Travel Journal

When you look like your passport it's time to go home.

Qingdao Beach

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We are kind of winding down to our last days in China. We've seen and done a lot so it seems as though we've been here a lifetime. When we browse through our pictures we don't really comprehend our faces. It all seems as thought it's someone else staring back at us, someone else that had all those experiences.

Today was just a walk on the beach. Our taxi dropped us off at the far end of the beach and we worked our way back. There was lots of activity considering it is the middle of the week. Wedding photographers were everywhere. Women in wedding gowns and men in tuxes dotted the rocky beach bent in impossible poses that looked terribly uncomfortable but I guess looked good to the photographer. Ruth and Lynn decided to try some of the poses themselves. They looked as glamerous to me as the brides so I snapped a few pictures of them. Those other photogs have nothing on me. Who on this entire beach had two beautiful models to photograph at the same time? No one, that's who.

By the way. I'm the only non-asian I saw in my entire stay of Qingdao. Everywhere I go heads turn. No doubt because of my good looks. When I stopped to sketch, people gawked. I think I'll just put a cup out on the street. I may as well make some cash at this.

We walked up the beach and through Zhongshen park. The tulips were in bloom, tulips of every color. I'd never seen anything like it since New York's Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. There were several people selling hot corn on the cob so I bought some for 2 yuan. The first bite was disappointing. It must have been last year's corn, or maybe the year before. Later Wayne told me those vendors buy the corn in large bags for next to nothing, boil it up, and charge the two yuan to unsuspecting foreigners. No local person would buy it, they'd know better.

After eating, Lynn decided she wanted to buy another pen as a gift. We had walked miles looking for just the right pen. We looked in Beijing, Yangshuo, Guilin, and Qingdao. While in Qingdao we had the poor lady pull out every pen in the large glass display case. Then we walked out with nothing. The lady was not happy. We ended up buying the pen from another store. Now Lynn wanted to go back to the same lady and look for another kind of pen. As soon as we approached the counter we could see the same lady stiffen. We looked at all the pens and left without anything...again! Then we walked to the book store and bought a second pen there.

Wayne wanted to treat us to another meal. Bill's associates in China had already treated us to a grand meal the day we arrived but now Wayne wanted to take us to a seafood restaurant. I guess he saw how we readily downed the abalone the first night so he wanted to expose us to still different kinds of seafood.

When we walked into the restaurant he handed the hostess a bag full of live crab. He told me later he bought his crab an hour ago. "It's fresher." he said. I guess so. He had been to the same market we visited on Sunday and bought the crab while we were getting ready for dinner tonight.

The hostess brought us up to the third floor and into a private room. The place settings were are rainbow of colors. There was a large etched round glass lazy-susan.

Wayne excused himself and went downstairs to choose what we would be served. Later he showed us the fish tanks. It was like walking through the Atlanta Aquarium. Every variety of fish: shell, bone or soft was available. Fine Chinese dining means choosing from live animals. He'd never just order from a menu. Before he orders he wants to see the food he'll eat.

Wow, what a meal. There were 13 courses, 4 cold, 8 hot, and soup. I'm not sure I can remember everything we ate. Here's what I remember:

1) cucumbers with pepper sauce
2) pregnant squid (each filled with squid eggs)
3) crab
4) beef with peppers
5) sea urchins
5) conch meat with vegetables
6) oysters
7) fish soup
8) black bean balls with pine nuts
...and more

The sea urchins were very good. It was like eating custard. They prepare them by pouring egg into an opening in the shell and then cook the meet and egg together. Fantastic. The squid was about six inches long including tentacles. When I bit into one (I had to take bites as they are too large to swallow whole) I saw it's body stuffed with clear golden eggs. The meat was very tender. It was very good.

None of the food had any fish smell. Even the soup was not fishy. It looked like chicken broth with white chicken meet floating around. It was softer than chicken. It was like eating the Hawaiian mahimahi (tuna) fish in a broth.

I didn't want Wayne to order expensive wine again. The wine we had the other night with him was the best wine that China makes. So I told him: "Women zai Qingdao, dui ba?" "Dui."he said. "Wo zai Qingdao hai meiyou he Qingdao pijiu. Weishenme?" (We are in Qingdao right? I still haven't had a Qingdao beer. Why?" He joked: "Because we've drank it all up!" "ai you" (So sad.) I told him.

When the brewery opened in Qingdao they promised the townspeople that Qingdao beer served in Qingdao would be no older than a week. Indeed, our beer was only two days young. It went well with the fish as did the second best wine in China that Wayne still ordered for us.

When walked out, three men arm in arm swerved and stumbled in front of us and spilled out the front door. In China it's common to go drinking after work with your boss or buddies. This is when the most business is transacted. Wayne looked at me and apologized. "This is the way it's done in China." he lamented.

I'd be afraid to complete any business deal with a drunk, but that's just me. What do I know?

We are going back to Beijing tomorrow, a couple of days before returning home. It's sad to leave our new-found friends here. We need to return.

