A Travellerspoint blog

Midget Whisky

sunny 94 °F
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As I was saying, before I so rudely interrupted myself… a tiny person ushered us into a doorway, above which a sign read “Chennai Cultural Center.” For me, those words mean absolutely nothing and by that point I had no idea what to expect. It could have been a wax museum or a organ donor clinic, and I would have been equally nonplussed because the day had been that exhausting and strange. I just thank god I decided not to take the $200 malaria pills I brought with me because supposedly they make you hallucinate, and I wouldn’t have been able to handle Chennai on psychedelics.

Back to the story… so the tiny person stays at the door, but D., N. and I tromp up the stairs in that order, meaning that I wind up being the last to behold … a large, dark room full of men. Young men, slightly older men, skinny men, less skinny men – but all of one gender. I also noticed two very large signs that said “Silence Please.” And it was. Very silent. With everyone staring at us. Two women - one Chinese and one African - and a White guy. We sort of stuck out. They stared at us, and we averted our eyes towards the floor. This lasted for about two minutes, then D. said, “Well?” And I said, “Okay, let’s do this.” Since the place was packed, there was only one table that had room for three people, and it was in the center of the room. So we made our way to that spot, with all eyes upon us. We sat down. As soon as we had parked our asses, it was like someone hit a switch. Everyone resumed talking and carousing as they had been before, and nobody paid us any attention from that point onward. The waiter brought us a menu and a drink list. Women aren’t supposed to drink in India and don't really frequent bars, but we ordered a round of beers – “regular” or Kingfisher for Nancy and “strong” or Haywards 5000 for me and D.

Then we sat and debriefed on the events of the day. I think we were each overwhelmed by different things, but we agreed that it had been an adventure. We’d had two rounds and were still patting ourselves on the back when the lights were flashed on and off to signal last round. The waiter returned and took one more drink order from us, and we had time enough just to drink about half a bottle a piece – these were 32 ounce bottles – before the lights came up for good. The place cleared out slowly. I went to use the bathroom. When I returned D. and N. were engaged in conversation with the trio of men with whom we had shared a table. It turned out one of them, Jay, is the owner of the “Chennai Cultural Center.” When I got back to the table he told me I look like Condoleeza Rice. I thought he meant N., who looks more like Condi than I do, even though she’s Asian. Anyway, I took it good naturedly and allowed him to buy Condi and friends another round. Along with new beers came shot after shot after shot of The Royal Challenge, a "premium" Indian whiskey. He went further and order heaping plates of appetizers, so sat and chatted with our new Indian friends for another hour or two. There did come a point where I told Nancy not to let me drink any more, but alas it was too late. I got the hiccups, which is very unbecoming for a senior stateman. The noisy erruptions seemed to signal an end to the night.

They asked how we were getting back to the ship, and we told them about our day with the cabbies. They decided to drive us themselves and told us we should call the police when we got back to the ship. I realized later that we were a car load of drunken soldiers and that none of us should have been in that vehicle, but that wasn’t on my mind at the time because my mind was gone, burned away by a days worth of noise and air pollution, exotic sights and odors, and utter utter chaos. And the whiskey probably had something to do with it too.

D. sat in the front w/ the driver, and N. and I sat in the back with Jay. Now apparently J. kept groping N. most unceremoniously and N. apparently told me over and over that she was getting molested but I was so drunk that I kept laughing and trying to take pictures of me and J. hanging out of the car windows. I say try because my camera is no longer working properly. (It might actually be the memory card). Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. We careened around for not too long, and then cruised up to the Port of Chennai where we had to comport ourselves more seriously. By this time, N. kept muttering that she hated me, and I kept repeating, “You can’t hate me [insert her full name]” and cackling manically. D. was grinning from ear to ear. N. just looked pissed. We were like Larry, Mo and Curly + Indians.

