After sleeping in on Friday morning, the day after I arrived in QingDao, I walked a block or so to the ferry company office to see how accurate the information in the guidebook was. Turns out they sail on four, rather than only two days a week, and one of those days was Friday. Too soon to get done all the things I need to do, and still get aboard on time, so Monday was the day, which I was sort of planning on anyway. At first they said leave your passport and money and come back at 2:00 for your ticket. But I thought I would need my passport at the post office to get the phrase book that wasn't there after all so they quoted me a price of almost exactly $100 and said come at 9:00 on
Monday to get my first class ticket. The price of a second class ticket was not enough less to make it worth requesting, but by the time Monday came that was all that they had left, so that is what I got.
My English-speaking Korean roommate at the hotel originally told me that he was going to stay in QD until Tuesday, but right after I showed up with my ticket he went and bought one for Monday as well. His name is Choi, Sung-Wook. I suppose that he had had his fill of China as well, and was ready to return to his home country. Or maybe this was a way of getting to practice his English some more. Anyway, right after that he disappeared again but was waiting for me in the hotel lobby when I got back from lunch and a final round of emails at the Internet cafe. He was armed with two cases of Tsing Tao beer. He said his birthday was the day after tomorrow and the seller told him that there was no import duty on beer; only wine and liquor.
We went to the departure lounge together, where we encountered another Korean who was on Choi's ferry to TianJin a month or so ago. They had also met a couple of different times and places while traveling in China, so now we were a party of three. The new member could also speak some Chinese - really speak, not the limited and focused speaking that is my specialty. But still limited. Seems that there was some concern about how to get my bicycle on the boat, and the company official was telling the new Korean all about it, in Chinese, and what the options were. Then he told Choi in Korean, and Choi told me in English. It was all very confusing and I mostly ignored that exchange.
Things were not happening very fast, nor on any kind of schedule that I could determine, so eventually I wandered over to the door where a lot of large duffel bags were departing. They were being loaded into a container. The same company official that had been talking to us before said I should bring my bicycle. This, after the ticket clerk in the morning had told me that I could just wheel my bicycle onto the ferry - no problem. Turns out all passengers, after going through emigration, ride a bus the short distance from the terminal to the ship. I had two choices, and riding a bicycle this short distance was not one of them. If I wanted the bicycle with me on the ship, I could take off all the
luggage - which I would then have to carry by hand, and put the bicycle on this miniature flat bed trailer and collect it at the end of the short bus ride, or I could put it as is, into the container and collect it in Inchon. I finally chose the latter, and took one pannier with stuff in it for an overnight stay with me on the boat. Good choice, as there was no place in the passenger part of the ship for a loaded bicycle.
The second class ticket was just what I needed. There are two kinds of second class. One is a large open room for sleeping on the floor Japanese style (also Korean as it turns out). The other is in a room with bunk beds, and each berth with a curtain to close against the light in the room. Some hold up to eight people, my room was made for four, and there were finally only two of us.
One of the things I thought about while riding in China was a place that is completely quiet, and doesn't have any outside windows, so you can't tell when the sun is shining. I have heard of anechoic chambers where the inhabitant is totally cut off from any outside influence in a kind of laboratory environment. I kept thinking that I would like to volunteer for whatever experiments they do in these chambers. But the cabin on the boat was close enough. Not totally silent, but enough white noise from the ship's engines and the air conditioning system to keep out other noises, and with the lights out and the curtain drawn, the level of light was constant and very low at all times. This in contrast to first class, where there are only two single beds and a porthole to let in the sunlight. For getting clean, there were public showers with unlimited hot water. I spent a very pleasant night on that ship.
In the morning, Choi's friend came to my cabin with two bottles of wine and asked if I would take one through customs, since one per person is duty free. I agreed. In the afternoon, as we were entering the locks that keep Inchon harbor independent of the tides, Choi's friend remembered his earlier experience traveling through Korea and sleeping in churches. Everybody thought this was such a good idea that he finally wrote a long note in Korean, addressed to "The Head of the Church," explaining his experience, introducing me, and suggesting that I should have a similar experience. He added his name and phone number at the bottom. Choi put his on the back.
