Qingdao is a small enough city that I could do something that I normally don’t have the guts to do. Just get on buses and see where they go. Except for the first bus I got on which doubled back and negated the hours I had already walked, this worked out highly in my favor. I discovered the 31 bus goes to beach #1, and the 302 goes to beer street where the Tsingdao brewing museum is, and the number 1 makes a loop around the west part of town to all the stuff you would want to see.
Getting back to the side of town where my hostel is prooved to be a bit more difficult. But two school girls who were sitting next to me on the #15, which ended up going nowhere near where I needed to go, asked me where I was from, and then helped me out. The girl had perfect tape-recorder English. I asked if she learned at school from a foreign teacher, and she said she’s never had English lessons at school, she taught herself at home. They got off the bus and insisted on walking me two blocks away to the correct bus number, saying things the whole way like, “please turn left. Now go straight.” Maybe she is practicing tapes that train people how to be GPS voices. They were really delightful.
It’s been funny how many people have tried to hand me chinese language menus. Unlike Korean, which is brilliant, logical, and relatively simple where most people learn how to read and write before they learn how to speak, I know people who have spoken Mandarin for ten years and barely touched reading. One boy at a bus stop asked why I didn’t just read the sign, when I said I couldn’t, the light bulb went off behind his eyes, “of course!” and he bounded over to find the number I needed.
Even in the rain this place was really hopping. I don’t know if it was a special holiday, or if there are just so many people in this area that it’s bound to be packed even on a Wednesday morning. There was so much incense being lit and thrown in the pyres that the sticks were lighting, causing a flame and ash was pouring out the bottom.
South of the temple on the road running perpendicular to the park, I ran into what is going to be a great new venue. A shop called the Instrument and Coffee Shop where a really hip young lady is opening up a music store/coffee shop/bar/music venue. I wish I could be more specfic about the location, but it was within close walking distance after I left the temple. Bus 314 also passes it. She’s not opening for two more weeks, but it looks like it will be a fantastic place.
And one more thing, this hostel, the Big Brother II, which was the only one not booked when I checked way back in July charged me 3 yuan for toilet paper for my room. TP is a hot commodity here.
This morning I shared my pomegranate with the lady at the front desk. She’s been all smiles and really helpful. She seemed really shocked when I shared my fruit with her, and when I came back this evening she had bought a moon cookie for me. So sweet.
For the dozens upon dozens of times I have travelled with absolutely no snags, plenty of time to grab a coffee before boarding, and all the time in the world, my self-confidence in travelling finally caught up to me. Thinking I could roll into Incheon airport an hour before my flight on a busy Tuesday business morning was not the best move.
Thanks to all the work folks who came out to dinner, and especially to Adam, Dan, Tyler, and Jon for a final beer soaked conversation at the tables outside the Family Mart. It still cracks me up that the tables outside of a convenience store are equally as legitimate a meeting and drinking spot as a bar. After a couple of hours rest at the sauna, I jumped on the subway to the airport to find that it both takes a lot longer to get around the magnitude of that airport, and that it was packed. I missed my flight by a good half-hour by the time I could talk to anyone, but they very graciously bumped me to the next flight to Qingdao for no charge (China Eastern Air).
When I checked back in again, I was told that my visa was not renewed in the fashion that I was lead to believe it was. Because I’m past my initial year, I had to go to the immigration office and get a re-entry permit, even though I was under the impression that my visa and everything was renewed and good to go. That wouldn’t have been such a big deal, except no one would tell me what to do in full. I get a ticket. The first lady says I need to fill out a form “over there.” I fill out the form. Get a ticket. The second lady says I need “permit stamps” to go with the form. Well why didn’t the first lady tell me that? I go to get the permit stamps – which are really just those, three nice stamps. I’ve already changed all my money to Yuan and US Dollars though, so I have to go to an ATM, get more Won, come back, buy the stamps from the lady who is doing Korean yoga in her seat and trying to ignore me, and then: get a ticket.
I don’t know what they do with those lovely stamps. All I know is that they didn’t end up as nice decoration in my passport.
After a final bulgogi bibimbop and some coffee, I make it without further snag onto the plane, and pass out for the brief hour and a half ride to Qingdao.
So far things are going well, and I am extremely grateful that people here are so helpful. There were no maps of the city to be found at the airport, and without the bus drivers prompting, there would have been no way for me to know which stop to get off at. The first thing I notice is that the visibility is horrible. Probably less than 1km. Another thing is the diversity in cityscape compared to Korea. To me, every Korean city and town essentially looks the same. I don’t know if one major developer has dibs on the entire country, or if all the developers build in the same style, but really, the whole country is a carbon copy of itself. Here there are the same highrise apartments in clusters, but the style of each cluster is a little different. The skyline is diverse with some unique buildings, and there is a much more liberal use of color here that doesn’t involve neon signs.
Instead of being a coastal industrial town, Qingdao has taken the route of making money by attracting people to the coast with beaches and parks along the water. It’s really nice, refreshingly clean, and a super friendly city. I’m going to hang out for an extra day and relax. The downfall is that I’m having trouble figuring out where the buses go, and other than taxis, there isn’t another form of public transportation. I have an aversion to taking taxis, even when they are cheap, unless absolutely necessary as a budget backpackers and exploration rule.