand the disease and they didn't have a cure for it so they put everyone on a island who had it and they were forbidden to have children. But during the 70s through the 90s, it was used for political leaders like Nelson Mandela and Sobukwe. We got to see Mandela's cell, as well as other people's cells and group cells. We also got a bus tour of the island and saw some of the sites. Then we went back to the ship and relaxed for a while, before coming back out to Skype.

On the fourth day in Cape Town, I went on a trip to the Amy Biehl Foundation. Amy Biehl was a Fulbright scholar who came to South Africa to study and help with the apartheid. She was stoned and then stabbed to death by four angry black men who thought she was a white person trying to take their freedom away. Her parents started the foundation to end the cycle of violence by educating children and better preparing them for future job opportunities, and also giving them after school programs. We visited the office, where apparently two of Amy’s killers worked. I did not meet them but other people in my group did. I think all four of her killers are now associated with the foundation in one way or another. Then we visited a school and met some of the children and the principal. We also went to a couple after school programs that were focused on teaching the kids music and dance. They performed several dances for us and I even got some on video! We ate at a restaurant that served only meat, so it was very frustrating and difficult for me to find anything to eat. But, overall the trip was one of my favorites and I would seriously consider going back and volunteering at the Amy Biehl Foundation.

The next day I decided to go out and get some stamps and some more money. So I walked to the Waterfront and didn’t have any problems. It was really nice walking around by myself for the morning without anyone else to worry about. Somehow, I felt safer in Cape Town than any other place we’ve visited. Safer than most places I’ve been to in the U.S. But later I found out that there were larger amounts of theft reported, including at least one person robbed at gunpoint in a taxi. Other incidences included people walking to the Waterfront, like I did, and just being held at knifepoint. I was extremely surprised to hear that and felt lucky, to say the least. I’m not sure if I didn’t look like I had anything of value, considering I never dress up for the countries, or if I was just not in the wrong place at the wrong time, or if I walked to fast for them. Because every time I was around a South African male (white or black) I would pick up my walking, but I really wasn’t ever alone in the sense that there were always a few people around. Whatever it was, I definitely will not be walking around there by myself again. Apparently, there were so many incidences that they are considering not returning next year. Anyway, after my dangerous morning, I had my trip to the Cape Community TV station, or C-TV. It was very interesting because its purpose was strictly social movement media, meaning they didn’t play mainsteam or entertainment media. Only issues that were pertinent to their community. They even had meetings where members of the community could get together and discuss what topics they wanted to be broadcast. It was also interesting because rather than being a journalism station that aims for neutrality (which is what every news station will tell you, but hardly ever are) they explicitly said that they were left-wing and if you wanted something to be on the air, it had to agree with their views otherwise they wouldn’t air it. I’m not sure if I liked this idea because the type of journalism I’m partial to is neutral and objective. But on the other hand, can you create a media that is intended to change social norms and ideas without having an agenda? Whichever, it was great to see a different point of view on how journalism should be.

The final day in Cape Town, I woke up to a rocky start. I had a trip planned for 7:30 in the morning and I tried to get to bed early so I would feel rested. My roommate, however, had a different idea when she came into the room with a boy, intoxicated of course, and they blew some horn over and over again. I finally told them to leave and that was the end of that, but it was not the best start to my last day there. My trip was to the West Coast National Part and Langebaan Lagoon. Although we didn’t see many animals since it wasn’t a game park, it was still really neat. We saw eland, ostriches, flamingoes off in the distance, and a variety of birds, along with the landscape of the lagoon and grassland. After that we came back and left for the rocky seas. We will be in Mauritius on Tuesday, just for the day.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tema, Ghana

After we arrived to Ghana and were cleared by customs (which took a while) we left for a day at Cape Coast, which is about 3 hours from Tema. The drive there wasn't very fun - it was extremely hot and with no a/c so the windows were down the whole time. And it was a very windy day so my hair kept whipping me in my face. But after we got there we ate at a vegetarian restaurant (I was surprised to find one in Ghana) where all of the proceeds went to an orphanage. I think it was called Baobab. Anyway, after hanging out for a bit, we went to the slave castle in Cape Coast. We walked around the museum and the premises until our tour began. It was very interesting to not only hear about these slave dungeons and the middle passage, but to see where the slaves were actually kept. Apparently, one Ghanaian that didn't work there, turned to a couple girls in our group and told them that all of this was all their fault. They spent the entire time in the dungeons crying their eyes out, a bit overkill. I think anyone who understands the history of the slave trade can also understand the tensions that are sometimes still present between Africans and Americans/British. I guess they didn't have any idea what they were about to witness, which is perfectly ok, but then they proceeded to talk about how everyone else were too busy taking pictures and not really concentrating on the dungeons. Did I mention these were extremely spoiled, rich, preppy girls? Anyway, after leaving the slave dungeons, we walked around Cape Coast and shopped at the local places.

