Monday, December 15, 2008

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -- Mark Twain

Sunday, November 23, 2008


To try and sum up this experience I have to say....
We are so lucky to live the way we do.
There are millions of people like Granny in South Africa who need help, they are not lazy or irresponsible but do need to be free of poverty so they can make choices and have opportunities to make their life better.

My world has opened up.
My happy bubble I had been living in was burst wide open and I so wanted to go back into my insulated world. India challenged my comfort zone, pushed my boundaries and enlarged my awareness of the world and myself.

I learned about the importance of peace and tranquility in Malaysia and the flow of friendship in Viet Nam.

China and Japan put it all together for me, the importance of community and helping each other. We are all connected on this planet as human beings. The love the poor Indian woman has for her children is as strong as the love I have for my children. We aren’t any different. Lets find things that bring us together not divide us.

Desmund Tutu said it so nicely:
Americans are generous people, why not export your generosity rather than your bombs.
The US can be a compassionate leader, we can win the war on poverty, the people will be with you, but we will never win a war on terror as long as there are conditions that make people desperate.

I have hope for our future and understand thoroughly the importance of helping others less fortunate than ourselves.

All the best to you.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


The land of gracious, polite and helpful people. There was a lot of bowing going on, as you enter, as you leave, after you request something, after someone helps you and a lot of help was needed! Japan was one of the most delightful countries I have visited but also the most difficult to navigate and communicate. They are still a pretty homogeneous community where everyone knows the rules and protocol. All writing is in Japanese characters so you can't figure out where you are going unless you know Japanese. Its like a puzzle trying to match the same characters on the map to the writing in a brochure. Not many people spoke any other languages but providing help they did- graciously and often. Not only would they try to show you the direction you needed to go but they would stop whatever they were doing and take you there, smiling and bowing the whole time.

Traveling outside of the big cities was my main goal so I tagged along with 3 ladies from the ship and ended up at a hotel in the hills above Hakone where we indulged in gender separated hot spring baths outside. The only problem was the signs were in Japanese and we had no idea which bath was for men and which for women. We took our chances and entered the red one but found no men or women, so we were still confused if we were in the right place but stripped naked anyways and jumped in- thank goodness a few minutes later a naked Japanese lady entered too!

It was lovely to be in cool crisp weather again with the changing colors of fall all around us. I enjoyed several short hikes in the hills in my new ninja shoes before heading back to the ship for Hawaii.

Friday, November 14, 2008


If you would like to know more about the voyage go to:

Well, my first impressions of China were skewed a bit because we sailed to Hong Kong first which isn’t really the China we hear about; communist, crowded, bikes, a developing nation. Hong Kong is the epitome of capitalism. It still remains somewhat free of China’s governmental policies and looks like any huge city in the states with big buildings all lit up at night with the names of the banks and companies blaring at you, Sony, Costco, Phillips. Then it hit me- after all these beautiful little cultural towns we see what capitalism is capable of- wiping out the culture and replacing it with concrete and lights. The thought enters that we cannot keep raping the lands and wiping out culture to build more of this- big lonely cities full of shopping and restaurants. Have to remind myself that this is one city and outside the city are the beautiful quaint towns that I enjoy so much. I guess I’m not much of a big city girl.

The next day I flew to Beijing with a group of 30 students and 5 adults. Beijing is modern but also full of culture. The progress this country has made in the past 30 years is astounding. From an isolated country to opening its doors to commerce they have grown tremendously in a short period of time. The Olympic Stadium was beautiful as well as the infrastructure of the city. I learned a lot about Chinese history, our tour guide was very proud of his country. Seeing a communist government at work was interesting, the people seemed happy, busy and content. People are taken care of by the government, health care, education, and no private land ownership. Everything is owned by the government. Chairman Mao is revered here which surprised me after the atrocities we read about during the Cultural Revolution. They seem to have done a good job not telling the people how they accomplished this movement towards an economically better country. The lack of freedom of speech and information was difficult to comprehend at times.

The toilets were a trip. Open stalls, no toilet paper and holes in the floor where you squat. Very difficult to get used to!

