Semester at Sea

This semester I will be on a ship taking classes and traveling to different countries. I will visit Cadiz, SPAIN ~ Casablanca, MOROCCO ~ Takoradi, GHANA ~ Cape Town, SOUTH AFRICA ~ Port Louis, MAURITIUS ~ Chennai, INDIA ~ SINGAPORE ~ Ho Chi Minh City, VIET NAM ~ Hong Kong/Shanghai, CHINA ~ Kobe/Yokohama, JAPAN ~ Honolulu/Hilo, HAWAII ~ San Diego, USA.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010


The last two days in Japan were awesome! We got off the ship as early as we could when we got to Yokohama and got directions to Tokyo from the information desk at the port. It seemed like it would be easy enough, but it ended up taking way longer than we thought it would. It wasn’t too difficult getting to Tokyo (even though over the course of the two days I realized that the Tokyo subway system is by far the most confusing and complicated system we have experienced), but it took us forever to find our hostel once we were there. We asked about 10 different people for directions, but no one could give us a clear answer. Finally, a police officer pointed us in the right direction – I don’t know what it is about hostels being in alleys, but it seems like every one I’ve stayed at has been impossible to find. Haha
We got to the Ninja capsule hostel, checked in, and found Ariel’s friend who lives in Japan and was going to hang out with us.
We went spent most of the day walking around. We went to the busiest intersection in the world in Shibuya, but it wasn’t as impressive as I thought it would be. I guess it wasn’t rush hour or something, because it definitely didn’t seem like a few thousand people were crossing. Either way it was cool to see…especially since I watched Babel today to write a paper for my film class, and they were at the same intersection.
We ate lunch (pizza of course. Haha…it is our favorite food…) and then went back to the hostel to meet up with Heidi, Shannon, Adam and Kristen.  We spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out and walking around. Before long it was time for dinner, and in yet another attempt to be cultural, we went down the street and got Domino’s. haha (we did try to go to an actual restaurant first but it was wayyy too expensive). I have to say though, it was the best Domino’s I’ve ever had!
After we ate and got changed, we went out to karaoke and had a lot of fun!
That night we slept in our capsules. It wasn’t at all what I had expected from seeing pictures from other capsule hostels, but it was still cool.
The next day we went with Ariel’s friend back to Yokohama and explored around there. We were pretty tired though, so after lunch we said goodbye and went back to the ship.
I really loved Japan! I was a little anxious to leave since we’re going to be on the ship for 10 days before Hawaii. I have LOTS of work to do for class though, so hopefully the cabin fever doesn’t get too bad!

