30 August, 2005

Shanghai disappears into the haze.

This will be my home for the next 48 hours. Complete with an old man and two toddlers.

The Yanpu suspension bridge connecting two parts of Shanghai.

The top deck of the ferry with the Yanpu Bridge in the background.

The river is filled with these kinds of boats.

And they attach themselves to others forming a huge chain.

I finally found out the name of our boat.

China starts to fade away.

Where have I seen this before?

30 August, 2005

Day 45. I really hate having to get up early. Anyone who knows me can attest to this. A regular day for me usually ends at around the time most normals are waking up. But for some reason that all changes when I'm on the road. Perhaps it's just the fact that I'm being forced into a particular lifestyle and I just happen to be able to adapt more easily than I thought I could. But in general I seem to have an easier time falling asleep early and waking up at those unthinkable hours. I guess if I spent the daylight hours at home walking around for a long time, I'd probably be able to manage this back there too.

Regardless, I woke myself up right before 7 am when I had a backup call scheduled. Since this would be my last time on the net before Osaka, I made sure I was up to date on everything. I had also been careful to charge up my satellite phone for Thursday morning's "Off The Hook." As luck would have it, I would be one hour away from docking when the show aired. Not that being on land would have helped all that much unless I had a land line. Neither GSM nor CDMA are reported to work in Japan. I've heard reports that they've moved beyond normal mobile service and are now using low power telepathy. So I'll need to use the satellite phone again and without being able to contact anyone before the show for updates, etc. This oughta be a classic.

But all that's in the future. It was now time to pack up and leave China. The hotel people took their sweet ass time getting me checked out. The guy the travel agency sent was getting impatient as the wait approached 20 minutes. It wasn't my fault, really. I had no idea what was taking them so long. Maybe they had to do a thorough inventory to make sure I hadn't swiped one of those miniature bottles of alcohol from the minibar. After they finally did what they had to do, they gave me back my 200 yuan they had taken as a deposit and we were on our way.

I asked the driver if he spoke English to which he said yes so I apologized for the long wait. We loaded my stuff and then we were off. Into the rush hour traffic of Tuesday morning Shanghai. This guy wasn't very talkative at all. In fact he didn't say a word. Lovely. They must have written a note back at the travel agency to make sure to give Emmanuel the sullen guy who doesn't speak at all right at the point of the trip where he's by himself and could use a little conversation, not to mention guidance on what to do next. Oh, and if it would be possible to make it pour rain on his arrival and arrange for various locals to be completely unhelpful, that would be a plus too. The travel agency had been so good right up to the point where Hanneke and Sasja split away. Then it was like they just stopped caring. Or maybe it's just the Shanghai way. Whatever it was, the sooner I got to the ferry terminal the better. After all, this boat runs only once a week. Miss this and I'm really screwed.

The driver only honked his horn 28 times in the course of the drive. I'm not trying to be facetious here; that's actually quite laid back. I've seen people exceed that at a single intersection. And none of his honks was sustained. I witnessed a bus driver leaning on his horn for more than 90 seconds the other day. In New York, by the time 90 seconds had elapsed, a makeshift posse would have been formed and rope would have already been obtained. So 28 little honks in the course of the half hour ride really wasn't bad. That's about one a minute. And traffic was really pretty awful too. It sure wasn't my idea to time this boat right in the middle of the morning rush. Which was also right about when it would be arriving in Osaka in two days time.

