|October 1, 2000
I can't help but wonder what China will be like... I hope the people are as amazing as the Japanese.
Another port means more mail!!
It has been wonderful to hear everyone's stories about the visit to Japan. I keep thinking about all the things I did not do, but should have done. Mainly I should have done a homestay and I should have met some university students. However, I have to remember all the good things I did do and use the others to make the next ports even better.
It's going to be hard to keep readjusting to school and then no school... Between Japan and China are only two days at sea. So I had class today and tomorrow I have none, so I'm done until after China...I hope my grades don't suffer because of it.
China the day after tomorrow!!...
October 3, 2000
We're in China! The contrast of China to Japan is a HUGE shock. So far, Shanghai reminds me of all the things I didn't like about New York City. It's dirty, very smelly, and crowded! On the upside, there is some beautiful architecture around the harbor.
Today we just walked and walked...It's the Independence Day celebration all week, so everywhere I went there were flags and fireworks. I want to buy a copy of Mao's little red book... They have it in English, so I have to buy one.
On the streets are many, many food vendors all selling different foods (mostly meat and fruit). The smells are indescribable... I don't know what it smells like when I walk through the streets of Shanghai, but I know some of them make me gag.
Chinese people are much less friendly so far...actually, not less friendly, but less outgoing and forward in their friendliness. ....
I feel like I'm wearing a huge sign that says, "AMERICAN." In Japan I never really felt out of place because everything was so Americanized. However, in China I feel very out of place. When we walked today, everyone stared at us. In Japan I feel like everyone treated us as equals and everyone was more than willing to help. Here, in China, I feel like people see us as ... well ... I don't know exactly...but as different somehow that makes me uncomfortable.
Tonight was an exception to that. I went on a trip to Jiao Tong University for dinner and a little dancing. I sat at a table with two other SAS people and two Chinese students, Michael and Douglas. We talked about everything from music to girlfriends/boyfriends to food. Basically, we're not that different. A major difference is that the three SASers all have brothers/sisters. I loved being able to interact with Chinese students. In a way, I feel like we exchanged parts of our respective cultures which, though small in the long run, will stay with us forever.
I wonder what these students think of Americans... I'll have to ask! Douglas is taking us out in Shanghai on Thursday (he said he would like to be our host).
I can't believe how well they could speak English! It makes me want to learn a language when I get home! I should really refresh and advance the little Spanish I already know...
The students seem very Americanized. They like American music and movies. In a way, it's very easy for me to find this niche comfortable and stay there the whole time. I know if I do that, I will have defeated the purpose of this trip.
All day I was thinking about how nice it is to have a place to come home to (the ship) where I feel at home and I can drink the water... These desperate people I saw today on the streets of Shanghai have no such thing. ....
The river water here is brown and filled with trash. The streets are dirty and perpetually wet. I saw a small child (actually 2 small children) just squatting on the sidewalk to pee. There are homeless people on every block, begging hopelessly for change. People sell their goods along the street everywhere. Small kids come up to me with change bowls and I have to push them aside because I have no change.
I wonder if these people can imagine living in a place not like this. Because of the strict policies in China I'm sure most people here know no other life. What would they say if I told them about the States.. about Colorado? I wonder if they have imagined what places like America or even Japan are like.
I used to think of China and Japan as pretty much the same... now I'll never ever see them as equal again.
October 4, 2000
My impressions of Shanghai have changed since yesterday. Today, we got out of the immediate area around the boat. I think we are in a bad part of town. What I saw today was much less dirty and smelly!
The main event of the day was an FDP called "Tasting the Everyday Life of a Shanghai Citizen." First stop: a senior citizens' residence. We were taken into a school in the community. When we had packed the room full, a choir made up of elderly women sang for us. I couldn't stop smiling because they were so cute!!! They even did a dance for us. Then, they played a sort of pop music and we all danced! One fragile-looking white-haired lady was dancing with a black guy from our ship, imitating his moves! She was good!
Again, I realized how dance is universal. I felt that regardless of the language barriers, we all had a good time. Also, I like bringing a little of our culture to them.
When they were done performing for us, they begged us to sing for them! So, we all sang "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" in a round...they loved it.
At this point, I began to realize how happy I was about not going to Beijing... Even though I don't get to see the Great Wall, I do get to do something I could NEVER EVER do on a trip by myself.
Our next stop was a local food market. This was a good and a little repulsing experience. We saw all kinds of food, live animals soon to be food, and freshly killed animals. I will never forget the fish with its tail cut off, still flapping around. Also, I had a huge urge to free the ducks and chickens packed into cages. Here, I felt very out of place... EVERYONE stared at us!
The big stop cam next: lunch with a Shanghai family . WOW! WOW! The apartment complex was pleasant with a playground and plenty of trees. Our hostess did not speak English, but a girl (Kristy) who lived downstairs ate with us. We started in on the first round... by the fifth we were bursting at the seams! Our hostess kept bringing more and more food! I wish I could have talked with her more. The set up was good: many dishes on a rotating wheel in the center of the table. We had tiny plates. When she brought out meat Kristy said was duck, I immediately had flashbacks to the ducks in the market. I really felt I shouldn't eat the duck, but I did just in the spirit of new experiences.
October 5, 2000
I was so tired last night that I couldn't finish writing... So, the woman we ate with had a granddaughter there with her. She was VERY shy. Finally, she came out of her room and read to us (in Chinese). At the end of our stay, we exchanged gifts and went back to the bus.
After stopping at a nice hotel to use the restrooms, we proceeded to the flower market. On every corner, there were animals: puppies, fish, even grasshoppers and other bugs for sale! I kept wondering who would actually pay for a bug? The grasshoppers were HUGE!! There were also plants and flowers, but these were the least exciting.
Our final stop was the Shanghai Arts and Crafts Museum. We watched a woman make a panda bear out of clay and a man cut VERY complicated dragons out of origami paper with scissors! After only a few minutes in here, Anna, Jessica, Brady, and I decided to leave.
We were in a nice French Quarter of Shanghai, so we went exploring. I was kind of disappointed because we spent a lot of the evening shopping. On the other hand, it's fun here sometimes because you can bargain your price down. It feels like a game: if you do it just right, you'll win! Also, it gets a little addicting at times.. You see something you want at a very good price, but even though normally you wouldn't buy it, there's the urge to try and get a better price. ....
Later, the four of us were just about to call a cab to take us back to the ship when we saw a movie theater. Unfortunately, it was closed. We sat down on a ledge across from some kids who looked to be a little younger than us. To make a long story short, we all decided to go somewhere together. The girl, Ice, spoke pretty good English. She asked if we wanted to play pool! :) I was so happy! So, I played pool in Shanghai! The pool hall was a quiet place with about 10 big tables and 2 or 3 snooker tables. I had a very good night. All the kids thought I played very well.
I really liked Ice. She was VERY pretty and she spoke well. The boys she was with were a little obnoxious...typical high school boys. They jumped around and yelled a lot. They all spoke Chinese, so I couldn't under stand them, but I think they were talking about us... All in all, it was a good night! I'm so glad I got to play pool!!
I noticed a lot of people talking about compliments they have received in both China and Japan. Likewise, one of the first things Ice told me was that I am very pretty. I didn't really know what to say, so I thanked her. I feel bad because I really should have returned the compliment because she is beautiful...
Now, on to today... we shopped in the Bund some more. I bought my jewelry: a very pretty beaded necklace. Allyson, BJ, and I pretty much covered all the shopping... ....
Tonight we saw an acrobatics show. It was AMAZING! I can't even really de scribe it. Basically, just a bunch of separate tricks in a row, but a lot of things I haven't seen before. Throughout the show, I couldn't help but think again about how universal the skits we re. None involved talking. Everyone, no matter what language they spoke, knew what the mimes were "saying" and we all gasped and laughed and gripped our seats when appropriate: we all understood.
