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!