Thursday, May 8, 2008

Home Sweet Home

I'M COMING HOME! We arrive in Miami tomorrow! It's a little more bittersweet than I thought it would be...I really am going to miss this ship and some of the people on it. It will be nice to be home, but overall it's been a wonderful, amazing semester. If any of you are interested, I would love to talk nonstop about it and show you all of my pictures, so just ask.
I wonder whether I'll experience any reverse culture shock? Probably, a little. Being able to understand what I'm ordering off the menu, knowing what the ingredients and nutrition facts on food are, not being the only blonde person in a sea of black hair and dark skin, people understanding what I'm saying/asking of should be quite interesting.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Costa Rica- Going Out with a Bang!

Costa Rica!
I woke up to see the beautiful sunrise in Costa Rica at about 5am. I still hadn’t done much research about the place, but Christine had done a little. We spent the rest of the morning reading Lonely Planet trying to figure out something to do. There’s not much to do in Puntarenas, where we docked, but there was a nearby ferry that went over to the peninsula across the way. We found that there was a cute hippie town called Montezuma about an hour away from the ferry ride (which was also an hour long endeavor). Christine and Tea wanted to go there and stay for the night, and I was a little hesitant—with the travel time, and only having two days in Costa Rica, I was worried about making it back on time to get to the ship; even if we got back on time, I was worried we wouldn’t have any time to hang out in the actual town because we would have spent so much time in transit. I knew if I didn’t want to go, I could walk around Puntarenas with Meghan and Amanda, and then go out in the evening to a “party area” called Jaco, which was an hour further in coast. I was going to hang out with them until I heard that everyone and their mom was going to Jaco, and SAS had found some way to throw a HUGE party there (complete with flyers some idiot girl had spent all night making). That was enough for me to decide to just go for it and head out with Christine and Tea. Even more to my luck, Nicki and Mal decided to join us. While I LOVE Christine and Tea, I’ve already explained how the two of them like to do their own thing. Nicki and Mal much prefer to do more of my type of things. Getting there wasn’t difficult at all. It started out a little rough because we just missed the 10am ferry and the next one wasn’t until 12:30, so we had to stick around Puntarenas for an extra hour and a half. It turned out being fine, however, because we hit up a delicious Mexican bakery, had to wait in a long line to get the tickets and were able to load up on the ferry early enough to get good seats outside with a breeze. As soon as we walked off the ferry, we found a taxi driver who would take us to Montezuma at a good rate. He also said he had a friend with a hotel room for five people that we would be able to stay at. It worked out perfectly…well, almost perfectly. The “hotel” was a room behind a souvenir shop, but it was pretty nice. It had a kitchen, dining room with a futon, bedroom with two queen-sized beds and a nice bathroom, and right outside our door was the beach. So what made it almost perfect? It was very centrally located, on the one main street of the little town, but that also meant we were right next door to the local bar, which we heard the music for ALL night long. We also had some neighbors living in the room with us…crabs. They weren’t terribly big but still big enough to have me jump on top of the chair. Big crawling thing that can bite me? Not my cup of tea. Nicki was brave enough to escort the first crab we found outside. In the middle of the night when only Mal and I were up and we found another one, however, we were not brave enough to do anything except jump on top of the chairs. We couldn’t find where it had crawled to at one point and just ran back to our bed and kept the cell phone light on and ready to keep an eye out for the crab. Between the crab and the music, it wasn’t the greatest night of sleep, but I still wouldn’t have changed a thing about it. Right after we got to Montezuma, we decided to walk around the town. We checked out a few of the shops, took a nice walk on the beach, and ate a late lunch at an Organic restaurant. I had the most delicious Fiesta Taco salad and banana-milk juice. It was pretty much a milkshake, and it was soooooo good. We hit up the local grocery store for snack food and a bit of alcohol. We had a few drinks and then sat out on the beach. Around 8, we decided to go for pizza at a nearby restaurant called the Pizza Connection. It was pretty good pizza. Afterwards, everyone was ready for bed. It was only 9:30ish, but it had been a long day. Mal and I decided to walk off a bit of dinner, so we took a nice long walk along the beach first. It was when we came back that we found our second neighbor…Mr. Crabs. We woke up at 5am to see the sunrise, and it was so worth it. It was beautiful. Mal and Tea decided to go for a run afterwards, so Christine, Nicki and I headed to a bakery café for breakfast. I got a yummy strawberry coconut milkshake and fresh fruit. After breakfast, Tea and Christine decided to go on a long hike while Nicki, Mal and I spent the rest of the morning on the beach. We made nachos for lunch and walked around the town a little more before our taxi driver picked us back up at around 1:30 to make it onto the 3pm ferry ride. I met the most adorable 2 year old named Byron and we became good buddies on the ferry. His dad had lived in Tennessee for a year, so he was able to translate for the two of us. Byron was very excited to be on a boat, and I was able to piece together enough Spanish (with the help of Mal) to ask him a few questions. We walked back to the ship after the ride and it was nice to be able to take a clean shower and get ALL of the sand off me. It was a great way to spend the last port. We all had a lot of fun, made it back to the ship in plenty of time, and only have a few more days before we all head home. I’m really glad I got to spend it with some of my favorite people. It will be nice to get back home and lose a little weight though; I thought I would lose weight on this trip, boy was I wrong. Sure I’m really active in port and get tons of exercise, but I also ate so much in every port. I mean, you’re only there for a few days so you want to make sure to enjoy the best food they have to offer, and it usually wasn’t terribly good for you despite how delicious it was. Then, on the ship the extent of my exercise was walking up and down stairs. While the food wasn’t very good on board, it still didn’t deter me from eating it. I probably ended up eating more than I should have at each meal because I was never really satisfied. Once I get home and back on a normal routine, I should be back to normal. I don’t think I’ve gained too much weight either, it’s not a repeat of Idyllwild (at least I hope not, anyways…I guess my mom could be the judge of that when I get off the ship in Miami). Oh well, I’ve got a whole summer to get back in shape for dancing away my senior year at Bucknell. I’m officially a senior now! That’s so crazy! Oh my god. I’m old.


So, I am the only person I know that actually had four final exams, in addition to the global studies final. Most people on the ship had one or two tests, maybe a paper- so unfair, but I’m over it because it’s all over now, and I think I did pretty well on all of them. I finished my last final at 1:30pm, sold back all my books, and went to lay out. It was wonderful! I thought selling books back at Bucknell was a rip-off, but SAS totally tops the cake. For handing back 12 books, I got 18 bucks. And that’s doing pretty well from what I’ve heard other kids got back. It’s pretty ridiculous, but oh well. There’s no way I would have taken any of those books back with me…I have enough stuff to pack as it is. We will be in Costa Rica tomorrow! Yay! Although, I have NO idea what I’m going to do there. I didn’t want to think about it until I finished all of my finals, and I still haven’t researched anything. I’ll find people to walk around with though, I always do. It will be nice to get off the ship and get some real exercise; walking up and down the stairs and from one end of the ship to the other is not nearly enough exercise for me. The gym here is crap, so that’s not an option. I try to “work out/stretch” in my room, but it’s really not big enough to do anything too strenuous. I think I would be totally fine just walking around the city for the entire day tomorrow—anything to exert some energy.
There’s only one week left, and then I’m home. Craziness. Absolute craziness.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Death of a Salesman and last day of classes!

