Sunday, October 29, 2006

#69 Egyptian plans

We’re arriving in Egypt tonight!

On Sunday night, we’ll dock on the north end of the Red Sea at Adabiya, Egypt.

On Monday morning, we’ll leave the ship for 3 days in Cairo but will return to the ship for the voyage through the Suez Canal.

On Friday morning (HAPPY BIRTHDAY NATE!), we will dock again in Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea where we will have 2 more days to explore Egypt.

Yours in Egyptian exploration,

#68 Halloween at Sea

Boo! Halloween at sea for those of us who did not plan ahead was an exercise in creative thinking. Since we’ll be in port and scattered in small groups across Egypt on Halloween, last night was our on-ship party. Creativity ruled. Write Boo! in magic marker on a white t-shirt and you have your Halloween costume. Or think ahead and pack a Santa suit. Or wrap yourself in toilet paper, mummy style. Be a bee!
3208f Rich the bee guy
Be one of your professors!
3217f Student and Professor
Or reverse roles with your spouse.
3205f Kelly and Mary
Yours in wishing I’d shaved the beard,

Saturday, October 28, 2006

#67 I’m Married to a Rare Bird

Malaria – we didn’t want it.

Vietnam, Myanmar, and India have it. Way back in August our travel doctor spelled out the options for Malaria meds and we chose the daily tablet with limited side-effects over the likely-hallucinogenic once-a-week option. So for the last 3 weeks in those 3 countries we’ve dutifully ingested our Malarone tablets each evening.

About a week ago in Delhi, Mary’s world started spinning erratically. “Positional vertigo” said our ship doctor. “Stay the Malarone course and we’ll see how long the vertigo lasts.” Mary, ever the trooper, stayed the course and the world kept spinning. When the Malarone ran out, so did the positional vertigo. Cause and effect? Studies show 3% of the population report dizziness side-effects with Malarone.

Yours in being married to a rare bird,

Friday, October 27, 2006

#66 Entering The Red Sea

Just for fun, look at a map of the Middle East and find the southernmost point in the Red Sea.

Imagine the view if you were on a ship passing through that narrow strait of Bab-el-Mandeb. On a map it looks narrow, but it’s about 20 miles wide with Yemen (Asia) on the East side and Djibouti (Africa) on the West.

 This is our view of Yemen.
3001 Entering Red Sea

Yours in the Red Sea,

17 degrees 40 minutes North 40 degrees 28 minutes East

Thursday, October 26, 2006

#65 Crew Talent Show

Given the overwhelming amount of interest in post #62 Dining with the Captain, I thought I’d tell you all a little bit more about our crew.

There are 192 crew on board our ship who work in housekeeping and in the galley and in the engine room. About 140 are from the Philippines. The others represent 21 countries from around the world, including Croatia. But I already told you about that. ;-)

From 2100 to 2300 last night, the crew entertained all of us with singing, dancing and comedy. Sadly, Captain Roman was not on stage but he was in the house. The music included My Endless Love, La Gasolina, Hello Dolly, All of Me, I Will Follow Him, Crazy for You, In the Navy, and the grand finale featured none other than We Are the World.

2961 Dance Group

2964 In the Navy

Yours in having a little bit of a crush on the whole crew,

#64 Crossing 60 degrees East Longitude

I heard some talk on the ship when we crossed 60 degrees East longitude.

That’s the pseudo halfway marker from our start on the west coast of North America and folks are waxing about our journey reaching half way. Those who know my affinity for maps bring such geographic gems to my attention along with their other geography-related questions:
• Why is Greenland not a continent while Antarctica is a continent?
• Why is the bump for Mt. Everest mislocated on the library’s 3-D globe?
• Where does Europe end and Asia begin?
• What’s the name of that island I saw off the port side last week?
• How wide is the opening we’ll squeeze through to enter the Red Sea?

Go ahead. Leave your answers as comments on this post.

