Travels in Uzbekistan

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<Originally posted by Carl Kasten, who is studying Central Asian Studies in Kyrgystan.  Visit his blog page at http://prokastenator.tumblr.com&gt;

The old city of Khiva. So many excellent stories from this place, so much fascinating history, I honestly didn’t know where to begin.

Khiva is located in southern Uzbekistan. So far south, the horizon there is probably in Turkmenistan. The city is old. It’s dated to between two to three thousand years ago, and has served as the seat of government of the Khiva Khanate, an important stop on the Silk Road and one of the many kingdoms left behind by the breakup of the Mongol Empire.

We had the privilege to tour the Old City, which is contained within walls that range up to thirty feet high and an easy twenty feet thick at the base.

Within the Old City are numerous madrasahs (a sort of school common in the Arabic world) minarets, and palaces. Visible in this shot is the city’s main madrasah, which now works as a hotel, and the incomplete minaret.

The large blue tower is the incomplete minaret. Had it been completed, the minaret would have stood somewhere around eighty meters high based on the size of its base. Unfortunately, the Khan who originally commissioned it was killed before it was completed. His successor/probable murderer allegedly walked up to the top of the incomplete structure, surveyed the city below, and, immediately recognizing that the tower would have a direct view into his bedroom across the street, ordered construction to halt.

The main madrasah has similarly interesting stories surrounding it. The school was home to up to one hundred fifty students at a time. The students were required to study the Quran and Arabic language, but most every other subject was theirs to choose. However, at the end of their three year studies they were required to stand before their lecturers and answer any question on the subjects they had studied. The final question was always the same; “What can you teach us?” Should the student fail to produce a noteworthy advancement in their field they were made to repeat their studies until they could.

Our guide for this area was a local, his family had lived in the city for generations. As we entered the courtyard of the madrasah he took a long look at the rows of doors that lined the second floor and explained– “It used to be that every room was used by two students. Then the Bolsheviks came and every room was used by two prisoners.” A man on the second floor yelled something in Uzbek while desperately trying to install an external air conditioner above the crumbling brick doorway. Our guide just nodded and finished: “And now every room is used by two tourists.”

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A Young Monk Told me I was Beautiful

(Originally posted by Rebekah Glebe, a Journalism and Communications major studying abroad in Thailand.  She her blog at http://rebekahtglebe.wix.com/rebekahroams)

Even after spending a month here, I am still enamored by monks. Their bright saffron robes knotted around their bodies catch my eye every time they pass by. They have a mysterious air about them that draws me in. Monks are everywhere; I don’t think I’ve gone a day in Chiang Mai without seeing one. But I hadn’t interacted with them at all. I had been watching from afar, curious and intrigued. But this morning I had the opportunity to teach young monks English with a group of students from my program. It wasn’t structured, so we had to make up a casual lesson plan on the rot daeng to the monastery.

The large group of USAC students filed into the classroom and a group of young monks (16-20) drifted in and took their seats at wooden desks. We all introduced ourselves and wrote our names on the board, and had the students say our name back to us to practice reading and speaking in English. Then, we went over a list of prepositions and explained each one slowly. We made the lesson more lively by acting out each word and asking the monks to describe the scene with the words we had taught them. “Sally is behind Mark,” or, “Bekah is under the sunglasses”. Simple to start. Then, we had each monk come up and write a verb on the board. Using their list, we incorporated the verbs into our little teaching skits. “Iva is running in front of them,” and “April is singing between Mark and Sally.” It was a tad unorganized, very unstructured, but a boatload of fun.

Looking at the group of young monks, I could pick out the studious types, the goofy kids, and the quiet ones. Some of them were taking notes; their eyes were glued to the speaker. Yet others gazed into the distance, a daydream face I know all too well. When we did something silly, like act out “singing,” they would laugh and smile with us. It hit me that these monks were just regular kids. We were teaching people, just like us, but they wearing bright orange and had sworn to abide by 227 precepts.

Choosing words
Overseeing the class
Small groups

Small groups

4/15

The second activity was “conversation practice.” We broke up into small groups, and the reality of their regularity sunk in even more. I learned that a 17 year-old-boy liked rap music (like Whiz Khalifa). Another like watching movies, particularly Spiderman. They had even read Harry Potter (did we just become best friends?)! These young men, some of which had been living as a monk since they were 5 years old, had elements of 21st century life engrained into their being. It surprised me at first, but the more I thought about it, it made perfect sense. They were regular kids in the turn of the century: they just happened to be Buddhist monks.

