A Sea Of Chaos

By Stephen Ewashkiw | February 3, 2014

9,340 so far.

Our push to Vietnam begins now.

This morning we rode the 9 km from the hostel to the ferry terminal in Haikou, and there the waiting game began.

We wove our way through people and traffic to the front of the line where walk-on passengers wait for the ferry to the mainland. I went over to the ticket desk and purchased two tickets to Hai’an, and was told to just wait with everyone else.

The waiting game, at the Haikou ferry dock, Hainan.

The waiting game, at the Haikou ferry dock, Hainan.

There were no signs indicating when the boat would leave, but we understood there should be one every 90 minutes.

Slow Boat

We arrived at the ferry terminal at 10am, and from the information the hostel had we were expecting a boat to depart at 11am.

Still waiting. These ladies talked non-stop for 90 minutes, Haikou, Hainan.

Still waiting. These ladies talked non-stop for 90 minutes, Haikou, Hainan.

It wasn’t until noon that the gates finally opened and we were allowed to go to the boat.

We were told to follow a motorcyclist who was going the same place as us, but when we got to the boat, we had to wait with the motorcyclist while all the cars and foot passengers were loaded on.

The process of loading the ferry was pure chaos.

As each car pulled up to the front of the line, the passengers were told to get out of the car and walk on while the driver stayed with the car. None of the staff seemed to have a system in place for checking the tickets of the passengers once they left the car, either. Lots of people left their car only to come running back a few minutes later for their tickets.

Loading zone chaos. Each car took a few minutes to load on, Haikou, Hainan.

Loading zone chaos. Each car took a few minutes to load on, Haikou, Hainan.

A lot of shouting and pointing was going on. All of this caused even more delays. Car passengers had to pack up their stuff quickly, then walked aimlessly between the cars and the ferry, which resulted in honking, people nearly being run over, cars pulling away while grandma was still climbing out of the back seat… you know, general mayhem. No wonder these ships never leave on time.

The good news is that the crossing only took the 90 minutes it is meant to. It was such a relief that even if things were chaotic they weren’t as time consuming as our initial crossing to Hainan.

Unloading the boat was the complete opposite. It was a seamless process, and after docking around 2:15pm we were on the road and our way by 2:30pm.

Should We Stay Or Should We Go?

Once back on dry land we had a lot of back and forth, weighing the pros and cons of staying in the town 10 km from the dock. It was already 2:30pm and we had a 90 km ride ahead of us. We could stay in town, or ride to Leizhou, knowing this would bring us into town an hour after sunset.

Neither of us relished the idea of staying in Hai’an, and we’d both like the get to Vietnam as quickly as possible. Usually we opt for the safe choice in these matters, but today we decided to risk it.

So we rode. And rode.

We haven’t been on many routes that we have been on before, and it was strange to be seeing the same things we’d passed about a week ago. But with a long ride into the night ahead of us, having a little foreknowledge that the route is fairly flat and the pavement is good gave us some peace of mind. It was nice to know there were no surprises around the next corner.

We don’t often ride during sunset, but it was beautiful. We were just outside Leizhou, where the land is flat and the road is lined with coconut palms. The sky was a deep shade of red, and hundreds of bats were out, darting between palms, soaring across the road, and eating up mosquitos. I love bats!

Jane’s note: Since the day was over, people, mostly women, were on their way home from the fields. They drove by us in endless numbers, all piled into the back of three-wheeled mini-trucks. There were so many people in each one, that it was standing room only, and the women at the back of the trucks had their limbs dangling out through the tailgate fence.

They looked completely worn out from the day’s work, and I couldn’t help but feel a little sad for them. There is such a disparity between the work they do and the amount they are paid. Frequently, as they drove by, one or two would catch sight of us and a big, wondering smile would creep across their faces. I have never been happier to be an object of oddity and delight.

We were greeted at the hotel with a big hello from the receptionist who looked after us last time, and she informed us New Year’s prices were in fully effect. The room would be more than double what it had been when we were here about 10 days ago. Gulp.

Checked in, we headed out to find food before crawling into bed.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

I wanted to take a minute to write about garbage. I haven’t said much about it, partly because it never really fits into the post I am writing, partly because I feel it would just sound like I am complaining. We saw so much garbage today it compelled me to write.

Garbage is everywhere in China. Unlike in the West, where we hide it away in a big garbage dump somewhere, here it is just piled up at the sides of the road, or dumped in the river, or pushed into a pile and lit on fire. We rode past so many piles of burning rubbish today that my throat is sore.

In Leizhou tonight we walked past a disgusting, leaking, oozing pile of garbage that was easily 15 feet high and with a circumference of 30 feet. That was just on the main street.

Often the garbage has been collected in small red plastic shopping bags. These things are ubiquitous here. They are in streams, lakes, ornamental ponds, outside homes and shops, piled at the side of the road, hanging in trees… you name it.

And people just throw trash on the ground wherever they are. Today, I saw a guy walk out of his shop to throw some garbage on the street in front of his store. While waiting outside Carrefour for Jane the other day I saw people drop juice boxes, plastic tea cups, food waste, candy wrappers, and cigarettes on the ground all around me.

Many people are paid to collect garbage here, so using a garbage bin isn’t necessary. You just drop your waste, knowing someone else will come along and pick it up. But this means there is always waste on the ground.

Jane’s note: Some towns and cities are actually spectacularly clean. I noticed this especially in Shanghai. There are so many garbage collectors there, and the city people are a little more conscious of disposing their garbage properly, that the streets are far cleaner than in an ordinary American city.

I know that the West’s way of dealing with garbage is far from perfect. And we create a LOT more waste per person. But at least we have people who take our garbage away for us, and most of our citizens are not forced to inhale the fumes of burning plastic and other noxious chemicals as they go about their daily lives.

Next time you see your garbage person, give them a big smile and a wave. He or she deserves it!

Soundtrack: The Lowest Of The Low, Shakespeare My Butt… | Soul Coughing, El Oso | Billy Bragg, The Internationale | Eels, Beautiful Freak | The Electric Bubblegum Arkestra, It’s Really Not The End Of The World | Electrocute, Double Diamond  

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