Kiev Market

It’s 10:30pm and it’s dark. We have the name of one youth hostel but we’re not sure quite how to find it. And we’re not sure that Kiev’s scenic alleyways are best experienced in the dark. We can always take the train to Kharkiv. We don’t know where Kharkiv is. But we can take the train there and then try to get a ticket to Krakow in the morning. Or we can sleep in the train station.

At least the train has beds. We are going to Kharkiv.

Downtown Kiev

Down the stairs to the platform, we ask the lady taking tickets at the train’s door where Kharkiv is. She calls to a passenger who comes to the door, a man with dark hair in a black leather jacket who speaks some English. Where is Kharkiv? He tells us Kharkiv is in Ukraine. Where in Ukraine? East? West? We have reached the limits of our common language. Now we get nervous.

Back at the ticket window the line is twelve people long and moving slowly. It doesn’t matter. We wait as the train to Kharkiv leaves. We wait as the train to Krakow leaves. We wait on line to buy our tickets to Krakow, and we wait on line for a refund for our tickets to Kharkiv. And then we turn to the station.

The view at night

At night most of the seats in the Kiev train terminal are occupied by the homeless. The seats in the central corridor must be the most comfortable, because they are so popular we never get to sit in them. These seats are packed with heavy ladies with heavy hands and heavy feet, scarves tied babushka style on their heads and carefully packed bags arranged around their feet. In the chilly, dimmer seats on the second floor of the international train station men who smell like vodka lie down across as many seats as they can grab and travelers compete for the seats that remain. As the long night wears on the distance and difference between the homeless men and unlucky travelers recedes.

Our seats at the front of the station offer unobstructed legroom but also the closest proximity to the gusts of mid-October that sweep periodically through the terminal. We try to sleep. There are many ways you can try to sleep in these seats. You can lean your head back into the pillow of cold air, hoping this will fool your body into thinking this plastic seat could be a bed. You can lean forward, head resting on the bag in your lap, or you can lean sideways towards a companion or empty seat. No one way is sufficient for an entire night or even an hour. So try them all, repeatedly, eyes and mind half-closed and unwilling, one after the other after the other.

It’s only midnight when the police officer and lady ticket agent come around. If you can present a ticket for travel on the next day they will let you be. They kick out the homeless men. Two seats to my right unlucky travelers are reduced to tears. The homeless men move to the seating area on the other side of the international ticket balcony and lie down. The heavy, package-laded women of the central corridor come in to take their places.

After a third sweep by ticket officials we are all motioned across to the other side of the terminal, where the homeless men have just claimed the best spots. In our new seat Mister Chen is to my left and to my right side is a man who smells like vodka and is kicked out by ticket officers six times. Each time he goes back to sleep. Each time they come back and yell. And then he goes back to sleep. Across from us a man fishes around inside his rotten parka and takes out a kitten.

Morning breaks late and Mister Chen sleeps later. At 8am we eat butter on bread ripped from a loaf. Then we put our bags back in the train station lockers. Then we head outside.

Easter Eggs

We are back an hour before our train leaves. We wait, fists balled in anticipation, for our train to reach the board. It is not appearing – this is some kind of rush hour and the board is thick with trains leaving ten minutes before ours. I leave Mister Chen with the bags and walk swiftly down the train corridor, reading the individual departure signs – and there it is. Track nine. I walk back, we grab our bags, we go. Boarding, we ask the lady taking tickets if the train is going to Krakow. Krakow? She doesn’t know. Poland? Poland? Yes. The train is going to Poland. Good enough.


The train’s configuration is new to us. Each compartment has three bunks. The bottom bunk is a bench seat. The middle bunk is the backrest of that seat, which folds upwards into a bed on an impossible series of hinges. The third bed is already folded out very, very high up. Our tickets assign us the bottom two bunks, and we have the room to ourselves until a few minutes before the train pulls out when we are joined by a Ukrainian journalism student. She is going to a music festival in a castle outside of Lviv. We talk about music. She says most bands don’t bother coming to Ukraine, and it’s very hard for Ukrainians to get visas to visit EU countries to see shows. She calls Belarus a “special country.” Her impression of Americans is that they have all written self-help books. She tells us the extra charge on the Moscow-Kiev train was for the bedsheets. She tells us to watch out – the Russians will steal your shoes.