During the breakout conversation session, two of the monks were speaking Thai to each other and looking at me like they were trying to figure out the english phrase. They pointed to my eyes and my hair, and one said, “You are beautiful”. I was a little surprised that he came out and just said it, but also flattered. Then I was confused, because I knew monks are supposed to ignore women (to an extent). I wondered if it was somehow taboo for him to say that. But it wasn’t awkward or discomforting. It was a genuine compliment, almost more of a statement. I suppose seeing beauty in others is acceptable in their culture, and pointing it out doesn’t have any connotations or romantic ties.

This experience demystified the meaning of “monk”, but I am no less enamored by their presence in the city. They still have that air about them that makes them seem more… enlightened. I guess that’s an obvious descriptor, but you can really feel it when you are near them. Being a monk is more than wearing orange and waking up at the crack of dawn; it’s a conscious and mindful lifestyle which emanates from their very being. I’m not trying to be super cheesy and preachy here, I promise. But it’s hard not to describe them in these ways.

-Rebekah

Kyrgyzstan Independence Day

(Originally posted by Carl Kasten, a CSU student studying abroad in Kyrgyztan.  His blog can be accessed at http://prokastenator.tumblr.com/page/2)

This is Kyrgyzstan! It’s an interesting place, a sort of mixture of local revival culture and soviet throwbacks. Case in point, this statue of Lenin solemnly gesturing back to Moscow in the middle of Kyrgyzstan’s Independence Day.

Sorry for the delay, I&rsquo;ve been spending the last two days trying to get used to the time change and figuring out Internet and all that over here.

This is Kyrgyzstan! It&rsquo;s an interesting place, a sort of mixture of local revival culture and soviet throwbacks. Case in point, this statue of Lenin solemnly gesturing back to Moscow in the middle of Kyrgyzstan&rsquo;s Independence Day.

As a non industrialized country, the dissolution of the Union meant trouble for the Kyrgyz Republic. Before, raw materials, fuel, and finished goods could be easily moved within the Soviet Union, but now Kyrgyzstan finds itself with a wealth of minerals and few options for processing them.

All the same, the city is nice, the people are friendly, and perhaps most importantly, street food is hot and cheap.

As a non industrialized country, the dissolution of the Union meant trouble for the Kyrgyz Republic. Before, raw materials, fuel, and finished goods could be easily moved within the Soviet Union, but now Kyrgyzstan finds itself with a wealth of minerals and few options for processing them.

All the same, the city is nice, the people are friendly, and perhaps most importantly, street food is hot and cheap.

A picture of the performance from Independence Day.

So there were three of those groups of spearmen, and after this photo was taken they split up into lines, and each group introduced a short act representing a period in the history of Kyrgyzstan.

I like this picture for a couple of reasons. The celebration was interesting to watch, but watching the guards interact with the crowd was just as amusing. This bloke bummed a cigarette off the guy in the front row. Also note the people sitting on the right. Elders are highly respected in Kyrgyz culture, they&rsquo;re referred to as &ldquo;aksakals,&rdquo; or &ldquo;white-beards,&rdquo; even the women. They were lucky enough to have their own seating up front, everybody else had to stand behind the barricade. And finally, note the man in the blue cap giving me the shifty eyes for being the only person in the country over six feet tall.

Tomorrow we&rsquo;re taking a trip to a lake aways outside of town. I expect I won&rsquo;t have internet there, but I&rsquo;ll take pictures and be back by Monday.

A picture of the performance from Independence Day.

So there were three of those groups of spearmen, and after this photo was taken they split up into lines, and each group introduced a short act representing a period in the history of Kyrgyzstan.

I like this picture for a couple of reasons. The celebration was interesting to watch, but watching the guards interact with the crowd was just as amusing. This bloke bummed a cigarette off the guy in the front row. Also note the people sitting on the right. Elders are highly respected in Kyrgyz culture, they’re referred to as “aksakals,” or “white-beards,” even the women. They were lucky enough to have their own seating up front, everybody else had to stand behind the barricade. And finally, note the man in the blue cap giving me the shifty eyes for being the only person in the country over six feet tall.

