Tuesday, December 21, 2010


           I feel like a fraud because I'm writing about Hawai'i so long after my voyage has ended, but I feel like I need to finish it out - so here it goes.
          We got into Honolulu and the very first thing everyone did was turn on their cell phones. We were all able to use our phones for the first time in 4 months, and I went up to the top deck and called Kaleigh for an hour and we caught up on everything. It was the only place on the ship with service, so it was packed with people trying to use their phones!
           My friends and I got off the ship by 10 am, and headed towards Waikiki beach with our overnight bags. Corey works at the Hyatt in Columbus, so he was able to arrange 2 rooms at the Hyatt on the beach at $130/night each. We had 14 people staying between the two rooms, which made the price about $20 each TO STAY AT THE HYATT ON WAIKIKI. Ridiculous.
           We went to the hotel to set down our bags, and back out to the beach to lay out. Check in wasn't until 3, so we found a hotel pool bar on the beach and had a couple beers, enjoyed the sun and each others' company. I took a nap, and when I woke up my friend Andy had come by with this enormous standing board and paddle he'd rented. We took it out and did a tandem ride, and both of us stood up and caught a wave together! It took a few tries, but was very fun. It was amazing to look around and see Diamondhead Mountain as part of the scenery. So weird to think about the last time I was in the ocean looking around me and taking in the view like that was in Cadiz, Spain.. with views of cathedrals in the distance.
            I went up to the hotel room to nap for a bit, and everyone came up to wake me and get ready for dinner right after the sun had set. The other half of our group found their way to the hotel after skydiving (they're CRAZY), and we all went out to Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner. I'd been craving wings for at least 2 months like nothing I've ever craved in my life, and convinced everyone it was the best choice. So we showed up, I drank lots of pints, had lots of fried pickle slices and 15 wings (at least). Can you say "America" with me?
            So we met some Navy guys at the bar, and Ross, Heidi and I ended up going out with them since they knew some local areas and we were some of the only 21+ crowd. This is the first port where drinking age was an issue, which kind of put a damper on things. Regardless, we ended up at this little divey bar, and then at an Irish Pub, and then to a club called McGillicuddy's across the street. Heidi went in the men's bathroom by accident, so she got kicked out and we headed home at about 4 am. What a night though! So much fun. The following day we lazed around the hotel. Slept in until checkout, except for the few who went to check out the Pearl Harbor memorial where the U.S.S. Arizona sank and serves as a burial ground for the men who went down with the ship. I saw it with my family years ago, so it seemed unnecessary. We went down to the beach, grabbed some Subway for lunch and laid out. Heidi made me into a mermaid until I started to burn, and we headed back to the ship around 3.
            The night was spent on the ship in transit. I was exhausted and slept a lot that night. We woke up on a new island - the big island - in Hilo. Hilo has no regular bus system; if you see the bus coming,  you wave and they pull over. Everything works on island time. I stayed in Hilo with friends because it was $100 to get to Kona, which is the other side of the island.. although that's where most of the action is. I stuck with Megan, Heidi and Shannon. The 3 of us went into the downtown area and paid a van $2/person, rented snorkel gear for $7/person and went to the black sand beach (Richardson's). There were sea turtles lazing around, drooling on rocks and baking in the sun. It was hot out, and the water felt great. It's amazing how graceful sea turtles can be in the water, and how chunky and clumsy the look on land. All of the rock was lava rock, and per usual, SAS had taken over the beach entirely.
             After playing in the water and cutting ourselves up on the rocks a bit, we went back to the ship to get ready for dinner. The 4 of us went to a nearby mall to see Harry Potter 7 (so good) and get fish tacos from Maui Tacos. They were SO good going down, but led to the following 24 hours of food poisoning. My friend Will convinced me to get back out of bed at midnight because it was our very last night in port with SAS, and I knew I'd regret it otherwise. So we went to get pancakes at Ken's Pancake House, and met a bunch of SAS kids at a bar across the street from the ship. It was fun and I'm glad I went, though I felt pretty awful the whole time and the whole following day.
             I left the ship the next day for a total of 30 minutes to return my snorkel gear. But, that was Hawai'i. My first time there without structure and/or family all the time, and it was a blast. Finals were the following 4 days at sea, so the next week was rough - but living in paradise with my friends for one last time was a treat.
             And one last thing - even though it was America, it felt so weird! To hold dollars in my hand from the ATM, to see cars on the right side of the road... and I've never noticed it before because I'm usually in resort areas, but Hawai'i is SO influenced by Japanese culture. It's amazing.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tokyo in 12 Hours