The next day we went to the Kakum National Rainforest, which is north of Cape Coast. This park was basically a short hike up some very steep hills and stairs to the canopy areas, where we crossed these wobbly "bridges" over a 100-200 ft drop. It was a little freaky, but very interesting. Did not see any animals though. Then after waiting for my group to eat, which took at least an extra hour, we went back to Cape Coast. At that time I was starving, but the same three girls didn't want me to eat. They told me to get "fast food" so we could go. I don't remember telling them that while I was waiting for them to eat. So we left and returned back 4 hours to Tema and I had a veggie burger on the ship. Yum. After that, my roommate and some other people went to an Internet Cafe for a bit and then we went home. It's very interesting learning how to bargain with the taxi drivers. The first day when we went to Cape Coast, we were told a price of "4 mil.", which we took as 4 million cedis, for two cars. But after five very confusing minutes, they explained that that was 400 cedis. I managed to get it down to 360 for three cars, which was a decent price. We had some very interesting discussions with the taxi drivers about Ghanaian politics, government, and their culture.

Yesterday I went with SAS to a local radio station in Ada. It was very interesting to see it and learn about their local radio.The stations there are much more community based and focus on controversial issues that occur to try to fix them or better develop the areas. They also try to address "glocal" issues, or global issues relating on a local scale. I was very excited to see their radio station, and it seemed like the used older technologies but it was similar to what I've seen, the audio boards and they also use Marantz recorders. After we left the radio station, they took us to a local community where they mine salt, or also called salt weathering. There were mounds of salt for miles and miles, it was pretty spectacular. Everyone there seemed to enjoy what they did and it was a pleasant community. We asked a woman what her dream job would be and she said, "What do you mean? This is my job. I do this to support my children." Then we asked two kids what their dream jobs would be and they said teacher and accountant. I'm glad to see they have those dreams, but unfortunately, some kids there are taken out of school so they can work at the salt mine and make money for their family.

Today, I went to Accra with a couple girls and it was really fun! People were saying some pretty negative things about it because everywhere you go, Ghanaians come up to you and try to get money. But I expected that going in, so if you really understand what it will be like then maybe it's not such a shock. You just have to be very insistent about not wanting anything and they will usually go away. Some girls aren't very good at that because they don't want to be mean. The thing is, they talk to hundreds of people every day so as long as you aren't completely rude, that isn't out of the ordinary for them. We went to Global Mamas, a fair trade organization and I would highly recommend going there. I bought a wallet, bag for make up, some headbands, a hat for my mom (sorry not a surprise anymore mom!), and a shirt for my niece. I wanted to buy more but I didn't bring enough money and the store is more expensive than on the street because everything is hand made and didn't use child slaves. I think it might be all made by mothers, but they write on the tag who made the item. That store had some amazing things, I wish I could've bought more! Then I went to a nice store on the side of the street, I chose it because the guy didn't come out and hassle me. He also gave me a very fair price when I asked him about a drum so I shopped there for a while. A lot of people bought drums in Ghana, and they are aware of this, so they make the price really high and try to scam you. If you come to Ghana and want a drum, or anything for that matter, be aware of that and know what the item is worth so you don't overpay. Anyway, I bought a medium sized drum from him for my boyfriend, a mask, and a dress for my niece. I think it was a pretty successful day of shopping. I only have 3 cedis left so that's just enough for a taxi back to the ship. Tonight I'm just planning on relaxing and doing some homework (I have a paper and oral presentation due by Wednesday, on top of reading). Then tomorrow, I'm going to try to find some stamps to mail my postcards. We have to be back on the ship at 6 and I know there will be a huge crowd starting around 4, so I'm not trying to get back that late. Next stop will be Cape Town next Friday.

