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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 49: 12 November

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysWoken by the sound of inscrutable Chinese announcements on the tannoy. Knowing that, for once, we don't have an early start, I turn smugly on to my side, pull the sheets over my head and look forward to a long, late breakfast. An hour later, refreshed, bathed and relaxed I amble down to the canteen only to find that the inscrutable announcement was informing passengers that clocks had gone forward an hour. It's now ten o'clock and breakfast has long since finished. I'm directed to the Coffee Room, where I find a bartender, a waitress and no one else. Order a coffee, orange juice and biscuits and sit by a low table spread with a Shanghai silk cloth. The room is full of fussy, abstract perspex fittings (which I come to recognise as a feature of Japanese interior design), swivel chairs and mournful piped music. The good-natured waitress brings me some carefully prepared Nescafé in a cup which bears the words 'Good Day, nice friends'. She speaks a little English and tells me that the ship, called the Jian Zehn, is a Sino-Japanese ferry, operated by the Chinese, built in Japan. Her capacity is 560 passengers, but there are only 165 on board today. I ask her how long she's worked on the ship, and she says eight months.

'Do you like it?'

'Only a little.'

The cassette runs out and in selecting one to replace it, she picks up a tape called 'Songs of a Stormy Night'.

'Beautifurr music,' she sighs, and slips the tape in lovingly.

The first minute or so consists entirely of the sound of rumbling thunder and heavy rain, which seems to be tempting fate a little. Eventually some strangulated synchronised chords are added to the bad weather. I smile, she smiles back, distantly. The recorded thunder rumbles. Glance out of the porthole to reassure myself it is a tape making these noises, and find a calm sea and the sun high in a sky of cotton wool clouds. She smiles, I smile, the bartender smiles. It seems the only thing to do.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 49
  • Date: 12 November
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Shanghai
  • Book page no: 169

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