It's been a long time since I last wrote. Thank you very much Tatyana for reminding me – you were the one who got me started with this whole blog thing in the first place, and I told you I'd do better than I have… Sorry about that To all those of you who still check back for updates, I also apologize. I'll try to do better. I've been postponing because I've been a bit busy, but really that's just an excuse. I've had plenty of time to craft some updates for the blog. I'll try to keep at least one update per week (two if possible) from now until I return to America, and perhaps I'll keep it up even then. You'll notice some changes to the format of the blog. I decided I'd update the appearance and style a bit, and I'll be writing a bit in Chinese as well for my Chinese friends.
I'll fill you in on what's happened up until now later. Because right now I want to tell you about my recent trip to Qingdao, a city with two major tourist attractions: the sea and the Qingdao Beer made there (Germans occupied the city for a very long time, so it's gotta have its beer).
I went to Shandong Province because my friend Elina (my first Chinese teacher here – I met her at Nancy's Bar) invited me to come spend Chinese New Year at her home. I figured it'd be a great way to see some more of China, so I accepted her invitation.
Getting there was an adventure in itself. I departed Linhai on the 1st of February at about 12:30 for Shanghai. It's a four hour or so train ride, but it was reasonably comfortable and the time passed quickly. Four hours on a train is really nothing compared to 14 on an airplane. I stayed at a hostel (the Blue Mountain EXPO Youth Hostel) that was very close to the Metro line I'd need to take the next morning, because I had to leave very early. I originally planned to go see some of that section of Shanghai, but ended up staying in the bar to do some homework (well, and some people decided to watch Megamind on the projector, and I hadn't seen it before, so…) When I returned to my room I met an awesome couple from the UK and talked with them for about an hour. They were fascinating! They graduated several years ago and decided they wanted to spend a year traveling, so they've been saving their money to allow them to. They're planning to hit as much of East Asia as they can on this trip. You meet the most interesting people when you travel in hostels!
The next morning I left very early for Qingdao (my train left at 07:30). Joy bought me a first class ticket (which only costs a few dollars more than a regular ticket) for that leg of the trip, so it was quite comfortable, though very long (the trip to Qingdao takes ten hours by train), and relatively expensive (about 400 RMB, or $60) – cheaper than an airplane, though.
The second of February was Chinese New Year, so when I arrived Elina picked me up and we went to her home in Jimo, an hour from Qingdao. When we got there I helped her make some dumplings and watched her make some food (I asked if I could, because I love studying how to make food here), set of a ton of firecrackers with her husband, and we ate food and watched the Chinese New Year Party on TV. Honestly that program is like nothing I've seen before – it's a massive party with some of the most spectacular performances you could imagine, and it lasts for five hours! I'm definitely going to have to find and watch it online next year ('cause I'll be in America for Chinese New Year).
An interesting custom in China: Some of the New Year Dumplings are made with 1 Jiao coins in them. If you eat a dumpling with a coin it's supposed to mean good fortune for you in the coming year. I ate three of these dumplings
The next day was a rest day – everyone needs to recover, because everyone goes to bed very late, and a lot of people drink a ton of baijiu (rice alcohol with incredible potency) and get completely hammered. I actually tasted a little baijiu before I realized what I was drinking – it looks almost exactly like water. Let's just say I don't like the taste of alcohol at all.
Anyhow, we got up late, and Elina's husband took me to Elina's workplace where used one of the computers to get online for a bit. I couldn't log into BYU-I's website, so I just browsed taobao (an awesome site which somewhat resembles Amazon.com) and talked with friends on QQ. We had lunch at the hotel employee cafeteria, which was really quite good. I was surprised – I'm used to cafeteria food here being mediocre. After which we returned to her office, I talked with friends some more, and she took a nap at her desk (she was just there to be on-station). We had dinner back at her home that night, and that was pretty much the day.
The third day we went to Mount Mashan in the morning, which was fun! We climbed the mountain to a temple at the top where Elina prayed, then we went back down. It was very, very pretty – the scenery reminded me a bit of home, actually. We had lunch back at her apartment.
Ah, Elina and her husband have an extremely cute three-year-old daughter named Ronron (I don't know exactly how to write it). After she got comfortable around me she dragged me all over the place to play with her, which was way fun. Little kids are awesome! She really liked giving me sunflower seeds, for some reason, which I thought was kind of fun.
The evening of the third day I got to meet some family friends who live upstairs – they're her husband's best friend and his wife and four-year-old son. Elina's husband is a soldier who has been living in Qingdao for about seven years. He and his friend were both moved to Qingdao at the same time, and have lived near each other ever since. It was awesome to watch the families interact!
On the final day in Jimo we spent the morning resting and relaxing again, then I said by to Elina's husband and went with her, Ronron, and her older brother to Qingdao. They found me an inexpensive business hotel room (we tried a really cheap Chinese traveler's hotel first, but they can't house foreigners) and then we went to dinner at a ramen place, then said goodbye. That night I went to see May 4th Square (where I sent a flying lantern into the air after a very persistent saleswoman persuaded me to buy it for 5 RMB) and a few other areas near where I was living and then got lost on my way back to my hotel (I do that a lot in China…) I finally found my way back and rested, preparing to go see Qingdao the next day.
I actually spent the next morning planning, which was nice – it allowed me to fully use the day, even though I didn't follow my plans perfectly. I figured out a few places I really wanted to see, then went and hammered them all out. I started back at May 4th Square, after stopping at a Pizza Hut for lunch (I wanted to eat more authentic food, but I couldn't find a restaurant at the section of town I was in – I should have waited, because I found the food bus shortly after eating there). From May 4th Square I went to Music Square, then walked along the boardwalk until I got to Little Qingdao (quite a distance, actually – it took about two or three hours). I saw the lighthouse at Little Qingdao, then went to the aquarium, the Qingdao Underwater World.
The Underwater World was discounted 40 RMB from its regular price (100 RMB this time of year) because one of the attractions there was closed, so I decided it'd definitely be worth seeing. I'm certainly glad I chose to! They had an awesome jellyfish exhibit, a great underwater life museum, and an awesome aqua tunnel (you stood on a conveyer which went under a huge aquarium). At the exit they had a really good seafood store, so I bought a bunch of seafood to bring back and share with my friends, largely because Trudy had jokingly asked me to.
I walked from the aquarium for a long ways, trying to find a night market I'd heard about. I ended up getting hopelessly lost and had to have a taxi take me there. The night market in Qingdao is huge, even bigger than Hangzhou, though there are fewer goods of questionable origin being sold in Qingdao…
I returned to the hotel around 19:00 or so, completely worn out (I'd walked in excess of 20 kilometers). I decided to go to bed early, which was a good idea because I had to get to the train station to go back to Shanghai the next morning.
The trip back was another adventure, because I couldn't buy a ticket for the whole way. I had to buy a ticket that would only take me 1/3 the way and upgrade it on the train. What this meant was that I didn't have a seat about seven hours of the ride. Normally you can find empty seats, but because it was Chinese New Year the train was oversold. So I stood for about seven hours. Surprisingly I was less tired when I arrived in Shanghai as a result… Crazy how that works, isn't it?
I went out and had some extremely spicy noodles (I love hot food) for dinner, then spent the night at a hostel in Shanghai. The next morning I took another train to Linhai, arriving around noon. The rest of the day was awesome, but it's a story for another time – this entry's already practically a novel.
Anyhow, thus was my trip to Qingdao. If you have any questions, requests, or comments, please feel free to add them!