I woke up early and got some things done that I’d left for when I had internet. I also got to talk to Tyler, Nick and Jackie while they were out at the Burgundy Room, and Nick sang the Good Morning song that the ATO guys sing at Cumberland over the phone and it made me so happy to have a piece of home with me. (Thanks Nick!) We left the hostel by 10 am, agreeing that we would not eat McDonald’s or ramen for the entire day because at this point – it’s pretty much all we’d eaten other than Kobe Beef and sushi one time.
Our first stop was at Shibuya Station on the Metro (because we’d missed the Harajuku stop by accident), so we got out and walked around. The “Shibuya crossing” is right outside the station. It’s been said that there are 1,000 people crossing the street at any given time because it is such a busy spot in the heart of downtown Tokyo. It felt a lot like Time Square, with skyscrapers surrounding the vast intersection, huge flashing billboards and all different sorts of music and sounds everywhere. It's kind of hard to explain, but so much of Japanese culture is really goofy - and that was clear in the advertisements seen here. There were also a TON of cars. There was a Starbucks right there, so I got a Gingerbread Latté and we went up to the second floor to watch the chaos below. I took videos and pictures because it was so crazy – like a swarm of ants taking over the street in a very controlled, timed way.
Then we went to the Harajuku district. The whole area is known for it’s insane and forward fashion sense, and I saw outfit combos that I would never dare to come up with on my own but looked great since everyone was dressed like that.  Patterned socks with heels, legwarmers, neon colors, etc. It was what I imagined the 80’s would have looked like if they had modern technology. One chick was wearing a neon green wig that went down to her butt, and had crazy white and pink striped thigh-highs on. Apparently though, the time to go is on Sunday afternoons when the teenagers of Japanese pop culture emerge in full force and come out in costume. We were there on a Tuesday, so it was a little anti-climactic. We did go into a sock store that was so funny. There was a pair of socks that said “How are you?” with a smiley face on the toes. I wish I’d bought them! Oh well, next time…
We walked around and turned to head up the shopping strip there that is considered the “Champs-Elysée of Tokyo.” At the top we found the entrance to the Meiji Jingu Shrine, so we figured we’d pop in for a bit. There was a huge torii a the entrance and a long gravel path to walk down that was shaded by trees. The shrine itself was free, and there were offerings left all along the entrance because it is a Shinto temple and it was a national holiday. There were also a few weddings that we saw there with brides in beautiful white gowns or kimonos. There were also little girls dressed in elaborate kimonos with little geisha socks and shoes on – they were adorable. Their parents strangely were dressed much more casually. The shrine was built for Emperor Meiji, who is considered to be a deified king (made into a God). I thought that concept was pretty neat. A lot of the temple we visited had wooden pillars with clothesline-like strings stretch between them. These were for prayers to be written on fabric or paper and tied around them. It reminded me of the ideas of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem - leaving a written prayer behind in the temple. My other favorite part about the Meiji Shrine was that there was water running where you were to use a bamboo ladle to scoop up water and cleanse your mouth and hands before entering the temple because those are the most easily polluted parts of your body, according to Shintoism. Of course we followed suit and did this before we entered. :)
From here we went back to the hostel so I could grab my bag. We stopped at McDonalds because it was on the way… of course. Oh well. Our train got us to a subway station where we then needed another ride to get close to port. Finally we took a taxi to the port gate, and I saw my ship glowing in the dark up ahead.
Allie and I parted ways and I was very sad, but so happy I got to see her. It was like having a piece of home and comfort in my travels, and I missed her a whole lot. I didn’t even get dock time even though I got on the ship 10 minutes late because they had a lot of people’s bags to go through as we came back from our treks over land. It was also neat to hear about all the different stories people had from their 5 days since I’d not traveled with anyone from the ship and we got to share experiences - very cool.
All in all, Japan is somewhere I would want to go one day when I can afford a hotel and not have to live out of a backpack. The big cities are crowded and hard to navigate because of the lack of English, so this is a country I would probably try to learn the language for (at least a little). Japan is full of immature culture in a very professional world – and has been described on the ship as a culture of opposites. The subways are full of men in suits texting on cell-phones that have little cartoon characters and stuffed animals hanging from them.  They eat rice in most meals, yet obesity in Japan is nearly unheard of. 98.5% of Japan’s population is people of Japanese descent; they definitely have their own culture, fashion, food, religions and habits that they are very rightfully proud of. It was a wake-up call to see how hard it can be to be a foreigner in a place you don’t know, and a great ending to such a wonderful, international voyage.

