My first attempt at putting together some footage from my trip
How This Feels Blog
There is a Singapore rail pass, a receipt from a Vietnamese dressmaker, and a Kingfisher bottle cap on the bottom of my purse. I have been to Dominica, Brazil, Ghana, South Africa, Mauritius, India, Singapore, Vietnam, China and Japan. My trusty anti-theft money belt is now the home of rupees, rand, cedi, reals, dong, yuan, and yen… and I don’t plan on cleaning it out anytime soon. I have done more and seen more than most people will in their entire lives. This is how it feels to have a dream come true.
Where I used to see shapes on a map I now see people; beggars, politicians, drug dealers, philanthropist, thieves, travelers, parents, children and in many countries, angels. Everyday I have seen the best and worst that humanity has to offer. I have been ripped off, misguided, threatened, spit on and cursed out more times than I can count. I have also been brought to tears by the generosity of a complete stranger. We have all had to trust, especially in the taxi, tuk tuk, tro tro, rickshaw, and moto drivers- but above all, we have had to trust each other. We have experienced each other’s good, bad and ugly, like really ugly…like day five of the Amazon ugly. Though we were strangers three months ago, we have shared moments of intense fear, hopelessness, bliss and inexpressible gratitude. We have supported each other through meltdowns, travel group drama and of course- missed FDPs. We have watched each other come of age, overcome fears and forge new identities…sometimes in the form of a nose ring or a panda hat.
I have gained an extreme amount of weight- or as I like to see it now- I have gained baby weight of my cultural and intellectual rebirth. But really – it’s not like I was going to skip the Nan in India, the pho in Vietnam or the fan ice in Ghana (or the birthday cake on deck five). Although I won’t miss the pasta and potatoes, I will always long for one more long dinner on deck 5. This ship must be the only place on earth where five college kids can have a three-hour dinner without being interrupted by text messages or Facebook notifications. Those long dinners will forever be among my most precious memories. Whether we were planning our weddings or trying to process India, I always felt most at home during dinnertime. May we always remember the freedom of being unplugged and out of touch and the magic of living in the moment with the people sitting around us.
I finally have the lingo down. I use words like deck, swell, port, berth, tymitz, green sheet, and quarantine. I know that breakfast means deck 6 and dinner means deck 5, unless it’s inedible then its up to deck 7. I no longer worry about the pub night schedule or whether or not my clothes match when I run to global studies. I still don’t know the last names of the majority of my friends - even though I can probably name their school, major, hometown and how they handle stressful situations. Like all SAS kids, I too have spent my fair share of time wondering if the peanut butter is actually soy butter or if the mythical stabilizers are out. I tell time by ports, using phrases like “We became friends after Ghana” or “I haven’t been to the gym since Singapore.” Even though I know there are 367 days in our SAS year, I haven’t actually known the day of the week since we left the Bahamas. My closet is now an eclectic showcase of all the latest trends in tourist couture- I realize as I am writing this I am wearing pants from India, a shirt from China and bracelet from Brazil. I can’t wait until I accidently pull out a Rand to pay for a cup of coffee or find a Family Mart receipt for five Japanese Strongs in my coat pocket.
Though I will miss this ship- the garden lounge, the union and the cove. It’s the people I will miss the most. I can’t imagine life without the eggrolls, the SASholes, the shipsters, the pastels, Mizaram, Nalbach, Takada and of course the amazing crew- especially Achilles. I can already hear Stuart’s voice in the back of my head before all major life events… “Graduation tomorrow- Graduation tomorrow.”
It is funny to look back now- at photos of our old selves, before our dreams came true and the world changed us. We looked so put-together, wondering the ship with our nametags on… now we look like day three of a Grateful Dead festival. However you describe it- backpacker chic, pirate swag - this scraggily bunch of college kids is now a force to be reckoned with …and I am proud to be among them.
As emerald shellbacks we have gone on safari in Africa, tried yoga in India, and enjoyed a few drinks in Mauritius. We have accidently hung out at a prostitute bar in Ghana and caused a 300% revenue increase for that 7/11 in Hong Kong (the same goes for the Krazy Koconut in Dominica and Captain’s in Shanghai). We understand the frustration of being lost in a cruise ship terminal, a subway station and of course, Makola market. We have built houses, fed the hungry, meditated with monks and stood breathless as we visited 3 of the 7 wonders of the world. We now know that no public restroom in the US could ever match the horror of an Indian squatter… and we always know – no matter where we go, there will always be Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pitbull on the radio, and convenient store liquor. We have survived Brazilian rum, Ghanaian gin, South African wine, Vietnamese beer, and Japanese sake…and we have the stories to prove it. We will never forget the theme songs: “I Love my Life” in Dominica, “TIA” in Ghana, “Waka Waka” in Cape Town- and if you traveled with me in India, you will never forget dancing on the bus to “Chaiyya Chaiyya.”
