A Travellerspoint blog

South Africa Baby!

sunny 70 °F

It’s that time again! I apologize for such a hiatus on writing these blogs, I have been so busy on this voyage compared to my last one that I can hardly find time to let everyone know back at home what is going on! For this blog entry I will be skipping Mauritius, since there is really nothing to talk about in that country, and going on about South Africa.
I woke up early to see the sunrise come over Table Mountain and I must say, it was the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. Blue, purple, orange, red purple and black were all a part of this gorgeous scene and soon I will be posting a picture, although no picture will ever give that moment justice. When the sun finally did start rising it shined through the clouds and the introduction to “The Lion King” started playing in my head. Such a long wait on this voyage, but we were finally in Africa. When the ship started to pull into Cape Town I noticed all of the landmarks I had been to before and couldn’t help but dance in excitement for one of my favorite countries.
When the ship finally did dock it was time to say goodbye to Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He had been sailing with us since Ensenada and it was really sad to see such an honorable figure and role model leave our ship. I waved bye from Deck 5 as he walked away with his wife. I noticed that the local security were astonished to see him and were so nervous shaking his hand. “Yeah, no big deal, just traveled the world with Desmond Tutu,” I thought while realizing the privilege that the shipboard community had to be with such an amazing man.
All of my field labs were done at this point so South Africa was open to anything I wanted to do, which mainly consisted of drinking wine, my favorite beer, and taking in such a wonderful country again. That first day I took some friends to the V&A Waterfront where a bunch of restaurants are. We talked about how amazing the voyage was, how it wasn’t, and what we were going to do for the next six days. It was great to just relax and talk for once instead of always being on the go trying to see so much in such a small amount of time. That first day was amazing but ended short for me because I may have drank a bit too much beer…I just can’t say “no” to four beer towers when they are right in front of me!
When I awoke the next day I gathered my friends and we made our way to the base of Table Mountain. I remember my hike and how hard it was last year so I convinced everyone that we should take the cable car up to the top. It was a wise choice because we were all a bit hung-over and weren’t exhausted when we got to the top. We all had organized to have a picnic at the top and had bought food at the local grocery store before going up. It was one of the best things I have done on this voyage, making a small picnic while looking down at Cape Town, the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean. I don’t even know how to describe what I was seeing, but it was truly epic in its beauty. We even celebrated our friendship with a few bottles of wine! Now I know what you are thinking, this entire post is going to be about drinking…well that isn’t necessarily a lie. I did do a fair amount of boozing while I was in South Africa, but it was totally worth it and I never let it get out of hand, except for this night. We watched the sun set on one side while the moon came up on the other. South Africa kept blowing me away with its beauty and has sold me on moving back there when I can establish a career. To leave Table Mountain back down to the V&A Waterfront we all had to take a taxi. When I hopped in I started speaking with an accent and told the driver that I was from Kommetjie taking American students around Cape Town. I don’t even know why I thought this would be a good idea, but I kept it up for the entire night and it ended up being hilarious, even if the driver knew I was lying. When the driver dropped us off I paid him and we all left to go to a local pub for a few more drinks because the night was young. We sat down on the bench outside and I went to reach for my phone to take a picture when I realized it was not in my pocket. My buzz disappeared and I instantly started to freak out. I thought someone had taken it or that I left it at the top of Table Mountain. We tried calling the cab driver but it wouldn’t dial. I left the table and started pacing back and forth outside the pub trying to think of what to do. I was so angry at myself that I crushed my sunglasses in my hands and ended up cutting my fingers. Then, a miracle happened. The phone started ringing when I tried the cab driver again. He had kept my phone because knew I would want it back and he agreed to bring it back asap. When he arrived I thanked him so much and got his contact email to send him postcards from my travels. I also gave him all the money I had in my pocket, $7, so that he could get a little something more for my appreciation. Once I had my phone back I was able to calm down and continue enjoying the night. We drank a few more beers and I talked with the locals for a few hours before returning to the ship and calling it a night.
The next morning I went to Stellenbosch, wine country of the Western Cape. I had an apartment rented for the night and when we arrived we were so impressed with the place, it was by far the nicest place I have stayed in for either of the voyages. It had two bedrooms, a Jacuzzi, heated towel racks, a kitchen, giant living room, washer and dryer, and the best part-a patio on the third story overlooking the streets of Stellenbsoch. I had such an amazing time there; we went wine tasting and went to a festival that was in the street that night. I passed out pretty early that night but woke up to another beautiful scene with the sun rising over the vineyards of Stellenbosch. We cooked breakfast, the first time I could cook in three months! It was so awesome, but I let my friend do most of the cooking because I was working on contacting family and loved ones back at home. We left Stellenbosch that afternoon and returned to Cape Town.
For the next few days I spent my time exploring the city and getting a feel for a place that I definitely want to live in. I went to Robben Island as well, the island with a maximum security prison where Nelson Mandela was held captive for 27 years. It was amazing to see the tiny cell that he was in for 18 years of his imprisonment. The prison made me think a lot about the harshness of Apartheid and how it lasted so much longer than civil rights in the US. I thought it was great to see how much South Africa has grown since the end of Apartheid and can see how much more it needs to grow. The United States has come a long way since the 50’s and 60’s but it too has a lot of improvement to be made.
I cannot wait until I return to South Africa as it is a place I will definitely be living in the future, no words can truly describe how much I love this country, but I love it so much and I think that counts for something.
I will be posting soon on Ghana and Morocco about the incredible experiences I had there. I will leave you with another quote about travel that I really enjoy. Until next time, much love!
-Mike

