“Bon Voyage” 2017

SAS 2017
Shemar Blakeney

I chose to participate in the Semester at Sea Program because I will be able to travel to multiple countries instead of just one. Even though I will not be able to immerse myself as deeply as other study abroad programs, I have the opportunity to go experience a lot of different cultures.
I am extremely excited to visit South Africa and Japan; however, I am looking forward to traveling to all of the countries. I want to put meaning and faces to all of the places I have read and learned about in books. Also, I want to try the different foods in all of the places.
I am nervous that I will accidentally offend someone due to my own culture. Also, I am a little nervous that I will not be able to gain the global experience as I would if I would have participated in a traditional study abroad program.
I want to meet people from all of the countries and gain personal insight into their world. I want to see the world through their eyes and gain understanding into the true global world and not just my own single-viewed world.
So far, I have visited Hamburg, Germany; Barcelona, Spain; and Valencia, Spain. All of these places have their own unique atmosphere and people.
In Germany, I visited a local jazz restaurant and attended a local concert, and they were both spectacular with great music. I could feel the people coming together to listen to the music and enjoy life.
In Barcelona, I visited the Gothic Square where they had old architecture and statues. Gothic refers to the style and type of architecture of the buildings from a specific period in history.
In Valencia, I visited the Largest Aquarium in Europe called the Oceanografic! The Oceanografic was filled with sharks, crocodiles, seals, dolphins, beluga whales, and many different types of fish. Also in Valencia, I saw extraordinary types of artwork and buildings. They were unbelievable.
It is truly an experience to communicate with people in a different language. I have experienced some difficulty in understanding languages, but the barriers can be broken with a little practice and patience. I have spoken some Spanish to the locals to order food. It is helpful that a lot of the locals know some form of English, so together we can build an understanding with each other. Also, it is just fun to try to speak in another language to the locals, respectfully of course. The ship is filled with people from ALL OVER THE WORLD. I have made friends with people from Puerto Rico, China, Philippines, and Iceland. It is very interesting and enjoyable to talk with others and hear their way of life, and how they feel about our cultures.
I have tried some interesting food in Spain. I had a particular dish containing squid, cuttlefish, muscles, whole shrimp (with the head still attached) on top of noodles and vegetables. It was Spectacular and Delicious!

“Bon Voyage” 2017

Greetings from 38° 54.34’ N 009° 51.47’ W!

Tillmon Cook

Since my last blog post I have been to three different ports including Cape Town, South Africa, Tema, Ghana, and Casablanca, Morocco. All three of these places have been incredibly different and each have their own culture. In addition to time in port, ship life has been really fun as well. There was a crew talent show that was phenomenal! Who would’ve known that the people on our ship’s crew were so talented! Also, everybody that was on the ship became Emerald Shellbacks. If you don’t know what that is, an Emerald Shellback is a person that crosses the point 0° N and 0° E by ship. And, if anyone ever asks, there actually IS a buoy that marks the center of the world.

South Africa was amazing, but unfortunately, I didn’t immerse myself into the culture like I had wanted to. Like many others on the ship, I did a lot of adventurous things. The first day was spent exploring the city. We went to various restaurants and bought good food.

Table Mountain

 

 

The next day, I hiked Table Mountain with a group of friends and spent the rest of the day laying on the Beach in Camp’s Bay.

 

 

A new friend.

A new friend

On the third day, I was lucky enough to sign up for a field program that traveled to a township.  This trip was extremely eye opening because it uncovered the sad inequality between races in South Africa. The legacy of apartheid is still extremely visible in South Africa, and affects millions of people.  In the township, we visited an orphanage, afterschool program called Happy Feet, and took a bike tour.

SLR Pic 0133

Birds-eye view of South Africa

 

The following days consisted of adventure. The third and fourth day consisted of sandboarding in sand dunes and skydiving. Both activities were so incredibly fun! If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.

