Saturday, April 16, 2011

A visit to Qingdao

Downtown Qingdao as it was in 1997.
 When I worked at China Daily in the mid '90s, there were two work weeks: Monday through Friday and Sunday through Thursday, and everyone workd both of them. While it was no fun swtching from M-F to S-Th because you only got one day off, it was worth it because when we switched from S-Th to M-F, it meant we got a three-day weekend. I developed the habit of catching an overnight train after work on Thursdays to somewhere, coming back on the overnight train Sunday, showering and then heading to work on Monday.

One long weekend, I chose to visit Qingdao on the East China coast. It was almost like a quickie trip to Europe. At one time, Qingdao was a concession of Germany, and the architecture reflected this. Off the main drags, you could find narrow cobblestone streets and German styled gardens. Even the local beer, Tsing Tsao, was based on German brewing methods.

I don't recall that I ate any German food that weekend. I ate very little, as a matter of fact. In my wanderings, I came across a food stand where I was about to order something, when I felt something brush my feet. I looked down. It was a rat the size of a fat house cat. It wasn't afraid of people, so I'm assuming the food vendor must have fed it leftovers. There went my appetite. Later that day, I stumbled across the local food market, where buckets of live scorpions and snakes were on sale. Boy, was Qingdao sure good for my diet!

I did enjoy visiting the naval museum -- Qingdao is a port city for the Chinese navy. At the museum, you could climb on the exhibits and pretend you were shooting guns. Of course I did this, pretending that I was shooting fat rats while wishing I didn't have to pretend.

Rats and snakes aside, Qingdao makes a good trip out of Beijing if you have a few extra days. Train service is great and the city boasts accommodations in all price ranges. It's a very pretty city with some of the most amazing parks I've seen in China.

Perhaps the best meal I had that weekend was on the train back to Beijing. I struck up a friendship with two young Chinese men, who turned out to be oncologists making a run to Beijing to get a replacement knee for a patient. When they saw I was going to eat a bowl of instant noodles for my dinner, they immediately insisted I share their roast chicken dinner with vegetables they'd brought with them. I felt bad that I didn't have anything decent to share with them until I remembered the package of Oreo cookies I had in my backpack. They were delighted with the Oreos as they'd heard so much about out "national" cookie but had never had any. I couldn't believe they'd never had Oreos before -- they were popular in China, but then I considered that when someone is only making $30 a month (even an oncologist!), spending $1 for a dozen cookies wasn't in the budget. After that trip, I never traveled anywhere without Oreo cookies.

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