Qingdao - China Travel Story

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Back in 1994, I decided to learn Chinese as it was the most difficult thing I could think of to do (Don't ask why.) In the summer of 1996, I got my break. My company was going to set up a small factory in Qingdao and of course I volunteered to go. My eleven-month assignment stretched out to 2 1/2 years.

Of all the places to live and work in China, Qingdao is by far the best.

History: Back in the late 19th century, Qingdao was a German concession. It even had a German governor. The city architecture is decidedly Bavarian with the red tile roofs and white-washed walls. Also, the popular Tsingtao beer and the fine local Huadong winery owe their roots to the Germans.

Location: Qingdao is right on the coast. It is a popular tourist location for the Chinese masses to go for summer vacations. Its many beaches are extremely crowded Chinese-style during the summer months. Also, nearby is the popular Laoshan mountain. This is also a favorite tourist attraction.

Food: Sea food is by far the most popular. Qingdao sea food is better known for its freshness and quantity rather than sophistication. One dish I especially like is mutton soup (yang rou tang.) - I know, it's not sea food. For one US dollar, you get a big bowl of light broth with a few shavings of mutton and a piece of flat bread. The best deal in town.

Business: There are many US companies setting up factories in Qingdao: Coca Cola, Lucent, Agilent, Tyco, ... There are also many Japanese and Korean companies.

Hotels: Way too many to list. I would say over 50% are less than 3 years old. My favorites are the Shangri-La and the New Holiday Inn.

Getting around: Taxis, big buses, little buses.

Local attractions: Depends on your interests, there are plenty to do in Qingdao:

1) There is even an annual beer festival. I went to the one in 1996. It was a small but well attended - and cheap event. It was about US$4.00 to get in and US1.25 for a cup of beer. The beer festival had since gone upscale and expensive - no fun.

2) If your taste tends toward historical things, then there is the old German Governor Mansion (Ying bin guan). It is now a hotel/restaurant. Famous guests included Chairman Mao, General Linbiao, Ho Chi Minh and many more famous/infamous communist luminaries.

3) One definite must is the famous Qingdao pier (zhan qiao). This is the very same pier chosen for the Tsingtao beer logo. It used free to visit. I hear that they now charge a fee.

4) In my opinion, the Laoshan mountain is no big deal and is not worth the hassle. You pay all kind of fees and money to get there. It is about an hour drive from Qingdao. All it is a big pile of rocks with a few scraggly pine trees. The locals and the numerous tourists apparently don't agree with me. However, there is a small Taoist temple at the foot of Laoshan complete with practicing Taoist monks. I heartily recommend this temple. It's quaint and offers a glimpse into the Chinese mystique.

5) Zhanshan temple. This temple is located in the best area as fare as Chinese "fengshui" is concerned. It backs into a hill and looks south toward the ocean. Can't get any better "fengshui" than that.

6) Little fish mountain (xiao yu shan). This is a tourist trap. The little pagoda at the top of the hill offer the best 360 degrees view of the city. The red tile roofs and white washed buildings are strong reminders of the city's Germanic past. If that does not impress you, there is a television tower in town that you can go to. It too offers a panoramic view of the city plus a restaurant for your dining pleasure.

7) If you like to mingle with the local, then, Nanshan market is the place to go. This is an open air market where you can find anything from pig knuckles to bird feed.

Shopping: There is not much to buy. Despite the fact that most everything in the US is made in China, you can not find them in China. So, forget it. If you must, Zhongshanlu is the city main drag. There are all kind of shops there. When I first got there in 1996, there was an outdoor market called Jimolu just off Zhongshanlu selling all sorts of jeans, jackets, fake CDs, cheap river pearls and other such needlessities. That market had characters in capital letters. No more. The authority forced all the vendors and stalls into a building blocks away. The trees that were lining on both sides of Zhongshanlu were chopped down. The street itself was dugged up and all the electrical services were buried. If you go there now, the street is devoid of any trees and therefore shades. For western-style shopping malls, then Jusco is the place. It even has a McDonalds!

Weather: Similar to New York City without the snow. Well maybe once or twice.

Survival tips: Most of the time, taxis are safe. However, there are things to watch out for:

1) The driver will try to palm off counterfeit money on you - make sure you have the correct amount so you don't need change back. Counterfeit money is a real problem in China. Do not ever exchange money on the street.

2) The driver some times start the meter even before you get on. This is especially true at the airport where the taxis have been sitting idle waiting for guests. Your best bet to make sure that you observe/ask the driver to reset the meter. Also, always note and write down the taxi number before you get on. Make sure the driver sees you do this. This will serve as a deterent if they were to do some thing funny as you can always report them to the authority.

3) The driver some times hits the "return empty" button. This has the effect of increasing the rate on you.

4) The big buses are really cheap. Fare is 0.5RMB (about 6 US cents) The only problem is that there is no route map of any kind. You just going to have to figure it out. Also, if you were to take the bus like to locals, watch out for pickpockets.

5) City traffic is extremely chaotic and dangerous. Take great care in crossing the roads. I once observed the aftermath of a traffic accident. One driver got out and started to beat up on the other guy!!!

6) Of course, don't drink the water. Unless you know where it comes from.

BTW, I met and married my Chinese wife while in Qingdao. I suppose I did okay with my Chinese lessons eh?


Story Courtesy to Tsingtao

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