Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Sep 15 2007

Okinawa Trip, conclusion


The handsome chef was at breakfast this time, distracting me from my book as well as the blueberry pastries. Nearby, a couple of Filipino waiters were trying to convince a new girl, who was from Japan, that the word “fork” was spelled with an “r”, not an “l”. She didn’t believe them and thought it was all some kind of practical joke they were playing on her. She wore a yellow sticker that read “I’m new, but I’ll do my best for you!”

Today being the last day, I figured I might as well go over to the chef and talk with him a bit. His name is Joy. When I asked him how his parents decided on that particular name, especially for a baby boy, he said, “It’s because when I was born, my mother was very happy to see me.”

“I can understand that,” I said. Joy told me that they get six weeks off a year, and that he had a cousin who works in Taiwan, though he doesn’t have her number. He’s 35, is not married, and has two or possibly three children. I gave him my card, but resisted the urge to tell him to meet me in my cabin later.

birdsOutside, the morning sun was strong, and dark specks seemed to be holding a mini dogfight among the white clouds. Black and white birds were hovering, then diving into the sea and coming up with fish. It was quite amazing how they could manipulate gravity, wind, vision and wave to feed themselves. Didn’t they ever rest? If so, where? I didn’t see any alighting on the ship itself. I took a bunch of pictures, finally utilizing the multiple-shot function on my camera.

I had lunch with the Li family in the ship’s Chinese restaurant, which was considerably more chaotic than the Western restaurant. Plates were left on the tables, there was only the barest semblance of a line, and the food went much faster, competition being much greater and more violent than at the buffet in the Western restaurant. Mr. Li told me a bit about the history of Okinawa. He also mentioned that Star Cruises is opening a tour to Xiamen and another to Hong Kong and Vietnam, which sounds interesting, or would if I could afford to take any of these without outside financial assistance. A cruise to Shanghai would be ideal, though. I’d definitely try to do one of those.

The line to settle the trip’s bills moved slowly, as passenger after passenger reached the counter to pay their bill and, I assumed, manage the economy of a small Latin American nation. I had no charges, which I treated as a kind of triumph after all the little attempts to get me to buy drinks, pay for “memorial photos” and the like.

I went back to my cabin, typing at my laptop and watching the sky outside get murkier, a sure sign that we were approaching Taiwan. We had to be out of our cabins by 3pm. Mr. Li had offered me a ride back to Taipei, but I figured I’d take the train. It was that kind of trip, and I felt like ending it alone, maybe to help my thoughts on it reach some kind of resolution.

An outlying island passed by my cabin window, and there was no sign of Joy at my doorstep, so I gathered up my things and went to the elevator. The gangsters had taken it over, so I took seven flights of stairs to the top deck, arriving just in time to see the approach of the Keelung Harbor pilot. Few people seemed interested in watching our approach to Keelung; hardly anyone was up top. Perhaps they were downstairs lining up to disembark already, or perhaps they saw Keelung as a rather ugly, depressing place to enter Taiwan.

Keelung cranesThe Libra approached obliquely, zigzagging through the harbor and sidling up to the passenger terminal we’d left from on Sunday. Crew members busied themselves setting p for the welcome barbecue for the next load of passengers. I sat at the closed bar, feeling like I’d rather be on my way somewhere else, to some other unfamiliar port city to explore. The wind shifted, blowing the ship’s noxious exhaust over us. It seemed somehow appropriate.

I began to wonder what my life would have been like had I chosen to study Japanese instead of Chinese. Would I, at this moment, be arriving in Keelung from some Japanese city, all hyped and excited to be in a new place after nearly two decades of living in Japan?

I took out my phone and turned it on, expecting a few missed calls and messages, but there was nothing. I realized that it didn’t even work in Japan, possibly due to the advanced communication technology they use there. I wondered if there was time for a last-minute swim or soak in the jacuzzi, but the exhaust as well as Keelung spread sullenly over the hills in a most depressing manner persuaded me to go below to join the line off the ship.

Someone’s math was suspect, because, for 3,500 passengers, they had…two checkout lines. Needless to say, it took hours, so I sat down by some fake plants and filled out the ship’s questionnaire while I waited. Some of the passengers had incredibly large suitcases with them, for some reason. A crew member stalked by, glaring at me, which was quite unusual as most of them were very friendly. Perhaps he’d heard how cheeky I was with the chef earlier.

Finally, the last passenger in line disembarked, and I followed soon after. The next voyage left later that night, bound for Ishigaki, and the departure hall was noisy and full. I walked out of the terminal building and along the harbor, looking back at the ship. Along the side of the Super Star Libra, the rat catchers were firmly in place.

On the train ride home, I ignored most everything. I didn’t look out the windows, or watch the other passengers. I just sat. I felt as if I’d been toppled off of something, detached somehow, but from what I couldn’t say.

Keelung hills

posted by Poagao at 7:09 am  

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