A highlight was walking through a park in the middle of the city with 100’s of older people playing cards, dancing, talking, playing music and paddleball. In China, people can retire after the age of 50 and enjoy their days in the parks socializing with other retired people. Here, an older gentleman saw me smiling at the dancing couples and asked me to dance! I was in heaven. Ballroom dancing with Chinese people, I was the only western lady and towered above this man. It was wonderful!

The Great Wall was amazing. It is located out in the country about 2 hours from Beijing. It is huge and felt awe-inspiring to walk on a structure that was built so long ago with such historical importance. It was such a contrast to be in cold weather and in a forest after all the tropical countries we have been visiting.

In every country so far have we have been approached, touched, begged, harassed for our money, buy this, bargain for that, urging us in their stores, it has become extremely tiring at this point. China was no exception.
Chinese young people would often grab the students, pull them to the side and take photos. Not ask, just grab- we would just laugh and joke about it. When we were in crowded places like The Forbidden City the people would push and shove like you have never experienced. Whenever they saw a small space they had this strong urge to fill it up- no personal space at all, and we are all SO much bigger than they are that it was comical.
One thing that struck me was how community oriented the people are. They take care of each other and include everyone in decisions. Never wanting to keep others waiting or shame another. It was clear the contrast of American individualism where we look out for ourselves and do not like to be told when or where we have to be somewhere. The students were asked to be on time constantly by the tour guide and told not to go out at night after dinner so they can be rested for the next day. He even told them when and how to pack their things on departure day. Interesting.

The ports have been coming quickly these past few weeks and I still feel over stimulated and excited by all the activity. In each country it takes time to figure out the communication, culture and how to get around, always a lot to take in but am loving it!

On a very sad note we had a student who was killed by a drunk driver in Hong Kong last week at 4 am while trying to hail a taxi. It was very difficult to hear since we have formed a tight community on the ship. My heart goes out to his family and we all realize how quickly something devastating can happen. Makes us appreciate our family and friends even more. Seems to be a recurring theme on this journey.

A big hug to you.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Ship Life

Ship life is actually as good if not better than the ports! I am enjoying the whole experience. Every day is different and stimulating- always a great discussion at meals and I find the classes to be stimulating and well taught by professors who hold PHD’s in their fields. Since my background is in the sciences it has been fascinating to now take mostly humanities classes where there are small groups discussions and collaboration much more than when I went to school. Seems to be a very effective way to learn and actually remember information.

A typical day for me is class all day, happy hour at 5 with faculty, dinner and great discussions about everything you can think of, during the evening I have time to read, or listen to a lecture or movie about the upcoming country we will visit. This is also when the students come to life- they are up most of the night studying, playing, joking around and eating. Amazing the energy they have!

One fun thing we have been doing is broadcasting a show every 4th night on TV here on the ship. My character is Dr. Love, I help answer students' questions about love- funny situations and very frank advice about condom use, foreplay and how to deal after sex when you do not want to be involved- all on TV- wow young people have come a long way! It has been fun to be a part of the student's world without being a parent to any! Now students just call- hey dr. love... when they want to talk- very entertaining!

We often have special events at night, student talent shows, the wonderful crew has entertained us with song and dance, special sit down dinners and a few students are producing the play The Vagina Monologues coming up as we cross the Pacific. Always a lot going on!!

Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam

Viet Nam is a lovely country with resourceful, tough, hard working people who have fought hard for their independence. It was another difficult port for many when we see first hand the destruction that war brings to a country. These people have endured some intense hardships and I admire their tenacity at fighting and defeating many countries for their independence. When you think about it they stood up and fought to be free from French colonization initially, the Chinese, then the Americans and defeated us all! Many people were affected by a variety of sights which brought the reality of war to light such as; the images of the war at the museums, crawling into the Cu Chi tunnels where the Viet Kong lived and brought down Saigon in ’75 and the after effects of Agent Orange observed at an orphanage where disabled children live. Disturbing to say the least.

Viet Nam did not feel like a communist country, we were free to travel and explore as we wished but I hear it has changed a lot from twenty years ago. The Vietnamese people are very persistent and so small! I did feel gigantic next to them, many are not much taller than 4’6” or so.

