Onboard the ship, The Union was the main gathering space for large community events. I loved it when the union was full, it was like a huge, cozy living room with 700 of your closest friends and family members. Sometimes we’d have late night events and I’d go in my pajamas (by week 4 of the voyage the students were already going to class in their pajamas!).
The Union is where we started our journey together and where we ended our journey together. The place we played, the place we prayed.
I got to be a eucharistic minister on Easter Sunday and serve communion wine to the 400+ people who came for Easter Service w/ Archbishop Tutu. I was nominated and selected to give the staff reflection speech at the shipboard convocation, I was blessed to sit and watch my colleagues, peers, friends and students showcase their talents..great and small.
I miss it.
Never having to do my own laundry has been wonderful! Just put it outside your cabin and it appears magically clean and wonderful smelling 24 hours later! How will I ever manage without this magical thing called Laundry Day?
As we wrap things up, I’m going to count down my top 15 things/moments/people/places on this amazing journey. I can barely keep tears from my eyes thinking that I have lived a dream, circled the globe, loved and lived from one corner of the earth to the other. Humbled by the fact that none of us can be, should be, or is…alone.
This is Drew andÂ me at the Ambassador’s Ball. It is a dinner/dance onboard the ship as we sail home that raises money for three charities we voted on as a shipboard community. I normally don’t like this kind of event, but I have to admit it was hella fun for everyone to get dressed up after being in flip flops for 100 days.
Drew (fellow Wahoo!) was my date and isn’t he dashing? We both had suits made in Vietnam. His is a western style business suit, so well tailored that you could see the outline of the keys in his pockets if he had any. Mine is a traditional Odai worn by Vietnamese women. It is lightweight black silk and has black pants and a long hemline. So not something I would ever have imagined I’d be into, but one of the things you must do in Vietnam is have a suit/dress custome made. He made me a corsage out of red tissue paper and I made him a mixed CD of my favorite “Good Mood” tunes. We wined, we dined and I was asked to give a toast on the 7th deck pool bar. Good times.
And we raised nearly $20,000 for good causes, trying to live what we’ve learned. together. The money will go to a Cambodian Orphanage, A Vietnamese School for the disabled, and we also raised money for a Theatre Arts program in Capetown.
We had a week long crossing from Japan to Hawai’i. Mostly to save fuel and give everyone a chance to process where we’ve been and get ready for where we’re going. We’re talking about wrapping it up, bringing it home, turning out the lights. Next-to-last stop: The Land of Aloha.
After being greeted in so many special ways as we’ve dropped anchor in so many ports around the world (the barefoot little band in India, the ladies of Vietnam in their conical hats), we dock in Hawai’i and disembark to…a woman with a sign for “Free Shuttle to Wal Mart!” Damn, this is exactly why I’m not ready to be back. Really? The first thing we see when we get back to the US is an advertisement for us to spend money as a group at the one place (besides McDonald’s) that symbolizes American Consumerism at its best/worst? (Don’t get me wrong, I love Wal Mart).
Anyway, I joined up with a group that was headed to the beach. One of our staff colleagues is a Hawai’ian local and she and her fiance set up a tour for us complete with ATM and Coffee shop stops. The main focus was to get to the beach and kayak out to some small islands off the coast. The day started out overcast but Lesley (our colleague) and her fiance Matt put sunshine on the itinerary with their hospitality and generosity. First stop…Nuuanu State Park for some scenic overlook time. Watching the mountains shrouded in mist contrast with the deep blue of the ocean is a scene I could never tire of.
