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.


India: Chennai
My first day in India was absolutely amazing. Everyone had kept warning us about all of the staring that we would get, all of the sensory overloading, and everything in between. I was really terrified, I’m not going to lie. I spent the day with my roommate, and it was amazing, though! I felt safer walking around Chennai than I had in both Brazil and Africa.
We took a rickshaw to a local market, T. Nagar. Rickshaws are like taxis, except a bit scarier because they have open sides and a black tarp for a roof. Driving in India is definitely nuts. Between the crazy buses that stop for no man, woman or child (literally, there are apparently hundreds of deaths from bus drivers all the time here) and the people on motorcycles and the taxis and the regular cars—it was just plain crazy. Quite an adventure. The local market was awesome. It was filled with locals, so we were able to “stalk” out some and see what they were paying for items before trying our own bargaining skills out with sellers, which was really easy. We were able to cut prices by more than half right off the bat. After some good purchases, we decided to head over to Spencer’s Plaza, which we were told was more of a touristy place. I wanted to go because I figured they would have magnets and postcards, and we were pleasantly surprised when we went and found it to be pretty untouristy. It was like the local market: full of locals and maybe one or two small groups of foreigners. One of the shop owners we met was awesome. I had been looking at the beaded tapestries here and knew I wanted to go home with one. I figured I would spend the first day just looking around at all of the different ones, but after going into this shop I couldn’t resist. He shut down the store for us, and individually took out each tapestry to show it to me. I would say if it was in the ‘maybe’ or the ‘definite’ pile and he would lay them all out on the floor, and the ‘no’ pile he would throw out of the way. Well, of course, there were just too many beautiful ones. I couldn’t walk away with just one. I ended up with four, and he gave me such a great discount on all of it (especially in comparison to what the other shop owners had tried to badger me into). What originally he was going to sell me for 9000 rupees, he sold to me for about 7000 (which is only about $175)! He was a really nice guy, and we could tell he wasn’t just bullshitting us. You could tell how hard he worked for his money: he and his brother would take turns traveling to Kashmir to purchase all of their products. He did talk me into buying something else, but it was so cool that I couldn’t resist. I’m going to give it to Kevin, and I’m sure he’ll like it too. It’s a Tibetan Monk Singing Bowl. It’s a hollow brass bowl with designs on the side. When you hold it in the palm of your hand and swirl a padded-stick-thingy around it, it makes these really cool (and surprisingly very calming) sound. After a successful day of shopping, Christine and I headed back to the ship on a very good high. I went to bed early because my Taj Mahal trip left at 3:30 am! I know, tell me about it.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sea Olympics

Well, at least we didn’t come in last place, just second to last. We do have one of the smaller seas and definitely one with the least active participation. We also don’t have very many guys in our group, so most of the sporting events we would have full teams of girls against some intensively competitive guys. I competed in Slippery Twister but the girl I was against literally pushed me off the board, so I was out for that. Lip Syncs went pretty well (even though I messed up quite a lot), but we still didn’t place. It didn’t help that we were up against boys in drag for a lot of the other numbers. I’m pretty sure I pulled a muscle in my butt though, which is not so much fun. During one of our last minute rehearsals for lip syncs, we were practicing in a classroom. We moved most of the desks, except for one in the back center. I, of course, slammed into it and managed not only to seriously bruise it but to pull a muscle as well. Ten minutes later I also hit my head and now have a slight bump. I’m kind of a mess. It’s ok, ibuprofen helps. Our Lip Sync was a montage of pop songs that told a story. We started out with “What a man” then went into “Be My Girlfriend” by N’Sync then a little “Before he cheats” by Underwood into “The Boy is Mine” by Brandi and Monica (complete with a full-on cat fight), next was “No Scrubs” by TLC, a little old school “Hit the Road Jack” and the finale of “I will love again!” My roomie taped it with my camera, and I watched it already. It’s not the greatest quality but you get the idea. Overall, between the competing and watching my friends compete and the never-ending lip sync rehearsals and consistently injuring myself, I was VERY ready for the day to end. If my butt didn’t keep waking me up at night from soreness and sleeping on it wrong, it would have been a wonderful night’s sleep from pure exhaustion.
