Taking the Slow Boat to China (Or A Supposedly Scary Thing That I’d Do Again… Maybe)

January 25, 2012

I don’t have a bucket list.

I know myself too well.

As soon as I say to myself, “You have to do this before you die,” I will instantly start screaming, “And who do you think you are? You’re not the boss of me!” And I will no longer want to do it. Just like when I tell myself, “You have to go to the gym” or “You have to eat less cake.”

Plus, I hate the word “bucket.”

But, one thing that I’ve really wanted to do ever since I heard about it from some friends in Japan was to take the two-day ferry from Osaka to Shanghai.

You know, so I could say I’d taken the slow boat to China.

I’d do pretty much anything if it involves living out an idiom. I’ve already gotten too big for my britches thanks to my eating every single dumpling that has crossed my path since moving to China a year ago. Besides taking a slow boat, there isn’t much else I could do. All the other idioms, like killing birds with stones or counting chickens, require hand-eye coordination or math skills — neither of which I have much of.

The other reason I wanted to take the ferry was because I was pretty sure it was going to be torture.

After all, I was going to be stuck on a boat for two days. With people I didn’t know. While having to share a room. And a bathroom. Which meant I’d probably have to say good morning to people when it was actually morning-time.

Like I said, torture.

And if there’s anything that my last few years of blogging have taught me, it’s that torture makes for one fine blog post.

In fact, it kind of reminded me of that time I wanted to take a sixteen-hour train ride from Xi’an to Shanghai – the one where we could only get tickets for a hard seat. Remember that? And remember how I was like, “Let’s do this thing. You know, for the blog”? But then my friend talked the crazy out of me, and we took the plane instead.

Well, this time I didn’t have anyone to talk me out of it.

Except for myself.

And, as I mentioned before, I don’t do a very good job of listening to myself.

To ensure that the ride would be especially torturous and, therefore, even more blog-worthy, I booked the cheapest fare possible – a space in Second Class B.

Notice I did not say I booked a bed in Second Class B. That’s because there are no beds in Second Class B. There are only spaces. On the floor.

Mind you, I would not be alone on that floor.

Oh no.

I’d have to share the floor with fifteen other women. Kind of like a slumber party. Or a refugee camp, really.

Of course, there were plenty of accommodation options on the ferry that included a bed and not having to shiv someone for a little extra personal space.

But, as you may recall, 2012 is the year I’m totally going to challenge myself. Where was the challenge in sleeping in a bed?

Besides, who wants to read a blog post about me sleeping in a bed? That would be like reading a blog post about me sitting on my couch.

Wait.

Nevermind.

It would totally not be like that at all. After all, everyone loves a good blog post about me sitting on my couch.

Right, guys? Right?

Be honest. This is the real reason you read my blog, right? To hear more about my couch, right?

Prior to leaving on my voyage, I felt it was best to come prepared for the worst case scenario — like a shipwreck or pirate attack or lack of an onboard Starbucks.

So during my last day in Japan, I ran around Kyoto snapping up items for my self-made survival kit, including:

Motion sickness pills. (I’d never gotten seasick before, but I’d also never been on a two-day boat ride before either. Plus, the packaging made motion sickness look like such good clean family fun!)

A flashlight from the 100 yen store. (I can’t read all the Japanese on the packaging but I’m pretty sure it says “100% shipwreck-proof. And converts to light saber in case of pirate attack.”)

Vitamin C. (For the scurvy.)

A travel mug and a collection of tea and other caffeinated beverages. (So I could at least try to be a civil human being before noon.)

And a whole bunch of food. (Because, apparently, I didn’t think they’d be serving food on board. Plus, I reasoned, I might be able to barter some Pretz for an extra pillow or something.)

By the time I had arrived at the Osaka International Port on Friday morning, I had had a change of heart.

Sure, sleeping on a floor with fifteen other women for two nights would be a big challenge for me.

And, yes, 2012 has been deemed The Year to Totally Challenge Myself.

But 2012 has also been deemed The Year to Totally Stay Out of Prison. I was pretty sure if I had to sleep on the floor for two nights with more than a dozen strangers, I would kill someone. And I would most likely get caught. You see, I don’t have a lot of upper body strength, so it would be really hard for me to throw the dead body overboard.

