Well, we’re on our way to Madras in India after four great days in Singapore, marred only by the disturbing news of the US attack on Afghanistan. Once again, I am feeling the frustration of being so far removed from “reality”, unable to stay informed or updated on the latest developments. Any emails that briefly cover major events would be greatly appreciated from you guys. I am trying hard to reach a balance in terms of my feelings, because if I dwell too much on these disturbing events, I can’t cope with my pending exams, or even enjoy my time spent in port. My thoughts are as ever with you all during this time.
I wanted to give you guys an update now, because it is unlikely that I’ll get to an Internet cafe whilst in India. I will be flying to Delhi and then visiting Jaipur – the “pink city”, followed by the Taj Mahal, Amber, Agra and New Delhi itself. The US State department issued a worldwide caution for all US citizens traveling in India, and as such, Semester at Sea gave students the opportunity of canceling their trips to North India for a full refund to stay in Chennai. Over half of the students have cancelled their plans, but I didn’t give going a second thought. I am actually pretty sick of listening to students whining about risks to their personal safety. I understand their concern, but at the same time, I believe that we need to embrace this opportunity to visit a country where we may potentially come into contact with people who are having strong negative feelings about the US, and perhaps through our example and our humanity we can leave a positive impression. Last night, the ship had a community meeting to discuss the war in Afghanistan, and I was so tired of the selfish attitudes in the room, that I was moved to go up to the microphone and express my feelings about the conflict. I got extremely emotional, encouraging the students not to be scared, but to open our hearts and minds to learning, listening and experiencing India and the people that live there, even if we encounter hostility. I feel so grateful for such an opportunity.
At this point, you may know about our altered itinerary. From India, we will be sailing to Mombassa in Kenya, Cape Town, South Africa, Salvador in Brazil, Havana in Cuba and then back to Miami. I look forward to giving you updates from all future ports of call.
My last two days in Vietnam were incredible. I took a two hour cyclo (bicycle cart) tour in Hanoi which took us to a residential area of Hanoi that was away from the maddening noise of the city. We watched children play in the street and people preparing meals outside their homes. My last day in Saigon, I traveled to the Mekong Delta, where we visited a village and interacted with the local people. They fed us wonderfully exotic fruits and let us play with the children. We took a canoe ride through the jungle and drank from coconuts. It was hard to believe that this area was where a great deal of fighting was taking place in South Vietnam during the war. That evening, I visited the War Memorial Museum in Saigon and saw some horrifying exhibits of the Vietnam Conflict, as told from the Vietnamese perspective. I saw photos of American soldiers holding up shredded bodies of civilians as if they were trophies, and photos of massacres of women and children. There was a display dedicated to the chemical agent “orange” which the US Army used to wipe out vast areas of vegetation to clear the way for fighting. This chemical agent produced severe birth defects in future generations, there were even aborted Siamese twins and deformed babies on display in glass jars. It was a gut wrenching sight. I bought several books about the Vietnam conflict, and have been reading them voraciously. There is so much information that I have been ignorant about all these years, and in some way, it makes our current situation feel so much more real and frightening.
Singapore was vastly different to prior ports. I felt almost like I was back in the US – except that it was much warmer and only 1 degree north of the equator. For an island the size of Chicago, its hard to believe that Singapore is a country in its own right, but you can tell they are proud of being “different” to the rest of south east Asia. Much of the island has been very disneyfied – almost to try and convince the citizens of Singapore that they’ve found Utopia. On my first day, I visited Changi Prison, which was a prisoner of war camp during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore during the second world war. The Japanese invaded Singapore only a day after Pearl Harbor. Seeing the prison was a good contrast for me, especially after visiting Hiroshima. It made me remember how viciously cruel both fighting sides were to the “enemy” they were fighting. I don’t want to make this email entirely gruesome, so I’ll leave out the description. I took a Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo, which was again, very Disney – but well worth the visit. The highlight was the Bat enclosure, where I had flying Fox Bats soaring over my head with a 4-6 foot wingspan. Amazing.
The highlight of my time in Singapore would have to be the day I spent on a small island north of Singapore called Pulau Ubin. It’s a fishing/farming island with only a several hundred inhabitants, and it is covered with lush green rain forest and beautiful beaches. I went with a group of friends, including faculty, by boat to the Island and we rented bicycles for the day. We cycled around the entire island, stopping for the local dish of Pepper Crab which was spicy and delicious. The weather was Hot, Hot, Hot – a pattern I believe will predominate for the remainder of the voyage – and then I’ll come home to snowy Colorado!! My last day was spent on Sentosa Island – which is like a recreational retreat for Singaporeans, – it has the southernmost tip in Asia, an aquarium, observation tower and various other themed attractions. My favorite were the musical water fountain shows at night, together with classical music. I also did a little shopping, although Singapore is very expensive, I went to Little India (just in case they cancelled our port there altogether) and Arab street. Oh! I almost forgot – I went for “High Tea” at the famous British Colonial Raffles Hotel. It was completely decadent – I ate Cream scones with strawberrys, rare fruits, cakes, sandwiches, salmon and lots of English tea. It was a real treat, and the hotel itself was beautiful. Many movies have been filmed here.
Back on the boat – I’ve really hit crunch time academically. I am in the middle of taking mid terms for three of my classes, in fact, I’m struggling to stay awake right now, because I pulled an all-nighter yesterday studying for my Geology Class. Whoever said classes on Semester at Sea were easy were kidding. I have one more exam in the morning, which I should be studying for now, but I really wanted to write this letter first, so oh, well! Life on the ship has gotten a lot more natural. Tuesday was hell because we were given a field trip list for the remainder of our voyage, and then told we had to make decisions by 6pm! I decided to take a safari of Tsavo and Amboselli in Kenya, a day visiting Townships in Cape Town, with a 2 day venture into the mountains, and I left Brazil and Cuba open for independent travel. Many signed up to go to the Amazon – but it was over a 7 hour flight just to get there – and it was over a $1000! Besides, if I ever go, I would rather not do it with a huge group of loud students. I have been making some good friends finally on the boat. One of them happens to be the Philosophy professor – an Orthodox Jew from New York, who is absolutely hilarious to be around. Also a Resident Director, Alison. She is extremely cool, studying for her PhD in Cultural Studies at UNC, Chapel Hill, and a political activist for Amnesty International. She has incredible insights into this world, and I’m thoroughly enjoying getting to know her. We’ve agreed to travel together when we get to Brazil.
Other than study, I’ve been trying to get back into shape after having truly pigged out for over a month on the amazing food on the ship. I’ve been taking conditioning and kickboxing classes on the ship – and trying to swim in the pool. We’ve also had some great social events, including a Las Vegas Evening, where I got to perform a song. It was really fun.
Anyway, I really better go study. I’m sorry this letter was so long – I hope I haven’t bored you to death.
Will write again after India. I should have some photos posted online soon – so keep watch! Love you all.
Somewhere in the Indian Ocean, SS Universe Explore.