After a long and ROCKIN Pacific crossing, we hit the shores of the USA as we arrived in Honolulu, Oahu and then Hilo, Hawaii. It's funny how your own country, and all that it represents, seems so different when you are away from it for a few months. Coming home always makes me feel proud and embarrassed to be an American. Basic civil liberties as well as access to healthy food and water are appreciated unlike ever before. Big box stores, unbridled consumerism, and massive freeways are even more offensive. In each country, sorting out what you love vs. what you are not so enamored with has been a big lesson in (re)learning what I value (and why). But enough inner analysis! Here are a few photos to capture some views of our short but renewing time in Hawaii.
Two dudes totally soaking in the beach scene
And learning (or relearning) how to surf
Then we headed to the Big Island to hang out with some old friends, soak in more December sunshine, check out the volcano action, and the impact of lava on the local island real estate market.
Location, location, location
Shawn and Ryder and one hot spot
Japan always delights us. We find the Japanese to be fun-loving, gentle and kind. Both squeeky fresh and deeply traditional.
But first, let's talk food. OK, yes we had sushi, but what was most impressive on this trip were the supermarkets below the train terminals. It was a culinary Disneyland with food barkers and uber packaged food creations. It all smelled and looked delightful. Yes, we devoured it.
And then every once in a while you just have to try something different ...
... especially when it comes on a stick!
We got kicked out of the crazy, insainely loud pachinko ball parlor and returned to
the tranquility of our guest house in Kyoto.
Did you know that the average Japanese uses half as much energy as the average American?
And finally a photo of Hachiko Square near Shibuya Station in Tokyo. Can you find Shawn and Ryder?
This is the part of the voyage where the ports come fast and furious. We have just a few days in each port and then just a day or two between one port and the next. And it keeps going like that for a few weeks.
First up on the Asian express was Hong Kong. We loved visiting here a few years ago with Semester at Sea. It was great to check out some different markets (including the gold fish market in the photos below), experience various forms of transit (they have a great ferry, bus and subway system), and immerse ourselves in the local cuisine.
Personally, I love Hong Kong. It's a great example of lots of people enjoying a relative high standard of living with a relatively low ecological footprint. Hong Kong teaches us that a high degree of urban density means access to speedy and affordable transit, a vibrant urban experience, and the preservation of parks and open space. A strictly visual framing of the urban landscape feels constraining (like the photos below), yet the access and richness of that density makes it liberating. It's complicated of course, yet from what I've seen around the world, Hong Kong has a lot to teach us. Here's a great little video on urban sustainability and Hong Kong, produced by Semester at Sea and featuring my colleague Rick Barnes and students from the Fall 2010 voyage.
High density housing near the entrance to Hong Kong harbor
View from the ship
Every night the lightshow begins again!
Don't worry about wasted energy. They are probably LEDs!
Elevated sidewalks, above the traffic, took you to and from stairs to the subway. Sweet!
This is one of maybe 100 goldfish stores all within a few blocks.
Hanging out with my new little pal in HK
We loved Viet Nam when we were here in Spring 2007. We loved it again this time, but the experience was actually very different. First, this place has changed dramatically in three years. The economy of this country is on a rocket ship trajectory, up up up and fast fast fast. Funky fruit stands have been replaced by Louis Vuitton leather handbag stores; the low-level skyline now features a mega-skyscraper in the shape of an emerging baby Lotus flower; the rats nest of motorcycles and bicycles is now a rats nest of cars and motorcycles (and far fewer bicycles); and construction projects are everywhere! You get the picture -- we had to wrap our heads around the fact that this was still the same place, even though it was a totally different place. In addition to the awakening to growth in Asia, we loved this visit because we have a really cool local guide! Here's the story. We met a great student on the ship named Kyle back on our Spring 2007 voyage. Turns out, he was so transformed by the Semester at Sea experience he felt moved to go back to a place he had been on the voyage to, well, make a positive difference. So he headed to the Mekong Delta, volunteered to teach English, and 10 months later (now fluent in Vietnamese!) he relocated to Ho Chi Ming city. Now he still teaches English AND he sings professionally (in Vietnamese). He has become a local phenom! On the last night we were in port he was the guest judge on Viet Nam Idol! So, we connected on Facebook while at sea, made arrangements to meet in Viet Nam, and spent much of our time just hanging out with Kyle -- seeing the place through his eyes and with the help of his language skills. Hanging with a local means all sorts of things such as hysterical conversations with street vendors, truly authentic local food, access to places you would NEVER find on your own, and a glimpse of daily life Viet Nam that just wasn't available to us as a tourist in Spring 2007. To cap it off, just before we set sail, Kyle showed up at the gangway with Vietnamese scooter helmets for the whole family. Just one of many lasting visions we'll have of this amazing place.
