Escape from Huangdao
Trip Start May 24, 2004
70Trip End Jun 2005
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Did find a slight spot of interest the other day when we were aimlessly wandering around. Headed into an old grave-yard and then came into a little farm village type place. Think it was all private little plots, but suppose it could have been a communal farm - who really knows in this place. Really friendly people and disturbingly quaint. We said hello to a few and they loaded us up with peanuts. They just kept giving us more peanuts. I'm lucky I eventually ran out of room in my pockets, as I got blisters from shelling the ones we got as it was. I think giving peanuts is actually meant to be a sign of courtesy and welcoming in China.
Also had the Full moon festival, which was kind of cool. Like most Chinese festivals it is associated with eating. Got shouted to a "foreigners dinner" which was good, but of course a bit weird. I still don't really have a good idea of why we were there. But they had good food, cheese and sushi, so can't complain. There was dancing at the end, which seemed to last just long enough for them to get photos of westies dancing before they turned off the music, turned on the lights and the staff started hoovering up the left-over food and playing drinking games. They gave us an expensive-looking set of moon-cakes (which were actually quite nice for moon-cakes) and shoved us out the door. We had another more casual affair on the actual full moon night with some of the students from here which was a bit more understandable and jovial.
Other news from Hunagdao was the worrying demise of the DVD player for a few days. This caused not inconsiderable panic, and we were forced to watch CCTV9 for a few days. I'm sure that killed more brain-cells than 4 years of engineering keg-parties. But happily it started going again and we are back to working our way through our somewhat massive DVD-library (all legitimate copies of course...).
Anyway, with a somewhat stir-crazy feeling with the scenery in town (grey apartments, grey roads, cellphone shops) we headed into Qingdao for an overnight (using our fantastic 3-day weekends. Yay!!). Had a fairly successful trip over (with the exception of being dropped off by the ferry to god knows where), and checked into a swanky hotel fixed up by a fellow teacher that was happily central at alot below the standard steep Qingdao prices. Saw some seaweed drying out on the pavement, so made a mental note never to order a dish with seaweed again.
Had a great start to Qingdao. As we were heading out of the hotel a just-married couple came in, so we were treated to front-row seats at a free acrobatic show. They had guys dressed up as dragons who danced and flipped all over the place. Very cool, and apparently quite traditional - bizarrely I saw an article on the TV a few days later all about it. These guys are seriously skilled. Anyway, most amazing show to have land on your lap.
There's also a video clip at the start of the thumbnails at the top of the entry.
Then continued our wandering to the aquarium, which was a bit shocking at first - sort of like something out of a pathology lab - all these very pasty-coloured fish in jars, and others stuffed like a couch. Even if the signage hadn't all been in Chinese, I'm sure we still wouldn't have known what was going on. But after several rooms of that it turned into a normal aquarium. And quite a good one at that - really have seen some great aquariums over here. They had a under-tank transparent tunnel, which was set-up pretty well, a few normal tanks with sharks and turtles and stuff, and (hold onto your britches) - the largest, single-piece, acrylic cylinder. We were pretty excited too, but what they did with it was that it had a 10m-high column of coral reef in it, with all the little fishies, so quite spectacular. Its a pity they didn't have some english signage, but I guess they'll get on to it fairly soon (Qingdao is where the Olympic sailing will be taking place).
There's also a video clip at the start of the thumbnails at the top of the entry.
After that we headed all the way back to the start of the aquarium, as we had accidentally missed some buildings. Turned out you do it in the order we didn't for a reason - this was definitely the older part, and while it was still pretty good, it looked a bit of a poor cousin next to that hummer of an acrylic cylinder. They had a sort of a show area there too, but it didn't look like they had done a show for a while. It was a dim, dank area. They had 2 different types of seals, each in separate tanks, looking kind of lonely, and a couple of penguins. But they did have shows as it turned out (after much miming and pointing with the attendant), although we wished we hadn't made the effort. The trainer looked absolutely bored shitless as two seals swam around and did some mundane tricks for 10 minutes. We didn't even realise it was over until everyone else stood-up - the show was that lethargic.
Next up we went to a nearby temple to check out the artists there who were meant to be pretty good. Not sure about that. It was mainly all paper-cutting, and I can't say there was anything particularly stunning about them. We had a rather amusing time with one of them who offered to do some cuttings for us. It was amazing how quickly and perfectly they could whip out a cutting - I guess they do them a lot. Got lots of photos taken of us of course - mainly by chinese tourists. They gave the cuttings to us and wouldn't take any cash, so we sort of felt obligated to buy something. Got a cool one of Mao, Lenin, Trotsky and Marx all lined up, but they overcharged us a bit, so guess it was all part of the show... But I figured we paid 50RMB for 3 cuttings and a show, so not too bad.