Two days until India! We have our Cultural Pre-Port meeting tonight, so that’s always very exciting. I can’t wait to buy tons and tons of scarves and saris. I think we lose another hour of sleep tonight, unfortunately. Well actually, I think it’s an hour and a half. I know! Weird, but it’s because India wants its entire country to be in the same time zone, so we have to lose a half hour. I think after India we lose the other half hour. I think that will be pretty awkward.
In other news, we had the last trip lottery. I got into both day trips in Japan that I really wanted, so I will have the chance to go to Kyoto and Nara. I got most of the trips that I wanted, and I think the only one I didn’t get that I was looking forward to was going to a rainforest in Costa Rica. Today is alternate trip day, which means we can go to the field office and see what open trips they have left, so I will see if I can’t get something else fun to do while I’m in Costa Rica. I will figure something out. If not, we are only there for two days so I’m sure I can find enough stuff to keep me busy.
I think that’s about it from here, so I hope everyone has/had a great spring break! Get some sun! I probably won’t get another chance to update everyone until I get back from India, so until then…bye! I just hope my stomach can handle the dirtiness of eating in India, and I plan on bringing a full roll of toilet paper with me on my three day trip to the Taj Mahal.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Sunny Days

Well, the day started out a little rocky, but it ended out being pretty kick ass overall. I had an Archaeology test in the morning, and I didn’t do so hot. Eh, not too concerned about it. Then I thought I had my poetry test later in the day, so I spent most of the rest of the afternoon studying for it. I found out that the test was next class (so it’s not till Monday), but it turned out ok because it was a review day and since I had actually studied I was prepared with legit questions to ask. I also got a study group together to study for the actual test, so not too bad. Then I ran into Daina, who was the director of Overruled. She gave me a script for another play she wants to do and basically handed me a part in it if I wanted. Of course I said yes, and I will have to go the auditions and read for it, but she pretty much gave me the role. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s about the different ladies of Shakespeare meeting up. Daina said she wants to do it Bollywood style (in honor of India) and include lip syncing pop songs, so it should be a lot of fun. She said I would be great for Ophelia, so I’m pretty excited. Then I had to rush to another “rehearsal.” So, in preparation for the Sea Olympics there have been Sea Captain’s challenges (the two kids who are elected from the sea) to determine who gets to come in last (which is the best) for the Opening Ceremonies on Saturday. We didn’t do so hot in the first one, and the second one we did average in. The third challenge they were allowed to have help from everyone in the sea, and we had 5:22 minutes to tell any stories in any way/shape/form about what had happened to people in any of the ports. I got sucked into doing it the other night when I was walking down the hall and ran into our sea captain Jason. He looked so stressed out and overwhelmed, I couldn’t say no when he asked. Now, I didn’t have any really good or funny stories, but my roommate did and I had permission to use hers. When she was in Mauritius and staying at a hostel/villa place, she went swimming in the ocean late at night with her guy friend, Alex. She got stung on her arm by a really poisonous, deadly jellyfish. Since no stores were open to buy anything to stop by the stinging, she made Alex pee on her arm. The only problem is he got a little stage fright and wouldn’t do it, so she was yelling at him on the beach, “Just pee on it already!” Finally he did, which helped for a little bit, but then she broke out into a cold sweat and her muscles seized up. They ended up rushing her over to a hospital, and of course, they only spoke French. They were sticking needles in her and rapidly discussing things in French without telling her what was going on. They even made her sign a contract but wouldn’t translate it for her. She spent the night there, and they gave her some sketchy medication to take home. She went to the Dr. here and got legit medicine though, and she survived—so that’s good. We decided to do our storytelling Real World style. We videotaped the “opening sequence” the night before, changing the usual words to something more appropriate for our situation. Then seven of us came onto the stage and told two stories, mine (well, my roommate’s really, but I reenacted it) and this other kid’s, Gabe, who had gone to a club in Rio (when we were in Brazil) and they told him he wasn’t allowed in without jeans (it was pretty upscale). He didn’t want to go all the way back to the hotel because it was so far away, and all he had were J Crew shorts, anyways. So he traded some random guy on the street and got his jeans for 50 reals. They were a little short, but apparently it worked. Then, Jason (sea captain) sung a song on his guitar and told a few more stories about stupid things kids had done. It was pretty damn funny, and after watching most of the other seas, we knew we had one of the best. (My friend recorded it, so I will be able to get it on my computer if anyone’s interested.) One sea did a Mad Libs style story. We had to give a bunch of different adjectives/adverbs etc and they were incorporated into the written story, and they had two kids act out whatever was written. They won 3rd place. Another sea did a spin of “Real Men of Genius” (the Budweiser