5.23.06 Taiwan to Japan via cargo ship

5.23.06  Taipei to Keelung, Taiwan in transit to Naha, Okinawa, Japan via cargo ship
before heading out of town, i meet another traveler from hawaii named danica.  we have a great conversation and she gives me a hug before i take off.  that hug reminds me of an answer i can give people when they ask what i miss most while i am in asia.  the hugs.  people just don’t seem to hug that often in asia.

the bus ride to keelung is a breeze and i grab a honey milk bubble tea for the ride, walking through the stuffy underground shops to get to it.  it’s raining cats and dogs outside.  i hop on the bus, play the guitar for passengers in the back row, and arrive in keelung in roughly 45 minutes.  the rain doesn’t stop and i am left getting soaked by it all as i search for the correct port authority.  the immigration office steers me in the right direction.  finally i make it to the right building.  the goal right now is to make sure that my seat on the boat is reserved and that it is for sure leaving tonight at 8:00.  eventually, i make it to a room filled with employees, but they don’t speak english.  they get me on the horn with somebody who speaks a little and it seems as though i am on the roster.  i feel much more relieved knowing that my name is on a list somewhere.  i don’t know where that list is, but it’s somewhere.  i joke around with the crew in the office who are all interested in the traveling american.  “happiness everyday” i tell them in chinese.  they erupt in a near standing ovation.  i love the enthusiasm.

so, i have six hours to kill, and now that i don’t have to carry my backpack around, i am anxious to walk around the city.  a market comes my way and it is filled with the familiar food stands of the thai markets in krabi.  the smiling faces of the employees all try to get me to try their food.  the smells of the food filter out into my nostrils and it’s hard to choose what to eat, partly because it all looks so good, and partly because i have no clue what most of it is.  i have some soup, rice, meat, and top it all off with a banana shake.

the time comes to check in and a complication arises when they don’t accept the flight information in my notebook as a certified ticket.  i try to tell them to call the airline, but they need paper tickets in front of them.  no big deal, all i have to do is buy a return ticket, which isn’t that much more.   finally, the bus loads up the six passengers and drives us to our ship.  and man oh man was i right to think that this boat was going to be bigger.  in fact, it looks ten times bigger.  to give you an idea, the reception area of the boat is bigger than most hotels and has a tree sitting in the middle of it.  a small section of the boat houses actual semi trucks that were driven on, six wide and six deep.  i am like a kid in a candy store once i am free to roam around the boat.  by now, the rain has settled down to a light drizzle and i am able to take some pictures.  the lights from the boats in the distance cast a hazy light bulb color.  the surroundings are amazing and i check out each and every section of the boat before heading back inside.

a japanese girl my age sits at her computer.  i strike up a conversation with her and she can speak a little english.  her name is nao (pronounced now) and she studies chinese in taipei.  she is coming home for a week to visit family in kyoto.  she helps me learn the key phrases to help me get by in japan.  we can barely tell, but the boat starts moving out to sea.  i am anxious to head outside and see what traveling on the open ocean feels like.  and in fact, it’s kind of scary.  the rails are about waist high, telling me that one false move and i could go sailing ove that rail, never to be seen again.  the rain making everything slick isn’t helping the situation.  the waves crashing against the boat area great sound, but i head inside, it is getting late anyway.

i share a dorm room with two older japanese men.  the pillow is a leather rectangle with about the size of a half a loaf of bread.  not the most comfortable pillow, but it does the job once i wrap my blanket around it.  as i read, i can start to feel the boat swaying back and forth.  it’s very subtle, yet, i can tell it’s there.  after a while, it rocks me to sleep.

5.24.06 Pacific Ocean arriving in Naha, Okinawa – Japan
i wake up realizing that i never exchanged my taiwanese new dollars for yen before taking off to see.  luckily now has enough to perform an exchange.  she heads back to taiwan in a couple of weeks anyway, so she assures me that it’s alright.  i immediately buy a cup of noodles and we head out to the back deck to eat our breakfast with a clear sky and ocean view.  the beautiful day on the ship makes me feel stronger, makes me walk taller.   i sit and stare at the open ocean, watching the waves produced my the massiveness of the boat, take a deep breath of the crisp air, and feel the sun beating down on my face.  this is amazing.

