Thursday, May 10, 2007

end of voyage report

there are two days left on the ship. like most universities, there's lots of studying, paper grading, and programming going on, including a shipboard bazaar to swap and buy questionable acquisitions; a burma teach-in to encourage s@s not to stop there during the fall voyage (it was removed from our itinerary because archbishop tutu refused to be a part of the voyage if we stopped there); a dependent children's theater production; lgbt awareness week, with drag show; a screening of independent short documentary films by ben wu (global nomads); theater, director screenwriter, and travel writing class readings and performances; a convocation for graduating seniors, end of the semester parties, etc.

as the end approaches, some have mixed feelings about ending the experience and returning to their normal lives, others are ready and excited to move on. for all, emotions are high and near the surface. the questions on everyone's mind are:

q: would you do it again?
a: yes, a few years down the line, conditionally. i'd do a summer voyage, which is shorter and has a lower student enrollment, about 200. a cabin with sunlight would be another stipulation. i'd prefer not to do another voyage alone. brenda, the nurse practitioner, who is also sailing alone, put it well - "i'm welcome everywhere, but not expected anywhere"

q: what were your favorite ports?
a: culturally, south africa for its multiculturalism, and vietnam for the people and the vibe. in terms of my port activities, my brazil experience was much fun because of the physical activity, accommodations, food, and more importantly, the company - the wonderful guys at pousada santa clara and the mature students on the trip.

q: what are your plans for the summer?
a: i go back to work june 1. i also want to continue to develop my indexing skills and look for some freelance indexing work. reconnecting with friends and doing some serious nesting is also on the agenda. a todos santos (bcs, mexico) trip is in order, since our annual spring retreat didn't happen this year.

q: what will you miss?
a: although i live on the california coast and see the pacific daily, i will miss the awesome views while at sea - the cloud formations, horizon, big sky, and sunsets are spellbinding. when sitting out on the garden lounge deck, it's nearly impossible to take your eyes off the horizon. the problem, is that due to my work schedule, i only had a limited amount of time to fully enjoy it - basically just meals. the spouses, partners, and lifelong learners, not employed by ise, really have the sweetest deal on the ship. for the rest of us, time management remains an issue. considering someone is cooking and cleaning for you daily, and your door to door commute time is 2 minutes at most, it doesn't seem possible, but meals, happy hours, and work is scheduled, which doesn't leave too many daylight hours. in the evening there are tons of programs and meetings. then there's time consuming activities like doing anything online and planning in-port travel. and, gawd forbid you actually want some time alone.

the one thing i haven't completely figured out is what advice, i'd give future voyagers. other than doing homestays whenever possible, the only other thing i can think of is not to buy, in advance, a lot of s@s field trips for each port. leave time for independent travel. except for pre-sale and manifest (overnight) trips, one can usually join a trip at the last minute, like flying standby.

finally, for those of you who like choices, another shipboard university was established last fall. its called the scholar ship. for the first time, s@s has some competition. the major difference from s@s is that it's not an around the world program, but they visit many ports; in terms of institutional sponsorship, student body, and ports visited, the program is more transnational; and there is a graduate program. uc berkeley is the sponsoring institution in the u.s., but credit is given by an australian university.

and, yes librarians, they do have a library, or what they refer to as a "learning resource center".

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

on my way home

aloha friends and family. we leave honolulu any minute. i can't wait to get home and see and talk to you. i desperately want to know what you've been up to, what i've missed. next time i go away, you're going to have to keep blogs too. i miss you guys so much. also, i can't wait to wake up to sunlight, go to my kitchen, make my own cup of morning coffee, how i like it, and sit on my own deck. i wanted to make sure i had enough luggage and boxes to get all the stuff i bought off the ship, so i've already started packing. while packing i discovered all sorts of stuff that i forgot i bought. i'm tempted to just lay it all out for you guys and say have at it. san juan seems so long ago.

students are done with classes. there are a couple of study days, a couple of days of finals, the convocation, a free day (for packing i guess), then san diego. doesn't seem possible that things can change so much so quickly.

