Monday, March 31, 2008

Another Perspective: Eric as Celebrity at the War History Museum


Perspective on America


Bahn Than Market: Ho Chi Minh City


Baby on Board: Vietnam


Infrastructure Challenges in Vietnam

Craig Ullom
Assistant Executive Dean
Semester at Sea
Spring, 2008 Voyage

Traffic in Ho Chi Minh City


A "Wow" Sunset in Penang as seen from the Ship


The Longest Reclining Buddha: Penang


Turtle Conservation Center, Penang National Park: Eric and two day old green sea turtle


Batik Artist at Work: Penang


Penang, Malaysia

Craig's List: Penang, Malaysia


1.   We experienced our first and last tendering operation during the voyage.  Our lifeboats were turned into tenders transporting 100 people at a time from the ship to the dock and back again every half hour.  We were bumped from our initial anchorage due to to the arrival of a Cunard ship on its' maiden around the world voyage that started in New York. 


2.  I found Penang to be a wonderful city with a nice blend of character and charm, great food and reasonable prices.  The climate is similar to Florida- except it seemed more humid especially in the Penang National Park where we spent a day hiking in the tropical rain forest.  We saw a variety of old growth and recent growth specimens as well as heard quite a variety of tropical birds unlike I had heard in other places.  We took a skiff from the park over to Monkey Beach to meet some residents after whom the beach was named.  Stacey was almost cornered but managed to escape unharmed.


3.  Starting at 7:00 p.m. at various locations in the city, night markets emerge to address the shopping needs of traveler's and natives alike.  The night market we spent most time in was said to have 1000 vendors in stalls lined up along a main street for two kilometers.  Coupled with the vendor stalls were many outdoor food courts that offered tasty wares from 15 to 25 hawkers preparing and selling a rich variety of foods.  We were told in advance that Penang street food is excellent, cheap, and safe to eat.  We discovered for ourselves that all three descriptions are correct!  I only regret that the hawker food was not as available throughout the day so I could eat breakfast and lunch there as well as dinner.  Yummm.


4.  On Easter, we visited two Buddhist temples across the street from each other.  One was the Dhammikarama (constructed by the Burmese) and the other was the Wat Chayamang Kalmaram (constructed by Siamese).  During our visit, we received a family blessing from a Buddhist monk in residence during a Buddhist Water Festival. In the evening, there was an Easter service developed and conducted by students on board the ship.  No Easter egg hunt or Easter baskets but a few chocolate bunnies did find their way on board.  The birthday of Muhammad was being celebrated throughout March so the mosques were crowded and surrounded by lots of security personnel. 


5.  We stayed off ship for two nights in a wonderful resort on the beach.  Didn't do too much except chill. It was nice to have a break from the ship, but it was equally as good to get back on board.  Penang and Malaysia in general certainly holds a place at the top of my list to visit again.  The blend of Chinese, Thai, and Indian cultures is fascinating and makes for an inviting combination of interesting experiences that merit further exploration.


6.  We bunkered in Singapore today- receiving fuel and supplies as well as Vietnamese immigration officials who will be traveling with us to Ho Chi Minh City.  We haven't had much time between ports so considerable effort is needed to wrap up one port and prepare for another.  Forty-three parents will be joining us in Viet Nam to connect with their children and travel to points north and into Cambodia.  We will be hanging out in Ho Chi Minh City and are looking forward to some wonderful Vietnamese food along with some visits to places significant in the Vietnam war.  Stay tuned......



Penang, Malaysia: Stacey


Penang, an island, is the California of Malaysia.  It is connected to peninsular Malaysia by ferry service and the Penang Bridge.  Kuala Lumpaur is the nation's capital, located on the peninsula in West Malaysia.  Four hundred miles across the South China Sea is East Malaysia on the island of North Borneo.  Malaysia is very diverse religiously, ethnically and linguistically.  Fifty-eight percent are Malays of Islamic faith and the 26% Chinese are Buddhist, Confucian or Taoist, with the remainder being Indian, Pakistani and others, some who follow the Hindu faith.


The country is famous for it's production of natural rubber and tin.  Fifty percent of the world's palm oil is produced in Malaysia.  "Vision 2020" is the Malaysian government's plan for full economic development.  Sector's targeted for growth include the aerospace industry, biotechnology, microelectronics, and information and energy technology.  Roughly 5000 international companies have located in Malaysia because the business infrastructure is so conducive to world trade. 


