“There is no human being from whom we cannot learn something if we are interested enough to dig deep.” Eleanor Roosevelt
Over 100 days ago, I set out on a journey to see the world. I experienced, learned, and observed more than I ever imagined; felt a lifetime of emotions; and enjoyed a diverse assortment of foods and drinks. I discovered spiritual beliefs, social taboos, and health practices. I witnessed political turmoil, pollution, and unbelievable traffic.
But what stood out the most was the sense of community everywhere we went. People are essentially the same… we have dreams, hopes, and an innate need for kindness. A smile is usually met with a smile. It’s easy to judge, but easier still to accept.
Our students rose to the Semester at Sea challenge. They grew in ways that defy words, and I truly believe they (we) will make the world a better place.
P.S. Thank you for reading and sharing this adventure with
me! Special thanks to my husband and (grown) children
who supported me every step of the way, and to
my supervisors and colleagues who made my absence
“If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry.” - Rachel Carson
As we left Morocco, I stood on the deck, enjoying the sea and the rain with all my senses. But the waters turned ever more turbulent, and our captain announced an unusual meeting - all 600+ passengers summoned to the main theatre for a special announcement that our itinerary had changed. Despite planning to end our voyage in Hamburg, Germany, we were headed to Lisbon, Portugal, due to a dangerous and unpredictable storm. Off we sailed, suddenly fitting final exams, celebrations, packing and disembarkation into fewer days than expected, but full of excitement and anticipation. As always, we were in the capable hands of our exceptional crew, and our final sea days went well.
Due to altered flights, many of us found ourselves with time on our hands, and a full day or more to explore Lisbon. It was both unexpected and delightful! A seaside city known for its history and Seven Hills, it is one of the oldest cities in the world. It charmed me with cobblestone streets, centuries-old cathedrals, beaches, castles, ruins, outdoor art, and colors. Spending time with my Semester at Sea friends, and enjoying a final glass of wine on yet another continent, made the adventure complete.
Next stop: Home
“Sweeping cobwebs from the edges of my mind / Had to get away to see what we could find”
- from Marrakesh Express, Graham Nash
If you imagine Morocco as a world frozen in time, with simmering spices, colorful carpets, and intriguing snake charmers, you would be partially right. It just depends on where you look. Over 5,000 years of history have contributed to its exotic personality, and its location on the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea only adds to its appeal.
Our prehistoric ancestors inhabited this area, followed by the indigenous Berbers, then settlers from Portugal, then Arab, Spanish and French colonialists. Independent for over 50 years, Morocco blends their cultural influences, and its official languages include Arabic, Berber and French. It was fun to see signs in all three, with little English in sight.
First stop: Rabat
A SAS friend remarked that Morocco’s capital city of Rabat is similar to Washington, D.C. with its wide avenues and government seat. It is also an ancient city with incredible architecture, marble and mosaics. My highlights included Dâr-al-Makhzen, or Royal Palace, the primary and official residence of the king and his family; the Chellah necropolis, which was built in the 14th century on the site of the ancient Roman city of Sala; the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, containing the tombs of past kings; Hassan tower, intended to be the world’s largest minaret (but construction stopped in 1199 upon the sultan’s death); and the Kasbah of the Oudayas, also built in the 12th century. Not only do I appreciate being able to throw in words like sultan, minaret and kasbah, but I also appreciate that old here really means old.
Second stop: Marrakesh
We got up early the next day to make the long bus trip from Casablanca to Marrakesh. You probably just started humming Crosby, Stills and Nash’s Marrakesh Express, and this tune will be stuck in your head all day. You’re welcome.
Marrakesh is the town that felt most frozen in time. It is a colorful world of souks and bazaars (both words mean market) with local crafts, leather goods, mosaic tiles, rugs and carpets, spices, and carvings. I purchased pure argan oil and for the price, got to try my hand at grinding the argan nut as the locals do it, still by hand.
We also spent time and dirham at Jemaa el-Fnaa, a huge public square filled with small merchants, vendors, musicians, and of course, entertainers: snake charmers and fez-topped monkey trainers. Despite my animal obsession, I did not patronize either of these, knowing that just snapping a photo would cost me money and recognizing the poor treatment of these little guys
Lastly, we were lucky to visit the Majorelle Gardens, famous for its artistic landscape and beautiful plant life. It was raining lightly, and I could have wandered around all day. My camera did not do it justice.