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”
- Marcel Proust

Posted by MVVincent 13:23 Archived in South Africa Comments (1)

A Return to India

sunny 93 °F

The skies were bright, there was a smell of seawater and fish in the air, and familiar buildings were in the distance. We were finally in India. The MV Explorer docked in Cochin, the same port from my voyage last Spring. I noticed the water ferry station, the Taj Hotel Malabar, the old Amat Cruise ship still in the harbor, the Chinese fishing nets, the smells, the sights, they were all the same. What was different though, were the people I was with. I jumped up and down with a huge smile on my face as our ship approached the dock. We were finally here! I had such a memorable experience the last time in India, including getting poisoned, and I was ready to explore more of such an interesting nation. This was the only port I had made plans for, coincidentally it was a tour booked through Carnival Tours, the same agency from my last trip. Maybe it wasn’t coincidental, quite possibly I booked this tour because I was familiar with their company and how much fun they had made it for me and my friends on the last voyage. Nevertheless, this was going to be a journey of a lifetime, well twice in a lifetime.
On my first day in Cochin, the southern part of India in the state of Kerala, I went out with Melia and Sarah to show them around the town. As I walked out of the dock gates I was confronted with hundreds of Tuk Tuk drivers. I had warned many of my friends about taking these three-wheeled motorbike taxis, they were going to take you to government run shops and rip you off, so naturally I was prepared for this bombardment of men trying to take us around. I was not going to take any of them, instead just take the water taxi across the river until I ran into the same Tuk Tuk driver I took on my last day in India from last year. “Sabu?,” I questioned him. He seemed confused that I knew his name and recognized him because he clearly didn’t remember me. I explained to him that he had taken my friends around last year with SAS and he was such a great driver. I was so astonished to see someone again that I completely ignored my advice and decided to ask Sabu to give us another tour of Cochin. Sabu took us around to the shops I wanted to see and I think my friends got a great tour because they had my knowledge and his expertise to get us around. We sat at an old bar I had gone to and drank beers for a few hours to take it all in. We were in India; I couldn’t believe I was on the other side of the world, again! I did some shopping afterwards, buying some cultural clothing and jewelry to bring back home. That night we went to a hotel that was near the ship to get a few drinks and then returned to the ship somewhat early because we had a big tour planned for the next day.
I woke up groggy and with a headache, but coffee and breakfast helped take it all away. I had booked a tour for five to Munnar with a private driver. It was a four day trip, two nights in Munnar, one day on a houseboat in Aleppey and then one day at a beach, all for a decent price. When we walked off the ship I noticed a man holding a sign with “Mr. Michael Vincent” printed on it. It felt really great because very rarely do I have someone holding a sign designated for me, usually I attribute that to being important, but this time I was important. We all met with our driver, Joseph, and received a hand-made necklace made of jasmine and marigold flowers, it smelled amazing! Our driver was fantastic; he was informative, friendly and addressed me as “Sir,” which I didn’t think was necessary. I can still hear Joseph’s accent addressing me and asking me questions as I write this right now. Our first stop on this tour was an elephant camp near Cochin where we got to see a lot of elephants being trained and washed in a river. It was actually a bit upsetting to see these little men whacking these giant creatures with bamboo to get them to respond to the training. What was even more off-putting were the murals with messages of men and wildlife coinciding, something that didn’t seem to be happening at the elephant camp. I was ready to leave quite quickly but didn’t say anything to the rest of the group because they hadn’t seen anything like this. I also had the privilege of working at a zoo when I was a teenager so I have seen many animals and the treatment of them by man is not something I am very keen of. Eventually the rest of the group was feeling the same as I and we were ready to leave. The tour proceeded to Munnar where we ate lunch before going to our hotel. Munnar was one of my favorite places on this voyage, a place that really reminds me of home. There are gorgeous mountains, trees, wildlife, waterfalls, and best of all a moderate temperature just like Colorado. It truly is one of the most beautiful places in the world and no picture I take will justly show what I have seen. Going back to Munnar also brought back a lot of memories, mostly of how homesick I was on my last voyage. Those feelings didn’t arise on this tour though, most likely because I had a great group of friends and had prepared myself for this voyage again, I know what to expect and how to handle feeling alone now.
