Two and a Half Days in Qingdao
Trip Start Jul 28, 2007
35Trip End Ongoing
I hopped a high-speed train (200 km/h at its fastest) from Beijing on Monday evening and arrived in Qingdao six hours later. Tuesday morning had me up early walking down Nanjing Lu to the beach. This was the disappointment. Qingdao means "clear island" in Chinese, and so I guess I was expecting it to be natural, clean, and ... well ... clear. It wasn't. I'm sure the waters were clear once, but they were apparently no match for the large metropolis that was pushed right up against them. As it is currently peak season, it was also quite crowded. What was perhaps one hundred years ago an oasis of lush green mountains spilling into a clear blue sea has given way to smog, trash, overpopulation, propoganda posters, pink plastic bathing tubes, and whatever pollutant it is that makes the water murky silver. Even the supposedly lesser-known beach ten minutes outside of the city by taxi was shrouded in a light haze and littering tourists. This beach was less crowded than the city beaches, but a wafting landfill off to the side quenched my hopes of catching R&R on its hard-packed sands.
So the beaches a bust, I did the most logical thing I could think of ... I headed to the Tsingtao Beer brewery. This part of the city did not disappoint. Built by German colonists in 1903 (they lost it to the Japanese in 1914,) the original buildings of this brewery are still in use. If there is one thing Germans can do, it is build things to last. Much of the original equipment used over one hundred years ago still exists and is on display in the museum portion of the brewery. They have an original motor built by Siemens for pumping beer that still runs to this day. It is not in use anymore, but periodically, they turn it on to see if it still works. It does. For RMB 40 (approx. $6) I had a personal, English-speaking tour guide take me through the factory and explain all this to me. Then it was time to drink raw beer, only served at the factory. This is the freshest beer you can get, unfiltered, direct from the fermentation tank. What a taste! The flavor was so fresh and so smooth that it gave me goose bumps. Unfortunately, it only keeps for one day, so you have to drink it right away. The rest gets filtered and bottled for sale outside of Qingdao. If you have a chance in your lifetime, I highly recommend that you make the pilgrimage to Qingdao and drink raw beer from the factory. I can still feel the zing on my tongue.
The rest of my time there I spent wandering around the city admiring the hundreds of German buildings built at the turn of last century that have survived while China has shot up around them. They are in varying states of repair and disrepair, but overall, Qingdao seems very proud of its German heritage and has worked to preserve these buildings, most notably the train station and the Roman Catholic Cathedral in the middle of the city. It was very interesting to be standing in the cobblestone square in front of the large stone church (once a very tranquil place, I am sure) with the sounds and smells of the dried fish market drifting in from the next street over. And the visual effect of hundred-year-old Tudor houses standing among the frail, corregated steel street stalls of China was remarkable to say the least. The contrast between Germany and China could not have been more stark.
So I had expected to go to Qingdao for sun and sand and ended up getting a German history lesson and the freshest beer I have ever tasted. All-in-all I'd say it was definitely worth it. And my next travel destination provided all the sun and sand I could have ever asked for.