Snail Races

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Location: Upper Canada

Thursday, March 17, 2005

still further updates from Carl

Tuesday, Mar 8
Dear Family and Friends: Thanks for all of those e-mails, always wonderful to hear the news from home—especially about James, Chella and Nathan. So, here goes the latest update on the traveling Grindstaffs.
After our trip to Cambodia and the good fortune to stay in the Presidential Suite at The New World Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, we decided to just hang around the town for the next two days and went to museums and galleries and markets during the day. Eating special food and drinking good wine with friends in the afternoon and evening. Pretty nice life in this most foreign of lands. The traffic is always amazing to us—Annie calls it “the dance.” People just weave in and out, mainly on their cycles, and it all seems to work with pedestrians fitting in there by some miracle. Home in the late afternoon, we decided to have a massage. Pretty special to have the sore muscles worked on for an hour--$20 U.S.

Then, ready the next morning for our last day in Viet Nam. The ship will be joining us tonight after two weeks away from us—apparently the sail from Honolulu went very well and all is ship-shape so to speak. I continue to have a bit of the quick step, but feeling well and Annie just goes along—we watch her respiratory system and so far no problems at all. Went to the market for some souvenirs, bought a nice shirt for the unheard of price of about $5.00. As always, the middle of the day just hot and humid, couple of showers necessary. Had a bottle of wine with some faculty on our floor, packed the bags, grabbed a cab, and headed for the marina. There she was, in all of her glory, the M.V. Explorer looking a lot like home. We are so glad to be back aboard and to have a base of operations. Our steward, Dante, is leaving the ship for a two month holiday—we will miss him, he has taken good care of us. Unpacked and did some class questions on the computer—an A day tomorrow, have two classes, one an 8 am type. No rest for the retired faculty.

February 26, we were still in port when we woke—did not leave until 9 am while I was teaching. We went to the deck and watched us leave “Saigon”—we had a special time here really. I have three classes with 98 students in all, evenly divided. And, I have been getting the best attendance I have ever had (of course a captive audience). Today, of the 64 students I have, only two were absent. They are fun to be around and they are responsible. I have taken about 300 photos and received some help to put them on a disk and on the computer. Again, thanks to Kelly and Mike for the laptop and to Ryken for the wireless—it all works. My digital is working just great. Had the ship rescue drill and it was very hot, one of the senior passengers fainted. Always something going on with some 800 of us on board.

Went sailed out of Viet Nam via a long (20 miles or so) inlet that heads out to the South China Sea. I am new to this geography and learning as we go along. We have six days at sea, I am teaching everyday, Annie takes classes and we both do all of the extra activities at night, including bridge. These six days were special to us. As bad and stormy as the first 10 days were, these days were soft and gentle, with the sea like silk. We hardly know the boat is moving, smooth seas, blue skies and blue, blue water. This is the way it is suppose to be, we love it. Late at night we have good old movies—“Good Morning Viet Nam”, “Indochine”. But, we usually fall asleep before they are over... just like at home. Classes go well, I had 100 port reports to read and then on the last day gave the two population classes exams. The student reports are excellent—they have experienced a great deal and it shows in how they discuss all that is going on around them. Lots of time in the faculty lounge reading and watching the ocean flow by. We went around Malaysia, up through the Malacca Straits past Sumatra, past Banda Ache where the tsunami was so destructive , into the Andaman Sea and finally to the Bay of Bengal. Smooth for every second. We spend as much time outside as we can, but try to stay in the shade — the sun is hot. At one point we were within a degree of the equator. Our wine time remains at 4:09, and we still have about a case left from our stash when we left Vancouver/Hawaii.

