Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Slooooow Boat to China

Day 1 - Leaving Korea
On to the boat, for what is supposed to be about a 15 hour journey to Qingdao, China. It's not much cheaper than flying, but I can take my bike on board for free. We head out of Incheon port, past the islands off the west coast of Korea, and begin cruising across the Yellow Sea. The seas are a little choppy, which seems to give most people on board a little bit of sea sickness. Nothing too major though. We head to bed, expecting a morning arrival in Qingdao.

Day 2- Waiting

The morning comes, and we soon see bits of land. We come into sight of Qingdao, and stop. And wait. Apparently, the winds are too high and we are not allowed to enter the harbor. We wait. And wait. There is no let up in the wind, so we're staying on the boat another night, just off the coast.

Day 3 - Waiting

The gathering flotilla of boats around us

New Year's Eve. The wind appears to be a little stronger than the day before. So of course, we must continue to wait. And wait. By early afternoon, when it becomes apparent that we will be staying another night, the GS25 convenience store on board sees a run on provisions. First to disappear is the kimchi, which every Korean must eat at every meal. Beer is disappearing fast as well. Ramyeon is moving at a brisk pace, but they keep resupplying it. The ham and cheese remain untouched, as does the peanut butter and jelly. The lack of bread may have something to do with it. At least it is the only thing preventing me from buying it. By this time, I've become acquainted with about every English speaking person on board. Another teacher from Korea who I actually knew before hand. A couple of American's who are teaching in Russia under the Fulbright program. One of whom did her BA dissertation on Uzbekistan. A couple of Polish women. A British guy and his Chinese girlfriend. A Japanese tour guide and a Malaysian woman who was leading an outing of her company's Korean customers. There were also a few Koreans who could speak a little English as well. So early in the evening, we sat down in one of the ship's lounges and began our New Year's Eve celebration. Even though most of the other passengers were from countries which celebrate the lunar New Year (aka Chinese New Year), by midnight, we had a pretty good crowd who had joined in.

Day 4 - Entering China

One of the hills of Qingdao
We finally get the word that we will be entering the harbor. So after almost 70 hours, we finally reach our destination. After more waiting in lines I finally step on Chinese soil. I loaded my bag onto my bike and headed for my hotel. I only had a general map of Qingdao, so it took me a while to find it. After checking in, I headed out to get some money. Several attempts to use my ATM card failed, and I finally gave in and tried my credit card. It worked. So now I just had to find something to do. So for a few hours, I walked around checking out a couple areas of the city. There was even a nice Chinese college student who spoke some English and helped me find an area I was looking for. I can't say that's ever happened in Korea. After several hours of walking around, I had finally had enough activity for the day and headed back to the hotel with some Tsingtao beer.

Day 5 - Leaving China

A cityscape of Qingdao
After one night in Qingdao, it was time to head back home. So I loaded the bike back up and started heading west towards the port. For several hours I rode around, often the wrong way down one-way streets, and checked out some of the sights along the coast. Overall, the city has a nice vibe to it. Less gawking than Korea. A nicer downtown. And a much better coast. Unfortunately, the pollution appears to be almost as bad as it is in Incheon.

Day 6 - Getting Home

The trip back was much more uneventful. The GS25 was still pretty empty. The dining room still didn't have very many food options - although they did manage to get some kimchi. There were a few people that I recognized from the trip over.