I made my theatre professor cry. I made Daina, my director, tear up. There is no better satisfaction for an actress than when you can make people cry. Pretty much, performing scenes from Death of a Salesman went really well. My theatre professor came up to me afterwards and said, “You know, Daina told me you were going to be great, but I didn’t realize how great you would actually be. It was spectacular.” Other kids also performed scenes from Raisin in the Sun, and they went right before us. At first, I was pretty nervous because I knew they would be a tough act to beat, but we definitely were up to par. There are a few reasons why I’m particularly excited/relieved that it went so well: 1. We only had three rehearsals, the last one being at noon the day of our performance 2. None of the rehearsals went very well 3. My part was a serious role, which I am less comfortable doing in the first place and therefore get more nervous about 4. I couldn’t even really practice outside of rehearsal on my own because my theatre professor kept taking my script from me after each rehearsal to “make copies” but would forget to give it back to me 5. It’s been a really long past few weeks and I’m pretty exhausted and worn-out from theatre (which in turn ended up working well for my character). Unfortunately, I do NOT have this one recorded. I’m out of tape to record on, and Melanie’s camera ran out of battery. However, the memory is enough. Christine (my roomie) said she was sitting next to two professors, and as they were leaving, they kept saying, “Oh wasn’t she just wonderful? She was so fabulous. She was just so good.” Considering I’m the only female character in the show, we assumed they were talking about me. I’ve had tons of people come up to me to tell me what a good job I did, and it wasn’t just the fake ‘you’re all so good’ bs, a lot of it was very sincere. Dave, the kid from Berkeley who I’ve gotten to know through Meghan, Kate and Amanda, was genuinely impressed, and I know he has a lot of background in theatre and whatnot so I really appreciated hearing that from him. Also, people still come up to me and tell me how much they liked me in the last show too. A lot of kids and adults keep saying that they pretty much watched me the entire time and couldn’t stop laughing. Ok, so I’m done with my little ego trip now.
In other news, today is the last day of classes. YAY! Yippee! Tomorrow is the last global studies exam, and I’m currently debating whether or not I’m actually going to study for it. They’re dropping our lowest test grade, so when I figure out my average I’m getting a B in the class; it’s just a matter of a + or – so I’m not sure I care enough between the differentiation. The following day is a study day before our A class day exams. I have archaeology and poetry. I’m not worried about poetry; it shouldn’t take too long to study and I already have a good group of kids to study with. I’m a little worried about archaeology bc I didn’t do so hot on the first exam, but I have done well enough in her class otherwise that as long as I do study for a bit I should be able to pull off a B. Then we have another study day before our B class day exams. Those two exams I will probably have to put a little more effort into my studying. Theatre shouldn’t be too hard but we will have to write four short essays, so I just need to make sure I review all of the necessary material and notes so I have enough to bs about. Art and Econ is probably my hardest class and I will have to study for her exam, but I still think I should do pretty well in all of my classes. I mean, it’s not going to be all A’s, but when you’re traveling around the world I feel that a few B’s are justifiable. Then we arrive in Costa Rica for Saturday and Sunday. I’m not really sure what I’m doing there, but my guess is that it will include shopping, walking around, and hopefully some hiking. After Costa Rica, it’s only four more days till we arrive in Miami! Those four days are all for ‘relaxation’ and ‘reflection’ though, so no more work! Our arrival day in Miami is going to be a very long and tedious process, but I’m not too worried. We found out what order we get to get off the ship: they’re dismissing us by seas (you know, like for Sea Olympics…it’s the cabins near you), which is good news because most of my friends are in my sea. And my friends who aren’t in my sea are in seas that are getting dismissed around the same time I will, so I should be able to spend my last day with the people I like most! Our sea is getting off third to last, but you know what—at least we’re not last. Or even second to last.
I guess I have mixed feelings about coming home. Well, sort of mixed feelings. Mixed in the sense that I do really miss home and can’t wait to see everyone again, but at the same time I know that I only have TEN MORE DAYS on this ship and that I’ll be home for the entire summer. I am trying really hard to cherish the last two weeks I have on the ship, because I know come mid-summer I’m going to wish I was back on deck 7 laying out with Christine or watching Disney movies with Thomas and Grant or even, yep I’ll admit it, even in a theatre rehearsal for another show to perform on the ship. I won’t miss the food; today was Taco Day, which is pretty much a holiday on this ship. You’d think they starved us here looking at the way kids scarf down the food, myself included. It’s not even that good for Mexican food, and eating it today made me realize that in about ten days I will be able to get real, delicious tex mex! I won’t miss losing an hour of my day almost every other day. I won’t miss a good chunk of the student body around here, but there’s a good group of people that I really will miss…including some of the faculty and most of the awesome crew!
We had the Ambassador’s Ball on Friday night; I know, I thought it was tonight, but alas it has already passed. It was definitely random to have it Friday considering we still had classes yesterday and today, but it was a lot of fun. I got all dressed up; Christine even straightened my hair, which is soooo ridiculously long now, by the way! Christine and Tea decided not to go to it, so I sat at dinner with Meghan, Amanda, and Kate. It was delicious: a fancy sit down dinner where we got a glass of champagne, two glasses of wine, and chicken parmesan. After dinner we headed upstairs for a dessert buffet, which was equally as good. I ended up losing the three of them in the dessert craziness when I found Amy, Thomas and Grant (oh, no worries, I have a picture with them in their green and orange suits. They were definitely the ‘bells of the ball’…I don’t think there’s one person who didn’t get a picture with the two of them! Though, another kid did have a yellow suit, and some kids sported Japanese/Chinese silk suits or saris…). After dessert, we headed in to the ‘dance’, which was pretty lame [just bad rap music and stupid drunk kids grinding—like a frat party but ten times worse because the attendance was so weak and me and my friends were definitely not drunk]. So Amy and I peaced out to join the much cooler oldies dance party in the faculty/staff lounge with all of the professors. That’s where the real party was! It was so awesome rocking out to “Walking on Sunshine” with the Dean. When else am I going to have the opportunity to dance with my professors? When we first got up, only a few professors were dancing and then a small group of students were having fun dancing, but we made sure to change it up. We all dragged the professors onto the floor, and before you knew it the place was packed! Within a few hours, tons more kids joined the party. The dance ended at about midnight, and I had no desire to check out pub night; I went to bed. It was a very nice evening. They had tons of different events all night that I didn’t get a chance to go to either: there was live music performed by students, karaoke, and one or two other events as well. A lot of kids were ridiculously wasted (courtesy of sneaking on alcohol from Hawaii), but the kids I hung out with were all fine. Apparently the drunk kids were a little destructive and did some damage on the ship—throwing up in the hallways, ripping down cabin door signs, breaking a light or two. It was pretty pathetic. Of course, we got another letter sent out telling us how irresponsible and whatnot it was, blah blah blah. The sad part was that they’re taking out money raised from Students of Service (which benefits the different countries we’ve visited, and helps provides scholarships and funds to future voyagers who are less fortunate) to pay for the damages, which cost about $1000, unless students come forward and admit they did the damage themselves. It’s pretty disappointing. In our slight defense, we are college kids and drunk college kids always amounts to some amount of vandalism, so the ridiculously harsh letter was a little unnecessary. I do understand, however, that living on this ship is different circumstances and maintenance is very different (especially when you really get to know the crew and know the people who have to clean up after us every day); kids really should have been more respectful and less stupid. Disappointing but I guess not very surprising. Well that about sums up the last few days or so. I will probably update by blog after Costa Rica and maybe one or two more times before I get home. Then that’ll be the end! No more adventures around the world. Aw sad : (

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Hawaii and then some

A short-but-sweet day back in the States:
Hawaii is beautiful! With only one day in Hawaii, I did what anyone would do: lay on the beach. I went with Nicki and two other girls, Nel and Mal who are closer with Nicki but I’ve hung out with before. We went down to Waikiki beach. Luckily we got off the ship pretty early in the day, so even though we had to be back on the ship by 9pm, we were on the beach by 8am.
Well, I had to take complete advantage of my cell phone, considering it was the first time I had legit service the entire trip. I made sure I called as many people as I could before my battery ran out by 11:30 that morning.
For lunch we went to Cheeseburger in Paradise, and it really was just that. It was so good to just have a burger. I also got my first legal drink that Nicki bought for me! It was called “Tropical Sensations” and it was DELICIOUS! After lunch, we walked around the boardwalk area, which while it was overpriced (esp. in comparison to all the countries we’ve visited) was nice to walk around and browse. It was actually kind of weird being back in America. Cab drivers knew exactly what we were saying and where we needed to go without having to draw pictures of ships or mime the action of waves. I knew what I was ordering on the menus and knew how much everything cost. I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb with my blonde hair. Not every white kid we saw was from SAS; in fact, most of the time, they weren’t fellow voyagers. After walking around, we headed right back to the beach and the water. It was also really weird that we were all able to meet up with each other without having scheduled plans beforehand; we could actually call each other up on our cell phones to meet. Around 5ish we met up with Christine and Tea to get dinner. We went to a nice seafood/steakhouse, though after my cheeseburger (and Coldstone icecream that we had gotten for dessert) I settled for a nice fishy salad. Christine bought me my second official drink, called Jasmine Pon Pon. Of course, it was another fruity cocktail. Then my last drink of the day was amazing! It came in a pineapple and tasted just like a smoothie! It was a very nice, but mellow way to celebrate my birthday. I didn’t have to be guided home or wasn’t stuck sick in the bathroom. It was just a nice buzz. Nicki and I stayed out a little later than everyone else and went back to the beach in the evening for another half hour before heading back to the ship. We got back just in time too; apparently, there was pretty much a riot (I kid you not) at the gangway as drunk kids pushed and shoved their way in an attempt to get on the ship before 9pm so they wouldn’t get dock time. Some of my friends were in it and said it was like a rock concert. The line was so long that some kids just got pissed and cut to the front to crowd around the gangway to get on the ship, which made everyone cut and push and shove to get to the front. I think it was the worst in this port because there were two security checkpoints: one in the terminal building and another pat down when you got on the ship, so it was going really slow. It got so bad that Dean Ken had to actually come out and yell at everyone; the following day he sent out a letter to the entire shipboard community saying how disappointing and disrespectful everyone had acted, how embarrassed he was and how embarrassed we should be. It was really embarrassing, and I didn’t even see it happen. I didn’t need to, and I’m glad I didn’t.
Well, our last theatre show was such a hit that I keep getting asked to do more things, which is fine because it’s good experience. Tomorrow in Global Studies (the class that everyone takes together, which is always really boring and no one likes it and no one really goes anymore [even me]) I am going to read part of a screenplay that an SAS kid wrote for his screenplay class. We met last night, and it was absolutely awful: definitely one of the WORST rehearsals I’ve ever had. First of all, I can’t stand the Screenplay teacher. She was/is awful. Daina is supposed to be the director and this kid Jonathan is the writer, but the teacher kept piping in and contradicting Daina and trying to change everything and give suggestions. We had never seen the script before, and I play the narrator [and I’ve never read a screenplay before, which is different] so it was understandably a little rough the first time through. This idiot teacher pipes in and starts giving me advice, telling me that as a narrator I need to be more resonant, slow down, make sure I know what I’m saying, really narrate it; I really wanted to smack her in the face. Then, of course, what should have been a half hour rehearsal to read through the script a few times turned into an hour and a half of painfulness. Of course, Daniel is also doing it so he starts trying to understand the deeper meaning of the script and asking the writer all these questions. Then after the reading, the teacher gives us all her ‘suggestions’ and ‘advice’ and Daniel starts to get pissed off because the teacher kept cutting off Jonathan…and considering it was his script and he knew what he meant, I could understand why Jonathan would get frustrated. Daniel getting upset was just totally unproductive because he started getting snappy, and then the teacher started getting snappier. Daina kept trying to pipe in too, and then this other girl, Kindle, who was also in the last show with us is also giving her two cents because she’s actually in the screenplay class and has read the script before and therefore thinks she knows what’s going on. Kadero is supposed to play God in the script, and Jonathan had God cussing at one point, which made Kadero really uncomfortable (which is fine and totally understandable, but it created another mini-drama while we had to figure out what he could say instead that would still get the right point across). Then they’re making changes to the screenplay as we went along [and by ‘they’ by this point, ‘they’ meant everyone except me] and everyone’s voicing their opinions about how something should be read, acted out and/or interpreted. Then the teacher wanted me to read all of the awkward stage directions (like ‘arrogantly smirking’ and ‘over his shoulder’), which was just stupid. So, she started to cut out some of them and then I had to tell everyone else which ones she cut out, and then everyone wants to cut out more and Jonathan’s asking me my opinion and I just said: “I don’t care. I’m an actress. I’ll say whatever you want me to say. Just decide.” Really, the entire thing was just ridiculous and painful and I wanted to shoot myself. Of course, because last night was so successful we have another meeting tonight at 8pm. And OF COURSE at 9pm I have another rehearsal for theatre class because at the community college on 8pm this Saturday night we’re reading scenes from Death of a Salesman. I play the one female role, Linda, the wife. It’s actually a pretty good part, and I like the other kids for the most part [they were all in the last show with me]…it’s just one more thing to do. Bryce plays Willy, my husband, Kadero plays one of the two brothers, Daniel plays two random side parts, and Big Tom plays the other brother [aka my other son]. Big Tom has way too many lines though, and he has such trouble with reading that our last rehearsal was pretty painful. I’m sure he’ll be fine by Saturday, but it usually takes him a while before he gets it down. I really wish they had just given Kadero the bigger role, but they didn’t. Rehearsal tonight will probably be pretty long for that too. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much, because it’s nice that Daina and my theatre professor [not the stupid screenplay teacher I don’t like…she doesn’t deserve to be called a professor] keep asking me to do stuff and I enjoy actually doing it; it’s the process that’s such a bitch. It should all be done by Saturday night though, and Sunday is the last day of classes so it should be smooth sailing from there. I just have to study and take finals, which shouldn’t be too horrible. We also have the Ambassador’s Ball on Sunday night, which is pretty much just an occasion to dress up pretty, take pictures with all your new friends, and get good food!
Well, that’s all for now, just sitting and waiting for global studies to start. Hopefully it won’t be too boring today.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

When Shakespeare's Ladies Meet...and I steal the show (well, sort of...)

