Saturday, October 20, 2007

Namaste and Good luck

I think I will mention that this is the first blog where you get my actual journal without anything cut out. My reflections aren’t included here, but they never really are. I hope you enjoy what I saw in and of India.

India was by far the most intense, physically and mentally demanding experience of my life. It was dusty, beautiful, heartbreaking, filthy, spiritual, intriguing, infuriating, frustrating, terrifying, moving, humbling, inspiring, polluted, and so much more. Someone once told me that whatever you can say about India, the opposite is also true. I could never make sense of the statement before the last 5 days, but now it seems the only way to describe it. India both defeated me and built me up at the same time.

Some background information on India:
It has 3 times the population of the U.S. in an area 1/3 the size.
People are born into castes, which is to say they are born into their job, their life circumstance without any way to change it. If your father was a Dalit, you are a Dalit, and there is nothing you can do about it.
Chennai, where we made port, is the 4th largest city in India by population.
There are over 50 different languages spoken in India.
Hinduism is the most popular religion, practiced by over 80% of the population, followed by Islam and then Christianity.
Hinduism is one of the world’s most tolerant religions, but still follows the caste system, which discriminates against some of its own practitioners.

I loved experiencing India, but I was unbelievably glad when it was time to be able to get on the ship.

The 6 days between Thailand and India were filled with classes and midterms and papers. It was very uneventful. I spent way too much time studying, and was glad when the global studies exam was finally over, because it marked the end of midterm-palooza.

I also wanted to say hi to Megan’s parents, because she told me that you like to read my blog. So Hi Megan’s parents!

Oct. 15, 2007
“Uhhh, that guy with the gun. I’m gonna do what he says.”
Chennai, Delhi, and Agra, India

The morning started by getting up at 7 to the smell of burning tires in the hallways of the 4th deck. Welcome to India. I went up to the 7th deck to watch the ship pull in with Ashley and Tim. When Megan got there we went to breakfast. We were joined by the usuals. After breakfast I came back to my room to pack for my trip to Agra and Varanasi. I made plans to meet up with Ashley and Megan for lunch, but this actually never happened. When lunch rolled around the ship was cleared and we were allowed to pick up our passports. Ashley and Megan’s sea was called right as we were supposed to meet and then my sea was called next. They didn’t wait for Laura, Lindsey and me, so the lunch rendezvous didn’t actually happen, though Megan ate her dessert with us while we were eating our dinner.

I was going on a student organized trip to Agra and Varanasi that left at 2:45, so there wasn’t really a lot of time in between being cleared and meeting. I didn’t want to risk not being able to make it back to the ship, so I didn’t leave the port. I did want to meet Madu, the rickshaw driver that Megan had told me about, so I went out to the area where the drivers were lined up, but I couldn’t find him. I came back to the ship and waited for time to meet the group. While I was waiting, Lindsey, who was also waiting for her trip to leave, joined me in my room to watch a movie. When the time for me to leave rolled around and I hurried out to meet the group. I was so excited to be able to finally get India started. The instructions on where to meet were a little vague, but in the end the group all found each other.

We were supposed to have a bus waiting for us outside of the ship to take us to the airport, but it wasn’t there. One of the SAS buses shuttled us to the gate of the port where we were given a really hard time by port police. We were all told that we needed to sign some book to be able to leave and show our customs declaration form. About this time our bus showed up and the driver got out and got us all cleared to go through without the hassle, but as soon as the guys faded from view, all of the girls were given the same hard time. I escaped just behind the guys, but all the girls after me took forever to get through. We thought that we were really pushing it to make it to the airport on time, but we got there with no problem. We weren’t really surprised when the airport was full of SASers trying to get to Delhi. Going through security at the airport was an interesting for me. Women and men got split into separate lines. The check point that women went through was hidden behind these curtain type things to keep people from seeing security officers doing patdowns on women who set off the metal detector. The underwire in my bra set it off, and the officer waved the little wand sensor around me and it was just my chest area that was beeping. She acted like she couldn’t figure out what the problem was, so I got a pat down that would have qualified as sexual harassment in the U.S. After the security groping incident I found a place that sold the most amazing chocolate chip cookies, and then got on the plane to Delhi.

The plane was the first flight I’ve taken on this trip that wasn’t turbulent. I sat next to a man from Chennai who was going to Delhi on business and a Japanese man who was most likely schizophrenic. There was some interesting music playing before we actually took off and the man from Chennai laughed when he noticed I was tapping my foot to it. I smiled at him, and he pointed to his foot that he was tapping as well. The flight was 2.5 hours. I had started writing a couple of postcards on the flight, and I accidentally flipped my pen at the Indian man next to me. It just made him laugh a lot and he started talking to me. It made the flight go by so fast. We talked about everything from religion to war to movies. We talked a lot about the reasons the divorce rate is so high in the west and so low in India. He had some interesting thoughts and was actually pretty straightforward about what happens to an Indian women after the dissolution of a marriage. I enjoyed the conversation, but I was really happy to get to Delhi. We boarded our bus and found out that we were taking an overnight bus to Agra rather than taking the train. We were still waiting on people to get there from another flight, so Kristen and I went back into the airport to go to the bathroom and get some pizza. The security guy was hesitant to let us back in, but didn’t really put up much of a fight to keep us from going. He just bobbled his head.

The group decided they wanted to stop and get some food on the way to Agra since it was going to be 3 hours until we got there. The tour guide stopped in a very shady area of Delhi. About 6 girls (including myself) didn’t get off the bus, and everyone else followed the tour guide to a rest stop. After a very long time the group hadn’t made it back to the bus so one of the girls very stupidly decided that she would like to go look for them. This was ridiculously retarded because we had no idea where we were and we were in an area that in no way appeared to be anything even close to safe. The other 4 girls decided that they were going too, and I didn’t want to be the only person that stayed behind, so I went as well. One of the other girls and I decided that it was just too ridiculous for us to be out so we turned back and went to the bus. As we got back to the bus the rest of the group was getting back. We started to Agra, and the guide said it should be about 3 hours. It took 5. It was the bumpiest bus ride I have ever been on in my life. We finally got to Agra at 2 am and checked into our hotel. There were 2 beds in the room and then a mat on the floor. I got the mat on the floor and went to sleep so that I could be up for sunrise at the Taj the next day.

Oct. 16, 2007
“It’s your fault…they’re the illiterate masses.”
Agra, India/en route to Varanasi

We got up really early to get to the Taj, but a few people stayed back at the hotel to sleep because they knew we were going back to the Taj for sunset. While I was waiting for everyone in the lobby the tour guide for the day had shown up and was questioning me about where our “trip leader” was. There was no real trip leader, just the guy who organized the plans. He hadn’t shown up yet and I knew he was getting ready, but the tour guide was basically a prick and he was just generally not nice to me after I couldn’t tell him how to find Ray. When everyone who was going showed up, we boarded the bus. On the bus ride there, the tour guide informed us that admission fees were not included in the package that we had, even though we had been told that they were. Most, if not all, of us were going to be short on cash because of this. It cost 750 rupees just to get into the Taj. It was $20 none of us had planned on spending because we were told that it was covered. At this point, none of us were willing to pay the 750 rupees again at sunset, so we just paid up for sunrise. We had to take a bus from our bus to the Taj, and when it let us off there weren’t many street vendors out yet. The ones that were out were just selling postcards.

The Taj itself was beautiful. Pictures don’t do it justice. Our tour guide was still being pretty pompous and he was getting really frustrated that we were all taking pictures instead of listening to him, but we basically paid twice to be able to see it since it was supposed to be in the package and somehow wasn’t anymore, so since we paid twice, we did what we wanted. We weren’t on time; we didn’t really care to listen to him tell us things that we either already knew or didn’t care to hear to begin with. I got stopped a lot to take pictures with little kids. The people that stopped me here were really nice and appreciative that we were willing to stop and take pictures. On the way out there were a few things I needed to buy from street vendors, but the pompous tour guide yelled at me when I went to check it out. There really wasn’t a chance for me to get what I needed. It was really upsetting, but I couldn’t really argue with the tour guide successfully. He wasn’t very receptive of me to begin with.

We went back to the hotel for breakfast (which was not good). The part of the group that didn’t go to the Taj with us for sunrise joined us for breakfast. We left for some ‘sightseeing’ that included going to the tour company office to settle some payment issues, an overpriced carpet shop, and an overpriced marble shop. There was literally nothing in any of the shops that I could afford to buy. The prices were so inflated it was insane. For a magnet they wanted 300 rupees ($7.50), and this was after haggling. The street vendors found our bus outside of the shops. I was so excited that there were things that I was able to afford (and that I wanted to buy originally) that I went bargaining crazy. I had such a good time doing it. We went back to the hotel for lunch after what seemed to be a waste of a morning. The hotel lunch was equally as crappy as the breakfast was. The tour company operator showed up and announced that we all had to pay an extra fee of $45. Ray got it down to $40, but I’m still not sure what the extra fee was for. I’m not really sure that any of us do. I didn’t have a lot of cash left, so I asked if I could pay by credit card. The guy told me that I could, but that there would be a 3% charge on the 1700 rupees I needed to pay, and that the total would be 2700 rupees. I guess he thought I must have been a moron, but I’m actually able to figure out that 3% of 1700 doesn’t amount to 1000. I heard from someone on the trip that there was a place nearby where you could use your credit card to get money rather than an ATM, so I thought I’d check it out. I got money there with no problem.

