Week before leaving -- (Jan 11-20)
Week 1 -- (Jan 23-Feb 1 Puerto Rico)
Week 2 -- (Feb 3-9 Salvador, Brazil)
Week 3 -- (Feb 10-16 On the way to South Africa)
Week 4 -- (Feb 19-24 Cape Town and African Safari)
Week 5,6 -- (Feb 25-March 8 Mauritius)
Week 7 -- (March 9-15 Chennai, India)

Week 8 -- (March 16-22 Penang, Malaysia and Singapore)
Week 9 -- (March 23-31 Ho Chi Minh City, VietNam)
Week 10 -- (April 1-6 Hong Kong, Guilin Shanghai, China)
Week 11 -- (April 7-13 Kobe, Japan)
Week 12 -- (April 14-20 On the way to Hawaii)
Week 13 -- (April 21-27 Honolulu, Hawaii)
Week 14 -- (April 28-May 8 Puntarenas, Costa Rica)

 

Week Seven -- Journeywoman's Semester At Sea...

 

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March 9 -- We Choose Mr. Semester At Sea...

Who will be the 2008 Fall Voyage 'Mr. Semester At Sea?' Last week eleven male students tossed their hats into the circle to compete for this coveted title. The crown traditionally goes to the best overall candidate in the combined categories of personality, runway charisma, public speaking, talent, and fund raising abilities (each candidate chooses a favorite charity and then for a week before the finale canvasses individuals relentlessly for donations towards that charity). I supported two candidates (both of them with a connection to Canada) who sweet-talked me into supporting their philanthropic causes.

Tonight was the night for deciding who the overall winner would be. The Union (the room on the ship that holds the largest number of people) was filled to capacity as everybody arrived early to get a good seat. One of the eleven contestants was Qi Yan, a Chinese student who had won a competition in China for the opportunity to attend this Semester At Sea voyage. He arrived on board with only rudimentary knowledge of the English language and American pop culture. The guys on his deck quickly taught him the things every male college student needed to know about (as Qi calls them) 'American girls' as well as the words one uses to beguile said 'American girls.' Qi is clever, adorable, and charismatic and, of course, used these assets to his advantage.

For the talent section he crooned a Chinese ballad that delighted the audience. However, it was the public speaking triumph that shot him into the lead. When it was his turn to answer the question the judges had prepared, Qi didn't understand several of the words in the question. Clearly he was in trouble. In his naivite, Qi simply said, 'This question sucks; please give me another one.' Trying to keep a straight face, the judge explained that each candidate gets only one question and they must answer it the best way possible. The crowd jumped to their feet chanting, 'Qi, Qi, Qi' until the judge relented and asked a second question. Qi aced it with a tribute to 'American Girls" and the crowd was on their feet again. We all waited for the judges' official' overall decision but everyone already knew that 'Mr. Semester At Sea 2008" was Qi Yan. It's not difficult to forecast that this young man will go far wherever in the world he is (providing he uses his 'smarts' for good). The proceeds raised for charity from the student body for this event? A very grand $5,300 with two candidates raising over $700. What clever programming!


Qi sings his ballad...


The winner of Mr. SAS Competition


 

March 10 -- I leave my 1st cabin...

Meet my new, lovely Semester At Sea roommate. Ariane is a 22 year old pre-med student (both her parents are physicians) who lives in Gainsville, Florida. Her passion is horses (jumping in particular). When I was scheduled to leave the ship in India to return to Canada (as was initially agreed), Ariane offered me the unoccupied bed in her cabin. I suggested that maybe I could move in with her for an extra two weeks and then leave from Vietnam. She said, 'no, we want you here for the complete journey.' I was very touched by her generosity -- most people wouldn't have given up their privacy so easily. We discussed the potential move with the Dean who said, 'we were trying to find a way to keep you here for the complete voyage.' Long story short because everybody has been so kind to me I left my first home and moved in with Ariane today. She is great and my intuition tells me that we're going to enjoy this new arrangement. Besides, what a wonderful way for me to learn more about the nuances of the 'young student scene' on the MV Explorer.

Our Life Long Learners sponsored a Silver Sea Social this evening. March of the Penguins was the theme and everyone that attended was asked to wear black and white clothes. I told Ariane that I wasn't going to go, that I was tired from the move and that I needed to prepare for tomorrow's arrival in India. She kept following me around saying, 'you've got to go, it's going to be fun. C'mon, you'll stay for just a little bit.' So, because I didn't want to disappoint my new roommate, I went and I'm so glad that I did. As soon as I walked into the lounge I heard people saying, 'She's here; Evelyn's here.' Hmmmm? What's up? Deb, our LLL leader had ordered a huge, yummy chocolate birthday cake for me and for another staff member who was also celebrating this week. Actually, my birthday is on the 15th but we were going to be docked in India for the next five days (with everybody going in different directions) so this was the best time to celebrate the date with everybody. Very much appreciated! I ate my piece of birthday cake with great pleasure (and because of the caffeine in the chocolate) promptly became wide awake and didn't fall asleep until something like 3:00 AM. Happy birthday, Evelyn.