Kyoto and To-to-tokyo

        We awoke early to head out and get our day started. The hostel sold bus passes, so we grabbed one of those and were on our way. We planned to go to three temples in a row, and then head back towards Gion. Our first stop was Kinkoku-ji. “Ji” means temple. Kinkoku-ji is a temple that is completely made of gold, and appears to be floating on water. I will post photos – but they don’t do it justice. This thing GLOWS. It was beautiful, the water was perfect and still so the temple was reflected beautifully. The entire complex was filled with trees in the midst of changing colors, and I was so excited not to have missed out on all aspects of fall. When we passed through one of the Kami gates to enter the property, leaves were falling and sunlight was coming through them in steams. It was stunning.
        Allie and I saw people in line to ring a gong, so we jumped on the opportunity and did the same. It was so fun :) We kept walking down the path, paid for our tickets and entered the crowded viewing area of the temple. It was hard to get close to because it’s surrounded by water, and there were all sorts of people crowding around for photos. So many peace signs – in Japan, it means prosperity and happiness, which is why they always hold them up in photos. I think it still looks funny. :)
        We took a lot of photos and walked around the temple. There were wishing wells of sorts, but they took the form of rock shrines or small huts where you threw coins on the roof instead. There were also a lot of little good luck charms for sale, which I thought was neat. We walked past a tea ceremony room with matted floors on the way out. The entire place was filled with all-natural stone and bamboo, even the gates were made of bamboo and natural string rather than metal poles nailed together. It felt so much more earthly than visiting something like a cathedral in Europe. There were all-natural irrigation systems set up with bamboo, and ladles made from bamboo at the entrance to rinse your mouth and hands before entering the temple.
        We left, shopped a bit and waited for a bus for a couple hours. Once we realized that it was Sunday and that our bus was not coming, we chose a new route to a new destination. We went down to the Fushimi Inari Shrine in the southern part of the city, and it was dark by the time we got there. Luckily, the shrine is open 24 hours so we were still able to check it out. We met a woman name Angelina from Russia, and the three of us walked around the spooky shrine together. The gates are called “torii.” At the bottom of the hill, there was a large one to pass through to enter the shrine. Each gate is a representation of the entrance to the home of Kami, which are Gods. At this shrine, there are paths lined with over 4,500 torii – creating a little over 3 miles of gates and paths. The paths split to allow shorter or longer prayer times. It was so spooky in the dark, and I feel like we missed a lot of detail – but because the shrine was nearly vacant and so quiet, I also feel like we were lucky to experience it’s natural state without being surrounded by other tourists. The moonlight streamed in between the torii sometimes, creating intricately woven patterns of shadows on the floor. It took about 45 minutes to get through, but was completely worth it. On our way out, we passed two Japanese visitors. We walked by something and they stopped us, when we went back they explained that there was a rock on a podium and that we should try to lift the rock. If the rock seemed heavy to you, then your wish would not come true. If the rock was light and easy to lift, your wish would be granted. I couldn’t lift it at all, unfortunately – but Allie was able to! So maybe her wish came true.
        We left Fushimi Inari and parted ways with Angelina to head back to Gion and grab dinner. After searching for somewhere to eat on the floor (unsuccessfully), we found a tiny little place that served spaghetti and club sandwiches – sold. We entered to realize it was just me, Allie and the man at the bar who prepared our food. It was so delicious. After that we went back to the hostel and called it an early night.
        In the morning we woke up and packed our bags to head out. We went to the Nishiki Market, which was a little ways from the hostel. It is essentially an open market organized along a semi-sheltered street, but is famous for all of it’s great food. Allie got a beautiful painting of cranes, and I got a cool little pair of Vans-like shoes that have a Japanese print on them.  We both picked up little knick knacks and tried all sorts of weird food. I had a DELICIOUS chicken wing (I’ve been craving them for so long, it was amazing). Then I had an octopus-on-a-stick. It was covered in a sweet teriyaki sauce and had a quail egg stuffed into it’s head! (weird.) I ate it anyway, tugging on it’s tentacles with my teeth. I was scared but it turned out to taste great and chewy. Then Allie and I walked by a lady selling the most tiny fish I’ve ever seen. We took a little handful to taste, and Allie said afterwards that she felt like she had fish eyeballs stuck in her teeth. We passed neat fruits and pickled vegetables. Every stand had a taste option with tiny tongs resting on a little bowl full of whatever it was they were trying to sell. I thought that was neat because you could taste different things for free! Allie go this really delicious fried potato thing, and I got a piece of fried onion and beef on a stick. (So healthy, right?) Te market was one of my favorite parts of Kyoto. I loved it.
        We left there and took the bus to check out the Toji Shrine, which has 5 layers and is completely made of wood. Much of Japanese architecture is based on Chinese architecture – it is rarely original. This shrine was no different. The structure was completely made of wood with not one nail used to put it together. Buildings like this are constructed like Lincoln-logs, with divits in the ends that fit into one another and allow flexibility for the building to move with a natural disaster rather than fall from one. Another important thing about these 5 layer pagodas is that each layer represents a force of nature. The Japanese (and sometimes Chinese, too) incorporate metal as a natural force, which is unusual, along with water, wind, fire and earth. A pagoda is technically not a temple, but rather a building to house Buddha relics, meaning that it’s not really a place that you enter – just something to admire from the outside.
        I heard on the ship that Japanese people live in a trusting community, so there are umbrellas outside of every establishment and when it starts to rain, you can grab one and use it for a little while until it stops raining, at which point you return it. This must have been wayyy wrong because Allie and I grabbed some umbrellas outside of KFC, and after we took a few strides got tracked down, reprimanded and were left umbrella-less in the rain. I feel like they really do have a system – we just didn’t know what it was. Anyway we got to Toji Pagoda and it was really neat. Quite overcast, but the colors of the leaves were vibrant nonetheless. We walked around the complex and into one of the Kondos (main prayer temples) to see some Buddhist alters. Then we walked right up to the pagoda to see it up close; it was so tall!
        Running out of time, we left for the train station to go to Himeji. Himeji is a castle complex that was built during the time of Shogun rule and was a big deal for samurai (I think) to have come from there. We got on the train but didn’t get there until 4:45. We were then told at the train station in Himeji that the castle closed at 5, so there was really not point in going as it was already dark out. We got back on the train to head to Kyoto. Once there, we found our way to Kiyomizu-dera. It was not far from where we had stayed, and SO crowded – especially for a Monday night. Kiyomizu-dera is a UNESCO world heritage site. There used to be a myth that your dreams would come true if you could survive the 13-meter jump from the temple’s platform. Out of the 230-something people who jumped, about 85% survived. The entire temple is built with only wood and no nails or metal at all, which is extremely impressive as it has been standing for over 1,200 years and is still in good enough shape to support all of the tourists walking through everyday.
        Allie and I grabbed umbrellas on the trek up this enormous hill. It was crowded with bustling tourists (mostly Japanese) and shops started to pop up along the side of the street to accommodate visitors with food and souvenirs. We got tickets at the top of the hill and walked through the entrance. It was dark out, but some of the buildings were well lit and we could find our way around easily. We kept losing each other because both of us were stopping to take photos of the beautiful views of the city from the temple’s stage. All of Kyoto was lit up, and there was a beam of light coming from behind the temple that met one on the other side of the city in the sky, which I thought was neat. The trees were lit up too because of the changing of the leaves – it’s a big deal in Kyoto.
        The main Buddha shrine featured a westernized Buddha who was really big and fat, but a lot of people were still stopping to pray in front of him and dropping coins into the donation boxes. I bought some luck trinkets and we headed out. Once back at the train station, we found our train to Tokyo and hopped on. It was another Shinkansen (bullet train) and only took a little over 2 hours to get there (wow!). We arrived in Tokyo and had no idea where our hostel was. All public transportation shuts down at midnight there, so we had to hurry because it was 11:30. We were looking lost and confused, and a really nice man who spoke pretty good English asked if we were lost or if he could help. He was with a woman (whose outfit I LOVED) and they decided to take us under their wing. They pulled out an iPhone and typed in the address of our hostel, took the subways with us to get there and walked us down the rainy streets of the Tokyo suburb at midnight just to help us out. So unbelievably hospitable and friendly.. I wish people were more like this in the states.
        We arrived at our hostel and settled in. Bathrooms were down the hall, and we were each in separate rooms that had floors lined with bamboo mats and bamboo-shades on the windows. We’d had to take off our shoes by the front entrance to put them in a cubby, which I liked. In each of our rooms, there was a small trash can, a small tv on an equally tiny stand, and two comforters folded up: one to lay on, and one to lay under. I laid all of my clothes out to dry as they had gotten wet in my bag from the rain, spent a little time on Skype before going to bed. Allie and I planned to go grab a beer after the extremely hectic day we’d had running around Japan, but were too exhausted by the time we’d settled to leave again. Finally in Tokyo – I was so proud of us for finding our way there – we made it!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Today's Quote in the Dean's Memo

