Margaret: 青岛 – Qīngdǎo – literally “green island”

December 16, 2011

Wow, what a fantastic weekend in Qingdao!  Not only was my seaside getaway refreshing, but it also reminded me just how much I love traveling, and I’m more pumped up than ever for my trips to Yunnan Province, South Korea, and Vietnam in January!

Qingdao, population just under 9 million, is a mere 5 or 6 hours away from Beijing via bullet train.  It hosted the sailing event during the 2008 Olympics, was voted China’s most livable city in 2009, and is home to none other than the Tsingtao brewery, the maker of China’s most popular beer.  It’s a popular destination for Beijingers due to its close proximity and gorgeous beaches, though the wintertime is definitely the off season, and my friend Michael and I set out Friday to reap the benefits of it.

Somehow I have come within five minutes of missing every single train I’ve ever taken in China.  This go around was no different, and Michael and I found ourselves stuck in the back of a cab in gridlock traffic, eventually getting to the station in the nick of time, running down the platform at lightning speed as if we were on the Amazing Race.  A plush 5 hour train ride later, we had arrived in Qingdao.  I somehow managed to miraculously find our hostel using a measly map in Lonely Planet without getting lost once!  Props!!  We got ourselves a room and headed down the street to a barbecue place where we met a huge group of German travelers.  They had each already downed a few Tsingtaos made some smart alec comment about American republicans before inviting us to drink with them!  We eventually found out they were also staying at our hostel, so we all returned and finished off the night with yet even more Tsingtao, guitar, and pool in the hostel bar.  Our hostel, called KaiYue, was an old converted Baptist church and still looks like it, so I was quite worried I’d be haunted in the middle of the night for drinking alcohol in a church!!

The next morning we headed to the beach.  Qingdao is beautiful.  Unlike Beijing, the city is quite hilly, and the roads twist and turn and jut out every which way.  We walked down the hill from our hostel into a place I will never forget.  Our neighborhood had come alive.  Birds hung overhead in rusty cages,hooting softly up above will mangy dogs meandered in between stoneware and piles of fruit, licking their chops at the meat sellers nearby in hops that they just might slip, leaving a freshly-killed blood red shank to whomever is the quickest.  Fast paced bargaining for giant bags of oranges, for live chickens, for every kind of fish and slimy squid imaginable filled the air as Michael and I squeezed through the Saturday morning market masses.  There was an unkempt aesthetic to the market that is perhaps one of the things I love most about China.  I would move to that neighborhood in a heartbeat and will never forget it.

The beach was lovely yet cold thanks to a ocean wind.  We didn’t stay long before heading to an aquarium followed by the Tsingtao brewery.  The Germans invaded Qingdao in 1898 and brought their beer with them, establishing in the brewery and building the city’s distinctly German architecture.  The brewery was established in 1903 and has been function ever since.  On the tour, we received a free sample of the beer fresh from the brewery!  After that, the coolest bit was most definitely the modern packaging facility.  Michael made fun of me as I stood mesmerized by each and every machine, turning out hundreds of bottles in mere seconds.

Sadly, most cities outside of Beijing and Shanghai don’t have well developed nightlife scenes.  I experienced this first on my trip to the border of North Korea, where we spent most evenings in the local movie theater catching the latest Hong Kong films.  Michael and I took the same approach and tracked down a theater.  Without my trust Chinese-fluent travel companions, Michael and I had no idea what the movies were.  We could tell, however, that two of them were in English.  We bought tickets to the one of the two that was in 3D, and afterward I used my iPod Chinese dictionary to look up the obscure characters in the title.  “Expel” and “the devil.”  Oh god…  I braced myself for a horror movie, but rather it was a wacko sci fi vampire film called “Priest.”  Time to improve your Chinese Marg….

The next morning we got up and took a cab to the city’s main park.  “Hello, where are you from?”  Umm what?  This was the first English speaking cab driver I’ve ever had in China.  Beijing even hosted the Olympics for crying out loud, and yet, there I was in the back of a cab in the seaside city of Qingdao discussing the intricacies of tai chi with my cabbie.

We wanted to go to the park because it was home to a traditional Buddhist temple.  I’m embarrassed to say that I had not yet been to a temple in China and even more embarrassed to admit that I had NO IDEA what a temple is.  I thought temples in China were all tourist attractions that look something like the Forbidden City and that all Buddhist monks and people who practice the religion live in Tibet.  WRONG!  Robed monks on cell phones scurried around the place as young and old went from building to building, offering fruit, burning incense, and kowtowing.  I was rendered speechless by the beauty of the place and the practice.  Unforunately, in addition to my lack of understanding of what a temple is, I also didn’t have a clue about temple etiquette, and the nearby elderly Chinese burst out laughing when I reached into my purse and pulled out an orange, leaving it at the feet of a great big glistening golden Buddha next to very kind of fruit imaginable.  Maybe it’s because I’m white?

Upon leaving the temple, we were approached by a Chinese man who began talking to us in English.  There seemed to be something a little bit off with him, besides the fact that he was speaking fluent English, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was until an older man and woman approached us.  The older man explained in Chinese that he is this man’s caretaker and the woman is his mother.  The man, named Robert, had a disability.  Amidst his perfect explanation of the body’s interaction with the solar system through the practice of Buddhism, he said something I will never forget.  “My major at Qingdao University is English.  I study very hard, but I have no opportunity in China.”  After saying goodbye, I clutched to Michael’s arm as we walked away.

We climbed higher than the park’s TV tower to the very top of a small mountain, which gave us a beautiful view of the city.  At the top, we briefly chatted with an older man and presumably his son.  Upon telling them we were American, the old man quickly responded, “世界是你的。”  The world is yours.  We climbed down but couldn’t find a good place to catch a cab, ending up at a section of the beach we hadn’t yet explored.  It literally looked like Southern California.  The streets were perfectly paved, lined by squeaky clean sidewalks decorated with planters.  We walked along a boardwalk over a beautiful sandy beach as the sun began to set over the water.  It must have been over 40 degrees F, and in that moment, I forgot completely that it was December in China.  The scene was sublime, and although Michael and I had to hurry and catch our train, we stopped for a few moments to take in what couldn’t possibly be China.

I hope I get a chance to go back to Qingdao in the spring during beach season, although somehow I know that it won’t be as beautiful or have as much character as it did this past weekend during the off season.  I am so very grateful for the colorful memories I collect this past weekend, and I’m even happier to have spent them with my cool Nebraska guy.  And now, I’ll leave you with this:


  1. Interesting to read about World’s perception of the Republicans. It seams they are not so popular outside of the US 🙂 Nice travel journal, a real pleasure to read about China.

  2. Thank you for sharing you Qingdao adventures Margaret! I was trying to picture the scenes but I’m sure they are more exciting and beautiful than I could ever imagine. Your description of the colorful markets was my favorite. I can’t wait to hear more about your travels when you return.

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