The guys who missed the Taj in the morning went after they ate lunch and then met us at Agra Fort after they were done. The outside of the fort had one of the worst smells I have ever been able to sense. It smelled like a mixture of rotten eggs, feces, wet dog, and something that I can’t quite figure out. I was overjoyed when I found out that we got to wait there for the guys that went to the Taj. While we were waiting, a bunch of Indian people were taking our pictures and posing for pictures in front of us. The girls in my group, myself included, were getting really strange leering looks from most of the men who took our pictures, but we mostly ignored it. Once we finally got to go into the fort, the people taking our pictures persisted to the point that we were starting to sprint away from them. The Indian men had started grabbing the girls and basically groping anyone that they could get their hands on. We told our tour guide about it in an attempt to get him to do something about it, and he told us that it was our fault, just to deal with it. This pissed me off beyond ridiculous amounts. We started to stick really close together, and for this brief period it seemed like the guys in our group were doing a better job at keeping an eye out for us. We got to an area of the fort that was swarming with rabid monkeys. On the side where there were no monkeys, the same men that had been harassing us were waiting. It was a tough decision: rabid monkeys or men who went out of their way to grab whatever part of my/any other girl in my group’s body that they could. I had been immunized against rabies but not against asshole men, so I took the monkey route. I got through unharmed, which I am not sure would have been the case if I had gone the other way. On the way out one of the men who had been harassing me was mad at me for staying away from him, and told me that no one who would ever want to marry me because I was so fat. It was very nice of him to let me know so that I can whip myself into shape. Glad for the info. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not nearly as small as most of the Asian women I have seen are, but in the U.S., I’m not fat. I’m not even chubby. If I don’t get married, I’m sure that the reason won’t have anything to do with my size, but I do appreciate the opinion of Mr. Grabby, who seemed to enjoy grabbing my body despite the fact that I am ‘fat.’

Much to my delight, when we left there were more street vendors to bargain with. I got some more things, and then the whole group headed back to the hotel where we were dropped off until it was time to leave for the train. We were really near a Pizza Hut, so I went with 3 other girls. A significant portion of the group set off into Agra to find liquor for the train ride to Varanasi. I just enjoyed dinner. We got a really nice note from our waiter telling us how much he enjoyed taking care of us. When we boarded the bus to go to the train station, we found out that Ray still hadn’t worked out paying the tour company, and that he was at the official office to pay the tour operators. We went to the office to pick him up and we finally got the payment situation all sorted out. The train station in Agra was the first thing in the entire voyage that made me physically sick. There were so many people sleeping in the ‘lobby.’ The smell was just putrid. There were rats crawling everywhere and nasty dogs just roaming around. The tracks were piled with garbage. I was really worried about what our train was going to be like after seeing the station.

We were taking what was supposed to be an 11 hour overnight train ride to Varanasi. The train actually wasn’t bad, at least the first class cars that we were in. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in any of the other cars. We were in the same section of the car as this amazing family from Spain. We got to talk to them about where to go while we’re there. They sold me on the idea of going to Barcelona, but I’m not sure that I can afford it this time around. Hopefully some day I’ll be able to make it back. They did give me a list of things to do in Sevilla, Grenada, and Cordoba and recommended a few places to eat for tapas. They were so nice that they shared their food with all of the girls who were in the car with us and the next morning they let us each have a bindi to wear.

Oct. 17, 2007
“Camel bone. It’s the new elephant tusk.”
Varanasi, India

We were supposed to arrive in Varanasi around 8:30. I woke up early enough to ensure that I didn’t miss it. I ate the pop tarts that I had brought with me while I waited to get there, but we just kept stopping at stations that weren’t Varanasi. Finally, the tour guide that was with the Spanish family asked when we were actually going to get to Varanasi and he was told that it was going to be 11:00. This didn’t actually prove to be true. We arrived at noon. I had brought pop tarts with me, and when our train took as long as it did, I was very glad to have them. The tour guide on the bus told us that there were two very important things to see while we were in Varanasi. The first was Sarnath, which is the site where Buddha preached his first sermon. The second was an early morning boat ride on the Ganga. We thought that this meant these were included in our trip, but we were wrong to assume such. When Ray asked about it, we had to argue for the boat ride that was promised originally, but ended up getting that. We could have gone to Sarnath at an extra cost, but not a lot of people really wanted to. I was little disappointed, but by this point my expectations for India were really low, so it wasn’t a big deal.

We got to the hotel by bus, but caused a lot of traffic problems by doing so. Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, and as such wasn’t designed for motor vehicles. Our giant tourist bus took up a lot of space on the roads. There is a point in the city where you aren’t allowed to have motor vehicles, but that was much closer to the Ganga than our hotel was. We got lunch at the hotel and then split up to do whatever we felt like for the afternoon. I joined Jenn, Kate, and Kat to go to a market near the cremation ghat. Jenn and I shared a rickshaw, and I was in for what was the most terrifying experience of my life. One of the cows that was laying the road decided to move and this disrupted traffic in a major way. Our rickshaw hit a banana cart and then immediately after we were hit by a motorbike and another rickshaw behind us. I have no idea how, but the girl that I was with and myself got out of the incident without a scratch. At this point Jenn and I really wanted to hold on to each other, but in India women aren’t really allowed to be seen showing any public signs of affection to other people, and this would have included holding onto Jenn.

I was so glad to finally get out of the rickshaw. We were let out at the beginning of the street, not quite at the market, but not very far away either. We had vendors following us the whole way to the market. They weren’t really the aggressive type we had seen in Agra; they were much more personable. I think it was just part of their sham to get people to buy from them. It’s not really a style that I like, and I think that it’s kind of the point. They’re so nice to you that it can make you feel bad to not buy or try to bargain really hard with them. The followed us down the street, and most of them weren’t actually trying to sell us anything; they just wanted us to go into their shops. They found as at the beginning of the street and walked with us until we passed their shop. We did find a really cool bead shop and I got bracelet made out of camel bone. There was a big festival going on in Varanasi, and the shopkeeper had a shrine set up in the shop, so you had to take your shoes off to go in. We found a little alleyway to wonder down that I think was the market we were trying to get to begin with. There were police with giant rifles sitting outside of the entrance to the market, but at this point we were used to the people walking around with giant rifles everywhere. The market was full of great shops and bargaining there was easy. Most of the shopkeepers said that it was close to the end of the festival and they hadn’t made nearly as much money as they usually did, so we got things pretty cheaply just because they wanted to sell to us. It might have been a lie just to get us to buy, but things were much cheaper here than anywhere else I had been in India, so I just kind of went with it. I got a really cool, huge batik of Ganesh for a little less than a dollar. The people in the shops were much nicer than most of the people that we had been dealing with for all of our time in India, so the four us were really enjoying just being able to shop without anyone harassing us in anyway. We were each actually blessed by a brahmin while we were shopping.

We decided to split up after the market because Kate and Kat wanted to go see an Indian movie and Jenn and I really didn’t want to. One of the vendors from the market told us that we were really close to the cremation ghat and that cremation ceremonies were going on if we wanted to watch them, that it was only a five minute walk away. Jenn and I wanted to go because, but we weren’t really sure if we wanted to let this guy lead us on a wild goose chase and end up getting ourselves in a bad situation. We decided to let him take us, but if it got sketchy to turn around and go back. I think there were a few moments when we were really regretting going, but we got to the ghat just fine. We went up to the rooftop of a building and there was someone up there who gave us information about what was going on and who was allowed to be cremated and why women weren’t allowed to be present at the cremation of a person and everything we wanted to know. At this point, we knew that while this was ‘free’ we were going to be asked for money. The guide told us that only men our allowed at the ceremonies because women cry and crying taints the soul of the person who died, and they can’t get into Heaven. There are 5 types of people who aren’t allowed to be cremated. The first are brahmins. They aren’t cremated because they are considered to be already pure, and they are allowed to be buried rather than burned. The second is children because they are innocent. Pregnant women can’t be cremated because they are carrying the innocent. Lepers aren’t cremated, but I’m not sure of the reason. Children, pregnant women, and lepers are allowed to be weighted down and have their body thrown into the river. The last type of person that can’t be cremated is a snake bite victim. If a person dies from a snake bite, they are poisoned and can’t be put into the river because they don’t want the poison to corrupt the holy river. The ceremony for a person to be cremated requires the body to be wrapped in gold or yellow fabric (if it‘s a man, I don‘t know what color a female‘s covering is), then the body is taken into the river for purification. The head of the person to be cremated must be shaved by a family member. If the father dies, the eldest son shaves the head. If it is a woman, her husband or youngest son shave her head. The body is put on the fire and burned for anywhere from an hour to three hours. Some parts of the body’s bones don’t burn. The ashes are put into the river. Dead cows are weighted down and put in the river, but Jenn and I actually saw one floating down the Ganga during one of the cremation ceremonies. It was a very interesting thing to see take place, and our the man giving the information was excellent, so I had planned to give him money anyway, but on our way out of the building there were two women trying to get money so that people who came to Varanasi to die but had no money for the cremation ceremony could afford to be cremated. The man who had given us all the information told us to be blessed by the women and then give them money. He was very adamant about it, so I had assumed that some of this money went to him also. Jenn and I each donated enough money for wood for one person’s cremation, but the man was very insistent about having more than that. Both of us really didn’t have much more we could afford to give, especially because I was without an ATM card and had to make what little I had left last for the rest of the time in India. Wood for two people was a pretty generous donation, at least I thought so, considering we were promised it was going to be free. When we left the man wanted money for himself, but again, we just didn’t have it to give him. He told us that it was going to give us bad karma if we didn’t give anything, and I asked him what type of karma it would give him to tell someone that they could have free information and then demand money from them. He left us alone and the vendor that brought us there in the first place took us back to the market, and we got a rickshaw back to the hotel. He too tried to guilt us into buying more from him, but I had actually planned to buy something he was selling anyway. We got him to reduce his price by a lot, and then got back to the hotel.

The rickshaw driver kept turning around to talk to us, but I really didn’t want to encourage this, so I didn’t say much back to him. I just nodded, which I’m not sure he really understood. I still don’t understand the whole head bobbling thing. He asked me if I was English, and I just said “yeah” so he would turn back around and he started saying, “Oh, I love Englanders!” He was so happy just because he thought we were from England. When we got back to the hotel, Jenn had already gotten out of the rickshaw, and I was in the process, but before I could get out, the driver lifted up his pants/skirt thing that I don’t know what it’s called to show me his warts. He did it to get more money out of us, but it was really disgusting. He was telling me that he didn’t know what they were or how he got them, and he had to get them cut off, so please pay him extra. I thought about telling him where he got them from, but I didn’t really want to explain STDs to him, so we just paid him the original, agreed upon price and went back to the hotel.

