Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Dispassionate Life is Not Worth Living

“I lived on a ship for almost four months?” I often ask myself. “With 900 people?”

24,036 miles. 12 countries. 4 continents. 100 days (99 for everyone else). 21 take-offs. 20 landings. Countless new friends. I didn’t think the transition would be as glaring as it has been, I’m not going to lie to you. I wouldn’t call it difficult per se, but it isn’t as if I had never left. I’ve already gone back to work, trying to organize my office before plunging head first in this next chapter in life, but often daydreaming about the days I would sit in the Staffulty lounge for hours just watching the sea go by. It was one of my favorite things to do on the ship, enjoying the one view in this world that has remained unchanged in the history of mankind.

I’m starting to believe that the shipboard life affected me more than any of the countries we visited. Whereas we studied the countries and prepared ourselves psychologically for them, many of us dismissed shipboard life as a downside to getting to the ports. I think this is why the trip went from excellent to spectacular after the Sea Olympics, between Mauritius and India. That was a symbolic turning point in the development of this shipboard community, and more so than the ports, the experience was a purely emotional one.

Ever tried saying goodbye to 900 people? It is logistically impossible in a few days. It takes planning and preparation, and despite the fact that I was writing notes and saying goodbyes for three days straight prior to the end of the voyage, I think I only hit a couple hundred of them.

In a sense this trip has been far from over, and this is clear to me now. I rented a car in San Diego, spent a day or two saying goodbye to the staff in Laguna Beach, hung out with students in Coronado before heading out with Rita, Corey, and Roy to Los Angeles to attend the premiere of Do A-yay (Our Cause) at the 20th Century Fox Film Studios. We were invited by Cristina Moon on the US Campaign for Burma, a group that is very passionate about doing the best for Myanmar. I am eagerly trying to get them involved with SAS because they are a wealth of information on the country and I think a lot of good things can come with their help. (Though we completely disagree on what role sanctions play in this issue… we’ll sort that out later).

We spent the night at my sister’s house and in the morning headed up with the girls to the Bay Area. I hope I didn’t hurt my friends since I tackled them when I saw them for the first time. I was ecstatic to see everyone. They hosted a holiday party the night I returned, so there were a lot of people crashing at my place, and since my subletter still hasn’t moved out, we had to make other sleeping arrangements. So many of my friends were there, including several new SAS friends, that it was a little hard devoting just a few minutes to everyone when you would love to talk to everyone for hours at a time. Oh, well.

Since the girls had never been to San Francisco before, I took them to the best places in SF (SAN 100, San Francisco and Beyond), including a phenomenal sunset from the fort across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Oh, the sunsets. I’ve been made a lot of fun for putting so much emphasis on it. I don’t know why we’re still attracted to them. I guess it is because it was one of the few constants in our experience. The sun that my friends see in California is the same sun we saw in Mauritius. The sunset follows the same arc of a drama, complete with a development, climax, and a conclusion – you feel like you missed something if you don’t catch it from the beginning. And even though you know how it is going to end, the enjoyment comes from appreciating the differences from sunset to sunset, like watching a sports movie when you already know your team will win at the end.

I actually debated whether I should travel now or save my money to travel in the future, and the answer is clear to me now: get out while you can. There’s something to be said about traveling when your knees don’t ache, when your sight is good, when you don’t have other commitments to tend to. I traveled at a particularly good time, when all was spectacular in my life after a period of not knowing if there was a life after gymnastics. It was like entering a good relationship - where both parties are happy and confident in who they are, and not dealing with personal issues.

So it’ll still be a while before I understand the experience. I already notice I see some movies in a new light (the experience of watching Lost in Translation and Titanic are completely different to me now). This sounds cheesy, but I walked by some Indian students speaking Hindi at Stanford yesterday and I noticed them a lot more that I ever had before. My ears perk up every time I hear one of our countries mentioned in the news.

Will it always be that way? Maybe I’ll get used to the huge American portions again. Maybe I’ll be comfortable again with the convenience of my car in this age of global warming. Maybe I’ll turn into a pessimist, because sometimes that is what it takes to be a realist in this world. Maybe I'll be even more of an optimist, because it motivates us to do something about the world's problems.

I don’t know. Too soon to tell. I’m just so happy that I did the voyage, and did it with passion. As a matter of fact, when Desmond Tutu’s exhibit in South Africa asked us “If you had one piece of wisdom to give, what would it be?”, my answer was simple. Do it with passion. Pour yourself into what you do. Make it personal. Work hard. Play hard. I think I did that.

I leave you with the MP3 of Allan's song, "The Ship It Used to Be." The lyrics can be found here. Thanks to everyone who read my ramblings, and sorry for the stream-of-consciousness disconnectedness of it sometimes. A lot more people read this and wrote me than I ever expected (Clara - your inbox is full). I might do one more upload of all my pictures, by popular demand (now that I have fast, free internet), but otherwise, this is the last entry for this Cobosce. If you have any questions on SAS or are some random Fall 2005 alum who randomly bumped into this blog, or anything else, I can be reached at

I’d love to hear from you someday.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Coming to America

I've been up all night again, my second night in a row, saying goodbye to peeps and engaging in very long conversation with professor Kevin Murphy about Global Studies and Semester at Sea. Because of that, I need to finish packing and won't write extensively right now; I'll extend my final blog entry to sometime next week when I get back to the Ranch.

It's been an eventful last day. I don't think anyone on the ship missed last night's sunset, where, after 100 days (99 days back home), I finally saw the mythical green flash at the tail end of the sunset that I heard so much of during the voyage. It really exists, though you have to stare at the sun the whole time to be able to see it.

We had a final convocation last night, which was a great way to bring closure to the voyage. I'll write a little more about it when I'm coherent.

We walked out early today to watch the last sunrise, with everyone on land as California appeared in the horizon. All of the backs are packed in the hallways of the second deck, which is surreal - the long hallways seem to be made of suitcases.

Because of a military ship, we're running some 45 minutes late, but we should be alongside shortly. I need to hurry up. More updates in a few days.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Clearing Out

Editor's note: Jason Vanhee wrote his last guest blog entry on our final day at sea, and I just found it now, ten months after the fact. I think it is still worth uploading.

I arrived on the ship early, three days before almost all the staff, seven days before the students. When I got here the halls were empty, the walls barren, the rooms tidy and quiet. There's something of the same look to the ship again, now on the last night.

The students aren't roaming about tonight. They sit in public places talking and getting their journals signed, or huddle in their cabins with their good friends. The walls are vacant once more; the stewards are clearing everything off of them. It's a lot like trees in autumn; some are still green and leafy, some are losing their leaves, but most are bare, a few dry, skeletal vestiges left. Here and there a nametag has somehow escaped notice, or a white board wasn't packed, or a sticky note leaves a message that may never be answered.

And in our rooms the chaos that has grown up in the last months has vanished. All of our bags are packed, the largest carried away to completely fill the second deck hallways. What's left isn't much; a few changes of clothes, perhaps, a book, the breakables. The things that we'll need for the day or two until we get home. So the cabins, too, look much like they did, just a few signs of life in most of them.

Within twenty four hours the Explorer will look the way I found it, clean and empty, just a few people walking about where once there were hundreds. I wonder if anyone leaves a sign of their presence; a note hidden behind a life jacket, or a picture tucked up under the bed. Do the cabin stewards search carefully to eradicate any signs of the old voyage, or can something slip through? I like to think that somewhere on the ship there is such a sign, overlooked for months or years, waiting patiently for someone to find it. That the clearing out of the ship is somehow not the end of our presence here. That we will still sail onward.

Packing et al.

I was going to write my Japan entry, but instead I’ve been packing all night, figuring out my receipts and forms for customs (I’m only taking back $392 worth of new stuff, almost none for myself… I spent a lot less money than I thought I did), writing goodbye notes and getting everyone’s contact information before we leave. I’m doing a blog break to procrastinate a little more before going to watch the sunrise. I just don’t want to pack.

Tonight they gave us a few suggestions upon returning. First, to say our goodbyes tomorrow because we won’t get much of a chance to do so on the 7th. Second, not to make any drastic decisions until we’re settled back in to make sure we’re not reacting to our change in environment. Third, they told us to go outside tomorrow to take in the ocean one last time, making sure to appreciate the 360 degree view without land, because it’ll probably be a while before anyone of us experiences the open ocean again. I made sure to get out on the deck tonight, to see the stars one last time, listed to the ship cut through the wave, see the wake of the ship disappear into the pitch black darkness of the Pacific. I also saw my first moonset of the voyage tonight, with a beautifully red moon, and I’m wondering why I didn’t do that more often. I’m going to try to see the moonset again tomorrow.

Quick summary of Japan since I won’t want to do it tomorrow:

We hit Japan at exactly the best time of the year, in that little window where all the leaves are as red as they possibly can be before falling off. The country was stunningly beautiful, slightly chilly, but you wouldn’t want it any other way. We arrived to much fanfare, with fireboats spewing water alongside the ship, and the city of Kobe hosting welcome ceremonies on the ship, complete with a marching band, samurai swords, and Taiko drums. I love Taiko. Oh, to have more time here.

We had bought bullet train passes, which saved us because it allowed us to enjoy every second of the country and sleep on the train on the way to your next destination. The first day Jason, Amy, and I headed down to Hiroshima, and it wasn’t long until we were completely lost in translation (except for Jason, who researches these things methodically before we go anywhere).

I thought I knew a lot about Japan. I’ve had Japanese coaches throughout my Stanford gymnastics career, watched Japanese superhero shows as a child in Brazil and have a few friends who were Japadaphiles. But I didn’t – and got lost over and over in the process.