After our lunch we went to a liquor store where we bought some beer and wine and then met up with a separate driver to take us to our hotel. We rode in the back of a Jeep and essentially went off-roading to get to our destination. Once we arrived and checked in we were shown to our room. Oh, I forgot to mention, we stayed in tree houses! This was definitely the highlight of my time in India. Our room was literally a house built around a tree! The best part of this resort was that it was an eco-resort and had strong beliefs on keeping the environment sustainable. Our room was built on a tree without breaking a single branch or disturbing any part of the tree, the resort had their own garden where they got food for our meals, there were hiking trails, beautiful landscapes, and everything was reused. It is such a wonderful place and I cannot wait to return there. We all got to watch a sunset from the top of a cliff, one of the most beautiful I have seen in my life. Then we all got to be in the wilderness as we slept in this tree house, listening to the birds and playing drinking games. Really the only disturbances to nature were the visitors to the resort, but if they happen to be conscious of the environment, as I am, then I believe the land is being sustained quite well. Our next day of the tour was going around Munnar and to the tea plantations. It was essentially a nature tour so I loved it! I got to see a lot of great sites and see places I was familiar with. We stayed in the tree houses again that night and then the next afternoon left to Aleppey where we got on a houseboat to tour the backwaters.
Apparently, the backwaters in Kerala are a must see when traveling to that part of India. It was great to travel on this awesome boat going through the waters, but it reminded me a lot of the Amazon and made me miss my last voyage. The houseboat ride wasn’t very long but we got a custom made lunch and pineapple we had bought on the side of the road, which was the best pineapple I have had, ever! After the houseboat, Joseph drove us back to Cochin to get back on the ship for the night. I didn’t realize how much I missed my bed on the ship, as uncomfortable as it is, but it was a great sight to see the ship all lit up with that blue world on the smoke stacks. I had a great nights rest from all of the traveling and got prepared for our next day to Marari beach. We left fairly early in the morning to go to the beach, but when we got there I think everyone had a great time. This would be the last beach on this voyage for me so I tried to enjoy it as much as I could. After the beach we traveled back to Cochin to the Chinese fishing nets where we bought some prawns to cook up at a restaurant nearby. It was some of the best shrimp I have had in a long time and a trip well spent. That night we thanked Joseph for everything and said our goodbyes. He is actually trying to start a business in tourism and asked if I could help him out with developing the marketing, what an awesome thing to come away with after such a great time. My last day in India was spent shopping around and getting some amazing food, nothing too exciting.
I left India wondering how the tourism market is going to develop. There has been a lot of hostility towards women there lately, mainly because it still works on a caste system. This is going to have a drastic effect on bringing in tourism revenue for their country because people are not going to feel safe traveling around. On top of the dangers of traveling, India still has a lot to develop in terms of infrastructure and bringing people out of poverty. One of the best ways to do this can be through tourism, especially since India is a part of the five emerging economies in the world. One thing that keeps running through my mind, and something I continue to argue with my friends about, is that culture is rapidly changing as a result of a globalizing world and in a less broad sense, as a result of tourism. How can I go into a career without having such drastic effects on a culture and the people? Certainly this is something I will be struggling with when I want to start my own company because culture may not be able to be preserved, but it can be protected and the less effect from a “Western” world, the better, at least in my opinion.
Anyway, we are sailing to Ghana now so I need to catch up on my blog posts and write about South Africa. The end of this voyage is fast approaching so I will end this post with a quote by Jawaharlal Nehru, “We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.”
Much love,
Mike

Posted by MVVincent 07:10 Archived in India Comments (0)

