Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Qingdao

So this weekend as some of you may already know, Rachel, Olivia, Lucy, Eliza and myself (Karrin stayed back and made sure Qufu didn't miss it's foreign teachers) all hopped a Friday afternoon bus and took the five hour ride to Qindgao, the famous city by the bay. What we had heard about the Qingdao up to the point of us actually visiting, was that it was very famous for beaches, it was beautiful, the Olympic sailing events took place there, and last but certainly not least, that it was the home of Tsingtao beer. Additionally we had heard that the city, formerly a German occupied city had an interesting blend of Bavarian and Chinese architecture, which proved true for the most part. As we walked through parts of the old city, the European influence was unmistakable.

Oh, and one more thing - our brief visit to Qingdao mysteriously coincided with the opening of the 19th annual Qingdao International Beer Festival, but we'll get to that in a minute.

First things first - getting there. Earlier in the week we all took students to the bus station to help us buy tickets, without any real trouble. I went last and was lucky enough to snag the last ticket for the 2:30 bus. We arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare - we were all in the terminal ready to go by 1:50, which by Chinese standards is ludicrously early for a bus (...so we were a bit nervous, it being our first bus trip without a translator). At any rate, as we sat in the station, watching everyone around us hurriedly get in lines at terminals and get on buses which didn't leave right away, we of course became worried that we wouldn't get good seats if we waited until 2:20 to board like our students had said. After fumbling with phrasebooks, pointing, grunting, and pantomiming our destination and time of departure we established that we should be leaving from terminal two, however the woman at terminal two kept telling us to sit down and wait, which got us even more nervous. Was she that person we had read so much about, trying to stick the foreigners with the bad seats? Knowing we didn't speak Mandarin, trying to squeeze the extra dollar out of us? Lucky for us, she wasn't pulling a fast one on us (that comes later in the trip) - she simply knew something we didn't. At about 2:20 (go figure) she comes over to the group of us, and says "Qingdao this way please" the five of us, relieved that we would finally be on our way, walked up to the gate, handed our tickets, walked outside to the buses, and continued to walk past all the buses... over toward the gate... and right for an old, rickety seven seater van. If only I had taken a picture of the van. At this point of course we were all thoroughly confused as to what was happening - were we really taking this rickety old thing all the way to Qingdao? Were they kidnapping us? ...oh well, no time for that now, everybody in the van. Luckily there were two other Chinese travelers with us, so we were generally sure they weren't in fact attempting to kidnap us, but it was still a bit unnerving. Turns out, the 2:30 Qingdao bus doesn't leave from Qufu, but rather it swings past on its way from another town. The rickety van pulls off the road next to the highway, the bus drops off the interstate and picks you up, and away you go. We of course took the last five seats on the bus (at least we had them was the feeling), and I ended up stuck in the very back with the middle seat (the one that opens up into the isle so when the driver slams on the breaks you fly all the way down the isle because there isn't a seat in front of you...), with two people on either side of me and no air vent. Did I mention it was a five hour ride? So it goes.

When we finally arrived in Qingdao after our long, terrifying ride (the driver was insane - even the Chinese passengers were angry and cursing under their breath) at about 8:15 at night. Our destination was a youth hostel we had located on hostel world international, however we neglected to have anyone translate the address and location into Chinese (why would we need to do that? It's just an address...) Taxi was the logical method of travel, and upon exiting the bus station we were greeted by a sea of them who we happily approached and began attempting the translation of our destination. Luckily Olivia's Lonely Planet guidebook had the address of the hostel in Chinese, but the cabby's didn't seem to have any idea on WHERE exactly the street was (this later made sense, once we realized exactly how massive Qingdao is...). Finally one of them seemed to understand our destination and held up a 5 and made the sign for 10, meaning he wanted 50 yuan to take us in his cab. Now is a good time for a brief lesson in the golden rules of Chinese cab drivers - always use the meter. always make sure they start the meter when you ENTER the cab (not keep it running from the previous fare). Make sure they actually know where they are going so they don't decide to drive around in circles to run up the meter. Upon realizing this guy wanted a very large sum of money for the ride we promptly walked away from the group of about 10 or so drivers who were all haggling over our fair and went to the street where other cabs would pull up every ten or fifteen seconds or so. Getting these cabs to take us was equally as difficult, but thanks to a very nice Chinese family who volunteered their English speaking daughter to translate for us, we made it (if i haven't mentioned it before now is a good time - in general, Chinese hospitality and kindness is unrivaled) to our "hostel."

