Monday, December 1, 2008

Sometimes the Middle Gets Old

Yes, the middle of the ocean is beautiful. It looks like blue Easter egg dye was poured in the saltiness churning against the ship’s bow. But after nearly two and a half weeks the blue gets old and the boat gets very small. The three blocked dining times are the highlights of the day. We eat, sleep, workout… I’m not complaining, but I do miss the good old U.S. So in respect for America, here are the things I miss…

-       Lying on a couch.

-       Sundays.

-       Going out to eat.

-       Good fresh food

-       Taking a walk.

-       Autumn.

-       Not paying for Internet.

-       The people I love at home.

-       Solid ground.

This sure isn't jersey because... the Garden "Staters" are using the next weeks to soak up final drops of sun and the Californians just don't understand.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


            The train came to the end of the track. I guess that was our stop. We had arrived in Arima Onsen with no plans or reservations, just wanting to eat good food and relax in the Kobe suburb’s famous hot springs. Despite not having any idea what we were doing it turned out to be the smoothest traveling of the entire trip.

            We walked into the closest hotel… and it was perfect. We slid back bamboo and paper-screen doors and fell into our fluffy futon beds. A pot of hot green tea sat waiting on the black table six inches off of the floor. 

            Dinner fell into our laps just as easily. The only restaurant still open was a little bar that could barely squeeze ten people. Two couples filled the only two tables and the bar seats had diners. After seeing our disappointed faces three of them prematurely left just out of courtesy… incredible.

            Everything was written in characters. The cook stood right behind the bar. No one understood us. The only thing we could do was point to the vegetables and noodles prepped on the chef’s counter and smile. He whipped us up four amazingly bizarre combos of noodles… parmesan and roe, scallions and garlic etc etc.

This sure isn’t jersey because… the hot springs were on the sixth floor with no bathing suits allowed. 

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hola, Bonjour, Namaste or Arigato

In a little bright room I clasped hands with a 4-year old and a 60-year old man. We were part of a big circle dancing to Asian music. It was a Friday-night Hippo family meeting. The Hippo foundation is an organization that began in Japan as a method to teach young Japanese to speak English. In a few years it incorporated Spanish and Korean. Decades later, as I stood in the Kobe meeting room with my home-stay mom Hiromi, the members spoke over ten languages.

            The point of the Hippo family is not to have teachers and tests but to have an interactive multilingual environment. Some members start young and others join later but everyone participates in the same activities, from dancing and singing to mimicking audiotapes. The games were beyond goofy. But even though I couldn’t keep a straight face the 15 or so members were actually learning. They all could fluently speak at least three languages and could introduce and explain themselves in the eight others.

            When they want to use their language in a real-life situation they apply to live with a host family abroad… or let a foreigner, like me, stay in their home. At “sharing time,” Hiromi read from her journal what she had learned during our time together- that you can “sprinkle” salt on something and you “hit the road” when it's time to go.


This sure isn’t Jersey because… Hiromi uses whitening lotion and thinks the concept of tanning beds is hilarious. 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Tourist Wall

My eyes were half open as our tour guide Lee gave us a history on Chinese culture. I propped my head up and saw something winding up the mountain in front of us. Right off of the highway there it was- the Great Wall. It snaked its way up to either side of us, broken by the highway leading out of Beijing.
The wall was packed with people from all over the world. We were two hours from the city center but the spot was a complete tourist trap. It took us two hours to climb up the uneven stone steps of the wall. But as we got closer to the highest tower the crowd thinned and snowflakes started floating down on us. 
At the last tower I slipped my way up the eroded steps to the second floor. I finally felt sure that the hike was worth it. The Chinese graffiti etched in the stone meant that hundreds of others, probably thousands, had felt the same way.

This sure isn’t jersey because… the tour ended with a hot spring bath that “released the gore and dissolved liver fat.”

Friday, October 31, 2008


            The Mekong was once, not that long ago, a site of brutality that was inflicted on many innocent Vietnamese. Hundreds of boats selling fruits and vegetables along the delta were homes to people who were directly affected by the war. Yet when I boarded the wooden boat that propelled by the hundred others, I saw faces of warmth and gratitude, not bitterness. And the home that the boat brought us to was full of similarly beautiful people.

            Smaller paddleboats, no wider than two and a half feet, snaked us through the reeds to our sleeping quarters while our large grass hats caught the impact of the rainy season. We hoisted ourselves up to the porch of our host's stilted, turquoise home. This man was amazing. He lent us a room of tented cots, a porch with six quiet hammocks and a pre-dinner performance with his extended family… who all stayed in the home with us.