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.
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Qingdao Market

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We decided we haven't spent enough money on goods so Ruth and Lynn found yet another market in Qingdao.

This one is the best so far. No pushiness, no grabbing, no yelling. Just a simple stroll through floors and floors of goods. Everything you can imagine is for sale here too. China has lots of goods for sale. It's a buyer's market.

Ruth has been looking for a pearl necklace so finally got one here. Lynn said they were so cheap she got one too. Our driver, on loan from Bill's company, took us to the market and then back to get something to eat. Of course, I needed a Starbucks fix.

While we ate, he went out and had our chops (Chinese stamps) carved by computer. Very professional. Even though I bought a stone chop in Yongshuo, the sculpted wooden chops of a horse and lion were very cool. They came with a magnetic cap so you don't get ink all over the desk.

We got some pictures printed of the folks we met in the villages and had the concierge print the Chinese addresses on the envelopes. I think village folks will get a kick out of having a picture of themselves and their child. I'd love to visit them again some day to see if they still have it displayed in their homes. We didn't see any photographs displayed anywhere in their homes. They are very poor farmers.

At the Kodak printing store I had a little trouble communicating with the Xiaojie (Miss) about what images I wanted, how big, and how many. To make matters worse my computer generated the the images from RAW format but didn't add the JPG suffix so their programs couldn't read them. "Wo Keyi ma?" (Can I?) is a great phrase to memorize because I showed her how to add the suffix and she was ecstatic. After that it was a breeze to get the pictures printed. I think I had 10 4x6 pictures printed for just a $2. She even cropped them for me. When she got the crop right I'd say: "Hao de." (That's good.) I learned that from the guy in front of me.

By the evening we didn't want to go out again. We had cocktails in the lounge and tried the Korean restaurant in the hotel. This hotel looked like it may have been a five star some years ago but I think they may have lost some of the stars since. The Korean restaurant was quiet so we went in and ordered. The strange thing was that no matter what we ordered they would point to the same picture on the menu. (Again, no one speaks English.) "Michael Jackson xi huan." (Michael Jackson likes this one.) So we took that as a hint that we ought to order the one dish. We did, but when it came it didn't look like the picture we had been pointing to. Lynn called the waitress over while Bill rolled his eyes. "It's okay Lynn. You will not be able to communicate what you want anyway. Let's just eat this." When the waitress came over and Lynn pointed out that the food "bu yiyang" (not the same) as the menu the waitress said: "It's only a picture, not the real thing." Oh, that explains it then.

But it was food and it wasn't bad. The wasabi (Japanese green hot paste) was the most potent I've ever had. I nearly burned out my sinuses. Yikes!

"Adventure is worth while in itself." -Amelia Earhart
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What a clean city Qingdao is! It's weather is cool and dry. It reminds me of San Francisco this time of year.

Wayne and Susan (Bill's associates) took us on a driving tour of Qingdao. We started in the fish market. Here's the deal. I dressed in my very best so that I would not embarrass Bill in front of his business associates. It turns out that I was the best dressed weiguoren in the entire fish market. I wore slacks, black penny loafers, a red stripped shirt, and tweed sport coat. Come to think of it I was the ONLY weiguoren, besides Bill, in the market.

We saw all kinds of live seafood displayed in buckets and pans - slugs, snails, turtles, oysters, baby abalone, sting rays, and flounder. The flounder is the strangest kind of thing. It lays flat and has both of it's eyes on top. If you've never seen nature shows about this fish, you are in for a treat. They start out swimming like all other fish. Eventually they lie flat in the sand. Their right eye migrates to the top to join the left eye. It then buries itself in the sand and waits for unsuspecting prey. You can buy them fresh here for just $100 U.S. dollars. I'll take two.

The oysters looked good. I was telling Susan about how we used to eat these in Hawaii. Just put them on the barbecue until they pop open. Then douse them with cocktail sauce and Tobasco and drown them down with a beer. Wow! Great stuff. She said she didn't have a BBQ. I suggested it would be worth buying one.

Wayne drove us from one end of Qingdao's seaside to the other. There were weddings everywhere. Some companies will take the pictures of the couple weeks or months before the wedding and then give out the pictures at the celebration. We counted over a hundred couples. The cost is about $400 U.S. which seemed like a good price to me. It's an all day deal starting in the studio in the morning and ending on the beach in the afternoon. Some of the couples looked exhausted this afternoon.

We walked along the boardwalk of Qingdao and took a few frames. We also stopped by the site of the 2008 Olympics in China. Although Beijing will host the Olympics, Qingdao will host all of the water sports. I took some pictures of the concrete construction site to show my dad. Some of the forms looked the same as I'd seen at American sites. The only thing missing was a crane. It'll be interesting to watch the Olympics in 2008 and be able to recognize the places we visited.