Two things need to be mentioned about life in Shanghai. First, there's the shopping. No matter where you walk, a person will try to sell you something. As I walk down the street, I have learned to ignore the calls from vendors. If anyone stops to talk, s/he will be VERY pressured into buying.
Second, there are NO traffic laws! Every time I cross the street I'm fearful of being hit be a biker, motorbiker, or a car. People drive like maniacs! They zoom around corners and weave in and out of traffic with no regard for anything! Taking a taxi for the last two nights has really started the adrenaline pumping. I know now how it feels to have a near-death experience! Our cab drivers made every one of us hold on to the seats, look down (so we couldn't see out the windows), and/or close our eyes as we careened through the streets of Shanghai! In a way, it's exhilarating.
My overall impression of Shanghai changes every second. Sometimes I don't mind the filthiness everywhere and the horrid trash/urine/BO smells. Others, I just want to go back to the ship and hide in my room for the rest of the time in Shanghai.
I cannot imagine traveling to China on my own. At least with the ship, I have somewhere to go to get away from the city and take a shower in clean, uncontaminated water. Not being able to drink the water or eat certain foods has been much easier than I thought. I do not ever forget like I thought I would...
There is a fair amount of homeless people in Shanghai. Everywhere I walk a person is holding out a tray in front of me for change. I think about how privileged I am and about how I know it seems I'm flaunting my privileges. Again, it's my "American" sign.
I simply CANNOT imagine living in such conditions. However, if I knew no other life, I guess it wouldn't even phase me... I try so hard to fathom how these people live under their circumstances, but the answer is not to be found, even in the depths of my heart and mind.
October 6, 2000
This whole trip feels very surreal...like I'll wake up from this dream any second. I'm going around the world, but when I return home, I still will have so many parts of the world to see! I feel like a stronger person already. After all, only a person with a large amount of strength, openness, and courage can do what I'm doing.
After Japan, I let myself have expectations about what is to come... Now, after being in China, I remember to quell my expectations so that I can experience each port with as much vigor as possible.....
I wonder what's in store for me in Vietnam....
This morning, Shaun, Sara, Allyson, and I set out for Longhua Temple. Unlike the temples I saw in Japan, this temple was not touristy. There were many Chinese praying to Buddha. First, everyone received a bundle of incense at the entrance. I watched as people held up their lit incense and turned to face all four cardinal directions. The smoke rose up, blowing different ways depending on the wind. Finally, we followed and lit our incense...
Next, we walked into a building where monks with yellow robes filed in. They slipped on red shawls over the yellow. They were all talking and laughing. Suddenly, the steady beat of a drum filled the room. All the monks faced the Buddha in front of them with hands together in front of their faces. I expected this sincere ritual to be very strict, with no movement. However, as the monks started to chant, I saw many of them looking around and moving a lot, although their body stayed put. One monk even stopped chanting to take a sip of water. I felt like they were just going through the motions without regard to the religious aspect.
As I looked around, it dawned on me that many people who were kneeling on the pads in front of the various Buddha statues seemed also to be just going through the motions. I began to see that to an outsider, Christianity must also seem insincere when the services are held.... People would kneel, bow three times, and then abruptly grab their things and leave. Likewise, I saw the children being taught to go through the motions. Each child I saw imitated his/her parents, not knowing why (at least that's what I think)...
Anyway, the beginning of the chant was very chaotic. It sounded like everyone was saying different things. Then, a sort of wood block percussion instrument began to beat and all the chanting fell into place. Shaun, Sara, and Allyson all said afterwards that they felt everything was very sacred while the chant was going on. To me, the whole thing was more of a show. It all goes back to the insincerity thing.
After the temple, Allyson and I headed to the botanical garden. At first, I didn't think I would like it, but when we got there, it was amazing! Nothing about the actual garden was spectacular. The break from the city was a very welcome experience. We were surrounded by nature! After spending countless days in the city with horns honking, people everywhere, and filth all around me, the nature was amazing. I heard birds chirping. Everything was peaceful. We lay on the grass, just enjoying the break. I heard wind rushing through the trees. The only voices I heard were children as they played and the hushed tones of adults. The best part of all: the smell of nature instead of trash! I could have been at home; I had to remind myself that this piece of Eden was in the heart of Shanghai, China.
I watched children laugh and play and I realized that children here and children at home are basically the same in that both want to play all day. They run and chase each other. They holler to their friends...Finally, we decided we should get going. So, we set out for a Confucian temple.
In the cab, I made notes about the ride. These are typical of a cab ride in Shanghai:
Horns honking; near missing other cars; two cars side-by-side in the same lane; drive down the middle of the road (taking up 2 lanes); brakes rarely used; get in, point on map where to go, hope we're going to the right place; bicyclists everywhere.
It's definitely an experience.
Once in the Confucian temple, I again felt at peace. Even though the temple was in the heart of the city, the world outside the temple could not be heard! The rock formations were incredible, unexplainable. Everything in the temple was obviously very well planned. In contrast to the Buddhist temples, this temple was very simple, with only a few statues of Confucius. The walls were stark white and the beams, mahogany. Since the temple was simpler in design, one could see how every tree and every fixture had been perfectly planned. One of the only similarities to Buddhism was the burning of incense upon entrance. There was a pond in one of the many courtyards with lily pads in three clusters. Again, I felt how planned even the pond was.
The calm and peace of the day was lost when we got back on the street and started to walk home. I think the contrast was just too great because we ended up just taking a cab home. After being so relaxed all day, my body could not handle the stress of pushing past people, trying so hard not to get run over while crossing the street, and trying to figure out where to and not to step. (In Shanghai, I have to concentrate on every step to avoid stepping in or on something I'd rather not have on my shoes.)
I'm so happy now to be relaxing in my room, without any stress. All in all it was a very good day.
Allyson and I were talking over McDonald's hamburgers about how unprepared we are for Vietnam and India. I have absolutely NO idea of what to expect. How will I face the poverty in India? Or just being American in Vietnam? Even in China I feel guilt subtly creeping in because I have so much more. At points I feel that I should give all my excesses to these people. After all, I can't help that I was born American and I can't help that they were born into poor living conditions. On the other hand, no one is asking me to justify being American...
October 7, 2000
Right now I am SO happy to be lying on my bed in my room completely relaxed. My last day in Shanghai was stressful and unfulfilling. Allyson and I wanted to go to the zoo.. So, we met Peter and Crystal at the gangway and started off. The morning went off without a hitch. Our cab ride to the zoo was decent.
After walking in the zoo for about 30 minutes, I really wanted to leave. All we saw were birds and more birds and more birds. We then found the panda bears. It was depressing. Every animal in that zoo looked so sad. They had no habitat to thrive in; many were trying to get out of their cages...
Around noon, it started pouring down rain. We huddled under this shelter where we had just paid an artist for beautiful sketches of our names. When the rain let up some, we made a break for the exit. When we finally got into the cab, all four of us were soaking wet... Allyson and I decided to go eat, so we had the cab driver leave us at the Peace Hotel.
By this time, I was wet and hungry. All I really wanted to do was go back to the ship and crawl into bed. First, I had to eat...Here began the worst part of the day...
We found a restaurant that served "western" food (that's what the sign said). Again, we were soaking wet from the rain. So, when we walked into the restaurant, everyone stared, but I didn't care because I just wanted to sit down and eat. The me al was fine and a woman brought us the check. Both Allyson and I pulled out our Visas to pay. They did not accept Visa! Combined, we did not have nearly enough money to pay. A man told us there was an ATM across the street. Allyson left to go withdraw money while I waited in the restaurant. I was tired and impatient. Finally, ten minutes later, Allyson comes back and says all the ATMs are closed and the 24-hour ATM is out of order! A state of panic set in. I didn't know how we would get out of there!
