5.1.2: Ferry to Japan

Day 193: Beijing to Tianjin

As I left hostel this morning I saw Joe who told me I needed to go to the south train station to get to Tianjin, which was lucky because I was about to go to the main train station. I got a bus from nearby which took about an hour to get there. The south station complex was huge and I had to get another bus to get from the bus station to the train station. I didn’t know at the time, I thought I’d arrived, but a friendly Chinese man who was also heading for the station showed me the way. I got a ticket on the super-fast Chinese bullet train. It got up to a speed of 333 km/h and covered the 60 km distance to Tianjin in 30 minutes, about half the time it had taken to get to the train station from the hostel! I walked through town and got the metro to the west station which was close to where I was staying. The metro was brand new as it was built for the recent Beijing Olympics.

193.1. Some buildings in the centre of Tianjin.

When I arrived at the hostel I asked the guy who was running the hostel about getting to the ferry port but he didn’t seem to know much. He recommended that I take a taxi and said that it would probably take about four hours, which was much longer than I had expected and would mean a 4:00 start tomorrow morning. In the afternoon I went for a walk around the city centre. Tianjin is one of the fastest growing cities in the world and there is a lot of construction work going on. There is also quite a lot of colonial buildings. For a city of 10 million people the streets were fairly quiet. When I got back I met a Swedish girl called Anna who was also heading for the ferry port tomorrow. We agreed to share a taxi together and said that we would meet up tomorrow morning.

Day 194: Tianjin to Yanjing Ferry

I got up met with Anna at 5:00. There was a snowstorm going on outside so we weren’t particularly keen to go out and find a taxi. Luckily we found one soon enough and arranged a price of 160 RMB to get to the ferry port at Tanggu. On the way he phoned his friend who spoke English and he asked for more money and we agreed on 200 RMB. The taxi driver was driving ridiculously fast considering the snowy conditions and I was hoping for the traffic to build up to slow him down. Also I was happier being inside the taxi rather than waiting outside in the cold. When we arrived in Tanggu it became clear that he didn’t know where he was going. In the end he stopped and we transferred to a local taxi who took us to the passenger terminal. We arrived at about 6:00 and still had another three hours until the check-in opened. So much for the four hour drive we were told in Tianjin! It was freezing outside and it seemed like we were waiting forever. Eventually some staff arrived and opened the doors to let us wait in the warm. When the time came we went to the check-in to get our tickets. I’d made a reservation on the internet previously but had to pay here. Afterwards Anna and I went to the waiting room and chatted about our trips so far. Anna had arrived in China on the Trans-Siberian Express and has spent some time in Mongolia. She wants to travel around the world overland. It seems ambitious to me, but good luck to her. We boarded the boat and then sat by the window as the ship left port. At around midday we went for lunch at the on board restaurant. The prices of the foods were all in Yen but luckily they would accept RMB. After lunch Anna went to get some sleep and I sat by the window reading my Japan guidebook and starting to plan my itinerary. The sea was very rough and I was beginning to feel a little dizzy so I went back to the cabin and read on my bed. An hour or so later one of the attendants came in, motioned to me to get up and woke up Anna who was asleep on the bed below mine. She said ‘we have just received a message from the captain and we are preparing to abandon ship’. Anna and I were quite scared as she took us upstairs to the main floor. Soon after the captain took us to one side and spoke to us in English. After discussing emergency procedures for ten minutes or so he casually mentioned that it was a drill – thank fuck!

193.1. Some buildings in the centre of Tianjin.

In the evening we met up with the other laowai, an Australian called Peter and a Brazilian called Alex. We sat upstairs and played cards together and drank a few beers. Peter and Alex and been studying for a few weeks at a university in Beijing and were now headed back to Japan. Alex is studying International Relations in Tokyo and Peter had been living in Kyoto.

Day 195: Yanjing Ferry

We got up and had breakfast as it was a ‘healthy start to the day’ according to the message that came over the PA system. It wasn’t a very good breakfast but at least it was free. The weather this morning was clearer than yesterday and the sea was less rough. I went on the deck for a bit and saw some small islands off the south coast of Korea. Most of the day was spent reading my guidebook and planning my itinerary for my travels in Japan. In the evening I met up with the others and watched a movie.

195.1. Some islands not far from the south coast of Korea.

Day 196: Yanjing Ferry to Kobe

We got up again for the free breakfast and at about 9:00 we went out on the deck as we passed under the huge bridge that connects Honshu with Kyushu. After lunch we played some more cards and arrived at the port in Kobe at about 14:00.

196.1. The Honshu-Kyushu suspension bridge.

We had a while to wait as the crew unloaded the cargo before we were let off to go through immigration. This took quite a while as well since everyone had to be fingerprinted and photographed before moving on to customs. Alex got through a bit quicker as he was returning and waited for the rest of us as we came through. We got a train into town and I was able to change some Thai Baht for Yen. I’d changed all my RMB on the boat. Anna couldn’t use her credit card though so she and Peter went to find a Post Office so that she could use an ATM. I stayed back with Alex but when they hadn’t come back after half an hour or so I decided that I should get going. I was a little concerned about whether my hostel booking had been confirmed as I had only done it with an email.

196.2. First view of Japan; Kobe city centre.

I got a train to Uozaki station and then walked. The hostel is called the Kobe Dears Hostel and there were signs put up on lampposts all the way from the station so it was very easy to find. When I arrived there were no staff members so I used the internet for an hour or so and he still hadn’t turned up. I went out to a convenience store and bought some sushi and a beer and by the time I got back someone had arrived. He was very friendly and the hostel was very nice and felt like someone’s home.