Mexico . Hawaii . Japan . China . Hong Kong . Vietnam . Cambodia . Thailand . India . Egypt . Turkey . Croatia . Spain . Florida

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -- Mark Twain

MV Explorer

MV Explorer
Join me as I go around the world in 100 days aboard this ship!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Japan. Wow, I don’t even know where to begin. I absolutely loved this country and its culture, more than words could ever describe. The people are what made Japan so special; I felt really drawn to them. The Japanese people are such genuinely kind, respectful, and appreciative people. I love how they bowed upon meeting us. I found it interesting how many Americans (especially teenage boys) raise their heads and say “hey” to someone when passing by them in the hallway, almost in an arrogant fashion. Japanese people are the opposite. They bow their heads in humility, out of respect for the person they meet. They lower themselves, rather than acting as if they are above the other person. This kind and simple act was very symbolic to me. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that every Japanese person would go out of their way to help us, no matter what it was we needed. They would drop everything to take us somewhere when all we asked for were directions. We had someone whom we had just met accompany us to the temple and then invite us for some tea and ice cream. He then welcomed us into his house so we could use the internet, and we exchanged contact information to stay in touch.

Something else I admired about the Japanese was that they led incredibly healthy, low-stress lifestyles. They are definitely doing something right. They have the highest life expectancy in the world. They also have the second highest economy in the world right after the US, yet they are merely 4% of the size of the US. Now when I look at Americans, myself included, I’m going to see us through a different lens. I want to acquire some of the qualities I admire in the Japanese and put them to use back home in the States. I love their sense of fashion, especially the street fashions found in the famous Harajuku District of Tokyo. Miss Gwen Stefani put Harajuku on the map for Westerners when she came out with the Harajuku Girls (her four Japanese backup dancers a.k.a. Love, Angel, Music, and Baby). Although there was some controversy surrounding her using the girls, I am still a fan of their unique style. I did some shopping in Harajuku and bought a nautical sailor outfit and some plaid Catholic schoolgirl socks. The Japanese men had such unique hairstyles with wild highlights, and all the young men I saw on the subway looked so intellectual and professional with their business suits. I found them attractive, even though I’m typically not attracted to Asian men. I guess intelligence is a very important quality to me—it’s what gets you ahead in life. Here is a picture of two girls in Osaka dressed up in funky fashions.

Another observation I made was that everyone had really large cell phones. I was wondering why big cell phones were popular since smaller electronic gadgets were more preferable in the US. Then I realized that everyone was watching TV and movies on their cell phones, flipping the screens around. I was really impressed with the high-tech gizmos of Japan.

Well, enough with the rattling on and on about how much I love Japan. I will tell you about my personal experiences in the five days I was in the fabulous country. I know I said I would try to keep it short, but there is just sooo much to write about, that I will never be able capture everything! As soon as I stepped off the ship, I was in awe of everything around me. It was all so different, including the side of the road on which people drove their cars. After taking in all the new things around me and getting past the surrealism of being in my very first port country, I went with my group to exchange our Japan rail passes. We then took the train into Tokyo, which soon became my favorite international city (along with Rio de Janeiro, Brazil). I can definitely see myself living there in the future. The minute I arrived in Tokyo, my senses were flooded with new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures. Everything was so colorful and vibrant. It reminded me a lot of New York City, except it had quite a bit more sex shops, strip clubs, and stores that sold Japanese animé porn! Later that night we went to Shibuya, a thriving nightclub district where the locals party. Shibuya was like the Times Square of Tokyo, with bright, colorful lights and giant plasma billboards everywhere. We went to a club called Gas Panic and a karaoke bar. Karaoke originated in Japan, so it is huge over there.

Our lodging of choice—after much dispute—was a capsule hotel. These are famous in Japan, and often times, businessmen will stay in one of these if they miss a plane or train or for a quick nap. A couple people in our group were scared to sleep in a capsule because they were claustrophobic, but it really wasn’t as small as one would think when they hear the word capsule. It wasn’t like a coffin or tanning bed; it was actually tall enough for me to sit up, and there was a TV inside. Here is a picture of what they looked like.