One of my roommates had the key to my hotel room, and Jenn’s roommates had her key, so we went to the front desk to try to get them to let us in our rooms. Jenn was told someone would let her into her room with no problem, but I was told there was no possible way that I could get into my room. The guy at the front desk told us to go wait in front of Jenn’s room, and someone would be there to let us in shortly. While we were waiting up there the power got cut to the hotel. It was freaky because we didn’t know at this point that the power in Varanasi got cut for at least 5 hours everyday. The power to the hotel flipped back on after a few minutes, and then the guy arrived to let us into Jenn’s room. He had a master key, so I asked him to let me into my room, and he did with no problem. I got my first (and only) shower the entire time I was in India. You can imagine that I really needed one at this point. I got a quick one, because I knew that the water for the shower was most likely coming from the Ganga, and I had just been there and seen the dead bodies being washed in it and the dead cow floating in it, and I knew that was where the sewage goes. I couldn’t really enjoy my shower thinking about that. I met Jenn and we went to have a really late dinner with the rest of the group at the hotel. Dinner wasn’t all that great, but there was some good naan and masala. I went to bed after dinner because the power was out in parts of the city and we were leaving the hotel at 5:30 am the next morning for our boat ride on the Ganga.

October 18, 2007
“The most important thing is that we should all do as much good for our fellow humans as we can while we’re here. The rest isn’t really in our hands.”
Varanasi, Delhi, and Chennai, India

I got up at 5 to get ready for our boat ride on the river, and since I was awake, the girls in my room were also. We went down to the lobby and no one else was there. After a few minutes four more people showed up, but that was it. We asked the front desk if they had given people their wake up calls and they said they weren’t making calls until 5:30, which was when we were actually supposed to leave. We went around to all of the rooms and started waking everyone up, and got out of the hotel as quickly as we could. We walked to our bus, which was a little ways away and headed as close to the ghat as we were allowed to. We walked to the ghat and we were hounded by street vendors as we went. When we got to where we were able to board our boat, we saw the vendor that took us to the cremation ceremony the day before. He tried to sell Jenn and I more, but we really didn’t need or want anything else that he was selling.

Several children selling flowers and candles got onto the boat with us, trying to get us all to buy one to make a wish and put them on the river. They were only 5 rupees, so I got one. We were told the only that we weren’t allowed to take pictures of were the two cremation ghats. People were snapping a lot of pictures of the people bathing in the river, and you could see on their faces that it was making them very uncomfortable. I heard a guide on another boat tell the people in that boat not to take pictures of the people bathing because they thought it was rude. Some other people heard this and stopped taking pictures, but just as many continued snapping pictures whenever we felt like it. We got to the cremation ghats and we were told that we were absolutely not allowed to take pictures there, but people did it anyway, just to prove that they could. I thought it was really disrespectful. A guy on the boat was trying to get people to give him money to just jump into the Ganga. We weren’t next to the shore; we were out in the middle where they put the bodies they don’t cremate. I think jumping in the river just for the heck of it would have been stupid (the river is filled with garbage and untreated sewage, and people who died of leprosy and people that couldn’t afford to be cremated) and really disrespectful. I was really glad that he didn’t do it. The tour guide on the boat talked about the types of people who aren’t cremated, and he gave some different reasons than I had heard the night before. The reasons for the night before were much more believable. He said snake bite victims and pregnant women aren’t cremated because they believe there is a chance they will return to life and be able to come home. They are often weighted down with their addresses. A pregnant woman is hoped to give birth after death, and the infant return to its home. A sort of “market boat” floated up to us selling souvenirs, but no one was buying anything from him. He stayed for around 5 minutes and no one had bought a single thing. It’s a fact when you’re bargaining that if you wait a while and no one is buying, you can get some excellent prices, so I jumped at the opportunity. I spent a total of 200 rupees and got presents for 3 people, plus 3 things that I wanted. When I got things so cheap, other people were really interested in buying things, but since there was a lot of interest now, people couldn’t get things as cheap anymore. After the boat ride, we were continuously hassled all the way back to the bus by vendors. They were much more aggressive than any I had seen in Varanasi, and it made me really uncomfortable. One of the vendors started grabbing me like the men in Agra did, so I grabbed the guy in front of me, and he pretended to be my husband and got the man to leave me alone. There was a little girl begging that followed us all the way to the bus, but no one gave her any money because we had all been warned that parents maim their children on purpose to get money from tourists. None of us wanted to encourage that. After we had all gotten onto the bus, I saw the little girl get yelled at by her mother because she hadn’t gotten any money from us. The tour guide came onto the bus with all kinds of items from the vendors trying to help sell them. I wasn’t really surprised, but it was the first time that I had experienced a tour guide trying to help them sell to us.

After we got on the bus we were promised a city tour. I don’t think you can really call it that. What we really did was go to Banares Hindu University and see a Hindu Temple there. We went back to the hotel for breakfast, which was among the worst meals I’ve ever had. I would rank it lower than the ox tongue I ate in Cambodia. The only thing I even touched was toast that was so hard if you dropped it too roughly on your plate, it shattered. After breakfast, I went out into the city with Jenn and Kat, but there wasn’t a lot to do because the power was still out in most places. I ended up coming back to the hotel. My roommates weren’t there, and they had the key to the room, so I had to try the front desk again. This time I was easily given the spare key to the room. I got myself packed and took a short nap before our early lunch. Lunch, was again, not good. I just stuck to the naan.

After lunch we headed to the airport to catch our flight to Delhi. We ran into the Spanish family again. They were really happy to see us one last time, and want us to visit in Spain. They live in Barcelona, which isn’t really near port, so I’m not sure I’ll be able to go, but I wish that I could. The airport was very crowded. I couldn’t believe how many people were jammed into the tiny little room that the airport consisted of. Going through security here was the worst of anywhere. The Indian people and foreign men were in one line and foreign women were in the other. Whenever there was someone in the Indian/Men line, the women had to wait. When I was finally able to even enter to get to the x-ray machine, I had to wait while all the men passed me to have their bags x-rayed first. Security check for women was behind a curtain again, and I set off the metal detector again. When the woman was waving the little wand around me, my bra set it off again. I got what can only be described as felt up as she was searching me, and she noticed that there was something extra in my bra. I pulled out my passport and the money I was carrying there, and I guess this made her really suspicious of me, so anywhere the wand beeped got a thorough check. Because my pants had metal snaps and the zipper, I got the most thorough searching imaginable. It was a very miserable experience.

Our plane was delayed a lot, and we waited for a long time. I actually sat next to a different Spanish couple while we were waiting. They were from Madrid, and recommended Sevilla and Granada over Barcelona, so it made me feel better that I won’t be able to make it there. When we finally got to the airport in Delhi it was so late that nothing was going to be open, and there would have been nothing to do. 5 other girls and I decided to try and switch our flights from the next day to that night. We went to every flight counter and they all told us that it was not possible to get back to Chennai that night, that we had to wait until the next morning. We were very close to giving up when a man that worked for baggage clearing came up to us and asked us if we needed help. He pulled all kinds of strings and got us the last 6 seats on the 8:00 flight to Chennai. He walked us through security, and got us to the gate. We were all very happy to be going back to the ship. On the plane I sat next to this really nice man who told me that he was a classical Indian singer. Before our flight took off, he said a quick prayer, and so I asked him if he didn’t like flying. He told me that he didn’t, and I let him know that I really didn’t either. He was from Chennai and told me that with only one day there, the best thing I could do with my day was to go to Mahabalipuram. I had no plans, so I decided that if I could figure out a way to get there, I would definitely go. We talked a lot about everything. It seemed like there wasn’t anything off limits. It made the 2.5 hours go by very quickly. When we got off the plane, people started hounding him for his autograph. It was bizarre that I was sitting next to someone who was so famous, and I had no idea. After he had given out his signature to everyone that wanted it, he told me that he enjoyed meeting me. I thought about asking for his autograph too, but he seemed so exhausted from being hounded by people that I didn’t.

There was another SAS group on our plane, so after we got our bags we went over to the shuttle service and asked them to get us back to the port as fast as they could. The driver got us there so quickly I was just amazed. He dropped us off at the port gates, and then we had some trouble from the officers to let us in. We hadn’t signed out on the little book, so they didn’t want to let us in, but after one of us pulled out the magical landing card, they let us through. The port area is really sketchy, so we went through it as quick as possible. There was a group of men heckling us, and that just pushed us through even faster. We got onto the ship without any wait. I looked in the free ticket box to see if there were any tickets for the next day, but there weren’t. I did look at the trips for the next day and saw there was one going to Kancheepuram and Mahabalipuram leaving at 7, so I decided to just try and get on that one.

October, 19, 2007
“No, you’re bothering her because she’s a girl and you’re going to stop right now.”
Chennai, Kancheepuram, and Mahabalipuram, India

I got up at 5:30 to get ready, check my email, and get breakfast before trying to get onto the trip going to Kancheepuram and Mahabalipuram. I was one of only 2 people at breakfast. It opened early for everyone leaving on the 7:00 trip because we had to meet at the bus by 6:40. After breakfast I saw that I had some freak service on my cell phone, so I tried to call home. It didn’t work. I did get to send some texts to my family. I went to the bus, and there was a lot of space left on the trip plus all kinds of people that didn’t show up. I got on the trip with no problem. We started off with a bus ride to Kancheepuram that took a while. Well, I think it took a while. I slept almost the whole way there. I was awake long enough to see us pass by St. Thomas mound, but not much longer than that. We stopped once for us all to be able to use the restroom, but I just assumed continue sleeping.

