November 30, 2007


Finally, Internet on the ship.

Well I’m coming home. We’re crossing the Atlantic right now, which feels really cool to say. The trip ended with five days in Dubrovnik and five days in Cadiz.

Dubrovnik was beautiful, really clean, and quiet. During the summer months it’s shoulder to shoulder with tourists, but it felt like we had the place to ourselves. Found an excellent wine bar, and then this amazing fishermen’s café that one of the professors found. It was perfect – tiny, maybe 10 tables in the whole place. The owner served us homemade limoncello to start and came around with a bowl of freshly diced garlic to add to our oil and bread. At the table next to us was an animated group of self-proclaimed “theater people” who – in the most polite gesture ever made by Europeans towards Americans – waited to smoke inside the restaurant until we had finished our dinner and were leaving.

It was in Dubrovnik that I kind of gave up on the idea of playing it safe and venturing out mostly on my own – if they fire me for having dinner with passengers, the worst they’d do is send me home in Cadiz and save me this hellish 10 day sail. So I went out with the student life team and finally talked about all things American and about everyone’s future after the voyage ends. It surprised me how up in the air everyone else’s life is, too - even the older, totally settled in the group. It made me feel better about my inner east coast versus west coast turmoil, etc.

After Dubrovnik I started the overnight shift. I give so much credit to everyone in the world who works these hours. Trying to adjust your body clock (even without running around Spain instead of ever sleeping) takes such a toll on everything in your life. I can’t imagine being home and trying to keep up friendships when you should be sleeping while everyone else is awake. I was talking to the dean’s wife, who is a nurse, and she says it’s the hardest shift you’ll ever take, it removes you from your life outside work and really puts a strain on relationships. At the same time, she said – and I feel this – that the bonds that people form when they work together on the graveyard shift is totally different, stronger maybe, than the bonds people form at work during regular hours. It’s like there’s this whole world that nobody else knows about on the ship except the 15 of us who are up at 4am. Besides getting the chance to meet – and actually TALK with, since there are never any passengers to interrupt us – some of the crew that I’ve never even seen before, I also get freshly baked chocolate croissants and danishes from the pastry chef. FRESH out of the oven. I’m getting so fat I love it.

Spain was great – Zack came to Cadiz, which was an amazing, much needed little bit of home. Also, showing him around the ship made me own up to how foreign and strange, and oftentimes lonely, this experience has been. I am so lucky to have traveled as much as I have this semester. But it has been so hard to be alone for 100 days. I can’t wait to see you all when I get home, and to tell stories and share photos and catch up.

The fourth day I went to Seville with Sasha and met up with Jess – had some paella and did some relatively harmless shopping. Seville was gorgeous – the cathedral was breathtaking. Ok. The Vatican was remarkable for its sheer size, the gorgeous artwork inside and most of all the central power it represents. Hagia Sophia felt very, very old and important.

But the cathedral was jaw-dropping, every different corner and room and detail was elegant and intricate. Granted, after a few glasses of sangria the most ordinary things tend to be very impressive. But I was literally beside myself walking through the place. We walked up to the tower, which offered a 360-degree view of the city. I love cities that were built way before cars – houses are nestled together and rooftops pile on top of one another. I think in life I want a really modest house, with lots of character and a great terrace. I wonder what city I’ll have to settle down in to find it.

Anyway, the view was gorgeous – kind of the last hoorah of great views and interesting cities and terrible attempts to speak foreign languages.

Now I’m 6 days away from Miami – 6 overnight shifts filled with auditing and Six Feet Under and reruns of The Office. It’s so insane to think that in 7 days I’ll be back in the states, 9 days back in NY and onto my next crazy venture beneath the skies.

<3 MR

November 12, 2007


I am such a fat kid! So I had an amazing lunch (grape leaves and kebaps and hummus and the most perfect grilled vegetables, accompanied by a nice red and the sweetest waiter in the world), at this unpretentiously hip cafe near the Blue Mosque. Then I went to a pastry shop to get some last minute Baklava. I ALSO indulged myself with a cup of, basically, cannoli-filling eclairs covered in chocolate pistacio pudding. HEAVEN and a sugar coma, love it.

Sad to see the Eastern hemisphere go, and especially sad to leave Istanbul. I didn't have nearly enough time to explore, my job is starting to suffocate me, but what I did see, do, eat, meet- I loved. It's a perfect mix of center of the world history and chic cosmopolitanism.


Last night I got off of work at 8:30 or so. After pushing myself all week, I decided to treat myself to one of the world famous Turkish Baths. So I take a taxi across the Bosphorous to Cerimbitas. The bath I've chosen is the most well known in the city, but of course my driver is clueless. Our Turkish and English not exactly getting any point across, he decides to pull over outside the Blue Mosque and ask a waiter in a restaurant that's closing. When the waiter explains to the driver where he needs to take me, the lovely little old man gets fed up and politely suggests we end the journey here. Luckily the waiter tells me that the bath is just a five minute walk, then insists I come in for a cup of Turkish tea. After a little while, he invites me to go up to the restaurant's terrace to see the view - of Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Bosphorous and everything in between. I don't know why, but I politely declined. In retrospect, it could have potentially been the most breathtaking cityscape I'll ever see in my life. Next time.

