I woke up at 5:30 so I could workout and shower before my 6:55 a.m. drug test. We were all tested and have been told to expect random testing throughout the journey. I’m viewing it as an annoying ritual that is one of the small prices I have to pay to be here. I have no desire or plans to do anything that would be an issue, but I find it intrusive nonetheless. Our rooms are also subject to random searches by crew members when we’re not present, i.e. I could be elsewhere on the ship or totally off the ship. However, I am apparently a whore for this opportunity, so I’ll let them rifle my underwear drawer or pee in a cup whenever they ask.
After my workout, I had just enough time for a quick shower. I lathered and rinsed and tried to turn off the water, but no matter which faucet I turned, the water kept raining down. The shower has four knobs, which I later found are actually two for the tub and two for the shower. I couldn’t navigate that though, and for a moment I felt like I was drowning even though I was standing upright and the drain was open. I hopped out, dressed, and left the shower going. I found it ironic moments later that while my shower was unable to stop giving, my “inner well” was rather low. However, the medical staff administering the urinalysis accepted my scant “donation.” I was dehydrated from my workout – shrug. I found the cabin steward, and he gave me a quick lesson on operating the shower. So much for my having a college education.
Speaking of H20, we’ve got plenty of it onboard, but the drinking water on the ship is awful. I haven’t had water this bad since I was at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan – home of some notoriously brown, bad tasting water. We’re drinking and showering with water that is desalinated right here on the ship, which is equipped with a reverse osmosis facility and an evaporation tanks as well. While I think it’s pretty nifty, my palate can barely tolerate the heavy iodine taste. In fact, I tried to make a cup of yerba mate, which has an extremely strong flavor of it’s, and it tasted like I’d dredged the bottom of the Detroit River and strained out all the body parts and rusty tires. All the coffee drinkers are giving up coffee, so you know it’s bad. However, I’m doing my best to grin and bear it, downing 64 oz. of it a day. I guess I’ve an advantage in that I don’t like the taste of “regular” water anyway, and though there’s definitely a difference between plain water and really really bad tasting water, I’m still drinking something that turns me off.
While on the subject of beverages, I may as well tackle food. I must say that it’s not as good as I’d expected or hoped for. It’s not awful, per se, but I never really eat my fill because not much of it is truly that appetizing. While I’m not starving by any means, I have had some meals where I felt compelled to assess whether I was getting enough calories. The dining hall is buffet style, but the food and service staff attend to us as if we’re paying passengers. They push in the chairs of all the women, they refill our cups if they look empty, they clear away our plates at the slightest hint that we’re about to get up and do it ourselves. I will say that by and large everybody seems uncomfortable with this, and that makes me like my companions all the more. So far, nobody seems to feel entitled to anything. This could change as we “stop being polite and start getting real,” and I’m absolutely sure that some of the students will be little bitches.
At breakfast, I made a beeline for a new arrival – M., who it turns out is a Black American who lives in Germany 8 months out of the year and Houston the other 4, which is the compromise that he and his German wife have carved out. She is on her way but arrives tomorrow. He told me that they always fly separately because they have kids, and he’s superstitious. This may be very forward thinking, but it’s also a bit macabre. Anyway, he was a delight to talk to for a while. He’s going to be teaching three courses, including one on Political Terrorism. He has a lot of interesting perspectives, but by the end of the day, I began to think he might be one of the wildcards. He’s got a grumbly spirit, like me, but I’m really trying to let that drain out of me, whereas he seems like he’s just waiting for the right moment to let it out in his own enactment of interpersonal political terrorism. I’m not sure I want to associate with that, if you know what I’m saying. Still, his presence kind of made the first half of my day.
Later in the day we had another new arrival. Like waiting for the other shoe to drop, C. is the person I’ve been awaiting. She’s a new faculty member, and she has an extremely aggressive, intense, almost confrontational personality. I knew that everyone here couldn’t be as chill as they’re coming across. So, while I don’t enjoy her interpersonal style, I applauded myself for knowing that there’ve got to be a few people who can be counted on to disrupt the apparent serenity that’s been established so far. I figured someone so belligerent – here I’m about to betray one of my prejudices – must be Germanic, but it turns out she’s Israeli. I thought back to the excellent film Munich about the Israeli response to the 1972 Olympic hostage crisis, and I remembered how fierce this people are. Believe me, I will not be crossing her in any way! Even the TSS Executive Officer, a Moroccan guy, and the Vice Dean of Academic Affairs, an American woman, were more tolerant of her behavior than I wanted to see and everyone has been abuzz about her, which is interesting because this doesn’t strike me as a particularly gossipy group. However, I must concede that for the most part she raises very good issues, is extremely knowledgeable and focused, and I think ultimately will be an extraordinary asset to the program.
Honestly though, she ruined my afternoon because we were divided into faculty and Onboard life folks for a three-hour breakout session with no break. I technically fall under the faculty rubric, which sucks for me because it’s mostly the older people – nothing wrong w/ that, but I wanted to get to know the younger folks whom I had clicked with the day before. Also, the issues of the faculty-proper don’t genuinely concern me and academics can be a tough crowd to deal with because they all consider themselves experts. Just like they say that doctors make the worst patients, I think tenured professors make for poor students. They had questions about the grading system, the curriculum, and specific questions about their courses and general policies and procedures, all of which are dictated by Australia’s Macquarie University. (TSS has formal relationships with universities around the world, including Fudon University in Shanghai, the University of Ghana, the University of Cardim-Wales, UC Berkeley, and two universities, one in Mexico and one in Morocco).