I hesitate to call it a hostel, because as soon as we saw Kaiyue Youth Hostel, we knew it was going to be a good trip. The building itself is an old Christian Church from the 1920's - a five or so story building in the heart of old Qingdao. It was most a hotel attempting to disguise itself as a hostel, and charging you hostel rates. We had two rooms to our selves which were very comfortable and fully furnished, and we had our own bathroom (nicer than all of our bathrooms back here in Qufu). The picture is the room which Olivia, Rachel, and I stayed in. As you can see, not huge, but for a "hostel," it was fantastic.

The lounge/restaurant was the highlight a mood-lit room with big couches and personal booths, with a pool table lit with chill European style hanging lights, playing good ambient music, which blended well with the very relaxing water feature on the back wall made for a great atmosphere. The fare was the best part however - not only did they serve REAL drinks (not just Baijiu and beer), but they had pizza, french fries, western style breakfasts, the whole nine yards. We of course immediately ordered four pizza's which we promptly devoured, laughing hysterically. The hostel was full of other waigoren who were visiting for the festival and I'm sure they thought we were crazy - the pizza wasn't really that good, but to the five of us who had been away from anything resembling comfort food for almost four whole weeks, it was heaven. On Sunday when we left I took several photos of the lounge and upon returning to Qufu I attempted a Panorama of the lounge. It came out okay - well enough for you to see what the hostel lounge looked like.


After our pizza we decided to check out the nightlife and took a taxi across town to a place called The Lennon Bar" which apparently was where a lot of westerners liked to visit. It was pretty empty but there was a live band playing decent music, so we hung out for a bit before heading back to the hostel and eventually on to bed.

Saturday morning we woke up around 8:3o or 9 after sleeping peacefully. I tried the "American Style Breakfast" down in the lounge which was mediocre at best... the sausage was more rubber than meat, the "hash brown" was a silver dollar sized portion of something out of a freezer (which I found ironic because potatoes are abundant, and hash browns are one of the FEW things which they could very easily cook from scratch), but the eggs and toast were good. After I filled up on breakfast and the girls had their coffee we headed out to see the sights of Qingdao. We had a map with us and decided to try our luck at walking for a bit, and wound our way through the streets and eventually made our way to the coast. Qingdao has some cool things to see, as witnessed below: I Think my favorite is the sign explaining that it was in fact a "European Style
Street..." The picture of the skyline doesn't do the city justice - this is actually only a small section of the western part of the city. The much newer and much nicer central part of the city isn't pictured. I did However very much enjoy the stark contrast of the mountains rising high above the city just minutes from the water. I also really, really wish I had had climbing shoes, a week, and a whole lot of gear with me when I saw some of these mountains...

After a very fun afternoon enjoying the waterfront and surrounding parts of Qingdao, and after getting a delicious lunch at a place we found on the street, we decided it was definitely time for a visit to the beer festival. Who doesn't love international beer festivals? On our maps was the location of the "Qingdao International Beer City," which appeared to be a bit of a drive away, so instead of paying high taxi fares we took the number 4 bus which took us all the way across town to the beer festival - about a 45 minute ride. It was a very cool drive which ran along the southern border of the city (right on the water for parts) and gave us a very good feel for the layout of Qingdao and what it had to offer.