We decided to try the ATM at the Friendship Store. I offered to go this time, so I set out to find my way. Herein lies the mistake: my horrible sense of direction, mixed with my general unfamiliarity of Shanghai was not a good combination for me to travel by myself. (Mom, don't freak out now, I'm here to type this...) On the street, I could not remember which way to go. Fortunately, I made a mental note of where the restaurant was. I ventured in one direction, but nothing looked familiar. I went in another direction (all the while keeping track of where the restaurant was) and thankfully saw the Peace Hotel. Once in side, I asked for a working ATM. When I found that ATM, it was out of order. Panicking again, I rushed back into the hotel (I was grateful that the rain had stopped) to ask where the Friendship Store was (I knew it was close, but I couldn't remember where).
As I stepped in the door, I saw an SAS professor. I ran up to her, told her my plight, and she loaned me the money. I found my way back to the restaurant, we paid and high-tailed it out of there. Now that I'm home, I just realized I left my water bottle in the cab that brought us to the shi p. What a perfect way to end my eventful day.
Two rules to live by: ask if they take Visa and ATMs don't work on weekends. I hope this is not a sign of what is to come.
I feel VERY stupid and I'm sure that professor thinks I'm just one of the many oblivious students on the ship. It was raining, hectic, and we were hungry, so we ate! It's as simple as that... ....
I loved the Jetson's building. I loved the peaceful day in the garden. I loved the kids who took us to play pool. I loved having my eyes opened to the world. I disliked the filth. I disliked the smells. I disliked the poverty. I disliked the crowds of people everywhere.
October 9, 2000
Last night, GLBT Pride sponsored a Drag Ball. None of us knew what kind of reception we'd receive. As it turned out, everyone got into it. Of course, there were some who didn't dress up, but it was TONS of fun...
Today, I soaked up the sun by the pool! It figures that I wait to jump in the pool then about 5 minutes after I do, we have a surprise lifeboat drill. I got out of the pool, wrapped my towel around me, and walked (dripping wet) to my room. The worst part is that we have to wear long pants, long-sleeves, close-toed shoes, and our lifejackets... So here I a m, hair wet and sticky from the salt water in the pool, sweating off my sunscreen, and yearning for some drinking water while we have to stand shoulder to should in 85 degree heat without moving too much or talking at all. In short, IT SUCKED!
When we were finally allowed to go back to our rooms, I was too tired and hot to go back out by the pool, so I stayed in my room and got some reading done. ....
I stand at the railing, alone, looking to the horizon. It's night. The sky is black, only spotted with three or four stars. The ocean is black, except where the ship stirs the water and it is aqua. On the horizon, I see a couple of lights from faraway ships. We're in the South China Sea. A mild sea breeze brushes my face and swirls my hair while the ocean spray mists around me. I can smell the salt of the water.
What were these waters like before humans traveled through? As we pass, oblivious to the sea life, we change the waters forever.
What are the three bright stars I see? I wish I remembered more of my astronomy class.... What am I doing here on this ship? Is this for real? What do I do about the poverty I saw firsthand in China? What about the poverty I'm going to see?
I'm going around the world! On a ship! My college life revolves around this ship! No words can describe how I feel right at this moment...
October 10, 2000
We're heading into a big storm. The captain announced that everyone who gets seasick should take their pills. The ship has al ready started rocking, but we're not supposed to get the worst of it until tonight. The ocean is turbulent and the clouds are an ominous gray. I love the rocking of the ship! It's going to be cool to go through the storm!
October 11, 2000
I've found the end of the rainbow, literally. I sit here at breakfast and I look out the tiny window to see a beautiful rainbow, stretching from the horizon across the sky. The end of the rainbow is the ocean. Now, the rainbow has disappeared...
We had no storm last night, but it's probably just as well.
I'll be in Vietnam tomorrow. I really have no idea what to expect. I don't know what Vietnamese people look like. I have no idea what kind of culture there is in Vietnam. As for my trip to Nha Trang, it will be amazing to finally be surrounded by some sort of nature. Then, my experience in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia will be more nature!
In a way, I'm a little apprehensive because I do not know what to expect. On the other hand, this lack of expectation will definitely lead to a more open and probably more educational experience.
October 12, 2000
This morning we were playing ping-pong, just waiting to dock in Vietnam. Suddenly the ship rumbles slightly, we made a joke about hitting something. The lifeboat drill bell sounded and we heard people talking about a hole in the ship. The truth: we collided with another ship! Liz and I rushed to our room to get ready (lifejackets, etc). The crew on our hall was yelling, "Go, Go." I got a little scared. I finally got to my station and a lot of people were freaking out. I wasn't one of them. First, we were so close to port that I knew if worst came to worst, we'd have to get in the lifeboats and row to shore. Second, the river is so shallow that there's no way we would sink. Finally, after standing in the sweltering heat, they told us we could relax and loosen our lifejackets. In the end, we all got to go back to our cabins. Four of the cabins near our room are destroyed (one wall is caved in). The gash in the side of our ship stops about three rooms before ours! We're all glad that no one got hurt. The rumors are flying as to what's going to happen because they have to fix the hole before we sail again. ....
My first night in Vietnam was UNBELIEVABLE! I went on an FDP when we were finally allowed off the ship (2 hours late) where a Vietnamese professor handed out some typed pages and then basically read them to us (they were in English). I was extremely bored! Finally, we were allowed to mingle with the Vietnamese students. Liz and I met two girls, but I could not write their names if I tried! We decided to let them take us around the city... Everyone else went back to the ship.
Before I begin telling about my adventures, one thing about Ho Chi Minh City must be under stood: motorbikes (not motorcycles) are EVERYWHERE! They crowd the streets and it looks like the whole city is a bike race! So, the two girls brought their motorbikes and told us to hop on...
I felt like I was in a video game! We dodged other bikes and the few cars on the road. At first I was a little scared, but after a while it was so much fun! Liz was on the other bike and we talked a little when the bikes were next to each other.
Then, another surprise. We drove right up on the sidewalk, got off the bikes, and a man valet parked the bikes right there in a parking lot for bikes on the sidewalk! It was the strangest thing I've ever seen! We walked a few blocks and then circled back to the bikes. I love this city! It's relatively clean and the buildings are run-down, but in a way that is beautiful...I can't really describe it.
Next, they wanted to take us to buy souvenirs, so we went to a department store...Ugh, more shopping! :) At the top of the store was the food court where we ate a really good Vietnam se soup with chicken and drank Pepsi (with no ice, of course!). We left the department store (everything there was SO CHEAP), hopped on the motorbikes, and they took us to this small side street to eat some more! This time we ate some sort of meat dumpling type food, which was also delicious.
Once again, we hopped on the bikes. The girl I rode with told me that she would just take us around the city. However, once we left, we lost Liz's bike!! I was a little worried because we never found them, but I felt totally safe with my friend (I wish I knew how to write her name!). She took me to do email then we went to the room she rents!
This was an experience in itself! She drove her bike right into what I thought was a ship and parked it there! Then, we walked back to some stairs and climbed a few flights. Finally, we came to a sort of landing, took off our shoes, and walked into a VERY small room with a bathroom that she shares with another girl. (Matthew, your apartment is a palace compared to this place!) The room was small, but also cozy. Her roommate and three of her friends were there. They asked a lot of questions a bout the US and what it's like. They asked about what I thought of the countries I've been to. Finally, after talking with them for a while, my friend took me back to the ship because I have to be up at 4AM tomorrow (ICK!)