I woke up at 6 am the day we arrived to look out my window to see green water, not the normal blue waves of the oceans and seas. I went out on deck into the humid and balmy air and saw that we were traveling up the Saigon river as we made our way to Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon. On the banks were small fishing boats carrying one or two people with cone shaped hats. Our huge wake rocked their small boats and pushed them into the shore, our boat was nearly as big as the river.

I thought I would just stay in Saigon but realized it was another big city and would prefer a quieter area. It was quite hot and I’m still nervous about getting caught in the heat so Erika, Scott and I decided to fly to Hoi An, a small city near the coast known for China Beach where the military first landed in Viet Nam.

Hoi An is a wonderful Heritage City where most people are fisherman, cooks or tailors for all the tourists. We check into a nice hotel with a pool on a river close to town. Erika and I decide to get massages at the hotel- she goes for the full body, I am thinking reflexology on my feet sounds nice, while Scott is off having a beer and relaxing at the bar. At the spa, I am led up a stairway to a dimly lit room and a very little man says he is going to give me the foot massage- I arrive in the room and get on the table- first thing I notice is there is an air conditioner- please turn it on is my first request! He speaks very little English and I am not fluent in Vietnamese so there is a lot of pointing going on, Ahhh nice cool air, a man touching and squeezing my feet- all is well. He finishes the feet and points for me to sit up, “All done” he says and now leads me to another room where there are round pebbles and a path to a wooden basin- ahh, just like Malaysia I think, “take shower, take off dress” he says – OK, lots of nice lotions and salts all around with candles and dim lights- I am very relaxed and happy. I climb into the dark wood tub and am enjoying all the sea salts and warm water, think to myself I may not want to sit down in here as there have been many before me so I am squatting in the tub enjoying the water and lotions. I look down after a few minutes and see a dark thing in the water, I look a little closer and there is a dark furry thing swimming his heart out closer and closer to me- I scream and jump out of the tub, the man comes running in and says something in Vietnamese, I am naked grabbing for a towel and pointing in the tub. He gets in the tub and picks up a furry mouse by the tail, puts his hand with the mouse behind his back and says “OK, now all ready for you”. I break out laughing so hard and say no thank you, all done- my relaxing mood has come to an abrupt end and I can feel my heart pounding- laughing all the way to the bar I find Erika and Scott to tell them about my massage experience. We enjoy a good laugh and decide to get some dinner.
Just outside our hotel we see we can catch a ride to town on the back of a scooter for 1 dollar and use the service many times to get back and forth to town- the big Americans on the back of these scooters with little Vietnamese men and women driving, it is a comical sight- a photo above!
We head out on the scooters with a breeze in our face the entire time winding in and out of alleys as we make our way to the restaurant, looking into peoples houses and passing them by on the sidewalks eating dinner with their families- it is all open air- no AC anywhere and no one is breaking a sweat but us! We have a fabulous time in a big old house converted into a restaurant eating, drinking and talking about everything that has happened that day.
Viet Nam is a wonderful country with lovely people. A favorite memory is walking through the open market with all the produce, fish and meats for sale. The colors were gorgeous and everyone working hard at selling their products. It was crowded and hot but full of lively conversation and a treat to observe their lifestyle. I leave feeling happy to have explored a bit with friends and on my own and have learned to deal with the climate better than the last few ports. Looking forward to the cooler ports next!
We are now in Hong Kong and I am off to Beijing in the morning for 3 days.

Wishing you all the best,


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Penang, Malaysia

Ahhhhhhh, Malaysia. Peace, tranquility, order, nature, water, trees - such a nice contrast to India. My heart is happy, I have that bounce back in my step, I feel light and joyous that we have arrived in a calmer port.
It is beautiful! Nice architecture on one side and the sea on the other. It is still hot and humid but the town doesn’t overwhelm you with crowds, vehicles and poverty. The people are polite and not desperate for your business haggling and pushing, a much easier place to visit for a few days. One thing that strikes me is after we visit Buddhist temples, mosques and Hindu temples is how everyone gets along peacefully here, not much tension or anger, an orderly existence where people are a bit reserved but friendly, Malay, Indian and Chinese all working together.

