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At Sea: Japan to Vietnam

Because of the coronavirus outbreak, we had to skip our scheduled stay in Shanghai and therefore have been sailing straight to Vietnam.

On our last day in Japan, we went into Kyoto to visit a street market and historic neighborhood.

On the bus back to the ship, the tour guide asked me how long it would take us to reach Vietnam. I told her “6 days.”

She shook her head and said “No, I mean how many hours in transit.” 

“Six days,” I repeated.  Her jaw literally dropped!  Nobody would take 6 days to go from Japan to Vietnam! 
But that’s ocean travel for you. The world seems a WHOLE lot bigger when you crawl across it at 15 miles an hour.

We departed Japan on January 28 at 9 PM. The day before we sailed, a fairly strong winter storm rolled through Japan. We hunkered down that evening in the ship because of the cold rain that lashed the city in sheets. Even docked in port in the extremely sheltered waters of Osaka Bay the ship rocked back and forth in the high winds.

As we sailed overnight into the open ocean, the ocean grew quite rough again, with 15-foot waves. For the first two days of our crossing, we had steady crosswinds as high as 50 knots, so the motion of the ship was just wild! Neither just side to side nor just forward and aft, it was like the ship was doing these crazy figure-8 moves. Lots of people were seasick again and one student fell in her cabin and got a concussion.

Everybody is disappointed that we can’t visit China, but the situation there has really deteriorated. Much of the country has shut down as they’ve extended the 1-week New Year’s holiday to two weeks and locked down travel to & from a lot of the country.

I know I’ve complained about the lack of internet access, but as a faculty member I get MUCH more than the students. They are limited to 7 minutes each day and given that we have double the days in Vietnam they are desperate to get online to make travel arrangements.

There are 4 desktop computers in the library that are hardwired to the satellite modem. They are intended for students to use for academic work that requires internet access, and they are supposed to spend only 15 minutes at a time using these machines. Unfortunately, the China to Vietnam itinerary switch has produced permanent very long queues for the library computers as students vie to get on expedia, airBnB, etc.

Yesterday, the “home office” of Semester at Sea (at CSU) abruptly shut down internet access to a bunch of travel sites on the library computers. Nobody really knows why, but perhaps it’s to refocus the students on academics rather than booking their travel. The result is a lot of discontent!

We went through another major sea change yesterday as we crossed over from the westerlies to the Trade winds. We’re in the tropics again! The sun has come out, the temperature is in the high 70s, and the seas are pretty calm. It’s just beautiful, which has gone a long way to placate the students who are pissed about being cut off from travel websites.

We only teach during the days we’re at sea, so it’s kind of a big deal that we got this 6-day stretch of teaching days between Japan and Vietnam. In Global Studies we always do a lecture on the upcoming country as we approach, so skipping China actually create an opportunity for a new lecture.

 I got to develop a brand-new lecture on the Mekong Delta to replace the pre-China lecture. This turned out to be fascinating! I will write a blog post on that soon, especially as we get to visit an eco-lodge in the Mekong Delta in a few days.

I assigned a big homework in Oceanography that’s due before we get to Vietnam, so today I’m doing extended office hours to help students. I found a table at the stern in the shade. It’s 26 C (79 F) with a nice breeze – just lovely!

I saw a bunch of flying fish earlier today. Apparently, they perceive the ship as a potential predator (!) and flee as we approach. It’s amazing to watch them pop up out of the ocean and sail away. It’s hard to tell distances because the ocean looks very much the same close up as far away.  But I think a couple of these fish flew more than 100 feet.

Tomorrow we will have the big preport meeting in the evening for Vietnam, and then we will sail up the river to Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday morning. I’ve never been to Vietnam before so really looking forward to the next couple of weeks!


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