Turkish baths.. the Sultans really had something going here. Now, I'm not one for heavy old Turkish women in their calvin kleins (picture the most outrageous caricature- EXACTLY), but if one wants to scrub me down, wash my hair and give me an hour long massage I won't say no. I couldn't help but think back to being four years old and bubble baths and my mom rinsing my hair with a sand pail. And I have to give these women credit for mothering hundreds of women a day and still with a smile on their faces.

I loved walking down the streets here and passing century old churches nestled into the Rodeo Drive of Istanbul. I loved drinking tea looking out at a column that's been standing since B.C. (in school I always felt like anything that happened B.C. was not history but mythology, too close to the sun). How most storefronts are older than the country I was born in. I was talking with the waiter last night about that - how at home we're proud that my house has been around since Sunset and Lexington was a horsetrack. He's proud that he works across from the oldest place of worship in the world. In the nicest attempt to make me feel better about it all, he told me I could be proud that my country had come so far in so little time - from infancy to (in so many words) central power.. Without getting into it - I know too little to talk politics, especially in Turkey right now - I kind of laughed and shrugged it off. I think it's more charming to be proud of the Hagia Sophia.

What else has been great about Turkey?

The second night here the ship's agents organized a pickup game of soccer (football, futbol, whatever). 10 of us from the crew played with 5 of their guys - and they could really play. Proud to say I held my own, both in and out of the goal - after a few goals I willingly bequeathed (VOGEL) the position to our 6'4" 250lb German (like REALLY German) Hotel Director. And even on the field I'd have to say I did alright - Ally you would have murdered me over a goal I missed though, it was a PERFECT shot. Anyway, that was very fun and I am still sore four days later.

The first night here Sasha and I walked from the ship, across the Bosphorous and had great mezze and kebap at this restaurant, Hamid, that looks out at the Golden Horn. Then we walked about 2 miles to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia – gorgeous lit up at night. The area is covered in stray dogs – crazy ones – who couldn’t decide if it was more interesting to follow Sasha and me or to fight each other.

The only thing I’m really bummed about is not getting the chance to explore the hidden nooks of the city. In a city like this where I could roam for days, having three hours to do something interesting and then be back for work is insanely frustrating. Luckily I was off at 8pm here, so my nights were relaxing. I ate great food (fish, like REAL skin and bones fish – what a big step), and really enjoyed everything, but I just felt so constrained by the time limit. I’ll definitely come back.

Oh exciting incident – I brushed past a pile of cardboard boxes with hidden glass inside and got stitches! Then fixed my makeup (Brett tore my brand new jeans open, of course I’m going to cry) and rallied and went back out for the night.

Ok my mind is clearly all over the place, so I’ll get back to work.. Right now we’re sailing through some Turkish islands (are there Turkish islands? Maybe it’s Greece?) on our way to Croatia. I’ve been gifted some free internet so I’m hoping to put up photos from Thailand, India, Egypt & Turkey. I’ll also try to get some thoughts/stories down about those trips.

<3 MR

November 03, 2007


Two nights ago I left the Halloween party, took a quick shower, and proceeded to the gagnway with 9 of my favorite coworkers to take a sunrise tour at the pyramids in Giza. ETD – 3am.

We got to the pyramids just as the sun rose- you drive through them first, there’s a long road that snakes through two of the big three and brings you up to this hill. That’s where all of the souvenirs are sold. There were already 3 buses full of SAS students watching the sunrise. Gorgeous. It just us and them – about 60 total – it was amazing to be there without a million tourists and to kind of have the place to ourselves.

I got on a camel with this kid named Ahmed. I totally overpaid for a 45 minute ride, but whatever, you’re only at the pyramids once in your life, right? (Actually, I have to go back because like an idiot I never actually touched them or sat on them or anything). It was unreal. To circle the pyramids and the Sphinx on this huge, gorgeous camel (not quite the sad story camels from Israel) – was awesome. Really just seeing something I know has been there for thousands of years, built by people whose lives were so different, so storied, so legendary... Made me feel very small in a very good way.

I’ll post photos before Istanbul.

<3 MR

October 31, 2007


Dear Loved Ones

Places around the world my "international" cell phone doesn't seem to be working #86 - Alexandria, Egypt. I will try to find a calling card because I miss your voice(s).

In other news, I went to the Bibliotheca Alexandria today - very cool but also kind of just a library. Highlights include a handwritten passage from Homer's Odyssey, and other very cool things.

Alexandria is beautiful (not entirely gorgeous, but thriving and full of character). One of the most breathtaking coastal cityscapes. Since Israel I've developed a thing for Middle Eastern Mediterranean cities.. there's something kind of simple and serene about they way they've been built up. I am LOVING the charm and the people and speaking Arabic (ok just saying hello and thank you but whatever), and looking forward to amazing food, coffee, company and nargele.

Anna! To answer your question - tonight is the crew Halloween party (despite the fact that this holiday is only celebrated by 1.3% of the crew population, everyone is getting really into it). I will be Uma in Pulp Fiction because I have black flood pants and a phenomenal wig, and because I do not feel like wearing shoes.