N., who had had the least to drink, and who had been sobered up by her experience with Mr. Hands in the backseat, had earlier in the day had the presence of mind to photograph the license plate numbers of our cabbies. So we told the entire story to the Port Authority police just as our cabbies came running up to the security checkpoint yelling and screaming that we were crooks and thieves because we hadn’t paid them. And the madness began again. The cabbies were jumping up and down, additional guards came out of the booth and circled us all, D. and N. and our Indian pals were shaking their fists in the air, and I was laughing. I could not stop laughing. I wanted to take picture of it all, and I knew I shouldn’t but it was hysterical. Of all the things I’ve wanted to photograph on this trip, that was the moment, because it was so unabashedly comical. In all my life, I could never have imagined being in the midst of such a ridiculous scene. So even though I was drunk I devised a devious little plan that ultimately failed, but I am still proud of myself for it. I crept back a bit and then pretended that I was rummaging in my bag for something. Then I snapped the photo – which didn’t need a flash because the security point is extremely well lit. But the flash went off anyway, and boy did that piss that guards off. Wow. I thought I was gonna get hustled off to a work camp, but I played dumb. Like really dumb. I kept reiterating that it was an accident, that it went off while I was looking for my ID card in my bag. After a couple minutes they let me go because the other situation was still ongoing. Finally we offered them 1000 rupees total, and that we deemed fair by the Port Authorities. We promised to call Jay and company later in the week, and then we boarded the ship.

Inside, N. repeated that she hated me, and I do remember saying, “Don’t hate me, [full name], because you’re the only person on the ship that I like, and if you’re gone, there’s nobody left. I know it must be a burden for you, but you're strong.” She laughed, and then I apologized for letting her get molested, then I saw box of latex gloves on the table. I picked one up and started trying to slip it onto the banister. I think that’s when she realized how drunk I was, which makes sense since I drank all of her shots except for the first one – so about five – plus the four or five beers. She told me to go to bed.

And thus ends the saga of the midget, who plays only a cameo in this tale, but it was an important cameo because it continues to make things interesting.

Posted by mpho3 03:48 Archived in India Comments (0)

Cabbie Criminality

Chennai, India - February 5, 2008

sunny 92 °F
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Greetings and Namaste from this crazy place called India! I've travelled some, even before this voyage, but I have to say that I feel ill-prepared for this country. If China was cold and austere and Thailand was steamy and over-ripe, India is ... colorful madness.

I should caution that when I make these broad, sweeping generalizations, I’m speaking only about the pinprick of a time and place that I am encountering. For me to summarize an entire country’s culture and history in a word or two on the basis of having spent less than a week in one little spot is ludicrous, but I can only share what I am able to observe.

What I have observed about India – and specifically Chennai (which was Madras until 1997) thus far is that it is way more intense than Shanghai or Bangkok, though it’s much smaller. Chennai is in Southern India, which I understand is very different from Northern India – as different as northern and southern California or Michigan’s upper and lower peninsula are from each other. The thing that has struck me the most though is that Chennai is supposed to be a bit of a sleepy town, whereas my experience is that it’s more crowded and buzzy than any of the places we’ve been. It’s a working class city that is expanding and it’s a very cosmopolitan place, but it’s really, really busy.

The first day off the ship was the first time in years that I've truly been shocked by a new environment. I had to concentrate on not letting my eyes pop out of my head and to keep my jaw closed. I ended up spending Day 1 with two people from the ship, and we spent the day working to stay one-step ahead of our cab drivers who were hell bent on scamming us and have it down to a science. It was work, pure work, to keep from getting taken to the cleaners. When all was said and done, the night ended with a midget, a worrisome mosquito bite, WAY too many whisky shots, and the police. It was truly insane.

The craziness began the night before we’d even arrived. Our pre-port security wound up being three hours of fear-mongering. By the end of the community-wide meeting we were all convinced that if we don't get malaria, we'll die of dengue fever or chikengugya disease or that we foreign ladies will be raped, robbed and pillaged. We were told that unlike the previous port, the ship will be heavily guarded 24/7, and our bags will be inspected upon re-entry to make sure that nobody has brought any food aboard. Though most of us take these things with a grain of salt, everyone was clearly affected by the heavy handedness of the warnings.

The next morning, before immigration had cleared us all, I asked M., a faculty member, what he and his wife were planning for the week, and he said that he wasn't going to get off the ship at all. I cracked up. He said that after that meeting, all he could think of was a painting he'd seen in the 1960s called "Overpopulation," that had images of mutant and mutilated babies and bodies crawling all over the place begging for food and water. He added that he grew up in the 'hood, and he doesn't need to revisit any of that. I laughed so hard that I was crying, and I told him he's ridiculous. Unbeknownst to me, my experiences later in the day would make his fears less silly sounding.

