Friday, November 20, 2009

hey so i am in a hostel in tokyo... i cannot determine what picture is which so here are some pictures from my latest adventures, eh?

playing chicken in the Saigon river.. i was afraid these guys were donezo.

Bert is watching intently as our guide is showing us graphic pictures of all of the victims of the Khmer Rouge.

Kelly and I excited in front of Angor Wat.

children at the killing fields that kept repeating please please i want to go to school, i want to go to school. they followed Anders and I from the far side all the way to the bus...

then the reflection of the Angor Wat temples at sunrise on the one of the four ponds a part of the front landscape.

hanging out in elephant palace

getting suits made in Viet Nam

Le PUB! 
then Tienanmen square

getting ready for a cold night Great Wall Style

forbidden city and temple of Heaven

where we slept


on top of the Shanghai World Financial Center 

Hong Kong


Thursday, November 19, 2009

China: Shanghai

 Arriving back at the ship was one of those moments that you are so happy to see home. Espcially because it’s backdrop was the skyline of Shanghai. We wasted no time and headed out into the gloomy city. Our goal: to go to the top of the tower that looked like a beer opener. What we realized when we arrived there was that it was actually the second tallest building in the world. The tallest building in Asia and also the tallest observatory in the world. Nice. It had just been finished in 2008. Our experience felt futuristic as we were guided by clone-like guides to various fast-paced slideshows and an elevator that took us to the 100th floor in less than a minute. From the top we could see our ship amidst the city buildings. We were up there for sunset and saw all of the buildings come alive with lights.
Everytime we were in a taxi the driver would ask, “Obama?” yes. Obama! And they would somehow communicate that they were excited that he was in Shanghai! During one ride we heard part of his speech on sustainability in China. It was unreal to hear our president’s voice when he was in the same city as us a half world away.
When we were in the markets Obama was also talked about, but in a different way. Those who sold knock-offs and stolen goods were extra cautious. While hunting for a purse, I was taken through a series of five secret doors. When I asked her why she said that security had increased because Obama was in town.

China: The Great Wall

THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA!! We arrived late at night and had dinner at the base before we began our trek up the dark mountain to the Wall. It was freezing, literally less than zero degrees. Our local guide powered up the hill with nothing but a little flashlight. Our large group spanned for hundreds of feet behind him. I followed as close as I could. After a fifteen minute hike we reached the wall. I could still see little flashlights way below winding up the mountain. Our guide said we needed to go seven towers over. So we started slipping and sliding in the dark towards the seventh tower. This entailed walking on narrow paths with no wall or rail. We all slipped or fell a few times going up and down the stairs and ramps in disrepair. Our local guide gave us each a matt and a sleeping bag. We split into groups and went to different towers. Our guide passed us as we set up our bags. We asked him where he was sleeping, he laughed and said he was going home.
We wondered exactly how dangerous it was to be sleeping outside in the snow on part of the wall that is not maintained or patrolled. We feared it would become Lord of the Flies because no one was looking out for us. We convulsed and shook all night long as we tried to huddle as close together as we could. Not even Jim Beam could keep us warm. I did not sleep most the night, no one did. I closed my eyes and thought warm thoughts but mostly hoped that death would come soon.
It was all worth it to see the sun rise over one of the seven wonders of the world.
In the morning I did not see any locals. A rumor was passed down the wall saying to head east. So we did. For four hours we walked, slipped, climbed, stumbled, got turned around, and guessed how far we had gone. It was the best way to experience the Great Wall. It was so much fun. It was so much work. It was all so unforgettable. We reached the zipline and huddled together as we waited in line to descend. Taylor and I screamed “I CLIMBED THE GREAT WALL!” as we streamed down the mountain with a crystal clear lake below us.

