Tuesday, April 24, 2007 China China / Korea (South) South Korea

Journey to the other half of Korea

Qingdao Ferry Terminal [Enlarge]

We spent most of our first day back in Beijing resting and uploading our photographs of North Korea to Flickr. We have taken hundreds. But not as many as some of our comrades—one of them took over a thousand pictures at the Arirang mass games alone! It was good to finally get the photos copied onto our laptop, as it's been a bit of a worry not having a backup of these expensive and completely irreplaceable memories.

The next stage on our round the world trip was a sleeper train ride from Beijing to the beer brewing capital of China, Qingdao (pronounced 'Ching-dao', to rhyme with 'now'), followed by the overnight ferry across the Yellow Sea to South Korea.

The train didn't start from Beijing until 22:50 so we paid for an extra half day to secure ourselves a late checkout from the hotel. Then, as late as possible without having to pay for a full extra day, we set out on a slow walk to the railway station. We had a very good club sandwich in the almost deserted restaurant of the Howard Johnson Paragon Hotel, near the station. The restaurant was in an atrium at the centre of the hotel, almost unlit, with a glass roof between us and the sky. It felt a bit like having a meal at the bottom of a mine shaft. We killed the rest of the waiting time in one of the station's soft-seat lounges, where the helpful staff kept an eye on us to make sure we didn't miss our train announcement, and Tom and Jerry cartoons played out endlessly on flat screen TVs.

We boarded the train amid the usual Chinese riot. We found our compartment, stowed our stuff, said a few hellos to our Chinese companions (who immediately fell asleep) and then settled down for the night. Still completely knackered from our DPRK trip we slept through until 06:30 in the morning which gave us just the right amount of time to sort ourselves out ready for an on-time arrival into Sifang station on the outskirts of Qingdao. We disembarked and went to find a taxi. One invaluable tip we've picked up is always to print off a map of where you're going in Chinese script, if at all possible. Luckily we had found one such map on the Weidong Ferry website, and we handed our map to the driver, showing the location of the Weidong ticket office. He seemed to know where he was going, and we got to the office just before 08:00. We had booked our berth over the phone from Shanghai, weeks and weeks ago. At 08:30 the office opened and we swapped our reference number and a wad of banknotes for two tickets. All that remained was to find a way to kill the seven hours until boarding time.

We had originally planned to do some sightseeing in Qingdao during this time, as it has lots of places for tourists to see. But we were so tired that we couldn't be bothered to do anything but set up camp in a corner of the terminal and sit it out.

It was our second wedding anniversary! On this day in 2005 we spent the day in a beautiful country house with our friends and family. Last year we were in London at the Royal Albert Hall, and riding on the Millennium Wheel. Today, we spent the day sitting in the departure hall at Qingdao ferry terminal surrounded by hundreds of crates of cargo being exported to Korea. And a Chinese acrobatic troupe, complete with see-saws! It will go down as one of our stranger anniversaries.

While Isla minded the bags, Glenn went for a wander down the street to see if there was anything interesting within range of the terminal. (There wasn't.) Glenn hadn't been gone long when a young Chinese man approached Isla. "Where are you from?" he asked. "England," said Isla. The man proudly showed off his jacket, which had a Union Flag on the front and ENGLAND written across the back. And then he grinned and said "James Bond!", and walked off. There was no answer to that. By the way, we are now carrying three bags, plus a plastic shopping bag, until we get a chance to mail home all our North Korean propaganda! Also, we're still carrying that damned terracotta warrior! Our travelling light philosophy is briefly on hold, and we hate it.

We finally boarded at about half past three, and then set sail at 17:35, about an hour late. Our 'Royal Class Cabin' was the equivalent of a 3-star hotel room and perfect for the overnight crossing. It wasn't cheap at 1150 yuan each (GBP 76 / USD 150), but hell, it was our anniversary—and the alternative was open bunks or mattresses on the floor of a fifty-berth dormitory. We could have booked the President Suite, but that seemed a bit extreme.

We were the only westerners among the few hundred on board, and we were objects of great curiosity. The voyage was uneventful, and we spent most of it in the cabin, as there was absolutely nothing of interest on the ship, despite what the website said. We couldn't even buy a can of Coke and a bar of chocolate, as the only shop on board was a tiny duty free shop selling nothing but booze and fags. It is obvious that the Weidong Ferry does not get many tourists.

Every half hour or so there was an announcement in Korean and Chinese, which we had no ability to comprehend. We could have been sinking and we wouldn't have known. But credit to our new, we've seen it all, laid back personas, we weren't bothered by not having a clue what was going on. We are used to it now.

Korean cars being exported [Enlarge]

We disembarked in Incheon port (pronounced In-chon) at 10:30 this morning. Incheon is about an hour's ride on the subway from Seoul, the capital of South Korea. At the exit to the ferry terminal was a tourist information booth where we got directions to the nearest ATM and subway station. As usual, we hadn't bothered changing money before arriving, since developed countries always have plenty of ATMs.

We walked out of the port, wondering what our twenty-first country would have in store for us. It should be one of the easier ones, we thought, as South Korea has a reputation for being one of the most high-tech countries in the world. We went into a nearby supermarket, as directed by the tourist information lady, where we had a choice from several ATMs. At which point each machine in turn barfed at us and told us in broken English that it only accepted Korean cards, and so could we please stop contaminating it with nasty foreign ones. Bugger. Oh, and our phone didn't work either. It is a worthless piece of plastic here, as the Korean system is completely different to the rest of the world's. We spent the next half hour or so trying ATM after ATM throughout Incheon, before giving up and exchanging a few American dollars that we found at the bottom of our wallet for just enough Korean won to get us to Seoul. With the exceptions of Laos and North Korea, every country we have visited has had bog-standard, any card welcome, ATMs. Still, at least we could get to Seoul, and with the help of a friendly local we boarded the subway. After a short walk to our pre-booked hotel, we checked in and contemplated where we'd landed, and what we'd landed ourselves in.

Map of Days 149-151

Days 149-151
Beijing to Seoul

This map shows the route we took in this post. Click it to see larger maps of our whole route at flickr.

Maps are taken from the CIA World Factbook.


녹말쥬스 said...

I'm a new reader of this blog and feeling deep impression, especially from North Korea articles. :D Your video clip about traffic girl in North Korea is now fairly famous in Korean web sites, I have no idea whether it is linked under your permission or not, though. :|

녹말쥬스 said...

Exactly speaking, the Korean CDMA standard works in 1/3 of the world including China and USA, which are using the both standards. Only Japan uses their own standard. In addition, the Korean company, KTF, just has started serving WCDMA service as being commercialised in Europe. So if you have a WCMA phone, you can use it as it stands. :)

Glenn Livett said...

Hi, We have just noticed your comments, thanks for leaving them! (Blogger is supposed to email us when there is a new comment but it doesn't seem to be working at the moment.)
Yes we know the traffic ladies video is being linked from Korean websites - we had to look into why it was suddenly getting so many hits! We are happy for it to be linked from other sites.