Brand new tower, same old spicy shrimp
Street vendor waffles for breakfast, rooftop high-rise sushi for dinner
Roadside, drive-through cherry market. Three monkeys (Ryder, Kyle, Rocky) at the zoo
Buddhist and Boy both share their love of Birds. No common spoken language needed.
View from the "Reunification Palace" of the famous gates that were crushed by N. Vietnamese tanks. Note tanks to the left side of photo.
More fresh fruit (that you've probably never seen before) than you can imagine. Or fresh fish, or fresh fungi, or live whatever (what IS that thing?!) These folks take fresh food literally and because of their low fat and mostly vegie diet, even without health insurance or high tech treatments , they live long, healthy lives. Hmmm, maybe there is a lesson here.
After our time in India, Singapore was a jolting difference. Uber-urban, very tidy, super efficient, highly organized. A version of Disneyland with no E ticket needed. So, as the photos will show, we just had lots of fun. (I did do a bit of work, meeting with the Dean of the College of Design and Environmental from the National University of Singapore. He too got his Ph.D. from the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley! Semester at Sea and the National University now have a formal relationship.) So, on to the photos!
Hey, we had no problem with these rules and regs
Yeeha. Let's take a ski lift up to the top of the island ...
And then louge back down!
The Singapore Surf is great ....
.... even if it is totally fake. (we were there to watch the international fake finals)
The internet has been very iffy, but I hope to add a few more photos.
Viet Nam, here we come!
India is so complex. I've sat down several times to start a blog entry, and frankly, I just can't figure out how to blog about India without resorting to a bunch of cliches. Enough time has finally passed so I can stop fighting it and just start writing it. Friends have called it a beautiful headache for years. That's as good a summary as any. Or I could list a thousand opposites such as:
- so old (culture) and so young (ripping economy)
- so fun (auto rickshaw rides) and so sad (absolute poverty and human suffering)
- so hopeful (meeting with the India Green Coalition) and so depressing (rivers polluted to the point where nothing can live in it)
- so frustrating (every taxi or shopkeeper trying to rip off foreigners) and so welcoming (incredible kindness and generosity from strangers on a public bus)
As I've said before, "couldn't wait to get out of there, can't wait to go back." I think for many of you this may sound like gibberish. But for those of you who have been to India, you know exactly what I'm describing.
So, that's the best I can do for a blog entry. Here's one more written glimpse and a few photos to paint just a tiny fraction of our time in India. For the full-blown techno-color insanely blissful tragedy, you'll just have to visit!
One day we walked out of an air-conditioned mall to stumble upon a house-sized pile of garbage stinking in the sweltering heat. There amidst the excrement of the urban form was an exquisitely beautiful woman, tastefully wrapped in a beautiful Indian sari. What was she doing there? Her job. Picking through the garbage, without gloves, trying to sort out what might be reused or recycled from the rest of the rotting refuse. She seemed vital and bright, even in spite of the fact that she was eking out a meager existence in a context that was filthy, ugly, depressing and seemingly hopeless. Yea, that's India.
Shore Temple at Mamalapurum
Hindu stories carved in the rock
Traffic jam, butts to bumper (a daily form of roadway congestion)
Ryder as global ambassador at orphanage in Chennai
Everyday is "Bike to School Day" in India
Although I'd rather pretend to not see you, I can't bring myself to just look past you. You are just like me. You are me. But if I do look into those eyes, I have to confront the bitter juxtaposition of your beautiful soul, standing before the inner backdrop of my unquenchable guilt for having so much, amplified by the sobering reality of my personal impotence before it all.
