The Spring 2011 world trip that I embarked on ended when the MV Explorer docked up in San Diego, California on April 24th. Every passenger got off the ship, said their heartfelt goodbyes, reunited with loved ones and went on their respective treks back home. But not me! I did something crazy. I decided to STAY on the ship, and ride it home to Miami. Going home in style baby! Haha
Here’s what sparked this move. You see, I had YET to book my flight back to Miami from San Diego. Since I had left it so late, to fly across the country like that would’ve easily cost me about $800 - & then imagine with all the extra bag fees and whatnot, it could’ve climbed up to around $1000! But I mean, I eventually had to get home to the 305 right? Well quite conveniently, the MV’s follow-up voyage was an Enrichment Voyage going through all of Central America, through the Panama Canal and finally docking up in Ft Lauderdale! Too perfect! On TOP of that, there was a special rate going on at the time, and I managed to get this voyage to visit 12 more cities across 7 more countries for only $1300!! The Indian-love-to-score-great-deals part of me had its moment of glory.
The 2nd voyage was wonderful! I saw beautiful new cultures & countries and got the opportunity to connect with a whole new MV Explorer community. It was just a 3 week voyage, so obviously it doesn’t compare with my semester long world trip with 600+ students, but it was still pretty great.
The trip list was as follows:
Needless to say, my Spanish (well, Spanglish) was put to good use on this voyage! Great trip all around! Pictures to come!
I was overjoyed when I saw that the ship was putting on a production of the Vagina Monologues. If I’m not mistaken, this was the first time the MV Explorer community had decided to put on the infamous show. Since there’s so much going on all the time on the ship (from classes, to planning our days in port, etc.) most would think that there’s no time to really sit down and dedicate time to memorizing lines over and over again to perfection. But you see, there is something magical that happens when you’re a part of this production – you get this instinctual feeling that it is your DUTY as a woman, to perform your monologue to a T.
The Vagina Monlogues is more than just any old production; it stands for so much more. The V-Day movement, as it’s come to be known, raises awareness and funds to stop violence against women. If there’s one cause that resonates deep within me, it’s that of women’s rights (or lack there of). Call me a feminist, whatever. I’ve just seen & experienced too much for it to be an issue that I take lightly.
I auditioned, and made the cut! I had the rare opportunity to actually perform TWO monologues. I did “The Vagina Workshop” and also a spotlight piece entitled “Under the Burqua.” I knew I would get The Workshop monologue, because that is the piece that I had when I performed the Vagina Monologues back at FIU – so I know that script like the back of my hand. It also helps that the piece usually requires a British accent, so boom, it’s mine ;) lol
As for the “Under the Burqua” monologue, that was a new challenge for me. For starters, it’s a much more serious piece than the lighthearted Vagina Workshop script. It dealt with the sensitive topics of abuse and rape in the Middle East. If that’s not enough pressure, this was also the last monologue of the show. I had the honor of having the “anchor monologue” as they call it.
I performed the last monologue with the words “I AM STRONG” written in black permanent marker down my forearms. I only revealed this in the last few lines of my monologue though. With the serious script I was performing, I think that reveal made a strong impact on the message being sent across.
The show went extremely well and the Union was absolutely packed! Besides having a full house, the show was also channeled out throughout the shipboard TV circuit, so some people watched it from their cabins. All the monologues were performed flawlessly and it was definitely a proud moment for our entire shipboard community. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to be a part of this show while on the ship – it gave me a surge of empowerment and a deepened sense of community.
Taiwan was surprisingly a great port for me. Since it was an on-the-go port addition, many of us on the ship didn’t really know what to expect from the place. I did a great deal of independent travel in Taiwan since this was the last stop before heading back to the US – so that factor may have also played into why I enjoyed it so much. This was also the country where I went to the most art museums, & that’s an almost instantaneous way to make me happy.
Let’s begin with day 1: The ship docked up in Keelung, but my friends and I immediately hopped on a bus that took us to Taipei, which is the capital of Taiwan (& therefore, is where all the action is at). After settling into the hotel my friends got, I took off with my friend Elizabeth to the infamous National Palace Museum. There was a SAS trip there that day, & we basically just crashed that! Haha, Professor Godfrey (the professor that showed us around The Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven back in Beijing) invited us to tag-along to this great trip he was leading. Again, Godfrey’s specialization is in Asian art, so having him there as a direct resource was wonderful. After, Elizabeth and I went to one of the night markets in Taipei where we walked around and stopped for some local grub. We had no idea what we were ordering, we just sort of pointed to something on the menu and hoped for the best. I ended up mainly just sipping the broth and drinking tea - no wonder Asians are so thin! Elizabeth & I then met up with the rest of our crew, and off into the city we went! We took the train to the Taipei 101 area where we club hopped starting off at a nice place called Room 18. We unfortunately ended up the night at this ghetto place called Lava where there were a ton of SASers. Place was packed & the claustrophobia was just too much. After being there for a few minutes, I knew I needed to leave. Long story short, I ended up not going back to the ship and stayed with my friends (Meghan, Chance, Nicole & Elizabeth) in their hotel that night.
