Singapore Highlights

Hawker Food: A hawker center is a massive, permanently tented open-air building that sells well priced, local foods. Maxwell Food Center was next to the Chinatown subway stop and featured three double-sided rows of food stalls.

singapore hawker market

What kinds of food do the stalls sell? Virtually every type of local food you can imagine (Singapore, Malaysian, and Chinese in particular). Meals such as chicken rice, nasi goreng, or sliced fish soup are complimented with freshly ground sugarcane juice, smoothies, and coconuts. As I gazed at the stalls, men passed me by holding bowls of rice stacked to their chins.

singapore zhen zhen porridge

We chose to eat at Zhen Zhen Porridge, which apparently has won many awards for their congee. My friends and I braved the long winding line in order to get a bowl.

singapore zhen zhen fish porridge

Every bite I took was better than the previous one. The rice porridge was hearty from being cooked all day, and accented with a sesame oil soy sauce. The bowl ($2) may not look too big in the photo, but it was massive and fed multiple people.

Marina Bay Sands: While I was not one of the SASers who stayed in this extremely exorbitant hotel (and they all loved it), I was a bit surprised when I saw it in person. For such a huge investment of $8 billion, I don’t really consider it an attractive building. That being said, it certainly looks ‘modern’ and I’m sure the infinity pool at the top is amazing to swim in.

marina bay sands group photo

Electronic Megamalls: I suppose I’m used to Best Buy; Naples has no dedicated camera stores. While in Singapore, I got the suggestion from a local to buy camera equipment at Funan Malll. I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to enter – a five story shopping center behemoth filled with electronics stores abound and at least twenty different camera stores on each floor. Each camera store had an ‘Amazon sized’ selection – hundreds of lenses, bags, general equipment, and knowledge to help. It was a camera wonderland.

singapore electronics mall

Singapore Evertonians: Using my SingTel SIM card I purchased in the cruise terminal, I discovered there was an Everton soccer game the night we arrived. I looked up the local Singapore supporters’ group online, sent out some text messages, and before I knew it I was eating pizza with fellow Everton supporters. It was the first time I’ve watched a game with such a large group of fans and made for an awesome night (despite the undeserved loss against Chelsea).

singapore evertonians

My essays (21 pages) have been turned in and we’re sailing into Burma now! I feel very lucky to this country during its transition. The sky is very misty and difficult to separate from the horizon, adding an sense of mystery. I can’t wait to explore.

Vietnam: Cái Răng Floating Market

The most accurate description for Cái Răng would actually be a ‘Floating Costco’ as it is primarily a wholesale market. Retail floating markets exist elsewhere, but Cái Răng is primarily wholesale.

Small boats sell coffee and local delicacies as the big boats stockpile fruits and vegetables.

According to Mr. Hung (our guide), the below boat holds about 30,000 coconuts.

People across Vietnam come south for the floating markets in the Mekong Delta. They spend about 5-10 days filling up their boats with fruits and vegetables before heading back home to distribute them.
Boats usually have a pole on the bow to show the kinds vegetable sold onboard.

While we were on top of a boat enjoying half of a pineapple each, a woman on the lower deck was in the process of moving an order of 1000 pineapples to the next-door boat.

Vietnam Highlights

The People: There’s something to be said for a culture so welcoming that people feel inclined to sing you a song after meeting you. The former Ambassador to Panama and Costa Rica bursted twice into Vietnamese ballads, while Tây Đô university students crooned ‘My Heart Will Go On.’ After visiting their English class, I was overwhelmed with homemade gifts including calligraphic song lyrics, origami paper and money, sugarcane juice, and even their school uniform.

One of my favorite memories was buying a $1 kite and flying it with several kids near Can Tho. The only English word they knew was ‘Hello’, which they repeated constantly to us. Their kites were homemade, and used two liter bottles to wrap the string.

