The water is brown, the colour of milky coffee. Mist encroaches from the horizon, forming pools of cream on its surface. The sky is opaque white. Outside, away from the overhang of the upper decks, a steady rain falls.
The breeze is light. The coffee, under it's pale awning, stretches gently – merely testing the limits of surface tension, never breaking it. There is little motion under the ship. The passengers move about freely, eschewing the handrails that on rougher crossings would be in constant demand.
A line of blue appears on the horizon. It is not the sky – it marks the end of the river estuary, one body of water meeting another, a straight axis under the sine wave of the water. It approaches rapidly, one side milky coffee, the other blue steel, with sea birds flying low across it's surface. We cross, the seabirds diverting from our wake, and the motion of the ship perks up as we reach the sea – still calm, but here and there are tiny whitecaps, just to show that it can, that we're at sea now. China is behind us. Ahead, 40 hours or so away, is Japan.
This is pretty much the reason for my trip. This ferry crossing is the reason I went to China at all. Timing to be in Japan for April was what determined beginning in southeast asia, and contributed to the onward itinerary of Australia and South America.
I am very excited, and extremely nervous. Both feelings are heightened by the fact that for nearly all of my time in Japan I will have company. My two favourite people are coming out to see me there for two weeks each. After 4 months travelling alone, I'm looking forward immensely to seeing them, while being concurrently concerned about how I'll cope with so much company after prolonged opportunity for solitude. The former outweighs the latter, however, by some magnitude.
I think there must be a type of ticket that includes dinner. Either that, or I am missing mine! I'm pretty sure all I get with my ticket is breakfast, and can buy other meals when the cafeteria is open. It doesn't open – according to the sign on the door – for ten more minutes. Yet the tables were laid, food set out, and many passengers have sat down at the previously barren tables and are eating.
There was an announcement, but the boat seems mainly to use Chinese for announcements, so even my scant Japanese is of little use for understanding the tannoy system.
The influx of people has made the windows steam up, so the sea is trapped between two walls of mist now – at least from my perspective. People seem to be coming through with trays now, which is encouraging for the prospect of food.
Mist has been replaced by darkness. At 10pm tonight, we move from Chinese time to Japanese time – one more hour forwards. Instantaneously one hour closer to Japan. The time travel of longitude.
Two flashes – a buoy, perhaps – startle me out of a reverie. The advantage of taking the slow boat is that it gives me time to catch up on myself. The world becomes a manageable size – a few decks and an endless sea are all there is – and I have space in all that horizon to reflect and to plan. The stress of travel is to always be living in the moment, to appreciate everything around you all the time. That becomes terribly tiring after a while. Train rides and ferry journeys take that duty away. It's a rest that flying – however long the journey – does not allow for. The constriction of an aeroplane is simply not the same as the boundaries of a ship or a train.
For the next 38 hours, I will have both boundaries to release my body from duty, and a boundless horizon for my mind to wander.
Ships are fantastic.
Next stop Kobe, and one of my last days of solitude until I reach South America.