The Veil of Vietnam

[Originally posted by Lane Brugman on February 17, 2014. You can find his original blog here: beamanoftheworld.com]

Lane Burgman 1

As the mist falls from the gray expanse of the Hanoi sky, the veil of Vietnam is as secretive as ever. This veil is neither easy nor quick to dispatch and most will never get past it. One must let go of past expectations, surrender and dive, head first, into this largely unknown country in order to uncover the awe and splendor of Vietnam. This is the story of my journey.

My decision to travel to and study in Vietnam was a chaotic impulse. While attending a study abroad meeting in aims to plan my semester in Chile, the speaker mentioned an opportunity to study in Hanoi. She instructed us to ask more questions if we were interested. Needless to say I was interested. My ignorance about the Vietnam War, the incredible jungle climate of Southeast Asia, the incredible food and all the differences between American and Vietnamese culture whetted my appetite. The curiosity that ignited inside me was so intense that I instantly began asking question after question. The more I learned about the program the more excited I became. Two of the most important pieces of information I gathered was that: this was the first time CSU was running the program and that I only had four days to decide. After exhausting my adviser with questions I left the office with a grand smile and a foreign sense of enthusiasm. I then did what every college student must do… run it by the parents.

My parents are very open-minded people but they were quite shocked to hear the Chilean plan had been substituted with Vietnam. I reassured them that the opportunity to go to Vietnam was once-in-a-lifetime and they agreed. With the support of my parents and most of my friends I made the decision to go. So there it was. I was going to Vietnam, not Chile, for six months and I only had two months to organize everything.

Those two months were spent balancing time between filling out applications, completing scholarship forms, gathering visa materials, getting vaccinations, and finishing my 18 credit workload. These two months also consisted of telling all my friends and family that I would be across the world in a developing country for the next six months. During these conversations many asked; “Why are you going to ‘nam’?” I found myself short of a concise response but that question did bring up a common theme. Most Americans think of Vietnam as a war, not a country. Vietnam, the country, seems to be mystery to us. This is the veil of Vietnam and I hope to reveal the real Vietnam through the eyes of a 20-year old college exchange student.

Lane Burgman 2

Progress is quickly transforming Vietnam into a major player Southeast Asia. The constant stream of motorbikes buzzing about Hanoi’s streets represent the progress that is quickly transforming Vietnam into a major player in Southeast Asia.

In my time, I have come to realize that Vietnam is a country of stark contrasts. When you get here, Vietnam overwhelms you, it inundates you. You get off the plane and are suddenly in a world that will not wait on you. You are engulfed with screaming car horns, buzzing motorbikes and loud banter in an alien language. This culture shock seems to smack you dead in the face. You have just been bludgeoned by a foreign culture and you realize it is going to take time to recover. Days go by, you remain in a surreal state but you are able to revel in all of the new, all of the novel, all of the exotic. Weeks pass and as your recovery quickly progresses, the new becomes regular. Soon the fatigue of travel, the commotion of the streets and utter feeling of shock loosen their sharp grasp on you. The intricacies of the Vietnamese culture begin to shine through, the veil slowly rises.

At this point you begin to appreciate that for all of the “in-your-face” facets of Vietnamese culture, you have been missing the subtle traditions, gestures and customs of the people.

Lane Burgman 3

The ability to cook has not been lost on the Vietnamese. This was taken at house warming party which included a delicious lau or hot pot. Nearly every celebration focuses on communal cooking, drinking and eating.

The area that reveals the most about Vietnamese culture is a simple one, the dinner table. Here, more than any other place, the true Vietnam shows through the sheer, for this culture revolves around its much talked about cuisine. Hanoi is most definitely a foodie’s paradise. Restaurants that specialize in one dish line entire city blocks with certain streets renowned for their phở, bún chả or lẩu. The cuisine is very public too. Hundreds of people crowd around street side vendors, sitting on blue plastic stools as busy chopsticks can be heard shoveling food from bowl to mouth. Hanoians are deeply proud of their food and extremely conscious of the long lineage and tradition of Vietnamese food. I quickly learned that each vegetable has specific health benefits, that the only suitable fish sauce is from Phu Quoc and that a proper Vietnamese meal should not require a drink but rather the liquid will come from a soup, broth or boiled vegetable. The depth of tradition and knowledge surrounding Vietnamese cuisine is unlike anything I have ever experienced. Take for instance the story of bánh trưng, or chưng cake.