 After the sun set his family strolled out from their rooms with a guitar, a sitar-like instrument and a very small but very loud wooden clicker. After five traditional songs, including a Vietnamese “rap” about the fruits and vegetables of the Mekong, they played Old-Langsyne so that we could sing something for them.

            And then there was dinner. Sitting cross-legged on bamboo mats, we followed the lead of our host and pulled pieces of elephant fish off of the skewered animal that stared at us from the floor. We passed around plates of Thai basil, cucumbers and hot soy sauce and heaped them on rice paper that were quickly rolled up and inhaled. The dessert of pineapple and jackfruit picked from the trees out back were just as delectable.

This sure isn’t Jersey because… the host of the house didn’t have a last name, only the number ten to signify his place in the family.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Highly Contagious

            If you’ve had a bad day and need to remember the big picture… and own a jet, I highly recommend visiting Penang, Malaysia. There is no stress, no problems, just love for others. The people on the island of Lankawi, which is a three-hour ferry ride from Penang, understand the flow. They understand that everyone is human, that there’s every reason to respect that and every reason to do nothing but enjoy themselves because of it.

            Sitting around the Submarine Beach Bar on my second night I realized that the Malaysian mentality is contagious. An old Brit at the bar, Paul, visited Malaysia as a twenty-year-old and now was here to stay. With his war pension it is cheaper for him to travel around the islands with his girlfriend (who he met on these travels) than go stale in the UK. He told me that those “lazy jobless bastards” he used to look down on are actually the “clever ones.” And thank the lord he’s now one of them.

            At the swivel stool next to me was a different beautiful story- Jade. She’s a ten-year-old girl that everyone at the bar took care of. I wish I could explain how this isn’t a disturbing situation, but have some faith. She’s home-schooled by her Italian mother and she’s far beyond her years. Within 10 minutes I loved her like family and understood why her friends were bar-goers that quadrupled her in age. Restrictions on friendship are a cultural rule. People like Jade infect people like Paul with values that matter. She treated me like she knew me her entire life, and why not. I now wear her wish bracelets and she’s off somewhere wearing a bracelet of mine.

This sure isn’t Jersey because… our friend and cab driver Hanif assigned himself as our personal chauffeur and picked up our ferry tickets 30 minutes away for no extra charge.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Culture Shock

I’m sitting in a clean room with clean hair and air conditioning. My stomach is full of food and I have a bathroom within walking distance. It has clean running water. The room smells like perfume.

            It’s strange that I can have this. It’s strange that out of the thousands of people I saw in India, only the Brahmans might have a chance to live like this. The wealthy live in disgusting luxury that mockingly encroaches up against the poor. All the rest live in a poverty that is indescribable, a poverty that doesn’t exist in the U.S.

            My bus had just ushered me to my secluded boat, away from a city that was a swarm of people that didn’t have enough room to live. And now sitting in a quiet room away from any humans felt wrong. I felt like I was floating somewhere between my “real” life and the images I had just escaped. The images were of the trash and filth overflowing the alleys and streets of Agra and Varanassi, cities that couldn’t handle the amount of people that they held.

             The people were polar opposites of those I saw in Africa. The people in the townships of Cape Town were beyond happy. The children played in the streets and the houses were painted pink and blue. But on the streets of India, smiling is not a part of daily life. There is no form of trash removal or sewage regulation. Children, mothers and men begged ferociously and clung to our arms as we walked into mosques or down stone streets. It was overwhelming and dirty, intense and beautiful, and a place that will flash in front of my eyes when I “pass out.”

This sure isn’t jersey because… the president is a woman.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Ganges

After a short flight and hours of driving, our charter bus obnoxiously pulled up on the side of the road in a smaller village of Varanasi. About a hundred rickshaws lined the roads- skinny men sat ready to pull two people of any weight on the leather seats attached to their bikes. I jumped on a bearded-mans rickshaw and set-off on a crazy ride to the Ganges River. There are no rules of the road, only anticipation… of the cars and bikes coming from every direction. As we whizzed passed lit up stores and stands of street food the sun set behind us and the town quieted, ready for the daily rituals.

