Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Last post

Only two more days left on this ship that I’ve called home for the past 100 days. I am such a mix of emotions that I don’t even know what I’m feeling most of the time. On one hand, I am super excited to come home and see everyone that I’ve been missing, but on the other hand, I’m gonna be really sad to leave this ship.

As I was talking to Mer the other day she asked me, “What are you gonna say to people when they ask, ‘How was your trip?’” I thought about it for a moment and realized that I had no idea. There’s absolutely nothing I can say that will sum up all the experiences, memories, and lessons of this trip. Words, photographs, souvenirs; nothing can explain it.

I can try. And I will try. I will do my best to tell you all I’ve learned about the world, myself, people, culture, and everything else. But understand that my stories will not come out all at once—there is simply too much that is all too overwhelming in my head right now. Over time, they will come out—a smell, a sight, a taste, a noise, or a clip of a conversation may spark my memory into a great story. So please don’t be disappointed when I come home and don’t have a speech prepared for you. Please understand that when you ask and I simply say, “It was great.” that it wasn’t JUST great- it was so much more than that, but I have no words to explain it.

I overheard this one girl talking to a friend yesterday, and she was saying that they only way to explain this Semester at Sea experience is to take the word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and cram it all into one syllable. And I agree.

Thanks to everyone who sent e-mails, letters, pictures, facebook messages, updates, and everything else.

Thanks to everyone and anyone who actually read those long e-mails I sent out. J

Thanks to everyone who took a look at the blog. I spent valuable internet minutes updating that thing!

And THANK YOU mom and dad for EVERYTHING. I love you!

See you all soon,


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

1. First day, Mer, Doug and I decided to do a BIT of culture in Japan, so we went to the oldest castle in Japan in the city of Himeji. It�s a pretty cool building, as you can see, and the best part of the area was all the cherry blossom trees! I think one of the main things I�ll remember about Japan is those beautiful trees- when the wind blew, the petals would fall off the tree and look like it was snowing!
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JAPAN BLOG- last port. Sad. .

I am EXHAUSTED. This last month of non-stop traveling and classes in between has been ridiculously busy. And now I’m tired. And I have a buttload of schoolwork to do. . . So here goes:

We only had 2 days between China and Japan, and NOBODY knew what they were doing when we docked the first day. Pretty much everyone just got off the boat in a daze with no plans-including me.

Japan turned out to be awesome! I sorta feel like I jipped Japan cuz I was so tired the whole time I could barely enjoy it, but I did my best J Impressions? Japan is CRAZY- Here’s some quick notes that don’t come up later in the pictures:

1. Their toilets are hilarious! They have about 30 buttons on the side that do everything from heat the seat to make a fake flushing noise to blowing air on you to shooting water up your ass! I wouldn’t be surprised if they started singing to you. Hah

2. Anime and porn is everywhere- kinda strange.

3. They are the most efficient people I’ve ever met. The trains are ALWAYS on time, the waitresses always make room for you, and even with all the rush, it still seems like a pretty relaxed society.

4. Never try to meet up with someone in the Kyoto train station, especially if you’ve both never been there before. Mer’s and my plan was to walkie-talkie each other at 4:00 on Friday, and if that didn’t work, we would meet at the Starbucks, because there would inevitably be one there. Unfortunately, the Kyoto train station turned out to be the size of Russia, with three different Starbucks, and for some reason our walkies wouldn’t get signals. We both ended up walking around that god-forsaken station for about 2 hours before giving up on each other.

5. Luckily, I was with Carey, so we just decided to hang out in Kyoto and grab a ryukan for the night, which is a traditional Japanese hotel where you sleep on mats and you get a little tea table in your room- it was an adorable room!

Check below for more fun stuff I did in my stay in Japan!!!


Japan is over. Which means ALL the ports are over. We now have 14 days of sailing left until we dock in San Diego. I have nothing more to look forward to but papers, presentations, and tests. Good thing the weather sucks because otherwise I’d be tempted just to lay outside every day and be a bum. Ah well! K-now it’s back to paper writing! See you all soon.