Chưng cake, you see, is the traditional food for the lunar New Year or Tet holiday, Vietnam’s most celebrated holiday. As the story goes, the simple dish was created by a poor Prince wishing to impress the king of Vietnam. All of the other princes competing for royal attention spent lavishly to find ingredients from across the country but Prince Lang Lieu was not wealthy. He scraped together local ingredients: mung beans, rice and pork. Then he combined all the ingredients and wrapped it with banana leaves before boiling it. When he offered his culinary creation to the King, the king was deeply impressed by the resourcefulness of Prince Lang Lieu. The young Prince had taken easily found, local ingredients and combined them to create a long-lasting, delicious meal. Simple, easy to make, long lasting and very filling, Chưng cake became a hit centuries ago and it remains a favorite for the Vietnamese around the Tet holiday.

I had the pleasure of attended a family chưng cake production just days before the Tet holiday. I spent several hours observing and making the famous cakes alongside 15 family members. From grandma to the youngest toddler, the whole family is involved in the process. The cake begins with creating a banana leaf form. A cupful of rice creates the first layer, followed by crushed mung beans and several pieces of pork. The pork is then covered by more mung bean and a final layer of rice. The banana leaves are then tightly folded around the rectangular form and tied with thin strips of palm thatch. I soon found out that this is the most difficult part of the process. I split banana leaves, failed to tie the thatch correctly and couldn’t get the cake out of the form. Once the laughs subsided the cake came out as a bright green, 6”x6”x3” rectangular block of food and boy oh boy, they are dense! The huge number of cakes are then boiled in a giant pot for 24 hours. Family members take shifts monitoring the pot making sure everything is in order and that the precious cakes are not stolen. The cakes are then divided among the family or sold to neighbors and enjoyed for the festive days, sometimes weeks, to come.

Lane Burgman 4

Sidewalks serve a different purpose in Hanoi – outdoor seating. The commotion of the streets is only surpassed by the tremendous food.

The Chưng cake is a great story of Vietnamese cuisine and its also a great insight into Vietnamese culture. Food, family and tradition remain the most important facets of Vietnamese culture. Though it takes time to see and understand these intricacies, under each of these aspects is a subtleness and modesty that embodies Vietnam. Vietnamese food highlights the bounty that the countryside supplies and allows the ingredients to shine. The spirited, traditional preparation has earned Vietnamese food a distinction as some of the best in the world, yet it does not seem to brag or boast. The people are the same way: genuine, traditional, inspiring and talented yet modest. In this way Vietnam presents a bizarre opportunity to be inundated by the modern blare of motorbikes one minute, then the next minute be in a fish-sauce smelling kitchen, preparing a traditional nem -spring roll – dinner.

Lane Burgman 5

My host mom made one of my favorite dishes bún chả for my birthday. She went to the market at least once a day to secure the freshest ingredients. I miss this so terribly!

This contrast of driving through streets where the culture seems to be so palpable, even incapacitating at times compared to the intricate, quiet tradition is fascinating yet hard-to-grasp. The excitement, commotion and overwhelming alien nature of Vietnam easily creates a shroud around this beautiful country. Yet if you are able to get passed this initial mask, if you can open your mind, you can enjoy the full picture of Vietnam. The picture is a brilliant one with bright colors and images that will change your life. When your eye finally focuses in on the tradition and purity behind a simple bowl phở, you know that the veil of Vietnam has disappeared, leaving you a brilliant country to admire.

India – Land of Beauty

Kim Selinske is a sophomore at CSU majoring in History with minors in Political Science and English. She will be spending Spring 2014 on a ship sailing to vibrant destinations such as Japan, China, Burma, India, South Africa, Morocco, and England. Keep an eye out to see where she is headed next! Her blog can originally be found at http://seafaringstudent.tumblr.com/.

[Originally posted April 11, 2014]

India is beautiful.

The first day was spent on my field lab for my Medieval Travelers class. We took traditional canoe-like boats and saw a guy make coconut wine, which tasted like the sweet rice wine from China. Then we were rowed over to a different island where they had already picked a basket of coconuts for our class and they cut them open, stuck straws in them and gave them to us to drink. No one was particularly fond of the coconut water, but we got them to cut the coconut open, so we were able to eat some of the coconut flesh before we moved on to watch a local man pull up some of the mud crabs that were being raised on the island. After that, we saw local pottery being made, and some people in the class learned how to climb a palm tree! Then we learned all the different uses for coconut husks, and we got to eat fresh clams that they had just cooked for us. Then we rode a tuk-tuk (which is like a taxi in India,
except it’s open air and the driver steers with a handle system like a bike, instead of a steering wheel) and wandered the city in the rain for an hour or two.

