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Full Circle

Day 52: Inch'on to Qingdao

Michael Palin - Full CircleIt's a wet, overcast, monochrome day at the dockside in Inch'on. The assembly compound for the ferry service to the Chinese port of Qingdao is squeezed tight with cars, pick-ups and mini-vans around which bags and sacks are being unpacked and re-packed with serious urgency. Anxious, fraught faces. Calculators are out and last-minute deals are being made before the vehicles are stuffed to their roofs with everything from knitwear to pharmaceuticals to bottles of Chivas Regal.

Later, from the deck of our departing ferry boat, the MV New Golden Bridge, I count fifty or sixty ships at a dockside carpeted with thousands of new cars. Beyond them cranes are bending and turning continuously as they apply themselves to the Sisyphean task of clearing mountains of grain, coal and concrete. This is commerce on a grand scale, something unknown to British docksiders since Victorian times.

Its sheer energy and scale produces a disbelieving numbness. Who produces all this, who buys in such quantities, what creates this relentless demand? Then I remind myself that I am on my way to China, a land area of six million square miles, bordering fourteen countries, with a market of 1.2 billion people, and an economy which has grown at an average of ten per cent every year over the last fifteen years. On this murky, unpromising day we clear two great locks at the mouth of Inch'on harbour and head across the Yellow Sea to a country shaping up to be the superpower of the Asian Pacific. The most feared and least understood country in the world.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 52
  • Country/sea: South Korea
  • Place: Inch'on
  • Book page no: 78

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