Well, the rest of my birthday was wonderful. I had a birthday dinner with Nicki, Tea, Christine, Meghan, Kate and Amanda. I had class till 5:30, so they set up the birthday table with napkins, plates, party hats, and whatnot. Then, a huge plate of assorted cookies was brought out and there were candles. I got the birthday song, and tons of nice kids would stop by to wish me a happy birthday. I, of course, sported my Disney Princess tiara. The cookies were absolutely delicious, and the crew even brought out glasses of milk for all of us. After dinner, Christine, Tea and I returned to our new tradition of watching a cute movie after dinner. We watched No Reservations (with Catherine Zeta Jones), which was very cute. I had rehearsal, which went well. Everyone sang me Happy Birthday and had signed a card for me. Daina gave me a cute gift as well. It was a very nice birthday, and I was surprised how many people knew it was my birthday and said something. They do list birthdays in the Dean’s Memo, but I didn’t really think anyone knew my last name. It’s also kind of weird here because I had so many professors wish me a happy birthday as well; it’s such close quarters, everyone knows everything here.
The show was last night, and of course it was a huge success. In fact, we find out during the usual noon announcements that we were going to do two performances instead of one because of popular demand. Apparently, tons of people had being calling up Daina and complaining because they couldn’t make the 8 o clock showing, so she decided we’d do it twice: once at 8 and again at 9. That was a surprise, but it was fine bc the first performance was a good opportunity for us to get out all of the last little kinks. I think the second performance was much better, but I went ahead and videotaped the first one. Melanie taped the second performance, however, so I should have both. Tea was on camera duty, so I’m not sure how they turned out yet; I’m sure there are a few good ones, and Daina’s significant other took a lot of pictures during dress rehearsal that he hasn’t posted yet. I’ll find something to put on the blog for you guys. Everyone said I did a great job, obviously, and that I was very funny. A few people told me that they only watched me the entire time because I was pretty funny, so that was very nice. Bridget, one of the kids on the ship, was probably my biggest fan. She said she watched me the entire time, and even showed me some of my moves afterwards. I also had a fellow dancer come up and commend me after the show for being able to dance when the ship was so rocky, so hearing from another actual dancer that it looked pretty good was exciting news as well. Overall, the show went wonderfully well and everyone enjoyed it.
In other news, there have been lots of papers (well, relatively speaking…in other words, more work than usual which is still nothing compared to the workload back at the buck. Oh, no worries though, I am in NO WAY complaining). I have most everything done. After Hawaii on Tuesday we only have one or two more days of classes and then the finals start. I have four exams, which is unusual for me; I’m used to having to write a stack of 12 page papers, but I don’t mind the change. The exams shouldn’t be too hard at all, just like regular tests. I only have one more paper to write as well (and the papers only have to be five pages…alright, alright, I’ll stop bragging and making all you hard working students jealous).
In Hawaii, I will be able to purchase my first legal drink, so that is something very exciting that I’m looking forward to. Unfortunately, we only have one day in Hawaii, so I have to utilize it. This means I plan on spending the day at the beach or having a drink or two in a bar. Exciting, I know. I think that’s about it from here, so hope all is well in the states. I can’t believe I will be back in American territory in a few days! Wow, this trip has gone by so quickly, and I’m still trying to enjoy every single day of it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Japan and my birthday!

4.13: So, since my SAS trip to Nara for the third day was cancelled, I decided to go with my roommate and Tea to Osaka for the day. I liked Osaka, but it wasn’t my favorite place in Japan. It was kind of like a biggish city. We did go to the museum of Oriental Ceramics, which was pretty cool and walked around tons of shopping areas. I got some cute new nose rings, but that was about it for my spending. We went to a cute little restaurant for dinner, after a long harried walk of trying to find some place that had both noodles and sushi. They wanted noodles, I wanted sushi, and we ended up at a place that didn’t really have either. It was fine though because I ended up with a pseudo-sushi dish that was avocado and tuna with cod roe mayonnaise in a big bowl of sticky rice, which was delicious. I had cherry blossom ice cream for dessert, which was very very very delicious. It was a pretty good day, but it was long and we all got a little frustrated with each other by the end of it. Everyone in Japan was so nice, however, and we were always able to find people who could help us figure out where we were going. A man helped us buy subway tickets, and we even ran into a group of American students studying abroad in Japan who helped us find a good shopping area.
The last day in Japan was my favorite. Even though SAS had cancelled my trip to Nara, I was determined to go there. Originally Tea and Christine were going to come with me, but both of them had decided that they were too exhausted and worn out to mess with traveling again. Well, I didn’t let that stop me. I went on my own. Christine let me borrow her railpass, so I didn’t have to pay for any of the train tickets, which was especially nice because the first guy who gave me directions told me the wrong thing and I ended up getting a bit lost. I ended up going on two extra trains to make up and transfer back to the correct train I was supposed to be on, but like I mentioned earlier—everyone was so nice and helpful that it wasn’t too bad. I made it out to Nara in an hour and a half. There are also information desks everywhere, so all I had to do was walk out of the train station to the desk to found out how to get everywhere. I went to Todai-ji (the temple where the largest Buddha statue in the world is located). I LOVED NARA! It was so beautiful and peaceful there, and there were deer everywhere! You could walk right up and pet them, literally. I did. A lot of people were feeding them too, but they came up to me and started chewing on my jacket so I figured that was food enough. I loved just walking around. It was especially calming after having been so sick. Having the day to myself was exactly what I needed. There were also tons and tons of cute souvenir-type shops with lots of fun Japanese trinkets and gifts. I bought a lot of stuff. I wanted to buy out every store I went to, but I restrained myself. For lunch I went to a nice place with a view of one of the many Nara temples. They didn’t have a menu in English, but the waitress was ridiculously nice. I explained I wanted sushi, so she pointed out a number of dishes. I ended up getting a huge box one that had tempura, sushi, sashimi, and some weird other vegetables (and I’m very proud of myself for at least trying all of it!). It was absolutely delicious, even though it was a bit on the expensive side. I figured I deserved it after not being able to eat too much of anything. After walking around for another few hours and getting some more shopping done, I decided to head back to Kobe in the late afternoon. I wanted to leave myself enough time to get back to the ship if I happened to get lost again. It worked out, however, that I ran into a few other SAS kids who were also heading back. I was able to tag along with them, on a much smoother journey, back to Kobe. When we got to Kobe, two of them also wanted to walk around for a bit longer so the three of us headed out. Their names were Anna and Max. Anna and I had been on a SAS trip together a long time ago, so we were relatively friendly. We had a lot of fun. We went to the local supermarket to stock up on snacks for the long haul between Japan and Hawaii. I got some delicious Japanese candy (like pocky and toppo…pocky are chocolate (or coconut or strawberry or various other flavors) covered wafer sticks and toppo are chocolate (or vanilla etc) filled pretzel sticks). Ahh, they’re so good. Next we stopped at this crepe place and I had my absolute favorite dessert of the trip so far…and that’s saying something, because I’ve made sure to try plenty of desserts in these countries. The warm crepe acted as an ice cream cone! Inside it had vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce, bananas, and whip cream. Oh my god. Really, it was so freaking amazing. Then we made one last stop at a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant for some dinner. It was pretty good sushi, and also just really cool how you just wait for the sushi you want to pass in front of you. I had some pretty good salmon ones, tuna ones, and some crab ones. It was really quite a good last meal to leave Japan. Afterwards, we walked the twenty minutes back to the harbor and boarded the ship. It made for the perfect last day in Japan. I would love to go back to Japan, though. I feel that there was so much more I would love to do and places to visit. My mom said that if I wanted I could probably go back as a graduation gift, and it would be pretty cool to go with my mom who knows the area and can speak a bit of the language. Japan is really the only country that I have to go back to. Most of the other countries were awesome; I loved Malaysia and China, but I would be ok if I never got around to getting back there. Japan, on the other hand, I would really like to go back to. It probably helps that I’ve grown up with my mom who’s obsessed with it, but I think I came to the decision on my own that it was my favorite country. I mean, I know I still have Costa Rica, but I don’t think that country will be in my top three. Japan, Malaysia and China are my top three favorites.
So as far as birthdays go, it’s been a pretty good day! I’ve gotten tons of emails and messages, so thanks guys! Also, Nicki and Tea put up a cute Happy B-day sign on my door (which I, of course, got a picture of) and as part of my care package, Debbie and Rachel sent me Disney Princess tiaras, napkins and plates, so I will make sure to whip those out at my birthday dinner tonight. I’m not sure what (if anything) Christine, Nicki and Tea ended up ordering for me (because you can order cake or cookies), but I’ll be happy with anything. I don’t have any other big plans for the day, and I do have rehearsal for the show tonight. We perform this Saturday evening, and I think the show should be pretty good…once it pulls together. It definitely has not pulled together yet, but it is only Wednesday. I won’t lose faith yet. I do get to do a pretty intense little dance number that I choreographed, so that should be fun. I just hope that the ship isn’t too rocky that night because that could add another dimension to the play if we’re all falling all over the place. The seas have been pretty rocky the past two days—as in we’ve whipped out the masking tape for the heavy drawers that keep swinging open and shut, but I like it. It makes the ship more fun. Last night at dinner the huge bucket of soup actually tipped over. Sucked for the crew to have to clean it up, but it was pretty entertaining, I’m not going to lie. That’s about it from here. I’ll probably add a little update later letting you all know how the birthday dinner went, but until then au revoir!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Worst few days of? China