Kancheepuram is one of the 7 holy cities in India, and is the only one of the cities that is located in southern India, When we got to Kancheepuram, we went to 3 different Hindu temples. Two were dedicated to Shiva and one was for Vishnu. The temples were all built during the reigns of the Pallava kings when Kancheepuram was the capital of the area. The first temple was still in use today. The doors to the temple were huge. They were designed so that elephants couldn’t bust through them to aid people in breaking in. The door was very tall and had spikes where the elephants’ heads would have been and rounded off bumps nearer to the ground where people would have used the doors. The temple was being visited by a bunch of Indian girls on what appeared to be a school field trip. Most of them were really smiley and waved to the group of us. I asked to take a picture of a couple groups of them, and all but one didn’t have a problem with it. There was one girl in a group who sneered at me and told me I could if I gave her 2,000 rupees. I didn’t. There were seven platforms in the temple and we were allowed up to the 3rd one. Non-Hindus aren’t allowed in the main sanctum sanctorum. The colors inside the temple were just beautiful. The vibrance of the colors was such a contrast to the dustiness and dirtiness of the area just outside of the temple. Most of us were blessed by a brahmin at this temple. We were give red dots on our forehead. Red is supposed to be the color of life and our tour guide told me that the red dot symbolized female power. It was very nice to hear that something actually stood for the power of the female after spending so much time in northern India being treated like a piece of meat and a second class citizen. When we left the temple, the videographer (who I should have mentioned was on our trip) asked to interview me about the temple. It was difficult because there was a woman begging me for money the whole time. The next temple in Kancheepuram had some extraordinarily ornate carvings. It was painted at one time, but the British were trying to preserve it and covered it in something that hid the color. I can’t even imagine what it would have looked like with colors. There were several carvings of the goddess of sleep at this temple. I didn’t see any carvings of her anywhere else, and I think she was only shown as an example of how not to live your life. Most of the Hindu sculptures feature very healthy bodies in some form of motion, and the goddess of sleep is always depicted as very overweight and just sitting idly. The last temple had been added onto since it was originally built. One of the carvings on the wall depicted the two temples we had been to right before it, which was pretty interesting.

When we were done with the temple viewing we were ahead of schedule, so we stopped for a silk weaving demonstration and at a silk shop. Kancheepuram is known for its silks. The shop we went to was a little pricey, but not overly so. It was a government shop which is supposed to guarantee that no child labor is used in the making of the products. I had a lot of rupees left to spend before I left India, so I got a few things that I liked. While I was waiting for everyone else to finish shopping I was talking to the trip leader about some of my experiences in northern India, and how nothing is ever what it seems to be in India. The trip leader told me that the stop at the silk shop wasn’t even what it seemed to be. The tour guide was hungry, so she dropped us off at a shop so that she could get food. After the shop we drove to Mahabalipuram, which I heard took a while, but again, I used the bus ride for sleep. We stopped at a hotel in Mahabalipuram for lunch. It was wonderful. It was the first time we were given food in India that I thought was excellent. The masala was wonderful. Everything was on the spicy (hot) side, but it was just amazing. After lunch one of the waiters asked me to take a picture of him on my camera. I don’t think he had ever seen a picture of himself because he liked looking at it so much. He got his picture taken with me, and I promised to email both pictures to the hotel so that he could have them. There was a payment fiasco with drinks. They overcharged us, and we were trying to sort it out. The whole ordeal caused us to be late, and our tour guide got fed up with it and told us all to just leave, that it was the hotel’s fault for mishandling the bill.

We stopped at the largest bas relief in the world. There was actually more than just that to see here. The vendors here took a liking to me, and followed me around a lot. I think it had a lot to do with my paleness and the blonde hair, but I can’t prove it. Some other men were jeering at the whole group of us while we were touring the monuments and the tour guide told them off. When we were trying to look at the bas relief she even slapped one of them. The vendors were still hassling me throughout this whole site, and finally the videographer stepped up and told them to leave me alone. They ignored him at first, but he got in their face and just let them have it. I was unbelievably happy to have a man finally stand up for me and give me the help I needed. When we got onto the bus there was a man selling elephant carvings and no one was buying from him, so I told him I would pay 100 rupees for one. He put it in my hand and said “200,” but I didn’t want to pay more than 100 for it, which was actually pretty unreasonable of me, but I just wasn’t feeling too generous with the street vendors at this site. I gave it back to him, and then he put it back in my hand and said, “170.” I gave it back to him and told him that I didn’t want it. I was actually stepping onto the bus and he put it back in my hand and told me “100.” The tour guide told me that she had never seen anyone get that particular item for less than 250 rupees, and she didn’t have any idea how I did it. I think mostly it was because no one was interested but me and I was so angry with the vendors for how they had been treating me that I just wasn’t willing to pay anything reasonable. We also toured the Five Rathas in Mahabalipuram. They were monolithic temples each created in a different style. The vendors here hassled me too, but not like before. I am not sure why, but one of the vendors actually got the others to leave me alone when I wasn’t buying anything. Maybe it was because he wanted me to buy from him when we left. I had 100 rupees left, so I did end up buying from him because I appreciated him getting the other vendors to leave me alone. I got 2 really cool fabric paintings. The last place we visited was the Shore Temple. We didn’t spend very long here because we had to make it back to the ship for onship time and we knew that traffic was going to be pretty bad. My mom was actually able to call me on the drive back to the ship, and I was able to talk to her for a little while. My dad called me after my mom. It made me happy to be able to talk to them for just a few minutes, because I hadn’t talked to them since Japan. When I got back to the ship, the first thing I did was get a shower. I think that I still smell like India a little bit, and that there’s a good chance that the smell will never quite come out of the clothes I wore while I was there.

~*I think wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow*~
-Anita Desai

They say that when you go to India, you either love it or you hate; you’re willing to take it all in or you fight it and wish for home. It may not be evident from my entry, but I fall in the loving India category. Hopefully I get to go back someday (though never again to Agra). India would probably defeat me again, but that is just part of its charm.

<3 India <3

Monday, October 8, 2007

Short version: I rode an elephant, got up close and personal with tigers, and stayed in a hotel on the River Kwae. I got to wear someone else’s clothes throughout the Royal Palace.

Leave me comments, because I like them.

Oct. 2, 2007 A9
“Like Joey on Friends, I don’t share food.”
En route to Thailand

The morning started with my usual ship routine, but after breakfast, I went into the Union to study a little before global studies. I got a lot done for my midterm tomorrow, but I still don’t feel super prepared for it. While I was studying, Doc Nancy came in and asked me if I was interested in helping her with her Global presentation this morning. I was intrigued, as she wouldn’t tell me what I would be doing, but said yes. Her presentation was on HIV/AIDS. She did a demonstration of the immune system using students as cells, and I got to be a cell. Dr. Elliott spoke about the tsunami this morning and he really set the note with the way he started off the presentation. It was interesting, but it was hard to pay attention because I am still trying to recover from the last 5 days of travel.

After Global I studied for a while, still trying to get myself caught up/ready for the midterm-palooza I am going to have after Thailand. The current count for the stretch between Thailand and India: 3 midterms, 4 papers, and 1 presentation. I’m really not looking forward to it. I went to lunch with Lindsey. The menu looked decent, but it was another story once we actually got food. There was meatloaf, and I use that term loosely. There was meat wrapped around a hard boiled egg. It was one of the oddest things I’ve seen from ship food. I ended up sticking to the pasta.

Then I went to Oceanography where it was again interesting, but it was difficult to follow because of how exhausted I was. I went back to my room after that, and studied some more for my midterm. The studying didn‘t last long, as I quickly fell asleep. Lindsey stopped by during the middle of my nap and we ended up talking about our Thailand plans, which are interesting because at the current moment, we have no place to stay and no set plans except for the two days we are taking a Hellfire Pass tour.

I was supposed to have family dinner tonight, but I had to miss it because of a mandatory sea meeting. I get the point of the sea meetings, that we need to form a community and take care of each other, but I really needed to study for my midterm, so I was not too thrilled with being held up because people were behaving stupidly toward each other, in port, and toward the staff and ship. We each had to answer a question about a time someone did something nice for us to help build community or a time when we were not proud to be associated with SAS. The shipboard doctor stopped by to talk about how we were over our limit of infectious diarrhea and that if we didn’t improve within 2 days we might not be able to make port in Thailand and the CDC would board our ship.

I went to Cultural Preport immediately after that because it took an hour and a half, still not able to study for my midterm. We watched a portion of the King and I and listened to the Thai interport student speak. I left after the interport student was done speaking because I had to get some studying done before I went to sleep.

Oct. 3, 2007 B9
“If this wouldn’t fit you, I think we would all have noticed it by now.”
En route to Thailand

I had my art midterm today. It wasn’t what I had hoped for, but I think I did ok, at least up until the essay question. Logistical preport was the same as always. People didn’t pay attention while we were given valuable information about how not to behave, how to avoid injury, and how to properly care for ourselves. The ship doctor and the P.A. (I think she’s a P.A. anyway) gave a very entertaining speech/skit. The ‘voice’ announced that they expected the clearing process to be lengthy.

I was too busy to write a real entry this day.

Oct. 4, 2007
“Captain Jeremy is probably sitting there going, “D’oh! Why’d I give him control?”
Laem Chabang and Bangkok, Thailand

This was the first port where I didn’t get up to watch us pull in. I got up at the usual time that I get up for breakfast where I met Tim, Lindsey, Ashley, and Megan. Laura kind of joined in uninvited. Laura shared the details of her diarrhea she got from being stupid in Vietnam, which was gross because we were all eating breakfast. After breakfast I got packed and met Lindsey to wait to be cleared. We watched Saved and part of Love Actually. We ate lunch in between the two. The ship was finally cleared around 2 pm.

Lindsey and I were both registered for the bus to Bangkok, so we got to get our passports and leave in the first group. Today was the first time that they were actually checking tickets to make sure we were only in the lounge to get our passports if we belonged there. Faculty and LLLs were getting turned away if they didn’t have a bus ticket. The bus ride to Bangkok was about two and a half hours. The tour guide on the bus gave us advice on a cheap place to stay in the area, and then we were dropped off at a gigantic mall in the middle of downtown. Lindsey and I got dinner at a pizza place in the mall. It was super cheap and super amazing. After dinner we sought off to find the hotel, but ended up going the wrong way and found the aquarium, which was useful because we were planning that for the next day. We went back to Central World (the drop point) to reorient ourselves and see about getting a taxi to the hotel. The tour guide from the bus was still there and he gave us directions that actually went through the mall. We got to the hotel this time very easily.