We have 4 days to explore around Malaysia and I have found have 3 friends who I enjoy traveling with, Kima, Scott and Erika, all professors in their 40’s. This time Erika heads for the beach, Scott for cooking school in Thailand while Kima and I head to a private island for relaxation and a spa day.

On our 6 hour journey in boats we meet quite a few Muslim honeymooners from Kuwait, Malaysia and Yemen. The young women are in full burkas with only their eyes showing, the men, in western clothing- shorts and a t-shirt. They are wonderful people, the women are the first to open up some chocolates or candies to share with me and start a conversation- these women speak a bit of English while their husbands speak much more. The couples tell me about their huge weddings, how they met- most arranged, one just married his 3rd cousin who he had never met, and where they work. The women’s eyes are beautiful and expressive, each holding a beautiful designer bag and wearing designer shoes. They tell me about the importance of their extended family, how most live within a few blocks from each other and every Friday night have a dinner where they gather together and share stories about their week. ( Reminds me of how great Friday night pizza and movies at home were with the boys! ☺)

Finally we arrive on Rebak Island outside of Penang and it is incredible! Beautiful, lush and clean. It feels a lot like “Fantasy Island”. The tropical plants surround us and a huge lizard walks across our path on our way to our room. We cannot believe the personal service and how lucky we are to be here for 2 days. The big swimming pool looks so inviting on this hot day with the beach on the other side! We spend the next day in the spa being massaged and covered with oils and lotions by the ladies. It is monsoon raining outside and I cannot think of a better way to spend the afternoon. The pinnacle of the experience was walking outside to bathe from a huge basin of hot water filled with herbs and flower petals. You take a wooden bowl and pour it over yourself while surrounded by tropical plants and listening to the rains all around- it was just wonderful!

Not only did we pamper ourselves with the spa but also indulged in the wonderful meals. This is my kind of cooking- love it all, noodles, fish, soups, fresh ingredients light and healthy- all the flavors are so delicious - lemon grass, ginger, curries, red chilis, dark sauce with soy and oyster sauces-- yum.
An interesting breakfast dish is called Roti- it is a heavy crepe they mix with some light seasoning and an egg, a bit sweet with a lot of flavor- wonderful. Reminded me of my grandmother’s crepes in Sweden.

Well, it looks like the toughest ports are behind us as far as reaching beyond our comfort zones and from here on the ports are more westernized. We just arrived in Viet Nam where 50 parents have come to join their sons and daughters to travel for a few days before we head over to Hong Kong and China. It was an emotional moment for everyone to see loved ones waiting on the pier for family. So many smiles and tears were touching to watch and a real treat for me was to laugh and talk with Cathy and Craig Small who came to see their son Chris.
I am off to a city called Nha Trang for a few days with Erika and Scott for a more cultural experience of Viet Nam than the big city of Saigon or Ho Chi Mihn city as they call it now. The updates will be coming fast as we head from port to port for the next few weeks.
Hope all is well.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Chaos, overwhelming, crowded, dirty, hot and humid are a few words to describe the mayhem and complete over stimulation of southern India- cars, buses, ric shaws, bikes, people walking- all sharing the same road. It is crazy!
I was petrified to leave the ship. It took all the courage I had to force myself into a taxi to leave the safety of my air conditioned home for the next few days.

On the up side, the people are very friendly and it is a colorful place, always a lot to see in an “in your face” kind of way. The people are very resourceful to live in this kind of chaos and I admire that they can. For me, this was the most challenging country so far but stepping out of our normal way of living is what this trip is about and India was by far the most transforming for most of the people on the ship who have never been here.

Stepped off the boat into the hot humid air and a strong stench wafted up from the ground. Filth, sewage, water, people, not sure what it was …..already I’m finding it difficult to continue to venture away from my “home”. My idea of hell is being stuck in a hot humid climate unable to cool off with no help and here I am in a poor, hot, humid country- traveling.