Well, it would be fitting that following the best week ever would be the worst three or four days ever. Of course, I wake up the following morning after China and feel absolutely horrible. Yep, I would get the stomach flu. Too much Chinese food. I loved spending three days hunched over a toilet—eating in total two crackers and half a piece of toast (that’s a diet for you)…oh, and two bottles of Gatorade. It was (and still isn’t so great, I’m not completely better yet) awful. Of course, yesterday was our FIRST day in Japan and I was still so miserable and weak and throwing up that I couldn’t even go out! I was so upset. I’ve been looking forward to Japan so much, and I was hysterically upset about being couped up on the ship. The worst part was that because of satellite interference we get absolutely NO internet OR phone access the entire time we’re in Japan, which meant I couldn’t call my mom for consolation and comfort (which is pretty much the only thing you want to do when you’re that sick).
I had an SAS trip to Kyoto today, and I was feeling better so I decided to brave it. I am so glad I did. I started out a little shaky (haha, kind of literally) but I got much better as the day went on. Still not great, and I had to make a few bathroom stops along the way, but still much better. Kyoto is absolutely beautiful! We went to the Golden Pavilion, Nijo Castle, a Shinto Shrine, and another Pagoda that I forgot the name of and am too lazy to double check what it’s called. I loved them all! Everything was so serene, peaceful, beautiful, and the cherry blossoms are AMAZING! We really lucked out, because we should have just missed their two-week blooming period, but we caught the end of it. Apparently there aren’t as many, but there are still plenty! They’re soooooo pretty. Well, I’m pretty beat because it’s been a long day, so sorry for the abrupt end. Have no fear, more on Japan to come!

Best Week the Republic of China!

Ok, so. I have to say that my time in China was INCREDIBLE. I’ll start with my Beijing Trip.
We didn’t get into Beijing until the late afternoon, so we didn’t do much on our first day. The airport we flew into, however, is brand new (as in it opened last week) and was huge! We had to take shuttle after subway after bus ride just to get out of the place, but it really was pretty spectacular. Even the ceilings had to be at least 20 feet high. We stayed at the Jinchuyan Guest House on campus, and after arriving we had a great dinner. Pretty much everywhere we ate was set up the same: there was a huge lazy susan on the middle of the table and they just kept bringing out more and more fun. Chinese food in China is different from American Chinese food, but it does have similarities. A lot of the flavoring was different and some of the dishes were different (I can’t describe them though because no one ever spoke English so I really had no idea what I was eating), but a lot of the flavoring was the same. After dinner they didn’t have anything else planned for us to do, so Amy, Tom, Grant and I decided to walk around campus. Their campus is pretty big, which would be appropriate considering they have 40,000 undergrads. We really had no idea where we were going, but we had fun wandering. It was also pretty cool because there were tons of little night stands set up—selling waffles and drinks, or books and other random convenience store stuff. We talked to a few of the students and didn’t find out too much because most of them told us they didn’t speak English very well, but it was still fun trying to talk to them. After wandering for an hour or two we headed back to the guest house, though we did get slightly lost for a while.
Day Two: We woke up early to do Tai Chi with the cutest little old Chinese man ever. It was pretty chilly, and the weather was a bit drizzly, but we did it in a garden on campus near the guest house. He showed us two Tai Chi moves, and it was a pretty entertaining half hour start to the day. We went back to the guest house for breakfast, which was interesting. They had a lot of the same food that they had had for dinner—noodles, rice, soup, and hot milk, which is good but not so great at 8am. I opted for all of the delicious sesame seed cookies, biscuits, and pastries instead; I know, not too healthy, but I did have some eggs and sausage type thingys that I don’t really know what they were. After breakfast we went to Tianenmen Square, which is a huge outdoor square (I think it’s actually the largest in the world). It’s surrounded by the museum, some government building, some interesting statues of soldiers, and the gateways to the Forbidden City. Of course, there is a huge statue of Mao in the center. On top of the gateways to the Forbidden City there was another large picture of yours truly. After getting to walk around the square we went inside the Forbidden City. It was so huge, there was no way we would have been able to cover even half of it in the time they gave us. One thing that was pretty cool was that we were given electronic tour guide boxes you wore around your neck and listened in the headphones. As you walked around the city, the satellite would track your position and when appropriate explain (in English) the location you were in. It was tons of old Oriental looking palaces, most of which had gold painted ceilings and red walls. There were usually dragons and bright designs painted on the trim. There were tons of different palaces and buildings, even a garden or two. After walking around for an hour we went to lunch at another authentic Chinese restaurant. Back to the lazy susans and this lunch wasn’t too bad either; we got lots and lots of dumplings. After lunch we headed over to the Temple of Heaven. This was another huge place that I wish I had more time to walk around in. Tom, Grant, Amy and I had fun taking some Kung Fu pictures and Tai Chi pictures. At one point, when we decided to do Tai Chi in the middle of the Temple square a cute Chinese girl jumped in with us and got a few good pictures. Next we went to a Chinese Acrobatics Show, and it was insane! It was like Cirque de Soleil. They had contortionists, guys jumping through hoops, guys flipping twenty feet in the air off of seesaws, girls dancing and making pyramids on bikes, and even a few random parrots flew through the audience. It wasn’t terribly cultural, but it was still pretty damn cool. After the performance, we were all dropped off at Silk Street; it’s a ridiculous six floor market filled with everything, from fake designer sunglasses, purses to pearls and silk and DVDs and electronic gadgets. I got a lot of stuff, but it was all so cheap that it was definitely worth it. It was also ridiculously easy to bargain with them; all you had to do was walk away and then they’d be willing to let you pay whatever you wanted. I got a sweet pair of high top converse for the equivalent of about 15 dollars, a cute purse (yes, it’s a fake lesportsac, but I only got it because the pattern is adorable birdies), and a nice silk top. So, within the first two minutes or so of being in the market, Amy and I lost the boys because Grant is totally ADD and wanders off like crazy and we were busy bargaining for silk shirts. We spent some time trying to find them (when we weren’t distracted by the cute clothes and accessories…that is), but as we were buying purses we heard an announcement over the loudspeaker from Grant asking if we could please come to the front of the market. He had been able to convince tons of cute little Asian women that Amy was his girlfriend and he needed to find her, so they let him make an announcement on the loudspeaker. (Just as an FYI, Amy has a boyfriend at home, it just totally made the announcement ten times better when all of a sudden we heard “Will Amy Thompson, Grant’s girlfriend, please come up to the front to meet her boyfriend. Thank you.”) We were on our own for the rest of the night, so after meeting up with Tom and Grant we went to a pizza place (I know, I know…but Chinese food is heavy and we all needed something a little less authentic to eat by this point). There were about seven of us: the four of us and then two other girls, Caitlyn and Allyson (I know—she spells it like me! AND she’s from Texas, AND she’s in XO. Small world, huh?), and another guy Phil. The pizza was delicious and we walked around downtown Beijing for a bit before riding the subways back (or at least most of the way back) to campus. It was crazy though because the subways stop running at 11pm, so we were literally running to catch our last subway (we had to transfer three times in the subway station, but Phil had his lonely planet and knew how to travel around so it was a lot of fun). The last transfer aka the Big Run to Catch the Next Subway was insane. The lines were so far apart from each other; we had to run up at least three escalators in addition to three flights of stairs, lots of walking around and even a long crosswalk outside to get to the line. We knew we had to run because the Chinese people were running along with us! We luckily caught the last subway though, and from outside the last subway station it was only a ten minute cab ride back to the guest house. It was a workout, to say the least.
Day Three: I got up for another exciting morning of Tai Chi, though our numbers had greatly decreased to about ten people (it was obviously optional). After breakfast, we went to the Great Wall! The part of the Great Wall we went to was a really intense hike, because it was just tons and tons AND TONS of steps and uneven walkways. Of course, I made it all the way to the top of the part of the wall where we were…and back down of course. It was really tiring but an incredibly satisfying experience. My calves and butt needed the exercise too! We went to another Chinese restaurant for lunch and then went back to campus in the afternoon to finally meet the students. They gave us a presentation on different art activities students do on campus, like play a weird Chinese instrument, do calligraphy, and sing. It was a little boring, so a group of SAS kids peaced out about halfway through to do their own thing (not too surprising). I’m glad I stayed though, because afterwards SAS gave our own impromptu presentation of our talents. Big Tom got up and sung a little opera, Phil juggled for them using a pill bottle, a camera case, and a small phrase book [on the spot thinking], and Tom and Grant sang “Be A Man” from Mulan. It was very entertaining. Next, the students (though there were more than twice as many of us then there were of them) gave us a tour of campus. I spent most of my time talking with a really cute freshman named Sophie. (All of them have both Chinese and English names…and most of them were English majors, so they were getting good practice from us). We ate at their cafeteria, which had even more Chinese food. The students walked us back to our guest house and we had half an hour to get ready before going out to a karaoke bar with the students! They were absolutely adorable, and I really wish we got to spend more time with them. Sophie and Margaret were probably my favorites, and they got up to sing a karaoke duet! We had a lot of fun, but by midnight we were all pretty exhausted and ready to go back. Some kids stayed out to party a bit more, but most of us went to campus with the university students. I was in a cab with Sophie, Margaret, and Leo. We made sure to get some good pictures before saying goodbye. I went back to the room and talked with my roomie for the trip, Cooper, who was very sweet and nice. (I’ve really had good roommate luck all around!)
Day Four: Well, I got up with the intention of going to Tai Chi, but I never made it. While Cooper and I were en route to the garden we got stopped by a little old Chinese man who talked to us for the entire time! He was really cute and wanted to practice his English on us (as most of them did to get ready for the mass of people coming up for the Olympics). It turns out he’s a retired Olympics Diving Training coach. He told us a lot about China and was curious about our own travels. It made for a really nice morning. We went to the Beijing Zoo to see giant pandas! It was actually kind of sad because they were pretty small cages and the pandas didn’t seem too happy. Also, all we could see was the pandas because there was an additional entrance fee to visit the rest of the zoo and other animals. It was still pretty neat to see the pandas, and we ended up leaving a bit early to add a few more things to our itinerary before we had to head up to Shanghai. We went to the Summer Palace, and surprise surprise it was another massive and beautiful place to walk around. Amy, Grant, Tom, Meghan (fyi: Meghan as in the one who’s close with Kate and Amanda…the one I like but not necessarily enjoy traveling with) and I decided to go paddle-boating on the lake; it was so much fun (especially just listening to Tom and Grant bicker like an old couple while trying to paddle). We had MORE Chinese food for lunch, and I’m not going to lie, I was very sick of Chinese food by that point. It’s good; it’s just all very heavy and saucy and doesn’t sit that well with my stomach. Our trip leaders were really nice and took us back to the Silk Street Market for one more hour to do some last minute shopping before the airport. I was able to pick up some nice jewelry and in the last two minutes Amy and I did some awesome power-shopping for two nice trench coats. We went up, tried them on, said, “I have to leave in two minutes, we’ll take it for a 100 that’s it.” It worked! It’s a really nice jacket too. We finally headed to the airport to get home. That was the biggest airplane I’ve ever been on. It was one of the ones with four seats in the middle and two more seats by the windows on the outside of each row. I was pretty beat after such a long day, but we knew we were only going to have one night to go out in Shanghai. We were going to go out with Izzy and a few other girls, but their Beijing trip (which arrived to the airport a little later than us and were on the flight following ours) didn’t get back to the ship until 11pm. I assumed they didn’t want to go out, so I got ready for bead. At midnight though, I got a call from Amy asking if I wanted to go to a gay dance club; how could I refuse? It ended up, however, that the one guy who knew where the club was left before we could get directions. We ended up going to a street with lots of bars; by the time we got there, there was only one still open. It was ok though because we only wanted to have a dance party, and they did have a dj. I finally got back to the ship and ready for bed by 3:30. It was a late night, but it was still a lot of fun. It was also a wonderful night because when I had gotten back to my room from my trip, I saw a thick envelope waiting for me on my bed. XO sent me a bunch of wonderful postcards (and a photo of the care package they sent home for me). It was so sweet! I absolutely loved it, and it was the perfect present to come home to after a great trip! I had the Peking Opera School fieldtrip the next day, and we left at 9am. I absolutely loved it; it was so cool getting to see their training facilities. It totally reminded me of Idyllwild or a conservatory. In addition to academic courses, the students train for six hours every day in martial arts, ballet and singing (plus a few more). A few of the students would stop their training to show us some of their moves. I was able to get some of it recorded on my camera, including a famous Peking Opera star who can do watersleeves with 8 feet long sleeves! Watersleeves is a cool Chinese art form where the dancers wear long sleeves of silk that they wave around in the air to make cool shapes and pretty patterns. I came back to the ship for lunch when the fieldtrip finished and then I went back out into Shanghai for the last day with Izzy, Tom and Grant. I know, surprising crowd, huh? We went to another market, but I was really pretty shopped out by this point. I got one or two more things, but I had had enough shopping. We went to a Walmart next, which was located across town, but it was worth it. We all stocked up on snacks for the long haul between Japan and Hawaii because we knew it would be so much cheaper in China than if we waited till Japan. We went to the post office, so we could mail a few postcards. We wanted to find an American food place for dinner, since we had all had way way way too much Chinese food but couldn’t find one. We ended up getting a taxi back near the ship and decided to try and find a place to get some food there. It was only Chinese food, so we figured we’d suck it up and get one last meal of it. We walked into a big restaurant that was completely empty except for one large family seated around a big round table. Of course, after walking around in the rain all day and being tired and hungry, we were quite the motley crew. As soon as we walked in, however, they all started cheering for us and motioning for us to sit down at the table next to them. After bewildered glances at each other and more cheering and beckoning from the Chinese group, we finally sat down. When we asked the woman who came to our table for our menu, she informed us that they didn’t have a menu. For a second, I thought, well this is an odd place, but then she said it was because they were celebrating opening night (which was the following night). The family had come in that evening to celebrate, and we were their first ever costumers. The hostess told us to tell her whatever food we wanted and they would cook it for us, so with some battered English and a Chinese Mandarin phrase book we came up with a few good foods to order. A few more groups of people came in after us, but they wouldn’t seat them! Apparently, we were just pretty special. The food was delicious…as in, the dumplings were so good we had three orders of them. One cute older man kept coming over to our table to do “cheers” with us. He later pointed upstairs and started shaking his arms and hips; he wanted us to go dancing with him at the club upstairs! How could we refuse such an offer?! (And by the way, while we were eating Amy happened to be walking by and stopped in to say hi but ended up staying with us). We went upstairs and they had a private karaoke room! It was the five of us with all these old Chinese men, including the boss/owner of the restaurant! We kept doing “cheers” with them with wine (and when you cheers in China you have to drink the whole cup, so it’s pretty much drinking shots of wine). We had the GREATEST time dancing to techno music and singing karaoke songs like “Let it Be” with these guys. It was by far my favorite night in China. We would have stayed all night; unfortunately, it was pressing on 8:30 and we had to be back on the ship by 9pm if we didn’t want dock time. We sadly had to say our goodbyes to get back to the ship, but overall it made for a WONDERFUL time in China.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Hong Kong