Next stop Coffee! at Morning Brew, a sweet little local place with vegetarian breakfast bagels (sundried tomato cream cheese, sprouts, and capers on an everything bagel for me) and a Vanilla Chai that would make you slap your best friend. We hit the ATM and saw US dollars being spit out at us for the first time since January. My laptop power cord crapped out sometime in Japan and I was trying to track down a replacement as well, but to no avail. I didn’t want to spend a single second on errands when it could be spent on fun. The other 12 took Matt and Lesley up on their offer of a kayaking expedition. I declined noting the choppy looking waves, lack of lifeguard, and my excellent sinking skills which hamper my swimming talent. Instead they dropped me at a quiet side beach known mostly to locals with promises to pick me up in a few hours.Â
I was looking forward to a few hours of solo down time, a precious comodity on the ship. As usual I had a book (Backpack), my iPod, and my cameras, and this time, some beer money and a beach towel. The sun was finally out in full force but playing hide and seek behind the clouds. In the ultimate nod toÂ never being alone on Semester at Sea, after I had stepped 3 feet onto the beach two of my students yelled “Hey Dia!” and I was like “oooh lawd-I can’t get away from these crumbsnatchers!” but I ended up having a great time with J and E (my students)Â and their friend Olley and their band of local friends. So in the spirit of comaraderie, I chipped in for a couple of Corona (or three), dug out my sunglasses and settled in for some exposure to local culture. Hawai’ans are…different, not in a bad way, but their lifestyle is all about family and outdoor activities. People either have lots of money or are making it day by day. I enjoyed how animated the Hawai’ian students were, how in love with their island life and family focus they are. They embraced me without question, offered me food and drink and entertained my dozens of questions without complaint. Finally I relaxed out of “tourist” mode (and even though Hawai’i is a US state…if you don’t grow up there…you’re a tourist or “Haole”).
My favorite part of the day though was when the skies grew dark and the rain poured down from the heavens. The six of us took cover under a Hobie Cat boat that had a tarp over the top of it. We laughed as we arranged ourselves in the small space and I joked that my “dear black family” letter back home describing being covered in white sand, afro full of sand, beer full of sand, on a beautiful beach in Hawai’i isn’t a bad place to be. We had to take cover a couple of more times that afternoon, but the sun was strong enough to cause me to get sunburned on my face! I didn’t realize until a few days later, when I started to peel and my caramel complexion went two toned. No I don’t have any pictures of that.
My least favorite part of the day was when we all met up at the van in the late afternoon to the realization that the van had been burglarized. They got everything. Cameras, credit cards,Â cash in insane amounts, even one dude’s underwear! I didn’t lose anything since I dipped out and had my backpack with me. After the police were done with their questions and credit cards were cancelled, I treated the group to dinner to assuage my “survivor’s guilt” and ensure that they knew someone cared. Funnily enough, we had a gorgeous sunset dinner at Don Ho’s where we discovered that the famous musician had passed on just last month.
So yeah, welcome (back) to America, we made it around the world only to be greeted by Wal Mart and Grand Theft Auto, but also the “Aloha” spirit of strangers and the generosity of friends. The good old US of A, no better, no worse, than the rest of the world. Same same…but different. Next stop: San Diego!
There comes a time in every trip, every journey, every story where you’ve reached the limit of things you can absorb. I still can’t wrap my mind around Carnival in Brazil (February), Dancing in Mauritius (March), Volunteering at a school for the disabled in Vietnam (April) and I still have things to see.
Poetically, just when I thought I had nothing left in me to oooh and ahhh over another temple, synagogue, world heritage site or church…we head to Nara. At this point I was fighting off the germs the students had brought back to the ship in China, coming out of denial that this voyage must end, and that the end is coming sooner rather than later.
On the day when I most wanted to stay in bed, drinking orange juice, writing in my journal and sorting through the thousand pictures I’ve taken, I grabbed my Nikon, my iPod and hit the road. Mostly to spend time with Professor J and some students, and to soak up some of the springtime sun. It would be an understatement to say that I’m glad that I did. In that one day, I saw the oldest wooden temple on earth and the largest wooden temple on earth (pictured).
