Saturday morning, we woke up at 5 am to catch a cab at 6 to get to the train station and board a 7 am train to Qingdao. We stayed up late on Friday night “planning out” our trip, which I now find hilarious because planning ahead here is just kind of laughable. Regardless, it was a great trip. I’m exhausted, but it was so much fun.
The trains were really classy… they went about 250 km/hr, which is around 155 mi/hr. Is that fast for a train? I have no idea. Anyway, the whole train experience was generally more pleasant than Amtrak by far. We got to Qingdao and promptly started wandering around until we found our hostel, which was in an old church. Old church, you say? Yes. There was really heavy German involvement there in the early 1900s. That explains the brewery! After we checked in (can’t argue with 50RMB ($8 per night) for a 3 person room), we headed to the brewery for a tour.
It was mostly of the old equipment, which kind of grossed me out to be honest. And the modern production facility, which I was most excited to see, was “closed for sterilization” (!?!?). But we got to taste test twice… once unrefined/unfiltered (gross) and once at the end (alright). Then we walked around the Zhan Qiao (pier) until sunset… it was stunning.
Does that pavilion look familiar?
As we were walking around the city, we walked through a crazy outdoor food market… live chickens for sale, that sort of thing. We bought fresh steamed buns for 0.50RMB each and some oranges and headed back to our hostel to crash.
The next morning, we were up at 7 to catch a train to Tai’an. The mountain was beautiful and it was fantastic to be breathing non-hazardous air for a change. After we checked into our hotel, we decided to make the 1 hour trip to Qufu, because after Qingdao, I was feeling the need for some history and culture. Qufu is where the 3 famous sights of Confucius are located: his tomb, his mansion, and the Confucian temple. If you know anything about my favorite kind of tourist attractions, you know where we headed first: the tomb!
Writing this out, everything sounds very straightforward. In reality, it takes us about 500 times as long as it should to figure things out. For example, this little excursion to Qufu: when I summarized it just now, it seemed like we did A, B, then C. In reality however…. the process went something like this: we decide we want to go, ask the hotel front desk in terrible Chinese how to get there, they direct us to another hotel where they say we can catch a bus. We go to the second hotel, ask the concierge (again, using awful Chinese) who redirects us to a bus station. We take a cab to that bus station. Ask someone there, who tells us there is no bus to Qufu from that station, we have to go to a different station 3 km away. We make the executive decision to take a cab to Qufu instead of pursuing that mythical bus. Hail about 3 cabs and barter with each driver about rate. Finally get in one. Ride for about 40 minutes while the guy speaks lighting Chinese to us while throwing in the occasional “mingbai?” (understand?) To which we would usually say, “um… yi dian dian” (a little). Get to Qufu, get crazy hassled by the souvenir sellers. Walk to the gate, realize we need a ticket, wander around until we find the ticket place. Then we got to the cemetery, wandered around lost for a while. Try to go to the temple, get extensively lost. Finally get inside. The weather was perfect and it was a really serene place.
We then notice a park maintenance guy who looks like he’s power washing or watering the trees… as he gets closer we realize everyone’s backing away from him and covering their mouths… he’s spraying some kind of chemical (??) so we’re coughing and rubbing our eyes the rest of the way though the temple. Hahaha, China. It was so interesting to see Qufu though, and I’m glad we went. Hopefully it will somehow translate into me understanding Confucius in my philosophy class. Probably not.
We ended up getting that bus back to Tai’an. We pretty much crashed from exhaustion when we got back. The next morning was the one we were supposed to climb the mountain and watch the sunrise. The hotel staff told us that the weather was supposed to be really foggy, so we decided to sleep in instead. When we finally got to the mountain, we … I feel really pathetic writing this but… we couldn’t figure out how to get up it. Let’s just say there’s not a lot of signage going on. Anyway, we end up asking someone, hiking around a lake, realizing we still weren’t going up, asking two more people, determining we needed a bus, getting on a bus, and getting off at another entrance to the mountain. Little did we know: that’s the most difficult route up the mountain. It was nonstop stairs for about 4 hours. There’s apparently another way up that’s much more touristy and scenic, which you would think would be easier to find? Apparently not. Anyways, we had a serious work out. It felt really good to hike, and the scenery was gorgeous.
I love the character for mountain (shan) because it actually looks like a mountain: 山
Since both of my friends I was traveling with aren’t white, I definitely stuck out. I was surprised that people reacted surprised to see me, since all the places we went were very touristy. But I definitely got many stares and a very very awkward picture request. A lot of parents would tell their children to look. People weren’t mean about it, but were definitely unapologetically staring. It was a weird feeling to stare back at someone and have them NOT look away. In Beijing, being white comes with intense privileges: people kind of assume that you’re perpetually confused and are pretty nice about it. If you try to use Chinese even a little, people usually smile and generally don’t expect too much. Outside of the city, while I wouldn’t say being white is a “disadvantage” it’s just something that makes you 1,000% more conspicuous. Annie and Norah were really great about helping me laugh it off… we decided we should start telling people that I was actually Chinese, just really ugly! Or what would happen if I said “BOO” really loudly. Another thing that happens is that other white people shoot you a certain look. I think we saw about three or four other white people total over the course of the trip, and each gave me a kind of nod and smile that said “Hello, fellow Caucasian!” Very weird.
On the subway ride back to our apartment, I was squished into the middle of a packed car. When it came to our stop, I started saying “xia che!” (getting off!) and pushing my way towards the door. The man in front of me moved to the side and smiled at me as I said “xie xie!” (thanks). He then says, “Zhong wen hen hao!” (good Chinese)… just because I learned a two word phrase that prevents me from being trampled in a subway car. That’s a low bar right there, but I’ll gladly clear it.
A side note on my nose ring: everyone thinks it’s weird.