We got a room without any problem. It was really cheap, but it was really, really nice. Dinner and breakfast were both included in the room. Lindsey and I went out to the 7/11 to get some water and snacks, and then returned to the hotel to use the internet. I tried for a while to post pictures, but it was to no avail. I couldn’t even get them attached to an email. When we got back to the hotel I got a shower and the water temperature was very inconsistent from scalding hot to icy. We watched CNN on a loop for a while, and got some information about what’s going on in Burma right now. It made me glad that we weren’t going there anymore. It was nice to finally get some news from the outside world. You would think that we would have knowledge of world events, but it’s very difficult to keep up with global events on a ship where internet is precious and there’s never enough time to get everything done. Lindsey and I mapped out plans for the next day and went to bed.

Oct. 5, 2007
“Basically to sum up America: Marilyn Monroe, Indians, and clowns.”
Bangkok, Thailand

Lindsey and I started off with breakfast at the hotel. I just had dry toast because the butter was in ice without any wrapper and the rest of the food seemed really questionable. They had mashed potatoes, baked beans, and really runny fried eggs. After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and tried to make reservations for the last night we would be in Bangkok because the hotel was in a safe neighborhood and the hostel we had booked was in a very questionable one. The lady at the front desk thought we were trying to reserve a room on the 7th floor rather than for the evening of the 7th, but we eventually worked it all out. We had the lady that worked at the transportation desk write some things out for us in Thai so we could give directions to taxi drivers to get to where we wanted.

When we left the hotel, Lindsey decided she wanted to walk to Siam Square before heading to the Royal Palace so that she would be able to find where we wanted to eat for lunch easily when we got there at lunchtime. We walked there and couldn’t find it, but we didn’t cross the street to Siam Square either. We just stayed on the side where the Siam Paragon was, which is another gigantic mall that houses the aquarium among all of its other offerings. There wasn’t a convenient spot to get a taxi so we walked back to Central World which wasn’t too far away and got a taxi. We showed the drive the directions and he pulled out but didn’t turn on the meter. Lindsey asked simply, “Meter?” in this really meek voice, which you can imagine didn’t get the meter turned on. It made me a little angry that we had to tell the driver to turn on the meter, but it also made me angrily demand he turn on the meter. This got results. He dropped us off outside of the palace, but not at the entrance, so that was a little confusing, but we worked it out in the end.

When we got into the Palace, we found out we were not properly dressed even though we were wearing capris, so we were given wrap skirts to put on. Dr. Pellegrinelli was in the changing room when we went in to put on our skirts, and she was the only SAS person that we ran into while we were there. The Palace was beautiful, much more so than the palace in Cambodia. Lindsey and I stumbled into the Temple of the Emerald Buddha without realizing it until after we left. We got to see what we think was the changing/deploying of the guard throughout the palace grounds and then went into the Thai Jewel and Coin Museum. We caught a taxi back to Siam Square, and again, I had to demand that the meter was turned on.

Lindsey and I found the Hard Rock CafĂ© and went there for lunch. On the way we were stopped by a Thai woman who was interested in helping us find whatever we were looking for. We were basically already there when she stopped us, but she talked to us for a while. I think she really just wanted to practice her english. When we got to the Hard Rock our bags were searched and then we were seated. The restaurant was full of old British and American men. In fact, Lindsey and I were the only 2 people there that weren’t businessmen. We actually had a waitress, but the entire male staff of the restaurant was giving Lindsey and I a lot of attention. From what we could gather, it was mostly because we were very pale and we were the only 2 women customers in the restaurant at the time. There was one waiter (whom Lindsey and I refer to as ‘Leery Waiter’ because he spent so much time leering) who sporadically gave us a song and dance show. He also gave us free stickers and window decals. When we left, pretty much everyone on staff in the restaurant told us goodbye.

The Siam Paragon was across the street from Siam Square so we walked over. We thought about going to see a movie, but we couldn’t agree on anything, so we just went ahead and went to the aquarium. We got free gifts here too. I have the most ridiculous bag ever, but it will come in handy in getting things off the ship. You had to walk through a security check point to actually enter any of the exhibits, and Lindsey and I both set off the alarms, but the security guard refused to check us. When Thai people set it off, they were definitely well searched. There was a really cool exhibit about the best way to survive in the oceans and the aquarium specialized in ‘Monsters of the Deep.’ There was supposedly an octopus in somewhere in one of the tanks and I looked for it for about 10 minutes but I couldn’t find it, which was pretty disappointing. In the middle of the aquarium there was a stand that was selling cotton candy. They had around 16 different flavors, and you picked one of the flavors from the mixes they had set up, and then they made it right there for you. It was pretty cool.

When we left the aquarium we saw a sign that said there was a USA Fair going on at the top floor of the mall, so we went up to check it out. I was amazed to find that I felt very out of place there. It was interesting to see the Thai perspective on the U.S. though. They had someone dressed up as Marilyn Monroe, a Native American, and 2 clowns wearing all red, white, and blue. We were given free maps of the U.S. just for attending. When we left, we were right next to the movie theater, so we tried to pick out a movie, which was really difficult because there wasn’t a lot to choose from: Stardust, Resident Evil, and Underdog. I pretty much refused to see Underdog and suggested that we split up and meet after the movies were over, but Lindsey didn’t want to split up so we both went to Stardust. The theater was probably the nicest I have ever been in and tickets were only $3.00. The seats were assigned, but we got to look at a map of vacant seats and pick out which ones we wanted. The movie was fabulous, and even though Lindsey didn’t want to see it to begin with, she ended up buying it from a street vendor before we left Thailand.

We decided to get ice cream before heading to the hostel, so we went to the Haagen Daz on the first floor of the mall. In Thailand Haagen Daz is a sit down restaurant. The ice cream was amazing, as was the service. We, again, got lots of attention from the male staff. After ice cream we caught the sky train out of the mall and it dropped us off right at the street we needed for our hostel for the night. The street was pretty sketchy and Lindsey and I were having a difficult time finding the hostel. A French woman actually overheard us, and helped us get there, as she was going to the same place. We got our room, which we were sharing with 6 other SASers going on the Tiger Temple tour. We were pleasantly surprised that we were sharing a room with Donna!

Oct 6, 2007
“If we could apparate, we wouldn’t be having this problem.”
Bangkok and Kanchanaburi, Thailand

We got up around 6:00 and got ready and met everyone else in the lobby of the hostel to wait for the bus to get there. I had some toast while we were waiting, and then we boarded the bus and headed off to the Floating Market. I slept basically the whole way. We had to pay 300 baht for a boat once we got there, but we set off through the market. On the way through the canals we noticed a baby crocodile sitting up on the edge of the ground, and as our boat passed, it leapt into the water and swam right toward us. The other girls in the boat freaked out, so our boat ‘driver’ got us out of there pretty quickly. I didn’t have a lot money, so I didn’t buy anything, but it was pretty amazing what you could actually find at there.

When we left the market we headed to Kanchanaburi, which was supposedly a long drive, but I didn’t really experience it, because I slept the whole way there. We went to the War Cemetery when we got there, which was kind of odd, because our tour guide didn’t really give us any history of what happened, so it was one of those cases where we knew we should feel sad, but we didn’t because we didn’t really know what happened. After the cemetery we went to lunch (I had some amazing Thai noodles) and then to the Tiger Temple. There were all kinds of animals free roaming through the area (mostly just pigs and horses). We went to see the tiger cubs first. They were absolutely adorable. One of them was playing/chewing on an empty water bottle while also posing for photos with tourists. After we had gotten our pictures taken, Lindsey, Donna, and I went to the Tiger Canyon section and got our pictures taken with the adult tigers. We were each given to a worker that walked us through the area. Most people were actually drug around by their wrist or their elbow, but the man that took me through held my hand, which was really awkward, just because no one else was doing it.

The next item on our agenda was elephant riding! Lindsey and I shared an elephant and we got to ride through the jungle and a little through the river. Each elephant was equipped with a sort of driver that steered the elephant the way it was supposed to go. When the elephant screwed up it got whacked really hard with a bamboo stick. The first time this happened it made Lindsey start laughing uncontrollably, which made me really uncomfortable. I was pretty disgusted at the way the elephants were controlled by pain, and Lindsey’s inappropriate laugher was just that: inappropriate. She laughed so much that the ‘driver’ stopped the elephant and turned around to make sure that everything was ok. It was really awkward.

The group wanted to go to the hot springs before going to the hotel, but our tour guide said there wasn’t time before it closed. Instead, we stopped at a 7/11 where I got some snacks to take back with us. The hotel was a ‘floating’ hotel on the River Kwae. The buildings were built on stilts in the river. The dinner at the hotel was almost completely American: fried chicken and french fries.

Donna, Lindsey, and I went back to our room to hang out, and other SASers joined us at various points throughout the night. During the midst of the gathering in our room a cricket jumped on my head. Lindsey freaked out and started screaming. I just went with it. Having a cricket on my head really wasn’t the worst thing that could happen, so I just let it hang out there.

Oct. 7, 2007
“I’m not putting my money to a cause like snakes.”
Kanchanaburi and Bangkok, Thailand

At breakfast the next morning I stuck with the dry toast plan I had been going with for all of Thailand. The group of us left on the bus to go to the hot springs, but when we got there so few people wanted to be there in the first place that those people felt like staying there would have held us up too much, so no one got out of the bus at all. We drove further to Hellfire Pass and the Hellfire Pass Museum.

We walked the path down through the pass, but we didn’t go the whole way. We got down to the memorial where there was information for us to read a little bit, but most of the rest of the group decided that they would rather take group pictures of us standing in an SAS formation instead, so of course, that idea won out. After the group picture taking, we went into the museum where I finally got to get some information about the Death Railway and Hellfire Pass. The museum was really small, but it was very informative.

The next stop of the day was this gorgeous waterfall where there were lots of Thai children and families swimming and just having a good time. A lot of SASers decided to take a dip, but they didn’t pay any attention to the attire of everyone swimming. All of the Thais were fully dressed in t-shirts and capris, but this was just too much for the SASers or they didn’t even care enough to notice, so they stripped down to their bikinis and dove in. They got a lot of nasty looks, but that didn’t really do anything. Going on these trips with big groups really helps to see what drives the stereotypes about Americans. It wasn’t a majority of the girls that behaved this way, but these are the people that were noticed.