When I asked the man at the check-in desk if I could upgrade my reservation, he looked at me and said, “Oh, you want to sleep on a bed?”

When he phrased it like that, it seemed like a ridiculous question to ask someone. Like asking someone, “Oh, you want to breathe air?” or “Oh, you want alcohol in that margarita?”

Umm, yes, please. (Duh.)

With my new ticket for Second Class A and the promise of a mattress to call my own for the next two days, I headed to the waiting lounge to size up my fellow passengers.

They were a hodge-podge bunch, really.

There were a couple families, including a Japanese family with three small children. There was a twenty-something guy who never looked up from his laptop the entire time we were on board. There were a handful of other foreign travelers. There were about a half dozen older Chinese men and women. There was a young couple holding hands; the woman wore a red, hooded sweatshirt that said, “I love pray” on it in sequined letters. (I made a mental note to take her side if there was a mutiny on board. You know, just in case my flashlight didn’t convert into a light saber, it would probably help to have God on my side.)

No one really looked like the hardy, seafaring type. There were no eye patches or peg legs. I didn’t hear anyone using words like, “Arggh” or “Matey.” Nobody was wearing one of those hats like Cap’n Crunch wears. And I didn’t see a single parrot.

They didn’t really look like the type who was ready to weather two days of onboard hardship.

And what hardship would that be?

Sporadic gift shop hours.

But I need to buy that pink teddy bear NOW.

A choice of only two brands of beer in the vending machine.

What? No artisan microbrews? That's the last time I'm taking this boat!

Elevator music which was piped through the PA system at seven thirty in the morning to gently rouse us from our sleep and usher us to the café for our free breakfast.

Gah! I asked for the carb-free, Paleo Diet meal. And where's my Spirulina smoothie, anyway?

And a machine that dispensed drinking water and tea… but absolutely no fancy expresso beverages.

I don't see a button for mochaccino. What gives?

So, yeah, my trip was not exactly the forty-eight hours of constant suffering that I had imagined.

In fact, it was rather pleasant.

My room in Second Class A ended up being pretty darn nice. And I only had to share it with two other women – both of whom were Americans teaching English in China.

I had a good time chatting and hanging out with the other English speakers on board. It turns out that I can be quite pleasant with people when stuck in a confined space with them for two days. This was pretty much news to me. (And will be news to anyone who has ever gone on a road trip with me.)

I ate some tasty sweet and sour pork in the restaurant.

I spent a lot of time reading and writing and taking of pictures of all the English signs.

Like this one.

 

And this one.

 

And, of course, this one.

And I napped. A lot.

After a rather busy two weeks in Japan, it was really nice to get two full days of downtime.

It almost felt like a cruise.

Except a really cheap one where you have to give yourself a facial.

I am aware that this picture will most likely give you nightmares tonight. I apologize.

Don’t get me wrong.

I was pretty darn happy when Shanghai loomed on the horizon on Sunday morning, and we were all able to get off the boat.

If only so I could be reunited with some expresso beverages.

Wahoo! Shanghai! Now where's the Starbucks?

But I was also pretty happy that this big huge scary thing hadn’t turned out to be that scary for me in the end.

Maybe I’ll manage to survive the upcoming year of challenges, after all.

Or, at least, I’m pretty confident I won’t end up in prison.

(I hope.)

Have you ever done a big, huge challengey thing that you thought was totally going to kill you or land you in jail but then it didn’t turn out to be so much of a challenge after all? Tell me about it.
58

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On January 25, 2012 at 2:01 pm Theodora said:

    Well, I *tried* to drive to Papua on a motorbike. Does that count?!
    Theodora recently posted..Some Ill-Informed Observations On Bulgaria

  2. On January 25, 2012 at 2:10 pm Maggie said:

    Sounds like a pretty good experience! Good move on getting a bed, the floor sucks. I have to admit, I was a little scared for you when you first posted on Twitter that you were going to do this. I’m glad it turned out well! :)

    I love when I do things that scare me and I end up having a great time. It’s almost better if I’m scared before because my expectations are so low that it almost guarantees excitement.
    Maggie recently posted..Visiting a Temple in Japan

    • On January 26, 2012 at 5:51 am Sally said:

      Totally. I think if you come in thinking “I’m going to die,” you’re guaranteed a good experience. (Well, as long as you don’t die.) I mean everything’s up from there!

