|September 13, 2000
My mind still cannot begin to process what I'm doing here, on a ship, bound for the most wonderful experience of my life! So, I'm finally on the boat somewhere on the Pacific... have been for about eight hours now. My roommates are very cool and I think we'll get along well.
The rocking on the boat was barely detectable for a long time, but now it's starting to rock a lot more. I've decided not to use the seasick medicine I brought until I feel sick because there's no sense in taking it until I need it! I'm wondering how the night will go, but I think I'll sleep well.
School is the last thing on my mind right now, although classes start on Friday. It doesn't really seem to me that these classes could be just boring classes like the ones I take at home... I guess I'll find out!
September 16, 2000
I'm so happy that I haven't been seasick! For a few meals I couldn't eat, but I'm over that now. I took off my wristbands just to see if I can handle the rocking without them. I really think it's psychosomatic anyway...
The people I've met have been great! It seems that everywhere I go, there are people I know!... I remember worrying before the trip that everyone was going to be snobby and annoying. I'm so glad I was wrong! And, everyone else thought the same thing!
The bar opened two nights ago. The lines are ridiculous; I'm glad to say that I don't stand in those lines! I've found that a very good way to meet people is to talk to those who are not in the Union around bar opening time because those are the people who, like me, actually want to get something out of this as opposed to partying the voyage away...
Classes started yesterday and I'm really excited! The professors are all so upbeat and happy to be teaching! I think that is one advantage to taking classes in an environment which is so selective. There is no way a professor who is unenthusiastic about his/her work could or would come on the trip. Because of the professors' enthusiasm and the enthusiasm of those around me, I feel so much more motivated to really learn and not just go through the motions of memorizing information then spitting it out on a test or in a paper.
September 17, 2000
So here I am, sitting in the Harbour Grill on my fifth day on the ship. All around me there are people laughing and talking. I can see the vast expanse of the ocean all around. It's very cold outside, so even though I just want to sit out the re and feel the sea breeze hit my skin, I don't because it's too cold...
September 19, 2000
My body was not cooperating with me today. I woke at 5:30 AM to find the ship rising and plummeting through the sea. At 6:30 AM my alarm went of f; I was already awake. Usually the rocking of the ship puts me to sleep.. However, this morning, there was just too much rocking and every few minutes a wave would crash against the ship causing our room to shake loudly. So, at 6:30 I got out of bed and made my way (staggering like a drunk because of the rocking) to the shower.
My shower was an experience in itself! I nearly killed myself when I bent down to get my shampoo off the floor of the shower: the ship decided to take a dive at the exact point when I picked up my bottle of shampoo. After that experience, I got dressed and a wave of seasickness hit me. I lay down, fully clothed, on my bed, knowing that any movement would set off the seasickness.
So, I put my wristbands back on and found my Dramamine. At about 7:30 I resigned myself to skipping my 8:00 class. I slept for an hour and was trying to get myself out of bed when they announced that CORE would be shown on TV in the rooms. To say the least, I was relieved. However, I told myself that I had to get out of bed so the whole day would not be wasted. After sitting in the Union for 2 or 3 minutes, I couldn't handle the rocking, so I went back down to my room and watched CORE from the comfort of my bed.
It's funny how I feel so much better when lying down. Again at noon I forced myself to get up and go to lunch. I realized that part of what I felt was a result of not eating much yesterday, so I forced down a roll and part of a grilled cheese sandwich. I felt better after this, so I went to class. Now, I'm glad I made myself go because I got through class with no problems.
September 20, 2000
Thankfully, today is a stark contrast to yesterday's turbulence and seasickness. The sea is very calm and the sun warms me as I sit here in my white plastic chair on the deck of the ship. There is a slight sea breeze, but nothing like the strong winds of yesterday's storm.
For the first time, I saw the sunrise. I woke groggily at 6:00 and dressed in the dark, hoping I put my clothes on right side out. Jules knocked softly on the door, so I woke Liz and we headed upstairs. Ann was waiting at the top of the stairs; with the group complete, we ventured out into the chilly morning air. I felt like part of as mall, elite group when I saw the few others on the deck that had also come out to witness the rising sun. I am struck by the awe of nature that pulls us out of bed at god-awful hours just to see the regular routing of the earth.