Some highlights of Japan in pic form:

2. The best part about our day is when Doug bought Walrus Cat juice (some random kiddie drink from the vending machine that had a cartoon walrus and cat on the front). It was the best juice ever! We had no idea what it was, but every day afterwards we searched the vending machines for Walrus Cat juice, and NEVER found it again! Sad. . .
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3. They sold some WEIRD stuff at 7-11. Here, would you like to buy some dried octopus tentacles? Mmmm.. . . .
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4. The gardens in Japan were gorgeous. And they were everywhere- smack in the middle of the city you�d find one.
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5. Mer and I went hiking in the hills of Kobe one day. I don�t know if they just don�t know how to draw maps or what but we got lost SO many damn times! Each time we came to a map we would be in a different place than we thought we were in. You can see how much the signs helped us out. haha
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6. Japanese baseball game! Kelli, Carey, me and Erin hanging out enjoying a beer- it was so much fun! CRAZY Japanese fans, beer, fly balls, and weird food. You could get grilled kebabs, noodles, and my personal favorite: fried and breaded octopus balls (which we lovingly referred to as pussballs) I ordered them the first time when I was slightly tipsy, and got thru 4 balls before I realized they had octopus inside. But surprisingly, they weren�t that bad, so I ordered them again.
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7. The best part about the game is that everyone had these huge balloons that looked like penises that they blew up right at the end of the 7th inning. At a certain time, everyone in the stadium let them go, and they flew everywhere! Will and Colin give �em a try. Half our group won Tigers hats on their free baseball scratch off cards. I wasn�t one of the winners
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8. Sleeping in Osaka in our capsule hotel! This is a place usually where businessmen go to simply sleep overnight-no rooms- just a little 4x4x6 �capsuls� to sleep in and a locker. They were actually a lot bigger than I expected. The capsules were stacked on top of each other, so it was weird when the person on top of you or below you shifted around.
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9. The streets of Osaka were insane!
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10. Japan LOVES their sushi- and it was sooo good! If you like sushi, you have to go to Japan and taste it there someday! I was a sushi beginner and had only tried it for the first time this January, but now I�m in love! But I may be disappointed when I come home and eat it there. . . They have so many varieties here! And this was only the �to go� menu- if you went inside and sat down, there was a rotating thing that went around the entire store right in front of you that brought sushi around. You would just pick up the ones you wanted and turn in all the receipts when you left.
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11. Japan also loves their SHOES! Lydia- this is your heaven. Hah. Their fashion is insane! Anything you�ve ever seen on TV about how Japanese teenagers dress is completely true. I don�t think I saw a single girl in the country without heels or trendy sneakers. These girls rode around on bikes with mini skirts and 4 inch heels! I tried to buy shoes, but NOTHING came in my size- they actually laughed at how big my feet were! Ha- ah well! That�s what I get for being American.
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12. Japan is the KING of vending machines! You can buy everything from cigarettes, beer, apple juice, sake, hot coffee, ANY drink you want- but strangely no food. They�d be lined up on the streets in rows of like 5 or 8. It was great cuz beers out of the machine were only $2 whereas in the bars they were upwards of $6. It was GREAT!
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13. Do you believe me when I tell you that I actually ATE that thing?!?! Yep- it�s a raw mini squid. And I didn�t only eat ONE, I ate THREE. How�d that happen? Well, not many people in Japan speak English, so it�s always a surprise as to what you actually get on your plate after you order. Carey and I were surprised to receive some little bowls of �stuff�. We inspected them and discovered that there were three raw, mini squids in each bowl. WHAT?!? We did NOT order that! But eh, what the hell- when in Japan! We grabbed our chopsticks, cheers it up, and chewed. It didn�t TASTE too bad, but just the texture thing was sorta disgusting. . . . . Good thing the rest of the sushi was good, cuz that was too weird for me.
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Monday, April 10, 2006

