Because its there

Trip Start May 24, 2004
Trip End Jun 2005

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Monday, October 25, 2004

Well, we just had our next little weekend in Qingdao. Having sufficiently recovered from Beijing, we headed to locations a bit closer and climbed a mountain.

The usual Chinese bizarreness at home. Got our papers and stuff finally sorted out - according to the Chinese government, I'm an expert. Not sure what in, but it makes me feel special anyway. Apart from the warm feeling inside, it also means we don't have to worry about visas anymore. Was pretty easy to get - the school handled it all, we just had to turn up for the medicals. Slight worry there - apart from the internal injuries from the ultrasound lady and the hemorrhaging from the blood test, my ECG came back with "abnormal", "enlarged sinusoidal waves" and I seemed to be in the middle of a heart attack at the time. I guess in most countries I'd be slightly perturbed, but China's special... Still got the certificate tho, and still alive. I think it's partly a chest-hair-issue - they couldn't get some of the little contacts to stick to my chest (they work via little suction-cups)... Marianne also had slight problems with the ECG - she had a rather high pulse rate, due to some rather "dramatic" contact positioning.

Went to an English-corner party at our school. We were the guests of honour even. Although this gave us great seating, it did mean we had to partake in the festivities more than we would have perhaps chosen to. Being Chinese, the festivities were of course karaoke... All these 20 year olds (guys and girls) doing prepared routines of lip-synching, karaoking and synchronised dance moves to backstreet boys. Sober. Something else you have to come to China to see I guess.

They kind of pulled it off too - sort of. It was a bit like how 7 year-olds can get away with it - if everybody thinks its normal (apart from the startled foreigners) then it becomes entertainment rather than scary (OK, I guess you had to be there...). Three guys did do some break-dancing however, which was refreshing. As I mentioned, eventually we were invited to put on a show, which obviously filled our hearts with dread. After frantic minutes of panic, M ended up singing the chorus of Waltzing Matilda (the traitor) in accompaniment to an Aussie teacher, and I ended up (for the sake of the children) doing the decent thing and not singing. Instead I did a juggling show with Mandarins (the fruit, not the people). Never did I ever imagine that that apparently useless skill would ever save me in such a dire circumstance. So a very entertaining night, in a sense.

Below is a picture of the delightful piggy-bank they gave us...

What else? Found out we were in the newspaper the other day. Our little foray watching the papercutting in Qingdao earlier ended up being photographed by a local reporter. I guess he must have been one of the guys who we thought was just another tourist taking pictures of us. Anyway, apparently we were not just watching the papercutting, but actually learning the skill because of our love of Chinese culture (which has been with us since our childhood). On top of this, we were also on TV, possibly from when we were at an English corner. So. Fame and fortune at last, at least in regards to 7 million Qingdao-ians.

So anyway, Laoshan. This is a sort of mountainous headland east of Qingdao that all the locals rave about. Been a relaxing spot for centuries, so there's a heap of Taoist monasteries out there too. Headed out fairly early on Saturday with not much of a plan. Everything took a bit longer than we expected (the 15min ferry trip took an 1hr...) and it wasn't til well after lunch that we actually reached it. "It" being a rather vague place at the end of the 304 bus line. We had absolutely no idea what the deal was, where we were, where we could stay - whether we could even stay the night. So pretty much same-ol, same-ol. Phrase-booked with some eager touts who seemed to pick up our meaning, and before long we were each on the back of a motorbike (at first we were worried they were suggesting both of us on back of the same bike) hooning through the mountain roads to the first place we have even been in China that could be described as "quaint". Nice little town in a rocky bay - although it was, as ever, still China (it still looked like a housing project). Fantastic scenery surrounding it though. Checked into a place that was a bit tatty - no running water, and that lovely aroma that comes with traditional Chinese toilets.

Decided to spend the arvo on the North side of the range, but without transport we didn't have much choice but to start walking down the road. We had the intention of thumbing a lift, but didn't actually know what the signal was for hitching in China... Nice walk anyway, and we figured that a couple of westies walking down the road wouldn't be lonely for too long in China.

Sure enough, pretty soon a lift turned up. And not just any lift. Convertible, late-model BMW. And red even! Travelling in style now, baby. The owner was a very rich Chinese playboy who, as luck would have it, had spent 6 months studying in NZ. Yeah baby. So they sort of shouted us to the afternoon. We headed up the east side of the mountain where you wander up along a very spectacularly scenic stream, or at least it would be if it had water in it - turns out this is the dry season I guess... They had construction buildings and stuff on the river bed (spectacular natural scenery in the making...), so I figure its dry for a while around this time.