  3. On January 25, 2012 at 2:21 pm Stephanie - The Travel Chica said:

    I’m not a fan of sleeping on the floor with a bunch of other strangers. I would have upgraded too! I might have survived this boat ride through heavy use of the beer vending machine.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Welcome to El Chalten

  4. On January 25, 2012 at 2:22 pm Monica said:

    I was fully expecting a really horrific journey here but it looks like you had a lovely time. Sometimes I actually like long journeys like this because all you can do it relax. You can’t rush around going about your usual business so what’s a girl to do? Take pictures, nap, eat and have a facial, that’s what! :)

    • On January 26, 2012 at 5:49 am Sally said:

      Totally! It was such a good excuse to just take it easy. Even when I’m on vacation at home, I always feel like I have to be “doing” something — either cleaning my apartment or working on my blog or doing some other important task. I would never just take a nap in the middle of the day or read for 2 hours. It was so fun to be able to do that.

  5. On January 25, 2012 at 2:36 pm Vikram said:

    u r an inspiration.i am talkng about travelling.i have two left feet for writing.i can travel though.

  6. On January 25, 2012 at 5:18 pm Stephanie said:

    you are my hero already! I tried to book a ticket to China at the HK China Ferry Terminal and was already freaked out by all the pushy, rude mainland Chinese there… Japan makes you weak I guess.
    Stephanie recently posted..A day trip to Soc Son, Part 2

    • On January 26, 2012 at 5:46 am Sally said:

      Ha ha. The whole time while I was in Japan and people were super nice & never pushed & stopped their cars so I could walk across the street, I was like, “Do NOT get used to this, Sally.” The day I returned to Wuxi, I went to the grocery store (it also happened to be the day before Chinese New Year). Well, that was a rude awakening. But I’m glad to say I hadn’t lost my edge — I totally butted ahead of everyone at the produce counter like I OWNED that produce counter. :)

  7. On January 25, 2012 at 6:01 pm Ashna Banga said:

    Heyy! I chanced upon your blog and loved it and subscribed! This post is too good! I feel so connected because I too, am like this! I’m a student at the mo, but too eager to get around and start travelling and exploring places. And this boat trip sounds real fun! I have some really many weird things on my ‘Things to do’ list and I guess I would add a ferry trip like this to it ;)

  8. On January 25, 2012 at 6:43 pm Andi of My Beautiful Adventures said:

    Girl you are brave! When I do things that scare me it’s more like jumping from a plane or diving with great white sharks…not sure I could ever sleep on the floor with strangers! I definitely would have upgraded. Love that you gave yourself a facial haha.
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Andi’s Pick: Elysian Chicago

    • On January 26, 2012 at 5:44 am Sally said:

      Errm, lest I remind you, I did not actually sleep on the floor with any strangers. I was in my own comfy, cozy bed (complete with privacy curtain!). So I think that relegates me safely in the totally unbrave category. :)
      I can’t even imagine jumping out of plane or diving with sharks. I get scared even THINKING about those things.

  9. On January 25, 2012 at 7:00 pm Mario Lurig said:

    I made the mistake of staring at the facial photo for longer than 10 seconds. It is now burning into my brain. 5 hours till sundown… hopefully it will flee my mind’s eye before then.

    Glad to hear you enjoyed it!
    Mario Lurig recently posted..Short Stories While Brushing Your Teeth

  10. On January 25, 2012 at 10:02 pm Ken C. said:

    How very “brave!” A cruise through the East China Sea…mysterious shipmates…exotic food…beer in cans.

    I’m sure there’s a life lesson in all that, about confronting the unknown, or serendipity, or scary cosmetic procedures…but, it’s enough that “a good time was had by all.”

    [By the way, what are the odds of sharing quarters with TWO other English-teaching expat American women working in China?! Did your shipboard PA system play "spooky music" when you 3 introduced yourselves to each other?]

