Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Walk on the Wild Side

You guys all know I like to take risks, right? In fact, I think if I weren't to take any risks, my life would not be quite so entertaining. And then no one would ever read my blog! So today I took a pretty big risk (promise not to judge me please!), but I'll get to that in a minute here.

We are in Guatemala. The last port of call before we get home. It is bittersweet. First though, I should start out by saying
I am grateful that there is no swine, nor bird flu in this country, only murderers, thieves, and rapists- so we are perfectly safe. I mentioned before that tempers were short and frustrations were at their peek a few days ago. I kind of dismissed the negative energy, but this morning as we arrived into port, I was aggravated with some planning (or lack thereof). The Diplomatic Briefing was about the dangers of this country like the gang activity, the muggings, and the erupting volcanoes. I thought the only thing that might erupt was my head. But I needn't bore you with the details of my irritations, because they are really small in the grand scheme of things.

As I've often been doing since we visited India, I thought about the serenity of the Hindu cows that graze the land there, and I regained my peace of mind. I had a trip at noon. The Briefing ended and the ship cleared at 10. (By the way, Guatemala appears to be the most dangerous country we've visited. The Diplomats told us not to go off alone. Not to be out past 11 PM- even with friends. And that there are many rapes, murders, robberies and other crimes. No swine flu though.....phew!) We are docked in an industrial port, but there is also a cruise ship terminal. The latter has a bunch of cute little coffee shops and vendor booths with Guatemalan crafts. Our ship runs a free shuttle to that port while we are here, but it is about 1 kilometer away. My dilemma was that the first shuttle didn't leave until 10:30 and I needed to be back to OUR terminal by 11:45 to get on the bus to take me on my trip. The trip, by the way, was a drive-through safari, which I'll talk about in a second also.

So after some contemplation, I decided just to go on the shuttle to the cruise ship terminal, and if I needed to walk to be back by 11:45, I could just do so....after all 1K is less than 1 mile and I walk about 8 miles per day on average at home in New York. The shuttle left late, and we got to the cruise ship terminal at about 10:50. There was not a shuttle to be seen for the return trip back to our ship, though! I start panicking, because I hate being late and I really wanted to go on my trip! So I began to follow a few students who also had to be back to the ship, and we started walking. Oh and by the way- the 1K, was more like 3K.....they told us the wrong thing. Somehow I got separated from everyone else and couldn't really figure out the twists and turns of how to get back to our ship.

So I'm sweating and my little heels are starting to hurt my feet. A truck with three Guatemalan guys drives by and honks and waves. I wave back. They pull over.
Hola, Mamacita.

I say. Donde? they ask. La marina, I answer.

(This is where the risk comes in.)
Two of them hop in the back of the truck and I hop into the front with the driver. I was dripping sweat.

I was lost.

And I was sick of walking the dusty roads of Guatemala. Good idea, Laurie.
Get into a car with strangers, FANTASTIC idea, I say to myself. Why, pray-tell, would I choose to get a ride from Guatemalan strangers?

for crying out loud!

Alone. In a country where there are rapes, murders, and erupting volcanoes..... Because it's hot. Because my feet hurt. Because I don't want to miss my trip. Because I'm hungry and I want to grab a bite before I go.......except I can't eat because my heart is in my throat......

It's gonna be okay, Laurie. Deep breaths. Slow your heart. Besides, Laurie, you won't catch swine flu, so you're just fine!
a little voice tells me. That little voice also whispers "in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit" and then that little voice says a few hail mary's. After a few moments of panic, I start to breathe again. Which is just about when the Guatemalan driver turns down a long windy road. Oh shit, the little voice says once again. This doesn't look familiar. I am totally going to die right here in Guatemala.

But somehow, out of nowhere I end up back at the cruise ship terminal where I started my 3K walk! Uh oh! This is NOT our ship, where I need to meet for my trip. But hey, I'm alive! And hey, I *did* confirm "la marina" with the Guatemalan driver! So I kiss the driver on the cheek and I tell him Muchas gracias para 'not kiddnapping me'. (Anyone know how to say "kidnap" in Spanish?)