Sunday, November 21, 2010



Japan is our last international port, and so far it couldn’t have been better! I don’t know how I’m going to choose a favorite country because I love each one more than the last.
Our arrival in Kobe, Japan was a little different than usual. First, we were welcomed at the port with a marching band! It was really funny because the first song I heard them play was Aux Champs Elysees. It seemed like an interesting choice since we’re obviously not French. Haha. The end was the best though because they finished with When the Saints Go Marching In. I loved it…it was definitely a warm welcome and such a crazy thing to see! Second, none of us could get off of the ship until we had our temperatures checked. I figured it would take forever, but it turns out they have a fancy machine that looks like a radar gun. You just walk by it, and you show up on the screen as either red or green.
I was with the first group off the ship because I had a homestay. I got fingerprinted and photographed at immigration, went through customs, and then went to the lobby to meet my host family. It was so cute because all of the women had made signs with our names on them. I didn’t see my name anywhere and I started to get a little nervous after I had waited for a while. Finally though I saw my name, and when I went up to my host mother, whose nickname is Sabu, she gave me a big hug. She had a shy little boy, named Kenta, with her, and so I got excited that I would be with a family that had children. I asked if that was her only child and she said she had three others! I was completely shocked because I’ve heard so much about the low birth rate and declining population in Japan.
We left the port and drove to a restaurant nearby for lunch. She told me she didn’t have anything planned, but I was excited because that seemed like the best way to get an accurate view of their normal daily life. At lunch I had rice and miso soup and Sabu had spaghetti with meatballs. She found this to be hilarious and told everyone we saw during the two days. Sabu and I talked at lunch about many different things. She told me that she had lived in England for a year (I didn’t understand exactly why but it had something to do with working with disabled people) and Zambia for a year because of her husband’s job (he works for Proctor and Gamble). She was very interested to hear about all of the countries we have visited but particularly Singapore because they will most likely be moving there in March for her husband’s job. The move came up several times during my visit and I could tell she is nervous – she has a very established life and is quite happy in Japan.
After lunch we went to the kindergarden to pick up Genki, her third child, from school. She introduced me to some of the other moms, and I found out what a social butterfly she is because we were the last ones to leave the schoolyard! She said everyday they are the last ones because she likes to talk with all the mothers. Genki was so full of energy – he ran everywhere he went and never seemed to get tired.
We then went to Sabu’s house and one of the mothers met us there. She was so sweet and reminded me a lot of my friends. She spoke English very well because she had lived in England at one point.  We talked all afternoon over tea and snacks. It was funny to me because at one point she had to get her daughter ready to leave to go to her flamenco lesson. I was quite surprised by Japan and how similar it is to Europe and the States. I’ve never given Japan much thought, but the similarity of Sabu’s life to life in American suburbs was not what I had expected.
After tea we got ready and went to a Hippo Family Club meeting. The Hippo Club was the group through which all of the homestays were organized. It is a club that people join to experience different cultures and learn others languages without textbooks or formal classes. They basically get together, talk, and play games that help them mimic the sounds of other languages. I didn’t understand how it could work, but I was surprised to hear how much English and Spanish Sabu’s children had picked up just from listening to the Hippo CDs. At the Hippo Club we played games and then had snacks and talked. Afterwards we went to dinner together. Sabu told me it was a traditional Japanese “pub” and it looked to me exactly like a hibachi restaurant without the big grills (I asked her and some other women if they actually have hibachi in Japan and they had no idea what I was talking about…so either they didn’t understand me or hibachi is not really Japanese food. haha). Dinner was pretty good.
By the time we got back to the house it was late, so I we went to bed. I slept in a traditional Japanese room – there was no furniture, just mats on the floor and paneled closets along the walls. From one of the closets she pulled out my bedding, and it was very comfortable! Sabu showed me the shower, and I didn’t want to be rude (the Japanese are very meticulous about bathing and cleanliness) but I didn’t bathe. The house was freezing so taking a hot shower and then drying off in the cold air didn’t sounds appealing…plus I didn’t have gel or anything for my hair. Haha

I slept very well but had to get up at 6am for the second child Konopy’s dodge ball tournament. We had a yummy breakfast – bread and rice cakes with cheese (they had the texture of Brie but tasted like rice) – and then rushed to the tournament. I felt bad because I didn’t realize I was supposed to bring my stuff, so after we dropped off Konopy we had to go back to the house. Because we had more time on the way back to the tournament we walked through a traditional Japanese shrine. Apparently it is the festival time of year so there were stands with food and candy and a man dressed in samurai clothes. It is tradition that when a child turns 3, 5, and 7 they dress in a kimono, and the family goes to the shrine to give thanks to the gods for giving the child the strength to reach that birthday. There were a few kids in kimonos there while we were there…they were so cute!
Before we left I gave Sabu a small thank you gift. It was so cute though because she kept apologizing that she didn’t have a gift for me. I told her the point was to thank her for what she had already given me, but she still ran upstairs and came back down with some acorns she had painted. One had a snowman for Christmas, one was glued on a clothespin, and the other could be worn as a necklace.

We went back to the tournament, and since Konopy’s team tied the first game, she would be playing later in the afternoon and I wouldn’t get to see her. We watched a few games and then ate the lunch that Sabu had made – rice balls, vegetables and eggs. After lunch we went outside to meet Jun Jun, the president of the Hippo Club. Sabu had to stay at the tournament, so after I hugged her and said goodbye, Jun Jun took me to the final Hippo Club meeting. There were more people at this meeting than the night before, but we played all the same games.

After the meeting, Jun Jun too me back to the ship. I had a little bit of time before I had to be back on the ship, so I walked toward Sannomiya in downtown Kobe. There were so many people! I just walked around for a few hours and then went back to the ship to eat dinner.

Later that night I sat on the back deck and watched as we pulled away from Kobe. The city was all lit up with mountains in the background, and it was so beautiful!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

11112010 - 11162010. Ni Hao, China!