Leaving Brazil and on to Ghana

So a little recap on Brazil: My roomie and I went to the markets on Friday morning. We ended up walking around a lot trying to find them but when we finally did they were very nice. I really enjoyed looking at the things they were selling (a lot included scales or other parts from piranhas). But walking around, at least for me, was very sketchy. I’m from a smaller town so I’m not used to being around that kind of big city atmosphere. I didn’t like so many people walking so close to me and bumping into me. Needless to say, I had my bag held tight against my body. By the way, on a side note, I bought one of the Pac Safe bags and so far it’s working great! It’s slash proof and has zippers that lock so they can’t be pick pocketed. Seem like it’s working well! Anyway, walking through Manaus, being constantly stared at, being called gringas, and having salesmen follow you around wasn’t very fun. All in all, I really enjoyed the Amazon as a beautiful part of nature, but the city of Manaus isn’t one I’d want to return to.

From Brazil to Ghana, we had one of our longest stretches of days at sea, the longest being from Yokohama to Hilo. It was difficult for most, since we experienced the rockiest waves we have come across yet. My roommate and I spent the majority of two of the days sleeping. However, it paled in comparison to the SAS experience in 2005. Nonetheless, it was different and tough to get used to. Unfortunately, we are expecting to see even worse waves from Ghana to South Africa. Eventually the waves became smoother and the last couple days to Ghana were enjoyable.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Manaus, Brazil

We arrived in Manaus on Tuesday, but before that, we picked up several foreign dignitaries on Sunday morning. They arrived via another boat and came aboard the ship around 9 a.m. All of the student ambassadors greeted them at the gangway and we met three diplomats and two spouses. Their names are John Matel Michael Cavey, and Aimee Dowl, who I had the privilege of escorting around the ship along with two other ambassadors. They all work at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, except I believe John works at the U.S. Mission. Aimee’s spouse, Derek Kverno, also boarded the ship. I had some time to talk with him and he is a very interesting person. He works as a teacher, teaching at international schools around the world. Finally, Michael’s spouse, Shan Shi, also stayed with us. She recently passed the exam to work at the U.S. Embassy and will be working there soon. Both Shan and Michael were in the Peace Corps, which I thought was very interesting. All five who joined us were extremely intelligent and fascinating people who had interesting things to share with the students about being a diplomat. I’d never in my life considered that a possible career, but being paid to travel and live in these amazing foreign countries sounds like a great job.They joined us until we reached Manaus and then debarked.

On Tuesday, bright and earlya t 8 a.m., I left for my first excursion in Brazil. It was the Swimming with Dolphins faculty-directed practica. We left for a two hour boat ride to a local man’s property who had been preserved very well. We hiked through the rainforest for an hour or so, something we weren’t aware that we were going to be doing. I’m glad I didn’t know though, because had I known I might not have gone. But it was one of my favorite parts thus far. We didn’t see any animals but so much flora and that was amazing in itself. I’ve been taking notes about what we see and what the tour guides have been telling us. Unfortunately, later in the night while caiman catching, I dropped the paper in water so it’s drying right now. But if I can remember correctly, we saw Brazil wood, a type of orchid, obviously many plants that I don’t know the name of, and several insects. Oddly, I didn’t see any mosquitoes during the hike, but many insects on the ground. There were huge black ants and then these tiny red ants called Army Ants. You really have to watch out for those suckers. We weren’t supposed to stop when around them, but when people around you have stopped on this tiny path, it’s hard to avoid. A girl behind me started hyperventilating because she was afraid of being bitten by these ants. Anyway, after the hike, we went to get lunch at a local outside restaurant. I didn’t find any food particularly interesting, there was pasta and a lot of fruit. Oh and of course, fish, however I wasn’t able to sample those. So far I haven’t given in to eating meat at all and it hasn’t been too difficult. After lunch, we went to a lake that fed these dolphins so they lived in the area. These dolphins are called pink river dolphins or Pink Amazonian Dolphins. They are obviously pink and look differently than marine dolphins. I had no idea that these dolphins existed, so swimming with them was incredible. I have to admit, they look a little intimidating but it’s way too cool to be scared! Although I can’t speak for my fellow females, who spent the entire time in the water screaming. We weren’t supposed to scream because it could obviously scare the dolphins. But I guess that’s what some girls do. They swam under and around me, touching my legs and feet, in this completely black water. So I could see how it could be frightening for some since you can’t see what is swimming under you. After swimming, we went back to the ship and I prepared for a second trip that day. Around 7 in the evening, I went caiman spotting, or as they called it “alligator spotting.” I’m not sure if they call it that for uninformed people, but caiman and alligator are definitely not the same. I don’t think they even have alligators in Brazil. But they have plenty of caiman, which we saw. I was a little disappointed because we went out in several of these small boats, but our tour guide didn’t catch any himself. When another boat caught one, he took us over there to see and hold it. Holding a caiman was very cool, but I really wanted to see him actually catch one. But I did hold one, a speckled caiman, and they are either very tame or just so freaked out they won’t really move. Very beautiful animals. I felt bad for them because some students dropped them. I swear, I never thought I was really suited for nature, but compared to some people here I sure am. For some reason, I haven’t been scared or worried at all this trip, but I’ve seen a numerous amount of people freaking out.

