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The voyage home

The very first part of today’s journey (I’m writing this on the ferry) went well.

I got up at 5:30 in the morning darkness, showered and packed the remainder of my things that hadn’t been packed last night. I checked out of the hostel; there was a bit of a delay when I didn’t hand over the correct receipt with my keys – I needed the one that was specifically for the deposit, not just for the extra days that I’d stayed (and certainly not for the laundry service). I walked to Wangfujing Station, put my bags through the scanners that they have at all the stations and places like Tiananmen Square, bought a ticket for 2 yuan (about 20p) and took the subway to Beijing South Railway Station, where I’d entered the city the previous week. I had a McDonald’s breakfast (hopefully, my last fried, fatty breakfast for a while – my breakfasts at the hostel were generally fried eggs, toast, hash brown, maybe bacon, maybe cornflakes. I navigated the dimly lit concourse and found the correct gate for my train – the departure concourse is huge and has a series of escalators where travellers gather before being allowed to pass through the ticket barriers and down to the platforms. I got on the train and tried to ask a member of staff if two numbers on my ticket were my carriage and seat – I’m sure she said they were. When I got there, there appeared to be a man sitting in my aisle seat – he told me to sit in the window seat; I didn’t complain. The train left at 7:20. I got off the train at Tianjin when it arrived at 7:50 – the English part of the announcement helpful said that it would be a quick stop and people getting off should get ready.

This is where things started to go wrong.

I headed towards an exit of Tianjin Station; it seemed to be the only one available – signs for others had Xs taped over them. The station was huge and new. I ignored a couple of men who wanted me to hire their taxis and found a couple of toilets near the taxi rank – both were disgusting, so I didn’t go. Instead I queued up for a taxi. Once I got in, I couldn’t tell the driver where to go because he didn’t speak English, so, as he drove away, I fished out my ticket wallet, on which the woman at the Incheon office had written the name of the ferry terminal in Chinese, and I showed it to the driver. He looked at it and twigged where I wanted to go and off we went.

Superficially, so far, so good. However, the drive took a while. And then it took a while longer. And then it took longer still. Then I saw a sign that said ‘Tanggu – 30 km’. What’s Tanggu (besides being the Korean for billiards)? Tanggu is the city where Tianjin Passenger Terminal actually is. The driver seemed to be beyond the limits of his usual territory. 9 am, the time I’d been told be at the terminal by, came and went. I showed the driver a little map on my ticket wallet and he stopped and started asking other taxi drivers and pedestrians for help. It turned out the map on the wallet wasn’t relevant – probably the ferry company, Jincheon Ferry’s Tianjin offices. We kept going. I tried telling the driver I was in a hurry and I should have been there for nine. He seemed to tell me not to worry about it, we’d be there in ten or twenty minutes. He kept winding down his window to ask other taxi drivers as we went, though.

We got there towards ten o’clock and I handed over a massive 143 yuan. To find the value in pounds, you just have to divide by ten; £14.30 is not very much, but this is China – consider that the basic fare started at 8 yuan (80p). One of my souvenirs was to have been a full set of nice new Chinese banknotes. I had to hand over the hundred, the largest, of this set to pay; I thought my 100 yuan deposit from the hostel would have been enough for that and for my port fee of 30 yuan. I plan on buying another 100 yuan note once I arrive back in Korea.

I walked into the terminal, showed my ticket to someone behind a window, who told me to go to another window. The person there gave me a boarding pass, so I headed in through the main entrance – but was turned back because I needed my pass stamped. I went back to the first window and handed over the 30 yuan for the stamp.

Inside the main part of the building, after a baggage scan, there was a long line of people with boxes and packages on trolleys. A couple of them ushered me forwards as I tried to line up behind them. My bags were scanned for the second time in about as many minutes. Then I queued up for Immigration. But an officer asked me if I had a departure card – I didn’t and he showed me to the desk where they were kept. I filled one in, but was stumped over the box that asked for my flight number/ship name etc. The officer came back and wrote a couple of Chinese characters in there for me (although he botched one a bit). How very proactively helpful.

Once past Immigration I waited about five minutes behind a small crowd of people just inside the door for a shuttle bus to the ferry. When I got on the bus I realised the ferry was all of about 150 metres away. Oh, well. The wind was blowing hard as we got off the bus and climbed a staircase to gangway on to the ship.

This one is nicer than the one I took from Korea – which is just as well, as I’m going to be on for a whole day. (The scheduled times are 11:00 on Thursday morning to 11:00 on Friday morning – which is a period of 25 hours, taking the one hour time difference into account.) The common areas are cleaner and they don’t have that savoury Asian dumpling smell that I now associate with Chinese people. The other ferry had a restaurant that was only open twice on the journey and for less than an hour each time. This one’s restaurant is more like a real restaurant. The bathrooms are less grim. The demographic on board seems less working class than my outgoing trip.

On that previous trip I’d shared a business class room with three others. This time I plumped for economy. I’m in bed 48 of what I think is a 48 bed dorm. It’s not too bad at the moment – I have an upper bunk, and, once you draw the curtains, it feels fairly private. The bunk isn’t tall enough to sit up in it, though. It also has no convenient power outlet. I’ve spent most of my time so far watching Prison Break in my bunk or writing blog posts out in the ship near a socket.

I’m at 75% charge now. It’s 7pm Korean time. I should start thinking about dinner.

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