Tsingtao in Qingdao!

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Olympic sailing centre

Flag of China  , Shandong,
Monday, June 17, 2013

It's been a few weeks since last writing, and that was on our 1st Beijing anniversary! We thoroughly enjoyed celebrating this milestone with a bottle of champagne at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, we sat there for an hour and a half, reminiscing about our first year, and wishing we could drink champagne there more often!!

The rest of the weekend involved the regular bowling night, catching up with friends and on the Sunday a charity diner. There is a group called Beijing Foodies, who meet once a month at various restaurants around the city, and raise money for charity. This month it was the Migrant Children Foundation, so we managed to get a table of 10 people together. The restaurant was called Pinotage, a new South African place nearby. For £13, we got a 3 course dinner and a glass of wine, great food, great value, and a good cause. Beforehand, a friend from the US had invited us to his apartment, he lives opposite us, in a beautiful apartment, and had just brought some fab Californian wines and cheeses back from the US with him, and wanted to share it! Very enjoyable, although you can get a variety of cheese here, it’s expensive and the quality isn’t so good, so it’s something we both miss.

The following week the British Club had an outing, around 40 people on a 'Metaphysics walk’ around one of the ancient parks. One slight problem, it rained….. the rainy season has begun, luckily it wasn’t too heavy and we still managed the walk & talk.

The walk & talk was about core Taoist concepts, and about the 5 elements, information about the benefits of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and morning exercise, and some information about the history of the park, Ditan Park (Temple of Earth park). We also learnt about and did a few Qi Gong exercises, similar kind of thing to Tai Chi. It was really interesting, and we had a traditional Chinese lunch afterwards learning about different kinds of foods too.
http://thehutong.com/chinese-medicine-tour-programs-in-beijing/

Andy played his last game in his bowling league, and his team won the season! Very happy! Another trophy to go with last season’s!!!

Viva, the women’s networking group I belong to, hosted their 5th birthday party at a place called ‘The Hutong’, which I hadn’t been to before. Hidden away amongst the hutongs surprisingly enough, it’s a place that does cultural talks, cookery lessons, brunches, tea tasting etc. and have a lovely roof terrace where we enjoyed drinks and food. I’m the guest speaker for their next event in June, and am doing a presentation on women & finance, 40 min presentation and 20 min question & answers. Really pleased to have been asked to do this (and a little nervous!!). Here is my 'advert'!
http://www.vivabeijing.org/events/women-and-wealth-financial-dos-and-donts/ 

After that I cycled to join Andy for the monthly quiz night, which had already finished having had a lower turnout than usual, think it’s due to the warmer weather, lots of events at the end of the month, and a lot of the usual teachers that attend being busy for the end of term.

1st June we went to a friend’s 30th birthday party at a very cool courtyard bar, cocktails, pizza & a bit of dancing made for a fun night. Already a late night, we headed back into town & met up with a couple of friends, ending up at ‘Bob’s wine’ which is a small wine & liquor shop where you can buy it off the shelf, and sit outside & drink it, so it’s quite a bargain. Several bottles of red wine later, the birds started tweeting and the sky got light, whoops…. It’s 5am….!!!!!

2nd June, my sister’s birthday, a phone call to say happy birthday left us both teary afterwards, and me sad at missing more celebrations with my family. That evening a friend was the DJ at a rooftop club which I hadn’t been to before, a very trendy place overlooking the city, and a warm enjoyable evening.

Our friend Helen, the founder of Migrant Children, invited me to join her for lunch at the Rotary Club. A nice hotel lunch, and an different experience, I hadn’t been to a Rotary Club event before, as enjoyable as it was, and a chance to meet some new people and network, there is much pressure to donate money, bid in an auction, buy raffle tickets etc.

Fri 7th June was a very busy day. The Migrant Children Foundation along with one of the big International Schools, Dulwich College were organising MADD – Make a Difference Day, where 500 students from Dulwich College, paired up with 500 migrant children for the day to share and experience various activities. Andy & I volunteered all day, Andy helping the teachers to run the day at Dulwich, me with Helen as a roving photographer. An incredible day, with some eye opening moments, and torrential rain & floods. Amazingly, after getting so wet all day, we finished up with a massive water fight! I’ll let you read the blog on the MCF website to find out more about our day, rather than repeat it all here.
 
http://www.mcfchina.org/blog/make-difference-day (blog)
http://www.mcfchina.org/content/make-difference-day (photo’s)

Totally exhausted & in need of refreshments, we headed to our favourite dumpling bar, Mr Shi’s with some friends who hadn’t been before, and are also now hooked!! Next stop was a music venue called Temple, to watch the Beijing Beatles play. We’d seen them before & they are great fun, and didn’t disappoint this time either.

The following evening Helen took us for dinner to thank us for volunteering all day on Friday, a very nice meal at a Korean BBQ restaurant called IKI.