“Certainly, 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

Monday, December 6, 2010

Kyoto: Day 1

        Allie and I woke up in the morning and left our hostel for the aquarium. There were statues outside of the aquarium that looked like some sort of fish with feet. They were so stange. We went inside – every ticket stand is automated. Japanese people trust each other a lot and there’s a big sense of security everywhere there. All tickets are acquired electronically because they trust that you’ll push the “adult” button and pay the adult admission. So different from America where people rip tickets to check your age.
        Anyway we went in, took pictures next to an enormous shark head in formaldehyde, saw some funny lookin fish and shopped a little in the aquarium gift shop. We bought little squid keychain things that kiss magnetically and each of us took one from the pair. We walked out the back of the aquarium and there was a dolphin show going on, but we missed it. :( There were also all sorts of little carnival rides – the whole aquarium turned into a water-creature themed park. It was awesome.
        We left and jumped on the train to Kyoto. It was only a 20 minute ride on a Shinkansen, which is the speed/bullet train that Japan is so famous for. We got onto a bus at the train station and rode it for a bit until we got to Gion, the district where our hotel was. The bus was SOOO crowded, it was so hard to move – especially with big, heavy packs on our backs. We jumped off the bus right in front of a little boutique that had geisha socks! They were socks that had a section for a big toe, and then a section for all the rest of the toes – like mittens for your feet! Needless to say, we each bought some.
        It was already twilight by the time we got to Kyoto, and we wandered for a bit until we found our hostel, A-yado Gion. Gion is the geisha district in Kyoto. There were some geishas walking around, although some women like to appear as geishas so they’ll rent the clothing and walk around and pose for pictures in their free time. We took naps and woke back up to head out to an illuminated temple that we had passed on our way in. It was called Chionin-ji (“ji” means temple in Japanese), and it was beautiful. It was all lit up with colors of gold and red, and had the classic architecture of flipped rooves. It looked perfect with the moon hanging above it, too. There were a lot of people there, and there was a choir of women singing such random songs at the entrance in both English and Japanese. We walked up and around the property until we came to a large temple. The paths leading to the temple were lined with luminaria with Japanese lettering on them.
We had to remove our shoes, which makes me think it was a Buddhist temple, and went inside. The inside of the temple was lit with candle light and there was a light hum of one or two monks behind the altar praying. People would come inside, wet their fingers on the altar in the front, hold their fingers in front of their mouths for a moment, wipe them on something on the altar and then fold their hands in front of them in prayer. The whole back/seating half of the room was covered in bamboo-mat floors, and there was a short wooden gate separating the ritual/prayer places behind the altar, where a big statue sat surrounded by candles, various gongs and decorations. It was so peaceful and beautiful and one of my favorite parts of Kyoto.
        We had planned to meet up with a bunch of my friends at our hostel at 7:30 pm. At 8:15 they showed up, and we were off. We went out to sushi for dinner, but it was SO expensive. $10 for 1 piece of a sea urchin roll. Wowza. Anyway after this, we wandered around for a while. All the streets are narrow, mostly one way, and the buildings lining them are built vertically, much like they were in Kobe. There were signed outside of  each building stacked on top of each other in the same order of the properties inside that buildig. Anyway, after walking into about 20 different little “bars” or “clubs” and finding only private parties, we found 1 bar with karaoke. There were two men sitting at the bar singing, and we sat at the only table in there and ordered some sake. They brought us an English song-selector, so we started off with Yellow Submarine, Uptown Girls (Corey’s pick, and yes he knew all the words without the teleprompter) and a few Queen tunes. Then we left and walked around until we found a British pub called the Pig and Whistle. I drank some Hoegaarden (sp?) and taught my friends how to play darts. It was so fun to have Allie there with me too and I’m happy she got to meet everyone. :)
        At the end of the night, Allie and I headed back to our hostel and my friends went back to theirs. We stumbled around the streets trying to find our way back to A-yado, but it took a long time even though we hadn’t gone very far. It was still a great night and I loved every minute of it!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Kobe Beeeeef

Well, Kobe was by far the hardest city to navigate since the beginning of my travels. Not only does NO ONE in Japan speak English, but often times maps and directions are not listed in English either. Kobe is also not really a city that is used to tourists – it’s more of a port-of-access for Osaka, which is a huge city.
            I got off the ship and waited in the port terminal with Alexa for Cousin Allie to show up. She finally walked in, covered in heavy packs but really excited to see me and in high spirits! We shared the biggest hug and it was so good to feel at home again. We sat and discussed her experiences in Kobe so far.. she arrived at our hostel to find it closed and went to a police station. They helped her find a hotel and escorted her there in a cop car with the lights on! What a crazy night.
            We waited to get on the ship so we could set down her bags and so we could grab some food. I got to show her around the ship and give her some things I picked up for her in Africa! We ate on the top deck overlooking the city. Then we left the ship and took a train into the city, only to wander around for a while trying to navigate. We got my rail pass from a voucher exchange station and went to a little suburban area to check out the aquarium. By then it was already getting dark and the aquarium was closed. It was cool to see a suburban part of Japan though. Walls and doors made from thin paper or translucent glass and children riding around on bicycles. There were some trees on the sidewalks surrounded by teeny-tiny white picket fences.  Best of all, there were no sidewalks – instead there was one side of the street painted with a blue strip, indicating pedestrian territory. The rest of the road is for cars.
            We went back to grab our bags from the ship and walked around for a couple hours trying to find internet. Starbucks didn’t have wifi, McDonald’s didn’t have wifi… we finally found a place right before our backs were about to snap in half from carrying all our stuff. I looked up a hostel and made reservations, and we headed out to dinner.
            We went to a little tiny restaurant with a big cow on the front. It took a while to find Kobe beef, but I was adamant about doing it. Boy am I glad we did.. I’ve never tasted steak like that in my life. Even better than the steak from Cubaña in South Africa. It was so tender and wonderful, and was served to us on a hot stone. The steak came out with flames erupting from the plate, surrounded by grilling onions, a few fries and some steamed veggies. It was phenomenal. Finding it was so difficult. Buildings are constructed vertically, and each floor only has one little establishment on it that usually is only one room. So a small bar, or a small restaurant, and often times they were rented out to private parties.
            Getting to the hostel was easy – we were familiar with the local train systems and got there by 11. We stayed up for a little bit, but Allie was jetlagged so she slept lots and I spent some time getting photos to the couple in India from their wedding. All in all, a full, busy and exhausting day.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Joe holding Shanghai in his arms :)