One other event that set the tone for this entre into India: the locals had a welcoming ceremony for us, which was most unexpected. We were greeted by women in colorful saris and kortas, men banging drums and playing other indigenous instruments, and we were bestowed with garlands and bindis (the dot on the forehead). Sounds lovely and visually and aurally, it was. The olefactory aspect of this was a bit of a challenge though. It smelled like we were in the middle of a garbage dump and flies were everywhere. However, as far as you could look in any direction, we were surrounded not by garbage but by rows and rows and rows of brand new Hyundai cars all around us. The juxtaposition was hard to comprehend and that became the main feeling with which to contend the rest of the day and night.

N. and I had decided to beat the crowd and head into the city in order to buy some local garb at a place that had been suggested by our Academic Dean since women are expected to adhere to certain dress requirements. We quickly worked out an arrangement with the most aggressive of a clump of taxi drivers. He took us to a man-powered tuk tuk. The new guy rode the two of us through slowly but surely out of the port area, where we caught our first glimpses of genuine poverty such as I've never seen, even in Africa. I’m not saying it’s not there – it’s just that I’ve never seen it. A railway runs through the port and there were truck loads of rice being unloaded. Now and then a bag would rip open and people would amble over and try to pick up the loose grains like lazy birds who had just discovered a scattering of bird seed.

I started to get antsy almost immediately because I, in true American style, just wanted to get to our destination as quickly as possible and being pedaled at snails pass wasn’t gonna cut it. But then we stopped, and the man w/ whom we'd originally negotiated appeared beside us with a motorized tuk tuk. Yay!, I thought, but if only I had know what was to come. We reached a checkpoint where we had to sign out and also show a sort of local pass that we'd all been given and told to carry with us 24/7. The port is very heavily guarded, in fact much more so than in Shanghai or Laem Chabang.

At the checkpoint, N. and I ran into D. The three of us decided to combine as one party, though we were driven in our separate conveyances. Our first stop was to buy some Indian garb so as to be presentable the next day at our AFPs. I found a beautiful sari ensemble but N. tried it on first and it took half an hour for them to teach her how to wear it. When it was my turn, I said forget it and bought a korta instead, which is basically a pullover dress that you can wear over pants.

Next stop, a roadside pharmacy for mosquito repellent since none of us are taking our million dollar malaria pills (a story in itself). Next stop, the bank for ATM cash withdrawls. This was when I began to realize that I wasn't in Kansas anymore. As we attempted to navigate the machine, a crowd gathered outside the ATM doors, with D's driver at the fore, nose pressed against the glass. I shoved my money deep in my pocket, and we waded back to our cabs. We asked the drivers to take us to a particular market that we'd been told about, and they told us that that market was closed. We asked about the second one on our list and were told that the place isn't a market, but they have a friend who owns a place... which is a typical scam. We insisted on being taken to the first place on the list, but they drove us to a market we'd been warned about, aptly called The Thieves' Market. We were definitely making it hard for them to cheat us, but it quickly became wearying. By this time they’d been driving us around for about three hours, including waiting for us at the first shop. We decided to have them take us to the Marina Beach, the second longest urban beach in the world after Long Beach, California, and then dismiss them from there.

It turns out they had a plan too, which was to separate us. We set off towards the beach but D's driver suddenly made a U-turn, and our driver pretended that he couldn't keep up. We insisted he turn around and finally he did, but as we drove in the opposite direction, we passed D. and his driver who were pulled over. We got our driver to stop and insisted he take us back to D. and then we started over. Once we got going they tried again. Though D's driver was leading, we got to the beach first. At that point we started to feel pretty f*cked, like totally at the mercy of these guys. I tried to pay them but they wouldn't accept the money and kept insisting that they were ours for the entire day. We honestly didn't know what to do, so I suggested we just walk on the beach and walk away. N., didn’t like that idea. She wanted our driver to call D.’s driver. He told us he didn’t have the guys number but we knew it was a lie because they’d been on the phone together earlier.