The Ukrainian journalism student leaves the train at 7am. We get off at 9am at Medyka, Poland, surrounded by customs officials, to board a shuttle train to the customs office. We are entering the EU.


A review of our passport, a stamp, and we are all through. Except for a man in a baggy suit who is shouting his innocence as he is patted down. Then he removes VHS tapes from his pants pockets, from pockets inside his suit jacket. They keep coming, and I am standing in the next room watching him because they have also detained Mister Chen. Since Mister Chen has not though to bring VHS tapes the customs officials must eventually let him go.

Taking a left out of the customs building, we walk one block and take another left to the train station. There’s enough time to get some zlotny and walk around the main square at the train station, where the few store fronts offer money exchanging. When the train to Krakow arrives we board it with little drama, sitting mostly by ourselves at the windows in a six-person terrarium and dozing as the train moves, slowly, locally, through Poland.


Later that night – after arriving in Krakow on a Saturday, spending the whole afternoon and evening wandering to nearly a dozen hostels and a few too expensive hotels and not finding any room at the inns, after sitting in the common room of the hostel we have booked for Sunday night, silently biding our time until the common room closes and we will be back walking the streets until dawn, deciding that it is time to go, as we are putting our coats and hats back on the lady at the desk stops us to say that another group’s train has been delayed, and we can have their room for the night. It’s 1:30am. We drink the beer.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY: Sit next to an educated Ukrainian with a great command of English and a real love of music and try to find a band you both know in common. The Ramones? No. Just Moby.

Golden Gate

Fresh off of the night train from Moscow, our first task in Kiev is to buy tickets for that night’s train to Krakow. There is a building with a bell tower to our left. This building is useless. The building to the right has ticket windows. The different ticket windows will give you conflicting reasons why you should not be at their window and go to another window. And so we go across the cavernous hall, to the other room of ticket windows with fast food stands in the middle. And so we go back across, and then we go back into the hall, and then we ask the lady at the information desk. She points up.

On the second floor two long corridors lead to the train tracks, and past these train tracks, past the kiosks and money exchanges and waiting areas stacked with the indigent and ice cream vendors is – another train station. A new, shiny, completely different train station. The one where you can buy international train tickets.


Mister Chen buys tickets to Krakow from the International ticket window. Platzky class. “At least I’m pretty sure I got tickets to Krakow,” he says. We look at the ticket. It says “XapKiB.” Cyrillic. Of course. We pay at a desk in the basement for two tokens and use the first to lock our bags in a locker. Eight hours later we are back to spend the other token.

Outdoor Shopping

Hurrying to the departures board, bags on our backs, we spend our last Hryvnia on food and bottles of beer. And then we wait. The display alternates between Cyrillic and Roman letters. XapKiB to Kiev, KNiB to Kharkiv. We wait for the platform number. Then a new train appears, the train an hour later than ours. The display changes. That train is going to Krakow.


We run to the international ticket window. Above the window a television displays the number of tickets remaining on all departing trains. We stand in line. Tickets on the train to Krakow = 0. At the front the lady in the window instructs us to stand on the other line for a refund on our tickets to Kharkiv, and then stand on this line again so she can sell us tickets on the next available train to Krakow. Understand my use of “said” to mean she was speaking in Ukrainian and gesturing and we were speaking in English and panicking.

There is a tall man with a shaved head and small beard standing on the other line, and he now comes to our aid. He speaks to the lady in Ukrainian. Yes, we can get our tickets to Krakow here, and THEN get a refund. Where are you from? He asks. Brooklyn. Oh, he says. I live in Astoria.

