My Itinerary

My Itinerary
Where I will be between August 26 and December 13

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Five Stages of Grief

According to Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, as we are dying or when we have suffered an enormous catastrophic loss or trauma, we experience five distinct stages of grief. These are the Five Stages of Grief:

Many mornings I wake up and think that I will be back on the MV Explorer and sailing to another foreign land by the end of the day. I keep thinking that this just another port, albeit much longer than all of the others and with much more downtime. I imagine myself running back to the port, worried about making it before on-ship time so I don't have to deal with the dreaded Dock Time. I have tricked myself more than once that I'll be in a new country next week for a few days before retreating back to my floating home. I have trouble believing that just as quickly as the 111 days began, they ended. There seems to always be something outside that reminds me of a place I saw, a person I met, or an experience I had, keeping me in this perpetual state of thinking I am still a student on Semester at Sea.

I really don't like a lot of what I see in America on a daily basis. I detest our obsession with popular culture; I don't care about Beyonce's baby. I despise our paranoia. TSA Employee, do you really think that the 3-year old who can barely create a coherent sentence is going to blow the airport to smithereens? Frankly, our American culture seriously lacks in the same kind of depth as many of the places I visited. Sometimes I wish I spent less time sleeping or in my room or doing nothing on the ship, or that I chose to do something differently in one country or another. I'm absolutely broke and it sucks. Some of the questions people have asked me about my experience at sea have been absolutely idiotic. I can't drink alcohol (legally), I can't go to bars, I can only go to clubs on certain nights, the city I go to school in seriously lacks in cultural and economic opportunity, my list of grievances could go on, and I know that if I were still on the ship, these problems and annoyances would only exist in the very back of my mind.

What I would give to be back, to have another buffet plate of countries to visit and experience. There isn't much holding me back from selling all my stuff and going on another adventure aboard the MV Explorer, or entirely independently. I'd gladly trade one of my final three semesters of college for another one at sea. More than anything, though, is that I wish the dreams I have been having while both awake and asleep could become actual realities, that they could be moments I recall fondly rather than mere imaginings in my head each night; I would give up my misty-eyed daydreams for 111 more days.

I'm bored a lot of the time. I tend to get sad when I'm bored, thus leaving me to nostalgically ponder the life I used to live. I miss the sublime sunsets over the ocean. I miss the excitement of pulling into some new port every week. I miss the lifestyle of Semester at Sea (because it really was a lifestyle). I miss that feeling of lostness I would get every morning when I would look out my window and wonder where I was in the context of the greater world. I miss the distinctness of each ocean and sea we would sail through, something I truly did not expect when I signed up for the program. I miss the booming chorus of beating ocean waves every night as the ship would rock me to sleep. I miss the world. More than anything else, though, are my friends. I miss the friends I made on the ship and in the country. I've said this before, but I feel it needs to be said again: my friends I made while on Semester at Sea, quite literally, mean the world to me. It's proving to be difficult moving on with my life without them at my side.

When I first applied for Semester at Sea in January of last year, I knew that at some point it would have to end. That's the nature of life. Everything comes to an eventual end. Between Honduras and Florida, nobody really knew what to do, and everyone dealt with the upcoming shock in their own way. Since then, everyone has dealt with returning to America in different ways. One thing most of us have held in common, though, is wondering whether or not SAS was a dream. Did it actually happen? Did we actually sail 29,052.5 nautical miles around the world in 111 days? Did we visit that many countries in that short amount of time? The answer? Yes, yes we did. How glorious it was to wake up in a different country each time we sailed into a new port. Digging deep into the culture of so many unique places allowed us the chance to really understand much more of the world than a lot of other people our age do. I'm so thankful that I got to have this experience. It was the time of my life, and I know, deep down in the furthest chamber of my heart that if I were to sail again, it just wouldn't be the same experience. After unpacking all my new clothes, magnets, trinkets, and gifts, I realized that none of those are what made Semester at Sea special to me. What really made Semester at Sea so special to me, or at least one of the things, were the delicate moments I had both on and off the ship in which I felt like I was part of something greater than myself, like the world had something to tell me. And it did. Oh, how it did.

These are the Five Stages of Grief. As denial proves to be unrealistic, anger too hard to maintain, bargaining too foolish, and depression too sterilizing to matters of the present, I feel myself moving closer and closer to acceptance. Semester at Sea happened, and it was incredible. Thanks to everyone involved.

Class tomorrow. Colorado College tomorrow. Life, as they say, goes on.

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.” 
-Hermann Hesse

The sunrise over Ft. Lauderdale on the final morning.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Last Days On the MV Explorer

Oh, America. Home of the free, land of the brave. The Fall 2011 Voyage of Semester of Sea, the 107th journey of the Institute for Shipboard Education’s premier study abroad program, has come to a close in the Sunshine State of Florida. The days between leaving Honduras and now have been filled with literally every single emotion possible; there’s been excitement, anxiety, fear, joy, sadness, resentment, frustration, boredom, lethargy, and, most importantly, overwhelming gratitude. It’s weird being back, and it’s even weirder thinking that the life I came to know and love so well has abruptly come to its end.

The day after Honduras saw the beginning of the packing process. While I came with what seemed like an enormous amount of stuff, I left with even more. My bags were packed with clothes, flags, trinkets, my yoga mat, souvenirs, gifts, basically a whole slew of things I didn’t come to the voyage with. Most importantly, perhaps, were the lessons I tucked away into my bags, stuffed neatly between the postcards and magnets that have been hanging from my wall. I packed away my new found confidence, relationships, and views on this amazing world of ours. It’s hard to classify the whole experience, what it has meant, and how I’m going to let it influence my future. That being said, I can say one thing for sure: this world of ours is so incredibly beautiful that 111 days exploring it hardly gives it justice. My awareness has moved away from local and has gone global, as I’m now more interested in how things affect each other throughout the entire world.

So, what exactly happened besides packing? On that second to last day on the ship, a reentry panel was held for people interested in discussing reverse culture shock and the process of coming down from our experiences abroad and coming back to our lives away from the MV Explorer. While their words were helpful, they reminded me that what lies ahead will not be easy. It made me remember how I felt when I returned from Europe in the spring and how utterly lost I felt at first, how America seemed so different and weird. It took a while to readjust, and the discussion made me realize that readjusting back from Semester at Sea will, very likely, take much longer. Faculty member Wendy Goldberg spoke on the panel about the topsy-turvy feeling we will experience. She drew upon Alice in Wonderland for a number of interesting and rateable metaphors about the nature of dropping into all these new places and then coming back to something we recall with familiarity and fondness. I have to say, after falling through the rabbit hole and seeing all that Wonderland has to offer, pulling myself back out is proving to be an interesting experience.