You have to walk a little way to get to the main temple. Through a maze of long-haired deer, so tame that they literally eat out of your hand. I was walking with my head down, full of the thoughts of all we’ve done and all we’ve seen in almost 4 months of circumnavigating the globe. Feeling like there was nothing left to surprise me and again, I was stopped in my tracks when the temple came into view. You can see from the scale of the picture how small the people are in comparison to the main building. I was so stunned that tears sprang to my eyes. All you can think about when you see the place is how many people, worked how many years, with how much wood, to build a shrine that encloses one of the largest Buddahs in the world.
One of the most fun things about going to all of the temples and shrines was seeing all of the school kids, dressed in matching outfits or hats, learning about their culture and history. The students were so excited to practice their “hellos” and “nice to meet yous” that we couldn’t resist delaying their education a bit and engaging them in the timeless game of intercultural introductions.
It was also fun watching them climb through the Buddah’s hole of enlightement.
We also visited a Shinto shrine that was a brilliant orange and the perfect place to watch the sun wane. I got to try a Shinto cleansing ritual, trying to remember to do each step in order to avoid offending any of the local people tending to their spiritual tasks.
I learned long ago, that I will never regret pushing through when I know I can, sitting still when I know I must, but it feels good to know that I know the difference between the two.
We headed out to an evening baseball game at the Kyocera Dome Osaka. I loved the deep green of the turf against the vibrant orange of the baseball diamond. Attending a baseball game in Japan is one of the top 10 things you must do when you get the chance. I finally got to hang out with Drew, one of my staff colleagues and a fellow UVA grad (Go Hoos!). He is 3 years younger than I am, but we were both Resident Assistants in college so I knew him from our time on staff, something we both agree changed our lives.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a big baseball aficionado, I love going to games for the fresh air, beer and pretzels. The comaraderie of friends laughing in the sunshine. This was no different (minus the sun due to the dome being an indoor sort of thing). Very cool beer dispensing method!
It was fun to watch the Japanese fans root on the Orix Buffaloes (yes, they spell it with an “e”) with their numerous coordinated cheers, the HUGE team flags and their love for each player. Every.single.player. has his own song, and the fans know each one. It was great to crowd watch because in between bouts of riotous cheering the Japanese fans are very sedate and quiet. They are either all cheering together or totally quiet, there’s no random hootin’ and hollerin’, its all or nothing.
I had yak noodles and fried squid on a stick at the game, same same..but different (some of yall will get that!).
**In response to the comments: I’m not ready to come home yet, so I banish any such conversation on that topic!
The weather in Kobe is gorgeous. Just perfect for strolling and hopping on and off the impressively spotless rail system. The people are all smiles and style. Everyone is rocking either the Armani businesswear or the Hipster kid/Hip Hop/Glam Grunge look. They definitely appreciate individuality and artistic expression.Â We hit up Uoyatei for some conveyor belt sushi. Real sushi, not that supermarket stuff (that I confess that I love). Fresh wasabi, sweet ginger, hot green tea – spring in Japan. Amazing.
I loved all of your comments on the last few posts, though I couldn’t respond, they made me laugh all over again. I’ve added links to the pictures if you’re interested or at workÂ with a free high-speed connection.
Hong Kong is like Manhattan x 100. Some things happened in Hong Kong that I just can’t even talk about. Not because it would compromise me you understand, but I’m protecting the people I was with.
I led a trip out to the Chinese Cuisine Training Institute (CCTI), which was amazing. CCTI is the elite culinary school in the region and when we stepped in the place you knew why. The facilities, head chef, cutie-pie chefs in training and fire, along with lots of amazing food made for a great afternoon of culture and cuisine. I spent the majority of my time trying to communicate with my Chinese chef partner and convincing him to let me turn up the flames on our dishes. We made a Sweet and Sour Pork and a Beef with Black Pepper Sauce. Yum, I mean like, make your eyes cross good. Like almost better than…nevermind. I think you get it. Anyway, I highly recommend a trip out to CCTI if you get a chance. And I’m falling in lurve with hot tea. There were dozens of varieties on display to smell and sample.
