Good Morning Vietnam! Day 1

I don’t know why I expected to see jungles when we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, but I was surprised with relatively booming city. For most of the day, I went with SAS to see the Cu Chi tunnels, a war history location of a tunnel system that the Vietnamese as part of their Guerrilla warfare style. I knew the experience was going to be deep, but I did not expect for it to hit me that hard. It was very overwhelming seeing the conditions of the tunnels, where whole families would live, cook, make uniforms, bombs, traps, ect. There were many different varieties of traps, each of them looking very painful, with usually a slow death. We sat down and watched a documentary of the video, and it was a war propaganda completely biased against the U.S. At first I thought that it was a joke, but Vietnam is a communist country and they won the war, and they will portray the war however they want. It was interesting to see the Vietnamese perspective in the video how “all of the people, old and young valiantly contributed to the war effort against the American devils” (at least similar to that) I just have to wonder how much of the info was completely biased. I do know that in the prison where the POW’s were kept in Ha Noi, the only information about them was a video of them smiling and happy in very good living conditions. We all know this is completely false. It just makes you think.

After the tunnels, I had dinner on the ship and then went to a wedding for two of my good Brazilian friends on the ship. They were one of a few who decided to get married in Vietnam. The wedding is only valid in Vietnam and it was a fun spontaneous experience! They booked a whole row of tables at the Rex hotel and about 50+ of us from SAS came out to support them. There was a band playing and they allowed us to do the ceremony there. Taylor, one of the students decided to get certified online for marrying people, so it was official. They even had the official marriage certificate. It was very thrown together, but it was one of the best weddings I have ever been too. Both Gabe and Suse are extremely talented, amazing, and super nice people. They are so good together and I wish them the best. (If you are reading this, keep in touch!! I miss you both!) After the wedding and a little “reception” celebration, I headed back to the ship to finish packing and leave for the airport at 4am.
Ever since Singapore, everything has been moving very fast. We have only one more day and then we are in China, so I’m trying to get caught up again with the blog and schoolwork. After China, we also have another 2 days before Japan.

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Vietnam Tomorrow!

I have so much to say about the last two days and vietnam preparation, but I’m am really tired and need to get some rest for tomorrow.

Cheers!

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Singing about Singapore!

Singapore can easily be called the city of the future! The architecture here is amazing and the technology/infrastructure and cleanliness is superior. I guess this is partly by Singapores “strict” regulations and fine policies which include $1000 dollars for chewing gum, $500 dollars for jay walking, the death penalty for drug possession and more. After being in Singapore for a day, I realized they are not extremely strict with the rules, but it is still the safest city/country that I have ever been in.
I had a SAS trip at 1:30 so I couldn’t travel too far and I could not find anybody that was travelling where I wanted to go, so I went solo for the morning. I decided to go to the Botanical gardens which turned out to be a really large national park that was really well kept and did have some really beautiful plants. I found it a little boring because I’m really not into this kind of thing, but it was beautiful and Singapore is supposed to have one of the best Botanical gardens in the world. After I got bored from looking at plants I just kind of wandered throughout the city, and I came across a Singapore Bible College which I found really interesting and regular university. I eventually made my way back to the MRT station (the subway) and browsed around the harbor mall, which was where immigration was this time, instead of on the ship.

I met the bus for my SAS trip which was about the different religions represented in Singapore. I was originally trying to sell my trip because there is so much I wanted to do, but I’m glad I ended up doing it. If not, I would not have randomly met up with my friend and had the best last few hours in Singapore. For the SAS trip we went to three various ethnic parts of the city: little arabia (not formally called that), little India, and Chinatown. We learned a little bit about each culture and how they came to be developed in Singapore, but we also had a chance to shop in each district and visit temples in each area and learn about their religions. In little arabia, we went to a Islam mosque which was beautifully detailed, like all of the other temples we visited. It was a fully active and practicing temple and it was nice to learn some new background information to better understand their religion. We then went to little India and visited an Hindu temple which was a little more modern than the few I saw in India. There were also a lot of shops that sold the same souveneirs that India does, but at a higher price. Lastly, we went to Chinatown which has temples of Islam, Hindi, and Buddism. (I also saw a lot of Christian churches throughout Singapore).