The Guatemalan driver smiles, and the other guys who had climbed into the back of the truck all smile and say goodbye, and then they drive away. Which is when the Semester at Sea shuttle bus pulls up.
Jesus loves me. I end up getting on the shuttle bus and making it back in time for my trip.

The Guatemalan safari was wonderful. I am so glad that I was not killed and I am so glad I made it in time for my trip. Here are some of the wildlife shots that I took:

Talk about taking a walk on the wild side.......

Oh- and then I got back to the ship this evening and guess who came back on the ship? Jason!!!!! From the Semester at Sea "home office". (If you don't remember Jason, see my Spain post about cafe' con leche'). Jason was my best friend as we sailed to Spain, but he had to leave in Morocco to go back to work. He works for the Alumnae department, and he only gets to go on partial voyages. Now he is back here at the ship once again from now until we get to Florida.

So this evening I came back onto the ship after my safari, and went into the dining room and there he was across the room. I squeeled and jumped up and down when I saw him. We went running towards each other in slow motion, kind of like "Chariots of Fire". We hugged eachother tightly, no letting go! And everyone in the dining room was clapping and cheering upon seeing our joyful reunion.

I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful that no one judges me for my bad decions. I am grateful that there is no swine flu. I am grateful that Jason is back. I am grateful that no volcanoes erupted.

I love my life. I'm happy to still HAVE my life.
(But I still can't wait to fall into the safe, loving, open arms of my mom, who will be flying down to meet me as I disembark in Fort Lauderdale next week.)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Checked Out

The natives are restless. People on this ship are getting short with one another. Tempers are flaring. A couple students are being dismissed in Guatemala. A lot of them are mentally and emotionally checked out already, however.

As for me- I'm kind of a "roll with the punches" sort of girl, and I try to ignore the mounting tension on board; after all, we (staff) are getting a paid trip around the world. And there are only 10 days left on said trip. So instead of focusing on the negative energy, I'm focusing on some things that I am looking forward to. Guatemala for one. My mom meeting me in Florida for second. And most of all: coming home to New York. Back to the rat race. I am excited to have a number in that rat race. I am excited to be back to the grind. I am excited to find an apartment (still wondering if some of you might have some leads)... I am excited to get back to my fluffy gray Kitty.

I am grateful for all of you who have read my blog, followed me on this journey, and sent encouraging emails. Emails with questions. Emails with genuine excitement for me. Emails commenting on my voyage. Emails with tips of advice for each country I visited. I truly hope that some of you will do this voyage too.

On that note- I know some of my friends are planning to apply (Melissa Martinez, Erin, Diane, Kat) and I am hoping a few more of you will, also. Please let me know if you *do* choose to do so, because there is a spot in our evaluation to recommend those who would be a good fit. I can think of many of you who would!

Thank you Mom, Dad, Shari, Sharri, Mendy, Andrea, Buddy, Jackie, Joe, David, Rebekah, David G, Gene, Marc, Patti, Nancy, Mary L, Mary B, Wendy, Wendi, Denise, Lisa, Rose, Debbie, Lela, Megan, Elizabeth, all of my Mom's friends, Dad’s Vietnam Friends, Grandma V., Grandma K, Aunt Becky, Sarah, Patty, Steph, Peggy, Mike J, Clare, Gissell, Adam, the other Adam, Fatima, Maura, Lynne, Alena, Sophie, Kat, Sheilla, Ang, Cakes, Sugarplum, Eddie, Sheilla, Doc, Grad school chaps, Jen N, Cheryl, Elyse, Sophie, Tricia, Barbie, JoAnnie, Vicalicious, Tricia, another Jen, Holly, and everyone else who encourage me and make me feel loved. There are more of you. I feel like I'm winning a grammy.