At first glimpse, the clouds covering the horizon struck disappointment inside me. However, as the sun slowly crept above the clouds, I realized that the clouds made this nature show even more spectacular. At first, we were all cold, huddled in small deck chairs trying to protect our selves from the ruthless wind. Then, we grew impatient. Finally, when the first glimpse of son showed through the clouds, I forgot about being cold and revelled in the beautiful rays streaming through the clouds. Before the sun fully emerged from the clouds, we succumbed to the cold, put our chairs away, and went back inside. Even so, now I can say I have witnessed a sunrise from the deck of the Universe Explorer. And of course I have the pictures to prove it!...
I remember the first day on the ship, we all wondered when we would be out of sight of land. In the distance were mountains barely recognizable through the haze. Now, as I look our on the vast, immense sea, I cannot believe this nothingness I see. Don't get me wrong, it is absolutely beautiful and amazing! However, my mind does not comprehend how huge the ocean really is. I look where we came from, far, far away on the horizon, and I cannot believe that I see the same ocean today that I saw yesterday, and the day be fore, and the day before that. What's more: If we sailed for days to the left or right of where we are now, it would look exactly the same! I cannot begin to explain what it is like to look out on the horizon from all directions and have it look exactly the same.
In a way, it all comes into perspective when I think about playing at the beach where I thought that that water constituted the ocean. I could never swim to the horizon from the beach, so, in my minds-eye, the ocean stopped at the horizon and beyond that, I could not know. Now, I see the ocean for what it is: a gigantic, vast body of water with a mind of its own and I cannot completely connect that with the ocean I grew up in at the beach.
September 23, 2000
Today was uneventful... Actually, that's not completely true. During core, I finally saw sealife in the form of dolphins (or porpoises, no one is really sure). Class had just started when a few people sitting by the window pointed excitedly out the window. Suddenly, a wave of students jumped up and ran to the nearest window. At first, I thought they were just flying fish because they looked so small. But, with a closer look, I saw that they were dolphins. The gray, sleek animals dove in and out of the water alongside the ship. Then, as quick as they'd come, they were gone. Everyone returned to his/her seat and core continued.
September 24, 2000
An experience of life on the ship that deserves mention is eating. The ship seems to make me constantly hungry. So, I try to get my meals as soon as I can. Unfortunately, so does everyone else! The lines start building up around half an hour before the dining rooms open. The food is cafeteria style where we all serve ourselves. However, we are all indebted to the busboys because they are always faithfully roaming, ready to take your tray away before you even sit down.
They must be trained in the art of stealth because they seem to come out of the "woodwork" and someone is by your side before you can blink! If anyone ever decides to help the busboys out by putting away his/her own tray, they get irritated and remind us that it's their job to take our trays and dirty dishes! Being waited on is great, but I think we all feel a twinge of guilt at letting someone else do what we're perfectly capable of doing.
I have finally figured out what makes shipboard classes so unique (aside from the obvious: they're on a ship). Students, faculty, and staff live together, so what ever effects one person effects another. At home (on land), being sick is only rarely understood as a good excuse for missing class. However, on the ship, even the professors get sick (seasick) so they know how it feels. Also, everything is new to students and faculty. I realized these things while watching my professor stagger around, trying to keep her balance, in the rough seas. Basically, we are all on the same level and in search of adventure.
Ultimately, we all have a common bond which serves to make the who le experience pretty informal.
September 26, 2000
We're in Japan! As we pulled into the Port of Kobe, a brass band played Sousa from the docks. Then, during the welcome ceremony on the ship, a group of drummers per formed an amazing show for us. Not only did they beat the drums with every ounce of strength they had, they used vocal shouts and physical movement to enhance the performance. Through both the band and the drummers, I realized the universality of music. They don't speak our language and we don't speak theirs, but still we all were understanding each other when the music was our means of communication.
Before the drummers took the stage, I was surprised to see the mayor of Kobe on our ship, speaking and welcoming us to Kobe. He had to have a translator and this was a sharp contrast to the communication and connection through music. At about noon, we finally stepped off the ship onto the land of Japan.
The first thing I noticed about Japan was the lack of high rises! (Here's a side not e, later I realized they have lots of high rises, but they're all the same size, so none looked like high rises from the ship) Then I remembered my religion professor showing pictures of how the Japanese carefully plan the height and orientation of each building so as to maximize the "good" wind rolling off the mountain. High rises would block the wind...
Anyway, our first order of business was to get to Sonnomiya station and being the young, agile people we are, we decided to walk the 15 minutes to the station. On our walk, I was so overloaded with sensory experiences that I cannot clearly remember the thoughts racing inside my head... At one point in our walk, we were checking the map to make sure we were headed in the rig ht direction. A man on a bicycle (a huge mode of transportation in Japan) stopped and said something in Japanese that I didn't understand.