Our port city was Georgetown in Penang.  We tendered to and from the ship while in Penang, exploring the city the first and last days and hiking Penang National Forest the second day.  We took a break from the ship and stayed at a Shangri La Resort on Batu Ferringhi Beach for a couple nights.  Batu Ferringhi is a world renown beach retreat with a fine collection of five star hotels and resorts.   Each evening begins a night market along the street with many crafts and things for sale.  As with all over the world, many of the things for sale were made in China and India.  Batik fabric art and pewter are some of the things actually made in Malaysia.       


"Hawker food" is the thing here.  These are street vendors that are found throughout the city and in a sort of food court where many tables and chairs are surrounded by a collection of stalls with cooks preparing fresh food cooked to order.  This was my favorite slice of life in Malaysia.  The food was great and very inexpensive at these hawker stalls and food courts.  Tiger is the Malaysian beer which is quite good.    


Singapore was included in the Federation of Malaysia for a short time until they withdrew in 1965 and became an independent state.   We departed Penang late so we could sail faster (to avoid pirate ships) as we went south along the Strait of Malacca.  Today we bunkered in Singapore to refuel the ship.  Singapore offers fuel at significantly reduced prices and has become the place for many ships to stop for fuel.  The port was bustling with ships of all kinds and provided quite a show of fighter jets doing maneuvers and flying in formation over the port area.  


Stacey -March 25, 2008

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mamallapuram Temple Family


Welcome Reception


Welcome to India-On the Street in our Rickshaw


Port of Chennai






A quote from Sarah MacDonald that says it all:


"India is beyond statement, for anything you say, the opposite is also true.  It's rich and poor, spiritual and material, cruel and kind, angry but peaceful, ugly and beautiful, and smart but stupid.  It's all the extremes. India defies understanding, and for once, for me, that's okay."


Stacey's List:  March 17


Wow, India!

It overwhelmed my senses with vivid, lively colors of saris and flowers among crumbling, filthy, buildings and streets,

machine engines and horns constantly honking (as a courtesy),

the aromas of polluted air, garbage, sewage, incense, sweet curry and jasmine,

the excitement of transportation, especially auto rickshaw rides, gritty dirt billowing and sticking to sweaty skin,

the challenges of negotiating daily for almost everything,

hot, hot curries, condiments, and peppers that will make you sweat and cry,

beautiful, dark skinned people who have a genetic ability to head bobble,

emotions for the many, many people living in very extreme poverty,

wonderment at the resiliency of these people.


How do you walk away from so many beggars? 

I recall big cities in the US, with transients, homelessness, and people asking for handouts.  This is multiplied exponentially in India.  It permeates the fabric of this nation. Rural or urban, nice part of town or not, poverty is everywhere.  In India the beggars do not appear to be transient or homeless.  Their home may be the shack down the street with tin sides, a sooty, black, palm frond roof, dirt floor and no belongings.  The beggars in India do not sit and ask for money as you walk buy, instead they follow you, tug at you, talk to you, show you their hungry children.  If you do give them some money, it is not enough, they ask for more and signal fingers to mouth. 


Upon arrival in India we had a Diplomatic Briefing from the US Consulate.  They gave us some very good and helpful information on how to survive a visit to India.  They recommended that we do not give handouts or money to beggars, as it will draw more of them, create a mob and become dangerous.  If you felt a great need to give something to a beggar, the suggestion was to give one person something as you are quickly departing.  I am haunted by the faces of the people I did not give enough to and those that I tried to ignore. 


It is so hard to know the right thing to do.  The government has built small houses with stucco walls and solid roofs for many of the slum dwellers.  NGO's have organized training programs for women and education for the children.  We were able to visit a well established colony where the families moved from the slum to the housing 20 years ago.  In organized small groups the women have received micro-credit loans to start various businesses.  They feel proud, empowered, independent, and confident that they can do such things on their own, where before the move, they were totally dependent on their husbands.  They have cared for their small homes adding on sections and tiling the floor.  They have a bed, electricity, running water, toilets, a TV, and even a computer.  This is a success story.  However, convincing other slum dwellers to relocate seems to be a major obstacle.  India is trying.  India has a very long way to go.