I wish I could have more time in this city. It reminds me of New York, except a whole LOT cleaner and the people walk a hell of a LOT slower. It’s truly a metropolis, and unlike any of the other ports we’ve been to. It probably helps that it’s a lot colder here than any other city, but still. I spent the first day walking around with my roommate, Nicki and Tea. We got traditional Chinese food for lunch, and it was absolutely delicious. I got chicken teriyaki with noodles. It does taste different than American Chinese food, but I still like both. After walking around for a few hours, the three of them had to go because they’re going to the Great Wall independently, so they had to catch a flight. I tried to go to the Hong Kong Museum of Art, but it was closed. Instead I walked around the Cultural centre and then went to the Space Museum. It was pretty cool, definitely more geared towards children but still good. I walked around for a bit longer before heading back to the ship for dinner. At 8pm every night, Hong Kong puts on a laser light show, so I was able to watch it from the ship. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was still pretty cool. All of the different skyscrapers have lights on them that flashed different colors and made different patterns as well. Hong Kong really has the most amazing city skyline I’ve ever seen. I decided to stay in for the night, unlike the hundreds of girls going out to the bars in skimpy outfits when it was freezing outside. Not my style. My University trip doesn’t leave until 10:30am, so I figured I would take the time to write a short blog update before I get back from the Great Wall. I am so excited for this trip. We’re staying on a college campus, Tsinghua University. We have a Chinese guy on the ship, Xi, and he was saying that our college is like the Yale of China…and all of the kids will probably be socially awkward. I’m not going to lie, that makes me pretty excited. Not only do we get to see the Great Wall, we’re going to the Beijing Zoo to see the pandas, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and I think a silk market as well (plus a few more exciting places). I get back late on Monday, and then I get to spend my last day in China in Shanghai. I’m going to visit the Peking Opera School…I know, Er Dong would be proud. Pretty much, China is going to be absolutely amazing and it’s already off to a great start! I can’t believe I’m in CHINA!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Temples of Angkor