Anyway, I was simply trying not to drool on myself during the breakout session, but the Israeli woman badgered and pestered and harassed everyone until the hair stood up on the back of my neck, and you can imagine how difficult a feat that must be for my hairs. In the end, she initiated a monotonous and rather moronic debate about how the students should address the faculty. Most people said they had no preference, but she kept insisting that the Asian students will be offended if the other students are allowed to call any of the professors by their first name. Most people said that either they did have a preference in one direction (to be called by first name or to be called Dr. So-and-So) or that they didn’t care one way or another. This woman kept raging about how it was wrong to offend the Asian students by allowing other students to be less formal. One guy in particular said that part of experiential learning is to experience different mores. While nobody is deliberately setting out to be offensive towards anyone, it’s not such a bad thing to expose someone to something that may push them out of their comfort zone. But no matter what anyone said, she wouldn’t let it go, and she kept it up for 45 minutes. It really killed my energy.
During the “great debate,” I examined the rest of our training schedule, and I have to say I wasn’t too thrilled with it. We’re extremely busy from now until Jan. 2, and that’s when the students arrive. I won’t have much opportunity to explore Hong Kong at all, but I don’t think this will be true at the other ports. Part of the issue here is that we’re not actually docked at the port, so we have to adhere to the tendering schedule. However, at the rest of the locales we will be docked right at the port, so there will be much more flexibility about coming and going. For that reason, I’m glad that Eric wasn’t able to join me in HK after all. We’re still hoping to connect in Shanghai, and I think that will end up being for the best. Meanwhile, G., to whom I report, arrived today. We had a brief talk about the state of things. I’ll get into that more later, but it appears that while we’re at sea, I’ll be working from 8 am to 2pm and she’ll take the 3pm to 11pm shift, per her preference. That’s fine with me. For the most part, the LRC will be closed when we’re at port, so from the sounds of it, I’ll be free* or at least have a great deal of flexibility. But again, I’ll know more in the next several days.
- It will be interesting to see how much “freedom,” I’ll have because there’s an effort to integrate each and every staff member into the overall experiential learning aspect of the curriculum. Two days after writing this post, I am to discover that each of us is assigned to a Learning Circle, which, as I’ll explain, comes with a fair amount of responsibility throughout the journey and particularly when we’re in ports. Each of us is also assigned to at least one Academic Field Program (essentially a field trip), which means I will be playing chaperone at least once. However, most of the AFPs sound intriguing as they are three-day trips off the ship that tend to require overland travel and overnight stays.
The executive staff decided to give us an early break today because so many people are still jetlagged, so a big group of us opted to go back ashore. I ended up tagging along with a bunch of people who were going shopping. Someone needed a laptop; another person wanted a kettle to boil water in her room in hopes of killing the taste (I opined that boiling it won’t help because the tea I had this morning and the coffee everyone is complaining about are made with boiled water, duh); and various other people wanted various other things. We started out as a clump of about eight people but in the end I wound up in a trio. M., in particular, - the young woman from Mexico -is a lovely, lovely person. A. cracks me up. She might live in NM, but she is truly Northern Cal at heart. We’ve already discussed our plans for Amsterdam (wink). We mainly hovered in the Nathan St. area of Kowloon, which was so brightly lit that it seemed like daytime. Hong Kong’s denizens love to shop!
The ferry ride to and from TSS presented an AMAZING skyline. HK is crazy! The Christmas season is renowned for elaborate neon light displays that are spectacular at night – imagine your childhood Lite Brite the size of a skyscraper. It is really something else. Also harbour itself is one of the busiest stretches of waterway in the world. Here you can find the last of the genuine sailing junks to be found in China. Unfortunately my camera takes horrible night shots, and I didn’t have my new camcorder with me (shame on me), but I didn’t grab it because we were going shopping. I’m hoping to have it with me when we go out for New Year’s Eve. We have the option to stay on the ship, which will provide a unique vantage point for the fireworks, but I lament that I won’t have had a chance to explore the city as thoroughly as I would have liked so I’m gonna go out and about for sure.
I really like the energy of the city to the extent that I’ve been able to experience it. HK seems like the perfect melding of East and West. I guess I’ll just have to come back one day. It seems outrageous to say since I’ve experienced so little of it, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it feels like a place I could live; I have the same feeling about it that I did after my first visit to SF some years ago. I don’t know how easy or difficult it would truly be to integrate oneself here, find work, etc. but from an energetic level it speaks to me. It has the city part that I connect to, but it also has easy access to nature and natural settings that I loved about SF, too. Though it’s crowded it doesn’t feel crowded to me. Plus there’s the water, which is important for one who is used to living near big lakes or being in biking distance of the ocean. And there are lots of cultures to encounter. It has a rich history, and from a practical standpoint, most everyone speaks English. If I could find a gig here, I would definitely consider it. I’d have to visit again to confirm, but my preliminary sense is that it could be great.