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 Eight -- Journeywoman's Semester At Sea...

 

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March 16 -- Kids write the darndest things

Thankfully there are little kiddies on board the MV Explorer. I like seeing their sweet little faces especially when they take part in some of the all-ship programs. There's a teacher on board to tutor these young people and to supervise their recreational activities. One of these kids is Eric, the delightful nine year old son of Craig, the ship's Assistant Dean and his wife, Stacey. After each port, Eric has been writing a postcard for his class back in the USA. I thought his postcard about India was right on. I asked Eric if I could take a photo of him to publish along with his postcard. He agreed. His delicious smile is as a result of me asking him to think of the funniest thing his dog has ever done.

"Dear Class,
Greeting from India. There are billions of little auto carts that are called wrigshaws.
It's like a motor cycle but bigger and the streets are really dangerous so we almost got killed!
The food was spicy. It stinked so bad and it was really HOT. I'll see you in 50 days. Bye!!!!
Eric"


Kids write the darndest things

 

March 19 -- Hello Penang, Malaysia

Since I hadn't planned to get as far as Penang on this journey, I didn't really prepare in advance for my visit. In fact, I realized later in the trip that I never took my malaria pills when I was there. Hopefully, that will not come back to haunt me (actually ... I never really went deep into the countryside ... but, still, that's no excuse...).

This port was different from all the others. The main harbour was being renovated so we had to anchor outside and come into the port by tender. That meant you had to time your return to the ship carefully. If you missed one boat you waited at least 20 minutes for the next. If you were waiting in the noon day sun it was brutal. That's when an umbrella really came in handy.

With a little bit of quick research I learned that Penang's Malays comprise about 30% of the population, 66% is Chinese, and Indian, Malaysians make-up about 9% of the population. Yes ... I know these numbers add up to more than 100% but we're only out by 5% so please give me a break. Since I knew so little about this port and since I would be here for only a few days, I decided to take an Island Orientation Tour. Good move! Everywhere we went I found juicy evidence of these three cultures living peacefully side by side. We visited a Khoo Kongsi clan house (a rickshaw driver parked outside the clan house let me use his vehicle as a photo prop), we stopped at the Chor-su Kong Temple where poisonous snakes are supposed to adorn the alter (Very false advertising! We saw one snake that was sleeping, drugged out of his mind). We stopped at the Kek Lok Si Temple (loved it!) and ended with lunch at a seafood restaurant and a short tour of the Botanical Gardens. Everybody (students and staff included) made such a big fuss about the monkeys roaming the grounds. Not sure why. They were really very ugly monkeys.


Loading the ship's tenders


Checked out by the Penang locals


Rickshaw driver spoke French


Schoolkids heading to class


Kek Lok Si Temple


Peace!


Selling tiles to raise money for a new temple


Drugged snake in Chor-su Kong Temple


Ugly monkeys


Beautiful Botanical Gardens


Coming back from Penang's harbour

 

March 20 -- Singapore Disappoints

I was really looking forward to flying to Singapore from Penang. It was a city that I hadn't visited before and I was curious. The folks in the SAS field office worked hard to get me on this trip. I now feel like an ungrateful wretch writing this report but, honestly, I think Singapore sucks. Yes, it's clean. Yes, it's safe. Yes, there are a million shops for you to buy, buy, buy from. But, then what? Singapore is like the beautifully dressed woman who looks worldly and sophisticated. Of course, you're interested in interacting with her, chatting, exchanging ideas. Surprise! When you start digging below her highly polished veneer there is very little she says or does that interests you. Compare that to Salvadore (Brazil) and Chennai (India). Yes, they're dirty, disheveled, and can be dangerous but, oh ... the secrets that unfold when you start exploring are definitely worth working for.

Maybe if it hadn't been so hot (32C/94F) I wouldn't have been so cranky about my visit. I should have known that there wasn't a lot to see when our tour guide walked us around and around the same three downtown statues at the hottest time of the day. I suspect he was too early for our next stop, the 'self-important' Raffles Hotel where we were warned not to walk on their driveway and not to ask their doormen to pose for pictures. After a very brief tour of the facilities we were herded into a sub-room of their coffee shop for chocolate cake (excellent) and coffee. My sense was they were holding their nose long enough to feed us, take our money and get us out with as little disturbance to the 'real guests' as possible.

We explored the waterfront which is also the dining/entertainment part of the city and that (I admit) was very picturesque with open-air restaurants sitting right on the water's edge. As one local told me (and many of the students echoed over the next three days), 'the night life in Singapore is brilliant.' I believe them. The heat and humidity during the day can be absolutely oppressive so people wait till the sun goes down to play outdoors. Locals and tourists alike are out strolling and shops are open for business until 11 PM. My roommate went out at 9 o'clock to eat and shop on her own and she reported that she felt perfectly safe and had a fun time (she loved the shoes in Singapore, inexpensive and a little more formal that she could find in the U.S.). I tried shopping for electronics. The discounting that goes on in this city is mind boggling. Everybody offers you a deal but, buyer beware. Sure they'll sell you a cheaper Canon battery but what they don't tell you is that you're not getting the real thing. What you are being sold is a copy that has absolutely no guarantee. Beside, I didn't come to Singapore to shop for batteries. See? I told you I was cranky.


