Thursday, March 31, 2011

#490 Looking Down on Hong Kong

If you want to look down on Hong Kong, you climb Victoria Peak.

Our views on the tram ride to the top make the steep incline very clear.

Hong Kong seems to be all about the shopping.  We avoid the multi-level mall at the top, but the view from the coffee shop is hard to resist.

Drizzly weather hampers the panormic vista, but the MV Explorer really is docked way down there in the fog.

The cool weather inspires us to walk all the way back down to Hong Kong and we make sure to trek through the botanic garden we loved back in 2006.  Still no gingko, but the fountain has seen a facelift and the bamboo garden remains strong.
Yours in enjoying the ups and downs of Hong Kong,

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

#489 Hanging with the locals in Hong Kong

When traveling, local knowledge is a wonderful thing. Often on Semester at Sea, it comes in the form of a professional local guide who deals with thousands of tourist guests every year.

So in Hong Kong we are thrilled to meet up with our friends Toni and Brandon who live in Discovery Bay, just a short ferry ride (with free wifi) from Hong Kong.

Toni and Brandon are wonderful hosts.  After lunch, a stroll around Discovery Bay, and a sample of Brandon's home brew, we explore Kowloon's Temple Street Night Market

and dine at scrumptious Temple Spice Crabs-all suggested by the local experts.

We have a fun time catching up with our friends from Lockerbie while learning why they like their Hong Kong lifestyle.   It's good to be able to picture folks where they live.

Yours in wishing for local knowledge in every port,

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

#488 Ta Prohm and Bayon

While we are in the neighborhood of Angkor Wat, we visit two other temples: Ta Prohm and Bayon.

Ta Prohm is a popular tourist destination because the temple has not been restored.  A jungle surrounds the temple and trees are growing out of the ruins.  Did you see Lara Croft: Tomb Raider?  It was filmed here at Ta Prohm. 

We are amazed at the struggle between temple and jungle.  To see more photos, click on the link to 'See all our photos' and select our Cambodia photo set.

Yours in struggling to control the camera,

Monday, March 28, 2011

#487 Angkor Wat

We began planning our trip to Angkor Wat in 2006!

On our first SAS voyage, we docked in Ho Chi Minh City and spent all of our time in Vietnam.  Next time, we said, we’ll go next door to Cambodia and visit those Hindu temples we've heard so much about!

So, a short flight on Cambodia Angkor Air takes us from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap airport, just a few miles from Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The temple is the world's largest religious building, first Hindu, then Buddhist, built early in the 12th century.

King Suryavarman II knew what he was doing when he included SIX libraries in his temple.  Naturally, Nedra and I like the libraries best.  This one is inside the innermost enclosure. 

We enjoyed Angkor Wat so much, we got up early the next morning to arrive at the temple at 6 am to watch the sun rise.  It was a cloudy day, but still spectacular.

Yours in gratitude for second chances,

Sunday, March 27, 2011

#486 Go Bulldogs!

Greetings basketball fans!

We're taking a break from our travel writing just long enough to say CONGRATULATIONS to Indy and the Butler Bulldogs for making it back to the Final Four for the second year in a row

We're 12 hours ahead of the US east coast (and Indiana!) now, so we're all trying to keep track of the tournament here on the ship night and day. Here is the official bracket as it appears on the wall in the deck 6 dining hall.

Thanks to all who e-mailed us the good news.  

Yours in wondering whether Kelly can find a place to watch the championship game in Taiwan,

Saturday, March 26, 2011

#485 Phnom Penh

We take a LOT of photos when we’re sailing with Semester at Sea.

At the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields of Cambodia, we took no photos. Yet we will remember our visit.

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum had previously been the Security Office 21 (S21) for Pol Pot’s “Democratic Kampuchea” from 1975 to 1979. S21 was surrounded by 2 rows of corrugated iron fence covered with dense barbed wire. Inside S21 was used for detention, interrogation, and torture of those deemed to be a threat to the Khmer Rouge and its leader Pol Pot. After victims confessed, their photograph was taken and then they were blindfolded and driven 15 km outside of Phnom Penh where they were killed.

For a more recent update on the beleagured Cambodians, read this from The New York Review of Books:

Yours in needing no photos,

Friday, March 25, 2011

#484 Sailing up the Saigon River

Traveling by river is always fun - especially the Saigon River!