I ate dinner with Jackie and Kat, my shipboard extended family. At the beginning of the semester, I signed up for an extended family, thinking I would be placed into a large family with two lifelong learners as parents and a bunch of other students as siblings. Instead, I received a mom and a sister. Frankly, after having had dinner many different times throughout the entire semester, I am glad it ended up working out exactly the opposite of how I expected it to. We were able to discuss more personal experiences in the countries and on the ship that wouldn’t have been able to have been shared had my family been upwards of ten people. I’m grateful for having such a loving, tight-knit family on the ship that I knew I could always count on.

That night, the Acting 1 and History of Musical Theatre classes performed their final scenes and student-written musical, respectively. Acting 1’s students explored a number of different self-written monologues, scenes from various plays , and South African opera songs. Admittedly, some were better than others, but overall, they did a great job and kept everyone entertained, despite some technical difficulties regarding the spotty sound system of the Union on the ship. Following that, SAS: The Musical was performed! The History of Musical Theatre class has been working all semester on writing and putting on an original musical. The story was essentially about life on the MV Explorer and the two forbidden relationships between a student and a crew member and the dean and a lifelong learner. Though cheesy, it was hilarious and enjoyable, with many of the jokes only really making sense to those on the ship. That reminded me, though, of how special our community became over the whole voyage. We have so many characters and personalities that it’s no surprise to me that so many jokes sprung out of the people on board. Following the performances, the final Coffeehouse was held. I, of course, spoke, sharing some more of my writing. If the musical reminded me of the personalities and jokes, the Coffeehouse reminded me of the sheer sublime talent of many of the different people I have come to know and love. It’s been a real privilege being in their company and sharing all of our work with one another. It has only solidified my desire to continue writing and creating.

The final day came. The ship was awash in weird emotions; people seemed to be wandering the hallways aimlessly as we enjoyed our last moments on our floating home. Upon finishing packing, my room was empty, further adding to the bizarre feelings of the last day. When everyone was done moving their baggage to the designated location on the ship and collecting their passports and yellow fever vaccination cards, we had some downtime. I ate my final dinner outside on the 6th Deck, watching the sunset for a final time over the endless ocean. I’ve been lucky enough to see so many amazing sunrises and sunsets throughout this semester. How am I supposed to recreate the sunrise over Cape Town while we approached South Africa or as I slowly moved through the entry portal into Angkor Wat in Cambodia? What about the explosion of red, purple, orange, and blue as the sun dipped into the ocean each night from the back of the ship or over the Arabian Sea in Kerala, India? The beauty I have witnessed is indescribable, humbling, and, quite simply, awesome. There’s still so much left for me to see around the world that this voyage has not quenched a thirst, but rather has only set me on fire with more questions, desire, and hopes for truth, understanding, and exploration. Following dinner, I went to Linda’s 22nd surprise birthday party, hosted by Jake in one of the classrooms. Many of my good friends were there, so it was a happy celebration of not only her birthday, but the semester as a whole. The night officially ended with convocation, a recognition of the whole four months and those lucky graduating seniors.

Then night unofficially never ended. I stayed awake all night, hopping between all the groups of friends I have become a part of—I never fell into one single clique, which I am thoroughly happy about. I spent time with Lou, Diana, Causey, Natasa, Valleria, Mike, Brad, Ali, Jake, Linda, Nick, Johnny, and plenty more. The last crew I hung out with ended up being Lily, Mary, Cristina, and Lauren; apparently, Abby, Alden, Ricky, Kevin, and I think some others were with them, too, but they disappeared to bed. Mary and I ended up staying fully awake the longest. When the time came for breakfast, we moved upstairs to eat. As we sat in dining room on the 5th floor, the lights of America started to become visible. Miami and Ft. Lauderdale twinkled in the distance. When we finished eating, we went to the front of the ship and experienced our first moments back in America. I had made a sign then night before that I held up and took pictures with: 29,052.5 nautical miles. Can you believe it?

It started to rain at one point. We migrated inside so we could avoid the moisture. However, when we moved to the back of the ship to see the parents as we made our final movements into the port, the sun began to shine through the clouds. In this moment, I was reminded that even in times of darkness, such as leaving behind the life you love, there is always a light to guide you back through to the other side.

Then it came time to really say goodbye. I raced about the ship, giving my final hugs, saying my final words to people, and shedding some tears in the process. I was one of the earlier groups to disembark, so I didn’t have as much time as others. When it was finally my turn, I grabbed my backpack, slung my Ghanaian drum over my shoulder, and walked out onto the gangway for the last time. As John, Luke, Whit, Ionna, and I slid our cards one final time, we said farewell to the MV Explorer and the lifestyle that is Semester at Sea. I greeted my parents with loving hugs and a statement of how overwhelmingly thankful I am to them for this eye-opening life experience. We drove away, me in the backseat slowly attempting to rationalize the finality of the program. I haven’t gotten there quite yet, as I keep feeling like I’ll be walking back up the gangway to my room tomorrow, but eventually I’ll get there.

How did I celebrate? Lunch with my parents at Chik Fil A and dinner at California Pizza Kitchen. Reverse culture shock, much? The next few days were spent in Naples, Florida, home of nothing but elderly people. I spent almost the entire time catching up on TV shows and sleeping. The frustration of being home hasn’t fully hit me yet as I am not quite home in my own house in my own bed.

Where am I this weekend? Having a unique intellectual adventure at COLORADO COLLEGE. I’ll write something more sentimental later, but know this: Semester at Sea changed my life, and my friends from the program, quite literally, mean the world to me.

Oh, ocean blue, I miss you terribly. You will always be a part of me.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Roatán, or Winter Break Part One

Roatán, Honduras—a small island off the coast of Central America in the Caribbean. Pleasant, right? For what it’s worth, it certainly was relaxing, or as relaxing as a two day port where about a day and a half of it was raining. Not just sprinkling, either. It was stormy, to say the least. Well, weather the wheater (ha) was good or bad, it was still a relaxing final port, free of worry from academic affairs on the ship having now completed finals, projects, programs, and papers.

Our final port has been up in the air since I applied for SAS. A big selling point for this particular semester was the possibility of docking in Havana, Cuba for three days. The itinerary said we would only be going if we received confirmation from the US State Department. Didn’t happen. Thanks, non-students on board (because student visas for Cuba are much easier to obtain than other forms). I was really looking forward to a cigar. The next plan of action, as described to us on the day of the Sea Olympics: Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala. Mayan ruins sounded exciting, but I couldn’t help feeling disappointed that Cuba didn’t work out. Then, during the Pacific Ocean crossing, we awoke one morning to an announcement from the Voice aka Dean Laurie that increasing drug-related violence in eastern Central America, particularly in Guatemala, Belize, Mexic, and, oddly enough, Honduras, were a source of concern for ISE, the State Department, and OSAC, so we were going to have to be rerouted again to Roatán, a tourist destination off the coast, away from all the violence. Run-on sentence? I think. And would you believe it? I saw Mayan ruins and artifacts and smoked a cigar. Okay, I didn’t actually smoke a cigar, though some people did. I was only planning on doing that if we went to Cuba. Okay, background information aside, let’s talk about two days in rainy Roatán.