We recently left the isle of Mauritius (close to Madagascar off the E. coast of Africa). This place was a wild blend of cultures, religions, continents, and ecological conditions. On one block you'll find Hindu shrines, Muslin mosques, synagogues, and churches. You're in Africa, but if you landed here from Mars you'd be sure you were in India. The white sand beaches were pristine and the coral reefs were mostly bleached out from nitrogen. You'd drive past very funky housing and then see the billboard for a new golf course and condo development. You get the idea. Everywhere we go we always head to the main market -- and since we were on an island in the Indian Ocean, we headed for the fish market! Here are a few fish photos and one from the beach!
Shawn saw these and said "Can you say SUSHI!"
Fish face in the fish market
Global ambassador makes another friend
No Photoshop. The sand is really that nice and the water is really that blue
At our next stop, India, the ship has to buy truckloads of distilled water because the available water supply is so funky that even the treatment technologies on this advanced vessel can't bring it up to a safe level. We won't have water for several hours when we arrive in port as they switch over. Some people here are already complaining. But hey, were glad to have ANY safe water. It's wonderful how the experience of world travel makes you pause and reflect on your 'complaints.' I read last week that two million people die each year because they lack access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation. And 4000 children die every day due to diarrhea. I think I'll stop complaining about everything for a while and just count my blessings instead. How about you?
Semester at Sea and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are partners in a program to distribute Global Surface Drifting Buoys to meet the need "for an accurate and globally dense set of in-situ observations of mixed layer currents, sea surface temperature, atmospheric pressure, winds and salinity." This data supports both short-term climate predictions as well as climate research and monitoring. Because our ship, the MV Explorer, travels routes around the planet not typically covered by other vessels, we are a wonderful candidate for releasing a buoys in places where data points are needed. That's where our buoy chuck comes in! Between S. Africa and India, when instructed from the bridge (and based on GPS readings of our location), we've had a chance to chuck these buoys over the side of the ship. Climate science in action! Using satellite tracking and communication devices, NOAA (and with a web address, the rest of us) can track these devices for the next 1-2 years and use their data. According to by NOAA and European scientific agencies, global sea surface temperature is approximately 1 degree C higher now than 140 years ago (at the start of the Industrial Revolution). Here are some photos. Buoy? (check), ready, set, chuck!
Goofy professor checks the equipment
Capable staff activate the bouy
Excited students prepare to toss
Indian Ocean temperatures (and more) being measured
A couple of days before arriving in Cape Town we had a pretty unique experience. We crossed the equator and the prime meridian at the same time! While not on our original route, our very cool captain made a minor adjustment to head us straight into the zerozero zone (zero degrees latitude and zero degrees longitude). When we hit the exact spot, the captain sounded the ship's horn. Many of us gathered on the back of the ship, some with a GPS in hand, to watch our coordinates and listen for the captain's affirmation of our position. As you can imagine, we had to celebrate -- and much of this unique experience and resulting celebration has been captured on a short video just posted on You Tube. Check it out! Meanwhile, we are now currently just off the coast of Madagascar, bound for Mauritius.
As the title of the posting suggests, South Africa was, in a word, contrasts. Recent World Bank reports provide an empirical backdrop to what you can't help but witness as you travel around this part of S. Africa. On the surface, and when you pull into port, South Africa looks like a thriving, highly developed country where you are greeted by a fancy harbor with an extensive mall full of everything from the latest iPads to $1000 Gucci bags. It makes the average American feel right at home. But when you get outside, past the security guards and the predominantly white suburbs, you find another story.
But first, back to those recent World Bank reports. South Africa has a new global distinction. It's not their successful hosting of the World Cup. It's the fact that they now rival Brazil as the country with the largest rich-poor gap (capped off by an unemployment rate of around 40%). While the columns of World Bank data may tell an impersonal and empirical story, our experiences around Cape Town brought the story literally down to earth -- and straight to the heart.
