Saturday, October 27, 2007

red sea transit.

short post::::

I am currently in passage in the Red Sea.

I saw an active volcano that was spewing and smoking. I will give five cool points to the first person that can tell me the name of said volcano because I would really like to know.

i am having a fantastic time and for all who want to know what i'm doing in egypt feel free to look on the semester at sea trips page for the Cairo/Luxor 03 trip.


Colossi at Memnon
tombs of tut-ankh-amun and hatshepsut [BRI!]
silk bazaar/spice market

take care...enjoy your halloweenz!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Rouge. And Another International Arm-Wrestling Campaign.

Well... yes… this is yet another late post. But honestly, I just couldn’t help putting it up until now. I won’t use the same excuses because you know them and they are valid. Today we don’t have our class that we normally have to go to every day [Global Studies] because we had a test before India and we all did much better than the first one so they gave us the day off today. Which is interesting because we actually don’t have class at all on the 25th, which just so happens to be one of my good friend’s 22nd birthday.

So to get right into the gist of what I would like to talk about I’ll just push my way through the fogginess of waking up this morning and still being awake and alive @ 8:47. But---before I do jump into what I would like to write about…I will explain WHY I’m so tired since I’m sure you’re all wondering…

Yesterday was modification day! My friend Darby [soon-to-be birthday girl] went to bask in the sun yesterday afternoon and it was so good that I ended up meeting up with my friend, Paige, about trying to organize a fashion show for everyone to show off all the clothes that they have picked up in ports [at least maybe at some point people will stop wearing their leisurewear and start getting real] and we decided to go bask on the front deck. It was a much needed day of rest and fun in the sun. After soaking up as much sunny goodness as we could we entered the frigid air-conditioning [I literally wear a sweater and/or scarf on most days while on the ship, they keep the air-conditioning at ridiculously low temperatures]. We got some scissors and I proceeded to trim up her hairs. They look soo good now. I’m happy with it, she’s happy with it, we’re all happy with it [her hairs remind me of Masha’s only not as dark…but she very unsilently wants a fro too, my dear]. After that we dined it up and then decided to finally dye my hair with the dye I bought. Don’t worry mum! It’s the same color that I’ve been using for the past while now so it’ll be nice and tame and goodly red by the time I reach Florida. Never fear!

So…then I was supposed to go to my “Sea Social” which is basically just the ship equivalent of a middle school dance. Its quite horrifying actually. Our theme was “All-White” because the “color” of our sea, the Adriatic Sea, is white. For those of you who are completely akimbo as to what the heck a “sea” is in the sense for which I am using it::: it’s the way they split us up room and hall-wise for our ra’s. Therefore, normally your “sea” is made up of all your neighbors and generally the hall opposite you on the other side of the ship. Alas, my roommate and I dressed up as much as we could [the white skirt I was going to wear totally hadn’t dried from my foresight to wash it the night before…still soaking actually] and went upstairs to czech out the festivities. The only sound/word I can possibly use to sum up the experience is “groan.” It was horrible. The music was awful, people were scary dancing, and all the faculty with which we were supposed to be mingling were just sitting down looking bored as all get out, watching the people who were dancing so…not fun.

To make matters short, we peaced out and scooted our tushes over to snack-time at the sixth deck dining area. There we met friends [Paige included] and had a bite of brownie. But, it was time for the crowning moment of the day. “Late-nite” Ipod dance party extraordinaire! Paige and I mingled on down to the back of the fifth deck [the part that isn’t covered and very open to the back of the SHIP and the ocean!] to join in the fun. Basically, we aren’t allowed to play music over speakers outside on the ship because the Institute for Shipboard Education [ISE] is afraid that it is too much of party-like situation [and perhaps something could go wrong? I dunno]. So, instead, we all brought our ipods to the back deck and played our own music and rocked out together. It was fantastic. About fifteen or so people showed up and what a sight we were! Try and imagine seeing fifteen totally different people rocking out hardcore just so into dancing to their music but you not hearing said music and them totally not being in sync at all…that’s basically all I can say. It is certainly silly and fun and we were TOTALLY getting hardcore stared at by the sooo cool kids who were happily enjoying their drinks at the pretty much nightly event of “pub night.” Yeah! It was fantastic and I am so sore and body-tired this morning…I miss biking. So that is the fog through which I am trying to break through and write this post! Now it is time to proceed.

As I said before:::

Japan rocks the face off of China.