The rest of the scenery was nice though, and we actually had great views of the area and the sea from the top. Hopefully this ever-present haze may disappear with the winter. They also ended up taking us out to a fairly expensive dinner - mountain chicken or something which is a bit of a luxury apparently. Very fresh - I noticed them pointing at a chicken pecking around the backyard, and then a bit later some loud squawking... Finished off with a ride home which was a bit of a hoon to stay the least. He had two speeds to his driving - slamming on the brakes and flooring it, usually within a few seconds of each other. I tried to get by, but by the end of the journey I was getting very worried about throwing up very expensive chicken in a very expensive car. To the point that I actually had to stop and dry-retch on the side of the (very scenic) road for a wee bit.

Bailed from the smelly hotel fairly early the next morning (yes, the smell achieved the previously impossible, and actually got us up early). Was greeted by some sort of party meeting or something in the front courtyard of the hotel, which was a bit of a surprise (to them too I think). Headed down to Taiqing Temple first, which was packed with tour groups big time, so not exactly a "retreat". But you can imagine it would be a pretty chilled place to hang out as a monk a few centuries back. They had some big old trees and tablets and stuff, but mostly signed in Chinese so we sort of guessed our way around. Then we headed on up the mountain with literally masses of other tourists and stalls every meter of the way. There was even the option of getting carried up in those sedan chairs.

Was meant to be a very significant waterfall (Longtan Waterfall) about a third of the way up, but it was more like a dribble unfortunately. On the plus side, that seemed to be the destination point of most of the masses and we walked the rest of the way up in relative peace - quite a nice forest walk, sort of pine-forest mixed with a bouldery-landscape. Of course, nearly the entire way up (ie about 1000m vertical) there was a very solid concrete pathway. Wow, that must have been back-breaking. Every time I felt a bit puffed, I imagined carrying up a 40-kg bag of concrete mix...

Passed a few temples on the way (including the oldest on the mountain - Shangqing Palace) - much quieter, but also kind of deserted. Not sure where all the monks hang-out. Usually there were just a couple - one of them would be a guy all dressed in black, with a funny little squat cylindrical hat on, who would bang a gong whenever anyone donated, usually without looking up from the newspaper he was reading. The very top temple (Mingxia Cave) was a bit more animated, at least with tourists. Had some frogs too.

Leading from it was a dirt path up to the very top I think. You had to clamber up through caves, over boulders and shove through the bush, which was refreshing in its deviation from concrete paths at least, but I ended up stopping about 30mins from the top I think. Would have been quite nice but had left M below at the temple, and disappearing for over an hour was probably a bit excessive. Plus we needed to get down to the bottom before the last bus left - relying on another sportscar to give us a lift back to Qingdao was probably a bit risky.

The walk down was fairly uneventful however - most of the highlighted spots were just various boulders with various Chinese characters on them. Presumably significant, poetic or insightful, but just squiggles to us. Another hairy ride on the bikes to pick up the bags and we settled back to a bus ride into town. Kind of embarrassing actually, as without any water at the hotel, we were somewhat stinking by now - after 2 days of hiking. Thankfully, the bus was pretty empty the whole way, and no-one had to stand too close to us.

Spent that night in Qingdao at slightly nicer digs. After the obligatory DVD-shopping, we headed into an Italian restaurant at the Crowne Plaza for dinner, which was the bees-knees. Our table was more like the corner of a study - we collapsed into a deliciously soft old leather couch, complete with book-cases around us. Definitely the sort of setting you crave after climbing a mountain twice. Then settled down to some real Italian food. Ahhhhhh. My lasagna wasn't quite hot enough, but I'll forgive them... Even just having breads-and-dips was heaven enough. Apparently a 100% real Italian chef and everything, so an exceptionally satisfying culinary experience.

Next day we did some odd-jobs and checked out a few scenic churches, one of which was closed unfortunately. Apparently God takes Mondays off. Then off to the "Guest House" - the house the governor of Qingdao built for himself when it was a German town at the turn of last century. Luxurious enough that when the German Kaiser got the bill, he fired the governor. Mao's crashed there a few times too, plus heaps of dignitaries, so a bit of history behind it. Very nice place to live I would imagine, although slightly large for my tastes. Was well done, with a lot of furniture still in place - Mao's bed was soft, the pansy!

After that, grabbed some Subway (look, half the point we go to QD is for the western food OK?) and headed to Wusi park for lunch. Nice enough place, but a bit of a anti-climax - we were under the impression it was a big, huge, green park, and really it was just a few lawns, a lot of concrete and some fountains, with a big sculpture that looks like a game of Jenga mid-way through. Watched people playing with their kites there (including an amusing elderly couple who, for the life of them, just couldn't get their kite to stay in the air). Then picked up some cheese and decent steak and bailed QD. The journey was a bit faster this time, so we're slowly learning the tricks.

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