My apologies for not posting sooner, when I was getting ready to write this post I was stalled by a speech contest that took up all of my free time! So instead I shall endeavor to write two posts to make up for the one I missed.
As midterms were finally over, my friends and I were able to relax for two days before heading to Qingdao for the weekend. Before going there I really had no prior knowledge of Qingdao’s history or relevance in China, so I was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful and cultural the whole area seemed. We took the GaoTie there, which is an extremely fast train that runs using magnets and can go up to speeds of 200 miles an hour. It was also ridiculously smooth to the point where I didn’t think we were moving. Railways have expanded significantly in China and so it’s now possible to take trains to most major cities, even from Beijing to Tibet! And it’s quite affordable too so it makes it easy to do weekend trips like this one. I would also like to point out that the amount of leg space is astounding, for all the taller people out there, use the train system!
Qingdao has at some points been under both German and Japanese occupation, causing many parts of the city to have European architectural influence. The area around BaDaGuan has lots of castle-like buildings and beautiful streets lined with trees. Of course, after the Chinese regained control over Qingdao they had to rename the whole area, and so the district got renamed “BaDaGuan” after the 8 (Ba) strategic passes through the mountains.
The city also has the feel of a leisurely summer beach town. We came there in the fall but we got the distinct feeling that life in Qingdao is not as rushed and fast-paced as Beijing city life. Despite it being somewhat chilly there were many people on the beach and walking through the park enjoying the day. The old wharf is now a beautiful pier that gives views of the city’s skyline. Naturally by being on the ocean the city has tons of seafood, which thrilled my companions and as someone who doesn’t touch the stuff, kind of grossed me out. It was cool, however, to see people choose the fish or crab that they were going to eat and then have them make it for us!
The most impressive thing we saw by far was Laoshan, which is said to be the birthplace of Daoism. I am not surprised that a very naturalistic religion came from this mountain, the water flowing from the spring was so clear and with the fall colors the whole mountain was just breathtaking. In addition to the Daoist connection, it is also the place where many emperors would visit, including the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty who built the Terracotta Warriors. I can see why it is so popular. We had to take a bus to get to it through these winding mountain roads and then spent a couple hours walking around. I would have liked to have seen more but we had a schedule to keep to. You could have spent a whole day there and likely not seen everything. Mountains, canyons, and fall colors made for an extremely relaxing experience after the week of midterms, don’t stay in one place the whole semester! If you’re already thousands of miles away from home go to as many places as you can!
After we hit the major sights, we were really given free rein to see whatever we wanted. Qingdao has a huge number of parks in the city commemorating different people and apparently the largest number of Japanese cherry blossoms outside of Japan– so we obviously came in the wrong season. But a couple of friends and I went to Zhongshan Park, which is also known as Sun Yatsen Park as it is dedicated to the old revolutionary from the republican period. In that park is a giant TV tower, which looks like every other TV Tower in China. If you’re familiar with the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai, or the CCTV Tower in Beijing, this one looks the exact same, but in Qingdao. I think they might’ve just used the same plans for every building. But this one was really interesting because it was on top of one of the hills in the city and we bypassed the gondola in exchange for the cheaper walking route. As it was a somewhat smoggy day we decided not to go up into the top of the tower, we could see as far as possible from the top of the hill. On a clear day it would have been amazing, you can see all the way to the ocean.
As occasionally happens, us westerners got a craving for some pizza in the form of Pizza Hut and decided to trek across the city to find it. I’ve mastered Baidu Maps now and its GPS delay so this wasn’t too bad but we did run across the pet district on the way there. There were streets full of different pet stores, hundreds of bird cages, fish tanks, cats, dogs, rabbits, axolotls, lizards, etc. I was simultaneously delighted since it has been far too long since I’m pet a dog, and sad that there were so many of them. The vast majority looked totally healthy but I can’t imagine that the regulations for handling animals here are very good.
But on to happier topics, Pizza Huts in China are truly remarkable. As they are actually considered fine dining, I legitimately feel underdressed when I walk into one. And the vast majority of their menu is not pizza, and what is pizza are things like Seafood Galore Pizza, or Peking Duck Pizza. What an interesting experience.
In a country like China where academics can really take over people’s lives it was nice to get away for the weekend! It was also very convenient that it was all organized for us, and so we just got to relax without worrying about the specifics of getting everywhere. This has been the case for a lot of things here, your study abroad programs will often organize events, and there are likely student unions that are always looking to get people involved. Take advantage of as many of these opportunities as you can! See you next time!