20 minutes had gone by, and I was feeling really edgy. I was just about to insist they take us back to the ship, when D.’s tuk tuk arrived. We asked him what had happened and he said that the guy must have taken the long way. Now mind you, we weren’t paying by the meter. They wouldn’t offer a rate either – they just kept telling us to pay them what we thought was fair in the end. The three of us consulted together and decided it was best to terminate our little relationship and start with fresh drivers. At that moment, a pedaled tuk tuk came into view with two of our friends from the ship. One was M., an IRC, and Ramon, a crew member. Everybody loves Ramon. We were pleased as punch to see him, but I noticed that M. looked sad beyond belief. I asked what was going on and Ramon revealed that it was his last day. His contract with Royal Caribbean was up, and he was going to go back home to Honduras the next day to be with his wife and four month old baby daughter whom he hasn’t even met yet. This put a bittersweetness on the rest of the day because truly he’s everyone’s favorite guy. I broke the spell by saying that there are no goodbyes, only hellos and then the six of us walked out to the water. The beach wasn’t empty but it wasn’t very busy either. We watched some fisherman sorting through their catch and watched the water, which seemed very different from the waters from which we’d come. I noticed that the beach itself – the sand area – was pretty dirty – more refuse than one would expect but it’s also right in the city. Because everyone was feeling somber, we decided to go get a drink.

The three drivers talked among themselves and then decided to take us to a nearby place. We worried about the fact that two of the vehicles were motorized and one wasn’t, but the drivers actually went slow enough that the guy carrying Ramon and M. could keep up. It was rather amusing except for the fact that the traffic is nuts and there were moments when I thought that any one of the three tuk tusk would get creamed. It’s like imagine all the motorized bikes, trucks, and tuk tuks of Bangkok and Shanghai and then add cows. Hey, there’s a cow laying in them middle of the street. No problem, just swerve around it even if you’re swerving into oncoming traffic. And the pedestrians? They’re just as mad. Seriously, it was unreal, but we made it to this bar in one collective piece.

Inside, it was dead except for us. We ladies had some rum and mango juice concoction and the men had Kingfisher Lager, which I remember my dad drinking in Tanzania, and which I drank throughout my summer in Paris. After that, Ramon and M. had to go back to work. D., N., and I decided to go find food. This is where things got bad with the cabbies. D. had read in a guidebook that the Mylapore District has several good restaurants. He didn’t have a specific one in mind but tossed out the idea of having them take us to the district and then we could walk around and find a restaurant on our own. When we explained what we wanted to the drivers, they tried to get us to eat at the place we’d had drinks. When we insisted on going to Mylapore, they told us it was very far away – too far. D. pulled out a map and asked where we where on the map. Mylapore wasn’t very far at all.

They relinquished and drove us all of five to seven minutes and then pulled up to a restaurant that looked like a drive in burger place except it was Indian food. They insisted that we eat there – obviously they’re getting kick backs for taking us to certain places – but we refused. That’s when I noticed a street sign that said “Mylapore” on it with an arrow point. They hadn’t even taken us to right the district. At that point were finally fed up enough that we decided to part ways with them. We rapidly decided amongst ourselves to pay them 500 rupees per cab (which we later found out was too much). When we tried to pay them they did the same as before – pushing the money away and telling us that they would stay with us all night and take us back. D. was getting really angry though he was maintaining his cool. The more angry he got though, the wilder their antics became. They told us that by law we couldn’t go another cab driver … they told us only they know the ports … they told us that they would get in trouble because at the checkpoint they keep track of who goes with whom and by law they have to bring us back… then when it became apparent that we really weren’t going to continue with them, they began demanding 1,500 rupees from each of us. By this time, a crowd of locals had gathered around us and were trying to negotiate for us – clearly on our side but not helping matters. It started to become a small mob scene, so D. finally said either you take the money we’re offering you or we walk and you get nothing. The crowd didn’t like that but they didn’t prevent us from walking. I don’t know if the drivers were merely trying to save face, but they shouted that they would wait for us in front of the restaurant.

On our own at last, we walked and walked and walked. By now it had gone from dusk to full on night, and we were hungry. We walked down narrow streets. Nobody paid us much attention but I was uncomfortable because of what had happened. We were in some sort of mixed use neighborhood, which seems to be typical of Chennai; there didn’t appear to be a business area or a residential area – it was mixed. We stopped at a small streetside stand and bought samosas and gulab jamun and we kept walking until we realized it was a bit futile. We ended up eating at a Indian fast food restaurant afterall! I was bummed by that, but it was decent.