So Far From Myanmar

sunny 101 °F

I am sailing in the Indian Ocean on my way to Mauritius and later South Africa. We have crossed the Equator and the voyage is more than half-way done. How is life? Like being on a roller coaster, it has its ups and downs, turns and loops, but overall life is fantastic. I found some more time to write and with so many thoughts racing through my head I knew I had to make another post. This time it is about my time in the country of Myanmar, formerly Burma.
The country has recently taken on democracy, just over a year ago! Things have been changing rapidly there and it was amazing to visit a country that was once off limits and corrupt only to North Korea. The most amazing thing is that it has been my favorite country on this voyage, at least until we get to South Africa and Ghana, my favorites from the previous voyage. There are so many things that made Myanmar great but the one that stands out to me the most is the friendliness of the locals we encountered.
We docked in Myanmar late because the tides had to be right for the ship to make it up a river. I wasn’t off the ship until 8pm and was supposed to be off at 9am, eleven hours of waiting was not the best, but as soon as I touched land I was thrilled to begin my journey. We had to be bused to Yangon, the city closest to the dock, which took over an hour. So, my journey didn’t begin until 9pm so there was not much to do during the night in a place I had never been. Typically the group I travel with will look to me for advice on what to do while in the port, but I was in the same position as them, lost like a little puppy trying to find its way home. Fortunately I had an idea of things to do and a handy map to get around so I actually wasn’t that lost. There were six of us traveling together and we had booked a night at the Panda Hotel because the following days we were leaving Yangon and traveling to other places. Go figure, me booking a room at the Panda Hotel, I guess my love for pandas is quite obvious. Anyway, before going to the hotel we decided to grab some beers and see how the nightlife was. As we were walking the streets I was immediately falling in love, it was dirty, scary, underdeveloped and full of people. This is what I did Semester at Sea for, not to see the rich and fancy but to be with the less fortunate, to look for opportunities to help them for a better future. That opportunity came fast because as we were walking the streets a young local, Thura, came up to us and started asking questions in broken English. He explained that he was a student studying English and was curious where we came from and why we were traveling to Myanmar. I told him that we would take him to dinner and we could talk more if he showed us a great place to go. Turns out that the best food was street food! So we ended up in China Town at a small hole in the wall chatting away, eating local food and drinking the local beer. It was one of the best nights on this trip and one I will never forget. I learned from Thura that he was studying to be a travel guide to foreigners because they make a better income than most in the country. This was great news to me because I had a lot of great advice to give him about studying tourism. It also helped me learn more about how tourism operates around the world and how it truly can be the number one industry worldwide. He helped me find my passion again and I am back in the mentality of always thinking about tourism and how travel affects those I am around. It was getting late so Thura agreed to show us to our hotel and then he would meet us in the morning to take us to a bus station to buy tickets to Chaung Tha beach.
The following morning we went to the bus station and bought our tickets for an overnight bus, not quite our plan but the one that worked best. We had another full day in Yangon so we went around and did some shopping and eating. It was so hot and humid there, over 100 degrees, that we ended up at a 5-star hotel to take in the air conditioning. We spent a few hours there just talking and relaxing and getting some good grub. Soon it was time to leave for the bus and to say goodbye to Thura. He was very sad to see us leave so soon, but we have kept in contact with him as the voyage has continued which is something that has been really great for me. One of my goals for this voyage was to interact more with the locals and I think I have been doing a great job at that. We boarded the bus after exchanging emails with Thura and began our seven hour journey to Chaung Tha. The bus ride was bumpy and we were being flung all over the place because the infrastructure is not that great in Burma. I didn’t get any sleep on the bus which was irritating because all of the others were catching up on their z’s. We finally arrived in Chaung Tha at 4am with no idea where we were going to stay. Another adventure was about to begin.
We were dropped off at this one hotel that was on the beach but we had done a little research and found this hotel down the beach. While the others were talking with the reception trying to figure out where to go and if we could get a room I discovered that I left all of my money, ship ID and credit card on the bus. I immediately went into a panic and started running after the bus. Within seconds a motorbike drove by and stopped asking if I needed a ride. I put all of my guards down and didn’t even think twice before jumping on the back and telling him “Follow that bus!” Thankfully we caught up to it and I ran inside to find my money right where I left it. My heart was racing so hard because had I lost everything my trip would have been over. No credit card meant no money and no ship ID meant it would have been an extremely difficult process to get back on the ship. Needless to say I stopped panicking when I got my money back. I jumped back on the motorbike and the driver took me back to my group at the hotel. I gave him $10, a hefty tip there, but didn’t even care, he just saved my voyage for me. Once I reconvened with my group I noticed that they didn’t even know where I went or what was going on. They said that they saw me and then the next thing they knew I was trying to get on the bus. I think they thought I was mad at them or something, not the case at all. The group decided to find this other hotel, so we began walking down the road for a couple of miles before reaching the destination. When we got there I let them talk with reception to see if there were any rooms available. I was very hungry and saw that we passed by a snack stand so I went back by myself to get a drink and some snacks so I didn’t get sick. While I was purchasing my items I noticed that the man who was helping me was looking me up and down and speaking in Burmese. It made me feel a bit uncomfortable because he never stopped staring at me. Then he asked if I wanted to have sex! I couldn’t help but start laughing, smiled, said “No thanks,” and then walked away to be back with the group. As I left he said he really liked me and that the offer would still be on the table. Haha, even thinking of it now starts to crack me up, I guess I was very attractive to some of the Burmese, sorry though, I am taken by a beautiful woman back at home and I am very dedicated to her. Anyway, when I got back to the group I found out that there were no rooms available and that there were no rooms available at any of the hotels except the one we started at. So, we all walked back to the original hotel, another two miles, and got our room. It ended up being a great place to stay, a small blue bungalow right on the beach. The beds weren’t that comfortable but we had mosquito nets and we were only going to be there for one night. We all checked in and the idea of sleep was nonexistent. The sun was coming up and I was full of energy.
