Liang Wei in Weihai
Trip Start Jul 11, 2005
62Trip End Apr 04, 2006
The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready
- Henry David Thoreau
· Weihai, Eastern China.
· Prague time +7hrs
· Days to get to Prague - 32
Thank you Korea. For everything
Okay, time to move on. Time to finally hit the road and get this trip going. As you can see from the heading of this entry, I only have 32 days to get to Prague in Central Europe, for a March 8th flight to Ireland. It's going to be a rush. And now that, finally, the waiting for the required visas is over and all the goodbyes have been said it's time to move on to China. But before we move on I'd like one final word on Korea. I've been to Korea so many times, and become so used to the place, that I don't even consider this past 5 weeks part of the trip. But of course it is. It's an integral part. If it wasn't for Korea I wouldn't even be in this part of the world nor, more importantly, would I have the financial resources to do see me through the coming weeks. So thanks again Korea.
Playing with us?
We left Seoul Saturday afternoon (February 4th), a whole 8 days after we arrived. The Chinese New Year celebrations has delayed us and caused us to hang around a lot longer than planed. A communications mix-up between myself and the Henkster meant he went both made our own way to the Incheon international ferry terminal were we were to catch the 5pm ferry across the East China/Yellow sea to the Chinese port of Qingdao. Due to the mix-up I was running late and had difficulty actually getting to the right ferry terminal. A frantic couple of taxi rides later I eventually made it to the right place. In situations like that I amaze myself with my ability to get obscure places without a word of the local language. Anyway, I had done my usual amount of prep work for this trip and according to the ferry company website the ferry to Qingdao was leaving at 5pm. Running into the departures hall at 4:50pm I sort of assumed I'd be too late to be allowed board. But I soon learnt that there was no 5pm ferry to Qingdao. Nice to see the company make a good effort to keep their website information up to date. So, I thought, why were there so many people in the departures hall? There must be a ferry going somewhere? As it turned out there was. Henk had found out that a ferry was leaving in 2 hours to Weihai, another Chinese port north of Qingdao, and thus, nearer Beijing, our ultimate destination. "Super", I said, "it'll still get us to China, so let's get that ferry". But no. We were told it was full, "No, no..... no ticket.. sold out". To make matters worse there was even a waiting list for berths. Adding our names to the list we were given numbers 41 and 42. Looking around at the frantic scene in the departures hall we were in agreement that there was no chance of getting on this ferry. Forced, there and then, to come up with a plan B we soon discovered that the next ferry out of Korea was in 2 days time, meaning we'd get to Beijing on Wednesday at the earliest. This was the latest unwelcomed delay as we were already tight on time due to our longer than planed stay in Seoul. Not getting to Beijing until Wednesday messes things up sufficiently, the main reason being is that we're hoping to catch the once weekly train from Beijing to Ulaan Baator, the capital of Mongolia, on Wednesday morning. Missing that would be a major pain. So myself and the Henkster assessed our options in the departures hall and quickly realised we had none. So with little option we decided to buy a ticket for the ferry in 2 days and sort out alternate ways to get to Mongolia when we eventually get to Beijing. Procrastination. I love it. But when we were buying tickets for what we thought was the ferry in two days time we were handed tickets for the ferry due to depart in 2 hours. "WTF?...." I think we were too surprised, not to mention relieved, to question what was going. Having paid for the tickets we suspiciously examined them and finding everything above board (no pun intended) we happily headed for the departures gate. Going through immigration I discovered I had a small hiccup with my visa. Seemingly I overshot my welcome in Korea by 5 days. Umm....the guys in immigration, although being as nice as any Korean could be, wanted to tell me how bad a boy I was. Tut tut. Soiling my name with the Korean government, am I? That hiccup held us up for a few minutes but we were soon on the ferry.
Slow Boat to China
The ferry trip was very pleasant, made all the more so by meeting a lovely Korean family who shared food, whiskey and laughs with us. But the room (it was actually the ferry ballroom with mattresses on the floor) we stayed in was almost empty. So much for the "sold out" line we heard in ferry terminal hours earlier.
