May 24, 2004

all's well that ends badly

so it's been another _long_ weekend. this time we had a great three day trip to qingdao (also) in the shandong providence. qingdao is a beach city originally founded by germans. qingdao produces the standard beer (named qingdao) found all throughout china.

the trip was organized through the social group at work here. there was a total of about 17 people that went that included me, anup, andrew, zhou yun, yuan yi, and a bunch of other people from the office and some of their spouses. the social group at work organizes these trips via a tour company and then sun pays about 1000 yuen (about $120 USD) for each employee to cover expenses. unfortunately they weren't covering expenses for the US employees (me, anup, and andrew) but we still went along.
we left thursday evening at 8pm on a hard sleeper train. once again we were well equipped with whiskey and er guo tou for the trip. we arrived in qingdao around 6am and i was happily greeted by a fresh breeze from the ocean when we got out of the train station. we then proceeded to check into our hotel, grab some breakfast at a random hole in the wall, and start exploring the town.
we started off walking along the coast near our hotel. after a while we decided to go for a boat cruise, which turned into a giant waste of time (and no one ever set foot on a boat.) we first negotiated a personal boat for all of us with a guy on the beach. he put us on a bus to go to the boat, we paid him, and headed off. but once we got to the boat it was obvious that things were going wrong. the boat was designed for 50 people and they refused to let us have our own trip and wanted to wait for more people. so the group decided to cancel the trip and go back to get their money. of course this whole process took a couple hours, involved much heated arguing, the bus we were on ran out of gas _and_ oil, etc. me, andrew, and anup were fully prepared to just suck it up and take the boat cruise rather than waste hours arguing with people to get back a total of 300 yuen (about $36 USD) but apparently the concept of "time is money" has not made it to china yet.
one interesting thing i noticed while waiting to get gas for our bus was a elementary/middle school. first, the school building had a huge (about half the size of the building) neon qingdao beer sign on top of the school. what are the odds of seeing that in the states? :) also, all the students were standing in uniforms in the school playground being addresses by loudspeakers about the rules for the school and the penalties for violations (at least this was the translation i got from one of our co-workers.) as far as i could tell this lecturing went of for a good _few_ hours since when we passed the school later in a taxi all the students were still standing there in formation. i was wondering how many of them were close to getting heat stroke at that point.
after giving up on the boat tour we went back to walking around town. we turned away from the coast and headed into town. qingdao is interesting in the fact that it has two old churches, one catholic and one protestant. we went to the catholic church to take a look around. the church is actually a small cathedral and is _very_ plain compared to most european cathedrals. the most interesting part of the cathedral by far was all the plaques that had chinese and english explanations of all the religious icons present in the church. try to imagine someone explaining christianity in poorly translated english to someone who knows nothing about the religion. these signs were a good laugh. also a few of the chinese with us took this opportunity to take a quick nap inside the cool church.
after this we decided to wander around the streets some more in search of the fresh fish market. we eventually managed to find it and i though it was pretty impressive. there was a _huge_ amount of dried sea products of every imaginable type. there was also a huge variety of bins with different live sea creatures. walking down the corridors here you were liable to get water spit on you from many an unhappy sea creature trapped in the bins.
after this we went to lunch at a fancy restaurant looking over the ocean. before we got to the restaurant i thought qingdao was a small beach town. by the end of the cab ride i realized that qingdao was a huge beach town that we had only seen a tiny section of. lunch was a long affair that involved countless dishes of seafood. (think 17 people around a table all sharing dishes.)
after lunch we went to the beach. me and andrew went swimming and i'd guess the water was about 17 degrees celsius. there was also lots of other entertainment available on the beach like kite flying, kayaking, getting a ride on a speed boat, and renting jet skis. after swimming i took a seat under a large tent and ordered a few beers. it started getting cold when the sun was close to setting and we wrapped up the relaxation with a game of frisbee.
then it was off to dinner. another mad excursion since trying to get this many chinese people to agree on a restaurant is like herding cats. we did eventually manage to feed ourselves and then almost everyone headed back to the hotel. i say almost everyone because me and anup decided to check out a small bar that anup had spotted from a taxi about a block from our hotel.
it turned out to be a great hole in the wall and the staff was really friendly. the bar was very small but they had all sorts of cool little games and puzzles. (i dig that kind of stuff.) they also had more things like cards, dice, and instead of a dart board they had a small board on the wall and a blow gun. (the second night we were there the bar tender even took a bunch of time to explain the rules of their dice games to us.) so to show the staff our appreciation of their fine establishment me and anup drank all of their jack daniels and made a good attempt to drink all their jim bean.
the next day we got up bright and early to head to lao shan (a taoist holy mountain but not one of _the_ five holy mountains.) there was a temple at the base of the mountain which we explored. this was actually the _most_ crowded tourist attraction i have been to so far. these was a ridiculous number of people there. after this we went to the start of one of the trails up the mountain and climbed up to one of the more famous water falls. while walking up it started to rain but we kept hiking anyway since the rain wasn't too bad. there was one small artificial lake that we passed that was truly beautiful. it was nestled in the rocks and the water was an intense deep blue/aqua that must of been caused by some kind of mineral in the water. when we got to the water fall we managed to hike down to the pool near the base and it was so nice there a few of us curled up on some rocks and napped for an hour. we ended up leaving when the rain really started coming down. the rain pretty much canned the rest of the day for us and after slipping down the mountain we climbed into the bus and headed back to the hotel.
dinner was once again a fiasco. we ended up making countless phone calls to find a good restaurant (everyone was calling friends for recommendations) changing tables four times, and restaurants twice before we actually ordered anything. after dinner we walked down to the beach for a sort while and then most people headed home. but of course a few of us went back to the bar for a night cap, or two, or three...
the next day we began the final touristic assault of the city. we ran up the biggest hill in town that had three strange red mushroom like observation towers that you can see from all over town. the view was pretty good and it revealed a thick layer of smog over all the city that even the ocean breeze couldn't get rid of. :( we then went to the old german governors mansion and started wandering some more streets.
while doing this we discovered beer in a bag. what is it you ask? shops here have what looks like two kegs of beer stacked on top of each other. the top keg is somehow kept cold and there is a tap on the bottom side of it. then you basically buy the beer in plastic bags. what type of bags? imagine the ones you get at the grocery store when they as "paper or plastic?" there is a variety of sizes available from the personal bag to the super sized family pack. and you pay by weight. so at around 11 am me and anup ordered our first ever bags of beer. we were given two straws to go with each bag. anup quickly proceeded to accidentally poke a hole in his bag with his straw and had to drink half the bag on the spot.
so beers in hand we hopped into cabs and headed out to the navy museum. here we had a chance to walk through an old chinese diesel submarine, a couple destroyers, a hovercraft, and some navy patrol boats. (i made sure to take lots of reconnaissance photos that i can pass onto my sister later.)
after this we all headed out to lunch at a tiny hole in the wall seafood restaurant that was recommended by a cab driver. it was really cheap and really good. (a few people went back to it for dinner later in the evening.) after lunch we decided to chill out and just headed back to the beach. for me this mostly involved drinking beer and dozing off while staring at the ocean.
at sunset we all took off to head to the train. another hard sleeper that was supposed to put us back in beijing at around 6am. we loaded up on liqueur and decks of cards to entertain us and started planning for the next day in beijing where lot's of people visiting from SF and the UK would be stopping by on their way to sun network in shanghai (during the next week.)

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