The Food: Over the course of six days, I did not eat a single unmemorable meal. Vietnamese dishes meld all of the flavors – sweet, fresh, and vinegar. Every dish – from phở and gỏi cuốn (Vietnamese summer rolls) to bánh xèo on the street (see below) – was spectacular. Everyone on the ship is still raving over the food.
Nước Mắmz: When I first had nước mắmz (fermented fish sauce with water and sugar) on the table as a condiment, I thought it smelled like dog food. I tasted it, and thought it also tasted like dog food.However, the flavor profile changes completely when used as a dipping sauce. I first had it with spring rolls. Instead of tasting the fermented fish in the sauce, the sweetness came through.

My favorite use for nước mắmz was with river fish. The fish was deep fried, and was covered with an insanely delicious nước mắmz sauce topped with thinly sliced garlic and onions.

The Water Puppet Show: The stage was an indoor pond of water – with singers and musicians on either side. I didn’t understand a word, and I have absolutely no idea what I watched – but it was one of my favorite shows I’ve seen. The sheer confusion of wondering both what I was watching and how the puppets were moving made it a memorable experience.

vietnam water puppet show

vietnam water puppet show 2

Longji Rice Terraces

While I enjoyed the city of Guilin, it was bigger and more commercialized than I expected. It wasn’t until the second day when we escaped to the mountains that I really enjoyed the Guangxi Province.

Our tour guide for the hike to the first village was the lady seen above. Despite being more than a foot shorter than most of us, she was a tank. She walked far faster than us up the mountains, not needing to catch her breath. When I asked her how long she had been hiking the mountains she said, “63 years.”

By the time we reached the first village, our first tour guide was replaced with a man in his 20’s. He chain-smoked the entire time, yet somehow still had the lung capacity to power through the mountains without breaking a sweat.

Longji terraces were first cultivated in the Yuan Dynasty during the 13th century. Since then the Zhuang and Yao (ethnic minorities) have been working the land. While most terraces are used for growing rice, some are also used for raising other vegetables.They are designed in different shapes, including towers (one acre), and snails (3 acres).
Despite the terraces increasingly becoming a tourist destination, I ran into few people during my trip here. My only regret about this experience was not spending the night in a guesthouse.

On another note, we’ll be in Vietnam tomorrow! I have a field lab tomorrow that involves visiting the Ho Chi Minh City war museums and analyzing the slant that they place on the war, followed by a field program in the Cu Chi tunnels the following day.
An excellent blog to follow for anyone interested is Semester at Sea’s official blog, News from the Helm. One of their latest videos, From Caterpillar to Kimino, was filmed during my cultural anthropology field lab. I highly recommend checking it out:

24 Hours in Shanghai

While arriving in China, our ship arrived at the wrong pilot station. The weather deteriorated, and as our boat must approach Shanghai on High Tide, our arrival was delayed by 12 hours. The result was not disembarking until nearly 10 pm and missing our Sino-American relations field lab entirely.

My group of friends whom I eat dinner with every day soon set off to find one of Shanghai’s iconic dishes – 小笼包.

小笼包 (soup dumplings) are filled with ground meat and broth. They’re a bit tricky to eat without the broth spilling out; I found out the best strategy was to eat them in one bite.
After gorging myself on dumplings, noodles, and [very oily] bok choy, I left for the nearby convenience store. I stocked up on ramen for the days when I don’t feel like eating the ship lunch, and headed back to the ship to sleep.

The next day we went to the classical gardens of Suzhou. Unfortunately, it was raining, and not a great season to see the gardens. Supposedly,  summertime is much better than wintertime to go. Right outside the gardens were woodworkers as well as many street food vendors.

发财猪 – literally ‘get rich pigs’ – were one of my favorite street foods. Not necessarily for the good luck and bean filling inside, but rather for the cuteness of the outside. Aren’t they just adorable?
Sorry PETA, but at 3元 ($0.50) each, I couldn’t resist eating these cute little piggies whole.