Unlike many other places, a few photos can't really capture what I experienced, but here's a short video that's a poignant "cliff note" version (and it also includes their version of an Ecological Handprint). I spent a day in the Khayelitsha township with Di Womersley and her staff, who are featured in the video. Like the World Bank data, the story of Khayelitsha is a story of extremes. At one end I witnessed the incredible poverty and despair faced by millions of people who live within a few miles of the Cape Town Harbor Disneymall, and at the other extreme was the bright vision and inspired daily practice of those involved with the Shaster Foundation's Indlovu Center "eco-village" project. It's often said that where there's a crisis, there is also an opportunity. For the people of Khayelitsha and the other townships of South Africa, let's hope that concept becomes less a cliché and more a reality -- so that one day, communities that lack basic sanitation, clean water, medical care, and decent jobs can rarely be found on a World Bank spreadsheet.
As another example of contrasts, compared to the panos below, here is one of Khayelitsha Township
Here are a few panorama photos from the top of Table Mountain and from our room on the MV Explorer.
See any Great Whites out there?
View of Cape Town from Table Mountain. Note World Cup soccer stadium and Robbin Island (where Mandela was imprisoned)
Shawn and Ryder communing with nature
Cape Town harbor from our room with Table Mountain in background
This is my first time in Ghana, but I hope it won't be the last. While the people of this country are clearly struggling on many levels, their spirit is beautiful. I have a reoccurring awakening when I travel to developing nations. While poverty may impact your body, your family, and your environment --- it need not impact your spirit, love and generosity. Our time here has been humbling. We visited the so-called Cape Coast castle where thousands of slaves were torn from their homeland and families, then held in the most deplorable conditions imaginable, before walking through the 'door of no return' to be loaded on ships. You know the rest of the story. We've also strolled through (and watched through the windows of public buses) village after village where people lack the most basic sanitation, access to clean water, and other basic human services that most of us take for granted. This place will help shatter any title you held to complain about your life. This is a gift from Ghana, and I pass it on to you. Be deeply grateful for what you have. Don't for a moment look past how lucky you are to enjoy the 'normal' conditions of your life. They are far from normal for so many people in our world.
With those thoughts as a backdrop, here are a couple of photos to show you why I'd love to return. The coastal areas are vibrant with fishermen and markets. Intense? Yes!. Fascinating? Indeed! Being the only white people you see in a day is a great emotional lesson on what it feels like to be a minority. We never felt too threatened, but we (and Ryder in particular, with his long blond hair) definitely felt like a spectacle. Mostly we heard "welcome" and "hallo" --- followed by big smiles.
We also found a little beacon of hope and an Ecological Handprint at the Baobab Children Foundation. These folks are running what we might call at home a "green school" and a restaurant where they serve up organic food (much of it grown at the school) while young women learn a trade. They also teach these young kids how to make "Trashy Bags" -- backpacks, briefcases, purses, etc made from the plastic water sachets that can be found seemingly everywhere on the ground around here. While the ultimate solution to the overwhelming plastic problem in our world lies upstream (preventing the wasteful use of plastic to begin with), meanwhile these folks and others at Trashy Bags in Accra, Ghana have found a way to help lift a few people out of poverty and clean up local streets, fields and waterways.
Covering about 23% of the total area of Ghana, it is no wonder forests play a crucial role in defining the cultural identity and traditional beliefs of Ghanaians. The forestry sector contributes about 6% to Ghana's GDP, employing 120,000 people directly. It also provides a home for endangered species such as Chimpanzees, bare-headed rockfowl and forest elephants. Unfortunately, Ghana is losing about 1.3% of their remaining forests every year. Here is a short video that gives you a glimpse (from ABOVE) at the amazing resource. ghanarainforest.m4v Meanwhile, efforts to preserve remaining forests everywhere (as well as the health of many women and children) recently got a big boost. Here's a write-up from the Christian Science Monitor on a new effort to promote more fuel efficient stoves. Yet another example of what I would call an Ecological Handprint.
I wanted to share that I have just launched a new web site devoted to promoting
LIFTING HUMANITY WHILE LOWERING OUR FOOTPRINT
You might also want to check out the supporting Ecological Handprints Facebook Page where you'll find some amazing video clips on Ecological Handprints from around the world. While you're there it would be wonderful if you'd click the LIKE button at the top of the page. A blog post from Ghana will be coming soon!
Visual artist Andy Warhol said at sometime in their life, everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame. Well, this might be mine (oh well, it's only 3.5 minutes). I'm pleased to say my efforts at renewable energy education have caught the eye of the Semester at Sea outreach staff. Currently, if you visit the Semester at Sea website, you'll find a snazzy video-slide-show highlighting my classroom and field instruction on this topic. There are also some wonderful images of Spain woven into this piece. So, check it out. Ole Rocque!