At 2:45am, 10 of us are getting in a mini-van and driving to the Pyramids for a sunrise tour- should be amazing.

I know I didn’t update in India. I’ll try to put some thoughts together soon about it, because it was an unbelievable trip and a very important one, too I think. It’s #2 on places I want to get back to (behind Vietnam, though Egypt and transiting the Suez Canal are definitely sparking my interest in the Middle East and Africa (ok basically I need a job that will require me to travel the world.. Dan/Kissairis/Lewis make up the couch, maybe I will come to DC to study politics & journalism it will be GREAT!)

Quick highlights include eating with my hands from a banana leaf, watching a TV show being filmed at AVM studios, Sir Benemore’s cameo in this trip around the world, the seaside sandstone temples and Mother Teresa’s orphanage.

Since I’m lazy, here’s a cut-and-paste email I sent to a friend who gave me a Polaroid camera as a going away gift (THANKS)-

So I wanted to tell you how much happiness your Polaroid camera brought to some of the people I met in India.. There has been this guy Sami - a rickshaw driver that me and my friends have used here - who took me yesterday for the last time when I went to Mother Theresa's orphanage (intense, amazing, ). Anyway, Sami brought his girlfriend with him this time, and she was sweet but kind of sad- there is such poverty here, so much homelessness or straw huts constructed on the side of the road.. So many rickshaw drivers sleep in their rickshaws, and it's open and not hidden and scary and sad. Anyway, Sami's girlfriend came with us and she was so sweet. So when they dropped me off at the port, I asked if I could take their picture. Outside the port, there are always beggar children and families, and a million rickshaw drivers.

The second I took out the camera and took their photo one for me one for them, everyone was asking me to take their picture. And they all wanted to keep it, which I thought was odd until I realized that this might be the only photo they've ever had of themselves, and will they pass it down to their children and will this become an heirloom? I had about 17 pieces of film with me. I only got one (the first, of Sami and his girlfriend).. I took photos of a couple children, three men who sold drums (together), a man with his truck (he was so proud to own it) and his friend, a very old woman who later came up to me – you go from the street to the customs house to sign in.. usually when they come up to you it is to ask for money to feed their family -- but she just asked my name and kissed my hand and said thank you.

Anyway, it was fifteen minutes of utter chaos and some of the most amazing smiles I've ever seen. I wish I had copies of these photos - they were amazing and you would have loved them - but it almost is better that I don't, I think, I think the whole idea is so much more of a pure and authentic experience and interaction and it was amazing.. maybe having copies would make it feel more touristy (tourist or witness??).

But anyway, I wanted to thank you for them, and for me, it was one of my favorite parts of the trip, just laughing and hugging and giving these people something that they don't have.

SO – that was part of India. I’ll write more later.

I’m off to get dressed and do the twist.
<3 MR

October 15, 2007


Today was the longest day ever - worked an extra shift during immigration. Tried to plan out the next four days in Chennai.. I'm hoping to go to Mother Theresa's church and orphanage, buy a sari, a new nose stud and silk bedding, and enjoy lots of Indian food and culture with Brett & Jignesh's families. I'm also trying to fit in a drive through Mallaparum and add one more to my list of gorgeous coastal road trips.

Today was intense.. (warning: Dear Sue & Zaide, don't worry ok)

I went out for a couple hours with two students. We tried to go to the orphanage but the language barrier was too much and we were sure we weren't going to be taken where we wanted to go. So we decided to just go to one of the bigger shopping centers in Chennai, a name all of the rickshaw drivers knew. We bargained with one guy and were about to get in his auto-rickshaw when one of the Customs Officials came over and started yelling at him - we have no clue about what, whether he was going to rip us off, or take us somewhere else, or just wasn't supposed to be in that area (it was really close to the port where most aren't allowed). And the Customs Official hits him upside the head. We freak out and start walking away. Turn back to see that the Official has dragged him by his hair into the empty lot alongside the road we were walking on. Then we notice that he had parked his rickshaw there. He was driving the rickshaw now and the exit from the lot was in front of us and we assume that he's coming back to pick us up. We feel terrible about what just happened so we get in the rickshaw. As he drives away, the Customs Official runs after the auto-rickshaw, hits the guy upside the head again (we jump out of all sides of the rickshaw and start walking away again, freaking out, all near tears). The Official pulls him out of the rickshaw and throws him on the ground, punches him in the face and kicks him over and over. I'm kind of ashamed to say we never turned back to see what happened. No idea what the conflict was about - whether the guy was about to put us in danger, whether he had done something wrong to the official, or whether (as it seems) there is just a longstanding conflict between the officials and the rickshaw drivers. It was terrifying, and I hope to have so many more memories of Chennai other than this one, but it was one of the most vivid experiences of my life and I wanted to share it with you guys.

We did make it to the shopping center, and we found some great stuff, but we were all definitely shaken by what had happened earlier. On the way home I had an amazing auto-rickshaw driver named Raja, who I will probably use for the next few days. He spoke pretty good English, was nice and funny and so curious about my life as an American. He also told me about his family, which was very cool.