Fun Fact: The name Morocco means “country of the sunset”. I experienced not only a beautiful sunset but an incredible full rainbow on our drive back. (Bonus: successfully graded 120 essays!)
Third Stop: Casablanca
Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman fans will want to know if I visited Rick’s Cafe. There is a restaurant in Casablanca paying homage to the fictional bar, but we just saw it from the outside. There was also an historic medina and great landmarks, mosques and photo ops to be had, but my favorite memory of Casablanca will be our foodie experiences. The Central Market is frequented by locals and holds beautiful piles of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as seafood and spices. After enjoying the smells and colors there, we proceeded to a cooking studio to prepare our own lunch. The Carrefour Culinaires Ecole de cuisine et pâtisserie School featured only French-speaking chefs who instructed us on Moroccan specialties through our tour guide/translator. Our menu included saffron chicken, spicy olive relish, khobz (bread), traditional Moroccan salad, mint tea (the national drink), and pastries. We did not make the khobz or pastries, but I hope to make both when I get home!
Other foodie highlights: Morocco is well known for its tagine, a meat and vegetable stew-like dish that is slow cooked with spices such as saffron, parsley and ginger in a clay pot of the same name. We also had couscous, of course, sometimes cooked with onions and savory spices, other times tossed with almonds and dried fruit. Salads preceded our meals but instead of one tossed salad as you might expect in the U.S., we were served several small dishes, including eggplant, tomatoes and cucumbers, lentils, fermented cauliflower, etc. Best of all was the dessert we were served in two different restaurants: heaping bowls of fresh oranges and apples.
As we were driving back to the ship on our final day in country, I asked our tour guide what she would like Americans to know about Morocco. She said our women in particular would be very proud of them for their efforts at equal rights for women. She noted their current king is the first to marry a commoner and the first to allow his wife to be seen in public. She also noted this queen is involved in many activities that are fighting for fair treatment of women.
Next up: Portugal
Ghana is often considered one of the shining stars of Africa, with its achievements in democracy, peace, economic growth, and religious tolerance. It has a huge variety of ethnic groups and languages, not to mention geography that goes from coast to jungles. Sitting on the Gulf of Guinea, it’s also hard to ignore the heat and humidity!
Our trip began with a visit to Ghana’s coastal forts, not for the ocean views or salty air, but their disturbing history as home base to a slave trade that changed the world. Cape Coast had been the largest slave-trading center in West Africa, and the Cape Coast Castle (fort) has an imposing presence over the town and the sea. A UNESCO heritage site, it’s been restored to offer tours of the dark dungeons and cells, ending with a walk through the “door of no return”. A short distance away is another UNESCO heritage site, St. George’s Castle, or Elmina Castle, originally a trading post for the Dutch West India Company but later expanded to also hold and auction slaves. It was the worst day of the voyage, but necessary and impactful.
in business, land and healthcare decisions for their towns, and advocate for education, children’s welfare, and women’s rights.
Several meals in there included traditional Ghanaian dishes of fufu (pounded yam), cassava, plantains, taro leaves, jollof rice (stew with tomatoes, chicken and spiced), Red Red (bean and fish stew) and of course chocolate (Ghana is known for its cocoa!). One memorable lunch consisted of organic farm-to-table salads as well as plantains and a savory cassava chicken dish wrapped in a fresh banana leaf. Yum.
Another day, featuring a carefully planned bike trip, provided many stories to tell, both good and bad. The bikes were about 30 years old and rusty, but mostly functional with a few gears that worked off and on. Our request was a leisurely ride through villages for 2-3 hours then lunch. When we got our bikes our guide said he had a 23 km route planned out and it should take 3 hours. The first hill was so steep it took us 30 minutes to climb. Then steep downhill. Up, down, repeat - all on a rocky road with traffic. Then we reached the edge of town and turned onto a nature trail, meaning into the jungle, first on another dirt road then on a "single track" that is the width of the bike. Looking back now it's funny.
