It’s early November and at 4pm the sun is already starting to set. My friend Sachi has driven me to the DBS Ferry harbor in Sakaiminato, Japan. She hands me a few leftover 1000 Won bills and after a brief hug, I board the ship. No one is in my 8 person bunk room yet.
I walk through the maze of hallways leading to other dorms and private rooms. I pass by a restaurant I don’t want to eat in and duty-free shops that I can’t afford. Finally, the cool air hits my face as I step out onto the deck. I look down upon Sakaiminato, my new home. The fishing boat lights twinkle down the canal and I’m giddy with the excitement of my first solo adventure.
Standing next to me are three Korea guys about my age. They are from Seoul. They came to Mihonoseki for the weekend. Why? To eat soba and udon. Of course. As the ship begins to move, two of them disappear. It is getting colder and I hug my fleece around me. I notice the guy doesn’t have a jacket with him, so I ask him if we should go inside. “Did you know all Korean men have to go to the army?” I didn’t. He says he’ll be okay because his training made him tough. Ok.
Back in my bunk room, the beds have already filled. Some have their blue curtains pulled shut around them. Two Russian women are chit-chatting beside each other. I climb up to one of the top bunks above them and pull out a sketchbook. A few moments later, an Australian couple walk in. They have huge backpacker bags with yoga mats attached to them.
It doesn’t take long for us to strike up a conversation. The wife tells me that she and her husband quit their jobs a few months ago and are traveling around the world. I tell her I’m an English teacher in Sakaiminato. She asks me, “why don’t the hotels in Sakaiminato take credit cards?” I tell her I didn’t know they didn’t. One of the Russian ladies smiles at us and gives us each a mandarin.
The next morning, I wait at the front of the line behind a red velvet rope. The kind you see at old movie theaters. I wait for about an hour in front of a staff member wearing a white blazer. As he unfastens the rope, I step to go through and disembark but he stops me. “Please wait, Korean citizens go first.” Thanks for letting me know.