Tuesday, February 08, 2005

SAS Email 3 - Hawaii

Hey everyone,

I’m still in Hawaii for a few more days before we fly to Shanghai, China (the boat’s meeting us in Vietnam) but I figured I’ve been here for a while so I might as well send out an update before I leave. My last update I sent out just before I touched land for the first time in 15 days, and the feeling of elation leaving the boat was just great. Everyone was so happy, obviously we all got laid as soon as we got off the boat, and most students hit the bars real hard that first night (myself included). I got a hotel room with 4 buddies in Waikiki and had a blast the first night, shopped a lil after waking up late the 2nd day, then headed to a Luau that was thrown for all members of Semester at Sea. That was really cool and interesting, the food and drinks were amazing, and the cultural show had some great Polynesian dances and this one huge guy did some sick stuff with a flaming bow. After the 6 hour Luau we came back to Waikiki, and instead of doing the usual bar-hopping a bunch of us decided to get some 40’s and just head down to the beach. We found a secluded area and just talked (reminded me of “the blacklight sessions” for those of you who know) for a couple hours, and 3 of us ended up going swimming around 2:30am in the beautiful Pacific. The 3rd morning a few of us woke up early to see the Pearl Harbor Memorial. It’s very simple, basically a mini-museum, you watch a short video, and then you’re boated out to this little floating walkway that floats above the sunken SS Arizona below. Some think the place is very weak because it’s not an overwhelming physical structure, but when realizing that you’re standing on such historically significant ground, and that 1000 bodies are entombed in the ship below you, it can be very very powerful. The ship still leaks about 2 quarts of oil each day, so around you in the water are reflective oil patches. Apparently they wanted to clean the oil tank out so it would stop polluting the water, but the veterans refused, saying the oil represents the tears shed by the fallen soldiers in the waters below… which I think is pretty beautiful. Immediately after that I grabbed two friends of mine and we decided to catch the 30 minute flight to Maui and meet up with some other friends who were already there…so it was off to Maui…. (by the way, when I said we all “got laid as soon as we got off the boat” before, I was obviously referring to the Hawaiian custom of natives placing a lay over our heads…. sickos)

For those of you who have never been to Maui, GO! It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, whether the weather is good or not. It’s just so majestic, that’s really the only adjective I can think of that can do it justice. Serene and gorgeous apply as well, but majestic fits best… it’s the type of place that makes you wanna be on a honeymoon just by being there. The three days in Maui were three of the best days of my life, but I’ll just give you the highlights- When we first arrived it was slightly overcast so I walked with the two guys I went there with about 15 mins along the beach to meet up with some other SAS friends at this big rock formation called “Black Rock” off this hotel nearby. We swam about 100 yards in the beautifully clear and warm water to the rock formation, then climbed the sharp rocks to the peak which was about 30 feet above the water… then being the idiots that we are, we obviously did dives, pencils, flips, cannonballs, and one AWFUL unintentional belly-flop off the top. That in itself was awesome, then that night we had a great dinner and had a blast drinking, dancing, and meeting locals at this tiny near-empty jazz club. The feel of Maui is far less touristy than Honolulu and Waikiki, much less inhabited and has a far more indigenous Hawaiian/Polynesian flavor to it. The next morning three of us went scuba diving, saw some amazing sea turtles swimming with us and heard whales calling to each other underwater, then I had one of those moments that just changes you… which I’ll describe a little later. That night we went to dinner at a place called Sunsai, if you go to Maui you HAVE TO EAT THERE, it was some of the best food I’ve ever tasted, and on Thursdays (which is when we went) they had half-off food (sushi and everything else) and KARAOKE after 10pm… of course we sang “Caribbean Queen” by Billy Oceans for our waitress and “Can’t Get enough of your Love” by Barry White, haha. That night we slept on the beach, but it rained round 3am so we crashed in a friend’s cottage. The next morning the three of us took a cab to Iao (only word I’ve ever heard of with all vowels?), which is a small 10 minute hike up stairs, but has unmarked trails all behind it. So we decided to just go and hike on the unmarked trails, make our own paths, and adventure a little in the Ferngully-looking forest around us. We eventually came to a beautiful stream, took a dip and some pictures, then hiked back. We had an amazing lunch at this little Hawaiin café, then caught the cab back to the airport and flew back from Maui...

We were all on a natural high from how great Maui was, so that night I went out with 4 of my closest friends here (the first 4 friends I made on the trip basically, which includes my roommate) and had a an amazing time at this total dive bar. The highlight of the night came when I got my roommate Jaret to take a “strong man” shot, which involves taking a tequila shot but doing it in a very very unconventional way (some of you may know it)… it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen (and I have the video to prove it). The following morning I hiked Diamond Head, which is the largest crater in Honolulu, where you can basically see the whole island from the peak. We took a bus straight from there to Haunama Bay, which is one of the most gorgeous beaches in the world, and a premier walk-in snorkeling site so we snorkeled there as well. That day also happened to be the great Bob Marley’s birthday, so there was a Reggae festival as a tribute at a place about 10 mins walking distance from our boat. Obviously I had to go there, saw some really good reggae, and capped off the night talking with some friends till bout 5am on the back deck of the boat. For the Superbowl, I went to TGIFridays (Cocktail shoutout) with four friends… congrats to the Pats on the win; my Jets will rise again in 2005-2006. The last part of being in Hawaii I’ll tell you bout is this unreal place we found two nights ago, it’s a Japanese style Karaoke bar called GS Studio… you pay for a tiny room, and you can fit bout 10 people per room and it consists of two couches, a table, two TV’s, and two microphones… from there you basically select songs and go crazy. I can’t even describe how much fun it is; most people think you have to be drunk to do karaoke, but in a small room with just your friends and everyone singing their hearts out, I’ve had an incredible time there the past two nights dead sober (for those of you who have experienced this, it’s like the last 10 minutes of a good power hour (shoutout to Minden and the Deuce7) extended for 2 hours). Highlights from the past two nights included “The Sign”, “Jack and Diane”, “Tiny Dancer aka Tony Danza”, “Livin on a Prayer”, “The Lion Sleeps tonight”, “No Diggity”, “Stayin Alive”, “You’ve Lost that Lovin Feeling”, “Don’t Stop Believin”, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and “Lets Stay Together”. I really think the idea of bars with individual karaoke rooms needs to be franchised and proliferated across the US, so I implore anyone to try (Matt Wiggins) and I’ll buy the year pass.