When we got off the ship in Hong Kong, we realized we were docked at a mall – the jet way from the ship opened up literally in the middle of the mall. First we spent some time looking for an ATM, but the mall was a maze. It was the biggest one I’ve ever seen! By the time we found an ATM and made a few other pit stops, it was lunch time. We stopped at a place called BLT Burger and discovered how expensive Hong Kong would be – I had a Diet Coke and mozzarella sticks off the appetizer menu and it was $14! It was really good though!
Someone had told us that a cool thing to do is take the tram from one side of the island to the other for sightseeing. We took a taxi to one side of the island and hopped on the tram. It was slow, but it was still fun. We didn’t make it to the other side of the island though because we found an area that we wanted to explore. First I stopped at a little stall to get coffee. The place looked a little sketch at first, but it turned out to be the most delicious coffee! We walked around a little and then found an outdoor market on one of the side streets. It was full of all kinds of Chinatown-like stuff. We got some tights and socks since we knew it was going to be very cold in Beijing, and then we started to head back to the ship since it was getting dark. We changed quickly and then ran out of the mall so we could catch the Symphony of Lights show that they do every night at 8pm. It was like the synchronized Christmas lights show some people do on their house, but it was with all the big buildings across the river. Most people thought it was lame, but I loved it! After that we went to Soho and had a really good dinner. Soho was so pretty and fun – there were a lot of British expats walking around, and the whole feel of the place reminded me of Chicago or New York. Also, while we were there we went on the longest outdoor elevator in the world! Haha

After getting ready, eating breakfast, and packing, we didn’t have any time to explore more of Hong Kong before we left for Beijing. We took the metro to the train station and then a two hour train ride to Guangzhou in mainland China. The train was so fancy…it was like an airplane. From there we took the metro again to the airport. The airport was nice, and it was HUGE. I was really surprised for some reason. We checked in for our flight and then got dinner at a “fast food” place. I got “fried noodles in soy sauce” which was basically just lo mein. It was so good! I was relieved that my first encounter with real Chinese food was a success.
Not long after that we boarded the plane, which was also super fancy. There were little TVs on the headrests and there was a long list of movies and TV shows we could watch or music we could listen to. I watched Shrek 4. :] After they came around with drinks, they served dinner. I asked for vegetarian because foreign meat kind of grosses me out. It wasn’t bad…I stuck to the rice, roll and orange and left the tofu alone. Haha Anyway, we finally got to Beijing and were immediately hit by the cold weather. We got in the line for a taxi, but there was a lot of confusion because they didn’t understand the address for the hostel. None of them spoke English, so I still have no idea what was wrong with it. One driver finally agreed and said he knew where it was, but like so many other taxi drivers we’ve encountered, he just drove to the area, stopped the car, and started asking people on the streets. It got to be a little frustrating because it was past midnight, we had been traveling all day, and all of his stopping was running up the meter. We were able to pantomime our concern, and he turned off the meter. It took a while, but we eventually made it to the hostel. It was in a side street that looked a little scary, but it was really nice inside! We checked in, got settled, and relaxed for a little bit. The bed was so soft and cozy…it was one of the best night’s sleeps I’ve had in a while!

The next morning we were up bright and early to take a trip to the Great Wall. We booked it through the hostel because it was cheaper than going through a tour company, and it was less of a hassle than trying to take a cab there and do everything on our own. It turned out to be a good decision because the tour was perfect. The drive was almost two hours, and I slept most of the way. We got there and had about three hours to do as we pleased. We decided to go in the direction that was a less intense hike but was longer. We had to take a chairlift to the entrance, but it was so crazy to actually be on the wall! It was a more intense workout than I had expected – there were a lot of stairs and steep hills. It was absolutely beautiful though with all of the mountains in the background and the weather was pretty mild. I would have loved to be there in the summer when all the leaves are green. We walked as far as we could go, about 4km, and then turned back. We took a toboggan down which was so much fun!! I felt like a bobsledder or something. Haha At the bottom there was a little shopping lane, and naturally we had to buy panda hats! Then we walked past all the fruit vendors and tried samples of everything.
We walked to the restaurant to meet the rest of the group for lunch. The lunch was really good! It was basically rice and a lot of vegetable dishes in different sauces. There was even something that was similar to orange chicken! I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.
After lunch we went back to the hostel. We put on more layers and drank some coffee to warm us up. Then we went out to walk around. The sun sets really early in China, so it was already dark by the time we went out. We took some pictures in front of the Forbidden city with everything lit up, walked by Tiananmen Square, and then went to a night market. It was all lit up and pretty, and it made me think of Christmas. I got some Starbucks along the way…my first since August! I tried the toffee nut latte, and it was soo good! Our first stop in the market was an “everything for 2 yuan store”, which is about 33cents. We picked up a few random things and I got some $3 North Face gloves because my hands were sooo cold. We walked through the rest of the market and then went back to the hostel.