Afterward D. had written down the address of a movie theatre that plays locally made films with English subtitles. Chennai has a film studio industry, Chollywood, that’s second in size to Bollywood, We found a new driver who agreed to carry all three of us – the other two drivers had told us that men and women can’t ride in the same cab. We got to theatre around 8:30 but the next round of films wasn’t showing until 10:45. I was ready to call it quits at that point, but I wanted to be a good sport so I agreed to walk about for a while longer.

We stumbled down a few blocks and that’s when we saw the midget in a fez standing in a doorway. We looked up and saw a sign that said “Chennai Cultural Centre.” The midget waved us in.

Posted by mpho3 09:12 Archived in India Comments (0)

Savouring Time

Bay of Bengal - February 3, 2008

82 °F

Since leaving Laem Chabang, Thailand, we have traversed the South China Sea into the pirate-infested waters of the Strait of Malacca (between Malaysia and Sumatra) and right on into the Anaman Sea where we dumped into the Bengal Bay. Pretty cool if you look on a map!

We've also changed time zones. Two days ago, ship time was "retarded" one hour and tonight we're shifting back another half hour. Every time we've had a time change, I've forgotten to change my time pieces and have raced to get to work on time only to discover I could have slept or whatever else. While no great tragedy, it's something I'd like play out differently. So tomorrow morning I'm gonna savour that half hour. For real.

Sleep is hard to come by in this life. If it's not one thing, it's another. Tonight it's taking advantage of the fact that everybody is at an event, meaning that I am alone on the Internet, and the speed is blazing! The past two nights it was the fact that the thermostats in most parts of the ship must be adjusted by a crew engineer, and my room has been a friggin' sauna. I woke up at 3 am last night and the night before, throat parched as if I was in the desert suffocating in dry, hot air. My travel clock has a thermometer, and it was registering temps in the 80s. I'd be fine with that if I could open a window or turn on a fan. Then both days, after showering, the humidity just clings. I step out of the shower and immediately am covered with so much sweat that I have to fight to slide pants or a shirt onto my body. Unbearable. I was warned not to complain because they'd make it too cold, and that's kind of what happened. I've now got an arctic blast in my room, but I may have outsmarted them. I opened up the vent which is now blowing cold air into my room 24/7, and partially covered the vent with a small towel. Unfortunately I got a lot of unidentified black particles blown into my eyes, hair and nose. And there's still the constant sound of air blowing out. Ah, well. I am pleased with my McGyver.

I got another tour of the bridge today, which was kind of fun. In the past few days I've seen dolphins, flying fish, and unfortunately debris. The ship is a constant rumor mill, and some believe that nearby ship was wrecked by a pirate attack, but I don't believe it's true. I think the uglier truth is that some ship dumped a bunch of crap overboard - plastic containers and other things that don't belong in the water. Someone spotted a shark yesterday, and others claimed to see seals when we passed by the Anaman Islands.

  • * *

I am a bit restless these past few days. Part of me yearns for nonexistent home and part of me wants to keep moving forever and ever. I think it's cabin fever, the appearance of which is ominous because we've only been on this voyage for a month, and we haven't had our longest stretches yet. I can't imagine doing this with a full passenger load. I think what I want mostly is to get away from some of these people, and not because I hate them but because I'm sick of their faces already and the predictability of it all. I know that sounds crazy. I challenged one guy yesterday to defy everyone's expectations instead of always having to be the clown. I hid a my lucky stone because a friend who came to visit my cabin complemented it and then asked if she could have it. I gravitate to the library like a homing pigeon when I don't know what else to do with myself. I bribe the ship's pursuer with small things like six-packs of pepsi when whenver we get to port because it means she'll be more attentive to my requests - like fixing the temperature in my cabin. I sit alone and wish for company and then sit with other people and wish to be alone. It's all very weird and yet all so natural.

  • * *

Yesterday after the Hunger Banquet, a student who had taken Eric's qigong class struck up a conversation with me. We had a good chat after which her parting words were, "If for nothing else, I'm glad Eric was here because otherwise I might never have talked to you, and you're pretty cool." Smile.

