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Back to the Future

January, February in South Korea, China, Japan

albano, Huancayo (Peru), April 2000

After some negotiations with the Koreans, I give up and settle down with a Japanese businessman in the neighbouring compartment. In the morning, we reach Pusan. I pass the customs and spend a good while in the nearby tourist office, which is also equipped with Russian speaking staff. But I have enough difficulties with the Korean language. Fortunately, the letters are phonetical ones, and thus easy to decipher. In the afternoon, I am on the road again. The traffic is on the right side of the road now, but chaotic, compared with Japan. After a few kilometers, I am lying on the roadway. A car, waiting to enter the lane from the right, hits me, when I pass tightly before its nose, because in the same moment, i had got a bump from another car in the back. The two drivers discuss in Korean, and a third one helps me out with English translations. I examine myself and my bicycle, don't find any major damages and go on moving along hundreds of ugly blocks of flats in the suburbs. I am passing the night on a site, prepared to plant more of them.

Two days later, I am crossing Taegu. Instead of connecting myself to Switzerland with the abandoned cellular phone, I pick up from the street, I bring it to the next police station, and get some drinks and an escort through the city in return. Anyway, it is hard to find the right way out. It's getting far below zero centigrades at night, but I still refuse to stay in expensive hotels. I can just hardly get out of the warm sleeping bag in the morning. On my way to Ch'ongju on Saturday, I meet a young man. Communication with him is difficult, but I understand, that he wants to take me to his home in town, which is just a small room and a kitchen. My host prepares rice Korean style. The rest of the evening, we communicate mainly by means of signs and drawings. There is just one bed available, consisting of a carpet and a coverlet, but we manage to share it.

The next day, we go for an excursion to the remote Kosodong caves. On the way there, I may even drive my friend's car. After seeing the amazing limestone formations together with a crowd of other chiefly domestic tourists, we pay a visit to my host's wife in his home town. In the place we meet, there are rapidly gathering more people around our table, some of whom speak English. Then, I pass another night in the same bed, and on Monday, my friend gives me a lift half way towards my final destination in the country. Sad good bye.

On the same day, I reach Inchon, Seoul's harbour. Unlike planned, my ship to China will only leave on Saturday. During the next days, I make again new friends. On Wednesday, an English teacher shows me around town and invites me for lunch. And each day, I spend a few hours in the information booth with this girl waiting for tourists, that don't arrive in winter. The first night in town, I am sleeping outside in the bag. For parts of the following nights, I find a warmer place in a 24-hour internet centre close to the station. Food is also available around the clock nearby. For the last two nights, however, I surrender and rent a comfortable hotel room.

Another sad good bye on Saturday and a fatiguing procedure to board the ship. I am put in a double cabin together with another businessman, a Korean this time. All over Sunday, we are moving through the Yellow Sea, and in the evening, we fill up with an abundant Chinese buffet. The next morning, in Shanghai, the authorities open the small international terminal just for our little load of passengers, and we all pass without difficulties. It's raining. Beds are somewhat cheaper here. I rent one for about six and a half US-dollars in a dormitory. On my first stroll, I make amazing discoveries: Huge contrasts between old colonial buildings and recent skyscrapers on the other bank of the river, among them the outstanding Oriental Pearl Tower. Also, extensive shopping malls with all the international brands available. And on the other hand, thousands of bicycles and bicycle-like vehicles thronging through their own streets.

On Tuesday, another Swiss traveller settles down in my room. During the following days, we explore the city together. Thursday evening. We are sauntering along the pedestrian zone on our way back to the hotel. Every ten meters, there is another guy announcing Shanghai ladies. Finally, we innocently ask one of them, what the offer was all about. Instead of an explanation, he leads us to a room. Just to have a look, he sais, and then, he is off. Seconds later, we are served two dolled up Chinese girls, alcoholic drinks and snacks. Instead of the promised English, the women speak hands to body, and quickly they empty their glasses. We have soon seen enough and are about to leave, just when two men join the room and present us a steep bill. We don't pay, they don't let us go. I prepare to pass the night here, but my friend doesn't fancy this prospect. So, we pay a part of the unjustified claim to get out immediately.

I have been feeling sad for weeks now, sad about having left my love in Peru. But I decide to suppress the grief and leave Shanghai on Saturday, January 29 towards the southwest. I enjoy the wide bike lanes, eat in little restaurants and still find places for my tent on the densely used surface. After more than 200 kilometers, on Monday, a regular cracking sound makes me examine my bike in Hangdzou. A tube of the right bottom bracket has broken. While I carry out some makeshift repair work, I finally admit to myself, where I really want to go - to Peru, where the best woman of the world is waiting for me. Consequently, I leave Hangdzou towards Shanghai again. I pass the night in Yuhang, where locals organize and pay my hotel room and go out eating with me.

Snow on the next day, but I continue, and learn later on, how fast mechanics weld bicycles in China - after not even two minutes of work, my frame has got its vigour back. On Wednesday evening, I am again in the same hotel in Shanghai, even in a bigger room, together with mainly Japanese and British, but also travellers from other countries. Together with them, I cannot get bored during the next days, while waiting for the ship back to Japan. Tuesday, February 8. I leave China through the same building. On this boat, the bike costs extra, but at least, there is enough space for the three of us travelling in about a 40-person-compartment.

After about two days out in the ocean, we enter Osaka harbour. Japanese customs scrutinize my belongings. I feel familiar with the well organized, but left-sided traffic. I may stay another night in Kobe, an offer, I gladly accept. After that, I take the direct route back to the capital, riding again for about a week. The maximum stay on the campground in Tokyo is three nights. I relax and go shopping without buying a lot.

On Sunday, I have to move out. Nevertheless, I have already envisaged a quiet spot in a nearby park for the oncoming night. But when I get there after sunset, I am made an unexpected prospect. I had exactly chosen the gay meeting point. Finally, I find a more adequate place between a road and a golf course. From Monday to Wednesday, finally, I get again accomodation with the same Swiss I had been staying with in December already. Tuesday is packing day. This time, I really disassemble my vehicle to the bones, with some tools and some help of a mechanic. With cardboard and lots of cord, I make a nice little package. On Wednesday, 23, I arrive at the airport by train, and my suitcases are checked in without additional charges. At six o'clock in the afternoon, my plane takes off back towards America.

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5-5-2000 albano & team