The second day we went to the Asakusa Temple, one of eastern Japan’s oldest temples. I got my fortune read by picking a number and then pulling a piece of paper out from under that number. The paper said that I would have high and excellent fortune, but everyone else in my group received a bad fortune!

Later that day, we went to a Sumo wrestling match, which I was really pleased with. It looks just like it does on TV, if not better. We had really good floor seats, so I got a close-up view of the wrestlers' bare butts!

Then we went to the Imperial Palace, the Harajuku District, and then took a bullet train (Shinkansen) to Hiroshima. I love the public transportation in Japan; it’s one of the most reliable I have ever seen. The bullet trains travel up to 160 miles an hour and come quite frequently. It took about three hours to get to Hiroshima, and it’s in the opposite end of the country. This is what the bullet trains looked like... pretty high-tech, huh? It looks like an airplane without wings.

I had pizza, sea urchin sushi, and sake for dinner and then went to sleep at a Manga Café, which is basically an internet café with beds and showers. It’s a brilliant idea that the US should adopt. The rooms are small cubicles that consist of a computer, TV, DVD player, and cot. Unlimited internet is included in the price.

The next morning we went to the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, where we saw the A-bomb dome. This dome is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of the only structures in Hiroshima that survived the explosion of the world’s first atomic bomb. The skeletal structure of the dome remained intact, as you can see in the picture.

We also went to the Peace Museum, a very sobering experience in and of itself. The graphic pictures of civilians with their skin falling off and their faces disfigured from the detonation of the atomic bomb brought tears to my eyes. The radiation emitted from the bomb had long-lasting effects on the people, causing deformed babies and cancer for years to come. I couldn’t believe my country was cruel enough to decimate an entire city when there were alternative solutions. Hiroshima was a much more horrendous act than Pearl Harbor was.

After we saw the depressing, but eye-opening museum in Hiroshima, we took a bullet train to Kyoto, where my friend Keeley and I dressed up as maikos, very similar to geishas. Here is a picture of me in the traditional attire. The whole experience took almost two and a half hours!

Then we went to the Gion Corner to watch some Japanese performances of Gagaku music, Bunraku puppet theatre, a tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and maiko dance performance.

The next morning I took an early bullet train to Kobe where the ship was now docked. I got some lunch on the ship and freshened up before meeting up with two of my Japanese friends Aki and Megumi at Sannomiya train station. Aki’s dad drove us to Arima hot springs. Something I found interesting was that I had to cover my tattoos with bandaids because tattoos symbolized the Japanese mafia. The whole public bathhouse experience was a very unique one in which I had to go outside my comfort zone. Everyone is completely naked in front of each other in the steaming hot water; it was a bonding experience. We had to rinse off in the shower before entering each of the baths. I found myself more comfortable being naked in front of the Japanese women than I did in front of my American friends. Two of my American friends and I decided to take a shower together in the nude the night we stayed at the capsule, and it was so embarrassing for me! I’m not sure why I get so shy when it comes to being naked in front of other women. The Japanese women aren’t very judgmental, although I did get a couple stares. They weren’t bad stares, though; they ended up complimenting me on my skin and my figure (Japanese women don’t really have curves).

After a nice long soak in the natural hot springs, we came back to the ship to get ready for a night out on the town. Aki wanted to show us her hometown of Osaka. We had dinner at a cool restaurant where they cooked Japanese omelets in front of us on our table, and then we went to a photo booth to get cute stickers made. These photo booths are really popular in Japan and are much more high-tech than the ones in the States. We ended up staying there for a long time and got too tired to go out to a club! We decided to go back to Kobe to sleep on the ship so that we wouldn’t have to pay for a hostel.

