Trip Start Jun 17, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Tsingtao is the name of the beer, Qingdao is the name of the city, the pronunciation is the same.. China's most famous beer is produced in this city, brewed with a German recipe. More than a century ago Qingdao was owned by the Germans for a couple of years, which can be tasted in the Tsingtao beer.

Since all the beds on the train were sold out, I had to travel hard-seat from Beijing to Qingdao, which implies sitting in an upright position with little room for my western-sized legs for 10 hours overnight. Yes, overnight! No sleep, lots of entertainment watching the Chinese being creative with sleeping postures.. Lots of entertaiment on the Chinese side too, watching me trying to find a way to sleep too.

Qingdao lies at the coast in China. It has a number of beaches and quite a lot of German buildings which makes it a popular holiday resort for the Chinese. Let's say it's the Chinese version of Lloret de Mar. Though it is possible to walk on the heads of the Chinese tourists, there are no foreign tourists at all, at least, I did not see any. This made my stay at Qingdao quite a unique experience. Getting online required me to register with my passport, which I only found out after talking to several Chinese people who spoke a few words English. Ordering food was mostly a wild guess, though I did find a restaurant with pictures of the menu on the wall.

Since you guys don't come up with proper challenges for China, I had to come up with a few of my own.. My first challenge was finding the guesthouse where I had booked a room with the help of a Chinese girl. Not an easy job, since everything is in Chinese, and street numbering does not always follow our Western logic. The Chinese are extremely helpful though, both in pointing you to a different hotel when they are touting for one and in making a telephone call to the place I was looking for to ask for directions. Once in the guesthouse I faced the second challenge, one I had seen coming.. nobody spoke English, not even a word. The owners of the place did not understand my Mandarin phrase book, nor the 'Point-it' picture book that I occasionally use to communicate when words, hands and feet don't get the message across. Would this be a typical difference between Chinese and Western logic?
The owners had a solution to this second challenge though, and it came in the form of an employee of the neighboring bank who speaks English, Wei Xin. Wow! This guy is THE perfect example of the Chinese willingness to help and hospitality. Not only did he translate for me on several occasions, he also arranged for his wife, Xiaobing, to wake me up for a guided tour of Qingdao the next morning. He is helping me to get a train ticket to Xi'an (hard sleeper this time, getting a ticket from Qingdao is even a challenge for the Chinese since these tickets are extremely popular among the Chinese tourists) for when I return to China after my visit to Korea. And he invited me to his house to make Chinese dumplings with Xiaobing the day I return from Korea. What a guy! Wei, thank you for all your help!

Now, one of the reasons I decided to take the boat from Qingdao instead of places nearer to Beijing was the appeal of the beaches.. I am dying to get my tan back, and my guidebook mentioned the great beaches in Qingdao. However, though the beaches are crowded with Chinese, there are hardly any adults in bathing suit, and the ones who are wear one covering everything from the neck to the ankles. Yes, I AM exaggerating a little bit, but you can take it from me I felt awkward lying at the beach as the only foreigner in town wearing my bikini. No, that just didn't feel right.
Can you imagine my surprise that evening when I strolled the boulevard and saw hundreds, maybe even thousands, of Chinese people running around at the beach in bathing suits, swimming, playing, shouting.. in the dark!! Check out my pictures if you can't believe what I'm saying, I couldn't believe my eyes either..

Two nights in Qingdao, and then it was time to catch the boat to Korea..

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