My first glimpse of Singapore


The restaurants were right on the water


Signs, shops and 'stuff to buy' everywhere


Singapore is very sleek but also very shallow.

 

March 21 -- Heat, humidity and hyperventilation

Day two was not more satisfying than day one. This time I take all responsibility for the mess. Perhaps the Tourism Goddess was punishing me for my negative attitude. Walking into the hotel I caught my sandal on one of the stone steps and I went flying. Luckily I broke my fall with the palms of my hands and just bruised my knee. After testing all my moveable parts for malfunction I went to the bar and asked for a bag of ice which I then applied to all my sore spots. If I could have rested and gotten over the shock of flying through the air all might have been fine. In the midst of this mess my phone rang. The lovely woman (Marianne) that I met through HERmail.net was waiting downstairs eager to show me her city. What an introduction! She (kind lady) arrived with gift in hand, sat with me while I iced my knee and even though I still felt a little shaky off we went. It was really HOT but we decided not to take an (air-conditioned) cab to the Indian and Malaysian markets. We were travellers, not tourists, right? Marianne felt that the markets were close enough to the hotel and that I should experience what the local transportation was like. What were we thinking?

We did get to the Indian Market quickly and worked hard to find a chic outfit suitable for the Ambassador's Ball (the one dress-up event of the voyage). It's hard to fall in love with 'anything' when you're sweltering in the heat. Next we were directed by the locals to the Malay part of town and that turned out to be a longer bus ride than expected. I was getting hotter and hotter and there seemed to be less and less air available in the packed bus. I didn't complain because I thought we'd be there any minute. By the time we actually got there I felt weak and knew I was definitely dehydrated. If it was 94 degrees outside it was way over 100 inside the vehicle. Even the bottle of water I had with me had become warm from the intense heat. I found the nearest air-conditioned shop, bought a huge bottle of water, sat on a chair, rested, and drank a lot. I had some salted crackers in my purse and ate those (to help replenish the salt my body lost). We gave up on our shopping excursion and decided to taxi back to the hotel and just relax. A few hours later I still wasn't feeling better so we went to the nearest medical clinic (thank goodness for my new friend, Marianne who knew where to go). I chatted with the doctor, told him I thought I was just having a panic attack (falling, heat, crowded buses, etc). He examined me, agreed with my diagnosis, chatted about Semester At Sea (took the SAS website URL) and then Marianne and I went back to the hotel. Poor woman. She felt so badly for taking me on a bus but as a local she was used to the heat and humidity (no kidding... she was wearing a long-sleeved black t-shirt and was fine). There was really no harm done. I told her our adventure would make a really great travel story for my SAS blog. With the drama behind us, Marianne and I had a lovely dim sum/high tea at the hotel before we said our goodbyes. I'm sure she had lots of stories to tell her friends about the foreigner who couldn't 'take the heat.'


Chatting with locals on city bus


Marianne & I shopped for a dress for the Ball


Shoes in the Indian Market

 

March 22, 2008 -- Meeting friends and family in Singapore

I may not have liked the city of Singapore but I so enjoyed the people I met there. First it was Marianne who treated me with such kindness and consideration when I wasn't feeling well. Then it was my ex son-in-law, Richie (my pet name for him) who lives in Singapore with his lovely wife and two sweet daughters. They visited twice, took me to dinner at a funny little Greek restaurant and we used our time together to fill each other in on the adventures of our respective families. Even after ten years of not seeing each other, Richie still calls me 'Mama' and I still love him, dearly. Best of all ... what a special treat to have his little ones call me, 'Auntie'.

Twenty years ago I met Soo-Tsu Leng on a train going from Chicago to Albuquerque. He and his family were from Malaysia; Soo-Tsu had just graduated from university in the USA. He was twenty-two then and I was fifty-eight. Despite our age difference we spoke for three days as the train crossed the country. I remember how intelligent and gentle he was then. The next time I met Soo-Tsu was when he was travelling through Canada. Without hesitation I offered him accommodation in my home and he was just as pleasant then as had been during our first encounter. Many years passed and we kept in touch sporadically. Several years ago Soo-Tsu, who is now living in Singapore, read about me in a local magazine. He contacted me via email and I, in turn, promised to call him if my travels ever took me to Singapore. We met for breakfast before I flew back to Penang. Soo-Tsu is now 42 years old, much more worldly than the young student I first encountered. He has already earned a bit of gray in his hair; he is as polite, clever and considerate as I remembered him to be many years ago. Once again there were no silences in our conversation.

I'm so glad I went to Singapore.


Richie and his family


Marianne


Soo-Tsu


Flying to Penang with Singapore Airlines

 

End of Week Eight

 

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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