That's one thing I haven't gotten used to yet - the idea of us being something foreign and fascinating to someone we meet. Today one of the immigration officials on board, an older woman (it was so cool - she was wearing a white sari but with her stripes (during the day i wear an all white uniform, and stripes are those shoulder stripes you wear depending on your rank)).. anyway, she wanted to take a photo with me. And she told me about how as a person growing up in India you read all of these stories about Americans, young American girls, and you see them in the movies, but to spend time speaking with someone - it was like a character from a book coming alive... which is such a weird way to think about yourself - as an incarnation of something forty years in the making in someone's imagination. It's so interesting to have people admit that they see you as foreign and interesting and different as you sometimes seem them.. and then of course as you talk you find more and more in common, and differences become less and less and (it's a cliche but whatever) there is actually so much that is the same.

COOL OK It's been a long day I'm rambling.. early morning tomorrow. Time to clean my room (things never change) and go to bed.


October 13, 2007


So I get to start my malaria pills today, which is going to be awesome because your dreams are supposed to get really terrible and vivid and ridiculous.

Last night we had a 70s party and I was the most creative ex-sorority girl ever and wound up with a pretty impressive costume even without forever 21 three highway exits away. RE: SU – have an amazing time at homecoming, I miss you all SO much and wish I could be there with you. I imagine after hours in The Club and going to Lucy’s because even though I pretend to hate it there I secretly love it. I also imagine 2am beers with Guy and Bruce Springsteen (and G.Love and Elvis Costello’s “Allison”). And some daytime activities like strolling through the quad and STELLLLLLLLLLA’S. I can’t wait to hear all the amazing and awkward stories.

Things have been great, Singapore was beautiful from a distance and we just sailed through the Malacca Straits which started some amazing pirate rumors.. Supposedly the area is riddled with pirates, which is why we put off sailing from Singapore at night and traveled during the day. There are two schools of thought on this – either we are a terrible target because we’re a passenger ship with (pax + crew) 450 strong, young males to defend the ship, or we’re a really fantastic symbolic target because we’re a ship of American college students who love democracy and freedom and peace and beer. Either way, we’re safely on our way to India now.

Everything else remains status quo – it’s still weird to like protect and serve a bunch of 21 year olds, and sometimes drunk girls make me sad when they pity my inability to go to their 4 drink maximum pub nights.

But then I remember how lucky I am to be waking up in India in two days, and to live on a ship where I am re-learning Spanish from all the Panamanians, sunbathing in the middle of ocean with absolutely nothing else in sight, practicing Croatian pleasantries before Dubrovnik and finding out everything you ever wanted to know about the Caste System but were too afraid to ask – insanely lucky to be paid to see the world.

I have also gotten very good at transferring calls, taking keycards on and off key chains, troubleshooting plumbing problems, and accounting. I’m fairly certain most or all of this will come in handy at some point in life.

<3 MR

October 11, 2007


So we’re currently anchored of the coast of Singapore, I think for fueling but I’m not really sure. We left Thailand 3 days ago and will get into India on the 15th.

For me, Thailand was less than exciting – I was on this travel high coming from Vietnam (I’m already planning my trip back) and Thailand was a bit of a downer. It has everything to do with where we were, but this was the first time that I was totally unable to go where I wanted to because of my job. The closest area was Pattaya, which is this seedy beach city by day and this extremely seedy hedonist capital of the East by night. We went to a drag show that was surprisingly very PG – actually kind of boring.. it’s got nothing on the SU 2007 show… We also went to an elephant park, but NOT the gorgeous beautiful nature preserve we were supposed to – the taxi driver we got didn’t know where he was going.. the resort wound up being pretty – beautiful gardens, and there was a cultural show with dancing and martial arts that was amazing.. but the elephant ride was kind of pointless and the elephant SHOW just made me sad.

I’m really looking forward to India – two of my friends’ families are coming to Chennai so we will all go out to big delicious dinners and dancing and my life will become a Bollywood movie. Also this kid Ally & I met in Barcelona (Mr. Benemore, world traveler) is POSSIBLY leaving Dubai and heading over to meet me for a fancy lunch, since he knows how much Mixie misses Ellie!

In more hilarious news, word has spread that I went to Syracuse.. the most frequent question is “oh my god, did you know that girl who wrote smashed?” but my favorite has been from Josh, a kid from AZ who went to SU until sophomore year and then transferred. After talking about majors, he asked if I knew Jonny Umansky. He broke out his best Jonny impression – “Hey, I’m Jonny Umansky. I make movies!”

Lastly – thank you everyone who has left comments, emailed me, etc.. it’s so great to hear from you guys. I’m trying my best to get back to everyone in the next few weeks, but every time I use the internet while we’re sailing it’s because I’m sneaking on at work (I don’t get internet in my room anymore, and either way its insanely expensive, which is why I try to only use a few minutes at a time). I won’t have internet for the next several days, but I hope to take a few hours in India or Egypt and finally upload pictures, email everyone, etc. So thank you, love you, and pleaaaaase keep emailing me I love it.

<3 MR

October 02, 2007


Things I Have Seen Tied to a Motorbike in Vietnam
Another motor bike
A little old lady
A basket full of live chickens
An office chair
A wooden chair
About a thousand bananas
The recycling man (well, his recyclables)
A family of four
Gardening tools
Grilled corn
A beauty queen
Four hundred SAS students (and only a 2% accident rate)
and about a million other things

Vietnam was unforgettable, and I can't wait to get back to see more of Saigon/HCMC and much more of the country. I definitely want to get to Cambodia, too. Big plans. This definitely feels like the start of the trip, officially.. Eye opening and fascinating and so new.