The reason is simple: Japan doesn’t need the US. They are financially independent, and since they didn’t weren’t colonized by the west like most of the other Asian countries, there is little by way of English there. So our ATM cards don’t work, and few places accept the credit cards. And signs are all in Kanji, making sure that you will get lost once you’re there. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Our first mistake was putting money into a machine thinking we were paying for a streetcar. It wasn’t until we were yelled at in Japanese by the driver that we realized we had put our money into the change machine and hadn’t paid for the ride yet. Whoops.

Everyone had similar stories. My favorite was of these girls who thought they had gone into an empty dance club with techno music, started dancing, were chased out only to find out they had gone into a strip club. I would have paid to make that mistake.

Anyway, we head to ground zero of Hiroshima, the Memorial Peace Park, which is solemnly beautiful in the park, complete with the thousands of paper cranes that come in every year. The museum is incredibly informative (I heard they changed a few years ago when people protested that there wasn’t much information related to why the bomb was dropped in the first place). The bomb was devastating, though I wondered why there wasn’t a Tokyo firebombing museum (which was much worse) until the museum transformed itself into a peace museum calling for the disarmament of nuclear arms around the world.

(By the way, after studying this on and off the ship, I’m pretty convinced now that the primary reason for using the bomb had more to do with scaring the Russians in the post-war world… but that discussion is for another time).

After a few hours in Hiroshima (a bustling city nowadays), we eat some delicious Chinese food with a little sushi and get back on the bullet train to Kobe to hang out all night with the students. Jason hinted at what happened to him that night in the previous blog, and I’ll leave it at that. It was a bonding moment for all.

Chris and I left the next morning for Kyoto, the cultural center of Japan. As usual, he was looking for his National Geographic moment, with me happily tagging along, and Kyoto in the fall is a pretty good place to find one. There were so many Shinto, Buddhist, and other temples to choose from, and I was so surprised to see how much of the Japanese population is involved in this religious aspect of the society, most notably ancestral worship. There were men in business suit who would just bow near a statue, pay their respects, and be on their way.

After walking around and taking pictures all day, Chris and I head by taxi to the one place we were told we HAD to go, the Golden Temple. We thought we had enough time to make it there at sunset, but traffic is a little slow in Kyoto. After 40 minutes inside a taxi with self-opening doors and drivers in suits and white gloves, we missed the sunset by some ten minutes, which made Chris’s pictures a little flat. But the pondside temple covered in gold leaf is a must-see, especially when it is overwhelmed by the red trees surrounding it.

We headed back to Kobe after yet another bonding day for the both of us, and I got ready for another night out in town. The next morning I set out for Tokyo since I had gotten a hold of Yoshi Hatakeda, two-time Japanese Olympian and one of my former coaches at Stanford and we would be having dinner in Yokohama. I was planning on going by myself, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Jason taking the same train as myself, where he told me he had slept until the afternoon the previous day. We caught up in the happenings and were off on our three-hour train ride, taking us alongside the magnificent Mt. Fuji. We made some basic plans arriving in Tokyo, heading to the grounds of the Imperial Palace before going to the Tokyo Times Square. I had thought this was area the famous intersection showcased in Lost in Translation, which is the iconic representation of Japan in my mind, but it wasn’t. It was, though a very, very high-tech, trendy, busy shopping district. Something about Gwen Stefani shopping there?… I don’t know...

(By the way, I always loved Lost in Translation, but it catapulted into being one of my favorite movies after going to Japan. No only did I think Sophia Coppola nailed the details I noticed about Japan, but the feeling of the and pace of the movie matched a lot of my experience of my last day in Japan.)

Jason and I parted ways so I could meet my coach, and I try following Yoshi’s directions and get completely lost in Tokyo, which was the best thing that could have possibly happened. Because in between trying to figure out subway signs and where I was, I waltz out of the Shibura train station to find myself exactly at the famous intersection at sunset. The place is as cool as advertised, with screens that fill the entire sides of buildings. I had never been so happy to be lost, but then again, I wasn’t sad in the first place. I just thought there was a chance I’d miss dinner with Yoshi if I was to make it back to Kobe to save a little money on hotel rooms.

But a clue here, a sign there, and I figure out my way and made it to Yokohama an hour and a half late. Yoshi hadn’t changed much in these last three years – said I got very skinny since the last time he saw me – but his daughter Hitomi was 5 now and he had a new girl that I’d never met before. He was coaching a the University of Yokohama and helping the National Team some. It was great to see him, getting a ride in his 3-D GPS-equipped car, which seemed pretty common there. The meal was some spicy Japanese food that I don’t think I’ll ever again outside of Japan, but I’ll email Yoshi to get it again.

We have dinner as late as possible, and run out to make it to the Shintansen bullet train. Luckily, those trains seem to be accurate to the second, because that’s how much I had before I missed the last train last to Kobe. I got to sleep soundly before going on an all-night Karaoke session with the students, and we all know how much I love Karaoke. This was supposed to be the last night in port (we were given an extra night in Hawaii later), and the trip was supposed to culminate with a karaoke all-nighter in Japan, so I’m glad it did.

The next morning, I took a bullet train back to Hiroshima on my way to the island of Miyajima, which Yoshi said he wouldn’t allow me to leave Japan without visiting it (and my friend Matt Traverso had just sent me an email with the words “Miyajima is the bomb” in there somewhere). I decided to go by myself, because I had enjoyed a day by myself in just about every port end realized that it is pretty good to sit back and take time to yourself once in a while. This is something I don’t think I’ve ever really done before.

I’m out of server space, so I can’t upload pictures, but please Google “Miyajima”. It has the famous red gate shrine in the water, and I hit it perfectly at high tide. The temples strewn the island, some going in the water, and it was completely red from the trees. I rented a bicycle and hit my state of zen. It was absolutely the perfect way to end the trip.

I headed back at the end of the day, meeting up with friends to find out all of the great stories and all of the other things I had missed. Four days in Japan is a crime, but I enjoyed it to the fullest and it will probably be the easiest country for me to go back, Brazil excepted. We all left the port exhausted, with heavy heart, on our way to our long Pacific crossing. It was time to start reflecting on the last few months.

Back to packing. Tomorrow will be the my last entry on the Cobosce.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Apparently I’m out of server space on all the servers I have access to from here, so this will be another report without pictures or videos until I can figure out the problem.

The world is a smaller place after you travel on SAS. To us, it isn’t a big deal to travel anywhere in the world, finances notwithstanding. If our friends call each other and decided to meet in Turkey, everyone would go. Sometimes even on the same day.

This sentiment was the underlying motivation for Yas, Jason, and I to forgo a trip to Beijing to see the Great Wall and the Forbidden City and somewhat randomly choose to go to Kunming Beijing is easy, we thought; we’ll come back someday. After our bonding episode in South Africa, the three of us decided to travel together to Sizchuan, since we heard so many good things about it, and once we arrived in India, the travel agency told us that the tickets that we wanted were no longer available. It took just a couple of minutes us to ask for a map, decide that Kunming was “close enough”, and reserved the tickets. We were going.

The second morning in Hong Kong, the giddiness began. We had no idea what to expect, except what the few words that the Lonely Planet had to tell us. Jason had read everything about the city in the book, and Yas and I had not. Jason had effectively become our trip leader, complete with head counts and dock time. If you ever happen to be on a SAS trip, you would understand why this hilarious. Alas.

There wasn’t much listed in the book, something about a stone forest, surfing Buddhas, and unicorns. Unicorns became the theme of our trip, and we wouldn’t rest until we saw one.

After an eventful couple of hours at the huge Hong Kong terminal (on an artificial island off Lantau), eating dim sum and making videos about what we expected in Kunming, we were on our way to the Yunan province.

The culture shock started immediately. Whereas I could somewhat communicate in every place we had traveled to thus far, there was no sign of English upon arrival. Because of the Chinese characters, we spoke lonely-planetese, calling someone’s attention and pointing to the good book to ask what we wanted. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But the good book would ultimately save us many times in the next few days.

Jason and Yas passed through customs somewhat easily, and, being what must have been the very first Brazilian ever to set foot in Kunming, my process took much longer. I’m not convinced they knew where Brazil was, and given that the receptionist at our hotel asked me that very question, I think that possibility is very high.

But I got through, eventually, and we set out to find a cab that could take us to the hotel. After getting dupped into paying 50 Yuan to get to the hotel (the price was close to 15 Yuan), trying to explain to the appropriate people where Brazil was, and enjoying a quick drink and laughing our arses off, we headed out to a beautiful fall afternoon. You can’t beat the fall in China (well, you can in Japan, but that’s another entry).

Sunday afternoon in Kunming. A lazy Sunday afternoon in Kunming. A comfortably lazy sunny fall afternoon in Kumning, with red leaves dominating the trees. I can keep adding adjectives all day. This was one of the most pleasant afternoons I could remember, watching the bicycles go by, strolling the street markets, and enjoying this clean, surprisingly beautiful city. Somewhat industrial, with 4 million or so people, but you’d never know from that afternoon. We slowly and deliberately made our way to these 1300-year-old pagodas, one of the few “attractions” listed in the Lonely Planet, and found hundreds of old men playing Mah Joon (?), who seemed very excited if somewhat confused by our presence there. Yas found what she thought was a tea house – we’re still unsure. But a cute older woman was extremely excited to see us, letting out what sounded to us like yips, and Yas did the international symbol for “we want tea” (bringing an imaginary cup to your mouth while holding a plate on the other). Apparently, that means “bring me the largest, most delicious meal imaginable”, because that’s what we got. She didn’t even seem to want money for it, but we insisted (by putting the money out), and she eventually showed us a number. We still don’t know if we committed a faux pas or not.