China: Beijing

Beijing Top 5:
1)      the weather in Beijing reminded me of Wisconsin. The city reminded me of Milwaukee. Minus the number of apartment buildings. In India the density of the population was seen through homelessness. In China the density could be seen through the numerous of gigantic apartment buildings. Each one was probably home to over a thousand people and there were rows of them.
2)      We had a packed day touring Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the temple of heaven. Danny and Nick made it a point to get in as many Asian tourist pictures as possible. A lot of us were asked if we could be in a photo with them. Our guide explained that they thought we were movie stars. Then she pointed at me and said and a lot of them haven’t seen real blonde hair. The contrast of modern and ancient history was notable. It was within my lifetime that the student protests occurred at Tiananmen Square. Chinese history came alive as we wandered through the Forbidden City. I was reminded of the Disney movie Mulan. At the temple of Heaven old and new collided. The temple has a point that the rulers claimed was the exact center of the universe. Outside the temple walls was a park that was being used by locals for tai chi and kite flying. China has young population with a lot of free thought. This makes China a communist country with a capitalist economy.
3)      I have always wanted to be involved with the Olympics at some point in my life so seeing the Birds Nest and other venues of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics was incredible. I remember watching each of the Phelps races with Megan Sharkey in New Jersey. Now I was standing beside the arena that I had seen live  through modern technology not too long ago.
4)      We went to an acrobat show before leaving town. I saw humans bend in ways that I didn’t think was possible. The acrobats performed amazing and dangerous feats in elaborate costumes. It isn’t every day that you see twelve girls riding one bicycle at the same time or a short man do back flips on a pogo stick, eh?
5)      We were set to take an overnight train from Beijing to Shanghai. Inside the train station we learned a cultural lesson. Chinese do not wait nicely in line. I have not been pushed around as much as when we were all funneling through to get to the train platform. Car number 15 was arranged with a long hallway down one side and open cabins on the other side. Each ‘cabin’ had six beds, three bunked on top of each other on each side. The top one was so close to the ceiling that you would have to squeeze in. There were eight of these cabins. We got on the train at ten pm. A voice came on and spoke Chinese for about ten minutes, we joked that he was telling a bed time story, but then seriously wondered how we were going to know when we arrived. We all passed out for twelve hours before we safely reached Shanghai in the morning.

China: Hong Kong

Hong Kong Top 5 memories:
1)      Our ship docked inside of a mall. I could walk from my room, up to the gangway, across the bridge, and I would be inside of one of Hong Kong’s many shopping centers. There were stores that I have only heard of never seen. From Jimmy Choo, Burberry Juniors, Burt’s Bees, Miu Miu, they had everything. I headed for a ski apparel store to buy some warm clothes for our trip to the Great Wall. Out on Canton Street I got a surge of energy, it was as close as I have been to a city street like I have seen in the movies of New York City. Large advertisements and video screens crawled up the skyscrapers and we danced up and down the street running in and out of the various shops.
2)      Hong Kong is a series of islands. We took a ferry from our island to Central Hong Kong. Here Molly, Taylor, and I explored Hong Kong park. There was a court dedicated to Tai Chi, an aviary, an Olympic training mini-stadium, a wedding chapel, lakes, and paths that led through beautiful gardens under waterfalls and up and down the hill it was built into. It was great to see that admist such a busy city of steel there was a green sanctuary. Also, I loved that we could ferry so easily from place to place.
3)      On the list of things I was most excited to experience on my Semester at Sea journey, the Hong Kong night skyline was near the top. We were only there for one night and I wanted to have the best view available. When the opportunity to go to dinner with Mrs. Lawrence (George’s mom) and Mrs. Lawrence (Hong Kong local for the past few years and family friend to Nick and George) I did not want to pass it up. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to see the skyline, but also wanted the chance to see Hong Kong through a local’s eye. Alas, I was not disappointed. I was blown away when we got to go to the top of a skyscraper to the American Club. It was incredible to see the light show from a balcony above the skyline. Indescribable really. I think it had such an impact on me because Dad has tried to describe it so many times and I finally realized how awesome it is. It was the power and beauty of man’s achievement: tall, reaching the sky, each building with unique architecture and lighting, each a Mecca of strategy, ideas, goals, and accomplishment not only in its grand exterior but also in the symbolism of the interior.
4)      After a delicious Thai dinner, Mrs. Lawrence took us to an escalator than was more than a mile long and took pedestrians down the hilly island in the morning and went up the hill in the evening. She dropped us in Lan Kuai Fan the bar district. It was like Mardi Gras in the streets. Fashionable locals dominated the clubs and we floated up and down the winding street getting a taste for all the district had to offer. The next morning I received an email from Cuz (Emily from Miami) in response to my email: ‘I am in Hong Kong! What should I do?’ her answer was a perfect description of my night’s adventures and I felt like I had a completely successful night in amazing Hong Kong.
5)      By subway, we went to a different island that had two things we wanted. The Buddha on top of the mountain and the airport. We took a tram through the clouds to the top and we could not see the immense Buddha above the mountain village because it shrouded in clouds. The ride in the tram was fun though, there was a glass bottom and we could see a lot in our half hour ride up and down the mountain. However, this ride caused a panic later on as we raced to the airport. We ran through the airport and it reminded me of my close call in South Africa. Except this time we were cutting it even closer and no one spoke English. We ran with our big backpacks on from level to level looking for Hong Kong Express Airways. We checked in with twenty minutes to spare. Then had to get through security (where they take your temperature with infrared), take a subway to a different building then with not a minute to spare we got on a bus that took us the outdoor terminal.

