rt2k6 - Korea to Britain the hard way

2006-02-25 09:16


Owing to a sudden flush of abject stupidity we almost missed the boat - we got on the Cheonan subway, not the Incheon subway on the same line, and then missed the transfer, and then transferred to a different line, and then gave up and got a taxi at great expense, and resulting in a stroppy phone call from the Dandong Ferry Company asking where in the nine hells we were. But almost isn't quite, and we did get on the boat after all.

A big rusty old clanger, but sound enough, and a smooth trip in relative comfort excepting the fact that koreans like their rooms superheated to about 40 degrees centigrade, so we had to go out into the icy wind on deck every hour or so to cool down. Economy class isn't all that bad - a big open-plan room partitioned off into groups of mats for about 8-15 people, marae-style, with one TV per partition. Ours broke down a few times, but I didn't much care since all the others wanted to watch were korean soaps and korean variety shows and koreans winning the gold medal in the speedskating, over and over and over again. I swear, I've seen every race a korean has come first in ten times if I've seen it once. And I've seen the one where they beat Apolo Ohno about a hundred times. I did catch the last 30 secoinds of Real Madrid v Arsenal, and Arsenal actually won, so I suppose it wasn't a complete dead loss. We shared with the Ki family, whose son Taemin (which coincidentally is the same name as my friend Yun Daehee's son) speaks decent english.

Those travelling on the Oriental Pearl II with us were generally a pretty hard-looking bunch. Mostly Koreans or Korean-Chinese from what conversation I could overhear, and they look like they've had tough lives. Some had electronic goods or big packages of stuff obviously for sale in Dandong; others seemed to be travelling with clothes and little else. An old lady on the bus from terminal to ferry in front of me was one of these last, and she cried silently all the way.

The Dandong Ferry doesn't actually get into Dandong - in the words of my dear friend Johnica, "it drops you off in the middle of butt-fuck Egypt", which I take to mean nowhere. The taxi scamsters were upon us the moment we existed the terminal, but Ki Taemin came to the rescue, and he and his mum found out the way to the bus terminal in Beijer (phonetic, since it appears on no map I can find). Though we'd agreed on a price beforehand, the driver still tried to con us into parting with USD10, or KRW10,000 or CNY80, for a ten minute taxi ride, complaining that Chinese money wasn't good enough. Not happening, pal.

The bus from Beijer to Dandong was about 90 minutes to cover 36km over mostly unsealed roads - there sure were a lot of eathworks set up around the place, presumably rebuilding the road, but nobody was actually working on them. All the houses are blocky red-brick jobbies, put up cheaply and falling down quickly. The only thing this part of China appears to produce are smoke, of brown, black, grey and yellow varieties; bricks (red) and rubble.

The overnight express train we found out about on the internet does in fact exist, and we have beds on it, so all going according to plan we might actuall make it to Beijing when we said we would. Don't come to rely on this, people.

Dandong isn't much to care about - it's grey, dirty, crumbling and fucking cold. Doesn't look too different than North Korea across the river, though there are people on the waterfront doing stuff - dancing and beating drums, selling North Korean money and other such tat, and hauling the odd crab or fish out of utterly filthy grey water, right by a sewage outlet. On the North Korean side we saw two people in a rowboat, a couple of people patrolling the far bank, and someone arcwelding. No lights or cars, no smoke coming from the chimneys, nobody riding what is probably the most desolately-located ferris wheel in the world. My camera is still on the blink, but Deb has photos which I'll nick at some point.

On the way back from the river to the railway station it started snowing, but a smart kid showed us the way to a PC room, from which I type this missive. Will be on the train in an hour or so, and thence to Beijing.