With many blasts of the horn, Captain Jeremy spent about four hours navigating upstream from the mouth of the Saigon River to the city formerly known as Saigon. 

Yours in enjoying the excitement of river traffic,

Saturday, March 19, 2011

#483 No Singapore Sling

What to do with only one day in Singapore?

Many of our shipboard companions head off to Raffles Hotel to sample the Singapore Sling where it was first concocted. The Sling's "original recipe used original recipe used gin, Cherry Heering, Bénédictine, and fresh pineapple juice, primarily from Sarawak pineapples which enhance the flavour and create a foamy top."

But not us. On tap for us are the National Orchid Garden, the National Library of Singapore, and the Kinokuniya Bookstore. What a fabulous day!

First, we stop by to see the magnificent orchids at the National Orchid Garden.

Then after lunch at the Maxwell Food Centre, we walk all the way from Chinatown to the National Library of Singapore, admiring Singapore's architectural wonders along the way. 

The architectural wonder of the 16-story National Library of Singapore fits right in.

Our shipboard novelist P. F. Kluge recommends Kinokuniya Bookstore as the world's greatest bookstore.  And it does not disappoint.  See that shopping bag?

Yours in loving our brief stop in Singapore,

#482 Saint Patrick's Day on the MV Explorer

I've long enjoyed Saint Patrick's Day.

I started my green celebrations long ago during my undergraduate years at the Missouri University of Science & Technology, an engineering college. Since Saint Patrick is the patron saint of engineers, the school and town celebrate for 10 days ending with a downtown parade.

But the most fun place to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day is on the MV Explorer. The faculty, staff, and lifelong learners (aka Sea Salts) packed the faculty/staff lounge for a night of Irish singing and dancing. At our Irish ceilidh, Mike Connolly and Becky Hitchcock led us in the singing of some Irish favorites (Molly Malone, Danny Boy, Drunken Sailor, Boys of County Armagh) and taught us how to dance the Bridge of Athlone. 

My favorite part was the group singing of the cleverly written Mary Jo Johnston's Ball, adapted from Mick McGilligan's Ball.  What a lovely surprise to be honored with my very own song!  The chorus goes like this "So they all went down to Mary Jo Johnston's Ball, where they had to tear the paper off the wall, to make room for all the people in the hall.  Well, the girls and the boys made a divil of a noise at Mary Jo Johnston's Ball."  And the verses were even more fun.

Yours in enjoying Saint Patrick through the years,

Friday, March 18, 2011

#481 Strait of Malacca

Kelly is a certificate-carrying expert at watching out for pirates.

The crew did not ask for his help in looking out for pirates through the Strait of Malacca, but he was ready with his certificate -  just in case.

Yours in feeling safe through the straits all the way to Singapore,

Thursday, March 17, 2011

#480 Taiwan replaces Japan

We'll be bypassing our stops in Japan and docking in Keelung near Taipei, Taiwan!
via Google Maps
Thanks to the Institute for Shipboard Education for their good work in keeping us safe and finding an alternate port out of harm's way.  We have sailed on 3 voyages and each time ISE has altered our itinerary to keep us safe.   We appreciate it!
March 17, 2011: The Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE), in consultation with sources from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the U.S. Department of State, global risk agency ASI Group, World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Spring 2011 voyage administration and faculty, has decided to replace its call to Japan with a four-day stop in Keelung (Taipei), Taiwan. ISE continues to monitor the ongoing situation and will make any other necessary changes as needed. The NRC has dispatched nuclear experts in Japan and currently reports that radiation concerns are limited to the proximity of Fukushima. According to the NRC and other authorities, upcoming ports of calls in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taiwan, and Hawaii are not considered to be at risk for any radiation exposure, due to their geographic distance from northern Japan. Currently, ISE is determining logistical arrangements and a field program for Taiwan, which will be posted to the current voyage website as soon as confirmed. Pending final confirmation, the expected arrival date in Taiwan will be April 4 and the departure will be April 7. The remainder of the itinerary remains unchanged.
From a SAS history buff, here’s some information on previous visits to Taiwan:
  • Number of SAS visits to Keelung, Taiwan: 41 (the 4th most visited SAS port)
  • First SAS visit to Keelung: Voyage 8 (Fall 1967, on the SS Ryndam)
  • First SAS voyage with China/Taiwan combination: Voyage 53 (Fall 1991)
  • Other China/Taiwan combination voyages: Voyage 57 (Fall 1993) and Voyage 84 (Summer 2004, the first voyage of the MV Explorer)
  • Most recent SAS visit to Taiwan: Voyage 90 (Summer 2006, the first voyage with UVA)
Yours in appreciation and anticipation,

