Qingdao: The Chinese Riviera?

We decided to forgo our original idea of catching a ferry to South Korea from Tianjin, China which is only an hour from Beijing and instead, head to Qingdao about 5 hours south of Beijing. Qingdao used to be occupied by Germany so we heard it had a European feel to it and is actually known as the Chinese Riviera which saddens me to a great extent. (I don’t know if I’d go that far though.) It also is the home to Tsingtao beer and the infamous beer street (more on that later!) We headed to Qingdao also because it was on the beach and it was near 4th of July and we figured, what’s 4th of July without the beach?
We took our first very comfortable train ride to Qingdao arriving around 11pm. We met a nice Chinese girl who had been living in France and studying. She chatted with us for awhile and I proofread her CV. She looked about 16 but was nearly 35. This happens a lot in Asia. After the ripe old age of 15, females hardly ever look older until they approach 60 and then they look about 40.
After we arrived, we took a taxi to our hostel and checked in. We were pretty tired but had a Tsingtao beer at the really plush hostel bar. Our hostel had the nicest common bar area I have ever seen. If I was passing by and it was just a bar, I’d definitely stop in for a cocktail. We were in a 7 bed dorm that was full, but aside from the tiny rooms, everything was clean and we got to bed quite easily.
The next day, we checked out Swimming Beach No. 6 near our hostel. It was pretty pathetic. Our pictures actually do it FAR more justice than it deserves.

the area we weren't allowed to swim in, unfortunately P7030015

the area we weren't allowed to swim in, unfortunately

I don’t think I ever considered myself a beach snob until I saw Swimming Beach No. 6. It was tiny and crammed with full-on tents and all of the ladies carry umbrellas as though they were the wicked witch of the “East” and the sun was equivalent to water. It’s pretty annoying because there’s nothing fun about an umbrella spike in the eyeball. P7030018

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Ellie, braving it

Kelly, not so sure about the water

Beach No. 6 was small and fairly dirty. We tried to give it a fair shot by taking a dip but only came up with arms full of plastic bottles and other rubbish. So we gave up and went back to our hostel to hang for a bit before we hit beer street since it was Friday night after all.

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Beer Street is the street that the Tsingtao brewery is on. It’s basically a very long street with over 30 restaurants on it that all have lazy susans on the table to accommodate the mass quantities of food that people order and the pitchers of beer. They have Tsingtao in 3 varieties on beer street- dark, cloudy, and piss water-ish. They all come from kegs and only some kegs are cold as we sadly learned. Some people even drink beer out of plastic bags, although we never figured out the tricks or finesse it takes to pull off such a maneuver. As our cab dropped us off on Beer Street, we were pretty excited. The whole thing was glowing, there were benches made out of beer bottles, beer sculptures and fountains shaped like beer bottles. It’s all very kitschy and over the top, but pretty cool.

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Displaying all types of beer merchandise

Since we had eaten some sub-par western food in our hostel and didn’t realize that Beer Street should actually be “Restaurant street that serves keg beer,” we chose a restaurant and ordered ourselves a pitcher. It was about 30 yuan, which is about 6 USD. Not too bad for a pitcher of beer, but not dirt cheap either. Suddenly, as we’re enjoying our lukewarm beer, two really cute little Chinese girls come up to us, one chubby, one skinny, and start saying “Hello!.” They’re about 5 years old and one is shy and the other is boisterous and frustrated with the fact that they can’t get their point across. They bring us a baby puppy from the inside of the restaurant and let us hold it. We took it quickly from the chubby little girl who was holding on so tight that the poor dog was probably going to die from lack of oxygen. It was really sweet. When we gave the dog back, we realized that there was a group of about 30 business people to our left. Two guys from the business table came over to us and welcomed us to China and explained they were in Qingdao on a business trip with all of their colleagues. They had a whole keg for their table and poured us a pitcher and put it on our table. We were so pleased and happy (especially since theirs was cold.) Suddenly, before we know it, they’re sitting with us and we’re all cheers-ing to everything from Michael Jackson to Obama to Mao(although that Cheers was a little more grumbled than the previous two had been.) We were having a fun time with all of them as they translated our responses to their fellow co-workers. They kept bringing over beer and the little girls came bringing over the puppy and the waitress kept patting us on the head and it was crazy and hectic, but so fun. Next thing, we know the company has to leave to go to bed and the men, along with the restaurant staff lift the keg up and put it on our table. This is not like a Heineken mini-keg but an actual college-sized keg of beer that is more than half full. We were told “Help yourself! Help yourself! Enjoy! Enjoy!” Needless to say, Ellie and I had had our share and we began pouring pitchers for the surrounding tables near us. As we were getting ready to leave the chubby girls parents wanting me to lift her up for a picture (such things are as common as being stared at, because nothing goes better than a Westerner in the family photo album.) I nearly broke my back, attempting to lift this little girl but after that we were on our way successfully home in a cab. Never had 6 USD gone so far and the Chinese hospitality that we felt on this evening made us so happy to be spending time in China because it seemed like people actually wanted us to be in their country.