I awoke to watch the entry into port with Valleria. It was cloudy, so we weren’t able to see much. I went back to bed, only to be interrupted at 7:20 A.M. with an announcement that we could get off the ship 40 minutes earlier than expected. I was signed up for a trip, though, so I didn’t take advatnage. When the time came, I stepped off into the Port of Roatán in Coxen Hole. Ali, Jake, Linda, Nick, Ionna, Rachael, Dina, and a handful of others and I were on an orphanage visit that was combined with an underwater museum snorkeling adventure. Great combo, right? Save the world a little bit and then swim around in the silver-blue Caribbean water while looking at ancient Mayan artifacts and treasures? Let’s do it! The most special part of it to me was that Ali, Ionna, and I were together on the first trip we went on in Morocco and now the last one in Honduras. Great little circle completion, right? Anyway, the kids were fun, but there weren’t that many since most of them were with grandparents for the holidays. We mostly played soccer and blew bubbles and drew on the sidewalk with chalk with them. As far as the snorkeling went, the water was perfect temperature and we got to see quite a bit of coral. The Mesoamerican Reef in the Caribbean is the second largest coral reef in the world, following the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, so underwater was all sorts of red, green, purple, green, yellow, and more. There were a ton of fish, too. We hung out on the beach afterwards and had delicious pizza and some beer. Preparation for America?

When we done snorkeling, the weather turned. It started to rain. A lot. Outdoor activities weren’t really an option anymore. Ali, Ionna, Nick, and I decided to get food. We walked into Coxen Hole and ate conch soup and some kind of delicious tortilla with meat and beans at a local restaurant. It was fantastic. We took a taxi after that to a place called Bananarama in West Bay. There were a ton of SAS folks drinking and having a good time. The rest of the day was spent between there, back at the ship for dinner and a shower, and in West End bar hopping. The roads weren’t in the best condition, so everything was wet and muddy, but nobody seemed to care; it was an excellent last night out with my friends being able to legally drink. Bars, clubs, lounges, and liquor stores, see you in five months!

The second day was raining even harder, so we couldn’t do much once again. Ali, Nick, Sara, and I had lunch at a Mexican place in the port. Speaking of the port, it was similar to Cape Town in that it was commercial, but it was not anywhere near as upscale. When we left, we ventured back into Coxen Hole to walk around in the pouring rain. We each bought a few souvenirs throughout town. As the day came to a close, the Barcelona vs. Real Madrid futbol match began, so we sat and watched the first half hour of it—it was 1-1 when we left.

As our journey is spindling away to its bittersweet end, I wanted my last experience in port to be special. So, I celebrated by jumping into the 7th Deck pool with Gina and Bailey in the rain. We swam some laps and tread some water as the rain poured down onto our faces. I was reminded of the beautiful things and people I have met on my journey about the world, but I’ll cover that once I’m back in America. For now, I will close my last international blog post by saying that while Honduras may have been wet and slightly chilly, I am glad it was our final port experience. I got to relax, swim in warm water, spend time with some of my favorite people on the ship, and think about what this voyage has meant to me. I may not have been able to go to Cuba or Guatemala, so I’ll just have to return to them later!

America tomorrow. Still need to finish packing. I have more to put in than when I left, but somehow, someway, it will fit.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pura Vida en Costa Rica

Let me just start off by saying two days in Costa Rica is not nearly enough. With less than 48 hours in the country, every moment was precious. That being said, Costa Rica was probably my most relaxing port. I had quite a bit of down time to just hang out and watch the scenery go by.

The day before Costa Rica, I had my first final: Global Studies. I got an 85. And that was with minimal studying.

My first day started with a zipline adventure through the forest canopy. It was a Semester at Sea trip, so there were a great deal of people, but a lot of my friends were on it, so I was in great company. After taking a short bus ride to Parque Aventura, we suited up and hiked up a small hill to the first station. They demonstrated how to properly zoom down the line and brake. When it came to be my turn, I hit the brakes too soon and had to monkey crawl the final portion of the line. Embarrassing. Thankfully, a few other people ran into the same predicament, saving me from being alone in looking like a chimp. I’ve ziplined before, but this particular adventure was really exciting; we had to zip from station to station and cover a whole lot of ground. One portion of the park was nothing but jumping from box to box, allowing us to keep our harness on and not hike to get to the next station. The longest line in the park took us over a huge river valley—falling would’ve surely been fatal. You got going pretty fast, and to brake you had to grab the actual line, so gloves were required. No gloves? Wave goodbye to your skin! Was that a pun? The trip ended with a journey up a huge hill on the back of a truck. Excellent morning.

That afternoon, I took the free SAS shuttle service from our port in Puerto Caldera to Puntarenas, the nearest city with Shelbi and Liz. When we arrived, we didn’t really do much. Puntarenas wasn’t exactly designed with the tourist in mind, but we weren’t really looking to do very much anyway. Our day was spent walking around, looking at the trinkets in the street-side shops, using free internet, drinking delicious piña coladas, and sitting on the beach.

We spent the evening with a bunch of other SAS kids that we met up with at the bus stop. After enjoying a delicious dinner of ceviche at a local restaurant, we wandered to a locals bar with awesome salsa dancing. We took the place by storm! Though we weren’t really good, our hips got a workout. Later, Savannah, Susie, and I ended up at another club in a different part of the city. It was sort of strange because very, very few people were dancing; everybody was standing up above on the second floor. Many people were alone. It wasn’t the most welcoming environment, but we did meet a few cool local folks. I had delicious street food, too, so it wasn’t bust in the slightest.

Annoying thing: the Costsa Rican currency, the colón, just changed. No, it didn’t change names or exchange rates or anything of that sort. It changed design. The new money is very nice and colorful, I will admit, but I came to the country with somewhere around $40 in the old money that I got from a bank in Canada back in August. It changed in September. Nobody takes the old money. It’s obsolete. It’s basically Monopoly  Money. I figured I would go to the bank on our second morning, a Monday, to exchange the old currency for the new. When I walked into the bank, they said the only way I could exchange the notes would be to go to the Central Bank…in San José, the capital, a solid two hours away. Normally, I’d be okay with that, but with very little time in the country and a less reliable transportation system, I had to accept defeat. I still have the red play money in my wallet.