In a way, I've won something even better. At the risk of sounding cheesey (as if this whole blog isn't so already), it's true...I've won beautiful friendships across the world. I've already struck it rich at home with friendships. And I think of Nupur in India. Motoko in Japan. Julie who is moving to China. Zella who is signed on for two more Semester-At-Sea voyages. My high school French teacher who introduced me to international travel. My Grandma V. who sent me a letter in the mail that I got in Hawaii. My Grandma K who sends me IMs while I am in the middle of the Pacific. It still astounds me that we can have a conversation while I'm in the middle of the ocean. I'm really really fortunate.

I can't wait to see you guys again.

Oh- and one more thing....I will keep the blog up even after the voyage. So if you want to continue to read about my ongoing "journey" in the big bad streets of Gotham, feel free to stay tuned in.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Contemplations and Many Nations

We embarked in Miami, we boarded a ship
We toasted to our journey and we each took a sip

For three days we trained and learned all the ropes
To ensure student safety and to meet all their hopes

The mysteries of the world, they will all unravel
As we embark on this journey of international travel

On to the Bahamas, were students overwhelmed with emotions
They boarded there, to begin our journey crossing three oceans

My family flew down to the Bahamas to see me sail away
Don’t you fret Mom, Dad, Grandma, I’ll see you in May

My eyes welled up as we said goodbye,
Don’t worry my loves, this voyage will fly

The seas were rocky as we crossed the Atlantic
But the ship was stronger and faster than Titantic

After 8 days, we docked in Spain and we kissed the ground
Happy to be on land and see friendly faces all around

We practiced our Spanish and watched Flamenco Dancers,
In Global Studies class we learned, and our questions got answers

We stopped at Gibralter for some fuel at the dock
In a storm we waited between a hard place and a rock

Now off to Morocco, where we drank mint tea
And went to the Casbah with so much to see

We sailed south for awhile and crossed the Equator
Now we’re all Shellbacks, a few days later

Namibia’s next, with its desserts and African charm
Flamingoes, Dunes, and Germans who came there to farm

Now on to Capetown, one of my favorite ports for sure
We saw some zebras, some ostrich, and listened to a cheetah purr

Was Mauritius even a port?
We were only there for a day, that’s too short!

But Flic-en-Flac Beach was my own paradise,
I’d go back in a heartbeat, don’t ask me twice

Then on to India which melted my heart
With beautiful children, their village, their art

They lived in the dirt and the heat, and they rarely have rain
But I never once heard those beautiful children complain

I met Nupur and we had lunch served on a banana leaf
Mostly vegetarian, because they don’t eat beef

Onward we sailed, eastward to Thailand
We use Baht here? I still have Rand

I exchanged my money and met my best friend
Who flew there to meet me, I didn’t want it to end

We rode an elephant and explored Bangkok
We had so much fun and some culture shock

Now on to Vietnam and the Mekong Delta
Where it was so hot, I thought I might melta

The War Remnants museum was somber and sad
I wrote a blog about the war with some help from my Dad

Hong Kong comes next, a big city, that’s right
Each night there’s a show with a laser light

And now on to Shanghai, a futuristic city,
Only two days there, so short, such a pity

Next is Japan with its pink blossoms of cherry
We loved the baseball game, it was joyous and merry

We ate Kobe beef and I saw my friend Mo,
I needed more time here, I hated to go!

Nine long days as we crossed the Pacific,
A long time at sea, I can’t be more specific

Finally we saw land, Pearl Harbor, and Diamond Head
We swam in the ocean and saw pretty flowers of red

Two days was too short for our time in paradise
Back to the ship to eat more pasta and rice

In a few days the ship’s alongside the dock once more
And our eyes will tear up as we walk through the door

Guatemala’s rich land has ruins of the Mayan
After we leave we’ll each be cryin’

Oh Beautiful for Spacious skies, we sing to the land from which we hail
For it’s almost May 6 and we’ve finished our sail

We've learned about and we've seen so many nations,
And now we head back to our homeland obligations

To amber waves of grain we return, as we look over the rail
We’re almost there, to Fort Lauderdale

I'll miss these waves that rock me to sleep
Homeward bound, I cheer, yet I weep

For Purple Mountain majesties, I will miss my new friends
But at some point every Semester at Sea voyage ends

Across the fruited plain, we belt out with joyage
This is the end of our fantastic voyage.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Leeward Side

**This is post-dated. I wrote it the other night in Hawaii, but didn't have connectivity.

Look at how pretty. This is my brother and my sweet Sarah, getting married on the beach in Maui. It was pouring down rain.

