Saturday, November 28, 2009

Japan Already?

Ten Countries down, one to go!

Japan the city of sushi, sake, karaoke, hiroshima, harajuku, cherry blossoms and geishas- I love it. Japan was my last foreign country and it was memorable between the independent travel and trying to dive into the culture. For starters, Japan is so clean and the people are so nice and willing to help. We had two days to spend in Yokohama and then one day to sail to Kobe where we stayed for two days.

Japan is our safest country on our itinerary so my friends and I were set on traveling to Tokyo, as Yokohama is only about 40 minutes away via subway. I have gained such an appreciation for public transportation while in Japan. The metro was so easy to navigate even though it was written in Japanese, we made it in one piece. I think I like public transportation because of the way it is in Japan- clean, clean, clean. I mean I have rode the subways in D.C, NYC, and experienced public transportation in several other countries including India but those don't compare at all. The metro was surprisingly quite, like no one talked, actually they all slept. It was funny because these people would be passed out heads bobbing and resting on stranger's shoulders.. I have no idea how they woke up on time to get off at their stop. Another peculiar thing is the anime porn comics... seriously these are all over and people read them with no shame, people of all ages and genders. That was weird to get used to, to say the least. Something that is not accepted in Japan especially on the metro is blowing your nose, that is a no-no. It is also considered offensive to excessively use your hands while speaking, that was difficult to remember when relying on some sort of sign language in order to find out what train to catch next. Tokyo as expected was full of english speakers but everywhere else, not a chance. Many times I would say. 'excuse me, do you speak english?' and they would reply with a straight up english 'no'. That was kind of funny.

My friends and I booked a hotel for the one night we had in Tokyo in Roppongi which is the nightlife capital of Tokyo, fitting. In order to get to our train to Roppongi we went through Shibuya and I will tell you I have never seen that many people in my life. All the eye could see were dark haired, well dressed people. Crossing the street made you feel like a fish swimming upstream. The Japanese have sweet style, they don't use much color (except for the Harajuku district) but it is still so attractive. All the girls dress the same, rockin boots, tights, a cute jacket, straight across the forehead bangs and so many cell phone charms that there is no way they could lose their phone is their huge bags. The men dressed like ballers. They wore suits and really neat shoes, no tennis shoes though? I have come to the conclusion that not only are the Japanese better looking than the chinese but also they are friendlier. I was not really expecting to see a difference but it was there, between their costumer service and willingness to please. I guess that's the difference between an oppressed society. The Japanese however are not friendly to other Asians, as they are an incredibly ethnocentric country. Anyway, our hotel was right in the center if Roppongi and that was wonderful considering a taxi ride in Japan starts at $7! We walked everywhere and it was neat because they city is always bustling and it reminded my of Times Square, with lots of lights and things to look at. I was wanting sushi, however my friends don't really do fish so I decided I would just get it later in the trip and we ventured to Hard Rock Tokyo. That was fine by me considering I have only ever been to the one in San Diego. We got there during lunch and got to have the first free refills all semester. No other country does this, it was refreshing in more ways than one. Our waitress was very nice and her name was Maiko (pronounced like michael) which I learned later in the week from watching 'memoirs of a Geisha' that it means apprentice Geisha so I didn't know what her parents were expecting from her. hello kitty was all over the menu, even though we didn't see one sanrio store in any of the asian countries. I got a burger and called it a day, I had not been that full in a long time, and because of the refills, the bathroom was needed.

Japan has some crazy toilets. They sing songs, wash you in more ways than one and are even self cleaning in some instances. As my friend put it, 'it's like a carwash for your booty', eloquent I know. The seats are even heated? I learned they sing songs because the Japanese find it embarrassing to hear someone go to the bathroom. Those were an experience in itself. The toilet in our hotel was just as sophisticated, it's obviously something they really take pride in! I actually like them from an environmental stand point considering they depend on a bidet washing over toilet paper. Japan seems to be on the 'going green' band wagon as well as all the cities are so clean... but ironically it is so difficult to find a 'rubbish bin'. That is something I didn't understand because in the States if there was not a trash-can than there would just be piles of trash on the ground, same goes for many of the other countries I have visited. The water in the Harbor was also very clean which was a nice change.