My amazing mother has diligently tried to get out of me why Japan was so much more interesting/better to me than China was. I’m sure that there are more than the reasons I am about to give but this is really what I was thinking at the time of that post:::

Japan is so amazing to the point that it has been one of my favorite ports thus far

China is dirty, dirty, dirty, dirty, dirty, dirty

Maybe there are better places to go in China, but at the same time the place I visited really is more like how much of their east coast is rather than just the big cities [like Beijing, for instance, that got quite mixed reviews from the visitors but the dirtiness withstood all city visits/tests]

Japan was hot, but China –China was blessed with a lovely typhoon. It doesn’t get worse than that

Japan is not modified communist. China is.

People stared at me in Japan

People glared at me in China...Scary glaring

…Clearly I enjoyed Japan more. Everything was cute and cuddly and fun and nice and happy. I mean my god they even had adorable little caricatures for the police messages and ATM instructions and absolutely everything. I expected no less from Japan and got so much more than I could have hoped for. China on the other hand…the good ol’ PRC was not at all was I expected:::

We totally docked at this really sketchy shipyard in Qingdao –and by really sketchy I mean like ridiculously and completely sketchy. Everywhere in Qingdao and many places on the northern coast of China were being completely built up for the Olympics. Qingdao will be the location for all of the sailing and water events like that for the Beijing 2008 Olympics. I guess its cool that I visited that city before it is opened to the world for such a large event. But then again, it was definitely NOT ready for tourists and international visitation yet. The town is known to many as the site where the regular brew from Chinatown, Tsingtao, hails from. Yeah, that was cool. However, it was the Germans who caused said brewing to start in the first place. Yeah, Qingdao has some cool architecture and Deutschy things to look at…however just as in Beijing, the Chinese have really looked past much of their heritage and started just to build whatever they have left to build for their huge event. Understandable you say? I couldn’t agree less. China is a country with such a long and very interesting history and for the government to just pick areas of cities to rebuild [many of which happen to be quite historical and interesting in their own ways] because they are in key locations is ridiculous. Many historical neighborhoods in Beijing have been completely erased due to this mode of action which has seriously upset many within the population of China and others in the world community. Completely insane.

With that aside, the port was sketchy because of all the building and the fact that it was so far from anything else in the town. Also, the walk from the main gate to the ship was one of those where you feel more endangered than anywhere else in the city. It was a really sketchy walk through quite a bit of construction, shipping, and port materials where shady creatures [the human kind] could and did hide. Not to mention the fact that the roads surrounding the port happened to be criss-crossed by scary train tracks. However, the crowning addition to the overall fun! of the port of Qingdao and its surrounding area happened to be oh-so-delightful red light district that happened to exist as one of the first things to do closest to the ship. Hey! The guidebooks don’t tell me that you say! Yeah…it was a really horrid sight. I have been privy to seeing quite a bit of depressing prostitution in some of these ports but these women just looked…worn out and beaten [ in a beaten by life sort of way, not an assault sort of way]. It was also sad the way they still tried to drag the guys in to come and sit down at their “bar” which clearly had a tiny back room.

So…on to my agenda for China and Hong Kong. I am including Hong Kong in this post for fear that all of my faithful readers think that I did not enjoy the PRC at all. Not so!

In China I had made plans with my friends Deanna and Mark, and my roommate Kat to go into town and tool around and see what there was to see. We went to a main downtown area of Qingdao and just walked around. Of course, the first thing we had to do was see if the Tsingtao was better there. It surely was! Perhaps because it was such an appropriate thing to do where we were at that moment, but I think it really was better [I mean have to give them something right?]. This restaurant is the first indication of the glare-age that was going to go down while in China. It was so apparent and maybe it was because we were flipping out over the fish tanks, or lack thereof for the “fresh” seafood that they were clearly offering as a part of their menu. Yeah…no…Do Not Want. There was everything imaginable [and quite old it seemed] in the tanks at the restaurant where we were -perhaps even things unimaginable. We were told not to drink the water in China [just as in the other countries we’ve visited thus far excepting Japan!]. However, on the floor in the big square doorway of this quite open to the street restaurant there were little tubs [kind of like the blue ones that we pick and transport produce around in South Carolina, mum and daddio] with all sorts of snails and clams and fishes and sea urchins and squid and what looked like certain little organs which I will discuss no further other than to say that they were probably sectioned off intestines slices [but that was not what their first impression might show you]. All of these just seemed be stewing in their little tubs with barely but a hose sticking into them perhaps providing oxygen or bubbles or something for the distraught inhabitants of said tubs who were just waiting to be picked [Pick Me! Pick Me! Pick Me!]. After enjoying our biers we just walked around their “cute,” “boutique,” “stylish,” area. Yeah…no. Chinese people one: do not know how to dress themselves [body shape wise] two: have latched on to the utterly scary aspects of Western fashion [lets just say the way they mixed some ideas really made scared to be around certain garments], three: still stock platform sneakers [which gained and lost their popularity by the time I finished middle school about eight years ago and four: have a horrible idea of what English words should be a part of their clothing items.