It dawned on me that he was offering to help, so we pointed to Sonnomiya station on the map and the man pointed to the direction we should go.
Finally, we found the station and another adventure began: we needed train passes. To obtain our passes, we took the logical first step: go to the information booth. The woman and man only spoke a tiny bit of English. Finally, the woman cal led someone on the phone, spoke fervently to the person, then sent us upstairs. Upstairs a man was there to help us. After consulting with Jules (she knows a little Japanese), the man sent us back downstairs.
With Jules leading the way (none of us knew what the man had said), we all traipsed back downstairs. We walked for a few minutes, taking one turn after another. Finally, we saw a sign for Sonnomiya station.
On a side note, the signs inside are like our signs in a airport at home. Also, most of these signs have English written under the Japanese!
So we followed the sign to the station ticket booth. At the ticket booth, we could not figure out how to open the door! It looked like one of those automatic sliding doors, but we stood in font of it and it would not open! I noticed some small gray handle-like panels on the door, where a handle would be on a regular (non-automatic) door.
I touched one of the panels and the door slid open. I guess you could say they were semi-automatic doors.
Once inside, we saw other SAS students. I was relieved to see we had found the right place. So we waited in line (lines have become an inevitable part of my day) to buy a train pass.
Now, I should talk about some of the people I was with because at this point, our true natures were beginning to show. First, Jules was basically our interpreter. She can read Japanese and speak it enough to help get us where we need to go. I would have been lost without her. Second,
Liz became a little of a leader-type; telling us where to go, what to do. At points, she became a little too bossy, but I let it slide. Next, there's Allyson. She got stressed and frustrated very easily. When we couldn't find the ticket booth, I had a sense that she would have given up and stayed in Kobe if the rest of us weren't so excited to go to Osaka. Fourth, BJ was laid-back, just taking it all in. I felt a connection to him in the way that I too was letting things happen as they will. Stress and frustration never came into play. Finally, Laura also was laid-back and stress-free. She seemed to just follow wherever we went, not saying anything one way or another. ...While standing in line, Laura, BJ, and Ally son decided they only needed one ticket, not the pass, so we made plans to meet them in Osaka station when we arrived and the set off to buy single tickets. Finally, we got our passes and we went to find the train to Osaka.
The who le day, I realized how it feels to be a foreigner! Never before have I felt like such an outsider. People, who cannot understand me, surround me! I try to look at myself like I look at Asian foreigners at home. I think they are interesting, but since I cannot understand their language, I do not interact and just keep doing whatever I need to do.
I am surprised and a little disappointed at how Americanized everything is. BJ went to the bathroom and told us, when he returned, that there was a sign on the bathroom door that said "Japanese style." Of course it's Japanese style, we're in Japan!! But the fact that someone felt the need to warn people of this, clearly shows how Americanized Japan is!
When we all finally met in Osaka, we found so me phones and called home... After we all contacted people, we headed for an internet cafe where I sent out a mass email.
In the end, we walked around Osaka in awe at the lights. BJ summed it all up, "It's like millions of miles of Times Square." The re are people everywhere, trying fervently to get somewhere. Not to mention the lights EVERYWHERE!!
Also, everything is small! We saw a semi truck on our first walk, but it was the size of a large van in the states. Everyone rides either a motorbike or a bicycle, but there are also a fair amount of cars. We stopped at a Sushi bar for dinner. Everyone was nice! We amused the chef and the man at the door by trying to say some things in Japanese.
Before the Sushi bar, I resigned myself to use the Asian toilets. It really wasn't as bad as I thought, you have to squat, but I survived. My final thought was watching people zoom around in the train station.
People are cutting in and out of the main flow, but no one seems to bump into each other! Except us!!! We waded, bumbling, through the crowds of people. I think there is some sort of secret to walking through a crowd in Japan! Maybe by the end of our stay, I'll figure it out...if not, I'll just run into everyone.
We finally made it back to the ship around 9:00 or 9:30, then I crashed into bed.
Today was my trip to Nara. A tour guide led the group to various shrines and temples. I feel like I did what any normal tourist does.
I did get to interact with many, many school children. They all seem to love talking to Americans, even though we cannot communicate too well to each other. I'm amazed at the amount we were able to convey to each other.
