I’ve wanted to write about my trip to Qingdao a couple weeks ago during the National Holiday, but it’s been hard to find time to write. China’s National Day falls on October 1st every year, and we got seven days off to celebrate 62 years of the P.R.C. and its glorious one-party rule. We celebrated by getting out of dodge for a few days, hopping on a 9 hour train bound for the seaside city of Qingdao.
One of the things that I can successfully get through with my hit-or-miss Chinese is booking train tickets, because during last year’s Chinese class, we practiced it over and over. The problem is, traveling during any public holiday in China is crazy, because thousands upon thousands are all traveling at the same time. At the train ticket office, Elijah and I waited in line to buy our tickets as soon as the office opened, and we made it inside in good time. We were only able to get standing-room tickets though, which were super cheap but made the prospect of the trip sink a bit in my imagination. It was still too early to buy return tickets, so I returned two days later with Alan to buy more tickets, and we were so annoyed when person after person cut the long line to rush to the front and buy their tickets. After a while, the security guard on duty started turning the line-cutters away to the back of the line. Nobody here queues for anything, unless they’re forced to queue with metal gates or something. At Starbucks, they have yellow guiding ropes from the cash register to the pick-up area so that no one will crowd around. Lining up is as big a novelty as getting a mocha frappuccino at Starbucks. Before I lose myself on this rabbit trail, suffice it to say that we managed to at least get seats on the train back home, even if we only had standing room tickets to Qingdao!
The train journey was…interesting. We had tickets for the train car right behind the engine, so we had some space at the front of the car to sit down and stretch out on the floor the whole night, which was better than some people had on the more crowded cars. No one had to step over us, and after popping a Nyquil, I dozed a little bit and read a bit as well.
Qingdao was a refreshing change from our dusty Shijiazhuang, and it was nice to see the ocean and the old German architecture mixed in with modern buildings. It’s a very hilly city, so we wore out our legs each day walking around and taking in the scenery. We visited the brewery museum of China’s most famous beer, Tsingtao, which was begun when Qingdao still belonged to Germany, and has since passed from German to Chinese to Japanese and back again into Chinese ownership. The museum was pretty cool, and our ticket price included a few samples of Tsingto draught beer.
Walking around and getting lost on side-streets and in parks was nice, but finding a restaurant became one of the most frustrating tasks. Finding a place to eat that didn’t involve pointing at fish and crustaceans in pails on the floor to order was difficult. I like some seafood very much, but a lot of those little places looked a bit sketchy. I didn’t fancy spending a day in Qingdao within short leaping distance of the bathroom. Despite the difficulty in hunting down restaurants, I think we ate really well over those few days. We started just looking for the Muslim restaurants, because we knew they’d be cheap, delicious, and simple to order from. We also went to the district of the city that houses all the international restaurants, and had some delicious Vietnamese food for lunch…which fueled my interest in visiting Vietnam even more. We also visited a tiny island called Little Qingdao with a German-built lighthouse. It had a great view of the old battleships and submarine anchored in the harbor at the Naval Museum, and also a gorgeous coffee shop with the most amazing coffee I have ever had in China. It was a surreal experience to stumble upon the little place, hidden behind some trees, and feel like I had just walked into a European coffee shop. It was expensive, and I was about to walk out without buying, but Elijah was very kind and bought me a Snow White Mocha.
The best part of the trip for me was our day-long excursion to Laoshan, a mountain next to the sea a couple hours bus ride from Qingdao. We bought tickets at the entrance that were twice as much as my Lonely Planet book said (shame, shame), but I think it was all worth it. With the tickets, we had access to the tour buses going to the end of the park and back, so we did a combination of riding in the bus, looking out at the fishing villages and tea farm terraces nestled between the mountain and the sea, and hiking the trails above the villages. We walked I don’t know how many stone stairs to the top of one mountain area and enjoyed some truly breath-taking views of the villages and ocean far below. We were all three dressed in shorts and t-shirts, and I was amazed (you’d think I’d be used to this by now) at the outfits the other tourists were wearing. I think I lost count of all the Chinese women mincing up stone steps and over mountain trails in high heels, little skirts and crazy tights, and heavy sweaters. I don’t know how they do it—the high heels or the warm clothes in such lovely weather as we had that day. Maybe it’s because of that strange phenomenon we have today, of going to beautiful places with the intent only of taking cute pictures to show you’ve been there, and not just taking in and enjoying the beauty for its sake. Too many things become a photo opp instead of an experience. Pictures are great, but if you take pictures without taking time to just look with your own eyes, then it’s a shame.
I’m glad I got to visit another city in China to broaden my perspective of what this huge country looks like, since I’ve yet to see more than four cities. I can’t wait to travel in January and February!
I hope to write again soon about how my classes and tutoring students have been lately. Besides that, I’ve been reading Mansfield Park in snatches when I have a break between classes, trying to cook, and trying to snuggle with our street-kitty, who prefers to snuggle with Elijah. She likes to jump on things, wrestle with plastic bags, knock things over, wrap herself in tinsel, and steal my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She is also an affectionate, sweet little kitty, so I forgive her for tromping on my groceries and trying to eat my food.