Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Bagan: The Beauty of the Details

Hello! I spent the day today wandering the temples and pagodas of Bagan, a religious city in the north of Burma/Myanmar (I won't get into that debate at the moment). Now, if you know me, you know that I'm extremely short-sighted, and tend to see the little details before the soaring spires you'd imagine first when thinking of pagodas. So, I'd like to share ten pictures from my shots today that show the little bits of beauty here in Bagan. Enjoy!










Saturday, February 21, 2015

PIRATES, AHOY!

I would just like to throw at you guys a bit of a fun fact about life on a ship. At the moment, we are sailing through pirate-heavy waters, between Singapore and Burma. Therefore, the ship has a few preventative measures put in place.

1. There is a dummy tied to the back of the ship, as if it is standing there at the railing, watching. We call it our "scare-pirate."

2. There are two high pressure hoses, one on each side of the ship, tied to the railings, both ready to fire out lots of water at potential attackers, and there to remind potential attackers that we can fire lots of water at them.

I know that this is a very short post, but I just thought you might appreciate knowing that I am safe and sound from the pirates. We had our monthly lifeboat drill yesterday morning, and so we're all kind of wondering when the mandatory sword-fighting lessons are going to come. Because, I mean, the scare-pirate is great protection, but he can only do so much. :)

Burma, I'll see you in two days!

Monday, February 16, 2015

China, Japan, Vietnam

Oh my, I am far behind in posting. You would not believe how low the internet has fallen on my chain or priorities, but I still would like to write. And yet, I really just don't have time to type out my journal properly. But, I just wound up writing this email to my mother, and figured it's the best summary I've got of the last month, and so I'm sticking it here as a post. Enjoy!

Hey,

I'm so sorry for the silence, if you can imagine how insane things are this side, multiply by three thousand and you might get close. All my clothes are dirty, I have homework that's overdue, a skirt that got ripped by a Vietnamese motorcycle that I need to sew, and three billion pages I wish I could write. The strangest thing is how the countries have started to blend into one - not in a forgetful way, but just in the way that places don't seem so different anymore. Japan was fascinating, although in all honesty it kind of freaked me out - a bit too organized and structured for my liking. From where you were meant to stand on the platform to wait for the different trains, to the manner in which department stores open in the morning, nothing is left to chance. And yes, I did (and have been, still) eating with chopsticks.


And yes, I spend my time perpetually lost. I think that time that I was the most lost, though, in Kobe, some Japanese man gave me a ride on the back of his bicycle, because I was running late. Every city looks different, but admittedly lots of streets within the same city look the same. Although, you might be surprised to hear that Vietnam has been the easiest to navigate thus far, because even in the less wealthy areas, every storefront is labeled with a full street address and neighborhood name, so you at least know where you are. The fact that they use the Roman alphabet might have helped as well... characters are cool and all, but after a week in China, I hadn't quite reached fluency... oops.

I did learn a few phrases in Japanese and in Chinese, but my Vietnamese is probably my strongest language of this trip so far. It might have helped that I spent three days staying with a Vietnamese family I found on the internet (safety first, but maybe this time it can be adventure first, safety second?). They were absolutely fantastic, although I learned very quickly to ask what I was eating after I had finished, at least, if I wanted to be able to stomach it (fish sperm mixed with snails, anybody?). I also currently have half a notebook that looks like a children's dictionary, after spending last night sitting with Xinh, a twelve-year-old girl who I was drawing pictures with, and then labeling in both languages. Sneaky child, acted like she didn't speak English, but then blew her cover by spelling rectangle and motorcycle correctly. My attempts to spell in Vietnamese started as laughable, but I eventually (to her great astonishment) got pretty good at spelling words she told me.

China was strange, just because it seemed like a "five years later" sort of thing, after the last time we were there. the section of the wall that we went to this time was much different though - no tourists, no restoration, just a long pile of crumbling bricks, stretching out onto the mountains. It was somehow more poetic that way, though. Our hiking group was the only group of people there; other than us, it was entirely deserted. It is strange though, that after walking for three or four hours, the Great Wall of China turns into any other trail - put one foot in front of the other, and eventually you'll reach the peak. For lunch, though, we had McDonald's on the wall. At first it seemed silly, but in a twisted and warped world, it's strangely appropriate. Also, you have to realize two things about McDonald's in China. First, it's fancy American food. Local food is much cheaper, and McDonald's is the sort of thing you would take a date to for a good impression. Secondly, it's what they thought that we would want to eat. So hey, we had food that is fancy here, that they thought we would like. A strange notion, though, to see a Big Mac on such an ancient structure.

Even stranger was the fact that during our entire time in Tienanmen Square, there was not a single mention of the protests and the students. Censorship at its greatest, I suppose. The other interesting censored moment was a shrine in Kobe with a plaque that made reference to "the [incident]" of a particular day, where incident was a separate bit of metal, stuck on top of the original text. 