i head back inside and upstairs to the ballroom where the japanese immigration stam my passport.  we all then head via bus to get our bags checked out for firearms and what not.  a sniffing dog sneaks up behind my and tickles the back of my legs.  wasn’t expecting that.  nao helps me research the cheapest options to get to toyoma where my brother lives.  the boat into tokyo is by far the cheapest, so she books me a seat for tomorrow’s departure at 6:00 pm.  the entire time we research, we are being hovered over by a man who wants us to stay at his hostel.  we give in once he tells us he’ll drive us there for free.  this is of course all relayed to me through nao.  we arrive at the hostel, and this is without a doubt the first of it’s kind for me.  the living room area is filled with grown men, some even in their eighties!  they all give me a wave as i enter and i toss them a long winded konichiwa.  the bunk beds are hand made and i toss my bags up in one.  i head back towards the girls dorm where nao is taying and we then head out to dinner.  she takes me to an authentic okinawa restaurant and we have raw fish.  once again, this is the first meal of it’s kind for me.  the raw fish is simply served on a plate, cut in slices at a 45 degree angle.  the familiar wasabe and soy sauce are then brought out.  there is a couple dining next to us.  the boyfriend is wearing a tank top and is extremely burnt outside of the linings of the cotton.  this tells me that okinawa is more of a vacation spot for most japanese.  the dinner is great.  never thought i would like raw fish, but it honestly didn’t taste fishy, which helps.

i call adam and tell him that i will be ariving on monday morning, early.  it sounds good to him and thus it is a plan.  my plan thus far is to arrive in tokyo on saturday night, stay with a fellow traveler i met in malaysia named paul, then get take the night bus that i have reserved for sunday night to arrive in toyama at 6:30 am on monday.

upon arriving back at the hostel, an 86 year old man sits outside smoking a cigarette.  i say hello to him and he says to me in a gargling voice, “smoke time.”  i sit next to him and i try talking to him as much as possible.  his english isn’t that good, but good enough to tell me how large the american air base is here.  i love talking with older people when traveling.  they are much more focused and actually want to hear what you have to say, and i feel i can always learn something from them as well.  it’s usually a much more patient conversation than with a young person.

5.25.06 Naha, Okinawa in transit to Tokyo, Honshu – Japan
the first thing i do this morning is head out and buy some cheap noodles for the trip, realizing that food served on the boat is expensive.  i return back to the hostel to eat a bowl and watch reruns of kick boxing matches on the television with the ecletic group.  the rain starts to fall as i head out to find a bus that will take me out to the port of naha.  after much research, i find that a bus won’t leave for that section of town for another few hours.  i don’t want to wait around, so i decide to walk.  the lady at the travel agency told me it should only take about a half an hour.  i can handle that kind of walk.  so i head out, with backpack and guitar over the shoulder, in the pouring down rain, and walk to the ports.  now, i told you about my sandal breaking in australia…well, everytime that i slip because of the slickness of the rain on smooth tiles in between the sidewalk, my sandal breaks.  i end up saying screw it and just walk barefoot the entire way.  the walk is much longer than a half hour.  it takes me two hours to finally get there.  granted, i do take a couple of breaks because the weight on my shoulders is a little strong sometimes.  finally i reach a stopping point where it looks like i am going to have to turn around because the road i need to be on is down a hill and through a cemetary.  well, i’ve come this far, and i love taking the road less traveled, so i hoof it through the hills of the cemetary, finally reaching the road.  i can see the port in the distance, which makes the walk seem much shorter from here on out.  finally i arrive soaking wet, still carrying my guitar without a case mind you.  sure enough, i dry it off, tune it up, and it still plays like a dream.

after changing my shirt in the bathroom, i head into the restaurant to kill some time before the ship leaves.  there are two men sitting at the bar and one of them immediately calls me out upon entering the room.  i get to talking to them about my travels and they tell me to pull up a seat.  when they find out that i play the guitar, they make me go get it.  i play a little, but then hand over the guitar to the quiet one and he busts out some original okinawa music that blows my mind.  it’s great to hear other people play my guitar, especially when it is authentic ancient music.  ya see, sometimes i feel like my guitar isn’t capable of making those sounds, but this is proof right here that it can sound traditional, or tribal, or rockin’.  these two guys look after me and make sure to introduce me to a group of friends my age who are also taking the boat to tokyo.

the time comes, i say my goodbyes to my new friends, and head to the boat via bus again.  the boat is run by a different company, but it looks to be the same size.  the inside is defintely not as nice though.  in fact, there is only one room where we all sleep on what resemble exercise mats.  the rectangle leather pillows are the same.  i throw my stuff down and order some curry rice for dinner.  the ocean is much more rough on this trip than it was from taiwan to keelung.  the boat seems to sway back and forth much much more, making me hold my plate in place as i dine.  i am dead tired after today’s walk through the rain and i hit the sack early.