Now that you’ve been caught up on the events of my time in Hawaii, here are a few observations on Hawaiin culture… The way of life is very very laid back. The term “hang loose” is clearly the mantra for these islands, although Waikiki is very Westernized and tourist-driven. (As you can tell by how active my days have been, the mantra I keep repeating to myself is “You can sleep when you’re dead”) The people are mostly friendly, although some of the local surfers are pretty territorial and don’t like intrusions by tourists. They are also incredibly strict on underage drinking and fake ID’s, apparently because of all the underage marines stationed in the area. The original Polynesian culture is clearly fading and meshing with mainstream American culture, which is a shame because it’s so interesting. Even the Luau was clearly sensationalized, and digressed greatly from the origins of the culture, most notably when one of the dancers came out and starting doing the Harlem Shake and Crip Walk,hahahaha… some of the Midwestern kids who’ve never really seen newer hip-hop dances were actually like “Wow that’s so cool, Hawaiin dances are awesome”, hahahahhaa. The landscapes are truly breathtaking; the contrast of open blue waters, white cloud formations and soaring green mountains create incredible vistas from any angle. Each sunset is great too; they in themselves are worth waiting the whole day to view.

Lastly I’ll just tell you about two events that happened to me that I was left breathless by. The first occurred at the Luau- There was a little Hawaiian girl, she was no older than 6, and one of the cutest kids I’ve ever seen. She kept dancing on the table, talking to all the SAS students, and generally loved being the center of attention in an adorable way. A lot of students on the trip are doing one “thing” in each country (bottlecaps, masks, hats, shot glasses, tiny instruments, etc), my shtick is that I want to make a huge picture frame with a picture of a local child of the same age in each country and next to that have a piece of paper where they wrote their answer to the question of “If you could have any one thing in the world, what would you want?” It should show a reflection of the desires/mentalities of each culture around the world. Plus I’m gonna have each child write it in their native language, so obviously several of them I won’t even know what they wrote, but hopefully they’ll be revealed to me in due time at a random point when maybe the response contains a message that will be pertinent and helpful at that point in my life. Anyway, when I asked this beautiful little girl to write down what was the one thing in the world she wanted, I was expecting her to respond with a Barbie doll or a pretty dress… her response is in one of the pictures I attached to this email (Called 05-2-1 Emily) so you should probably look at it now… What she wrote gave me the chills, I was simply blown away. Of all the things one could have in the world, she wanted this one thing, and only the innocent and pure mind of a child could make such a beautiful request…

The second event I’ll describe was what I earlier referred to in Maui- After scuba diving we had some down time so I decided to go out to the beach and meditate on the comfortable sand… Yes, I’ve been meditating almost everyday on this trip, although I’m a total novice I love what it brings to my everyday mental state (the ships doctor is a Buddhist who has been somewhat of my mentor with meditation and helped me learn how to do it in ways I’m comfortable with). It cleanses my mind and I awake from my meditations feeling so mentally sharp and physically invigorated… I know that sounds somewhat ridiculous and cliché, but for me I really enjoy it that much and I highly recommend it to anyone that wants to try. So I went to meditate on the beach while no one was out there, and it was right before sunset. I noticed the sun was hidden behind a massive cloud front so I realized I wasn’t going to really see the sun set, which I was a little disappointed by. But after my 10 minute mediation I felt great and the serenity of the beach, ocean and mountains ahead of me was really calming. So I decided to do another 10 minute breathing meditation, again assuming I wouldn’t see the sun go down anyway so I wouldn’t be missing anything. This second meditation was probably the best I’ve had yet, my mind was totally cleared, and when I opened my eyes I was greeted by the most breath-taking site I’d ever seen.

The sky was emblazoned with reds, purples, pinks, oranges, whites, yellows and blues. The sun had dipped below the skyline but reflected up against the clouds, and I was beyond shocked with what I was viewing. I sprinted to the cottage and came back to take pictures, then just sat on the beachfront as the colors danced across the sky above me. It evoked a feeling unlike anything I’d ever had, I guess the best way to describe the feeling was absolute and consuming awe… awe for how amazing the world can be and awe for how something could have created a place with such potential for beauty. Later that night I kept thinking about that sunset incessantly and realized the more profound metaphor in what happened to me- I stopped looking for something (a sunset), expected nothing, and only then was I able to experience the most amazingly profound sunset I’d ever seen. I began relating it to other parts of my life, things that I’ve wanted so badly and searched so hard for unsuccessfully (because I expect them to happen immediately for me) and realized the message was to simply stop looking or expecting to find them in front of me. This is the foundation of Taoism, which I understood the basic concepts of but didn’t fully grasp until this Maui sunset event… You can’t force things in your life to happen, you can only live the best way you deem possible, and hopefully you will be rewarded when the time is right. To find the answers you have to stop looking for them, and sometimes you’ll find they’re right in front of your face… The only way I saw the most beautiful sunset of my life, was by closing my eyes.

Take care and stay classy,

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