Fieldwork is about freezing your ass off and being patient.
Two months ago, I read an email from the Social Science Research Institute list-host looking for participants to join a research team in South Carolina over the holidays. A faculty member in environmental policy was going to lead a team of student researchers in interviewing people in Columbia, SC about the fall 2015 floods. The floods were estimated to have caused a billion in damages, and the governor issued a state of emergency. Though my area of interest and expertise isn’t environmental policy, I sent along an email anyway, interviewed, and was accepted, much to my delight. Continue reading Fieldwork and learning in South Carolina.
Written Wednesday, December 30 – On the Amtrak Crescent (northbound)
Heading out of New Orleans, Louisiana
The Crescent leaves New Orleans in the morning at 7 am, so I made my way to the train station under cover of darkness. I hailed a cab at the hotel and kissed my mom goodbye. I emerged into the train station to find a long line. I found a comfy place on the train, moving several times to ensure there was a wide window view for the trip north. Altogether, the trip to Greenville, South Carolina takes about 15 hours if you take into account the time change between Central and Eastern standard times. We pass through half a dozen states on the way. Continue reading Northward on the Crescent.
Written Tuesday, December 29 – New Orleans, LA
I was at a loss for where to go and what to go today in the morning, but recourse to the old standbys of TripAdvisor and such yielded the National World War II Museum. I was impressed by the immense ratings that people gave, and thankfully, it was only a fifteen-minute walk from our hotel in the Central Business District. So my mom and I made the trek, and as recommended, ended up spending the whole day there.
As a museum, it is absolutely immense. There are five separate buildings – several we didn’t need to go into because they hosted the theatre and restaurant, but the others we all ended up seeing. We saw several large exhibits and some really innovative components, all in exquisite detail and with many descriptions, uniforms, artifacts, illustrations, and audio-visual clips or short movies. The Home Front exhibit showed the war effort at home, from ration coupons to recruiting posters for the Women’s Army Corps (“Before she married, Mommy served in the WACs in the Philippines.”) They detailed collection of even household fat and how it was rendered into glycerine to make bombs. The scale of the war effort was truly astounding. We also saw the D-Day Exhibit, which went into exactly how it was conceived, structured, and how the decision was made. We learned that the British and Canadians were assigned to Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches, and the Americans to Utah and Omaha. What I found fascinating was the amount of preparation that went into it beforehand – how bombers tried to knock out German weaponry first and then paratroopers were dropped into Normandy ahead of time to secure roads and towns. By the time that June 5th dawned, many Allied forces had already come into Normandy. Continue reading The National World War II Museum.
Written Monday, December 28 – New Orleans, LA
On our second day around the city, we woke up bright and early, and took off to one of the large attractions of New Orleans to the north of the city: City Park. We only ended up exploring a fraction of it, but it was beautiful from what we could tell. We took the Canal Street streetcar north, which wound through Mid-City and some other neighborhoods that are more residential. While they did look a bit rundown, they seemed more real and authentic than much of the French Quarter we were walking through. We disembarked at the end of the line and walked down a wide street set with trees on either side to the New Orleans Museum of Art. It wasn’t open since it was Monday, but the white columns and classical architecture were quite pretty. We moved on to explore its Sculpture Garden which was outside and indeed available to enter. There were some very modernist and even surreal sculptures, some plaster statues and giant safety pins and disturbing sculptures of morphed, long-limbed monkeys that had human hands but also limber tails.
Afterwards, we moved on to the New Orleans Botanical Garden, which is a small gem of a garden set within City Park. It wasn’t the best day to go, since it had rained the night before, and water still permeated much of the earthen walkways within the garden. But the conservatory was small and gorgeous, with a Christmas tree of poinsettias in the center. Outside, it was painted butter yellow, and contrasted gorgeously with the stone statue of a mermaid outside in the fountain. We roamed about a bit before coming out to see more of the City Park. It had been well-restored since the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Katrina. Many of the city’s oaks still stand, gorgeous and gnarly with curtains of silver Spanish moss hanging from the branches. We saw a bit more before going back to the streetcar and taking it back down. Continue reading City Park and the Mississippi River.