On Wednesday, I had to wake up early again to go on an excursion called Amazon Explorer. I was a little disappointed with this one personally, but I know some people who really enjoyed it. We took a river boat out to the meeting of the waters, where the Rio Negro, a black river, met the Amazon or Rio Solimoes, which is a brown color. Look it up, it’s very cool! I really enjoyed this part because seeing the extreme contrast was something I’d never seen before. The rivers are different colors, temperatures, and have different flora and fauna in them, yet they are so close. Then we went to the exact same place I had gone caiman spotting the night before. We went on a short walk through another part of the rainforest that didn’t have natural trails but had boards and walkways built by man. We saw a cappuccino monkey in the trees, lizards, and caiman in a lake with many water lilies. I also saw many, many mosquitoes. Luckily, my roommate brought Permethrin to spray on our clothes so the insects didn’t touch me. But I couldn’t say that for other people there, especially those who wore tank tops and shorts. Then we ate at the restaurant there, which served the same thing I had the day before. Then we sat there for literally two hours waiting for a small boat to come. They had 100 people on this excursion which affected my experience. Having to sit there in the heat and humidity in long sleeves and pants for so long wasn’t fun. I think they definitely could’ve planned this better. Finally, a boat arrived for my group and we went piranha fishing. And when I saw we, I mean they fished and I watched. I had no idea when I signed up that we’d be fishing so I was very disappointed. They did throw them back in the water afterwards, but fishing isn’t an activity I really support. But only our tour guide caught one, no one else had any luck. Or maybe that was just my luck, since I’d hoped that no one would catch any. After the fishing we just returned to the river boat and came back to the ship, where I took a nice shower and relaxed all evening.

Thursday I had another trip planned to the zoo and it was a service project as well. I knew that we would be visiting an orphanage and taking children to the zoo with us. But what I wasn’t aware of was that this orphanage, Abrigo Moacyr Alves, is a special orphanage that only takes in kids with neurological diseases. It’s about 20 years old and they have 54 people living there. Some of the kids are only mildly affected but there are others who are very sick and are confined to a special infirmary room. It was a different experience for me since I was already nervous being around kids without such disorders so I was very nervous around these children. After we walked around the facility, which is paid for by the state, government, and donations, we left and went to the zoo. Upon arriving we helped serve them lunch and then took the children around the zoo. There were interesting animals such as boas, anacondas, big cats, a harpy eagle, capybara, many birds, and many monkeys. All animals there are found in the rainforest. After walking around the zoo we said our goodbyes and left. The rest of the day I went shopping at the markets with a girl I met from Boulder. We ended up going to the mall here, which was a huge disappointment because they only had Americanized stores. Anyway, after walking around for a while and trying to order food, which was probably the hardest thing I've ever done, we left and I went to a wifi area near the ship to skype and catch up with the blogging. Now I'm getting ready to go back to the ship and get some well deserved sleep. Tomorrow my roommate and I are going to the market early to buy some nice local souvenirs and then the ship is leaving Manaus by 5 p.m. Next stop: Ghana.