on my way to the post office to buy a box, i saw the rohwedders on the way to the beach. shaun, baby ryder's (our resident gerber baby) mom, was fumbling around trying to get organized so that mom, dad, baby, and baby things could make their way to the bus that would take them to waikiki beach. she sighed heavily and in exasperation before saying "it never ends". of course, my reply was "it will in a week or so". it took her a good 30 seconds before the reality of it sunk in and and she yelled ahead to me (i had kept walking) "you know you're right", as if she hadn't thought of it before. it's all i think about.

it was nice having this u.s. port before arriving back on the mainland, especially california. today, i found myself hesitating when dealing with people. in most countries i at least tried to greet and thank the locals in their native language. in hawaii i found myself wanting to do the same, even when they weren't native hawaiian. getting use to hearing english off the ship is going to be strange, as well as other things i've yet to discover i'm sure.

honolulu was a bit of an international experience of it's own. i had an incredible cambodian ginger chicken for lunch, and afro-cuban food, (soul de cuba), for dinner while listening to south african jazz and kwaito (south african hip hop music).

i also discovered another strangling fig.

i knew we were back in the u s of a when we had to clear the ship this morning, something we do at each port. rarely is the procedure the same, but the customs process this morning, the first part of clearing the ship, was more confusing than any other port - the good ole inept american bureaucracy. in japan we had to have our temperatures taken the night before and the morning we arrived. the morning we arrived we were walked before a camera-like device, a "thermoscan", that supposedly took our temperatures. personally, i believe it took our picture - you know those facial recognition photo thingys - not our temperatures. very crazy stuff, but they were very clear and efficient about the whole process.

after we docked, most of the ship went to waikiki. i passed on beach going with a bunch of twenty year olds with boob jobs.

i did some nearby historical and cultural sites; had a "shave ice"; bought a new yorker - yeeees, i'm getting my life back - and saw stomp the yard at a one dollar movie theater. it was the most predictable film ever made, but it was fun watching those bodies move.

a few days ago we crossed the international date line so that makes me feel closer to you. in addition, to catch up, we had two may 2nds, one on wednesday and one on thursday. since then we've also had to move our clocks ahead one hour each night. i'm definitely looking forward to keeping good time again, and having time change only twice a year.

love ya, miss ya, see ya soon.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

"oh the places we've been"

"oh the places we've been" is the theme from last night's ambassadors ball, the long awaited formal event of the voyage. if you want to view photos from someone who actually went, you'll have to look elsewhere:

it was a beautiful evening.

from the garden lounge deck at dinner, with the whole place to ourselves, since we (judyie and i) were pretty much the last to arrive for the half hour serving time for the 30 or so non-conformists who chose not to attend.

judyie with crew members who had the honor of working the dinner detail for us:

young, gifted, and black attendees, robin and hanan. hanan is borrowing face paint from mom judyie while we watch, chat and work on a bottle of wine.

after all the wine was gone, it wasn't guite as glamorous, but a few of us with less impressive rooms continued to hang out in judyie's, enjoying her comfy sofa, king size bed, balcony, ocean views, the sound of the ocean, and the laughter.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

the "developed world"

what i've seen of japan is clean, quiet and orderly - environmentally and socially. the streets are immaculate, everything is landscaped and sculpted, even plants and trees that aren't intended to be. for example, pine trees. i haven't seen anyone who looks poor, definitely not homeless. except for their ethnicity, most people look like they just stepped from the pages of either elle, gq, vibe, or rolling stone. i saw one building that looked like it could be the projects, but i didn't see any people there - definitely not the projects. people watching from an overpass at the central train station in kobe during the lunch rush, the streets were crowded with people and cars, but it was quiet. no car horns, no one raising their voices, swarms of people crossing the streets in an orderly fashion at the light. quiet.

i was tempted to blow off japan, it being our last international port. at this point, the thought of even thinking about planning travel, is tiring. notice i said thinking about planning travel, not traveling. no matter how fatigued one gets thinking about disembarking at another port (especially when there were only two days between china and japan, and less than a week before we were in vietnam - seems like ages ago), once you get out in the streets, one is revitalized by the hustle and bustle of another place.

