After an all-nighter of packing, planning, and one last norae-bang session, I walked into the building that I’ve walked into every weekday for the past twenty-two months, only this time I wasn’t going there to teach. I walked up to the front counter, handed Lucy my apartment key and two goodbye notes to pass along. I said goodbye to my director, and to the new girl taking over my classes, and I walked down those stairs one last time. I passed under the sticky red ball on the ceiling that hasn’t moved since I arrived, and past the superman and spiderman stickers plastered on the wall of the staircase down to ground level that preceded my arrival and will remain after my departure. I smiled as I crossed the Yongam-dong town square one last time back towards where Callie was waiting with our luggage. We caught a taxi to the bus terminal, and our adventure had begun.
Prior to the “History of Japan” and “History of China” classes that I took in university with Professor Zietsma, I knew next to nothing about Asia or its history. I took the first to fulfill an upper level history class requirement, but I took the second because Zietsma has a way of making the world seem to make so much sense, and I loved taking history classes with him. Three years ago, my friend Matt and I sat in the library studying for our “History of China” final exam, and joking about our potential upcoming trip there at some point while we were teaching in Korea the following year. We decided that Matt would be the tour guide because his ability to remember details long-term exceeds mine, and so he would be able to remind me of everything that we had learned in our wonderfully fascinating class. But things change, and Matt didn’t end up coming to teach in Korea with the group of us from my university that headed over here in the summer of 2010.
And so, Monday night I stood at the bow of the ferry that took us from Incheon, South Korea to Weihai, China, with three people whom I didn’t even know existed back when the thought of going to China first entered my head, and yet who have come to be great friends in the intervening time. We watched the sunset and the first few stars come out and I thought back to the perfect moment I stood in the same place on a ferry headed to Venice looking up at a blackened sky strewn with stars with my friend Steve from Australia. I love ferries. I love boats. I love being out on the water. I love the way people come into your life and leave little lingering lessons and moments that make memories. Even though goodbyes are hard, sometimes they are necessary to make room for new things.
Our bus to Incheon was followed by a taxi ride to the ferry port, and then a thirteen hour ferry. Graham has become an expert at making new friends, and a Korean man that he befriended when we first arrived on the boat bought dinner for us before we headed up to the deck. The air was a perfect spring temperature with a light breeze refining the moment. The sun set, the stars came out, and we went back inside to distribute m&ms in keeping with the tradition I’ve upheld since childhood ferry trips with my parents from Dover to Calais. None of the four of us had had much sleep in the past few days as we had all been busy planning, packing, and preparing for the big move as we all left Cheongju, our home of the past few years. Despite the noises filtering in from the hallway through our open door to abate the intense heat and stuffiness in our room, I fell asleep quickly, and slept soundly.
We arrived in the port city of Weihai around 9:30am, and stepped off of the boat onto mainland China. Our initial plan had been to take a 25 hour ferry to Tianjin and then a two hour bus to Beijing. But, as life would have it, that ferry was completely booked when we checked about two months ago, and so we ended up with an extra day in a city that none of us had ever heard of or knew anything about. And I’m so glad that we did. It was a day filled with luggage, and waiting, and guessing, and discoveries, but it was great, and I’m surprised at how smoothly it all went. It was a nice introduction to a China in a city that isn’t overrun with tourists. Callie and I left the guys with the luggage to go take a couple pictures with Weihai’s “famous” Gate of Happiness, and returned to find Graham and Ryan surrounded by Chinese people wanting their pictures taken with them. I think we were the biggest attraction in town.
After being convinced by some more of Graham’s new friends that it was too far to walk to the train station with all of our bags, we got into two blue taxis with the hope of arriving with all of our luggage and not being ripped off by the driver. We found each other easily at the front of the train station, and took turns making runs to the grocery store to get food for lunch and stock up for our impending sixteen hour overnight train ride to Beijing while the others stayed to watch the luggage.
Our Chinese train experience was a little different that we had anticipated, but a pleasant one all the same. We thought that we’d be in a room with two other people, but as it turns out, there really are no rooms. There are little partially divided sections with two stacks of three beds. Climbing into the middle bunk assigned to me, I got settled in, and then watched as Graham tried awkwardly to make our jam sandwich dinner in the bed across the divide.
I like sleeping on trains. I like going to bed in one place and waking up feeling quite refreshed in a whole new world. Beijing was waiting, ready to be explored.