Taxi Drivers. Chancers, the world over
The next morning we woke to find ourselves in the Chinese port of Weihai in eastern China (look west from Seoul and you should see it). There's nothing of interest here for tourists which, although we planned on being in Quinqdao, is okay seen as we only planned on hanging around wherever we ended up for as long as it took to get the next overnight train to Beijing. So having ended up in Weihai our first port of call was to go to the train station. But getting there was an adventure and needless to say the taxi driver at the ferry port tried the usual tricks I've come to expect from Chinese taxi drivers. In the space of only a few minutes he had tried everything, from looking dumbfounded at the mention of "train station" and the accompanying picture of a train, to pulling out a series of pointless maps of China, to claiming there was no train station in the town at all. All this, of course, while we're sitting in the tax with our bags firmly in the boot and with the meter running at a ludicrously inflated fare rate. Aggh, China. You gotta love it. Thankfully I've dealt with clowns like this before and had a few retorts, and although me muttering, in Chinese, that the fare rate was "too expensive" should have told him he wasn't dealing with greenhorns, he still acted dumb. So we got out of that taxi and with a little help from a nice station employee we eventually made it to the station with an honest taxi driver.
No! Not hard seat
At the station we quickly learnt, with the help of an English speaking local who was, luckily, behind us in the queue, that the next (only) ticket we could get out of the town was a hard-seat ticket for the following evening. After that we were faced with what to do in this place for the best part of two days while we waited for the train. Not having my guide or phrase book had already caused us enough trouble and we were only in the country a few hours. I left both books at home assuming we'd be getting the ferry to a port only an hour from Beijing, somewhere I know well, and from there a train to Mongolia. Thus I assumed we'd not need either book. Ummm.. those plans didn't quite work out. But not too worry.
A Real Chinese experience
As for our unplanned stay in Weihai. Liang Wei, the local guy who helped us out in the train station, befriended us and brought us to a flat where we hung out for the time we were in the town. He and his family were so nice to the strangers from the station. They gave us a bed, fed us and plied us with Chinese spirits; potent, not to mention disgusting stuff, at 56%. And there's no sipping your drink here. They made (!) us drink 2 full China cups of the stuff during lunch (lunch is the main dish of the day for the Chinese), and having done so you can probably imagine we were fairly inebriated come mid afternoon. Our overall experience, although unplanned, in Weihai was as authentic a Chinese experience as you could wish for. It's was a real treat, as it always is, to be treated like this and to meet the real Chinese. Check out the photos attached to this entry for more on that.
Counting the minutes until hard seat
So as I type this I'm sitting in the apartment in Weihai. It's the afternoon of our second day in the city and we get the overnight train to Beijing later this evening. Henk is in bed feeling the effects of the 56% from this afternoon's lunch. He did the same last night when we consumed 38% proof with dinner. Ummm....as an Ozzie maybe he suffers from ferry-lag? I hope so. Here's hoping the guy isn't a lightweight? I've another 5 weeks with him to find out. We leave for the train station in two hours. I'm looking forward to getting back to Beijing but not the trip that will take us there. As I mentioned we could only get hard seat tickets for the 16 hour journey. I don't care how cheap it is; I've travelled hard seat before and I know how bad it is. Okay okay... I shouldn't really be saying I've travelled hard seat before because that's not entirely true... when faced in the past with an overnight hard seat trip I managed to escape it (check out that adventure by reading my Get me outt'a here paragraph in this entry). Hard seat is every bit as uncomfortable as it sounds and I hate to say it but I'm not feeling confident I'm going to be able to escape it this time. Looks like we're gonna have to suck it up. It's going to be a long trip, but we'll eventually see you all in Beijing, somewhere I'm looking forward to getting back to. I'll be my third time in the city but my first time in the winter months and I'm really looking forward to seeing the contrasts. But just getting there........ ouch