other than honolulu and san diego, japan is the only port in what is referred to as the developed world. during the japan logistical preport, we were warned about sticker shock (protecting one's assets can be interpreted more literally here) and fixed prices (no haggling), rather than the water, mosquitoes, crime, muffler burns, and rabid monkeys and dogs.

my only plans for japan, were a s@s arranged homestay, which would be two days of hanging out in japan, where all i had to do was meet and greet the family i'd be staying with, and be charming. that would happen day two. day one i decided to just tag along with lesly (dr. matt's wife), dr. matt, and gloria (anthropology prof.). by the end of the day we had used the citibank atm (atms are generally the first stop at each port) picked up their rail passes at the train station, ate fresh baked chocolate covered belgian waffles (rum raisin and maple were also available), resisted the hagen daz shop, ate noodles, visited the botanical garden, bought a japanese style smock like wrap fron "hondya", a store that specializes in original japanese designs, checked out a pachinko parlor (think chain smoking japanese at slot machines; and the nosiest places in japan if not the world), people watched, and walked, and walked, and walked. not bad for not planning anything. i've always said my favorite days are those when there is nothing that i have to do. apparently, it can be applied away from home too.

the next day i met takako and kiyoshi (pictured) ikoma. after a brief shipboard program for all homestay participants, the families took a s@s student, staff or faculty person home with them. kiyoshi and takako are 69 and 70 year old retirees. kiyosho use to work for panasonic and takako was a teacher. they live in hirkata, located between osaka and kyoto, and not far from nara. takako wasn't with kiyoshi when he picked me up at the ship. she was participating in a kimono club fashion show (i saw 500 women in kimonos) at the ritz carlton in osaka. we would pick her up on our way to their home in hikarta. kiyoshi and i took the train to pick up takako. then, together, we walked the probably two kilometers to their place, stopping for tea and roll cake at a cafe housed in a space set-up like a traditional japanese home, with low ceilings, tatami maps, screens, linens, and pottery that would have been used in the past. i would soon find out why they thought the cafe was such a quaint novelty that i had to see - takako and kiyoshi have a much more modern life, with all sorts of gagets and conveniences. after the cafe, we walked through the narrow streets of hirkata, stopping at a pottery store, some bakeries, and a boutique where she bought me some japanese slippers made of folded fabric.

as retirees takako (pictured) says "everyday is sunday, we don't do anything". on the contrary they seem to fill their time, well. takako, with her kimona club, hippo family club (the language learning club that organizes homestays), and doll making. kiyoshi and i had lunch together (best seafood i've had outside of new orleans and todos santos) in the subway station en route to meeting takako. he told me then that on mondays and wednesdays, he goes to the gym, tuesdays he goes to yoga, and the rest of the time he does chores and plays golf - now how sweet is that. they have three kids, one in malaysia, and have close relationships with korean and american students that lived with them while studying in japan. they have traveled extensively and have things from all over the world in their home, a condo in a highrise with big views of the region.

their modern condo has a shower and tub that requires a phd to figure out. but, my favorite gaget of theirs is an electronic japanese-english dictionary. we visited three museums in nara together, two of which had gardens - this is japan after all. it became a challenge for me to provide the english name for the flower or tree before takako's electronic dictionary could. the first night she served me a salty tea with a cherry blossom in it. i asked why her and kiyoshi weren't having the same, she simply replied "for guests only".

here is takako and i in front of a cherry blossom at the shohaku art museum that was exhibiting the paintings of uemura shoen. shoen perfected a genre of modern japanese painting known as "bijinga", or paintings of beautiful women. she's also the first japanese woman artist to receive the "order of cultural merit". the wisteria was also photographed on the museum grounds.

there are at least five control panels near the door in the family room. i have no idea what all were for, but when it came time for me to bathe before bedtime, i found out that one was the intercom to the bath tub, which also tells you when the tub water is full and what temperature the water is. i'm not going to give a detailed description of the bathroom, i'll just say it's two rooms, spacious, and when i sit upright in the tub, the water comes above my arm pits, and my favorite, the water stays warm. there's a heater in the tub. that's not all that's heated.