We drove to the railway station where we got tickets for a ride on the Death Railway. We all got boxed lunches to take with us on the train ride. I had sweet and sour chicken that was good, but not as good as what I had in China. The scenery on the train ride was beautiful. The ride let us off right near a cave with a statue of a Buddha in it. You had to walk along the tracks to get to it, which made me pretty nervous, but there was another whole tourist group going, so I followed them in to take a peak. It was pretty cool. The cave served as a hospital during the war.

After the train ride and the cave, we went bamboo rafting at the same place we went elephant riding. There’s really not much to say about it, as it is pretty self explanatory; we went on a raft made out of bamboo. There was a really cool spider crawling along our raft, but I didn’t say anything about it because I didn’t want Lindsey to freak out, yet again, because of some bug. When we were done rafting we drove back into town to view the Bridge on the River Kwae before going back to Bangkok. Again, the drive was supposed to have taken a long time, but I slept through most of it. Lindsey slept through all of it, and during the time that I was awake, Donna and I planned out what we wanted to do with the rest of the night.

When we got back to the drop off point in Bangkok, we caught the Sky Train to the Sukhumvit Night Market. We decided before we did any shopping that we wanted to get something to eat, so we found a place called Gulliver’s Traveler’s Tavern and got dinner. After we got some food, we headed back out into the market and attempted some shopping. Most of the vendors were not willing to haggle at all, and when I tried with a movie vendor who was definitely ripping me off, he laughed hysterically at me. It made me really mad, so I went somewhere else, which was his loss, because we all know how I get with movies. I was able to haggle one of the movie vendors down quite a bit and he even threw in a few free ones for me. The prices were so steep at the market and it was so difficult to haggle that we decided just to go to the hotel. It was a bit away, so we took the Sky Train that dropped us off right next to it. Donna had decided to stay with us, so we got a room with 3 beds, which was $25 a person for the night. I thought that was a pretty good deal for such a nice hotel.

Oct. 8, 2007
“If you can’t catch a taxi by now, you have some serious issues.”
Bangkok and Laem Chabang, Thailand

We got breakfast at the little bakery attached to the hotel. I had a cream cheese type roll thing that was fabulous as well as a slice of chocolate cake, which was actually not all that good. We had decided that we wanted to try a different market today, so we found one on the map not far from our hotel, but when we got to the area that was supposed to be a market, there definitely was not one there. We chanced it, and looked at the map again for a new market in the area. We found on fairly easily, and we were pleasantly surprised when it actually existed. The whole market was basically for clothes and purses, which wasn’t really what we were looking for, but when we left the market we went on a side street that was full of handicrafts and that sort of thing. The listed prices here were much better than at Sukhumvit, and I was able to haggle a lot on top of that. I spent most of the rest of my baht on a few things that I had been wanting to get.

By the time we got out of the market we really just wanted to sit down because we were carrying our bags that were now full from everything we had bought over the previous 5 days, so we crossed the street into a mall and sat down to figure out what we wanted to do. We decided to go to Central World to get some food and then stay in the area until it was time to catch the bus. Lindsay and I had really wanted to go back to the pizza place from before, but when we got there the whole place was roped off because they were filming something in it. It was disappointing, but we found another place to eat where they served the weirdest combinations of food for meals. I had a meal consisting of spaghetti, corn dogs, broccoli, and potato chips. Donna went for the same thing.

We decided to go to the grocery store to get some food/toiletries to take back to the ship, and we couldn’t have decided at a better time because it just so happened that there was a grocery store on the level of the mall we were on. I got a bunch of stuff because a cashier told me that they took Mastercard, but when I actually checked out, it turned out that they didn’t. That was disappointing because it just so happens that my ATM card doesn’t work in Thailand, just like it doesn’t work anywhere else. Donna lent me some baht, and I got everything I needed.

We still had a few hours to kill after we left the grocery store, so we browsed around a lot. I found a bookstore, and I got a few books, but I did exercise some self restraint. We decided to get some Baskin Robbins and I had a brownie ice cream sundae. We were really out of things to do at this point, but it was still about 45 minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave. We went to the bus area anyway, and there was actually one leaving back to the ship soon, so we got on it. By the time we got back to the ship it was nearly onship time anyway, so we just boarded.

The plan for the next several days: studying for and taking midterms, writing papers, and all that stuff that schoolwork requires. I also really wish that my sea had a laundry day today, but I have to wait ~4-5 days. That means I'll be handwashing everything because it all smells like sweat and elephants and like it's spent months in SE Asia, rather than just a few days.

Friday, October 5, 2007

I don't have a real update but I am doing this because I have access to the internet and it doesn't use up my internet minutes!

And I have a great story about a leery waiter that you will get to read when I update for real.

Monday, October 1, 2007

My ONU email still isn’t working. I have gotten comments on my note on Facebook, but I had tried all of those things before. My account is seriously nonfunctional. This means that if you want to get ahold of me, you can use the account I posted on Facebook (or ask my parents, because they have it [don’t leave out my middle initial!]). Otherwise, don’t expect to be able to contact me. If you’ve emailed me recently and I haven’t written you back, be patient. A reply will come during the stretch I have between Thailand and India.

If you leave me a comment, please leave me a name or let me know you’re a parent or alum or whatever. It’s nice to know that when I’m reading them.

Vietnam and Cambodia were intense for me, but I kept most of the reflection parts to myself. I learned a lot about myself in Cambodia, both good and bad. Somewhere in the midst of traveling throughout the world and living on a ship, I’ve managed to find my voice to stand up for myself and others, which if you know me, you know I never really had before. I fell in love with Cambodia despite the major SNAFUs in my trip. I really debated on what information to share with you from my journal. This was the first time that it has been so difficult to decide what it just too personal to be shared with strangers and what actually needs to be shared with strangers. I also debated what to share about the SNAFUs that occurred during the trip, especially because I know that people from SAS read these, but I shared everything in that regard.

Just some information on Cambodia:
The top 3 causes of death:
1. HIV
2. Motorbike accidents
3. Landmines

In 1991, when the removal of landmines began there were over 10 million. At the present, there are still over 4 million lurking throughout the country, severely injuring or killing the innocent.

When the Khmer Rouge was in power, they killed their own. They slaughtered people just because they were educated or wealthy. I wish I had more information to give you this. If you continue reading, you will understand why I can give you so little information on the genocide that devastated this beautiful country in the 1970s.

Sept. 25, 2007 (Tuesday?) Well, it’s A8. That’s what matters.
“It’ll be lifeboat Survivor, but we’ll just vote Creeper off.”
En route to Vietnam

The morning started the same as always. I went to the computer lab to check my email, but couldn’t because luminis was being retarded. I set up a new email account, and then I informed my parents. Hopefully they remembered that, because now, even 12 hours later, I still can’t get into luminis. I waited for Lindsey so we could go to breakfast together like we do every morning, but she never showed, so I went by myself. I didn’t go quite as all out as I usually do. I did start malaria medicine today. After breakfast I tried in vain to check my email again, because I wanted to see if my Dad had emailed me back about my ATM card. It was to no avail. I decided to go back to my room to work on readings for a while. I got myself caught up and ahead in oceanography. I read the ridiculously long China reading we have to do for Global Studies, not that it’s going to help when it comes to the exam.

I met Nicole and Bo for lunch. It was Taco Day! To top it off, they had chocolate mousse. I wanted to eat a ridiculous amount, but I didn’t have enough time before class, or so I thought. In oceanography the professor was late because he thought that class was at 12:30 rather than 12:15. The lecture was on the properties of water, which I’ve heard about a 1,000 times since I was a biology major and we learned it in chemistry and biology. It made it a long class for me, because it had been drilled into my head so many times already. After class I talked to the professor about the practica I have to do. I didn’t realize I was going to end up at Tai O, so I didn’t clear it with him ahead of time. He said we had to get his ok before we went, but I thought it was worth a shot. He told me it was fine, so that’s 1 down, 2 to go. I also got the Bangkok Aquarium cleared.

I came back to my room and my cabin steward hadn’t made it to my room yet, so I told him to just take the day off from our room. I got a lot more work done, and then when I was out of things to do, I decided to take a nap before the lifeboat drill. There was a lifeboat drill at 5:30, which cut off a lot of people for their regular dinner time. I went at 6:30 for family dinner. My ‘dad’ was seasick and left almost as soon as he got there. Others in our group were pretty seasick. Out of the nine of us, only 4 showed up and stayed. Dinner tonight was nothing impressive, but dessert was good. I talked to my ‘mom’ about getting to the market in HMC and about the trips I am planning on taking. She’s been on the trip to the Tunnels and Cao Dai Temple before and said that they it was definitely a trip worth doing.

The cultural preport tonight was very good. It was much more serious than any of the other cultural preports we have had. First the interport student spoke. He was interesting, but for me the good part was the panel discussion that they had afterwards. Four professors talked about the Vietnam War and how it compares to the war in Iraq. One professor spoke on his experiences being drafted into the Vietnam War. It was a heavy discussion. It gave me a lot more to think about than I expected to get from a cultural preport. One of the professors discussed the hidden motives behind the entry into a conflict in Vietnam and about the hidden motives behind the entry into the war in Iraq. It was really thought provoking. I’m not sure why we even entered into the war in Iraq. I know they said it was to find weapons of mass destruction, but it is obviously more than that. Oil? Probably. Other financial reasons? Probably. But I don’t know exactly. I’ve never thought about it before, but it bothers me now to think that I don’t really know the reasons we’re there. One of the professors spoke on the difference between a just and an unjust war defined in Biblical terms, and that the only wars we [America] lost were wars that did not qualify as just. My ship ‘dad’ spoke on the parallels of the wars. His perspective was very interesting, as he is from the Middle East. The panel was definitely anti-war in Iraq. I have been anti-war in Iraq because it seemed like the war was pointless, that it was just a losing battle. It never really occurred to me before tonight that there are actual real, concrete reasons to be against the war, among them that I don’t even know why we’re there. I’m not sure most Americans have any idea. Nicole, Kelsey, and I were talking about it after the preport and the only thing that we could really come up with was oil and weapons of mass destruction (that never appeared). If that’s it, if that’s the only reason for the loss of lives, then it’s not good enough. If there is a reason that makes this war worthwhile, why don’t we know what it is? Like I said, it was a heavy preport. It gave me a lot to think about.