I was in Hawaii in 1984 and 2006 and now 2009. There was this song. And it was something like “....from the mountains to the ocean, from Maui and to the leeward side”. I am hearing it again tonight, as I sit at the hotel listening to a band at the Tapa bar. It brought back all of these reminiscences.

This is the first time my cell phone has worked since January 19, the day I sailed across the Atlantic with the sunset behind me. I am tempted to call my mom, Dara, my sister-in-law, Brian, someone…..but it’s 4 AM on Monday morning, April 20. (Oops- Brian, I already pressed “send” before I realized….sorry about that.)

So now I sit and I listen and I think.

…….I am pretty happy with my chosen direction in life: my career, my travels, my education, my spirituality, my family, and my friends. I rarely fret over, nor discuss this too much these days, but here goes anyhow- is love an esoteric ideal beyond my grasp?

What is it called when you make significant eye contact with someone and exchange a meaningful glance and perhaps smile, but then keep walking? As if you never exchanged that glance, nor had a moment’s connection whatsoever? Does one call that a missed opportunity?

Shoot, I still find it astonishing when two friends meet up in foreign ports of call. Even with planning and with itineraries. I traveled across the world and I saw Nupur in India. I saw Dara in Bangkok. I saw Motoko in Japan. I saw my family in the Bahamas. How did we travel so many miles- me by ship, and they by plane and still find one another?

Yet- the stranger whose glance has captured my eye continues to walk on. I’ve captured his glance and I continue to walk in a different direction.

Are there no missed opportunities? Is it scripted for us?

Did you ever read “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho? I refer to it often. It is about a shepherd, in search of his true treasure. He herds sheep for a living. He leaves that line of business to take this journey. He starts in Spain and traverses deserts, mountains and other obstacles. There are thieves and swindlers at his every turn. He searches for miles and miles. At the end of his long journey searching for this elusive treasure, he realizes that his treasure is right back in the Andalucian region of Spain right where he started. {Right where my own first port of call was, after traversing the Atlantic.} Right where the young shepherd left his sheep.

Is whatever the heck it is that I’m looking for right back in my beloved New York? Has it already been crafted for me there? Joe and Jackie thought I would find love on my voyage and never come back home again.

I don’t know. I am sitting in paradise, listening to this music play. I’m nostalgic. I’ve been in this place before. I’ve heard this song before. The song remains the same. I’m watching people in their bright island shirts and leis around their necks. I’m smelling sweet plumeria and hibiscus in the air. Yes….I’ve been here once before. I’m tasting macadamia nuts and papaya. I’m waxing poetic.

Maybe love and I gravitate towards each other, after all……

In the meantime, I suppose we’re just two ships passing in the night…...

PS- I know. I hate these serious ones. I’ll shoot for something more light and humorous next time.
PPS- You don’t have to answer all the rhetoric in this blog. But if you wanna take a stab, feel free to shoot me an email or leave a comment. I’m always up for the guidance of my friends and experts on this subject.
PPPS- The photo on the balcony was taken last time I was in Hawaii. My hair did not grow that long again overnight.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

2:00 or Tuesday?

We've had four time changes during this stretch at sea. Four pushes of the clock. Four "spring aheads". And one extra April 12th. A whole extra DAY. But that was not a day to catch up on all the hours we've lost as we "time-travel" around the world, because we still worked the whole day. No sleep for the weary! We've still got about 6 hours left to lose. One hour just about every other night while we're at sea. I don't know if I'm coming or going. I don't know if it's 2:00 or Tuesday.