  • * *

Today, G., my supervisor, asked about the t-shirt I was wearing. Her interest excited me. She wasn't sure what it was, but it's a screen shot from the old Atari game, Pong. At the mention of the word, she lit up. She used to love Pong. My happiness was in that this shirt is a kind of social litmus test. Nobody else on the ship has asked about it, which tells me two things. The first is that anybody who would be "cool" enough to know what it Pong is, is too young; and anybody on the ship with enough years on them to have known what Pong is, wasn't cool enough then and probably not so much now either. G. is actually pretty cool. We disagree about a lot of things, but she puts up with me well. I think she is amused by my sense of humor rather than by the humor itself. That's close enough for me.

  • * *

I finished reading The Alchemist. I loved it.

  • * *

Time to retard my clock.

Posted by mpho3 08:22 Comments (0)

(Oxy)morons

Strait of Malacca - February 2, 2008

Tonight the students involved in the Social Justice group put on a "Hunger Banquet" with materials from Oxfam. I was recruited to be one of the four "military police." I didn't really want to participate, but I figured of all the things I've been asked to do and of all the things I will be asked to do, this would be fairly innocuous. I was right and wrong.

The students hosting the event were tremendously excited. The dressed formally, they practiced reading their scripts, and they genuinely believe(d) their actions on that night would change the world. Most of the participants were equally motivated but there are always the usual suspects.... The idea is that the diners are handed cards that the door, dictating what class they belong to and thus determining where they will be seated - lower class on the floor, middle class in chairs and upper class at tables with table clothes, fine crystal etc. Then when it's time to be served food, the middle class are ordered to line up in single file. They are given rice and beans and silverware. Next the upper class are served - a nice three-course meal, serenaded by a musician, etc. and while they are eating the lower class are given rice in a bowl and forced to eat w/ their hands.

Part of the idea is about watching people's behavior. For instance, when the middle class received their portion first, many of them believed that their bretheren in the lower class weren't being fed at all, so many of them begin giving their food to the others. But as a military presence, I was supposed to help force them into the actual lower class zone and many people didn't want to cross that line though they were willing to pass their plates over the line. Meanwhile very few of the upper class felt compelled to share anything with anyone until a middle class person began berating them.

When I made mention of "the usual suspects," some people cheated from the getgo and hid their lower class or middle class tickets in order to worm their way into the upper class. One student who is always a trouble maker, not only cheated his way into the upperclass, but he stole a bag of rolls from the buffet and then unfurled a hastily made sign that said, "UN Food Assistance" and threw the bread into the crowd. This was all for attention. However, it's ironic that his behavior was quite fitting if you view it as metaphorical. Midway through the meal, some scenarios were read and people were shifted around at random. For example, three upperclass people "lost their jobs" and were forced into the middle class area - they had to leave their meals half-finished.

Nonetheless, I had problems with the whole affair. First of all the name offends me. Second, those who cheated angered me; I felt like if they couldn't commit to doing this thing properly then they shouldn't do it all. However, I realized a contradiction in my own thoughts because I thought nothing wrong of the middle class people who shared their food with the lower class people. It was tremendously difficult to watch the Ghanaian students draw the lower class tickets and then watching the spoiled rich kids sneak into the upperclass when they were the ones who of anybody present had the most to learn. But what I found most distasteful is that nobody starved. Everybody not only ate, but they all raced down to the cafeteria when all was said and done so that they could eat more.

So while the idea works on some levels, on others it just doesn't. During the Q&A afterward, several of the students were moved nearly to the point of tears by the experience, but I think it's pathetic, to be frank, that some of them had to psuedo-starve for an hour in order to think about the plight of other people in the world and then to come away so changed. Yes, this is the glass half empty point of view. I don't care. It pissed me off. Yet, like I said, I know some people were really changed. So, I guess in the end it was worthwhile, but I rued the night.