Annie and I work out regularly in the weight room — they have a tread mill and we are usually up before any of the students so we manage to get some exercise in. And yesterday, we woke up in the port of Chennai (Madras), India. It has always been a dream to be here, I am so excited. Lots of red tape to get off the ship (visas, customs, money changing), but by late morning Annie and I were out just walking around and getting our bearings. A bit of a walk from the port, but once across the bordering railroad tracks, it is just wild. People and cars and trucks and buses are just everywhere, and I mean in very nook and cranny. It is hot, dirty and above all, poor. Everything is such an assault on the senses. But somehow it all works, it is so exotic! A saying here is IWA — India Wins Again. Chennai is pretty ugly in the area we call home in Port, but we can see there are some charming spots.

We took a city tour, and again just astounded at the traffic and noise and congestion. The buses rule, they even drive against the traffic (left side normally here). Our guide was a bit mercenary and just kept wanting to take us to stores where he probably had a kick-back, but we persevered and did manage to see some of the temple, church and marina beach sites. So far, overwhelming. Last night we had a reception put on by one of the local universities—I was a trip leader, 108 of our students went. Lovely night, warm and calm, and we were treated like royalty. The college is an Engineering school, with mainly women studying. They greeted us warmly in all of their sari finery—Annie remarked she had never seen such colour and style. Students had a great time, there was dancing and music and food. What a welcome from some wonderful people. We all had temporary henna tattoos put on our hands—suppose to last a week, quite different. A famous Indian dancer performed for us, with some fine drum and violin accompaniment. A short bus ride home and ready for the bed.

Today was a tour of temples days—two main ones about 70 Kms south of Chennai in areas called Konchipuram and Mamallapurum. Both old, from the 8th century, and pretty amazing. Took mucho photos. And, this area is famous for silk, so stopped at a factory to see how saris are made, and was a special visit. Hard to describe the looms, the silk thread (even some gold and silver), and the amount of love and care that goes into the production. Annie still looking for the perfect Pashminas (?), I had two silk shirts made and they promised to deliver them to our ship tonight—yea, sure. And, just after dinner, a knock on my door and there was a package with the shirts in them. IWA—India Wins Again. Just a wonder to be here, such a contrast of stuff. The day ended with a visit to a crocodile farm—literally saw thousands of these creatures. Some naturalists is raising them too release back to the wild where they have become scarce or extinct. I am just awe struck at all that goes on here. And always, the poverty and need. And always, the beauty and the people. I talk with the local folks every chance I get, and although sometimes it is hard due to language problems, there is always a smile even in the hardest of conditions. I am more and more taken here with each passing hour. Speaking of hour, time for me to call it quits. Have fun in Mexico friends, we wish we could join you, but there is next year. Will report again, probably from Kenya. Miss everyone, but would not have missed this chance for anything. Love and Aloha, Carl and Annie.

Wednesday, March 16
Dear Family and Friends: Another update as we sail from India to Africa (Kenya)—will send this from that port. Our last two days in India were eventful and full of that which is the best and the worst, the rich and the poor. We walked out the non-descript warehouse area to the buses which are taking Annie and me to our field trip for the day—I am the leader of the trip. Always an adventure to make sure the right students are there and on the right buses, but somehow it all works out. We went to what is called the M.O.P., a women’s science college in Chennai just to see their educational programme. We had a warm greeting from the student’s council (about 20 young women), and they acted as our guides for the day—there were only about 30 of us. While this is a science school, they do offer other courses—I even spoke to their only sociology course, one on religion. They also allowed us to make some presentations in their media centre. But more than an academic school, they teach the women almost as if it is a life preparation course. The women are confident, poised, educated and speak their mind with grace and style. I have never seen such a well-rounded group of young students—about 18-20 years old. I think that gracious and intelligent are the best words to describe them. They are the future of India, and in many ways, of the world. How women enter into the power positions of many of these countries we visit will set the tone for what happens in the future as they move through the Demographic Transition. As always, Annie charmed them and we had such a marvelous experience taking with them and finding out about their families and their ambitions. They treated us to a wonderful Indian lunch of curries and foods that we did not know but were oh so tasty. Plus, plenty of bottled water for the gringos. We exchanged gifts—frisbees from us and little wood statues (mainly the God Ganesh) from them. We said our good-bys to the students (I kissed one on the cheek and she was quite surprised—not done too often here) and went to one of the professor’s houses nearby to meet our hosts for a home stay for this evening.