Squat toilets.  I successfully avoided them in India.  But we are onto Malaysia and the other ports where I might not be so lucky:)





Craig's List:  March 17, 2008
Since our last entry, we crossed the equator for our third (and last) time at 2150 hours on a beautiful evening. We greeted the "bump" with a toast on the faculty/staff lounge outside deck. As I write this entry, we are progressing toward Penang, Malaysia and will arrive there on Wednesday, March 19.  But for now- a short report on India.....
Our early morning arrival in Chennai was uneventful, however, not without considerable preparation of our community for safety and security measures as India in general is considered a "moderate threat" according to our security consultants.  Our berth was less than desirable from a passenger perspective.  I am told that the Port of Chennai receives less than ten passenger ships annually so it is primarily an industrial port and is designed as such.  The port is extremely dirty and not conducive to pedestrian movement.  We were boarded by twenty customs and immigration officials who proceeded to examine the documentation required in order to clear the ship.  In addition to the passport and visa, we needed an arrival card, a landing pass, a customs document, and a departure form as well as any receipts for purchases in the country. The procedures we were given to follow 24 hours in advance of our arrival changed considerably when we docked and were subsequently modified depending on which officials were working at the gangway-dockside and at the main gate to the port.  Undeterred by the remnants of British bureacracy, we persisted and were able to leave the ship by noon. After leaving the port, six of us left to go shopping and exploring.  Instead of a cab, we chose the three-wheeled, three-seater motorized rickshaws. Small, light-weight, energy efficient, these vehicles provided us with an exceptionally exciting ride that we used several times throughout our stay in Chennai.  For this first outing, Kelsey, Eric, and I went in one rickshaw; Stacey and two friends went in another.  We expected to stay together but that didn't happen so we ended up going in two different directions to generally the same destination.  In a city of 8 million or so people, that was an interesting opportunity!  We did eventually find each other but it didn't really matter as we needed to do it all over again to get back to the ship.  That evening, we enjoyed a welcome reception hosted by students and professors at a local engineering college that included music, food, dance, and conversation.  The level of creativity in food preparation, dance, costuming, and henna design was wonderful.  Overall, a great start to India.
We visited Kancheepuram (one of the seven most sacred Hindu pilgrimages) and Mamallapuram (an ancient port city of the Pallava Kings), two cities outside of Chennai, known for Hindu shrines and temples.  Both of these cities were extraordinary and exposed us to temples over 12 centuries old-situated amidst stores, slums, and urban life,  blessings by Hindu priests, cows and elephants roaming freely in the streets, extreme poverty, and sights and smells that cannot be described by words or photos.  Among my favorites were Arjuna's Penance (the biggest bas-relief in the world) and Butterball- a huge boulder that defies understanding of how it ended up perched on a sloping granite hill.  Most importantly, the people are simply wonderful- kind, welcoming, and full of smiles and stares.  In stark contrast to these cities, we had a wonderful south Indian lunch in a resort constructed after the tsunami.  It was a beautiful property on the beach within a good stone's throw of highly impoverished areas.  For me, the experience in these cities was definitely an experience in contrasts- the old with the new, the rich with the poor, the pristine with the polluted. 
In a light rain that soon turned into a downpour (on the edge of a tropical cyclone moving through), Kelsey, Eric, the executive dean, Kenn, and I ventured out to Kenn's favorite coffee shop right outside the port. Before leaving the port we stopped at Walnut Willies (a family-owned shop that had been around the port for 100 years) and then negotiated our way through flooded streets to get to the coffee shop where we enjoyed ten cups of wonderful south Indian coffee and buttered nan.  This was followed by another rickshaw ride- with four of us (exceeding the three passenger limit) to some shopping areas.  By the time we returned home late in the afternoon, we had just about dried out. We were told by our rickshaw driver that in India you can drive without lights, oil, and passengers but you cannot drive without using your horn. Riding in a rickshaw for several days was living proof that horn honking is a courtesy extended several times a minute by almost every driver on the street. 
Eric remarked how crossing the street in India is like playing human frogger.  Clearly we were the frogs trying to get across streets with few lights and many speeding bicycles, rickshaws, busses, cars, and motorcycles.  We made it but not without a few scares.  Interestingly by the end of our time in India, I was very impressed with Kelsey and Eric's confidence in moving through the streets in ways that would make us totally crazy in the states.  Kelsey and Stacey received many stares, looks, and smiles as they negotiated the city.  Eric was the recipient of multiple head pats, hand shakes, and cheek pinches- which he seemed to take in stride.  With such company, I don't believe I was even on the screen! 
Perhaps the most powerful experience for me was a field program entitled "socioeconomic problems in Chennai."  We travelled a short distance from the port to a beachside slum which we toured on foot.  The stench was at times overwhelming.  Raw sewage moving to the ocean through open trenches forming makeshift streams of human waste and "gray water" from washing were networked throughout the slum.  Huts that were used by fisherman who were able to afford flats further inland provided shelter at night for some people.  Freshly caught fish, covered with flies next to napping goats adjacent to flat rocks upon which laundry was being done lined the pathway we followed along the beach.  We learned about government plans to relocate these people to public housing further inland and then construct tourist-friendly properties on the beachfront.  We also learned how this plan is meeting with resistance by those who access the ocean for fishing (and their livelihood) in this same area.  We visited a couple of Hindu temples proximal to the slums and then ventured to a "colony"- government constructed housing for former slum residents interspersed among more middle class areas of the city.  Here we met with representatives from an NGO that is primarily focused on empowering women to work in their own small businesses.  This is accomplished by educating the women and creating collectives of about 15 women each to work collaboratively yet independently and financed by micro-loans that are managed by the women.  According to the women in the program, this has been a wonderful success.  They have developed skills, are generating an income, are developing financial autonomy, and have moved from the beach slum to a home with running water, a toilet, and electricity.  Besides this, their children come together for school and child care!  The NGO is continuing to broaden this model but it is slow-going and the challenge and scalibility of this effort is very difficult.  It didn't take long for the children to be attached to Kelsey and Eric.  We lost Kelsey for a while as she ventured deeper in the colony getting offers to return and teach the children. Many are working hard to create a new India and there is much to do. 
It seems to me that the extensive availability of inexpensive labor provides little incentive to purchase and use more modern methods to accomplish tasks.  While that creates employment opportunities for folks, it may limit the speed at which change can occur.  Although some pundits suggest that India has become ungovernable, I think that the combined efforts of NGOs such as the one we learned about can make a difference and perhaps transcend the shortcomings of government programs that are laced with bureaucracy and politics. I look forward to returning to India to further explore and enjoy the wonderful people who make this place quite special in many ways. 
Stay tuned...

