Sayonara Japan, Nin Hao China
08.12.2009 - 10.12.2009 11 °C
This blog only covers two days, but I thought it deserved its own page.
Probably the only good thing about my last hotel in Osaka, was that it was about 30 seconds walk away from the subway station, so leaving at 8:30 on a cold morning with pack on my back wasn't such a big hassle. One subway line transfer, a taxi and 45 minutes later, I was at the Osaka International Ferry Terminal. I was so organized that I had the honour of being the very first person to check in at the ticket counter. The terminal is large enough, but it's quite basic with only a small waiting area and very few people around.
After a 15 minute wait, everyone was asked to line up at a desk to have their temperatures taken, this is supposed to be how they can tell if you have the flu. The device they use is some sort of a non-invasive reflective laser pointer. Apparently the temperature of the skin on my forehead was officially 36.5 C. Lucky, because if it was more than 37 C, they would have refused to let me board the ferry.
The CHINJIF (Japan-China International Ferry) from the waiting area
At around 10:00, they started boarding and I was shown to my cabin by one of the crew. I had bought a first class ticket, which put me in a cabin with four beds. There were 2 by 2 bunks on either side and a small table, couch and a TV by the window. There was also a luggage compartment and a small sink with mirror right by the door.
The beds my ferry cabin
The "lounge" area and window of my ferry cabin
I unpacked a few things and got semi comfortable before I went for a brief walk around the ferry. The ferry was quite large, in fact, later when I looked at the cabin arrangements poster on a wall, I estimated the ferry could carry well over 300 passengers. But after a while I quickly noticed that there weren't many people on board, and definitely no other westerners. It turned out there were only around 30 passengers. I guess this is pretty normal during the low season. They must make up on costs during the high season as well as with all the cargo they seemed to be carrying across.
With me, saftey is always in the top 10 so I had to check out the lifeboats.
Lifeboats on the ferry, there were six of these in total, three on each side. They looked quite big and easy to access.
The ferry had a large dining room, a karaoke & dancing bar, a games room (with ping-pong table), a mahjong room, a large smoker's area, large outer decks with fixed seats, and a couple of walls full of vending machines. It also had a large glamarous looking circular stair case in the middle leading to each of main three decks which sometimes made it feel like I was on the Titanic. Unfortuately, I couldn't stand on the tip of the bow and shout "I'm the king of the world!" because the bow area was closed off to passengers.
Central Staircase looking up from the first to the second deck. The stairs from the second to the third deck curved around on each side.
At around 11:30 am, we finally started moving slowly west out of Osaka harbour to begin our full two day voyage.
A view of the Osaka International Ferry Terminal from the ferry as we were leaving
Osaka as we were leaving. The red-purple building to the left of the ferris wheel is the aquarium I went to on my first visit to Osaka
With the small number of passengers, I thought perhaps I was going to have the cabin all to myself, but when I arrieved back at my cabin, I found a young Japanese guy getting settled. His name was Yudai and he turned out to be a really nice guy. He spoke nearly fluent English and had just finished a year's training to become a Buddhist monk!
Yudai, my bunk mate on the ferry. He's the first monk I've ever met.
Yudai belongs to the Shingon sect based at Koyasan. During the trip I had some long and very interesting conversations with Yudai about his sect and his life as a monk. I learnt his sect specialises in the practice of yoga, and no, this is not the usual yoga that spandex wearing Ponsonby housewives do every morning on synthetic blue rubber mats whilst sipping on lattes. This is proper yoga where it becomes a philosophy and way of life. They practice their yoga poses and stretches while meditating and chanting a mantra. He was making his way to a Hindu festival in Haridowar, about six hours north east of New Delhi in India.
For the rest of the day and into the night, we sailed along the east coast of the lower islands of Japan. When it was nearing sunset, I ventured out on the windy deck and just stared at the amazing views.
The hills of Japan at sunset - This photo doesn't do the actual view justice.
I caught the actual sunset as the sun disappeared behind the distant Japanese hills, it was quite a sight.
When it was dark, all you could see outside were little dots of light along the coast in between intermittent flashes from all the lighthouses. I spent the evening chatting to a couple of Chinese and Japanese people on board and trying to learn some more Chinese phrases. I had realised a long time ago, that learning anything more than the very basics was going to be impossible given that there are so many tones in Chinese and it rarely sounds like it is spelled. As long as I know basic greetings and some polite words like, "Excuse me", "Please", "Thank you" and "Please leave me alone", then I'll feel like I'm at least making an effort.
For the whole of the next day we might as well have been in the middle of the ocean because as we were travelling along the East China Sea and there was not a speck of land in sight. Because the ferry was so large and the sea was quite calm, the ferry wasn't rocking much, it was more of a very gentle swaying from side to side. You could feel it most when lying in bed because you were lying perpendicular to the direction of travel so you'd feel your body's weight shift from your head to your feet ever so slightly. In a way, it was kind of relaxing.