Following our afternoon in Suzhou we took a mixture of buses, trains, and the MagLev train to the airport. This magnetic levitating train took us over 300 mph above the city of Shanghai using a form of artificial gravity to levitate us slightly above the track and reduce friction. While I’m not completely certain how it worked, it felt very high-tech. What would’ve been an hour drive took only eight minutes by MagLev. We flew past cars driving at high speeds like they were turtles, and soon we were on our way flying to Guilin.

SAS Japan: Kyoto

Bamboo Forest & Surroundings

Parking in Kyoto was too expensive, so Mochan offered his own suggestions on places to see and then set us loose for two hours. After a full morning of being with a group of 20 seeing shrines and temples around the city, all I wanted was relaxation. I set off for the bamboo forest with little more than change in my pocket for drinks.

After walking in the bamboo forest for some time, we left its confines and began hiking the mountainside. Every time there was a fork in the road heading up, we picked a random direction and continued the hike. Eventually we made it to a vantage point of a river.

I don’t think words [or the picture that follows] does justice to the sight. We stayed there for about 30 minutes, watching men maneuver their boats around the river. Each one had two stand-up rowers, one on either side of the boat. I have no idea the name of the river, but it was beautiful.

Fushimi Inari-taishi
In addition to being the name of a delicious sushi roll, Inari also happens to be the god of rice in Japan. For this reasons, merchants and businessmen in particular worship Inari. Fushimi Inari is the head shrine of Inari, and includes multiple trails all the way up and down a mountain.

These orange tori (gates) surround the path to the top of the mountain. We only had an hour at this shrine, so I began walking with my group at once. The path near the bottom of the mountain is almost nonstop tori gates, but they become more dispersed further up the mountain. There are said to be over 5000 tori in all.

After about 25 minutes of walking through the tori and taking photos, I stopped at the map of the mountain to see how far up I was. I found the ‘You Are Here’ spot, and realized I was only one fifth up the mountain.

It looks like I may have to go back to Japan one day to finish climbing!

Kimono & Silk Field Lab

My final day in Japan was spent with my cultural anthropology class, studying kimonos and silk production in Kyoto. We explored different kimono styles and levels of formality throughout the ages, but the most fascinating kimono had to be the jūnihitoe.

Jūnihitoe translated to English means literally ‘twelve layer robe’, and was worn only by the court-ladies. All kimonos (and every layer of the jūnihitoe) are made of silk. The innermost layer is white, followed by color-coordinated sets of kimonos.

The jūnihitoe pictured weighed about 30 lbs, but they can often weight up to 40 lbs. It is nearly impossible to walk, and movement inside is extremely limited.

Being dressed in jūnihitoe is highly ritualized. Two dressers, one in front and one behind the court-lady, begin by bowing. The dresser in front may never stand, while the dresser in back is in charge of picking up each layer and helping drape the silk over the court-lady’s shoulders.

The jūnihitoe is so heavy that it actually can keep its shape after being taken off.

On another note…

Goodbye Japan; Hello China! Our ship is currently less than 200 kilometers away from Shanghai, and I will be stepping foot on land in the morning. While in China I will also be visiting Guilin and Hong Kong, and look forward to sharing stories and pictures when I’m back on the ship.

SAS Japan: Shizuoka & Mochan’s Wish Club

Mochan’s Wish Club

Before our voyage departed people posted in a Facebook group their plans for independent traveling, looking for people to join them. Most events were very expensive and/or overly touristic, but I immediately signed up for a homestay with Mochan.

Mochan’s life is Couchsurfing. He has been hosting people for over 20 years, and even met his wife [now pregnant] through it. His life is showing the world a little bit of Japan – his town of Shizuoka. He’s a hilarious, boisterous fellow who knows everything there is to know about his country. We asked him how many languages he spoke, to which he replied [in extremely good English], “Only Japanese”.

Mochan owns a bus, and uses it for showing large groups his country. All 20 of us piled in it, and with him we discovered Japan.