5.26.06 Pacific Ocean – Philipine Strait in transit to Tokyo via Kyushu Island
i wake up early and look out the window.  it is still storming outside.  i look closer at the water and watch dolphins jump into the waves made by the boat.  i keep hoping to see a whale jump out of the water, but realize that i couldn’t get that lucky.  i fix myself a bowl of noodles and a guy my age realizes i don’t have any utensil to eat them with and he gives me his wooden spoon and insists that i keep it.  his name is Tomo and he is from the island of kyushu, which is where we are stopping for a few hours before heading onto tokyo.  tomo is carrying a guitar with him and we immediately start talking music.  his english isn’t that well, but we speak in artists.  he says bob marley and my eyes light up.  we both grab our guitars and jam the day away, playing songs back and forth with one another.  we are definitely on the same wave length musically.  he considers himself to be a rasta man, dredding his hair out, and listening to reggae music.  his profession is that of breeding fish.  what a life.  he bounces from island to island, only working six months on, six months off.  tomo is such a good man and our time is cut short when we arrive at the port of kyushu and he has to get off.   he gives me a postcard with his information on it and also gives me a tuning fork in the key of A with a strand of clothing material attached to it.  i take the gifts with extreme thanks and scrounge through my bag looking for something worthy of giving him in return.  i finally come across the shells that i gathered in thailand.  thing is, none of them have survived the wear and tear of travel, except one.  i tell tomo how all the other shells broke, but not this one.  we say our goodbyes…that’s the duality of travel.  you get to meet great people, but then you have to say goodbye way sooner than you would ever want to.  he asks me to sign his guitar and i draw the symbol that i have been drawing since college, with two angular shaped characters with their open mouths both equidistant from taking a chunk out of the world.  i sign it kaito, which is now my japanese name.  it means, at one with the ocean.  nao picked that name for me on the first ship.

and so just like that, tomo walks off the boat.  i wonder if i will ever see him again.  see thing is, if i weren’t traveling to meet up with my family, then i would have gotten off the boat right then and there and got a lesson in breeding fish.  we hang at the port for a while and then shove off back to the sea.  the boat moves on into a heavy storm in the ocean.  the waves are enormous and send the boat swaying back and forth, heavier than i have ever experienced.  even the crew, when walking from point A to point B, walk in a zig zag line as if they just put their head on the butt of a baseball bat, spun around a hundred times, and attemted to walk straight.  at first it’s fun, but when you randomly hear pots and pans go flying in the kitchen, you start to worry just a little bit.  then books start falling out of the bookcase.  it’s all starting to make me feel a little woozy.  i head outside to get a little fresh air and promptly return inside for fear of being sent overboard due to the weightlessness created when the boat sways.  you know, i would have thought that we were in some serious trouble, but the crew seemed to handle the situation as if it were just another cruise on the ocean.  so in turn, i don’t worry.  we could be sinking and as long as the crew kept a straight face i would assume everything is alright.

i head to the kitchen and order some curry rice again.  about halfway through the motion from the ocean really starts to get to me.  i get up to head toward the restroom, luckily grabbing a plastic bag sitting on the shelf on the way out.  my stomach tosses every last bite back into the bag.  it makes me feel better, but only for a while.  i crawl onto my mat, curl up in the fetal position, and close my eyes hoping that a little sleep will make it all go away.  the boat continues to crash up and down, shifting the weight in my face in a circular motion as if someone is holding a vaccuum just beyond the surface of my skin.  i lay with my eyes open, watching the curtains repetitively bounce off the wall.  finally, i get some sleep.

5.27.06 Pacific Ocean in transit to Tokyo
the storm is still coming hard, the boat still rocks, and the waves out in the ocean are enormous.  it’s quite exciting to be in the middle of all this, i mean, there is nothing i can do now, so i might as well enjoy the ride.  i stand up to go to the restroom and the weightlessness comes flying back as the boat violently tips back and forth.  in between sways, it feels like i could do the astronaut trick, making the apple defy gravity right in front of my face.  i fall back onto the mat and read catch-22.  it’s great to have a book keeping me company.  and as long as i’m grounded, i don’t feel sick.  the storm won’t let up and has delayed our arrival time by ten hours.

the day goes on with me just eating crackers and reading, every once in a while getting some fresh air and watching the storm outside on the deck.  just after dinner time, the captain comes in the room and announces something to everyone in the room.  a couple of guys next to me raise their hand.  i guess i’ll find out what he meant at some point.  at around 11:00, the boat docks in tokyo and one of the passengers motions to me that we can sleep on the boat until 5:00am.  that sounds good to me, as i don’t really feel like contacting my friend paul and arriving at his house this late.  i am glad to sit back and relax and fall asleep without any movement on the boat.

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