After a late lunch, we opted to go find a karaoke bar. After a hour of searching for the one the hotel recommended, we located it (the sign was completely in Japanese and that sign did not correlate with the locals knowledge) and set a time to come back and sing. We ventured all around the town going to the pet shop that Paris hilton frequents, starbucks (so common, actually there was the biggest concentration of starbucks and Mcdonalds in Japan than anywhere else) and other various shops. Although Japan is very aware of their culture, you can't buy too much of it. All the shops sold modern things, something I found some what disappointing. We went back to the hotel, got ready for the evening and then headed back to jam out. Karaoke unfortunately is not done as portrayed in 'Rush Hour' so there was no opportunity to do my own rendition of Chris Tucker's performance. Karaoke consists of a rented out room where you and your friends can sing as loud as you want and order drink after drink while these lights flash and strobe. This was the cheapest Karaoke bar around and that was nice considering most other SASers paid around $50 for an hour. We learned in our cultural pre-port that many foreigners sleep in karaoke bars instead of hotels, just keep that in mind if you ever make it our there. We ended up staying for close to two hours singing our little hearts out. We sang many songs including some Christmas ones Mariah Carey style. I loved seeing Christmas decorations in Japan. Although it is more of a corporate holiday than for religious reasons, it was still so nice to see some holiday spirit. Suicide rates are sky-high in Japan so we were told they really try to live up as many holidays as possible to give breaks to the stressful work weeks.

We went to a club after karaoke and that was a lot of fun, they played great music. Dancing in clubs is illegal.. yeah you read that correctly. I was shocked too, I mean they still do dance but for some reason the government can't know about it.. thus you can't use your cameras? It was strange. We still had a lot of fun and called it a night sometime around 4 in the morning. The following day we woke up early because we had to make it back to Yokohama before the ship took off without us. While we were in the area I really wanted to see Harajuku and unlike the sushi, my friends did too. Ever since I saw Gwen Stefani in concert and saw her little Harajuku girls dancing in the background, I found their style to be really cool. Harajuku is located right off the subway stop on 'takeshita' street, no lie. There were people flooding the streets and they all had different colors of hair and eccentric dress. We spent awhile walking the streets and window shopping because everything was so expensive, there were SO many sock stores, which I'm cool with but too damn expensive.

We left, got on the quiet subway and headed back to Yokohama. We got back dropped our stuff off and then attempted to rent some bicycles to go around the city, the problem was that the man did not speak a word of english, not even 'no' and all we knew from our time in Japan was arygato (well with help from Styx.. domo arygato Mr. Roboto) We had to ditch that plan and we just ended up walking all around. I really loved yokohama because it was a beautiful waterfront town with fall like trees and the people were so outdoorsy and family orientated. I loved seeing the little kiddos in their boots running around like they were 8 when in fact they were probably 3. The kids act so much older than they really are. Our ship left that evening at six and then we had a whole day at sea in between the two ports which consisted of sleeping and homework. There were only 194 members of the community left on the ship and that was such a nice change of pace. My roommate was traveling independently so it was so nice to have the room to myself, for once.

The ship arrived in Kobe early the following day and it is a much more industrial city with SO many slot machines! I basically just walked around and took in the sights, it was a holiday weekend in Japan so there were people all over. There was a nine story mall right near the subway station and had a huge tower records at the top. It was so nice to be able to listen to the CD's that have been released in the past three months as I feel totally disconnected. I spent many hours in there just trying to soak up as much of the music as possible. There were also computers with free Internet so that was nice! One the last day I finally got my sushi right before it started to rain, it was from a connivence store but nonetheless I got it!

Japan was a great way to end the stretch of foreign ports on this voyage and now I am attempting to conquer our longest stretch at sea on our way to Honolulu- ten days. It's brutal to say the least. I never thought I would find four days of class unbearable but the time has come. It also does not help that assignments and exams have picked up and one final is the day before we get to Hawaii. Thanksgiving was also interesting on the ship. In Hong Kong, we got a new chef and he was an American so we had a pretty legit dinner although there were no sweet potatoes or green bean casserole, my staples. I spent it with my adopted 'family' and it was nice to eat my meal in a dinner setting but I would honestly have preferred to eat with my real family or even my friends on the ship, but oh well it was nice either way. I find my list of things I am thankful for even longer since being on this trip, I mean after seeing everything I have seen, I feel so blessed. Our family took a lap to burn off our meal and that was pretty fun as we did a follow the leader type of parade through out the ship ending with a couple sprints outside on the seventh deck. It is a Thanksgiving I will never forget.