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Mauritius: Stacey's List

Port Louis, Mauritius


(Pronounced ma-rish-ous)


A tiny, densely populated island in the Indian Ocean, to the east of Africa and Madagascar.  720 square miles, dormant volcanic mountains and craters, beautiful beaches and ocean colors similar to the Caribbean's many shades of turquoise. 


No thanks to the Dutch who were the first to colonize Mauritius, the Ebony forests were exploited and the dodo bird, eliminated.  Now extinct are 50 native and endemic plants, with 155 more species critically endangered. 


The majority population today consists of Hindu Indian, followed by Creole, French and English.  Mauritians take pride in the fact that theirs is one of the most successful multi racial countries, co-existing in harmony.  Sugar is the main crop, followed by tea.  Tourism, textiles and financial services are thriving as well.


As we walked into town and through the streets surrounding the Central Market, the streets were packed with people, vendors, scooters and many things for sale.  It was crowded, and dirty, and loud, and very colorful.  The air was filled with various scents ranging from body oder to fresh cilantro.  This seemed to be sort of a preparation for our next port, India.  The food market was mainly vegetables, herbs and fruit.  Locally grown mini pineapples and bananas were deliciously sweet.  You could eat the pealed pineapple like fruit on a stick, holding the green top and munching the fruit, dripping with juice.  yum!  The fish and meat markets next door were quite an experience, and I must say, were not as foul smelling as I expected.  The textile and craft market was on the other side of the vegetable stalls.  The market stalls ran the length of the entire block.   


Maha Shivratree, a religious festival celebrated in honor of Lord Shiva, was taking place during our time in Mauritius.  Thousands of Hindu pilgrims, walk long distances, carrying the "Kanwar", wooden arches and platforms, covered with flowers, and religious statues.  Hindu devotees converge at the sacred lake, the Grand Bassin.  It is believed that this lake is connected to the Holy Ganges in India.  The pilgrims take holy water from the lake and partake in ceremonies of prayer.  There are stations along the path offering food and water to the pilgrims.  We got as far as the huge Shiva statue and temple at the top of the mountain.  The chant, "Um Shiva" was piped through huge tents via loud speaker.  Many pilgrims were resting, praying or eating in these tents.  Unfortunately, the weather was really nasty with strong winds and horizontal rain.  We were not prepared with jackets and such, so we did not go further to the lake in the crater of a volcano.  Instead we ate with the pilgrims and took in the many sights, sounds and experiences.