Every once in a while I have to remind myself that I'm in Japan. Most of the landscape (in Nara) looks a lot like the US, except for the temples and shrines. In the Deer Park, the trees and grass look no different.
I was struck by the different reasons people visit the temples. Obviously, they are tourist attractions and apparently they a re popular places for school field trips. I saw many people there to pay homage to Buddha. The various rituals they went through (eg. Burning incense and making a monetary offering then ringing a bell) kept me in awe. I loved watching these rituals.
I wonder why so many Japanese treat Americans so well where in the US, we treat foreign tourists not well at all.
I met the coolest couple tonight in Kyoto! Mo'taz is Palestinian and he attends Kyoto University. Yuko is a Japanese businesswoman who runs a communication business. Jenny, Jeff, Ann, and I all talked with Mo'taz and Yuko after they helped us find a ryokan (Japanese style inn) and a good place to eat. Ironically, we ate at a Chinese restaurant!!
Both Mo'taz and Yuko really wanted to talk to us, so we hung around in the restaurant talking and laughing. Mo'taz seemed happy to practice his English and Yuko seemed happy to be having fun!
The ryokan we are staying in is amazing! We sleep on futons on the tatami mat floor. We have a short table with chairs that sit on the floor. Unfortunately, the ryokan is westernized in that there are western toilets, but I guess I should be happy about that. The doors in our room se em to be made of thin paper. I'm so glad I decided to stay in the ryokan!
Earlier today I took the Nara trip to three temples and a shrine. The first temple, Horyuji was amazing! The buildings are all made of wood, yet so intricately designed! Th e second temple, Todaiji, housed the largest statue of Buddha in the world! The only thing I kept thinking is, "How did they make it?" Funny thing is that I was much more impressed with this Buddha than I was with the Statue of Liberty! The intricacies of the design were amazing! The third temple, Kofuku-ji was just another temple. Finally, by the time we got to the shrine, my feet and shoulders and legs hurt and I was exhausted, so I didn't pay much attention to what was going on around me.
Overall, it was a good day, the evening was wonderful! It was so good to talk to someone who could discuss things about Japan wit h us!!
Exhaustion. Aching muscles. Total satisfaction. All these things reign in my body right now as I lay in my bed, on the ship, after two intense days of travelling in Japan. This morning, Jenny, Jeff, Ann, and I set out in Kyoto. We saw an elementary school on a directory map, so we headed in the general direction of the school...We never found it. What we did find was an open food market. Seeing those dead fish just lying in perfect rows was not as bad as the faint fish smell that permeated the market. Everywhere I turned, there were fish!
Later, the market transformed into a row of shops. Suddenly, we were famous! Three Japanese junior high students pulled out cameras and snapped pictures of us! We stopped and talked with them for a bit before we moved on. Japanese students do not shy away from foreigners as American students do. Schools in Japan must teach more about cultural awareness and diversity. It's unfortunate that American students aren't as courageous, mostly because adults teach us to follow American ways, without regard to others (at least at that age).
Mo'taz and Yuko took us to a temple today that was beautiful!! Set high on a lush hill, the temple's location allowed for a wonder full view of Kyoto. The city was conveniently and efficiently nestled at the foot of the mountains.
I had the unique chance to walk through the "belly" of the mother of Buddha and touch her belly button...We walked through a pitch black room holding onto a rope railing. Suddenly, on the right there was a small spot of light. It broadened into a small spotlight pointed over a revolving stone with a symbol in the middle. Each person walked around the stone (guided by the rope) and touched it. Yuko explained that the room was Buddha's mother's belly (inside) and the stone- her belly button. Everything involving Japanese religion is so symbolic! It seems the whole world is simply a symbol....
I am feeling more comfortable being in a new country where no one knows your language. It's like being a kid all over again! I use hand gestures to communicate. Everything is very exciting, like riding a bus through Kyoto was so much fun!! I need pictures to identify items on a menu! What's more: I understand some words, but not others. Anything written in English is self-explanatory, but I'm lost if everything is in Japanese.
The willingness to help is amazing! In the US if you ask a person for directions, there's a 50/50 chance you'll get an answer at all and a 99% chance you'll get hasty directions that may or may not lead you where you want to go. In Japan, there's a 99% chance someone will try to help, then there's a 50/50 chance s/he will personally take you where you want to go! ....