We make it to American soil on the 4th of December and that will be much needed after ten days on the ship. I don't have too many plans for Hawaii except for viewing Pearl Harbor one more time... especially since it is so close to the 'day that lives in infamy'. I plan to just enjoy the sun and these last couple of days with my friends until we get back on the ship, take finals, pack up all my stuff (somehow) and then head home to SAN DIEGO!


I can't wait. It is a strange feeling longing to be home but then at the same time not wanting this voyage to end- at all. I would do it again in a heartbeat. 16 days!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Hello from China,

yet again it has happened, I experienced a wonderful trip full of many things that I will NEVER forget. I arrived in Hong Kong on the 11th of November which was strange because there was no reminder or any acknowledgment for veterans day and then I depart from Shanghai China today on the 17th.

My first and only day in Hong Kong went so slowly, and I think that is between all the walking, the heat and the awe of the amount of people and the HUGE sky scrapers. Hong Kong is a country under China's control but they still have a lot of British (or even Western influence) influence between the spoken language, the Starbucks, the Jimmy Choos and the beautiful money. I did not spend anything in Hong Kong so I never had a chance to get some money in my hands but the $10 bills are SO cool! One of my favorite things about Hong Kong was the bamboo scaffolding... In Rush Hour, Jackie Chan has a fight scene on some bamboo scaffolding and they really do use it.. I found that amusing. I was leaving the following day so I had to stay local so my friend Jenn and I made up our own amazing race challenge which was to locate a specific part to an R/C helicopter part (for one of Jenn's family members).... kinda intimidating considering I cannot read a single character of their language and that the hobby street is over five kilometers long. Our berth in Hong Kong was legit (although I like SA much more) we pulled up to the side of a shopping mall, we walked off the gangway and we were in a fabulous mall with every store you could possibly desire. It was bitchin but Hong Kong is really expensive so it was window shopping heaven! After many hours of walking, Jenn and I decided to hop in a cab to give us a break with the heat and smog... our cab ride was about 10 minutes until we reached our destination.... we got out of the cab and Jenn realized that she left the piece of paper with the part on it in the cab (ugh) and then as we walked around we saw that all the stores were closed (double ugh) even though it was a Wednesday at noon. So here we are in the middle of hobby central finding our mission impossible. We opted to head to a air conditioned mall where we could hopefully find a actually toilet instead of a squatting hole... no luck even at the mall.... so then Burger King was calling our names.

When I first started this trip I told myself I would only eat authentic meals off the ship. I can honestly say that looking back, this was not very realistic goal, let me explain. You see, the food on the ship is so old right now I don't think I will have potatoes, cauliflower or pasta for a long time when I get back home.. its been an overload. Needless to say, when we get to port, all of us SAS kids hit up the franchises that all of you know including Mickey Dee's, KFC, Burger King, Starbucks and in Hong Kong's case 7/11 (cheap booze). Long story short, I ordered a whopper and it was damn good. Burger King also had a Western toilet so it was even better! After our whoppers, we walked back to the ship (which took an hour and a half on the same street) getting bombarded by Indian men trying to sell us their tailoring services... little do they know we have been all over and had all that stuff already done.

We got back to the ship, jotted down the part number and headed back out, this time hailing a cab. When we arrived to the hobby center for the second time that afternoon, it was hustling and bustling with so many asian men. I felt like I was is in the Comic Con of Hong Kong with all if these men so passionate about these R/C cars, boats and planes, the only difference is they didn't have the weird ass costumes on. Jenn and I were the only women and we really stuck out going into these tiny stores asking for this one obscure part to a helicopter that we have no idea what it looks like. As it turns out, we lost our amazing race and had to surrender as the helicopter model we needed was not sold in any of the stores... it was a bummer but something I will never forget. We took a cab back to the mall and then I decided it was my turn to drag Jenn all around so I took her to the Museum of Hong Kong.. lucky for us it was free admission, even better.

