I had to sneak in one last Seoul joke. I had a choice between a quick flight to Beijing or two train rides and a ferry. Guess which one I chose! I’ve taken a sleeper bus and a sleeper train. It’s time for the sleeper ferry. In America, ferries are small boats that take about 50 people from a short distance to another. Nope, this was closer to a cruise ship with multiple restaurants, karaoke room, theater showing Closer (really?), and convenience store.
I love sailing but I don’t do so often because I suffer from awful seasickness. Luckily this was a huge boat and I felt great the entire time. I got into a room with 50+ bunks with curtains to give you privacy and electronic outlets. This is way superior to the 15 or so Tatami mat rooms where everyone sleeps like sardines. Compared to the buses and trains, this was the best sleeper option yet with the most room, but also the most expensive. I settled in for some sea gazing in the strong cloudy wind and for lots of book reading and instant ramen. I recommend bringing instant ramen, fruit, tea and a thermos to hold hot water for travel in sleeper trains and ferries in China. Boiling hot water seems to be available at most bus and train stations and on most trains and ferries.
I was told as a kid to never take candy from a stranger. We’re taught a lot of things as kids to protect us. While on the ferry, I was across the bunk from an old Korean guy in a big old tour group. He approached me while I was reading in my bunk and said something in Korean. Of note, only two people the entire trip tried to talk to me in Korean, unlike everyone who thought I was Korean in Laos. My bunk mate returned a short while later and said “I buy you ice cream!” I politely told him no multiple times. He sat down on his bunk, and a while later offered me what I assume was candy. I declined this as well. An hour or so later he came to my bunk waving two popsicles. When I declined again, he just threw one on my stomach and walked away. It was a wrapped Lotte brand popsicle. I stared at it for a bit wondering what the heck to do. Finally, my refusal to waste perfectly good ice cream won and I happily ate it. I never saw my bunk mate face to face again as we landed the next morning, but I am thankful. Awful things do happen but I am constantly wonderfully surprised by the random acts of kindness I receive from strangers all over the world.
From one cold foggy big city I landed in another, Qingdao. My first sight was the cranes arching over rising high rise buildings, the beacon of modern China. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the train station at a huge magnificent European style train station. Qingdao was occupied by Germans for a lot of the 1900s (even pre world wars) and therefore has colonial architecture and is the home of the famous Tsingtao beer. Sadly, I did not realize Tsingtao is the best or at least representative of the quality of Chinese beer. Sorry China, Laos has you way beat. I don’t think I could’ve captured the charm of the city with its beaches, colonial architecture and Sea World rip off.
I only stayed a few hours before catching a high speed train to Beijing. Although there are multiple trains a day, all the soon to leave ones were sold out of economy seats. Given the choice between five hours in business class or seatless, I would have to say a seat sounds way better. The train was surprisingly non-smoking, courteous and quick. I would recommend it. I had originally chosen the ferry route to get some downtime to myself and it was supposed to be half as expensive. Due to rising costs (138,000 KRW) and the unexpected train ticket addition, it ended up being the same price as the flight. Still totally worth it and I would do it the same way all over again.