the biggest adjustment to being in a new country, or away from home in general, can be adjusting to different bathroom facilities or more specifically their toilets. i can do a lengthy blog posting on international toliets. since mauritius, squat toliets have been the norm, which are just a couple notches above the latrines we dug at escola formigas du futuro when i was working in angola. however, the major advantage of squat toliets are that they have plumbing, including porcelin bowls built into the ground. the difficulty is getting your butt close enough to the ground and the bowl. there are porcelin foot grips, but believe me, they won't prevent you from falling over. there just there so you know where to put your feet.

according to shirley, one of our guides in xi'an, china's reputation for poor toilets was so bad that it was incentive for the folks at the wild goose pagoda to build what she referred to as a ten star toilet, which she showed us upon arrival. given all the toilets i've seen abroad and at home, a simple toilet seat doesn't qualify as a ten star toilet, which is pretty much what she directed us to. i'd rather have a squat toilet (i've pretty much mastered them by now), in a clean facility, a stall that had toilet paper, a hook/tray for ones belongings (squatting with handbags and souvenirs doesn't work), soap, water and a way to dry one's hand at the end of the process.

japan has the holy grail of toilets. the first one i encountered looked so complicated that i chose the simpler squat toilet, because there was less of a learning curve. the main difference between the japanese toilets, other than all the buttons and hardware, is noticed immediately upon sitting down - the seat is very warm. roman letters are a rarity in japan, so the multitude of buttons to push on the armrest of the toilet (actually, it's probably just a control panel, not intended to be an armrest) are totally indecipherable for those of us who don't read japanese. i'd later encounter a similar panel with pictures, but at that moment i was on a ritz carlton toilet with a lot of buttons tempting the hell out me. i pressed one. warm water shot between my legs. there was considerable water pressure. it wasn't unpleasant, but soon thereafter i was ready for it to stop. after all, kiyoshi was waiting for me. i thought, like automatic flushing toilets, it would stop on it's own. it didn't. hummm, how to make it stop? is there a motion detector? lift up a little, see if it stops. nope, didn't work. refer back to control panel - many buttons, many japanese characters - no clue. once i was able to see beyond the buttons and characters, i saw the colors, including red. halleluja! i'm outta here.

the toilet at the ikoma's was similar, except that the control panel was on the wall and it had pictures, in addition to water between ones legs, air was possible. malaysia's toilets are similar in concept, but more rudimentary - they simply provide a water hose that extends from the wall. i didn't want to talk at length about toilets, but it's hard not to given the differences, and the fact that toilets are something you must experience in every country. one can get away with not eating the local food, using the public transportation, or speaking the language, but...

one more quick sexist toilet sidebar. while working for habitat for humanity in new orleans there was one of many outhouses designated for women. the difference was that it had a mirror.

back to the homestay. for those blog readers who are planning to do s@s in the future, if you haven't figured it out from my india and japan postings, in port, homestays are the way to go. they are the best way to see a place. you get your own personal tour guide, great accommodations, transportation, home cooked meals, introduced to great restaurants and more. i was a little nervous, because i figured the family would be expecting a white college student. but, i figured if they're willing to host some random person this way, they must be pretty flexible and openminded. however, someone had put some thought into pairing people up, because the ikoma's and i were a good match, and probably more unusual than the average participant. i don't think one of our s@s wild childs would have enjoyed the ikoma's as much as i. from what i overheard in the dining hall, the many other s@s students who did homestays seem to have had a really good time too. most were assigned to younger families with kids, from toddlers to teenagers. there were probably some nightmares too, but i'm keeping it positive until i hear otherwise.