The rest of the weekend was a total washout with the weather, torrential rain, which is Beijing means several inches of standing water in most places, getting a bit wet is no problem, but when your feet & bottom of your jean are soaked, it’s just no fun, so plenty of coffee stops, lunches, and DVD’s were in order.

It was Dragon Boat festival last Mon / Tue / Wed, so a national holiday, where thankfully the weather improved. Andy now has a bike, kindly donated by a friend, so we cycled out for brunch on the Monday enjoying the sunshine and sitting outside. That evening Andy had a boys night out, so quite a few of the boys hit the town, in various pubs, bars & clubs.

Tuesday we decided to cycle to the park & lakes, but a slight repair job on Andy’s bike took longer than we thought, so we caught the bus and ended up having dumplings again for lunch, that place is pretty addictive!! After that a wander around, the skies getting darker & darker, and a sudden dash for the bus before the heavens opened…. Wow did it rain!! So glad we hadn’t cycled in the end otherwise we’d have been drenched!

The rain wasn’t a total surprise to be honest, you’ll remember from last summer our football adventures in the rain….. so that evening we had tickets for the Workers Stadium to watch the China v The Netherlands game, so of course, it was raining!! Luckily it stopped just before heading to the bar to meet the others, a group of 19 of us went, China lost 2-0 to the Netherlands, and probably should have lost by more considering the rather lack lustre performance!! Some excitement from the crowd, but not as much passion as a Beijing Guoan match, we could see why China hasn’t reached the World Cup qualifying rounds! The heavens opened again with thunder & lightening 5 mins after the end of the game, so it seems someone was looking after us from up above!!

A few of us decided to cycle to the lakes for the last day of the holidays, officially the Dragon Boat festival day, to create our own Dragon Boat moment & hire a boat, but it was so busy, it proved impossible, so we enjoyed wandering around, having a few drinks & some food in the sun, spending a very enjoyable day.

One day at work last week (we were working over the holidays too believe it or not…!), and time another long weekend, setting off early on Friday morning for Qingdao for Andy’s Birthday.

Qingdao is in Shandong Province, on the east coast (the Yellow Sea) of China. It’s a naval base, and is the home of Tsingtao (the towns former name), the famous Chinese beer. It’s 4 hrs 20 mins away from Beijing on the high speed train, and is said to be China’s most liveable city. For 30 years up to 1949 the city was a colony of Germany & Japan, and has lots of European architecture.

We set off on the 7.45am train, we arrived in Qingdao at lunchtime, getting a taxi to our hotel, The Castle. The hotel is a boutique hotel in the old town, housed in a former government mansion, in beautiful grounds.

A beautiful hotel, and our room was a really cool garden view suite, with views over the grounds and trees, quite a welcome change from Beijing!
http://www.agoda.com/asia/china/qingdao/qingdao_the_castle_hotel.html

We set off to explore, walking down to the seafront and along the boardwalk, thinking for one moment we were back in Portsmouth, seeing the naval ships off the shore! We wandered for a while, enjoying the fresh air (supposedly one of the cleanest cities in China), sunshine and perfect blue skies. Time to stop for some lunch, and of course a bottle or 3 of Tsingtao, we found a street restaurant & ordered from pictures on a menu, not being sure what everything was! One dish we’re still not sure what it was!! We found a beautiful church, surrounded by brides & grooms! We’ve mentioned before the popular pastime of having your photo taken in China, in various dress, ball gowns sometimes but mostly wedding dresses, having pre-wedding photos before the big day.  The place was heaving with them! So funny to see! More exploring around the old town took us through some street markets, fresh fruit, veg, and fresh fish. Some fun interactions with the locals, including Andy catching an escaped fish who’d jumped out of his box!!

Later we wandered to what is known as ‘Beer Street’, a busy area next to the Tsingtao Brewery Museum. There were loads of restaurants lining the street, full of barrels of Tsingtao, and big containers pouring pitchers of beer. People had told us that the black beer, or the stout Tsingtao was very good, but doesn’t travel very well which is why we haven’t had it in Beijing, so we tried a couple of pitchers of this, whilst watching the world go by, a constant source of entertainment! The stout was very enjoyable, with a slightly nutty / chocolatey taste.

Later we headed back to the hotel and ate in the Rats Keller German restaurant in the grounds, having a very enjoyable meal, we retired back to the hotel & watched a film.

Saturday the weather had sadly changed, to something resembling Beijing – although it was actual fog, and not smog. A thick sea fog had descended on the town. It was still a pleasant temperature though, so we decided to walk along some of the 40km of boardwalk along the coastline to the Olympic Sailing centre. Underestimating the distance, we walked for around 2 hours & experienced far more of the boardwalk than we thought we would! A nice walk though through all the beaches & bays (imaginatively named beach 1, 2, 3, 4 etc…..). Very busy, lots of Chinese tourists, hardly any foreigners in sight. The most famous bathing beach, no. 1 beach seemed like it was trying to be something it clearly wasn’t….. Venice Beach in California!! There were men playing volleyball in their speedos, and an outdoor gym in the sand, with guys showing off & pumping iron, but nothing really to show off with!! As I say, a constant source of entertainment!! We saw lots more brides on the beaches, dozens of them waiting for the perfect photos opportunity.