IMG_4141

Awaiting the others

Group

City of Refuge

IMG_4203

Orphanage Library

 

 

I went into Ghana with no plans, and honestly did not have any expectations about what I would see. When we got there, I was extremely overwhelmed with the street vendors trying to pull me into their shop. Moreover, the streets were packed with people due to the market. A couple of my friends and I spent the day walking around Ghana exploring the different shops and tasting Ghanaian chocolate. The next day I was fortunate enough to sign up for a field program called Life of a Fisherman. This program was another eye-opening experience. Our group traveled to a local fishing village and learned the everyday life of someone that lives in the village. We witnessed the men, that had gone out the day before, bring back the fish they had caught during the night. Next, we walked around the village and saw how everyone lived. This was extremely difficult to observe because of how different the culture is. For instance, I saw a man hit a woman and nobody did anything about it to stop him. I can’t explain how hard it was to watch the man’s actions. Our tour ended and I spent the rest of the day relaxing on the ship. On the third day, I had another field program called City of Refuge. City of Refuge is an orphanage that rescues children from slave trafficking. We attended a church service with the children, took a tour of the facilities, and spent the rest of the day playing soccer. I now know why Ghanaians are so in shape. It was close to 103° F and we played for almost two hours straight. Needless to say, I was dead after that game.

Morocco

Morocco

IMG_4775 (002)

Hassan II Mosque

After another six days at sea, we ported in our final city, Casablanca, Morocco. Like Ghana, I had no expectations. It’s funny how traveling will do that. I was excited, but I didn’t know what I was excited for. I guess I was at the point where I just want to see what different places have to offer. Our stay was only four days, so that meant we had to be quick about whatever we did. A group of friends and I got off the ship and took a train straight to Marrakech (about three to four hours south of Casablanca). When we stepped out of station and were all mind blown because of the beautiful city. The art and architecture were so unique compared to everywhere else. If I could describe it in words, I would tell you to think about the Disney movie Aladin. The next two days were designated for traveling and a camel trek in the Zagora desert. On the way to the desert we stopped at Aït Ben Haddou. This is an old settlement on the old caravan route from the Sahara to Marrakech. This spot was really cool because there have been a lot of movies shot here. Later, we continued to the Zagora desert for our camel trek. We camped out under the stars, had good food, and talked with many people all around the world. The following day, we drove back to Marrakech (about a ten hour drive), and walked around the city. There were all kinds of street performers and shops set up. On the last day, we travelled to Casablanca and split ways. I walked to the Hassan II mosque. It is the largest mosque in Casablanca and faces with its back against the sea. This was the last thing I did in country, and sadly walked on to the ship I’ve called home for the past four months for the very last time.

I’m currently sailing to the last port of call, Hamburg, Germany. Everyone’s final exams are wrapping up and we’re all preparing to exit the ship and say our goodbyes for the last time. This has been the best voyage of my life and I can confidently say that Semester at Sea is one of the best decisions I’ve made. Moreover, this has been (and probably will be) the most bitter-sweet moment of my life because I have to say goodbye to everyone I’ve become best friends with. I have had the most fun I’ve ever had while traveling, but most importantly, I’ve learned more about myself than I ever have. This voyage is a chance of a lifetime, so if you’re a student and trying to decide if you want to travel abroad for a semester, it WILL be the best decision you have ever made.

“Who got to live this life? For one brief moment, we did my friends… we did.”

-Dan Garvey AKA (Dean Dan)

“Bon Voyage” 2017

Greetings from 28.22° S 37.16° E!

Tillmon Cook

I am approximately 830 nautical miles from Cape Town, South Africa, and I could not be happier to see land. It has been 10 days since I’ve walked on solid ground and I still have another two days to go. Since my last update, I have been to two ports. From Ho Chi Minh City, we sailed to Yangon, Myanmar, and from there my voyage traveled to Cochin, India. We were supposed to sail to Mauritius, but sadly, a lot of difficulties regarding the ship came up so we were not able to port. However, we have had a lot of activity days on the ship. The first was Neptune Day. This is a tradition on Semester at Sea, and it marks the crossing of the equator! The next was the Sea Olympics, and this was various games that the different “seas” (students living in the same area) competed in. My sea didn’t win, but hey, we didn’t come in last either.

Myanmar was amazing and I could not have asked for much better. The first day consisted of a walking around the city of Yangon, and visiting various landmarks. The most famous place we visited was the Shwedagon Pagoda. This is a huge, golden, Buddhist temple that people go to and pray. In fact, there are Pagodas all over the country of Myanmar. The next few days I was on a field program called Undiscovered Myanmar. This trip included visits to Buddhist temples and to various rural villages around the Mon State of Myanmar. On the first day, our group visited the Golden Rock Pagoda. This is a Buddhist temple that is centered around a huge golden rock that is perfectly balanced on top of a mountain. My favorite day, however, was the third day. My group went kayaking, and took a short hike to the top of Kaw Ka Taung mountain. The view from the top was flawless and will most likely be a picture that I’ll always have in my head. Although Myanmar’s port went by way faster than I would have liked it. This country was amazing and so incredibly different than the United States.

