Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hello, Sailor!

One of the great things about teaching overseas is the chance to travel. I am a historian, and it was great to go and see things and places that I had read about and studied. Since Korea is bounded on three sides by water, there are many opportunities to travel by boat.
There are a lot of choices if you want to go to Japan. One of these is a hydrofoil that makes the trip from Busan to Fukuoka in a couple of hours. I preferred to take my time (and the hydrofoil was sold out), so I opted for the overnight ferry, the Camellia.

Busan Harbour

It was Chusok, and I had about a week off, so I was going to see Hiroshima. Travelling there would occupy two days. I would have three days to explore the city, and then a couple more to get back.

The ferry dock. The Camellia is the one in the middle, on the right.

The ship sails about six in the evening. The crossing takes about six or seven hours, and the ferry lies in the harbour at Fukuoka until the next morning, when it docks.

The ferry terminal in Fukuoka, from the deck of the Camellia.

Japanese Coast Guard vessel.

I had a basic ticket, which meant that I would sleep in an open area with most of the other people on board. The price of a cabin was prohibitive for such a short trip. You get a mat to lie on, a blanket, and a leather-covered block that's supposed to be a pillow.
There were a few other foreigners about, and I fell in with another guy making his visa run. Lucky to make the trip at Chusok, and on the ferry. I think he spent the balance of his time in Fukuoka while I was in Hiroshima, and I met him again on the return trip.
I don't remember a cafeteria as such. I think there was just a counter, where you could buy cup ramen or dried squid and kimchi. We drank a lot of beer from the vending machines. As we were headed to Japan we stuck to brands like Asahi and Kirin. Even though it was October, the weather was mild, so we spent most of our time up on the top deck, watching the moon set, and the lights of various fishing fleets that we passed through.
It was an amazing feeling to reflect that I was actually sailing across the Sea of Japan. (Even though I'd been in Korea for almost a year, I hadn't yet run across the term, "The East Sea.")
The Koreans occupied themselves with things drinking, talking, and playing games. One of the games they played was "Hwa-To," or Go-Stop, a card game that I very nearly learned how to play. I thought it might have been a way to bridge the gap between myself and my students, and I caused quite a stir when I tried to start a game in class one day. Apparently, go-stop is a betting game, and I was told parents would not be pleased to find out I was teaching their kids to gamble!
Anyway, it was fun to watch the Korean men playing the game. They really get into it. At one point, one of the ship's crew passed by, gave them the fish eye, and asked a question. It must have been about the gambling, because the players started to put the money away, all the while looking like little boys caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
I took this ferry on two different trips. The second time the weather was a little rougher, and you could feel the slow roll of the ship as it went through the swell. On one side of the ship, you were sheltered from the spray, but if you went to the other side, you were absolutely drenched. It's a good thing I had a change of clothes.
I didn't get seasick, but I could see some of the Koreans were green around the gills. There's a kind of patch they wear behind the ear that releases anti-seasickness medicine into the bloodstream.
I was on my way through Japan to Vladivostok in Russia. My thought was that I had come halfway around the world to Korea, so why not continue on in the same direction and so circumnavigate the globe?
And rather than just fly (like some mook), why not travel on the surface? Why not take the time to enjoy it? So I took the ferry to Japan, another ferry to Russia, and the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow.

The ferry that I took was called the "M. Shokolov," and it traveled from the north coast of Japan, near the small port of Takaoka. It didn't sail until two or three days after I boarded, but I didn't care. I had finished my contract in Korea, and was kind of taking my time about getting home.

The crew loaded the ship with as many cars as it could possibly carry, even taking up all the available deck space.

Japanese don't drive on the right side of the road, so these cars had steering wheels on the opposite side I was used to. Russians do drive on the right side of the road, and it was interesting to see these were the majority of vehicles in Vladivostok.
I was travelling alone, so I did have some language barriers to cross. But the crew were helpful and courteous. The food in the restaurant was good. A lot of typical Russian dishes like borscht, served by the tallest, most beautiful blonde waitresses I have ever seen.
That trip took about three days. There was nothing but the ship, the sea, and the sky. My cabin was right on the waterline, which gave me quite the view.

Another ferry from Korea departs from Pohang to the island of Ulleongdo, which is just a hop and a skip from the Dokdo, where Koreans long to see the holy sites and meet the seagulls.

The Ulleongdo ferry docked after the trip.

This ferry is a kind of hydrofoil. The trip takes about three hours, and you're stuck inside for the trip. There's not a lot of open deck space. The seating is theatre-style, but my friends and I fell in with some English-speaking Koreans who helped us pass the time.
There are a lot of islands around Korea, besides Ulleongdo and Dokdo. There's also Jeju-do, which I visited with Flint. It was a good trip, but we didn't take the ferry there. We did, however, take a day trip around and about the southern coast.

If you go to the southern port of Tongyeong, you can get on a boat for a day trip to some of the islands in the area, one of which was the headquarters of Admiral Yi Sun-shin during the time he fought back the Japanese invasion of 1595. There's a re-creation of the place that he lived, and a channel marker in the shape of his famous "turtle boat."

One of the last trips I took in Korea was to the south-western island of Hongdo, Perhaps the last landfall before you reach China.
The ferry was another fast hydrofoil, with no opportunity to go out on deck. The island is so small that four-wheeled traffic is banned, and the islanders get around on motorcycles.
You're basically stuck with the main town, which occupies a neck of land in the centre of the island. The northern and southern areas are protected nature preserves.

There is a day trip around the island offered. It was interesting to see the protected area up close, as the captain took his ship as close to the island as possible at various points.

That day was very sunny on one side of the island, while the other was wrapped in cloud.
I neglected to wear sunblock, and got very burned. The trip ends with various fishing boats gathering around with fresh fish for sale. A lot of the Koreans took great styrofoam boxes home, packed with fish on ice.
But I think if you asked Flint or what our favourite boat was, I think we'd both agree on the "Casa Bianca," which is moored in Cheongju. The main floor houses one of the best rib joints we've ever tasted. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm.

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