Finally, I had a field class in Tema for my Population and Food class, during which we have been discussing sustainable food production and habits all semester. We visited a local farm and got a personalized tour of their operation, which included environmentally-friendly planting, growing and fertilizing methods. On to a sustainable design studio that creates functional furniture, clothing and other items from repurposed rubbish, and uses its profits to promote education and literacy.
That takes me to my favorite question for my local hosts: What would you like Americans to know about your country? My Queen Mother companion answered without hesitation: “Ghana is a country of peace and beauty, and we are truly making an effort to improve our future by investing in education. If anyone wants to help Ghana or think about Ghana, they should know how much we value education and literacy”.
Education is neither eastern nor western. Education is education and it's the right of every human being.
– Malala Yousafzai
Next up: Morocco
“We accord a person’s dignity by assuming that they are good, that they share the human qualities we ascribe to ourselves.” – Nelson Mandela
If you haven’t thought about South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994 (or since you learned about it in history class), it’s time to take a closer look at this lovely nation. Its diversity is clear in both its geography and its culture, with 11 national languages! Did you know it has beaches, deserts, forests, farms, mountains, valleys, wetlands, and urban areas, both large and small? And a mix of native Africans along with Afrikaners of Dutch and German descent as well as immigrants from India, Asia and England?
First, a safari: Cheetahs! Lions! Elephants! Giraffes! Zebras! The guides and hosts were good stewards of both the environment and the wildlife, and we felt we were observing them without interfering.
Another must-see is Robben Island, a former leper colony that was a political prison during Apartheid; this is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned and one can still visit his cell and get a guided tour from a former prisoner or guard.
Semester at Sea also provided several opportunities to visit townships. Townships are living communities outside a town’s periphery, historically without indoor plumbing, electricity and even windows. Here is a SAS description: “Townships in South Africa came about as a result of apartheid city-planning policies. These policies excluded non-white people from living in the suburbs of the city. Families were forcibly moved to areas on the edge of the city, where they had to live in harsh conditions and cope with extreme poverty. Although apartheid may have ended in 1994 when all ethnic groups were allowed to vote, many people still face harsh conditions as a consequence of poverty. Despite these conditions, a strong sense of community, vibrancy, and faith fills the townships. There is a growing sense of hope as many redefine their futures.” Our visits provided an opportunity to see community gardens, anti-gang and anti-drug programs, dance troupes, an orphanage, schools, and daily life from the perspective of locals. It was inspiring to see brick houses being built to replace shanties with the help of state money, and entrepreneurs starting cafes with family collaboration.
A common theme throughout our stay was a dire water shortage. Let this be a lesson for the rest of the world. Climate change, increasing populations, development, and an administration distracted by politics. Sigh.
chakalaka (a vegetable, bean and spice dish), pap (a maize porridge), fish, curries, and yams with a variety of desserts such as malva pudding and melktert.
And then there was my foodie tour. Off we went to Stellenbosch, the second oldest town in South Africa, famous for its Dutch and Victorian buildings, its historic streets full of shops and cafes, its university, and hundreds of trees and flowers in full bloom (it’s just the beginning of fall here). Oh, and its food. We started at a local coffee company for fresh roasted brew cooked with chocolate and cardamom. Second was a stop at the local biltong shop with many varieties of this dried salted meat similar to jerky (but made from antelope). Next was lunch and wine at a refurbished mill that is a designated farm-to-table hot spot while quaint and friendly at the same time. Lastly, dessert at a locally owned café where they served us homemade nougat and cakes. It might have been a bit much but we walked at least 3,000 steps between stops, taking in the historical sights and people watching.
St. Pope John Paul II, who was a vocal opponent of apartheid, would be pleased with the progress that has been made in South Africa, and would likely encourage us all to continue to work towards dignity for all, as Nelson Mandela expressed so well.
Next stop: Ghana
“Nature is our eldest mother; she will do no harm.” - Emily Dickinson
After many days of classes and ship activities, our Semester at Sea family docked in Mauritius. This gorgeous African nation is in the middle of the Indian Ocean, 1000 miles off the continent’s coast and east of Madagascar. It is actually a republic of several islands. Tropics! Beaches! Lagoons! Coral! Dodos! No, not really, since these little guys are extinct, but there are tributes to dodo birds everywhere.