The Next port of call was Cochin, India. I didn’t have any particular expectations for India while sailing to the country. However, I was touched in both a positive and negative way. Positively, because India has so much to offer. The people are incredibly nice (if they aren’t trying to bribe you for money), and the landscape is beautiful. I was influenced negatively because of India’s poverty. I was fortunate enough to spend my first day in port at an orphanage. We spent the day playing and dancing with children. I also spent time with the manager of the facility. He told me how he had been struggling with funds and that he would take anything he could get to help the children. This truly broke my heart, but nevertheless, I appreciated every bit of my short time with the kids and I hope that they did as well. The rest of the week was spent with my two friends traveling to New Delhi. We spent a day and went to the Taj Mahal, and now I can confidently tell someone why that is a wonder of the world. It is without doubt the most beautiful structure I’ve ever seen and a true symbol of love. I did learn while I was there that there was supposed to be another monument that mirrored the Taj Mahal, except it was supposed to be black. But because of emperor family drama, it was never constructed.

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

I’m so incredibly excited for South Africa because of all the adventurous things it has in store. I’m not sure what I’ll be doing yet, but I know I’ll make memories that will last a life time.

“Bon Voyage” 2017

Greetings from 05°02.61’ N 106°18.37’ E!
Tillmon Cook

Since my last blog post, I have now been to 4 different countries around Asia. From Hawaii, I have sailed across the Pacific to Japan, China, Vietnam, and visited Cambodia for a short time. I am currently sailing from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Yangon, Myanmar (Burma). I’m very excited about our next port because I know that this country is one of the most undiscovered places around the world!

Port Of Kobe Water Cannon Show

Port of Kobe Water Cannon Show

Kobe Beef

Kobe Beef

A-Bomb Dome

A-Bomb Dome

Sailing the Pacific was definitely an experience. There were days that were calmer than others, but luckily for me, I have a pretty good pair of sea legs. We sailed for ten days straight before we arrived in Kobe, Japan. While our ship was being piloted, we were greeted with a water cannon show from the Japanese coast guard! The Japanese are without a doubt some of the nicest people I have ever met. They are extremely open to foreigners and will go out of their way to help someone in need. While in Japan, I traveled to a different city every day. The first day was our port city, Kobe. Kobe was really cool, and it is most famous for its Kobe beef. Although the price for the beef was ridiculous, I bought some, but it was TOTALLY worth it. The next city I visited was Hiroshima. Hiroshima is a bustling city with many people. My friends and I spent the day walking around and visited the A-Bomb Dome (the only building to survive the Atomic Bomb), and walked around the Peace Park. I never really understood how bad the Atomic Bomb was until I visited the site and saw all of the melted objects that had survived. Following Hiroshima, I traveled to Kyoto, this city is known for its strong Japanese culture. Here you can find different temples and shrines. My friends and I, like Hiroshima and Kobe, spent the day walking around the city visiting different historic spots. Later that night, my roommate and I took a spontaneous trip to Tokyo. We were able to do this with our Japan Rail Pass (If you ever consider visiting Japan, this is a must). In Tokyo, we visited the Emperor’s Palace, the world’s largest fish market, and visited other sites around the city. The final day was spent back in Kobe so that we could make on-ship time. Our next port of call was Shanghai, China.

 

Tiananmen Square

Great Wall of China

After two short days of sailing we arrived in Shanghai. I remember waking up and thinking I was in Tomorrowland from Disney World because the architecture is so mind-boggling. The first day in the city I had a field class that basically toured the city. I wish I could explain how crowded it was, but it’s hard to imagine without being there. Also, we were able to go to the top of Shanghai Tower (second tallest skyscraper in the world). Over the next couple of days, I traveled around Shanghai and also went to a water village about two hours south of the city. The last two days I was a part of a field program that took us to Beijing. While I was there, my field program visited Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and The Great Wall of China. My favorite, like most people, was The Great Wall. The view from the top was spectacular, and if it wasn’t for the smog I would have been able to see for miles. Speaking of smog, I knew that China’s was bad, but I never would have imagined that I wouldn’t be able to see a building that was only a few blocks away. Anyways, when I got back to the ship I was extremely exhausted from the week I had been thru.

