“That’s it, Korea is behind me now. I think I’ve come a long way, in almost two months. A little weakened when I arrived, physically and mentally, I left stronger and more confident. Ideas whose scope I had no idea have sprouted in me, and I see them going far. At least, I’ll do everything I can for that. I have to thank Luke, with whom I shared the first month and who pushed me to look for answers to the questions I was asking myself deep inside. Our separation came in due course, but I will not forget the imprint he left on my path. The month and the encounters that followed, in Busan and around the hostel in which I worked for a while, served to consolidate all this and put some order into this whirlwind of new ideas that have taken over me. While the few days after my friend’s departure, coupled with the bad news my family received, were somewhat harsh and made me consider shortening my Korean stay, fate wanted otherwise. It put on my path beings with big hearts with whom I shared short but nevertheless infinitely rich and precious moments. I was worried about being bored, but Jackie came to the rescue to share my daily life, which had become almost routine, of a few hours of work a day. This, combined with the great moments of laughter and complicity during our outings with the volunteers from the other branches of “Popcorn”, as well as the other encounters, some more ephemeral than others, have prepared in these few weeks a delicious cocktail of memories that I lovingly take with me for this new stage. China promises to be full of new adventures and I am looking forward to it. I allow myself this last glance at a country that will have definitively marked me in order to be able to fully appreciate the future and once again, I feel grateful for all the sorrows, joys and teachings that life put on my path.
Thank you, beautiful Korea.”
I write this text from the ferry I board in Pyeongtaek, the last of my Korean stops. I see snow for the first time in winter, and it makes me feel very strange. The next few hours are a challenge. The cashier who sells me my ticket looks at me with big eyes: “Are you alone? Why don’t you fly, like everyone else?” I don’t want to explain my reasons, which are mainly ecological, and turn away. I soon realize that indeed, NO tourist does the same thing. In the waiting room, everyone stares at me as if I came from another planet; most of the people present are Chinese, there are a few Koreans. It makes me uncomfortable. In addition, I am entitled to special treatment (it must be my “I look like a lost Westerner” style) that puts me in front of everyone, at boarding and later for lunch. At the same time, in the canteen, there are two lines: one for the Chinese, one for Koreans. It’s hard to know where to put yourself…..
But I take comfort in enjoying a beautiful sunset that closes this chapter of my life.
I also suspect that the cashier lied to me when she told me that there were no more places left in second class because she was worried about me. At the time, it irritates me a little bit to have to pay more, but I discover the second class, and I realise it’s not bad to have a private cabin….
Finally! After 14 hours, I arrive in Yantai, China. I immediately have a good feeling, I like the atmosphere in the streets. On the other hand, I have no idea where to go: the hostel I booked gave some indications, but I realise that they are really not clear. So I get on a bus with really no idea where I’m going to end up; there’s not a word in English around me. I’m being stared at; I’m going to have to get used to it. I get off the bus a few stops later, convinced that I went in the wrong direction, so I take another one in the other direction. I don’t recognize any indication, I go out again, a little randomly, and start walking, in search of wifi or who knows, a map. Twenty minutes later, I miraculously and completely by accident stumble right on the street where I should be. Perfect!
The alley I enter is quite charming. The hostel is also a good place to stay, except that it is freezing cold in the room. There is almost no one there, neither there nor later when I go to visit the neighbourhood. This surprises me, because I had been prepared for hordes of Chinese tourists everywhere. It must be the season. As a result, I take advantage of these moments of calm to familiarise myself with the surroundings.
There is a tower in the park nearby, but I don’t go up there, because there’s so much fog that I wouldn’t see anything. I wonder if it’s natural or if it’s pollution… I will learn later that Beijing is currently in the red about that; I think I have my answer.
The place is deserted but as I get closer to the main alley along the coast, I start seeing more people. Or rather, they see me, and this unpleasant feeling of being constantly observed settles in me and won’t leave me again for the next 20 days. A couple in the middle of a photo shoot even asks me to pose with them. I take the opportunity to take a picture with the beautiful bride.
My time in Yantai is short. Before I leave, I immortalize this sentence which resonates a lot with me 🙂
I can’t wait to see more, so I take a bus to Qingdao, known for its eponymous beer. Once at the bus stop, which is not the one I was hoping for, I have absolutely NO idea where I should go. After wandering for a while in the area, I come across a station employee who will help me, by determining which bus I should take. In a few minutes, it’s settled: I have to take a picture of his phone with the map of my destination (I no longer have access to the maps of my phone, so I have many pictures of this kind on my device), get on a bus and get out after seven stops. I thank her warmly and jump on the bus. Seven stops later, I am there, only thanks to her indications, because there is absolutely nothing around me that tells me where I could be…
I spend two lovely days there, despite the cold that I am slowly taming.
As always, I improvise a little, so instead of going to Shanghai right after Qingdao as planned, I decide to go through Hanghzhou first, which I won’t regret… I take a train there.
“At this time of day, people there are probably getting ready to go to work or school. They will do the things they do every day, perhaps with the excitement of the upcoming weekend. Tonight, as usual, they will gather with their friends and enjoy this ephemeral freedom over a drink or five. As for me, I’m on a train again. I had to check what day it was, because my sense of time stayed with my routine there, where these people are. I’ll sleep tomorrow somewhere else than yesterday and I don’t know anything yet about where I’ll arrive in a few hours. Oh, of course, I have some constants: the music in my ears accompanies me across the continents and my thermos is always there to warm my body and mind. But my eyes, which are currently looking at the mountains of the Shandong province in China, could just as easily contemplate some other desert or river on our sublime planet. The new, the unknown has become my ordinary. I say this out of simple observation; it is my way of life, the one that suits me. I don’t really know how people live there anymore, to be honest. I’ve gotten used to it, and it’s become so natural to me that sometimes I forget that it’s not so natural, actually. I am a little apprehensive about the return, even if it will be temporary. I don’t know what they will want from me, what they will want to hear, or what I will tell them. I don’t know if they’ll think that I have changed or if I’ll think they’re the same. And then, our time will be so limited, perhaps it would be better not to waste it with sentences, with superficial discussions. I would not know how to tell them, how to explain it to them, in simple words; I would have to take them with me, they would have to feel my heart beating in their chest, my smile taking shape on their own lips. So maybe just sitting with them and watching them in silence would help them understand better. Perhaps the reflection of my soul will express itself better than my mouth, which cannot make emotions as lively as they are tonight on this train. And their routine will meet my adventures…“
Jil is Lucky – The Wanderer