My port of arrival to the People’s Republic of China was a little town called Qingdao (pop. 1.8 million).
I stepped off the boat from Korea with my overly massive backpack and not a yuan in my pocket, snapping a photo of the LP map for reference before starting off towards the nearest bank.
About half an hour later – after filling my little blue notebook with many of the observations listed in the previous post – I was standing in the midst of a very pretty coastal city with a clearly European influence. Although the walk from the port into town yielded the typical dilapidated buildings, smashed windows, and bricks strewn about, the area surrounding the station – as well as the coastline – were beautifully clean and well-maintained.
As LP describes it,
A breath of crisp sea air for anyone emerging from China’s polluted urban interior, Qingdao is hardly old-school China – parts of town resemble Bavaria – but its effortless blend of German architecture and modern city planning puts Chinese white-tile towns to shame. Its German legacy more or less intact, Qingdao takes pride in its unique appearance; the Chinese call the town ‘China’s Switzerland’.
It was indeed pretty. Unfortunately, this initial walk into town – and a few brief outings for food – were about all I saw of it. Far behind on both work and blog, I spent virtually the entire time there in my hotel just pecking away at the keyboard…
About my hotel:
• It cost just under $10 a night for my own private double room
• It actually had an Ethernet cable in the room (!!)
• They provided me with one tiny roll of TP for my entire stay – about 1/50th the length of a “normal” roll. Just enough for a single use. Which can be a risky proposition in China.
• It was freezing cold, and the space-heater barely worked.
• In order to get water to the shower, I had to go to the front desk and ask that the main valve be opened. Every time. Otherwise, no water.
• There was a gorgeous white husky that lived in the “lobby.”
So yeah. It wasn’t the nicest place I’ve stayed in my life, but it served my purpose well enough – and aside from the heating issue I had no major grievances. Besides, two days later it was time to move on. Time was very tight.
One of the main reasons I came to China in the first place was to visit Andy, one of my closest college friends who’s now been living here for over 3 years. But unfortunately, our schedules were a bit off – and he’ll be leaving on December 10th for a Birthright trip to Israel of his own. Which means that my original intention of spending several months in his city of Shijiazhuang will now either mean doing it alone, or not doing it at all. In either case, if I wanted to have any time to catch up and get settled before he takes off, I had to get a move on. No time for sightseeing along the way.
My options were to take a night train that would arrive in Shijiazhuang at 4am, or first head to Jinan, spend one night, and continue in the morning. I decided to go to Jinan.
The five-hour “hard seat” train ride actually wasn’t half bad. The seat wasn’t hard at all, and by total stroke of luck I was seated next to a college student who spoke nearly fluent English (one of only three such individuals I’ve now encountered since arriving in China). We chatted the whole way there.
Then, after disembarking and fighting off the various touts at the station, I started on my way to the cheapest lodging listed in LP. And as I walked, I began to notice Kanji around me. I appeared to be surrounded by cheap lodging. Were all of these signs really advertising places to stay? How could none of them be listed in the LP? Nah…they couldn’t be…those prices are WAY to low…
I decided to pop into one and find out.
The first one shoo’ed me away almost immediately.
One more try.
SCORE! I was right – my own private room for 35yuan (about $5). And this time, it even had heating 😉
GOD I’m glad I can read Kanji!
The next morning I headed to the train station to buy my ticket, only to discover that all of the daytime trains were completely booked for the next 3 days…and there was no way in Hell I’d stand between the cars for the full 5-hour ride. Which left me with the sole option of a night train arriving at 4am. D’oh! So I paid another $2 to my hotel for a “late checkout” (10pm) and spent one last day cooped up programming.
(As a little side note, the desk clerk at my hotel was one of the nicest guys I’d encountered yet in China – always smiling and waving with joy whenever I left my room to use the bathroom or grab a bite. When it was finally time to check out he was trying so desperately to converse with me that I almost felt bad about not being able to understand him – after nearly 30 minutes of jumping around like monkeys trying to sign what we wanted to say, all we managed to get across was that I’m from America, and that I’m going to Shijiazhuang next. Sadly I’d already disconnected my little WiFi router, otherwise I would’ve used my usual trick – typing what I want to say into Google Translator and then showing him the screen. It’s not exactly translation agency quality, but it’s usually clear enough to get the point across. Thank you, Google! 🙂 )
Finally, it was time to make my way to Shijiazhuang. I hopped in a cab to East Jinan station, plopped down my stuff, and waited.
And now, here I am.
I once mentioned how in Egypt, people were so enthralled at the sight of me typing on my little cellphone they could barely contain themselves. Well, I can’t say that China has been worlds away. I’ve only been sitting in this station for about an hour – but already three people have walked across the room just to stare over my shoulder at what I’m doing. In fact, it’s happening at this very moment. As I’m typing this. There’s a guy who’s bending over, staring at my screen literally 2 inches from my face. It would be making me quite uncomfortable if I wasn’t so sure he didn’t speak a word of English.
He just called over his son, and now his son is doing the exact same thing.
This actually happened to me once or twice in Korea, which surprised me considering it’s such a high-tech society – but I sort of attribute those encounters to a question of “What could this foreigner possibly be doing sitting on a street corner typing on his laptop??” Here, it sometimes feels like they’ve never seen a laptop before. But who knows.
Across the room at this very moment, a guy just elbowed his four friends so they could take a gander at what’s going on over in the corner.