Thursday, January 22, 2009

China Chronicles: Day Two (Qingdao)

After finally getting some sleep in my stifling ferry cabin, Jordan, my roommates and I waited around for maybe an hour before they let us off the boat (we were docked the whole time, but the ferry was crowded so all we had to do was wait for one of the attendants to come get us). This was great because it gave me time to make train plans. I originally planned on going to a hostel and getting them to help me book a train ticket to Beijing, but Jordan, who has travelled extensively, convinced me that I would be able to tackle China all on my own (can you tell I was a smidgen timid?). Relieved by the fact that, at least, he had to get a ticket as well and would be joining me, we stepped onto the (two) escalators that took us off the ship and got on the bus to take us to the terminal.

When we got there, I was immediately shocked at the state of the place. Polluted, muddy (not very cold, but very drizzly) and full of dilapidated buildings, it was not how I expected Qingdao, which helped Beijing host the Olympics this past summer (for sailing and other water events), to look. However, like so many cities in Asia, it's important to really spend some time to look around all the little interesting side streets before you make a judgement about a place. After a few kilometres in a (remarkably cheap) taxi, I could tell that this was not a typical Chinese city.

I mean, the Germans basically founded the whole place. Did you know? That's why the hometown brew, Tsingtao Beer (Tsingtao is just another way to spell Qingdao), is so delicious. The Germans came in the early 1900's and raised the small port to become the city it is today, for better or for worse (judging by the beer, I would say in this particular case it was for the better- but only because of the beer). The architecture, while old and dilapidated, is decidedly Bavarian in style. I don't think the buildings have changed much, or have even been repainted, since the Germans left. Even still, the place had an eerie but charming feel to it- I think with it's beaches and beer festival, Qingdao would be bustling and gorgeous in the summer and I kinda want to go back because I left thinking I had missed out on something very interesting.

Jordan and I went straight to the train station to get our respective train tickets (he had more time off and was heading south to Yunnan province while I had to go straight to Beijing) and, for the first time in my life, I felt completely overwhelmed by the amount of people in such a small space. The train station in Qingdao is beautiful and was just recently renovated, but the scene we came upon was just barely short of chaos. There were line ups going outside the door, security guards were kicking people to keep them in line, and there didn't seem to be any space left for us to squeeze in. We showed our Lonely Planet book to one of the security guards and he pointed us in the direction of a ticket booth that had two other people waiting in line. Score.

With the Chinese (forced to stay in their longer-than-life lines) shooting daggers at us, we went to the booth where a friendly lady got us the tickets we wanted. I didn't get a seat on my 10 hour train ride to Beijing, but I wasn't complaining. Not while thousands of other people probably wouldn't get any tickets at all, after waiting in line for hours.

Tickets in hand, we both had several hours to kill before heading back to catch our trains. We thought we could probably walk to the Tsingtao Brewery for a tour, but the city was a lot larger than Lonely Planet emphasized. We grabbed a cab, and a few minutes later we were on the famous "Beer Street". We immediately found the brewery and went inside, paid 50 yuan and got our tickets to "roam somewhat freely" through the factory and the grounds. There was a boring beer museum, the tour was ok (typical beer brewery tour... I've been on many...) but the samples were yummy and I had a great time.

After the tour we wandered around Beer Street for awhile, admiring the many statues devoted to beer and wishing we could have been here when it was sunny and warm and when people were actually out enjoying themselves. The street was pretty isolated in late December...

I started to feel hungry and found a little kiosk selling noodles. I was worried about what I was ordering, but I shouldn't have been because it was maybe the most delicious bowl of noodles I have ever consumed. It was extremely spicy, the noodles were cooked just right (this wasn't ramyeon, it was made with the thick, circular noodles) and it was topped with cilantro and scallions. Amazing.

After eating, exploring and emailing home, we made our way back to the train station and said goodbye. I waited a very long time for my train, all the while being the only white person in the room, being stared at by everyone and being scared out of my mind- not of the people, but of missing the call for my train. I didn't need to be worried at all, clearly. As would become my travelling pattern, a very kind young woman saw me and must have noticed that I was terrified of the pushing mass that was trying to get on the same train as me. She grabbed my shoulders, pointed out my elbows for me, and helped me push my way through the crowd. Then she showed me my car. Very nice.

Even though I had no seat on the train, a nice woman who was travelling with her three daughters offered to let me sit with them while she had her youngest on her lap. They played with my hair, offered me convenience store chicken feet, and then, one by one, dropped off to sleep. I slept as well, and every time I woke up a different daughter was sprawled across my legs, snoring.

That was a very long post. I hope you are still awake. Please enjoy some Qingdao (Tsingtao) pictures!

The Chinese welcome wagon. I was scared to take pictures of their faces. Immediately, though, I was drawn to their hats.

Travel buddy, Jordan, with the train station in the background.

Don't worry, Santa was at the Ferry Terminal to greet everyone. He seemed to follow me everywhere after that...

Jordan, getting his ticket after waiting for approximately 2 minutes.

The other massive lines, and people looking not very happy...

The streets of Qingdao.

I honestly had a hard time believing that I was in China at times.

The many kinds of Tsingtao Beer, in the brewery museum.

The brewery, spewing tons of pollution into the air. The outcome? A crisp and refreshing bottle of beer. Somebody's got their priorities straight.

Going through the factory, watching the magical journey the beer takes from the vat to ma belly.

Jordan, inside the "Drunken House". If you've ever been to the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa, it was exactly like the "Crazy Kitchen". Incidentally, Jordan is from Ottawa and we had both been in the "Crazy Kitchen" before. Weird.

A little scared before taking my first bite. The following picture that was taken shows my extreme surprise and delight!

The woman who made ma noodles.

One of the many statues on Beer Street. This one is made out of many Tsingtao beer cans, with the display case in the background filled with Tsingtao Beer.

I reeeeeeally wish I had been here in the summer.

To close: Tsingtao Beer is really delicious, and it kind of tastes like Alexander Keiths.

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