The poverty here seems very different. This nation is a third world country, but it is not what I expected it to be. It is not smelly and filthy like Shanghai, yet it is not Westernized like Japan. In a way, it's almost a good, simple life. I know everyone always wants more, but more is not always better. I'm not saying I'd want to live like the people here (although it is easy to romanticize it), but I think I was expecting something much different...
Wow, I'm in Vietnam!
October 13, 2000
This morning I woke at the crack of dawn... No, wait, BEFORE the crack of dawn. At 4:40 I was sitting in a room, with my backpack (it was bursting at the seams) waiting to board a bus. The final destination: Nha Trang. We took the bus to the Saigon airport where we took a plane to Nha Trang. The plane ride was only an hour, so the plane was small. Surprisingly, the flight was smooth and uneventful. As we began our descent into Nha Trang, through the clouds I could see beautiful rolling, green hills lining the ocean. The ocean water was crisp blue, spotted with mountainous islands. I saw a tiny dot which was a man rowing a boat in the middle of the ocean. I could see spots of hills like tops of mountains peeking out of the water. It was AMAZING! So beautiful.
We finally landed, stepped off the plane, and I was saturated...The humidity here is unbelievable! First, an interesting note about the plane: from the airport gate to the plane, we took a bus! We walked to a few short steps and climbed onto the plane. Everything about the flight reminded me of an American flight: the safety presentation by stewardesses, the "ding" of the seatbelt sign, the whole set up!
Being in Nha Trang is like being in paradise! Literally! I finally got used to the humidity (although I don't like it too much). We are staying in a hotel that is nice. We have beds, bathroom, and AC, so that's all I need! After checking in to the hotel, I walked with some SAS people to the beach (across the street from the hotel). I love meeting new people! I had such a good time with Megan and Sarah and I can't remember the other girl's name. Megan and I talked all day, throughout our journeys. We are very much alike. Anyway, we walked on the beach. The water was a perfect temperature and the islands we could see were beautiful and lush!
Victor, our tour guide, took us to eat lunch in a wonderful restaurant. We ate outside, under a thatched roof. The view of the ocean was perfect. The food was very good and they just kept bringing more! The whole time here, all I can say is WOW and this is amazing.
After lunch, we visited a Buddhist temple where a HUGE white Buddha sat atop a lush mountain. We climbed the 150 steps to see the statue. On out climb, kids (younger and teens) followed us. It was very hard to push them away! However, our guide told us not to give them money because they are not really poor. So, we walked through the beggars to the Buddha.
After the Buddha, we did more sightseeing, all of which I have pics of, so I won't go into it.
The whole day almost felt like a dream! The beauty and simple life amazes me. I did get fitted for a long, forest green dress, I hope it looks good! It only cost me $18 and they tailor it to fit me perfect! It will be done the day after tomorrow! Also, I developed film for about $3.50 per roll! The photo quality is excellent. I wish I brought all my film to develop.
Tonight, I played pool! At first, I was psyched when I saw a sign which said the hotel has billiards. However, when I saw the set up, my enthusiasm waned. First, the tables are outside (under a covering). Second, the sticks suck, but the worst is that the humidity makes the sticks sticky, even hand powder doesn't help for long. Third, the felt on the table was basically a little shorter than a shag carpet! One good thing though: The pockets are very tight! :) Anyway, so I played a couple very bad games of pool.
Now, I'm in bed, under mosquito netting... I cannot believe I'm in Vietnam! I never expected it to be so beautiful. I would LOVE to spend a summer (or winter) here! Tomorrow, we go on a boat trip ALL DAY, to visit uninhabited islands and play in the ocean! We can even snorkel! I am loving all the new experiences I'm having and I want them to keep coming! Also, I'm getting up early for the sunrise and to watch Tai Chi, I think it will be very beautiful!
Now, I'll go to sleep and hope the bed bugs don't bite!
October 14, 2000
The alarm beeps at 4:45 AM. Groggy from my good sleep, I wonder if it could really be time to wake up already. I am so tired, but I force myself out of bed to walk to the beach and see the sunrise. I meet Sarah in the lobby and we trek across the street to the beach. To our disappointment, the sky is cloudy, very overcast. To my surprise, the people are more amazing than the sunrise! Yesterday afternoon, this beach was deserted, but this morning at around 5:15, the beach is crowded! Many people do morning exercises, some play badminton, others wade in the water, even more play some sort of sport (soccer, volleyball without a net, frisbee)! All this at 5AM! It's a beach party! The city really comes alive around 5:25.
Yesterday Victor told us this happens every morning. He says having fair skin is very distinguishing, so the people here only go to the beach when the sun is not out. The relativity of cultural ideals is brought out to me here. In the West, the tan person is our cultural ideal, here it is opposite to the degree that people avoid the sun. How can anyone claim his/her culture is right and another wrong? We are all so different that distinction between cultural right and wrong is impossible.
The sun rose, I couldn't see it behind the clouds, but I don't think I would have seen it anyway because of my preoccupation with the people. ....
This morning, we set off on a boat trip. I watched the green hills go by as the seabreeze cooled me. First, we stopped for a little snorkeling! The ocean has beautiful coral I could see through my mask. Again, we stopped to do more snorkeling. Finally, we stopped for a seafood lunch in a fishing village on one of the islands. This was the highlight of the trip. Victor says the village is rich because of their successful fishing industry. However, the small shacks were made of thatched roofs and walls. As we walked through the tiny village, I noticed children staring at us and the adults going along with their business. Many adults were weaving fishing nets. Lunch was interesting. I was a little disconcerted when a man served a crab on my plat e...The crab was boiled, but still whole! The beady black eyes were staring at me! I pushed my feelings aside and learned how to get at the meat inside. On the whole, lunch was good. From the boat to the shore, we rode in basket boats which are exactly what they sound like: woven baskets big enough for only about 4 people! The local kids rowed us to shore. I thought we would tip over into the water! The aquarium we went to was in the shape of a shipwreck, but not too impressive.
Now, I'm sitting in the boat while the people swim to the shoe to see the beach. I'm getting tired and a little waterlogged, so I decided to opt out on the swimming.
I still love Vietnam and really would like to spend some time in the summer here. The simple life appeals to me very much, although I'm sure that living here is a VERY different experience than visiting.
Vietnamese people are very attractive with nice skin and hair. The language is beautiful and reminds me of a child speaking. I don't even know what to write because this place is so indescribable.
October 15, 2000
I am completely happy here. This morning I ventured out at 5AM to observe the city coming to life. People here are kind of like the crabs on the beach. Both come out only for a few minutes and then crawl back into their holes. As I lay on the wooden lawn chair this morning, I could not help but smile as a man, on his morning walk, sauntered past me singing a song in Vietnamese. The morning is so peaceful and yet so full of life! Three women, obviously friends, stood in front of my chair, talking, and stretching. Down the beach a little way, some men set up a badminton game.
Today, I picked up a dress I had made for me! I hope it looks good on me! Victor is taking four of us up the river on a boat to observe the countryside. We leave Nha Trang today. I am sad because I love it here so much!!
This morning I thought, (as I looked out onto the ocean) about what the beach was like during the war. Men rushing onto shore while others ran for cover. It's amazing to me how the Vietnamese separate the people from the government. They love Americans because they know the people cannot control the government. This is a virtue we should learn in the US. So many Americans discriminate against foreigners because of actions of their government! This is illogical.
Another virtue that we should learn from the Vietnamese is that of using what you have to accomplish tasks. Yesterday on our boat trip, some women shaved a SAS girl's legs (more like a wax) with simply a roll of string! Of course it was a little time consuming, but it lasts for about one month and how much does a roll of string cost compared to razors? And the re's so much you can use string for. In the States, something looks a little worn and immediately we buy a new one, regardless of necessity...Here, that seems ridiculous!