A welcome Starbucks stop when we finally got our weary legs to the Olympic sailing centre where all the sailing events were held for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a massively touristy area, again very busy but still good to see. I got my coffee fix, so next stop was for beer to keep Andy happy! (although it was actually in an area called Coffee street, again, imaginatively named, just like Beer street, and beaches 1, 2…). We found a few non-Chinese restaurants in a pedestrian area, and opted for a Thai restaurant recommended in one of the magazines. We had a fantastic meal, and very reasonably priced. Things are much cheaper here than in Beijing. Tsingtao was again required to wash down the meal, as it was so flippin hot, lots of chillies!!! Our legs decided that a bus back would be a good option, so we hopped on one to take us back to the old town. Something in Qingdao that we’re not used to in Beijingo is hills, especially the area our hotel was in. Our legs aren’t used to inclines, and were a little achey!

Back to Beer Street for the evening, the pitchers we had the night before were £4 & £5, so expecting something similar, we sat at a different place, but this time it cost us £8… feeling that we’d been rather ripped off, which is common in Beijing just because you’re a foreigner, but it didn’t seem like that here at all. The weather had turned to rain, so we walked along the street & found a tiny little bar under a clock tower, quite out of place amongst the chaos & lights of Beer Street, and a welcome drink. We’d heard about an English Bar, so we got a taxi to it, the driver stopped in a street, but there didn’t seem to be anything in sight, after an argument in 2 languages, neither understanding the other, we got out feeling that again we’d been taken advantage of & dropped in the middle of no-where. Thankfully a couple of helpful local lads pointed us a little further along the street, where we found the bar, the Kings Head. Not overly excited, we got another taxi back to the old town, and tried a tiny little bar / café near our hotel, which was the oddest & quirkiest bar ever!! Doubling up as their home, we were made most welcome, enjoying beer, tequila & Baileys, whilst ‘admiring’ the surrounding ornaments, and turtles in a bucket, yep, we said it was quirky!!! For under a tenner, and many drinks later, we were pretty drunk, so staggered up the hill to the hotel!!

Sunday it was Andy’s Birthday, Happy Birthday Andy!!! He was really happy to get to speak to Chantelle in the morning, as it was also Fathers’ day, so that made his day. What was a good way to celebrate? Of course, a trip to the Tsingtao Brewery and museum! A great place, really interesting to find out more about the history of the beer, and see the production line. We got 2 glasses of raw beer to try along the way too. We had a great lunch afterwards at a restaurant across the road, the highlight being a massive fresh fish, with chilli & lemongrass and a lovely marinade. A couple of other dishes too, along with 2 huge oysters for Andy, a meal fit for a King. The Queen surprised herself too at really enjoying the fish.  We did some more walking & exploring in the area, finding the main shopping street & markets, and some good watering holes. A few phone calls back home , we spoke to Andy’s mum, and to Sarah Hobday who was 40 today, sadly it was a bad line so we didn’t get to speak much. Also spoke to Dad too to wish him a happy Father’s day.

We got back to the hotel later on, to find a birthday cake waiting for Andy in our room with a happy birthday note from the hotel. We’d met the owner of the hotel that morning at breakfast, and whilst chatting with her, we mentioned it was Andy’s birthday. It was a lovely surprise, so we took it to the café to have it cut and eat it, and of course share it with anyone else that was there as it was huge! Strangely enough we weren’t hungry after that, so we just wandered around our local area for the evening – our quirky bar from the night before was shut, so we found another one, then headed back to chill out with a drink on our hotel balcony, enjoying the peace & quiet.

A very lovely weekend, a refreshing break from the city & the millions of people, good to have some fresh air and be by the sea. We’re on the train on our way back to Beijing now, ready for another week in the city! I think this is the answer to living in Beijing, as much as we love it, it’s important to escape sometimes and see different places, and enjoy different things.
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Comments

Sarah Hobday on

Great reading your posts....been a little while since I have had a little look. Thanks for the 40 reminder...cant quite get used to it. 39 + 1 as far as I am concerned! Looking forward to chatting soon. Thank goodness for Skype though. xxx

A. Ellie on

Enjoyed catching up on the blog. Loved the brides on the beach and also those cute little children.
Belated Happy Birthday Andy .Looks like you had a great time.
Good luck with your presentation Tracy. Hope you get a good response to your ad.
We are all ok here .Weather check-----freezing!! Windy , cloudy, dull. summery it is not!.
Oscar and Snowdrop are both doing well and growing lots. Looking forward to meeting you Tracy.
We have been busy in our garden which is looking nice. Lots of watering to do each day as strong winds dry everything out.
The rain you have had sounds really bad and sudden! Liked all the ladies with their umbrellas. Glad you made it back on your bikes and did not have to get the oars out!
Love to you both
Dave and Ellie
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