The beer festival was, in a word, fantastic. The "Beer City" is much like a fairground. Massive, filled with carnival rides, over priced food vendors, cheap fair goods (like hilarious beer hats), a giant statue of the world announcing your arrival at Qingdao International Beer City, and beer tents. Lots of beer tents. It was interesting to see the parents walking happily with their children to all the fair rides and events while being feet away from a MASSIVE tent where people were drinking themselves silly listening to techno at volumes beyond comprehension. There were about seven or 8 different German beer companies there, and we chose which ones to visit based partly on how loud it was inside their tent. We arrived at the festival at around 1:30 and wandered around for a bit, sampling food and just taking in the festival before exploring the beer tents themselves. There were a good number of westerners at the festival, however many of them European. The only other Americans we ran into were mostly college students studying abroad - however we never actually hung out with any groups of foreigners. It is important to note that the only beer you can get with any frequency in China is a half dozen very light lagers, much like a Budweiser. The Chinese beer tends to be better than that, but it's all the same style, so a change of pace was greatly appreciated. I sampled a delicious stout (well more of a brown than a stout) as well some delicious hefeweizen. We slowly tried different beers and enjoyed the stage shows of different tents for the better part of the afternoon, until about 5:00 in the afternoon or so, at which point we were all a bit weary. This turned out to be only the beginning of our experience at the beer festival - when it seemed as if we were all getting to the point of retiring back to the hostel for a nap followed by an excursion exploring the other nightlife options of Qingdao, a funny thing happened... Walking through one of the tents, we began to notice a startling increase in the crowds. Tables were filled - everybody was drinking. And sure enough, exactly what we had read about began to happen... tables of Chinese businessmen, in varying states of intoxication, began standing up whenever we drew near, began shouting and waving at us at the top of their lungs, and immediately either pouring us glasses of whatever beer they were drinking, or just skipping the middle man and handing us the pitchers and running off to buy new ones. This went on from about 6 to 10. I danced alot, Eliza was interviewed by some Chinese news station, we were challenged to more gambei's (bottoms up toast, usually put forth in a very loud yell, kind of like GAMBEEIIIII!!!, which it is of course extremely impolite to refuse, especially if your host is providing the drinks...) than I'd care to count. we somehow managed taxi's back to the hostel, the girls stayed down in the lounge talking with some people from Shanghai, I went to sleep, and that's all that needs to be said about the Qingdao beer festival...

The next morning Lucy and Eliza caught a 7:50 am bus back to Qufu, due to obligations back at Qushida. Rachel, Olivia, and myself slept in and took the 3:40 bus, after visiting "technology street" so Rachel could get an external hard drive (a ridiculous street dedicated to back alley computer vendors selling motherboards out of piles on the street mixed in with big box stores featuring name brands such as Lenovo, Apple, Dell, etc.). The bus ride home was in itself uneventful - long, however not as painful (we all had decent seats this time). The fun began when we arrived in Qufu...

Or at least the outskirts of Qufu. Remember how the bus picked us up before on the side of the road on the outskirts of town? Well this time we were prepared - we figured they might pull the same stunt on us, and sure enough the bus pulled up along side the side of the road and the driver and his assistant gruffly pointed out the door and made grunting noises indicating we should get off. The only problem with this however, was there wasn't the rickety old van to take us into the city. There was however a single car with a driver who came over and began gesturing at us to come over and get in, and the bus driver(s) almost insisted that we do so. Our initial thought was that there were only three of us this time, so why send a van when you could just send a car? But wait - what about the other seven Chinese passengers who just got off the bus too, and who after a heated and angry discussion with the bus driver decided to walk into the night toward the signs pointing for Qufu? Oh hell...

By this time of course we were already halfway in the car with our bags in the trunk and before we knew what was happening we were driving away, luckily toward Qufu. The driver of course wanted 40 yuan to take us the remaining distance into the city. Rachel called one of her students who has been extremely helpful at a variety of different times here in Qufu, and we handed the phone to the driver so we could figure out what the HELL was going on and to figure out whether or not we had just been kidnapped.

She talked him down to 30. He took us right to the front gates of the college, probably would have been about a 15 - 20 yuan cab ride, so it wasn't terrible... but we definitely got the shaft. The bus was supposed to of course drive us all the way into the city, which was why the Chinese passengers were so upset. John, our guru and all knowing master when it comes to Qufu (graduated Skidmore in 2004, has been in China off and on since, however now he works about 45 minutes away in another city), said it was probably sketchy bus drivers and the guy in the car was probably a friend of theirs. So not everybody is all about showing hospitality. All in all though I've had FAR more positive experiences than negative ones, and it makes for a good story. The weekend as a whole was amazing - I loved traveling and can't wait for next week when the six of us will travel to Shanghai and meet up with Travis and Carrie for the week.

Well that's all for now, sorry this was such a long post! Gives you all something to read off and on for a few days... keep you busy.

p.s. We're actually teaching and working hard during the week - despite what all our posts may make it sound like... It's just more interesting to write about the travels!

3 comments:

Justin said...

Wow awesome blog. I really enjoyed reading it :) your trip looked like a ton of fun! Hey, I found a new site that you might like, baraaza.com

PeterC said...

Great post..when we were last in Qingdao, that pretty church was surrounded by barbed wire and buses parked bumper-to-bumper so that we could not even slip thru to see inside.

amanda said...

Next time your in Qingdao and want some good bars FULL of westerners check out Le Bang (great 50kuai open bar for an hour or so) and then everyone heads to Corner Jazz for dancing!
:)
glad you guys liked Qingdao...it was my favorite city that i visited!!!