While eating breakfast at a restaurant in Puntarenas the second morning with Shelbi, Liz, and Johnny, we saw Hayley who invited us to a waterfall tour with her, Kevin, other Kevin, Susie, and some other folks. After finding out we probably wouldn’t make it to the waterfall in time, we almost called it quits on plans for the day. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a tricked out tour bus came around the corner while blaring its horn and playing local marimba music. On the spur of the moment, Hayley and I hopped on, paid the fee, and enjoyed an adventure around the entire city by bus! We made two stops on the way: a fish market and a church. Though the history of Puntarenas isn’t that impressive compared to some of the other places I went to this semester, it was a pleasant afternoon ride. Our guide, Jenny, was a beautiful Costa Rican woman. She let us play the marimba at the end! She also gave us a shot of Costa Rican liquor while on the ride. For $15, the trip was well worth the money. The rest of the day was the same as the day before—walking around, drinking more deliciosu piña coladas, and eating some incredibly tasty gallo pinto.

“Pura vida” means “pure life,” the unofficial motto of Costa Rica. Many of the people I encountered in Costa Rica were some of the most laid back people I have met on this voyage. The lifestyle there is slow and steady, a nice change from the go-go-go of many Asian cultures. It really seems like a great way to live.

Yesterday I had my second final: World Theatre and Performance. I think it went well. I also helped host the Ping Pong Championships with Dave Eng. The winner ended up being Michael Williams, my professor. He better give me an A.

Today was a particularly special day on the voyage—we passed through the Panama Canal. Now, I’m no builder or architect, but the Panama Canal is an engineering masterpiece. A series of locks takes ships from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean in a matter of hours. The alternative, traversing Cape Horn, would tack on an additional month and several thousand nautical miles. I wouldn’t have complained. The process of going through the locks was really, really interesting. Along the way, the elevation changed, so the canal would rise and fall along the way as the water filled the lanes. It was busy the whole filled, with many other boats, most of them being cargo. We had a barbecue lunch to celebrate, but it was moved inside because of rainy weather.

As I am typing this, we’re still passing by city lights. Soon, we’ll be in the Atlantic Ocean, exactly where we started. We are back in the Eastern Time Zone, so we have literally gone around the world. Before going home, though, we have to go back to Central Time Zone for our final port—Honduras! Cuba and Guatemala may not have worked out, but Honduras will be a ton of fun, too, I’m sure. The journey isn’t over yet. It doesn’t feel like we’ve done the actual circumnavigation quite yet, but we have. We have changed, but can’t quite explain how. Who knows when we will be able to?

So, for now, I will sit back and enjoy Christmas Carols and a cup of hot chocolate in the Piano Lounge while I procrastinate on writing my final essay for Gender and Society and reading for my final in Writing Back to the Empire, both of which are tomorrow. After that, it’s two days in Honduras, two days at sea, and then Florida. It’s all very surreal.

I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Well, aloha. Hawai’i is in America. Who would’ve thought, right? A one day break from foreign countries towards the end of the voyage is a droll reminder of what awaits in less than two weeks at this point. I’ve always wanted to use the word droll. Plus one to the vocabulary. You’re welcome, future BA in English.

Like in Honolulu, we had cell reception, so a lot of people flocked straight to their phones and called and texted their entire contact list. If you sat in the Dining Room, it was loud, but not because people were talking to each other; rather, they were chatting on the phone with their mom, dad, boyfriend, girlfriend, or whatever person is patiently waiting for them back in Mainland America. It was interesting to see this side of people that we have avoided the entire voyage.

No visit to America would be complete without an experience in the corporate world, and for many SASers, that came in the form of Wal-Mart. My first stop, along with what seemed like at least half the ship, was the very symbol of corporate American greed and capitalism. The aisles were teeming with eager students looking for bargain basement prices, none of which even compared to what we experienced in many of the countries we had just been to. That giant $6 box of granola bars would’ve bought me an entire meal in Vietnam. I was also reminded of my age. Being that it was Thanksgiving, I wanted to celebrate with a bottle of champagne. Only problem: I’m 20. Instead of confidently walking up to the check out line like I have around the world, I had to ask someone who has already reached the mythical age of 21 to purchase the alcohol for me. It was an all-too-soon reminder that I’ve still got half a year to go to be of age in my own home country but in most other countries, I’m “mature” enough. That’s a discussion for another time, though.

The rest of the day was spent sightseeing around the Big Island with Lily, Christina, Mary, Ricky, and Lauren. We found a driver who took us from Wal-Mart to the lava fields, a small farmers market, a black sand beach, pools of hot springs, and a local pancake house with enormous American-sized portions, another pleasant reminder of Americanism. The whole day was a fantastic and relaxing Thanksgiving, a nice break from the mountains of papers and tests that seem to have piled up on the ship. I made a few calls as well, mostly to my family. That being said, it served to slowly reintroduce us to where we are headed. With only two weeks to go, I’m beginning to get nervous, anxious, and excited. While it may have sounded like I’ve had the time of my life,  and I really truly have, there have been bad parts to this experience. I’ve been homesick. I’ve been seasick. I’ve had cabin fever. I’ve experienced incredible inequality, injustice, poverty, and a whole host of other global maladies and problems. However, I’ve also seen beauty. I’ve fallen in love with traveling. I’ve fallen in love with the world. I’m not one for mixed feelings, but I’m so happy and sad as I write this. Happy to be sad, sad to be happy.

“Mahalo” is Hawaiian for “thank you.” Since we were in Hilo, Hawai’i on Thanksgiving, it’s only appropriate I say thank you. This journey around the world has been a dream come true—111 days of floating along the ocean and exploring new lands does not happen to anybody. Yes, we’ve dreamed and floated, but we’ve lived, experienced, breathed, wished, hoped, prayed, examined and reexamined, and had incredibly enriching moments around every other corner. None of this would’ve been possible without the help of many people in my life. I’m here for a number of reasons beyond just my own hard work and desire to travel the world.

I am grateful beyond measure to the following:
  • The Institute for Shipboard Education, Semester at Sea, and the University of Virginia for presenting the opportunity to experience an incredible paradigm shift and alter my perspective on many aspects of the world and my own life. The execution of the program proved better than the idea.
  • Colorado College for allowing me to be the first CC student in a number of years to participate in the program for credit. Had my petition for credit been denied, I wouldn’t be sitting here today watching the orange sunset over the endless Pacific Ocean.
  • Heather Browne in the study abroad office at CC for aiding me through the entire             application and petition processes and cheering me on from day one.
  • Re Evitt, Peggy Berg, Jane Hillberry, and Andrew Manley, my department chairs and advisors for providing recommendations, signing forms, approving classes, and helping me find a purpose for doing SAS beyond the obvious desire to travel.
  • All my roommates from this past year for dealing with me at some of my most                         insufferable moments and for providing never ending support.
  • My dear friends from home, Cheley, CC, and everywhere in between, for the             encouragement, love, e-mails, and more.
  • My sister Anna, for being a source of inspiration and advice since she sailed on the Spring 2008 Voyage.
  • My mother and father, for giving me the world.