We are professionals now. We have learned the tricks of travel and how to walk with absolute confidence— no matter how lost we actually are. We have slept with out wallets, tied ourselves to our backpacks and carried index cards with “please take me to my hotel” written in various languages. We know now it’s best not to admit it is your first day in a country, especially when bargaining. We are now masters at the “walk away” technique and know that if the shopkeeper is happy- we definitely paid too much. We can spot a fake swatch or Prada bag from a mile away and all the while we wonder if the Tom’s in Africa are fake or stolen. Red flags shoot up every time we hear phrases like “I give you good price”, “Come meet my friend” or “Here brother, sister- have a look.” We now know that asking about people’s children and hobbies is the fastest way to drive down a price (and turn a greedy shopkeeper into an honest friend).
We have learned the importance of pronouncing people’s names correctly and even more importantly learning the words “please and thank you” in every language. We have mastered the art of the discrete picture taking, whether we were trying to capture the serenity of a monk or the desperation of a child, we have captured moments that exist beyond description. Even if we took 1,000 photos- images can’t convey the smells, tastes and sounds that made each moment real- and maybe now we realize that the magic really begins when we stop experiencing life from behind the lens and fully immerse ourselves in the moment.
We could have done a million other things this semester- stayed at home, studied in one country… but we didn’t. At this exact moment in time we came together- to learn and grow and to forever be the kids of Spring 12. Although we were a special breed before the MV (lets be honest- it takes a special person to drop everything and sail around the world with complete strangers…without any real plans)- now we are just bizarre. We lived on a cruise ship. We sailed around the world. We went to a university that had a gangway and a pool deck. We must be the only people on Earth who had classes canceled so we could cross the equator or watch our friends in a synchronized swimming competition. Our lives are epic and we are epic… and I know it is just the beginning.
Although we are a pretty confident bunch, we still have our fears. Fears like getting off the ship, losing touch, or getting that first text message. We worry that we will be strangers to our family and friends and that no one will ever understand us again. We will lie awake at night wondering what we will do with our lives to top this experience or how to make this semester count. Deep down we all really have one fear- that we haven’t changed, that we haven’t grown enough and that we will settle back into our old ways of being. We will walk off the gangway in San Diego wondering: “now how do I make this the beginning not the pinnacle?” It seems daunting now, figuring out a way to make our new selves function in our old lives- and not bark at our friends when they complain about traffic, class or being hungry. After Ghana, I will never complain about having to read for class again. I get now how lucky I am just to be able to.
As alum, we will be a hard bunch to overwhelm, to scare or discourage. After waking up to a tarantula in Brazil or walking through a row of beggars in India, nothing really fazes us now. Things that once seemed “difficult” months ago are no longer remotely intimidating. We did this… now we can do anything.
Although we may be unfazed, may we never be “unimpressed.” May we always be delighted by the wonders of world and find magic in every place and person- not just in the monuments or celebrities- but in everywhere we go. May we always see the world though these eyes- the eyes of youth and hope. May we stay optimistic and stay positive… and may we always stay a little naïve-for no other reason besides being young rocks. May we remember the things we said we would do- the people we promised we would help… and may we never forget the moments when we felt anything was possible….may we always remember the person we wanted to become. May we always see the world as an opportunity and a challenge- and may we wake up every morning ready to conquer it.
So as the moments slip away and we try to pack the last three months into two suitcases… may we smile bigger, breath deeper and soak it all in. However you want to say it- You Only Live Once, Love Life, Capre Diem, or Life is short… do it big and do it now… because this is all we have and we are the luckiest people alive. Of course we are lucky because we just sailed around the world and had 1,000 eye-opening experiences, but the luckiest because we have each other… and may we always have each other.
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard
If you ever go to Japan, get a rail pass. Trust me, it’s completely worth it.
So at this point in the voyage, it is safe to say I have become an extremely confident traveler. Little scares me (which probably scares you Mom, sorry!) and I know there is nothing that I can’t do. With that being said, Emily and I planned to backpack through Japan just the two of us.