The next morning, I went with my friends to Osaka once again (the luxury of having a rail pass!). We went to the 100 Yen store, which is basically the equivalent of our Dollar Stores, and I bought some home decorating stuff, all for less than $1 each. I bought a paper lantern, a folding fan, a wall banner, a reed window screen, etc. Then I ate some delicious takoyaki, or octopus pancake balls, for lunch, before parting with my friends to go to Himeji Castle on my own. Himeji is the biggest castle in Japan and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. By mere coincidence, I ran into some people I had seen earlier at Hiroshima Peace Park. They saw me on the street and recognized me, so I ended up hanging out with them at the castle… what a small world!

Finally, I had to go back to the ship in Kobe because it was time to say goodbye to Japan. I was so sad to leave, but it was definitely a good first country to go to! I have to say, I started my Semester at Sea off on the right foot!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Destination: Honolulu, Hawaii

Today, Sunday, September 2, 2007, we arrived at our very first port of call, Honolulu. It was my first time in Hawaii, and I really enjoyed myself. However, I do wish we could have spent more time there. I wanted to do so many things (visit Pearl Harbor, hike up Diamond Head crater and Nu’uanu Pali Lookout, go to a luau, etc.), but there just wasn’t enough time. After clearing customs and making our way off the ship, we had less than eight hours to enjoy Hawaii. I hadn’t made any solid plans for the day, but I had bought a One Day Go Oahu pass from a friend on the ship, which I ended up not using.

I woke up around 6am and went to the deck to watch the sunrise. We hadn’t seen land for five days straight, so it was really cool to wake up and see that we were already docked in Honolulu. I took some pictures of the harbor, had breakfast, and then went through immigration. Even though we were going to another state in the U.S., we still had to go through immigration because we were coming from a Mexican port. You can imagine how long it takes for 700 students and faculty to go through the process. No one is allowed off the ship until everyone is cleared. We docked in Honolulu around 5:30am, but we didn’t actually get off the ship until after 10am! It was very frustrating as we waited in anticipation to explore the sandy beaches of Hawaii. There were people anxiously waiting to go skydiving, shark diving, waterfall diving, scuba diving, and any other kind of diving you can think of! Patience was something we all were lacking.

Once we got off the ship, I met up with a girl from the ship named Beth, and we decided to go snorkeling at Hanauma Bay. It took us a while to figure out what bus would take us there, and after asking endless amounts of people and wasting almost an hour to find the right bus stop, we finally made it there. It was kind of embarrassing since we were still in America and still having a hard time getting around! Many of the locals were giving me compliments and asking where I was from. They must have assumed that I was a native Hawaiian like them! We were having so much fun striking up random conversations with anyone and everyone who crossed our paths; it helped us learn more about the Hawaiian culture. It was interesting to see a lot of Japanese tourists in Hawaii; most signs were written in both English and Japanese.

We finally arrived at our snorkeling destination, Hanauma Bay, and the view was dazzling—the turquoise water glistened in the sunlight, while the palm trees swayed in the breeze. I felt as if I came straight out of a Corona commercial or a picturesque scene from a Jimmy Buffet song. I just wanted to lie in a hammock under the palm trees and sip Piña Coladas all day, but I had a full day ahead of me.After watching a brief safety video, Beth and I got our snorkeling gear and set off for two hours of underwater exploring. I saw many different kinds of tropical fish and colorful marine life. A Hawaiian guy near me saw a sea turtle and called me over there, but it was gone by the time I got over there. This guy was really interesting, though. He picked up seashells and hermit crabs the bottom of the ocean and kept giving them to me. He let me touch a sea urchin, too. The snorkeling was really fun, except the waves kept pushing me onto the coral reef, which scratched up my ankle. It was all worth it, though, because I had a really cool lifeguard clean it up and bandage it for me!
After two long hours of snorkeling, we became very hungry, so we took the public bus back towards Waikiki Beach. We met some locals who told us about Rainbow Drive-In, a local hot spot with authentic Hawaiian food, including plate lunches. One of the locals got off the bus with us and led us to the restaurant. Beth and I shared a mixed plate, which consisted of barbeque beef, boneless chicken, mahi mahi fish, macaroni salad, and rice. It was so delicious! I couldn’t tell if it was because I was really hungry or if I was getting tired of the ship food, but I completely devoured it. Something I found funny was that they charged extra money for everything. They charged for the cups of water, which I understood, but then I asked for an extra plate so we could split the food, and they said, “That would be ten cents.”