Like Spain, Morocco was a country that we had visited during our Summer 2009 voyage. In a previous blog I wrote about the amazing medina of Fez. It was so amazing that when my wife and I were discussing what to do in Morocco, we both immediately knew we wanted to go back to Fez. We weren't disappointed with that decision. To read the previous blog entry on Fez, check out this link.
For THIS voyage, the unique Moroccan experience was our trip to the SOS Children's Orphanage and the first distribution of a One World Futbol (more on this in a minute). SOS is a wonderful organization and we were pleasantly surprised by the loving care provided for the 96 kids in this orphanage. Since HIV/AIDs is not a huge problem in this country, most of these kids are here due to abandonment. On this voyage with Semester at Sea we are serving as informal ambassadors for the One World Futbol project. The short story is that the founder of this project saw kids in Darfur playing soccer with a bunch of rolled up plastic bags. It broke his heart. While soccer balls might have been provided by some relief agencies, between barbed wire, broken glass and other sharp objects, the ball inevitably popped and ended up as more roadside debris. Without a clean, grassy field (not available in most war-torn or impoverished nations), kids couldn't enjoy a game of soccer (at least not for long). Solving this problem became his life goal. With some seed money for R&D provided by the musician Sting, he developed a ball that is basically indestructible because it is made of the materials used for Croc shoes. He took over an old Croc factory in Canada and started the One World Futbol project. When you or I buy a ball, we also have bought one to be donated to kids in need. That's where we come in. We contacted these folks a few weeks before we set sail, arranged for 46 balls to be shipped to our departure point in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and now we are taking the balls to kids in need all around the world. The first ball was given away at the SAS orphanage here in Morocco. I explained the concept of the One World ball (we are all from one planet and just like in futbol, if we communicate, cooperate and work as a team, we can accomplish great things) and that the ball was made to last and last and last. When our guide translated this to the kids, their faces lit up with bright smiles. I will never forget the look on the face of one young boy next to me as his eyes got wide and he uttered the universally understood word ... WOW. Stay tuned. There should be many more WOWs to come in the days ahead, and we'll keep you posted. Next stop? Ghana!
Here's a very short video on our field trip to a solar "farm" in Spain. Just click on the link below.
Sorry for the lapse in entries but I'm glad to say it was only because we were out having a blast in Spain. Spent a few days on the Costa del Sol (went to Tarifa, the "wind surfing and kite surfing capital of the world") and then on to Ronda (where bullfighting began), and then a lovely pueblo blanca perched high on a cliff called Arcos de la Frontera. In my blog from last summer I hit some of the cultural highlights of Spain (wine, dance, music, food, etc), so for this entry I'm going to keep the focus on renewable energy.
Why? Well in large part because today I led a field trip to a wind farm and a photovoltaic farm just outside our port city of Cadiz. Spain is an international leader in renewable energy development with much of their technology now being exported to the US, China, and other countries around the world. They jumped out early with investments in R&D and implementation. Today their investment is paying financial dividends for the country (they export green power to Germany) and climatic dividends for the rest of us (less CO2 in our atmosphere). More than any other country in Europe, Spain has felt the impacts of climate change. There are few climate change skeptics here, in large part because they have already experienced record heat waves in the past few summers (with related human and livestock casualties), plus, they actually listen to scientists (and not Fox News) regarding the current realities and future implications climate change.
My campus News Center ran a feature article this week to kick off the Fall semester that highlights my voyage with Semester at Sea (SAS). MIGHT be worth a look. You can also check in on regular voyage updates at the fantastic Semester at Sea website that currently features an audio podcast of Archbishop Tutu encouraging SAS students to change the world. DEFINITELY worth a listen. I especially appreciate how the Archbishop reminds these students about the power of their young, untainted perspective. Don't be limited by the pessimism of the old. You CAN change the world. This man knows what he is talking about. He demonstrated that "can do, must do" vision both as a relatively young man fighting apartheid and he continues to embody that positive spirit as an almost 80-yr-old world leader of today.