After immigration, while I was waiting for my bicycle to appear, Choi took his beer to customs where he entered into a long discussion, but I lost track because the bicycle came out on the conveyer belt (the same as in airports) and I went to rescue it. Got it on its feet, and spun the wheels to see if everything was OK. The rear wheel went around just fine, but the front one went, "Ting, Ting, Ting." "Now what," I thought, as I reevaluated my decision to send the bicycle in the container. When I investigated I found that a fender stay had been bent into the spokes. Not serious, and bending it back solved the problem.
Next was Animal Control. When I boarded back in QD, they handed me several forms. One of them was about importing meat products. About forever, I had been carrying two small sticks of "keeps forever" Chinese balogna in case I got stuck some place where there wasn't any food. This never happened, and rather than discard it on the boat I took the opportunity for another interaction with the system. I thought since it wasn't 'sausage,' which was the most prominent thing listed on the form, they might let me keep it. Not. They filled out a form in Korean that looked like a receipt for the balogna, and had me sign it. And while this was going on, another group 'disinfected' my tires. Nothing about shoes though. Maybe because it is easier when walking to avoid certain kinds of contaminants than it is while riding on roads after a herd of goats or flock of sheep has been through. In fact another thing that I thought about now and then as I rode along, is the perfect title for a story, but so far I don't have the story to go with it.
Now that the preliminaries were over, I was ready to go through customs, and Choi's friend handed me my bottle. Since the signs said that I didn't need to declare one bottle, I headed for the green lane, but was directed to the red, where they helped me fill out the proper form, and then let me go. A port official tried to chase me out of the waiting area, even before I could have a look at the counter that said (in English), "Tourist Information." A month earlier Korea was co-host of the World Cup, and as a result is still very visitor conscious, especially at ports of entry. I was finally able to stop long enough to
pick up a couple of maps. One of Seoul, and another of the whole country, with the names of major cities in English. Good for pattern matching when I came to signs, or map reading that didn't have any English equivalent. Also good for knowing how to pronounce the name of a city when I wanted to ask directions.
Despite my delay in getting the bicycle and dealing with the Animal Control folks, I still waited outside the entrance/exit for a long time for both of my Korean companions. I guess they had their luggage searched pretty thoroughly. Something I have yet to have a problem with on this adventure, or any other for that matter. I couldn't leave on account of one of them because I had his wine, and the other was on for helping me find a map.
Jan, an email correspondent from the Netherlands, now living in Korea has done a lot of cycling in Korea. In response to my requests for advice on how to get from Inchon to Pusan, he said I could ride the busy main route with a lot of traffic, as well as air pollution in the big cites. Or, his advice was to draw a line directly from Inchon to Pusan and then stick relatively to that line using a detailed map to find smaller less busy roads. This sounded like a good idea. I had a country map from the tourist folks to draw the line on, and now all I needed was the detailed one.
Finally both guys showed up. I gave the one his wine, and with the other went directly across the street from the port where there was an E-Mart, kind of like a Walmart, but in layers instead of all on one level. Space limitations, they told me. It had escalators to get from floor to floor, but instead of being steps, they were ramps, the better to handle shopping carts. There we found the book section, and bought a 200-page road atlas that showed all the roads, and had detailed street maps of all the major cities. There was nothing in English, except on the last day I finally looked carefully at all the Pusan pages and the most detailed one that included the ferry terminals had two labels in
English. This turned out to be important later.
After the map book, we took time for supper in one of several E-Mart restaurants. I also found where we were on the Inchon city map, and by 5:30 was ready to go. Normally I would have stopped riding well before 5:30, but so wanted to get out of the city if I could.
Jan said the roads would be smooth in Korea, and so far the city streets were just that. Choi said there would be road signs marking my progress along the numbered routes, and telling me where to turn - and there were, but the best part was that all the traffic flowed along in orderly fashion, was tolerant of a lone cyclist, and most important, it was quiet. No horns blasting away all the time from all directions.
I made it out of the city, but was still in the suburbs when I finally realized it was almost dark, and I hadn't slightest idea where I was going to stop for the night. Then, remembering the note about the churches, I looked up, and there was a church right in front of me. Three buildings comprised the church complex. One was the church itself, another rather larger one, three stories, with administrative offices, large social hall, and I guess sleeping rooms upstairs, but I didn't get to see anything above the third floor. There was also a much smaller building with three rooms in a row. Two were meeting rooms and the third was the caretaker's cubby hole, meaning this is where he lived.
