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.


Arianna said...

dito.... number please

Mandy said...

Rico, it feels so good to have you back...but reading your last blog made a little bit sad. Made me realize again that everything has a end...kinda...! I love the song! :-) I'm so happy for you that you got to experience the trip! xo

Nicolle said...

We heart you rico


Clara Vassallo said...

We heart you too Rico, from sunny Puerto Rico with love, Clara and Nicole

Karen Jasinski said...


I love that you had SF100 and BEYOND! Woooohooo! I loved your last entry and it made me smile justs thinking of you typing it up. For some reason, I have to pretend that you were typing it in the staffulty where I saw you writing a lot. I miss you already!


Tania Ku said...

Hey Rico, you've done a great job summing up how it has been adjusting to "normalcy." I feel pretty detached from everything here at home, unfortunately even friends and family. Sunrises, sunsets, watching the ocean pass by...I miss it all. Was even getting teary-eyed reading your entry because I identified a lot with how you feel. I don't know if I'll ever have such an educational, fun time! But I guess it's up to me to make that happen.

Post-SAS depression. It's real.

Take care Rico and again, great entry.


Anonymous said...

Rico, I echo Tania - you've summed it up so well. Especially the part about the sunsets - it struck me today that I will never look at sunrises and sunsets the same way again. Regardless of how insane my day is, I find peace in watching the colors dance across the sky. Hopefully I'll have time soon to sit down and think about everything, and maybe even put it into words. Until then, thanks for your eloquence! Miss you!! Come visit me in Pittsburgh! Beth

Berman said...

I'm a lucky dude. Here's to new adventures....

Carrie said...

You don't know me, but I found your blog by a Semester at Sea search. My name is Carrie and I just finished the Spring 2006 Voyage. I understand everything that you're saying!