1. Me in Hong Kong with Jackie Chan�s handprints!!! They�re surprisingly big for a little Asian dude.
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2. The busy streets of Hong Kong- this city was ridiculously huge! GREAT city- sooooo busy and bustling and loud. Katelyn knows this girl Vivian who lives in Hong Kong, so we met up with her and got the grand tour of the city (as well as a new friend. Awwww)
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3. They sell PABST in Hong Kong!!!! Hell yeah Wisconsin, making it all the way over to East Asia!!! Hahah. Vivian advised us that the bars were really expensive, and everyone just goes to the 7-11 to buy beer, then hangs out outside the bars. We took her advice and bought the cheap beers. Love that girl-always looking out for our pockets!
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4. The whole gang outside Fat Angelos, where we ate dinner. (I know, you�re thinking Italian? In Hong Kong? But don�t worry- we had dim sum and other asian stuff for breakfast and lunch) Anyway, it was Sarah�s birthday, so we all got sweet Italian hats and wore em out! (btw- Vivian is the Asian one, in case you were wondering J)
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5. haha. Funny sign on the streets. I made Meredith carry around my painting all night cuz she had a bigger purse, so I let her use it for incriminating pictures as well.
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6. Jello shots!!! Too bad they were so enormous that we could barely fir them in our mouths! The dude in the background is from Milwaukee and works in Hong Kong, so he bought Dana, Meredith and me a shot. It took me literally 2 or 3 minutes to chew it all and get it down!
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7. PANDAS ARE THE CUTEST ANIMALS IN THE WORLD! The second day Mer and I visited Ocean Park, which is sorta like Six Flags. The rides were pretty sweet, but the best part about the park is that is has the biggest aquarium in the world AND PANDAS!!!!!! Haha we probably spent about an hour just staring at them. I bought a LARGE (think 2 � foot) stuffed panda-and now I have no idea how I�m gonna be getting him home. Ha
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8. Gotta put one picture of the Great Wall in here. To get here, we took a three hour bus ride (with no heat) to this TINY little village called Jingshaling. There, our driver dropped us off and told us he�d pick us up in 5 hours at a different town called Simatai-a 10 kilometer hike away. Thank the lord for that little old lady on the side of the road selling stuff in Jingshaling-we all ended up buying XXXXL �I climbed the Great Wall� sweatshirts and I also got a hat. To top it off, after about 20 minutes into our hike, it started SNOWING! Yes snowing! We were like, uhhhhhhh okay? It started out as just a little light flurry, but after about an hour, it was a FULL BLOWN BLIZZARD. It was basically a white out- we couldn�t see a thing past 10 feet.
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9. Me attempting to catch snowflakes with my sweet commie hat on. And I was so thankful I bought that thing, cuz it was DAMN cold. Plus, our �guides�(Mongolian farmers trying to sell us stuff to make a living) latched on to us for the first 15 towers, but when we got to number 15, they ditched us and headed back, leaving us on our own in a freaking blizzard on the Great Wall! �It�s easy from here on� they said!! Yeah right!
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10. Me and Mer on the Wall after the blizzard calmed down a bit. We trekked the last 15 towers pretty much alone, and after about 3 hours of snow, it started clearing up.
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Hong Kong/China update!

First of all, we were REALLY excited to be doing this trip independently. I’d had enough 5 star SAS trips and was ready for some hostelling! Mer and I were planning on hanging out the whole time, and we made some tentative plans to meet up with Lisa, Dana, Katelyn and Sarah.

We had two days in Hong Kong—the first day, we ate dim sum, met the national rugby teams of Portugal and Argentina in the market, took the tram to the top of the mountain to see the whole city, and went out for Sarah’s birthday!

Second day we headed off to Ocean Park! On our way home, we had the biggest scare of our lives. We had heard that the ship was leaving at 6 o’clock to leave for Qingdao, but never really thought to confirm the time. We figured if we left the park at 3:30, we’d have plenty of time to get to the ship, grab our stuff, and head off to our hostel for the night. But as we were taking the bus home from the park, we were thinking hmmm. . . . usually “on ship” time is 2 hours before we depart. What if we had to be on the ship by 4? Crap. Our plane tickets were on there. All our luggage was there. Even my passport was on the ship! ah!! If we missed the ship, we’d be officially screwed with only the clothes on our back and a giant stuffed panda to help us home. And of course, our bus didn’t drop us off at the same place we left from, so we had no clue where we were when we got off at the last stop. Thankfully, a kid helped us find the subway and get off at the right stop but THEN we took the wrong exit from the subway and AGAIN had no clue where we were. Last resort, we called a cab. It was about 4:30 now and we were SWEATING- if we missed our ship, we’d have to go to the embassy to get new passports, then buy new plane tickets, oh we were just flipping out. And of course the traffic was ridiculous. We sat at a red light in the taxi for about 4 minutes straight, biting our nails and praying the ship was still there. (you’re probably thinking, why would the ship leave you? Don’t you have to swipe in? but not this port- we had signed out saying we were flying to Beijing and not sailing with the ship, so they had no responsibility for us anymore) after a nerve-wracking 15 minute cab ride, we literally RAN to the dock and were relieved to see the boat still there. Needless worrying probably, but it definitely taught me to CONFIRM the on ship time with the crew. Phew.

