Saturday 25 August
Ed Upon arrival here, we made the classic mistake of jumping into a taxi straight away at the station. This was a bad idea because not only did he appear to have the ability to make his taxi more expensive than he should, but he also had the chinese equivalent of a brummy accent. Not really understanding where we were going, he tried to take us to his mate's hotel. We insisted on the one we had found in the book, and got there to find it had no room.
Another taxi ride took us to a very much more expensive hotel, but we got the price knocked down by a third and had a relaxing five minute self pep talk trying to summon the energy to go back into town. The fabled Qingdao beer festival (Qingdao is the home of Tsingtao beer) was too far away for us to visit in the evening, so we went down to the waterfront for a stroll and a much earned anonymous wester fast food meal. Morale was uplifted by this, and also by the v. pleasant weather that we have since been enjoying here in Qingdao.
Just before going to bed again at the hotel Jo found the room price list. Being a posher sort of establishment, they have a price list for everything in the room. If we had gone out and got lashed at the beer festival, and had to come home and relieve our stomachs on the floor in technicolour fashion, the hotel would have charged us Y500/0.5m2 of carpet. We were v. careful not to spill anything.
Sunday 26 August
Ed New day, new hotel. We got a room at the place we first wanted to stay at and immediately made ourselves unpopular with the staff by trying the same "please give us a discount - we are poor laowai" trick. They weren't impressed, and said it would be Y260 for a fourth floor room. They then took us to our room, on the third floor, and when we got lairy they said it would be an extra Y20 to move up a floor (away from the traffic). We got our way in the end, but I think this Y20 loss on their part was enough to make them despise us for the rest of our stay. Tight fisted blah blah blah...
Anyway, after blocking the lavatory up and using the bathroom as a chinese laundry (v. useful rooftop washing line - good for cheeky views of the bay at dusk) we went out for some late lunch. This is a good example of how morale has been going up and down all the time in Qingdao. Having nearly been shafted and generally given nasty looks at the hotel, the pleasure side of the pleasure/pain yin/yang philosophy came in the form of chinese chips! These are shreds of potato boiled in a stock and served by the mountain load, and make a lovely side dish for a good plate of meat and sauce. Much yummy.
Our new found good humour rubbed off on the first foreigners we have really spoken to properly this trip. We found them looking lost on the street where our hotel is getting stuck in some sort of negotiation. Jo stepped in, and wangled them a Y25 a bed deal at the local shite guest house. They seemed happy with it, but I hope they won't hold it against us.
Spent the afternoon and evening wandering around in and out of parks (v. pretty) and piers (same) and generally lazing around feeling exhausted. Came across a nice foreign language and chinese intellectual type book shop where Jo picked up some cheeky low cost dictionaries and where I tried to use the internet. Jo enjoyed finding some useful textbooks, but I was less enamoured with the hippy tree hugging crap 60s "love everyone" music. Such is the way of chinese pretentious arty designer intellectual crap - they think that a high form of art and design is the intro to Titanic.
Monday 27 August
Ed Almost a complete disaster of a day. In list form...
Anyway. All that took over six hours.
- Went over to the boat ticket office to buy a boat ticket to Shanghai. "The Boats aren't running this year" said the woman at the ticket desk. Indeed.
- Went to train station to try and find a ticket to Shanghai. "Meyo" meaning "don't have" or "piss off thicky, of course we don't have any tickets. This is mega chinese tourist season in mega chinese tourist town, and all the people on holiday here are students from Shanghai who need to get back there for the start of term in the next few days. Now go away before I arrest you."
- Went to Qingdao CITS (official travel agents). Not the most obvious of places to find in town - it was round the back of a hotel on the border of the industrial non-tourist bit and up on the third floor. They couldn't help us because we didn't want to buy luxury tickets and we weren't numerous enough to be called a tour group.
- Went to the posh hotel for help and to see if they were doing the usual scam of buying up some tickets for their guests to use. They didn't.
- Back to the travel agency for some more help, which we eventually got this time off a boss type chap who sounded like a westerner with his concerned ums and ahs. He directed us back to the original bloke we asked though, and it was him who told us all about the dificulty of buying tickets at this time of year. At least they helped us that much.
- Went back to the posh hotel to inquire about plane tickets to Shanghai. V. expensive, but it would give us a route out of Qingdao in the next few days.
- Back to the train station for another round with the ticket people. We thought we might be able to go to the less popular destinations of Nanjing or Hanzhou and get a bus into Shanghai, but to get there we would need the same train that was so booked up. The tickets for the Shanghai service were available five days in advance apparently, and went on sale at 0430 - four in the morning - each day. Our main options now looked like getting up at four to buy a ticket for Sunday (getting there on Monday) or flying. We decided to go and buy plane tickets...