A little bit of ship life updates. Ahh where to begin.

So I work nine hours a day (eight when we're sailing), unless it's really hectic (the downside of ACTUALLY living at the office). Day shifts are split, so you work a 8am-noon/3pm-8 or noon-5/8-midnight. Right now I'm on the second shift, which is great when we're in port because I wake up at the crack of dawn to see as much as I can. But when we're sailing it sucks because I sleep like a bum until 11:50 and feel useless all the time. I love working the other shift because I get things done, get time to sit in the sun on deck 8, work out, read, and still get to bed at a totally reasonable hour.

So yes, I have a lot of me time here on the MV Explorer. Everyone has told me that other ships put more effort into crew activities and social life, but since it's such a small crew and the entire operation is not for profit, those things kind of take a back seat. The few crew parties we've had have been really fun, tons of dancing and hilarious life stories. The people in my office are great, too.

The job itself is good - busy, high pressure, which makes me feel like I'm getting some good hands on experience that will benefit me in the future. But it is really hard at times to separate myself from the passengers and be really professional about things – it’s hard to turn down offers to meet kids for dinner, or to be sneaky about going out with the student life team, and to generally just talk with kids while I’m helping them. A lot of kids just don’t really get the idea that even small talk is frowned upon, and it’s hard for me not to sit and have a conversation with a kid who, oh you know, is Emilia’s friend from school (Min I LOVE) or help him figure out what’s going on with his friend when the Deans won’t tell him if she’s ok. So I guess it’s just hard keeping distance from, well, peers.

My bosses kind of realize this, and sympathize, I think, but it’s still not allowed and that is one of the reasons that I turned down the offer to stay on with them for a few more voyages (even though they would have taken me all of Europe, and South America, and Africa, and back to Asia ahh). I know that this trip is for me to see the world and to just take in as much as I can, but any travel I do in the future (for work or otherwise) I will need to do with much more free time and with friends or family. But I am LOVING this job and trip regardless. And even though I wish some of you guys were here with me, I think there's something unique about doing this kind of thing alone. I'm taking it all in and able to just go for the day without plans and just experience things as they happen. So far it’s been great.

Thailand is next, but we'll be about 2 hours south of Bangkok so unless Anna and I do some very serious schedule covering, I doubt I'll be able to get up there. So far the only plans I have are a spa day, because 120 days of work without a single day off means I can totally be a brat and get a $10 two hour massage, and a night in Pattaya to go to this Muay Thai fight.

Seven stops down, six to go.

September 30, 2007


Yesterday Maang took me on a two hour tour of the city. He took me to the HCMC History museum, and then to an orphanage for children with birth defects from Agent Orange – that was intense, and trying. I wish I had more time there or that I was there with a few more people. It was hard to go into the rooms alone and meet the nurses and be with the kids. Most can’t leave their beds, so there was lots of “hi!”s and touching and high-fives. I felt uncomfortable taking photos but Maang urged me too, he talked about the importance of meeting these kids – for Americans especially but for everyone – and how the consequences of war go beyond what we think of. His mother died from Agent Orange, he said. So I took one photo. He told me that the orphanage was funded mostly by foreigners, Americans, French, Dutch, Australian, African, people from all over.

Then we drove 35 minutes outside the city to the elephant pagoda. It was too late to go in, but he wanted to show me the outskirts of the city and the highways and what suburban life was like in Vietnam. I felt like I was on a really simplified Route 17, the traffic was ridiculous and on each side were restaurants, mechanic’s garages, warehouses. But also pho stands and fruit and vegetable markets. The streets were full of people in every town we passed, as if nobody ever goes home.

We drove back during rush hour traffic.. that was insane. Totally almost ran into a few buses. And along the river through HCMC back to the port. Saw the most beautiful section of the city – all the really REALLY gorgeous hotels all lit up.

So far this has been the best part of the trip. Right around the one hour mark, I realized that this is one of those really small, really big moments that you’re supposed to hold on to in life.

Ta m bie't,

September 28, 2007


Vietnam is something else.

This morning I woke up early and met one of the service trips outside the ship. Since I can’t take the shuttle provided by SAS (fraternization rules, ridiculous) , I walked outside to meet the group of motorbike taxis and find Maang. There is one guy, thin, small, always sporting a yellow and black toothed grin who seems to be the organizer. Maang isn’t there so I get on Phee (?)’s bike and ride with him to the Da Thien School for Handicapped Children.

Unlike everywhere else we’ve been so far there is no part of HCMC that masks what it is made from. There are gardens, gorgeous hotels, museums and high end restaurants, but they are surrounded by the city on every side. Still, there was such a stark difference between the areas I had seen (I spent yesterday in Dong Khoi, a touristy district, and Pham Ngu Lao, the backpacker’s district) and what I saw when we crossed the river and entered the district where the school was. We sped over the bridge on the ‘highway’ and onto a busy road that ran along the river. Boats were pulled up to the shore full of fresh fruit, and families were selling the fruits at the side of the road. I’m not even sure how to describe what was all around me. I’m not really sure how to compare two parts of a place that is entirely different from anything else I’ve ever known or seen.