The next morning, I woke up and went straight to MOCA Taipei. As you walk towards the MOCA from the train station, there’s a great deal of outdoor work leading to the space. The museum had a lot of interactive pieces which I really enjoyed and a range of themes were displayed throughout. After, I headed to the Longshan Temple and stayed there to pray for a while. As discussed before, as soon as I hit Asia, the spiritual side of me kicked in and I made sure to visit temples as often as I could. The Buddhist method of prayer is beautiful to watch; it’s very ritualistic & calming. The heavenly smell of incense in the air, the hypnotic sounds of the chanted prayers and the traditional architecture that secured all that harmony in balance – all of it was perfect. After the temple, I walked down the market and stopped by a place that does foot massages. The people were really friendly & even through our difference in languages, we still managed to communicate lightly. Sure, things were lost in translation, but that’s part of the language barrier adventure. For example, there was a gentleman getting a massage there also that said something to me and all I caught was “America” – so I just sort of smiled and nodded. I put up my index finger and said “1st time” then pointed down to the floor “here in Taiwan” then gave a thumbs up and nodded “it’s very nice here.” Anyway, next thing I know, when I go to pay, the ladies told me that the gentleman had paid for my massage also – suppose he wanted to MAKE SURE that my time in Taiwan continued to be great!
Later on that night I went back to the Taipei 101 area where I went hotel hopping. I went from the Grand Hyatt, to the W Hotel, etc. Learning from my beloved Miami, all the best clubs/lounges are usually in top-notch hotels – & this holds true everywhere I’ve learned. The W Hotel in Taipei opened just a few months ago and is absolutely beautiful inside. Drinks by the pool, talking with locals and business travelers alike was wonderful. I cut the night early in order to catch the last bus to Keelung where our ship was docked.
The next morning marked our 3rd and final day in Taiwan. I headed towards the Taipei International Flora Exposition which was thankfully still going on while we were in town. From there, I went to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum where there was a Monet exhibition on display! What a stroke of luck! I had no idea his extensive work would be displayed here. I suppose it made sense for Monet’s exhibition to be running during the Flora Expo seeing how his work is garden & nature based and all.
In my last remaining hours in Taiwan/Asia, I did some last minute gift shopping and then headed to back to the ship. Getting back on the ship, we would be facing 11 straight days going across the Pacific Ocean to the US! After being immersed in the Asian time-warp, hopping straight from one country to the next without much of a break, this much time at sea was definitely going to be odd to us. Anyway, it was unfortunately time to say zài jiàn to Asia! ::throws up peace sign – for old time’s sake::
As mentioned in a previous post, ISE/Semester at Sea changed our voyage path to go to Taiwan instead of Japan, considering the recent tsunami that occurred. I remember that day vividly. Getting emails from my family (first email from my brother) asking if I was ok, to make sure I was alive even – you have to realize that we were ON those waters at that point. I went immediately to CNN.com and couldn’t believe what was going on. The ship thankfully figured out a way to stream us live coverage of the news via Al Jazeera. I hated watching that tsunami footage; it scared the hell out of me and saddened me deeply. Natural disasters are a curse like none other – we can’t predict when one will happen, we are constantly shocked at the increasing power of mother nature & unfortunately, innocent lives are taken one after the other at the blink of an eye.
Naturally, all of us on the ship related this incident to our sentiments regarding 9/11. Remember how when that happened you knew someone, who knew someone, who was unfortunately affected by that attack? Well approximately 3,000 people died during 9/11, while approximately 15,000 have died due to this tsunami (& numbers continue to increase as more bodies are found) – so a question many of us asked locals throughout Asia was “did you know anybody affected?” and the majority of the time, they did. Ugh, my heart sinks when I think about this kind of stuff. You can’t take anything in life for granted.
My heart and my prayers continue to go out to those in Japan.
Shanghai is the largest and most developed city in China. It’s a shame that I was only able to explore the city for a day. Our ship was docked up in the most scenic area Shanghai has to offer: right on the Huangpu River by the famous Bund. After walking down The Bund, my friends and I took a cab to Old Town where there are several shops and restaurants all with beautiful traditional Chinese architecture. We stopped for a quick bite at a sushi place and then split up. I had plans to visit a few art museums while here & my group wasn’t really interested in that (not many ever are). So I lone-ranger’d the rest of the day going from The Shanghai Museum (which holds an incredible bronze & jade collection) to The Shanghai Art Museum. On the way back to the ship, I stopped for a quick 30 minute scalp massage – look, when in Asia, you can’t help but to get massages every other day because they’re just done so well and they’re so ridiculously cheap! Plus, I needed a massage to relax me for what I was going to deal with when I got back on the ship. The issue that I had been dealing with for the past few weeks at this point on the voyage finally got resolved that day in Shanghai. Justice was served. Thank God.
While Drigo was in class in the morning, I got a chance to skype with my dad and my siblings! I hadn’t seen them in months so it was great to get to chat to them face-to-face (well, as real to face-to-face as you can get). After Drigo got out, we met up with his friend Timothy (multilingual Belgian jail-bait) and headed straight to the Lama Temple. We got a massive stack of incense in order to have the full on Buddhist temple experience. The Lama Temple in Beijing is one of the largest and most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world. It was absolutely beautiful, and I loved being in such a spiritually rich place. Being here was the perfect way to end my trip to Beijing. It was so peaceful and therefore allowed us to be reflective. Drigo & Tim escorted me back to Chris’ place where we said our goodbyes. Not gonna lie, but I definitely got a little teary-eyed hugging Drigo. At this point of my voyage, I was going through a rocky patch due to an unfortunate event I experienced, so seeing Drigo was really comforting. It was nice to have a little piece of home in the middle of Asia. The SAS group and I headed to the airport to catch our flight to Shanghai to meet the ship. The entire flight, I was journaling away. Oh, side note: I know I have this blog, but I keep a separate journal also. This blog is more of “I did this, then that” whereas the journal is solely for me to document the thoughts & feelings that have been provoked during my travels. These items are important to me because in the future, I know I’ll be able to read what I wrote and I’ll be able to take myself back to those experiences. I know I’ve said it before, but really, this voyage has changed me. So much. & yes, for the better.