            By the time we pulled up to the “parking lot,” it was dark. We had come to see the sunset ceremonies by the sacred Ganges (the Indians pronounce it as Ganga-es). The ritual was the most memorable and beautiful experience of my life. It started when I left our larger group. I went with one friend down to the edge of the river, led by a little girl who brought us to an old man praying. Smiling, he taught us his Hindu prayer, half-singing and half-chanting and then stamped our foreheads with his orange paint. As the custom goes, we said our prayer, placed a candle-lit flower in the Ganges and watched it float away.

            Now that it was completely dark music drifted toward us and we drifted toward it. My friend innocently asked a man dressed in a beautiful orange robe if we could sit near the singers. We were led right up to the front and plopped next to the musicians. The man who sat us there ended up being the head Brahman priest. His six young students stepped to their positions on decorated platforms. They looked about my age, maybe younger. But when they started to sing and circle the pots of incense over their heads, stepping to the drumbeat, they became much, much older. My friend and I were both crying when our guide found us and told us it was time to go.


This sure isn’t jersey because… thousands of people gather in one place for a ceremony that happens every day.


Friday, October 17, 2008


Everyone knows the photo of the Taj Mahal, but this place is an incredible tribute to love. The Shah Jahan used his absurd power to build the incredible tomb for his favorite wife… the others are buried in smaller tombs around the vicinity- I’m assuming they didn’t get along.

            The tomb is symmetrically perfect, the marble changes color with the sun and hundreds of people are dressed in beautiful saris or suits to honor one of the seven wonders of the man-made world.

            We all took off our shoes and padded into the tomb. Chiseled marble screens were the only source of light so we felt our way around the mausoleum. Jahan had designed the place down to the last details in the chiseled marble flowers that bordered the rooms’ entryways. Outside, black marble calligraphy along the walls quoted the Koran and painted marble zigzags crawled up the sides of the windows. It’s a tomb, it’s a mosque, but mostly it’s a beautiful work of art. 

This sure isn’t jersey because… in the entrance-line, men are sent straight through the gates while women wait 30 minutes so they can be frisked. 

Monday, September 22, 2008

More than a Weekend

I arrived in Walvish (Walfish) Bay on the 19th. THat was three days ago! In three days I drove an hour and a half into the desert, climbed up a pre-historic rock formation, got an astronomy lesson, invaded the nearby city of Swakopmund, kissed a seal named Sally, saw a humpback whale, ate African oysters on a catamaran and a toga fish burger from a township, played soccer with a 10-year-old, met kids at a working women's center, an AIDS health center and in the home of my tour guide Freid.

I'm on cloud nine. I've never seen so much happiness, hard-work and respect for life. Everyone is positive despite the 30 percent HIV rates and 40 percent unemployment. My tour guide, like the majority of youths, are struggling against these odds. He started his own touring company with the help of a European sponsor who taught and funded the startup. Many people are right along with him as they elevate above the lack of industries by turning their homes into businesses to support their large families.

As the only son, Freid feeds the mouths of the nine other people living in his 2-bedroom home. He took us there to meet his 4 sisters and brother-in-laws, 3 nephews and to show us the five additional covering on the back of his home to accommodate for the eight relatives that will be returning from sea when the fishing season ends.

"My family was so happy to meet you. You have put food in their mouths. You have made this all possible."

This sure isn't jersey because... I was served bugs in a bowl and I bought a 20 cent fish burger.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Star Gazing in Namibia

It took an hour of driving through the desert to get to the beautiful canyon wghere we'd be sleeping. It would have been shorter but out line of 8 SUVs got lost a couple of times between diamond mines and olive farms.

Millennia ago, shale, quarts and volcanic rock erupted out of the flat, arud terrain. Two hundred-foot towering walls remained, which sheltered us from the dusty winds. They also enveloped the 40 shwanky two-man tents and three bonfires that were set up for our touristy pleasure.

Nice dining tables were set up for a delicious buffet meal that the our two guides cooked themselves. They served fresh papaya with balsamic, steamed vegetables (including the most succulent potato) and an orange-glazed desert topped with homemade caramel-cream sauce- for beverages, a full bar and rich coffee. These Namibians sure knew how to make us AMerican happy.

Besides the food, the view from the top of the rock walls were amazing. A pre-dinner climb in my top-siders was painful, but worth it enough to wake up at 6 the next morning to do it again during sunrise. And our attempt at meditating was all the more beautiful since the first climb was at 6 pm, when the sun dipped below the nearest rock formation and our call of "we are the goddesses of Africa!" still echoed from wall to wall.

I can't believe I'm in Africa. 