I saw a geisha!!! Yuko ran up to her and asked if we could take her photo. She consented, so we all got in the picture. Before we could say anything, she was off! Then we saw another and repeated the routine. Another walked by, but we did not take a picture. They were beautiful! Really, all three were just what I expected: very meticulously done up in white faces, beautiful kimonos, intricate hairstyles, and serious looks on their faces. I really wish one would talk to me! I would ask what their life is like...mostly just to compare to Memoirs of a Geisha. Tomorrow I'm off to Himeji Castle...
Himeji Castle was well worth the 600 yen admission price! We scouted out an English-speaking tour guide to explain the details of the castle. The Japanese shoguns were so plotting and mischievous!! To protect their castle, they built many, many deceitful passageways and hidden rooms. The most amazing fact is that two huge pieces of lumber hold up the entire structure! Also, in Japanese culture, it is so dishonorable to get captured alive that when the battle was over and the castle was about to be seized, the shogun would climb to the top of the castle and commit a ritual suicide.
As we walked along narrow corridors and climbed steep steps, I was taken back in the past where I saw men running around, defending their castle in the smoky air. I could feel the fear and confusion a person in battle must have felt. I found out later that no real battles were fought where the castle was under siege. It was so well designed that no one in their right mind would have tried to take the castle.
On a very different note, I am getting used to Eastern style toilets. The only thing I cannot shake is the image of the se well-dressed women squatting! For the life of my, I cannot imagine this! I think this must be because I equate the squatting with camping and primitive ways, so all these sophisticate women do not seem like the type for this. I can see as I write this that my explanation is a result of my own culture being different, but the image remains. ....
I am beginning to see the superficial nature of language. Though it is a tool for communication it is definitely not THE tool for communication. So far, I have conveyed ideas in the form of hand gestures and pictures. In a way, talking feels like a waste of energy! Let's do away with the language (because I can't understand you and vice versa) and get right to the heart of the matter. A man rode his bike up to us yesterday (Jeff, Jenny, Ann, and I were sitting on a curb), jabbered at us in Japanese, obviously angry, then rode away. What did his words accomplish? NOTHING! On the other hand, his body language (furrowed brow and flailing hands) conveyed how he was upset. Language is a useful tool, but we rely too much on it for communication.
September 30, 2000
We're preparing for departure from Japan. Last night Jules, Liz and I wandered around Kobe. I bought a comic book that I cannot read, but the pictures seem to tell the whole story. I cannot wait to look through it and interpret the story based solely on the pictures! It solidifies what I wrote about language yesterday.
Today was an adventure. Liz, Jules, and I set out for Mt. Rokko and for the Ninobuki waterfalls. After a good-length walk, we made it to the general area where the waterfalls are. But, no matter which way we went, we could not find the path up to the falls! We walked for a few minutes down one path, then another and yet another. Finally, we decided to take the "ropeway" (really, it's just a tram) to the top.
The tram was definitely worth the money. Behind us we could see the ship and we didn't have to exhaust ourselves further by hiking up. When we arrived at the top, there was a wedding taking place! The bride was about our age. Her dress was simple, but beautiful. The groom wore an outfit that might have been a military uniform, but I'm sure it wasn't. The two together were a cute couple. We saw the end of the wedding. It was an awesome place for a wedding: the entire city of Kobe could be seen from the top! At the very end of the wedding, the family had an object that looked like a huge bullhorn. They pulled a string and shiny strings filled the air, covering the bride and groom. Also, before that, the men in the wedding party were blowing bubbles!
We then followed the path down to the waterfalls. My legs were worked very hard during the hike down! It took us about half an hour to reach the falls. I was a bit disappointed because they were pretty small. However, I felt very good about experiencing the hiking in Japan. The nature surrounding me seemed very much like the nature at home when I'm hiking. The trail was the same mix of dirt and rock, the trees looked alike, and the rocks lining the trail looked like home. One thing I did notice in the tram on the way to the top was the density of the forest: I could not see the ground through the tree tops. It was as if the mountain was covered in a giant, dark green pillow.
We never made it to Mt. Rokko because time did not permit, but I am happy to have been hiking in Japan! ....
So we're leaving soon and it's off to China. I feel like I have just begun to understand how to travel and communicate in Japan. On the other hand, I have learned so much already so I cannot wait to get to the next ports! I wonder what's in store for me!!! ....
I loved eating with chopsticks. I loved meeting such friendly people. I loved trying new food. I loved the transportation system. I disliked the cost of the Port Liner (the train from port to the central station). I disliked the amount of people with cell phones (it's worse than at home). I disliked the price of internet cafes.... I can't wait to be rocked to sleep tonight.