Well, aren’t I just an emotional wasteland? In all seriousness, I’ve had the greatest adventure I probably will ever have, and all of it was made possible with help from other people. Mahalo, y’all!

The adventure doesn’t stop here. Two ports to go and a million and one things left to do on the ship—we’re in the homestretch, folks, and while I’m still alive and in the moment, I can’t wait to be on solid ground in colorful Colorado.

I just wish I could skip finals. The Block Plan never seemed like a better idea until now. Semester system, go crawl in a hole. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I Think I'm Turning Japanese...on the Pacific Ocean

Double blog post! My Japan blog didn't make it through for some reason, so I've combined that with my Pacific Ocean crossing post. Excuse the length.

I’ve been to the future, and it’s name is Japan. We were told that our final port of call in Asia would be ultra hip, ultra fast, and ultra modern. They weren’t lying. I mean, they have vending machines for hot food, buttons to indicate which kind of room you want to check into in hotels and hostels, and toilets with seat warmers and aromatherapy scents. And this is throughout the entire country, not in just the urban areas.

So, Japan! Yeah! We were the first voyage to go since the earthquake/nuclear/tsunami disaster, so we weren’t entirely sure to expect. Sure enough, we were docked in Kobe and Yokohama, two cities very far from the problems encountered up north. Over the five days there, I split up my time between traveling with groups, exploring on my own (which is entirely possible in Japan since it is an extremely safe country on the whole), and one single SAS trip on the final day. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, especially considering it is our final long port stay. All we have left is one day in Hawaii, two days in Costa Rica, and two days in our new surprise port of Guatemala. Cuba, unfortunately, did not work out, but at least it has been replaced with another exotic location in Latin America. Japan, for me, was all about figuring out how to put everything I have learned and experienced in all the previous countries into practice.

I started out on day one by getting off the ship with Brooke, Dip, Kate, and Alannah and heading to Nara, the former capital of Japan…from the 8th century. Because of its location off the coast of Asia, Japan was able to maintain relative isolation for most of its history and develop an extremely autonomous society. The capital has changed around many times, mostly in response to changing leaders. Anyway, Nara is an extremely old city; it just celebrated its 1,300th anniversary a few years ago. The main reason in going there was to see the wild dear roaming about town. Japanese myth points to dear as being holy creatures deserving of respect, so there’s an entire park in Nara called the Nara Dear Park that allows them to roam free. This particular park, though, takes up a very large part of the east (I think) part of town, so dear wander about town at their leisure. It’s not uncommon to see a whole gaggle of them crossing the street in the middle of the afternoon. And we saw that. A whole gaggle of dear crossing the street in the middle of the afternoon. We even got to pet them! They’re so used to seeing humans and being touched by them that they sometimes walk right up to people and bow, indicating their permission for us to play around with them.

Beyond the dear, we toured around in a few temples and museums. Japan has two official religions: Shinto and Buddhism. Shinto is the religion of the living world, while Buddhism is the religion of the afterlife, or at least that’s what we were told. The temples and shrines are abundant throughout the country, and being that Nara was an imperial capital, it certainly was no exception. One of the sites we went to has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its beauty and importance to Nara. As we were walking back to the train station to return to Kobe, we stopped at a street vendor to try some food. It was delicious. Every meal I had in Japan was delicious, even the cheap food on the street.

I spent the night in Osaka, a much larger city than both Kobe and Nara. All I really did there was walk around and take in the lights. I did go to a few bars, but drinks, like everything else in Japan, are expensive. There’s a price to pay for extreme economic development and success. When I woke up the next morning, I took the train from Osaka and Kyoto, another imperial capital of Japan that is much larger than neighboring Nara. Unlike my time in Nara, I spent my day in Kyoto on my own, so I got to set my own pace. I’d say this day was on the level of my 1st day in Vietnam as one of the best days of my whole voyage. I hopped off the train, got situated in the area, and took a cab ride up to the eastern side of the city and visited some temples and shrines. The Japanese love their nature; the park space was abundant and green. I had the most delicious noodle lunch at a local restaurant while sitting with some extremely friendly Japanese school girls. All of the people I encountered were so friendly, almost to a fault. They would go out of their way to help you, even if it meant walking around with you for 20 minutes at a time to find a particular restaurant or site. Throughout the day, I encountered a few SAS students, but being on my own left me to own devices and intuition. The day ended with me coming down from the hills and ancient temples to the more modern part of the city and crossing over a beautiful bridge while noticing the lovely fall colors, a reminder that even though that while on the voyage we may have felt like we were in a constant state of summer heat until China and Japan, the seasons, like ourselves, have continued to change. Profound, aren’t I?

That night certainly turned into an adventure. I returned from Kyoto with a note on my door from Lou. It said that they went into Kobe to buy my bus ticket, but they didn’t have enough money and were in a hurry to make it to Hiroshima, so they couldn’t purchase mine. I had to rush back into the city to buy my ticket from a random unknown station. Once I got it, I had to get back to the ship, pack, and meet up with Lou, Dina, Valleria, Causey, Kyle, and Brooke to start on our adventure on an overnight bus to Tokyo. Problem: Brooke’s ticket was for an earlier bus. Alas. As it were, she had to take that bus without us and wait at the station in Tokyo for us in the morning. We filed onto the bus when it was time and started on our journey. Unfortunately, this bus was not like the bus from Malaysia. No plush. No leather. No reclining all the way back. At least it wasn’t Greyhound quality, though.

Weary and a little smelly, we made it to Tokyo at 7:30 A.M. We met Brooke recharged at a Starbucks, sipping on coffee while listening to Holiday tunes. Christmas still feels far away. When we were ready, we stepped outside and walked around while searching for something to do. Tokyo on a Sunday morning is a little on the quiet side, or at least where we were was, because there weren’t many people outside. We hopped on the subway and took that to the Harajuku district. If you’re a Gwen Stefani fan, you may remember hearing her sing about Harajuku Girls. While they were actually four backup dancers for her, the name was inspired by this weird, WEIRD fashion district in Tokyo. Before we stumbled into it, we explored the Meiji Shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. Similar to the shrines I explored in Nara and Kyoto, it was beautifully green and outdoorsy. We were taken around by tour guide sponsored by a non-profit group that teaches Japanese people English for free in exchange for them giving tours. Or something like that. I didn’t listen closely enough. Walking by large barrels of sake and wine, we admired the giant trees all around us. I love that the Japanese love nature. While in the actual shrine, we witnessed many prayer rituals, including ritual cleansing and a marriage. I also bought a charm for good travel. And I got a balloon from a stuffed mascot. It was a fantastic morning.