Wednesday it was off to Beijing! We got there at about noon and it was NOTHING like I expected it to be. First impressions were not too good:

1. Beijing looked more like Russia than like China:

2. First of all, it was 6 degrees out (about 42 F) and Mer had only brought along flip flops!! Haha—they definitely didn’t warn us of the weather. And I know 42 isn’t THAT cold, but when you’re used to traveling in 90 degree countries, it’s quite a shock.

3. I couldn’t breathe. The air was RIDICULOUSLY polluted. My snot was black

4. Seinfeld was right when he said that communists only dress in drab, neutral colored clothes.

5. There’s this wonderful Chinese custom of snorting up a ball of snot as loudly as possible and hocking a loogie on the street. Quite lovely.

6. There were CARS everywhere! After coming from Vietnam where there were probably 10 cars, it was weird. I guess I just expected everyone to be riding bikes. But the traffic was horrible!

7. I was also expecting a crowded downtown area, but Beijing was just a large, sprawling city. (where you could only see about a half mile cuz of the smog)

8. Chinese people are not as short as I would have thought! Ha

Okay, not so good so far. But things got better. . sorta. . .

FIRST we went out and bought shoes. Thank the lord for cheap knockoff Pumas. All the girls got them except for me because yeah, they don’t have my size. Apparently no one in china has as big of feet as me. Ah well. Good thing I brought my sneakers along because the next day we were climbing the Great Wall!!! Woohoo! Scroll down to the pictures for the full Wall experience.

Third day, we went and did the tourist things like Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, etc etc. We were kinda sick of tourist stuff by then tho, so we cut our tour short and went shopping! China is by FAR the hardest place to bargain- probably cuz its got so many dumbass tourists willing to pay a lot for crap. But after 80 days of bargaining, we were pretty good at it and got stuff down to reasonable prices. The day in general was a bust though- things just kept gong wrong! First of all, I almost killed a guy when I opened my taxi door and T-boned a dude on a bike! He FLEW over his bike and laid on the ground for about 30 seconds during which I just stared and prayed he wasn’t dead. He was okay, but I felt AWFUL. Then things went downhill from there: the waitress forgot my order at breakfast, I slammed my finger in a bank door, no taxi drivers in China know how to read a map, the Kung Fu show was sold out for the night, we got separated from our group for about an hour cuz of stupid taxi drivers, the internet was too slow to sign up for classes, and to top it all, I still couldn’t breathe cuz of the damn pollution. BUT at least the day was a hell of a lot warmer J I wore my brightest shirt in an attempt to spice up the city and its drabness. But, all in all, I was ready to leave.

I’m not sure if that’s because I’m just about traveled out (100 days straight gets a bit tiring) or if it really was just that I didn’t like China that much. I don’t really want to blame China too fast. . . . . but I don’t know if I’ll be coming back soon to test out my hypothesis.

Thankfully, Qingdao was cleaner, brighter, warmer, and I had a great time just hanging around the port city on our last day. Mer and I went to this “park” to go hiking, but it ended up being Fun World for 13 year olds. Hahah we had an awesome time going on all the little carnival rides with schoolkids J It was so random though!

Overall: mixed feelings. I had a wonderful time with the girls I hung out with. We ate AMAZING food and went to an awesome acrobat show. Of course, the Wall was fun, and it was cool to do everything by myself without a tour guide or SAS being my mom. I’m ready to chill for 2 days before Japan though. Too bad I have freaking papers and projects due! Ahh!!

11. We had a nice little surprise at the end of our trek-a zipline! Instead of hiking the last 20 minutes, we could pay 4 bucks and take a zipline down. We all jumped on that real quick J So of course, looking back on it, hiking the Wall in a blizzard was awesome. But I think next time I�d like to do it in the sun J
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12. One night in Beijing we went to an acrobat show! These Asians are amazing-most of my pics didn�t turn out cuz of the lighting, but this was one of the better ones. That�s TEN people on one bike! Hah it was a fun night
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