Saturday, December 30, 2006

#96 Dr. Ben Gontolong

Upon returning to the Indiana Government Center, I found my old office occupied by a “new” employee, Dr. Ben Gontolong. According to his office accoutrements, Ben is laden with employee awards, hangs with celebs, travels the world doing good, is loved by all, and was vacationing in Darfur when I returned. I was anxious to meet the guy. Since he’s a stickler for efficiency, in my absence, Ben moved all my office stuff out into the hallway for all to see. What a guy.
6402f IDEM office

But just one day later, we received this email from Ben:
From: Dr. Ben Gontolong
Subject: Dr. Ben Gontolong signing off from Darfur ...

To my formerly esteemed colleagues at IDEM: After consultations with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the spirit of Mother Teresa, Oprah, and Al, it is with considerable regret that I, Dr. Ben Gontolong, do hereby announce my immediate resignation from my esteemed position at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

My humanitarian aid trip to Darfur has made it clear I am needed here more than in the Heart of Central Indiana. As I will not be returning to the Crossroads of America, please donate to charity the contents of my extremely uncluttered office. I will expect you to forward the donation receipt to my attention here in Darfur as I will need it for my tax returns. (My accountant is very picky and I cannot afford any hint of impropriety).

Also, I have recently received an important email from a Barrister Hokmu Nomombi who needs to permanently deposit the sum of USD $2,000,001 from the unclaimed account of a local deceased sultan without next of kin into the bank account of someone he does not know in America. Therefore, please forward your bank account number (and PIN) to me here in Darfur as well.

Thoughts of my empty office back at IDEM will haunt and hinder my humanitarian aid efforts here in Darfur, so please find a new occupant who can move in immediately if not sooner to carry on my legacy of patriotism, environmental cleanliness, and celebrity hobnobbing.

Yours in Darfur,
Dr. Ben Gontolong

Even though I missed meeting Ben, it’s my honor to sit in the same office he once occupied. It’s only a matter of time until a bronze plaque will mark this spot. Thanks, IDEM, for covering for me while I was away and for welcoming me back in the IDEM tradition. You rock!

Yours in Indiana,

Friday, December 29, 2006

#95 The BEST port greeting

If you’ve been following our blog, you know that Kobe won our award for Best Port Greeting. The Japanese escorted us into their harbor at 8 am with a fire boat spraying a decorative fountain and with a local brass band on the dock playing John Phillip Sousa marches!

It turns out we were wrong. The best port greeting of our trip goes to Indianapolis. The visits, the phone calls, the dinners – you all are the best.

Here’s Kelly using his pirate sword letter opener – a gift from our daughter Raine – to get through all the mail.
6302f K with letter opener
And here's me using my castanets - a gift from our daughter Sarah - to open my mail. ;-)
6304f M with castanets
Yours in exercising my mind-changing prerogative,

Thursday, December 14, 2006

#94 Thanks for traveling with us

Thinking back now, the trip dissolves into uncountable little segments.

We didn’t go around the world. We went to Chicago, then Los Angeles, then San Diego. And each little trip generated its own memories, people, sights, and such. It’s like life. You live a whole bunch of days with countless choices along the way and at the end, you look back and realize that was my life. We saw too many people who don’t have the luxury of choices to alter the direction of their lives, so we’re returning with a new focus.

We know what’s important is what you do along the way, the journey, the days, the choices. As we think back now, we’re really thinking ahead, eager for the chance to make good choices every day. And there you have almost everything that took place these 117 days which deserves mention in this chronicle of Kelly and Mary’s voyage around the world.

Yours in appreciating the journey,
Kelly and Mary

#93 Back home again

Our voyage has come to an end – we’re sad, but happy to be home. In the week that we’ve been back in the US, here are some of the things that we particularly appreciate.

