Tuesday, January 25, 2005

SAS Email 1 - Pacific Ocean

Hey everyone… just to give you some type of preface so you understand what this email is, you’re part of my mass emailing list (even though some of you didn’t realize I put you on it) so I can keep everyone updated while I’m on Semester at Sea through the end of April. We have very limited internet access so it’s a lot easier for me to send out a series of highly-detailed mass emails (most likely after each port), but if you want to be taken off please let me know and I’ll remove you…

First off, the ship is incredible. I really lucked out cause after having the same ship for bout 20 years, the semester at sea program just upgraded to a new ship this academic schoolyear, and it’s just beautiful. I had no idea it was gonna be like this, I actually almost feel bad sometimes, after coming from the aesthetically-challenged Brown campus I walk round this boat thinking “college def isn’t supposed to look this nice.” My room is pretty small, just me and my roommate Jaret, a junior from Oklahoma who goes to Oklahoma State and is a great guy. I literally couldn’t have asked for a better roommate, he’s real chill, great sense of humor, def has the mid-western mentality but it’s a great change and we both already can tell we’ll learn a ton from each other throughout the duration of the trip. I’m traveling South Korea and Japan completely independently (not through a Semester at Sea (SAS) field program) with him and 2 or 3 other people. He lost his dad three years ago and became pretty religious (Protestant) after that life-altering event, so we’ve already had some great religious discussions and given each other a book or two to read. The 650 students on the boat come from over 250 different colleges (everything you can imagine, state school, community college, private universities, etc), and pretty much everyone is real friendly. It’s like the beginning of freshman year all over again (except most people know even less people than they knew at the beginning of college), and instead of everyone being 18 they’re 19-23 and confined to one small area for the first 13 days while we cross the Pacific Ocean.

The night before we left from Vancouver most kids were in this same hotel, so the lobby was obviously a mad house. I went to a bar/restaurant to eat alone, sat at the bar and happened to be next to a guy going on the trip who’s originally from Trinidad. We ended talking for bout an hour, then I met some people in the hotel, then we all bar hopped the rest of the night and ended up at this one club that was throwing a “Semester at Sea Bon Voyage Party.” Vancouver is a beautiful city, if anyone has a chance to go there I’d highly recommend it. I really wish I’d gone up there earlier and spent a few days/nights to get more comprehensive view of what the city has to offer…

Since boarding the ship its mostly been meeting new people, a couple major meetings and classes (they have one big room called the “union” that accommodates prob 150-200 people, then there’s rooms throughout the ship that have TV’s where the events held in the union are broadcast via satellite over to, so everyone can basically see the same thing and it’s also used so everyone attends this one class (Global Studies) that everyone has attend every morning). The food is surprisingly decent, maybe cause I’m coming from Brown’s “Ratty” standards, which doesn’t say all that much I guess. People are also speculating that it’s like college orientation or parents weekend where schools bust out all the good food early to impress everyone, so I’m kinda anticipating a drop in food quality real soon. My classes are solid and my Intro to World Music class has an amazing professor that’s a brilliant ethnomusicologist and a self-proclaimed “free-spirit” who apparently taught a semester or two at Brown a few years back. He plays tons of cool and esoteric cultural music for us to discuss during class, so I probably look forward to that class more than any other. I also occasionally try to sit in on this one Intro to Asian Religions class that was full so I couldn’t get enrolled, but the professor is this fiery old guy who I just had to take a class with… I’ll give you an excerpt from one speech and you’ll understand why. His opening the other day was “I’m here to teach you about Confucianism and Buddhism, but my background is that of a Texas tent-revival evangelist. I worked the tents of Texas to reform the sinners! I was a Jesus Cowboy in the Holy Ghost Coral!!! Armed with my Old Testament on one hip and my New Testament on the other, I used those six shooters to exorcise the devil within and boy-oh-boy was my aim was deadly!!! I’ll say the same thing to you, because Satan has corrupted the hearts of many. He is the D-E-V-I-L, take out the D and you still have Evil! Take out the E and you still have vile! Take out the V and you still have eel! Take out the I and you have L, which is exactly where you’ll be going if you think Jesus doesn’t see your sinning ways!” Hahaha, so needless to say I love going to his class whenever I can or just talking with the professor.

We’re traversing the North Pacific for 13 days to get to South Korea, and the waters definitely have not been kind. The first day after we left I walked outta my room and most people looked so sick. Everyone had either Dramamine, patches, acupuncture wristbands, or some remedy for seasickness but I’ve fortunately been okay (Most of you know Pepto gets me through anything). Our third night on the ship we were in a decent size storm and had waves of 30-35ft around us, so we had to tape our drawers shut and still our dresser got flipped over a couple times throughout the night. The weather has been anything but friendly, in our first week we’ve faced winds of over 100mph and waves over 40ft according to the ship’s captain. The weirdest part of being on a boat is the continuous sway, something we still haven’t gotten fully accustomed to. It’s strange to open your bedroom window in the morning and see nothing but water and clouds as far as the eye can see (def not the same as the New Dorm Quad), and walking down the halls of the boat can sometimes make you feel like you’re in a video game if the waters are really rough. Dishes will fly off tables in the dining halls, kids get ejected from their seats and are slammed into walls, yesterday my entire music class simultaneously fell out of our seats to the right cause of the ship’s leaning, so you always have to be on guard and be aware of your body and surroundings. Attempting to workout is almost a joke in these waters; depending on whether the boat is swaying up or down can make it feel like you have 25 lbs in your hand or 100 lbs.

Still though its been a really fun first week or so, without the incessant presence of TV, internet and movies we’ve pretty much learned to entertain ourselves with what I’m sure my sister would consider primitive forms of entertainment… card games, board games, interactive games like mafia, lots and lots and lots of reading (I finished “The Alchemist” yesterday, it’s a very cool and uplifting book if anyone is interested), and tons of just hanging out and talking with new people. I guess pre-1980 forms of entertainment aren’t “primitive”, but they’re still somewhat dif from what I’m used to… either way, I really like the forced change. We also have “pub nights” most nights we’re on the ship where you can drink up to 4 beers over a two hour period, so obviously very few people are getting drunk but the general atmosphere at pub nights is def a good time.

Because we’re traveling so much we change a time zone everyday and set our clocks back one hour each night, but tonight we cross the international date line and basically jump from the 25th to 27th. It’s weird to think, but I’m literally not experiencing Jan 26th, the 21st bday of my boy Lonnie Hill, so I’ll take this opportunity to give him a shoutout- Everyone make sure you wish him a happy 21st on Jan 26th cause I technically won’t be in existence that day to do it myself. It’s a strange concept for me to grasp that we just skip a day in our lives, but its kinda cool at the same time…

One last experience I’ll share with all of you happened during breakfast two days ago. I looked out the dining hall window and saw two small white birds flying just above the water together. At first it struck me as normal, but then I realized we’re 625 miles from the nearest land mass! These two tiny birds had somehow flown 625 miles together without stopping on solid land once, and clearly needed to at least replicate that distance to get back to terrestrial soil too. I can’t really explain how or why it was so inspiring, but it sent such a profoundly metaphorical message… it’s not about the destination in our lives or knowing when we’ll arrive… it’s about the journey; having the courage to travel unknown waters even when the comfort of land is no longer in sight, and building bonds with others along the way.

I’ve gotta run but I’ll probably send out another detailed update after my 4 days in South Korea. Feel free to respond and let me know how you’re doing. It’s doubtful I’ll be able to respond to everyone individually, (internet use is limited), but I’d love to hear from you nonetheless.

Take care and stay safe,

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