Vietnam: Hookers and Motobikes

Vietnam by day is crazier than Vietnam by night. In preport, they warned us over and over about the dangerous traffic. We even saw multiple demonstrations on how to cross a street. We were instructed to take a deep breath and go, at a steady pace, never stopping, from one side to another. If we stopped, went back, sped up, or ran death was probable. My eyes were wide as I witnessed the truth of the traffic. There were no rules. There weren’t many cars but there were several types of two-wheeled vehicles. We grabbed locals to act as our personal Moses parting the sea of danger.
I used the motobikes to go around the city. I had the same driver all day, Baak. He promised he wouldn’t let me get hurt. He always fastened my helmet for me. I was trying to go to a tailor to get a few suits made. I told my driver he had passed it and without hesitation he turned and made his way against traffic. Incredibly frightening. On our way to the market we ran a few red lights and I dug my nails into the seat as if it would somehow produce an airbag.
We went to the War Museum, formerly known as the Museum of American Atrocities. The name hindered tourists from visiting. But there was still proof that the victors write history when I gaped at mortifying pictures and read slanderous memento descriptions.
        We passed a park that functioned as a public gym. Locals stretched and worked out on jungle-gym like equipment that decorated the park along with shrubbery.
        I got my nails done. I think they were done by a prostitute. Baak took me somewhere where the ladies all wore skirts that didn’t cover their entire behind. Their only role was ‘massaging.’ There were men doing the haircuts. She brought out a box full of old nail polish. She kept calling me beautiful and comparing our skin. I watched men get escorted to an elevator then be joined by at least two more girls before the doors closed. There were beautiful girls in platform heels who had the job of stroking the men’s arm and talking to them while they were getting their haircut. It wasn’t long before they headed to the elevator never to be seen again with only half a hair-cut. I realized I was the only woman-customer there. I tried to make conversation. Telling her what I did the night before. She said, ‘ya ya! You me. Dance later. At the club. What time?’ I think I unknowingly ordered myself a prostitute; I stayed in that night just to play it safe.


Cambodia to Vietnam: Full Throttle 24 hours

I eat when I’m hungry, I drink when I’m thirsty, I celebrate each day,
and I’ll sleep when I die.

