KOBE, JAPAN TO TIANJIN, CHINA BY BOAT
Wednesday, after elaborate ''to die for' breakfast buffet that was included in our hotel package. we left for the boat. Only 2 stops on the subway and a 200m walk to the waiting hall where people started to gather. All went smooth there.
The only remarkable thing was that they took our temperatures before we were given our boarding passes. We said our goodbyes to Hiro and Junko at the immigration and passport control office. They have been incredible hosts to us on our visit to Japan and we cannot thank them enough.
As we walked across the gangplank, we were greeted by banner clad hostesses wearing purple gowns, One escorted us to our 'deluxe' room. It was comfortable but the ship had seen it's better days. Meaning that it was old, furniture faded and ripped, walls scuffed and windows cloudy. We had a room with a view, shower and toilet, and clean sheets and that's most important. Before she left, we asked our 'English Speaking' escort where the restaurant was located. She had no clue what we meant. Then Dave recalled a Chinese expression from way back 'Chī mǐfàn' (eat rice). The light went on and the young woman said the restaurant was on the second level. Great! It has been so long since we used any putonghua (Mandarin Chinese), we have even forgotten most the numbers.
Michelle spotted the thermometer on the wall. It was the common mercury variety with one clever difference. It read Celsius on both the left and right side.
The boat didn't get underway until 1 PM. The evening gown hostesses were now sporting blue pants and smocks. Those girls wear many hats, so to speak. They are the restaurants staff, the room cleaning staff and take care of whatever other chores need to be done on the boat.
Kobe port is huge and clearly a giant commercial port with cargo vessels and submarines.
Dave made a video of the China Express Lines boat including the dorm room where up to 21 people sleep on futons together. Take a look. These are the economy passengers who paid about $311 for passage from Kobe to Tianjin. Still a fare chunk of change but breakfast is included! Most our fellow passengers were Chinese with a small number of Japanese passengers. There were three German backpackers on board as well. Below is an information link to the booking info. There is a surcharge added to the rates in the table. Junko had sent them an email in Japanese for us and the reservation was confirmed by email. Then,we paid by transferring money to the company's account number by putting 10000 yen notes into an ATM. The process was all in Japanese so we could not have done it without Junko. http://www.celkobe.co.jp/english/unkou.html
After a few hours, we were drummed out of our room for the life boat drill. The English speakers are suppose to muster together. I would assume that is so the rescue leader can give instructions in just one language. But after hearing quality of English in the drill, I fear we would go down with the ship. And boy does that water looks dark and cold!
After about 4 hours we passed under the bridge we thought we had cycled over from Shimonoseki (Seoul to Osaka trip) connecting all the islands. But when we later spoke with the ships Doctor, he told us we wouldn't pass that bridge until 5 in the morning. That first day, we passed wonderful seascape, lots of Japanese islands with small villages nestled in coves and mountain sides on both sides and the sea was calm.
Dinner time was announced on the ships speaker system. The selection in the cafeteria style restaurant was quite meager. The prices weren't. It was clear that, while we may have been in Japan waters, the menu planner was pure Chinese! Pictures were posted of the chefs. Two of the chefs were rated with 4 stars. One chef had no stars. We must have gotten the zero star chef that day.
At about 6pm, the ships intercom announced the sun has set and the end of the day was upon us. The restaurant was closed until the 6am breakfast. It seemed odd because actual sunset was still hours away. The steady monotonic announcement was made in three languages so we assumed it was a recording. During a different announcement, we happened to be in front of the information desk. It was the girl on the information desk making all the announcements, live. Perhaps she is not allowed to vary the script to allow for the actual position of the sun in the sky. 6am rolled around and the intercom lady woke the ship with the announcement that it was ... time to get up now, breakfast will be served shortly, 6:30am-7:30. Breakfast was a tasteless rice gruel, flavorless steamed buns, and watered-down tea. It was overpriced at 'free'. They did have pickles and soy sauces to add if you thought it might help. The snack shop was open a few hours each day. It sold chips, cup-o-noodles and ice cream.
The second day was a little rocky but not bad. The selection in the cafeteria improved slightly. And when we crossed open water between Japan and Korea, we passed close enough to S.Korea in the afternoon that we could see it clearly. Then open water for long time and next day. Day of arrival was very misty. After 50 hours at sea, we arrived at 3pm in Tanggu (a port about 50km from the center of Tianjin).
We chatted briefly with Germans. They had a goal to get to a Beijing hostel. They had no plan for transport and had assumed they would arrive in a city and be able to get Chinese money and go from there. We let them know City of Tianjin was a 50km bus ride away and there was a notice on the boat that there was no currency exchange in the port. Changing a small amount of currency at the boat information desk was recommended. We changed some yen to renmenbi there and were good to go.