Continued on September 4, 2002
They say that Korea is a kind of transition between Japan and China. It is clearly much closer to Japan than to China, but this room smacked very much of how things are in China. Main difference was that it was much cleaner, and upscale than the rooms in China that served the same purpose. It was just about 2 meters square - maybe one side was 2.5 meters, which would make it 5 square meters, and 5 square meters is about 50 square feet. A bed about three feet wide and a few inches over 6 feet long (thus my estimates in meters) was along the far wall.
I showed the note to one of several women who had started to gather for some kind of meeting, and they showed it to the caretaker. It was getting dark, and all were about my age so were having trouble reading it without their reading glasses. Finally a younger parishioner came along and read it to them. There was a lot of discussion. First outside, then inside where the meeters were gathered. Finally the caretaker came back out and showed me his cubby hole, indicating that I could sleep on his bed up against the wall, and he would sleep on the other side next to the drop-off. It wasn't very appealing, and I
offered to sleep on the floor of the meeting room next door where we eventually stored my bicycle and gear, or to put my tent up in the large open area behind the church. Nothing doing. If I was going to stay at this church without making some kind of scene, it was this arrangement or nothing. It was late and dark and only for one night so I said it was OK.
Later, a guy who could speak some English showed up to explain that the priest was away, and the caretaker didn't have authority to offer me any space other than that which was his own. This same guy also took me into one of the offices to look at my maps so he could explain how to get to Pusan. In contrast to the way I would do that, which is to tell which roads to take, he did the same as the Chinese had done earlier, which is to tell which cities to go to. The cities, of course, being along the roads to take. He spent a lot of time writing down a list of city names in both Korean and in English. I took them along. You never know what will be useful.
Finally the meeting ended, and it was time for me to get washed in the men's room. Why it was necessary to wait until the meeting was over I don't know but that was the plan. I closed the door, and got ready to take one of my now pretty efficient 'sponge baths' using a washcloth that I had bought someplace in China, and the soap and water that was at the sinks. Then in came the caretaker with a washbasin, small scrub towel, and shower thongs. He had me put my shoes behind the door so they wouldn't get wet, poured a basin full of water over me (cold water only by the way) and started scrubbing my back. Then he worked around to arms and legs, getting pretty close - but not quite crossing the line to parts that he should stay away from. But when he gave me the scrub towel to take care of those parts he was careful to watch and make
sure I did a good job. Then he poured more water over me to rinse off all the soap.
Finally off to bed. He opened a locked cupboard under the bed and took out a couple of bottom blankets to go over a kind of Naugahide heating pad (used for winter, I guess), and a light blanket to sleep under in case it got cool during the night. Then, after we were both laying there, with me facing and touching the wall, he reached over to make sure that I had my share of the blanket and that it was well pulled around me. But then he didn't take his arm away. I did a kind of double take and nudged his arm away. After that he kept to himself, and later (after I had awakened him the second time to unlock the door to the
cubby hole and to the men's room) he sat in his desk chair for several hours. I think maybe he had ulterior motives in telling me that this was a take-it-or-leave-it situation
I vowed not to make this my only church experience, so next night I went to an even bigger church. There was a lot of talk in Korean that I did not understand a word of, then the writing of a long note in Korean, which I also did not understand one syllable of. This same thing often happened to me in China. After yelling questions at me for a while, and getting, "I don't understand," as a response to all of them, they would write them out in Chinese characters. I have some theories, but no real understanding of why they think I should be able to understand writing better than oral communication.
Anyway, at this point I decided it was time to get a live translator into the picture and pointed at Choi's phone number on the back of the note to the "Head of the Church." They talked for a while, then Choi told me that they didn't have space for visitors, but they would take me someplace that did. Sure enough, I was to follow this guy in his car, which I did. He took me to city hall. There, in one of the buildings behind the guard shack were two 'tatami' rooms large enough to sleep several people on the floor, Japanese style. Besides the old woman caretaker of the rooms and the adjacent toilets, I was the only one there, so I got one of the rooms and she got the other.
In the morning, as the guards and a couple of city workers were trying to explain to me how to get back to the main road, a young man who spoke fluent English showed up. He had been studying in Idaho for several years, and was back in Korea working at City Hall as a substitute for manditory military service. He took a serious interest in my adventure, and ended up taking me to breakfast at his expense, and showing me directly which road to take next.