We left the S.A.S. students to their own devices, as we are all going to separate places. Our home stay host, Premilla Rajan picked us up in her chauffeur driven car and we went to our place of residence for a rest and tea. Upper middle class woman, retired as a school principal, quite well educated. Her husband is a retired army officer who is away on a trip. Very nice, very gracious, very Indian in dress and behaviour. She treated us pretty much like royalty. She took us on a little shopping expedition to a local craft centre and we bought gifts for home. Then to a music store where Annie got some bangles and beads, and all the time fighting the tremendous traffic. We went to the large beach area—miles of wide sand ocean front, all open to the public. A wonderful area with a great deal of local colour going on all the time—fishermen, crafts people, the inevitable poverty in the form of beggars and wandering women with children. On the way home we stopped at a gourmet food store where Premilla showed us all of the more or less strange veggies and baked goods. People everywhere, just such a local sight. We loved the interaction—they stare at us as we are pretty unique looking creatures in this part of the world. When we got home we had a nice rice and curry dinner and then talked politics. The people of the world are not too fond of Georgie boy, but from Premilla’s point of view, it has to do with the U.S. cosying up to Pakistan around the Al Quaida thing. The hostility between India and Pakistan is one of the strongest hatreds around, and we see that a lot in talking with people here. Not a good sign to have such hostility between neighbours and historical combatants. Premilla came from a Brahmin caste and had her marriage arranged, but her children are marrying for love, and live in other parts of the world. So, another side of the equation—here is wealth that is expanding outside the country. A bit on internet, some work on my school term essays, and then a shower and to sleep in our own room. Pretty special for this part of the world. We slept fine

Up early the next morning, and Premilla’s driver took us back to the ship. She was a great host and we will continue our friendship via the magic of the e-mail—she was special to us. Annie is hanging out on the ship today, and I have a trip to the HIV/AIDS policy and research centre which is funded by USAID. It turned out to be quite a sad day and at the same time awe inspiring. The office was in a hospital, and I was prepared to give the policy makers trouble there around the U.S. directives about using abstinence for control of the spread of HIV. But the first thing out of the director’s mouth was that abstinence did not work and it was not a part of their programme—they concentrated on particular groups of people (truck drivers, prostitutes, poverty-stricken) and the whole process is predicated on use of the condom. And, these folks are out there in the grass roots areas making a difference in terms of spreading information and getting people tested for the virus. Good, committed people—I was impressed. Four million cases in India, about 400,000 in this state of Tamil Nadu. We were then taken to an NGO called CUSH. They specialize in reaching and helping women in the sex trade. They do not preach, they simply want the women to be safe and healthy and not spread the virus. Use of Condoms is again what is pushed. There were six prostitutes there to talk with us and the students—their stories are hard and yet human. And, they act as peer counselors to other prostitutes in the area—and none will have sex without a condom, no matter what. They have seen too many of their friends die. The woman who runs this programme is amazing, she has made a difference in the lives of thousands of people. Our students learned a lot, had their eyes opened to one of the world’s great issues. We then went to an orphanage where there are 33 children (even some young babies), all of whom had parents die from aids and most of whom have aids themselves. It is just so sad to see all of these little folks coping and being cared for by dedicated people, both men and women. And, I was so proud of our students—they came in the door and just swept these kids up in their arms, and talked and laughed and played games and sang. Brought tears to my eyes to just watch the scene. Rays of light in a really dark day. Finally home, hot and tired but somehow with a sense that it can work out for these folks. Wish Annie could have been along—an eye opener for those of us who are so comfortable. Many of the shipboard community are back from trips all over India with lots of stories to tell—so much fun to live it all vicariously. But I would not have traded my experience today for anything else that could have been done.