0430: our day begins with an unwelcomed alarm and a visit to Angkor Wat for an unforgettable sunrise. The bright orange and reds highlighted the sandstone temple as the sun crept up the sky elongating the reflection of the scenery in the pond in front of us.
0630: We came back to our beautiful hotel and had a huge breakfast. We waited for the other half that groggily joined us at breakfast after opting to sleep instead of see sunrise.
0800: Our first tour of the morning was at Ta Prohm- this is where tomb raider was filmed!! The trees had roots like vines and grew all over the carved stone. I think it’s crazy that we were allowed to climb all over these ancient ruins. There are no railings anywhere and no one around to say ‘hey put that 800year old pot down!’ so we ran around swinging from vines and pretending we were in Indiana Jones, stopping our explorations only to hear the guide point out important areas and tell us interesting facts.
1130: back at the hotel we had a bountiful lunch with all of the unusual khmer food one could wish for.
1230: we are packed and checked out of the hotel. It already feels like we have had a full day. With hours of temple viewing under our belt it was hard to rally the troops for our afternoon tours.
1300: A lot of people sat near the busses and waited. I am glad that we walked through the last temple- it was incredible. The stairs were built so steeply so that whoever scaled it would have to always have their face towards the temple and their body bowed. We scaled these stairs up and down all over, it felt like rock climbing!
1400: After our guide left and we had an hour before our bus left, Casey and I walked around looking at all of the carvings making up stories to go along with the stone-captured action.                                                 

1530: We are at the airport. We have been to an airport each day of our trip. Each one feels like it was constructed just for us- vacant and pristine. Once again Eddie, our trip leader, asks for an extra dollar from everyone in our group. This is a bribe, on top of the cost for our exit visas, for the Cambodian officials to let us out of the country.
1630: Our flight is delayed. I look at magazines: Cosmo magazine sold for nearly $16- outrageous!
1815: we are landing in Vietnam- it’s dark and Ho Chi Minh is so bright! We are all anxious to get back and go out into this new country.
1845: Everyone is having trouble with the Vietnamese officials in customs.
1945: The bus is plowing through the flooded streets. Each night the Mekong Delta overflows causing the streets to drown in the knee-deep water. I notice that most places have names like ‘lucky clothing’ ‘happy food’. The Vietnamese are superstitious and put luck and happiness in front of every named place.
2045: Back on the ship everyone is already gone. The graffiti board has a list of highly-recommended places to go at night. Casey and I race showering, eating, and getting ready.
2115: Casey and I are ready to go. We make a pact that we are going to go twenty four hours. 0430 to 0430.
2130: We set out to Le Pub to meet up with a group of friends. The ten minute taxi ride costs two dollars for six of us. Brad and Tommy say that we are only taking a taxi because us ladies are in dresses- it’s more fun to take the motobikes.
2140: Le Pub is in an alley. Really, the way we got there was saying we wanted to go to Alley 175. How we find places like this, I do not know.
2215: Everyone is wearing bandanas that say Vietnamese phrases on. Jugs of mixed drinks are five dollars. There are SASers behind the bar, apparently this has been the hang out while we were away, the bartenders and students are good friends. It is fun to exchange stories and adventures.
2330: It’s been determined that the place to go is Apocalypse Now. Le Pub empties onto the streets. There are busses, motobikes, and taxis. Of course, I opt for the motobike. Stephen chivalrously allows me the bike with helmet.
2340: A convoy of motobikes stream down the buzzing streets. The drivers confusedly take us several places before we arrive at the club with red carpet.
2400: The club is alive. There are guards at the mouth of the club and locals hailing cabs. The neck of the club is a narrow hallway leading in from the street; it is lined with well-dressed hookers. The body of the club is a moving abyss of people gravitating to the tall chairless tables scattered around. There are teachers here, there are more locals, there are only a few students. The arms of the club are the long bars that span the length of the club; the bartenders moving as quickly as possible to serve the never ending orders. The legs of the club extend from the body, they are floored open courtyards; the students are gathered here to chat. The majority of the students are instead chatting at the foot of the club- the dancefloor. Using our feet and hips to communicate.
0200: The lights are turning on. Everything that was covered under a shield night, strobe lights, and smoke is exposed.
0230: Hundreds of people are on the street. I wait with Molly for the crowd to clear. She and a group of friends have rented a hotel room for $15 a night and wants me to join.
0250: Her group piles into a taxi. Three of us are left. Two motobikes. Danny and I manage to grip ourselves to the back of one. The driver doesn’t know of the hotel. We ask him to find a pizza place. We spend quite a while zooming around the vacant streets that are still lit with the neon lights of the vibrant city. It was incredible to see the city this way.
0330: Back on the ship we go to the seventh deck to look at the city and the stars.
0400: The sky is turning lighter, black to blue. There is a little produce market being set up below us near the ship’s gangway.
0430: We made it.  Cambodia to Vietnam. Ancient jungle temples to the electric jungle city.

