#13: Butterfly Farm in Malaysia

DSC_0020, originally uploaded by funchilde.

Still counting down my top 15 in no particular order.

This pic is from the Butterfly Farm in Penang, Malyasia. I didn’t blog about Malaysia because it was hella hot, hella expensive and I was fighting a cold. The island is trippy with lots of little tourist attractions and this one was one of my favorites.

#14: Laundry Day

Counting down my top 15 favorite things. Laundry Day is definitely going to be missed!

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?

#15: Ambassadors Ball


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 and 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.

Oahu, Hawai’i: Changes in (L)attitutde

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. 

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 to 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) 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, 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!

Nara, Japan: Templed Out? or Out Templed?


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.

Osaka, Japan: Play Ball


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!

Kobe, Japan: So Sushi


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. 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.

Hong Kong: What Had Happened Was…


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 work 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 ourselves (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.