    • On January 26, 2012 at 5:39 am Sally said:

      Ha ha! Well, not that spooky. Most of the expats I meet in China are teaching English here. But it was cool to share a room with people I had something in common with.

  11. On January 25, 2012 at 11:50 pm Jan said:

    Having two english speaking teachers in your room was a miracle. I think it would have been fun, especially with the beer vending machine!
    Jan recently posted..AUSTRALIA DAY – NORTH QUEENSLAND STYLE

    • On January 26, 2012 at 5:38 am Sally said:

      Well, not that miraculous. Most foreigners that I’ve met living in China or Japan are usually English teachers. And besides the three of us, there were 2 other people teaching English in China on board the boat. But I was very grateful to be in a room with two people I could chat with. It was fun to share our experiences.

  12. On January 26, 2012 at 12:23 am 50+ and on the Run said:

    You go, UBGirl! I officiated at a wedding last fall…I wasn’t afraid of the cops, but I think I was more nervous than the bride. PS: did you know Wuxi is San Antonio’s sister city?

    • On January 26, 2012 at 5:36 am Sally said:

      Wow, officiating at a wedding sounds really cool. I think it would be awesome to be a part of someone’s big day like that. I’ve read at a few weddings but it wasn’t like I was binding people together for life or anything… :)
      And I had no idea about San Antonio being Wuxi’s sister city. I wonder if any bigwigs from Texas come here? I’ll keep my eye out for ten-gallon hats! (I am under the assumption that EVERYONE in Texas wears a ten-gallon hat at all times. This is true, right?)

      • On August 24, 2013 at 6:18 am Kathy said:

        Well, there are 5 gallon hats and 2 cup hats for the kiddies, I think!
        Do you think a ferry from China to Japan would have beds, too, or train-like seats?
        Would there be food concessions or a restaurant?
        Thanks!

  13. On January 26, 2012 at 12:25 am 50+ and on the Run said:

    Does that make us sisters?
    50+ and on the Run recently posted..They Call Me "The Procrastinator"

  14. On January 26, 2012 at 2:57 am James in Phnom Penh said:

    A few years ago, a friend and I took the train from Ho Chi Minh to Hue. Of course, the sleeper cars were all taken, leaving the hard seats for the stupid Americans… The seats were designed just so that the hard frame matched up perfectly with your shoulder blades. Genius of engineering. Soup was served from a bucket that used to hold paint. Seriously. I have never been so happy to arrive at a destination before. The joys of travel…
    James in Phnom Penh recently posted..NextGen Hamster iPhones – Where Does It End?

  15. On January 26, 2012 at 3:13 am Whitney said:

    Nice post! I had almost the opposite experience on a hydrofoil from Malaysia to Indonesia… What I thought would be a seafaring lark of a trip turned into seven hours of unmitigated vomiting and Asian karaoke videos. This slow boat to China sounds like a winner though.

    Also, living out idioms might be the best reason I’ve heard for doing anything ever.
    Whitney recently posted..Wellington Wednesday: Postcard Edition

    • On January 26, 2012 at 5:33 am Sally said:

      This totally happens to me too. The things that I think are going to be super hard and challengey (the slow boat, China, working on a rice farm, living by myself in a Thai jungle) end up being kind of fun (challengey still but not in a “omigod, I want to kill myself kind of way”). And the things I think are going to be easy-peasy (volunteering in a hostel, for example) end up making me want to die. Or kill someone. (Preferably the dude who came into the hostel dormitory at 2 AM, turned on the lights and then acted surprised that someone was in there trying to sleep.)
      Oh, and I feel your pain about the Asian karaoke videos. I had a similar experience on the bus ride from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. The bus ride was super long (9 hours? 10 hours? 72 hours? I can’t remember but I’m pretty sure it shortened my life by a few years). And the roads were super windy so I made a point of sitting up front so I wouldn’t get sick. But that meant I was directly under the television that was blaring Lao pop music videos non-stop. I really wanted to die.

  16. On January 26, 2012 at 3:26 am Sarah said:

    Wait, wait, wait. Aren’t you getting a little ahead of yourself by thinking that your prison-free for ALL of 2012?