Cambodia: Shop 'till you drop

After lunch we went through the markets. If the vendors put a roof over their stands and became a supermarket it would be called: Same Same But Different... Everything 2dolla!
In Cambodia, the currency is Riel. But US dollars are used more commonly. The Riel has such a small value that they are used as the change to our dollars. Example: 500 riel= 23 cents. This is partly due to the fact that not too long ago, after the aforementioned national tragedies, several hundred American diplomats and humanitarians came to Cambodia to help reconstruct their country. They spent for themselves, for the country, and for the people. They were not using credit cards or debit cards, they were using cash. Everything was cheap so small bills (mostly one and five dollar bills) were used. It wasn’t too long ago that this country was in complete isolation, so they didn’t have much of their own currency- most people still bartered and traded. Also, in a country with such a small per capita population a few hundred foreigners made a huge impact. Eventually there were just as many dollars as there was riel. Now, when you see price tags they are in USD. When you pay for something that is $1.50 with $2, the change is 1700 riel- usually given in four small, bright colored bills.
  Obviously, I shopped my little heart out. Not because I really wanted anything but because of how cheap things are. This is what would happen:
American Girl will be played by me. I look like a tourist to the tee (try as I might, I can’t help it). I am wearing dark jeans, a low cut-earth toned shirt, my trekking shoes, my hair is in braided pigtails and I wear no jewelry (safety measures of course) instead I am adorned with cameras and travel bags.
Cambodian Vendors will be played by three types: each with a specific sales tactic.
Vendor child: the younger the child the less clothes they wore. The younger children travel in groups it sounds like a choir is following you, singing soft and sad songs. The children mumble repetitive phrases about being able to buy food or go to school always drawing out the coda word, ‘pleeeassseeee’. Then beginning again. They follow closely at our sides but seem distant. They bob their heads all about searching for something but stare at nothing as they sing their begging songs. This girl wants me to buy fifteen bracelets for a dollar. They aren’t pretty, I don’t want them. She knows that I stopped to consider it so she zeroes in on me. Following me for well over half a mile. I have 1500 riel- less than fifty cents- I tell her I will give her this (unconvertible) currency for one bracelet. She is zombie like as she tucks away the money and gives me all fifteen bracelets. Justin tries to shoo away a child vendor by saying the only thing he wants is bug spray. You can’t make bug spray from weaving or witling so he thinks he is successful when the child leaves. However when we return in the afternoon the child is waiting for him- with bug spray…
Vendor pre-teen: I say pre-teen because life in a third world country ages the soul. Not the body, malnourishment causes the body to be stunted in growth and development. Yet, teenagers often provide for a large family or have similar burdens that we wouldn’t expect until mid-life. Anyway, these vendors are sharp. Trying to respect their culture by wearing long pants and conservative top I am wearing from walking and climbing under the high sun in the tropical jungle climate. I do not want to be followed by a parade of vendors. The pre-teens know this so they single us out. When we turn them down they make bets:
Vendor: ‘If I tell you the president of (Insert any country here)/ the capital of (insert any state/ providence/ country here) you will buy these postcards.’ It’s a command not a request.
American: ‘okay buddy, tell me the capital of Wisconsin.’
V: ‘Madison. Postcards.’
A: ‘California’
V: ‘Sacramento, where you from lady? Postcards.’
A: ‘Not fair. Who is the president of Canada? The king of Morocco? The capital of Ghana?’
The vendor knows every answer. Even to questions I don’t know the answer of, they answer confidently enough that I believe them. I try to stump them over and over. I end up with at least four packs of postcards by the end of the day.
Vendor adult: desperate. I touch a pair of pants and they are by my side offering them to me for five dollars. I say I am not interested. The price is cut to three dollars. I apologize, I was just looking. I walk away and they call out two dollars, final offer. I don’t want the pants! I just touched them! He is at my side when I stop at the next stand. One dollar for a pair of pants. Fine! I will take the pants! I empty my bags; I have things I forgot I had even bought. I have things that I do not know what to call. I have clothing items that I cannot figure out how to wear. However, I do not have buyer’s regret. Like my mama taught me, if you save more than you spend it’s always considered a success