The next day, 4th of July, we headed to a nicer beach called ShiaLoran about 30 minutes by cab from our hostel. A 30 minute cab ride was only 2 dollars each. This beach was much nicer, with better quality sand, more space and a little cleared water. Was it Horseshoe Bay in Bermuda? Hell no, not even Ft. Zach, not even Cocoa beach, but it was certainly better than Beach No. 6.

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We shared the cab with a French-Canadian guy named Felipe, who was staying at the hostel with us. He was easy to get along with and had been traveling around China for a few weeks. Having been to all of the places we wanted to go, we had loads of questions for him, but every time we asked him about something such as the Giant Buddha in Leshan or Shangri-La, he’d respond unenthusiastically, “It was cool.” That was his response for everything so he wasn’t very helpful, although he was hairy, really hairy. Anyway, we hung out on the beach for a couple of hours during which a couple of curious things happened. 1) A man who was unquestionably odd kept inching closer and closer to Ellie, smiling like a hyena. He was harmless as he weighed about 85 pounds only, but while she was sleeping, he threw a small pebble at her head. She immediately looked over at me , accusatorily, inquiring why I threw a rock at her head. I laughed and explained I didn’t as we both slowly looked over at the hyena man and he giggled. Next thing we know about 30 minutes later, he is literally sitting RIGHT on top of Ellie (this is a big beach, remind you.) She is confused and then he lightly brushes her arm with his bony fingers and looks at them to see if her skin pigment has rubbed off on him. *Disclaimer: Later this was explained by some fellow hostelers who were living in China, that often they think foreigners are ghosts and want to make sure they are real. However, who can know this man’s true thoughts? After brushing her arm, he was clearly satisfied and we never saw him again.
2) Somebody threw a wrapped popsicle at Felipe’s head while he slept and we were in the ocean. He opened it and ate it and never knew who threw it at him.
3) A woman and her whole extended family of about 10 people sat on top of my head to ask me awkward questions about our travels in broken English and ask me if I enjoyed Chinese beaches (which I clearly lied Yes in response.)
4) Joey and Tony are both college students who were so nervous and pleased to talk to us that I thought at some points they were going to bury their heads in the sand during our conversation. Joey has self-appointed this moniker to himself because he is an avid lover of Friends. They wanted to mostly speak to us about American programs and what we enjoyed. They said they didn’t see any value in watching Chinese shows because it doesn’t improve their English skills—this struck me as sad because sure, I want to learn Spanish, but what if my life was reduced to Telenovelas that I didn’t even understand? They were sweet guys though and emailed us a really kind letter the next night, telling us that we had a profound impact on their lives and they hope we can meet in Orange county (again, more OC fans, but this time based on basketball I think.)

Tony, Joey, and Ellie

Tony, Joey, and Ellie

After all of the fun and excitement of our day, we were exhausted and watched a movie in the DVD room before going to bed early. The next day, we decided to walk through the largest park in Qingdao. It had an amusement park, some hiking trails and we went on a wild goose chase to find a hidden temple that was really gorgeous and completely worth the two hours it took us.

Here are some random but cool things we saw on our park adventure:

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Traditional Bell Tower

Photo Shoot

Photo Shoot

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Later that night, we went back out to Beer Street with Felipe and three girls (two British, one Australian) who had been volunteer English teachers in small towns in China. They learned quite a bit of Chinese and we had a delicious veggie dinner on Beer Street, full of dishes that Ellie and I wish we had had the girls write down for us because we’ll never be able to remember the names on our own. E also drank a couple pitchers of beer before heading back to the hostel around midnight and sitting in the lounge, talking politics and cultural differences.

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"The Birthplace of Beer Culture"

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Our time in Qingdao was memorable because of the wacky way the locals treated us and Beer Street. I think it reaffirmed that the attention we received in Beijing was nothing compared to smaller towns. The next day, we were bidding China farewell temporarily while we continued our travels on to S. Korea.

(P.S. We’ll do a China budget post and a Overall: China blog after we return from S. Korea and Japan and visit more of the vast country.)

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