Temples of Angkor!
I had a really great time on my trip to Cambodia! Definitely tied in first place with Iguacu as my top two favorite trips. We left at about 8:30am and I was very excited to find out that Tom and Grant were there too! Both of them were on my Iguacu Falls trip and we’ve been friends ever since. I love those two, so I obviously spent most of the trip with them. Jenna, my roommate from the Taj Mahal, was also on my trip, so she also hung out with us! We got into Cambodia around 2 and then headed off to see Angkor Wat. We had about two hours to explore Angkor Wat (which is the main one of the many different temples of Angkor) and got to see sundown, which was beautiful. We went to a buffet place for dinner that evening and got to watch a cultural show, and it surprisingly wasn’t that toursity. It had some very different types of dancing. The movement was very intricate—there was a lot of hand and foot movement, with little full body movement like western dancing. It had an “Indian dance style” feel to it. The costumes were beautiful: elaborate golden headdresses and bright silk dresses or skirts. After dinner I went back to the hotel and passed out. My roommate this time was a girl named Paige, who was very nice and we got along well.
Day Two: Up at 4:30am to catch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. It was even more beautiful than sundown, because the sun came up from behind the temple. We were there for about an hour before heading back to the hotel for breakfast. After breakfast we hit up different temples of Angkor. What’s really amazing about the temples is that they’re engulfed by nature; there are trees literally growing out of the temples, vines and grass everywhere, and tons of ruins and parts that have fallen off (or were hacked off and looted, courtesy of years of wars). We got to run around and explore for about three and half hours. Tom, Grant and I had a lot of fun wandering through the different places: The Leper King Terrace, The Bayon Temple and the Elephant King Temple. It was RIDICULOUSLY hot, however. Later someone said that it was about 108’ with the humidity level. We all sweat so much it was absurd, and it also was kind of tough because as amazing as the temples were it just got too hot to keep wandering through them. We had to get back on this dinky shuttle buses to the main gates after a few hours before we could get back on our big AC coach buses. As soon as I sat down on the dinky, non-AC shuttle, I knew something didn’t feel right. I started to get really bad stomach cramps and nausea. I thought I would be ok once we got back on the AC buses, however; I still didn’t feel good when we got back on the buses though, but I figured I would be fine once we got to the restaurant and I could cool down and eat something. Well, I was wrong. I definitely had a heat stroke in the outdoor restaurant where we were supposed to have lunch. I went to the restroom and slid down to the floor. I couldn’t stand anymore; I was really shaky, sweating profusely, incredibly dizzy and nauseous. Everyone was trying to talk to me—tell me to drink more water (which I obviously didn’t have enough of), go back outside where it was cooler than the bathroom, put my head between my knees. I couldn’t process any of it; I was finally able to get myself out of the bathroom and to our lunch table where I put my head down. Kay, who is my absolute favorite professor, was on our trip and came over. She put a cold wet cloth on my neck and tried to get me to drink something. She suggested that I go back to the hotel, and luckily there was a nurse on our trip so she came back with me. I took a cool bath, lay down and managed to eat something a bit later. I felt much better, though I was bummed I didn’t get to see the rest of the temples for that day. When I saw everyone later at dinner that night, they said I really hadn’t missed too much. After a while all of the temples started to look the same and the heat had been getting to everyone. At around four though, when I thought I was all better, I went back out with the nurse to a few indoor shops to look at souvenirs, but I only lasted 45 minutes before I asked to go back to the hotel to lie down again. By dinnertime, I was all better. We went to a Cambodian restaurant and had some delicious food. After dinner Tom, Grant, and I decided to walk around a bit. We ended up finding a place to get a $6 massage for an hour. It was amazing! We sat in these nice chairs while they massaged our legs, feet, arms, back and neck. It was tons of fun too: Grant couldn’t stop giggling, and when he wasn’t laughing we were all singing. Grant and Tom were singing more so than I was, but we were still singing a LOT. Disney songs (yes, both of them are more obsessed with Disney than I am (or even you, Rachel)!), a few rap songs, little bit of Smashmouth. The girls massaging us were sooo entertained by us. They were laughing more than we were. They also thought we were all professional singers. After that, we hit up a cheap internet café (50 cents an hour) and I was able to AIM with a few friends, which was really nice. We caught a $3 tuk-tuk (which is a little cart attached to a man on a bicycle) back to the hotel and hit the hay. It had been a very long day.
Day Three: We got to sleep in a little later, so that was nice. We didn’t leave the hotel till 7:30am. There were two options for the morning: we could go see more temples, or we could check out a floating village. A bunch of us decided to do the floating village, and I am so glad I did. It was absolutely amazing. The homes honestly float on the water. There are made out of wood and float in the lake. In the rainy season when the lake is fuller their homes extend almost to the surrounding forest. There were even cages with pigs floating! There is a hospital and a school on land, which the kids have to canoe to in the mornings. Right next to the floating village is stilted houses. In the rainy season, it looks like their houses float as well, but we were there during the dry season so it was just houses on really tall stilts. After checking out the village we headed back to the hotel for lunch and got enough free time to relax and pack up before heading out to see more temples. We saw a few more cool places, including one that was really high with tons of steep steps that we absolutely had to climb to the top of. Then the last one we went to was the one where Tomb Raider was filmed. I would LOVE to play hide and seek in there; it would be so much fun. The only problem was the heat, so we decided that we didn’t want anyone else to get heat strokes and settled for walking through it. My camera had died by this point, but I’m going to get pics from Tom. Finally we headed to the airport for our flight back to Vietnam. We got back around 8:30ish, so Tom and Grant and I decided to head back out and check out the night market. We were really looking for DVDs but found out all of them had closed for the night. We ended up stopping by the tailor that had made Tom and Grant’s suits to pick them up. Tom got a lime green suit made (lots of guys got suits made and girls got dresses made because it is really cheap to get a tailor here…though I didn’t get a dress made because it just didn’t work out and I didn’t have the time) and he got an all white one. Grant’s suits were white and orange. The suits are awesome, and the boys look hilarious in them. The white suits look pretty sharp too. We were pretty exhausted so we tried to hail a taxi home. The driver barely spoke any English, and though he told us he knew where he was going, he didn’t. Luckily, we had run into some other SAS boys at the tailor and saw they were taking motorcycle rides (it was really cheap to just hop on the back of a motorbike with someone and get a cheap taxi ride anywhere; no worries, that was NOT for me) back to the ship. One of the guys had to wear a bright pink helmet, and we passed him while were driving towards the ship. It worked out because we were able to get our taxi driver to follow him, after some sign language and picture-drawing communication, that is. We made it back well and alive, and it ended up being another good but long day.
Back in Ho Chi Minh City for the last day. I went to a Water Puppet Performance in the morning, and Tom and Grant were also on that trip! So was Kate. The water puppets were really cool. I’ll try to explain it: the stage is pretty much a pool of water, and the background is a pagoda with bamboo shades. The puppets just pop out from under the water and move. You can’t see the strings or the people working the puppets (who are hidden in the pagoda behind the bamboo shades). It was a bunch of short vignettes; there was no real plot. They had dragons that spit fire and water, there were dogs that chased a ball around, fishermen, deities, and tons more. Afterwards two of them came out and showed us how to work the dragon puppets. It was done by 11 in the morning and we were downtown, so we were able to walk around for the rest of the afternoon. We hit up an awesome bootleg DVD place. I got so much stuff, and I really hope it works. If it doesn’t, I won’t be heartbroken bc it was all so cheap, but I still hope they play. I’m going to test them and make sure. I got a Disney collection one: it has about 12 discs with about 8 movies on each one, and it’s got soo many good ones (Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, Mulan, Monsters Inc, Hercules, Cinderella…and so many more) and it only cost TWENTY bucks! Isn’t that nuts? I also got a scary movie compilation one that has great stuff like The Shining and Saw and tons of other ones I’ve never seen before. I also got the full ten seasons of Friends for $8, the full seven seasons of Sex and the City for $6, and both seasons of Heroes for $3. Next we went to the Ben Thanh market and I got a really nice necklace for about ten dollars. It was originally 25, but I was able to get it down. All I had to do was walk away…twice…but it worked. It’s coral. Then I got a rolling duffle-bag suitcase, because the ship and the Miami airport completely ruined mine, for only $15. It’s nice and big, so that was an important item I made sure to get. After that I was about shopped out, and ready to start heading back. Tom and Grant left to buy Japan railway tickets, so Kate and I stopped at a café for smoothies before heading back. Tom, Grant and I are totally watching Kronk’s New Groove (well, fingers crossed that the Disney DVD actually works) tonight, so I need to get a little bit of homework done. That’s about it for Vietnam, though. I really enjoyed both Vietnam and Cambodia and can’t believe that I’m going to be in China in two days! And guess who’s on my China University trip? Yep, Tom and Grant…and Amy, who I love also. She also did the Capoeira class with the three of us and she hangs out with the two of them all the time, so I’m super excited for China…despite having to write a few papers and take a test in those two days before we get there. Au revoir!

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Ho Chi Minh City!
Well, this morning was actually kind of sad. SAS offers a “family” trip to Vietnam, so when we docked this morning there was a good crowd of parents all waiting at the dock for us to come in. It was like when we left the Bahamas because parents had signs and were dancing (I kid you not) and shouting up to their kids. It really made me wish my parents could have been there. However, considering my parents want to kill me right now, it’s probably for the best that they’re not here. Though, to be perfectly honest, I would still take ‘em ready to kill me and in Vietnam than not getting to see them at all. I do go home in just over a month so I can hold out a bit longer [it’s so crazy to think that I only have one month left?!]. It’s just tough when you get to see other kids with their folks.
So, anyways, after a slightly depressing morning I was ready to get off the ship and shop away my sadness. Wow, it is way too easy to buy cheap stuff here. I’m not going to lie, I thought it would be a lot cheaper than what it is, but it’s still pretty darn cheap. T-shirts for 3 or 4 bucks? Let’s just say I went through the cash I brought today pretty quickly, and it was totally worth it. I wasn’t really sure who I was going to spend the day with when I woke up. I thought I might walk around with Tea and Christine, but I knew they would be leaving around one to get to the airport because they are going to stay in a city in North Vietnam for a few days (of which I forget the name). I thought then that I might walk around with Amanda, Meghan and Kate because I really haven’t gotten to see too much of them since Mauritius (both of preference and just because we’ve had different agendas), but then I wasn’t so sure. I ended up walking around with Nicki and another kid, Ben. I met Ben pretty early on in the trip, and he lives near Lewisburg so he comes to Bucknell to see some of our concerts. He was actually at the Goo Goo Dolls concert last spring! Small world. We walked around the city and ended up doing some serious damage at the Ben Thanh Market. It was fabulous. After an hour, however, we wanted to make sure we still had a little money left for food later, so we left. Don’t worry, I am definitely going back there on the last day to finish up my shopping spree. We were going to go to the War Museum, but by the time we walked there it was already closed. We decided to just have an early dinner at a chic café called Window’s Café and I had some delicious sautéed beef with “broccoli” (apparently the Vietnamese consider cauliflower to be broccoli, but I do like cauliflower so it wasn’t a problem at all). We decided to start heading back to the shuttle stop. The port we’re docked in is about a 30 minute ride into downtown, so SAS was nice enough to have shuttles running back and forth for us all day long. Halfway to the stop, we ran into some locals playing hackysack and Ben couldn’t resist. We stayed with him for about fifteen minutes while he played, but after that we were ready to head back to the ship. Ben wasn’t done, however, so for all I know he could still be out there playing with them! It was pretty entertaining. We were able to make a few more purchases on route to the shuttle, and then headed back to the ship. I thought about going back out because my Cambodia trip doesn’t leave until 8am tomorrow, but I decided I was too tired and that it would be a nice evening alone (since my roomie is gone, and it’s always nice to have some “just me” time; I haven’t really had much of that at all). I’m pretty much packed and sooo ready to check out the Temples of Angkor Wat! I’ll make sure to let you know how the rest of Vietnam goes!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

calm down now...

And to quell everyone's fears:
No it is NOT a tacky, disgusting hoop nose ring (I'm sorry but I think those are trashy). It is a small diamond stud, and I actually plan on getting an even smaller one because I think the current one is too big. It will just be a little nose glitter!
The place I went to was NOT some sketchy, disgusting place in a third world country. It was in a very well-developed mall and she used a piercing gun, which means the only metal in my nose is the brand new, clean and sterilized ring that is still in my nose.
My nose has NOT had an adverse reaction to it, and is already healing well.
So NO, it does not look tacky or slutty. I've gotten nothing but compliments about it (actually most people couldn't remember if I had always had it or not because it looked so normal), and I don't think I've ruined my nose for the rest of my life. I'm not an idiot, thank you very much.