Mauritius is multicultural, multilingual, and multiethnic, and the United Nations has cited it as an outstanding example of how to handle diversity. We were here the day before Independence Day (they won freedom from the UK in 1968), and were lucky to observe colorful decorations and pre-festivities.
We ate lunch at a restaurant full of locals (always a good sign) and experienced a blend of Indian, Chinese and French cuisine. Chicken and pepper kabobs, Mauritian chicken stew, fried rice, paratha, pickled vegetables, and guava and mango juices, followed by tapioca and pistachio ice cream.
We spent the afternoon at the Vanille Reserve des Mascareignes, a former vanilla plantation that is now a nature preserve. It’s a tropical rain forest and home to giant tortoises, monkeys, lemurs, deer, bats, wild pigs, crocodiles and more. We were able to talk to the workers about conservation efforts, climate change, and the importance of biodiversity.
It was just one day, but a lovely one I will not forget!
Next stop: South Africa
Visiting India was a longtime goal of mine, and it didn’t disappoint. On the first day there, I saw elephants hanging out by the side of the road, goats roaming freely around town, and a lone steer making his way through the market stalls. Animals are usually the highlight of my day, so I could stop here, but there is so much more!
While some students, faculty and staff headed north to the Taj Majal on the other end of the country, many of us decided to stay in the state of Kerala, home to our port city of Cochin as well as an incredible history of architecture, religious diversity, socialism, plantations, markets, and the highest literacy rate in the world. Oh, and food unlike any I have seen in the U.S.
We began our trip with a visit to the original spice markets and pepper exchange. India has a strong history connected to the spice trade as well as serving as the original site of “black gold”, probably the freshest black pepper on earth. They say that Cochin pepper was found in mummies from 2500 BC and traded with the Portuguese as far back as 1341 AD. A stop at a spice store run by a women’s co-op topped off the outing; it was almost sensory overload with incredible scents, rows and rows of beautifully colored spices, and traditional Indian music playing in the background.
We kept up the spice theme with two separate outings to family homes for cooking demonstrations and lunch, complete with explanations of all the spices that were going into these traditional recipes. Kerala means “land of coconuts” and it seems there is a tree in just about every backyard. So, foods are cooked with lots of coconut oil, coconut scrapings, coconut flakes and coconut milk. Ginger, garlic, turmeric, coriander, curry leaves and green chilies were included in varying proportions in all of our dishes, which included chicken curry, vattals (dried vegetables), avial (mixture of veggies, yogurt, cumin and coconut), toran (root, stem and leaf of taro plant), pachady (side dish of melon, gourds and cucumbers), fish moilee (fish and tomato cooked in coconut milk), cabbage thoran (cabbage, lentils and curry leaves) and paladda payasam (rice, milk, sugar and ghee) for dessert.
Did I mention that curry is a mixture of spices and there are dozens of varieties? It’s not the simple spice we call curry in the West, but a blend of different amounts of turmeric, garlic, coriander, cumin, ginger and pepper, with varying degrees of colors and spiciness. In southern India, it is common to also use cardamom, mustard seed, and curry leaves. Yum!
A trip to the rural village of Nagala (the oldest village in India) took us to a local plantation where we were greeted with fresh coconuts (with straws to drink the cool water inside) and necklaces of jasmine flowers. Similar to the lei in Hawaii, it was a welcoming gesture with an amazing aroma. Thinking the plantation would be fields of one crop, I was happy to find out it was a family’s yard, about an acre of land filled with all the trees and plants they use daily for meals and snacks: mango, jackfruit, passion fruit, nutmeg, coriander, vanilla, ginger, etc. It turns out this is typical throughout the state and a point of pride; it made me want to go home and tear up my backyard to replace the grass with edible plants.
Another day we had the privilege of visiting St. Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity Center, one of over 600 missions throughout the world. This one is dedicated to taking care of girls and women with developmental disabilities. We were humbled and impressed with the care and love the nuns expressed, and enjoyed learning about volunteer opportunities stateside.