Yours in delegating,

Entering the Red Sea Latitude: 12 degrees 25 minutes North Longitude: 44 degrees 54 minutes East

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

#63 Words of Wisdom

As we start heading back towards Indiana, we’re thinking of all the good advice and words of wisdom we’ve appreciated along the way…
• There’s humor everyone – take a look around. - Kathryn
• Take half as many clothes and twice as much money. – Dick and Bridget
• Avoid clothes with logos. - Karen
• Don’t look Middle Eastern men in the eyes - if you do, they will think that you are a loose woman! - Karen
• Travel when you’re young and healthy. – Joyce
• If you go south of the equator, set up a temporary sun dial and check to see if the sun really moves in the opposite direction: counterclockwise. - Roger
• Take copious notes for some freelance travel journalism - or who knows you might be inspired to write a book. – Jeff
• Pay particular attention to the safety instruction card in your cabin, because if there’s a derailment, I may not be here to save you. – Carlos, our train attendant
• Northern NM is a beautiful place to live. – Judith
• Being chosen to participate in this voyage is like winning the lottery twice. – Tom (Fall 2006 faculty)
 • I don’t like being separated from you when there’s a lifeboat situation. – Kelly Johnston
• These SAS students have chosen Cairo instead of Cabo. – Kathryn
• Academia is like a constant mutiny where no one ever walks the plank. – Judith

Yours in hanging out with wise people,

Our current location Latitude: 14 degrees, 13 minutes N Longitude: 52 degrees, 4 minutes E
Speed: 17.3 knots

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

#62 Dining with the Captain

Now don’t tell Kelly, but I have a crush on Captain Roman.
2706 Mary and Roman

I’ve had a crush on Captain Roman since he was introduced to us at a meeting on our first day. We occasionally meet on the deck or in the passageway and I’ll always say something witty like “Good morning, Captain.” And he’d always smile and say “Good morning.” And that was the extent of our relationship.

Until last night. Kelly and I and about 20 other faculty and staff were invited to dine with Captain Roman. Drinks at 7:30. Dinner at 8:00. When you dine with the Captain, nothing’s the same. He eats after the masses have cleared the dining hall. He sits at a special table. His menu is a notch up from the norm. The server-to-diner ratio is high. The glasses of wine are bottomless. And shorts and t-shirts are nowhere to be seen.

I’ve heard stories of how he enjoys spear fishing and how he’s a native of Dubrovnik. And when I walked into the captain’s dinner and found my name card at the right hand of the captain, I knew that was no accident.

I suspect part of the job interview for being Captain involves demonstrating ability to conduct a first-rate Captain’s dinner. Based on his performance last night, I’m sure Captain Roman aced that interview. After each course was delivered to our table, "Bon Appetit" was his keyword to let everyone know it was time to dig in. The Captain lives in Croatia and has plans to announce our arrival as we pass by his seaside neighborhood on our way into the port of Dubrovnik with 1 blast of the ship’s horn when we pass his church and 2 blasts when we pass his house. The crush remains intact.

Yours in admiring a man in uniform,

Monday, October 23, 2006

#61 The Sea’Lympics

In real life, the Olympics come around once every 4 years. But in yet one more difference between real life and ship life, here the Sea’Lympics come around once each semester!

There are no classes. The library is closed. And everyone participates – either as an athlete, a judge or a cheerer. The ship’s captain, Captain Roman Krstanovic, starts off the games at the opening ceremonies with the traditional, “Let the games begin.”