We continued on our stroll, and would run into one thing after the other. We encounter a huge, empty Chinese pagoda, with just the three of us enjoying the premises during sunset. There were Buddhist chants coming from the corner stores, and music coming from rounded flutes that seem to be the local instrument of choice. The city is famous (in China) for its eternal spring, with blossoming flowers all over the place. We’d look up and see that people were flying kites from the tops of buildings; the kites flying so high they were the last objects catching sunlight that day. We decided to randomly enter any small alleys to see what they brought, and soon enough, we found ourselves searching for the source of some music… was it live?

Sure enough, the music was coming from a Karaoke bar, a gay Karaoke bar in China. It wasn’t long ago when homosexuals were deemed insane in China (I think it is still illegal), so this bar was a little surreal. Of course we went in. As much as we wanted to, there was no chance we would sing since English songs or words were nonexistent, but perhaps we could find someone for Jason, who happens to be gay? It wasn’t long before all eyes were on him; this exotic occidental man who strolled in. This would surely be his night.

At some point, I went to the bathroom (one of those typical Asian squat toilets that deserves its own entry someday), when I noticed our smiling waiter had followed me in there. He shows me a piece of paper with the words, “Ar your gay” written on it.

Oh oh. I don’t remember anything in the Lonely Planet about what to say if you get propositioned in the bathroom of a gay karaoke bar in China. I’m sure there were no Chinese characters I could point to to gently let him know that I wasn’t. I shook my head as clearly as I could, and attempted to tell him that my friend was. I think he got it. Well, actually, of course he must have, because nothing happened.

A while later, Jason come back from the bathroom with the same story, except that he said “yes,” and the waiter turned the paper around to the words “I lov your” written on it.

“I think it’s time to go,” Jason said. We took off.

We were about a block down when two of the guys from the karaoke bar come running and screaming after us. They look desperate, terrified, and we have no idea what’s going on. I thought they were mad at us for some reason.

After a couple of minutes, we realize that they want to see our pictures, and the reason was very obvious – they didn’t want to be recognized and possibly incriminated from a picture that we had taken. We showed them every picture we had, and once they saw that there was no one identifiable except for ourselves, they calmed out, gave us a friendly smile, and were on their way.

Other than clues like that, there was little evidence of the Communist government running the mainland – a soldier here, some populist art there, some Communist flags – otherwise, we saw plenty of capitalism, western companies, mosques, churches, and temples. I’m curious if this is different from not-that-long ago.

“What else could possibly happen?” we asked ourselves. By following our rule of going down little alleys, we heard techno music that lead us to lights in a park. We had come across a late night roller-skating rink. When was the last time you used the four-wheeled rollerskates, much less with a bunch of adolescents late at night in China? There was no rhyme or reason to the way they skated. Some people went clockwise, others went counterclockwise. Both Jason and Yas went down on collisions, and I myself caused someone to go down hard. I’m not that big, but I happen to be bigger than most people we encountered.

A few bruises later, we returned the skates to find another excited cute Chinese woman (one of many we would find), and followed her to see where she would take us. And, to my excitement, she took us straight to another karaoke place, this time with private rooms and songs in English. Of course we sang the night away. Could we have done anything else?

It was the perfect ending to the perfect day. We knew we had come to the right place.

The next morning we woke up early to get the shuttle from the hotel to the Shilin Rock Forest, another one of the “attractions” near Kunming. The shuttle, however, was full, and somehow we discovered that there are buses that go in that direction. We hop on the taxi, and our miscommunication in lonely-planetese took us straight to the train station, where we eventually found an attendant who spoke English… after many unsuccessful attempts at communicating in Chinese. She said the train wouldn’t arrive in Shilin until after 2pm, so she directed us to the nearby bus station.

As we walked through the crowds, we run into our third over-excited cute Chinese woman yelping “SHILIN SHILIN SHILIN SHILIN SHILIN”, and in following protocol, we followed her through parking lots and hotels and back alleys until she took us to a car with what we assumed was her nephew. We negotiated a private ride to Shilin at about the same price as the hotel shuttle – pretty good deal.

The two-hour+ drive through the Chinese countryside was beautiful, going through luscious canyons, hanging terraces, and houses covered in corn. I can’t quite explain it. There was also plenty of evidence of massive public works projects (seems like there are a lot of highways coming into the area… lots of questions about the environmental consequences of those works, but I digress).

Our driver was the most overtly-cautious driver I’ve met in a long time, and perhaps the nice car he was driving had something to do with it. If there was something on the road, he would honk. If there was something off the road, he would honk. If there was a chance that someone a mile away from the road would somehow go crazy and run onto the road and into our car, he would honk. Really, I swear he was honking at trees sometimes. And I don’t think it was ever necessary. Good times.

We arrive at the beautiful Shilin Rock Forest. The name couldn’t be more appropriate. Huge free-standing rock formations that you can walk between and climb at will. Just know we were very excited about spending the day there.

We ate some spicy South Chinese food before finding our driver having a party in our car (we think there were 13 people in there somehow…) and driving back. We even saw the obligatory motorcycle accident, but the guy looked like he would be alright.

We finished the night walking around Kunming, coming welcoming tea house where we finally saw how tea should be served. This was a work of art. As part of a tea tasting, this woman would brew and re-brew, washing the cups in tea before serving us the perfect cup of tea. And it was delicious – let’s just say some people will be getting tea as my gift from the trip.

That was perfect day #2.

We woke up early the next morning and had to make our way to the third “attraction” in Kunming, the mountain temple with the surfing Buddhas and the unicorn. The trip wouldn’t be complete without seeing them.

If you’re ever in China, please wake up early and walk around someday. One of the most peaceful moments this entire voyage was watching hundreds of people do Tai Chi or lining up their motorcycles and bicycles as badminton nets. Please don’t miss seeing that if you’re ever in China.

We were the first people in the misty mountain temple, greeting the monks as they woke up and offered to join them for breakfast. We declined… we wanted to see the unicorn and the surfing Buddhas, and they were nowhere in sight.

And, as Jason wrote, as we were standing in front of the incense pyre, a monk opened a golden door to the main part of the pagoda, and everything was revealed. The hundreds of surfing Buddhas, and the unicorn, as beautiful as our imagination would allow. Yas, Jason, and I looked at each other, and the trip was complete. We could go home now.

We staying in Kunming a few more hours, enjoying museums and the Not-So-Great Wall of China. As I read back at what I just wrote, I still don’t think I capture our giddiness, the same kind of giddiness I get when driving to the cabin in Tahoe, or making a Ranch video. It was a great time, one we still look fondly at. We spent the night in Hong Kong “street bar hopping”, thinking back on the last 48 hours, some of the best on the trip. If I had a chance to redo every country by going to a random city, I might take it. I finally understand why they call this the "Voyage of Discovery".

Friday, December 02, 2005

Sassy McSasserville

Clara, I’m sitting next to your daughter Nicole who is one of my salsa instructors and my future wife. Really. I proposed to her and everything… I’ll let her tell you the story.

Boy, was I pooped last night. Who goes to Hawaii for a day? Has that ever happened before? In trying to maximize the time there, I ended up sleeping some 13 hours last night, well, more like 12 if you count the time change. Again.

It is Dead Day on SAS, with all of the students studying for finals on the back deck on this glorious day. I took some time to do my end of year evaluations and paperwork, but now I’ll try to sit back, enjoy the ocean while try I catch up to the huge email backlog I’ve accumulated over the months.

Quick recap of Hawaii:

Went to a nice dinner at a pub with some staff members. There are definitely things about American culture that jump out after being gone for so long.

1. As Mandee put it, “Gosh, it’s nice to see fat people again.”
2. You just expect things to look nice and clean in the US. If Hawaii were in Asia, we would have said, “Gosh, Phnom Pehn is modern and clean.” Since it is in the US, you don’t think there’s anything special about it.
3. Walking into traffic doesn’t work – they won’t swerve to avoid you.
4. We are overly security conscious.
5. The American flag is one of the most beautiful in the world. We display it more than most countries do.
6. Americans are loud and shameless. Asians are not.
7. For the first time on this voyage, it is hard to pick out SASers from a crowd

(Our name for a place full of SASers: Sassy McSasserville. It just rolls off the tongue).

I have a lot more, but I forgot most on my 12 hour beauty sleep. I’ll have to remember it later.

After a nice dinner and hanging out with staff and students all night in Waikiki, including waddling in the ocean, Chris, Jason and I set out for the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor. There was a great movie presentation prior to taking a ferry to the memorial which answered a lot of the questions I never thought of asking prior to SAS, such as why would we have such a large military presence in Hawaii at the time anyway?

The memorial is over the sunken remnants of the USS Arizona in the water, and you can still see the oil blots coming out of the ship at an rate of about a quart a day. There’s something about the oil smell that gives the memorial an unique immediacy to the day of the attack.

Listed along the names of the dead are the “Attack survivors interred with their shipmates,” which means they are still burying people near the memorial, as recently as earlier this year.

As soon as I got back I met up with a bunch of student and headed to the North Shore for my first skydive since I became certified a while back. Since my USPA membership had expired, they wouldn’t let me jump solo (which would be really cheap), so I strapped on to a dive master and headed up.

I forgot how much I love to skydive. There’s nothing natural about it, yet it becomes so comfortable after you jump a couple of times. I also forgot how relaxing a tandem jump is, where in a normal jump you have to check your altimeter literally every second, you don’t have a worry in the world in a tandem jump. Just sit and enjoy the view.