Finally the third night, after a day of intermitant drizzle, I stopped at still another church. Here, in the office, were the church secretary and two of her friends and a young child of one of the friends. I showed them the note. They showed hesitation, but allowed as how I could put up my tent in the parking lot. Fair enough, I thought, and there was a restroom with access from the outside where I could wash and take care of nature calls in the middle of the night. Then they asked me to join them for a cup of coffee and some conversation in broken English, map talk and sign language. Then it started to rain harder and the secretary had second thoughts about in a tent in the rain, so she took me downstairs to an outside entrance to the social hall and a prayer room off of that. There is where I could sleep, she said. Again on the floor but totally silent, and very dark.
Except for the sun peeking in through a small window, it was better than the ferry. But that was just as well, because the women had promised that they would return in the morning for breakfast. Sure enough they showed up at 8:00 exactly as promised, with Korean soup (much like Japanese soup), rice balls, fried potatoes, sponge cake, milk, and fresh squeezed (or maybe grated) tomato juice. I gave each one of them one of the souvenier bags of coffee (with labels specially printed with my name) that I carried for such occasions. This worked out so well that I vowed to try another church at least one more time.
In the next city when it was time to stop for the day, the first church I went to said forget it out of hand. The next one tried to phone Choi's friend but got no answer, then phoned Choi and talked for a while. I don't know what they talked about, but after he hung up, the church worker said some stuff in Korean that included the word 'yogwan' which means 'local hotel.' He picked up his keys, went out and put on his shoes indicating that I should follow him, he in his car, and me on the bicycle.
At first he took me to a restaurant that I think belongs to a parishioner. After some sitting around, and a little sign language plus the Korean word that sounds a lot like the English word 'shower' and has the same meaning, we agreed that I should find a room and get clean before I came back for supper. A little more following to a hotel, and a suitable room was agreed on. I asked how much, and it then appeared that the church worker was preparing to pay, but I got out my money and said that I should, and then did. Later Choi said it was too expensive, but at $20, considering that I hadn't spent any money so far for sleeping, I thought it wasn't too bad.
After I washed and rested a little, I went back to the restaurant, showed the waitress that note Choi had written that said, "nothing spicy, please," and they brought food. I didn't have to know what to order. I did this at least twice and sometimes three times a day in Korea. Each time the food was suitable, good tasting, and reasonably priced.
The night after that I camped in a small (very small, about 50 yards square) woods beside the road, and next to a gas station, and the night after that I spent at Choi's apartment with his brother and father in Daegu, which is a two-day ride from Pusan. The night after that I found my own hotel, for a little less than the first one, and there you have the seven nights in Korea.
My last day, I decided early on that I would go straight to the ferry port to learn about schedules, thinking that I would then spend the night and sail the next day. I had taken that ferry once before when I went from Japan to Korea in the fall of 1991 armed with papers to get a working visa. But I couldn't remember if it ran during the day, but over night. Turns out that it is an over night ferry. Because "International Ferry Terminal" was one of the two English phrases on the detailed map for that part of Pusan I was able to go there directly without having to ask for directions.
I arrived at about 5:15 and found an information desk where one of the informers spoke English. When I said that I wanted to go to Shimonoseki (which is at the far west of Honshu, the main Japanese island, and just north of the island of Kyushu) she took me to the ticket window. The boat was leaving that evening, but there were no more second class-tickets left. They would look for first-class cancellations or no-shows if I liked. The difference for the upgrade was only a little more than I had paid for hotel rooms before, and certainly less than I was going to find in that part of Pusan, so I said I liked. They found one. I gave them my master card and passport and before you could say, "Shimonoseki," I had my ticket. The Information person said I had ten minutes to board. I used that to change the Korean currency I had to Japanese, and to make a quick phone call to Jan saying that I would not be spending any time in Pusan after all.
That is pretty much it, except for more detail about the roads and
riding conditions and the helpfulness and giving nature of the Korean
I had some Korean currency that came as change from the Chinese currency that I used to pay for meals on the boat, as well as from a kind of mini-black market at the entrance to the ferry terminal where I got rid of my last 100 yuan note (worth about $12). That got me started, but on my first full day of riding, I kept my eyes open for a bank where I could cash a traveler check. In the middle of the morning, I got off the main road in a kind of medium sized town - but certainly not a city, to look for a bank. I turned into the parking lot of an official-looking building, which didn't look much like a bank, but maybe they could direct me.