The day’s competitions include tug o’ war, Dodgeball, Ping Pong, Whipped Cream Pie Eating, Volleyball, Synchronized Swimming, Scavenger Hunt, Jumpsuit Relay, Root Beer Pong, Suck ‘n’ Blow, Obstacle Course, Flip Cup, Spaghetti & Marshmallow, Limbo, Egg Toss, Hot Dog Eating Contest, Hair Styling Contest, Free Styling Contest, and Talent Show. Of particular note to Kelly are the volleyball competition and the Spaghetti & Marshmallow competition. The goal of the second was to build in 20 minutes the tallest and most creative structure from 20 uncooked spaghetti strands given 20 marshmallows for connectors. Kelly’s team worked in the geometric style of Buckminster Fuller and too soon found the structural limit of the marshmallow.
2627f Spaghetti wheel

In the spirit of competition, Captain Roman cranked up all four MV Explorer engines to bring our speed to 29 knots, the fastest of any cruise ship. About the same time, Kelly’s team took the volleyball court creating a distinct wind shift. K’s team took 4th in the competition.
2516f Volleyball - K serving

Our shipboard community is divided into seas. The student groups are called the Caspian Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Bering Sea, the Caribbean Sea, the Red Sea, the Aegean Sea, the Yellow Sea, and the Arabian Sea. We - the faculty, staff, and dependents - make up the Pacific Ocean. Our Pacific team didn’t win the overall competition, we didn’t finish last, and we had a lot of fun.

Yours in friendly competition,

Current location: the Arabian Sea
Latitude: 10 degrees, 31 minutes N Longitude: 65 degrees, 46 minutes E
Speed: 17.3 knots

Saturday, October 21, 2006

#60 Introducing our daughters

In real life off the ship, Kelly and I have somehow not found the time to expand our family. But in the topsy turvy world of ship life, we have adopted six intelligent, beautiful, delightful daughters. Here’s a photo of Raine, Sara, Heidi and Heather at last night’s family gathering. (You other parents know how hard it is to get the whole family together at one time.)

2404 Raine Sara Heidi Heather

We get together each week – sometimes for a family dinner in the dining hall or for a photo swap in the piano lounge. We talk about family and classes and life on ship and goals and stuff like that. Other students on board include the granddaughter of an Illinois governor and the granddaughter of a US president, but we love our daughters best.

Yours in parenthood,

Current location: somewhere in the Arabian Sea
Latitude 7 degrees, 44 minutes N Longitude 73 degrees, 22 minutes E
Speed 16.6 knots

Friday, October 20, 2006

#59 India or Indiana

When I type “India” on my laptop, Microsoft Word suggests “Indiana.” Maybe that’s a sign. In Trying Really Hard to Like India, Seth Stevenson wrote “Back home in the States, it can feel like we’ve got life figured out, regulated, under control, under wraps. But here in India, nothing seems even close to figured out. Nothing seems remotely under control. You’re never quite sure what will happen next, and you’re working without a net.”

And Mark Twain wrote, “So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his rounds. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked.”

As hard as it is for this Missouri girl to side against Mr. Twain, I must admit that I fall more in line with Mr. Stevenson’s sentiments on the topic of India. And in the earlier post, Kelly didn’t even mention the 100-degree temperatures (as opposed to snow in Indianapolis), the fire in a students’ hotel room, or the insane traffic. And their postage stamps don’t even have any adhesive! But, on the other hand …
• One of the most fabulously beautiful sights in all the world has to be an Indian woman wearing a colorful sari. Even when traveling India by train in the oppressive heat of the afternoon, these women are beautiful.
2263f Saris at Fatehpur Sikri
• We safely returned to the ship from our 3-day adventure to northern India with all 68 students. The two students from the burning hotel room have a great story to tell.
• I like the Indian head waggle and I intend to try it out back home again in Indiana. Its meaning fits somewhere in between our head nod and our shoulder shrug – and I’ve been needing a gesture just for that.
• Indian food is good.
• And for a more positive, well-written, heartwarming experience in India, be sure to check out Erika's adventure - India is kind of a big deal.