Me and Sarah in front Hai Boa (of the world expo mascot)!

The mall where ACS is located

More Ramen, and my tired eyes.

Joe and Sarah in a Cab

Notice Sarah's panda hat!

My hero of the hour! (Joe)

My pack in our hostel (I like the photo :)

Hostel Room

My passport retrieval folder!

All the goodies we could purchase at Le Tour!

We ate soo much ramen on the go...

Shanghai and the Passport Recovery Project

We got off the buses with the ship in sight, just a short walking distance away. There was a long line to get on the ship, and a Chinese government check point where we needed to show our Ships ID and Passport. As I went to fish these out of my pack, I realized I’d made a terrible, terrible mistake: my passport had disappeared.
I searched my bag repeatedly, my friends saw me scrambling and tried to help, but it was absolutely nowhere to be found. I was shocked and devastated. If I got on the ship, I wouldn’t be allowed off as I wouldn’t have proof of already entering China legally. My friends all got in line to get back on the ship – Corey took my bag, and Ariel took my key to go into my cabin and grab all of my photocopies and proof-of-identity documents. I ran into our Executive Dean Sue Weitz. She told me to get moving, so once Ariel reappeared with my documents, that’s what I did.
        I waited two hours in 40 degree weather, but I was bundled up so it was alright. I ran into my friend Joe Bagliere, and he was on his way in from the rural area of Dehong. He showed up complete with his large pack and full of energy, which I was surprised of. He offered to stick with me and go to the consulate, which I didn’t turn down, but assured him was unnecessary. Being the stellar friend and person that he is, he decided to accompany me anyway. We hopped in a taxi, and the rates went up SO quickly that we decided he was ripping us off and made him pull over. We hopped out of the cab, ready to walk to the consulate. We were told it was a 10-minute walk.
Two hours later, we arrived at the consulate. On the way, we stopped for some KFC (mm), some meat-pie street food, bubble tea, and went to a dried-foods market. I think we saw more of Shanghai walking around than I would have seen any other way. Once we got to the consulate however, we were told that they could not issue me a new passport, and I would need to go to American Citizen Services on the 8th floor of Westgate Mall. We took a cab and kept our eyes on the meter. ACS wasn’t far, and was in a ritzy mall. We met a woman in the elevator named Fabiola, she was an American citizen of Chinese descent living in Shanghai. It was great to find someone who spoke English. We got to cut the whole line outside of ACS because we were American citizens, and I had to show passport photocopies to get into the department.
        We put our bags through security, pulled a number and waited. I was called up and spoke to a woman named Grace, who was very cold with me and told me that they could not help me until I filed a police report claiming that my passport had been lost/stolen. She gave me the address of the Exit/Entry Bureau where I could get this and told me I needed to have passport photos taken.
        Joe and I got back into the elevator with Fabiola coincidentally, who sympathized with me and said she could help. Next thing we know, she pulls out her iPhone to call her driver to pick us up on the corner, jumps in the car with us to the E/EB which is on the opposite end of the city, and comes inside. She spoke to the men at the desk in Mandarin and took me to the front of the emergency line where I could have my report filed. She left us there to continue on our own, but I’m so grateful for how generous people can be. She was amazing.
        I got photos taken and we went to the ship so Joe could refresh himself. We ran into Kathy, our Assistant Executive Dean, who helped me figure out how to pay for everything and retrieved my bag from Corey’s room since I would have to stay off the ship overnight. Joe and I parted ways but met back up a couple hours later. He wasn’t able to get back on the ship as it would take 3 hours to process his passport, so we regrouped and found a hostel. The hostel is called Le Tour Youth Hostel Traveler’s Rest and was amazing. It was in a small alley with beautifully lantern-lit paths. They were understanding and accepted the photocopy of my old passport to check me in. We got a room with 2 beds and a shower. Joe took a nap while I checked my email. I met a guy named Chris in the lobby who went to WVU and had just moved to Shanghai. He was there to teach English until he figured out his career in helping with customer service development in China, which they could use the help with.
        Chris was in the hostel because he was between living situations. We ended up going out with him to a bar called I <3 Shanghai for a beer. Then he took us to a club that he said is busy on the weekends, though it seemed dead when we went. We went inside and lo and behold – it was FILLED with SAS students only. It was all of my friends and then some other little cliques I didn’t know too well, but it was fun and a relief to see everyone. We also found Joe’s (girlfriend?) Sarah there. She’s from Kentucky and she’s so much fun. (I’m going to stay with her for the KY Derby!) Anyway, we called it an early night – my eyes were bloodshot and barely open from exhaustion and a lack of good sleep – and went back to the hostel for the night.
        Joe, Sarah and I were up and out by 8:30 am and off to the consulate to get my passport. I was interrogated and reprimanded, and told that my passport was probably already in the black market and may be used for terrorism. I was horrified. After they agreed to issue a temporary passport, someone else waiting reassured me that it would likely be passed around the black market but never actually get anywhere. Also, all three of us were asked to be witnesses for couples to get mortgages on houses in the U.S., which was pretty cool. I noticed a picture of Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hilary Clinton hanging on the wall in the consulate, which I thought was interesting. It was amazing how familiar and friendly those faces seemed.
        I GOT A PASSPORT! We then left there and went to the E/EB by 12 to get my exit visa. After pulling a number and waiting, the person I spoke to said they couldn’t help me. I needed to wait until 1:30 for the emergency line to open. We waited, and Joe turned into protective Papa-Bear and made sure I didn’t get cut. Then the thing that made me cry happened - the woman who sat at the desk at 1:30 told me my forms were invalid.
        I had to have a form from the hostel with my passport # on it proving that I had been staying in Shanghai. Though I made sure I had this form, it had my old passport # on it thus making it invalid. A Spanish woman let me borrow her Chinese phone to call the hostel to have them fix the numbers and fax it to the E/EB. Even though I begged, the woman at the hostel wouldn’t do it. I burst into tears. Joe took the phone from my hand, and shuffled me down the escalators to head back to the hostel. We left Sarah with our packs and took the subway to the hostel. I again begged the woman at the desk to please help me. That I couldn’t get out of China unless she changed the numbers on her form. So, she did, and I kissed her. I was so happy!
        Skipping, we headed back to the subway and the E/EB, where I was issued a visa. Joe stresses out in these situations, provoking the nickname “Jetpack Joe,” so he went back to the ship while Sarah and I waited. At 4:30, I got the visa and we got back to the ship by 4:50 pm. Our registrar, Adam, had me cut excessive line, and I was on the ship before dock time. WHAT A CLOSE CALL!!
        For the next couple days, Joe and Sarah came up to me saying “Hey, great to see you onboard today!” What amazing friends. Anyway, I’m pretty heartbroken over losing all of my stamps. Joe was flipping through his when we stopped at a bank, and said “wow what a great souvenir…” and I looked at him with a death stare. But he’s right, and I definitely learned my lesson here. Do not ever lose your passport in China – the exit visa was more expensive than the passport itself! Also, I should mention, Shanghai has some of the coolest architecture I’ve ever seen in my life. Their buildings have huge bulbous sections or rectangular parts jutting out in different directions, and the way they light up at night is amazing. Also, Shanghai hoested the world Expo recently, so their little blue mascot (who looks like Gumby) was all over the city. Even bushes were cut out to look like him. One last thing – my tour guides told me that in China, everyone is photographed about 4,000 times per day under the government’s watchful eyes. I didn’t notice it  until Shanghai, but there are cameras on top of random light posts. How weird!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The greatest and shortest-lived slippers