The next morning I rose before the sun to leave on my Jaipur & Taj trip through SAS. The first day was just a day of going through airports, since we had to fly all the way to New Delhi from Kochi, which is a long trip north. The only real upside was finding 50 cent samosas at the airport… and getting 10 of them. That night we stayed in an extremely gaudy hotel in New Delhi, where the Taj Mahal Group A was staying as well. A few of my close friends on the ship were on that trip and it was fun to see them. The hotel lobby was quite entertaining though—the piano man played Wrecking Ball (by Miley Cyrus) and a variety of other contemporary American songs on the piano. It was… confusing.

Anyway, we left bright and early again the next morning to take the train to Agra, which is where the Taj Mahal is. The train was a bit sketchy and a little rough, but we got to see a lot of the countryside, which was really nice. Once we got off the train, we were bused to a hotel where they served us a breakfast buffet. It was interesting that most of our meals were served at hotels, as that is one of the main places where you are sure to get clean water and safely prepared foods. After breakfast we drove to the Taj Mahal!

The thing about India is that there are Hawkers everywhere. Everyone is trying to sell you things and they don’t take no as an answer. People were selling us things all the way up to the gates of the Taj Mahal and they followed us around Agra for the rest of the day. It was very strange.

But the Taj Mahal… that is worth all of the hawkers and long transportation. The entrance is off to the side, so you don’t see the Taj Mahal until you turn a corner and it’s all very dramatic. To be honest, it wasn’t as large as I was expecting, but it was ten times as beautiful. I can’t even begin to explain the awe, excitement, happiness, you name it, that was all over the faces of all the SAS kids. This was India.

We wandered around and took lots of photos and walked around the inside of the Taj Mahal (something that is apparently not going to be possible for much longer?). They had us leave relatively quickly so we could make it to the next stop, but we all had a hard time tearing ourselves away from the gorgeous building. We ended up going to the Agra Fort, also known as the Pink Fort. We also went to a marble carving place where the men working there were all trained in the traditional carving style of their forefathers, who did the carvings on the Taj Mahal. It was amazing to see. Also one of the men there told me I looked “very Indian” as a large compliment, which was weird but hey, he was being nice. Then we drove 6 hours to Jaipur (and saw our first thunderstorm in months!).

In Jaipur, we rode elephants up into the fort on a hill, which was an amazing experience! As we rode into the main plaza, they had people playing traditional Indian procession music and it felt like being Indian royalty. Imagine the Prince Ali musical scene in Aladdin, and that’s about how we felt, without all of the extra people. Just elephants (as if that’s a normal thing to say). Then we wandered around the fort for a little while, saw a snake charmer, and wandered back down to the base of the fort. We got off our bus and took pictures of the floating palace and found tons of camels by the side of the road (camels are like horses here).

After, we wandered through a traditional Observatory (it was like Disneyland for astronomers), and then we wandered through the markets and we each bought a saree to wear at the Ambassador’s Ball. We met back up at the bus with our group and went to a dinner show. They had traditional dancers and then a puppet show that was all done in the traditional Indian style. Then we were back to our swanky hotel (really though, we had a glass bathroom area that was larger than the sleeping area. And you could automatically lower and raise the shades so you weren’t looking in on the bath. Plus, they had 2 restaurants and a “hip new night club” in the lobby.

The next day was another transportation day to get us back to Kochi. This day was a bit of a mess. Some of us had to check our backpacks because the plane was tiny and then we were supposed to have a 1 hour layover. That layover quickly turned into a 6 hour layover, with half of us only having our wallets and things to do, since that was all in our backpacks and they sealed them before we could pull things out. That was a fun adventure, but when we finally got a flight out, it was a relief and we got back safe and sound from there.

The final day in India was spent wandering through Kochi with my friends. We went to a market to get last minute gifts that people had been looking at all week, and then we found internet to download TV shows and get applications turned in. We found some great Indian places, ate some great gelato, found a place that sold Nutella (a serious find!), and one of our friends got into a shouting match with one of the tuk-tuk drivers. We ended up having to take a tuk-tuk back to the ship with our friends who had befriended a driver on the first day. Let me tell you a thing about tuk-tuks: They are made for 3 people. Four people can squeeze if you’re determined. So of course we crammed 6 people into one tuk-tuk. 5 crammed in the back and I was half-on the driver’s seat in the front. Halfway through, the driver offered to let me drive! I of course said yes (when do you get to drive a tuk-tuk again?? All week people had tried to pay drivers to let them drive tuk-tuks), and apparently I’m very good at driving tuk-tuks, so long as the driver actually lets me have the brake pedal.