We thank him. We buy our tickets. When does the next available train to Krakow leave?

For Sale



The helpful lady who sells train tickets from the hotel lobby cannot sell us tickets to Kiev. She tells us to go to the Belorusskaya metro station, so we do. At the ticket window we point to the page in the phrase book asking for train tickets and slide a piece of paper on which “Kiev” has been blindly copied in Cyrillic under the window. The helpful lady who does not speak English gives us this answer: Four. And she points. “I think she means four meters away,” says Mister Chen. “Or four hundred.” We enter the next building over, which may or may not be four meters away. The ticket windows are closed and the waiting room is empty. The bare octagonal room at the center of the building has eight walls covered in glass cases full of nesting dolls. The only other room is narrow and dark with walls coated in the chipping remnant of the most depressing shade of yellow I have ever seen. There is a narrow staircase with an iron railing and so we climb it. One flight up we find ourselves in a brightly lit room with walnut furniture and wall to wall carpeting. To our left is the receptionist’s desk. Across the room is the elevator bank. It is the lobby of a hotel. Outside once again, we walk what is closer to four than four hundred meters. We look up at the next building. It has a number on it. Four.

We wait on line again. “Ticket – Kiev?” asks Mister Chen, sliding our sad scrap of paper through the window. “Do you speak English?” asks the lady behind the counter.


We buy tickets on an overnight trains from Moscow to Kiev. The train leaves from the Kievskaya station. The Kievskaya station is undergoing repair. We walk around the station, past the platforms and the outdoor departure board. Inside people wait on wooden benches in a warm yellow glow. Outside vendors offer gyros that smells like dill. Like all the street food we’ve eaten in Moscow these are prepared upon your order and then microwaved. It’s the only way to keep things warm. It is freezing outside. We never found our way inside the train station.

The train car is set up like a narrow, tightly packed diner. On the left two benches covered in red vinyl face each other across the small table attached to the wall underneath the window. A red vinyl bed folds down above each bench. Across the aisle two single-person bench seats face each other over a table, and a bed parallel to the car’s wall folds down above them. Flimsy walls divide each set of beds and benches, the self-contained cells repeating themselves down the open corridor until they reach the end of the car where the bathroom is. Mister Chen and I have the top bunks of one cell on the left wall. By the time we reach our seats a stout, elderly Ukranian couple is occupying the lower benches like they’re East Berlin. We put our bags in the storage space under the seats. We gingerly occupy a small amount of space on the bench.

When the train begins moving the conductor collects a couple of rubles from everyone. We don’t know why, but we pay up. The conductor passes by again some time after 10pm to hand everyone shrink-wrapped bed linens. The passengers collectively decide that it is time for bed. Across from us the two half-benches fold down and meet with the underside of the table turned 180 degrees to reveal a red vinyl cushion. We crawl up into our top bunks, passing the pillows and blankets stored there to the Ukranians. I don’t take my shoes off until I get to the bunk, and then I place them above my head. Just in case. Because everyone has warned us. The Russians will steal your shoes.


In the morning we are trapped in the top bunks, sitting with our backs in parentheses so our heads don’t bump the ceiling. As long as the Ukrainians and their bedsheets stay on the bottom bunks our language barrier leaves us little choice. The Ukrainians stay in bed.




We have been in Irkutsk for twenty minutes and already we have waited on two lines and Mister Chen has seen a lady with a mustache. The ladies in the windows at the end of the lines tell us they cannot sell international tickets. The lady at the end of the second line motions us upstairs. Upstairs at the end of a hallway is a room with blue wall to wall carpeting and eight windows. Two windows are open. A stout lady stands at the doorway, a blue work smock covering her clothes. Her job is to tell you to sit down and remember what order you arrived in. When it is your turn at the window she will motion you up from the blue couches.

There are two trains to Moscow today. One arrives in Moscow three days from now at five in the evening. The other arrives eleven hours later, at four in the morning. The first train is 7500 rubles a ticket and the second train is 5000 rubles. We take the second train.