We went back to the entrance of Harajuku. The district is centered on “Takeshita Street,” which I find hilarious. Back in the day, I praised Camden in London for being an awesome shopping and cultural experience. Harajuku may just be better. EVERYBODY THERE IS SO WEIRD. That being said, everybody has such swagger. Seriously, everyone is so fly, even if they’re wearing knee-high feather boots and a neon yellow tutu with a spandex top and ridiculous eye makeup. I’m more than a little jealous of the Japanese; I felt really unstylish while I was in Harajuku. However, unlike Camden, bargaining is hard to come by, and things are not cheap. While exploring, I ran into Marek, Alden, Brian, Ali, Tess, and a handful of other folks. I ended up getting to meet Alden and Ali’s parents; they were visiting because it was Alden’s birthday. I got hugs! I got parent hugs! Those ought to last me until I get back to America. Mom and Dad, I miss parent hugs!

When we finished up exploring Harajuku, we set off to get some sushi from a restaurant in the Shibuya District with a conveyor belt that displayed the food. It took a while to find it; we had to ask for some help. Once we made it, we stuffed our faces full of raw fish. I will say, sushi in Japan is not like sushi in America. It’s more straightforward. And probably healthier. That being said, I still enjoyed it. We then explored around Shibuya for a few hours, admiring all the lights and shops. We ran into Lou, who had split off earlier, and met her friend who is currently studying abroad in Tokyo. He took us out for a fabulous night on the town. I drank a delicious Pimm’s in a British Pub. It made me miss London.

The next day, I had the chance to tour around Tokyo on my own. No need to worry, fearful family and friends. The city is safer than any city in America. I began the day with an adventure to Roppongi Hills, a shopping mall. I didn’t shop, though. I only went there for Tokyo City View, a 52nd story 360 degree observation deck of the whole city. From it, I could see Tokyo Disney, Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Bay, Shibuya, and all of the parks. There was also a second observation deck on the very top, which I decided to explore. The day was a bit hazy, so the view wasn’t as impressive as it could’ve been; they said on a good day you could see Mt. Fuji. With my ticket to the Tokyo City View, I was also admitted entry to the Mori Art Museum. There was an exhibit on the architecture of Japan and Tokyo in the context of post-World War Two. Let me just say that the Japanese are brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Their ideas are beyond our time period, that’s for sure. Building cities upward instead of side-to-side? I think it’s a great idea.

I wandered around some more, meeting up with Gabriela, Maria, and Whit at one point. I also enjoyed WiFi at a McDonald’s in the anime district. Again, weird. Again, awesome. I made my way back to Yokohama, our port, by taking the train. Once I got there, the city was sort of dead. I walked around with Causey, Julie, Jessie, and Paula in an attempt to ride a ferris wheel, but I instead got dinner with Jake and Linda. Then it started to rain. I stayed out with Shelbi, Liz, and Yancey, though. Soaked by the end of the night. Great success.

The final day in Japan came much too soon. I spent it with SAS on a field program to Mt. Fuji and Hakone National Park. Long story short, it was a beautiful, cloudy day. We could only see the mountain from the Visitor’s Center and the 5th Station. Granted, they were both very high, the latter being at 7,500 feet, but it would’ve been nice to see the all too often scene panorama. At the end of the day, we took a short ride on a lake and up a chairlift. The clouds obstructed my view, but it gave me a chance to think about the past month in Asia. I certainly had a very different experience in the East than in Africa, but both painted a beautiful picture of the world. That picture, though, is not complete. There are three ports left. After that, though, it still won’t be complete. I’ve realized the world is more complex than I previously thought. Just before we left our port, a group of Japanese folks performed a drumming show for us as a goodbye sendoff. Everybody rushed to the port side of the ship to enjoy the performance. What a perfect, perfect end to a beautiful and life-changing month in Asia.

So, a few observations about Japan, in a nutshell:
They love nature, their religions are relatively secular in outlook, manners are extremely important, toilets are awesome, the railway system is better than the one in America, it’s EXPENSIVE, everything is really cute and/or old, the night life is not particularly impressive, there are many…adult entertainment shops, the language is really pleasant (especially when compared to what we just experienced in China), taxi fares are nonnegotiable, Kyoto is my favorite city, traveling independently is wildly easy, and my expectations were met and exceeded. I’m coming back when I actually have money. 

Upon leaving Japan, we entered the Pacific Ocean. Though it may not sound not exciting, especially when considering my descriptions of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, it is worth writing about. Between slaving my life away to the man by writing what seems like a million and one papers (including an 8-10 page monster for my Literature class), I’ve slept a lot and helped plan a few events with Program Board, including the Talent Show, an acoustic Coffeehouse, and a “retro” Karaoke Night. Sleeping has become a regular event on the ship for most people; nobody seems to have a normal Circadian Rhythm anymore, so when someone is sleeping, even if it’s at 2:30 in the afternoon, it isn’t a nap. They are asleep. I slept from 5 P.M. to 9 P.M. the other day and then 5:30 A.M. to Noon. Day and night don’t seem to matter anymore. Constantly changing time zones haven’t helped. We also time traveled and lived the same day twice. No, the MV Explorer didn’t turn into the DeLorean; we just crossed the International Date Line. In the lives of the members of the Fall 2011 Voyage of Semester at Sea, we had two November 19th, 2011’s. When I first realized this would be the case, I thought it would just be a funny chance at living the same day twice in different ways. It actually ended up being fairly confusing; all the posters advertising particular events and meetings said “1st November 19th” and “2nd November 19th,” and we didn’t have class the second November  19th, both of which added to the confusion.

On the 2nd November 19th, the Shipboard Drive sponsored the Auction, an event held each voyage to raise money for ISE Scholarships, including the one I am on as a Work Study student in the Communications Office. A few weeks, auditions were held to pick auctioneers, and I had the chance to try out. Sure enough, I was one of the four picked! Standing up there in front of the entire shipboard community and trying my best to up sell and get rid of each of the items was extremely nerve wracking, but turned out to be ridiculously fun. My fellow auctioneers, Jimmy, Marek, and Duggan, all did a fantastic job, and together we raised over $10,000. One moment that was particularly awkward, though, was when I was selling a week long trip to Honolulu, Hawaii. A girl, who shall remain nameless, bid on it, thinking it would be fun to get in on the excitement of the auction. However, nobody bid on it afterwards, leaving it up to her to buy the trip despite not actually wanting it. She pleaded with me from the audience to not make her pay because she would refuse to anyway, but alas, the rules of the auction applied. Thankfully, the person who bid before her bought the item off her and she only ended up having to pay the difference. Still, as the person selling the item to her, I felt very bad that she didn’t want it. Other than that, the auction was a great time for everyone and a huge success.

