Saturday, August 1, 2009

Term in Asia 2009 - Week 5

Term in Asia 2009
Ian Butters, Tajhia Cartwright, Bart De Jong, Annika Duveneck,
Natasha Elder, Brett Granger, Tyler Krueger, Edgar Macias

Wow, we’ve come to the end of our journey. What a fantastic trip this has been! We finished up our study abroad tour with a trip to Hawaii, where we visited Pearl Harbor, spent some time at the Polynesian Cultural Center, and enjoyed the island’s beautiful beaches.

After another long period of traveling, we left Asia for Honolulu, Hawaii. With the changing time zones, we were able to gain a day! Once we arrived on the island, and received our traditional welcome leis, we took a shuttle bus to our hotel in Waikiki, dropped off our luggage, and headed straight to Cheeseburger in Paradise for some much welcomed American food. Following our lunch, we had the afternoon off to explore Waikiki.

For our second day in Hawaii, we visited Pearl Harbor. Upon our arrival, we had about thirty minutes to look around the center and take some pictures before heading into the centers theater for a twenty minute film about Pearl Harbor. This film really enhanced our visit. It provided excellent background information, and even featured footage obtained from the Japanese of the actual bombings. On top of actually visiting the memorial and standing above the sunken battleship U.S.S. Arizona, this film really helped bring history to life. Following the video, we took a short boat ride to the memorial where we saw the names of those lost during the attack, as well as the remains of the famous Arizona. Once we were picked back up by the boat, we had about thirty minutes until our shuttle bus was scheduled to pick us up. To pass the time, some students looked through the Pearl Harbor museum, while others visited the submarine museum just down the road. Soon afterwards, our bus picked us up and gave us a tour of the city, showing us the former royal palace, Trippler hospital, the prestigious Kamehameha School (a school where applicants must be at least 50% Hawaiian), as well as the home where President Barrack Obama was raised.

(Tajhia Cartwright, Natasha Elder, and Annika Duveneck at Pearl Harbor)

Next on our Hawaii “to-do list” was to visit the Polynesian Cultural Center. This was so neat! After a beautiful drive through the mountains, we arrived at the center and were assigned to our tour guide, Blanche, who was a native Samoan. Blanche, like most of the workers at the center, is a student at Brigham Young University – Hawaii, and part of her tuition is provided by the center. The main part of our tour included visits to replicas of various Polynesian villages, including Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti, Hawaii, Aotearoa (also known as New Zealand), and Marquesas. We saw demonstrations on how to make fire and husk and milk coconuts, listened to traditional Aotearoan music and watched their dancing, learned how to hula dance, played Fijian music, and watched and listened to a drum performance. The drum show turned into comedy hour when three people from the audience were selected to try their hand at it. We had quite some characters up there! Midway through our tour, we stopped by the river and watched the canoe parade, where each country was represented by dancers on a moving boat. We were able to view their traditional dances, listen to native music, and see their beautiful costumes.

(Canoe Parade at the Polynesian Cultural Center)

After our tour ended, it was time for dinner. We ate at the delicious Ambassador Restaurant, where we had our choice of prime rib, crab, chicken, different salad mixings and fruit, soups, potatoes, rice, and some local dishes. One of them was the taro bread, a purple roll that is very popular in the area, as well as macadamia nut pie, which was absolutely delicious! Following our meal, we headed straight to the IMAX Theater where we watched a documentary about coral reefs. It was so cool! The colors and images we were shown were outstanding. We ended our fantastic day with a wonderful performance titled “Ha – Breath of Life.” This show allowed us a glimpse into various cultural moments in a Polynesian’s life, including the birth of a new baby, their maturation into adulthood, becoming a warrior, falling in love, getting married, and in turn, having a child. The music, dancing, and costumes were fabulous. One of the best parts of the performance was the fire show; these guys were amazing! What at treat!

