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14 September, 2005

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On my way out of Tokyo, I took a last look at the tall building with the observatories.


This dog apparently ran the pet shop down the block as he was the only one around and gave customers a warm greeting.


And here is a monkey fast asleep in the pet shop. He was for sale for around $3000.


Not a Smart car but about the same size.


I don't know what it is about this place but everywhere you look there are drawings of little animals, whether it's on official notices or graffiti.


Yet another big train station. This would be the last one I'd see as it was from here I took a taxi to immigration and the freighter people.


This was an ad for a new album by Mr. Children which had been popping up everywhere. This one was on the window of my cab. Too bad the album doesn't come out until after I leave the country. It's gotten me curious.


This was where I had to report in order to leave the country via the freighter.


Trucks like this were passing by carrying the very cargo containers I might well be traveling with.


After immigration we had a few hours to wander around a local mall. And here was one of the unforgettable displays.


I really wish I understood some of the ads in this place.


And this was the view from outside the mall. I kid you not.


Nothing like a sincere appeal.


If you have no other reason, come to Japan to try these. Or do whatever you have to in order to get them to start selling these things in the States. Trust me.


There it is! My home for the next ten days pulling into port.


It goes on for a very long way.


That little building is where everyone actually stays.


The huge vessel finally docked. And that rickety staircase is what I had to climb up in order to board.


The setup for loading and unloading a freighter is really pretty spectacular.


It also seems to go on forever.

14 September, 2005

Day 60. Hard to believe that I would find it difficult to wake up in time for a 3:30 appointment. But as with most things it wasn't as simple as it sounded. For one thing, Dave and I both stayed up really late last night. We stopped for a late night snack in one of the ticket machine places. This one was a lot closer to the hotel and much better than the one we went to a couple of nights ago. The waitress fell asleep standing up at one point. People here just work themselves so hard. But then, I shouldn't be talking after getting about two hours sleep because I just kept staying up later and later. I got next week's "Off The Wall" done so I won't have that hanging over my head while on the boat. And getting all packed was a project in itself.

I think Dave got even less sleep than I did if he got any at all. I only got to talk to him for a few minutes in the morning. He was going to spend the afternoon exploring before getting to the airport at around 4 while I was going to focus on simply getting to the pier. I had directions from Shinjuku to Shinagawa, another JR station. But from there I had to take a cab and I wasn't sure I had enough money. Plus the shuttle from the hotel to Shinjuku didn't run in the early afternoon. Real convenient. So I had to walk 20 minutes to the station with my bags and then keep my fingers crossed in the cab.

I really felt sad leaving Tokyo. I did a lot but there's so much more I wanted to do. I felt as if I hadn't really thrown myself into the city to the max. But after traveling for so long and so far, I guess I felt the need to sit back a little. Plus I did have deadlines looming. But now it's all over. My work is done, my friend is heading back home, and I have the longest single trip of my life about to begin. But there's no question in my mind that I'll come back here someday and give this place the attention and time it really deserves. Tokyo was the fitting crescendo to my foreign travels, the final chorus before the long silence.

I made it all the way to the immigration bureau, riding mass transit like a pro. The taxi only used half of my remaining funds so it looked as if I might even have the chance to buy something before departing. But first I had to take care of whatever departure formalities were necessary. For that I needed to meet up with someone from the shipping company who would guide me through the process. I actually got there early and was very proud of myself, considering how little sleep I got.

At around 3:25 a guy showed up holding a sign with my name and one other on it. I'm so glad I remembered that showing up on time is extremely important in Japanese culture. It's also rather important in freighter culture. We threw my bags into his minivan and went over to the immigration office. I waited for him to deal with the second person who it turned out was also going to be on the same freighter. We handed over our passports and waited for the bureaucracy to do its thing.

The other passenger (who would be the *only* other passenger on the entire ship) was a college student named Ben who lived in San Diego and had just traveled from Egypt to Ethiopia, Israel, Georgia, Armenia, Russia, South Korea, and Japan. He actually had attended school in Egypt, left from there in June, and was returning to the States after more than a year. And here I was only on the road since July. Oh well, at least I've got the circling the entire globe thing going.

Ben had a lot of interesting stories to tell about his travels and the various people he met along the way. He had also been on the Trans Siberian but had gotten off more times than I did. I think he wound up taking six different trains. He was studying linguistics and, unlike me, seemed to instantly bond with whatever language was surrounding him at the moment. What was really interesting was that he hadn't traveled much at all before going to Egypt.

This is what happens when you travel all over the world and take unusual voyages. You run into kindred spirits that you never would have met otherwise. All of those little things that you notice and file away suddenly become relevant and interesting to someone other than yourself. For instance, I think we both had the same hateful provodnitsa on one of the trains (most likely on a different day) who freaked out at laptops that were using the AC outlets to charge their batteries.

The passport bureaucracy only took a few minutes which left several hours to kill in a local mall before we'd be taken to the boat. So the two of us hung out there and traded all kinds of stories and opinions on various world and societal issues as well as some of the many adventures we had both been through. Time in a mall never went so fast.

We were picked up by another shipping company representative who took us to the pier where the freighter was about to dock. We saw another boat go by and wondered if ours would be as big. We didn't have to wonder for long. The Pusan Senator was suddenly upon us and very smoothly docking. It was huge.

Instantly people and machines sprang into action. The entire loading and unloading procedure is fascinating to watch. Huge robotic arms pick up freight containers, each the size of an 18-wheeler's trailer, and transport them on or off the freighter. The entire cycle takes about 35 seconds per container.

It used to take days to handle this kind of a load. But this entire boat could now be processed in a few hours. We were scheduled to leave at around 5 in the morning. So our first night on the boat would be spent in the harbor. And I guess I'll be doing "Off The Hook" at 8 in the morning once more, this time shortly after leaving Tokyo.

Ben had been on a freighter before although he claimed it was nowhere near as nice as this one and that the staff wasn't very friendly. But he obviously knew the ropes and didn't hesitate when told to get on a rickety stairway that slid from boat to dock and kept going up. Not only was it scary as shit to just jump onto this thing but it was hard as hell with heavy bags. And just for good measure the thing seemed to be coated with oil. But if I could pass this test and make it up the side of the boat, I guess I was ready for a bit of freighter life.

I got to the top and signed in with the guy manning the post up there. We were then shown to our respective cabins. It was far nicer than I ever believed possible. We each have our own rooms (usually it's two to a room) and there's an outer room as well that has couches, a TV set, and a stereo system. So basically we each have a fair-sized suite. Mine is labeled Spare Officer 2. Ben is one flight up and Spare Officer 4. Hopefully we won't be called into duty.

Over the next few hours we were greeted by the captain and various other officers and members of the crew. We got to see the bridge and were told we were welcome there at any time. That was cool. Some captains are never that hospitable.

I won't get a whole lot of sleep tonight either since I have to be up early for breakfast at 7:30 and then "Off The Hook" at 8. At least this would be the last morning show I would have to worry about. Normally I wouldn't worry about breakfast either but I figured this was the first one and maybe it was something we were supposed to attend. In my first few hours on board the freighter, I'm struck by the laid back and friendly attitude that the people here seem to have. I don't know how I'll feel in ten days but right now as the loading continues at full speed outside my window, I couldn't be more comfortable.