Tea Ceremony

The term ‘tea ceremony’ is actually a mistranslation. The correct translation of drinking tea that has been done for centuries is closer to ‘the way of tea.’

We began by sitting down in a large room and bowing towards the tea master. Tea rooms have traditionally had extremely small doors – under 3 feet high. The symbolism behind this is to show that everyone – including the emperor – is an equal when drinking tea and must bow to the same levels when entering the room. Back in the olden days, these rooms were a symbol of peace. Enemies would leave their swords outside and drink their tea together.
Japanese green tea (matcha) is completely different than the kinds typically drunk in America. It is never sweetened, and is made from powder rather than leaves. It’s extremely strong flavored, and is more of an ‘expresso tea’ as opposed to flavored water.

Because matcha is so bitter, people typically balance the flavor by eating a sweet first. Since we arrived during February, we were presented with a plum bean flower candy.

After being presented with the tea, we bowed to the tea master before turning the cup two turns clockwise before drinking (so that the cup’s design faces away).

The tea master owner requested two volunteers to learn how to make the tea. I quickly stood up with Aurora, who coordinated the homestay. It was a treat – she walked me through the process of carefully pouring the water, holding the cup in exactly the right position, and making the proper turns before presenting it to the tea drinker.

Onsen (Hot Springs)
We spent a night as the only foreigners in a local onsen- getting naked and spending a night alternating between various degrees of scalding water with new friends. The idea was completely foreign and out of my comfort zone at first, but it was actually one of my favorite nights in Japan.

We began, separated by gender, in the indoor pools. None of us were entirely ready to venture to the frigid outside yet. Not knowing which pool to begin in, we got in the closest one first. It had a small waterfall on one side, and was surrounded by large rocks. The water was extremely hot, and I could only last about 5 minutes before taking refuge in a slightly colder [yet still torrid] pool.

Our night consisted largely of this pool hopping. We would be in each spring for as long as we could handle the heat, before moving to the next. Eventually, every pool was too hot and we took refuge in large individual basins of water. As you submerged yourself, the water overflowed and it was beautiful to watch and listen to. I came to forget how hot the water was until I felt the faucet and felt it scorch my finger. At that point I got up quickly and stood naked in the cold for a few moments as I saw stars [both literally and figuratively].

Apparently over on the woman’s side, they also had a cold pool that was used to counteract the heat. We couldn’t find one on the male side, so we just sweated it out.

I expected the full experience to be awkward; I discovered that there’s no better way for making friends than to get naked with them (only partly kidding). The onsen really was the catalyst for making friends during the beginning of our homestay, and I began to understand why the Japanese enjoy them so much.

If you’re going to an onsen, don’t bring your swimsuit.

Mt. Fuji

Mochan lived just about an hour away from Mt. Fuji. He drove us to a 7-11 convienance store, and then to one of his favorite picnic spots near the mountain.

Eating at a 7-11 is very different in Japan. They have an array of fresh hot foods, everything from corn dogs to steamed buns, as well as a medley of cold foods such as salads, sushi, stir fries, and seafood which can all be heated up on request. I ended up buying an inari roll, a shrimp salad, and a salty fruit drink made with grapefruit, lemon, and aloe juice. Eaten at the base of Mt. Fuji, it made a delicious lunch.

SAS Japan: Tokyo

Day 19: Introduction to Japan

I woke up at 7 to watch us pull into port. It was suddenly freezing outside. After putting on a sweater, a sweatshirt, and a vest [essentially all the cold weather clothes I brought], I left my room to get breakfast and wait on the customs and immigration lines. As soon as we were halfway through the two hour line, I realized that I left my hostel reservation [and name/address of where we were staying] on the ship. Oops?