This morning, we arrived in Honolulu! Only problem is that we aren’t allowed to get off the ship; we are only here to refuel. Our actual time on land in America will come tomorrow in Hilo on the Big Island on Thanksgiving. It felt strange looking out my window and seeing the American flag waving. It felt strange to speak in perfect English with no uncertainties based on accent or inflection to the immigration officer. It felt strange seeing other people use their phones to call people. It felt even stranger to borrow someone’s phone to do so. It felt strangest sending a text; I feel like I’ve forgotten. I had to think about and remind myself how to move my fingers like that.

I wouldn’t say I feel at home, but I do feel home, if that makes any sense. I shouldn’t say that, though, because there are still two ports left after Hawai’I before the actual return to the States.

That feels weird saying. Where did this semester go?

Happy Thanksgiving, readers.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Let's Get Down to Business

Preface: We were warned by the higher ups on the ship that some satellite dish or other high tec mumbo jumbo would interfere with the internet on the ship. As such, posting this became impossible. I’m already in Japan at this point, but that entry will, of course, come at the end of my stay here.

Let’s get down to business
To defeat the Huns.
Did they send me daughters
When I asked for sons?
You’re the saddest bunch I ever met,
And you can bet that when we’re through,
Mister, I’ll, make a man out of you!

I wish I could say I wrote that masterpiece, but alas, that was Disney. The Huns never actually were in China; they were a Germanic tribe like the Anglos and the Goths. Disney most likely meant the Mongols, but the Huns works better with the tune. I won’t question it, and you shouldn’t either.

China. You may have heard of it. There’s a wall there. I hiked on it. It’s big. Actually, it’s GREAT. China itself, though, is both great and not-so-great. Here’s the story of six days in the world’s most populous country. Like my South Africa entry, I’ll be splitting this up into specific sections, this time being the cities rather than the days.

City one: Hong Kong! It’s like China-lite. By that, I mean it’s clean, capitalist, and ultra-modern. The Chinese like to say that it’s “two systems, one country,” as in Hong Kong is different from Mainland China mainly because of the former (very recent) British occupation that has left an enormous legacy on the city-state. You can absolutely feel the Westernization in Hong Kong when compared to the rest of China. It’s extremely autonomous in that most of all their matters are separate from the Mainland. In fact, they use a different currency: the Hong Kong Dollar. Their 10 dollar bill is a shiny neon purple. I saved one. Essentially, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwain are all “technically” China, but are autonomous capitalist regions, with Taiwan being completely separated from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and instead being called the Republic of China (ROC). Confused yet? I am.

After what seemed like the most frustratingly long immigration process yet, Valleria and I hopped off the ship and walked around the mall. No, we didn’t take a taxi there; we literally got off the ship and we were in a mall.  Hong Kong, like Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, feels like a giant shopping mall. I must’ve walked in or around about six throughout the entire day, each one seeming more high end than the last. No money? Definitely a problem. As Valleria and I walked around, we saw a bunch of other SAS students lost and confused in this giant mall that was technically considered our port. We hadn’t experienced anything like it; the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town had nothing on the Ocean Terminal in HK. When we finally found our way out after a brief WiFi detour, we walked around outside for a bit. We were totally in the thick of it. The buildings? Tall. The traffic? Loud. The people? Numerous. Limited space seems to be a common theme in Asia.

Later on, Valleria and I met up with Diana and took the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island and grabbed a bus to the Victoria Peak Tram. Again, the crowds were pretty crazy, but we were able to take the Peak Tram with the SAS Parent Trip. Mom and Dad, it would’ve been fun if you came, but I understand the appeal of going to Hawaii for your 25th Anniversary instead. Congrats, by the way. Anyway, the Tram was steep and scary and, of course, crowded with people. At the top was a mall. And a Burger King. I had that for lunch. Cultural, right? God bless America. The view of Hong Kong was also pretty spectacular, featuring some of the most fabulous skyscrapers just about anywhere. After wandering around for far too long in the giant touristy mall and not being able to find the exit, we hiked down from the top to the city. I use the word “hike” loosely, however, because it was mostly just walking along the street. I had to split off from Diana and Valleria when we made it to the bottom because the whole thing took longer than we expected and I had made dinner plans with other people. I found myself having to take the subway system to get back to the Ocean Terminal. I was excited by the prospect of having to go underground again, having not used a subway system since Canada, but it proved to vehemently annoying. Like everywhere else in Hong Kong, it was crowded, but it wasn’t marked particularly well; they could’ve used a few more maps and information desks, but the adventure was only more exciting since it was all up to me. When I finally made it back, I took a cab back to the Ocean Terminal and the ship.

That night, I went out with Lily and a bunch of other people for her birthday to a fancy Japanese restaurant in the mall. That one certainly set me back a few bucks. HK, in general, is expensive, especially having come from some of the cheapest places on the planet (Vietnam, Cambodia, India, even Malaysia somewhat). In the middle of dinner, we stepped outside to watch the infamous lightshow. Every night, the skyline of HK lights up with flashing lights. Truthfully, it was relatively underwhelming. I expected a flashier performance. Even still, though, the skyline at night is pretty wild, unlike anything else I had ever seen before. After our meal, we headed out for the night via the Star Ferry and a taxi to Lan Kwai Fong, the main bar scene for expats, locals, tourists, and travelers. It seemed SAS had taken over that night with students spilling out of the bars and into the long L-shaped street. The watering holes themselves were extremely varied, but most of them were pretty small. Somebody said there were over 200 bars in this one area. I believe it.

City two: Beijing! It’s sprawling and polluted; the smog is thick, making it difficult to see the sun. Anyway, after waking up following our night out in HK, we took the train to the airport. Along the way, we saw the less attractive underbelly of the city. Run down apartments lined the sides as we exited the main area of the island. However, after that, the rest of the way to the airport was beautiful. “Hong Kong” actually means something like beautiful harbor. The airport was HUGE. Lily, Brooke, and I set out to find food once we found our gate. We walked for what seemed like far too long of a distance in any airport to find some grub. It was only on our way back did we discover the train (similar to the one at Denver’s airport) to get to the food. Three cheers for looking closely! On the plane, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a Chinese gentleman. That was an experience. Chinese people have a different idea of politeness than in the west. As a sign of enjoying their food, they slurp it. Sure enough, during the in-flight meal service, he slurped it, and it was the most awful noise I have ever heard anybody make while eating. Chinese people also push, shove, cut in line, and shout a lot, all of which I experienced while on the plane. Pleasant? Not so much, but it certainly was an experience.