Something that struck me – I could imagine what this place was like during the War. Without closing my eyes I can picture Navy ships lined along the harbor and GIs mixing with the locals on the streets. Something about HCMC feels stuck in the late 60s, and it’s an aura that is both kitschy and unsettling.

I met the group from SAS at the Da Thien School. We were introduced the principal, her family had opened the school years ago and with the help of some Americans living in Vietnam and some Vietnamese living in America, the school was now one of the best in the city. We went from room to room first meeting each level, and then spent the rest of the morning playing with them. The super star of the whole day was a tiny, little boy named Taon. He was an 11 year old in the most advanced classroom (he was the youngest, most were 15-24). He sat in the front and smiled while his teacher introduced us to her class. When we spread throughout the classroom to give out stickers, play with playdoh, and draw, Taon shined. An SAS student, Brian, first handed him a dinosaur sticker. He put it on his arm, opened his notebook and – carefully studying the shape stuck to his arm – drew the dinosaur in his notebook. Really, really well. The kid worked with playdoh like a professional potter, copying any animal we tried to make. Brian started making a shark, Taon made a better, more detailed shark. He made a coiled rattle snack, perched to attack, and the cartoon bumblebee that was in his lesson book. Laughing the whole time, as we watched with wide eyes, you could tell he kind of knew that he was really that good. It was amazing to see how happy and humbled he was by the attention. The rest of the afternoon he was great – he ran around like a madman during soccer and basketball, and became my professional photographer towards the end of the visit.

Every kid we met at the school was amazing and loving and great. There was a group of deaf girls who spent the second half of the visit asking me questions, telling me about their lives and their boys. The group of deaf students signed mostly, but there was one girl who could speak and would tell me what her friends were saying, or they would write words like “age?” and “name?” so I could answer. It was cool because after about an hour of playing with the girls, I could kind of understand what they were saying to each other, and I would answer before she could translate. It amazed me that these kids knew as much English as they did, even enough to read lips in English.

I could go on and on about these kids, but I’ll post pictures soon, so that’s enough for now.

In other Vietnam news, I’ve made a decision to ride only motorbikes while I’m here – even in the rain or at night (don’t freak out Sue) – it’s what the people here do and it’s such a better way to really feel the city – see and hear and smell everything as we drive by.

Ta m bie't,

September 27, 2007


Xin Chao!

Woke up this morning in Vietnam. Went for breakfast and looked out the port hole in the staff mess, it was like watching it on TV. The street just past the harbor is lined with brightly colored, terribly run down houses and shops. Metal roofs are patched with blue tarp and hang awkwardly over each structure. Motorbike riders swerve in and out of each other’s way.

Worked from 8-10am while the ship was cleared by immigration and then ran away. There’s a shuttle just outside the ship that takes passengers into the city, drops them off at the Rex Hotel right by one of the biggest markets. Crew can’t fraternize (ha) so therefore we can’t share a shuttle with them. So I walk outside the port compound and immediately into a throng of 20 smiling faces in bright purple shirts – motorbike drivers (taxis are available sometimes, but motorbikes are almost the only way to get around here). For $2 Maang takes me into the city and promises to look for me every day outside the port. Interesting little fact – I’ve heard that most of the motorbike drivers fought in the war alongside the American troops. I hopped on his bike and he goes "hold on" and then zooms straight into traffic. No city traffic I've ever been in compares to this - pedestrians have no right of any way and the streets are full of motorbike riders - taxi bikes, business men, teenage girls and young families, holding their baby between them on the seat. Everyone goes in every direction, cuts each other off, and sneaks around the few enormous trucks that show up right behind you every now and then, horn blazing. Holding on to Maang's shoulders with the thick wind in my face and the city all around me.. it felt amazing.

I got dropped off in front of a beautiful government building surrounded on all sides by designer knockoffs, teapot shops, coconut milk sellers and women pushing post cards. I walked along the street and stopped in, the shop sellers are sweet but aggressive and the bargaining is kind of fun. Picked up an adorable tea set with a tray for $10. Made my way over to one of the biggest market in the city. I only had about half hour before I had to find Maang and go back to the ship for my afternoon shift, so I looked around for a bit. Everything – from fruits and fresh flowers to Manolo Blahnik copies to Che Guevara tshirts. I’m going to go back tomorrow to do some more serious shopping and find a tailor to get some clothing made.

I know I need to update about Hong Kong – loved it, it’s been the first city I could see myself living in for a little while. It was this fascinating mix of San Francisco and Sydney and every Chinatown I’ve ever seen before. I’m sneaking on the internet now but my plan is to do a big long update in Thailand (the city we’re going to is less than exciting so I can forgive myself for spending a few hours in an internet café). I’ll post pictures and more about Hong Kong, and definitely get around to writing about what life is like when we ARE sailing.

Until then, I’m going to go run around Ho Chi Minh City for awhile. Later today I’m going to head down to the backpackers district and see if I can’t pick up a few expat friends to show me around this weekend.