Monday, March 14, 2011

#479 Skipping Japan

ISE Cancels Call on Japan; Alternative Port to be Announced in 48-72 Hours

March 14, 2011: The Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE), in consultation with our shipboard administration, has resolved to cancel the Spring 2011 Semester at Sea voyage's call to Kobe and Yokohama, Japan on April 4 and April 7 respectively. This decision follows our careful assessment of the conditions in Japan which raise serious concerns about health and safety as well as concerns that our visit would impede relief efforts currently underway. Our assessment also takes into consideration a recent travel warning for Japan issued by the U.S. State Department. Currently, ISE and senior voyage officials are evaluating alternative ports in consideration of safety, logistics, and maximum value to the academic and field programs. Thank you for your patience during this complex process. A revised voyage itinerary will be announced on the SAS website in the next 48-72 hours. Participants who have signed up for ISE-sponsored field trips in Japan will be reimbursed.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

#478 Chennai Public Library

We stumbled on another library! 

The Connemara Public Library in Chennai has been around since 1890, though this new building was built in 1973.

Why is it that libraries and fish tanks go so well together?

The library is "one of four national depository libraries which receive a copy of all books, newspapers, and periodicals published in India." On a Sunday, the periodicals room is quiet.

From the back of the periodicals room, we find our way to the old building.

The stacks are closed in the old building, so we can't walk further.  But we admire the stained glass and the teak shelves and we remember this is where Ramanujan studied math.

Yours in enjoying another library day,

Friday, March 11, 2011

#477 Striking A Pose

Here's a picture story about one of our local guides in India.
His academic credentials were impeccible with advanced degrees in all the right topics.  He did a stellar job describing the Hindu gods and interpreting obscure temple symbology.
 He was a very serious man...
...until he delivered the body positions lecture.
Yours in making a point with humor,

Thursday, March 10, 2011

#476 Ramanujan Museum

In November, Kelly and I traveled to downtown Charlottesville to see a play produced by Britain's National Theatre Live about a Chennai mathematician.  (Nod to Melinda and Margie!) 

A Disappearing Number tells of the "heartbreaking collaboration between the greatest natural mathematician of the 20th century, Srinivasa Ramanujan, a penniless Brahmin from Madras in South India, and his British counterpart, the brilliant Cambridge don GH Hardy." 

And now that we've sailed half way around the world to Madras in South India, we're eager to visit the Ramanujan Museum.   But in India, securing transportation to an obscure one-room mathematics museum off the tourist route is easier said than done.  With smiles and high hopes, Theresa, Kelly, and I head off in a tuk-tuk ready for an adventure.

After stopping 4 times to ask directions to the museum at 15/9 Somu Chetty, 4th Lane, Royapuram, Chennai, our tuk-tuk driver delivers us to Old No 15 (instead of New No 15) Somu Chetty - a fabric store.  We are so close!

A few minutes later, we cheer our driver as he pulls up in front of the Ramanujan Museum!

Inside, those of us who began our undergraduate careers studying math pose alongside the great mathematician himself.

We are warmly welcomed with cool drinks (orange sodas) and introduced to the math education centre that provides a hands-on, visual approach to learning math:  "Mathematics is not a looker subject like art, a listener subject like music, a looker & listener subject like dance, but a looker, listener and doer subject like craft."

And wouldn't you know it?  There's a community library next door to the museum with magazines in Tamil, children's books in English, and computer language instruction books in English.  Adults can subscribe to the library for 100 rupees per year.

Yours in appreciating the mathematical genius of Ramanujan and enjoying the library serendipity of India,

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

#475 Finishing our "puram" tour

After our temple visits, we visited a shop of silk weavers before leaving Kanchipuram (famous for hand-woven silk fabrics and saris) ... 
...for Mamallapuram (a UNESCO world heritage site) where we had lunch on banana leaves...
...before visiting the world's second largest bas-relief sculpture...
...and a 7th century stone carvers' playground...
...followed by the beautifully-sited Shore Temple.
Yours in enjoying the places I can't pronounce,