It seems like weeks ago that I was at the Japanese baseball game. I'm excited to get back to the US and to visit the new Citifield and the new Yankee Stadium-- Which, by the way, I am very happy to hear had a great home opener......well, at least for ME! My Indians were the "and guest" and they (Grady Sizemore in particular) did not let me down as Cleveland beat the Yankees by a land slide on the historical opening day at the brand new Yankee Stadium. The ballpark has been christened. And they also won today 22-4. There are a few students from Cleveland on the ship who shared in my excitement. As you may know, when I moved to NYC 8 or so years ago I chose to root for the NL team and became a Mets fan, but I still never stopped being a Cleveland fan. Which made sense to me. You get to pick one AL team and one NL team to be a fan of. There is not much talk of baseball on the ship. But there are certainly games being played.....

The other day I got a notice on my door saying I've been randomly selected to be tested as part of the Semester @ Sea random drug testing. So I gathered up all of my prescriptions to take with me to the clinic. I asked Janetta if she thought I was "randomly" selected since I talk about Vicodin so much. (I do have a prescription for it and I jokingly offer to share it with my friends with they talk about their aches and pains. And I go on to joke about how nicely it goes down with a glass of wine.) Janetta laughed and kind of looked away. I couldn't really figure out what was going on, but I was all geared up and ready to go. My "summons" was for 1:00 in Timitz Square. So there I went. And no one from the medical staff was anywhere around. Nowhere to be seen. No one looked like they were ready to test my system (nor anyone else's) for any sort of drugs. I went to the Executive Dean to inquire, which is when at least five of my other friends appeared around the corner, and burst into laughter.

It was a prank and they got me good. Shirl was the Ringleader and she told me that she was awake late at night and thought this would be a funny joke. So she and the rest of the pranksters picked me since I am one of the few people who would laugh along with then. They're right. I did laugh. But now I have to figure out a way to get Shirl back....if you can think of any suggestions, let me know. Here are some of the ones involved in this prank:

It has been a looooong 9 days at sea. We'll finally be in Hawaii tomorrow morning at 6 AM. Finally a break. The seventh inning stretch, if you will.... I can't wait. I feel like I've been gearing up and writing about this elusive port of Honolulu for WEEKS. 2 days in paradise and then 7 more days at sea.

I am tired, my back hurts, and I'm ready to be in Hawaii. I'm ready to be in Guatemala. I'm ready to be in New York. This voyage has exhausted all my energy. I'm homesick and I haven't even got a home..... (Anyone who works in NYC real estate reading this, please contact me. I am looking for a sunny pet-friendly, rent stabilized, one-bedroom apt. Lower East Side or Brooklyn please. Not too far out if it's Bklyn. Close to the 1/2/3/A/C/E/J/M/Z trains if possible.....) I think the NYC apartment search is much more difficult than the job search. I would say it's easiest to get a date, then a job, then an apartment. I just don't want to end up in the same situation I was in before uptown with the slumlord and the Ol' Bitty et al. Okay. No more complaining, I promise. I'm just ready to get back to the grind. I'm also ready to see something out my window besides endless miles of the ocean. I'd gladly take a dolphin or even an albatross.

But as far as this voyage goes, I still wouldn't trade it for the world.....although..... that sounds like a pretty even trade to me.....

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Just Hang Loose

Just hang loose, Just have fun, Sippin' on a cold drink lying in the sun. Don't try to hide it, cause it ain't no use. 'Cause when you're in Hawaii, you just hang loose!

So remember from the last blog how I can remember vivid details of my childhood vacations? The song above I learned in 1984. Captain Bob's Snorkeling Adventure. 3rd Grade. Hawaii trip. Sarah was at it again, and sent me photos from the Hawaii vacation as well. (Thanks Sarah, you are the best sister-in-law in the world!)

In fact, here she is! This was in Hawaii 22 years after the 1984 trip, in 2006. She and my brother lived in Maui for a short time. Scott is a traveling nurse, so he picks all the cool places to go. Maui. Just say it out loud....(go ahead, you can say it, no one's listening. Maaaauuuuiiiii. There you go!) doesn't the very word itself make you think of tranquil breezes? Sarah and I were enjoying the tranquil Maui breeze that day:

Before the 1984 trip, my mom and dad informed Scott and me "you kids are very lucky! there are no other kids that get to go to Hawaii!"