Hong Kong in general is pretty expensive but there are lots of knock-off markets, cheap deals on street food and lots of cheap beer. On the other hand, there was a LINE outside the damn Louis Vuitton store. A line people. Who has that kind of money?
Hong Kong is beautiful and the weather was cooler than we’ve had anywhere we’ve been so far except possibly south africa. Exempting the cooking class, we were in “dance” mode which turned into “karaoke” mode which turned into “who has the camera” mode. You know its going to be a late night when you go out for Chinese food at 10pm before hitting the club! It was funny walking around and seeing people carrying beers, winecoolers, etc and just sipping while they were strolling through the city blocks. This looked tempting, but I contained myself.
We ended up at a couple of different lounges hanging with locals who bought us fruity drinks, tequila sunrises and my favorite, whiskey with green tea (sounds terrible but it was nice and mellow). I went from singing my heart out to wondering how the hell the sun had managed to rise while we were laughing at ourselvesÂ (picture of aforementioned afro being groomed by G). There was nothing left to do except grab some early morning McDonald’s (yes, even in Hong Kong it was fabulous and necessary) and sleep a couple of hours before getting back into “adventure traveler” mode. Don’t judge me too harshly for having a good time. Sometimes you have to step out smelling extra good, with a little cash in your pocket and a terrible 80’s song in your heart. Yes, even me.
I decided not to buy these snacksÂ (shrink wrapped chicken parts)Â before boarding my 22 hour overnight train to Beijing. Unfortunately I bought this (Diet Coke with Lemon) which tastes like a mix of lighter fluid and well…lemon. I really didn’t know what to expect of the train but I was woefully surprised when I realized that in China…they make things to their own physical proportions. So being 1.5 Chinese folks wide and about 3-6 inches taller I was in for a night of pure hell in terms of physical (dis) comfort. I had the last “hard” seat and there were no sleepers available. So I prepared myself for a long night of sitting upright with my legs crammed under a small table and a Chinese guy with the most awesome hair ever tucked up against my side. But here’s what happened:
The train was oversold so there were 13 of us in a space that “normally” would seat 10 people. I was the only American/non-Chinese person in a 200 mile radius. I hadn’t seen any of my SAS compadres in 2 days and I know 3 phrases in Mandarin (Hello, Thank You, You’re Welcome). I questioned the sanity of my solo travelling decision with no prospects for communication or company and a night with no sleep on the agenda. But, I ended up having the most hilarious time in my train car.
The Chinese are not a “warm and fuzzy” people. This at first took me slightly off guard being an over the top southern girl but I realized that if I lived with almost a billion people…I probably wouldn’t smile and say “hello” to anybody either, that’s a lot of grinning and waving. But the night on the train gave me the opportunity to observe the wonderfully warm, collectivist culture of the Chinese via two examples. First, in our car of 100+ people, 15 men didn’t have tickets for seats. So they were standing up, ostensibly for 15 hours. It never occured to me to proffer my seat to any of them but that is exactly what all the other men on the train did. All of the guys sitting in aisle seats would rise after a time and insist that a guy who was standing take his seat. Like they ordered them to sit down. There was no negotiation, no clock watching, no requests for someone to get out of their seats. For 22 hours I watched men who did not know each other, care for one another in the most basic way.
I was as you can probably imagine, quite the curiosity. Most Chinese people haven’t seen many, if any african americans and certainly none that are female, taller/larger than them and sporting an afro and settling into a cross-country train car like she belonged there. I got the normal stares and points and giggles (never mean spirited) that all of us of african american descent have gotten in Asia, but it didn’t bother me. I knew people were interested in my hair (huge afro at this point) and so I would bow and indicate that they could touch it and they did, which would send them and everyone else into a fit of giggles. Fun for them, fun for me. Breaking down cultural barriers one afro at a time (sounds like a t-shirt, no?). Plus, the guy sitting across from me was totally down with me stretching my legs out on either side of his to relieve my agony.
