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Soundtrack: 'Beat It' - Michael Jackson

Various tannoy announcements, in Korean and Chinese, explain to the ferry passengers when we are about to arrive into port and when the actual time has come to head to the exits.  None of which make any sense to me, so I opted to repeat the plan that had served me so well on the outward leg by lying in my bunk and waiting to see when the two passengers in my line of sight picked up their bags and headed off.  When they did so and I followed a minute later, I realised that they were by a long way the last two people to leave the boat, bar me.  As I walked past staff on my way out, they looked astonished to see that I was still on board. 

With the immigration formalities dealt with, I walked my way to the Old Church Youth Hostel, located in, if you haven't already guessed, a renovated old church.  The ground floor held a spacious sofa bar area that looked more suited to a Moroccan coffee bar than a travellers hostel.  Based upon my own experiences and those of others I spoke to, guests seemed to have little concept of keeping quiet very late at night or very early in the morning.  One night, at half past midnight, a new guest knocked on the door of our seven-bed dorm, walked in, turned the light on waking everyone and started to talk to us in Chinese, oblivious to the annoyance she was causing. 

On my first night I popped out for some food and found myself ten minutes walk away in a small restaurant that had just opened that very day.  I managed to ask the waiter/owner if I could take my food away with me (because I had left my laptop unattended back in the hostel bar) and he agreed but asked me if I could bring the container back to him tomorrow.  I'm not sure what I expected, perhaps something like a plastic box with a lid for walking half a kilometre down the street.  It turned out to be a brand new porcelain plate filled to the edges with food, so I rethought the takeaway plan and sat down to eat with a Pakistani student who knew the owner.  The laptop was still safe and sound when I returned, as is the norm in hostels. 

I took a walk around the town on Saturday.  Qingdao is a big beach resort in China, insomuch as China actually has a beach culture.  As is the definition with such resorts, there isn't actually a lot to do other than enjoy the beach.  That's not to say it isn't full of amenities, but they are generally focussed on feeding the people on the beach, selling boat tours to beach tourists etc.  And with the colder weather that accompanies late October, the beach wasn't really on the menu right now. 

After posting some finished books home, I found a barbers to dispose of twenty-nine days of beard growth.  It was starting to look very big and strange now, especially in Asia where red hair in itself in a novelty.  Reserved Korean society limits the amount that people will stop and stare, but the Chinese have no such inhibitions and would readily stop in their tracks to grin and point at me as they saw me.  It was getting to the point where it was hard to walk down the street, so it had to go.  The barber in question didn't shave me, as I had hoped, but two minutes with the electric clippers reduced it to two or three day's growth, which I was then able to remove myself the next morning in the shower. 

On my way back to the hostel, I stopped into a nearby massage and podiatry place.  It had a large, scientific-looking sign of the inside of a foot in the window, so I figured it was a proper place.  The two seats in the front were already occupied by customers, so I was ushered into a secluded 'room' in the corner with a seat and a bed and asked for feet, legs (which were giving me agony at nights recently) and back.  Possibly I should have had some suspiscions when the woman was swapped with a younger lady after the feet were done, not that the new girl looked too happy about it.  After an hour, when everything was completed, she kept asking me some question involving fifty yuan.  Eventually, she used one hand to mime the special massaging service which she was offering to finish the session with.  I must stress that I politely declined her offer, but I couldn't fail to be impressed by the value for money that this represented - fifty yuan is only about four British pounds! 

I took a more thorough walk on Sunday, starting off with the Protestant church.  The whole of the Shandong province was controlled by Germany a hundred years ago, and the effects are everywhere to see.  Aside from the many churchs, the architecture is all European in style.  They also set up the famous Tsingdao brewery which provides beer to much of China and to Chinese restaurants around the world. 

In the evening, the hostel ran a dumpling making session.  We were invited to join in rolling our pieces of dough flat, putting some filling on top and then closing the pastry around it to create a little parcel.  After the first two, it ceased to become fun, I have to say.  Cooking just isn't my thing.  It was so stressful trying to get these little things to wrap up properly without falling apart everywhere.  My results were a different shape to everyone else's, not by design, which they all laughed at.  I assured them that they were beautiful in their own way.  After they were taken away and cooked, it was easy to spot which were mine - they were the ones that had broken into pieces. 

The plan for Monday was to get up early and take the bus to Lao Shan mountain to climb and view its temple with Max, a Taiwanese guy in the bed above me.  We discussed this the night before.  In the morning, we agreed to shower and eat before heading off.  With this accomplished, I collected my bag and found Max to ask if he was ready.  "Oh, sorry, I'm going to stay here today as my friends from Taiwan are leaving later today so I want to spend some time with them before they go".  Tsk!  I had been talking to one of these friends the night before as we made dumplings.  He expressed great surprise upon learning that I was vegetarian.  He couldn't understand why I was so tall when it was a well-known fact that all vegetarians have stunted growth because they don't eat properly. 

On Tuesday morning, we did manage to go to the mountain.  Max opted to go with a tour bus, rather than a public bus.  Even though we were only using them for transport rather than being a part of their tour, the cost was a little higher than the public bus option, although it would take us there directly so should be quicker.  Upon arrival, everyone else was taken into a small restaurant for lunch.  While a waitress came outside to swing a large fish against the steps to beat it to death, the tour guide explained that we should meet them back at the same place and four-thirty, ready to ride back to town. 

The walk was not so strenuous, certainly not as mountains go, and the views were very pleasant, including those of the dam as we walked towards a different exit on the way down.  After a late lunch of our own, we walked along the main road back towards the meet-up point with over an hour to spare.  A minibus heading the other way came to a sudden halt as it passed us and we were surprised to see that it was our bus heading back into town.  The tourguide woman ushered us in but we refused, as we had paid for a 16:30 pick-up and still wanted to look around some more.  A long argument ensued, little of which I understood although I tried to contribute by looking annoyed.  Finally, after Max had started taking pictures of the lady and the license plate on the bus, she gave us enough money to pay for a return ride on the public bus, which we probably should have used all along. 

From there we walked further along the coastal road, detoured around another temple, stopped for some fresh local tea on a small hillside farm and then rode the bus as planned back home. 

I tried to take another walk around town on Wednesday to see some more of the sights.  Indeed, I covered a lot of ground underfoot, but there was little more to be discovered.  The next day I packed up and headed to the station.  I arrived slightly later than planned, getting there a mere hour before the train was due to depart.  This is far too late to turn up for a Chinese train when you don't have a ticket, even though the queue was extraordinarily quick and I was served within just half an hour.  I settled for a train two more hours later and killed the time in between by getting some lunch. 

Walking back out of and away from the train station with my big bag, I looked like I had just arrived in town, which meant I got flooded by the various people touting their taxis, hotels and guides.  One woman kept insisting that I look at some small brochure she had.  She wouldn't go away so eventually I politely took it from her and put it in a nearby empty bucket.  Apparently this was her only copy so she frantically retrieved it but, not discouraged, she thrust it into my view again, pointing at it.  So, I had to take it and put it in the bucket a second time before she took the hint.  I've been offered a lot of things to look at as I've zig-zagged across Shandong province and this has become my new favourite way of dealing with people who won't take 'no' for an answer.  Even if there is no bin or bucket around, neatly placing it on the ground seems to do the trick.  Most people just laugh although all are surprised to the point of leaving me alone.  If nothing else, by the time they have bent down to pick it up, I am normally five steps down the road and not worth chasing. 


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China - 2nd visit

Qingdao, Jinan, Qufu, Tai'An, Beijing, Pingao, Handan, Zhengzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, China