As I have mentioned in previous Semester at Sea (SAS) blogs, the departure is always a very emotional experience. We witnessed tears flowing down the faces of parents who said goodbye to their precious cargo as well as the tears of students with emotions ranging from unsettled anxiety to total bliss. While we have done this before, it's still a heart-beating, gut-checking, spine-tingling time when the horns blast and you realize that you are headed out into yet uncharted personal waters. While the success of our inner voyage is yet to be determined, our captain is currently successfully navigating the waters between two big storms as we make our way across the Atlantic. Last night most of us got less sleep than normal as we became adjusted to the rock and roll of voyage life. (wave heights up to 8 meters) Imagine your body being compressed down 4 inches into the mattress, and then, as if drawn back by heavenly forces, you lift up and seem to float in space momentarily, only to return back to a compressed state once again. Yea, I guess you could say that life at sea has its' ups and downs! (sorry) Cabin walls warp and the ship's hull groans as we batter the waves, yet we know all is just fine. We're in good hands, the MV Explorer is mighty, and last night we even had an interfaith ship blessing.
Beyond the weather, highlights so far include a big hug for each of our family members from Archbishop Tutu and his beautiful wife Leah (with whom we have had the honor of sailing with before). When the Archbishop was first received on the ship, he and Leah were gathered for a private affair with the deans and the captain, where when asked how were things so far, we're told he said "all was great and he was especially glad to be reconnected with Ryder." Ha! If that kid only knew!
Other highlights include meeting many of the bright-eyed yet over medicated students who will be in my classes (starting today) and getting to know an amazing group of international faculty colleagues. Next stop, Spain!
Our first port on this voyage of discovery was Halifax. Rich in history and oh so scenic, this was a great place to formally start the voyage. Halifax is billed as one of the greenest cities in Canada. Beyond the visual green of the urban forest, you can see why operationally they have this label. Just when I think I have seen everything "green," along comes a new twist. From solar-powered recycling containers to the LEED Platinum-rated ship terminal (complete with wind generators and a living roof, in addition to all the energy efficiency measures one might expect is a green building) to oodles of mini-cars like the one in the photo promoting "Clean Nova Scotia," --- this place is making a statement to everyone who visits. We have a lot to learn from everywhere we travel, and this place was certainly no exception.
Yo ho yo ho, a
pirate's lucky professor's life for me!
Last night we set sail for a 110-day voyage around the planet. On board are the Fall 2010 faculty and staff (and an amazing crew). We're currently bound for Nova Scotia where 600+ university students and 60+ lifelong learners will join us. Even though I have had the honor of teaching for this program before, my stomach is still growling in anticipation of the days ahead. (or maybe that's just my breakfast reacting to the choppy seas?)
Before we skipped up the gangplank, we took a few days to hang with friends in Charlottesville, VA, home of the Institute for Shipboard Education and the academic sponsor of Semester at Sea, the University of Virginia. Since Thomas Jefferson is a one of my all-time favorite Americans, we also had to go visit Monticello. (Our son knew all about TJ and especially his relationship with Lewis and Clark, but he seemed to like the lawn the best!)
On this voyage I will again be teaching about sustainable communities. Let's just say I'm not the first American to be extremely interested in the framing and implementation of this idea. As far as I know, Thomas Jefferson was probably the first American to ever write down the essence of sustainability. About this time of year and about 220 years ago (on September 6, 1789) he wrote "Then I say that the Earth belongs to each generation during its course fully and in its own right. (and now here is the punchline) No generation may extract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence." Cool huh, this guy knew that it was unethical to steal from our children's future far before the Brundtland Report or any other more contemporary landmark document in sustainable development.
Unfortunately, three days ago (Aug 21) we started stealing again when we hit "Earth Overshoot Day." Here is how the Global Footprint Network sums it up. "Today, humanity reaches Earth Overshoot Day: the day of the year in which human demand on the biosphere exceeds what it can regenerate. As of today, humanity has demanded all the ecological services - from filtering CO2 to producing the raw materials for food - that nature can regenerate this year. For the rest of the year, we will meet our ecological demand by depleting resource stocks and accumulating greenhouse gases in the atmosphere." Clearly, Thomas Jefferson wouldn't approve.