The scenic route

Friday, 21st March, 10pm: Reasonably early night, for tomorrow I am embarking on the two day ferry to Japan. Oh dear lord. I did consider cheating again and flying, but the ferry was less than half the price. I’m pretty sure I could fly to Japan from London for the same price as I could from Shanghai or Beijing. Also, I should get a bed, which is a fairly large step up from my last overnight travel experience. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, 22nd March, 6.30am: Just woke up from a nightmare that I had stupidly gone to visit some mountains yesterday without realising that it would take me a whole day to get back, and thus I was going to miss the ferry and sacrifice all the things I’ve already booked and paid deposits for in Japan. Also I had broken my camera and was strangely unable to replace it with anything other than a huge film camera carried on my shoulder (and yet, this was one of my more normal dreams). I’m reassured that I’m still in Shanghai, but I still can’t help worrying that we forgot to set our 8 o’clock alarm and slept through till 10 again, so I have to quietly creep down from the top bunk to check my watch.

9am: Actually awake and ready to leave now and I’m scrounging Emily’s leftover rejected snack food because I’m haunted by the fish heads and rice stories of the Indonesian ferries. They think I’m weird for taking the flat bottle of Sprite.

9.30am: We go our separate ways at Century Avenue metro station as I head off to the port and they carry on to the airport for their 11 hour flight home. 11 hours. Pah. Lightweights. Alix gives my boob a friendly farewell squeeze, which is what happens when you’ve known someone for 15 years rather than 15 minutes. I’ll miss my people :( I will probably get less groping when I’m back in hostels, and if I do get it I won’t welcome it half so much.

10.10am: Found the ferry port! Miffed that there isn’t a metro station straight here like there usually is at airports. I may have been able to find a bus if I’d tried a little harder. Bags scanned, tickets checked, departure fee paid, sitting down waiting for something else to happen.

11.10am: People are moving again! Yay! I have to scan my bag again. Do they think it has somehow evolved explosive properties in the last hour?

11.40am: There is a guy in front of me carrying 8 pots of instant noodles. How many days does he think this is going to take?

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12pm: I do indeed have a bed, and it’s not half bad. 8 beds to the room, softer mattresses than the trains, a TV which will no doubt only play Chinese or Japanese and cubby holes for bags. No lockers in the room, so I will have to sleep with my valuables, but that should be OK. So far it’s just me and an old lady, and she doesn’t look like much of a hardened criminal.

12.15pm: I’ve had an explore of the ship, and found the toilets (with paper!) and the showers (with hot water! In theory) There’s also a cafe and restaurant, vending machines which I can’t use as they only accept Japanese currency, laundry, lockers (in case the old lady turns out to be more than i bargained for), a duty free shop, and terrifyingly, the karaoke/dancing room. Hmm. Behind that is the mah jong room, (computer) game room and gymnasium. The gymnasium turns out to be just a ping pong table. I know the Japanese are pretty energetic in their ping ponging, but I feel that might be stretching it a bit. One thing I haven’t found is a pharmacy. I hope my 5 sea sickness tablets are enough to get me to Osaka.

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12.30pm: We’re off! Half an hour late, but I don’t think that’s going to make much difference in the grand scheme of things. One more person has checked into my 8 person room, which feels luxuriously empty. I’ve gained a middle aged lady this time, both locals, though since I fall into the horrendous stereotype of ‘all Asian people look the same to me’, I don’t know which side they’re locals of. I’m fairly sure they don’t speak English, but they smiled at me, so provided they don’t snore too loudly they should be fairly inoffensive travel companions. All in all, I don’t think it’s going to be a bad journey.

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1.30pm: I’ve just spent almost an hour watching Shanghai slide past on deck. It’s lovely and sunny today (typical), so I might end up regretting ditching the sunscreen. It really shouldn’t be this interesting watching industrial docks. I’m basically just passing an endless stretch of cranes and large boats carrying piles of sand. Sadly I don’t think they’re destined for enormous sandcastles. There’s a group of young Chinese guys out here already cracking open enormous cans of beer, so maybe I’m the only one who’s so easily amused by concrete and everyone else needs to find their own entertainment. Not sick so far (might struggle to find some wood to touch), but getting a wee bit hot. Possibly time to go find some shade and a book.

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3pm: Instant noodles for lunch, leftover from the Guangzhou-Shanghai train when I had no space to eat them. The water boiler is in the downstairs lavatory. I was a little confused when I saw separate signs for the toilet and the lavatory, but it turns out this is their translation for sinks, so I feel a little less uncomfortable about preparing food in there. I may have added too much water as all the instructions are in Chinese – the only English writing informs me that they are roast beef flavour. There are also bright green vegetables on the packaging, which feels somewhat optimistic when I tip out the tiny packet of desiccated ingredients.

4.45pm: I can no longer see land on the horizon out of the side window. I can also report that the duty free shop is stocked with such varied delights as fake pearls, enormous boxes of cigarettes and a hand torch in the shape of a pig.

6pm: Still hungry after my noodles, so it’s a good thing dinner is ridiculously early (the restaurant shuts at 7.30). I pointed at a plate at random and the dinner lady said ‘tofu and meat’. I thought she was trying to ask me which I wanted, but it turns out that she was just telling me what it was. Of course, this is Japanese food, and in Japan tofu isn’t a meat substitute but a foodstuff in its own right, so why not eat them together? I ended up with some kind of minced meat rolls, wrapped in sheets of tofu. Not too shabby for ferry food, and thankfully I can still pay in Chinese in the restaurant.