The only time I had food in the dining room, was the free breakfasts (mostly so I could have a coffee and it was free), otherwise I would dig into the bag of goodies I brought on board with me, like cup noodles and chocolate biscuits. I had been warned by a Japanese girl I met in Nagasaki who had taken the ferry that the food on board wasn't very good so I came prepared. She was right, I took a peek at the food during one of their dinner services and it didn't look very appetising. It turned out you could also buy cup noodles from the vending machines on board so I would have been alright anyway.
Funny sign on ferry. Don't worry captain, in an emergency I'll promise the last thing I'll be, is excited.
On the last day, I woke up at around 7 am to some ghostly sights outside the cabin window. We were now travelling up the very long and wide harbor towards the mouth of the Pudong river in Shanghai and it was one of the most surreal sights I have ever seen. I quickly got dressed and ran up the stairs and on to the outside deck. I was greeted by a mixture of morning mist and smog and the unmistakable smell of burning coal in the air. The water was now brown and dirty and a steady stream of debris was floating past the ferry from the rivers that drain into the sea. Through the mist you could see several small boats and on one side the faint outline of the river bank.
The misty morning in the Shanghai harbours
Slowly, the harbour narrowed a little and more and more boats started to appear out of the mist, most of them small, rickety barges carrying coal or dirt and rocks, lots of tug boats, and even a few police boats with flashing red and blue lights.
More and more small boats started appearing out of the mist
I headed inside to have my free breakfast and while I was sitting at the table, a young woman walked over and introduced herself in fluent English. Her name was Christine and she turned out to be from Australia! She had been talking to one of the Chinese guys that I'd had a conversation with and somehow she found out we were both staying in the same hostel in Shanghai. This turned out to be an extremely convenient coincidence because she spoke fluent Mandarin and she offered to share a cab with me to the hostel. I found out she was born in Beijing, but had moved to Perth when she was very young. This was also her first time in Shanghai, but she returns to Beijing every couple of years so she's quite used to the way things generally work in China.
After about an hour, we reached a part of the harbour where you could see land on each side. The banks were lined with countless types and sizes of docked ships, some of them large navy ships and even submarines. Long lines of huge cranes were already hard at work loading containers onto huge cargo ships and every few kilometers, you'd spot a vast ship building yard given away by the flashing lights from the welding torches. The port buildings looked old and rusty, bearing big Chinese flags and banners, it almost felt I'd been transported backwards in time or onto the set of an epic movie.
The countless cranes and boats lining the harbour edges
Eventually we entered the narrower part of the Pudong river where bridges and more and more tall buildings started to appear out of the mist.
A huge bridge over the pudong river
Tall buildings rising out of the mist along the Pudong river
Eventually, we docked along the Huangpu river not far from The Bund. As we were waiting to disembark, Christine and I agreed to wait for eachother after we passed through immigration. After a long wait we climbed down a portable staircase and into a waiting bus which took us on a very short distance to the entrance of the ferry terminal building. After another quick temperature check (36.5 C again - Yes!), we walked to the imigration gates. It was a huge and new looking building and very much like an airport. It had obviously been built quite recently in response to the 2010 Expo being held in Shanghai. Since our boat was the only one to have arrived, the place was virtually empty and I couldn't believe how quickly I got through immigration. There was a small panel with buttons at the immigration window which you could use to rate your experience with the immigration official. I can't remember exactly what was printed on the labels, but the sign read something along the lines of "Please rate your experience" and the buttons were labelled something like "Very Pleased", "Pleased", "Satisfied", "Unsatisfied" and "Very Unsatisfied". As I was walking through, I pushed the "Very Pleased" button, which the guy must have noticed as he cocked his head back with a huge smile letting out a huge sigh of satisfaction (I wonder what happens to people who push the "Very Unsatisfied" button).
On the other side, Christine was waiting for me and so we started walking towards the exit. I still had to exchange my remaining Japanese Yen into Yuan before I could do anything, so I was quite pleased when I spotted two automatic money exchange machines on the way out. It turned out to be not such good news though, as one of the machines didn't appear to be working and the other had just taken some guy's money without giving him any in exchange! Though he did get a nice receipt for his troubles. So I decided to skip the machines and instead walk to the nearest bank. Christine saved my life at this point as she did the work of asking security people where banks were and after finding one just across the road she even came to the bank with me to translate with the bank teller. We caught a taxi right outside the bank and once again Christine saved the day by being able to tell the driver where we were going.
I had a hunch that taking the ferry instead of flying to China would make for a more interesting journey, and I turned out to be absolutely right. I'm extremely glad I did it.
So here I am in China! I can already tell that things are going to be very different from now on, but I'm ready, so bring it on!