 

 

Ho Chi Minh City

Floating the Mekong River

Floating the Mekong River

The next country that we traveled to was Vietnam.  We ported in Ho Chi Minh City, and during my time in Vietnam, I was a part of a field program called Mekong Exit to Cambodia.  This particular program was packed with activities.  On the first day, my group traveled south from Ho Chi Minh City to another city called Can Tho.  We walked around the city and intermingled with the different markets.  The next morning my group woke up and took a trip on the Mekong River.  Here, we interacted with a floating market.  There were around a hundred large boats selling different fruits and vegetables, none of which looked very sanitary.  We then traveled by bus through rice fieldsIMG_1872 and different villages to the Tra Su forest.  We spent the rest of the day floating around with a guide that navigated his way through the swamp.  The next day, we traveled by boat into Cambodia along the Mekong River.  When we got into Cambodia, we ate lunch and then went to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.  This was an extremely touching site because this is where thousands of Cambodians lost their lives during the Khmer Rouge in the mid 1970s.  I was fortunate enough to meet one of the eleven survivors named Bou Meng.  After the museum, we traveled to the killing fields.  This place was where the Khmer Rouge brutally killed men, women, and young children.  In fact, this site still has human remains coming up from the ground because of the Earth’s erosion.  After a long and emotional day, my group flew to Siem Reap to spend the night.  After a good night’s rest, we went to a small village to complete a service project.  We spent a few hours learning about the local village (extremely impoverished), and how the organization, HUSK, had been helping the town.  Our job was to make a wall for an elder who could no longer do it herself.  After the construction, we left with warm farewells and traveled to the Temples of Angkor.  These temples are the largest religious monuments in the world and some of the most eye opening structures I’ve ever seen!  After exploring the temples, my group returned to the ship late the next evening and we are now heading for Yangon, Myanmar.

 

 

“Bon Voyage” 2017

Tillmon Cook

Semester at Sea 2017

“My name is Tillmon; I am from a small, rural town outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, but I go to Hampden-Sydney College located in central Virginia.”  This is the line I’ve been saying for the past two weeks while trying meet all the new people that I’ll be spending the rest of four months on a ship with.

semester at sea

MV World Odyssey

I am currently sailing to Kobe, Japan from Honolulu, Hawaii.  I have now been a part of the sea-life for eight days, and even though my voyage has been to one port, I have seen some of the most wonderful and beautiful parts of the earth.

I originally applied for Semester at Sea with uncertain expectations.  I mean, who gets to sail around the world and see the places that you only see on National Geographic while taking classes for school credit?! I’ll be honest, even though I’ve been on the voyage for a little over a week, it still hasn’t settled with me yet.

Like I said earlier, I am traveling from Hawaii to Japan.  I had never been to Hawaii before, but all I know is that I want to go back as soon as possible.  I was lucky enough to have a field class (every class has one of these) that went to the University of Hawaii.  Here, we listened to two environmentalists that spoke with us about Hawaii’s environmental policy.  Their focus was to have freshwater sustainability on the island.  Afterwards, we ate lunch and then traveled to Hanauma Bay.  I was speechless when I saw the landscape.  I had never seen anything more tropical.  I’ve only seen these types of places in pictures!  While we were at the bay, we snorkeled and got to see the different types of marine life.

Hanauma Bay 2 copy

Hanauma Bay

The day came to an end and my roommate and I were standing out on one of the decks.  As the ship began to depart, the reality hit me pretty hard that I wouldn’t see the United States again until I come home (and on the other side).  All I could think was “oh man, I’m actually doing this.”  Nevertheless, I am excited about my voyage, and I hope to learn as much as I can about all the cultures around the world.  Not many people realize that they have a singular view about places.  I know that I am/was like this, so I want to experience first-hand and share my stories with others.

Fun in Hawai

Hanauma Bay

” Bon Voyage”

Semester at Sea 2016

Michael Willis

Neptune Day is a historic maritime tradition. The transformation from pollywogs to shellbacks. This tradition takes place after you cross the equator for the first time aboard a ship. The MV World Odyssey has adapted this tradition to include the tradition of sailors shaving their heads after crossing the equator and being accepted into King Neptune’s court. The ceremony of King Neptune’s court consisted of our ship’s captain, Captain Kostas painting himself green, wearing a Santa beard, and being dressed in traditional ancient Greek regalia. A sailor first started the process of being accepted into King Neptune’s court by being covered in green slime, jumping into the pool, and swimming across the pool. Once the pollywog emerged from the pool they were immediately greeted by a fish which you had to kiss. After kissing the fish you went and paid your respects to King Neptune and kissed his ring. After completing this process you were officially welcomed into King Neptune’s court as shellbacks. To maintain the maritime tradition shellbacks were given the opportunity to go and shave their heads. I took part in this tradition and have since gotten my scalp sunburned. OOPS.