    I mean, I’m pretty confident that given the opportunity, you would MOST DEFINITELY steal the “I love pray” sweater. And even though I’m not too familiar with prison sentences for theft in China, I’m thinking it’s not pretty.

    But you lived out yet another idiom. So even if you do end up in prison, you’re still quite the accomplished lady.
    Sarah recently posted..Falling In Love (again!) in Darjeeling

    • On January 26, 2012 at 5:25 am Sally said:

      Well, the whole prison-free thing is just a kind of resolution. And seeing as I tend to suck at resolutions, chances are I’ll end up in prison by June. Wait is there an idiom about prisons? Because if so, I may end up there sooner…
      And, yes, I would have definitely done some underhanded sneakiness to get my hands on that sweatshirt. But the girl wore it ALL weekend (obviously she was trying to keep on the good side of Jesus during our trip… I don’t blame her).

  17. On January 26, 2012 at 9:37 am A Modern Girl said:

    How much did you pay for your ticket?
    A Modern Girl recently posted..Wordless Wednesday #26: Heart Stone, Nagasaki

    • On January 26, 2012 at 9:49 am Sally said:

      It was 24,000 yen for the room with the bed. There are a number of different options though & if you book your ticket out of China you pay in RMB. There is another ferry company that also runs ferries from Osaka to Shanghai on Tuesdays; I think it might be a bit cheaper. Not sure. Both companies have English websites (I linked to the company I used in my post) or you can check out Seat61.com as they have info on both companies. Hope that helps!

  18. On January 26, 2012 at 3:42 pm Steph said:

    I did this same boat trip last year! Ugh, in the same steerage class giant slumber party, sleep on the floor fashion you did. I mostly remember it being pretty boring- I spent a lot of time drinking vending machine beer and playing go fish with these three random british dudes. In fact it was SO uneventful I never even wrote about it. So I’m glad you did, and in a much more entertaining way than I could have managed..

  19. On January 26, 2012 at 7:52 pm jade said:

    I took a really slow boat from wales to dublin… It wasn’t horrible, but I did it to save money and the trip ended up taking almost 9 hours and the food onboard was super expensive. Would have been better off buying a 1 hour flight!
    jade recently posted..Filming with The Travel Channel: Day One

  20. On January 27, 2012 at 4:47 am Priya said:

    Haha! I love this! I don’t think I would have booked the floor in the first place. i can be a bit high maintenance sometimes. About two years ago, I stayed in a hostel for the first time and that took some convincing from a friend. it wasn’t bad! but it was only in NYC. So glad you upgraded, and nice facial :)

  21. On January 27, 2012 at 5:48 pm Lawthomas said:

    We took the same trip in 2004, but in one of the large 1st class cabins with a private entrance to the upper deck. The cabin, while comfortable was painted a vibrant bright blue. In those days the ship sailed from Kobe.

  22. On January 28, 2012 at 12:57 pm Leah Travels said:

    What a great read. I love that you subject yourself to such torture. I find that if you expect the worst in such situations, you’re usually pleasantly surprised at how untorturous it actually is. I, too, love taking pictures of English signs in China. It gives me such a big giggle. I’m glad you made it with little incident, and yes, it did make for a great blog post.
    Leah Travels recently posted..It’s a (free) Sign!

    • On January 28, 2012 at 1:51 pm Sally said:

      Yes, I do find that telling yourself something is going to be really awful is the best way to deal with most situations… you usually end up pleasantly surprised. And, if not, you think, “Well, I knew it was going to be awful!”.
      I just checked out your blog. I LOVE it. I’ll definitely be visiting again!

      • On January 28, 2012 at 6:37 pm Leah Travels said:

        Exactly! Some call it a pessimistic way of thinking, I just call it realistic. Ha! Thanks for the compliment on my blog. You’re welcome to stop by whenever. There may or may not be sweet tea and cookies for you. You know, it’s that Southern hospitality.
        Leah Travels recently posted..It’s a (free) Sign!