The communism was pretty obvious  - there were soldiers marching everywhere we went and each light post had a camera on it; it all reminded me so much of the book 1984.

On our way back, they were doing a water show to music in front of the Forbidden City, so we stopped to watch. It was really cool! We ate dinner at the hostel because we were already kind of over Chinese food (it wasn’t bad, but it was just so oily). And it seemed like everything I saw on the streets had some kind of sketchy meat in it.
After dinner we started talking to one of the guys in our room. He is American but teaches English is Korea. We had a great conversation, and it was interesting to talk to him!

We were up bright and early again to pack everything into our last day in Beijing. We went to the Forbidden City and saw the Winter Palace. Then we took the metro to the other side of town to see the Bird’s Nest they built for the Olympics. It was cool to see, but it didn’t seem as spectacular knowing that the government displaced so many people in order to build it. That was the weird thing about China – everything seemed like a façade they were using to flaunt their growth and progress, but it seemed like underneath it all was something not so pretty. It’s hard to say what China is really like because first, I wasn’t able to connect with any Chinese people and second, no one is willing to say anything that might get them in trouble. Everything might be great, but deep down I don’t think it is. In my economics class we’ve been talking about what promotes development and it’s interesting because it’s not always democracy. In fact, an authoritarian government is somewhat necessary at the beginning stages of development, BUT democracy is needed later on for a country to fully develop. Therefore, China has done well with the government promoting progress and growth, but it will be interesting to see how long they can continue to grow while still remaining communist.
That was a long tangent, but anyway after that we went to the Summer Palace, ate lunch and then went to the Silk Market. I had heard such great things about this market, but I was a little disappointed. They didn’t have anything different from Vietnam, and it was all generally more expensive. So we just walked through and soaked up the experience – it was similar to Vietnam with all the shop keepers grabbing our arms and asking us if we wanted a watch, a shirt, some shows, jewelry, cameras, etc.
The night market was a lot cheaper than the Silk Market, so we went back there one last time. Then we picked up our stuff at the hostel and took the metro to the train station to take the night train to Shanghai.
The train station was crazy – it was PACKED with people. We boarded the train and as soon as we got on, we started to panic a little. We had gotten “hard” sleeper tickets because they were a lot cheaper than “soft” sleeper. I knew that it would be a chair instead of a bed, but I figured how bad can it be? I was definitely spoiled with the train and the plane at the beginning because it was pretty bad.
First of all, when we got on our car, every seat was taken and people were standing in the aisles. My first thought was that we had gotten there too late and would have to stand or sit in the aisle the whole night. I was freaking out but then I realized that our tickets had seat numbers on them. We found or seats and kicked the people out who were sitting there.
Then I realized that the seats were more like a bench and we were facing another bench with a table in between us. The seat by the window wasn’t too bad, but if you were in the center or the aisle seat, there was no way to curl up and you literally had to sleep sitting up straight. It was pretty cramped too – I couldn’t stretch out my legs without kicking the guys across from us. We tried to make the best of it though. We started to talk to the guys across from us but they didn’t know any English. They put in movie that was in English and had Chinese subtitles. I watched it for a while, but then I got really sleepy. I tried to sleep sitting but that didn’t really work. Eventually I gave up and curled up in a free spot I found in the aisle. It wasn’t much better, but I was able to get a little sleep. I woke up super early and eventually I just gave up trying to sleep. I listened to some music and watched out the window. I couldn’t find the bathroom on the train and not a single person spoke English. With everything combined, I was completely miserable by the time we got to Shanghai, but I was thankful to be there. I was about to pee my pants, so I ran to the first bathroom I saw. I guess it wasn’t a good decision though because it was the most disgusting and archaic squat toilet I’ve ever seen. We went to the taxi lane again and again we had trouble with the address (I think someone on the ship used Google translator for the address because when someone told us what it meant it made no sense). Again, the driver took us to the area and then stopped to ask people along the way. When we finally got to the port and I could see the ship, I almost started crying with joy.
I ran straight to the shower…it felt soo good to be clean again! We got lunch on the ship and then watched The Social Network which we had picked up in one of the markets. Even though we had already cleared customs in mainland China, the immigration officials had to check our passports, which took a few hours, before we could leave the ship again. Once our passports were ready, we went out to explore Shanghai. We saw some other SASers on their way back to the ship and asked them what we should do since we hadn’t looked up anything for Shanghai. They told us about a cool area to go and a place to do a tea ceremony. We went there and the whole place was really pretty. They gave us great directions because we were able to find the tea place, but when we got there, they were already closed. I was super bummed. We walked around a little more and then went back to the ship. I was so exhausted that I ended up going to bed not long after that.