The ship docked in Kobe, and Emily and I instantly hopped on the bullet train (thank you rail passes for making our lives unbelievably easy) and headed for Hiroshima. The sole reason for going to Hiroshima was to visit the Peace Park and the Museum, and it was absolutely worth it. I have never seen a more fitting and wonderful tribute to such a treacherous catastrophe. Dropping the bomb on Hiroshima is something we (American students at least) all learn in school. My generation is very much removed from both World Wars, and therefore we see the events in an analytical sense rather than an emotional one. This helped restructure my mindset. I was just walking around in awe. Emily and I couldn’t help but to compare and contrast some of our previous and similar experiences. The Slave Dungeons in Ghana was about the past, and we couldn’t help but pick up how the culture wanted to forget about the past, and almost pretend that it didn’t happen. It was very removed and talked about scarcely. The War Remnants Museum in Vietnam was about laying blame. The Northern Vietnamese propaganda was obvious, and the museum felt as if it was a tribute to blame, and the blame lay solely on the United States. The Peace Park and the Atomic Bomb Museum was about looking forward and finding world peace by understanding the past. The Museum was put together beautifully, and it was sobering walking through the hallways seeing pictures, videos and remnants of this horrifying end to the war. It was the most objective and purely factual museum I have ever seen, and it only made me appreciate the Japanese culture even more so than I already do. There was even a portion dedicated to looking back and realizing we are all at fault. The Japanese have been looking at other countries textbooks such as China to see how others view their own country. They said doing so made them realize that everyone is to blame for something, and therefore it is time for everyone to come together to create world peace. I highly recommend making pilgrimage to the Peace Park in Hiroshima. The only way to end nuclear threat is to come together and learn from the past.
Such a serious afternoon called for a little fun, but first we needed to find our hostel! The people of Japan are so friendly and helpful, and we would have been lost without their gracious efforts. It took awhile, and it was raining, but we made it! Hana Hostel, the cutest, coziest little hostel was a great entrance into the hostel world. First things first, we had to book a hostel for our second night in Kyoto! With free Internet and a little help from the front desk, we were ready to explore the rest of Hiroshima. There isn’t much of nightlife in Hiroshima, but who needs that when you are with your best friend. We went from restaurant to restaurant ordering small plates so we could try everything and see the city. Despite the rain, we had a wonderful night and were certainly sad to be leaving in the morning.
We didn’t have as much luck in Kyoto. To start off, we were warned to skip Kyoto by Emily’s sister. Most people from the ship planned to go to Kyoto to see the country’s famous cherry blossoms (which I might add are literally everywhere in Japan) so it had to be great. It was pouring rain and our flimsy umbrellas were defenseless in the relentless wind. We took the intricate bus system (public transportation ended up being really expensive by the end of our trip!) to the Philosopher’s Path (THE place to go in all of Japan to see the trees). To be fair it was very beautiful, but it definitely could have been skipped. We sloshed around in the mud for a bit and decided it would be better to get to our hostel, change, and find a nice indoor activity since wet socks can really be downer after a few hours. We got on and off many different buses to get all the way across the city. By this time it was 5:00 pm and we were ready to be inside. We were dropped off in this wonderfully quaint neighborhood and were wandering around the residential streets, foreheads scrunched, trying to find this place. It was about a half hour of searching before realizing we were in the wrong neighborhood. Apparently Emily and I aren’t so great with Japanese spelling, and our correct city, a letter off from the one we were in, was all the way back on the other side of town. It was getting dark and we decided to suck it up and get a cab, since maneuvering the bus system wasn’t so appealing. We were dropped off in an alleyway, and if it weren’t for a small, barely visible sign, there is no way we would have found this place. All day in Kyoto we kept saying how we should have just stayed in Hiroshima, and the later it got, the more we wished it so. So we walk in, and it is nothing like Hana Hostel. It wasn’t cozy, it wasn’t clean, the people weren’t friendly, it wasn’t warm, and they didn’t even know we were coming. After keeping us waiting in the creepy old room, the grumpy old woman took us out and around the corner to our “guest house.” First of all, it had the lovely view of a creepy old cemetery. And by view, I mean it was basically right on top of it. It was also guarded by a (in my opinion) possessed black cat that kept hissing at us. We walk in, and words can’t even describe how terrible this place was. There were two rooms that shared a decrepit, old, and I’m almost positive never been cleaned kitchen and bathroom/“shower” (shower being there was a drain on the floor in front of the toilet and you could use icy sink water to bathe). Our room had a lumpy futon and a few mats to sleep on, with scratchy blankets. Luckily we did have a space heater so we weren’t frozen. Oh, did I mention there were no locks and keys? So Emily and I were starving at this point so we thought it would be fun to find a grocery store or restaurant and get some take out and have a little picnic in our room. Fat chance. We wandered up and down the dimly lit streets and came upon a 7/11. Yes we sunk that low. Staying in the place we were, getting a picnic at 7/11 was very fitting. We got sushi, pot stickers, chips, waffles, and other little snacks and had our little feast on the floor in our room, thawing out. The food was actually really fresh and tasty so it wasn’t as bad as it sounds, but needless to say we set the alarm early and bolted out of there as fast as we could.
