I’ve never been on a big ol’ cruise ship like this one, and so far I must say that I’m having a fine time. Getting onto the ship was a bit of a hassle, however. We started with a 3-hour bus ride from our (very nice) hotel near the Beijing airport to Tianjin harbor. It was a pleasant ride, if a bit crowded, and the guy next to me was an experienced eclipsist — this will be his twenty-somethingth eclipse. He gave me a sticker from the 1991 wing-ding. I’m debating whether I should glue it to Ol’ Pokey, my faithful if battered laptop.
Organization deteriorated at the ship terminal. We clustered outside under the eaves to stay out of the gentle rain while a trickle of passengers passed their bags through the x-ray machine. Finally it was my turn and I plunked my bags down on the conveyor and entered the large, noisy, already-crowded building. No one was looking at the screen of the x-ray machine; all hands were busily handling — or increasing — the mild chaos inside. Eventually I made it up to the second floor where cruise check-in was. It was a long, slow line and fortunately I had some pleasant people around me to converse with. We talked about eclipses, mostly.
It took a long time to check in, and then the waiting really started. To get on the boat we had to first pass through Chinese immigration, which was back downstairs. Only thing was, they weren’t open yet. More busloads of passengers streamed in, and the downstairs area of the terminal was getting crowded. Our group stayed upstairs relaxing and watching the cauldron of humanity below. Upstairs and downstairs were connected by long escalators and at one point there was a logjam at the bottom of the downward escalator as people who got there simply had nowhere to go, as the heedless mechanical stairs carried more and more people down on top of them. Fortunately no one was hurt.
Still, people clustered downstairs, because it was closer to the final destination. As if that mattered. Finally employees of the cruise line and white-gloved policemen stood at the escalators discouraging people from adding to the confusion below. More busses arrived, carrying more passengers.
It turns out the boat had been late arriving in the harbor, and wasn’t ready to take passengers. We bought a couple of warm beers at the duty-free shop to help time pass, and then the ship’s galley delivered sandwiches (after a mild sandwich disaster on the up-escalator). Those downstairs milled about in their seething masses while the more patient upstairsers snacked. Time passed, and eventually the boat was ready to receive her next wave of passengers.
Finally, onto the boat. We had been informed that we would be searched again, and that we were not allowed to bring our own beverages aboard, thwarting my plans to dodge shipboard prices. Curses!
It was still a few hours before we were under way. We slid out of the harbor with a four-tugboat escort. My nephew Gerald, fuego, and I watched the lights of Tianjin slide by, and took piles of pictures. I think Gerald’s came out the best, as he had a tripod and generally knows what he’s doing with a camera. fuego scored a couple of good ones as well, and I think I got a couple of keepers. Overall, it was a pleasant evening.
Now it’s morning, and I’m ditching a talk on eclipse photography to get a little quiet time to work. Maybe I’d better get to it.