The busy part of Cochin offers malls and electronic shops and other modern nonsense, with rush hour traffic and expensive sari shops. A drive-through on the way to a different destination convinced me I didn’t need to spend time in yet another city. Instead, we spent hours exploring the smaller towns of Fort Kochi and Mattancherry, both dating back thousands of years. Highlights included the St. Francis Church (built 1503), Dutch Palace (built 1555), Jewish Synagogue (1568), shoreline of sand and vendors selling more reasonably priced clothes and trinkets, and Chinese fishing nets, or Cheenavala, which were introduced to Kochi between 1350 and 1450, and are still used today.
Lastly, a trip to India would not be complete without a ride in a Tuk Tuk, especially since it seems to be safer to be in one rather than trying to dodge them on the street. Although walking through back streets and neighborhoods was really a treat, especially when locals would wave and call out “Obama” when they saw us!
All in all, I fell in love with the landscape and coastline of this beautiful state, not to mention the many flavors and colors. When I asked a local restaurateur what he wanted Americans to know about India, he said the sentiment throughout Kerala is Namaskaran, loosely translated as “I am your servant”, “I want to welcome you”, and “I honor what you honor”.
Next stop: Mauritius
amusement park, and water park as I write. There is also an incredible mix of old and new. Huge centuries-old colonial buildings line some streets next to even older shops and homes. The streets are filled with buses, cars, bikes, motorbikes and dogs. There are traffic lights occasionally, but mostly we took our chances. I am told we are fortunate to be here during the “shoulder season” between the wet and dry seasons, when it is neither too hot nor too cold. It’s been in the 90’s (F) every day so I definitely will not be visiting in the hot season.
respectful in our observing and picture-taking, and were able to read about the dynasties who contributed items over the centuries - at the Shwedagon pagoda alone, there are 18 Buddha’s, a showroom, museum, and dozens of culturally significant trees, images, statues, ponds, prayer halls, and bells.
Daily Life In contrast to the trash and traffic, Yangon offers many beautiful parks, gardens, and lakes, as well as a zoo and soccer stadiums. I especially enjoyed walking through these and neighborhoods, seeing how the locals live and pass the time. Private schools and universities next to public schools and trade colleges. Middle class homes on cobblestone streets close to dirt soccer fields and dirt playgrounds. A consistent theme: smiles.
trading base for early 17th century Portuguese. A trishaw bicycle took us around town, where many local children ran out to wave, then to the local market where villagers shop for their daily meals. They may have smart phones and Nike sneakers, but they still maintain many traditions. Given the hot weather, it wasn’t surprising to see most women still wear long cotton skirts while the men wear longyi’s, a “manly” version of the same. Fun fact: I learned that if a man with a longyi is not adequately covered (with nothing underneath – remember it’s 100F), others may say to him “excuse me, sir, I see your department store is open on the weekends”.
Education We visited the Su Htoo Pan Monastic School, a small school run by monks that provides basic education and traditional Buddhist teachings for 200 students from 5 to 13 years old. The school is a residential facility for many students whose families cannot care for them, and it was fun seeing their energy and manners as they prepared for lunch, ate, and played together.
or fried pastry with a savory filling), and some kind of eggplant dish that everyone liked; I’ll have to look that up sometime. Another popular treat are the tea houses on every block where you can drink a type of chai tea sweetened with condensed milk. So far, so good with no food poisoning.
As we left Myanmar, I had many new ideas and discoveries, which will be in my mind as I keep up with current events and the progress of the democracy. I asked a local young man what he would like Americans to know about Myanmar today. He said they really appreciated President Obama’s visits in 2012 and 2016, and hope for a good relationship with the U.S.
Next stop: India
“It’s a very powerful Eureka! moment when you’re traveling: to realize that people don’t have the American dream. They’ve got their own dream. And that’s not a bad thing. That’s a good thing.” - Rick Steves
If there is a country with big dreams, it is Myanmar.
Colonized by the British in the 1800’s, Burma fought for its independence, finally granted in 1947. In the U.S., we often think of colonialization as a problem that ended in 1776, but it continues in many parts of the world. It’s a challenge, then, to establish a stable government, and Burma was no exception. Despite becoming a democratic-socialist state, a military junta later took over from the 1960’s until 2011. That’s when the country changed its name to Myanmar, because the Burmese are only 1 ethnic group, and there are actually 135! Can we imagine trying to be a democratic society with dozens of languages and cultures? They elected a democratic government in 2015 but there is still so much conflict that we westerners often only hear about that – the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas and brutal treatment of minorities.