the first night at the ikoma's, takako pretty much fed me from the time we got home until shortly before bed,including a wonderful traditional osaka dish she prepared. we also looked at maps, family pictures (i wish i had brought some; i did bring them some south african wine), and watched some japanese baseball on tv. the following day, before taking me back to the ship, we visited two fine art museums in the suburbs of nara. we had lunch (tempura and soba noodles) at a restaurant before heading to the big regional attraction, the todai-ji temple (8th century; pictured), where the great buddha vairocana - the biggest buddha you'll ever see - with thousands of other tourists, including a s@s bus load. they were going back to the ship on a bus with 40 others and i would ride back with the ikoma's in their mercedes.

my second great adventure/discovery in japan was another day where i had no plans. i slept in read and planned to hit the streets around noon. luck would have it that by the time i was ready to leave the ship, judyie (theater prof.) and mary (religious studies prof.) had plans to walk across the bridge to the park. outside the ship, to the left was a bridge that appeared to lead to an industrial area. to the right was the portliner subway to the kobe city center and transportation to all other parts of japan. most of us had gotten use to getting off the ship and hopping on the subway. An unchartered area without the subway, endless shops, neon and the masses was looking pretty appealing on a very pleasant spring day in japan, our last. the area across the bridge turned out to be the antithesis of the city - two parks connected by a singular walkway - one with smooth giant rocks to climb and warm one's body on, and a peace park with peace memorials from cities around the world.

the whole way was lined with public gardens (mostly un-japanese like cottage gardeny beds of flowers. there also was a green cafe surrounded by a wooded area, a flea market, an eco store promoting recycling by selling second hand stuff, basically it was just a thrift store - the most orderly, and cleanest, i've ever seen. this day was the beginning of the golden days holiday period so families were out playing, picnicing and barbecuing in the park. as we were strolling in the area, what ultimately drew us to the peace park at the end of the trail was drumming, very african like drumming. there were drums, other percussion instruments, and three girls, one in the shortest shorts i've ever seen and platform shoes, another in similar attire with stilettos. they could have been flygirls in a musicvideo. it was very reminiscent of brazil - tits, ass and lots of percussions. they didn't have much in terms of t&a, but what they did have they were shaking it seriously. i would love to know the history of this area. most (last photo is an exception) of the space was so unjapanese like in it's seemingly improvised and unmanicured nature, with an emphasis on peace, and the environment.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

beijing and xi'an

14 sites in 4 days, including 8 history museums (2 had multiple buildings) in two days. i'm not the type of traveler that needs to see everything a place has to offer (not possible in any chinese city i'm sure, but the tour agencies cram as much in as possible). i can be content seeing a couple of key attractions and stumbling around discovering things on my own and meeting people. this is not the chinese way. chinese tourism is an art form in and of itself. i've spent most of my life on the california coast, where people come from all over the world to drive highway one. seeing bus loads of asian tourists on california highways and in cities like san francisco and la is common. busloads doesn't begin to explain the volume of mostly asian tourists in beijing and xi'an. the orchestration of it all is mind boggling. everywhere we went there were buses loading and unloading tourists, tour guides carrying company flags (we only had a white flyer enclosed in plastic which ming, our guide, raised over his head for us to follow) to keep their herds together. herds were also identifiable by the baseball caps, t-shirts, or badges the tour agency distributed so that the tour guides can identify their group members from a distance, just in case one should stray. s@s lost one at summer palace (she ran into another s@s group and made it back to the ship). some had bull horns (we didn't) so that you can actually hear what they were saying (the history and significance of the place, how long you had to stay there, where the toliets were, when the bus was leaving etc.) amongst the many chattering guides and tourists. you can sum up the whole process in a mastercard commercial:

the great wall of china. tinanamen square. the forbidden city. tour guide. three meals a day. flag and bullhorn, priceless.

the enormity of the production at most every site we visited (the forest of stone tablets was an exception) was mesmerizing and tiring, but no matter how weary one became, one was continuously awestruck by the grandeur of chinese history - the dynasties; the emperors - their lives, their deaths, their palaces; and the pottery, costumes, and philosophies of long ago. while we saw what seems like a lot of museums and sites, beijing and xi'an, the cites we visited, have many many more. believe me there is no shortage of history museums in china. there's something very wonderous about visiting such an old civilization and being able to stand before, and in some cases, touch objects from such a distance past. i felt quite privileged. it saddens me to think of the ancient artifacts lost in iraq, because the myopic and culturally insensitive u.s. government didn't have the intellectual capacity to think of protecting them during the fall of baghdad. it angers me that myself and others will not be able to see those lost artifacts of "our" civilization.