My favorite part was waiting outside of the plane as it circled 180 degrees over the drop zone. Oh, to be able to do that every day. And the view of the island from above was magnificent, with waves as big and blue as advertised.

If there was a downside, it was that the jump was only from about 10,000 ft, with about a 30 second free-fall. All the jumps in Hollister are between 15,000 to 18,000 ft, with about a 90 second free-fall, which is so long as to almost be boring. Almost.

We went back to Waikiki to sit on the beach until sunset followed by a little night swimming. A suggestion for people in big groups in Hawaii – limos are cheaper than taxis. Keep that in mind.

I would have gone snorkeling, but we couldn’t take much off the ship because we didn’t go through customs and couldn’t take anything bigger than a camera with us. Oh, well. Hawaii is easy to come back to. As much as I loved it, I would have traded it for another day in any of the countries we went to. Except Mauritius.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Pacific IS as Blue as my Dreams

We’ve arrived in Hawaii, we’re waiting for the ship to clear. It is going to be faster than we expected. The day was glorious – I didn’t work much, the sea was smooth, the weather was perfect, we had a navy plane fly by the ship some three of four times, dipping its wing each time, and we even saw two whales as we approached the ship. Well, I didn’t, but most people did.

The funny thing was watching people activate their cell phones as we came into cell phone range. By the time we reached Honolulu, EVERYBODY had a cell phone outside, and even I talked to Becky from the Chaplin’s phone. I think the voyage will be psychologically over after this port.

Here’s a sample conversation, as suggested by Jason:

Yeah, I’m in Hawaii. What? No, I’m in Hawaii. The O.C.? They broke up? Really? Oh, I liked them all, but tell me… they really broke up?

Good times. A few housekeeping items. First, I wrote a guest blog entry on the most popular blog on SAS.

Second, I found out Amy has a bunch of pictures up from Brazil.

We’ll be off soon, we might have time for more.

Aloha means...just about everything, right?

We're docked in Hawaii on a gorgeous, gorgeous day. We're waiting for the ship to clear, and as usual, we'll be uploading short ramblings before we can leave the ship. Jason wrote the first of the ramblings

We're in Hawaii, docked and just waiting for immigration to get onto the ship and start processing us. It's supposed to take about three hours, so we have some time to blog. First off, I'm going to talk about the language barrier. We're in the US now, but there is a native language here other than English. That language is Hawaiian, and while not a lot of people speak it, a goodly number speak Pidgin. This is a language that has some parts of English and some of Hawaiian, and is also a lot like nothing else.

Aloha is about the only word of actual Hawaiian I know, excluding a few fish and bird names. It means hello. It means goodbye. I think it means I Love You, and probably also, The Bathroom Is That Way, Idiot. It's one of those words that takes up a lot of pages in the dictionary. In Pidgin, I know just a few words, and I'm not sure how they're spelled in some case. Da is The, which is pretty obvious. Haoli is a little less clear, but I know that it means foreigner, non-Islander and also more importantly, white person. It's used almost always by native Hawaiians, be they ethnically so or not, and it's not a good word. Usually it's paired with stupid. I expect we'll hear it a lot, and a lot of people will have no idea what it means. All I know is that when I do hear it, I'm going to get the hell out of the way, because it's trouble when it comes from a big Samoan.

So other than those two other languages, it should be pretty clear. Except for Chris, because he's Canadian, and they speak a funny language up there too, eh? Do Canadians speak other languages, anyway? I mean, besides French, which doesn't count. And poutin.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Groundhog Day

Welcome to Tuesday, November 29, 2005, for the second time! We just crossed the international date line, which looks just like the scrimmage line in a football game. A couple girls celebrated their 21st birthday twice, and we’re no longer 21 hours ahead of Cali, we’re two hours behind now. I already miss being in the future.

Sorry for the lack of original blogs – the Kunming and Japan blogs are in the works, as well as I’ll be guest blogging in the most popular SAS blog out there (Beth says she wrote about us in China and Japan… oh, to have cheap internet), but life got really busy lately with all sorts of end of year performances that keep an AV Coordinator busy. But I have a lot of good stories to upload, including how they’re getting us ready for the culture shock coming home.

We’ll arrive in Hawaii tomorrow, and after circling the globe, it is pretty clear that the U.S. is the hardest country to get into. Gosh, we make it complicated. Really. There’s a good chance it’ll take a few hours to get off the ship given all the paperwork and all the officials that need to come aboard. There’s no messing around here.

We’re waking up early to see the sunrise and the raising of the American flag for the first time this voyage (the ship always raises the flag of the country we’re arriving at). The choir sang America the Beautiful tonight, and as a very recent American citizen, it was a pretty sweet moment, I won’t lie to you.

This will be my fourth paradise island of the trip, along with the Bahamas, Fernando de Noronha, and Mauritius. I have some plans already, but I’ve never been to Hawaii, so if anyone has any good suggestions of what I should definitelydo, let me know.

On a side note, someone alerted me that the Cambodia entry made it on someone else’s blog.

On another side note, the lovely Yas wrote about Kunming, but I’m afraid to upload it because she misses some key stories. Everyone has a blog these days.

Screw it, here it is:

Tempus Fugit

Another Jason guest blurb. Changing the hours so many times is surreal.

Dawn is an hour late. Or an hour early. Night falls while you're having your afternoon nap. There aren't enough hours to work and sleep and socialize, so you drop the second. And one magical time, you repeat a day entirely.

This is the Pacific crossing.

Tempus fugit is Latin; its literally meaning is time flies. But as a phenomenon, it is applied to all manner of time distortions. Your line at the supermarket will always be the slowest one? That's an example. A movie seen the first time seems longer than the second time? That's another. Those five awkward minutes you spend waiting for your date to be ready? Yet another. And the crossing eastward of the world's largest ocean is the biggest of them all.

Westward is easy. Every couple days you gain an hour, so that you get more sleep, or take a long lunch, or spend that extra time looting other peoples' I-tunes. A day vanishes entirely, which would be odd, especially if (as is almost surely the case on a large ship) it was someone's birthday. But it's not such a big deal. A cakewalk.

We, instead, are a ship that's sleep deprived, aching and tired, wondering what the hell hit us. It can't be those little time changes, can it? Oh, and we get that extra day, but do we spend those lost hours, now regained, in rest? No, it's just another day. Great for the one girl whose birthday it is, but sucks for the rest of us.

So time flies, and we get carried along with it. Sometime, probably around the 10th or 12th of December, we'll start to feel a little more normal again. But feeling normal means going back to the real world, and if that's the case, I'm ready for a bigger ocean. But could we just sail north and south next time, please?

A Truly Japanese Experience

Jason had written this in Japan, I haven't gotten a chance to upload until now. Taking care of someone in a land you have zero understanding of the language is a great story that I am working hard to make sure hits the Cobosce before the end of the voyage.

I also realize that we might be giving the wrong impression of the trip, but I think there's enough other entries to show otherwise.

The first night in Japan provided me with an excellent opportunity for a truly local experience. You see, in Japan there's an entire group of people, sometimes called in English salarymen, who work their little hearts out and then, after they're done with work, go out and party. They drink shots, pound back beers, challenge each other to drinking games, and in general misbehave on a grand scale. They do this almost every night, because it's the only way they can vent. Late in the evening, it's considered socially okay for them to publicly urinate, vomit or just about anything else they need to do, so long as they're obviously drunk.

That was pretty much me. But without the good job or the public urination. And I didn't even get to karaoke.

Many thanks to Chris and Rico and Alex for making sure I got back to the ship in one piece. Smaller but still sincere thanks to the people who bought me drinks. I wish I could remember them all, but I can't.

I wonder if this would look good on a job application at the Japanese corporation?

The Life Emanuel

Welcome to Tuesday, November 29 #1! Little known fact outside of the ship: one of the first things I did getting on the ship was join the Salsa team, and in honor of our big performance tonight, I wanted to write a quick word about Emanuel Pleitez, who just happens to also be our main salsa instructor.

Remember that name - he's one of those people I just know we'll be reading about someday. Emanuel grew up in a poor neighborhood in Southern California, got himself into Stanford, and now on SAS comes up with some ingenious methods of financing his trips that he couldn't go to otherwise. Whenever we arrive in port, Emanuel works for the taxi drivers in exchange for rides, spending hours fraternizing with them right off the ship and serving as their salesman. Language doesn't seem to be an issue - he came back from Myanmar with a surprisingly extensive Burmese vocabulary - and often has some of the best stories from his trips to places money can't take you.

Janet Eastman wrote a short blurb on Emanuel for the LA times. The guy impresses me tremendously, on and off the ship, so I mention his name here as a favor. I think you'll hear his name again. So if someday you pick up a newspaper and see the picture of a guy who looks like a football-playing John Tuturo, remember that you heard of him here first.

(I just noticed our one-headlight incident in Mauritus also got a mention.)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Hardy har har

For some reason, I'm unable to upload anything to the servers (dang holidays...), but I wanted to upload the pictures of the state I found my cabin in after a five-course dinner with the captain and chief officers tonight. Yup, my room is covered in toilet paper.

I'm glad they did it... I already have my revenge planned out an everything. I've been waiting for this opportunity for a long time. I'd tell you what I would do, but I've been told Chris's girlfriend Nicolle-with-two-"L"s (hi Nicolle!) reads this so it might come back to him. Even though he probably had nothing to do with it. Unless you're willing to keep him in the dark, Nicolle.

(BTW, if you think I'm just putting the TP to waste, you're very wrong. It will be rolled up and be used as the good lord intended us to.)

In other great news, we're arriving in Hawaii a day early, so we actually get to spend a night there. A repeat of the last night in Kobe? Umm... it can happen.