Ta m bie’t,

September 21, 2007


Qingdao, China.

This has been such a sharp contrast from the more posh port cities of Japan. The area right around the pier is poor – the kind of poverty where you can't tell if a neighborhood has been torn apart or just never built up at all. We took a taxi to the city center, where the Walmart is (yeah, Walmart in China..). The taxi ride (about 20 minutes) came to 20 yuan, or about $2.50. Walmart itself was a big lesson in globalization and cultural compare & contrast. Everything in our Walmarts is here, only it's manufactured here too, so the toy hummer that Jig bought his daughter was like $6 instead of $39.99. The frozen food section is open, frozen food, and where there are dried nuts and fruit there is also dried seafood (tonight some of the SAS staff made me try dried squid I almost died).

Something kind of simple and beautiful about Qingdao is that in the city center all of the buildings (apartment buildings mostly, with first floor shops) are painted with murals. Birds, people dancing, all seem to be designed by different artists. A very cool surprise in what is otherwise a relatively dirty and run down part of the city.

Spent the second/last day in Qingdao at the Zhanshan Buddhist Temple. There's a typhoon up in Shanghai so it was stormy, but we went exploring anyway. The temple is known for its Buddha of Healing, and there were various small temples all leading up to the biggest one. Everything in the temples is really bright, bordering on gaudy but still beautiful. We saw all of the monks gathering for prayer. It was crazy to watch these young kids, most around my age, knowing that they have dedicated themselves entirely to their religion. They wore the golden robes and while some wore the traditional footwear, most wore flip flops. One had on a really nice pair of Air Jordans. Such a cool juxtaposition.

After the temple the sun started coming out so we just walked through that part of the city. Interesting contrast of Japanese and German architecture. Found a restaurant that was.. well... No English – we communicated with a list of notes that she had with maybe 15 English words. Wound up with some really good spinach egg drop soup. It was the kind of restaurant where you could go over to tanks and pick out
your own seafood. Or silk worms. Whatever you're in the mood for.

One more day of sailing until we arrive in Hong Kong.



JAPANESE STREET PUNK ROCK. On a corner by the main station in Kobe, a handful of Japanese punk rock & punk pop bands share equipment and perform a few sets. Such a fun thing to happen upon, got a great Polaroid and passed it on to the lead singer/bassist of this particularly sweaty band with great hair. Many 'arigatos'. One of the bands sang half in Japanese half in English.. so cool to see how they
phrase a love song with the vocabulary they have.

JAPANESE BASEBALL. So they have cheering sections, which is great, but it seems like all the fans of each team are crammed into one section and the rest of the stadium is (not even half) filled with people who just kind of happened upon the game. The cheering sections on the other hand were nuts – completely synchronized singing and dancing complete with flags, horns and drums. The game itself wasn't great, the home team won 5-1 with most of the runs scored in the same inning. They put the Semester at Sea kids up on the jumbo screen and they made very typically American gestures (we can't technically go with any of the trips, so we took the trains to the stadium and got our own tickets a few sections away from the SAS trip). But during YMCA this
one kid was a total star and was trying to get all of the people around them really into it. He wound up dancing with a little old Japanese lady it was so adorable. We hopped on the chartered bus for the drive back and go the chance to talk with the SAS photographer, a guy named Josh who works for the San Francisco Chronicler and just moved to LA from Santa Barbara.. originally from Syracuse. Tiny world.

KARAOKE!!! After a few hours at a regular bar, we found a Karaoke place. You walk into this bright bright lobby, order a set amount of time, and go into a karaoke room. Two mics, thousands of songs, so fun. I've been spending a lot of time with this group- Julia (the other American), Jovelin (one of the spa girls), Brett and Jig- and it was hilarious just to let go and make complete fools of ourselves and
it being totally fine because were in Japan singing karaoke and it was all so very absurd, typical and totally necessary.

GORGEOUS JAPANESE GARDEN. Spent the few hours I had off on Sunday in this city garden. So perfect and beautiful. Took a few hours to unwind and reflect.

KOBE BEEF. Total failure. Didn't have much time and when I couldn't find it (aka everything is in Japanese and I had no idea what was going on) I panicked and just went into this cute restaurant. Wound up having a great dinner, but no Kobe beef. Putting it on my list of things to treat myself to when I get back to NY, if anyone wants to come.

One weird thing about the time I spent in Japan, particularly in Yokohama, was how much it made me miss Australia. I have this really intense desire to go back and live there for awhile. We were so lucky to have such a beautiful place to call home. I miss The Cottage and all of the weekend adventures we had. Even at the start of this trip, I'm opening myself up so many more futures than I have originally


September 18, 2007


(In about 8 hours we'll be piloting into Qingdao. Quick update on Japan. Look for pictures soon, but the internet connection is too weak to upload anything right now).

Ja nee, Japan!

Absolutely LOVE loved Japan. Can’t wait to get back here and spend some legitimate time. It’s frustrating to work every day knowing there’s a brand new city right outside the ship, but we have 4-6 days in most of the other ports, so I’m sure I’ll get more of an opportunity to roam. Either way, a quick taste or not, Japan was fantastic.