First Day of Rehearsal for "When Shakespeare's Ladies Meet"

Last night was my first rehearsal for the second show with Daina. Rehearsal was both slightly frustrating and really good. First, I think it’s going to be hilarious. It’s a script about the ladies of Shakespeare all meeting up to try and give Juliet some advice about love, and in the end learn more from her. It’s already a funny play, but Daina is doing it Bollywood style (those crazy Indian movies that are insane musicals). We are going to be doing lip syncing songs from Kiss Me Kate (Too Darn Hot, I Hate Men, Another Openin) and even a few random ones like Stop! In the name of love. I play the part of Ophelia, who is just completely nuts. It’s going to be so much fun! I get to wander around the entire stage aimlessly, and I actually get to dance. I kind of get an opening song of which she wants me to choreograph my own dance to, so that’s very exciting. I’ve decided to do a tribute to Flashdance and whip out “Maniac” by Michael Sambello, which I figured is very appropois to my character’s insanity. Also, it’s only six of Shakespeare’s Ladies, but she’s bringing guys into it. They won’t be speaking in high, squeaky voices or dressed like girls, but they will have all the mannerisms of it. Some of us are the same character throughout the show, but two of the female roles are switched halfway through from being played by a girl to a boy. I’m Ophelia the entire time, Melanie (who was in Overruled) is Portia for the entirety, Kadero (who was also in Overruled) is Cleopatra for the whole show…and he’s going to be hilarious with it, and Big Tom (this huge guy who has a booming voice) is Juliet for the whole show. Desdemona and Katherine switch between two guys and girls. Of course, Daniel (the annoying one from Overruled) is Katherine for part of it, but I’ve actually gotten used to him and have finally been able to accept his unreliability and kind of just laugh at it. So what could be frustrating? Well, it seems Big Tom may have taken Daniel’s place. Just doing a read-thru yesterday, he had the biggest trouble just delivering a line. I think he must have some sort of learning disability, because he couldn’t even pronounce relatively simple words like “variable.” It’s hard because he was very apologetic about it, and I’m sure once he looks at it more he will be fine; it can just be very frustrating when he has sooo many lines and he couldn’t get through one of them without stopping. We’re going to have our scripts memorized, however, so I’m sure he’ll be fine once he knows it. I’m really excited for this play. We perform it April 19th, so we have some time; I, of course, will make sure that my roomie tapes it for me too so I will documented evidence of it. Well, we dock in Vietnam tomorrow! The next day I leave for Cambodia. I can’t believe we’re already almost in Vietnam. This trip is just flying by…or should I say swimming by? ha ha. I know, I know, that was lame. Sorry. I should start getting ready for class, but I hope all is well in the states! I'll let you know how much I love Cambodia and Vietnam!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Wrapping up thoughts on Malaysia...and READY FOR CAMBODIA!

The rest of Malaysia was just as good as it started. On the fourth day, we went to Little India, and then the State museum. Next, I stopped at a fruit juice vendor on the street and got the most delicious banana milo milkshake (chocolate banana), and they gave it to me in a bag! It was so cool!!! After that we hired a taxi driver to drive around Jessie, Meghan, another girl Haley (who was friends with Meghan and had missed her SAS trip that morning, so she came with us) and me for the rest of the afternoon. He took us to the Butterfly Farm and the Spice Garden. We grabbed dinner and headed back to the Night Market. I did some serious shopping. I was looking at some of the Craft Batik artwork (silk paintings) and found a stand where the sellers were hearing impaired. The girl who showed me the artwork was probably around my age, and her name was Jenny. She pulled out some beautiful ones, but I was still on the line about purchasing any until she pointed out that it was her artwork. The way her face lit up when I told her how beautiful they were was priceless. It was hands-down my favorite memory that I will take away with me from Malaysia. She was so genuinely proud but still shy; I can’t really even describe it. The last two days I’ve tried to figure out what was so touching about it, and I think I’ve got it. [ps. I’m just warning you that I am about to get temporarily sappy…] Everyone always talks about what this trip means to them: how it is going to be life-changing and eye-opening, how they want to change the world and do the peace corp bla bla bla. When I first decided to come on this trip, I thought I came to see the world—everything in it: poverty, beauty, people & cultures but what I’m finding out is that I’m doing this trip to become a better person in the world. Well, at least that’s what I’m striving for. I’m trying to be more open, honest, and understanding other peoples’ cultures and religions, even if I can’t fully comprehend or appreciate them, and I want to do my best to make the world a better place for my family, friends, and [almost] everyone I meet [I will admit there are some exceptions…who, for politeness, will remained unnamed]. Now I’m not saying that I’m going to eradicate poverty or adopt a baby from every country in the world like Angelina Jolie and have a baby UN in my house; it’s not nearly that monumental or cataclysmic. I want to do it one small step at a time. I’m seeing that it’s as simple as exchanging smiles with a kid in India or telling someone how beautiful their artwork is, which is exactly what my encounter with Jenny in Malaysia helped me realize. Ok—sappy confession is now ever. Basically, it ended up being a long, but wonderful week in Malaysia. The last day I enjoyed free wifi at the Starbucks in the local mall, had another good lunch and delicious pastry for dessert. After that I was pretty ready to get back to the ship, and now I’m pretty ready to go to Vietnam and Cambodia!
oh and ps. i got my nose pierced! I originally planned to do it in Japan, but I saw a stall in the nice, safe mall and just did it. Since my third day on the ship I knew I would do it (in addition to thinking about it for a few years now…) sooo I figured that now’s the time. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it very clean and take good care of it. Sorry daddy! Hey, I could have gotten a tattoo… : )

Friday, March 21, 2008

Still hitting up Malaysia...and lovin it

Well, the Welcome Reception wasn’t as great as I had hoped, but everything else has been! The shadow puppet performance was a little weird, but that wasn’t what bothered me. It was held on a college campus so we would have the opportunity to meet other college students, but there were no students! After the puppet performance, they handed us a boxed snack/dinner thing and we sat on the outside steps by ourselves to eat them before boarding the bus to come back to the ship. They said it was because there were a lot of clubs and activities going on, but it was still a little disappointing.
The Botanical Gardens and Penang Hill were a lot more fun. It started out a little shaky when our bus and tour guide were about half an hour late, but it was only a group of 15 of us. There were no bad complainers on this trip, and that made it AMAZING! We all just sat around and talked calmly while waiting for the bus; it was completely devoid of obnoxious complaints! The botanical gardens were really pretty, despite how boiling hot it was. The vegetation and flowers are very tropical and colorful. There were monkeys everywhere too. After the gardens we went to Penang Hill, which is the equivalent to Capetown’s Table Mountain. You get a great view of Penang. We took these two slow cable cars up. Once at the top, we had the option of walking 4 km to the Canopy Walk, or we could take a five minute car ride. While I was all up for the walk, there were a few lazy bums who came along and insisted we drive. Of course, we weren’t allowed to split up, so we became the lazy Americans who had to drive. The Canopy Walk was AWESOME! It was pretty much a long line of metal ladders with wood nailed down on top, to make a plank-type thing. There was netting on either side that came up to my shoulders, and it was just hanging in midair. Parts of it were a little shaky, but it was still a lot of fun walking across it. (I’m sorry if none of my descriptions are that informative; it’s just so hard to really describe this stuff…you will just have to wait till you can see all of my pictures to really understand.) After the canopy walk, we headed back towards the pier. Robyn and I had already decided that we wanted to spend the whole day out and not have to mess with the tender back and forth to the ship, so we went with two other girls to the local mall. The first mall was a little too western and Americanized for our liking, though we did get a really good dinner there. It was Chinese, and I got spicy noodles with chicken. It came out in a huge mixing bowl; I was convinced that it couldn’t just be meant for me, but when looking around at the other tables I noticed a few others with equally massive bowls of soup and noodles in front of them. I barely made a dent in it. Next, we headed over to the other, more “authentic” Malay mall. Everything was so cheap; it was amazing. After walking around for a bit, we headed over to the Night Market. It’s open on the North part of the island from 7pm to midnight almost every night. It was really cool, but by this point in the night we were all so exhausted that we only window shopped. We are going to go back tomorrow night and do some real bargaining and purchasing, however. It’s kind of like the streets of NYC mixed with Chinatown and a few Malay markets. They have everything from Gucci purses, rolexs and bootlegged DVDs for about a buck, to Chinese lanterns, pashminas and jewelry.
Today, I didn’t have anything planned originally, but after meeting Jessie (who I already sort of knew from doing lip syncs together) and Meghan, I decided to try to join the Penang National Park SAS trip. The trip was another one of only 15 people, so I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to tag along, and it wasn’t. I definitely made up for not being able to walk much yesterday (though by the end of the day, after walking around the malls and night market, I ended up doing a lot of walking). We did about a two hour hike through the park and got to see some really pretty vegetation and scenery. It was also another great trip because there were no real complainers! There were also a lot of faculty/staff on the trip, which was actually pretty nice too. One of the assistant deans, Craig, was our trip leader and he brought his family along (wife and two kids, Eric (9) and Kelsey (16)), the ship dr. and his wife, Avi (the videographer), and Tatiana (a biology teacher who no one really likes but wasn’t bad for this trip because she was good at spotting things like a really small tree snake). After hiking and sweating (a lot…rainforests are quite hot and humid), we stopped at a beach for lunch. We then took a boat over to another beach called The Monkey Beach. There was an optional additional 45 minute hike up the mountain to see the lighthouse. A group of eight of us opted to do it, but after some serious bushwhacking our guide noticed that high tide was a little too high and we wouldn’t be able to get up to the lighthouse without going for a swim. We had to head back, but it was still a lot of fun…even if our National Park guide was a little nuts and loved pointing out every possible leaf, crushing them up for us and making us all smell them. We then took a boat back to the entrance of the park and headed back to the ship (after the main tour guide did let us make a sidetrack stop at a Chocolate Boutique that provided free samples…it was absolutely delicious). I would like to say that I was able to buy all of you delicious souvenirs, but I knew had I tried they never would have made it back home. It was just too good. Jessie, Meghan and I are heading back out at 8 to meet up with Robyn and her friend who drove down today [she’s Malaysian, so Robyn spent the day with her instead of coming to the park with us]. We ended up not getting sushi last night, so I think we’re going to try and make it to a Japanese restaurant tonight. If we feel up to it afterwards, we might try to check out the Penang night scene. Tomorrow we decided to pay to get a driver and hit up every other cool place in Penang. We’re going to the art museum, little India, the Butterfly farm, Spice Garden and the night market. We talked to our tour guide today to find out a reasonable price for getting a driver, so I’m pretty excited about it.
I’m really happy I decided to stay in Penang. Everyone and their mothers went up to Kuala Lampuar, and I’m very happy I didn’t. It’s been really nice being away from a lot of the other SAS kids. It’s also a nice break from the people I usually hang out with (which is good if I don’t want to get too sick of them by the end of this trip). My roommate and Tea went up to KL on the first day, and separately so did Kate, Meghan, and Amanda. I’m very content staying in Penang. It may not be as fast paced as KL, but there’s been so much to do here I’ve been quite happy. Being here has also been a great taste for what the rest of my trip should entail, and I CAN’T WAIT! East Asia—here I come!

