Traveling on Semester at Sea as a student in 2006 gave me an almost overwhelming appreciation for life, and all the gifts this world has to offer. I think this feeling is synonymous with all Semester at Sea Alumni. When I was asked to produce a film to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Semester at Sea, I knew immediately that I wanted to portray this feeling through the film. If you are a Semester at Sea alumni, you know exactly what I am talking about. If you are not hopefully you get a little taste of this feeling by watching this film.
One of the most inspiring Semester at Sea field labs I have had the privilege of covering was the Music Cultures lab in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam. We visited the Soul Music Academy started by Thanh Bui (A famous pop artist in Vietnam originally from Australia). This academy teaches Vietnamese kids traditional and modern music. We were given a special performance by the Voice Kids Vietnam, which includes kids that apparently finished high in Asia’s version of America’s Got Talent. To say the least all the students, the Professor and myself were floored by the talent these kids possessed. Watch the videos and you’ll see what I am talking about.
Vietnam’s turbulent past gives visitors many opportunities to learn about life during the Vietnam war. A visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels provides a hands on experience as to what conditions were like for Viet Cong during the war. While it seems as if the Vietnamese economy has recovered since the war one interesting fact is that the Vietnamese refer to the war not as the “Vietnam War” but rather “The American War Against Vietnam.”
Motion picture is a visual medium that requires a fair amount of adaptivity. Especially in the documentary form. You must do your best with what you have. Well this was the case when we traveled to China. The MV Explorer was supposed to be pulling into Shanghai around 8am but instead of seeing the sights of skyscrapers over the city, our awakened eyes were met with a muddy river with banks lined by industrial ports and ships. We were anchored in the middle of the Yangtze river. Our arrival to China was delayed 8 hours. The Chinese water pilot who was supposed to guide us up the Yangtze river into Shanghai must have been partying real hard for the Chinese new year because he completely missed the boat, literally. So our trip to the Zhujiajiao Water Village was canceled. On top of this, the junk boat ocean garbage recovery trip that was scheduled out of Hong Kong for me to cover was canceled due to low enrollment. I guess no one on this ship cares about the oceans we travel around the world in. It may sound like a lame trip, recovering trash from the ocean, but I’ve been to many oceans around the world and I think it is safe to say that there is always plenty of trash no matter which one you visit. So I was honestly excited about this trip, just to see what is being done to mitigate this problem. Pretty bummed it was canceled. So there I was, in China with nothing to cover. I had to come up with something.
My wonderful wife Sara and I teamed up with a great couple we’ve become friends with: Drew and Maria Kahn. Drew is a former actor and teaches drama at Buffalo State in Buffalo, New York (GO BILLS!). We all went to Lantau Island together to experience the Tian Tan “Big Buddha” and the Po Lin Monastery. We had a peaceful day taking in the beauty of this sacred place. The monastery was filled with vibrant colors and golden buddhas while one giant buddha sat on top of the hill overlooking the island. As Drew explains in this video, you don’t have to be buddhist to appreciate and find peace in a place like this. Sara found peace in the amazing buddhist vegetarian meal we ate for lunch while I found peace in the inspiring visuals this divine place had to offer.
As the videographer on Semester at Sea I get the privilege to join course field labs in different countries. In Japan I joined the Intro to Anthropology class on a visit to a textile facility where they use ancient techniques to manufacture kimono, traditional Japanese garments. Students also had the opportunity to try on various styles of kimono. It was very interesting to see how much kimono has influenced Japanese culture.
I also joined the International Business class on a visit to Yokohama’s Nissan Plant, while I was not allowed to shoot video inside of the plant I managed to get some footage in the museum. After students met with a US representative from the US Embassy in Tokyo. She shed light on to a number of interesting dynamics going on in Japan’s economy, one of them being the push to get women back into the workforce.
Our first stop on the Spring 2014 Voyage was Hilo, Hawaii. With only 1 day in port on the biggest island in the Hawaii chain it was tough narrowing down what to do. After catching an 8 pound bonefish on Oahu this October I was determined to catch another. Oahu has expansive flats with ample bone-fishing opportunities while the Big Island is better for off-shore fishing. I was able to connect with a local fly-fishing guide Don Memmer. Don is a school teacher as well so I was not able to fish with him but he was super helpful by pointing me in the right direction. I spent the morning throwing flies to bonefish cruising the shoreline of a saltwater pond near the town of Hilo. I had no luck hooking up but as always, casting to cruising fish is fun regardless.
That afternoon I joined a Semester at Sea field program on a trip up Mauna Kea. This massive volcano is the largest mountain in the world when measured from the sea floor. Rising up from sea level this 14,000 ft peak is an astonishing place to visit. In addition to its height the dormant volcano lies in the middle of the pacific ocean which creates little to no land turbulence and is also known for 300+ clear nights a year. These factor creates one of the best places to star-gaze conduct astronomy research in the world. Therefore, 10 countries worldwide have some serious telescopes on the summit.
10 students and I traveled to the top of the summit where we only had about 30 minutes to take pictures and enjoy the sensation of being on top of the world. It was quite different from being on top of a fourteener in Colorado. The fact that you were looking out to sea level made it feel unreal. Unfortunately we were not able to star-gaze from the top. On the trip down, with some convincing, our tour guide let us stop at the visitor center, which sits at 9,000 ft, to star gaze for about 5 minutes. Although it was 5,000 ft lower, this place still yielded an amazing view of the crystal clear sky. It gave me enough time to take a couple still photos of the night sky.
In this video, astronomy professor Iain Campbell takes us on a journey from sea level to the summit of Mauna Kea. His Scottish accent and deep appreciation for the unknown really made working on this piece interesting and fun. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I did producing it.
I was fortunate enough to travel on Semester at Sea as a student in the spring 0f 2006. After a life changing voyage I made it a goal to somehow experience this unique way to see the world again. Well, here I am, back on the ship as the videographer for the Spring 2014 voyage. Its quite interesting being back as a staff member and not as a student ready to take on the world. This time around is definitely different. The excitement is still there it just comes in different forms. For example, as a student you can’t wait to meet new people and experience new things. As staff, those feelings are still there in essnce but its more about accomplishing goals and making a difference in peoples lives. The videographer position is the perfect vehicle to make this come to fruition.
Please enjoy the first video we produced on the Spring 2014 voyage.