2016 Shellbacks

2016 Freshly Shaven Shellbacks

On March 9th 2016, the MV World Odyssey docked in Port Louis, Mauritius the island nation off the coast of Madagascar, which was once home of the Dodo bird. While on the Island of Mauritius I had my last field lab of the voyage. This field lab was with Intro to Environmental Science. The itinerary for the lab was to hike up La Pluece Mountain the second highest peak on the island, and then go to the Populmous Botanical Garden. This was an adventurous day that would lead to lots of slipping and sliding. It had rained the entire day before on the mountain and the trails were wet, slippery, and extremely muddy. It was a two hour hike up the mountain and an hour to get back down. Following the trail that Charles Darwin took on his trip to the island aboard the Beagle. The view from the top of La Pluece was fantastic. The view looked out on to the “bowl” of the island. This is where some volcanologists believe, was the mouth of the volcano that created the island. On the hike down, there were only one or two people who didn’t slip. The trail had turned into a creek while we were on the top. It had rained on some portions of the lower mountain after we walked through the area. Once we got to the bottom of the mountain, we then boarded our buses and headed to the Botanical Garden for a guided tour of the native and endemic plant species that were found at the garden. This particular garden is revered as the oldest garden in the southern hemisphere. We saw many different species of palms as well, some of these were 30 feet tall with leaves that were five feet across. There were many species of plants that aren’t found in the United States Botanical Gardens, because of the climate and the possibility of invasive species. This made the trip to the botanical garden a very unique one.

“Bon Voyage”

Michael Willis

Semester at Sea 2016

“O, to die in Cape Town”, said Andy Pringle, the 89 year old gentleman sailing around the world with his family. The MV World Odyssey docked in Cape Town on March 15th 2016. This was the most westernized port we had been to in a very long time. It felt like your typical United States city with its own African flare.  Cape Town is a city where it was easy to find something to do; between exploring the V&A waterfront which was full of local musicians and western chain stores, to hiking table mountain, to having a relaxing afternoon in Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, the many extreme sports people participated in, and lastly the fantastic tours of the wine lands.

While I was in Cape Town, I went to the waterfront and found many interesting places to eat and hang out with friends. We also ventured to Long Street, which would have the Richmond equivalent of Cary Street. There, we found a wide array of unique shops and more local eateries. One afternoon my friends and I participated in a wine tour, getting to taste many of the local areas best wines. We even got to try the local specialty. The Pinotage. This is a grape variety that is completely unique to the Cape region. It is a red wine that is sweet and fruity while still maintaining the complexity of a red wine. This trip to wine country happened on the “Hop on, Hop off” tour bus program. A unique tour experience where at any bus stop you can get off and explore the local area then get back on and go find a new place to explore.

The next day, we planned a sunrise hike up Table Mountain. Table Mountain is a very unique mountain, as it is much more like a plateau. It is also one of the most recognizable figures of Cape Town. This was a challenge, but completely worth the adventure. We left the ship at 3 am and started hiking by 4. We hiked up the gorge trail that was expected to take roughly two hours. We stopped along the way to let a group, moving much faster than we were, to pass and after the short stop we all went from our short sleeve shirts to all of the layers we could get on us. It was a bone chilling temperature, with a light mist of rain. When we summited Table Mountain the sun was just starting to rise. Thankfully the table cloth, as the local’s call it, had not yet started to cover the top so we were able to look down on the city of Cape Town as the sun rose. The view from the top was stunning, but the short cable car ride down the mountain was necessary after a long morning of hiking.

 

Table Top Mountain

Table Top Mountain

Table Top Mountain Cable Car

That afternoon, I went with my friends from Canada to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. We wondered around the gardens for hours. Looking at all of the local flora type fynbos. The fynbos variety of plants is very unique and is one of seven floral regions in the world. The plants in this niche have a wide variety of characteristics. They range from small rock plants to small trees. There were many of the flowers in bloom. They all released super strong, sweet odors that could be smelt throughout the garden. They also have a very large collection of cycads. Cycads are a type of tree that was around during the dinosaur era.