Yours in wondering if that Hannibal native may have been right after all,

Current location: off the southern tip of Sri Lanka
Latitude 5 degrees, 58.8N Longitude 79 degrees, 56.4E

Thursday, October 19, 2006

#58 Trying hard to find the beauty in India

They warned us about India.
• It’s not safe to walk anywhere, and don’t get in a taxi alone. – US Consular official
• “Eve teasing” is a common form of public sexual harassment directed toward women by Indian men. – Indian inter-port lecturer
• Port security officers may demand money to let you return to the ship. – Executive Dean
• “In India, a casual sideways shake of the head does not always mean no. It can also mean, yes, maybe, or I don’t have a clue.” – Lonely Planet India

So with those and many more warnings in mind, we left the ship for 3 days to visit the Taj Mahal with Mary and another staff member responsible for a group of 68 students. We returned sleep-deprived 3 days later with all 68 students, and some first-hand observations.
• Walkers faced a constant barrage of aggressive street peddlers. Taxi riders complained about being taken to multiple shops they didn’t want to visit so the driver could collect a fee from each proprietor.
• At one tourist site, our guide warned students not to be lured away from the group by smooth-talking local men. Shortly thereafter, one female student was lured away from the group by a smooth-talking local man.
• After checking our passport, visa, customs form, and boarding card, the port security officers allowed us to return to the ship without bribes and gave us the India head waggle for free.
• The India head waggle turns out to be something like a Stevie Wonder imitation completed with the motionless shoulders. Even with practice, I can’t duplicate the move and the exact meaning remains unclear.
2217f Js at Taj Mahal AM
The Taj Mahal, for all its hype, lived up to its billing as arguably the world’s most beautiful building. It sits in the city of Agra, described by the Lonely Planet guide book as “a place to endure rather than enjoy”. In Agra, and everywhere we traveled in India, we were struck by the visible air pollution, visible and overwhelmingly smellable water pollution, poverty, overcrowding, and general filth. When I travel, I look forward to bridges as they often provide the best views. But in India where open water equals open sewer, bridges mean time to hold your breath.

The Taj Mahal would be beautiful anywhere, but the gleaming white marble and surrounding manicured gardens are in such stark contrast to the norm for India that I question my ability to objectively judge beauty. In India, I found a clean toilet to be a thing of incredible beauty.

Yours in enduring India,

Saturday, October 14, 2006

#57 Arriving in India

Just two days after leaving Myanmar’s military regime, we’re about to visit the world’s largest democracy with over 1 billion people. Our ship will dock in Chennai, India, at 0800 Sunday. We’ll get a city orientation tour, then leave the ship on a multi-day trip to visit among other sites, the Taj Mahal.

We’re under serious pressure to conserve water on the ship on this segment of our voyage. The ship is constantly converting salt water to potable water, but not when the salt water is polluted as we witnessed in Myanmar and are expecting in India. On land, we’ve not been able to drink tap water since Japan, and now with the on-ship water shortage we’re taking Navy showers, using paper plates in the dining halls, and generally focused on conservation of dihydrogen oxide.

Our ship departs India late Thursday and we’ll post updates thereafter.

Yours in avoiding Delhi belly,

#56 Congratulations Andy and Brandy!

Saturday while we were in Myanmar, a very important event happened a few thousand miles away in Missouri.

Our nephew Andy married his rhyme, Brandy, in what we suspect was Sedalia’s social event of the season. Welcome to the family Brandy!

Yours in congratulations,
Kelly and Mary

#55 The visible Myanmar

We didn’t see first-hand evidence of repression in Myanmar. We'd read enough to know that traveling to tourist sites we would be unlikely to see anything other than people going about their everyday tasks. Uniformed police or military were no more visible in Myanmar than elsewhere, although undercover officers are said to be “everywhere” and the country ranks 10th in the number of active military. Visitors are not allowed to enter areas of the county with a history of civil unrest. One of the commercial guidebooks showed the roadway checkpoints which serve to define the limits of travel although no such designation is evident on the official government tourist map.

One author compared the situation of the average Myanmar resident to someone who has cancer. They know there is a serious problem but they must continue to go about the tasks of daily life.

Yours in even greater appreciation of our freedoms,

Friday, October 13, 2006

#54 Auspiciousness to you

Mingalar bar!