The next morning we went to another part of Shanghai and ended up in like a market type shopping plaza. Then we found a Subway and had lunch. I didn’t really taste like normal Subway, but it was still really good. We went back to the same area we were at the night before and walked around. I felt bad that I spent most of my time in Shanghai shopping, but there wasn’t much else to do there – it was similar to Singapore in that they are both “mall cultures.” When I talked to others they felt the same way, so I didn’t feel as bad.
Before we went back to the ship, we went to the famous Bund and took a bunch of pictures with the beautiful skyline. It was such a gorgeous city! We went back on the ship and sailed down the river towards Japan later that night!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

11032010 - 11072010. Same Same...but Different

I didn’t write this right after Vietnam, but I wish I had because now it’s all kind of a blur. haha

The first thing we did when we got there was find a tailor to get custom made dresses. It’s a very popular thing to do there because it’s so cheap. Anyway after we went to an ATM, got some delicious (and strong!) Vietnamese iced coffee, and went in a few shops, we found a tailor and started the process. We picked out the dresses and the fabrics, they took our measurements, and we were all set!

After that we walked around for a little bit and then went to the Ben Thanh Market. I’ve been in a lot of markets on this trip, but that one was definitely overwhelming! The isles between the shops were very narrow and all of the shopkeepers grabbed our arms along the way and tried to pull us into their shops. We have had good practice at bargaining though because we got some good deals on North Face jackets and other fake stuff. We sat down for lunch in the market, and Ariel and Heidi got Pho, a popular dish in Vietnam. I didn’t get any because it didn’t look good to me, and they didn’t really like it either. After lunch we walked around a little more and got some more coffee. Then Shannon and I got $5 mani-pedis while Ariel and Heidi people watched. We met them after we were done and some local college students came up to us and wanted to talk to us so they could practice English. We talked with them for a few hours about all kinds of different things. It was really interesting, and they were all so nice!

The next day Shannon, Heidi, Ariel and I were all on the same SAS trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels. They tunnels were built by the Vietcong during the war to escape the US bombings.  Climbing through the tunnels was a little scary! They had been widened to accommodate tourists but they were still really small. Our guide told us they spent almost all of their time in the rooms built underground – babies were born there and honeymoons were celebrated. It was crazy to think about what life was like for them. It was also sad because even if they were the communist enemy, no one should have to live like that.
A few days later we went to the War Remnants Museum and saw the war from the Vietnamese perspective. It was really hard for me, and I almost started crying. We didn’t have time to go through the whole museum, but I spent most of my time at the pictures that showed what happened when the American soldiers raided the villages, dropped napalm, and also the long lasting effects of Agent Orange (on a side note, I found out that there is a whole generation that is disabled as a result of all of the Agent Orange that was dropped. However, the Vietnamese government has taken them off the streets, put them in homes, and taught them to make crafts and other stuff that can be sold to benefit them. I was really encouraged when I heard that, so I hope that is actually what is happening.) It was so powerful. Not only was it sad to see what had happened, but also it was depressing to think about the American soldiers, many of whom didn’t want to be there, who were forced into committing such atrocities. After seeing those pictures, it’s no wonder to me why a generation a men came back from the war so broken. It made me realize how horrible and unfair the war was for everyone who was involved.
Vietnam was hard for me not only because of the tunnels and the museum, but also because on the third day we went to a home for girls who had been victims of or had been exposed to human trafficking.
It was simply luck that we ended up going – a girl had mentioned the possibility when we were in Ghana, but we only found out the morning of the trip that it would actually happen (the language barrier caused some confusion about what we wanted to do there). We went there that afternoon, but when we got there one of the women who worked there told us that all of the girls were at school and that we would have to come back later. It ended up working out because we took that time to go back to the tailor and have our first fitting. We went back later that night. It was pouring rain (like it did ever day we were there), and the dirt road off the main road that we had to walk down was completely flooded. We eventually made it there and met the rest of the group inside. All of the young girls (they were between 8-21 but they all looked half their age) were there, and we went around the circle and did introductions. After that we played a few icebreaker type games and had a lot of fun! The girls didn’t speak English well, but it didn’t really matter. We spent the rest of the night painting nails and making bracelets.
I had so much fun that night. The home was definitely a place of hope, but it was still difficult to imagine what the girls had been through. The director was very vague and would not say anything about it since they were all there. However after seeing a documentary last year about human trafficking, I can only imagine the worst. Like I said, it was a place full of hope, but I wish we could have learned more about it and about how the girls were rescued.
The next day we picked up our dresses. I was nervous, but they turned out really good! We spent the rest of our time in Vietnam exploring all of the markets. We bought shirts that said “Same Same But Different” because it was the running joke of Vietnam (and the whole trip really). When you are going through the whole bargaining/ buying process the shop keepers seem to say it a million times. I guess you have to be there to see the humor, but it’s been hilarious.
Vietnam was a lot more emotional than I expected, but overall I loved it!!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