On another day exploring Cape Town, we ventured down to see Simons Town in an attempt to go and see the Penguin Colony at the tip of the continent. We unfortunately did not make it to the penguins, but we were able to explore a new town that is still a part of greater Cape Town. We went to the beach, where the water was freezing because it is approaching the early fall in Cape Town, and Antarctica isn’t that far away. We took the train home from Simons Town which saved us lots of money, and made for an interesting adventure. Going from a train station that you walk onto the train from the street, to the Cape Town station that is more like an airport terminal than rail station.

“O, to die in Cape Town” that is the motto we lived by while exploring South Africa. It led us to many great adventures and motivated us to be out of our comfort zone.

“Bon Voyage”

Michael Willis

Semester at Sea 2016
The country of Myanmar is a beautiful country that has much more to offer than expected. The MV World Odyssey arrived in the industrial port an hour and a half south of the former capitol city Yangon on February 18th 2016. We first got off the ship and boarded a shuttle that would take us into the city center of Yangon. While on the shuttle bus you can see a wide variety of sights. You can see the elegant gold pagodas that litter the country side, back dropped by extreme poverty. You can see the elaborate monasteries, the houses of the wealthy, the poor road conditions that deteriorate daily, the magnificence of the Rangoon River, to the crowded city streets.

Golden Pagodas

Golden Pagodas

Myanmar Countryside

Myanmar Countryside

The country of Myanmar has about 750 thousand people that are religious figures such as monks or nuns. We had the opportunity to have a monk named Unan sail with us from Ho Chi Minh City to Yangon. He taught us many different things about his country and the things that are considered respectful and the things that are highly offensive. This allowed us to make better decisions and hopefully not accidently offend people. Myanmar is also different when it comes to currency exchange. They only want the freshest crispest bills possible. If it is worn or has a mark on it they see it as valueless. Also every USD note has a different exchange rate. The higher denominations getting a higher exchange rate.
On the first day in Myanmar I traveled with a group of three girls to the markets. In a country that has only had ATM’s for a little over a year, there were bound to be a few problems. One of my friends ATM card wouldn’t work at any of the ATM’s so we were sharing money with her all day. When we got to the market we were exploring the different things they had for sale. Myanmar is one of the world’s largest exporters of rubies and the market was dominated by jewelry sellers. There were also a lot of people selling art, lacquerware, and the traditional clothing bottom that is a longi. A longi is similar to a skirt that you have to tie in the front. These are for both men and women and is seen as a sign of masculinity in the culture. Not to mention they are very comfortable in a culture that requires you to wear long pants almost everywhere. We all bought a longi, and at this point two of the girls had run out of money for the day. Since I hadn’t spent as much as the others, I became the bank that people flocked to when they wanted to buy something else.
The next day, I went to the Zoological gardens. This was just a fancy name for the zoo with a garden off in the corner of it. The animals here were different still from the animals in other zoos I have visited to date. They had local bird and mammal species that were endemic to Myanmar. They also had elephants. Although elephants are a common animal in Zoos, the elephants in this zoo you could come up and pet on the head, and quickly move out of the way of their swinging trunks. Elephant trunks seem to grow when the sugar cane that you are feeding them comes near, extending what seemed like an extra foot. They also had many other well taken care of animals, from white tigers to dusky leaf monkeys. After a trip to the Zoo, we went and sought out lunch. We ate at a café that overlooked another religious site. This site was a boat with two golden dragon heads, golden tails, red bodies and a pagoda mounted on the dragons. The dragons served almost as pontoons for the vessel. We then made another trip to the market, to explore more of the seemingly never-ending market.

Kandawgyi park

Kandawgyi Park

” Bon Voyage”

Michael Willis

Semester at Sea  2016
On February 9th, 2016 the MV World Odyssey arrived in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam. We arrived a day later than scheduled due to extreme weather conditions on the Saigon River. Vietnam was a fantastic country. The weather was hot. When we arrived it was 91 degrees Fahrenheit. This was so comfortable after the two weeks of winter we experienced in Japan and China.