Ariane keeps me informed about things I would normally miss.


My black and white birthday photo


 

March 11, 2008 -- Hello Chennai, India

After all the hype about India and how it will be the most difficult country to get around in we were all up bright and early ready to catch our first glimpse of Chennai. Even though the day was just beginning the air was already very heavy -- just a little taste of the extreme heat that we would have to deal with later. From all the books I'd read and the films I'd seen it had been so easy to romanticize India from afar. You visualize the magnificent Taj Mahal, wonderful Northern Indian cuisine and elegant women in brightly coloured, silk saris. Of course, that's only a smart part of the reality. What greeted us this morning was a filthy harbour blanketed in foul smelling pollution. As we got closer to the dock we could make out hundreds of cars that had been assembled in India and were now awaiting shipment to foreign markets. No doubt about it. Chennai is a major, overpopulated, industrial city. I took in the scene, breathed the dank air and asked myself if I was ready to face five days of dirt, poverty, heat, crowds, scams and chaotic traffic. I understood that in order to appreciate the wisdom and mysteries offered up by India my patience, safety, and well-being would be challenged. I must say I wasn't really excited about plunging into the madness.

The logistics for clearing the ship were mind-boggling. Each person on board had to go through a customs station that had been set up in the faculty lounge. Each received a stamped landing card which they carried with their passport. Next there were money changing facilities set up in one of the classrooms so we could have some Indian rupees when we got off the ship. We lined up for that, too. And then the 'fun' started. Everybody was going in different directions. They were all on different schedules; some were on SAS trips and others were travelling independently by bus, train or plane. Each had to leave the ship on time in order to get where they needed to be on time. Each person had to check out of the ship properly so that those in charge would know who left the ship, at what hour and when they returned. You can imagine the 'organized chaos' that ensued. It was like a ballet in slow motion -- everybody wearing backpacks and moving to their own 'music.' In fact, it was like moving a small army and, magically they did it. I was terribly impressed with the planning and execution of this disembarkment. All the pre-port lectures really paid off.

For most of the students this was their first taste of India. Everybody wanted to experience Delhi and see the Taj Mahal. I had already been to India once before. I wanted to avoid the crowded urban scene and chose to explore the countryside closer to the ship. I marvelled at the students' ability to plunge right into the confusion. I was much more cautious and picked an organized tour that gave me a sheltered re-entry with visits to temples and historic sites plus a three day course in breathing and meditation in Dakshinachitra Heritage Village. I asked myself if I was being an informed traveller or just a 'scaredy-cat' traveller.

Two minutes after we left the ship I was convinced I'd made the right decision. Hoards of taxi drivers and rickshaw drivers descended upon us. All were covered with the grime of the city, few spoke more than a few words of English. They vied with each other to sell us their services. We were escorted through this insistent throng to a waiting air-conditioned bus. Through the bus window I could both observe life in the city and be shielded from it at the same time. There were people everywhere, cars everywhere, horns honking, hawkers shouting. There were beggars without limbs and beggars with limbs. There were filthy children with parents, filthy children completely on their own. It was chaotic, it was colorful, it was fantastic, it was sad and shocking all at the same time.

Before going to the Heritage Village we visited Mamallapuram to see a 1200 year old temple, ancient sculptures and a Hindu temple. In the late afternoon we got to Dakshinachitra (with its recreated 19th century houses from four southern states of India) where I had signed on for a 2-day breathing/meditation boot camp. I figured that if the Beetles came to India to explore ashrams and meditation, why not Journeywoman? Well, it was truly a boot camp with most of our time spent lying on mats and panting (as in... HAH, HAH, HAH). I'm not sure I liked it but it was an effective stress reducing technique. Why was I able to think so clearly? I don't believe it had much to do with ancient Indian philosophy. I guess lots of panting leads to hyperventilation and lightheadedness. All I know is I kept falling asleep. Each session took over an hour but it felt as if only 20 minutes had passed. I didn't mind all the relaxation and sleeping but even with insect repellent I was chewed up by the mosquitoes that frequented the open window meditation room. One session I counted eight new bites. Since I was taking malaria pills I didn't worry about that disease but I prayed that these mosquitoes didn't give me Dengue fever for my birthday (March 15). But on second thought, mosquitoes that hang around meditation rooms are probably health conscious and I really didn't need to worry.