10312010-11012010 Singapore

Singapore was SO much fun! We were only there for two days, but I wish we could have stayed longer.

It’s funny because the wikitravel page calls Singapore, “Disney World with the death penalty”, and that’s a perfect description. It felt almost surreal when we got off the ship because everything seemed so perfect. They have a lot of crazy, strict laws but I liked Singapore a lot more than I thought I would. Everything was SO clean and nice, and I felt really safe the whole time.

We got off the ship earlier than usual, and so we walked straight to the MRT (the subway). We fell in love with the MRT because it was so cheap and efficient! We had some maps but our stop at Clarke Quay was somewhat arbitrarily chosen. We mostly wandered around and just did A LOT of walking and shopping. We ended up at this really big open air market where everything was so cheap! Then we went to Little India, walked around a mall (Singapore is famous for them), and went to the famous Raffles Hotel. We went back to the ship to regroup and cool off a little (it was really hot and humid). We went back out later and had an awesome Halloween night!

Yesterday we woke up early to go to the zoo (it’s supposedly the second best zoo in the world), but long story short, it didn’t end up working out. We spent most of the day shopping some more. I had an awesome two days!!

Today was a Reading Day, which means that we didn’t have classes. They played movies about Vietnam all day, so we watched Forest Gump and caught up on some stuff. I’ll be up around 5am tomorrow to watch as we sail up the Saigon River!

10222010-10272010 India

Day 1 – 22OCT
The morning we docked in India was mayhem! As usual, we got up early and watched as we pulled into the port. The first three things I noticed about Inida – 1. The smog 2. The sounds…we could hear the car horns from a good distance away 3. The smell…it hit us in the face…it wasn’t necessarily bad, just definitely foreign.

We were called by seas to have face-to-face passport checks with the immigration officials (we had to do the same in South Africa and Mauritius). We turned our passports back in, as usual, but then when the ship was cleared, they told us that we would need our passport and custom form every time we left the ship. We had to go to the Purser’s desk to get both, and it took forever! It was complete chaos, but eventually I got them. I had an FDP for my English class, so I went outside and found a looong line to get out of the port gate; this was the first port where they checked our visa, picture and custom form TWICE to get out of the port and twice to get back in! It was pretty annoying. Anyway, the heat hit me in the face too…it was SOO hot and humid.

I got in the bus, and we headed for a heritage village. It was a longer drive than I expected, but it was cool to get my first views of India along the way. I couldn’t help but notice all of the trash; there was so much of it!

We finally made it were met with a traditional greeting – we all received bindi (I think that’s how it’s spelled) dots on our foreheads. It was so hot though that it wasn’t long before we had sweat them off. Haha

We took our seats in an open air theatre area, and the director explained the play that we were about to watch. It was one of the two Indian epics, like Homer’s Odessey, that traditionally takes eight hours to perform but would be shortened for us to 20 minutes.  The performers came out and had on the most elaborate costumes and make up; I felt bad because they must have been soo hot. The play was interesting, but we couldn’t understand what they were saying since they spoke in Tamil. When they were done, the director explained that they always improvise and decide on the spot which parts they perform.

After that, we had a few hours to wander around the village on our own. They had all kinds of traditional Indian houses set up (fisherman, merchant, weaver) and also had different demonstrations (a glass blower, weaver, etc.). I looked at the different houses and then walked around the crafts area. They were selling some neat things. I ended up getting a few Christmas ornaments and some bangles. When I was done, it was time to head back to the ship. This FDP wasn’t nearly as interesting as the one I had in South Africa, but it was still good.