Sept. 26, 2007 (Wednesday?) B8
“Ah, well, let’s move away from Chanel #5.”
En route to Vietnam

The usual routine today: check email (Luminis still isn’t working), have breakfast with Lindsey, work on readings before Global, go to Global. After Global I had Natural History. We talked about water today. The same lecture I got in Oceanography, the same one I have gotten about 15 before that. Needless to say, I was not surprised to hear about capillary action and that water is the universal solvent. If Doc Nancy had said that something extraordinarily bizarre had happened and water no longer had surface tension, then it would have been far more interesting. I ate lunch with Kelsey and Nicole. They had macaroni and cheese and french fries and brownies today! They are on a roll with lunch. Yesterday was Taco Day; today there were french fries. I’m sure that they aren’t going to make a habit of this, and I’ll be back to peanut butter sandwiches when we get back from Vietnam, but it was nice for now.

I had World Art in the afternoon. We have a quiz the next class. He said that it was going to be easy, but I couldn’t tell if he was serious. He was saying after class that we shouldn’t be on the ship studying while we’re in port; that being out in port and learning from our experiences there was far more important than studying for a test. I hope that he stays true to that. I have prepared for the quiz, but not as much as I would have if I were at ONU and studying in an environment more conducive to reading. But it’s hard to focus on work when you can watch for dolphins or planning out how to spend your first day in Vietnam.

Sept. 27, 2007
“The only time we almost died was the time we hesitated.”
Saigon, Vietnam

I woke up really early this morning to see the ship come through the river into Ho Chi Minh City. I watched it with Megan and Ashley, and eventually after watching boats for a couple of hours, we got breakfast. The ship was cleared by 8:30, so Lindsay and I caught the first shuttle and headed into the city. The shuttle stopped near a dress making shop, so Lindsey and I took a step in. I asked how much it was to have a dress made with the fabric that I wanted and it was only $45. It would have been less if I hadn’t picked the one of the most expensive fabrics. I picked out the style of dress I wanted; I wanted something exactly like what was on one of the mannequins. I paid half for my dress, and it will be ready tomorrow night. I’ll be in Cambodia tomorrow night, so Lindsey said she would go back and pick it up for me with hers.

From here we headed to the Ben Thanh Market. We walked around at first without buying anything just because we wanted to see what there was. They had almost everything you could think of at the market, from dried shrimps to Northface backpacks. I found a place that sold DVDs for a dollar, so I got a few (people who know me very well can interpret what a ‘few’ actually means). I got the complete series of the Simpsons for $10. I didn’t have a lot of money, mostly because I wasn’t planning on paying to have a dress made; I had decided originally that I didn’t want one. We ran into Kelsey, and we decided to get the shuttle back to the ship for lunch and to unload our things and get a little more money. When we got back into HCMC, it started storming, so we headed back into the market because it was covered. I got a few more things, but not many because everyone in the market had realized that SAS was in town, and the prices had shot up a ridiculous amount. It didn’t really seem like haggling helped very much. When we left the market it was still raining pretty hard. There was a hospital across the street from the market, and Kelsey and Lindsey needed to visit a health care facility for one of their classes. We walked over, and a doctor agreed to speak with us about Vietnamese health care straight away. We got input from several people. It was very interesting to see the hospital from the inside and hear the information they were willing to give us, compared with some of the information the citizens of Vietnam were willing to give. We stopped in a few shops on the way back to the shuttle. The prices there were much higher than earlier before, and I just wasn’t interested in paying that much for anything. Lindsey mentioned that she was a student, and the prices dropped back to the amounts from the morning. It was interesting. We came back to the ship by way of the shuttle, and I smacked my head pretty hard when I was climbing back onto the bus. By the time I got back to the ship I had a pretty bad migraine. I was feeling pretty miserably, so I didn’t go back out. I went up to the seventh deck and got a cookie, ate it with my Maxalt, and went to sleep.

Sept. 28, 2007
“I’ve lived there just long enough to pick up the accent.”
HCMC, Vietnam and Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I got up early to meet Ashley for breakfast, but she overslept, so I ate on my own. I noticed at the field office that it said my Cambodia trip was leaving at noon rather than 10:00, as the note I got on my door stated. I was already packed, so I thought I would send my parents an email. At around 9:25 I started to see people going into the Union, so I thought maybe I should go check to see what was going on. My group was meeting at 9:30, as I thought before I saw the sign posted at the field office. I sprinted back into my room to get my bag, tore it apart looking for my bug spray (I felt horrible leaving it like that, knowing that my cabin steward would be cleaning up after me). When I returned to the Union, I learned that the trip had been split into 2 groups because of flights, and the smaller of the two groups (mine) didn’t receive any recognition on the sign of postponed trips at all. We were told by Sarah, who works in the field office, that we would be joining the other group in Phnom Penh, that our itineraries were going to be the same once the later flight got in. This made me happy, as my friends were all in the larger part of the group, and I didn’t know anyone in my part of the group. We were given a copy of the itinerary, and went on our way to the airport. On the way to the airport, we were joined by the parents who were traveling with their kids on our trip. At the airport in Phnom Penh I found a Bank of Canada ATM machine which actually gave out US currency. I felt like I actually had a shot at being able to get money out, other than the $40 I had brought with me ($20 went to my visa and $10 went to water at meals because drinks weren’t included). Much like China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam, my card was rejected. I really wasn’t surprised, though I was disappointed. Once we boarded the bus in Phnom Penh we were told we were going to the Royal Palace, which confused me, because according to the itinerary we weren’t supposed to be doing that until the next day. I got a new copy of the itinerary from a man I believed was a parent, because we were not told who he was. I was also under the impression that our trip leader was one of the RDs, but this was incorrect. I later learned that we had no trip leader at all on our bus. The itinerary looked like we were not going to be meeting up with the other group at all, except for dinner a few times. We were on separate flights to Siem Reap, and our schedules there were completely different. Not only that, we (the small group) were missing the Killing Fields. I was very disappointed, but we were still going to the Genocide Museum, according to the itinerary, which was really the reason I wanted to go on this particular trip.

The Royal Palace was beautiful, even in the rain. We then went to the National Museum, which was cool, but featured statues from Siem Reap and the Angkor Temples, so I wasn’t too busy paying a lot of attention because I was going to be there the next day. Outside of the National Museum was my first glance of a landmine victim. It really made my stomach turn a little bit, in this queasy “I can’t believe things like this actually happen” sort of way. It’s one thing to read about it or see a picture of it, but seeing it in real life just confirms in a completely concrete way that these things did and do happen. We then went on a cruise on the Mekong and then finally dinner, where I got to spend about an hour with my friends. I also ate ox tongue (it’s not good by the way).

On the bus ride back to the hotel, we were informed that there had been a change in our itinerary, that we were getting up earlier and going to the Killing Fields. I had assumed that meant we were going to go to both the Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields, but when I did the math in my head there was no way we could make it to both and still catch our 9:30 am flight, and everyone wanted to go to the Killing Fields. I asked the “overzealous parent” who I had learned was an ISE official if we were going to both, and he told me that we only had time for one, that this was what everyone wanted to do. I was devastated. The reason I paid $1000 for this trip was to go to the Genocide Museum, not the Royal Palace or the National Museum. I talked to the actual trip leader to see if I could switch to her group. As it happened, there was someone in her group that wanted to switch to mine, so it seemed perfect. The three tour guides all contacted the company to try to make this happen for both of us. The first time they got a ‘no’ answer, so they just kept trying. They made at least four different phone calls, and tried everything possible to get me on the trip I wanted (the trip I paid for), but it was to no avail. There was just no way I was going to get on that group. I was so disappointed, but there was nothing I could do. My group wanted to go to the Killing Fields (at least that was what I was told) and I wanted to go to the Genocide Museum. I was the odd man out.

Sept. 29, 2007
“What? You don’t want to see the skulls?”
Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Cambodia

I ate breakfast with some of the parents on the parent trip. It made me really miss my family. It was lonely to sit with a table of people who all had someone else that they knew, that they loved with them. As I was talking to them, I discovered that they too had wanted the Genocide Museum, so I couldn’t understand why the change had occurred. That was about half the group, including myself. The ISE official’s wife saw me and asked the question listed at my title for this entry when she learned I was upset that I was getting the reason I signed up for this trip, the reason EVERYONE who signed up for this trip did. Going to the Killing Fields without the Genocide Museum was like going to the Peace Park at Hiroshima without going to the Museum. This probably doesn’t really mean anything to anyone who’s never been to Hiroshima, but while you get some feeling of the tragedy at the Peace Park, it’s the Museum that provides you with the information as to what really happened. It doesn’t hold back; you get everything. It’s horrible to see, but it’s so important to learn about, and the best way to learn is to see. The tour guides were so wonderful to me. They brought me a bunch of information on the museum because they knew how disappointed I was, and I think that they believed the museum was the more important of the 2 sites as well. I was very grateful, but it wasn’t a substitute for the real thing, which was so close, but I had no way to get to it.

The Killing Fields were another stomach turning experience, but truthfully, I didn’t understand what I was seeing. I knew that there was genocide somewhat recently in Cambodia, but not a lot of the details. I think most of us felt that way. We really needed the Museum to provide us with some kind of information about what really happened. I talked to more people who wanted the Genocide Museum and not the Killing Fields, so I really couldn’t figure out why we were there and not where the group obviously wanted to be. We proceeded to the airport, and I learned that the ISE official and his wife wanted to go to the Killing Fields so they requested the change from the tour guide without consulting the group of students and parents who each paid $1000 for the trip. I was livid. I’m not even sure livid begins to cover it. The Genocide Museum was supposed to be the highlight of the trip in Phnom Penh, and it was what all the students who paid for the trip wanted to see, so how dare 2 people that got a free trip be so selfish as to change the itinerary for people who not only wanted to see what they were promised, but needed to see for classes for practica! How dare they be so inconsiderate! To other people this probably doesn’t seem like a big deal, but to people who have taken this trip through SAS, you can understand how upset we were. That was what made this trip a must.