Our tickets are in Cyrillic and the number of our assigned berth could be any one of a soup of numbers. We ask the man checking tickets at the train car door and he just motions us inside. We fumble through the train carrying backpacks slightly too large for the narrow corridor. Hostile stares bore through us. Tourists, mutters a Russian man. The word is universal. At the end of the corridor we walk into an occupant of the train’s final berth.

Mister Chen has never been so glad to see a Chinese man in his entire life. An unlit cigarette hangs out of the man’s mouth, he is lean and middle-aged and wearing tight fitting long johns with vertical stripes. Which number on the ticket is the berth? Why, of course.

We are rooming with the Chinese man and his business partner. The business partner is shorter and squatter, balding and smoking, wearing tight clean long johns with horizontal stripes. The two men are lumber merchants. They buy lumber in Siberia and sell it in China. They are drinking tea out of metal mugs and playing a board game with black and white disks. The horizontal man asks Mister Chen where he is from and Mister Chen, in his limited Mandarin, answers. The vertical man goes out for a smoke with his friend from next door. The horizontal man spends twenty minutes telling Mister Chen that Taiwan belongs to China.


The next morning a Russian official comes in to inspect our passports. In a scene that will repeat itself at least twice a day over the journey, my passport is not wanted. They just want to see papers from the lumber merchants and Mister Chen. The lumber merchants give the Russian official a small fist of cash and get off at the next stop.


We have the berth to ourselves for the rest of the journey. So: there is a padded bench with storage space underneath it. Above it, a second padded bench folds up to the wall. The benches are mirrored on the opposite wall, each one with a pillow and blankets. Between the beds at the outer wall of the train is a large, mottled window that leaks cold air in. A small table sits in front of it. Out of the berth and down the corridor to the left is the bathroom and the train car’s only accessible electrical outlet. At the other end of the corridor is the samovar, which is not what it sounds like (a pen and ink drawing of an antique barrel on persian carpets with a sword hanging above it ) but is a shiny metal kettle that dispenses hot water.

Once or twice a day a lady rolls a cart through the corridor to sell fried meat rolls. At the dining cart a surly man sells beer and snack food. The meat roll lady sometimes wheels a selection of packaged snacks and drinks through the corridor. The train is heated, but sporadically, and late at night when the heat is at a low ebb it can be extremely cold.


Three and a half days in a train, drinking hot tea and coffee and reading long books. Watching trees and snow go by, and the occasional sign of a very depressing civilization. Three and a half days spent really look forward to your next meat roll.


We arrive at Yaroslavlsky Station at 4am. Outside it is bitterly cold. The train station is warm and brightly lit. A piano sits by the large window, roped off. The sun does not rise until 9am.

SUGGESTED SUPPLIES: Eveyone has said – bring rubles, at larger stations women with baskets sell fresh food for low prices. We do not find this to be the case. Bring food.

Looking down from the hill

Tickets for international train travel cannot be purchased at Ulaanbaatar’s train station. To get to the International Ticket Office you must walk one block north of the train station and take a left past the hammer and sickle statue. We arrive at the ticket office on a Sunday. The only open ticket window lets us know that tickets for Chinese and Russian trains can only be purchased one day in advance. Returning on Tuesday, the same ticket office can no longer sell us tickets. They point us upstairs and across the building to the wood-paneled VIP room. Two ladies in uniform sit at behind a large wood-paneled desk. To the right, a doorway leads to a wood-paneled bar.

Ticket Office

The lady on the left books the tickets. The lady on the right takes our money and speaks a little English. Between pantomime and place names we learn that the cheap train from Ulaanbaatar to Irkutsk takes two days and the expensive train takes one day. We pay in cash for tickets on the expensive train. The expensive train can be Chinese, Russian or Mongolian – on Wednesdays it is Chinese.

