China's beer Capital
19.09.2010 - 21.10.2010 21 °C
Our first stop in China was Qingdao (pronounced Ching-d-ooooow) which may look more familiar when written as Tsingtao. Yes this is the town where that World famous Chinese beer comes from. It is a former German port and the beer factory started its days brewing Pilsner before the Japanese got involved. This seems to have done a world of good for the beer; its funny to think that once Tsingtao accounted for 98% of China's exports!!! Think it is a little different now. Strangely though this beer is an exported beer mainly, the Chinese don't really tend to drink it and it is much more expensive than the "local beer" of the province. Anywhoo I digress...
Our first impression when we got off the boat was that it looked a little bit like a shithole! We have come to learn that this is just the way that Chinese cities look when they begin to age which happens before the buildings are even finished/being lived in! This whole country is going to fall down in the next 20-50 years if the architechts are to believed! We jumped in a taxi and made our way towards our host, Andrea's, home at the Ocean University. We were glad for the Chinese characters depicting her address or goodness knows where we would have wound up! We had a lady taxi driver who was literally insane but efficient! She weaved in and out of the traffic with ease and there was only one incident where we could have gone through the windscreen; not bad considering! We eventually found our way to Andrea's building after asking a few people; she was lovely! She's working as an English teacher here but is originally from Texas. Yes she does litter her speech with "y'all" which we found rather endearing. She instantly made us feel comfortable and gave us a choice of plywood beds to sleep on. Yes I did say plywood! One of them even has this little zipper thing which you can open to see it - perhaps it is so you can check it is good quality plywood?! Who would know...
We sat around chatting for a while and then headed up to a restaurant (a Korean one of all places!) although it served Chinese food fortunately. Andrea ordered as the menu was of course in Chinese. We had sweetcorn and pine nuts (TASTY!), a tofu dish (our new best friend) and a Qingdao speciality of fried eggplant (aubergine) and green peppers. This meal was to begin our love affair with aubergine which we are now basically addicted to. I guess there are worse things. By the time we had eaten and were ready to go and see any form of sights it was 3pm so we jumped on a bus and headed back towards town.
First job though was to find a ticket out of there and onto our next destination which would be Shanghai. The trains were sold out for the day we wanted to go and the next day only had the most expensive seats available. So we figured we'd try and find an internet cafe. We asked at a hotel nearby and they told us to get an 8 yuan taxi ride to one. Fortunately she wrote down the characters for wangba (internet) and we managed to spot one near the station without getting a taxi. This was literally about 300 yards from her hotel so she must walk around with her eyes closed. We found here that it would be cheaper to fly so at least that through in an option of travel. INstead of booking that though we thought we would go to a hostel and try to organise a train or bus ticket with them. They weren't very willing to help us to begin with but when we couldn't communicate with the number they had given us (of course they only spoke Chinese..) they decided to help us! With a deposit left with them we were on our way hopeful that we would have a bus sorted...
We wandered around the Old Town until Andrea and her friend Nick came to meet us at the Cathedral. This involved walking through another locals farmers market; highight of this one was the chickens roaming around under our feet. Had to be careful not to trip over one and hurt ourselves. We also had our first experience with a Chinese public toilet. This was in a department store which looked really nice, new and fresh. Its a shame that the same couldn't be said for the toilets! They literally looked as if they had been built 20 years before the rest of the building (impossible considering they were on the fourth floor) and my god the smell! It was quite something special. Don't think that we will be going anywhere for here on in without our scarves!!!
For dinner we went to this little hotpot place which the lady cooked skewers of food for us in a pot of chicken broth in front of us. Not entirely sure what was on these skewers exactly but don't think it was anything near being real meat. Funnily it turned out that Andrea, who is basically vegetarian, had been eating cow stomach! Think it is best just not to ask what it is in these situations....! It wasn't a great meal but it was cheap costing just 1 pound 40p for the two of us...can't complain with that that's for sure!
Our sightseeing the following day was marginally more successful. Having eventually got on a bus headed towards the Beer factory the hostel call us to say that we need to go there NOW in order to get a ticket. We jump in a taxi and arrive there to discover that there are no tickets available with the agent. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh panic....!! But it was okay as a guy from the hostel got a taxi with us to the bus station where we were able to book two tickets for the following evening to Shanghai. Phew! It was cheaper too so that is always nice.
Finally we were in our third taxi of the hour and on our way to the Beer Factory. Considering that it had taken so much effort to get there is was a little bit of a disappointment when we arrived! I guess that that is always the way. The funniest thing was the Chinese tour groups who whizzed through as we were gradually taking our time. I swear that they couldn't have had a chance to take in any of their surroundings; they were just in and out like a punter at his local brothel. The place where this was most apparent was in the tasting section of the tour. We just sat and (Kristian) enjoyed our beers casually, taking our time, and these tour groups would come in like a huge tornado. They'd quickly drink their beer then be gone again in the blink of an eye just leaving a catastropic mess behind with half full glasses abound. You could literally see the tumbleweed blowing past following their departure. The workers would just get the mess cleaned up (super speedily!) and then another tornado would whizz in.
The other highlight of this tour was seeing the machinery packaging up the beer and getting it ready to be sent out to stores. We could have stood for hours watching this but it must be a super boring job for those who work there. I'd imagine that you'd see bottles in your sleep! We had a wander along beer street upon exiting the factory which sold catastrophically priced beer and then got in another taxi because we didn't know where the bus stop we needed was.
Next stop was to be the Lu Xin Park which was located along the seafront. This was a really lovely spot for us to just chill out and formulate a plan for the rest of China; we were even treated to a scrap of blue sky! All the beer had obviously got to Kristian as he chose to spend this time napping on the rocks we were sitting on. With some sort of rough plan in place we headed onwards to what was for us the highlight of Qingdao. We hit up China's equivalent of Blackpool pleasure beach! This was AMAZING! There were actually people TANNING! God forbid that we could be seeing tanned Asians sunning themselves but it was so, our eyes for once were not deceiving us! There were huge groups of men with potbellies and equal amounts of really ripped guys working out at the beach gym! It was just insane. We were fascinated by the groups of men in their speedos grouped around together gambling or playing games or something. The best thing about the whole experience was that they all seemed to be having so much fun: laughing and joking together. This was for us an introduction to another side of China we had not yet experienced thus far and we could truely see the yin and yang of how this country worked.
Our journey back was the other side.....an hour and a half on a packed bus, crawling along at snail speed on a journey which should have taken 30 minutes!!