Written Sunday, December 27 – New Orleans, LA
We woke up this morning bright and early, and headed out for one last breakfast. The first thing I noticed was that everyone was dressed quite differently – instead of flowery beach wear or white sheer shirts and dresses, people had much more workaday clothing and sweaters on as they ate eggs and oatmeal. When you disembark, you can either opt to put out your luggage early in the morning or before you sleep with colored tags, or you can disembark any time in the morning as long as you can carry all your bags. (This option is called “Easy Walk-off Disembarkation,” I kid you not.) I used to be one of those people who packed gigantic bags that I could fit in. Now that I’m a seasoned traveler, I have a lot more scorn if you couldn’t fit everything you need into a carry-on bag. After all, Steve and I have gone for week-long, month-long, and even year-long vacations using just a carry on! All right, I’m getting down from the soapbox.
We emerged into the humidity and heat that is New Orleans after a short disembarkation, and walked off to our hotel near the French Quarter. Our room wasn’t anywhere near ready, of course, at 9 am, so instead, we simply put our luggage away and set off to explore the French Quarter. Our first real stop was the St. Louis Cathedral, which is a prime landmark. It’s a beautiful cathedral, initially built by the Spanish and carried on by the French, and the seat of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. It’s the oldest cathedral in continuous use in the US, and we didn’t end up walking around very much because there was a mass and then a christening in progress. I took a few pictures, and we milled about Jackson Square checking out the flowers and the crowds. We had only been drifting around for about half an hour before we ran into two of the same couples we had enjoyed dinner with last night. We knew one pair was going to hang out in New Orleans for a few days, but the other pair had a flight around 9 pm, so we ended up hanging out for the rest of the day. Continue reading Return to New Orleans.
Written Saturday, December 26 – At Sea in the Gulf of Mexico
Our last day on the boat was pretty memorable and action-packed. I woke up bright an early at 7:30 am, thanks to the fact that my phone was an hour ahead (Mexico, where it had last synced, does not observe daylight savings time). So we ate breakfast and whiled away some time before I went to attend a 9 am dance class with the production cast. It ended up being a hurried, twenty-minute class on how to do the Thriller dance, which was actually kind of fun. Now I’ve got something to show off at the next party… just kidding.
The next event was a 10 am lecture from the cruise director about the ship. We learned all kinds of fascinating statistics about the ship and our trip. For example, the average age on board is 37.94, just shy of 40, which is kind of crazy for them. On some other trips, however, like the adjustment trip they made from Boston to New Orleans while shifting home ports, the average age was 66, and they had to do a lot of lectures during that time. They even ended up doing an iPad seminar that was absolutely packed. We learned about how much food is taken on at port (sixteen containers the size of a semi), how many gallons of gasoline are burned (a gallon per second) when traveling at top speed (25 knots per hour, which is around 28 miles per hour). We had just shy of the full capacity of 2,900 people on board. Every week, they go through 65,000 eggs and 1,100 gallons of ice cream. People’s jaws were dropping all over the place. Afterwards, they did a short Q&A with the captain and with the chief engineer and chief hotelier. They were fun to talk to – they had a real sense of humor about their work, and also helped us diffuse a bunch of myths about working on a cruise ship. Someone asked what their stress level was, between 1 and 10, which I thought was a fair question. However, they responded that this is really their daily job, and even though they’re responsible for people’s safety and welfare, they’ve been doing it for so long, and there are backups for everything and many people who work on it around the clock that their stress levels are relatively low. Continue reading At sea with the Norwegian Dawn.
Written Thursday, December 24 – Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras
It’s Christmas Eve! We woke up this morning to Roatan, one of the Bay Islands of Honduras. I wanted to lie in bed a bit longer, but my mom insisted on getting out to the port village so we could take a look at plastic things to buy. There was actually a shop with a sign that said, “We have nothing from China!” When he caught our eye, the clerk put his hands up in a gesture of surrender and said that he had nothing to do with it. Anyway, we went out on the pier and looked around at things. We made our way down the main corridor toward where the taxis were and only got a third of the way before six or seven stalls of people began to lean over and shoving signs in our faces about their excellent tour and taxi services. I beat a hasty retreat, my mom in tow, and we headed back. Tourism does have its pitfalls. Our main activity today was a shore excursion today to Maya Key, a small cay right next to our cruise port. The tiny ferry that took us there seated about thirty people. We ended up on this tiny island that you could walk around in ten minutes if you wanted to walk fast. It was pretty charming, actually. There was a beach with many lounge chairs, a long dock to snorkel in the reef, and the day was sunny and breezy. Continue reading Christmas in Central America.