Although I am not the biggest fan of Asian art, I still enjoyed myself and loved the architecture of the place the best, some of the coolest door frames I have ever seen hands down. We left the museum and headed to the pier to take photos of the sky line because it was sunset. It was so pretty, although I must say tall buildings don't really do it for me, I would much rather see a mountain of something from God's hands opposed to mans. At night we saw a light show that happens every night on the buildings and that was really nifty, so many colors and some music even goes with lights.. asian Christmas lights I guess? It was strange to see some Christmas decorations but no greens of reds, all the trees on display were purple and pink with little fairies, scratch that, it was strange to see Christmas decorations in general. I have no sense of what day of the week it is or even the date unless it is the arrival of departure of our port. Looking at my calendar, Thanksgiving is in less that 10 days.. where has this year gone? I have not given Thanksgiving or Christmas that much thought except the fact that I will be with my family for one of the two.

I left Hong Kong early the following morning on my SAS trip that took us to beijing. I was very excited for this trip because I was staying at Tshingua University in a dorm room. After our three hour flight, we met in the 8 degree F weather to see our tour guide Cindy. Cindy had just graduated form the University and it was her job to do the whole itinerary for the 29 of us. It surpassed my India trip quite easily, I felt Like I was really a student in China. We all had our own rooms and bathrooms and hard, hard, hard beds but we were so active every day that I just conked out no problem. What I really liked about the trip was the mix of tourist attractions and things off the beaten path. For example, one day we started the morning doing Tai Chi is the freezing cold using video game like sound effects and then we went and visited the temple of Heaven. We saw so may sights and my two favorites were the National Stadium and the Great Wall. It was SO cold but two of my new friends ALex and Lizzy and a staff member frank all decided that instead of hitting up the bars, we would venture to the Bird's nest to see it lit up at night. I am really happy I did, it really is so cool and the Water cube with the nest was really neat. There was motivational music and it gave me chills, experiencing the venue over a year since the games, made me add something else to my life list and that is to go to the Olympic summer games sometime in my life.

The Great Wall was even colder but even cooler (in many ways) and I loved it. I hiked all the way up and it was so weird to be shivering but sweating. One cool fact I learned about the wall after hiking it is that, the steps were made uneven on purpose. While hiking, there would be some small steps and then a huge step that you had to put your hand down to climb over. it really messed up my cadence and I learned that is the exact purpose of the uneven steps. To prevent enemies to be able to cover a lot of distance on the wall, the steps were made uneven so it was almost impossible to run up or down. I thought that was pretty clever.

Panda Express is not chinese food, not even close. We ate like royalty on our trips and it was always family style. I put my dislikes behind me and tried every dish including the duck, pork, and other mystery meats. They use so many vegetables and I love that, I had some great green beans and bak choi (thats not how you spell it but after reading these entries you should know my spelling ability of lack there of). The rice was bomb too, sticky and perfect.. I have also mastered chopsticks, which will become handy in Japan as I plan to get legit sushi.

We had a wonderful tour guide when we went to see the Forbidden City and Tianenamen Square, her name? Blue Cathy. She always referred to herself in third person and because the wind was ripping through us she would say ' so hot, ay, ay, so hot like Miami' to trick us into thinking it was warm. Blue cathy also called herself the next Michael Phelps but she had a very difficult time saying her L's. She was a riot. Every-time I heard her speak, she reminded me of the you-tube video nail shop.. they way the girl talks in that is EXACTLY how Blue Cathy spoke.. too funny. A side-note, since China is communist, facebook, yahoo! and youtube among many others are banned... thanks Mao.

I feel like there are so many details from my China trip and it is a little overwhelming to try to write them all down at this moment so I will have to wait to share the rest in person. I have two days and then I will be in Japan where I will travel to tokyo and do some Karaoke!!!! After tokyo we have a very long stretch.. well ten days at sea and then it's to hawaii:)

I am sorry if this was boring for you, I just have so many jumbled thoughts and experiences. After finishing this I will move onto personal e-mails and then my own journal. I have a lot to catch up on. I love you all and hope you are doing well!. Happy thanksgiving if I don't get back to this before then!

much love (always)