We spent many hours learning about and reflecting on the situation, and recognize that visiting the country does not indicate support of the turmoil in any way. Our Semester at Sea voyage feels far removed from that; we docked close to Yangon and had the opportunity to meet locals, learn about their many traditions, and experience the other side of Myanmar.
I’m late in posting this blog because I somehow thought it was a good idea to give all of my midterms in a 2-day period: 90 papers, 360 essay questions. Plus each student’s reflection of the port. It’s been a treat reading them, but now on to blogging.
After the cold weather we experienced in Japan and China, we were happy to arrive in tropical southern Vietnam. We sailed into the Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) port among a variety of small fishing boats, all out to capture their dinner or market supplies. And what a surprise HCMC was – a big modern city with tall office buildings and banks, new malls, nice restaurants, and their own Time Square. Fanning out from there (which is the area they still call Saigon), the city becomes block after block of small shops and markets that seem to have been there for centuries. For a communist state, it sure has a huge number of mom and pop stores, selling everything on the sidewalk next to kindergarten-size tables and chairs to pause for a snack or drink. Diners and shoppers share the sidewalk with mopeds and nobody bats an eye. In a city of 7 million residents, we were told there are 7 million of these scooters. Crossing the street is an adventure, as the mopeds don’t stop, even at red lights. I found myself helping other international travelers cross the street, pretending to be confident and figuring there was safety in numbers.
I prepared for this port as always, by reading everything I could get my hands on and attending ship lectures, with the addition of watching Ken Burns’ Vietnam documentary. Vietnam has a storied history, and there are many sites to visit to reflect on the war with the U.S.: The War Crimes museum, the Cu Chi tunnels used by the Viet Cong, and the Reunification Palace. Other HCMC highlights included the Central Post Office (famous French architecture from colonial times), Dong Khoi Street, the Ben Thanh market, Cho Lon, and the Thien Hau temple. Outside the city, we were able to see proof that the nation is 45% forest; big, beautiful tropical trees filled the countryside, and getting there was a treat as we passed water buffalo, little villages, and rice paddies.
Now, on to the FOOD. Many people know that Vietnam is famous for pho, a delicious broth with chicken (or meat), seafood, vegetables, and lime. The country is also famous for its coffee, which has a nutty, almost chocolate taste. Their famous drink, Vietnamese coffee, is served with ice and condensed milk, a dessert in a cup! With just a week in country, I was able to enjoy not only pho and Vietnamese coffee but also com tam (rice with various spices), banh mi, spring rolls, elephant ear fish and so much other seafood I can’t list it all. There was also plenty of coconut water, mangoes, passion fruit, and dragon fruit. And lots and lots of fermented foods, oh so good for the gut - vegetables, fruit and fish.
The outdoor markets were impressively clean, with what seemed like miles of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood. When I say fresh, I mean there are rows of fish tanks, live frogs, and whole animal carcasses, ready to be taken home to eat that same day. Which brings me to our next culinary experience…
I led a cooking challenge field trip in which 25 of us SASers met with a chef from the Viet Nam Cookery Center. Having taught dozens of cooking classes in my life, I was happy to be a participant and couldn’t wait to see what she would have us do. 1st, we went to the open-air market, split into teams, and began a market race to buy produce we would need to make lunch. Off to her cooking center, where she demonstrated spring rolls, Vietnamese shrimp crepes, lotus stem salad, and 2 dipping sauces. Each team had to then go to their cooking station and recreate the dishes in an hour. The ingredients were authentic and fresh, and the results were incredible. We all came away with recipes and skills to cook Vietnamese food at home.
Lastly, and my favorite activity of this port, we left the inner city and visited a family in the Thu Duc neighborhood: a grandmother, her son and daughter-in-law, and their 3-year old son. The 3 generations live together as is custom, and the grandmother’s other children came to visit with us as well. Not only did they welcome us into their home but also taught us traditional cooking, and together we created a delicious Vietnamese dinner. Lots of conversation followed over tea and fruit; they shared their insights on traditions, education, religion, careers, and families, and I felt like I knew more about daily life. We also toasted the new Year of the Dog with them!