Corey, Nancy, Me, Ross and Kelly

Sleeper Train!

Me and Corey on my bed, Kelly and Ross on their bunk, and Heidi on our top bunk.

Winding and beautiful :)

The ones with little hats on them were the forts with interiors/shelter.

Kelly and I on the Wall

The most warm (and colorful) outfit I had..

My view in the morning!

Road signs (they light up!)

Setting up camp for the night...

In front of Forbidden City (w/o Panda Hat)

The big picture of Chairman Mao is above my head. They have a new painting made of him every year to be put there, so it is always in good shape and flattering.

In front of The Forbidden City (w/ Panda Hat)

The Main Plaza in The Forbidden City

PS - These pictures are all from The Forbidden City, not Tiananmen Square. I got side-tracked, sorry!

The happiest of all dragons!

Look at all his smiling teeth!

Me with some guards

I later learned that in China, the" thumbs-up" sign really means "up yours!"


I thought the English translation was funny. :)

Me behind Tiananmen Square


I packed in the morning and jumped in a taxi to the airport with Luis, Carol and Kelly. We got there at around 11, and our flight was to be a bit after 1 pm. The airport was easy, and so was the flight. It was only 3 hours, but I was still recovering from LKF and slept through the entire flight. There were some points when I woke up because my peers were being incredibly loud and disrespectful, which was a little embarrassing.
        I organized my trip through TheChinaGuide, which is an American based tour company working out of Beijing. They had over 200 SAS students sign up for their “Sleep on the Great Wall” tour, and booked all of our flight and train tickets for us. It took 3 airplanes to get us all to the northern part of the country. My flight was probably 90% us, and 10% Chinese people traveling. Alcohol was free, and a lot of the kids on my trip were immature and irresponsible; this would be the first of many times I would be mortified with the behavior of my “friends” for the next 3 days.
        Anyway, we got in around 6 pm and our China Guide tour-guides met us at the airport and shuffled us into 8 buses. We split into 2 different hotels, but Kelly and I were roommates and stuck together which was great. We ate dinner at the lounge in the lobby of our hotel, which was relaxed and really neat with oriental decorations, lanterns and a lot of red interior design with gold accents. About 30 minutes after we ordered our food, loads of drunk SAS students suddenly piled into the lounge. There was a family eating there who was staying at the hotel, and an older English couple with a friend sitting at the table adjacent to ours. We waited another 30 minutes silently for our food, appalled at how these kids were behaving. The food finally arrived, and wasn’t that great. Kelly’s garlic bread was toast with whole cloves of garlic on it, sparsely topped with mozzarella. The service was slow because the hotel staff was running around trying to cater to drunk American teenagers. As we left the lounge on our way out after our meal, the couple sitting near us stopped me and told me that we should be embarrassed for the image we are creating of American college students. With our spirits low, Kelly and I apologized and went straight to bed around 11 pm.
        We left in the morning, and most kids bought panda hats that cost $1 at a stand just outside of the hotel. We all looked ridiculous, and walked over to the next hotel to meet our friends. After dividing into groups of 30, we filed onto our 8 buses and off we went to The Forbidden City. It was so, so beautiful. The architecture was incredible, the colors and designs in the ceilings and building exteriors were so intricate. There were vast plazas that I could just imagine large army parades going through, with the Emperor on a lifted seat floating through the crowds. What a neat thing to be in a place with so much history. If you’ve ever seen The Last Emperor, that’s exactly where I was. There is a scene where the young boy cries about having to take on such a big role and not see his family anymore, and his father says “it will all be over soon.” This was a real event and was seen as the bad omen that ended the rule of the Chinese Empire. I saw the room where this all took place, so that was pretty crazy to behold.
        After walking through many large structured gates, we were dumped out under an image of Chairman Mao and exited into Tiananmen Square through Tiananmen Gate, which means the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Huge permanent bleachers lined the streets so the public could view the communist party armies marching down the streets of Beijing. There were tourists from all over the world and all over China. Surrounding the enormous square (which is the largest public gathering place in the world) are the Chinese Parliamentary building, Mao’s tomb and the National Museum of China, among others.
        We left this for lunch, and then the silk factory, where we spent a couple hours haggling with ladies who laughed at my hat and called me “panda lady.” I bought a harmonica and have been working on it, but am not getting very far. After this, there was a three hour bus ride to the great wall, during which we all slept. When we got there it was dark and about 7:30 pm. Tons of food was brought out to us, and there were a lot of Chinese people on the other half of the huge banquet room. They were SO drunk. Of course this got our group going crazy, and a lot of kids had bought bottles of alcohol on the way in, so they joined in with the Chinese people and stood on chairs dancing and singing national anthems and Auld Lang Syne in English and Chinese, among other things. It was fun and such great entertainment!
        We all changed into our thermals and layers on the bus, and then headed up to the wall. On the way we were each given a sleeping pad, a flashlight and two 10-degree sleeping bags to carry in addition to our clothes and belongings that would sustain us through the next 18 hours. There was a huge staircase on the way up to the wall – it was a climb – and we had to stop and take breaks from being so out of breath.