After waiting to debark, I quickly found the place we were staying through wifi and made our way from Yokohama to Tokyo using the subway. The subway was extremely confusing at first to try and figure out where you’re going with the different romanticizations and characters, but we made it after asking for directions seemingly every 50 feet. People really went out of their ways to help us wherever we went, even going as far to go on the trains with us and point when we were supposed to get off.

Tokyo Senjosi Temple

The Tale of Two Lunches

I was starving. We didn’t arrive to Asakusa, the province we were staying, until around 1 pm – and I had only eaten papaya for breakfast. I was traveling with 3 of my friends, one of whom is a fairly picky vegetarian, so we couldn’t pick a random place to eat. We followed our noses, which eventually led us to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with an English menu. We shared three dishes – bamboo and lotus root stir fry, spicy bean curd [in a fermented bean sauce], and spicy shelled prawns – our waitress’s suggestion. Each plate came with rice, soup, pickled vegetables, and some type of almond milk dessert. During the meal I told the others, “I had no idea this is what Japanese food is like, this is AMAZING!”

Tokyo Spicy Bean Curd

I felt very satisfied and reasonably full as we made our way to Senjosi Temple and Asakusa Shrine. However, my stomach knew no boundaries. As my friends went in a souvenir store to look at local papers, I went next door to a tempura restaurant. The menu looked great and the price was right, so I ordered a prawn & vegetable tempura meal to-go, with the intention of sharing with my friends.

Nobody else wanted tempura, they were all too stuffed from lunch. So naturally, I did what any other sane-minded individual with a to-go container of piping hot, super crispy tempura would do – eat every bite.

There were sweet potatoes, shrimp, green beans, potatoes, and a delightful piece of extra salty fried cabbage. What really made the dish so tasty was the sweet soy sauce drizzled on top, combined with the plump sticky rice and toasted sesame seeds.

At this point I was feeling unpleasantly full, but I am no quitter. Near Senjosi Temple, I came across a man rolling out freshly toasted sweet rice and nuts in a baking pan, then cutting it into small bite-size chunks. We ordered a small cup of them, and they were delicious.

And so ends my journey of eating. Despite seeing an obscene amounts of street food being made during my first day in Tokyo, I was unable to eat any more of it. I felt like I had a giant ball of acid in my stomach, which it turns out I did. Acid reflex overcame me, and I threw up twice on the way home that night. To add insult to injury, I later found out from a Japanese student that the first meal that I loved so much was actually Chinese food. Oops?

It was worth every bite.

Day 20: Tsukiji Market

We woke up at 2:30 am with a mission: To be one of 120 people who are allowed to observe the Tsukiji Market tuna auctions every day.

Tsukiji is the largest fish market in the world. North America’s largest is the Fulton Fish Market in New York, but they only do about 13{3a5a0fd47fd42b6497167aecc6170a94848f1ba936db07c4954344fcfff1d528} of Tsukuji’s trade volume. Much of the seafood that feeds Tokyo every day is sold through Tsukiji.

The tuna sold in the auction often weigh over 500 lbs, and were roughly 2/3 as tall as the people bidding on them. Before the auctions, all of the restauranteurs went through the massive warehouse-type storage room wielding a type of hook and a flashlight. They would inspect the outer and inner flesh of each fish using their hook – examining carefully the color, texture, and possible defects.

The auction itself was a bit of a mad frenzy. The auctioneer began yelling in a rhythmic voice, and the people involved in the auction began bidding with subtle hand motions. One signal was lifting a finger up; another was brushing their hand aside. I asked the locals standing next to me what exactly was going on, but they didn’t know themselves. The final auction I watched was for 10 of the biggest tunas, or 2.5 tons of meat.

Tsukiji Market was likely my favorite place I went in Tokyo. Plenty of photos and videos of the auctioning process will come. People on the ship have asked me if getting up at 2:30 am was worth it, and I have to say definitively yes.