commercials) and made fun of the head of our Field Office (all in good fun), Carl. They won 2nd place. None of the other seas were anything worth mentioning, which obviously means that WE WON the challenge! It was pretty damn exciting, because we were not doing too well before. This means we won’t have to be the first to walk in to the ceremonies, which is very good because the later you walk in the more people will see you. Overall, it was a pretty good day. I’m also doing lip syncs for the Olympics, however, so I had to start working on that with the others. I don’t really like what “we” came up with, but it’s not a big deal and I’m sure it will turn out fine. We have to work on it later today and probably all night to get it done. We’re doing a montage of songs that will tell a story. It’s a stupid storyline that we pretty much all fight over the same guy and then tell him to piss off. I know, I know, and it’s all lame pop songs. No one was up for oldies or the 80’s so my ideas (and enthusiasm) were debunked. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll make it fun anyway. Well that’s life on the ship for now. Off to class!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


The second day in Mauritius, we hit up a beautiful beach. Our taxi driver told us it was the best beach around, and I could see why. There wasn’t much else around, however, and we had hoped to find somewhere to rent snorkeling equipment. After a few hours of laying out, we were ready for lunch. I was totally up for going to another, bigger beach at Grand Baie where there were tons of shops and restaurants. Unfortunately, Amanda wanted to get out of the sun and Kate was tired of walking. If it hadn’t been so difficult to just catch one taxi out of the remote beach area, I probably would have taken my own cab to the other beach. We headed back to the ship, but because I knew we were going out later that night (which was supposed to be only a few hours after we got back) I didn’t take the long walk into the Waterfront alone. Well, I did get my chance to go to Grand Baie. We went that evening (but not til 7ish, much later than anticipated) to hang out with some of Amanda’s friends at their villa (the beach houses everyone rents) and get some dinner. We went to a good Indian place for chicken curry and then a local bar called Stardust. Amanda, Kate and Meghan decided to stay the night at the Villa, but I wanted to head back since I had my service visit early the next morning. Luckily, there were two other girls who had come along (who I also knew from my Igaucu Falls trip) who also wanted to head back. We finally were able to get a taxi back to the ship MUCH later than I had hoped for, but we did meet some really nice guys from London at the bar, who were not sketchy, did not hit us, and were just genuinely friendly.
My service visit was ten times more amazing than I could have ever hoped it would be. I have to admit that it started out pretty shaky. We went to the Gayasing Ashram Senior Citizen’s home, and I felt like I was in a zoo. We didn’t get to interact with any of the residents; we just toured the place and our guide would point to some of the residents and say: ‘Look! There’s a bedridden person!’ or ‘See, she’s mentally retarded.’ It was pretty awful. After that, however, we went to a school for disabled children, and while we didn’t get to see any of the kids we were taken to a room filled with jewelry for sale [all made and with benefits to the disabled children]. As I’m collecting jewelry in every port, this was PERFECT. The stuff they had made was beautiful and you knew it was going to a great cause. We then proceeded to the DLD Teen Hope Center in Cite La Cure, a suburb of Port Louis. In the Mauritian educational system, you have to pass an exam after elementary school in order to receive any further secondary education. You only get two chances; if you fail both times, no more school ever. This center is a non-government funded organization that provides secondary education to these children. The kids were amazing. They were all sweet and genuine. We got to talk to them and ask them questions (with a teacher translating, because they spoke French and only knew a little bit of English…though this school does teach them French, English and Math). We watched them do crafts, such as basket weaving. One girl let me do a few of the braids on hers; I wasn’t bad, but she was definitely much better and quicker than I was. I made friends with another little girl who gave me a lanyard bracelet she had made. They put on a ‘talent’ show for us. The girls all got up and sang to us. The boys played the drums. They followed it with some traditional Sega dancing, of which they proceeded to drag all of us onto the floor to dance with them. We walked down the block from the school to a beautiful mountain view and took a picture with all of the children. [Of course, when the guy took a picture with my camera, he proceeded to get everyone except me and a few other kids in it, so I will have to see if I can steal someone else’s who hopefully got me in it with my new friends.] It was so absolutely amazing and unforgettable. It was definitely the highlight of my time in Mauritius. After I returned from the service visit, I went into the Waterfront with Amanda, Meghan, and Dave (a new friend who I’ve met via Amanda and crew) for dinner. Annoyingly, the Waterfront pretty much closes down at 6pm [even on a Monday night]. We had hoped to get sushi, but the place had closed. We settled instead for Shooters, a grill and pub. I got fajitas; I know, it was nowhere close to Tex mex, but I saw Mexican food and could not resist. It wasn’t bad, really. It definitely tasted more like an Indian take on fajitas, but it was still good.