In yet another great news, Danny and Becky are coming down to tour the ship in San Diego when we arrive. I might be more excited about that than going to Noronha. Did I already mention that? Am I still wearing pants?

We forward the time one hour some four times before Hawaii. I have stopped thinking that I'm eighteen hours in the future from you guys and started seeing it as being five hours back plus a day, and getting closer. We'll get two November 29s, aka "Groundhog Day." It is pretty funny because since we have two consecutive Tuesdays, we need calendars that can accommodate the extra week day. They can either end up looking like a periodic table, or November 29 is split into two sections. People tend to prefer using the latter calendar.


I was pretty excited about being able to upload a (bad) MP3 of Allan's song tonight, as part of an charity audio CD with original music by SAS students titled "No Silence Can Be Heard". The whole project was organized by a student named Adam Deutsch and the music is really good.


I just realized these entries aren't nearly as fun without pictures or videos or music, eh? Perhaps I shouldn't upload this...

[Trying to hold back the fingers...]


Whoops. There it goes.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Stuck in a Cambodian Prison

What would you do? One of the students in the trip you lead gets a little silly and while running after a monkey, knocks down a pillar in an ancient Siem Reap temple. It starts a chain reaction that destroys several hundred years of civilization in a matter of seconds.

Poor Beau. Stuck in a Cambodian jail. All other 57 students made it back to Vietnam. Did the one thing you don’t do in a Buddhist country: mess around in a Buddhist temple. Bad things are bound to happen.

Or so the ship thought. You see, Beau lost his passport in Phnom Penh. He wasn’t sure where it was in the afternoon. He might have lost it in the morning at the hotel. Or he might have been pickpocketed the night before. Whatever, he was really stuck in Cambodia. It is one of the worst things you can do on Semester at Sea, losing your passport. Because you need a visa to enter Vietnam, and you need an exit visa to leave Cambodia, and because it takes a few days to get a new emergency American passport, and because it was a Cambodian holiday, Beau didn’t make it to the ship. It wasn’t that big of a deal, just an expensive pain in the arse. He’s an adult who can take care of himself; he would meet us in Hong Kong once the paperwork was straightened out.

But the ship didn’t know this. So we agreed as a trip to tell the story that Beau was arrested in Cambodia. We would be vague with the details, “I didn’t see it, but I think was climbing the temple to take a picture,” or, “I saw him pretending to be Sarah Croft earlier and next thing I know you hear this crashing sound.” But he had knocked something, and didn’t come back to the ship.

Boy, was that fun. As trip leader, I must have had dozens of incredulous students come up to me to confirm the rumor they had heard about our trip, and of course I played along with it. Not all the students in the joke could keep a straight face – one student told me I convinced her to lie to her best friends on the ship, whoops – but enough students believed the story that, now that he’s back aboard, Beau is still asked about his prison experience. It was worth it.

Besides, our story made him look cool. Losing your passport is careless and a pain. A very nice girl lost her passport in Venezuela and was unable to leave the ship until Cape Town three weeks later, missing Brazil as she couldn’t get issued a visa in time.

Such was HCM24. Somehow I managed to trip-lead one of the most popular SAS trips, to Phnom Penh and Angkot Wat. The four trips to Cambodia were so popular that one of them had 100 students sign up beyond the maximum number of 60 per trip, growing to the point they added another trip leader - Tina Trap on our medical staff.

I had been selected to trip-lead a small, four-day camping safari in Kenya, but as you probably know, we never made it to East Africa and all my efforts would have to wait until Cambodia. A week before the trip, I started building excitement amongst our group by announcing over the closed-circuit TV system that HCM24 would be the “Best Trip Ever”. As a result, the entire ship was aware of HCM24 a week before arriving in port, and as mentioned in previous entries, several members that didn’t make the trip articulated their concern that we (I) was rubbing on their faces. That wasn’t my intention, so I stopped the campaign immediately and apologized.

But it served its intended purpose, and everyone involved felt pretty good about going on the trip. My leadership style has completely relaxed since my days as an RA at Stanford, which means that basically anything goes as long as we’re respectful to the people and places that we were going. That also meant that we wouldn’t be doing head counts or really checking for people until flights, so if people missed the bus, they’re adult enough to take care of themselves. We just didn’t want to wait around for people.

Our group arrives in Phnom Penh, and we have two hours to waltz around before heading over to a boat ride up the Mekong River. Phnom Penh (which sounds like a drum beat at the end of a bad joke, as in “I just flew into Cambodia today. Boy, my arms are tired.” phnom-penh) is under construction, and is probably well on its way to becoming a big metropolis in the next few decades. The city is also underwater, which is normal during the rainy season.

Over the centuries, the country has changed back and forth between Buddhism and Hinduism depending on the emperor of the day, and the temples and artwork are a striking mix of what appears to be Indian and Burmese architecture. With monkeys all over the place.

After our a fun meal trying to that involved somewhat randomly picking items in a Cambodian menu, we hit the Mekong for the sunset. The timing of the ride was perfect, because as we watched the sun do down along the temples and stilt houses along the river, we could see, quite literally, a wall of water approach us. It was so precise and linear that we could predict the arrival of the monsoon to the second… five…four…three…two…

We all, needless to say, got soaked, but we were soon back on the bus, bonding to “Tiny Dancer” on our way to an over-the-top yet delicious Cambodian buffet. One of the problems with many SAS organized trips is that they pamper you too much, and this was one of those trips. The hotels they put us in were ridiculous, and perhaps a few hundred dollars could be shaved off the trip if only we were treated to something a little more modest.

We visited the concentration camps and Killing Fields on day 2. I’m not ready to talk about that. I had consciously not done any research on Cambodia before coming, in order to view everything for the first time and not put up an emotional shield. I’m not sure that ultimately was a good thing. It does hit you hard. The pictures and the stories of torture and the mass graves and the teeth and bones on the ground and the walls of skulls hits you hard. Everyone you talk to mentions they lost a parent or a sibling or a son during the Khmer Rouge. Everyone. Yet they talk about it so matter of factly. You leave with a terrible feeling, knowing that 2.5 million people were killed.

Moreover, there’s an academic reason I’m not ready to talk about it. I found out coming back to the ship that there is a serious academic debate on the history of the Khmer Rouge, and that perhaps the total number of people dead was more towards the hundreds of thousands, not in the millions. Not that this diminishes the gravity of the situation. It’s just that I want to do this story justice. It is important to too many people to do otherwise.

The second half of the trip was very happy. We traveled to Siem Reap, home of the temples that inspired the Jungle Book (and were also the set of Tomb Raider). These are magnificent temples, and watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat was the highlight of the trip to Cambodia for most people. The temple is huge, discovered by the west in the mid 19th century, but built about 1000 years earlier that as a Hindu temple. You think to yourself how amazing it must have been to be the first westerners to encounter the temple going through the jungle. One of the temples has been kept exactly as it was found, and the trees growing in the temple walls are breathtaking. They are more of an attraction than the temple itself, and ironically, as they grow, they destroy the temple even further. I’m not sure how they are going to deal with the problem, say, 100 years from now, as trees die down and grown in the places. Is it just going to be a pile of rubble someday?

I was wondering which would I rather visit, Bagan in Myanmar or Siem Reap in Cambodia. I decided a few massive temples was slightly cooler than thousands of smaller ones. The problem is that Angkor Wat is setting itself up to be a Vegas-like resort town, and they are over 20 massive new hotels being built around the temples. I’m not sure that is the way to go – I hated the area around the hotels. The sense of adventure was completely lost in them, and we you can see that soon that area will look like a “Angkor Wat Hotel and Casino” in Vegas. Actually, why doesn’t Vegas have a Cambodian Temple sort of casino yet? Hmmm…

That was just a blip on a fabulous port. Hanging out with the students was a lot of fun (though I was glad that it would be my last SAS-run trip), the sites are impressive, and the Killing Fields stay with you long after you leave them. It is an amazing place.

I can’t wait to come back.

Happy Turkey Day, all. SAS doesn’t operate on a normal calendar, so the concept of weekdays or holidays have become completely alien to us, but we did somehow manage to fit in a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, complete with mashed potatoes and carved turkey, even though classes proceeded as they normally do.

So before I go to bed, I’ll place the first (but not last) mention of the MS150 bike ride that I participate every year with my great buddies Aden, Dunagan, Danny, and several other friends. This is an 180 mile bike ride from Houston to Austin that raises money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the experience is as amazing as anything that has happened on Semester at Sea. We definitely go all out every year and have raised some $17,000 in the last two years. Below you can see the annual videos we made for the last two rides. There are a lot of videos, so sit back and enjoy:

Please don’t use last year’s donation link; if you’d like to donate this year, please use this link:

I’ll post a lot more about the ride towards the end of our trip. This is a really big big deal to the four of us and to the millions of people suffering of MS.

Check out our nine 2004 videos here.

I’ll also start posting the blogs from the arrival in Japan, starting with Amy’s first guest blog (below).

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Rico hearts Me!

I do. I heart Amy. As IT Coordinator extraordinaire, she makes this blog possible. I heart her for that. She wrote this entry, the first of several guest blogs written as we approached Japan.

Amy is myscuba-diving buddy (on the right) and will be living in Santa Cruz later when she returns.

Here's the picture she took of me petting a huge morray eel.