Train from Kansas City and or Beijing

We arrive at the train station early and spend our last Tugrik on mysterious vegetable juice and a Mongolian-German-English phrasebook. When the train arrives it is already full of people travellng from Beijing. Bulky Russian men are busy trying to pack bulky black duffel bags into our compartment’s every crevice. Boxes are stored under both benches, boxes sit in the depression above the passageway, boxes are under the table by the window where your feet might go. Next door a man sits on dozens of cases of cigarettes. We stuff our backpacks into the hollow seat beneath our bench and then sit on the bench with our tote bag with the picture of a duck on it. When the train begins to move the Russian men go to the next compartment to smoke and play cards. The day is warm and the windows in the corridor are partly open, so we go over to watch grassfires and small painted homes connected by clotheslines, railroad crossings with uniformed female attendants holding one red paddle in their right hands, fields of brown and yellow grass, men in the distance on horseback.

Three hours later one of the Russian men returns to the compartment smelling like vodka. He places one bottle of water and one bottle of beer carefully on the table near the window and then goes to sleep.

About Russia

You must get an invitation before visiting Russia. You can get an invitation from a friend who is living in Russia, from a legitimate hotel you have booked ahead of time, or from a cheap, sleazy internet agency. I bought our possibly fraudulent internet invitation months ago and stood on a line at New York’s Russian Embassy until the vaguely slutty Russian ladies employed there could emphatically stamp my papers and tell me to return in four weeks for my visa. Cowering on a train too late at night at the Mongolian border across from two large and slightly drunk Russian men I am wishing we did not. The taller man with the awful teeth keeps bouncing out of his seat to visit the next compartment over, only to be returned by the customs officials. I find the blanks for the address of hotel we are not really staying at and number of the invitation we have fraudulently received. Before Immigration collects the information forms Customs drops off the customs forms. These are similar to the Immigration forms, except that they have not been translated into English.

How they make the train go

Brows furrow and pens make their best guesses. The taller and more frightening Russian man leans over. He points at the form and tries to translate.

The lights stay on in the train until far into the night. Mongolian Customs is a lady in a military uniform. She is next in the parade of officials that will be asking us things in foreign languages this evening. Unable to sleep and staring at my passport again, I quiz Mister Chen on the five acts that can lead to the loss of your U.S. citizenship. Then he tries to name all sixteen vegetables in the mysterious vegetable juice. When the parade is over the lights go out and we are safely in Russia and on Moscow time. Moscow time is five hours earlier than Ulaanbaatar time. Tomorrow the sun will set at 2pm.

In the morning when the Russian men leave they give us a bag of soft grainy apples and six chocolates wrapped in blue paper with a picture of a bear printed on it, which I discover in my pocket in Paris, and eat.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY: Getting into Russia is easy. Just remember: Bring a book! And don’t be Asian.


You wait on line outside Beijing’s main train station. Wrong window. So you wait on a different line. Sorry, no. Try buying your tickets at a hotel, says the man at the ticket counter at the train station.

So Mister Chen took the subway to Beijing West, with written directions to the International Ticket Window on the second floor, and you can’t enter the train station without a ticket so Mister Chen played the foreigner all they way up to the information desk, who directed him downstairs to the ticket booth, where he waited on another line. “Where do you want to go?” the ticket agent asked. “Ulaanbaatar,” said Mister Chen. “Where do you want to go?” How do you say Ulaanbaatar in Chinese? “Mongolia.” “Where?” “The main city in Mongolia?” “Where do you want to go?”

So we went to the CITS agency at the Beijing International Hotel. It was located on the second floor, right where the signs said it would be. We filled out paperwork and show our passports when prompted.

In China, Ulaanbaatar is pronounced Ulaanbatwa.


There’s a large timetable above the main staircase in the Beijing Railway Station. It displays train numbers and destinations in Chinese and English, and then there is a number. Numbers one and two correspond to the two waiting rooms on the second floor.

Our train is a number three.

We ask unhelpful railroad employees. We run up and down and up the stairs.

