We had been working in Bucheon, South Korea as ESL teachers and decided it was time for a new location. We weren’t over impressed with working in Korea, ok you could earn lots of money, but it also cost a small fortune to live there. So we did our home work and decided to move on to China, it made sense it was just a short distance away. We applied for several jobs, took an online teaching course that seemed to impress most potential employers and eventually it was whittled down or we were whittled down to going to Harbin in North Eastern China. We would be required in the chief city of Heilongjiang province at the end of August of that year, as we were finishing at the beginning of that month in Bucheon we decided to take a more leisurely route to China.
On the day we were leaving it was raining very heavily, and we were not travelling light. We had so much luggage taxi drivers refused to take us to the railway station about one mile away. Before we could go and catch our train my wife’s until then employers had not fully paid her the day before, an administrative error, or trying to con us out of most of our money, call it what you feel. We eventually received all or most of the money owed to us, then spent the next hour or so frantically trying to find a bank that would exchange our money from Korean Won into Chinese Yuan. Only one bank in the city of over one million had this facility, they all could change it into US dollars for us though.
Eventually we started on our way, slowly towards the railway station; luckily it had stopped raining by this time. We arrived at the station, caught the next available train the short distance to the port city of Incheon and then after another refusal by the taxi drivers to assist us we started making our way towards the international ferry port and our overnight boat to China. Yes we were catching a slow boat to China (sorry couldn’t resist that one). The state of the paths we were supposed to walk along were so uneven, full of pot-holes, or just blocked by cars parked across them. We often just dragged our bags along the road, ignoring the traffic. There were many occasions when after one or other of our overloaded trolleys had tipped and over the temptation to just continue walking without was a close thing. We arrived within sight of the port, we could see our boat waiting for us, and the heavens opened up once again. We sheltered under the awning of a petrol (gas) station, much to the amusement of those workers inside. After what seemed like an eternity we arrived at the ferry port terminal. We dumped our bags inside, and went back across the road to a Mcdonalds restaurant. The bags were left unattended for over an hour, at that point in time we didn’t care if anyone stole them or anything, but in typical Korean style they were still there when we returned. We didn’t really know what to expect once we arrived in China, so we thought that this visit to the burger chain could well be our last western food for some time.
By this time the rain had all but stopped, we returned to our bags. In the west if you had left your baggage alone for any length of time it would have been removed as a potential terrorist threat, at least in the UK. Our bags all sat there exactly as we had left them, many others had done similar, and there were piles of bags unattended all over the place. At 3pm we could check some of our bags and we would not have to worry about them until we arrived in China. As we were waiting two other westerners arrived, they were both from England, as I hadn’t heard any British accents for some time it was good to hear them again. Eventually it was time to begin boarding the ferry, the Korean and Chinese passengers had began to form a line, or a huddle around the desk a long time before, everyone had somewhere to sleep on the boat already assigned to them, so why the rush?
We passed through the customs checks and were soon onboard, it was a very rough crossing although I slept very well considering and by the next morning we were outside at the front of the ship watching as we arrived into China. We had heard mixed reports of other travellers having faced all sorts of problems on trying to enter the country, items confiscated etc. Well we sailed through customs, they checked we had our visas, all our paperwork was in order and we were into China. Now the fun of not understanding anything could begin! (To be continued) .