In the US
  • Rest areas with ‘western’ toilets, running water, AND toilet paper
  • Cars that drive in their own traffic lanes
  • The low, low price of gas (now selling for about $8/gallon in Europe)
  • Drinkable tap water and all the environmental policies in place that make it so

In Florida (where we hung out while waiting for Indiana to warm up)
  • Warm southern states that allow us to postpone our entry to winter
  • Key Lime Pie in Key West
  • The homogeneity of the US that allowed Sonic Drive-Ins to make it all the way to Florida
  • The ideas that Frank Lloyd Wright took (uncredited) from all over the world that allowed him to create the chapel at Florida Southern College
  • The connections between Kansas City and Key West – home to both Truman and Hemingway
6062f K Little White House

In Indiana
  • The feeling that we get when turning on our street
  • Dropping off the rental car and walking home
  • Neighbors who are eager to greet us 
  • Friends who have taken care of our home, stacked up all the mail, and brought dinner on our first day back
6231f Home
Yours in Indiana,

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

#92 Qualitative analysis is hard.

So here’s a little more quantitative stuff…

  • Number of travel days (August 19 – December 13): 117
  • Number of rail miles from Indy to San Diego: 2,559
  • Number of miles traveled aboard the MV Explorer: 26,334
  • Number of car miles from Florida to Indy (clearly not a direct route): 2,224
  • Total number of miles traveled to get around the world: 31,117

  • Number of movies seen: 4
  • The Devil Wears Prada with Cantonese subtitles in Hong Kong
  • A Good Year with Turkish subtitles in Turkey
  • Borat with Croatian subtitles in Croatia
  • The Holiday with chick-flick subtitles (by me) in Florida
  • Best movie-going experience: Turkey (reserved seats, lobby service, intermission)

  • Country most likely to return to visit: Japan, Croatia, Spain
  • Country most likely not to return to visit: India, Egypt
  • Country most likely to live in: Spain
  • Most beautiful country: Croatia
  • Country with our favorite mosaics: Turkey
  • Country most in need of environmental protection: India, Egypt
  • Best port arrival: Hong Kong harbor
  • Worst port arrival: Adabiya, Egypt
  • Best port greeting: band and water-spraying fire boat in Kobe, Japan
  • Most welcoming country: Spain
  • Least welcoming country: Croatia
  • Concept the US should emulate: Japan’s train service
  • Country where we expected to find gingko trees: China
  • Country where we found gingko trees: Japan
  • Best beach: Phan Thiet, Vietnam
  • Strongest connection to home: Touring the Frank Lloyd Wright home in Japan
  • Best man-made spectacle on earth: the Hong Kong harbor light show
  • Best rooftop experience for Mary: The nightclub on top of the Rex Hotel in Saigon
  • Best rooftop experience for Kelly: The camera obscura in Cadiz, Spain
  • Most spectacular structure: Himeji Castle in Japan
  • Most inspirational structure: A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, Japan
  • Best local food: Dim Sum in Hong Kong
  • Best non-local food: Italian in Saigon
  • Food Mary can’t believe she ate: Bird’s nest soup (made from swallow’s saliva) 
  • Favorite souvenirs: Bowls from Turkey and a shoulder bag from Myanmar
  • Favorite trip leadership experience: 3-day trip to Phan Thiet, Vietnam with about 20 students
  • Scariest trip leadership experience: 3-day trip to Delhi, India when one of our student’s hotel rooms caught on fire
  • Favorite sign: “Enjoy the present condition and do an enjoyable life.” (in China) 
  • Animals spotted: flying fish, camels, monkeys, whales, sea lions, alligators

  • Most inspiring library: Bibliotheca Alexandrina
  • Most welcoming library: Cairo Public Library
  • Librarian most likely to have her own action figure: Erika
  • Most professionally rewarding on-ship experience: Completing the semester-long project to rebarcode the ENTIRE collection
  • One more reason to become a librarian: See the world (as if you needed another one) 
  • Plan for next time: Bring copies of Oh The Places You’ll Go for library donations in each port

  • Number of words/phrases added to vocabulary: 2 (Top Ass - from stimulating library conversation, replaces ‘awesome’ AND Weak Sauce – from stimulating conversation with our daughters, means ‘disappointing’)
  • Most exercise: Kelly’s workout with his Sea Olympics volleyball team
  • Most beautiful water: Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Japan
  • Least beautiful water: Approach to Myanmar on Irrawaddy River
  • Roughest seas: Atlantic Ocean leaving Spain and Mediterranean Sea leaving Egypt Most personally rewarding on-ship experience: Adopting 6 fabulous daughters
  • Best music: Megan’s singing
  • Best dinner: Captain’s dinner with table service, superb food, unlimited wine
  • Best opportunity for flirting with Captain Roman: Mary seated at the Captain’s right hand during the Captain’s dinner
  • Best on-ship dessert for Kelly: flan
  • Best on-ship dessert for Mary: peanut butter cookies

Yours in driving slowly home to give us plenty of review time,
Kelly and Mary

Sunday, December 10, 2006

#91 What’s Normal Anyway?