After eating our delightful Hawaiian cuisine, Beth and I parted ways. She needed to pick up some things from Wal-Mart and make some phone calls. I wanted to be in the water some more, so I walked to Waikiki Beach. On my way, I stopped at a hotel to ask the receptionist where I could get a lei, and he just gave me a live orchid one for free! Ahh, aren’t Hawaiians so sweet?!

Then I went to a place where I could ride an outrigger canoe, but was told the canoes weren’t going out anymore for the day. The guy at the shop felt bad because I told him I was in Hawaii for only one day, so he took me out on a long board to catch some waves instead. We went tandem surfing, which was something I had never heard of. He was behind me on the board, and I had to wrap my legs around him while we paddled in sync. It was an awkward position at first because his face was right in my butt! Whenever a wave would come, he would push me into it and hold the board while I stood up. The first time I did this, my whole bikini top (as itty bitty as it was) moved to the side, and I flashed everyone! I was a little insecure at first because I wasn’t wearing the appropriate bathing suit for surfing, and I had to keep readjusting myself when I stood up, which would make me lose my balance and fall. After a couple waves though, I started getting the gist. This was basically my first time surfing, and I rode a wave all the way down without falling off. The only other time I tried surfing was in Ocean City, New Jersey, but the waves were really small. It’s kind of ironic that I live in Malibu, but never went surfing there. Now I can finally say I rode the waves of Waikiki!

After hitting the surf, I saw some fellow SASers on the beach. They were telling me all about their exhilarating skydiving experience and showing me the pictures. Then I decided it was time to have some drinks. I went to a place called Cabana’s Pool Bar at a hotel, and a guy from the Navy bought me a mai tai. He was telling me about his experience with submarines in the Navy, and he just so happened to go to school at Purdue University in Indiana. I had to cut our conversation short so that I wouldn’t miss the sunset at Waikiki Beach. Before I left, he gave me a teddy bear that he had won a couple nights ago. He wanted me to have it to remember him and my time in Hawaii.

Finally, I was on my way back to the beach to watch the sunset. As dusk approached, I got some magnificent shots of the beautiful golden sun as it disappeared into the horizon of royal blue water. Then I made my way back to the place where I went surfing earlier because the instructor had told me to come back later that evening so we could catch some more waves. I got there too late, however, and the shop was closed. That didn’t stop me from getting in the water, though. I just loved the warm waters of Hawaii; the beaches in California are definitely not as warm. I ended up surfing with another random surfer guy that was nearby in the water. He pushed me onto some waves, but they were fairly small.

I realized that it was getting late, so I headed back to the bus stop to get to the ship. One of the shop workers named Maui led me to the bus stop, and I picked up some shell leis and a t-shirt from one of the ABC stores along the way. After waiting more than 15 minutes for the bus to come, I decided it would be better to take a cab to make it back to the ship on time. I definitely did not want to get dock time! I hailed a cab and went back to Aloha Tower, where the ship was docked. The cab ride cost me almost $20 since I was riding it by myself. I wish I was with someone else while roaming around the streets of Hawaii, but maybe next time. So I made it back to the ship without getting dock time, which was a relief. Some of the students got kicked out of the program for trying to sneak alcohol onto the ship.

Overall, my one day in Hawaii was fabulous. I definitely want to go back there so I can explore more of Oahu, as well as Maui and the big island. Well, I’m sorry for the huge novel. Next time, I will try to be more succinct, but there’s just so much to say!