I wasn’t traveling with an SAS-sponsored trip. I was, instead, doing a tour with Global Citizens, a company founded by SAS alumni. They’ve been known for not having the greatest organization in terms of their trips. From what I understand, one of their India trips was particularly chaotic. Needless to say, I was a bit worried, but it worked out fine. We met our tour guides, Joe and Steven when we arrived. Those aren’t their actual names, but they told us to call them that because Chinese names are hard to pronounce correctly for non-native speakers. Upon arriving in the city, we checked in at the Holiday Inn Express. Crappy, right? Wrong! It was just as fancy and high class as the hotels I stayed in in Cambodia and Malaysia. After showering and freshening up, we walked across the street to a restaurant to try some peking duck, Beijing’s famous dish that America poorly imitates. I hadn’t thought that, though, until I had the real thing. It is incredibly tasty. When dinner came to a close, Lily, Christina, John, I, and some others went out to check out the club scene in Beijing. Like every other place in China, it was crowded, perhaps the most crowded clubbing experience I had ever had. It was Lily’s birthday, so we were going from each place as she wished. By the end of the night, it was just the two of us. We went back to the hotel and decided we wanted food. So, like any good college student, we got delivery. To be more specific, delivery McDonald’s. Again, cultural, am I right? French fries at 4 A.M. never tasted so good.

The next morning, we awoke early to head to the Temple of Heaven. It was incredibly crowded and big, but it was really interesting. The temple itself was different from others I had seen. During our tour, I bought a tacky panda hat from a vendor. Excellent purchase. Tons of other people on the ship bought them. It’s funny. We then went to the Pearl Market. Shopping in China is more inside than the markets in other countries, but it’s still a fun experience. Bargaining is very, very easy in China, or maybe I’ve just gotten good at it. I think it’s a combination of both.

Afterwards, we started our drive to the Great Wall of China. It’s called the Great Wall because it’s pretty damn great. The drive was beautiful, reminding me a lot of I-70 in Colorado heading west from Denver to Glenwood Springs. Marek was sitting behind me and we commented numerous times about how the scenery was similar. We went through a few tunnels similar to the Eisenhower Tunnel and I saw a ton of hills that could’ve been A-Basin, Vail, or Beaver Creek. Northern China is far more rugged and mountainous than I previously thought. When we reached the Wall, we hadn’t actually reached the Wall; we had to hike to it on a built trail. After about 45 minutes, we made it to the Great Wall of China.

First and foremost, the views are incredible. Spectacularly beautiful mountains careened out of fertile valleys and seemed to disappear into the clouds. Second, it was cold. I’m not sure what elevation we were at, but it was cold most likely because of that. Third, the hike was extremely difficult. Parts of the Wall are falling apart since it is so old, so the path wasn’t always clear, easy, marked, or put together. It’s also fairly steep in a lot of portions, so there were times when crawling on your hands and knees were necessary. Lastly, a Mongolian woman named Pu held my hand for part of the way. Pu is a farmer who walks two hours to the Wall each day to try and sell trinkets, books, and t-shirts to struggling tourists hiking on the Wall. Though I didn’t want anything she was selling, she was so charming and kind that I decided to help her out by buying a few things. She helped me out until just about the end. When we finally made it after about three miles, we had dinner at a traditional restaurant, set up camp on the Wall, celebrated with a few drinks and conversation, and then started to call it a night. The whole experience was amazing and inspiring.

Then we were kicked off the Wall by Chinese authorities because five people started a fire and we were held hostage for about ten hours.

Nope, I’m not lying. Long story short, five people (who shall remain nameless) wandered to a different tower and started a small fire using wood they didn’t realize was some important relic of the Wall. When Chinese authorities discovered them, they kicked the fire five, our group, and another group off the Wall and forced us to set up camp in what seemed like nothing more than a glorified parking lot. I wasn’t entirely surprised, especially considering Joe and Steven told us that sleeping on the Wall “wasn’t illegal, but wasn’t exactly legal.” On a different note, if I had known that little detail, I would’ve picked a different trip. Anyway, while the rest of us were attempting to sleep, the fire five were taken into custody and were interrogated for about two hours by screaming Chinese men. They were told they had to cough up a bunch of cash or risk going to jail. They weren’t given the chance to make any phone calls or explain themselves; due process of law is certainly not the same as it is in America. To make the situation a little better, when their first round of interrogation was over, they cleaned up the mess on the Wall that was left behind. It didn’t help. It actually made matters worse for them because they were extorted for even more money to pay off whatever bribe they were trying to fulfill. While this ordeal was going on in the morning, we were sitting in the freezing cold restaurant we ate in the night before while waiting to find out what was going on. When they came up with the money, the whole ordeal was finally over and we were allowed to leave. Since we left late, we had to miss our huton and city tour by rickshaw, which wasn’t really my reason for going on this particular trip, so it was fine. We still got to eat lunch at another traditional restaurant and tour Tiannamen Square and the Forbidden City, both of which were enjoyable. You’d think that I would be really upset by the situation, but I still had a damn great time on the Great Wall. Global Citizens, you did well.

City three: Shanghai! The sleeper train from Beijing to Shanghai was way more advanced than the one to and from Kerala and Chennai. I had my own bed with a TV and temperature control. Granted, I had to share my cabin with three awkward Chinese people instead of my friends, but we didn’t talk much, so it was okay. When we woke up, we wandered into the bustling Shanghai train station. Since it was so bustling, I got separated from the main group with Savannah and Will. The three of us attempted to find a taxi to get us to the ship, but none of them understood our directions, thinking we wanted to go to the airport instead of the ship. We asked a policeman, but that didn’t help at all. The language barrier hasn’t gotten in the way that much at all during the voyage, but it was extremely apparent in China, especially Shanghai. We met up with two other SAS students and finally reached the end of our rope and called the ship. They spoke to a taxi driver we found and gave them the proper directions. We finally reached the port a solid three hours after our train arrived.

The next two days in Shangai were mostly spent walking around. Of the three Chinese cities, it was probably my least favorite. I certainly liked it, but it just felt difficult to get around in, and two days was definitely not enough. The highlight was at the end of my final day. After six days of having extremely mixed and conflicting feelings about China, my love for the country was solidified by visiting the Jade Buddha Temple with Luke. All the way on the opposite side of Shanghai from the ship, it took a while to get to it, but it was definitely worth it. While we weren’t on any sort of official tour, we walked around on our own and interacted with a few nice people. There were monks chanting upon our arrival and the whole temple was beautiful. It provided a fantastic sense of clarity about how I feel about the country: I love it. Sure, the communism is pretty insufferable, it’s definitely a police state, the language isn’t exactly pleasant, and their conventions of manners are hard to understand, but the culture is fraught with history and the people are generally kind. The Great Wall, the temples, Hong Kong, all of them made for a overwhelmingly enjoyable experience.

I could probably live in China for a summer, but not for a lifetime. Now, our final Asian port, my most anticipated country on this voyage: JAPAN!