I asked the young parents what they would like my friends and family in the U.S. to know about them. They said Vietnam might not be the cleanest or fanciest country in the world, but it has the nicest people :)
Next stop: Myanmar
I greeted China with a mix of skepticism and enthusiasm. Growing up intrigued by, yet apprehensive about, China, I didn’t know if I’d see a bleak picture of communistic oppression or a thriving society of high achieving students and colorful celebrations. Ultimately, I came away with a sense that the Chinese are much like me: individuals each with their own love of family, value of friends, goals for success, appreciation for food, and efforts to juggle work, play, and the commute or transition between the two. I can’t possibly summarize all I have learned about its politics, economy, or environmental challenges, so I’ll focus on my little glimpse into their world.
Shanghai was our first stop, a huge city of 24 million people. To put that into context, that is roughly 3 times the size of Chicago. Since food is the most important reason to explore a new city, I will tell you that I enjoyed sesame rice balls, rice-wrapped seaweed, spicy noodles with raisins, shrimp dumplings, spring rolls, shrimp-fried rice, and spicy chicken (served whole with skin and bones). My fellow travelers ate a variety of pork dishes (they eat more pork than beef or chicken in China) – pork dumplings, buns, balls, and rice dishes. Shanghai is also home to the world’s largest Starbucks. Just saying.
provides us with healthcare, housing, and pensions; we are growing and have more information and more freedom than before. We are happy.”
and Traditional Chinese Medicine. It was incredible and the students were able to relate it back to my class lectures. :)
Next, grocery shopping with the locals. That means 3 square blocks of outdoor market: one part covered, dusty and pungent, with animals and seafood, every body part available for purchase; the other part uncovered, dusty and aromatic, with more colors and shapes of fruits and vegetables than most of us knew existed.
Then lunch at a popular Dim Sum restaurant, with huge round tables that sat 10 people but more importantly had a 3-feet diameter lazy susan in the middle heaped with dumplings with every kind of filling – seafood, vegetables, meat. Also several soy dishes – grilled soy cakes, fermented tofu, soy pudding, all better than they sound and certainly better for you than the processed soy protein additives in the US. And Coke. That’s been a consistent theme throughout China – Coke served everywhere with every meal. :(
Today we arrived in the cosmopolitan port city of Kobe, Japan. Our ship settled in next to the waterfront Meriken Park, a beautiful area strikingly new next to intentional ruins left to document the destructive earthquake of 1995. We were greeted by a Japanese symphony playing a medley of Carpenter tunes and freezing temperatures.
Once through immigration, I left the port with a cast of 30 characters – students and a few fellow faculty/staff members to explore the city of Osaka, led by our tour guide Mrs. Asako. She was a knowledgeable, energetic woman who, it turned out, had the patience of a saint when I lost two of our group members (but more on that later). She took the time to explain Japanese history, words and culture, and invited us to call her Asako-san, an honorific yet familiar title.
x at a certain time - but when that time arrived, we huddled and fidgeted in the cold waiting for said lost students. Fortunately they did arrive, though 30 minutes late, and we were able to thaw inside with an amazing dinner of yakisoba (noodles and vegetables), squid legs, and okonomiyaki (seafood-filled pancake); I was spared the beef tongue. A long walk to the train station and then to the ship topped off our trip and reinforced to me why I saw not one overweight Japanese person.
Day 2 took me to Arashiyama Monkey Park, a preserve for the native snow monkey, where hundreds roam freely. Our day continued with a visit to the zen temples, tea houses, and gardens, followed by a shojin-ryori (traditional Buddhist cuisine) lunch. This included steamed gluten wrapped in bamboo leaves, simmered burdock, spicy konnyaku jelly, simmered Japanese yam, pickled radish, canola flower with vinegared miso, sesame tofu with wasabi, spicy lily bulb, taro pulp ball with ginger, and a soy milk hot pot of cabbage, millet, leek, mugwort and lotus root cake. Fortunately this was followed by a long walk through the bamboo groves and Okochi Mountain Villa.