Written Tuesday, December 22 – Cozumel, Mexico
It’s midnight, and we’ve had a tiring day. For the last two hours, we’ve been sitting around putting together the puzzle I brought along – even though it’s only the third day of our cruise and vacation, we’re about 60-70% of the way done! At the same time, there’s been this karaoke going on downstairs almost immediately below our room in the Pearly Kings Pub, which ran through all the popular songs but is over now, thank goodness. No more drunken crowds singing out loud to Uncle Kracker.
This morning, we got up bright and early, and had a long travel to the Tulum Mayan ruins on mainland Mexico. We docked in Cozumel around 7 am, which is an island, and immediately to a medium-sized ferry to transfer to the mainland. I brought some Dramamine to ward off potential seasickness, and took it going and from the island, but mainly just resulted in me feeling very, very tired the whole day. We had a 45-minute ferry ride and then an hour-long bus ride before we arrived at Tulum. Our lively tour guide Liliana took us around Tulum, a really interesting Mayan complex housing the elite, that was tucked away high on the coastline. It was gorgeous there – all the original palaces and temples were made out of limestone and some even retain their original carvings and formations. Tulum itself was positioned right on the coast next to the water but also at one of the points in the Yucatan Peninsula that the sun dawns on first. We walked with the tour guide for a while, and then we walked on by ourselves. My mom visited several years ago when she and my dad vacationed in Mexico, so we walked by ourselves around the complex. It was pretty crowded – full of people from all over. I heard a French girl of about four year old having an epic meltdown between her parents, screaming and crying, “ATTENDS!” in a gut-wrenching voice. It was pretty funny. The crowds were not quite as bad as I’ve seen in Taiwan and China, but bad enough here. We were trying to get to and from more quickly, and kind of ran into some crowds. Iguanas lounged everywhere, and had the run of the palaces and temples which people weren’t allowed into. Smaller iguanas were the females, and larger iguanas, sometimes twice the size of their female counterparts, were the males. They had also many more spikes all over their body. My mom must have taken a hundred pictures just of the iguanas! Continue reading Cities of the past and present: Tulum and Belize City.
Written Sunday, December 20 – Travel Day + New Orleans, LA
The beginning of our trip was a bit rocky. My plane out of GSP was delayed twice, to the point that I was worrying about missing my connection. Fortunately, I was able to switch over to another plane to CLT and catch my connection to New Orleans (MSY). It was a tumultuous morning! I met my mom at her gate, since I arrived slightly before her, and we caught a taxi to the Port of New Orleans, which is downtown.
Our first time in New Orleans, and I have a headful of preconceptions built around Katrina, the Superdome, stories from friends who have been, and the French Quarter. We drive downtown past some epic graveyards and into downtown New Orleans, which is very orderly and straight, streets radiating north from the Mississippi River. I saw a line already forming outside Mother’s Restaurant, which I understand is one of New Orleans’s mainstays, and also glimpse some of the lovely historic buildings along the way. I’m looking forward to exploring it when we come back!
It took us a lot of queuing and scraping around to get to the cruise, but finally, we manage it! We’re sailing on the Norwegian Dawn for seven days. When we took our first cruise four or five years ago, we also took Norwegian, and I have the vague impression it’s a little bit better than Carnival, which we did last year. It’s a seven-day cruise to Mexico and the Central Americas. My mom has been to Cozumel before, but neither of us have really done Costa Maya, Belize City, and Roatan, Honduras, which are the other destinations. Generally, we’re probably just going to do a lot of snorkeling! Continue reading Setting sail from New Orleans.