Qingdao
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Qingdao

A few days after raging Sasha’s birthday Phish shows at the Gorge, we were back in China.  This time, however, we brought a friend along to play, as Sean finally decided to join us in Beijing.  The two of us were getting ready to start working at Wall Street English, and he was planning on hitting the pavement to find some teaching jobs of his own.  Before getting back to work, we headed out on an adventure.

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First up, the train took us to the coastal city of Qingdao in Shandong province.  The beach and the seafood are all well and good, but the main reason for our visit was the annual beer festival.  Ever heard of Tsingtao beer?  It’s probably the most famous Chinese beer (which doesn’t necessarily make it any good), and it comes from this very city.  The difference in spelling is because the beer still uses the old Wade-Giles romanization of Chinese characters, while the city has moved on to adopt the newer pinyin method.  So how did beer come to China, anyways?  Way back in the day, during the Qing Dynasty, the government equipped the city to defend against naval attacks.  This caught the attention of Germany, who decided they wanted Qingdao for themselves.  From 1898-1914, the German navy used the city as a base.  Surely feeling a bit homesick, they decided to bring a little bit of Germany to China, and thus the Tsingtao Brewery was born.

If it looks shitty, it's because it is.
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If it looks shitty, it’s because it is.

You can visit the Tsingtao Beer Museum in the city for 50 RMB, where you can learn about the history of the brewery and sample some of the goods.  If the three measly Dixie cups they give you just aren’t enough, simply give a group of Chinese tourists your best “Ni hao” and they’ll keep the beer flowing for you.

The Zhan Qiao pier, made famous by the Tsingtao beer label.
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The Zhan Qiao pier, made famous by the Tsingtao beer label.

Speaking of Tsingtao beer, you can also check out the spot that the logo comes from – the Zhan Qiao Pier.  On our walk up there, we saw hordes of Chinese tourists posing for photos, playing in the sand, and shopping for seashells.  You can also take a speedboat ride around, but we opted to just stay on the land and take in the sights and sounds.

Scenes from the Chinese beach.
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Scenes from the Chinese beach.

As it’s a seaside city, it should come as no surprise that Qingdao is full of water related fun.  You can visit the Underwater World, which was China’s first public aquarium, or you can just head to one of the many beaches.  Just don’t show up to the beach expecting a relaxing day with plenty of space to lay our your towel.  After all, this is China.  During the hot summer months, the beaches of Qingdao are incredibly crowded.  We visited one of the more popular beaches, and it was packed full of people.  While lounging in the sand, we saw plenty of hilarious sights around – old Chinese ladies in full body suits swimming, guys passed out in the sand, and one Chinese guy with a tramp stamp.  Swimming in this particular section of the beach was not fun at all, as it was nearly impossible to wade through the crowds, seaweed, and yes, piles of garbage.  Gross.  We headed for a different section of beach, hopped over a concrete wall, and finally found some semblance of peace and quiet.




Check out the pier, the beach, and munch on seafood in this video.

Thanks to its location, Qingdao is also full of delicious seafood.  At most restaurants, and certainly at night markets, you can choose a wide variety of fresh seafood from tanks and tell them how you’d like it cooked up.  Before visiting Qingdao, I wasn’t such a big fan of seafood.  Thanks to two visits there, I now love it and couldn’t imagine a diet without it.

Churches and the former Governor's Mansion.
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Churches and the former Governor’s Mansion.

Before the binge drinking that was sure to follow at the beer festival, and in order to have some photos that would please the grandparents, we visited both the Catholic and Protestant churches of Qingdao.  At the latter, you can walk up to the bell tower and enjoy a nice view of the city below.  We also checked out the former German Governor’s residence.  Chairman Mao himself once slept at this Bavarian style castle, and it’s a cool place to learn a bit about Qingdao’s history.




Tour the churches, old governor’s mansion, and yet another beach.

Seeing as how we were right by the beer festival, we just headed there in our bathing suits, salty and sandy.  During the afternoon, the beer fest resembles more of a family carnival, with rides, games, and more to entertain kids.  Brewers from all around the world set up tents, where they pour massive glasses of beer, cook up grilled seafood, and provide entertainment with various singers and groups throughout the festival.

Getting sloppy at the Qingdao Beer Festival.
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Getting sloppy at the Qingdao Beer Festival.

In search of cheap beer, we wandered around the various tents, sampling a few varieties.  Eventually, we got to the point where we only had enough cash to either buy another beer or get back to the hostel.  We had all left our wallets back there, so hitting an ATM wasn’t an option.  Luckily, we remembered that we were, in fact, foreigners in China.  We started dancing through one of the bigger tents and before long, a huge, shirtless, and sweaty Chinese man called us over to join is group.  He introduced himself as Da Ge (Big Brother), and he immediately offered up beers with the familiar call of “Gan bei!”  This is how you say “Cheers” in Chinese, and it literally means “dry glass.”  He also offered up snacks, including: raw garlic cloves, soggy peanuts, and chicken feet.  Welcome to China, Sean!  Eat up!  Dry glass!

Cheers!
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Cheers!

The next few hours were spent emptying the massive Tsingtao beer towers one by one, singing, dancing, and getting freshmen girl in college drunk with these guys.  One guy was particularly inebriated, and the only thing he ever said was “OK!” as he flashed the OK hand signal.  Our new Chinese big bro was a riot, and hanging out with him and his crew once again proved that language barriers don’t matter when the booze is flowing.




Get ridiculous at the annual Qingdao Beer Festival.

Back at the hostel, we went out in search of a nightcap.  As Tsingtao beer is brewed right there in Qingdao, most restaurants or little shops have kegs instead of the big bottles.  However, instead of pouring you a glass, they pour you a bag.  A straw is jammed in, and you’ve got a bag of fresh, cold beer to go.  It probably wasn’t necessary, but hey, when in Rome!

Beer in a bag! What a concept!
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Beer in a bag! What a concept!

The next day, we powered through brutal hangovers and got ourselves to the airport for our flight to Kunming.  Still jet-lagged, hung-over, and not yet quite used to the air, water, and food of China, Sean was in bad shape.  Our driver was hauling ass on the highway to the airport, and he was curled up in the backseat in the fetal position.  Welcome to China, buddy!

 Qingdao Summary

We are the champions!
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We are the champions!
Transportation: There are plenty of trains from Beijing South to Qingdao every day, taking about 5 hours with tickets in second (~250 RMB), first (~350 RMB), or business class (~750 RMB) seats. “G” trains are slightly faster and more expensive than “D” trains.  You can also fly into Qingdao.
Get Around: Qingdao will have a subway line in 2014, so for now you’re limited to buses and taxis for getting around.  In the summer, taxis can be hard to get, so it’s best to figure out the bus routes.
Accommodation: We stayed in the Kaiyue International Youth Hostel, where we got a triple room for 180 RMB/night.  It was a nice place with a cool bar area to hang out in after a day of sightseeing and beer drinking.
Activities: Hit the beach, visit the aquarium, or take a boat ride for water fun.  Check out the churches and the old governor’s house to see some cool architecture.  Hit the Tsingtao Museum to learn about the famous Chinese beer, and then drink far too much of it at the annual beer festival (usually in August).
Food and Drink: Fresh seafood is everywhere you look, so just take your pick, sit back, and enjoy.  Wash it all down with a bag of Tsingtao beer.  There are a few bars and clubs in the city as well.
Recommended Time: Three days is probably good enough in Qingdao – one for the museums and churches, another for the beach and aquarium, and one final day of beer drinking with the brewery and beer festival if it’s going on, or just bags of Tsingtao and bar hopping if it’s not.

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