        We got up to the wall finally, and walked along it in the dark for about ¼ mile until we threw our bags down and made camp for the evening. I was pretty happy a bunch of my good friends on the ship decided to do the same trip and ended up in my group! It was FREEZING outside. We were told to expect 4 degrees Celsius, and it ended up being about that – which is 10 degrees Farenheit. I bought a 20 degree sleeping bag, so after that didn’t keep me warm until about 3 am, I jumped out of my bag and doubled up with the ones provided by the tour company, and that was finally enough to let me sleep through the night. I wore socks but still couldn’t feel my toes for most of the night, and before I doubled bags, there were times when I woke up from trembling violently until my nerves calmed enough to let me fall back asleep. It was also hard to fall asleep for a while because a bunch of the kids who wanted to stay up late and party brought speakers with them, and we were provided with free beer though most of us didn’t have any interest in it as warmth was generally the #1 priority. For those who stayed up though.. they had a good, loud time until about 3 am.
        I woke up with a cold nose to the sounds of light chatter. Eventually I crawled out of my sleeping bags, reluctantly, and stretched – only to find myself overlooking the three miles of the Great Wall that lay ahead. I’d almost forgotten where I was! We ate some bread and apples and headed out. Our guides took our sleeping bags, and we walked down the wall until we saw them at the end of our three miles. It was SO rough out there. The hike was strenuous, and though Table Mountain in South Africa has been referred to as the “3-hour stairmaster,” the Great Wall could easily challenge it. Much of the trail is built to incorporate the mountains it sits on, meaning that if you climb the Great Wall, you really are “climbing.” It was fun though, and great to stop and take pictures. There were moments when I looked around and reminded myself of all of the history that took place where I stood, and of how profoundly beautiful the sights before me were. The annual Great Wall Marathon goes onto the actual wall; runners conquer almost 4,000 steps on the wall itself. It is known as the biggest graveyard in the world because it’s construction was so strenuous that many people died. Legend has it that their bones were used in the structures of the wall itself.
Quick history lesson – the Great Wall was constructed under the rule of Emperor Qin (pronouched “Chin”) Shi Huangdi. He had the shortest rule of any emperor in China (11 years), but left the biggest mark. “Chin”-a is named after him. The terracotta army in Xi’an was built for his tomb. He established written language systems and coin-currency rather than trade, as well as weights and measures. However, he expended so many of his resources that his empire fell very quickly.
Anyway – back to the wall - it was really neat to be able to be so casual about it, and to feel like I actually conquered something when we headed back down to the buses. There were points where we all had to stop and catch our breath. Some people actually got sick from all the physical activity.. often times, locals would stay within the forts with cans of pop or t-shirts for sale. They’re so impressive – these people wake up every morning and go out to hike on the wall just to sell their merchandise. It’s good to buy souvenirs there and support the locals, so I bought a t-shirt that reads “I climbed the great wall” and am pretty excited to wear it at home!
        We got back on the buses, which took us to a restaurant in Beijing (which was a few hours away) for lunch. After lunch, we went to the location of the Olympic stadiums used in 2008 and saw the Bird’s Nest, which was a stunningly intricate piece of architecture, and the Swim Cube which looks like it’s covered with big, transparent bubbles. Then we went to a teahouse called Dr. Tea (which is the biggest in Beijing) and learned about different Chinese teas and how to taste them and appreciate the flavors. Some of them are headache or stomachache remedies, which was neat. They also showed us a little device called the “pee-boy” which is a tiny statue of a boy, and when you aren’t sure if the temperature of your water is right – you dip pee-boy in the water and if it’s the right temperature, he pees everywhere. It’s ridiculous, but of course we all bought one because it was the funniest thing we’d seen all day. Our guides then took us to the train station, where we got McDonalds for dinner (mmm.... seriously) and waited for 2 hours to board our train. The station was very clean and as big as an airport, with giant screens flashing promotional China videos. We parted ways with our guides and hopped on.
        The train was SO fun.  Even though I didn’t stay up all night – it was still really cool to see how clean and tidy everything was and how technologically advanced it was too. There were flat-screen TV’s built into every bed-space, and hangers available for coats. There was hot water on the table for tea and little foot-handles that you could pull down from the wall to climb on the top bunk. Though we were rocking all night, I can’t complain because at this point I’m used to it (thank you, Ship) and it was nice to just be warm in a bed again. There were four pairs of colorful slippers in each room, and I was pumped about having ship-slippers, finally! We all had a couple beers and played some cards until it started to get late, and I got a solid 7 hours of rest (except for when I woke up in the middle of the night to scream at the completely rude SAS students who stayed up partying and drinking… third night in a row). Unfortunately, when the stewardesses came around doing wake-up calls, they sneakily swept our shoes up into garbage pails, so they were gone when we finally got up. :( We woke up in the morning in Shanghai, ready for a new adventure.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Hong Kong