The next day was pretty light—I studied some lecture material and did exams and papers. Annie went with some colleagues to tour around a bit of the city, and then in the afternoon we went on a field trip to the old Fort George and then spent an hour or so just walking in a local neighbourhood with a guide. Fascinating—so much poverty but people working hard just to get a few rupies. No tourists around except us, and they would offer us flowers just to be nice. Again, a hard experience to see all of the difficulty in day to day life, but there is also a celebration here that is warming. Our last night in Chennai, had a nice dinner and a few drinks with friends before preparing to leave in the morning.

Up at dawn, already on our way. The lanai we have is just black with soot from the city and the pier. India showed us it has it all—good and bad, lovely and ugly. Into the routine of teaching, the A days (I have two classes) and B days, where I have just one. We all go to the Global Studies. Faculty giving talks in this total community class, and I gave mine on population growth and the demographic transition. It went well, but as usual not enough time to more than touch on the subject. Still, the message of population control as crucial is echoed by just about everyone who speaks. A big day came on the 12 of March, as we prepare to cross the equator tomorrow and we have a ritual called Neptune Day. The night before, there was a huge student meeting in the major classroom area (called The Union), where faculty and staff members had their heads auctioned off to students. This means, shaving of the heads, and I was one of the faculty who volunteered. Students bid on who is going to do the shaving, and three of my students bid $250 for the right to shave my head—going, going, gone! I was stunned—a nice tribute from the students and the money goes to charity. And so, on to the big day. We had set our clocks back an hour, one of the perks of sailing East to West. We were at the equator before noon on the next day, and all of the activities commenced. Those who have crossed the equator by ship and have gone through the initiation are called “Shell-b acks” while those of us who are rookies are called “polliwogs.” We were called to the 7th deck and proceeded with the initiation. Bathing suits the order of the day as we had fish guts (or some suck concoction) poured on our heads and then we jumped into the pool to wash it off—that pool got nastier and nastier as the morning wore on. We were presented to Neptune and his Queen, and allowed into the exalted Shell-back club. Annie and I took a quick shower (we were a mess) and then back out for the head shaving. My three students (Jamie, Stephanie and Kate) really did a nice job and in about 10 minutes, I was (and am) pretty bald. And, I look more than strange, and people do quite a double take. I have had numerous folks say I look a lot like Gandhi, so it cannot be all bad. Had my third shower of the day before noon and went to meet the public. Most people have been very kind in their assessment of this “new” look, and all in all quite an experience. As a part of the festivities, we had a trivial pursuit game about all that had happened on the ship—fun and academic—and I finished 2nd out of the five faculty members. We are having so much fun, it is a great community of friends and scholars and students that has been put together by trial of fire over the past couple of months. And, on we go to Kenya, about three more days.

Two wonderful days at sea have transpired. Calm, clear, warm, with the ocean pretty much like glass. Trying to get a bit of sun on my basically bald head, and taking it in 10 minute segments. Teaching and exams and grading—all of it fun and exciting. Still plenty of time to be out on the deck and just watch the Indian Ocean pass beneath us. For two days we watched just thousands of flying fish avoid the onrush of our vessel, a few school of dolphins jumping as we move past, and even a whale or two putting on a show. We crossed the equator on the afternoon of March 14th; and exciting event with the whole shipboard community out in force. Blowing the whistle to announce our arrival to King Neptune. The whole trip from India to Kenya has just been spectacular—plenty of work to do but enough down time with social and entertainment activities. We arrive in Mombasa tonight and Annie and I leave on a safari trip first thing in the morning. That is it from the world travelers for now—back in touch at the end of the Kenya expedition. For us, it is all about physical activity, new education and unique culture. We move on.


Blogger BioSwami said...


I saw this posting from "Carl" and he mentioned he met a Premilla Rajan in India. I am one of her ex-students and would dearly love to get in touch with her. It appears that Carl has her email ID. Would it be possible for you to forward my email ID to Carl or to give me his email ID so that I can get in touch with him and ask him for Mrs. Rajan's email?

Thanks a lot,


Arun Krishnan

October 25, 2006 9:37 AM  

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