Thursday, February 25, 2010


We're about six weeks into the voyage and at that time when people start coming out of their shells. The friend groups that were formed during the first few weeks are starting to branch out, partners have come and gone from the ship, and multiple tables of smiling, familiar faces now look inviting at each meal. Thanks to Becca, Chinese Mahjong has become the new craze and much of the staff can now be found up in the FSL in the evenings, tapping the dice made of bone, not bamboo, and shouting words like "pong" and "chur."

I'm sometimes overwhelmed with a feeling of hysteria when I think about how I left my "real life" three years ago, and how I've spent countless hours since staring out at the ocean, hoping for some sort of epiphany to come my way. Should I apply to PhD programs? Should I look for teaching jobs? For any sort of job in say San Fran, Seattle or Portland? Should I try living in another country? Stay freelance? Join the Peace Corps? Ahhhhhhh!! It's so overwhelming sometimes I feel like my head is going to explode, especially when I am met with the following seemingly congenial yet unanswerable questions: "Where do you live; What do you do in real life; What's next?" Truthfully, I don't know. I once again have no idea what the hell I'm doing once this ship docks, where I'll be living a year from now let alone ten. But a beautiful conversation I had with a friend yesterday was a much needed reminder ... nobody does. Ever. Who is to say what is real and what isn't, and as crazy as this shiplife existence is sometimes it's real because it's happening. In the now. The present -- the very idea that seems to be wrapped up, packaged and even sold in a million different forms by varying levels of experts, but at the core is perhaps the universal truth if there is one. It's not about what I did or what I'm doing next, or who I think I am or who I'm supposed to become, it's about what I'm doing at this very moment. Which for me, has been worrying about all of this crap, including the constant fear of ending up partner-less and alone forever instead of focusing on the fact that I'm alive, healthy, surrounded by 100s of interesting people and sailing around the f*ing world.

On a somewhat related note, I've been trying to gage if self-worth is a universal struggle for women around the world, or if it's heightened in Western culture? Part of me would love to shave my head on Neptune Day, just to live that altered experience. To see what my head actually looks like. To have all of my hair grow-in brand new and for once, to not deal with the grooming. But another part of me is scared to be judged. How would I be perceived by the rest of the world? In a job interview? It's so stupid when you really think about it ... it's just hair that will grow back. So why is it such a big deal, especially for women in our culture?

This was on my mind yesterday when I read an email chain about clothing from a group of girlfriends back at home. The discussion began with a friend venting about her current wardrobe and landed in a heated argument about the importance of wardrobe altogether. I lost 25 pounds last year and would be lying if I didn't admit that buying some new duds made me feel attractive and, all-in-all, happy. Part of that has been feeling more attractive, but another part is how we are influenced by clothing, which in a larger context feels ridiculous as I head into third world countries where people are lucky to have shoes on their feet.

In Japan, I had the sense that Masumi and her friends were concerned with their appearance. They wore cute, mostly cool-colored dresses with tights, kept a healthy entourage of beauty products, and as married women, seemed rather conservative in the amount of skin exposed both to the sun and other men. In Shanghai and Hong Kong, malls and shopping is as popular a hobby as eating noodles, and though it is an opposite struggle, I listened to more than one man comment on how he wants his woman to be plump -- a sign of prosperity in Chinese culture, which might explain the need for a seven-patty burger at Burger King (which I was told is in honor of the new year).

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