Countdown to China

I spent the first half of yesterday waiting in vain at a bicycle shop for a new front fork I had ordered that was supposed to come in last Friday, but had been delayed until Tuesday, the day of my departure, for unknown reasons. I gave up at about 1:30, when Mingyu arrived at the bus terminal, where we had lunch and then headed for the subway, which turned out to be an above-ground light rail. The escalators were blocked and the stairs were too frightening, so we wound up wheeling our loaded bikes through a department store, taking the elevator, and then heading over the walkway to the light rail station. The attendant let us ride for free, even though technically bikes aren’t allowed on weekdays, and on weekends it’s actually only folding ones that are permitted, not behemoths stocked with 30kg each of bags. On the way, we had a nice chat with some fellows from Myanmar who had come to Korea to work in factories. They say Myanmar is a great country for cycling, but that the roads are “not smooth…definitely not smooth.”

We arrived at the end of the subway line at 3PM, which was the time we had set for ourselves to arrive at the port. Whoops. A 30 minute mad dash ensued as we rode around searching for the right port, Mingyu riding his fully loaded bike for the first time, me hoping nothing would fall out of my backpack and cause an accident. Finally we made it, got our tickets without incident, and said goodbye to Mingyu’s parents, who had met us at the port with chocolate bars to hold us over on the 17-hour ferry trip to china.

We had a bit of a scuffle at the security checkpoint – I willingly gave up my leftover camping gas before we got in line, but I didn’t realize they’d want to steal our cans of pressurized chain lube spray and our pocket knives. After sending our stuff through the x-ray machines, they took Mingyu’s stuff, then told me to get mine out, too. I gave them my chain oil and a sweeeeeeeeeet retracting pocket knife that I had agonized over before buying for $20, since I thought I might be just as well off with a cheapie from the dollar store. I figured it would be no use hiding anything from them, though, so I winced and handed over my Leatherman as well. Thankfully, the security fellow had never seen such a contraption; he opened it up, unfolded the pliers, and said “nah, that’s ok” and gave it back! What a great moment. I felt emboldened and declined to mention that I had a third knife, a small blade in my bike-fixing ultra tool.

Still, regretting the loss of the pocket knife and our other gear, I asked the staff if there was any way we could send the stuff via post to Mingyu’s parents so they could send it to us later. Rather than answering yes or no, the guy, apparently intrigued, asked “Oh, do they do that in America? We don’t do that here. I thought you guys were the strict ones?” I told him that I had seen it happen before, and he melted like butter in front of my Korean skills, saying, “Well, I can see that you’re here with your bicycles, so I suppose you have a good reason to have this stuff. You can take the oil, but you know there’s no way I can let you on board with knives.” I thanked him profusely, in my own fluent-but-awkward way, and he caved even further, offering to set the knives aside so that we’ll be able to pick them up once we de-boat in Dalian. It’s hard to believe, but that may go down as the last time in my life that my Korean will ever garner me a freebie.

That’s because when I wake up, I’ll be in China.

So it begins.

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