Over the past 3 months we have become a close knit bunch and most of us have no shame in showing that love. Briana made a sign for Beth that said "I heart Beth," and the phrase stuck. This love was not felt all the way around however. Poor little Yas thought she was unloved because she'd tell Rico that she hearted him, but he'd just smile and not give his heart in return. While in Hong Kong we realized that it's not that Rico doesn't heart Yas, he doesn't heart ANYONE. Well, he might, but he won't admit it. We've been working on him, though, and finally got him to say "I heart y'all," and then...the miracle of all miracles happened. The other day after I gave Rico something that he really wanted, he showed his appreciation by saying "Amy, that's why we all heart you." That was the closest I'd heard him get to sharing all that love he has burning inside. Then I asked if HE hearts me, and indeed he does...I then became the first person that Rico outwardly hearts, when at last he told me "Amy, I heart you." It made me feel all warm and tingly inside.

Strike Up The Band

Jason's second Pre-port Rambling as we pull into Kobe.

Kobe pulls out all the stops for us. Not only did they build a port just to have us here, but they sent out their fireboats to do a little routine. I just hope there wasn't a fire in port while they did it, though I did see some suspicious looking smoke. And now there's a full band playing American marching music of the John Phillips Sousa type. Later, I hear that two samurai are going to fight to the death on the pier for the priveledge of welcoming Dean John to Kobe once more.

Okay, only half of this is true. But this is still the most welcoming port we've been to, and we haven't even gotten ashore. I think part of it may be that they don't have to jack up their prices for us. In other countries, everyone likes us for our money. Here, we're kind of poor, so we know they like us for who we really are.

Wait, the samurai are coming out onto the pier...

Now where did I put that Parka?

Jason's first Pre-Port Rambling as we pulled into Kobe

When we pulled into Cape Town, lo those many weeks ago, everyone was on deck wrapped in layers of clothes, blankets and towels. We all wished we might have a toque. It was cold. Or so we thought.

There's a cold wind blowing over the Inner Sea. Winter has started in Japan. It's cold. It's really fricking chilly. Okay, it's pre-dawn and all that, but that doesn't change the fact that I don't have a really good coat. I thought it would be a little cool here, not something which would make Chris's Canadian heart quiver as he realizes this is going to seem warm to him in a month when he's back in Calgary.

So there are students standing on the deck in t-shirts. Either they didn't get up in Cape Town, or they didn't go to Beijing, or they're just not very bright. They admit that if they went back inside to go and get their jackets, they wouldn't come back at all, but they still don't admit that it's cold enough to need the jacket. I don't get it. There's no f-ing way I'd be hanging out in the cold if it weren't the last port, and if we didn't need video.

Which I'm going to go and film now.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I think I'm turning Japanese

I am buying myself a little more time in port before having to board the ship and leave. In the last twenty-four hours, I have gotten lost in Tokyo, had dinner with an old coach, stayed up all night doing Karaoke, and traveled to Miyajima in the southern part of the country to enjoy the fall colors by myself.

I couldnt have predicted a better way to finish our last day in a foreign country. Maybe I shouldnt board the ship.

Just maybe.

I take solace in this quote from Shawshank, in lieu of our two-week Pacific crossing (with a bathroom break in Hawaii):

I find I'm so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend, and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.

I hope.


I miss my friends.

Time to go home.

Monday, November 21, 2005

I Said I Wanted to SEE a Game Show...

I just confirmed my meeting with Yoshi by email, so I thought I'd mention that I fixed this link of crossing the street in Ho Chi Minh from the Vietnam entry.

Good lord, I love Japan.


I believe the question at the end of the trip will be: in a few years, would I rather spend a year traveling around the world, or would I rather spend a year in Japan? Good lord, I love this country. I honestly do not know the answer.

(There will be no apostrophes in this entry as I cannot figure out where it is on this Japanese keyboard. But I learned the hard way how to turn the Kanji on and off on my screen. Alas.)

The ship internet was down as we approached Japan, so I have a ton of entries that several of us wrote as we approached and waited for the ship to clear that need to be uploaded, including the summary of Cambodia. That will have to wait until the first leg of the Pacific crossing.

I am trying to see if I can make it up to Yokohama to meet up Yoshiaki "Yoshi" Hatakeda, one of my many former Japanese coaches at Stanford.


Sunday, November 20, 2005


We're trying to figure out how many entries we can post before the ship is cleared... in twelve hours. This is Jason's second of the Pre Port Ramblings.

We get to Japan in about 8 hours. We'll leave the ship in maybe 12 hours. And then, just a few hours after that, we'll have Sushioke. All night long, perhaps with a little Kirin or Sapporo, we'll have some Sushioke.

Some might already have figured out what it is. It's not exactly hard. For a made up word, it works like a combination German word. In this case, Sushioke is of course the combination of Sushi and Karaoke. Who doesn't like raw fish combined with drunken yodling? I mean, at least if you're already a little drunk yourself. Otherwise it could be a bit stomach turning. The singing. Not the raw fish.

We made that term because we wanted to have them both at once. I don't know if it's really possible. We might have to eat and then sing. With drinking for both. But I think we should manage it somewhere. Because, damn it, we're in the last port, and we're going to need to combine a thing or two to fit it all in. Probably a thing or three. So long ago we figured out that this particular combination could work really well, and really easily, and now we have the chance.

What would be best would be one of the conveyor belt sushi restaurants. After you took your sushi plates, you could put your song requests back on the same belt, and the sushi chefs would pass them on to the MC. He'd call your name, you'd gulp down a last bite of deliciousness, take the mike, and sing your heart out. In a perfect world, there'd be a beer converyor belt, too, but I don't think that we'll be that lucky.

So we'll hit the street and drink some ten dollar beer. We'll spend a hundred on sushi and then rent a little room for big bucks and belt out hits from the seventies. And we'll return home a little drunk, a little full, still singing something by Barry Manilow, maybe. With visions of Sapporo dancing in our head, we'll sleep deep, and wake up with just a few days left, and wonder where it all goes.

But we'll always have Sushi. Oke, that is.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Do the Chinese have a word for it?

Jason wrote another guest entry... consider him the co-Cobosce (Co-Bosce?). Expect a slew of blogs as we wait for the ship to clear in Japan tomorrow morning...

The auction mentioned below raised over $25,000, btw.

There was a charity auction on the ship last night. The thing about charity auctions is that people get a little carried away. Because it's for charity, they bid on things they have no real interest in. Sometimes just to give money, sometimes in a misguided attempt to raise the bidding price. Rico and I were the main auctioneers (along with the very game and willing Dean John), and through the glare of spotlights I saw a few poleaxed looks on faces as people realized their bids were actually being accepted.

One of my work studies did it. He bid on a chair, because he thought the price would go higher. Weirder things had sold for more. But after his bid, the second for the item, the room fell silent, and suddenly he was the proud owner of a ten dollar chair, for which he had paid thirty dollars.

A member of my adopt-a-family made an accidentally successful bid, too. She was bidding for a ski weekend in Aspen, which is spitting distance from where she lives right now. And after she named the reasonably high but still underpriced sum of 325 dollars, there was just shifting in the seats, and Rico and me calling for more bids with diminishing enthusiasm, and suddenly she had a vacation to a place she goes to anyway.

And there was me. One of the items was, oddly enough, staff and faculty only. Except there were just about 8 total staff in the room, and I think there were no faculty most of the night. So I ended up bidding 200 dollars on a weekend in a condo on the west Florida coast. I have no interest in going there, but I wanted it to sell, and no one at all was going to bid. It turned out I was completely correct, no one else was going to bid, and now I have a trip to a place I don't want to go to.

There has to be a word for that, right? For bidding when you don't want something, or don't expect something? Maybe it's a French word, because they're subtle like that; or a German word, because they enjoy tangled situations like that; or a Russian word, because they understand awkward misery pretty well. And if there's not a word for it, there should be, because it would make this story much easier to tell.

Crazy Game of Frogger.

Welcome to the South China Sea, where the MV Explorer has encountered the roughest seas of the voyage! Everybody is sick! Woohoo! About 30 people showed up to Global Studies that they decided to break with the tradition and allow the class to be broadcast directly into the cabins. Kevin Murphy, the Global Studies lecturer, almost stopped mid lecture, but somehow managed to pull it through. I was really busy since so many professors decided to show movies instead of lecturing today. I don’t blame them. Even Sam, my new AV counterpart, who has lived six years on a ship, tells me was the first time he’s ever gotten sick.

The rocking is pretty violent and random, unlike previous swells, and that is why I think everyone is sick. It is impossible to sleep for any length of time before getting jolted awake. The windows on the seventh deck Staffulty lounge are getting nailed with spray. Several students and I spent some time last night timing our jumps with the slams to see how high we jump. Really, there was only one thing left to do in this kind of weather.

I needed a haircut.

Yup. Apparently the hair on the sides of my head an the back of my neck grow much faster than the hair on the top of my head (balding? Um… my grampa on my mom’s side died with a full head of hair… I’m safe! Whew!) that I beginning to show hints of Gallagher with a mullet. Chicks dig that, right?

I went to the beauty spa, home of the sauna and massage tables and exercise rooms and barber shop (rough life, eh?), and requested a touch up of the sides. Remember that scene in Jackass when Steve-O gets a tattoo while offroading on a Hummer? It was like getting a haircut from someone with severe Parkinson’s. The results?

Well, if you think Kim Jong Il of North Korea is sexy, than I’m the man for you. I might request a little touch-up when the water is a little calmer, but we’ll see.

The captain will try to steer behind some islands for protection against the weather, and I can see a huge city of Taiwan as I type this. Not sure which… I’ll got check the Map Channel later.