For such a small island, it is interesting how the weather can be so dramatically different.   At sea level the beaches were sunny and hot.


We took a catamaran trip to snorkel at a reef that was somewhat disappointing to those of us who have experienced better.   The next day the kids and I went to a school for troubled teens.  Project Teen Hope offers teens another chance at learning English, French, basic interview skills and craft making.  As these kids failed in public school, the hope is to show them alternatives to prostitution and drugs.   


If you ever come to Mauritius, I would recommend the Central Market experience in Port Louis, the mountains on a clear day, the beaches (when no threat of a cyclone) and of course, the Shiva festival.  Our next stop is Chennai, India.



Mauritius: Maha Shivaratree Pilgrimage


Mauritius: Teen Hope Project




Friday, March 7, 2008

Port Louis, Mauritius March 7: Craig's List

Port Louis, Mauritius
Mauritius is one of three major islands that also include Reunion and the Seychelles.  These islands are favored vacation destinations for folks from Africa, Europe, and Asia.  Mauritius prides itself in being a peaceful and tolerant multicultural community including Hindus, Muslims, and Creoles.  Sugar cane has historically been a primary cash crop on the island, however, since Europe dropped sugar subsidies to Mauritius, the profitability of sugar has declined and the island is moving more toward tourism as a replacement economy.  There is also progress being made toward development of Mauritius as a "cyber community" that would provide 100% wireless access throughout the island and serve as a major hub of technology-based enterprises...basically work and live in paradise as long as your business can be managed electronically.  Certainly a cool vision with lots of work and money needed to make the vision a reality. 
There is considerable property development portside in Port Luis- almost too westernized for my tastes- seemingly trying to compete with the Cape Town waterfront.  This port was a good transition place to prepare for India.  The markets were an amazing collection of vendors, food, crafts, fragrances, noise, and crowds.  I can understand why folks buying meat come early in the morning as later in the day the combination of heat, humidity, and flies make the meat less desirable to purchase. 
Mauritius was created by a series of volcanoes- of which, 25 extinct volcanoes form the spine of the island.  The beaches and water are beautiful.  We went on a volcanic exploration field experience to learn more and along the way detoured to visit the pilgrimage site of Grand Bassin- which is a holy lake for Hindus.  This festival, Maha Shivaratri, is celebrated by 500,000 Hindus each year in Mauritius.  Legend is that the lake is in fact part of the Ganges and as such is a very holy site.  So we visited the huge statue of Shiva in pouring, cold rain and mingled with some pilgrims while eating some native food, which paranthetically, was provided free of charge by a Mauritian construction company!  Altho the learning about the volcanic history was interesting, connecting with the Shiva festival trumped the lava holes. 
We went on a catamaran snorkeling trip and unfortunately dove a reef that was not as rich with sea life as we expected.  We did learn that underwater experiences were considerably better around Reunion, however, we did not make it there. 
My impression is that the Mauritian tourist sector is in its early developmental stages and this was reflected in the quality of some of the experiences.  We traveled between the ship and portside either by cab or by water taxi.  The Port Louis Boatman's Club offered a wide variety of wooden boats that more often than not seemed to barely make it to their destination.  It was interesting to pick up passengers from other ships in port-cargo and fishing vessels- from Japan and China.  We were not successful in fully communicating with our fellow Vietnamese ship workers but they did manage to get some photos of Kelsey on their cell phones. 
Mauritius was probably the most challenging port so far for student issues.  We had a few serious incidents that resulted in hospitalizations that were soon moved to our on ship ICU clinic.  All are well now but it was a bit challenging for a while. 
We left Mauritius on March 4 and are headed for Chennai, India.  The seas were about 3.5 meters (10 feet) upon leaving Mauritius and have since calmed to a nice one meter swell.  Last night we had a wonderful 5 course Captain's dinner with 24 faculty and staff plus the Captain's senior team. 
Tomorrow, Saturday, is a no-class day and instead the community will be involved in the Sea Olympics all day.  This is a competition among the ten "seas" on the ship.  Each sea has about 80 folks.  Although we have the most seasoned experience, our faculty and staff "Silver Sea" may be outperformed by the students in a few of the more physical events.  Time will tell.. ...  That's it for now.  Stay tuned....