we arrived in beijing at 1600, then checked into the jianguo garden hotel in the tiananmen square-forbidden city area. you can probably fit two of my houses in the hotel lobby. beijing didn't seem as croweded as you might think, given the size of the population. chennai, india felt much more populated. all the asian cities seem to have had major traffic problems, and i'm not talking about how they drive, just good old fashion congestion. rush hour in beijing is from 7-10 in the morning and 17-2000 at night. however, when i went out at 2130 one night it sure seemed like rush hour to me.

i'm not going to bore you with a play by play of our generally 5 day, 12 hour day itinerary, but below is a list of the places we visited in beijing and xi'an. after two days in beijing we flew to xi'an, then back to qindao, where the ship moved to while we were traveling.


the great wall of china. i climbed the 2000 odd stairs to the top. some of the steps are at least a foot high. it wasn't a long distance, but it was quite the incline, and they were steps. i didn't think i'd make it, but the old people coming down, not even breathing heavy, shamed me into going the distance. in case my heart stopped, i tried to stay close to dr. matt.

summer palace, an expansive spread, where an emperor and his daughters lived.


tiananamen square:

forbidden city:

temple of heaven (no photo)

DAY ONE IN XI'AN (the oldest city in china, and where the silk road began):

big wild goose pagoda:

shaanxi provincial museum (no photo)

terra cotta warriors museum:

DAY TWO IN XI'AN (my camera battery died, but the highlights included):

--calligraphy lesson (much fun)
--forest of stone tablets, china's great books (this capped off a very nice literary morning)
--bell tower and the peoples square (opted out for reading under a tree in the square)
--yang tombs of the han dynasty, comprised of two museum buildings driving distance apart

in between all this siteseeing was three heavy chinese meals a day; above average temps, so no respite from the heat (some repieve from the humidity), a thick hazy air pollution that had me coughing and my eyes watering again; and endless kitschy shopping opportunities. between the hello hawkers and the the souvenir shops at every turn - even as one ascends the great wall, where each tower is accompanied by vendors. the chinese have seriously embraced capitalism. i guess it's a good thing, because who would the u.s. be able to borrow so much money from.

the 2008 olympics will be in beijing. much construction was going on everywhere, and the hello hawkers were selling all sorts of memorialbilia already. we passed by the "birdsnest" the stadium for the opening ceremony. i've never been to an olympics before so i'm sure there is an orderly way to host the world community, but considering the masses of tourists i saw at places like tinananemen square and the forbidden city, the only way i can imagine there being enough room in beijing is if the chinese stay home.

navigating china is no joke either. although i whine about the hop on hop off tours, i can't imagine trying to navigate beijing or xi'an without being able to speak or read mandarin. for monolinguals planning to visit, i recommend staying at a luxury hotel with a good concierge. tell the concierge where you want to go; he or she will write the address on a hotel business card for you to give to the taxi driver. the card is prepared just for this reason. on the back of the card it says in english and mandarin "please drive me to". the concierge fills in the address.

my only opportunity to do some exploring on my own was our first night in beijing, where dinner and the rest of the evening was at our leisure. most of the group decided to attend an acrobatics show. i'm not much of a group person and there's only a handful of people i know i enjoy traveling with, mostly because they're all comfortable walking alot and hanging together or apart when necessary. more importantly, they will always make time to read. well, i had found three live jazz venues in the lonely planet (lp) guide. two of them looked worthwhile. one even served cajun food, along with live new orleans jazz, the blues, and r&b. the concierge called them for me (i had photocopies of the the lp pages), to make sure they were open, still at the cited location, and had live music that night. the only cheap thing (good thing there are few fixed prices)in beijing, other than the hello hawkers' souvenirs is cab fare. on hello hawkers: you can get much for one dollar from these new capitalists. right now, their english is limited to "hello" and "one dollar".