This sure isn't jersey because... our astronomer was pointing to the Southern Cross. So long North Star!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

We're Not Alone!

Today as I lay on the pool deck reading "Heart of Darkness"- guess what I saw? A bird. It was the most comforting thing I'd seen in days. We were less than a day from land!
I'm not only excited to reach Namibia because the incessant rocking and rolling is getting to my sanity, or because of the amazing memories that will be made, but because we will get a break from moving east. For the past week we've had to groggily get up for breakfast's 8:30 cut-off after pushing our clocks forward the night before. Our fast pace moves us into new time zones every other, if not every day. But it beats a 6 hour one time shift and 2 days of jet lag.

This sure isn't jersey because... people applaud the site of seagulls.

Monday, September 15, 2008

In the Middle

It's strange not to have seasons. It's even more strange to move in and out of them, north to South to them.
And because of the sped cycle I miss autumn. THere are no leaves on the boat to turn colors and float away. Or apple picking and pumpkin carving. But there IS an ocean- so I'm not complaining.

A lot of you have been wondering about the middle of the Atlantic. Truthfully, it's not as spectacular as you (if your like me) might think.

Like you'd imagine its blue for as far as you can see. But even though we are a significant distance from land, the water is as calm as it is near the coast. A difference: Yesterday the captain's voice rang through the loudspeaker with an unnerving comment: "We have moved for exactly 48 hours without seeing signs of any other vessel" (except some whale spouts).  It made it a little more real. It made us realize that as we floated over the great divide at the fast pace of 20.2 knots, we, and the high tech sonars, were alone from horizon to horizon.

This sure isn't jersey because... students can volunteer to go on pirate watch.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

City Tour

Rio is supposed to be about the beaches right? Well it rained the first two days. Our image of Brazil’s hot sunny weather was far from correct. But despite the rain, an all day tour around the city with ex-marine Andres was one I will always remember.

Here’s a recap….
AM: Gondola ride up sugar loaf mountain…
Pre-fixee lunch of fried plantains, crab cakes, mashed corn, Chopp, sushi,
The pyramid- shaped Cathedral de Santa Cruz with beautiful stained glass
windows and a statue of Christ on the cross, strangely crucified with Mary
(something I’ve never seen).
… Drive through the square that hosts Carnaval, the week-long festival in the
Spring that shows off the dancing and art of Brazil.

…Grand finale: A rickety bus ride up the hillside, past favelas and the beautiful town of Santa Clara. When we approached the top we dashed up the 4 flights of stone stairs to beat the chill and suddenly, looming ominously was the 30 or so foot-tall stone statue of Christ. But it wasn’t the statue that was breathtaking… it was what He overlooked. The clouds that had hung over us the whole day parted for a sacred five minutes, just so we could see through them, through to an indescribable view. We were above the clouds, looking down on the entire state of Rio de Janeiro- Sugar Loaf, the bay, the favelas and beaches. Everything corrupt, everything deteriorating became beautiful…and than it was gone… swallowed up by the clouds.

This sure isn’t jersey because… this surely was NOT New Jersey.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


Nelson was our street security in Rio. And he sums up the city for me.

Our hostel, the Rio Bambu, was an adorable house on a stone road, like all the roads in the city, where we stayed from the 7th to the 10th. “We” were the girls who organized the trip online pre-departure. “We” were 12 girls who didn’t really know one another, packed into a room the size of my NJ bedroom. I slept in the top bunk of a triple bunk next to an open-air window that could only be “shut” by pulling in the outdoor shutter. It was amazing… so were the shower faucets above the toilet… but I’m serious- I loved it.

I also loved Nelson. We met him as we left to go to dinner the first night. Nelson is a 46- year- old Brazilian that lives in a favela 30 minutes from our hostel. He was our street security guard… and our entertainment. Within 5 minutes of knowing him he had given me the first, of many, Samba lessons to music he sang himself. He than offered up the chicken and hot dogs he was grilling with his buddies. And when we returned we repaid him with beers and toasts and a mini-celebration of his birthday, which he initiated by pointing at the date on his driver’s license. We communicated with Nelson by me half-understanding his Portuguese and he half-understanding my Spanish. But our half-understanding went into the night and brought out the best of all of Bambu’s residents, and the 10-year-old neighbor, Kyle, who played soccer better than we could, with rolled up garbage bags. This is when I officially stopped believing the warnings our ship captain scared us with… because I felt more welcome in Brazil than I do in the state where I was born.