  23. On January 28, 2012 at 4:12 pm Carol Jean travel queen said:

    HI loved reading about trip via boat to shanghai from Japan. A few years ago I was on a boat with hard seats/no beds/ no vending machines or on board food service. We went from THAILAND to Laos. It took 3 days on the water with overnight stops in tiny towns enroute. It was tough for a snedior traveler but my daughter kept up my spirits!

    my advice is to GO FOR IT and think outside the box!

    • On January 29, 2012 at 1:56 am Sally said:

      Thanks for stopping by my blog & glad you liked the post!
      I’ve heard of that boat from Thailand to Laos. I was actually tempted to take it when I was in Laos, but seeing as I barely survived my 12-hour bus ride in Laos I didn’t think I’d be able to survive the boat trip. Good for you for doing it! I can’t even imagine!

  24. On January 29, 2012 at 3:26 pm Rachel said:

    If I Google “slow boat to China”, you’re the third result on the page! :D

    I’ve been reading your blog for about a year now but this is the first time I’ve commented! You’re hilarious and I love reading about your Asian adventures. :)

    • On January 29, 2012 at 3:31 pm Sally said:

      What? No way! That’s almost as good as being the number 1 Google search result for “advice you shouldn’t follow.”
      And, thanks so much for leaving a comment. I love to hear from people who are long time readers!

  25. On January 30, 2012 at 4:49 pm Angela said:

    Weirdest adventure for me is a toss up between hitching an over night ride in a truck filled with oranges..turned out great. Sleeping bags tossed out on top of loose oranges…dug a hole ot keep out of wind..a little lumpy, but on up side breakfast in bed..oranges and more oranges (we tipped the driver to pay for them)
    The other winner was hitch-hikes in a dug out canoe from Nazareth on the Marañon River in northern Peru to Iguitos…great adventure, even treated to 2 fish feast..one the natives showed us how the caught fish by poisoning the water with the root of the plant Barbasco, and several days later, after the 40 foot dugout went down into a whirlpool…since we survived the pirahana, the locals who rescued us caught a batch of pirahana and said since we survived we had to eat the pirahana…bony little suckers..

  26. On February 1, 2012 at 12:52 pm Menaka said:

    No, but I did something ‘adventurous’ by my scaredy-cat standards and nearly died! So much for turning my usual geeky holidays into something a bit more exhilarating!

    You can read my saga here if you’d like:
    http://butnbubbles.wordpress.com/2011/11/06/egypt-part-i/
    (part 2 dishes out the gory details)

    You can see why I’m drawn to your blog…I’m the world’s biggest scaredy-cat!
    Menaka recently posted..Colmar, cakes and copycats!

  27. On February 1, 2012 at 9:18 pm Carmel said:

    I definitely would have taken food with me. My friend and I took a 15 hour train ride from Germany to Rome and just assumed there would be a dining cart. There’s ALWAYS a dining cart. Not on this piece of crap train. We were already running to catch it and totally went in the wrong way and just jumped on board (thank god it was the right train). I ended up eating a hunk of the huge Milka I bought for dinner and breakfast.
    Carmel recently posted..Paella and Tapas

    • On February 2, 2012 at 1:48 am Sally said:

      The thing is I knew there was a restaurant on board as I had gotten an email with my reservation confirmation that sent the link to the restaurant’s menu. But I think I had just gone into emergency readiness mode and was like, “I don’t care what the website says! I need instant noodles! Lots of them!”

  28. On February 3, 2012 at 3:28 pm choi kum fook said:

    Awesome adventure and experience, sea trip instead of air trip! I think the slow boat or ferry is quite huge.? If not, how did it cross the wide sea from Osaka to SHANGHAI .Anyway,, Very interesting post to read, but a bit short post. thank you! miss Sally!

  29. On February 21, 2012 at 7:00 am Ceri said:

    So awesome, hun! That would have definitely been a challenge for me too and I love that you actually did it. :D This is definitely going to be your year.
    Ceri recently posted..Return to Blogging (with a Vlog)

  30. On October 5, 2012 at 6:20 am Nina of teaching English China said:

    I am an English teacher in China looking forward to take the slow motion ferry ride in next holiday. Two days boat ride could be fun after all.

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