We spent the morning in Kyoto, the afternoon in Nara, and the evening in Tokyo. Nara was a quick train ride from Kyoto, and we headed there just for the park. That’s the beauty of the rail pass, you can hop on any train you want, and be in 3 cities in a single day. The Nara Park was more beautiful than I expected, located a few quaint blocks away from the train station. Couldn’t have been easier. We wandered around the park taking in this scenic beauty, happy to be away a short while from the hustle and bustle of the big cities. One of the main attractions that lured me to the park was the famous Nara deer. The park holds thousands of wild “tame” deer that you can pet and feed. My friends gave me a hard time for wanting to go there telling me “if you want to see deer just come to my backyard!” Nonetheless I wanted to go and was so happy that we did. The deer were everywhere and it was so much fun to be able to approach them. I never knew deer had such big personalities! After about an hour or two at the park we were already back on the train headed for Tokyo! We got to the city thinking we could get off the train and find somewhere to stay. We were wrong. We wandered around what we think was a business district and it took us almost two hours to find just one hotel! We went in thinking we would have to pay a little more than we thought, but this place was way over our price range. Thankfully they saw we were a bit distressed and let us use their Internet. We found a wonderful hostel across town and got in a cab and headed straight there. It was a pretty large hostel but it was exactly what we were looking for. It had such a fun and inviting atmosphere so we were happy. We dropped our stuff off and headed out for a night on the town. We assumed Tokyo would have a great nightlife, but still we were unable to find it. We ended up bringing snacks back to the hostel after a few hours of wandering the streets and ran into a few groups of our best friends! We were all staying at the same place. We all hung out in the lobby, which was perfect. Emily and I had plans for the fish market in the morning, (morning if you consider waking up at 3:30 am the morning) so needless to say we didn’t get much sleep. We get there early and had to sit around for awhile (it was worth it though since they only let the first 60 people in). We ended up meeting this great couple from London/South Africa who had been most of the places we have, so we had some great conversations with them for the next hour and a half. The tuna auction was such a cool experience, and it is incredible how expensive and large these popular fish are. It is sad though, I have a lot of background on environmental issues, one being extensively the ocean and overfishing, and it is incredible to see it first hand. Since we are exhausting our oceanic resources, the fish are getting smaller and smaller, and since there is a large market for them, they are also getting more and more expensive. Just one of unfortunately many issues I have had the privilege to see firsthand. After the auction it was back to bed for a few hours before our next activity. We checked out around 11 and maneuvered through the bus system of Tokyo to make it to the Ghibli Museum. There was a whimsical bus straight from the station, which started out the whole experience wonderfully. The museum is a Japanese anime museum of the works of Studio Ghibli, and is comparable to the magic of Disneyland (apart from the rides). There were no cameras allowed, which seems to be a common theme of some of my magnificent destinations, but it is definitely worth the trip. So much attention to detail led to a very magical and wonderful day. This is a must see spot if you are in Tokyo. Be warned though you can’t get tickets at the museum and they sometimes can sell out for certain days months in advance, so get them early! After the museum we headed to Yokahama (where the ship was currently docked) to save some money and sleep on the ship. Luckily we ran into one of our best friends Sam on the ship and went out to dinner together. Of course it was raining again but we still had a lot of fun catching up and swapping stories.
Since it was pouring down rain on our last day, we didn’t do much but wander close to the ship. We got back on early and got in our comfy clothes and had a movie marathon, the perfect rainy day! It was sad to see the ship leave, since Japan is our last real port, but I am excited for what my future holds. Semester at Sea has truly taught me how to travel, and I am so grateful for the friends I have made.