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Leaving Us Wanting More

Reunited with Scott, I found China quite a bit easier to navigate. It was empowering to have wheeled such a vast distance and overcome such a potentially breakdown inducing experience all alone in this chaotic and mysterious place they call China, but I was happy to relax into the comfort of Scott handling the communications department again, and even more so a bed at the maze-like Qingdao hotel that Scott had arranged for us.  The civil engineering of Qingdao had been masterminded by the Germans, who slipped in a number of gothic cathedrals and narrow zig-zagging streets.  The Germans controlled Qingdao from the late 1800s until the English and the Japanese ganged up during World War I and kicked them out, giving it an uncanny european feel.  Our  hotel had taken a cue from this design, requiring numerous staircases and rounded corners reminiscent of an M.C. Escher painting drenched in pastels to reach our room.  Where they found the artworks on the wall and the chartreuse wallpaper was anyone’s guess.

The next morning, we packed up our belongings and strapped them to the Speed TRs for the last time on the Chinese mainland. As we road through the winding European style roads of Qingdao towards the ferry terminal, I felt a tinge of regret at not having enough time to properly wheel this town (together at least). I imagined this city must look somewhat like Communist Germany did during the cold war, with it’s blend of soviet blocky buildings, and ornate turn of the century European ones. There were big clock towers, and even a steeple or two. This made sense, in a way, given Qingdao’s teutonic heritage.

Perhaps due to the German influence, Qingdao had a little of that beloved Bia Hoi culture that we’d so enjoyed in North Vietnam. Most restaurants proudly displayed a number of empty beer kegs outside their buildings, as if advertising how crazy things could get inside, and luring customers in with a 30 cent lukewarm draft.  Of course, the eponymous Qingdao (or Tsingtao) beer, China’s most popular, is brewed in the area.  Needless to say, the citizens are proud.

It was barely noon by the time we arrived at the ferry terminal, sweating in the growing heat and the oceanside humidity, and we were thrilled to roll our bikes into an air conditioned terminal, filled with well to do Chinese and Korean nationals, preparing for the Karaoke and Soju filled journey across the sea to the Korean port of Incheon. The not-to-scale map hanging above the officer’s resting quarters confirmed we were in the right place.

We picked over the heaps of checked luggage (cervical vertebrae retractors are predicted to be huge this year) and searched for the correct counter from which to extract our paper tickets.   As we produced them, we flashed back quickly to those morning sessions in Mongolia spent speaking broken chinese over Skype to the ticket booking office, and the relief of receiving email confirmation that tickets were indeed booked.

This we did with minimal stress, interfacing with a woman in a luminous blue uniform, and an impossibly tight bun of hair. After confirming that we could indeed take our cycles onto the boat and legally store them in our 50 person communal bunk area, we headed out to buy snacks and eat a quick meal before settling into life on the open sea.

We got a couple of draft beers (when else is Qingdao a local brew?) and some rice noodle soup from one of the aformentioned vendors, located down the street from the ferry terminal. By this point the humidity was quite high, and the day was looking to be a stifling one. We had lost some of our heat endurance, spending the last 4 months traipsing the fridged north of Asia, and found ourselves positively soaked in sweat as we waited for our food to arrive.  It was glorious.

The soup was excellent and quite cheap, full of kelp, big chunks of pork and a soft tofu. We had definitely entered a new culinary micro-climate here in Qingdao, which I would have liked very much to better explore, but AsiaWheeling waits for no man.

Our departure from China was smooth, enjoyable even, and we stocked up on a few extra snacks in the duty free zone, rendering us so laden with items that claiming the gangway with our many shopping bags, packs, and fully loaded Speed TRs was a source of entertainment for all around us.

As we settled into our quarters, a mischievous fog closed in around the boat, and with it a pensive melancholy befell its passengers.

Scott and I chatted about the shipping industry and the enormous Chinese demand for all manner of things as the fog swallowed the port of Qingdao behind us.

This, we would come to find, was not the Karaoke and booze filled cruise that we had experienced when we had taken an analogous ride on AsiaWheeling 1.0.

Coming across the main stairwell full of clocks, we fastidiously set our timepieces to match our destination.

A storm whipped up around us and rain and wind hammered our fair ship and she struggled her way across the yellow sea. Passengers were grumpy and vomited frequently into the specialized vomit receptacles in the on board bathroom.

We wandered the ship, attempting to join wireless networks, and plugging cat 5 cables into dubious Ethernet jacks. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that there was no internet to be had on this vessel. To make matters worse, though some error in our calculations, we managed to miss the small window of dinner service on the boat, and found ourselves forced to subsist on the many salted and fishy snacks we had brought from Chinese duty free, supplemented of course by some Korean treats from the on-board 7-Eleven.


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