Hong Kong was quick! I was only there for a grand total of 36 hours.
        We docked in Victoria Harbour. When I got off the ship with my friends, I brought my laptop to Skype home because we were told that there is free internet access in all government buildings (yess!). Anyway, my friends and I ran around trying to get their Japan Railpass situations worked out. Cousin Allie took care of mine at home (thanks, cuz!). The ship pulled up directly next to a mall, which was actually the port – we had to walk past all these big fancy stores like Chanel and Marc Jacobs just to get out onto the street. It was busy and there were cars and buildings everywhere. They drive on the left side of the road, like in England, India, South Africa, etc.. The weather was a beautiful 75 degrees and it felt great!
        We stopped at McDonalds for burgers to tie us over until lunch – it tastes exactly the same as it does in the US. Amazing. And even people who can’t understand any English can understand the word “ketchup.”
At around noon, we took the Star Ferry over to the Kowloon area (I think) and went on a mad hunt for dim-sum. We ended up finding some in a restaurant located within city-hall at around 2:00. I got separated from them, and figured I should stay where I was to avoid getting lost, so I sat down where I was standing on the stairs and pulled out my computer to start Skyping. They came down the stairs about 45 minutes later full and happy, saying that they though I’d gone to a different part of the restaurant to eat so I could have some privacy on the computer. Hmm…
        Anyway, I decided to wait there for my dad or Justin to get online. Everyone left to take the Peak Tram to the top of Victoria Peak, which overlooks the city. At about 4:15, my computer had died and I gave up waiting on the return of my friends, and started to walk around outside. I ended up bumping into them, and we took the ferry back towards the ship. We found this tiny, hole-in-the-wall Chinese food place with noodles and orange chicken that had LOTS of bones in it, making it practically inedible. It was cool though to find a small local place and to be surrounded by local people rather than hoards of SAS students in a nicer resturant.
        Kelly, Eric and I parted from the group to run to the open market that sells electronics – we got there right after dark and MAN was it crazy. We took the subway there, which was extremely efficient, and emerged from the underground passageway onto a street full of stands boasting flashing neon lights, every type of cord or cable you’ve ever imagined, cell phones from as late as the 80’s.. everything electronic that has ever existed could be found in this market. We ran around for about 30 minutes until I found a 3 year old Canon point-and-shoot for only $65! We got lost heading back to the ship, but it was good to walk around the city at night. The streets were lined with flashing neon lights and signs. There were enormous GAP advertisements that said something about "mixing is better" and featured a white person and a Chinese person in every photograph. So bizarre. A lot of buildings were already lit up with Christmas decorations, too. Hong Kong has run into a situation where they only have a certain amount of space to build outwards, so they started building up. Their architecture was unlike any I'd ever seen before, and very futuristic.
        We ran into the other half of the group on the ship and ran in to change. There is an area of the Kowloon part of Hong Kong called Lan Kwai Fong (LKF).  Our taxi driver did not speak a lick of English, but saw how we were dressed and must have known where we were going. We split into two taxis, and at a red light, our driver jumped out and ran to the car behind us to ask for directions. Kelly, who was sitting next to me, shouted “Chinese firedrill!” and we burst into laughter for a good ten minutes.
We thought we were looking for a street when we were in the taxi, but man were we wrong. Once we turned the corner, parties ERUPTED in the streets. There were narrow intersections and taxis stacked down the street, SAS kids and locals running around with open containers in their hands. Everyone was dressed to kill. It was great! There was a stand on the sidewalk that reminded me of the Mexican food stands around LA, and they sold shots so we got a few. We found a bar that had free drinks for ladies, and hung around there for the rest of the night. It was such a good time to go out and dance with my friends after having been separated from them for most of the day. It really is so much easier with cell phones.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cu Chi Tunnels

Trying to squeeze into one of the tunnel openings - these things are TINY

Vertically structured buildings

They build up instead of out. So compact!


One of the guides held his hand behind my shoulder so I wouldn't go flying backwards.

My shock from the explosive sound of my AK-47!

Everyone rides motorbikes in Vietnam

oops.. here's the baby

Baby on a motorbike

Often times in Vietnam, you'll see babies or entire families of 4 fitting comfortably on a motorbike. Are you sure we need that Ford SUV, Dad? We could just get a Harley... ;-)

Lady cutting pineapples

(notice her pineapple hanging to indicate what she sells!)

Stilt Houses

Boat Shop on stilts

Lady selling water to our boat

I've noticed that  A LOT of people in Vietnam (and in India) sit very comfortably in this squatting position.
I tried it and fell over.

Dragonfruit Lady

A woman in her boat hammock