I set my bags in the room and then went straight to the beach. It was so cool! We got to see the sun come up as the moon went down. It is very rare that I get to see something like that, but seeing it in Myanmar made it incredible. We walked the beach for a few hours and turned into celebrities. We couldn’t walk five feet without a group of people wanting to take pictures with us. I think many of the people thought we were from Jersey Shore and if not that it was because we were white. Either way it was pretty cool to have a bunch of pictures taken of us. We ended up at a part of the beach under some umbrellas. A few of my friends took a snooze while the rest of us went into the water to enjoy our one day in Chaung Tha. The water was so warm! It was great to be on the beach, drinking beers, soaking up the sun and lots of swimming. This was also the first beach I had been to that had crabs everywhere! There were thousands of little holes in the sand and every once in a while a little crab would run out and back in. After a few hours at the beach we walked through the town and did a little shopping. It was another hot day so the shopping and walking around didn’t last long. Later in the afternoon we went back to the bungalow and relaxed on the small patio we had. We relaxed for a little while but then it was dinner time so we needed some grub. That night we set off fireworks on the beach that we bought from a local girl. It was an incredible night but it wasn’t quite over! We stayed up for a few more hours just having fun and talking with everyone. By the time I went to bed I had been up for 40 hours so I was exhausted. Unfortunately the beds were like sleeping on rocks so I only got about four hours of sleep before waking up and continuing my adventure in Burma.
The next morning we checked out of the hotel and got back on the bus to Yangon. This bus was much worse than the overnight one we took to Chaung Tha. The roads were bumpy again, the A/C didn’t work, and then I got sick. It came out of nowhere; I was just sitting on the bus felt it coming, grabbed the black plastic bag in front of me, and spewed out my breakfast. Coincidentally, so did my friend right next to me. We still had three hours left on the bus and there was no stopping. It was hell. For the rest of the bus ride the two of us were puking our brains out. As soon as we got off that awful bus ride I was going to be sick out the other end. I ran around asking every person and shop owner if they had a bathroom, I would pay them whatever amount, I didn’t care because I was about to die. They all kept pointing me in the direction but I had no idea where I was going. Finally, I grabbed someone’s arm and begged them to show me where it was. Once I got to the bathroom I puked again because it was the most disgusting place I had ever been in and the smell was like one thousand dying animals all in one place. Finally there was relief and I started to feel better. I left the bathroom and got back together with my friends to find out that Alexa, the girl who was sick with me on the bus, was also in the bathroom getting sick again. I started feeling like crap again; I was dehydrated and kept refusing to drink anything because I knew it was going to come back up. On top of that, the heaving was the absolute most painful thing I have gone through, I honestly thought I was not going to make it much longer. There were six of us and we had no idea what to do because two of us were so sick that we could barely walk. One of my friends ended up using a locals phone to call the ship’s medical team to ask what to do, but they didn’t answer. He then called the Dean on duty to let him know the situation. The best we could do was make it to the Trader’s Hotel, the 5-star one I mentioned earlier, and call again. So two of my friends, Summer and Brad, got me into a cab and took me to the hotel. Mike, who made the call, waited for the other two friends, Alexa and Lauren. We were driving in the cab and I felt sick again, I popped my head out the window and started heaving. I felt so bad for the driver because I made a mess all over his door and was essentially hanging outside the car. I could care less what the other drivers were thinking, my body was rejecting something and I was clearly facing a serious sickness. We arrived to the hotel and I ran inside to the bathroom once again. I changed my clothes because I had puked all over myself on the bus and washed my hands and face like crazy. I then walked out and almost collapsed because I was completely out of it. I couldn’t think straight, I felt like someone took a chainsaw to my stomach, and I was severely dehydrated. Mike was at the hotel too and was making another call to the Dean on the ship. The best we could do was make the shuttle bus and get back to the ship, once there the medical team would be waiting and be able to help us. I grabbed my bag and was ready to leave to make the shuttle bus. Even when I thought I was going to die, I refused to let anyone carry my bags or walk me to the taxi to get to the bus. Summer and Brad joined me again and helped me get to the bus where I went to the back and laid down. It only lasted a couple minutes though because the bus had to be completely full until it left for the ship. So, I was stuck in a corner in the back of the bus with a plastic bag, I feel so bad to the students that had to sit by me. I only got sick once and slept the rest of the ride. I woke up right when we were pulling into the dock area and then we got off the ship, I was the last one off. A lot of people knew I was sick but I was again too stubborn to jump the line and get on the ship. I instead waited my turn just like everyone else until a second bus pulled up with Alexa in it. Once I saw her and how bad she was I decided it was time to tell everyone I needed to get on that ship, I was in serious need of the doctor. The two of us hobbled up the gangway where we met the Dean and went straight to the medical room. I was sitting in the chair talking with the doctors and couldn’t keep my head up or form a complete sentence. I was in so much pain from getting sick that even talking or just the thought of it hurt. It was 8pm when I got into the medical office, five hours after it all started. The medical team decided that I needed to stay overnight and was to be administered IV fluids. I was laying in the hospital bed thinking things couldn’t get worse until I was stabbed with a needle in each of my hands to receive the fluids. I could feel the cool fluids going up my arm and I fell asleep. I woke up a couple hours later and was feeling so much better, I could think more clearly and hadn’t gotten sick. They decided to release me to my room so I was put in a wheelchair and escorted to my bed. My bags had been dropped off and some of my best friends on the ship had already gotten me water and crackers with notes to get better soon. It was a great feeling to have those friends on this trip because getting sick in Myanmar was more than ten times worse from when I got sick in India on my last voyage, and you can read all about that in my blog that has already been posted. It wasn’t over yet though, I was still sick for the next three days and it felt like I was in hell. Thankfully, my stomach has recovered and I was nice and healthy to explore India when we got there.
Getting sick didn’t ruin anything about Burma for me. I think it only added to the experience and helped make me stronger. I still love Myanmar and really hope that I can go back there someday. This voyage has been so incredible and I am so happy to be pursuing my passions once again. I want to leave you with another quote by James Michener, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.”
Lots of Love!
-M