After 10 days crossing the Atlantic, we arrived Thursday in Florida.

Banner-waving students lined the ship’s rails and banner-waving families and friends lined the dock.

A few hours later, we walked down the gangway for the last time, left the MV Explorer gleaming in the Florida sun, and plunged back into “normal” society. Earlier this week our thoughtful friend Donna wrote:
I've been thinking about you as you journey back home and wonder how you are going to feel. You've taken on a new "normal" these past months and I can't help but think (from my own experience) that life here will seem eerily abnormal for a while.
So in our current state of heightened awareness, we’ve decided to hit the road for a few days to postpone our winter entry while keeping a keen eye out for abnormal behavior. We’re thinking Key West…

Yours in pursuing normalcy,

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

#90 By the Numbers

It’s been a gorgeous Atlantic crossing. The weather has been sunny and warm. The students finished their finals yesterday. The pool deck has been crowded. Erika and I wrapped up the big library project yesterday. We had one last dinner with our daughters.
5812f Family with scarves

And we’ll dock in Fort Lauderdale tomorrow morning! So let’s take some time for a numerical review…

  • 110 days on the journey so far (August 19 thru Dec 6)
  • 1 new US state visited together (HI, our 50th)
  • 11 countries visited (Mexico, Japan, China, Vietnam, Myanmar, India, Egypt, Croatia, Bosnia, Turkey, Spain
  • 2 Communist countries visited (China, Vietnam)
  • 4 great rivers cruised (Bosphorous, Irrawaddy, Nile, Saigon
  • 6 daughters adopted
  • 18 transportation modes (foot, Amtrak, rental car, MV Explorer, bullet train, subway, bus, ferry, escalator, sampan, cyclo, US Army jeep, airplane, stagecoach, tour boat, taxi, funicular, light rail)
  • fastest speed on the circumnavigation route = 90+ mph on America’s Amtrak
  • fastest speed in port = 179 mph on Japan’s bullet train
  • 14 UNESCO World Heritage Sites visited
  • Japan: Hemiji-jo castle, Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Itsukushima Shinto Shrine, Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto
  • India: Agra Fort, Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri
  • Egypt: Memphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur
  • Turkey: Historic Areas of Istanbul
  • Croatia: Old City of Dubrovnik, Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Historic City of Trogir, Cathedral of St Jacob in Sibenik
  • Spain: Cathedral and Alcazar in Seville
Yours in finishing the quantitative analysis but still working on the qualitative analysis,

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

#89 Academic Immersion

Smart people are everywhere on this ship When a question comes up in conversation, likely someone is around who knows the answer. Art, architecture, history, economics, business, religion, music, medicine, real estate investing, beekeeping, techniques of lucid dreaming, textile analysis, puppetry, urban step dancing, Methodist ministering, massage therapy, Reiki, Tai Chi, left wing Democratic politics…it’s like having Wikipedia in your pocket. Where’s a good Italian restaurant in Saigon? Where’s the closest ATM to the port in Kobe? How long will it take to drive 130 km along the Dalmatian coast? It’s like having Wikitravel in your pocket. Some of the faculty are bloggers:
Erika Day
Tom and Dianne Klein
Larry Silver
And the learned are not without a sense of humor. Our psychology prof taught his 9-year-old son (who operates under the pseudonym “Mucous”) the following song, who in turn taught it to me:
PhD version of Row, Row, Row Your Boat
Propel, propel, propel your craft
Gently down the liquid solution Ecstatically, ecstatically, ecstatically, ecstatically,
Existence is but an illusion.