That’s how we say hello in Myanmar. Literally, it means “auspiciousness to you.”  In each port, we learn how to say hello and thank you. Then we continue to use our new language skills until we replace it with another new language.

Myanmar is a poor country. That hits us hard as we step off this gated community we call a ship.
2039 Oxcart

But Myanmar is rich in pagodas. Known as the Golden Land, Myanmar has countless religious monuments/pagodas/shrines/temples/stupas, due to a series of devout Myanmar kings and their citizens.
2100 Bagan Pano

We spend our time in Yangon, Mandalay, and Maymyo with a surprise trip to Bagan. Yangon is our port city, flat, hot and humid on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. We fly to Mandalay, the former capital - flat, hot and humid on the banks of the Irrawaddy River upstream. From there, we drive 2 hours to Maymyo, the old British hill station, elevation 4000 feet, mountainous cool and comfortable with deep green forests, and surrounding fields of strawberries and chrysanthemums. We find it easy to like Maymyo.

Our surprise came when high water blocked our return to the Mandalay airport.
2004 Mandalay flooding

So we revert to the old reliable Irrawaddy River, now in flood stage, and a sleek passenger boat to whisk us 6 hours downriver to Bagan, where we catch the first flight out the next morning and arrive back at the MV Explorer just an hour before on-ship time. (For more on Myanmar experiences, don't forget to check out Erika's blog.)

Yours in not missing the boat,

Friday, October 06, 2006

#53 Myanmar, or is it Burma?

Tonight (Saturday) we dock in Yangon, Myanmar.

It used to be called Rangoon, Burma and still is by many. In preparation for our visit, we’ve been reading about Burma – Burmese Diary by George Orwell, Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin, and Letters from Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Before this trip when asked about our ports of call, we would recite: Mexico, Hawaii, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Myanmar… and get a quizzical look. Yea, before this trip, the country formerly known as Burma was not on my radar either.

Early in our voyage, I met a gem of a couple, Tom and Dianne Klein, educators from Ohio, who recommended Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin as an excellent example of creative non-fiction. Larkin, writing under a pen name to avoid retaliation from the current brutal military regime, travels to sites where Orwell lived in Burma and learns the locals view Orwell as a prophet, given the distinct similarities between the current repressive Myanmar government and that described in Orwell’s 1984.

During a brief uprising in support of democratic rule in 1988, the Myanmar government ordered thousands shot in the streets and thousands more thrown in prison for conduct detrimental to the state. Reacting to the resulting international outrage, the government agreed to democratic elections where the opposition movement garnered over 80% of the vote. The government ignored the election results and put Aung San Suu Kyi, the charismatic opposition leader, under arrest. In 1991, she won the Nobel Peace Prize. U2 wrote “Walk On” about her struggles and dedicated the song to her. That song is banned in Myanmar where she remains under arrest today. This September, the United Nations Security Council voted to formally add Burma to its agenda.

Today, citizens of Myanmar are living the 1984 big brother nightmare. For example, visitors must make up their mind early if they intend to stay the night because their presence has to be reported to the local Law and Order Restoration Council by 9 pm. Failure to “report the guest list” could result in a fine or a prison sentence for both the guest and the host. Nobody may go away for the night from his own home without informing the local LORC as well as the LORC of the place where he will be staying. The authorities have the right to check at any time during the night to see if there are any unreported guests or if any of the family members are missing.

We’ve learned that a few students will not be getting off the ship at this port so as not to financially support the military. And faculty have told us Desmond Tutu will be sailing on the fall 2007 voyage of Semester at Sea under the condition the ship does not dock in Myanmar. Our plans are to spend the next few days in the port city of Yangon and in Mandalay, the cultural heartland of Myanmar.