After my experience the first two days in Mauritius, while they were enjoyable, I realized that I can NOT handle not having something to do. I can’t not do something (I know, that’s a horrible double-negative), but I really can’t sit around or relax when I know I could be doing something ten times more exciting. Luckily, I was able to get onto an SAS trip for the last day. It was called Volcanic Island, so I stupidly assumed we would get to see a volcano. Well, we didn’t (there’s no volcano to really see, only craters…I don’t get it either, but I know our guide explained it to us when I wasn’t listening). We spent most of the day on a bus. At one point, when it was pouring rain, we stopped at a temple for Shiva. As it was the religious holiday MahavratShivree (the holiday commemorating Shiva’s drinking of the poisonous lake to save everyone on Earth, which is why his neck is usually painted blue in pictures [it’s where he holds the poison]), almost every Hindu family takes a pilgrimage to the Sacred Lake. Because it was so crowded, we didn’t get near the lake, but we did get to see a huge statue of Shiva. It was impressive despite the rain and freezing winds. Afterwards, we had a long drive with a few short viewpoint stops of a crater, and then a good lunch of [more, but still yummy] chicken curry at Chamaral, a nice restaurant with a beautiful view of the country. We also got to check out the 7 Layered Earth. The volcanic activity on Mauritius created this awesome phenomenon where the soil is a gorgeous blending of 7 different colors. It looked very much like a watercolor or pastel drawing. Overall, it wasn’t the greatest trip, but it was better than not doing anything. I did get to see some cool stuff, eat some cool food, and see the small, but pretty Chamarin Waterfall. It was still a good trip, and I’m glad I did it…even though our guide was so obnoxious. For the 9 hours we were on the bus, he probably spent 6 of them talking about stupid trivial facts about Mauritius. It was more than I ever wanted to know about Mauritius.
So to sum it up, Mauritius was very pretty, and I got to meet some really amazing children. I enjoyed my time here, but I am SO ready for India and the Taj Mahal. I’ve got six days until then, one of which is the Sea Olympics. That should be a fun break halfway through the ‘school week’. I’ll be sure to update you on how that goes. [I better start stretching again, so I can win twister!]
What I’ve noticed is that I still haven’t found a really good traveling buddy[ies] yet. I enjoy walking around with my roommate and Tea, but while they both want to do and see the same things, I want to go, see and do different things. I enjoy being with Amanda, Kate and Meghan, but they’re still not the best to travel with. They only like to go out for a few hours at a time because they ALWAYS get too tired, too hungry, sick of walking, and/or don’t want to spend any more money. It’s kind of frustrating because I just want to go everywhere and see everything, and I just haven’t found someone to do it all with. I haven’t given up faith because the trip is not halfway through yet. I am sure to meet someone who will want to do the same things I do, and until then I will keep filling up my time with SAS trips. Some kids don’t like them because they’re a waste of money, you spend too much time in transportation, and you could ‘totally do it better indy,’ but that’s great because that means those types of people won’t be on them with me! I think they’re usually great, especially if you don’t have someone else to travel with, and it’s a great opportunity to meet new people. You also always get an English-speaking guide [though their annoyingness is a possible consequence], which is really helpful [especially in the next few countries, where English speakers are much more of a commodity]. We just got the sign up forms for the last set of trips. I’m a little upset because I found out my overnight Japan trip was cancelled because not enough people were interested. Luckily, there are day trips that go to both Nara and Kyoto, so I will hopefully get into those in this lottery. I won’t get to stay in a traditional Japanese hotel, though, and I was really looking forward to it. If I don’t get into either of those day trips, Kate, Amanda and Meghan are doing Hiroshima, Kyoto and Tokyo indy and plan to stay in a traditional hotel, so I can always tag along with them. I would prefer the SAS trips, though. I still like the three of them, but as I’ve already said I prefer not to travel too much with them. Well, I should get some sleep, and life is still pretty sweet. Ciao for now!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Relaxing in Mauritius

I am currently sitting on deck looking at the gorgeous mountains surrounding our ship here in Mauritius. We arrived this morning. I’m hoping to find someone who might want to hike up one of these awesome mountains with me.