(Bart de Jong and Annika Duveneck at Diamond Head State Monument)

Though we were only scheduled for one free day in Hawaii, Prof. Harris was able to allow us to keep our rooms for an extra day before our evening flight back to the mainland. Lucky us! For those two days, we continued to explore the island by swimming and snorkeling at North Shore, visiting the University of Hawaii, hiking the Diamond Head crater, and spending time at Waikiki. Before we left the island, we were strongly encouraged to check out Duke’s Canoe Club, a restaurant right on the beach where they play live music. So, for our last night of the trip, Prof. Harris and a few students ate a delicious sunset dinner at Duke’s.
(Dinner at Duke's)

It’s so hard to believe our amazing trip has come to an end. I know I can speak for the rest of the students when I thank all of our friends, families, professors, Lisa Allen, Veched, and Prof. Harris for making this outstanding study tour possible. It was truly an unforgettable trip, and I know the memories we all have from it will last a lifetime.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Term in Asia - Week 4

Term in Asia 2009
Ian Butters, Tajhia Cartwright, Bart De Jong, Annika Duveneck,
Natasha Elder, Brett Granger, Tyler Krueger, Edgar Macias

Well, we’ve made it to Week 4 and the adventures haven’t stopped! We saw and experienced many exciting things in Vietnam, some of which has been talked about in the earlier blogs.

After an evening arrival in Hanoi, Vietnam, we checked into our hotel, tasted some of the local cuisine, and headed to bed. That next morning, our tour guide, Thai, took us to the Ho Chi Minh Memorial where we had the opportunity to see his preserved body! In addition, we also took a tour of his former house, the Presidential Palace where he met with advisors and diplomats, and beautiful surrounding gardens. Our next stop was Maison Central, a prison used during the Vietnam War. This was the same prison where John McCain was held, and we were able to see a few of his personal artifacts, as well as many other historical pieces.

Next up was a cycolo tour of the city. A cycolo is a bike with a seat attached at the front for a passenger. Our drivers took us around the Old French Quarter of Hanoi, showing us the Opera House, several markets, and the crazy Vietnamese traffic. Most of the transportation here is achieved by motorbikes, so driving through them was quite an experience. At one point, we saw five people on one bike! Following lunch, we finished up our day with a walk around the lake where John McCain was shot down, and also took a tour of the Museum of Literacy, the oldest University in the city. This was a very prestigious school in Vietnam, and required a difficult entrance exam, as well as several processional exams. We concluded our day with a evening water puppet show, which involved both people and puppets displaying different scenes of Vietnamese culture and lifestyle.
(Getting ready to head out for our cycolo tour in Hanoi)
Today we went to Ha Long Bay! Although it started off with a rainy drive through the flooded streets of Hanoi, the skies cleared up and it turned into a very beautiful, sunny day. We took a private boat ride through the bay, and were served a delicious seafood lunch. After about a 45 minute ride, we stopped at a lagoon where we were able to go swimming. We saw a couple jellyfish in the water, but once they cleared off, we all began jumping off the boat into the water and had a great time. Ha Long Bay was so beautiful! It was truly a breathtaking view, and we all got some amazing, post card worthy pictures.
(Ha Long Bay, Vietnam)
The next day was our free day. Some of the boys went to the military museum in the city, while the girls enjoyed a nearby spa We were all glad for a day off before another early travel day. The following day we left our hotel at about 6:00 am, and arrived in Ho Chi Minh City in the late morning. We were greeted by our tour guide, Phu, dropped off our luggage at the hotel, and headed into town to grab some lunch and take a quick look around the local market. Following this, we went strait to Independence Palace, where the former president lived. Also on our city tour was a stop at a unique post office, the Notre Dame Cathedral (not to be confused with the Parisian church), and the Vietnam War Museum. Many of the artifacts, articles, and photos in the museum were very moving. I felt especially impacted by the pictures depicting children infected by Agent Orange, a toxin the soldiers where exposed to and genetically passed on to their children. Some of the photos were heartbreaking. It was also interesting to see the war through the perspective of the Vietnamese. All of our time in Vietnam reminded us of how lucky we are to live in a free society.

