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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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

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!

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