Saigon river

Saigon river

As we sailed up the Saigon River to get to the Ho Chi Minh City port we saw brown, murky water under us and on either side of the river lots of palms and other native greenery. A beautiful lush and full tropical forest on both sides of the river with the occasional house on stilts built right into the river. We passed several other freight vessels docked on the sides of the river. When we arrived in Ho Chi Minh, I got off the ship and boarded the local shuttle to the center of town, this is what the port authority requires of any passenger vessel docked in the industrial port. I set out with two friends and we went on a mission to explore the city of Ho Chi Minh. When we arrived in Ho Chi Minh it was the second day of Tet. This is their celebration of the lunar New Year. This is a time full of red and gold colors all over the city and most of the shops had closed as they spent the holiday with their families.
On the first day, we explored the touristy strip of the city looking at all of the souvenir shops. The first few shops were all so impressive with the wood carvings, the elaborate designs of figurines, the bright colors of shirts, and the different raw materials that had been carved into anything you can imagine. However, after the first few shops all of the souvenirs become the same. It just becomes a game of where can I go to get the best price. There was not much else to do on the first day, except go to these touristy destinations, as most of the shop stalls were closed. As the Tet holiday began to wind down, more of the shops opened and then the famous markets opened up.

 

Ben Than Market

Ben Than Market

The Ben Than (said like Tohn) market was an experience. Aisles that were wide enough for a person to walk, and that was it. However, it was uncommon to be the only one trying to occupy the space you were in. The shop venders had further cut down on the aisle space by overcrowding their stalls with all of the same touristy trinkets and the locally made Nike, Under Armor, Adidas, and other clothing brands of shirts, pants, and hats. Their stalls cut the already narrow aisles in half. Not to mention the building it was in. It was a large, metal, garage like structure with no air conditioning or fans, except the ones any vendor would wave in your face to try and lure you to their stall. So, the second you walked into the building your body began to pour with sweat. However, if you could handle the heat and the pressure of the locals, you could find the best deals around in this market.
On the last day in Vietnam, I did a Semester at Sea field program to the Cu Chi tunnels and a cooking class in the morning. The cooking class took place at a local organic farm. This farm was full of different herbs and greens. A huge variety of mint and basil grown alongside tapioca, guava, and lemon grass. They also grew oyster mushrooms, straight out of the bottle. The farm owners had developed a unique system of growing the mushrooms out of two liter bottles. These bottles hung in stacks 15 high in a dark, hot and humid shed to get the mushrooms to grow big and lush. When it finally came time to cook, we made ourselves a four course meal. The first dish was fresh spring rolls. We rolled the herb leaves into a fresh, rice paper with rice noodles for a light and delicious appetizer. The next dish was a salad. This was the most labor intensive dish of the day. We had to cut up a part of a papaya, cucumber, and carrot with a “fancy knife”, it made the vegetables look like crinkle cut French Fries. We then dressed this with a traditional dipping sauce. Then the protein of the dish was made. You had to cut up ginger and lemon grass to marinade the pork of tofu in. This was a spicy salad that was fresh and delicious. We then made the entrée. It was called Chicken or tofu in clay pot. The name was very creative. It combined few ingredients, but got the most flavor possible out of those few ingredients. Finally dessert was deep fried banana spring rolls with coconut ice cream. These were the highlight of the meal. They were so tasty and the coconut ice cream that went with it made the flavors of the banana shine. It was also nice to have the cold ice cream on a hot day.
After the cooking class we moved on to take a tour of the Cu Chi tunnel system. This tunnel system stretches for thousands of miles underneath the country side of Vietnam all the way to Cambodia. These tunnels were used by the Viet Kong during the Vietnam War. The tunnels were an incredibly humbling experience. The tunnels that we went through had been widened to over double the original size to allow tourist to crawl through them. You were still hunched over at a 90 degree angle and squatting a little bit to be able to move through them at all. In several places you had to slide to make it through even at its widened state.

Cu Chi Tunnel

Cu Chi Tunnel

This made you think how small these people were and how determined to win they were that they would use these tunnels with no light and small cramped and crowded conditions. Trying to pass someone in the widened parts was nearly impossible and people passed each other daily during life in the tunnels. The tunnel entrances were unbelievably well hidden too. The large openings were disguised as water wells and the smaller entrances were covered with leaves. Our guide when trying to find the tunnel entrance began banging her foot on the ground trying to find it until the exhibit soldier came over found it after a few tries and showed us the proper way of getting into the tunnel system. Vietnam was an unbelievably beautiful country and one that I am looking forward to getting the opportunity to explore again.