During one of the temple visits, I ran into my friend Tammy and her family relative (Jen) who lives in Singapore. I decided to sign out of my trip and travel with them for the rest of the night. BEST DECISION EVER!! We spent a lot of time at a Buddhist temple and museum and I found it really interesting, especially about the relic display of different body parts from distinguished monks. For the rest of the time, we made our way over to Merlion park, yes Merlions. The merlion is the national symbol of Singapore and is supposed to represent the lions that used to roam Singapore when Singapore was a jungle. The mermaid is supposed to represent Singapore as being a fishing community. I learned this from a local shop keeper, and I’m not sure if it exactly correct or not. After posing with the lions, we just relaxed with some Starbucks and just enjoyed ourselves. I guess this doesn’t really sound that exciting, but it was the first time in a while that I felt extremely relaxed. Chilling in Singapore with amazing views of an amazing city hanging out with really cool people: just what I needed. This reminded me that travel experiences are truly about who you are with, not exactly where you are at.

It was getting close to onship time, so we took the subway back to the harbor, and Jen showed us some Vietnam food (great) and bubble milk tea which is my absolute favorite and have been craving it since July when I was in Thailand. At home, I have even tried to make it, but it just didn’t measure up. Milk tea, usually involves tea, sugar, milk, tapioca pearls or jello, and some sort of magic powder that kicks up the deliciousness level. I was super pumped by this time and just had a lot of embarrassing happy energy.

We rushed up to Immigration about 10 minutes before on ship time, said goodbye to Jen, checked our passports, and ran down the terminal to the ship. It felt good to run on something other than a rocking treadmill. It seemed like everyone else also tried to squeeze every last minute out of Singapore and it was an absolute mad frenzy. Singaporeans in the mall seemed really confused and partially afraid about the hundreds of students sprinting everywhere. We arrived in line about 4 minutes before dock time, and there was a crowd on the ship watching everyone come in. If you are late for on ship time, you get something called dock time, which is an allotted time that you are not allowed to leave the ship for the next port that we arrive at. If you have early trips planned for those countries, you are out of luck. I believe it is 2 hours for every 15 minutes you are late. Dock time is technically supposed to be when you are checked in on the ship and your passport is handed in to the Purser. Luckily, they decided to accept everyone that was in line before 8:30 (on board time) So I was safe. However, there were a number of people that were late; more than any other port.
I wish we had another day in Singapore because there is so much to do and see, and I was not able to get as many souveneirs as I had hoped. All in all, great day! Vietnam in three days!!

Until our next stop on this epic voyage around the world (or India if I get to it)!