Alright, more catch-up to do. We new immediately that Vietnam was going to be a different experience when they taught us how to cross the streets in Ho Chi Minh, complete with simulated cars. The trick? Once you go for it and start crossing the street, you have to commit and go all the way through. Much like gymnastics, the most dangerous thing you can do is hesitate, because the drivers assume that you will be moving forward and will dodge you accordingly. Since there seem to be more motorcycles than people in Ho Chi Minh, this is a scary proposition the first time you actually try it, but it isn’t long before you trust the system and start walking into the busiest streets just to get a kick of watching the parting of the Red Sea.
After a windy, three-hour trip up the Saigon River, we arrive in Ho Chi Minh City, and immediately you notice how modern and western the city is. The staff members who have been here as recently as two years ago say that the city has undergone a tremendous shift. Gone are the bicycles and traditional clothing and in are shops and malls and fashionable wear. I saw little evidence of a Communist economy while there, unless the Communist Party is really into making sure all citizens get a fair share of Armani Exchange. There were western brands everywhere.

(By the way, I’m convinced KFC is the most popular brand in the world. Colonel Sanders died a famous man).

I had planned for a long time to meet with a man named Cuong, a native Vietnamese man who befriended some SAS staff members over a decade ago. When Pete returned to Vietnam as a resident dean of the Fall 2000 voyage with Anne, he had raised some $5000 to help Cuong buy a house. Cuong has been indebted ever since.

Anne gave me his contact information, and we agreed by email to meet at the Ho Chi Minh Museum upon my arrival. What I didn’t know at the time is that the city has some five Ho Chi Minh museums, and he waited next to the one located next to the ship, dedicated to HCM the man himself. I walked all the way to a museum dedicated to the city, waited some time and didn’t find him, so decided to tour the city by foot, on my own.

The city is wonderful, modern, easy to get around, and I got to do a lot, so I’ll save a few details.

First, I visited the War Remnants museum, dedicated to the victims of the Vietnam War (or, as called over there, the American War or the War of Vietnam Agression). The first thing I noticed is that I’ve never seen a movie has successfully captured the look of Vietnam during the war. There was an war photography exhibit, and most of the pictures involved a lot of mud, which we don’t see in most of the movies set in the war.

The museum puts a real face on the Vietnamese side. Most of what I know about the war comes from movies from the war, but, as noted by Kevin Murphy, they’re never about the war but about how the war changed the soldier. The Vietnamese side is faceless or never dealt with, and the museum immediately adds that perspective for you.

There are two moments in particular that make Americans feel very uncomfortable while there: the start of the exhibit, which starts with the American Declaration of Independence, and this text on Agent Orange. It hurts reading it, and in combination to the descriptions of torture techniques, the experience was powerful. War is hell.

I continued on my foot tour of the city, visiting a Catholic Church that had a Virgin Mary statue that the faithful believed was “crying” and so they clamored around it by the thousands. I’d never seen a miracle up close and personal before. Unless you count the Berman’s performance on the HBMR video. That was an amazing experience.

Things were so cheap in Southeast Asia... and everything is fake, though oftentimes the workmanship is so good there is nothing to tell you what you're buying isn't real. All the CD and DVD are pirated, all books are illegal copies, and there are fake brand name accessories all over the place. I bought a huge North Face backpack for $15 and a Rolex for $10. Not bad, eh?

After calling my mom for the first time since the voyage began (I'm a bad son), getting pinched by a prostitute, and hanging out with the staff and students until late, I was able to figure out where Cuong and I went wrong, and luckily, he volunteered to try again the next morning at 9am... just a few hours later.

I met up with Cuong, a diminutive man who believes he's 40s, though either he doesn't know exactly or he wasn't able to convey it to me in English. His wife was also present, and after a brief introduction I hopped on the motorcycle and we headed into the crazy Vietnamese motorcycle traffic. I'm not going to tell you I thought this was a smart idea - they tell us on the ship that 30 people die a day in Vietnam from motorcycle accidents, and I didn't have a helmet. But I couldn't miss out on this unique opportunity and Cuong's generosity, so we hopped on board. It was pretty fun to see him dodging the pedestrians and other obstacles, and since I'm about twice his size, I'm pretty sure he needed quite a bit of effort to get the cycle moving... objects in motion tend to stay in motion...

We drove and drove and drove until we got to an industrial part of the city, where Cuong lives. We arrive at his house, in a very poor area where there is a home-made fishing pond and chickens around. In other words, I was near malaria and avian bird flu at the same time, and with the motorcycle rides, the only unsafe thing I didn't do was have unprotected sex with a prostitute. That I remember, anyway.

Soon the neighborhood children are packing his door frame trying to get a glimpse of this strange creature that's come to make a visit. "They've never seen an American," Cuong tells me. As I've done in all the other places, I start making friends with a little juggling, and next thing you know, I'm playing tag and other games with them while Cuong's wife cooks us a delicious meal.

At lunch Cuong tells me all about himself and shows me his pictures, including some that I had seen before from Anne, He doesn't live in the house bought with the $5000 given to him - his wife lives there with his five-year-old son because there are better schools in that neighborhood. He lives near his work, and now work isn't much anymore. Nine months ago, he was working at a nearby factory making fishing nets, and he lost a finger in a work-related accident. He was fired and given a $60 severance package. Out of work, he had to improvise, so now he collects cans and after opening them with a device he built, he sells them as scrap metal. His wife makes about $70 a month at her job.

After the meal, he asks if he he can take me anywhere, and I tell him I always wanted to go to the Cuchi Tunnels. He said no problem, so we hopped on his motorcycle on our two hour trek of Vietnamese backcountry. This time I had a helmet.

The backcountry is exactly as we expect Vietnam to be in our minds: rural, green, with traditional clothing, ox carts, bicycles, conical straw hats, and rice field after rice field after rice field. I did wonder why they bothered marking the streets with traffic signs, because really, they didn't mean much. We never stopped dodging cars and buses and trucks driving into oncoming traffic, often sending us to the shoulder. There does seem to be a pattern after a while, so you really get used to it and feel safe. Until it starts raining. But I'll save that story in a second.

Two hours later, we arrive at the tunnel, which is an amazing experience in itself, showing me how little I knew about the Vietnam war. I had an impression in my mind that the tunnels were somewhat like the U-boats in World War II, that is, impressive but ultimately not important in the big picture of how the war progressed. I was wrong - the tunnels were an intergral part of the strategy of the guerilla warfare. They are an impressive feat of stealth engineering and improvisation, complete with hospitals and dining halls and booby traps. I walked through them and they are very small, I was sweating profusely by the time I reached 50 meters or so - it takes a lot of effort crawling through them, and the smaller average size of the Vietnamese soldier actually worked in their advantage because oftentimes American soldiers couldn't fit through some of the holes.

I spent two hours around the tunnels, and you leave with the feeling that the Vietnamese had a complete resolve to win the American War, regardless of the cost to their country. They were simply hard-wired to do so. Even today, you sense this undertone of pride that the little country beat out the big American invaders. It feels very weird to westeners, especially since the Vietnamese tend to be very hospitable to Americans nowadays. Cuong tells me he wishes people would just forget what happened. I wonder how easy that is to do.

I leave the tunnel, and a monsoon of epic proportion hits us. Of all the Vietnam movies I've seen, the only one that gets this right is Forrest Gump. Really, Forrest Gump! They rains come and go exactly as described in the movie, like someone turns them on an off in a matter of seconds. It can be sunny, and then you see a wall of cloud rolling in, and it's pouring rain in a matter of 30 seconds.

We're running out of light, so we need to make the two hour trek home. I ask Cuong if this is safe, but I'm not sure he understands my question. He puts on a plastic bag, and we're on our way.

I'm not proud of this, but this was definitely one of the craziest things I've ever done. I can't see a thing with the hard rain pelting my eyes. I'm not sure Cuong could see it either. The traffic continues moving as if this were a drought, and the road is often flooded. At one point, crossing about six inches of water, Cuong loses control of the motorcycle and we manage to fall off but stay on our feet (thank you, gymnastics!). Cuong loses a sandal in the process, which I find in the middle of traffic and have to run out and get it.

An hour later, the rain stopped, and we're relieved. We get back to the ship so I can get some dry shoes (I hate wet shoes), and I go out and treat Cuong to dinner and coffee. I'm not sure what it is with me and motorcycles in distant countries, but this was a pretty sweet day, one of the best. We say our goodbyes and I'm off to another night of fun in Saigon. If you're ever in Vietnam, give me a call, and I'll put you in touch with Cuong. He'll show you around.

The next day, we traveled to the Kingdom of Cambodia. That's next.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

For the Best Trip Ever, bring new Rico (tm), now with Magic Happiness Action!

Jason's eighth (?) guest blog. I might not need to write about Kunming after this.

Seven ports. Seven times I heard Rico boldly declare he had been on the Best Trip Ever! And while I'm not going to call him a big fat liar on his own blog, I never really thought everything could be as good as he claimed. Rico has a far too positive attitude for his own good, so that something that most people might just say “Meh” to, Rico would love. I was willing to believe he had some pretty good trips, but that was about it.

Then we came to China, and I saw him in action. Not that he did much. He just had an unfailingly positive, hopeful and wonder-struck attitude. He's ready for everything to be awesome, and ready for anything bad to turn out good. That's not my attitude; I'm ready to be disappointed, and I'm ready to have things that look good go bad. And yet, with Rico that just went away. A couple times I was pretty sure that we were screwed; Rico said to just give it one more chance, and lo and behold, a little Chinese woman would appear and everything would be fine. It helped, too, to have Yas along, who also has a good attitude, so that my vague negativity was pretty much overwhelmed.