Pilot boat guides us into Chennai


Pollution is everywhere


We see things through a haze


Cars lined up on the dock


Our air-conditioned tour bus


People and cars everywhere


Hindu temple


Students clowning at ancient structures


Mamallapurum, India


 

March 12 & 13 - Breathe, Breathe, Breathe in India

I'm not so sure I liked the yoga/meditation workshop but I loved being in this little arts and crafts center (with an emphasis on the traditions of South India). I hated being cooped up in a classroom hearing 'breathe, breathe, breathe' from early morning to late in the evening. Instead I wanted to be out exploring, watching all the craftspeople, buying their wares, exploring the historical homes and taking advantage of all the wonderful photo opportunities in the center. One of the highlights for me was interacting with the groups that came to Dakshinachitra on field trips. Everybody spoke at least a little English and we always had a delightful little chat. That's part of the reason I love travelling in the rural areas. People are so much more relaxed, not tense and not trying to scam you.

Shopping was so much fun. You didn't need to worry about blowing your budget. Everything was so reasonable. I bought some necklaces (about $4.00 each) from a crafts person working on the grounds. I also asked one of the Batik artists to draw a Ganesh (God) for me. He charged me 70 cents for a delightful rendition (complete with a little mouse in the corner) that I'm going to frame when I get home. This folk art is the art I like the absolute best.

The food we were served at the center was all vegetarian, tasty, very spicy and clean (of absolute importance in India unless you enjoy having Delhi Belly). I never got a stomach bug (like most of the other people picked up in India) but I was affected by the spices. Oh well, tummy upsets are part of any trip to India and Doc Brown (the ship's doctor) had some really great meds that worked perfectly to calm your innards. The pills are called Dicyclomine or Bentyl for anybody who's interested. You need a prescription to buy them but I will definitely have my own supply the next time I travel.

I could go on and on but the photos I took tell the story. Enjoy!


My 70 cent drawing


Watching necklaces being made


Waiting for meditation class to start


Veggie food served on banana leaves


A little corner of the village


Photo opportunities everywhere


Visiting student teachers


Playing hopscotch in saris


Student teachers from Bangladesh


School girls waving hello

 

March 14 -- Good, bad and difficult in Chennai, India

Today one of the students and I went off by ourselves to shop in Chennai. Again it was incredibly hot and we promised ourselves to take it as easy as possible, stay hydrated so we wouldn't tire, and to spend most of our time indoors. We bargained with the rickshaw driver who met us as we left the ship and we enjoyed an exciting (sometimes harrowing) ride through incredible traffic right to Spenser Plaza (the center we wanted to shop at). Before doing anything else we popped into the Connemarra Hotel next door where one is always assured of clean, fresh food. We had our snacks and went directly to Fabindia (2nd floor Spenser Plaza) where we shopped, shopped, shopped up a storm. I love Fabindia because the cotton they use for their clothes are so soft and durable and they never go out of style because they're a lovely combo of east meets west design.

When it was time for tea we went back to the Connamarra where we chatted with two lovely women at the next table who were off to a musical evening about an hour away. They offered us a lift to the concert but since they couldn't bring us back later that evening we decided not to take a chance on being stranded somewhere we knew nothing about. I'm glad we made that decision because getting back to the ship from downtown Chennai proved hard enough. More of that story later.

Ouch, my arm! Soon it was time to go out and try the shops again. This time we had to cross a street to get to another branch of Fabindia. Oh my goodness, that was hard and so dangerous if you're not careful. We found the right corner with street lights but just as we were approaching the opposite curb a huge motorcycle shot out of nowhere and hit my arm (below my elbow) with its HUGE handlebars. Pain shot through my arm and all I could think of was, ' oh no, broken ... in India ... just in time for my birthday.' But the Travel Goddess' was good to me. My arm wasn't broken, just very sore. So, did that stop us from shopping? Of course not. A new, extra juicy blouse would ease the pain. I was sure of that.

As dusk approached we knew we had to find a rickshaw quickly so we wouldn't be in (dark, very dark) three lane, crazy, busy traffic all the way back to the ship. We weren't fast enough and our driver (the only one we could find) didn't speak any English (bad mistake) and dusk soon became pitch black. We found someone to give the driver directions and we warily got into his (old, very old vehicle). To make a long story short we got very lost in the dark and even when we finally were on the right road I thought it was still wrong and I redirected the rickshaw driver who was now just as disoriented as we were. Finally, I hailed a policeman to see if we were going in the right direction. Oh, oh, another bad mistake. The rickshaw driver thought we were reporting him to the police. He waited till we were on the last black, deserted road leading to the ship and he stopped and berated us (in very broken English) for telling the police he was bad. It took lots of explaining in sign language and extra money to settle him down and get us back to the ship.

When we finally saw the MV Explorer, we knew we were home and out of danger. This day was definitely a wake-up for me. No matter how much you have travelled, each day is a new experience and a new challenge. The streets of third world countries are mean, the people are a lot tougher than we are and we must stay culturally aware in order to make our way safely through these experiences. Ours was only one of the student stories that night. It was good to know that everybody got back to the ship safe and sound. Hurray for all of us!


