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 cafĂ©). 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,