February 4 – We are drifting again today, this time in the South China Sea east of Hong Kong. It’s a beautiful warm day with a light breeze. On my mid-day constitutional I saw a whale passing port to starboard just yards off the stern. I actually heard it first as it surfaced and exhaled with that distinctive sound; if the engine had been running I’d have missed it. Ten minutes later, as I was leaning over the bow, another whale surfaced twice for air heading in the same direction as the first one. I expected the crew to be blasé about it, just as an Alaska friend yawned at the sight of bald eagles in Homer, but it turns out that whale sightings are not that frequent. Anyway, it made my day.
The GPS on my camera no longer works, but instead displays a message to the effect that the GPS system has been disabled “in this region” – meaning China.
Because I mentioned at dinner that I had decided against the Trans Siberian, the Captain kindly went to the trouble to contact his home office in Germany and got information about how I might travel by ship from Hong Kong or Singapore to several locations in Europe via the Suez Canal. I know vaguely that there is trouble in Egypt (I have no access to news, and so far have not missed it) but I haven’t heard any suggestion that passage through the Canal is impeded. My reasons for declining aren’t about that, I just want to get onto land.
We arrive in Yantian tomorrow and I remain hopeful that my elevation to supernumerary status after Pusan will permit me shore leave. The email from the home office was not encouraging though. It noted, in a different context, that while passengers with a Category “L” (tourist) visa have been allowed to disembark in Yantian, two embarking passengers were recently denied boarding. Apparently only Category “F” (business) visas are acceptable for passenger boarding in Yantian. (Mine is a Category “L” visa). When the home office asked their agent for an explanation of this arbitrary distinction he replied, faintly echoing Chinatown, “That’s China…” So I was a bit worried that if I get off the ship in Yantian, I may not be allowed back on by Immigration.
Crew members don’t need visas to go ashore on temporary leave, though, so my promotion is intended to get me ashore temporarily.
Either way, “that’s China…” is my new all-purpose response to every baffling ordeal. (“Forget it Jake, that’s China…”).