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Day 2 Pics

While I’m in the blogging mode, I’m going to at least put some pictures up from Day 2 in India. We left early for the train station where we caught up the local news and food and got on the 6 hour train to Erode. Upon arrival we met the school instructor who we would be with the following day when we visited his school. After getting lost and asking multiple times for directions, we finally made it to the home we would be staying. The family, including aunts, granparents, and the immediate family was so gracious and hospitable and were happy and willing to answer any questions we had. They would be considered upperclass Indian’s, so they were very educated and well traveled. It was nice to even compare traveling in the U.S. with them, and other culture world wide. We learned how to eat a proper Indian meal (with you right hand and combination of certain foods); Indian food is well balanced and it is an art of taste- every dish in an Indian meal has a specific taste or flavour and they all balance each other out. We then took a tour of the families farm and got to see ginger being harvested and we were also treated to coconut milk.
Next, we headed out to the traveling marketplace which was a local village marketplace that moved location everyday between seven different villages for the week. Therefore, residents have to make sure they buy enough vegetables, herbs, tobacco, supplies, ect. to last them for the week. You could tell that foreigners do not visit the village often and everybody was either very curious/cautious of us, or excited that we were there and would approach us and ask us questions. One thing I found very interesting about India was that the people want to get their picture taken and to take pictures with you. We would walk around the market, and they would just ask us to take pictures with them on our cameras. In Ghana and other places, you would be yelled at for taking pictures at the market or of people in general. You had to be very selective. In India, carrying your camera around visibly is actually a great way to meet people (use caution obviously depending on where you are) I ended up shopping and talking with a few of the vendors, and this truly felt like the real India. India can be touristy, and if you don’t try, I think it is easy to never experience Indian culture and real life.
After the market, we headed back to the house for a late dinner (also delicious). The girls, 12, and 16 wanted to show us their swimming well, so we drove to the well for a late night dip. The water was so refreshing and so deep. It was a well, so there were walls surrounding it and you could jump and dive from about a 15 to 20 foot wall. After about an hour of swimming and swim photoshoots we headed back for tea. Tea, which can be compared to Chai tea with a lot of milk and sugar was amazing and it reminded me of the milk tea I had in Thailand and unsucessfully attempt to make back home. I should have gotten the recipe! We ended up talking for the next few hours about everything under the stars- politics, language for my class (I could write a whole blog just on the different languages of India, and how interesting it is) culture, and about life in general. We finally retired for a few more hours of sleep in preparation for another long day.
I wish I could describe it as good as everything actually was. Sometime you just have to be there to understand.

Enjoy!

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Vietnam Preparation

So I realize that I have not gone into a lot of detail about life on the ship. Today, was a discussion day, so we did not have any classes. Instead, we had seminars about Vietnam all day. We will be in Vietnam in 3/4 days and this was the only day we had to go into detail about it. As soon as we hit Vietnam, we have basically 3 straight weeks of travel: a week of Vietnam, 2 days on the ship, a week of China, 2 days ship, and then a week of Japan. After Japan, we have about 2 weeks straight at sea. For today’s sessions there were talks about the Vietnam war from the American perspective, Vietnam perspective, relations, cultural insights, ect. We also have two very special and distinguished guests on board for the Asian stretch of the voyage and it just amazes me how many intelligent and distinguished people are sailing with us. This is truly an opportunity of a lifetime. The two distinguished guests are Charles Robb, a retired Senator and Marine soldier during Vietnam, and his wife Lynda Johnson Robb, the daughter President Lyndon B. Johnson. They talked about their personal experiences during the Vietnam war, both in Vietnam (for the Senator) and at the White House (Lynda). They said that this was the first time that they publicly talked about their Vietnam experience, and you could tell that it was an emotional experience. This will be the first time that Mrs. Robb will visit Vietnam and I’m so excited for her. Also, Senator Robb was partly responsible for mending ties with Vietnam after the war and establishing the relationship we have today. From what I have heard and researched, the Vietnamese actually love Americans to visit and are trying rapidly to erase the image that they are still hostile to Americans. It is part of their culture to forgive and forget. I will see how true this is when we get there next week.

We will be in Singapore tomorrow for the day, and I’m so excited. I was seriously debating going to Singapore when I was in Thailand over the summer, so it is awesome that I now have the chance to visit. Singapore is a highly developed city country and is said to be the city of the future. The U.S. does not even have some of the technologies and use of architecture that Singapore currently has. There is so much to do, but I’m going to try to take in the Sentosa Island, a light show, and my SAS trip that I could not sell.
For some reason, India has been hard for me to put to paper, but I will get there.

-Eric

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India Day 1: Rickshaws are not taxis

We finally arrived in India. For some reason I have always been a little intimidated by the idea of India, its culture, religion, and lifestyle. India is exotic and rich in culture, and I should have been more excited than apprehensive. India’s family culture and ideas of respect are phenomenal and India itself is a generally modest and moral country. I think the whole world would be a little better off with a little bit of personality from India. I decided that for India, I would do smaller scale traveling and not visit the major travel destinations of the Taj Mahal and Varanasi. Instead, I spent a few days for a homestay about 8 hours away from Kochi in a town called Erode. The rest of the days I spent in and around Kochi, southern India, taking in the local attractions, and the Appelley backwaters.