Here’s an enjoyable excerpt from an email sent to one of our students from their academic advisor back home in Colorado. I found it to rank high on the unintentional comedy scale.
Hi Everyone, I hope you are all enjoying and settling into your new classes and schedules. I have enjoyed meeting with many of you in the last few weeks. I wanted to write and pass along some important dates and announcements that have come across my desk in the last week. Today at 5 pm is the last time you can add a class for this semester without the instructor’s signature… I am working on a project on squirrel feeding and nutrition. I am in need of squirrel carcasses. If you see any dead squirrels on the road that are not badly degraded and their skulls are not crushed, please bring them in to me wrapped in several plastic bags with a note on where and when you found the carcass. I am storing them in a freezer downstairs. Thank you very much for your help. I hope you all have a very pleasant and enjoyable semester. Please come see me anytime. Sincerely, (name withheld)
Yours in enjoying all the benefits of academia,

Monday, December 04, 2006

#88 Bookcrossing summary

Here’s the result of my Bookcrossing experiment… We left home with 12 books that I had already read. I left each one in a public place along our route with a label inside that explains the book was intentionally left and provides the Bookcrossing web site address.

Three of the 12 books were found with these comments posted to the web site.
  • Garrison Keillor – WLT: A Radio Romance Released 8/19, Ft. Madison, Iowa train station. Caught and comment posted on 9/16: “Found book at the depot in Ft. Madison, IA. Plan to read it then release it in Chicago, IL.”
  • Maria Augusta Trapp – The Story of the Trapp Family Singers Released 8/21, San Bernadino, CA Caught and comment posted on 8/21: “What a wonderful concept. I will pass the book on.”
  • Bill Bryson - I’m a Stranger Here Myself Released 8/25, on Harbor Drive in San Diego Caught and comment posted on 9/1: “Found about 6:00 pm local time during walk along Harbor Drive in San Diego. Looked for owner since I thought someone forgot it. Didn't read inside cover until I returned home to Conifer, CO. Intrigued with the concept, I joined. I have read two other Bill Bryson books: "In a Sunburned Country" and "A Walk in the Woods" and loved them both. Looking forward to reading this one and releasing it. Thanks for the gift.”

I don’t know what happened to the other nine books, but I hope they are enjoying the journey.
  • Paul Theroux – The Old Patagonian Express: By Train through the Americas Released 8/19, Chicago Union Station 
  • Alistair MacLeod - Island: The Collected Stories Released 8/20, Kansas City, MO coffee shop (thank you, Lynn) • Garrison Keillor – We Are Still Married Released 8/20, La Junta, CO train station 
  • J. K. Rowling - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Released 8/20, Raton, NM train station 
  • John Steinbeck - Travels with Charley: In Search of America Released 8/20, Albuquerque, NM train station 
  • Tony Rasch - The Lupine Walker: A Journey Released 8/22, bench outside San Diego Museum of Art 
  • Brian Andreas - Going Somewhere Soon: Collected Stories & Drawings Released 9/2 on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu
  • Lucy Maud Montgomery - Anne of Avonlea Released 9/22 near central escalator in Hong Kong 
  • John Updike - Rabbit, Run Released 12/3 in the light reading section of the MV Explorer library

5743 Mary releasing Updike

Yours in hoping some of these books make it around the world,

Sunday, December 03, 2006

#87 Librarians at Sea

Erika and I were surprised and touched when our library work-study students arranged a surprise party for us this week. I’ve already mentioned how lucky we are to have these 6 students working with us in the library – and that was before they bought us cake!

This is the first full voyage of Semester at Sea under the academic sponsorship of the University of Virginia. Our library crew has worked extra hard to accomplish a major project this semester to support the transition to UVa in addition to the constant circulation and reference responsibilities. Because of this project, future SAS faculty will know what resources are available to them in the ship’s library through the UVa catalog.

With the assistance of these six strong-armed work study students, we’ve physically moved each item from the shelves to the circulation desk, weeded, added a UVa bar code, updated the electronic catalog, and reshelved. It’s been a test of planning, teamwork, and endurance, ably directed by Erika. And we’re on track to finish the project before we arrive in Florida. It occurs to me now I’m working in what is likely the world’s largest and certainly best managed floating library!

Yours in appreciating library teamwork,