And the strangest of all is the fact that now, I'm back on the ship, cleaning up from Vietnam and getting ready for Singapore. On-ship time is in about an hour, when everyone will have to be back, and we'll all sit down for dinner together and recollect ourselves. It's strange to be technically living together, but only see everyone for two days a week, so it's good to "be home," if a large hunk of floating metal can be that. 

With love from Vietnam,
Diana

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Three Weeks at Sea - Shipboard Life

I am currently writing to you from the middle of the Pacific. We have traveled over 2,800 nautical miles since leaving Hawaii (plus a few thousand if you want to count since San Diego), and I haven't posted yet, which is terrible! Anyways, here are the updates, in a few short lists:

WHY LIFE ON A BOAT IS WEIRD:
1. There is no dirt whatsoever. Even if I tried to find dirt, there is none. The only slightly "dirty" thing are the tables after the salt water gets on them and then dries, leaving this salty residue, but even then, it's white. There is no dirt.
2. We haven't stopped moving in nine days. Please take a moment to think about that - for the last nine days, I have not once been still - not even for a single moment.
3. Sometimes, you realize that there are five kilometers of water beneath us, and a heck of a lot of life in that water. This is weird because we can't see any of it.
4. We have monthly lifeboat drills. The chance that it's going to sink is minuscule, but it's strange to be living somewhere that could potentially fall to the bottom of oblivion.

WHY LIFE ON A BOAT IS WONDERFUL:
1. There are no cell phones. This is not an issue for me, but it's fantastic to have not a single person checking their text messages - ever.
2. Board games are making a comeback. With all the time that we have to burn, we've reverted to doing things that we're too embarassed to do in our real lives - but on the ship, we don't care anymore. Hide and Seek, anyone?
3. Meals are loooooooong. This is also a result of having nothing else to do, so we just sit and talk for hours.
4. SiSwati lessons - I've started teaching siSwati to people, which is hilarious and wonderful all at once. It's making me so much less homesick for Swaziland to be able to walk down the hallway and have random people greet me in (wonderfully terrible) siSwati.

WHY I'M READY TO GET OFF THE BOAT IN JAPAN:
1. I miss mountains. I need to walk uphill.
2. We are 800 students living all together, and while everyone is great, I need some new faces.
3. DUDE, WE'RE GOING TO JAPAN! How could I not be excited?

I'm sure at some point I'll write some more about living on a ship, but hopefully that's a bit of a start. Right now, I'm about to go on a tour of the bridge to see a little bit more about how the ship functions, so expect some of that at a later date, and then I'll try to write a bit more about how life really works on-board, but for now, I'll leave you with one last list -

SEA CREATURES I'VE SEEN SINCE LIVING ON THE SHIP:
1. Dolphins
2. Humpback whales
3. Seagulls
4. Flying fish

Bye!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Pre-Embarkation Thanksgiving

Knowing that I'm leaving to drive to San Diego in t-minus five hours, I figure I'll share some pre-embarkation thoughts with you.

I am thankful to the world. I am thankful for this scholarship and the opportunity it brings, and the fact that I can live my dreams without having to ask my family to pay for it. At the same time, I am thankful for the fact that my parents are open and willing to let me continue running around the world. I am thankful for the chance to travel, and learn, and live.

I am thankful for everyone who made this possible, from the man at the Indian Visa processing center who told me where to take new passport photos to the man who helped me work the fussy ATM when I realized I needed more cash to pay for these overpriced photos. I am thankful for all the embassy workers who kept track of my passport, and the Chinese lady behind the desk who smiled when she handed mine back to me with my final visa stuck in place. I am thankful for the international admissions person at Semester at Sea who took care of us international students when we had issues with our scholarships, and who never lost her cool with us. I'm thankful to my extended family who has taken me in, and done more than their fair share of work for this embarkation.

I am thankful for every single car that has not hit me when walking to the embassy, and every single bone in my body which remains intact as I prepare for this trip around the world. I am thankful for the fact that I have good health to carry me around foreign cities and ports and stormy seas. I am thankful for the fact that I am able to get new lenses for my glasses to help my eyes see this incredible world.

And I know that these seem like simple things, having a passport and good health and all, but as I've seen over the past few days, there are too many people struggling to make the logistics of this thing work. Life throws some crazy punches in the way, and I know that I am surrounded by tough people who are working through heck and high water to get onto this boat.

So, while I am sure there are many people simply looking forward to tomorrow, when we get on the boat, I invite everyone to pause for a moment, and be thankful for what exists now. I know you are all looking forward to foreign lands, but take a moment to appreciate the people around you. Give them one more hug, and thank them for being the characters of the beautiful life that you are living. Close your eyes, take a breath, open them, and find the beauty in the scene in front of you. Now, smile, because you're going on the trip of a lifetime :)

And cross your fingers that they find A's passport, which has been lost in the mail... maybe if the internet sends some good vibes this will all work out by tomorrow.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

I'm Leeeeeaving, On a Jet Plane!