In fact it was the city hall, and one of the workers came to see what I wanted. With a little sign language using a $1 bill and a 1000 wan note (worth about a $1) he understood what I wanted, and then I showed him the $100 T.C. I thought he would then direct me to a bank. Not so. First he wrote, on a piece of paper I handed him, 120,000 as the amount of Korean currency he would give me. Then he went to his car and got a money pouch from which he proceeded to take twelve 10,000 wan notes, which he gave me in exchange for the traveler check. Never asked for ID or anything, and the rate was better than they gave me on the boat, and probably better than I would get a bank as well. And as an aside, if you do the math, you can see that 10,000 wan is worth a little more than $8, and that is the largest denomination of Korean currency.
Early the next day, I stopped at a fruit stand/snack store. After a careful look at all the snacks, I finally bought some some bananas. As I was leaving the store, the owner went to the soft-drink cooler, pulled out a small bottle of strawberry-flavored drink and gave it to me, and as I was putting the bananas into my food pannier, he came out and handed me two apples. At another store, where I bought some bread for lunch, I was standing outside next to my bike eating when I felt this tap on my elbow. There was the owner of that store with a half-pint carton of milk as a supplement to my lunch.
For the first couple days, I followed Jan's plan, and after I got away from Pusan, I was rewarded with mostly quiet roads, and nice scenery, though contrary to his promise that Korean roads didn't have steep grades, I found one that was as steep as any I had encountered in China, and one even steeper. On the other hand, the roads were all smooth as promised, so the downhills were much more enjoyable the most in China. Also there were no 'roller coaster' roads. That is roads that can't make up their mind if they are supposed to go up, or go down, so they alternated from one to the other. In Korea if a road is following a stream/river upstream, the grade is steadily up, and if downstream, then steadily down. They also seemed to find their way (mostly) through the mountain, rather than over them.
On the rainy day that I finally slept in the church prayer room, I had gotten tired of riding in the rain in the middle of the afternoon, and had stopped at a small church in a village. "No room in this inn," was the response to my note, "but come in and have some tea and a snack anyway," which I did. The priest here took a real interest in my maps, my route so far, and my planned route. He could tell that I had been over some hills, and showed me more to come, but by going east more first, before going south again, I would find a road with gentle hills. He showed me on the map, and I followed that same road nearly all the way to Pusan before it turned off and went south more, instead of on into the city. The hills were gentle as promised. Also not very high, and not very many.
Twice when I asked people where there was a telephone, they handed me their cell phone. When I got close to Daegu, and was ready to make arrangements for meeting Choi, I stopped at a gas station. They let me use the company phone to call him. Then, because I could not convert what he was telling me to map locations (because the map book was all in Korean), I handed the phone to one of the attendants and he marked the meeting place on the detailed city map for me.
After we met, and got to his apartment, showered, and he put all my clothes into the wash machine. His brother loaned me a set to wear while we went shopping at the local E-Mart. Might also have been a Wal-Mart, as I saw one on my way into town earlier in the day. The supermarket is in the basement, and has more stuff than any supermarket I have been in before, especially prepared foods, or read to cook foods. Also lots of free samples. You could eat a whole meal by going around and collecting free samples.
The two brothers finally bought a couple different kinds of kimchi, and some thinly sliced beef soaking in a special sauce. After we left the store, we were joined by their cousin, Angela, who is an English teacher at a nearby private school. We all went back to the apartment for conversation, and then supper. Rice was cooked in the rice cooker in the kitchen, but the meat was cooked on the spot where we sat on the living room floor. It was done on a small gas hotplate that has a gas cylinder inside to provide the fuel.
Again, with the ferry, I got what I needed. The first class on this boat had two bunk beds, and its own bathroom, including a shower. When I asked the young lady who showed me to the room,which bunk was mine, she said I was the only one in the room. Such a deal.
So that about wraps it up for Korea. I am writing this from the home of Japanese friends who live at the very edge of a very small village in southwestern Kochi Prefecture about two miles from the ocean. If you count the ride that I made out here from Osaka in 1993, even though it is in the wrong direction, this connects up my bicycle journey around the world. From here I will cycle in a couple of days, to Kochi City, where I will board a ferry for Osaka, arriving there on Saturday morning. After that I will write more about my experiences in Japan, and the significance of Kyushu.