So we pulled into a parking lot of some sort and the driver got into some kind of argument with one of the attendants. Next thing I knew he was yammering away at me in Chinese telling me to do something. Brilliant. This guy didn't speak English at all! I sensed the travel agency laughing wherever their main headquarters were based. So what the hell was I expected to do exactly? Well, the only thing I really *could* do was get out. That must be what he was telling me to do. But I didn't see any ferry terminal. What if I exited and found myself completely stranded? Wouldn't that make for an interesting story? Well, I couldn't resist the possibility of an interesting story so I got out. The guy made an upside down V with his hands and pointed. He must mean that the building in the distance with the sloped roof was my destination. OK, but why the fuck was I expected to walk all the way over there through some sort of industrial part of town? What's the point of a shuttle if it doesn't shuttle you to your destination? It's not like he even would have had to take a different route - the pavement led all the way to the building! It's times like these I wish the Chinese believed in tipping so I could have stiffed the guy. I walked all the way to the terminal and joined the growing mob.

It was easy enough to figure out. Wait in the waiting room. Go to the counter and pay 22 yuan for an exit tax, whatever that was. And when some uniformed guy in Chinese yelled all these instructions to the crowd and made a motion for people to move, I was one of about five who did which got me to the very front of the crowd. I'm not exactly sure why so few people moved.

After going through customs and getting my passport stamped, it was onto a bus that drove a few meters to the boat. I was led to my cabin which had four beds, train style. Wouldn't it be great if I had the whole place to myself? Not only was *that* not to be but two of my cabin mates turned out to be toddlers. Loud toddlers. OK. Fine. Being able to tolerate the intolerable makes one strong. At least it fucking better.

The boat itself is rather small with a few communal spaces and not a whole lot of deck space. They have a special section for "Japanese style rooms" which instead of beds have a series of mats on the floor. It reminded me of the scene in "Babylon 5" where we see the alien sector of the station for the first time with different atmospheres, gravity, etc. Not quite as extreme here but still rather alien.

I noticed that the Japanese wall outlets can actually accommodate American style plugs without a converter. I'm going to assume that won't be an issue if my chargers are already rated for 220. The converters I've been using are just converting the plug after all, not the power. I really hope I don't fry my computer.

Watching China disappear into the haze brings mixed emotions. I'm sure glad to be moving on and getting another step closer to home. But I do wish I could have seen more of this country and of the cities I had been in. Seeing what this place has become and how they got there also fills me with mixed emotions. A communist state doesn't have to be drab and dreary. In some ways they can show the rest of the world how to get things accomplished. I wondered how places like Cuba and Nicaragua might have fared if we had only given them a chance. The only reason we didn't mess with China is because we're afraid of them. And ironically, it was for this reason that we chose to overlook their human rights abuses and help propel them into economic prosperity. So in the end, it's never really about human rights. It's about money and how big a stick the other guy has. Success built on a foundation of global hypocrisy. Oh what a wonderful world.

I had thought the toddlers in my cabin were the exception. Not quite. It turns out they're the rule. I learned this while walking around looking for decks and passageways that didn't exist. They were chasing each other and making a general commotion. I kept trying to find an escape but there wasn't one. This boat was incredibly small. I could swear there were more places to hang out on the Port Jefferson Ferry. This was going to be tough.

As the day came to a close it seemed as if somehow the toddlers were multiplying. The place was absolutely full of them. And they were making just as much noise as they damn well pleased. Nobody, not parents, not staff, not me, stepped in to curb their fun. It was simply a wild free for all as kids ran around playing games, chasing each other, and emitting a constant screaming sound. I remember seeing something like this on Scandinavian ferries as well as in a church in Iqaluit. The philosophy in these places seems to be to let kids be kids. Well, it's been driving me absolutely insane but it does seem to work for the kids. I haven't seen anybody get hurt or admonished. And, come to think of it, I haven't seen a single kid crying. Think about that. A boat full of toddlers and nobody has started bawling yet? Something's definitely wrong with this scenario.

The boat staff seems quite used to this sort of thing. I don't know if transporting kids from China to Japan is big business but they don't seem at all uncomfortable or anxious about this occupation. In fact, it's very hard to tell which kids belong to which people since all of the adults seem equally committed to taking care of them.

Hopefully I can get a lot of work done during this 48 hour period since there really isn't much of anything else I can do. And hopefully my headphones will drown out the noise.