Posted by MVVincent 11:46 Archived in Myanmar Comments (2)

From Vietnam to Singapore

sunny 92 °F

Hello!
Wow! It has been a long time since I have written a blog post. I apologize for such a long wait to all of those who are living vicariously through me and my travels; I have just been so busy with exploring the countries and keeping up with my studies while aboard the ship. I have found some time though and would like to share my experience of Vietnam and Singapore.
When we started sailing through the Saigon River my mind started to race, thinking about my previous experience in such an interesting country. As many of you may know, I did not have the best time in Vietnam a year ago. To be honest, I really was not looking forward to returning. I was anxious and on my toes as we pulled up to the dock. I could see the excitement from all of those around me, crowding the decks in excitement for a new port, a new country, but all I could see was an upset face, returning to the ship because something was stolen or someone was drugged. Even writing about it now brings back the bad memories I had from that country. I had to put all those memories aside because this is a different voyage and anything is bound to happen. It took some time to rid myself of those memories, but as soon as I touched the asphalt on the dock I started to smile. “Off to a new and exciting adventure!” I thought to myself, and keeping a thought like that in my head really helped me have a wonderful and amazing experience this time in Vietnam. I was prepared for the worst so therefore I had nothing on me, no credit card, no backpack and especially no iPhone.
My first day in the port I had a field lab, a program lead by my professor of marketing. We went to the Mekong Delta to learn about certain businesses and how they market certain items. What I did not realize is that it would be an identical trip from something I went on independently (not through SAS) with a group of friends on my last voyage. As soon as we pulled up to the Delta on our bus I knew exactly what was going to happen. It actually was a great thing to do a trip twice because I could look at each of the destinations in a different aspect and gain more of an insight on how the businesses are operating there. Sometimes having previous experience can help tremendously. If you would like to read about the specifics of the trip I would encourage you to read my post from Vietnam on this blog site from my last voyage. I would delve into the details of my journey, but it is too repetitive for me and I would rather focus on this new adventure, not lament about the old.
While we were in Vietnam the Tet festival was going on. Similar to the Chinese New Year, Tet is a celebration of a new year where businesses close down and locals visit their families to bring in luck and prosperity for a new beginning. The streets were not crowded with motorbikes; instead, they were covered in flowers, lights and thousands of families. It was quite a spectacle and a great way to see a different Vietnam. I spent my time walking the streets for the majority of my time in Vietnam. I would notice the division of poverty and wealth, high and low classes. While some may have been taken back by the poverty in Vietnam, it was nothing to what I have seen in parts of Africa and India, the students on this voyage have no idea what is coming. For one of the days there I traveled to the Cu Chi Tunnels, an area where American soldiers fought against Vietnamese. On my last voyage I remember going to the War Remnants Museum and getting very upset about our involvement with Vietnam, the destruction we brought to provide democracy. Well, the Vietnamese won and it is a communist government, prospering much more than the US imagined it could. When I went to Cu Chi I was expecting a similar response, one of dislike towards Americans. It actually took a different turn and this time I was actually upset with the Vietnamese. When I look back on both experiences I can only feel indifferent. They both had their stories for describing the war and to me it was simply unjust on both sides, neither gains sympathy, more empathy than anything else. I booked the trip with my friend Brad and we were the only two Americans on the trip, the rest were from Australia, Russia or Malaysia and they had very little knowledge of the Vietnam War. For Brad and I, it was very hard to be on that tour as a citizen of a country that has done so much destruction. The hardest parts for me were the descriptions and hatred towards Americans. Our tour guide would describe how the traps would kill American soldiers and the awful ways they tortured them. Just walking through the area made me feel uncomfortable and I would see how the other tourists would joke about how the soldiers were killed. I had to stand back at times and almost hide my identity, I did not want to be an American, especially at that moment in time. We crawled through the tunnels and it was so dark and muggy, anyone that is claustrophobic would not have been able to make it. We were at the end of the tour, crawling through the tunnels and I suddenly had a panic attack, assuming that someone was going to come out of the dark corner and kill me. I went fast and found my way out of an exit, gasping for air when I reached the surface. At the end of our tour we watched a video on the tunnels and how they were used. There was one part of the video talking about a 14 year-old girl that received many medals for being an “American Killer.” Someone so young was destroying the lives of others, regardless of the reasons, it sent tingles down my spine to know that our veterans were fighting against teenagers.
The tour also reiterated my observations and beliefs on how Americans travel. I have traveled to many countries and the one thing that is consistent with all of my travels is the interaction Americans have with the locals versus those of other nationalities and their interactions. It is clear to me that Americans are some of the best, kindest, and respectable travelers in this world, and this comes strictly through observation. I am not sure why Americans are better compared to other travelers, but my suspicion is that the opportunity to travel abroad is not as prevalent as it is in other countries. I would like to rate travelers from different nationalities starting from the best to the worst. This is not meant to offend those of other nationalities, rather to raise the question of why I feel this way, think about what you do when you travel and how others view you when in another country. Having an idea of what others think can affect how great travel can be. The list is as follows:
USA/Canada
Australia
The Philippines
Czech Republic
France
England
Russia
Japan
China
South Korea
Jordan
Lebanon
Ecuador
Germany