Back at the ship I ate dinner and then met up with Heidi, Kristen and Evie. They had been shopping and the girl helping them had invited them back to her house. They invited me to come, and I was so excited. We took a rickshaw to meet Nandini at the store as she was getting off work (she works from 9am to 9pm every day!). It was hilarious because at one stoplight, the cab next to us was blasting Backstreet Boys! Haha. Anyway, we found Nandini, and she was so excited. We walked down the busy street to meet her mother, who seemed equally as excited to meet us. Her mother didn’t speak English, but we asked Nandini a few questions as we walked. We found out that she just graduated high school, started working at Pothy’s, and doesn’t plan on going to university (I assume it would be too expensive). As we were walking she also told us she is a Christian. Right before we got to her house, she showed us her church, and she was SO proud. It was pretty cool because I honestly thought everyone in India is Hindu. Her house was very small – only one small room and a tiny kitchen for four or five people. I was a little shocked, but she was so filled with joy. There were pictures of Jesus all over the wall. She showed us literally everything in the house. First we started with the family photo albums and she told us her oldest sister, who is 25 (Nandini is 19 and her other sister is 20), is getting married in December and moving to Mumbai. Then she showed us her saris, scarves, and her new pair of jeans. She showed us her umbrella, her piggy bank, the trinkets she got for her birthday and her Bible, all of which she was so proud. The family also had a cute little kitten, named Budiski (I think she said it means like Fluffy or something) that we played with all night. Nandini’s two sisters and cousin came over around 1030pm after they got off of work. Their mother asked if we were hungry and even though we told her that we had already eaten, she insisted on feeding us. She went next door to a hotel and bought dosais and chutneys. I felt bad that they spent their money on us, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was pretty good…really spicy though! A dosai is similar to a crepe and chutneys are like sauces. It was getting late so we exchanged addresses and took a bunch of pictures. They were worried about us walking around at night and kept offering to let us stay there for the night. They were all so sweet and giving! They ended up calling a cab for us which is a lot safer than taking a rickshaw. I’m so thankful I got the chance to meet them.

Day 2 – 23OCT
We got up and set out for the city of Mamallapuram, a small city with several famous monuments and temples. As soon as we left the port gates, the rickshaw drivers swarmed us. We told them we needed a cab, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer. It was overwhelming, and a little frustrating, because they were definitely the most pushy and persistent people we have encountered this semester. We finally found a cab, negotiated a price, and began the two hour drive.

Once we were there, we wandered around the main road. There were cows and goats everywhere! We found this statue thing with a huge pool of holy water. It looked so ancient! While we were there, this guy came up to us and was trying to get us to come to his shop. We tried to be polite and say no, then we tried just flat ignoring him but he wouldn’t give up. He followed us everywhere. Eventually we got to a temple and “Krishna’s butter ball”, and he gave us the whole story behind everything we saw. It was cool to get a little history and a better understanding about what we saw, but I was also a little nervous that he would expect a lot of money for this “tour” at the end. As we were leaving the butter ball, he led us to his shop. He carves all kinds of crafts from marble and granite. He showed us almost everything he had made, but he quoted us prices that were extremely high even by American standards. We didn’t really want any of the stuff either, so we told him thank you and then left. He turned out to be pretty nice, so I’m glad we met him.
We stopped for ice cream to cool off and then headed back to the cab. We got some snacks for the drive, a Thumbs Up (a coke that is marketed mainly in India), and some postcards.

By the time we got back to the ship, we were exhausted from the traveling and the heat. We ate dinner and then relaxed for the rest of the night.

Day 3 – 24OCT
The next day we got ready to shop! We started at a mall called Spencer Plaza. It was a little odd because it was a meeting of a western mall and traditional Indian street shops. You didn’t have to haggle though which was nice – it gets so exhausting!

After the mall we went to a store called Pothy’s in Pondy Bazaar. It was crazy! It was basically a Macy’s for saris. There were eight floors and every floor was completely packed with people! Apparently, the Diwali festival is soon, so a lot of people were preparing for that. It was interesting too because Pothy’s has soo many employees. When we were buying scarves, we had one person show us the scarves, one person write a ticket for which ones we wanted, one person take our money, one person take our receipt and another person get our scarves. I guess it’s necessary in such a crowded country for providing jobs.