So I took that quite literally and expected to see no other children whatsoever. So every time I saw a child in Hawaii I would exclaim with surprise to my poor mother "Look! There's a KID!"

We *were* very lucky. I am forever grateful that my parents took Scott and I on nice vacations. Usually we went to Myrtle Beach in the family station wagon every summer, but Hawaii and the Cruise were our two "big ones".

We were in Hawaii the week of my 8th birthday. We stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and the rumor around the hotel was that Bob Hope was staying there that very week! Except, I kept getting Bob Hope confused with Don Ho. I called them Bob Ho and Don Hope.

So lo and behold, the night of my birthday dinner at the hotel, a few tables away was Bob Ho..... Or was it Don Hope?
We didn't get a photo of "Bob Ho", but we had a really yummy dinner. (No "tiny bubbles" for Scott and me though.) I still remember that I ate shrimp. We ate at the restaurant at the bottom of Rainbow Tower, which is where our room was located. We were originally supposed to stay in Tapa Tower, but we got upgraded. We had a room that overlooked the lagoon on the hotel's property. Every morning we would wake up somewhere around 4 AM. I don't know if it was because of the excitement or because of the jet lag.

My family has always loved Hawaii. Here are my mom and dad (below). They took a trip there when I was about 3. Scott and I stayed with my grandma and grandad that week. My parents brought me back a blue mu mu. And ever since then I wanted to go to Hawaii. Maybe that's what inspired the 1984 trip.
Here are Scott and I in Honolulu on the 1984 trip:
And here we are again (this time in Maui) in 2006:

Unfortunately my family will not be there for my third trip to Hawaii in 2009. I will be staying at the Hilton Hawaiian Village again this time. (Hoping to be upgraded to Rainbow Tower once again. In fact, I still remember the room number from the 1984 trip.) Only four more days....this 9 day stretch between Japan and Hawaii is draggggggging.... So when I do finally arrive, I'll have to "just hang loose" without my family. Maybe we can go again, though. How does that sound?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009 wait Groundhog's Day....I mean Easter X 2...Groundhog's Day

We had two April 12ths this year and two Easter Sundays. We are about to cross the International Dateline, so we had to repeat one day twice and the Powers that Be decided Easter would be the best day to have twice.

It's also Passover, which I was reminded of when I tried to get some matzo- and someone politely told me they only prepared a certain amount and I should go to the other line of the buffet. Oops, sorry guys!

"Groundhog's Day" with Bill Murray was playing on the ship's TV loop. The ironic thing is that I've been sick as a dog and I just left the TV on as I was resting in my cabin. So I've seen Groundhog's Day about 8 times.

Finally it's April 13th already. Easter is over. Tonight is the Semester @ Sea Auction.

My Sister-in-Law sent me some photos from my childhood, which reminded me: I've been on a ship during Easter/Passover once before. (Except we only had one Easter that time). This cruise was when I was in 5th grade, which would have made me about 10 years old. Song of Norway, Royal Caribbean Cruiseline, Easter 1986. Itinerary: Miami FL; Ocho Rios Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Cozumel Mexico, and Labadee Haiti. Cabin 374. Inside cabin. Deck 3. (Yes, I really do remember all that. I have a special place in my brain for good childhood memories.) I love being on ships. So does my fact, he's on vacation this week- hi Joe! Hope you're having a good time! See you in a little less than a month...

In the meantime, I thought you guys might get a kick out of some of these photos:

And because I anticipate some of you asking this question: No, I did not dress up as a Giant Easter Egg with a rainbow on it this time around.

Friday, April 10, 2009

......Buy me some sardines (!!!?) and cracker jacks, I don't care if I ever get back....

Although I missed Opening Day for MLB, I was able to still celebrate the opening of America's pastime in Japan.

The other night we attended a Yokohama Bay Stars game. I was pretty excited to celebrate spring with a cold beer and a hot dog and a baseball game. As American as apple pie.....except: as Japanese as.....edamame?