Germany, unfortunately, has the rudest and worst travelers that I have witnessed while traveling the world, not just on this voyage but in all of my previous travel. For me I just ask “Why?” and maybe this is something I can explore as I build a career on tourism.

I would now like to talk about my experience in Singapore. On my last voyage I was there for twelve hours, this time around I got a whopping two days! Woo!
Again, on my first day in the country I had a field lab to explore leadership in Singapore. I would really encourage you to read on the SAS Blog about out time there, a famous author joined us on the trip and wrote a great review of everything we did. You can also see a couple pictures of me! Here is the link:

http://www.semesteratsea.org/2013/02/28/field-lab-exploring-business-and-leadership-in-singapore/

Singapore is a very expensive country and the cost of living is outrageous. I found out that the Prime Minister makes $3.4 million a year and if you don’t know, President Barack Obama and all before and after him can only make $400 thousand a year. It is crazy to me that the most powerful country in the world and its leaders make less than a tiny island in Asia. Because everything is so expensive I didn’t do much in Singapore, mainly walked the streets, drank some beer, and ate lots of seafood. I wish there was more to talk about, but alas I really don’t know what to tell you about my time there. I had a great two days and got to catch up with my family and girlfriend, but other than that I could only look forward to our next country, Myanmar-a new one for me on this voyage.

I would like to leave you with this quote about travel by Samuel Johnson, “The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.”