Yes, Alex. Chinatown really does smell like China.

Nevertheless, we tooled around having a good time Qingdao-style for the greater portion of the day. We looked in to many clothes and sundries stores as well as restaurants and something like general stores along the few streets of that center area. These stores had tons of weird dried fruits and fishes and umbrellas and stickers and figurines and everything else a good and complete Chinese household could possibly want, I presume. It was . The McDonald’s that we went to [to get coffee, I promise…there was no other place!] was quite interesting in fact. They had way magger [magnificent] Kids’ Meal toys and there was scary scary “Green Bean Snack” as well. You know the overly sweet Cherry or Apple Pies that they sell in the States? Well, take that idea and imagine it in any way you could possibly not want to imagine it. Think: the little peas in green beans, minus the pods and then add them together with a sticky substance that makes you almost think about eating it because it looks like an edamame delight and then you realize its green beans and they are in a syrupy weirdly greenish substance…inside of a pie crust like shell. Voila! Green Bean Snack. No thanks?

After multiple attempts at delving to get directions [and use said directions] for the bus from a girl in the McDonald’s [who spoke rather good English which was so not the case for pretty much anyone else in China], we set out trying to hail a cab to take us to the Wal-Mart in town. Who doesn’t want to go to a Wal-Mart in China? I’m not one to frequent Wal-Marts but honestly how fantastic is that? Its like supporting locally grown produce or something –knowing that almost everything that the entire huge store stocked happened to be made, produced, started, or finished in the same country. Ha. Ha. Ironic, right? Such a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Well, alas, hailing a cab was much harder than we originally thought it to be…. Though we had the name of Wal-Mart written down in Mandarin [by the nice girl at the McDonald’s] we still couldn’t get any cab driver that wanted to take four white kids anywhere. I don’t know why…perhaps they thought we were not going to pay…who knows. Alas, we finally found one who totally drove us around and around and ripped us off, but we reached our final destination. The Wal-Mart was everything I hoped it would be::: thoroughly depressing, completely stocked with weird Asian normalities [tons of weird kiddy stuff and horrible shoes and slippers], and we were the only Westerners there –which was fun, as always I’ve realized.

After catching a cab back to the ship, taking a shower and rinsing off all that rain and dirt that we had accumulated over the day, the four of us decided to have our night on the biggest beer town in China. We got directions from the inter-port student from Hong Kong, Stephen, on an area to go and we hopped into a cab. We reached a little street with some interesting bars that had a lot of people sitting outside under verandas –though it was still Pouring rain. This area reminded me a lot of the cute little area near the port in Vilanova i la Geltrù where Alex’s apartment is in Spain…only it wasn’t as cute in China…. Poor kids. I feel like they really do try so hard. Nevertheless, we found ourselves a table outside at one of the establishments while simultaneously going inside to get a few pitchers of the brewed stuff. Apparently all of the places on this street brewed their own beer which was quite cool. Mark and I went inside to get the pitchers and were confronted with the choice of “Yellow or Black.” We chose the “yellow” the first time around. Good choice I might say. We finished these two and then decided to try our odds with the “black.” Yikes. Lesson learned ladies and gents. Never try the dark brews of China, unless of course you would like for your beer to taste like soy sauce as you bitterly wipe the tears from your eyes while desperately trying to choke it down.

After this experience we felt ready to be done. The bathrooms perhaps gave us that idea. As I said before…I had totally experienced my first Asian Squat while in Japan. Yet, I cannot explain to you [nor do I think it appropriate or worthwhile] how horrible this restroom was. As Kat and I were using it for the last time we were definitely cat-called by all the waiters who were closing up the establishment and there was definitely a man with his pants down in one of the stalls in the women’s room with his door open on his mobile phone. Needles to say we were quite quite quite ready to leave after this. However…men being men, Mark was challenged by one of the Chinese patrons of the restaurant to an arm-wrestling match extraordinaire. Is there no place I can go where the boys I am with cannot resist somehow getting involved in showing their manliness [or lack thereof] to the locals?