We left the AC of Pothy’s and ventured into the crowded street. We stopped and got some of the world’s cheapest ice cream (it was 10 rupees which is a little less than 25cents) and then crossed the street (a feat in itself) to get henna. We were excited, but I guess we didn’t think it through because having wet hands made taking a crowded rickshaw back to the ship very difficult. Haha Anyway, when we were trying to get a rickshaw, the drivers were trying so hard to get us to pay a really high price – about twice as much as we had normally been paying. I was surprised though because a police officer came over and started yelling at them for trying to rip us off (in fact, some of the most helpful people that week were police officers). I was just surprised because in most other countries the police have been corrupt and useless. Anyway the driver agreed to the price, but as soon as the police officers walked away, he changed the price again. Eventually we found a driver though, and we held our hands out the rickshaw the whole way to try to get them to dry faster. Haha
Back on the ship we ate dinner and booked a hotel for Pondicherry the next day. Later we decided to go the movies. Going to a movie in India was definitely an experience! The lobby was huge and packed with people. The theatre itself was the biggest theatre I have ever seen. Also, they sell typical movie food like popcorn, coke and candy. We saw Robot (apparently it was a big deal because we saw posters for it everywhere after that) which was in Tamil, the language of southern India. It was also really cheap…only about $2. The guy at the ticket counter was really confused why we didn’t want to see a movie in English (The Other Guys was playing), but we wanted a more authentic experience. I expected to be completely lost, but I actually had a pretty good idea of what the movie was about. It was a little over the top but definitely entertaining. It was over three hours long too! I’m glad I drank some coffee otherwise I would have fallen asleep…the movie didn’t end until 2am. The soundtrack was really good though…Heidi bought it, and we’ve been listening to it nonstop.

On the ride home, it shocked me a little how many homeless people were sleeping on the streets…there were sooo many. It was really hard to see.

Day 4 – 25OCT
We were going to walk outside the port and find a taxi to take us to Pondicherry, but it didn’t work out as planned. We couldn’t find a taxi anywhere which was weird since there had been a lot the first few days. We walked for a long time and eventually decided to take a city bus to the bus station. It was a lot cheaper than a cab would have been (less than $10 round trip), but it took a lot longer. The bus was nice though because it had AC, was almost completely empty, and they played an Indian movie.

On a side note, the driving in India is so scary. At first I thought the rickshaw drivers were just crazy, but even on the bus I was terrified…especially when animals jumped in the road and the bus had to swerve quickly to avoid them. haha

We finally made it to Pondicherry and immediately we could tell it was very different from Chennai. It was a lot less crowded and busy. We got to our hotel (it was the cheapest one on hostelworld and it was so nice…it reminded us of the hostel we stayed at in Morocco), and Shannon and Ariel took a nap while I made a bunch of phone calls via skype. It was good to be able to talk to everyone!

We went to dinner around the corner at a place called Hotel Segura. We had been told they have really good food, so we decided to check it out. We ordered some naan (flat bread) and dosas (similar to a crepe). While we were waiting for our food, we started talking to a girl named Nupur at the table next to us. She is 23, from India, and was vacationing in Pondicherry. We asked her where we should go and what we should do, and she offered to show us around the next day. She was so sweet! She also told us what was good on the menu, so we ordered some malai kofta. I never would have ordered it on my own, but it was really good! It was basically a vegetable puree with spices that we dipped our naan in. It was more sweet than spicy, which was good since I don’t handle spicy food well.

After dinner we went with Nupur to a café on the beach and had coffee and ice cream. It was so relaxing and peaceful there! We had an awesome talk, but then they came around and said the café was closing. We were really confused because it supposed to be a 24 hour café, but they said a tsunami was coming. There wasn’t really one coming (there was an earthquake in Indonesia, so they were just being cautious), but it was a little scary for a minute.

Day 5 – 26OCT
The next morning we went back to Hotel Segura to meet Nupur for breakfast. The breakfast was really spicy, but it was good. Nupur took us to some really awesome shops. At the first store I got some tea and an Indian grain…like a couscous or rice. I can’t wait to cook it when I get home! Eventually we had to say goodbye to Nupur because she had to fly back home to central India. I’m so glad we met her and got to hangout!

After lunch we went to this really cool handmade paper factory where I got a bunch of stuff for my scrapbook. We planned to go to the ashram perfumery, but it was closed. Instead we just got some stamps, went to a bookstore, and stopped in a grocery store.

That night we just played on the internet at our hotel and looked up stuff for Japan!

Day 6 – 27OCT
We got up early because we wanted to catch an early bus back. We had breakfast at the hotel and then went straight to the bus station. For some reason though, it was a lot harder this time to find a direct, AC bus. We tried to ask a few people, but no one was able to give us a clear answer. It was soo hot, and we were getting nervous that we would have to wait there for a few hours. Thankfully though, the bus came after only about 30 minutes. This second bus was a lot more crowded than the first, but we were just thankful to be on the way back.

Back at the ship we ran straight to our showers…I felt soo dirty. Anyway left India and headed for Singapore!