(Independence Palace, Ho Chi Minh City)

Our next included a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels. After watching a short documentary about the tunnels, we took a “trek” through the jungle and looked at various traps and models of the weapons and snares used to capture enemies, huts where cooking, sewing, and other tasks were accomplished, as well as a shooting range where two students embraced the opportunity to try shooting one of the guns. Other students also climbed inside one of the bomb shelters. It was quite a tight squeeze! Towards the end of the tour, we also climbed through the tunnels! Afterwards, we drove to Cao Dai, a temple where Buddhists, Taoists, and Confucians all come to freely worship before the all-seeing eye. The architecture of the temple was beautiful, and it was very interesting to observe their ceremony. We watched about fifteen minutes of one of their four daily masses before heading to lunch and driving back to Ho Chi Minh City.

(Tyler Krueger crawling into a bomb shelter at the Cu Chi Tunnels)

Dinner tonight was very interesting. A couple of students were interested in trying exotic food, so our tour guide brought us to a restaurant where they serve king cobra. The wait staff actually brought the snake to our table, stabbed it in its side, drained its blood, and took out its still beating heart. To make things even more interesting, one of our students swallowed the heart as it was still beating! Talk about adventurous. Then they brought about four different dishes for the two students to enjoy. The rest of us stuck with our familiar pork, chicken, and fish, but we all enjoyed experiencing this very unique way of dining.

For our free day, most of the students took advantage of the central market, which was a convenient ten minute walk from our hotel. The market contained fruit, vegetables, and dried goods, as well as clothing, shoes, luggage, bags, jewelry, and DVDs. All of the girls got great deals on some designer bags!

Our next day was an extremely long travel day. After a five hour flight to Tokyo, we had a six hour layover and then a seven hour flight to Honolulu, Hawaii. Fortunately, we all made it safe and sound, and are looking forward to spending the last part of our tour on this beautiful island.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cu Chi Tunnels

Vietnam has been amazing. Visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels made me feel as if I was traveling through time. We were able to walk through the Cu Chi Tunnels. It was an experience that cannot be obtained by reading history books. We were able to have an accurate view of the battlefield of the war in Vietnam. They were large enough to fit Vietnamese soldiers but small enough to keep American soldiers out. We also saw all of the traps that were placed by the Vietnamese soldiers. It is almost amazing how much we learned in one day.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sustainability and Destruction In South East Asia

South East Asia has been truly amazing! The past couple of weeks I have experienced different cultures, religions, people, food, business styles and so much more. This trip to SE Asia has taught me more than any text book ever could. Northwood has really homed in on sustainability and stressed the importance of continuously making decisions sustainable for business and the environment. My experiences and observations during the trip have left me in awe as I first handedly witnessed many times acts of both sustainability and destruction. Probably the most fascinating acts of sustainability were being carried out by the everyday person in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. All day, I would see people with very little being the ones who are utilizing every resource they have more efficiently than any business I have seen. For example, I saw people in Thailand using broken buckets as dust pans. It seems like an overly simple example, but if a bucket was to have broke in the United States it would have more than likely been thrown away thus, adding to the oversized wastes dumps that pollute the earth. Not only did the Thai people save money, but they also prevented less waste in the process. TKT, a company we visited in Thailand showed us their manufacturing plant and how they managed it. I was amazed how well it was managed and how they as well were focusing on sustainability to reduce their overhead costs. When one of their line workers was unable to work for that day or whatever amount of time, then another worker would replace that worker for the time needed. Nothing new right? Well, when there is a new worker on a line in which they are unfamiliar with then the worker will be less efficient by wasting time, raw resources, and capital. I know this because I have worker production for a company, and I have made mistakes thus, costing the company money. What this company did that fascinated me was how they offset that liability of having a new worker on a line. The managers used preventive methods to accomplish the goal of reducing their overhead costs, which needed to be lowered, because of the economic times. The managers simply just monitored that individual employee to solve the problem. By spending a little more time looking over the employee to ensure that he or she knows what they are doing and that all is well is a great example of sustainability. Through attentive management, less raw resources were wasted, more was being produced, and fewer resources were disposed of at the dump sites. This preventive management style has created a win win for the company, consumers, and the environment.
Unfortunately, I believe that there were more examples of destructions and waste than of sustainability. In Bangkok, we traveled through the downtown area on a river. The water was so incredible polluted that it changed the color of the walls on the canals, and the odor was awful. I could not understand how come the people could and would want to live like this. They were destroying one of their major water supplies and poisoning all the resources in the river like the fish that they eat. The lack environmental responsibility was clearly seen and smelt. The more that they would pollute it, the more it would cost to clean the water. I came to realize the reasons behind the destruction that was being inflicted on the people and the environment once we traveled to Vietnam. Vietnam is a communist’s country that just ten years ago, the people had nothing. The government provided them with everything. They all had to wear the same clothes, go to the same government stores to buy bicycle tires or food, and there was no currency. When the government ran out of food or bicycle tires they would starve or walk for many miles to get where the government wanted them to be. Now the Vietnamese government has allowed the people to start opening shops and being able to own things. From my observations, I would say that Vietnam could be hurting a lot within the next following years, because the cities are growing way to fast. The telephone wires and electricity wires are so poorly constructed. They are in knots, incredible tangled up, and in some places people can actually hit their heads on them. If a car were to hit an electricity post in Ho Chi Minh City, the whole city with a population somewhere near 8 million would lose all power for weeks or possibly longer. The government is only operating in the short run to attempt to keep up with growth. As we know from history, a lot of problems will occur in the long run. The consensus that I have reached is that the people are the ones who generally maintain a path toward sustainability, because they are the ones who suffer the consequences or experience the myriad benefits of maintain their environment. The government is not subject to such things, because it has no feelings, feels no pain, and does not care for the people who give it everything. In support of my previous statement, the Vietnamese king at the year 1070 built the first University in Vietnam called the Temple of Literature. He did not build the University for the people; rather he built it just for his son. His son cared nothing for attending the University. All he wanted to do was to drink, party, and gamble. After that, the king finally decided to open up the University to the brightness people that were to compete against each other only to serve for the king.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hanoi, Vietnam--Term in Asia 2009