In the span during Africa and Mauritius, I have done nothing but homework and tests and losing more hours of sleep because of time changes. (I’m now 9 hours ahead of Houston time). That’s a lot in one month. I also had my ‘performance.’ It was the play Overruled, and it was done Readers Theatre style. This means we stood with our scripts in front of the audience and ‘spoke expressively’. It went really well, and everyone enjoyed it. It was really nice getting an opportunity to do something artsy. I couldn’t stand the person I had to work with, unfortunately. In that sense, I’m relieved it’s over. I really think the kid had a mental retardation. He NEVER remembered when we had rehearsal, could not focus, couldn’t keep concentration, always broke character to ask the SAME questions over and OVER again, and of course was awesome on stage in front of everyone else [so everyone loved him and thought he was hilarious]. The other girl in the show, Melanie, taped it, so she’s going to make me a DVD of it. Anyone interested is more than welcome to check it out when I get back.
So Mauritius is like the “Spring Break” of SAS. I know, I know. You’re thinking this whole trip is my spring break right? Well, yes and no. Yes, I am traveling to amazing places and seeing amazing sights (with a little bit of obnoxious homework on the side), but it is pretty busy and exhausting. Trying to utilize every possible second that you’re in these countries, making sure you hit up every beautiful landmark or cute, cheap market gets to be exhaustive. We don’t sleep too much in port because there’s always time for that later. When we’re back on the ship, I usually have to play catch up with homework (though, I will admit it’s not very difficult, there’s not very much of it, and I really don’t give a damn about it) and while I do try to catch up on sleep I’m bound to lose at least another few hours from time changes. Mauritius has tons of beautiful beaches and is known as the vacation island of Africa. It takes an hour (with traffic) to get across the entire island, and we’re here for four days. SOOO, I’m going to take it easy. We’re going snorkeling tomorrow; that will be exciting! I’m doing a service visit (going to a senior citizen home and then a day care) on Monday, and probably not much of anything except relaxing and shopping on Tuesday. I am pretty excited for the service visit because it’s the first one I’ve been able to sign up for and get into! India is also the next place, so I’m trying to save up some energy (and lots of money) for that port!
I went out earlier this morning with Amanda and Kate, and we walked around the nearby area. (It’s about a 40-minute walk to civilization from where we docked.) We got freshly squeezed pineapple juice that was so good!!! That is definitely something I will miss when I return home—all of the wonderful, fresh fruit juice we’ve gotten almost everywhere. It was at another Waterfront type area like Cape Town had: a bit touristy but safe. Actually, we’re told that Mauritius is really safe and we can eat all of the food here without stomach problems, which is exciting in my book!
It’s pretty cool because Mauritius is such a mix of a country that we get a little taste of Africa and India. There are no indigenous people of Mauritius: the French were first to really settle here, so they’re the ‘elite’ of the Island and most everyone here speaks French [and English too!]. Then they brought over slaves from Africa, bringing in the African culture. When slavery was abolished, they brought in indentured slaves from India, who now make up more than half of the population. It pretty much sums up to an eclectic country. (Look at all the stuff I’m learning in global studies!!!) I will definitely have to try a bit of Indian cuisine out here, though I can’t wait to get the REAL thing in about a week.
I am doing the Mauritian Multi-Cultural Evening tonight, so it will be another great opportunity to learn about the culture here. We’re getting an authentic Creole dinner (next to India, the most popular as it’s a mix of French and African), which should be delicious. I think that’s about it from here for now.
My life is absolutely amazing, though I admit I miss a few things. I miss my family, friends, Pickles, and real Diet Coke. All they have in these countries is Coke Light. I know, you think it’s the same thing. IT IS NOT! Coke Light tastes like Coke Zero, not Diet coke [which, if you know anything about coke, you will know are two totally different tastes]! Well, other than my Diet Coke depravation, life is sweet. Bye for now!