Tsukiji Market Auction Avery Segal

Tsukiji Market Auction

Another Note:

I’ve been thinking about how on earth I’m going to maintain this blog with my frenetic travel schedule of only having 7 days on the ship this month. I’m currently leaning towards doing more journal style pieces like this [more personal, less photos], and then once I get back or have more time/better internet, going back and doing longer pieces with more photos that focus on the individual parts of the country I want to talk about. If you have any ideas or things you’d like to see, please let me know!

Hawaii: Hilo

1 Mile to Airport, 26 Miles to Volcano

I’m standing in a line of five hundred. Every one of us is headed in the same direction – through security and off the boat. We’ve been sailing for the past week, and are making a one-day stop in Hawaii.

Sometime in the midst of the line I start wondering. Is this what Semester at Sea is all about? Waiting in seemingly endless lines, spending enough time in a country to see a tourist attraction or two, and then hopping back on the boat? After spending a year living as an exchange student in Ghana, I can’t help but wonder: Can I discover a location and meet its people in just under a day?


He is the Sailor Man, I know him by no other name. He and his wife make the journey between Alaska and Hawaii by sailboat almost annually. The Sailor Man very boisterously said good morning, and we ended up having a conversation with him about our plans and mission. His Hawaiian wife spoke very little English – she stayed in the shade of the telephone poll and smiled at us. He was so outgoing that I almost didn’t have the heart to say goodbye despite the sweat pouring off my back from the hot sun. We gave her a ‘mahalo’ and she was overjoyed. I never learned his name; he never learned mine.

The tailgate end of the truck had been torn off entirely. Victoria’s cousin laid each bike down on the back of his truck before tying them down with a coil of thin rope to keep them from sliding off. He pulled the cord a few times to verify the strength, then hopped off the end and into the drivers’ seat. As he jumped, the back tires visibly sagged. I sat in the front to help navigate back to the hostel from which we had rented bikes. Each one had a $75 deposit on it, so I was just praying that the thick string would keep the bikes from crashing into the road long enough. The dashboard mirror was completely absent, apparently the adhesive melted away by the Hawaiian sun. The key was forced into the engine and turned. The engine coughed akin to a chain-smoker. Again and again the key was turned, but all the truck did was sputter. He took the key out, blew on it, and the truck started with a thunderous roar.

Not a single tourist was on the beach. We came across it while biking and had to stop. It was a brown sand beach. Students from University of Hilo were in a canoe rowing in-between flags as a dark skinned coach yelled from the shore. Besides them, the beach was empty. When wet, the brown sand looked like little more than dirt.

I met Margo in what was likely the worst Tavern in Hawaii. They had about ten food choices on the menu, and after asking what was in the pot stickers I got a response of, “They’re frozen.”

She never seemed to be just standing; she was in a perpetual state of dance. Her name was Margo.  When we met her at The Tavern, her eyes lit up and she hugged each of us. She described herself as a bit of a street artist, and after learning about our voyage she wanted to share her gift with us. Her gift is playing the guitar. “What do you want to do spirit, tell me please,” she asked before her performance. After apologizing several times for only having five strings on her guitar [she was missing the high e], she played ‘What’s up’ by 4 Non-Blondes.

The most significant part of Hawaii was the strangers I met. But really, are there such things as strangers? After a day in Hilo, I’m not so certain. I traveled here on the MV Explorer cruise ship, an object of opulence. I originally planned to visit waterfalls and a volcano, but I don’t want to be another tourist. I may only have about six days in each country, but I want to meet people and see the inner beauty of the country – not just the most popular attractions.

Traveling to non-tourist destinations is like the brown sand. If you’re only staring at the water, it may seem murky and muddy. But once you take the time to sit back, you notice how it [literally] sparkles under the sun.

brown sand beach



February will be absolutely insane – over the course of a month we will only have 7 days of classes due to nonstop ports in Asia. Tomorrow we arrive in Japan, and we will hop next week to China – to be followed by Vietnam, Singapore, and Burma.

Needless to say, I cannot wait to get off the ship in the morning!