Our first journey is down the coast to what we think is a quaint small town called Mallampuram, 2 hours away from Chennai, our port. Finding a taxi with air conditioning was a major accomplishment. The first guy we met said “yes, yes I have air conditioning”, once we got in he started winding down the windows, that was his idea of AC, hmmmm, jumped out at the next road and kept looking, the taxi driver follows me and says “oh, my brother has a car wait, wait, he is coming, I am calling him” He does this head bobble thing where you have no idea what that means- yes, no, what? Frustrated, my friends and I continue on walking, sweating and finally find a car with both AC and seat belts on our way out of the city.

Next we have to battle with the traffic to make our way to the coast. This is amazing how it works. There seems to be a pecking order of size to see who is allowed to squeeze through the road. No one pays attention to lanes, just inch up and push your way through- buses have priority, then trucks, cars, ricshaws, bikes and pedestrians. If a bigger vehicle wants to get through you better make room or they will knock you out of the way. Once out of the city it gets even more scary. We are on the road and this pecking order is now in effect going 70 mph. We are a car and can pass the motorized ric shaws easily but when the taxi wants to pass a truck or oxen pulling crops we head down the middle of the lane with oncoming traffic and seriously miss being hit by inches at the last second over and over for the next two hours. I am a wreck, many times squeezing the thighs of my friends as we near miss buses and trucks many times, talking out loud to Alex and Chris to always know how much I love them.
Finally arrive in Mallampuram to what we imagine to be a calm quaint town- I could use it at this point but arrive in another destitute town with merchants and beggers on both sides of the street. All I can think of is I want to get back to the ship. Finally make it to the hotel where again I am disappointed. The rooms are awful with old soft beds, hot, with loud fans and an old leaky AC unit near the ceiling. This is by far the best hotel in town but had no idea at the time, it is all relative and I am feeling like a spoiled American princess. OK, I am going to stick it out and explore the town once it cools off from 95 to 88 in a few hours. The journey continues with more of the same, we travel further south the next day to Pondicherry to meet 3 more friends who love to shop. I can’t take it anymore and end up at the hotel pool and in my room reading while my friends spend hours bargaining with the silk weavers and marble sculpture merchants.

One thing that is wonderful is the food! We do make it to some great meals with interesting spices of cardamom, turmeric and many others that I am not sure about. Delicious.
India is a conservative country, more so in the southern area where we are. For women, most skin is covered. It is hot and humid and all the women are dressed in long colorful saris that are beautiful against the ugly muddy streets of the city.
Drinking is frowned upon and when we order beer we are told that the preservative is formaldehyde so don’t drink more than two or you will have a horrible headache. I don’t realize it but women do not go into bars. In the hotel three of us decide to have a drink at the bar, two guy friends and I walk into a very dark bar hidden in the back of the hotel. As we walk in there is not one woman, the place is packed full of dark Indian men drinking, eating, smoking and talking. As I walk by they all stare and wave at me, I am happy to have two men friends around me as I am feeling they think I am a prostitute. A very strange feeling and so happy not to be a woman in India.
After another day of the same we turn around and head back for the ship, YEAH!

Processing all the events takes time and we all cope differently to the experiences. Amazing when there are 700 of us all sharing different experiences in the same country, all coping differently- some shaken to the core, some hardly affected. Some experiences more harrowing than others; a bus driver being beat up and left on the street, maimed children begging, young boys groping and feeling the breasts of the students, young Indian guys and girls meeting students and welcoming them into their families, other Indian people spending the entire day with the students taking no money for their time or excursions, stating that you are insulting me by offering money, friendship is more important.
Having this community on board with so many perspectives makes it easier. We all need each other at different times to process the events, vent and sometimes share a tear or two, young, old, men and women…everyone has a story or experience that wants to be told. Everyone has stepped out of his or her comfort zone many times and this is where the real learning is taking place.
There is much more poverty here than the last ports but I couldn’t deal with seeing more. I realize how important family and community are and appreciate my lifestyle more than ever.
Personally, am glad to see India, happier to leave it, proud of myself for sticking through it- no interest in returning.

On our way to Malaysia, this time I am spending a few days at a beach on an island. Sounds like the infrastructure of the city is better and looking forward to more wonderful meals and a quieter, calmer experience while learning about the people and culture!

How are things going with you? Am always happy to hear about your life, some normalcy is so welcomed!