after having indian food at the hotel i was off to the "cd jazz cafe". the crosstown fare was only $3 (21 yuan). i paid $5 (35 yuan) for a capucinno. the club was small and could have been in greenwich village. photos of jazz greats and celebrity visitors covered the walls. on stage, a quintet of young asian musicians played all sorts of jazz classics. gwyne, a young chinese vocalists, sat in on a few numbers. this little lady had much soul and was delightful to listen to. when i got there i was homesick. when i left i wanted to stay in beijing longer. in part because i found a "time out beijing" in english, with page after page of music, theater, art and literature listings, and articles about contemporary beijing intellectuals and issues of interest to them. in contrat, everything on our intinerary was at least 1000 years old. the sites we'd visit in xi'an were from 2000-3000 years ago.

i had a few gin and tonics, chatted with gwyn, bought a few cds, and got a cab back to the jianjuo garden hotel around one am. the next day i was back with the group for a full day of hop on hop off tourism, which would cumulate in a two hour flight to xi'an. from xi'an we would fly to qingdao, where the ship traveled to while we were galavanting around china.

the highlight of the xi'an trip was, of course, the terra cotta warriors. incredibly, i had never heard of this major historic discovery until this trip. in 1974 a farmer was digging a well and found what turned out to be one of the new seven wonders of the world - 6000 (so far) life size soldiers and horses made of terra cotta clay and arranged in military formation, were constucted in rectangular vaults, with bricks floor and timber supports. emperor qin shi huang had his army recreated in clay and buried near him to watch over his tomb. clearly a type a paranoid personality, with a little ocd thrown in, but not enough for he himself to do the work. nonetheless, it was good planning on his part, because a year after his army for the afterlife was done, emperor qin died.

as remarkable as the army is, the hangar the chinese have built over the excavation site is almost equally so. from above tourists can view what was never intended to be seen, what has been uncovered of the army at the archaelogical site, which is comparable, in size, to a football field.

while china has opened up economically, it remains closed politically. in a "frontline" episode, beijing university students were shown a photo of the tank man incident in tiananamen square and asked if they were familiar with it. none were. they repeatedly asked for context. one asked "is it art?" the one time, shortly after the 1989 event, china showed the tankman showdown, it was presented as an example of army restraint and never shown again.

an interport lecturer and student board the ship in the port prior to the ship's arrival in their country. tung, (hong kong university), the interport student who sailed with us from saigon to hong kong, attended the post-vietnam students of color meeting, where the discussion included criticism of the u.s. educational system with regard to coverage of the vietnam war; the antiwar movement, then and now; the paralles between the vietnam and iraq war; and everyone's favorite, u.s foreign policy, and what right we have to tell other countries what political and economic policies to adopt.

tung was stunned by our openness and expressed how seeing chinese people fight one another, in the "frontline" tankman episode, showed in global studies, made him tear up. i don't know if it was the first time he had seen the tankman footage. he's of the generation that is likely not to have.

on a lighter note, one unforgettable aspect of china is me being man-handled by the chinese for photo opts. either, i'm the only black person many had seen, or i'm the most beautiful person they've ever seen, or they thought i was whoopi goldberg. which, i'll never know, because i speak no mandarin. although i couldn't understand a thing they said, i did get that they were quite amused. the funny part was that some of the people laughing, snaring and snapping photos had the worst perms i've ever seen in my life. they had not only permed their hair, but teased it too. the first time it occurred, i was on top of the great wall of china. a woman grabbed my arm, positioned me next to her, and pointed to her husband to snap the picture. at first i thought she was asking me to take a picture of her, but a split second later, it was clear her intentions were otherwise.

the following day at the forbidden city, the same thing happened repeatedly. even my s@s group was getting tired of it. some even joined the fun and took pictures of me with themselves. since i couldn't take a picture with myself, i had my picture taken with some of my new chinese friends. if you can't beat them join em.