Day 3 was spent in Kobe with two goals: visit the sake brewery and eat sushi. We started with a cup of coffee while petting owls at an owl café, followed by walking blocks and blocks of the longest shopping streets I have ever seen. Shops of Kobe beef stood next to octopus markets, sock stores, and umbrella shops. We worked up an appetite and munched on ramen and miso soup, then began our quest for sake. After walking for hours (and enjoying the sites), a kind Japanese woman saw us looking at our map and asked if she could help. When we said we were heading to the sake brewery, and she replied “long way!” with a gasp, we threw in the towel and headed to a rooftop café instead. We could see the whole city while we sipped rosemary lemonade so it was a nice alternative. We didn’t get sake or sushi but fell in love with Kobe.
Day 4 I decided to stay in Kobe again, as there was much to see and do! By now I was able to say hello,
I was lucky enough to run into Asako-san again on day 5 before reimbarking. I asked her what she would like people to know about Japan. She said it is important to the Japanese to care for each other, to be educated, and to be respectful, and that peace is the most important thing.
Those are great sentiments as we set sail again.
Next up: China
“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” - Jacques-Yves Cousteau
Greetings from just off the coast of Japan! After ten days at sea, I have a new appreciation for the sky. While I have always been a big fan of sunrises and sunsets (who isn’t?), I never experienced so many opportunities to see unending darkness turn gradually to light, or the light of day fade magically to dark. The blackness fills with stars and I imagine early explorers in their little boats – how did they do it? I am not so brave.
The ocean has been kind to us and our captain is an experienced mariner with a great sense of humor and an even better sense of navigation. He has steered us around huge storms, so my title, Fifty Foot Waves, was something we averted (I just used it to capture your attention). We have had a few rain showers and cold weather. Eating and working on the deck now find us all with our Semester at Sea sweatshirts and hot tea, and computers carefully anchored so they don’t blow away. As for stowaways, we occasionally see birds, which means there is land out past the horizon or these friends are hiding somewhere in the upper decks.
Tomorrow, land. More adventures await.
Many students tried poke for the first time, and explained how it reflects the history and culture of Hawaii. For my part, I had never eaten it either, and am usually not a raw fish fan, but enjoyed a poke bowl of raw ahi tuna and seaweed on a bed of rice with soy sauce. Yum! Pineapples, sweet potatoes, poi and kalua pork are commonly consumed by locals, and our guide described how they differ in taste depending on where, when and how they are prepared. Spam is also a staple of local menus, both in restaurants and at home, thanks to its history as an inexpensive, shelf-stable protein introduced by American military troops during WWII. We could truly observe the rich cultural and culinary influences of Asia and the Polynesian islands.
Other students shared their trip to a fishery, where Hawaiian fishermen have created a sustainable method for capturing herbivore fish, giving them access to algae to eat and grow with low impact on the oceans and little waste. Another student explained how Hawaiians have taken the expression “take only what you need” and changed it to “take only what the land and seas can provide”, with a nod to consuming less and recognizing diminishing resources. They were all excited to see that Hawaii is embracing the farm to table philosophy and whole animal butchery which are coming back into favor throughout the U.S.
Tonight, cooked fish for me and lots of wonderful memories.
Next stop: Japan
As we sail across the Pacific Ocean, we begin our regular class schedule. Like most faculty here, I am teaching 3 courses, and excited to get out of my comfort zone of the courses I’ve been teaching for over 10 years.
On this voyage, my new courses are:
Next up: Hawaii
Ahoy mates! The Semester at Sea adventure begins as do most new experiences: with initial feelings of nervousness followed by excitement.
cooking, cleaning, and laundry, not to mention helping with classroom set up, computers, and oh yes, driving this thing.
Is there a midnight buffet? Fair question but no! It looks like a cruise ship but functions much like a college campus, with 2 dining halls that have set schedules along with a snack bar and restaurant when additional food and drinks are desired.
What is most memorable so far? Every time I look out a window I catch my breath – ocean as far as the eye can see in every direction. Sunrise and Sunset are awesome.
What is the biggest challenge so far? Trying to balance and hold yoga poses while the ship is constantly swaying. Or maybe it’s just me. Also, technology is my daily stressor but it can only get better from here.
Thanks for reading! More to follow as the internet allows.