Yours in approaching Myanmar,

Thursday, October 05, 2006

#52 From Indiana to the Indian Ocean

When I was a kid, Mom told me if I dug a hole deep enough, I’d pop up in China. And one of those cool Google Maps applications tells me if I start digging in Indianapolis, I’ll pop up in the Indian Ocean. Today, we emerged unscathed from the pirate-infested waters of the Strait of Malacca and entered the Indian Ocean. As that transcontinental crow flies, we’re 9090 miles from Indiana. Along the way, we came close (within 1 degree) to crossing the equator.

Yours in popping up on the other side of the world,

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

#51 Pirates in the Strait of Malacca?

It’s a good thing Kelly had such good pirate training at IDEM before we left Indiana! This afternoon, while we’re making our way from Singapore to Myanmar through the Strait of Malacca, we’re reportedly in the greatest danger from pirates.

So much so, passengers have been recruited to stand watch for pirates. And Kelly, feeling especially confident from his in-depth training, eagerly signed up for the 1600 to 1700 shift.

Had he spotted any craft approaching within 100 meters, he was instructed to yell into the two-way radio “Security, Security, Pirate Approach, Pirate Approach.” We learned earlier on our bridge tour that one crew member is always scouting visually in addition to the radar systems. Kelly reports that in the 1600-to-1700 time slot, the Black Pearl failed to emerge from the mist.

Yours in wondering if Captain Jack Sparrow is in the neighborhood,

Monday, October 02, 2006

#50 Yes, we have no McDonalds.

In Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is our first McDonalds-less port. And that’s not the only exotica in Vietnam. Not many visitors arrive here by ship. Our captain spent four hours navigating upstream from the mouth of the Saigon River passing a bewildering variety of boats along the winding river route through seldom seen mangrove forests to reach this crowded city of over 5 million residents formerly known as Saigon.

According to our guide book, “To cross a busy street in Vietnam all one has to do is step out into the coming traffic. The motor scooters, cars, and buses will maneuver around you until you have reached the other side. Do not run as they will not be able to gauge your movement; just keep a steady pace.”
1532f Saigon scooter mania

This alien behavior that would ensure injury in most places is absolutely required here. Volunteer tourist assistance police have the job of encouraging visitors off the curb and into the traffic vortex. It’s a little like Frogger. We saw first timers jump up and down with euphoria upon reaching the safety of the opposite curb unscathed. With some experience, it becomes second nature to take a quick glance toward oncoming traffic, time your departure to take advantage of a small gap, and then walk without looking toward the traffic. It’s only when you look that you question your sanity and are tempted to stop or run. That would be bad since the drivers have subconsciously already adjusted their speed and path. This works in part because drivers make absolutely no attempt to stay in any marked lanes, so they weave about as needed to avoid pedestrians and other motorists. In practice, this seems to work beautifully since pedestrians never have to wait for traffic to clear and drivers never have to stop to wait for pedestrians. However, the 1,000 traffic fatalities per month lead us to question the system.

After a day in Saigon, we travel to the east coast for 3 days of R&R and to experience the “Hawaii of Vietnam.” In 2003, Time described Phan Thiet as “unspoiled Vietnam”, and three years later we don’t see much evidence of spoiling. The 16 students we lead on the trip enjoyed the sand dunes, the cyclo tour of the city and the sampan ride among the fishing boats in the picturesque harbor. 
1593f Js on the Phan Thiet beach

Back in Saigon, we meet Erika for drinks on the rooftop garden at the Rex Hotel, a haven for foreign journalists during what was known in Vietnam as “The American War.” Mary’s uncle lived in Saigon in the early 1970s and we are successful in locating his hangouts. (We have lots of photos to share with you, Lillard.)

Before my visit, I thought “war” whenever I heard “Vietnam.” I now have other images. There’s no attempt in Vietnam to hide the war, but the local interpretation is through the communist lens.

Today, Monday, we are back at sea for a few days, headed for a quick refueling stop in Singapore before continuing to Myanmar.

Yours in moving forward beyond “Vietnam,”

Our location: 7 degrees 53 minutes North, 107 degrees 9 minutes East.