I can't wait to see how people live in the countryside...Again, I have to keep reminding myself that these people have a hard life and I, as a tourist, can never understand completely what they go through. ....
The riverboat trip was awesome! We saw the countryside of Vietnam...Along the river, small shanty towns are built. Victor said that since no one owns the land, anyone can build a house, even in front of another house!! These houses along the river are the slums.
The best part of today was tramping through Lu Cam village. Everyone said hi and we gave the kids candy...One house had a working TV that the kids were glued to! We watched a woman make a clay stove. To the Vietnamese, the stove is the god of the kitchen, so these clay stoves are very important. Also in the boat were the driver an his daughter, Hoa (Ho a means "flower"). Every Vietnamese name means something and the people are VERY aware of the meaning. Hoa is 10 years old and she is so cute! We saw a rooster fight in Lu Cam, it was definitely an experience!
To me, these small, primitive landscapes are exotic. However, in real life, the exoticism wears off and I once again see myself as a tourist. ....
My dress fits perfectly! I was so sad to leave Nha Trang!!! ....
At the last stop, we went to visit a household where four generations live. We were shown how to use the loom to make the mats they sleep on.
I never knew I would love the boat trips so much! The people I see in rural, non-touristy Vietnam are the type of people I love to see. It does me no good to follow the group everywhere and never really meet a single soul! But, on the small river tour we connected with the people in the villages.
I got to play pool again for FREE!! Then we went to the airport and made our way to the ship.
Tomorrow I go shopping.
October 16, 2000
Today was pretty uneventful... Jordan and I shopped, checked email, and played some pool. I bought some silk clothing (PJs and something else I can't say because it's a gift)...The best deal was the CDs I got for less than $2 a piece! I bought 6 for $10! :)
We ate lunch at an "African" restaurant. I ordered the chicken, but there were so many bones in it that I couldn't eat it without a lot of work. After lunch, Jordan and I played pool! It was FREE!! I love Vietnam.
We searched a little afterwards for a place I could use my phone card, but we didn't find one. Finally, around 5:30 we returned to the ship. I had resigned myself to not going back out, but Jenn came by and said the post office has phones that ATT calling cards will work on. So, I grabbed Jenn and we headed into town...I was SO HAPPY to finally talk to Matthew! ....
I loved the beauty of Nha Trang. I loved the simple villages I saw. I loved riding the motorbike and snorkeling. I disliked the humidity and heat. I disliked the people in our group who complained about everything. I disliked having to overlook the children asking me to buy things.
October 18, 2000
There's not much to tell...
I went to a meeting tonight about being a woman traveler in Muslim countries. The main thing I have to remember is to cover my knees and shoulders. Also, I should learn to ignore lewd comments of men. I'm not worried about Malaysia, but India is worrying me. I can't begin to imagine what I will feel there when I see the poverty.
A major obstacle will be to learn to not use my left hand!!
October 19, 2000
Unfortunately I have found myself having expectations for Malaysia. First, I see beautiful Muslim women, wrapped in their head scarves, going about their business and probably shy. Second, the environment is like the movies where everyone walks along a main street with outdoor shops lining the road, almost like in Aladdin. As I write this, I know this is not what Malaysia will be like.
I'm really looking forward to the Cameron Highlands. I see myself on a jungle adventure and I have no idea what to expect about the hotel. I have really been trying to get these preconceptions out of my mind so my experience will be as open as possible.
As we near India, I am getting apprehensive. India will be the most trying, and at the same time the most educational.
October 20, 2000
Last night I slept out on the deck. It was VERY windy and we got rained on! Tonight I began thinking about how I will be so sad when the voyage ends! I have never felt so much like I belong. I love having lots of friends and seeing people I know all the time. Also, I really think that by the end of the voyage many of the people I hang out with will be close friends...
A lot of people are treating Malaysia like a spring break and will spend the whole time on the beach. To me, that seems like a waste... If we had more time, I'd love to spend a few days on the beach, but how can anyone give up the opportunity to explore another country because they want to veg out on the beach??
I guess there are just some people I'll never understand!
October 21, 2000
I'm in Malaysia! It's not at all what I expected. The city is pretty much like a typical city...Many, many people here speak English. There are cars everywhere and gas stations on every corner. It rained all day today (off and on) and it's humid, but not as hot as Vietnam. I enjoyed the weather!
Today I did another FDP: Temples and Shrines of Malaysia. First stop: Chinese Taoist Snake Temple. It sounds really cool, but It was disappointing. Basically, you walk in, there's some snakes on some tree limbs, someone will take your picture with snakes all over you, then you're done. On the up side, I learned a lot of things I did not know. Snakes are seen as a good omen and they sleep during the day and wake at night to guard the temple. The most interesting thing I learned is the value of parents in Chinese society (yes, Chinese...the majority of people in Malaysia are Chinese). At the entrance to the temple, on opposite sides of the doorway, are two lion statues. These represent your parents because before you pray to a god, you must pray to your parents! The Chinese put their parents before anything or anyone else. If a person does not properly worship his/her parents, this can upset the balance in life. Then, when parents get old, everyone in the family must do everything they can to take care of the parents. While this care is taking place, the children make sure to teach their children how to care for the parents.
After the Snake Temple, we ate lunch at an Indian restaurant where I didn't like most of the food. As we drove to lunch, I saw that the roads were very flooded. When we arrived at the restaurant, we had to walk through about an inch of water! So, we all took off our shoes and walked barefoot from the bus to the restaurant. We would have had to take our shoes off in the restaurant anyway, so we just did it earlier! It was kind of fun to go splashing through the water like little kids! Some people were complaining, but I guess they don't know how to have an adventure!
After lunch, it was on to a Burmese Buddhist Temple... The temple was different than the Buddhist temples I've seen so far. Mainly, this temple was very elaborate and painted in bright colors, like a circus! The Thai Buddhist temple across the street held a reclining Buddha (a statue of Buddha lying down) that was HUGE!
By this time, I was already exhausted, but I was on this trip for a class, so I had to stick it out. So, we went to the Goddess of Mercy temple and learned about how Chinese people pray to many different gods...then on to a Hindu temple which was closed. From the outside, the temple looked very much like the temples we'd seen earlier today. Finally, we reached the mosque, but it was also closed, so we walked to another mosque.
Unfortunately, we could not go into the prayer hall in the mosque. I was disappointed because I was going to use the mosque as a basis to a report... I did learn a little about the architecture... Hopefully I'll be able to go inside a mosque in Turkey.
I guess it was a good day... I got a little exhausted towards the end, but I suppose it's to be expected.
I'm kinda stressed about this report I have to do, but I have plenty of time to decide what to write about.
October 22, 2000
I'm in the Cameron Highlands. Today we left Penang at 10AM on two buses. At around 11:30 we made a pit stop and continued on to lunch. Lunch was in a nice hotel in Ipoh. It was excellent food. I can't get over how delicious the fruit is here! The pineapple and watermelon is the best! After lunch, we pushed on to another rest stop, then finally the home stretch to the Equatorial Hill Resort Hotel. Somewhere in there we stopped at a waterfall where I bought some beautiful wooden wind chimes! The waterfall was pretty, but nothing spectacular.
On the drive up the mountains, I was amazed by the view! The forest is so lush and green! Every mountain is covered in forest! It's so dense, I could not see too far into it...
The weather here is a welcome change from Penang where it is hot and sticky. Tonight, in the Cameron Highlands, it is cool and almost dry!