On the first day of India, immigration ran late (which I found later to be usual in India), so we didn’t get off the ship until about 11:30am. We wanted to go to the marketplace so we went to go find a taxi. Without really thinking we eventually went with a few rickshaw drivers (which are about the size of go-carts) because they offered to take us there for $1 per rickshaw. We decided to go with it was absolutely worth it. The only thing about rickshaws is though, if you want to go to a specific location, expect to make about 20 random stops before you reach your destination. In our cases, we wanted to view the city anyways, so it worked out perfectly. They took us to scenic views for pictures, a laundry washing center, multiple expensive shops that they get paid just for bringing foreigners (the catch) We went to rug shops, fabric shops, spice markets, you name it. They wait outside while you do your shopping and then you jump back in and then head to your next destination. We went to lunch at a nice casual Indian restaurant where we “conveniently” saw many other SAS students because the rickshaw drivers took them to the same restaurant as well. We stayed with the drivers all day and decided to take in a cultural dance show where we saw a lot of other SASers and tourists. The dance involved a lot of spiritual ritual dances, and just interesting things I have never seen before or would consider a dance. It is very popular in India for the men to dress like women and do the majority of theatrical performances. One of the performances was an eye dance where the actor dressed as a Hindu goddess moved his eyes in every which way to the beating of drums. To be honest, it was a little strange in my opinion, but it is part of their culture and I’m glad I was able to witness it. We eventually headed back to the ship to get some sleep to be ready for our homestay trip in the early morning. Sorry for not being extremely descriptive!

-Eric

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Sea Olympics! (Med Sea!)

Today was our first day back from India which an culturally rich, diverse, and morally humbling place. I highly reccomend that everyone should get a chance to experience real India at least some time in their life. I hope to get pictures and blogs up before Singapore.

Probably the largest tradition that Semester at Sea has for every voyage is the Sea Olympics which is where all of the seas (residence halls) compete in a wide variety of games and activities. To name a few, there were tug-o-war, 3 legged dodge ball, food frenzy, synchronized swimming, lip sync, fashion show, flip cup, photo contest, and more. I participated in dodgeball, food frenzy (which is where you attempt to find gummy bears in a plate of really thick sugary whipped cream!) and the team lip sync.
There has been a lot of anticipated and smack talk between the seas all semester, so it was a fun continually break from classes and just a celebration of ship life. I am in the med sea, and our color is purple. I don’t have any purple on the ship, so I just improvised with some duct tape and fabric.

There is a lot of talent and creativity on this ship and it was amazing to see some of the choreography and such of the synchronized swimming, potato carving, and just enthusiasm. Our sea was placing 2nd near the beginning of the day, but by the end, we slipped up, and I think we took about 4th or 5th. The last event, which was the lip sync was the most anticipated event and there were some sick performances. We really procrastinated on our lip sync and ended up finalizing everything about an hour before we went on. We did a disney theme and our goal was just to act funny and have a good time. We had a few people be lions and wrestle; I was Aladdin and we had someone pull us around on a rug all over the stage- just silly things like that. All in all, it was just a fun day the Sea Olympics exceeded my expectations.

On a side note, the water was so smooth today and I have never seen water so smooth in my life. It was unlike any other part of the ocean yet on our voyage.
I didn’t get that many pictures from the Olympics, especially of the lip sync and our group photos, so I hope to get those from somebody in the next few days to share with you all. Thanks for tagging along with the journey!

-Eric

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India Tomorrow, India Tomorrow, India Tomorrow.