Here are some unique observations of the ol' ball game Japanese-style:
1) Each beer comes with a free packet of sardines.
2) Cheering is very choreographed. There is a "conductor" who stands in the front and orchestrates it.
3) Teams do not boo the players (maybe New York sports fans are jaded?)

4) One cannot access the entire ballpark. Only the section where you are seated. I found this to be a nice change (less crowded), yet annoying (no wandering the stadium to find different food vendors, gift shops, etc.) And after hearing from my friends Angel and Maura (they are mutually exclusive- not a couple) about the new Citibank Field I am really jazzed about baseball! There is a Shake-Shack at the Mets' new home! (This is the place that sells awesome burgers and frozen custard.)
5) Souvenirs- forget it. Very limited supply at the Japan ballpark. And forget finding any size above a Large. Japanese don't do XL.
6) Price- similar to the US. About $6.50 USD for a beer. I think it was about $8 at Shea and Yankee stadium. Cheaper at Jacob's field and other parts of the US. New York is always more pricey. Although that could change with the new NY ballparks.
7) Similarly to NYC everyone arrives to the game by public transportation. Although we were able to walk since our ship was docked so close to the ballpark.
8) There is no Designated Hitter (there should never be in my opinion!)
9) The innings displayed on the scoreboard are from right to left 987654321.
10) #25 was supposed to be the Slugger, although he struggled a bit. Bay Stars lost 9-1. The Mighty Casey has struck out.....
11) As far as I know, the Japanese do not have a problem abusing steroids. This aspect of American baseball saddens me. What happened to playing for the love of the game? Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?
12) The Bay Stars stadium seemed very industrial, and it was not Disney-ed up like some of the ones in the US. This was fine, but it felt kind of cold and not as inviting.
13) The hot dogs are kind of weird. So are some of the advertisements. I like this translation the best: "Good Coffee Smile"
14) No 7th Inning stretch
15) Here are two videos. One is the cheering. One is me trying to sing the cheer song. I don’t know the words to this song. It’s Japanese. I like to sing.....bla bla bla bla

So now we are on Day 1 of a 9 day stretch to Hawaii. Yesterday I explored "Modern Tokyo". The tour guide was fantastic and I learned a lot. I can now count to ten in Japanese. I can now make an origami Viking hat. I now know that there are people who work for the transportation system called "back pushers". (I had seen a video of this on Youtube, but I wasn't sure I believed it.) They are so jam-packed into the trains that they have people hired to stand on the platforms and smush them in. During rush hours there are "ladies only" trains because groping is a huge problem since hands have nowhere to move (except apparently into inappropriate spots.) BTW- I am never allowed to complain about crowded subways again. Our definition of "packed" is very different from the Japanese version.

Tokyo is very clean and very modern (see previous blog about the magical toilets.) There are only 7000 homeless in the city of 12 million. There are few drugs. The city is very very clean. The city is quite beautiful. Here I am on the observation deck of Tokyo Tower:

Part of our tour was the Toyota Show room. There were a bunch of simulators and the most state-of the art-, not yet released models on display. My favorite part? The Lexus section. I think this model suits me well:
Please note: I am on the driver's side....the Japanese, much like the British, drive on the left side of the road. Oh how I would love to own this car. But alas, I will have to settle for taking the subway when I get home. No joy in Mudville....the mighty Casey has struck out.....

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bodacious Beef, Cheerful Cherry blossoms, and Titillating Toilets

Yesterday I tasted the most succulent, delectable, buttery, mouth-watering, curl-your-toes piece of meat I've ever imagined. Kobe is known for its beef, and now I know why. See that glazed over look on my face in the photo above? That's because I was in beef-heaven. I couldn't focus on anything else. I had this sublime experience. It was the most tender, juicy steak I've ever tasted, cooked right in front of me on the hibachi grill.

I even had a piece stuck in my teeth that I didn't pick out, because it just tasted that good. The price was $40 for a 150 gram steak for lunch. Dinner is even more expensive. But that meat was worth every single penny. Cuts of beef like that would turn a vegetarian carnivore.