All Aboard the MV Explorer

Hello, my wonderful blog readers. I am very sorry, once again, that it took me so long to write. I’m sure you’ve all been patiently waiting to hear about life aboard the giant floating university. I have a really hard time getting myself to write in my journal—I keep procrastinating. I always tell myself I will write at the end of the day before I go to bed, but the minute I get back to my room, I end up passing out because I’m so exhausted. The rocking of the ship makes me really sleepy, and I guess I am constantly using all these muscles that I never use in order to keep myself balanced, which makes me even more tired.

Well, let me try to give you a brief recap of my first couple days on the ship and the days leading up to it. I flew out to San Diego from New York on August 23rd and stayed at the Sheraton, the official hotel for Semester at Sea, for two nights. We had dinner at a really nice restaurant in downtown La Jolla named Jack’s and visited some fun places, including the San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, and Hotel del Coronado.

Before long, the moment for which I’d been anxiously waiting had finally arrived. It was time to embark the ship. I was filled with excitement and anticipation. I had a lot of mixed emotions since I wasn’t sure about the type of people that I would encounter on the ship. I was concerned about whether or not I would be able to make a lot of friends and was feeling a little bit apprehensive. I was sad to be leaving some people behind, even though I’m not the type to get homesick. I have a hard time saying goodbye to people and places, whether they are familiar or not. As a little kid, no matter where I went, I never wanted to leave. We could be at a friend’s house for dinner, and I wouldn’t want to say goodbye to my friend and go home. I would get really sad and ask if I could stay the night there. I don’t know where I get that from. Maybe I have attachment issues from my childhood? That is the psychology major in me coming out, trying to analyze myself. Hey, at least I acknowledge it. Most people would never admit it and put themselves out there like that.

Anyway, to my surprise, once I boarded the ship, I was pleased to find out that most of the people were really nice and not high-strung or stuck up as I thought they might be. Only the work study students were on the ship for the first two days, so we developed a bond and got to know each other before everyone else came onto the ship. I felt as though I could really get along with most of the work study students. It was a pretty diverse group of people, but we had a lot in common with each other, especially financial need. For that reason, I felt I could relate to them.

On the first day we had an introductory meeting, and that was about it. We found out that over 250 students had applied for work study, but only 25 students were selected. We were a very lucky bunch, to say the least. On the second day, we got our job assignments and had to prepare for the next day when all the students would arrive. I got my job assignment, which is in the IT department, aka the Geek Squad, with five other people. My job is to help people get connected to the wireless internet and help them configure their computers to the public network and printers. Unfortunately though, we don’t get free unlimited internet access, even as a worker. We all get 250 free minutes for the entire voyage, and once those are gone, we have to buy additional minutes for $0.40 a minute, which is very expensive. Thus, I have decided to type my blog on Microsoft Word, save it onto a flash drive, and then upload it online at a cyber café in the port cities. It is much more economical that way. Just bear in mind, the date the blog is posted is not the same date that I am writing the blog. Anyway, I really like my job assignment because I’m a big computer geek. We have one of the most laid back jobs, as well; we only have to work three hours a day in the computer lab, and we can work on homework, write in our blogs, or anything else we feel like doing.

During one of our meetings, we found out that one of the Lifelong Learners on our voyage, a 91-year-old former Navy chief, decided to give each of the 25 work study students a $500 scholarship that would be credited to our shipboard accounts. We could use it for whatever we wanted, shipboard expenses, spending money in ports, anything. This was such great news to hear—I couldn’t believe someone would be that generous to donate $12,500 to us out of his pocket. We had a private dinner with him later on in the week to meet and thank him in person.

Finally, we departed San Diego on the night of August 25th and set off for Ensenada, Mexico, where all the students would take shuttles and meet the ship the next morning. I had to work in the gangway, directing the students where to go. I had the best job for arrival day because I was the first face the students would see when they walked aboard the ship for the first time; it was up to me to leave a good, lasting first impression.