Mark is not a small boy. Don’t get me wrong…he’s tall and very skinny but his upper body is by no means small. He works out quite a bit and his arms show these efforts. He is much bigger and more daunting than any male I saw in all of Qingdao. However, the small Asian men he was dealing with totally got the better of him –to the point that Mark was getting so pissed about losing to these guys that we had to stay until he won enough of the matches to feel okay with himself about going back to the Ship. It was a sad affair for Mark, no doubt.

Therein ends the fun and interesting aspects of Qingdao. The next day [yes we only had two days there] was dominated by a rather large and aggressive typhoon. We couldn’t really leave the ship for a long time because it was so rainy and ridiculous that even the area around the ship where we were to get off and walk to the gate was completely flooded for a long while. Basically by the time we could get off all some of us wanted to do before having to board the ship again for disembarkment was get odds and ends done at the post office and such around the port. So that is what I did on my second day in Qingdao. That and just looked around. As much as I have complained about the dirtiness and sketchiness of the port, it was interesting to view men at work and the harbor full of different types of ships…all from afar.

The passage from Qingdao to Hong Kong was quite possibly one of my favorite times on the Ship. We did not have class those two days because so many people were on trips to Beijing. There were about 90 passengers total [other than the crew members] on board during that time. There was NOONE around. It was fantastic and it just so happened that most of my close friends on board were there for that passage as well. So, we all had a lazy, really relaxing two days of freedom from the stuffiness and lack of privacy that is entailed by living in an enclosed space with 700 other people. Not only did I get quite a bit of work done, but I basked in the sun and even paid a visit to the steam room/sauna with Kat [which was such a treat]. However, one of the best parts of this little passage was the fact that both nights at dinner we were served a fixed five course meal. All the busboy/waiters in the two dining areas seated us in the nicer looking [and enclosed] dining area on the fifth deck and gave us a menu. So, in response we all had a reason to look nice and dress accordingly. It was so fantastic. The second night a few of us even made a date out of it.

And finally…we had made it to Hong Kong. Aaaaaahhhh...deep and heavy and happy sigh. Fantastic wonderful sigh. We were told at some point that one of the most memorable parts of the voyage would be sailing into the Hong Kong harbor. So, I woke up extra extra early with the sun and dragged myself up to the top deck for some prime sunrise and harbor viewage. That morning could not have gotten better than what it was. The sun was just starting to make the day show up and as we came in to the harbor at first all I saw was little mountain islands that seemed completely solitary and poised. As, we sailed along more and more I started seeing some little villages on these islands that became larger islands of which I could not see the end. As we proceeded I began to see some taller buildings and more and more civilization. Finally, as if in an instant the sun got as strong as it was going to for that sunrise [though it was still quite gray, a feeling for which I am quite ecstatic…I wouldn’t have wanted this mystical morning to be sunny and bright…the grayish nature added to the view]. At that point, the city of Victoria as well as the Kowloon Peninsula began to appear to me. All I can say is what a beautiful city Hong Kong is. I took more than enough photos to show all of you. However, they will not do any justice…the feeling is mostly made up of how much that passage, that sunrise, that harbor, that skyline, that landscape, that grayness, that Hong Kong morning were necessary and perfect.

Imagine a city metropolis made up of two main mountainous islands, a peninsula, and some “New Territories” above said island-like peninsula. Okay, there’s Hong Kong. Only…it’s better than that. I’m sure some of you [ahem mum and daddio!] understand what I mean. However, those of you who cannot…I don’t know what to tell you other than you must visit this place. It is surely one of the most interestingly developed and most beautiful cities in the world.

The first day’s plan was to tool around with my friend Zack and try to find a place to rent bicycles so that we could tool around even more so than just by foot. He is my one friend on the ship who is also a biker back home and we were both at this point fiending to hop on a road bike [but honestly any bike] and cycle around a city again –even if it meant braving the change to cycling on the left-hand side of the street. We ventured out with Kat and found our way to some bike shops. Yet, they had no bikes to rent to us and they said that the only places we would be able to find some bikes would be if we wanted to do mountain biking around Lantau Island or in the faraway New Territories [both regions of the Special Administrative District of Hong Kong]. We were not about to do that. We wanted to get some pavement under some skinny tires under us! Instead, we meandered the streets of Hong Kong [especially in the Wan Chai district] with no plan other than to take it in. Firstly, I would like to say that the scaffolding in Asia -and I hadn’t noticed it until Hong Kong- is made out of bamboo. Ridiculous you say? Well, it’s true. True. Bamboo.

