The Ferry to Google-Land (SEOUL)

This post was begun on September 10th, already five days in the past. (If only my body would acknowledge that I’ve moved on to a different time zone I would be a very very happy person.)  The ferry ride, 26 hours across the Yellow Sea, was a perfect microcosm of most travel experiences. A mix of dismay, disappointment, discovery, and delight as it’s happening; hindsight that identifies it as one of the most authentic cultural experiences of the trip and a fond memory of the Chinese/Korean ferry that carried me smoothly and safely to my last stop and entertained me in its own fashion on the way.

AHOY ME MATES…Google lies just over those waves.  

10:45am

On the good (bad) ship Jinchon out of Tianjin bound for Inchon. One adventure too many but then don’t I always do that? The bad news is this room/compartment could be ripped from the bosom of the Motel 6 Mothership. Actually not, this is more like the room that got away and lived in the woods in northern Minnesota, empty for several years so the damp could seep in and mold could flourish.

Just for the hell of it, I did ask an attendant to come and see the room because, I said, “The rug is very very dirty.” She came with me and responded sweetly that it wasn’t actually dirty, just stained from the leak in the ceiling and if I left the door open some of the smell would go away.

But there is good news. I have a big cabin all to myself and a window to gaze out on the great gray softly rolling sea that separates China from Korea. The windows are less-than-absolutely-filthy but more-than-a-little-dirty, nevertheless they keep claustrophobia at bay.

If you’re wondering why I’m doing this, remember my goal was to stay out of the friendly skies from the Atlantic to the Pacific and because South Korea will be my 100th country. For this next to the last leg I definitely didn’t want cruise ships like the ferry across the Baltic but I did look forward to ‘smells okay’ and ‘looks sort of clean.’

There appear to be four noisy Americans down the hall but everyone else seems to be Chinese, an even noisier bunch. We are supposed to leave the dock at 11am which is also when the restaurant opens. Anyway, hope they have wine, hope they take credit cards, hope they have some ordinary noodles. Then I will come back to my suite (I am in the Deluxe Suite Section—did I mention that?) put on my warm fleecies and prepare all my posts for posting once I hit the shores of the free world.

Not a bad record for six weeks—this is the only somewhat unpleasant room on the whole trip; there’s just been the one…well, really one and one-half unhappy guides and I’ve only experienced an out-and-out tourist rip-off once (the Riga cabbie).

11:30am

Damn, I hate it when you are happily trashing a person, place or thing and along come really nice people who want to be kind and friendly and you just can’t stay mad. Or very mad anyway. No credit cards on board but food is included in the ticket. One nice person gave me Korean money for my last $20; another went to his cabin and brought me two Korean beers. I tried drinking one—it’s Old Milwaukee Asian-Style. Can’t go there anymore.

The skyline is pure gray, the view is pure industrial—hard-use version—no pretty paint jobs, steel, concrete, rust, the water is pure gray, this room is pure gray with enhanced gray spots on various surfaces, I am pure gray.

2:30pm

Slept awhile. Cold but I’m well-layered. My biggest problem is that I picked up some kind of stomach virus my first day in Beijing and have had serious off-again on-again cramps ever since. After nary a pain since I left, all of a sudden something is wrong again. A little worrisome but I’m soon home to my wonderful new doc who will figure it all out. I hope.

The Jinchon is definitely your budget-class ferry. However I can tell from the size and comforts of my room—two beds, couch, work table and chair, and bathroom with shower—that it was once pretty classy. Fallen on hard times it seems. Shops and duty-free on board but they’re back in corners; there’re no floor shows, gambling dens, neon-lit bars overlooking the sea. I’d find this version a little more appealing if it weren’t so pathetically run-down.

So assuming we make land tomorrow, I’ll have surface-traveled the giant double-continent of Eurasia. I’m brooding about how to make this literarily count. I know there’s a profound provocative piece of polished literary prose in this endeavor. If I stare at the broody sea long enough; smell the earthy odor of carpet mold deeply enough; drink sufficiently of the Kirkland water I just bought back in the corner store to stop the stomach pain; take enough pills to sleep the sleep of the wandering righteous will the story emerge?

Joined the crowd for 5pm dinner/supper. It’s buffet style with all the alluring odors and delectable presentation of the Northome High School cafeteria on the days they served porcupine balls—don’t ask.

The meal was this: Rice. Little brown noodles that looked (and tasted) like sliced corrugated cardboard with some sprigs of onion. A bunch of limp- mildly-salty-with-no-other-recognizable-flavor cabbage. A square white thing with some red edges that was pickled and hot hot hot but actually quite good. It was too crispy to be potato but nice texture. Yes, my favorite was the pickled veggie thing—travel does indeed broaden one’s horizons. However, Scott, I still don’t need to go out for Korean when in San Diego…okay?

Sun came out. A good omen. Of something. And it’s wavy down there to roll us right along to Korea. So wavy. Maybe I’ll throw up the stomach bug?

Next Day, September 11th.

Slept well. For some reason I thought we arrived Seoul at 11am. Wrong. It is 1:00+pm. Deciding to make a silk purse out a sow’s ear? Is that right, Google’s not here to check. Have been wandering the boat taking pictures. This may well be the most authentic foreign cultural experience I’ve had. I did hear those voices that sounded American earlier but have not seen another single Euro-person. I’ve come to the conclusion, 90% of those aboard are on one big tour from Beijing to the flash and dash that I will soon find out is Seoul.

In any case everyone is entertaining themselves brilliantly. Out on the deck on this balmy September day, people are sitting, dancing, sitting and then joining the dancers, sitting and watching the dancers and the sea. A couple of suave and debonair middle-age Chinese men are luring ladies to dance with them. Playing a cassette for music, twirling and whirling for the pleasure of it. The danciest of the ladies in a big flingy skirt unfortunately she has her sensible white granny panties on which tarnishes the image of a wild dancing queen just a wee bit.

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Down one floor, a whole flock of happily-silly young-middle-age ladies are trying on traditional Chinese or Korean costumes and smiling pretty for lots of photos. Here and there people are just stretched way out on whatever couch is at hand and sleeping soundly. There’s a cluster of TV quiz show viewers in one corner and wanderers and gigglers everywhere.

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There are islands scattered about the horizon, everyone’s happy and I’m having Corn Silk Tea and Saltines for lunch. The travel tip for the day is that Corn Silk Tea tastes exactly like you would think dried ground corn silk would taste—not that good. A little bitter, a little corny.

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I dream of a BLT and white wine upon reaching my hotel. However I did not want to switch to non-travel mode too abruptly so I booked into a Korean hotel. It looked like a pretty middle of the road place, efficient and boring, which is exactly like I want right now. May be out of luck for the BLT though…probably pickled vegetables and gingsing juice. It’s okay I have Delta’s gourmet grub in my future.

So outside for an hour, now I’ll read, nap…back on photo patrol…read, nap. Disembark.

Coming in to port. TURNS OUT I LOVED THE JOURNEY. THANK YOU JINCHON FERRY.

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And into the City of Seoul. Last stop.

 

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