The second example of the warm Chinese spirit occured at dinner time. At about 9pm people started breaking out food from all sorts of places, one guy had drinks, another had some type of beef, someone else bought enough rice for all of us, and people started digging in. I was handed a pair of chopsticks and a spoon and via hand gesture, commanded to join in the food. Being my shy self I thanked them all, tossed in my ginormous bag of pretzels and a pack of gum, thanked the dude for the iced green tea, and joined them in the impromptu potluck. I should mention that only 4 of the 13 of us knew each other (two pairs of friends). So this was a touching moment for me, sap that I am.
After a while it emerged that two guys spoke a little english and a woman in our group of 13 spoke pretty good english. So the three of them served as translators. So while we sat up all night and I watched the guys play cards, someone would tell me the gist of what was going on in the conversations. They invited me to play cards, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out the game, so I settled for shuffling and cutting the deck for the guy who was losing. We talked about their culture (what they did and didn’t like), USA culture, movie stars, music, what we did for fun…the usual “getting to know you” stuff with a Mandarin twist.
After 22 hours, awake on a train (no rats this time!) I felt a comraderie with my seatmates and it must have been mutual because:
-Gabriel invited me to a wedding the next day (and followed through with the address, etc via e-mail)
-When it was time to get off the train there were hand clasps and smiles all around and one guy kept saying “they really like you”
-3 of the other 12 wouldn’t leave me until they deposited me at my hotel in Beijing, despite being tired, ready for food and a shower, they escorted me (literally) to my hotel
-I met up with the aforementioned 3 and 3 of their friends the next night to chow down and hang out
-Gabriel continues to e-mail me despite our language barrier, and my inability to attend the wedding (no formal clothes and a pre-booked day tour)
What I did in Beijing
1. After 3 nights of little to no sleep, sketchy hostel sheets and an afro and wardrobe full of cigarette smoke (they can smoke anywhere here in China), I checked myself into the very posh Beijing Hotel and rolled around on the very comfortable featherbed after a long shower.
2. The Great Wall. Amazing, inarticulable. Worth the 3 hour round trip drive but next time I will go to a less popular spot. There were thousands of people. It was like Disneyland on the 4th of July. But the pictures you’ve seen don’t come close to the spectacular hugeness and longness (i know they aren’t words!) of the wall. Its like when you see the Grand Canyon after only seeing pictures your whole life.
3. The Summer Palace. Set on a man made lake, it was a great way to cool off from clambering around the Great Wall and the architecture is amazing. The history had me totally engaged and wanting more.
4. Tianamen Square. Impressive in size but after 5 minutes you realize its just a piece of outside with an intriguing and important historical moment attached to it. It is framed by 4 important buildings though. 3 of which we couldn’t get into because they are renovating in preparation for the 2008 Olympics.
5. The Forbidden City. Large pictures of Chairman Mao and amazingly interesting history of this home to 3 Chinese dynasties. Over 9000 rooms, lots of Feng Shui and architectural elements and also about a million people visiting on the same day.
6. The Jade Factory. I didn’t like the fact that tour guides pretty much have to take you here in an attempt to get a captive audience to buy something. It reminded me of the rickshaw drivers in India. But I learned all about the different types of Jade, how to tell real from fake, how it is carved and polished and what they are used for, etc. Totally nerdtastic which you know I love. Then I said thanks and figured if they didn’t mind wasting my time without my permission, I shouldn’t feel bad about not buying something I didn’t want. Plus the cheapest thing in the place was $25 US for some knick knack crap. I still enjoyed it though.
7. The Pearl Factory. Same concept, same method of captive audience but again I loved learning all about the pearls, oysters, harvesting, real vs. fake, and I even got two tiny pearls for free!