This sure isn’t jersey because… street security escorted us to his favorite bar.

Port #1 Salvador, Brazil: Land at Last 9/7

The feeling when we lifted off this morning from Salvador was incredible. We had only just gotten through the ship’s customs when we were greeted by brazilian performers playing drums and Candomble women passing out “wish bracelets.” But before we could indulge, we dove in a cab and told the driver (in my best Spanish) to take us to the airport. We had a plane to catch, a plane to beautiful Rio de Janeiro.

No more boats or waves, just us and the sky. I was ready, we ALL were ready to be on solid land, to eat deliciously fresh food and to celebrate Brazil’s independence from Portugal (even though we found out later that only silly Americans do this).

This sure isn’t jersey because… there are wild horses in the median, not plastic bottles.

"Hear thee, hear thee- We have just crossed the equator!" 9/5

My initial plan was to be a silent observer of the festivities of Neptune Day, but the ritualistic energy got the better of me.

“Dun Duh Do Dun Duh Do Heyyy Hooo.”

This was no alarm. It was six deck staff marching up and down the hallways in tin foil hats and white capes, beating drums.
By 7:45 am they had looped the boat three times and 90% of the students were up on the 7th deck by the outdoor pool.
The dean and teachers were dressed in white robes and red hats as they called the names of those who were brave enough to shave their heads in honor of Neptune.
For those not so adventurous were three garbage cans, filled with orange and blue juice that had been added to an unfortunately fragrant fish oil.
Although I wasn’t ready to give up my hair like the 40 who were (including ten girls), I had the ceremonial “fish guts” poured over my head. After jumping in the now uninviting pool I kissed a fish on the lips and bent on one knee to be knighted by the mighty King Neptune (my dean of students).
The rituals were complete by ten. The pool deck was scattered with hair that didn’t make it into the “Locks for Love” box. And the air reeked of decaying animal.
It was quite the morning.

This sure isn’t Jersey because… a student turned the staff’s soapy, post- ritual cleanup into a mass slip-and-slide.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

So long northern hemisphere!

Tomorrow heads will be shaved... and fish guts will pour...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Life is a banquet & most people are starving… so lets eat rich! 8/31

These are the oh so true words of my quirky Asian art professor... who has never been more right.
Today was the first day of classes. We have no weekends, no weekdays, just on boat/ off boat day A & B. It just so happens that I unintentionally signed up for classes only on A days so I have class every other day.. don’t you feel bad for me?
I promise my posts will be more thick once we get to port, but for now Im just reporting the basics.

Here’s my class list:
Survey of Asian Art- field trips will be making Japanese scarves
Global Studies: Religion, Politics & Society – Buddhist temples and shrines
World Literature (trips: talking with African women writers in Capetown after reading their books)
Philosophy of Love & Friendship (trips: HIV/AIDS clinic in Namibia, Vietnamese Prostitution Clinic)
Everything is completely surreal at this point…

This sure isn’t jersey because… I fell over doing yoga- not because im out of practice- but because my yoga mat doesn’t absorb swells

Surviving the First Night 8/30

I woke up to the boat a’rockin’. A little light seeped through my cabin’s faded yellow curtain. I guessed it was the sun coming up and popped up to take a look.

I don’t know what I was expecting when I lifted back the curtain… but it wasn’t what I saw. Black water was surging below, bubbles were frothed up and my stomach was up in my throat. I can’t say it was scary, but it sure wasn’t comforting. But it was thrilling and it IS the reason why I went on this trip.
We are already a little stir-crazy, having never had to wait more than a few hours to get to a destination by plane or car. Our first stop will be on Sunday the 7th into Salvador, Brazil. It will be my first taste of a culture outside of North America… and the start of my de-shelter-ization!

This sure isn’t jersey because… my friends saw whales at breakfast.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

This is it

This is it- the beginning of everything. It might sound drastic but I think its true. 
In 2 days.. at 10:20 am ill be boarding the MV explorer on its 97th voyage around the world, along with  700 or so other lucky students who enrolled in UVA's Semester at Sea program.

The cruise ship will be my home for the next three and a half months as it moves from South America to Africa and than on to Asia. There will be classes on the boat, adventures on land and hopefully an uncountable amount of life-changing experiences.

Ill keep you posted with photos and the things Ive been doing.  Also, check out the links to, which will bring you to maps of the places ive explored, vegged out and mangia'ed. 

I have no idea what to expect... except that it won't be like staying in jersey (well at least i hope).