Our hotel exceeds my expectations by a million times! Each of us has a two bedroom apartment (four people per apartment) with a living room, master bedroom with a bathroom, and another bathroom! It's amazing!! My roommates Fiona, Kristy, and Robyn are very cool!!
Tomorrow we go on a "full day jungle adventure"... We're taking 4WD Land Rovers through the jungle, stopping at a tea plantation and a couple of villages. After lunch, we hike 45 minutes to some hot springs. We return to the hotel around 7:30. I'm SO EXCITED! It's basically a safari through the rainforest. This is why I came on this trip; I'm sick of cities and shopping and walking around city streets. Now, I see things I can NEVER see at home.
Malaysia is beautiful... I could definitely see myself coming back here to stay for a few weeks!
October 23, 2000
Lions and Tigers and Leeches and Snakes and... Land Rovers?
The morning began with a light, buffet-style breakfast. Then, all 80 of us piled into rugged Land Rovers, bound for the jungles of Malaysia. With visions of jungle animals and dense rainforests in our heads, the seven of us in my Land Rover bounced along the muddy trail. Pretty soon, the weather began to get hot and we all began to feel a bit uncomfortable in our long sleeves and pants. We were just one in a convoy of Land Rovers. Suddenly, the first truck lurched to a stop. Curiosity overcame us, so we piled out to see what the commotion up front was all about... There was a small snake in the road... With the obstacle cleared, we continued on our way.
The next time we stopped was in a small settlement. Interestingly, we were not allow to interact with the people there. For some reason, tourists used to interact with the people, but one time officials saw this and from then on, tourists are not allowed to interact. Our guide told us that some of the kids we saw would walk 2-3 hours just to go to school in this settlement! At this point in our journey, I was very hot and sweaty...And all we were doing was standing around.
Finally, we again boarded our vessel and took off to eat lunch...
There are some people on this trip who are TOTALLY unprepared! Mainly, they had no hat, wore tank tops for the whole time, and didn't expect to get dirty! These people did not have a CLUE!
Anyway, we stopped to eat our prepared lunches by a river. I grabbed my two styrofoam boxes and a banana and went to seek a spot to sit. My attention was drawn to a rickety bamboo bridge suspended across the river. Carefully, I crept over the bridge, carelessly balancing my lunch in one hand and using the other for balance. I found my way to a huge log and plopped down to eat my lunch. It felt like home, sitting there on the log, watching people play in the river; I became a little nostalgic for those few weekends of playing in Boulder Creek. I listened to the water rush by me, drowning out all other sound. Unfortunately, we had to leave this peaceful site to continue on our journey.
Again, we rode in our Land Rovers over the bumpy, reddish mud road. I was so happy, just bouncing along, lost in thought. Every once in a while I wondered how we would ever make it up the next hill, but we always did! Sometimes I spontaneously laughed out loud because it was so funny watching Laura, Susanne, Fiona, Tamara, and Christine bounce along without really saying much. The whole day I was in awe of my safari adventure.
Finally, we arrived at the beginning of our hike through the rainforest. We all coated ourselves in bug spray. The tour guide sprayed the equivalent of RAID on our shoes to keep the leeches from getting us! After warning us all to watch out for snakes and leeches, we set off...
One thing needs explaining here. Before we left Penang, we all got a sheet in our mailboxes about how the highlands are a little flooded in some areas, so our hike would be more strenuous than usual. Later, we found out that instead of a 15 minute hike to the hot springs, it would now be a 45 minute hike...
So, I was psyched for a hard hike through the jungle! Even though I was so HOT and SWEATY, I was ready. In the end, I was disappointed. We did hike for 45 minutes to the hot springs, but it was only that long because our guide stopped every 2 minutes to explain something. The "hike" turned out to be a walk through the jungle. In spots, there was a lot of mud to be careful of and I almost slipped into the mud a few times. The jungle just looked like a dense forest, we saw no animals. The hot springs were ... well... some puddles among some rocks... Then we walked a few hundred feet back to our Land Rovers.
I really wish the trek through the jungle had been long and hard. I was all geared up for a good hike... My pants were a little muddy, my boots a little more so, and my clothes were sweaty, but it was not a hike. I guzzled some water before we went on our way again.
We stopped this time in a village. I found out that these people were nomads in the mountains until the government came in, built houses out of bamboo, and told the people to stay there. The government then proceeds to "educate" these people so that when they are finally forced to live in cities, they will know what to do. Our guides told us that many of these people's customs and dialects are being lost because of this "education." The situation of these people ring a bell in my head because of the huge parallels to the Native Americans in the US. It's almost like going back in time before development reached all parts of the US. It's sad to me how governments can keep forcing the native people out of their land.
When we arrived at the village, we were led into a building made out of bamboo with one central room and two smaller rooms. I was surprised to see ceiling fans! As I stood in the doorway, a woman on my right decorated me in garlands woven from leaves. A woman on my left crowned me with a crown made also of leaves and colored flowers. Once inside the central room, I watched about 6-8 women making beautiful music using bamboo poles and chanting. It was clear to me that they enjoyed entertaining us. At the end of the music, one of our guides told us about the medicinal herbs used by these people. These included an aphrodisiac and a sort of diet herb. Next, we were shown the beautiful woven baskets made by the women of the village. In the middle of this, the rain began to beat down on the metal roof. A short downpour ensued. It was so relaxing to just sit and listen to the rain! Finally, we were treated to a blowgun demonstration.
The blowgun is a sort of dart thrower used for hunting. Basically, a bamboo chute (about 6' long) is used. A dart is loaded into the end of the chute. The hunter takes a deep breath and expels it quickly, forcing the dart out of the other end of the chute. A lot of people in our group tried it, but I did not because I felt so relaxed sitting on the floor and I was tired.
All in all, I felt very welcome in this village. The women examined me as much as I them. They seemed happy to share their talents with us. Children were also in the village. Just before our convoy headed out, some in our group gave the children candy and pens, etc. As we left, everyone waved goodbye.
Our last stop was a place near the river where several people jumped in. I watched people swim, but did not join. At this point, I was tired and just wanted to get back and relax! One interesting thing I saw was a walking stick bug! It is an insect that looks EXACTLY like a stick! The only difference is that the bug has 6 legs and antennae. I could not tell the difference between the bug and the twigs until one of our guides picked up the bug and let it crawl up the outside of his shirt.
I can't describe how it feels to pop into these villages, knowing how much I have hat the people in the village don't, observing their culture, then pulling out and returning to our hotel. I wonder how it feels to them, being a tourist attraction. What do they think of us? As I write this, I wonder if they actually WANT what I have! Sometimes it's easy to just assume that I have more and more is better. However, these people live a different life that I will never EVER understand fully, so maybe they're happy with what they do have! After all, there are people in the US who have much more than me, but I am happy with what I have.
In the end, my day was satisfying. I LOVED four-wheeling through the jungle and visiting the village. This stay has been so relaxing! I'm so happy to escape the cities I've been experiencing and get into nature. I wish the rainforest trek had been longer, but the short time we had there was great! (Although I don't think I've ever sweat so much.) ....
I can't believe some people spent their whole time in Malaysia on the beach like it's Spring Break. I feel like I'm experiencing the "real" Malaysia (as much as a tourist can experience the "real" anywhere).. Funny thing is, we'll all claim to have experienced Malaysia. Why spend your whole time on the beach (something you can do in the states) when you could hike the rainforest and go four-wheeling on the mountain roads? I guess there are some people I'll never understand!
October 24, 2000
Today is my last day in the Cameron Highlands and my last day in Malaysia. I have found Malaysia to be a beautiful land filled with friendly people. I found out that the hotel we're staying in is only $40/night for a regular room!! I'm coming back!!
