Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Day 2: The Ocean

View of QingDao
Originally uploaded by billmcgonigle.
(To view all of my pictures from the trip, please visit the following web address:

Waking up in QingDao was a bit difficult. Not only was I tired from the travel the day before, but the phone kept ringing all night long in my hotel room. Turns out that when a single foreign man checks into a hotel room, the hotel staff go out of their way to help him find a local friend. I just wanted to sleep.

The morning was crisp and bright, so I set about walking through the older streets of QingDao, first hoping to visit a nearby Catholic Church that had been built by the Germans during their initial occupation roughly 100 years ago. (For those of you who do not know, QingDao was a German port for about 16 years, from 1898 till 1914, when Anglo-Japanese forces bombed the Germans out of town.) Some of the church had been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but by now everything looked fine and dandy.

After the church, I tried to find a local hilltop park. The problem was that the streets leading to the park were too small to be on my map and, when I did find them, exceptionally confusing. Dead-ends, circular streets, names that seem to make sense but dont. While it took some time to find the park, I was at least treated to some quaint German-influence/traditional-Chinese architecture. I don't know how to describe it, as I don'k know much about architecture, but if you look at some of the pictures you'll understand.

Finding the park, I also found a man practicing "BaGua Zhang," a form of kungfu that involves a lot of circular motions, almost like taichi being executed at an accelerated pace. It was cool. Leave it at that. And the park, with its viewing tower, gave an amazing overlook of the entire city of QingDao. In one direction I could see the old city, in another the development, in another the "MoGu Lou," or "Mushroom Houses," which sat atop another hill and became my next destination.

The Mushroom Houses were contained in XinHaoShan Park, an easy walk from where I was. Entering the park through a moon gate, I had to climb up a bit of steps, passing a waterfall and dragon fountain along the way. Finally arriving at the Mushroom Kingdom, I took a rest in their observation deck where one could sit as the building rotated and provided a view of the entire city scape. Picking up some postcards on the way out, I proceeded to get lost trying to find my way out of the park, even though I spent some time talking to a cab driver about the history of the neighborhood and the city in general.

Once I did make my way out of the park, I made my way to QingDao Ying Bingguan, or the "QingDao Guesthouse." This manor had been built by one of the first German govenors in QingDao who spent a small fortune on the house. When the Kaiser received the bill, he quickly recalled and fired the indulgent govenor, but the manor still stands. Being quite large and in the turn of the century German style, I felt as though I had entered an H.P. Lovecraft story. Dark wood, stained glass, a creepy greenhouse, odd religious artifacts, the entire place gave off a creepy vibe. To the Chinese, who probably know nothing of Lovecraftian horror, the importance resided in Mao having used the manor as a meeting hall for the party elites during a summit in the 1950's. As such, many pieces of furniture are simply labeled "Mao slept here" or "Mao wrote letters here" or "Mao relaxed here." No signs about Mao in the restroom, however.

Strolling down the tree-lined streets to the ocean, I proceeded to walk along the seaside for most of the rest of the day. At first this was a bit annoying, as hundreds of high school students were on tour doing the same thing. Not being a fan of crowds or high school students, I simply pressed on as they all entered LuXun Park (named after the famed Chiense author). Soon after I came acorss a sand sculpture festival on one of the larger beaches, followed by a neighborhood named "BaDaGuan." BaDaGuan, and all of its streets, are named after passes in the Great Wall. Each street is lined with a different tree, like maple, cherry, peach, fir, etc. The result is that each street holds an entirely different color and character to it, my favorite being ShangHaiGuan Lu, which was simply right next to the ocean cliff. In this area I probably saw at least 20 brides running in their wedding dresses from scenic spot to scenic spot trying to get a perfect picture to remember their white wedding by. (More on Chinese wedding traditions in another post.)

At the end of the BaDaGuan area stood HuaShiLou, or Granite House. This was another gothic-y building with windy staircases and hidden rooms. Even creepier were the rotting floral scultures of cupids and hearts in the courtyard which gave an air of death and neglect, the creepiness magnified by their subject matter.

By now I was hungry, actually starving, so i decided to eat at the next restaraunt I came across with outdoor seating. Didn't take too long to find one, and the owner was one of the firendliest guys I've met. Probably helped that I walked in and said (in Chinese): "This is my first time in QingDao, and I don't know when I'll be back. I live in Harbin. Their seafood isn't too good. I want the best seafood you have to offer. And a lot of beer."

After getting over the shock of a cracker spouting his native nonsense, he took me on a tour of his tanks where I could pick out what i wanted (and see the price). Then I took a seat, he gave me a pitcher of beer, and I waited for the food as we talked about all sorts of things.

QingDao beer is delicious when fresh. The kegs usually get delivered every morning, and the people just tap them and sit outside drinking all day. Waiting for my crabs, oysters, sea cucumbers, and other delicious foods, Jiang (the owner) and I went through a pitcher talking about China, the US, the NBA, why I was here, teaching, anything we could. And since he was the owner, and so captivated to be speaking with a whitey, he kept bringing in more beer on the house. By the end of the meal I was quite drunk and happily back out on my way.

The end of the day was a bit more relaxed, probably because I was drunk. I continued along the beach and through a sculpture park that stretched for 5 kilometers or longer... I couldn't make it to the end. After reaching May 4th Square (named after the revolution and marked by a huge, red piece of modern art) I jumped a cab to the local Daoist temple, which is also the newest Daoist temple in China having been built in the 30's. It was cool, but I was tired, so I made it back to the hotel for a quick rest, then dinner, then a stroll up and down ZhongShanDaJie, and then to bed to recoup and prep for climbing LaoShan in the morning.


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