I saw so many interesting things and took some really great pictures in Hong Kong. One of the highlights of these meanderings was when we wandered in to a market area that happened to be entirely populated by locals. There was absolutely no westerner there. We were gawked at as we were gawking at all the fishmongers and butchers and produce stacks oh my! I saw so many things there. It was so beautiful to be there and see all these people working so hard and all the market goers knowing exactly the process of how to get the goods that they wanted as if there was a formula to it that we were completely not privy to. All of a sudden, we all became mesmerized by a certain type of produce at seemingly the same moment. This was not just any produce, it was a bright magenta-y pink mango-sized object adorned with soft, curved spiky looking protrusions. Yes, please, we said. The woman explained to us that this object was called dragonfruit. So, after this how could we say no? Dragonfruit, people! We bought three. The woman told us that you slice it up and just pop it out of the outside. We borrowed her knife and sliced open the prize, perhaps not a good idea, but the dragonfruit had clearly cast a spell on our trio. Inside was even more of an enigma! It was white populated with little black, kiwi-like seeds. How strange, right? Well, the fruit completely and easily separated from the skin and so we just ate it right then and there in the bustling market streets while everyone was smiling at our happy, juicy, smiling faces. As an afterthought we popped our trusty pink [thank you for peptobismol]. There were definitely some gross things to be watching involving the fishmongers, the butchers, and their wares. However, I am so glad to have seen the entire package at this market meandering.

After this, we walked around a bit more, ate some snacks and wandered through more little street parks and stands and sights back to the Star Ferry and back to the ship. This was around 20:00 which is when the “Symphony of Lights” takes place every night in Hong Kong. All of the skyscrapers and high-rise buildings in Hong Kong come equipped with crazy neon lights and every night at this time they show off these lights in an intricate light display show that lasts for about twenty or so minutes. At this point we lost Zack who is an avid daydreamer and wanderer. So, Kat and I took the ferry back alone [though decidedly not alone, it was quite packed!] and walked back to the ship. This port was much better than the last because it was situated right next to the Star Ferry dock on the Kowloon Peninsula.

That night, I went out with Mark again and we went to a typical going out area on the main city island and had a fantastic time dancing in the rainy streets with quite a few of the other kids on the voyage. It was this night that I solidified my great friendship with my friend, Paige, who is a champ. We had a fantastic night hanging out and then made our way home.

The next day I took an SAS organized trip with Kat that was a tour of Lantau Island and a vegetarian lunch at a Buddhist monastery. We woke up early and took a bus to Lantau where we had to board a smaller bus because the other Hong Kong buses are not regulated to be able to be used on the island. Then we zipped off to a pretty-ish beach. However, it was raining at this point so we didn’t really stay long or get to see the full beauty and potential that it probably held. After that we went to a small fishing village. This was quite spectacular. We got to see rural life in Hong Kong which is interesting considering the ridiculous amount of city going that I had done the entire day and night before. It was such a contrast and so very necessary. Most of the people in the town were fishermen and most of the buildings and dwellings were built onto stilts out over the marshy land and water. It was so crazy looking. We walked through a few streets where most of the catch was being sold to the locals and where the typical dried goods and fishes [of which I mentioned earlier in Qingdao] were being sold. Dried Fish Eyes anyone? No? How about dried quail eggs? No? Okay…me neither.

Yes, Alex. China/Hong Kong smells like Chinatown. Only more so.

After this, we made our way to the Bronze Buddha on Lantau Island. It is the third largest seated Bronze Buddha in the world. It is huge, I took pictures. You can see them. There’s not much to say about it other than the views of and from this Buddha seated atop a mountain on the beautiful Lantau Island are exquisite. After seeing this we meandered down to the monastery that lies in the valley at the bottom of this mountain to explore and eat. As we were eating the best meal I have had in months [though the food in India really was fantastic I promise], it started to pour. We had a little while to meander around the grounds of the monastery and because it was raining that was quite tough, but the monastery buildings were beautiful and vermillion and they beckoned to be captured for me to remember and show even though the rain was so paramount. After this, we went on home and met up with Deanna and Mark to shop for them and then just went back to the ship to disembark.

China/Hong Kong. I wish I could summarize my thoughts on these places for you but then I wouldn’t have anything else to say about them when we actually speak. I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading about my exploits over a six-day period. Perhaps you now understand how tired I can get and why I take a long time to get to you on matters? It’s no excuse, I know. But I’ve been trying to do better. Ask me any and everything please! I’d love to chat about all this.

Now it’s me signing out after a really long post. Totally ready to eat lunch.

Take care of yourselves my dears.