We got back on the ship about 20 minutes before On-Ship Time, which is closer than I have ever cut it, but we made it on without dock time and it was well worth the experience! India was a place of adventure but mostly it was overflowing with beauty.

Burma was a Blast

Kim Selinske is a sophomore at CSU majoring in History with minors in Political Science and English. She will be spending Spring 2014 on a ship sailing to vibrant destinations such as Japan, China, Burma, India, South Africa, Morocco, and England. Keep an eye out to see where she is headed next! Her blog can originally be found at http://seafaringstudent.tumblr.com/.

[Originally posted March 8, 2014]

First things first: What do you call this country? Burma or Myanmar?

When you are in the country, we were advised to call it Myanmar, as that
is what the ruling party calls it. While supposedly the country is
relaxing some regulations, we were still strongly cautioned against
openly calling it Burma as a foreigner. Burma is what the National
League for Democracy calls it and the act of calling it Burma is
declaring yourself pro-democracy and against the current government. SO
that was a really long-winded way of saying call it Myanmar while you’re
there and Burma everywhere else.

Going into Burma (during pre-port and throughout the days leading up to
Burma in lectures and such) everyone was asking why we were going to
Burma. Every report we got was that it was impossible to get anywhere
and buses took forever and roads weren’t functional, and planes crashed
all the time, and essentially we were prepared for the worst.

We got the best.

Burma is beautiful. Our hour-long shuttle drove us from the shipping
port to the city center, where the first things you see are: the
gorgeously crafted city hall with elaborate designs all along the roofs
and the shining golden Sule Pagoda that was at the heart of the city.

I had a field lab on the second day, so the first evening was spent
exploring the area and grabbing a traditional longhi (a wrap-around
skirt worn by both men and women, though tied in a different fashion) to
wear on the field lab.

The field lab took us to the US Embassy where we spoke with 3 civil
service workers from the states. It was fascinating to walk through the
largest embassy in Burma, and the three people we talked with gave some
amazing insights into Burma (both currently and looking to the future).
After that however, we didn’t really have much planned for the field lab
so we sort of wandered around the city, following after our tour guide.
We did get to see Aung San Suu Kyi’s house (well, the gate where she
greeted a lot of people), which was really important for us to see.

After that, a group of my friends decided to just explore Yangon (the
main city we were in) for the majority of our time. We got to see a
plethora of pagodas, including the Shwedagon Pagoda, which is the
largest in the city. We saw it on the first day and then on the last
night we went back to see it at sunset and all lit up at night. We sat
down in the shade for a little while (our feet were burning from the
tiles, warmed by the noon sun) and spent an hour talking with a monk
(with raybans!) about a variety of traditions. We also got to see a
bunch of school girls paraded around for their Noviciation Ceremonies.

We explored a few different markets as well, and we tried to see the
National Museum, but we got there on some random holiday. We tried a
strange donut shop (Jdonut) and we almost got our taxi driver lost on
our way to this restaurant we found, that was called the House of
Memories (we totally chose it for it’s name). We had some amazing
Burmese food there and also some weird Blue Curacao Soda? I also had
high tea at the big hotel on the main road where a lot of Embassy staff
go, which was cool. We also ate at Monsoon, a supposedly big place to
eat local cuisine. I wasn’t supremely impressed with their food, but it
was good and didn’t make any one sick, which was a big concern in this port.

On the last day, I woke up at the crack of dawn and signed up for the
SAS Orphanage Visit. We got to see a local market with some amazing
fresh fruit and flowers before we got to wander around the local
village. So many families opened up their homes to us to visit, though I
felt awkward wandering into people’s homes to take pictures, so we tried
to just make friends with the local kids while others looked into the
local houses. The orphanage was relatively large, and it doubled as a
school for these children. We played sports with them and taught them
dances and art until lunch. Us SAS kids didn’t eat any of the food,
because we felt bad taking the food from the kids, but they were all
adorable throughout the entire meal. It was a bit awkward because our
group was so large at the orphanage, but it was well worth the money.