TOKYO. Lives up to the hype. I have no idea why but the whole day at work in Yokohama I was giddy for no reason. We took a train to Tokyo around 5, and I just fell in love with the country right away. It’s amazing what a packed commuter train can really tell you about a culture. The train was clean and quiet- still packed, but so quiet. People talked to each other at such a respectful level that it was barely audible. I loved just watching all of the people on the train – businessmen, families, adorable little old Japanese men. And everyone seemed so at peace.

Then we got to Tokyo. It was bright, it was brilliant, it was neon and absolutely absurd, but it was still so quiet for such a busy, busy place. Their city itself is loud, imaginative, so stimulating, and it’s all purely visual. We ate some amazing Okanomiyake, drank sake, roamed around. There’s karaoke and casinos on every corner, lit up so bright I can’t imagine you don’t leave with a headache (and no yen). We found a great little dive bar. I would have loved to check out a swanky Japanese bar, karaoke, but it wasn’t in the budget for the night. Another time for sure. We headed back to Yokohama at a reasonable enough hour to not want to die at work in the morning.

YOKOHAMA. Spent my break on the 13th roaming around this really cute port city. It’s one of Japan’s biggest cities, but it’s small and quaint and has the whole nautical thing going on. Found some cute little shops, a great second hand British thrift store with tons of stuff from the 60s & 70s, and some fantastic restaurants. Yokohama also has a really fun Chinatown and an insane quarter mile long graffiti wall along the train tracks. Japan has a thing for throwing mini amusement parks in the middle of their cities, always featuring a great big ferris wheel that offers astonishing views. Unfortunately it was closed while I was out, but it still adds such an interesting charm to the skyline. Ate a great secret noodle place below ground. We were pretty much the only ones in there who weren’t Japanese businessmen. Such a cool scene – floor seating, shoes off, smoking cigarettes, pounding Santory and slurping noodle soup. Japan gives me this odd feeling that my life is a movie. Love it.

More on Kobe soon. I get to China in the morning, so after the next couple of days there will be lots of updating.

Ja nee,

September 08, 2007


A quick update before bed. I’ve added a few links at the right – my photos, my itinerary, and my mailing addresses if you feel like sending me a package or a postcard from New York.

Nothing new otherwise, we’re now 4 days off Hawaii and 4 days from Japan. Work has been going well, I’m starting to get the hang of how the whole system works. We basically act as the front of the ship to all 800 passengers – not only are we a 24-hour service desk but we deal with everything from taking reservations to dealing with maintenance issues, immigration papers, even auditing all of the ship’s sales each day. In general, we're the communication hub of the whole program. I’m very excited because as of September 24th I will be promoted from intern to full time Assistant Purser – I am replacing one of the girls who has been training me when she goes home in Hong Kong. So, that will be fun and beneficial to my bank account.

Today I saw the most amazing thing while I was up on Deck 8. I had just finished working out and was sitting down to write, looking out at the endless, gorgeous ocean. Just a little bit earlier I had emailed some of the girls from home about how I wanted to see something spectacular like a killer whale breach or eat a seal or something. So I’m just looking out, and I see a small splash a little ways off the boat. I get up and stand at the rail, see a few more small splashes. As the splashes get bigger I realize it’s a pod of dolphins, maybe 30 or so, coasting across the boat. I have no idea how far out they were, because I could clearly see them – leaping or just gliding, it was absolutely breath taking – but at the same time they seemed so small, like I was on top of a skyscraper looking down at mini-taxis on the street below. I watched for about 5 minutes before I couldn’t see them anymore, about an eighth of the way towards the horizon. It’s crazy because there is absolutely no perspective here – the sea is endless, the ship is big, I have no idea how far away they were to look so small.

It was really cool.

Anyway, check out the photos and I’ll write more when I have the time.

September 03, 2007


A hui hou, Hawai'i!

I'll let our official departure from North America serve as the ceremonial commencement of this 100-day journey around the world.

To catch everyone up to speed-
What the hell am I doing with my life? My official title is Assistant Purser Intern, which is a fancy way of saying "we gave you this job as a favor to someone important at corporate". I am basically training at the front desk of the ship, which handles all hotel-side issues for the passengers of the MV Explorer - UVA's Semester at Sea ship. Or vessel, I think, officially.
Where am I? This is an interesting one that will literally change every second of every day (see photo at right: deck 1 (I think that's technically underwater), cabin 1327).. Lots of the professors have their students at home tracking the location by latitude and longitude, but I don't know any aspiring cartographers so, for instance, tonight I will be crossing the Pacific on my way to Japan. Draw a line on your own map, if you'd like.
Why am I doing this? Someone in Miami told me it would be a good idea to see the world before I sold myself to Corporate America, and gave me the opportunity to do it.

The last ten days have been interesting to say the least, and to be honest completely different than I expected. I guess I wasn't really sure what to expect, but it wasn't this. And while it's all very new and a little scary, I think it's going to be amazing.

I know blogging seems a little trite, but I can't think of a better way to share this experience with the proverbial "you". So if you want to check out what I'm doing and where I am, great. Plus, writing will help me exercise the English language - as one of four native speakers on the crew, my speech has taken a slightly abbreviated form.

Please email me, call when I'm in port- I'm really missing you guys!

A hui huo,