It will be interesting to see how my next big involvement goes when I co-lead one of the groups in India. The Learning Circle to which I belong - Global Cultures and Social Change - is going to be studying Indian rituals, the role of women in religion, and ecology and philosphy. Our itinerary in Chennai is being finalized as I type this. I know on the first day we'll have a lecture at the University of Madras. The following two days will be spent visiting a temple and a dance school founded by Rukmini Arundale, a freedom fighter and theosophist who passed about in the mid-1980s. It sounds like a good program. That will leave me three days to explore India on my own - an impossible task. I'd love to see the Taj Mahal, but it's at the opposite end of the country and there's no direct route. A lot of students are flying to Delhi and then taking a train to Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located, but I've heard horror stories about Indian train schedules. I've also heard a few naive and/or ignorant students talk about Sri Lanka. Even when you say, "there's a war there right now," they respond as if you've said "there's a bird on the railing." I suspect this is going to be the port where we lose students - seriously. I predict that some will get left behind and will have to buy plane tickets to the Seychelles or S. Africa to catch up with us.

I think I might be content to stay in southern India; I just have to settle on a place. Suggestions are welcome!

Posted by mpho3 07:46 Comments (0)

Stacks and Stacks of Paper

South China Sea - February ?

As per usual, a million happenings have happened in just the two or three days since I last posted. For one thing, the day after the Captain spoke to me, I went out on the deck just to look at the water for a bit, and he was sitting several feet away. We waved to one another - not vigorously but as an acknowledgement. I have to admit, I was tickled. After several minutes of staring out the ocean, I needed to return to the library, but I decided to walk down the length of the deck, which would require me to pass him. Just as I was nearing him, he pointed towards the empty chair beside him. I was unbelievably thrilled and yet I had nothing to say. Sure we talked - mostly about the environmental degradation of the world's resources, but I don't even remember now how it came up. I think I mentioned the fires in Athens last summer, and it went on from there. He told me he used to be a skeptic when it came to the global climate doomsdayists, but having been to so many parts of the world more than once, he now knows it's true. I asked him if he believes that the damage done can be fixed, and he was very cynical."Of course!," he sputtered, "of course! But will we? All the lawyers and professors like to create paper, stacks and stacks of paper. Paper doesn't solve problems. They can make good answers on paper but paper stacked upon paper just creates more stacks of paper." He seemed livid at that point, but I made him laugh by suggesting that if there are more fires like those that burned last year, there won't be any trees left with which to make paper. He laughed heartily. Then I had to go back to the library. I asked him what kind of hours he keeps, and he sets his own schedule. "I sleep when I want to sleep, I don't sleep when I don't want to sleep, I work when I want to work. Nobody tells me anything." I told him I envy that, but he smiled knowingly - as if knowing that my envy is real but also as in knowing that his "freedom" comes with a price.

Meanwhile back at the library... the big issue as of late has been computer usage. We have two computers that are designated for the students as being for research only. The students are limited to 30 minutes per day, and the minutes are free. It’s not hard to figure out why the library seems to function as a travel agency for the kids, which is not such a good thing. For the past two ports, the students book time to make all their travel arrangements and to do things like check their email. We have a stipulation that students with genuine research needs have priority, but it’s a rule that’s unenforceable and both the computers and copier are definitely being abused. We can prevent them from using Facebook – and every one of them has an account except probably the Chinese students since it’s likely banned there and maybe the students from the poorer countries. They’re not supposed to use them to check their email but if they tell us, for example, that a friend was supposed to send them an article or they are corresponding with someone who has information for a project, what are we supposed to do – read their mail? We have instituted a 10 copy rule on the copy/printer. Again, this is because of limited resources but everyone knows the machine is free – unlike the copy center machines – so they come to the library to print and copy their vacation plans, etc.

Post-Thailand, however, the graduate students have begun their assignments and more than a few have become outraged at the fact that the computer sign ups are completely full by 10 am because when I open at 8 am, there are usually already 15 to 20 students waiting just to sign up.

Yesterday was a tough day at the ol’ library. I had students in an uproar left and right, with their panties in a twist about who should get to use the computers and when. Meanwhile, I watched people print out 40 pages of this and copy 50 pages of that. I spoke to G., about it and she said our hands are tied. It’s up to the Executive Team to make an enforceable policy because the only other recourse we have would involve the IT team, and they won’t cooperate. They could make the copier password protected just like in the copy center – users have to enter a code tied to their onboard account, meaning that they are charged for making copies. They could also block certain sites such as Facebook, but these are not priorities for them. It's a bit of a drag, but I've learned to counteract it all with my visits to the starboard and port decks.

Posted by mpho3 07:41 Comments (0)

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