Overall, Burma was spectacular. I wish I had been able to go to Mandalay
and Bagan, but the roads and travel conditions just weren’t feasible to
do on our own in just over 2 days. Though everyone was wary going into
the port, we all left having found a new found appreciation, if not
love, for Burma.

Vietnam

Kim Selinske is a sophomore at CSU majoring in History with minors in Political Science and English. She will be spending Spring 2014 on a ship sailing to vibrant destinations such as Japan, China, Burma, India, South Africa, Morocco, and England. Keep an eye out to see where she is headed next! Her blog can originally be found at http://seafaringstudent.tumblr.com/.

[Originally posted March 1, 2014]

We pulled into Ho Chi Minh City at noon on Valentine’s Day, and my
America in the World class immediately debarked the ship and headed on
our field lab. Our professor, Bob Brigham, worked on the normalization
efforts between Vietnam and the US after the Vietnam War, so he is very
invested in Vietnam. We went to 3 museums in the city: Ho Chi Minh City
Museum/the Museum of Revolution, the Reunification Palace, and the War
Remnants Museum. We were supposed to look at what kind of image the
ruling party in Vietnam is putting forward, but each museum was
interesting on it’s own. We were also accompanied by Ambassader Thuy,
one of Bob’s longtime friends, who is the Vietnamese ambassador to Panama.

The Ho Chi Minh City Museum had 2 main exhibits that looked at how Ho
Chi Minh City has grown, and then 2 that tracked the city’s history
through the French invasion and the Anti-US Resistance. This museum was
small and kind of strange. It didn’t seem like it really worked
together, but it was beautiful. We also saw a couple taking their
wedding photos in the main entrance of the museum, which is apparently
the tradition in Ho Chi Minh City.

Next, we went to the Reunification Palace. This building was the “White
House” of the government in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, until
two tanks from the opposition crashed through the gates and took the
power. This building was absolutely gorgeous. It was fascinating to see
how lavish each room was, when the common person was barely surviving
just outside the gates during the war. It was very interesting to see
all of the maps of the territory of South Vietnam and where they were
bombing. All of us were a bit confused to see that the South Vietnamese
government was bombing their own territory, but it was a great lesson on
how backwards the war was.

Last, we went to the War Remnants Museum, which was by far the most
valuable thing I did in Vietnam. You walk into the museum, only to be
greeted by an entire floor of Peace Posters. Instead of harboring
bitterness towards America, the museum focuses first on peace being the
goal. I thought it was very similar to Hiroshima in how they handled the
crisis. The top level had two large exhibits that focused on the War of
Aggression and on Agent Orange. Both exhibits were absolutely
horrifying, but I learned so much. They also had a chunk of one of the
old forts and some of the old tiger cages that they crammed prisoners
into. I actually started feeling sick to my stomach wandering through
here, though I couldn’t tell if it was from all of the horrific
pictures, or if it was from the sudden heat and humidity, since we had
just come from the frozen tundra of China.

After the War Remnants Museum, we went to Nam Phan, a upscale Vietnamese
Restaurant. Bob knows the owner, because the owner was the first person
with a license to sell silk in Vietnam after the war. Now, he owns
Khaisilk, the nicest and most expensive silk store in Vietnam. According
to Bob, this guy now owns “half of Vietnam,” including multiple other
restaurants, hotels, and stores. Anyway, Nam Phan had some of the most
delicious Vietnamese food! We had these amazing baked ribs with garlic
flakes on them, and I probably could have eaten just those for the rest
of the week in Vietnam. I also got to sit next to Ambassador Thuy, who
was more interesting than I could say. He talked a lot about Vietnam’s
education system, and then he would lean over and show me pictures of
his family, and then he would sing a song or two. He was adorable and it
was a bit hard to believe he was an ambassador sometimes.

The second day in Vietnam we went and got measured for tailored dresses.
Then we wandered towards the market, stopping in at this cute little
bookstore with canvas posters and tons of Disney and Miyazaki products.
We wandered into the Ban Thanh Marketplace, which is an indoor
marketplace with aisles that barely fit one person. This is also the
place where I bought the “gypsy pants,” or the loose cotton pants. I
swore I would never buy them because frankly, I thought they looked
ridiculous. But after one day of walking around Vietnam in jeans, I
caved and bought a…. few pairs of the loose pants. After the
marketplace we found a Korean & French cafe with some amazing pastries
at amazing prices! Yay for inflation? Less than $3 for a full meal at a
fancy bakery is a nice change of pace from the expense of Hong Kong.