Cambodia: I had no idea

Our arrival to Cambodia was eventful to say the least. We took a small airplane. It was one of the shortest plane rides I have ever been on, just under 30min. But it was by far the scariest. Everything was going smoothly as we filled out our Cambodian visas and customs forms. That was until we took a sudden drop from the air! For a mere second or two I felt suspended in gravity. I couldn’t even make a noise but there were several people screaming in the rows behind me. I looked across the aisle to Kelly (from Miami University) and we laughed uncomfortably. A minute later there was a loud shaking sound and I could feel the nose of the plane dipping and the suspended feeling came back. I shrieked and sunk my nails into the poor victim beside me. The pilot came on the intercom and said “ladies and gentlemen we have begun our decent.” Thank God.
        We visited an orphanage in Phnom Penh. It had been started by a Semester At Sea alumnus, Terry. We were all led by hand around the compound by the kids. We watched a traditional dance about fighting monkeys- later I saw professionals do it too. They led us to the roof where we could see city buildings with clay roofs all around us. It started pouring and we sought shelter inside where they showed us things they had made from recycled rice bags. I talked with Ben, a volunteer and SAS alum, for a while. He talked about his adventures from 2004. He has since graduated and spent a year in the work world. He decided a desk job wasn’t for him, so he contacted Terry and has decided to volunteer for five months in Cambodia teaching English to the orphanage children and figuring out his next move.

        Our itinerary said we were heading to the natural museum and our guide began telling us about the history of the Khmer Rouge. Then we were at a police blockade. Then our guide left the bus. Then we all worried because he was out of sight for too long. Then our driver left the bus. Then our trip leaders began asking for a cell phone to call for help. We tried to look through the rain covered windows but all I could see was a group of men stirring a large vat of stew under a tarp awning. Finally, our guide returned. He explained that the police wanted money to let all of us Americans through. I don’t understand exactly what happened but I know that our guide was really upset for the rest of the night. He said that this is a dilemma. The government wants the economy to improve, tourism is a great way to do that, but the police are corrupt and he fears this will make tourists not want to come back. I thought it was exciting.

        Our hotel was directly across from the American Embassy. Our friend Griffin had a balcony off of his room. We all gathered there and watched the activity in the streets below. That night was the last night of the Light Festival and we had a great view of the celebration flooding the streets below.

At a traditional Khmer dinner, which was enough to be my appetizer, we asked our guide about a club we had heard of called, ‘The Heart of Darkness.’ Our guide didn’t understand what we were asking and told us to never walk alone at night- especially in the heart of darkness. Nevertheless we took tuk-tuks (the Cambodian version of a rickshaw) to the club. It ended up being a gay club full of hookers. But we danced to the old top 40 American hits nonetheless.

        The next morning after we visited the haunting killing fields. Our bus was engaged in a heated debate over whether to go to the natural museum or genocide museum. Justin a hilarious friend from Stanford made a convincing argument for the genocide museum. He argued that the history of the Khmer rouge, the genocides that wiped out over 2 million people from a population smaller than California’s, and America’s decision not to get involved were all too recent for our generation to avoid. Although statues and art would have been interesting, we can get our art fix in the markets. We saw photos of victims and the torture methods they endured. I am glad he made this argument because the reeducation school we visited was eye opening.