Robyn and Ally attack Malaysia!

First Day in Malaysia!
I’ve loved my first day in Malaysia, and it’s not even over! The city is so much cleaner than India was too. The port here isn’t very big, so we have to tender back and forth in our lifeboats from the ship to the port terminal, which is a bit of an extra hassle. It’s still not too bad. I did an SAS trip called Temples and Mosques with a friend, Robyn, who I’ve become closer to since our Taj trip. (We originally knew each other from poetry class). We went to a variety of different temples of different religions. Malaysia is mainly an Islamic country, but the island of Penang is mainly Chinese (and therefore mainly Buddhist). First we visited a small Hindu temple. Then we went to the Snake Temple. They have live snakes draped throughout the place, and at first I thought they had to be fake. They didn’t look real at all…until one girl kept poking one enough that it actually moved. They’re really poisonous snakes, but they devenomize and drug them up (so much that they never even move anywhere) so they were pretty harmless. If you wanted, you could pay to have your picture taken with a huge snake around your shoulders, but I passed on that souvenir. No big snakes for me, thanks. After visiting the Snake Temple, we went to a Malaysian restaurant for lunch called the Bananas Café. Malaysian food is good; it’s pretty much a mix of Thai, Indian, and Chinese food. I like it. Everyone kept telling us that the food in Malaysia was going to be amazing, and I’m in agreement thus far. There’s traditional Malay food (what we had), Thai, Indian, Chinese, and some Japanese too. I think Robyn and I are going to get sushi tomorrow evening after another SAS trip we happen to both be doing. I just can’t hold out till Japan before I get sushi; it’s just been too long. After the yummy lunch, we went to the Islamic State Mosque. We had to make sure our arms and head were covered before entering, and before going into the main sanctuary, you had to pretty much be covered from head to foot. Robyn and I had to wear these awesome blue burka-type-thingys to go in because our skirts showed…yes, ladies and gentlemen, the always-way-too-sexy ankle. Of course, I got a picture of us in them. It was a pretty mosque, but I liked the last few temples we visited a LOT more. First we went to a Hindu temple; it was very colorful and pretty. They had statues and flowers everywhere. Then we went to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, which was awesome! The Buddha statue is HUGE; he looked more like the Hindu god Krishna than the big fat bald guy you usually think of as Buddha. They also had 12 individual Buddha statues, one for every Chinese year. By this point, my camera was out of battery (bc I totally forgot to charge it after the Taj trip; I know, I’m a smart one), but Robyn was able to get some more good pictures that I can steal from her. She got a picture of the Buddha for my birth-year, the year of the rabbit. Across from the temple of the Reclining Buddha was a Burmese Buddhist temple, and I got blessed by a real Buddhist monk! It was so cool!!! I kneeled on the floor before a bald guy in a typical red monk shawl-thingy and he used this weird plant to sprinkle water on me from a pretty little bowl while chanting something in Chinese. He then wrapped a Blessed String (a yellow string bracelet that is knotted in a certain way) around my wrist. He was very nice too and asked me if I liked Malaysia. I, of course, said yes, to which he replied that Malaysia was very hot. I let him know that it was nothing I wasn’t used to, and not all of America is cold. It is pretty humid here (we’re only 7 degrees above the equator). The temple was really ornate; it had tons of different worshipping areas (all of which you had to take off your shoes to enter). There were ponds with fish, beautiful flowers and gardens.
I really like Malaysia so far. I’m not sure if I get it from my mom’s love of East Asia and all things Oriental, but this may be my favorite port so far. Capetown was pretty awesome, but depending on the rest of my visit here, Penang could take first place. There’s just something about it, and in a weird way it feels more like home to me [even though it’s so far from home]. It’s definitely westernized, but I would say it’s still pretty Malaysian—not much English, though there is the expected McDonalds and surprising 7 Elevens every few corners, and has a very oriental feel to it. I think I like it so much because 1. It’s very calm and peaceful, and while I do love places like NYC, which are far from calm, it’s not India sensory-overload-crazy with everything and everyone in your face 2. It’s pretty clean here (though I think any port after India would seem clean…) 3. It’s beautiful in an organized way, if that makes sense. Everything seems to be in order 4. I love all of the artwork and architecture that I’ve seen so far. The architecture is a beautiful mix of Victorian (courtesy of the British, who have seemed to have an influence and colonial impact almost every port we’ve been in) and Oriental with a touch of Western. It’s really stunning
In an hour, I am going to the Welcome Reception. It’s at the local university, and we have the opportunity to meet local students and watch a traditional Shadow Puppet Performance. Tomorrow I will be going to hike Penang Hill and visit the Botanical Gardens. It should be another good trip.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Taj Mahal

This is the part of my trip in India when the sensory overload really hit me.
Day One: Traveling Day! We headed out on an early flight to Delhi, and after a quick stay-on-the-bus city orientation we began our five-hour bus ride to Agra. We were supposed to take a 2 hour express train, but apparently it only ran at 6am, and even though our flight was early, it wasn’t THAT early. First we went to a DELICIOUS Indian restaurant for lunch. It was so good!!! The five-hour ride started out ok, but it didn’t end as great. I apparently got stuck on the party bus, which meant after the first two and half hours, when we stopped at a rest stop most of the bus loaded up on huge bottles of beer. It definitely made the second half of the trip a little more annoying as the majority of the bus kept getting drunker. There were 70 kids in our group, only two trip leaders, and three buses full of kids. Obviously, I was on the trip-leaderless bus. We had a guide from India, but he wasn’t good for much. I think the adventure climaxed when three of the guys decided to pee out the window because they just couldn’t hold it any longer. I was so relieved to get at the hotel for dinner that evening, which was another delicious Indian meal. I went to bed immediately after dinner and showering; I was too exhausted for anything else. My roomie for the trip was cute too; her name was Jenna and we got along well.
Day Two: Another very long day. We had to get up around 5am so we could see the Taj at sunrise. Well, unfortunately it was a pretty cloudy day so we didn’t really get to see the sunrise, but fortunately it meant it wasn’t very hot either. It was still pretty spectacular. It was awesome, impressive, and any other awe-inspiring word you can think of. Next, we went back to the hotel for an Indian breakfast. After breakfast we went to Fatepah Sikri, the Lost City. In the 16th century the current emperor tried to move the capitol to this city, but it was a failed attempt. It was pretty cool to see the ruins. Following this, we headed back to the hotel for…yes, more Indian food. After lunch we went to visit Fort Agra, which was also built in the 16th century by the same guy who built the Taj. It wasn’t as cool as the old city, but it was still pretty interesting. We hit up the Taj again for sunset. It was still pretty cloudy, so it wasn’t much of a sunset, but it’s still the Taj. By this time in the day, we had been pestered by sooo many people trying to sell us “postcards for 100 rupees” and “pretty bangles” that we were getting pretty snappy. They were just in your face, shoving items at you, trying to touch you. It was very frustrating. We also saw a lot of poverty throughout the day. Just down the road from the Taj were deformed men (humpbacks, limbless, swollen-footed, and everything in between) who lived in this pathetic little shacks. They weren’t very many women at all (thanks to gendered abortions—girls aren’t well thought of in India, they can’t help the family much and they cost dowry). It was really depressing. At the Taj for the second time, there were a LOT more people there, many of whom were Indian. They kept taking pictures of us, and some random men bugged us into taking a picture with them. It was very unsettling, really. We didn’t let it bother us too much, so we enjoyed the Taj with picture montages. After many more pictures, it was time to head back to Delhi. We got to ride the 2-hour express train ride. You hear riding the trains is quite an experience, but ours was pretty tame because SAS took two entire coaches. There were no locals to harass us and stare at us, so it was a pretty fun train ride. There were only 70 of us in our group, but there were two other groups who were there as well—another one of 70 and one of 20. We would run into them everywhere and we were all on the same train, so SAS really did attack the Taj and Delhi. The hotel we stayed at in New Delhi was incredibly nice and seemed really expensive. Every SAS group was staying there, including another 70 kids who had been on the 4 day Taj trip. Most everyone decided to hit up the overpriced hotel bar, but after another long day, I just wanted to get some sleep.
Day Three: Another early morning. We had to get up at 5:30 for a 6 o clock breakfast. This time it was actually breakfast food too…not spicy Indian food. We were supposed to leave at 7am to catch our flight home, but we had some late sleepers who didn’t get up in time. After waiting for a half hour and trying to call their rooms (where they obviously hadn’t spent the night), we left without them. We weren’t going to miss our flight because of them. Those four kids are pretty lucky though, because if you’re going to miss your flight do it when there are about 4 other SAS groups who are all leaving to come back to Chennai throughout the entire day. My guess is that they were able to get on another flight with the other SAS kids, but I don’t know that for sure. They could still be stuck in Delhi…that’s what happens when you party too late and too hard. I don’t feel sorry for them; they were totally irresponsible. On the plane ride back, my stomach started to bother me. At first I thought it must have been something I ate, but by the time we got back to the ship in the late afternoon, I was feeling sick all over. It feels like the flu, but I think it’s a combination of something I ate (even though I took all of the necessary precautions—only bottled water, even for brushing teeth, two pepto after every meal, LOTS of hand sanitizer) and my immune system being shot. In those three nights, I probably only got a maximum of 14 hours of sleep, and they were all VERY long days. So even though today is my last day in India, I just don’t think I can make it back out. I don’t want to get any sicker and think it best to rest for the day, instead of exposing myself to more dirtiness and germs. If I’m not feeling better by tomorrow, I will go to the health center and get some antibiotics. Otherwise, I just intend to sleep and rest for the entire day…maybe try eating something if my stomach doesn’t hurt too badly.