“Bon Voyage”

Michael Willis

Semester at Sea 2016

We first landed in Shanghai China on January 31st 2016. This was my first opportunity to explore the great expanses of China. The ship originally would be docked in Shanghai for two days then travel from Shanghai to Hong Kong and that is where I would meet up with the ship again. I traveled on the first day to the Jade Buddha Pagoda in Shanghai. This was an entertaining two hour walk from the ship with several friends. When we arrived at the Buddha it was an incredible experience to see the craftsmanship of these centuries old Buddha statues made from large pieces of jade. One of the Buddha reaching enlightenment and the other the Buddha going to nirvana. Unfortunately on our way back we had to battle the wind, snow and sleet. The nearest refuge from the wet and cold was a giant mall in the heart of the Shanghai shopping district. We took refuge in the mall and got a quick snack to recharge and thaw from the outside. We then took off to the nearest subway station which wound up being only 200 feet from the mall entrance. We then boarded the subway and took it to the ship. Then we all went out for an evening of celebration after a long day of walking. We then returned to the ship early.
The next day is when my travels across China began. I had a flight to Chengdu the capitol of the Sichuan Province in China.In Chengdu there is the Giant Panda Research Base this was my ultimate goal to get to.  Before my flight to Chengdu I still had several hours in Shanghai. So I decided to go to the Shanghai Zoo which was only one subway stop from the airport. This was an entertaining sight as they have many animals that are not found in the United States Zoos. Many indigenous animals to China and other surrounding countries.

I then took the subway to the airport and waited for my red-eye flight at 21:20. On all flights in China they give a full meal, this was a pleasant surprise on the three and a half hour flight. When I arrived in Chengdu there was some confusion with the hostel I was to stay at, also the car I had arranged to pick me up was not there. This forced me to have to take a cab, which wound up taking me over a lot of the city of Chengdu. It finally got me to my hostel after two stops at hotels, to find someone who could help translate as the cab driver spoke no English. This unfortunately cost me double the fare as the reserved car would have. My next few days in Chengdu were stressful, adventurous, and very educational. Chengdu taught me more about myself than I have learned in any other place. The need to solve and find solutions to problems was around every corner in that city. I was there for three days and did get to go to several historic and cultural sights. I went to Tianfu Square, the Peoples Park, the Wenshu Temple, and most importantly the Panda Base.

Wenshu Temple

Wenshu Temple

I also got to learn how to play mahjong the local way. I am not good at it, the language barrier was still an issue when it came to understanding the rules.

Giant Panda Research Base

Giant Panda Research Base

On the last morning in Chengdu, I ventured outside the city to the Panda Base. The base is full of Panda’s old, young, and infant. Pandas, both rescued from the wild and born at the base were in the enclosures. One enclosure had at least ten Panda cubs chasing each other around, sleeping in trees, and pushing each other off of the food platform. After all of this I boarded a plane to get to Hong Kong to meet back up with the ship. After an adventurous evening of exploring Hong Kong by many unplanned ways, I made it back to the ship in time, only to wait in a security line.
The last day in the Hong Kong Port was incredible. I had a field lab for my Plants, People, and Culture class. A field lab is a mandatory trip that a class takes in a single port and explores real life practices of the subjects talked about in class. On this particular field lab, our itinerary was changed for the benefit of the group. We ventured to a local flower market, a local traditional Chinese Medicine Doctor, and a local fruit market. At the flower market our professor was in his element pointing out and describing different species from around the world being sold. It was a particularly vibrant time at the market as it was 2 days before the start of Tet, or the Chinese New Year. So, there were bright colors all over the market for people to decorate their homes with. We then ventured to the Doctors office, where we learned about traditional Chinese medicine. He answered our questions for an hour or so and taught us about the techniques of TCM and the holistic beliefs in contrast to “Western” allopathic medicine. He then demonstrated the techniques of acupuncture, cupping, moxibustion, and filling a prescription for us. We then had lunch at a local restaurant that was very accommodating, and very delicious. The locals were lined up out the door when we arrived. After lunch, we went to the fruit market. The market was full of fruits and nuts, many of which we see as exotic, and others that came from a lot closer to home. My friends and I purchased a mango that was about the size of a professional football. This mango was also the sweetest, softest, and probably best mango I have ever had. There were also nuts in the shell and out. Then the exotic fruits such as dragon fruit, durian, and many fruits our guide couldn’t even name. We returned to the ship and had a surprise waiting for us when we got back.
The itinerary had us traveling from Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City from February 5th to February 8th. This plan was delayed by a day. Due to high seas and high winds delaying our departure from Hong Kong by twenty four hours. This, unfortunately did not mean that we would have an extra day in Hong Kong, but an extra day in Victoria Harbor. This was a joy for some, and a tremendous blow for others who had to cancel many plans and attempt to reschedule others. Now we are off sailing to Vietnam, where we should arrive tomorrow afternoon on the 9th.

Victoria Harbor

Victoria Harbor