We arrived in Phnom Penh and went to the hotel for lunch and checked in. I was still seething with anger because of what happened. I knew that there was nothing I could do, but the Field Office and 2 horribly selfish individuals had really screwed my group. The 19 students and parents got no trip leader (meaning no one to talk to about the itinerary change when it occurred), were lied to from the beginning with the promise that we were joining the other group in Phnom Penh and following their schedule, depriving us of the knowledge we needed to make informed choices as a group so that we could see what we wanted since we had to leave something out (no one paid to see the Royal Palace; we all paid to see the Genocide Museum and Killing Fields and would have given up the Royal Palace and National Museum to see them, if we had been given any choice in the matter), and making arrogant choices incorrectly assuming everyone’s wishes. I was so mad that there are no words for it. As a group, the 19 of us were collectively screwed by the Field Office.

Anyway, still seething, I grabbed lunch and boarded the bus to go to Tonle Sap and see floating homes. They were nice to see, but it was not what I paid extra for. There was another trip that this was their schedule, and I paid extra money to go to Phnom Penh for the sole reason that I wanted to see the Genocide Museum. Back to the point: Tonle Sap was nice. While our boat was out, 2 little kids jumped onto our boat from another boat to sell us drinks. We continued going, and it happened again except this time a boat just pulled up next to us and the kids climbed onto the side. A little boy was selling bananas, but he wasn’t wearing any pants. The ISE official’s wife couldn’t get a good look to see if he was male or female so she asked. Everyone thought it was funny, and her husband deemed it necessary to take a picture, making sure to get the boy’s genitals in the picture. It was absolutely mortifying. How do you get to be older than 10 without realizing that taking picture like that are completely inappropriate without the parents’ permission, which he didn’t have. He just did what he wanted, which was a reoccurring theme.

From Tonle Sap, we went to Angkor Wat. It was amazing. I climbed up to the top of the main building fairly easily, but getting down was another story. There was a section with a handrail, but the wait to get down was almost 45 minutes, and I just didn’t want to wait that long. They say you should use the handrail because the steps are worn down, and if you slip because of the uneven steps, you’re going to be majorly hurting. I found a set of stairs that didn’t seem too bad, and I just walked down with no problems. I explored for a little while, just walking around. Every now and then I got stopped to take pictures with people. In China it was because I was blonde, but here I was with other blondes, and people didn’t want them in the picture. I couldn’t quite figure it out, but I went with it. After we got back on the bus I asked the tour guide about what it was that made me stand out like that. He told me that it was because I was so pale and pale is considered to be beautiful by many Cambodians. That was kind of cool and a complete reversal from the U.S. where I get laughed at for how colorless I am. When I went out to the buses, we got mobbed by kids selling postcards and bracelets. I wanted to get some bracelets for my pen pal classroom back at home. I asked one of the kids how much it would be to get 3 sets of 10, and he told me that it would be $5.00. I knew that everyone else who had bought bracelets were getting them at $1 per set of 10, so I found a different child to buy from, one that sold to me at the same rate as she did to everyone else. This made the first child start sobbing hysterically. He followed me around crying, so I just got on the bus, but he stood outside of my window and whimpered. When some more people started to get on the bus, the crying stopped and he tried to get the rest to buy from him. At this point I got back of the bus to look around a little more because we still had a few minutes and I wanted to get some postcards. The moment I stepped off I got the same routine everyone else had been getting, “Where are you from? [the U.S.], the capital is Washington, D.C. What state do you live in? [Ohio], the capital is Columbus, I am smart. You must buy from me.” If you bought from one child all the other children ended up trying to guilt you into buying from them. I really didn’t like it. I liked bargaining in China much better. The vendors are aggressive, but I can handle that much better than I can handle little children trying to make me feel so horrible that I buy from them.

After we left Angkor Wat, we went to dinner at a Cambodian sort of dinner theater. The food was really questionable. I have gotten pretty good at trying everything (in Cambodia, this means that I ate ox tongue), but the food was just not good, except for the 2 western dishes they had. It was really strange that their native food was no good, but the spaghetti was some of the best I’ve ever had. The show was alright, and probably better than anything I would have done on my own anyway, because I was running low on money due to the ATM machine not accepting my card. A lot of people went out that night, but I only had $8 left, so I just went back to the hotel and got some rest. We didn’t have an alarm clock in this room, so I set up a wake up call, but I had heard that they could be questionable, so my roommate let me use hers to set so I could be up for sunrise even though she was going to stay behind and sleep. My roommate for the trip was really cool about me being an early bird.

Sept. 30, 2007
“Just an FYI: the ants in Cambodia bite and it is not pleasant.”
Siem Reap, Cambodia and Saigon, Vietnam

I got up at 4 am to go to Angkor Wat for the sunrise. I was one of very few who did. The tour guide took the few of us that went to what he considered to be the best place to view the sunrise, but it was pretty evident from the clouds that we weren’t going to be able to see much. We did look at the reflecting pools and I had a little bit of time to explore for a while before going back to the hotel for breakfast. Breakfast was amazing. I had delicious Belgian waffles. After breakfast we headed back out and went to the Ta Prohm temple. This is the site where part of the movie Tomb Raider was filmed. I don’t really care for the movie, but the site itself was amazing. Trees were growing all throughout the ruins, and there were tree roots that were holding up some of the buildings and tree roots that were knocking down some of the ruins. I wanted to buy a couple more bracelets, but once I bought from one, I got hounded by all of the rest. I had to run back to the bus to lose them. Next we went to Prah Khan, which was also amazing, before heading back to the hotel for lunch. The time at the temples was fun, but there were a few times where it was awkward for me as a part of my group. The group was mostly parents on the parent trip matched with their kids and then a handful of us that didn’t have them. The parent group and their kids had bonded very well, but the rest of us didn’t really integrate. When they wanted a group photo, it was just awkward.

I wasn’t really hungry at lunch and I also wasn’t feeling very well. I had forgotten to bring my allergy medicine with me, so you can imagine that being in the jungle without allergy relief was not very pleasant. I just rested before checking out of the hotel, and then it was to Angkor Thom. We went to Bayon Temple, Elephant Terrance, and the Terrace of the Leper King. I climbed up the terrace of the Leper King; I was one of 3 to do so. When I got up, there was a landmine victim sitting up there. He started a conversation with me, and we just talked for a little while. I went back down with a lumpy sort of feeling in my stomach. I had just met one of the nicest, happiest people, and he was these things in spite of so much that he had lost. The group then went to the market very nearby, but my mind was still racing with thoughts from the Terrace of the Leper King. How could I buy myself a meaningless souvenir when there was someone who could use the few dollars I had left for food or something else he needed. I knew I had time, so I got a bottle of water to give to him, and sprinted back to the Terrace. I gave them man the water and the $6 I had left. He took the water happily, but at first rejected the money. He wasn’t begging or asking tourists for money; he was just there to have some conversation and work on his English. I insisted, and he finally took the money, and I ran back to the bus to go to the airport.

There was a Dairy Queen at the airport and a sign saying that they took MasterCard, so I thought I was in luck. When I went to pay, they told me that their credit card machine was down, so I canceled my order. The guy behind me ordered me an ice cream and gave it to me, because he heard me cancel my order. I ate my ice cream before going to the gate and waiting. My art history professor who was on a different Cambodia trip was on the same flight back as me, so I asked him a few questions about what the midterm was going to be like on the next B day. He was very helpful. I also started reading the book I bought about S-21 (the Genocide Museum) since I didn’t get to go. The flight back was uneventful. It took a long time to get back to the ship because of traffic, and we missed dinner. I went up to the pool bar and bought a few cookies before grabbing a much needed shower. Since I still wasn’t feeling very well because of my own stupidity, I went to bed around 11.

Oct. 1, 2007 (Where did Sept. go?)
“I think the most important thing is that as humans we do the most good that we can.”
Saigon, Tay Ninh, and Cu Chi, Vietnam

I got up around 6:30 this morning so that I could get ready, email my mom and let her know that I got back from Cambodia safely, and eat breakfast before heading out for my trip at 7:30. I did remember to take my allergy medicine. The bus ride to Tay Ninh took about 2 and a half hours. We stopped there for lunch, which was pretty decent. The main attraction in Tay Ninh was the Cao Dai Temple, which is where we headed after lunch. We got to view the noon service. It was interesting, even though I didn’t really understand what was going on. The carvings in the temple were beautiful. The statue and painting of Victor Hugo really seemed like an oddity to have in a religious building, but I did know that he is considered to be a saint by Cao Daism. After the service, our tour guide told us more about the religion on the drive to the Cu Chi tunnels. It was very interesting; the Cao Dai worship the eye. The prayer they were saying in the service was for those who had given their lives for Cao Dai, for those who died in the war, and for those who were still alive to have a better life.

The Cu Chi tunnels were about an hour and a half away from the temple, so I took a much needed nap on the way there. We got to see some of the traps the Vietcong used against the U.S. soldiers. We were allowed to go through the tunnels that had been expanded for us, and I was planning on it, but once I got down there, I saw some bats. I’m not really a big fan of getting up close and personal with bats, so I opted not to crawl through the tunnels. After everyone got done getting through the tunnels, we got to watch a movie about the war and the function of the tunnel system. It was really interesting to see these things presented through the Vietnamese point of view rather than the American point of view. I remember going to listen to Vietnam veterans speak when I was in high school, and the picture I got in Vietnam was unfathomably different from that. It’s hard to mesh the two views together; they don’t really fit with each other.

I slept on the way back from the tunnels to Saigon. The distance between Saigon and Cu Chi is supposedly only 17 km, but it took nearly 2 hours to get back to the ship because of traffic. The traffic must have been really bad, but I missed it because I took a nice nap. When I got back on the ship I turned in my landing card, got a snack from the Piano Bar, and got my review images for my World Art midterm that I have the day after tomorrow. Lindsey stopped by after she got back from Cambodia and she brought me my dress. She had picked it up for me earlier. It didn’t turn out like what I asked for at all, which was surprising because I picked out a design from a mannequin in the shop. Maybe I can get my Grandma to alter it for me, as it doesn’t even fit right.

I’m not ready for another day of class, but it’s here anyway. Doc Nancy is talking today in Global, so that at least should be interesting.