Sometimes I think about how we are all drawn together by living on the same earth. It's strange to me because I really feel like I'm in a whole other world! It hit me the most when I was in the shower in our hotel room (apartment) and there was a sign that said, "Save Planet Earth." My first thought was, "Hey, we have that at home." Then I thought, "Well, what if you're not from here?" Finally, I realized that everyone who comes here (and anywhere) is from the same planet. I know this may sound very strange, but it's very hard to believe that we all call this planet "home" because my home is a very different place than this place. ....
I can't believe today is already our last day in Malaysia! It seems like we just got here yesterday! Now it's on to India.... That's the halfway point! WOW!! Time really does fly when you're going around the world! "Cruisin' the world at 20 miles per hour." It's kind of hard to be in a country for so short a time. I feel like I just got into a sort of routine where I begin to know a little about how things work, then I'm whisked away. It really makes me want to come back!! There are so many things I don't get to do that I HAVE to come back and do. In Vietnam I didn't get to go to the War Remnants Museum because it was closed the day I planned to go. I didn't go to Cambodia. In Malaysia I would love to explore more of the jungle. In Japan I missed the gardens of Kyoto. On the flipside, I still do a LOT of things.
Today was very relaxed. We hiked about 15 minutes through the jungle. Our first stop was at a scenic viewpoint high above the Highlands. It's the highest point in Malaysia accessible by road at 6,666 ft. The clouds rolling over the lush hills looked like smoke. It was pretty, but I felt like I've seen it before at home. Then we walked up to a road to a path where we hiked a very short way into the jungle. We sloshed through the mud, all the while in awe of the vegetation around me. I saw trees covered in green moss so dense that it looked like the moss was standing on its own. The most interesting were the carnivorous pitcher plants. Basically, they look like pitchers hanging from trees. Bugs fly into the plant and get stuck there, then the enzymes in the plat break down the bug. These plants were everywhere.
On this short, muddy path I wished our long hike yesterday had been like our trek today. I loved tromping through the mud and having to carefully place my foot on the right spot. The jungle was beautiful!
Our next stop was a tea plantation called, "Boh." The tea bushes are arranged so symmetrically along the hills that I could see the rows from miles away. Our guide ("Jungle Man" as our guide, Uncle David, calls him) told us that tea must be grown on the hills because the bushed need flowing water. Also, the higher the elevation, the better the tea. As I sat in the grass, listening to Jungle Man expound on tea production, I felt totally peaceful, like when I was in the botanical gardens in Shanghai. The weather was perfect with the thin clouds covering the harsh sunlight and a slight breeze to cool me. I heard many birds.
On a side note, our main guide is David Low, but he likes to be called Uncle David. He is so cute!! He says he does not much like the jungle because of all the bugs, but his tour agency keeps sending him! :)
October 25, 2000
I didn't have time to write last night. Not much happened on our bus ride back to the ship. The first couple of hours were horrible because I had to pees so bad! But once we made our pit stop, I was happy. Our last stop yesterday before leaving the Highlands was a souvenir shop where I tried to rid myself of ringgets that I had not already spent. I am glad to be back on the ship, but at the same time, I'm sad to be out of the jungle. ....
I loved our guide, Uncle David. I loved the isolation from civilization. I loved the jungle and the mud. I disliked our "strenuous trek" through the jungle the first day in the Highlands. I disliked the FDP on the first day. I disliked the people in our group, not prepared, who complained about getting dirty. ....
Now it's on to India...We're almost halfway through! I'm excited for India.
One thing that we've been talking a lot about is the possibility of a route change because conflicts in the Middle East are heating up. Personally, I think it has to get very bad before we start skipping ports. ....
I'm beginning to look forward to India. After reading up on the caste system, it will be interesting to see how it functions in everyday life, especially when I visit the Dalit Village.
Also, BJ and I are going to travel on our own to a town I read about in the Lonely Planet guide. I can't wait to be on my own and not with any trips!
I know India will be a trying experience, but it must be done.
I do have expectations for India because I cannot help it. I see poverty in the form of starving people, homeless people, and beggars. I see the beggars swarming around me. I know it will be hard to turn these people away...
October 26, 2000
Right now, I'm sitting in my room with Jordan, Jules, and Liz watching, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." It's hard to believe Halloween is almost here... Sometimes it is weird to get these random ties to home. I can't really describe it. ....
I realized today how weird it is that I don't feel the rocking of the ship hardly at all now. Of course, I notice it, but it's just as normal as the ground on land not moving. You kinda get used to walking crookedly down the halls and always making sure you have a hand free to grab onto a railing if the ship shifts suddenly.
October 27, 2000
India tomorrow... I'm becoming less nervous about India. My nervousness has transformed into inquisitiveness. After learning about the caste system, I am VERY interested to see how it plays into everyday life. To me, a lot of what I've heard reminds me of the class system we have in the US. The sociological mind in me is churning... In the US, the "American Dream" is just that for most people: a dream. Upward mobility, if you're in the lower class is next to impossible. The people in the lower classes get the worst service oriented jobs whereas those in higher classes get better jobs. Education, in the US and in India, is mostly only available for the middle and upper classes. It will be interesting to see how the actual practices in India compare to the US.
October 28, 2000
I'm in India! My first impression is that it's a lot like China, but filled with different people. As we walked near the port gate, tons of auto-trishaw drivers surrounded us. A simple, "No" did not ward them off. They all yelled, "Ma'am" and wanted to take us somewhere. The four of us (Liz, Jules, Yvette, and I) wondered how we would all fit in the tiny trishaws.
A trishaw is a three-wheeled, covered, yellow vehicle... Actually, I wouldn't call it a vehicle, it's more like a scooter wannabe. Anyway, we were all told that the drivers near the port will overcharge, so we kept walking. Finally, we found a driver to take us to the Sheraton hotel (where we knew there would be email) for 20 ruppees a person (that's about $.50!). Along the way, our driver kept offering to take us to other places, but we were firm and we finally reached our destination.
The streets here are dusty. Small, run-down shops line the streets. There really aren't sidewalks, but you can walk on the curb. The women here wear beautiful clothes. They are brightly colored, loosely fitting, and they wrap around the body.
So we did email, then set off to walk to an ATM and another internet cafe (Jules needed telnet to access email). I realized that crossing the street is kinda like Vietnam. One major difference is that here you have to just walk out into traffic, but the vehicles don't slow down... Some speed up! But, we all got back in one piece! So we walked for about 10 minutes, then made our way back to the ship. Fortunately, we were not mobbed by the trishaw drivers on the way back into the port gate.
It was a short time to be in the streets of India, but it's enough for today. Being on the street, as an American, is exhausting: you have to ward off trishaw drivers, know where you're going, and be on alert, guarding your money.
In a way I can see how some people stay on the ship in India...Not because it's India, but because it's the middle of the voyage and I'm feeling a little burnt out on traveling. Every port requires so much energy...
Tomorrow I go to the Dalit village. I'm excited to see what I've been reading about...
October 29, 2000
The river is so peaceful. Behind me, palm fronds flutter in the wind. Far off, I hear some children playing in the water. I'm in a Dalit village. Our morning started with a 2 hour bus ride to this "center." The mission of the Dalit Liberation Education Trust is to unite Dalits and resist the discrimination these people face. I was expecting the minimum accommodations, but to my surprise we have beds with mattresses, sheets, and pillows and each room has a bathroom complete with flushing toilet, shower, and toilet paper! We all brought sleeping bags, so I didn't expect this! We spent the morning watching various short cultural show: dancing, singing, and theater. Then we talked about the condition of the Dalits. Their situation is much like discrimination in the States. Throughout our hour long discussion I felt a bit like they were giving us propaganda for their campaign. It's hot here, but not so humid, so it's bearable.