        We took another short plane ride up to Siem Rep. We went directly to the temples of Angkor Wat to watch the sunset in the reflecting pools. The first time I saw a picture of them was when Grandma and Grandpa received their National Geographic Magazine in the mail and it was on the cover. That is also the moment I decided to go on the Cambodia trip. Seeing it in person was humbling, Angkor Wat was immense and so carefully constructed. It is amazing that only one fifth of it is uncovered. The rest is still out there in the jungle, it reminds me of the jungle book.
        As I have said, according to what I have read and what was confirmed by our tour guide, Cambodia’s main industry is tourism. Nothing makes this more obvious than the amount of hotels that line the street. On short ride to ancient temples, at least seven five-star hotels will unfold from the landscape rotating beside us.  This makes sense. If they want the industry to grow they need the infrastructure to support it. We stayed in the Borei Wat Hotel and Spa. It was gorgeous. Hard wood floors, beds comfortable enough for the princess and the pea and, white drapes twirling around the doorway to the balcony that looks over a crystal blue pool framed in thick tropical landscape.
        Kelly and I took advantage of the Spa. I had no idea Cambodia and Vietnam were known for their massage services. For an inexpensive price I was treated to a ‘Healing Massage’ for a full hour. I have never gotten a massage before. We were separated into two rooms. My masseuse did not speak English. She held out her hand and said ‘naked.’ Okay. She started rubbing me down with oil and I realized how tense my body was. I was falling into an imagined realm of peace listening to crickets and the lapping pool. Okay. Then I heard smacking coming from the other room. I started laughing. Okay? Then my lady gets on top of me and starts smacking my legs and butt. Okayyyy… this process continues for a while, when I hear smacking coming from the room next to me I brace myself for the ‘healing.’ Then she flips me over so I am fully exposed and I am reaching for a towel and she puts her weight on my neck forcing my chin into my sternum she keeps pushing and my head falls between my legs and I keep going like a summersault and we both collapse onto the mat. Oh.kay! I was extremely sore the next day. Not Okay. What’s the hype about massages anyway?         

Vietnam: Playing Chicken in the Saigon River

One day, Taylor and I decided to do homework in a hallway on deck 7 since the front was closed due to high winds. Dean Nick came by and made a joke about his fan club always hanging out outside his door. He ended up showing us his massive suite and the view from his balcony. During our conversation he told us his memory of pulling into Ho Chi Minh City port from the last time he was on Semester At Sea. I have found that each professor, staff, crew, or faculty member who has sailed before has a different favorite port. And before each port I think, ‘Nope. No way. I am sleeping in because ____ said the last port was the prettiest.’ But sure enough like the ship will surely dock, I will surely find myself convinced that the next port will be breathtaking.

Docking in Cape Town is still a blazing image branded on my mind: the sun rising over Table Top Mountain with a sprawling metropolitan city along its base. Docking in Spain is like the memory of a first love- after my first eight days on the ship with nothing by sea around me, the sight of shore from the top deck was miraculous. Each port has that first impression image of beauty. But docking in Ho Chi Minh City was my favorite so far because docking here was an Experience.
To get to the city we had to wind our big home down the Saigon River for three hours. To give an idea of how wide it was: not only could we see both sides, but if I were to shout out to someone standing on the river banks they would definitely hear me and I could probably have heard them if the Captain wasn’t blowing the startlingly loud horn at the time. Seeing a country by bus window is one thing, seeing it from a ship is another. We could see little huts along the river. We could see lines of fishing boats tied up waiting for low tide. We called out to fishermen as they floated by. We placed bets on games of chicken with other boats. It was awesome.

That was all I saw of Vietnam for a while because once we were docked I was off to Cambodia.