Between the two waiting rooms is a corridor. A-ha.

Everyone is gathered by the stairs to the track. Everyone is bringing stuff. Giant suitcases and packing boxes resealed with duct tape, large plastic-fiber red blue and white checked bags full of gift food in fancy boxes and IKEA furniture on dollies. When the platform opens it’s us and them and the self-assembled Swedish furniture concepts competing for space as we squeeze down the staircase together to the track. And then for a moment the sky comes into view through the latticework of the station roof. The forest green passenger cars, every doorway manned by a lady standing ramrod straight and smiling in green skirts and coats and thigh-high boots, the Rockettes of the Mongolian plains, the cart attendants. Just for a moment the sky opens above you and those forest green passenger cars stretch forever into the distance belching white smoke, eager to start. And the bounce and jostle of the crowd closes in, returning you to the hard enough business of walking, of watching stairs and elbows.


Oriental rugs cover the floors along the hallway into the compartments. This is a Mongolian train. Our compartment’s walls are wood and the four bunks are swaddled in floral embroidery. The lady cart attendant appears with mugs of strawberry tea. Q: How do you know if you are on a Mongolian train? A: Is the lady car attendant shoveling coal in thigh-high black leather boots with stiletto heels? You are on a Mongolian train.

At 9:15am we pass through the Great Wall of China. In the afternoon dust fills the train like smoke. At 8:40pm the train stops at Erlian, the last stop in China. You can get out, and then the train disappears for two hours. It is freezing cold outside. Inside the station are plastic seats, a bathroom, clocks of the world (non-functional) and a convenience store. The convenience store is packed and people buy in bulk, cardboard flats of water and cookies to take with them to who knows where. Outside loudspeakers on telephone poles play a Mariachi recording of Taps.


It’s a night of interrupted sleep, Chinese immigration and Chinese customs, Mongolian immigration and Mongolian customs. In the morning the lady cart attendant asks 500 tugrik a person for yesterday’s tea.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY: Get tugrik ahead of time. The lady cart attendant exchange rate isn’t good.


I’ve heard it’s more expensive but easier to purchase train tickets from third party agencies. Which is what we tried to do, but we could never find the hotel that supposedly sold the train tickets, and the ticket office is just to the right of the train station past the public square filled with old men sitting on the rice sacks that hold their belongings. So we went to the ticket office. We got in line for the English ticket window, which was not so much a line, and the lady behind the counter did not speak English. We asked for tickets aboard a night train to Beijing. Hard sleeper? No. We got what they gave us.


The most expensive train from Shanghai to Beijing costs sixty United States dollars. This ticket buys passage to the soft seat waiting room, reached through the specially marked door at the front of the Shanghai train station, and there is a piano in it. In front of a staircase is a board of upcoming trains followed by numbers. These numbers do not correspond to the track number, like you might sit in the soft chairs of the waiting room for a half an hour thinking they do. This number is the floor that your actual waiting room is on. Okay. So we hustle up to the second floor waiting room where there aren’t any seats left, but there is a store selling cookies and beverages for inflated prices that are still cheaper than anything you could have imagined before arriving in China. That’s where we are when they announce the train, buying crackers with sugary lemon filling that are delicious, so I don’t know if there was an announcement but the mass of people in the waiting room converge on a single point, so we joined them there.

Fancy Town

Sixty United States dollars buys you a bed in a four person cabin. The cabin also has a a vase with a fake flower in it, and a menu, and a magazine in Chinese, four bunks with sheets and pillows and an informational brochure. The Z trains are the fastest trains China has. It says that in the brochure. Five Z trains leave Shanghai between 6:45pm and 7:30pm. Three of these serve dinner, including ours. It is a sort of sausage half-calzone with pickled carrots, and it comes with a few pieces of plastic-wrapped bread in a paper bag. The vegans in the bunk across, with some help from Mister Chen, eventually manage to communicate something to the lady cart attendant. She eventually reappears with rice and vegetables from the restaurant car. The lady cart attendant does insists on repatriating their little bags of bread.