Everything is exalted in Japan. Not just the taste of the meat, but the prices, availability of beer in vending machines on the streets, the friendliness of its people, the immigration process, and of course the cherry blossoms.

Usually clearing immigration is a huge, crazy process for 825 students, 100 faculty/staff, and 200 crew- but in Japan it was beyond crazy. Step 1: we each had to walk past a radar thermometer which detected our temperatures. They wanted to make sure we weren't bringing any diseases from China, nor elsewhere. My temperature was 38.5 degrees C or something like that. Before Step 2 we had our diplomatic briefing which is when the American diplomats come on board and tell us about safety. Step 2: Our staff distributed passports to everyone, which took us from about 9 AM to 1 PM. Somehow, everyone but me, Shirl and Sarah went to lunch so the three of us were stuck there all morning distributing the passports. Step 3: Once everyone has a passport, they wait on a line and then have a face-to-face inspection, they are fingerprinted, and finally the passport is stamped. Some countries don't even bother stamping passports, nor do they send a diplomat. Other countries stamp passports, but it's quick. Japan, on the contrary was not messing around.....

When we finally got off the ship, we wandered the streets of Kobe. Kobe is very clean and quite friendly. Speaking of being friendly, I met up with a former colleague and friend, Motoko who moved here last summer with her husband, Matt. They teach English with the JET program and live right in Kobe. Shirl, Andrea and Lisa came with me to meet Mo and we were standing at the train station, people-watching and all of a sudden Mo came leaping across the floor, screamed, jumped in the air and hugged me tightly! It was the most grandiose greeting I've had in a long time! Mo, her husband Matt, and their friend Gina came along too. We went to dinner and they gave us the "ins and outs" of Kobe. First of all, there are vending machines EVERYWHERE. They sell soda, tea, hot coffee, sake, beer and just about anything else you might want.
Could you imagine a beer machine in the US? Kids would go crazy! Then Mo showed us around Kobe. We ate dinner, followed by a McFlurry from McDonalds with Green tea ice cream. Mo introduced us to the $100 Yen store (like the dollar store in the US) and I bought all of these silly little things like candy and magnets and greeting cards with hilarious sayings which got lost in translation. Like a wedding card that said "Happy Wedding. You are my best partner."

Mo, Matt and Gina had to go to work the next morning, so we parted ways and hugged goodbye. Goodbye, old friend!
The next day was the day I had the succulent meat (sorry it's out of order- I was just too happy about it to leave it for the middle of my blog).
Oh! And another wonderful thing about Japan? THE TOILETS! First of all, they have heated seats. And a little panel that controls the temperature. Then there were all of these other Japanese buttons, which I couldn't read. So I just started pressing them. One of them had this warm stream of water, which squirted out underneath me. It was like a mini-shower for your arse. And another button made the jets stronger. Another one made the water warmer. I couldn't find the "stop" button, so I just sat on the heated toilet seat and enjoyed. Finally, my friends knocked on the door and told me "Laurie, you've got to leave the bathroom now! People are waiting" Janetta was apparently enjoying it too, because I heard her screaming in the next stall! It took me five more minutes to find the "stop" button, and I finally had to say goodbye to the magical toilet.

After the delectable lunch and toilet experience we (we = Janetta, Shirl, Hayley, Sarah, Nate, Lisa and I) went to Kyoto where there is a castle (Nijo castle) and cherry blossoms. Now the thing about cherry blossoms is that they only bloom for a couple weeks out of the year. And we just happened to be here when they were in full bloom. Did we time it right, or what!?

Well, let me back up for a minute.....our timing was a little off. We accidentally took the local JR train, which took us an hour and a half. On the way back we found the express which got us back to Kobe and the ship in 40 minutes. It was like taking the C train versus the A train from Inwood to JFK airport. (If you live in New York you get this analogy...)

Anyhow, well worth the local train ride. Look how beautiful:

Did I tell you how much I loved Japan?

How much do I love thee, Japan? Let me count the ways: ich, ni, san, chi.......