Today is our last day in Hanoi, Vietnam. We had a late flight into the city on Saturday from Siem Reap, Cambodia. After stepping off the plane, we knew we were in for some extreme humidity. Even with the sun gone, it felt hot and sticky.
Sunday we toured the city. Our first stop was to see Ho Chi Mihn. His real body still lies in a mausoleum. Though the country does not have a religion, they still have found someone to believe in. Ho Chi Mihn did not request this, rather he had asked for a normal burial. But as most people need faith in something, the majority of Vietnamese people have hope in Ho Chi Mihn. Around the mausoleum we saw his home and some of the French royal family homes.
Our next stop was the prison. Maison Centrale prison, or Hoa Lo, was built by the French in order to cope with the Vietnamese struggle movements. It had held many leaders of the government and Vietnam Communist Party, along with other revolutionary patriotic soldiers. Today it exists as a monument for the soldiers who lay down their life in the prison for independence and freedom of Vietnam.
After learning some of the city history, we each got a ride through the market on bike taxis. The market had sections of everything. More shoes than I have ever seen, raw and live meat, fresh produce, bags, and so on. Our guide said anything you can find in America, you can know find in Hanoi.
For lunch, our guide showed us to a local Vietnamese restaurant, not a tourist spot Vietnamese restaurant. Though Vietnamese has not been our favorite foreign food, it was good quality and very, very inexpensive.
On the way back to the hotel for a well needed break from the humidity, we walked half way around the lake were John McCain was shot down and rescued by a unknown Vietnamese.
After our break, we went to the oldest university in Vietnam. It was a large and beautiful campus. Many classic scholars are respected at the site, including Confucius. Another interesting point was that the names of graduates were written on tablets on top of turtles. The turtles represented good luck for the exams. Many of the graduates then worked for the king.
Finally we had an air conditioned activity. We went to see a water puppet show. It was very well done. The stage had a pond like center where from behind a curtain actors controlled puppets by sticks and stings horizontally. Actors also came out front to play with the puppets in the show.
Even after a long and exhausting day, we came back and wondered the Old French Courters area in curiosity and search of food.
Yesterday, Monday, we took a long, but well worth it, drive to Ha Long Bay. It was unbelievable; it was gorgeous. Though the morning started with harsh rains, our afternoon out on our private boat was wonderful. On our way out of the harbor we were served a fresh seafood lunch of crab, shrimps, and fish.
It had warmed up and was sunny, so the captain found us a private area where we jumped from the roof of the boat, about 12 feet up, though we had to look out for the jellyfish. We were timid at first to jump, each of us our hearts racing, but eventually each of us did. Some even conquered their fears of heights and lack of knowing how to swim. But even they can say it was worth it. The water was so salty. With mouths closed, it still tasted like a spoonful of salt. And we all successfully avoided the jellyfish. Into a setting sun and through mountainous peaks, we ended our holiday cruise on Ha Long Bay.
Today is our last day in Hanoi, and our free day here. Tomorrow we fly to Ho Chi Mihn, our final stop in Asia.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Term in Asia 2009 - Week 3