In the dining car you can order a 15RMB Tsingtsao and listen to the people who have ordered multiple bottles of wine with their dinner and are talking about senior management. On the fanciest means of conveyance between Shanghai and Beijing you do not just get the ambiance of a fake flower in a vase. You also get to travel with the fanciest people going from Shanghai and Beijing. Hell. You are the fanciest people going from Shanghai to Beijing.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY: Shimmy down to the restaurant car while you can still afford it.


The Shanghai Ferry Company runs ferries to Shanghai every Friday at noon. They ask that you arrive by 10:30am. Reservations can be made in advance, but tickets can only be bought in cash at the ferry terminal.

Leave plenty of time the morning your ferry departs. You’ll need to pack your bags and check out of your hotel. Hit a post office to get cash for your ticket – only post office ATMs in Japan reliably accept foreign ATM cards. And buy some food or snacks for the trip. Take the subway to the Cosmosquare station and make a sharp left along the water, then just follow the road for about fifteen minutes to the International Ferry Terminal. Waking up by 7:30am should give you plenty of time. We set our alarms for 7:30am. At 10:00am the radio alarm clock has been buzzing static for two and a half hours and the digital watch has been silent for exactly as long. In Japan you can buy warm sake from vending machines.

Waiting Around

We are out of the hotel by 10:20. We are at Cosmosquare a half an hour later. We reach the International Ferry Terminal a little after 11:00.

We do not have any money.

The lady at the desk takes our passports. She has our tickets. We cannot pay for them. Credit card? The reservation form said quite clearly: Japanese yen only. Of course. Is there a Post Office? Yes. It’s a half an hour walk away.

Falling In

The man behind the counter starts walking. With a blind trust forged in panic we follow him. We go to the parking lot. Can we take a taxi? The man leads us past the taxis. He leads us to a clean white mini-van and gets in the drivers seat. His car. So we get in. It’s a white-knuckled five minute drive to the post office, a hurried dash into an office building and a wasted thirty seconds trying all the doors until we find one that opens. Once we are inside the post office the man runs back out to the parking lot. I take out more yen than we will need with too-hard jabs at the ATM buttons and we run out to the parking lot where the man has pulled his car around, and before we can pull shut the heavy van doors we are racing back to the ferry terminal. Five minutes later we are paying for our tickets. Ten minutes later we are running through immigration with our passports out. Fifteen minutes later we are on the boat.

The world is kind to idiots.


Rooms have a bunk bed on either side of the doorway as you enter, and a television in the far corner of the room. The movie schedule is posted in the lobby. There is a low table by a window that looks out at the front of the ship. The lobby has a machine for hot water and tea, and one for cold water. The cups here are free. After the ship departs a ping-pong table is placed in the lobby. After the first day the ping-pong table is folded up ad lashed to the side of a hallway. The second floor lounge is the one where all the foreigners sit and talk about travel plans, and the typhoon we are heading into, which the ship’s crew makes announcements about in Japanese, but does not acknowledge in English.

The cafeteria serves breakfast. It’s not very good, but it is complementary. Next door is a restaurant where at night you can sit at the bar and sing Karaoke. Or you can just listen to Karaoke. It’s quite audible from the second floor lounge.

Outside of Shanghai a fleet of ghost ships sits rusting to our right, and to our left they are building more. At disembarkation we get on a little bus to customs and immigration, which is incredibly easy, and then you are on the street in no one quite knows where. Welcome to China. Taxis are affordable. Don’t get robbed.


ONE WAY TICKET 12-19km ¥230 (ABOUT $1.96USD)
SUGGESTED ACTIVITY: If there is anyone with you you can say to them Don’t panic, don’t panic. If you are alone you can mutter it under your breath.

SUGGESTED ACTIVITY: Tallboys of Premium Kirin and Asahi are only ¥200 from the duty-free vending machines.