Headed next door to the actual temple which was pretty standard. Buddhas and demi-gods in the typical Chinese style - brightly painted. Photogenic, but I think I prefer the more reserved grandeur of the mono- or bi-chrome Thai statues. Its all so funny though - all the ones they pray to are connected to getting money/future prosperity. A few decades of communism have certainly given them a pragmatic approach to religion - we'll do it, as long as it pays. There is definitely no shame in wanting to get rich here, its pretty much expected of you to get as much money as you can, in (nearly) whatever manner you can. Its pretty god-damn surprising that communism ever got in here, but their mixture of capitalist-communism (I have no idea how that works) seems to suit it pretty well. Its not a bad thing though - they have a refreshing honestly about it, so you always know where you stand at least.
After that headed into town for some dinner (after maybe checking out a few or more DVD shops...). Ate at western bar run by some german guy. I was kind of excited about the possibility of a decent steak, but unfortunately got some boot-leather that had been rolled with a tenderiser for a few days. Marianne enjoyed her salads and everything tho. There were some loud american sailors there too (kind of surprising - 1 night in China and you have dinner at a western restaurant?) which was great. Made their day tho by completing their currency collection and giving them a 2 mao (about 4 cents) note. Call it my contribution to the war on terror.
Next day wasn't so successful. First up we visited one of the old residences of Qingdao. Qingdao was settled by germans, so a big attraction of it is some damn fine old buildings, mixed with a bit of oriental flavour. Very spectacular. Nice place to wander around looking down all the alleyways and side-streets. However, not much to look at on the inside. The one we went into had no reference to its german owner, just went on about some Chinese army guy who moved in afterwards I guess. Bit scant on the decorations, and of course all signage in Chinese. Then we headed for the museum (after some fairly dodgy walking on some somewhat gnarly hilly roads with Chinese drivers driving like..., well driving like chinese drivers), which turned out to be a fairly grand building as well. That was closed. Apparently only open on the weekends, and we were there on a Monday. Kind of incredible - this is a huge building, and September is still peak season, so for them to have it closed 5 days out of 7... Not deterred we headed for a wander through town to the zoo.
More nice old buildings, and we stumbled into the most perfectly manicured park. Had lots of odd statues around and play-houses in lots of different themes - eg nordic, wigwams, chinese etc. So again, we wandered in a tourist spot with absolutely no clue as to its point. Anyway, as I've said before, the Chinese can certainly make nice parks/gardens, and it was a good place to take a break. As it turned out, by going in the back entrance we had also bunked the entrance fee.
We eventually got to the zoo to find it too was very closed. Not a good success rate. The place was desolate in fact, but apparently it is still going. So, next time in Qingdao will have to be a Sat/Sun thing instead of a Sun/Mon thing I guess. So we took a taxi over the hill (would had been great views had it not been for the ever-present haze) to a local buddhist temple. It had been restarted after a rocky time during the cultural revolution, and was looking pretty healthy. Once we had fought our way through the army of incense-stick sellers at the gates we headed up just in time to catch a service. This one must have just been for the female monks (although male buddhist monks are not meant to interact with females at all, many temples do have separate living-grounds for female monks). Anyway, it was pretty cool. Then headed up for a bit more gandering around - libraries, bell houses, pagodas, classrooms. It was under construction still, so obviously a fair bit of money getting pumped into them these days (not from tourists - at 8RMB a tickets, its one of the cheaper tickets we've every paid).
Then it was a bit of a wander along the beach - old chinese men really really really shouldn't wear speedoes, but they do. In fact, when I go to the beach in my bulk-standard broad-short-type togs, I get people coming up to me wondering if I want to buy some togs. They can't believe I would go swimming in baggy shorts. Obviously not much of a surfer culture here yet. We meant to have a late lunch at subway (obviously, Qingdao is a bit of a western-food outing for us) but in keeping with the day, they had run out of bread. I mean guys, come-on... the whole point is you sell sandwiches. Surely on your to-do list should be "check if we have enough bread"? Never mind, we headed back to the German for some pancakes. Which were imminently better than the steak. Mmmmmmm, I can still taste them. Ice-cream and cinammon apple. Ahhhhhhh.
Which finished the day, save for a mission of a bus ride as we had forgotten that a bus across town at peak-hour on a Monday was maybe not the best idea...