Term in Asia 2009
Ian Butters, Tajhia Cartwright, Bart De Jong, Annika Duveneck,
Natasha Elder, Brett Granger, Tyler Krueger, Edgar Macias

Can you believe we’ve been traveling for three weeks already?! Time definitely does fly when you’re having fun! This week, we spent quite a bit of time in Bangkok, as well as a few days in Cambodia.

For our first day in Bangkok, we took a river boat ride through the city and stopped at a local zoo. There we saw different species of snakes, monkeys, a humongous alligator, and a tiger. Afterwards, we went back to the beautiful Century Park Hotel before heading out for a nice Chinese dinner with Mrs. Jonjit Thapanangkan, a Northwood University Distinguished Women, and her husband, Savat. We tried a variety of delicious foods, ranging from lobster and a glazed shrimp salad, to crab fried rice and sweet and sour pork. Talk about tasty!

The next day, we took a tour of the Grand Palace. The architecture is absolutely amazing! So much precision and detail went into the design and construction of this marvelous palace. We had an excellent tour guide who helped make the tour even more enjoyable. Sustainability was definitely present here, as the Grand Palace serves many different functions that help a variety of people. It was quite a site to see.

(The Grand Palace in Bangkok)

Up next on our agenda was a trip to Treasure Express, a jewelry company that designs, manufactures, and sells beautiful rings, earrings, bracelets, and necklaces, most of which are sold on television. Our host was extremely hospitable and gracious with our tour. It was a fantastic learning experience! We also had the opportunity to visit and take a tour of TKT Industries, a company that manufactures various parts and pieces for automobiles and electronic products. Northwood University’s Term in Asia program is one of the very few groups allowed to take a tour of the factory, so we felt extremely honored and lucky for this experience. Both Treasure Express and TKT are excellent examples of companies striving to attain and maintain sustainability. Both companies work very hard to ensure not only that their employees are well taken care of, but that they can also continue to make a profit in an environmentally-friendly way.

(Students exploring at the Ancient city of Ayuttahaya)

Also while we were in Bangkok, we were able to get a taste of the culture through a variety of different activities. We visited the ancient city of Ayuttahaya, the Jim Thompson House, several of us sat ringside at a Thai boxing match one evening , visited a night bazaar and practiced our bargaining skills, and visited the different shopping malls in the area. We even ate lunch at the Hard Rock Café!

(Eating lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe after meeting with TKT)

Our next stop was Cambodia. We were only here for three days, but we sure did a lot! After arriving mid-morning, our wonderful tour guide took us to some of the smaller ancient temples and cities on the Angkor area, including Angkor Thom. The structures are amazing - and this was only an appetizer for our next day’s tour of Angkor Wat! The structure and design of these pyramid-like buildings is breathtaking, as is the size of them. It wouldn’t be difficult to get a bit lost through one of the ancient cities. It was easy to see why Angkor Wat is one of the Wonders of the Ancient World.
(Angkor Wat)

In addition to seeing these marvelous buildings, we also had the chance to play with and feed some monkeys, shop among the local children, visit a night market, and experience different parts of Cambodian culture. Prof. Harris and a few of us even received a foot massage from a some fish! That was quite an experience! If you’re ticklish, beware!
(Ian Butters and Brett Granger climbing a temple at Angkor Wat)

So as you can see, we’ve been quite busy! Our next destination is Hanoi, Vietnam, followed by Ho Chi Minh City, and finally Hawaii. Stay tuned for next weeks blog!