hong kong

the ship docked in hong kong the morning of april 17. this was the first port i didn't get up early to watch our arrival. my group, "hong kong 02", going to beijing, would be the first group off the ship so we had to be packed and ready to go at 8:45, after the diplomatic briefing, which ended up being canceled. it didn't seem important enough, or right to follow our memorial service for the virginia tech students, with a diplomatic briefing.

beforehand, i did however make it to the dining hall for breakfast. when i walked out onto the deck of the sixth floor aft dining hall, the hong kong skyline commanded my attention. whoa, it was close and massive. i've lived in san francisco and new york. they don't even compare. other than the view from the ship, all i would see of hong kong would be from a bus on the way to the airport. i don't know much about architecture or design, but i do know that the office buildings, highrise apartment buildings, and bridges that i saw weren't done by ordinary architects - they were design masterpieces - mouth agape, i was in awe - very cool.

hong kong is considered the commercial and economic center of china, beijing the political and cultural center, and xi'an the historical center.

Friday, April 13, 2007

tourism and life on the mekong delta

my second day in vietnam i went on an s@s overnight trip to the mekong delta. like i suspected my water craft experience would continue. in addition to riding around on riverboats (ones with less amenities than the ones in brazil), we had to take a ferry to get to cantho, where we would stay overnight.

on the boat we cruised the southern ah binh area and visited a snack food production business, where they made toffee like candy and sweet rice cake snacks (left and below). we saw how they were made by hand. of course they gave us free samples, and provided plenty of time for us to buy as much as we wanted. ill try not and eat all of what i bought so that some of you can try some too. however it's possible trader joes or cost plus sells them too. then there's the tenderloin and chinatown. i'm not trying to diminish my international experiences or their work, but packing and lugging stuff around the world is an unfortunate part of the travel experience.

sweet tangy rice cakes near the end of the packaging process:

candy making by hand:

i can only imagine what these people feel like with boat loads of tourists passing through snapping photos of them all day. we also rode through the residential areas of the river where many of the people who work on the floating markets live and grow their produce (since the 1986 reforms that permitted foreign investment, farmers have been allowed to own their own land). the homes range from meager to what would probably qualify as a mcmansion in these parts.

the nice thing about vietnam, not only are the people so friendly, but there seems to be plenty of food for the citizenry and export. phuc, our guide for this tour, said that the vietnamese people hold no animosity against their aggressors, because throughout history they've been invaded so many times they now see defending themselves as a fact of life - some countries have earthquakes, floods, or tsunamis, vietnam has invaders.

day one we visited a fairly small floating market in the an binh region. the farmers, and others, pay a tiny mooring fee to sell on the river. they live on their boats while they're selling. one piece of tall bamboo towers above most boats. whatever is sold on the boat is tied to the bamboo pole so buyers can see what they're selling from a distance. the homes and businesses that line the river don't look very substantive, but all in the area have cable satellite antennas on their roofs.

antenna skyline:

after spending hours on the river we ferried and bused to our hotel, the saigon cantho hotel in cantho, had a great meal that evening, and i enjoyed a five dollar massage at the hotel by a young woman name phoung, the same as the female protagonist in the quiet american, another piece of classic literature about men behaving badly. that evening we also heard some type of public broadcast over a public address system. the next day we asked phuc, our guide, about it. he said it was "propaganda". it airs certain mornings and evenings. social, economic and political messages are piped into communities over speaker systems installed on street corners, i guess its better than cameras. it's sort of a combination of the old advice manuals and the modern evening news, except that you can't can choose to purchase it or turn it on.

saigon cantho hotel:

larger market, where several rivers meet:

robin enjoying fresh pineapple bought, skinned and carved on the river; sweet doesn't begin to describe it.

got cabbage?

boatmaking along the river:

got lycee juice, pineapple juice, coke, 7up, aquafina? by the time she finished with us, she could have taken the rest of the day off.

still life on the river:

there is so much more i want to see in vietnam - in saigon, in the north (hanoi and cambodia), and the middle (hue). it's a very comforting and welcoming place.