East meets West at Fabindia


Traffic in downtown Chennai


We were in this traffic in the dark in a tiny rickshaw

 

March 15 -- My birthday party in Chennai

Today was my 68th birthday. How cool to be celebrating it in India. Today was also the day I was supposed to be completing my assignment, leaving the ship and flying back to Toronto. Thanks again to Ariane for offering me a bed in her cabin and to Dean Kenn for inviting me to stay. I am now officially sailing around the world. Our Voyage of Discovery will be complete when we sail into Miami on May 9, 2008.

It was boiling hot today; I left the ship early to meet the two local women (I had met through HERmail.net) who were coming to pick me up with a car and driver. I walked to the main gate with some of the students. As usual we were inundated with rickshaw drivers who wanted to take us into town. The other students left and I stood close to the harbour police waiting for my lift to show up. The police probably thought I was a bit strange but there was a method to my madness. Firstly, the police had a tiny tin roof to protect them from the direct sun and I needed that protection. Also, if I stood beside a policeman the rickshaw drivers couldn't harass me which was a great relief.

Eventually my car came and I met Winnie and Shanti -- two lovely women of a certain age. Winnie spent a lot of time on her cell phone. She also spent a lot of time berating her driver who, she said, was very lazy. It was very amusing to me. Though their skin was darker than mine and one wore a sari, these two Indian women could have been middle aged women anywhere in the world. We worried about the same things, had the same problems with our cell phones and noted the same ongoing aging processes in our bodies. I was instantly comfortable in their company. We talked non-stop, they took me shopping for clothes, showed me the correct ways to wear Indian clothing and bargained on my behalf. We met a lot of other Semester At Sea students and staff in the Spenser Plaza. Winnie and Shanti helped them as well. These two 'Aunties' sat outside the department store dressing room and commented on outfits. 'OK'ing some purchases and discouraging others. They were so generous with their time and energy as I dragged them from shop to shop to find exactly what I needed. I will be eternally grateful for the way they dealt with the shopkeeper who was selling me a hand-embroidered pashmina from Kashmir. They went over that shawl with a fine-tooth comb. And when they were sure I was getting the 'real thing' they worked as a tag team to bargain the poor man down, down, down! I love my shawl. It is my birthday present to myself.

Imagine my surprise when I was going down the escalator and I heard someone call my name. Who did I know in India? It was Kanishka, our interport student who was out shopping as well. He hugged me and complained how boring life was now that he wasn't on the ship anymore. Imagine the fun that these interport students have. They come on board, sleep in the students' cabins, visit classrooms to educate the kids on what to expect in India and make a huge number of friends in the process. What a great opportunity and a fabulous way for the students to receive peer-to-peer information.

To celebrate my birthday I took Winnie and Shanti for brunch at the Taj Connemarra, next door to Spenser Plaza and one of the nicest hotels in town. We had a lovely time -- especially because Deb (life long learner leader), Rich (the ship's conduct officer) and Mike (the assistant librarian) were at the next table and celebrated with us.

We sailed from Chennai that night. I was ready to leave the chaos behind but I do feel that I know India just a wee bit better now. I think the kids felt that way, too. India really affected them. They saw the poverty and also the beauty. They were proud of the fact that they had 'survived' (in a good way) many of the obstacles one must learn to cope with in this country. I was happy that they all returned from their adventures safe, relatively healthy, and on time. Phew!


Meet Shanti


Meet Winnie and her cell phone


Shopping with Winnie and Shanti


New pashmina from Kashmir


Meeting Kanishka


Lunch at the Taj Connemarra Hotel


India was dirty. Students had a lot of laundry.

 

End of Week Seven

 

Week before leaving -- (Jan 11-20)
Week 1 -- (Jan 23-Feb 1 Puerto Rico)
Week 2 -- (Feb 3-9 Salvador, Brazil)
Week 3 -- (Feb 10-16 On the way to South Africa)
Week 4 -- (Feb 19-24 Cape Town and African Safari)
Week 5,6 -- (Feb 25-March 8 Mauritius)
Week 7 -- (March 9-15 Chennai, India)

Week 8 -- (March 16-22 Penang, Malaysia and Singapore)
Week 9 -- (March 23-31 Ho Chi Minh City, VietNam)
Week 10 -- (April 1-6 Hong Kong, Guilin Shanghai, China)
Week 11 -- (April 7-13 Kobe, Japan)
Week 12 -- (April 14-20 On the way to Hawaii)
Week 13 -- (April 21-27 Honolulu, Hawaii)
Week 14 -- (April 28-May 8 Puntarenas, Costa Rica)

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