Roseau, Dominica

From Friday evening until Monday morning, we sailed to Dominica, all of us getting used to the rocking ship, some becoming very seasick. Luckily, I never vomited, I only became dizzy and disoriented often. We have different days for classes, called A days and B days. Somehow, my roommate and I only got our classes on A days, leaving us the whole day off on B days. That was very nice to catch up on homework, sleep in, etc. However, being a work-study student, I had to wake up bright and early to work my shift on Sunday. But Saturday, I had all of my classes: International mass media with Downing, Global studies with Nalbach, Marine biology with Lawrence, and Anthropology of the ocean with Helmreich. It wasn’t a really difficult day, but concentrating was hard due to the rocking back and forth. It takes a while to be used to and the worst of it is in the Union, where the Global Studies class is held. But around Sunday evening, I was already pretty used to the ship and at times didn’t even notice the rocking. Just in time to arrive to Dominica at 8 a.m. on Monday.
I couldn’t get myself to wake up early enough, so I slept in a bit, seeing as how my field trip wasn’t until 1:30 p.m. (1330). So when I woke up, I got ready and met my group to go snorkeling in Champagne Reef (a must for any snorkeling/scuba enthusiast). Although I had a lot of fun and saw so many beautiful coral and fish, I’d recommend not going in a large group and just going there on your own. Being in a huge group following one dive master and having beginner snorkelers kick you in the face is not fun. But I’d love to return and do a little snorkeling with a small group of people. We saw many different coral, including brain and fire coral, an octopus, and many different fish. Also, there were bubbles coming out of the bottom (hence the name Champagne reef). My professor and dive master explained what caused this, but of course I can’t remember now.

On Tuesday, I woke up and got ready for my 4x4 adventure through the forest! It was very cool. We took safari-like jeeps and went through the forest and up the mountains. We saw many different plants and waterfalls. Then we went to a little cave area with a lake that we swam in. That was where they shot a part in Pirate’s of the Caribbean Dead Man’s Chest. So that was pretty exciting but it was freezing. It was beautiful driving through the semi-deciduous forest. I’m exhausted now and I’m about to go get dinner, do some homework and go to bed.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Nassau, Bahamas

Well we just arrived at the Bahamas on Saturday. Haven't done much yet. We went downtown on Sunday to try to find batteries for my camera and bought one under the table out of another camera. Luckily I could convince the store associate at John Bull to give me this battery for a little extra money. That's the good thing about the Bahamas. The bad thing is that there is no Walmart. That would make life much easier. Then we went to the pool and hung out. Margot (my niece) had a blast but is terrified of the ocean. Then we came back to the room and got ready for dinner. We ended up eating at a restaurant by downtown that served mostly meat. Hard to find food and it wasn't very good. The service was awful too. So far the only friendly people were the natives who didn't deal with hotel or food service. Anyway, then we came back and went to bed. Figured out that I could use Skype while in the Bahamas, so that was nice.

On Monday we had our first dive. And for me it turns out it was my last. We left at 8 a.m. and took a boat out into the ocean. It had been a couple years since I last dove so the feeling of breathing under water was a little foreign. As soon as I jumped into the water, I immediately began hyperventilating. I have no idea why, possibly the cold waters. But as soon as I went under, I was fine. It was a beautiful dive, we saw various fish, coral, and a reef shark. But as soon as we surfaced, I immediately became sick and started vomiting. NOT FUN. Lucky for me, they had to go back and pick up some more divers from the dock and they let me off before they went on their second dive to see a sunken ship and plane used for a James Bond movie. It was upsetting that I couldn't see those. But I did find out that a boat near ours belonged to Johnny Depp who was enjoying a nice day on the ocean. So after we came back to the hotel and took a nice hot shower, we got ready to go to the zoo and see some marching flamingoes. That was pretty neat. Then I took a bus back to the hotel while everyone else went and got pizza. I was pretty tired so I just crashed.

On Tuesday we woke up, got some breakfast, and got ready to go to the Atlantis Resort. We went to the Aquaventure which is just a huge water park kind of like Oceans of Fun, but way nicer. We mainly went on the lazy river for a while, which had a bunch of rapids and drops. We also saw a couple aquariums at the Atlantis. Really wish we would've stayed there instead of the Sheraton!! So after that, we went out to eat at a nice Greek restaurant and then took a taxi back to the hotel. We just hung out there and I started packing since I needed to be on the ship Wednesday.

On Wednesday, I arrived at 3 (and was the last one) to get on the ship as a work-study student. It was nice to meet all of the work-study students, get unpacked, and walk around the ship before everyone else was there. We had a meeting and met the rest of the audio-visual work-study students and our supervisor. We mainly work with projectors, tvs, microphones, audio levels, cameras, things like that.

The next day, all of the other students came and I worked helping students get checked in and welcoming them. After I was done working, I finally met my roommate. We went to dinner and had several meetings in the evening. We were supposed to leave around 5 p.m. (1700) but apparently some students had trouble with their visas and we all decided to wait for them. We waited through the night and until Friday evening, when they all finally boarded the ship. We all left and went on our way to Roseau, Dominica.