- ...until we passed the hotel on the way back, and changed our minds to travel by train on the Sunday. This would save money, and Qingdao wasn't too bad a place to spend a whole week. We were beyond angry now, and just tired and miserable. So I sat in silence in the hotel lobby trying to make a last ditched attempt at finding somewhere else to go on the train other than Shanghai (i.e. go somewhere less popular).
As I was reading the guide book about going somewhere other than Shanghai, two young looking chaps came into the hotel. While simultaneously looking friendly and English, they exclaimed "Ah! An Englishman!". To cut a long story short, they recommended a tout (person who goes to train station at four in the morning, buys many tickets then sells them on to laowai) to us, who we phoned and bought tickets off at 20% commision for Thursday, as required, and sat down to have a good smile. The price was only five quid more than at the station - v. cheap travel for a twenty-six hour journey.
The rest of the day was nice and relaxed. Jo and I had a beer down by the pier again, and we visited the pavillion that is on the bottles of Tsingtao beer (so that we could say we had been there). We then met up with the Englishmen again (both on their gap year and thoroughly calm and relaxed about everything - a good influence for us) and had a veritable pisched up chinese feast of a meal at their expense. Top chaps - planning on taking them out to somewhere posh tonight and buying them many tasty things as a thank you.
p.s. The ticket tout was a friend of someone who worked in the hotel where we were staying. We had made at least 5 bus trips criss-crossing town that day and the tickets were right under our noses. We were hysterical when we found out.
Wednesday 29 August
Jo The remainder of our time in Qingdao appears to have been spent in a bit of a blur, and I can't really remember terribly much of anything we did. Maybe it was the relief of getting tickets. We took the ticket saviours (Lee and Sam) out for dinner and on our way back we found a praying mantis crawling across the pavement, which Lee picked up and took it back to their room where he decided to keep it in a noodle packet and feed it on mosquitoes. I was at first horrified by this idea, but after spending some time with it I have decided that they make delightful pets as well as consuming my least favourite living thing.
We spent some time walking about Qingdao's residential district which was rather lovely. You can tell that the buildings were once very smart, but they now all look pleasantly 'lived in' and ramshackle in a sort of Italianesque manner which looks lovely in the sunshine. We also discovered a pavilion on top of a little hill which was used for tide watching in years gone by, all quite interesting and v. uneventful.
On our last day, Ed and I spent more time wandering about and were almost ready to go to bed when our 'xiaojie' (person who unlocks your room for you, and cleans it when she can be bothered) told us that Lee and Sam had been looking for us. Predicably the evening wound up with us drinking some local sorghum wine, which I think tastes like whisky although Ed won't hear of such a blasphemy. Chosen location for pish-up; the roof of the hotel (which is flat I hasten to add). Nice and safe then. Chased off by the rain at about midnight we ran inside and spent another few hours playing cards. The rules of 'Sh-thead' were altered to involve both the winner and loser downing amounts of wine, which ended up being not such a disincentive as it seemed at first. (Tim-nice-but... voice;) Thoroughly bloody nice evening.
Thursday 30 August
Jo The 'thoroughly bloody nice evening' lost a little of its charm in our memories the next day when I woke up and found most of my belongings smelling like a sorghum-wine-soaked dustbin, but never mind because we were off to Carrefour! In order to suppy ourselves for the journey to Shanghai, Ed and I had decided to allow ourselves the comfort of laowai bread and cheese. I have never been to a French Carrefour, but I presume they don't sell snakes and turtles in them, which just added to my excitement at the thought of going there - it's like going to Waitrose and the zoo simultaneously! Thrilling stuff.
Thoroughly provisioned and by now slavering over thoughts of baguettes and plums (which I had accidentally spent nearly 4 quid on - didn't realise they were Californian imports - whoops) we dashed off to the train station after waving a mutual and very sincere 'Goodbye and good riddance' to our hotel staff.
The train journey passed very quietly, mainly because Ed was asleep for most of it. When he did wake up he very soon became embroiled in another drinking game (again with sorghum wine) with one of the men who was sleeping in our compartment. Luckily, as a girl I was considered too delicate to join in such a rumbustious game, probably for the best as the booze from the previous night had given me some rather sorry side effects. Ed says that he didn't mind the wine, it was the chicken's feet the guy kept pressing on him that he objected to.
We also met a student of English from Nanjing University which Ed was very excited by, because he could finally put a badge that Blum had given him to good use. The badge had the name of this boy's university on it, to both his and Ed's delight. We stayed up for a long while chatting with him about the respective merits of the Chinese and British university systems. All in all, I think Ed and I have a better deal than Lin Lin - he has termly exams in P.E.!