Then we wandered around the city, seeing the huge Post Office, some
weird parks, and another marketplace. We found boba (!!) and then a pho
place off the beaten path and it was wonderful! We made our way back to
the Rex Hotel where the shuttle picked us up to take us to the ship. OH!
That’s what I forgot to tell you!

Traffic in Vietnam is HORRIBLE. It’s absolutely crazy and almost
everyone rides motorbikes. No one really follows traffic lights, and
stop signs are entirely ignored. To make it across the street, you just
have to step off the curb (just not in front of one of the few
cars/buses) and walk straight. Hold your head high, don’t look at the
traffic, and keep an even pace! If you change pace, they WILL run into
you. You get a little adrenaline rush every time you cross the street
because you hear motorcycles zooming past, right behind you, and then
you see the ones barely missing you as they speed in front. It’s a fun
time.

On the third day, I left bright and early for Cat Tien National Park.
This is one of the 6 biosphere reserves in the world, and it was a 3
day-2 night program. There were only 9 of us on the trip and it was
perfect. I roomed with one of my friends, Lia, and one of my other
friends Jason was right next door. We stayed in these “cabins” which
were concrete buildings with 4-6 rooms in each. Our beds came equipped
with pastel blue bug nets, though I still was bitten about 12 times over
the course of the trip (despite wearing bug spray the entire time). They
have a restaurant on-site at the main area of the National Park, which
is really convenient. They first day we took a boat down the river
(spotting birds along the way) to a small village of native Vietnamese
people, and then we took a truck ride back to the main station for the
National Park. This car ride was amazing—it felt like being on the
Indiana Jones ride in Disneyland! It was essentially a pick up truck
with two benches crammed in the bed of the truck. It went super fast and
we had a blast, though the car was too noisy, so it scared away the
animals we were supposed to be looking for. That night, we went out on a
Night Safari and saw a lot of deer, some boars, and a handful of other
small animals that are native to the region.

The next day we woke up very early and took a 10km hike up to Crocodile
Lake. The hike wasn’t a hard hike, it was just the heat and humidity
that got to us. The hike was worth it though, because both the forest
and the lake were beautiful! When you arrive at Crocodile Lake, you walk
across these bridges that don’t look like they could support one small
person, much less a bunch of hikers all at once, but it supported
everyone all the way to the little elevated rest house. When we arrived
though, the rangers were washing off a pig’s head in a metal basin. It
was really strange and we all just tried not to look. A group of us
ended up paying to go out into these rickety canoes onto the lake
(filled with crocodiles, mind you) and just take it all in. It was
absolutely gorgeous, and hey, we didn’t get eaten by crocodiles!

The next day, we packed up all of our things and took a small boat
across the river that outlines the national park, and visited the Dao
Tien Endangered Primate Species Center. It was absolutely amazing to see
how they rehabilitate gibbons and slow loris and doucs. It’s not a large
preserve for them, but it’s constantly growing. It was really
informative and probably my favorite part of the entire field program.

We left from there and drove the 4 hours back into Ho Chi Minh City.
Since we got back rather early, my new friend Brooke and I decided to be
history nerds and we went to the Rooftop bar on the roof of the Rex
Hotel to have a drink at 5 o’clock like the American reporters did
during the Vietnam War. The drinks were expensive, strong, but not very
good. It’s all about the experience though, and I can say I experienced
the “Five O’ Clock Follies,” which is something to tell as a history
teacher.

The last day, I ended up picking up my dress and hanging out with some
of my friends. We found a supermarket at the bottom of an upscale
shopping mall (YAY) and then we found Blue Moon Spa. We did a fish
pedicure. It was horrible. OK, let me just say that I hate the idea of
fish touching me, so having a bunch of fish swarm my feet, not even
counting their flesh-eating tendencies, terrifies me. And then you add
in the fact that these fish want to eat my (dead) flesh and it’s just
weird. It took me and my friend 5-10 minutes to actually hold our feet
in the water. That was probably the weirdest experience I’ve had this
entire trip, and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. From
there, we had to head back to the ship, but we crammed a lot into the 6
days we were in Vietnam! I can’t wait to go back and see places like Ha
Long Bay, Hanoi, and the Mekong Delta though!