Further, things just happen. Like you walk around a corner, see lights and hear music, and find yourself rollerskating five minutes later. Or you wander the airport and discover that it's possible to have hot, sour, aching and distended breasts like when you were a young girl, and this is a sublime and amazing thing. Or you mean to order tea, but the woman makes you a full, delicious meal; what it is, you have no idea, but you can't stop eating. Rico did nothing to make any of this happen, but it fits with all the other trips he talks about, all the strange and great things that seem to occur. He's a walking bundle of serendipity, that wondrous sensation of finding an unexpected and amazing thing.

So in other words, Kunming was great. Rico'll write all about it. Yas, too, will surely write about it. I might, but I rather doubt I'll do it with any completeness. It's more special than that. I feel odd even talking about it, though, this being SAS, I have to do so, because people ask. I want it to sink into the back of my brain like some story I heard as a child, a tale of wonder and magic that I can somewhat remember the details of, but that I can more importantly remember the feeling of. I want to hold onto that feeling, and I feel too much writing, too much analysis, will lose it, and make it less special.

We walked in a stone forest and saw an elephant dancing on a platform. We heard eerie music played on strange instruments echoing on the night streets. We were kings in an ancient palace. Kites flew higher in the sky than all the string in the world would allow. A monk opened a golden door to show us a unicorn. Every word is true. Every word is unbelievable.

It was the best trip ever.

It's a City... From the FUTURE!

In 1989, my family visited Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida, as must be required by law of every Brazilian in their first visit to the United States. I was ten at the time, and some would call me slightly gullible. But can you blame me? While at Epcot Center, my dad took full advantage of my youth by convincing me that even the bathrooms of the futuristic park were of the latest technology, complete with self-flushing toilets and a robotic hand that would extend out from the urinal to shake off the last drops. “There’s no need to do it yourself,” he told me. “But be careful because if it malfunctions the hand doesn’t let go.”

Of course, the hyperactive, Calvin-esque child that I was thought this was the coolest thing I’d ever heard, and immediately proceeded to the bathroom, patiently waiting with my fly open for five or ten minutes after the deed for a robot to molest me. Disappointed that nothing happened, I walked back out to meet my laughing parents, probably wondering if I had enough evidence to get them arrested.

Fast forward to 2005. Why do I mention such humiliating moment of my youth?

Because we’re in Hong Kong, a city which seems like it was made in 2025. Everywhere you look, you feel like you’re decades ahead of anywhere else in the world. If someone had skated past me on a hoverboard, I wouldn’t have been surprised. If the urinals had a robotic arm that “took care of business”, I wouldn’t be shocked. It is certainly the trendiest city I’ve ever visited, with brand new buildings constantly being built on man-made islands reclaimed in the Victoria Harbour. The city is clean, safe, easy to get around, and reminds me a lot of a mixture of New York and San Francisco (an extra-large China town, complete with the Bay, if you will). Gone are the days when the harbor was filled with the romantic junks sailing into the sunset, once synonymous with the city.

The ships literally drops you off in a mall, and immediately you realize that the city is a shopper’s paradise. There is mall after mall after store after store after mall. This is quite jarring after the stretch from Chennai to Ho Chi Minh, especially since prices jump exponentially from the pennies we’ve gotten used to spending. I remember thinking in 1997, when Hong Kong was “returned” to China after British rule, that the claim that Hong Kong would operate in a separate political and economic system from the rest of the communist mainland wouldn’t last two long. Eight years later, the system seems to be working just fine, and if anything, mainland China is moving more and more towards a model of an open capitalist market.

(Speaking of the handover, we ran into Lord Patten, the last British governor of the island, who was promoting his new book. I “recognized” him because I noticed he was holding a book with a big picture of himself on the cover.)

Hong Kong is easy. I feel like I know the city very well after only some three days here (two of our days we spent in Kunming). You don’t realize how stressful it is to see constant poverty and suffering until you visit to a prosperous, rich place like Hong Kong. So we sail away at night from one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and from my favorite port so far in this journey (if that was possible after the rest of southeast Asia). This is my view as I type this. Just for kicks – these are my five favorite cities in the world in alphabetical order (I haven’t visited Paris and Sydney and many other towns in the world):

Cape Town
Hong Kong
New York
Rio de Janeiro
San Francisco

We’ll be in Kobe, Japan in three days, and I have no plan of action. I have to write about Vietnam, Cambodia, and Fresn… err… Kunming, and hopefully I can get it done before then. I might need the help of some guest bloggers.

Monday, November 14, 2005

When in Fresno...

Imagine this scenario:

Imagine 700 Chinese students arrive on a ship in Los Angeles. 500 students immediately board a plane to San Francisco to see the Golden Gate Bridge. The rest stay in the trendy LA area. Three staff members randomly decide to go to Fresno.

Now imagine that going to Fresno turns out to be the most fortuitous decision you've made the entire voyage.

We're in cloud nine right now. We'll be back in Hong Kong - the coolest city on the planet - for another day and a half starting tomorrow.

Good times. Good times.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

That's Our House. We live there.

(Jason's note: I wrote this more than a month ago, but Rico's only now posting it because he wants to avoid posting another entry he says he'll post later. So here's this one instead.)

We live on a ship. This is pretty obvious. It's Semester at Sea, after all, not Semester in a Condo or Semester on the Streets. But it bears repeating. We live on a ship. I don't know how many of you have ever been on a cruise ship, but I'm reasonably sure none of you have lived on one longer than ten days.

It's not like living elsewhere. You can't go out. Or you can, but only as far as the seventh deck bar. Which is two minutes from your cabin. Which is two minutes from your work. Which is two minutes from the one and only restaurant on the ship. And so on. The place is small, and it's your whole life. You might have been on a big ship, and thought it was really quite large, but it's a lie.

The MV Explorer. 590 feet long, 84 feet broad; we have access to parts of Deck 2, most of Decks 3 through 7. This is it for us. All of us. For any single person, it's a couple shops, a few classrooms, a few public spaces and one cabin. A cabin that's probably smaller than the bedroom of whoever is reading this, unless you're in a dorm. In which case, get back to your homework.

The ship moves, too. I mean, of course, we're sailing around the world, but that's not it. It rocks. It sways. On occasion, it tips a goodly bit. Shit falls over. People lean as they walk, unusally in tandem. Doors, if not anchored, threaten to crush limbs. It's worse in the front of the ship, where I live (and Rico, too.) It's worse higher up. The Staffulty Lounge, which is that seventh floor bar I just mentioned, is about the worst, but then, it's private, and there's coffee.

Pretty much the entire ship is like that, one big compromise. Our rooms in the Pit, or to be more proper, 3 Forward, are small and lack amenities like windows, chairs and color. But the people there are the best on the ship. There's seasickness in the wings, but then, there's the endless swell of the sea. There's the smell of a thousand of us, hidden by strong cleaning agents, that fills the halls, but outside, there's the freshest air you've ever smelled, air that hasn't been bothered by people and their messes except briefly, as with us, in passing.

And for all the little problems, the lack of space, the minimal privacy, the repeition of sleep/work/home/bar being all the same places every day, for all of that, it's still home. The title of this piece is something I've heard people say, not once, but several times. Maybe we're drinking in a waterfront bar, and we look over to see the blue and white ship. Someone looks at someone else and says it. That's our house. We live there. And we smile, because we're the luckiest people on earth, to have such a home.

When we're in port, they turn on the lights at night. It's nothing much, just a string of bulbs from stem to stern. They're prettily ornamental, hundred watt bulbs strung in a single great line that must be seven hundred feet long. They're the first thing you see of the ship, once the sun is set. When the cab driver doesn't know the way, you spot those lights above the werehouses, and suddenly you can find the ship. They shine out into the night, into the strange, sultry darkness of foreign ports, and they call us home.

That's our house, we whisper, and point, and the cabbie smiles, if it's not too late, if he's not too tired from ferrying students to the port. We live there, we say. He already knows, and so do we, but we all like to say it.

Passport Paranoia

Editor's note: We're still on the ship. Jason had time to write another guest entry.

The last time I travelled I took my passport with me everywhere. It sat in my security belt, and I didn't worry about it. When I was in a hotle I just put it down wherever and didn't feel the least bit concerned. Whatever happened, I would be fine.

This trip is a little different. From moment one, they told us that we should be terrified about losing our passports. I got on the ship, and they asked for it, and I didn't see it again for days. They're so afraid that we're going to lose it or get it stolen or possibly both that we're not allowed to have them unless we absolutely need them.

We don't carry them around in port, which is strange to me. My passport is my only ID, the only ID I ever breing when I travel, but now they tell us to just carry a photocopy. So far, that's been good, but what if some official looks at me funny? I think that's a bigger risk than carrying my passport. I'd rather have to use my photocopy for a few days than have to spend time in detention. But maybe that's just me.

But when I do have it now, I'm actually catching their paranoia. I feel a little worried. I think that maybe something is going to happen, that some clever pickpocket with get it, or that it'll just vanish someplace. But that's ridiculous. Like I'm going to just lose it somewhere. People do, but then, people also don't read books, and vote Republican, and other stupid things. Despite that comforting notion, the notion that I'm not a idiot, it has spread to me. I am partly convinced that it's a bad thing to have my passport. My rational mind knows that's moronic, but I can't help it. It's like a mob mind thing. And I want it to stop, but I can't.

Hopefully, I'll get over it. There will come a day when can I carry it safely but without concern again. Just not on this trip.

"The Ship it Used to Be"

Postscript: The MP3 of this song can be downloaded here.

Alright, still have time to post. These are the lyrics to Allan's song. I'll post the MP3 when I have one. Sing it with a thick accent. Trust me, it is really catchy.

Written and composed by Allan Pesado,
A/V Officer
Fall 2005