6.40pm: Lady in my room just pushed an orange into my hand and smiled, but left the room before I’d had the chance to say thank you. Not sure what language to say thank you in anyway. Maybe I’ll try all three when she gets back.

7.55pm: Oh God. I can hear the karaoke already. Spare me.

8.25pm/9.25pm: Apparently we have just crossed the arbitrary border in the sea because we just had an announcement to set our watches to Tokyo time. Karaoke singers still screeching like cats. Somewhere there is a kid wailing in despair and I think I have found my kindred spirit. It’s OK small child, we will get through this together.

10.15pm: Well, I guess I could try to go to sleep. Which probably means lying here for several hours waiting for the karaoke to die. I have a curtain on my bunk at least, and my own nightlight so I can strip and read without disturbing people (because generally, people are disturbed by strip shows that involve reading)

12am: The karaoke is over! Hurrah! And my roommates aren’t snoring! Double hurrah!

Sunday, 23rd March, 6.30am: Woken by baby in the corridors. Bah. As predicted, far less normal dreams last night. My dad converted to Judaism, which apparently meant that i had to get married in Diagon Alley, where I was chased down the corridors by a giant hungry necktie.  I can’t remember whether the free breakfast is 7 till 8 or 8 till 9, so I suppose I should get up.

6.45am: Eh, I’ll get up when the bed stops being so comfy.

7am: Come on! Up, up, up!

7.05am: Free breakfast starts at 8. Arse.

7.30am: The morning announcement just informed me that we are at 32.38 degrees north, 127 degrees east, if that means anything to anyone. They said it in Chinese, Japanese and English, so it seems to be important that everyone on board knows this. The motion of the sea is starting to make me feel a little drunk so I might have to take another tablet to get through the day.

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8am: Had my temperature taken before I was allowed into the restaurant. Is there a quarantine cell for the people who fail the test? Free breakfast is generally OK, though I will give the watery rice porridge a miss tomorrow. I’m alarmed by the packet of ‘green food’, which says on the back that it contains ‘chrysanthemum convenient aviation mustard piece piece’. OK then. The waves are gently rocking me back to sleep…

12pm: Hmm, just got woken up by the lunch announcement. Well, I guess just eating and sleeping is one way to make the day go faster.

12.45pm: Settling down for an afternoon of writing catch up China blog posts, which probably means it will be an afternoon of procrastinating by reading magazines and playing cut the rope. I might even fool myself into thinking that trying to learn some Japanese is noble, but let’s face it, that still counts as procrastination.

1.45pm: Neko ga reizouko no ue ni imasu.  The cat is on top of the refrigerator.  Number of blog posts written = 0.

5pm: Going to have to turn off and charge, so I’m glad I also have my Kindle with me and I can amuse myself with Philippa Gregory very very slowly killing Mary, Queen of Scots. Number of blog posts written = err…1. So much for catching up in Japan. I have gone as far as choosing photos for my other posts, which is clearly highly important. I do still like this blog I swear, but when I let myself get this behind it turns into a bit of a chore.

6.45pm: Getting increasingly bored of the selections in the restaurant, and the snacks available in the duty free shop are limited to a few packets of strawberry oreos and more cup noodles. Mental note to bring more snacks on the return journey. After getting tired of reading I amused myself by trying to decipher the television (fuzzy melodrama), knitting socks (yep, I’m rock and roll), and seeking out such wonderful instructions as this:

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9.30pm: So far people seem to be giving the karaoke a miss tonight… fingers crossed

Monday, 24th March, 7am: Just got woken up by the breakfast announcement. Apparently our mustard piece piece will be an hour early today. I guess this makes sense if we’re due to arrive at 9, but it would have been nice to have a little more warning. Glad I’m awake though. The unceasing lift Muzak is infiltrating my dreams.

7.15am: No noodles today. Disappointing.

8am: We’ve arrived at port, but we’re not allowed off yet. We get lined up for someone to check our temperatures, and apparently they have opened up the quarantine cells, because there is a girl behind me who sounds like she had the worst cold in the world, bless her. As far as I can tell she’s still being allowed into the country though.

8.15am: It appears that the Japanese woman in my room (worked that it last night) can speak English and has struck up a conversation while we’re passing our bags. She’s lovely, not sure where she was when I was bored out of my mind yesterday. I think she’s in the tombstone business, unless I grossly misunderstood that. She says she’s been to the UK, where she visited the highlights of London, Edinburgh, the Lake District, York, and… umm… Reading.

9am: Time to disembark! I smugly walk past all the people who had to check their baggage, but maybe I look a little too smug because I got a very thorough search in customs (well, my bag did, not me. It wasn’t that thorough). Friendly enough customs agent, but he seemed very worried about the fact that I’d been to Turkey.

9.I’ve stopped looking at my watch am: Japan! Yesssss! Two while weeks here before I have to get back to the port!

(As you probably guessed, I did not catch up in Japan, and as such this post is going live while I’m on my return journey. Fail. Better luck next time.)

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