Namaste,

Yesterday we officially hit our half way mark for our voyage and it seems like we barely started. There are moments that seem to take forever like normal long days or week long stretches at sea, but I can not fathom almost 2 months passing already! From what we have heard, India is supposed to be the biggest culture shock yet. More intense foods, customs, smells, and traditions. Like the other ports, I am so excited to experience India and I hope I will be able to even catch a small glimpse of it. I will be going on a village home stay for a few days, traveling by overnight train and the other few days I do not have anything in particular planned. I chose not to go to the Taj and other big trips because I went on a big trip in India. However, a few friends found a cheap option, so we will see. The last few days I have been meeting with our Indian preport students to prepare a language workshop as part of my work study as well as watching plenty of Bollywood movies and learning traditional Indian dances. Also, this week was Holi, which is a color throwing festival in India celebrating having color in the world. It is similar to a water fight except with colored material (possibly incense). The color stains, so we were not allowed to have a ship wide celebration, but a few people had their own little celebrations. The color is still in some their hair. Also the last few days there has been reflections about Mauritius and some of the students poor behaviors. I think the message has sunk in for a lot of people, but realistically there will most likely be those few people who do the same thing while in Hawaii.

See you in six days, after India!

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4 hours in Mauritius

Mauritius actually happened!

Although we only had four hours and it was definitely not enough time, but it was better than nothing. Immigration this morning went really quickly and I was off the ship by 7:30am. I started making my way towards town and I ran into Joey from the media lab who was also looking to go hiking. After asking a few locals for directions, we made out way to the decieving trail head of Le Pouce Mt., which looks like a thumb and really cool to climb. From a distance, it looks like the mountain is not far away, but the trail there winds all over the mountainside, not going directly to the mountain. After some steep climbing, we made it as far up so that we could get a small view of the island. It was definitely not the 360 degree panoramic of the island, but it was better than nothing. A lot of the trail was overgrown and I sweat a lot more than normal; therefore, I was completely drenched.
Also, at the view, just as I was going to take a small panorama, my camera died. I thought it was charged enough but I guess I was wrong. We made up some time on the way back by running (if felt good to run on real land and not a rocking treadmill) and we met some other SASers on the way back. We stopped at the bank to get money for postcards and some food. Since we only had 4 hours, everybody was in a rush and you could see SAS students throughout the city running everywhere to make up time or get back to the ship. We stopped at a small sit-down restaurant to get some drinks and we had ice cream that felt perfect after the hike.

We got back to the ship around 11:30, and the line was massive. The majority of the SAS students chose to go to the beach to have a quick party and drink, and there was a large number of people that were plastered and could not even walk. It is just not classy to get that drunk before noon. I know it is 5 o clock somewheres, but c’mon people. The people who were extremely drunk had to be escorted to the ship by the RD’s to go to the drunk tank and they should have all received penalty points. The deans and faculty worked really hard to make even four hours in Mauritius possible and they asked everybody before hand to be responsible. This is just a slap in the face and definitely a damper on the SAS reputation. SAS used to spend multiple days in Mauritius, but I guess past trips have also represented both Mauritius and SAS badly, and Mauritius now no longer allows SAS to stay overnight. The majority of the students are fine and feel the same way I do, but it is the small majority that ruins it for everyone else; however, over a dozen people needing to be hoisted onto the ship because of alcohol poisoning or what have you is not cool. If this wasn’t the case, we probably could have gotten off the ship at 11:00pm when we docked last night.

All in all, it was still great to have a few hours in Mauritius and if I ever have the chance to come back, I will conquer that mountain!

-Cheers!

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Change of Plans.

Today, March 6th was supposed to be the day that we were in Mauitius. Due to the storms, we did not make it on time, and we were told we would not be arriving there. Instead, they planned a day full of fun activities, which included a dance. Today was a beautiful day and practically everyone was out getting some sun. Sorry for everyone dealing with snow right now! During our amazing day of tanning, we recieved an announcement that there was a change of plans, and we will be able to have 4 hours in Mauritius. This isn’t the 10 we orginally had, but it is still great. Everybody went crazy. Now instead of just glimpsing at it, we can actually set foot and explore. I am planning on hiking Le Pouce mountain tomorrow, which is supposed to provide an awesome panoramic view of the island.

Also, because I cannot do this by person, I would like to give a shout out to the best mother in the world! and wish her a Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday Mom. Love you!

Mauritius tomorrow!

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