First things first - I have to pinch myself every five minutes to remind myself that I am indeed actually going on a trip around the world, and that it has finally started (almost).

I have one thing to say about the airport - PEOPLE, GET OFF YOUR CELL PHONES! I spent two hours in O'Hare last night, a massive international airport full of people, and it was literally near-silent. Everyone was plugged in, hooked up, or in some other way attached to an electronic device, ignoring the world around them. I used to think that airports were entertaining because of the people-watching they provided, but last night, the people weren't doing anything worth watching. I beg of you, fellow travelers, you are going to make my life much more interesting if you get off your phones and do something.

Other than that, the flight was great! Chicago to San Diego is about four hours, which felt like nothing after the fact that my last five flights have been over fifteen hours each. I'm a bit spoiled though - there was an awful moment when I realized that domestic flights meant no food and no personal movie thing.... oh darn.

So, we're staying with some family here in California for a few days before getting on the boat next week. I was a bit "ehhhh" about coming here so early, but apparently a massive snowstorm is now hitting Chicago, with flights getting cancelled and such, so HA! TAKE THAT, WORLD! I WIN!

And so it goes! I'm looking out the window at a mountain range, so life is good! Although I've been told that we're not going to go climbing, sadly... it's okay, we're heading to Joshua Tree National Park before we've left here :) Other than that, we're just chilling, and heading down to Mexico to catch the boat on Wednesday!

Friday, January 2, 2015

SAS Spring 2015 Mailing

Hey! These are the addresses that mail needs to be sent to for anybody doing the Spring 2015 Semester at Sea (including me!). Looking forward to getting postcards (thanks Uncle Bill!).

One Day More!

I'M FLYING TO SAN DIEGO TOMORROW TO START A TRIP AROUND THE WORLD!

Sorry, just had to get that out of my system...

I'm flying to San Diego tomorrow, although we don't actually leave on the boat for another four days, I believe. But, it's still the start, and I couldn't be more excited! After a solid time ringing in the new year, I'm stoked and set for the next adventure. I've got my bags packed (almost... give me an hour more), the paperwork is all set, and I'm ready to go! It's strange to realize how lucky I've been to travel internationally before, because I'm realizing that I'm very casual about everything. I see posts from other voyagers in the FB group trying to figure out details of the trip, and my brain is literally set to the "details? what are details? eh, whatever..." setting. Twelve countries? I'll figure it out as we go :)

For the moment, my brother is watching Tarzan on Netflix, so we'll just chill, because tomorrow, craziness starts again!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

NSLI-Y Reunion: Part Four

Every year, a group of us who studied with NSLI-Y in Jordan way back in 2011 get together in Chicago  for New Year's - this year marked the fourth annual get-together! I'm just so grateful to have such a wonderful group of people that are always there, even when we don't get to see each other all the time. They are all doing such fantastic things, studying in Oman and Jordan and working with the State Department. I'm kind of the odd one out, as I've left the Middle East and headed south, they've all continued in their studies, exhausting the Arabic classes of the top universities in America, all essentially fluent in the language that we all started together, preparing to rule the world. (I'll just chill in the back with my siSwati skills, yo).

But, as we all know, the greatest thing you get from studying abroad is not the skills on paper, but rather the people, and the JO Crew is a group of people I wouldn't give up for anything. With all the craziness and travelling and feeling like a nomad without an anchor and whatnot, it's really nice to know that no matter what happens during the year, we're going to end it the same way that we started it - in Chicago, with hugs and laughter, surrounded by these people and love and happiness, and I am ever so grateful for that.

Photo credit: A. Gegios, my zoji :)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

PACKING FOR SEMESTER AT SEA

Hello! Now, I know that I have not gone on the trip yet, but in the past when I write on packing lists, it seemed to be very popular, so I thought I'd share my packing list for Semester at Sea, for a semester-long (112 days) voyage. But first, a friendly reminder of my personal commandments of packing:
  1. Thou shalt not pack clothes you never wear.
  2. Thou shalt not pack more than you can carry.
  3. Thou shalt not pack high heels.
  4. Thou shalt not pack a fanny pack.
  5. Thou shalt not pack in a suitcase if a backpack will do.
Then, without further to do...
DIANA'S PACKING LIST FOR THE SPRING 2015 VOYAGE OF SEMESTER AT SEA:

Clothes: As much as possible, things are synthetic fabrics to dry quickly, as everything needs to be drip-dried in the bathroom. Also - this is not a minimalist list. While I love backpacking, Semester at Sea is not a backpacking trip. I have a room on the boat, and don't have to carry all of this whilst I'm travelling in-port. There is no need to wear the same two shirts over and over like I would normally do on a backpacking trip.
  1. Yoga pants (2) - just for the ship
  2. Hiking/"travel" pants (2) - they fold into nothing, weigh nothing, and dry quickly
  3. Shorts (4) - just for the ship
  4. Long skirts (5) - lately I just like skirts more than pants
  5. Leggings (1) - also folds into nothing, yay for layers!
  6. T-Shirts (7) - necessity
  7. Tank Tops (7) - they're tiny, which makes packing them nice
  8. Underwear (12) - running out sucks
  9. Bras (6) - not sure what to say...
  10. Hiking socks (1) - quick dry, keep away nasty feet
  11. Other socks (2) - I usually wear flip-flops
  12. Flip-flops/ncops (3) - one dollar each from Swaziland Shoprite :)
  13. Dress sandals (1) - can't always wear ncops
  14. Active/hiking/gym shoes (1) - mountains in ncops? maybe not...
  15. Formal dress (1) - short dress, small to pack
  16. Suit (1) - there is a chance of a university interview along the way in-port
  17. Scarves (8) - to cover butts, shoulders, hair, and anything else that happens to be haraam
  18. Jersey (sweatshirt, my dear Americans) (1) - it gets cold, bros
  19. Long sleeved shirt (5) - layers, man
  20. Rain jacket (1) - Christmas present :)
  21. Bandanas (8) - most of the time I wrap my hair in either these or a scarf
  22. Swazi outfit (1) - I'm technically registered as an international student from Swaziland, so I figured I should :)
  23. Beanie (1) - my head gets cold
Electronics: I usually go much more minimal here, but I do have to survive a semester of university, so this is what I'm bringing (plus chargers and outlet adapters)
  1. Netbook (my trusty computer, duct-taped together but still clicking along)
  2. Nice camera (somewhere between DSLR and point and shoot)
  3. Waterproof/shockproof camera
  4. iPod (my mom found one of the old models used for $50 - will be great for checking internet in ports, seeing as how there's no internet on the boat, and I don't want to bring my laptop into ports)
  5. Extra memory cards + flash drive 
  6. Ear buds (I've had a pair for years that has been through hell and high water and the washing machine and still works - I think they came free from some promotion... who knows?)
  7. Phone: (the basic Nokia brick - for me, it's essentially an alarm clock)
School supplies: I mean, it's a semester at sea, not four months of nothing at sea.
  1. Textbooks (9) - required, I had to buy eight and print out one from a PDF a professor sent
  2. Binder/filler paper/dividers (1) - I have one two-ring binder from Swaziland that I just filled with the paper I had left over from IB. It'll be plenty for four months of school.
  3. Full pencil case (1) - some pens, some pencils, a highlighter, a Sharpie. Nothing fancy.
  4. Empty expandable folder (1) - I'm assuming I'm going to get some papers at some point.
Room stuff: The cabin is supposedly small, but I have a feeling after Waterford QB's, it'll be massive.
  1. Magnets (a massive amount): The walls are metal, and we're not allowed to use tape, so magnets are needed for decorating. I bought a roll for magnetic tape at Walmart for two dollars and spent some time making my own.
  2. Air freshener (2): Small room, no windows, bathroom in the room, going to have to drip-dry clothes in such a room... just trying to avoid a disaster
  3. Pictures for the walls (lots): because white walls are my worst enemy
Travel necessities: Seriously, though. In my book, these are almost always necessities.
  1. Sleeping bag and liner: I have a small-ish one that's warm almost all the time. It makes risky hostels a lot less disgusting. I use a liner just to keep the bag clean, as the liner is much easier to wash. Also, camping.
  2. Passport: Duh.
  3. Credit card and debit card: As much as I budget travel, some money is going to be spent. Withdrawing from ATMs in foreign ports is so much easier than trying to find a currency conversion place.
  4. Travel towels: I know this is random, but seriously, don't bring a normal towel. I use a konga and a microfiber towel, and have a microfiber facecloth as well. Not only do these not take up space, but they dry amazingly fast, which is the important part.
Bags: Because I'm not going around the world with this stuff loose.
  1. Backpack: My trusty thing. I stole it from my mom's closet in 2010 and it has been attached to my back ever since.
  2. Overnight bag: Medium sized, with a shoulder strap
  3. School pack: For classes on the ship
  4. Shoulder bag + tiny purse + string tie backpack: They take up very little space, and it's nicer to have the right bag for the day, whether it's hiking a mountain or going out at night. 
Other: Because no list would be complete without the miscellaneous.
  1. Glasses
  2. Toiletries (pack for yourself, you know what you need)
  3. Journal
  4. Host family gifts
  5. Jewelry
  6. Goggles
  7. Hair ties and clips
Okay, that's it! Good luck, enjoy packing!