After lunch, we joined in meditation. We sat in a dimly lit room that echoed. In the middle of the room was a lotus made of sand with a gold lamp in the middle. In the lamp was four wicks and some oil. One person lit the wicks. Then, we had small clay lamps also with oil and one wick which a few people lit, then we spread the flame across the room. We all sat in a circle around the walls. Then, we sat silently watching the flames. Finally, three women came around, took our lamps, and put them in a circle around the center lamp. The candles symbolize lighting up a life. We repeated, "We are children of the light and we will wipe out the dark in world." I looked around and saw every person holding a flame in his/her hand. When the flames all were together, they lit the room. It was interesting. ....
Our visit to the Dalit village was not at all what I expected. First, they had electricity and a microphone system. When we arrived we saw a ton of people running to see us. On the ground, "Welcome" was drawn in sand. Women came around, put yellow paint on our faces, and white flowers in our hair. Then they lit a fire in a tin. They explained this was to ward off evil. We were paraded through the village. Then we all sat in plastic chairs with the entire village sitting in front of us like an audience. We took turns introducing ourselves. After, three groups of children performer danced for us! They were so cute! Next, we were led through the village. Slowly, we made our way on the dirt path. In front of every house we had to stop so that the fire ceremony to ward off evil spirits could be performed. In the tin was oil and a beetle leaf. On the leaf was a small cube on fire. The women moved the tin around in a circle then took the leaf with the cube on fire and placed it on the ground. The rest of the contents in the tin were poured out.
Along the way, we were able to enter one of the huts where people live. The first thing I noticed about the huts was that the thatched roof almost touched the ground. The roofs were conical, so we had to duck to enter, but we could stand once inside. Some of the "buildings" in the village had electricity, but not the home. The only light we had to see the inside of the hut was a small candle. (On a side note, it took us a long time to arrive in the village, so it was basically dark on our walk.) The hut was divided into three rooms. The room you enter into is the sleeping room. To the left was a storage room for food and other things. To the right was another room for storage. In the living room were two framed, black and white pictures on the wall. The rooms were tiny (not really "rooms"), but I was surprised that there actually were rooms.
The people in the village were so upbeat. Even though they were obviously in poverty, they had high spirits. The clapping during the dances showed me how much they can do (without the things I have) to have fun!
I cannot describe fully what I saw. The village paths were dusty. Cows and goats roamed free. People surrounded me. We brought crayons, pens, coloring books, and candy for the kids and they fought over everything. Little hands, grabbing for the goodies. This was when I realized what poverty these people face. I can go to the store on the corner and buy pens and crayons and everything else for mere pocket change, yet the Dalits may only see these once in a lifetime! What's more, their religion and position in society is so ingrained that they accept where they are in society and don't try to change it! ...
Again, it's hard to remember that even though I have more material possessions, more isn't always better. The Dalit villages are so connected, their sense of community is amazing. Their dedication to work and their goddess surpasses any I've seen in the States! The children were treated a bit like animals which surprised me at first. When they got out of hand, adults just shoved them into line.
I don't think India has been as intense as I thought it would be (granted I still have three days left!) Yes, there's poverty, but there's been poverty in our last few ports. Maybe I'm missing something... Maybe I think the simple life is the way to go... If these people can be happy with what little they have, I have no right to ever, ever complain about anything again!
October 30, 2000
I'm in my hotel room in Mamallapuram. BJ and I had an adventure of sorts today. I got back from the Dalit village at around noon, found BJ, at lunch, then we set off to find the travel agency. Our trishaw driver tried to double the charge he had originally agreed on. He claimed he had to go all the way back to the port and we had to pay for it even though we weren't going with him. Once BJ mentioned that we knew any other driver would have charged us only 20 ruppees (he was charging 200 ruppees), he conceded and we left. At the travel agency, we hired a car and a driver and booked a hotel room. For the whole trip, we will pay $45 each! Our hotel, the Ideal Beach Resort, is amazing. Our room is on the top floor of a two-story condo-like building. We have a balcony overlooking coconut palm trees and we can just see the beach. Within the resort, there are pathways through the trees, a beautiful swimming pool, and quick access to the beach.
After we settled in, we went for a stroll on the beach...We thought we would have a nice leisurely walk...I learned quickly that in India, being a tourist, you cannot take a leisurely walk ANYWHERE! As soon as my foot hit the sandy beach, two Indian men were walking up to us, their hands laden with items to sell! BJ, being the friendly guy he is, stopped to look at one man's artwork. Of course, we then had to explain that we had no money to buy his things. He WOULD NOT leave us alone. Finally, he said he would walk us down the beach. We began to walk...After a few seconds, the man said he would show us the beach and then later we would buy his artwork to thank him for his services. Again, we sternly replied that we had no money...As BJ tried to talk to the man, I stood ankle deep at the water's edge. A woman approached me, trying to sell some shells. I told her I didn't bring any money, she said, "money underneath." She obviously knew that we carry our money in money belts under our clothing. I was disconcerted by this, but insisted I had no money. She finally left me alone. In the end, we broke free of the art man. However, as soon as we did, another man rushed up to us to sell us something. Then another came up and offered something for "free." Who knows what we would have been expected to do for that! We turned them all away with claims of no money. A little girl was playing at the water's edge near me. I said hi, she asked for a "school pen." I told her I didn't have one, she asked for "chocolate"! I told her I have none. She lost interest. Further down the way, a young boy came up, asked my name and when I replied, he asked for a "school pen." I told him I had none; he lost interest. One man approached us, not trying to sell anything. He walked with us for a few minutes and talked to us about random things. It was nice to talk to someone from here without wondering when they'll ask you to buy something.
I know we look rich to these people, and in comparison we are, but they can't see that it doesn't mean we carry tons of money and supplies with us wherever we go! It's so exhausting to even go for a walk on the beach! To Indians it seems we're walking money. It's VERY hard to get any sort of true interaction. I wish theses people would be as friendly as they are without the profit motive.
After our "stroll," I showered and we went down for a poolside buffet dinner, followed by a cultural dance show. Both were excellent! In the dance show, girls dressed in extravagant gold trimmed and other colored silks paraded around the stage, their anklets jingling to the beat. On the side, a man played oboe, one played drums, and a woman sang. The dances were various stories of the gods.
I find a religious influence everywhere! There's a small Hindu shrine right next to the pool! I'm finding India to be an exhausting adventure...but an adventure nonetheless!
October 31, 2000
So here I sit. The radiant sun beats down on me. I can hear the caws of crows and the crash of waves on the beach. I sit on the balcony of our hotel room with my feet propped up on a small table. It's so peaceful here! I slept wonderfully under the mosquito netting. .... The traffic in Chennai is unbelievable! It's kind of like China in that most of the time two cars are driving side by side in the same lane. On the other hand, it's about ten times worse than Shanghai! If someone is going slow in front of you, you pass regardless of how much room there is to do so! The diversity of what's on the road makes the whole thing seem a little absurd: cows, oxen pulling carts, small auto trishaws, taxi that are cars from the 50s, motorbikes, regular bicycles, and pedestrians! Cows are more sacred than humans here, so they wander everywhere! I used to see cows as ugly, clumsy animals, but after seeing so many, I have begun to see the simple beauty in a cow. I know it sounds silly, but there's just something about cows that is beautiful! The saris women wear are so beautiful. Even those saris which are obviously old and dirty are beautiful!
I am exhausted...It's hard to describe the energy used just walking on the street: EVERYONE comes up and wants me to buy something! The whole walk is filled by fending off beggars and sellers! That's the end of the first journal I brought.... Now I start on the second one...