Love!
-Mike

Posted by MVVincent 04:40 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

The Year of the Snake

overcast 45 °F

I am sitting in my cabin trying to think about my trip in China and I must be honest, it’s hard for me to recollect my experience because my time in Shanghai and Hong Kong were very similar to my last voyage. I find myself thinking about my last trip as if it were just yesterday and I attribute this to the fact that I was standing in some of the same places as I had just 10 months ago, so it’s very reasonable to assume my memories would collide. The experiences are different though, both very amazing and enlightening. My goal in this post is not to describe word for word what I did in China, but rather give some insight into my observations as I traveled.
My trip in China was much shorter this time around, just two days in Shanghai and two days in Hong Kong. I had to the option to travel overland, but I decided to save money for other ports and sail with the ship. I had been in China for a week last time, and four days this time was plenty for me to see a different side. I was more focused on those around me, observing the locals and also the students as they were experiencing a communist country for the first time. I tried to recall my emotions when I entered China for the first time but even as I sit here on my bed I cannot completely remember what I was feeling. The one thing that stuck with me was the vast amount of people. I was expecting nothing less on this voyage, in fact for it to be worse because we were there right before the Chinese New Year.
Shanghai was beautiful, the skyscrapers lit up the sky at night, everything was decorated for the New Year, and everyone was much friendlier, probably because they wanted to bring in luck for their “new beginning.” I saw a few different things this time around, and my favorite was an acrobat show. Shanghai acrobats are world famous and the show we saw was phenomenal. I was at the edge of my seat almost the entire time and holding my breath hoping that no one would make a mistake and fall. The most astonishing act to me was when seven motorcycles entered a metal sphere and sped around without hitting each other. I can’t even imagine the practice it took to put on such an act, but it was my favorite thing about China this time around. The amount of dedication, balance, and training far surpassed any show I have seen in the past, including Vegas shows, so that’s saying a lot.
Shanghai also involved a lot of shopping. One can find any boutique shop that comes to mind, Gucci, Prada, Armani, etc., but they can also find all of the knock-offs in the black markets, where I showed students how to bargain for a good deal. It got me thinking about materialism though, and I am not on this voyage to shop, especially for things like that. Sure, it’s nice to have some of those products, but how can we be so obsessed with such materials? So obsessed with fancy purses, nice jackets, Nike shoes, Rolex watches or anything else when there is so much poverty in this world, and those that are impoverished are the ones making them? This is a constant struggle with me since getting home on my last voyage and witnessing the students’ attitudes on this trip. I want nice things, yes, but I can’t figure out why, except that society tells me to do so. I have changed a lot through college and through traveling the world, and the one thing a lot have noticed is that I am upset with our society and the way it, in a way, “brain-washes” citizens into feeling bad for not being like everyone else. We do not need such material things to live a happy life, which is why I will be trying my best to not buy brand-name products. I am okay with not having the most fashionable clothing anymore, the most high-tech electronics, or the most luxurious car. These companies are making more than a profit without me buying from them. I would rather save my money and focus on what matters to me than worry about a computer breaking in a few years.
Then I was noticing how students would be rude to the Chinese for not speaking English or some other thing. I feel very mixed being on this voyage with a new group of students. It’s extremely hard for me to be around students when they are being culturally insensitive, but at the same time I know they will be learning and come out a different person at the end of this voyage, it’s just a long learning process. If they haven’t changed or learned something about how to be respectful to other cultures then this voyage was a waste for them, and I strongly believe that. Cultural sensitivity among tourists, or the lack thereof, has led me to start researching how and why tourists will respect or disrespect the places and peoples they are traveling to and with. This is something that may not be answered right away, but it can definitely help me when I want to start my own organization.
Then we got into Hong Kong, a place much different from mainland China. The economy is stronger, the people are nicer, the food and water are safer, there are socialized systems like health care, and there is less pollution. However, this is due to Hong Kong being very small comparatively, about the size of Rhode Island, so it’s easier to build infrastructure and other things when there is limited space, surprisingly. My time in Hong Kong was more focused on observing the people and nature in the city. The people, in general, seemed much happier than those in China, which in turn made me, a traveler, happier because there was not a lot of negativity in the air. I also was able to visit nature, one of my favorite things and something that must be included in what I want to do with tourism. It was amazing to see these huge parks in the middle of the city with so much green and open space. I haven’t been to Central Park in New York, but I imagine it would be comparable. The parks were beautiful and for a few moments I forgot I was in a giant city. Hong Kong is huge but it didn’t feel as crowded as Shanghai and other parts of China I had visited.
Overall I felt much more comfortable traveling in these places again, something I expect for the many other countries I have been to. There is something comforting about being in a place you know, even if you have only been there for a little while. I still have the voices of my professors, family, friends, and even current students asking why I am on this voyage, why choose the same countries? Well there are many reasons for being back with Semester at Sea, but a simple answer is that travel is my passion, and I don’t care what anyone says, but I can’t get enough of any country or place I have been to, there is always something new there and something new to learn. It’s ridiculous to assume I am not learning on this voyage and that I cannot dive deeper into these cultures because I am only in these places for a short time, it just gives me a better taste and will continue bringing me back, maybe not through SAS, but through a career in travel. The biggest thing I am learning is about me, but an analysis of that will come at the end of my voyage and when I return home.
For now I will end with this quote by Miriam Beard, “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”
I hope all is well with wherever you are and what you are doing. Sending lots of love.
-Mike

Posted by MVVincent 21:58 Archived in China Comments (2)

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