We rounded a corner and saw two old men sitting on stools in front of an old store. The wall behind them was missing some of it's stucco and the afternoon sun cast it's shadow across it's rough exterior. Bill and Lynn jumped out to take a photo and left the van door open. An old woman came up the street and peered into the dark interior and looked at me so I said: Nihao. (maybe I should have said Ninhao since she was older?) She looked at me with a serious stare and said: "Bu renshi ni." (I don't know you) And then she told me her age. Wayne translated the nuances of the short exchange. I thought I may have offended her but Wayne said she was just apologizing for not remembering who I was. She said her memory wasn't what it used to be. Oh. Meiwenti (no problem).

We took a little rest before dinner but was not expecting what was next. Wayne reserved a private room in a local Chinese restaurant. I counted 12 dishes. They kept coming. Then he brought out a 1992 bottle of Chateau Changyu Cabernet, China's best red. It was fantastic. We had deep fried oysters and baby abalone. I think they may have been the same ones I saw earlier at the market. The abalone was very tender. It was absolutely divine.

I brought along my iBook and Wayne, Susan and Lee politely watched some of my pictures float by. Afterward Lee told me he has a friend that is one of the best photographers in all of China. This guy has view cameras (8x10 negatives, that's right, the NEGATIVES are 8 inches by 10 inches). He once camped on top of a mountain for three days waiting for the best light. National Geographic bought one of his great photos and printed it in their magazine. Sheesh, I wish I'd had known all this before; I'd have never showed any of my pictures. Lee says he's got all kinds of camera gear himself. He's also a photographer. Susan volunteered that the guy that spent three days on the mountain is now divorced. His wife couldn't stand his obsession. I turned to Ruth and asked her if I'd ever left her for three days to take a photo. She said: "No." So I turned to Lee and said: "See this is why I'm not so good."

When Wayne dropped us off earlier at our hotel he gave us bags (that is, more than one bag) of fruit. He bought it while we were eating lunch earlier in the day. They were so big and heavy it took both of us to carry it up to the room. We were overwhelmed by his generosity.

Ruth and Lynn came back to the room to play some Scrabble. I laid down and began dreaming about sea food and China. Qingdao is a city I could easily live in.

物是人非 (wushirenfei) Things stay the same just the people change. -Chinese proverb
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Shopping in Qingdao

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Qingdao ALSO has shops. Believe it or not.

We wanted to pick up some Chinese language learning books so went to the largest book store in the city. They didn't have what I was looking for. The same books on Amazon cost $30 each. Bill bought his in Beijing's Wangfujing for $8 each. It seemed so strange to go into a book store and not be able to read a single book! Weird. Some looked really interesting too. Rats.

While I was looking for books in the Chinese Learning section a young student approached me. He said that he's a paid trannslator. He's currently trying to translate a technical business book from Chinese to English but he's having problems with a section on injection molding. He wanted to know if I could help him translate it into proper English. He began a lengthly explanation but I was having a little problem following him. Something about injection molding procedures. After several attempts at explaining a technical paragraph I suggested that he send me the rough translation by email. I'd smooth out the translation and send it back. He seemed very grateful. He says he gets 180 yuen per hour for his translation services. That's about $20 an hour. We parted by exchanging email. I haven't received the text yet. I really hope I can help him out. One thing is for sure, China needs more English translators. Some of the signs I've seen caused me to do a double take, others I simply could not understand even though they were in my language.

I bought a gangbi (fountain pen) while in the book store. I couldn't resist. It cost about $11 U.S. but in the States it would cost about $50 to $100. What a deal. Not as good a deal as in Yangshou where I bought two gangbis for just $2 each. They write just a well. Okay, so they didn't come with a box.

We were tired so headed to the food court to get something to eat. (It's tought out here walking all over the place. I'm so glad I have great shoes. My feet never bothered me a bit.) Yeah, it's true, Qingdao has a modern shopping mall complete with a food court. If you transported yourself to Qingdao and walked in, you'd think you were in any United States shopping mall. Except, of course, for the Chinese signs. Oh, there's one other difference. In the American shopping malls the center isles are filled with chocolate and candy stands. China's "candy" stands offer fish. There are bins and bins of dried fish, shredded fish, shrimp, and sea slugs. Yummy stuff. This gives the place a sort of seashore aroma.

I did manage to find a Starbucks in the mall. It's exactly like any you'd see in the states. Unfortunately they didn't have Mocha Valencia, my favorite. They had mocha coffee and Carmel Macchiato. But those are so last week. I really, really wanted to try a Mocha Valencia in China. Maybe by next visit they'll have it on their picture menu.

Buying lunch is interesting. In the U.S. you order, pay, and go. In Qingdao's food court you select what you want, walk to the center and buy a plastic card with the value encoded on a magnetic strip (looks like a credit card), then go back and order, then pay, then sit down, then wait until your number is called. So there is lots of walking around and by the time you get your meal you ARE hungry. Oh, and they reuse the wooden chopsticks so if you are at all squeamish, bring your own.

I really intended to do a little more sketching on the trip but if I did I'd have taken less pictures and done less on the blog. Nonetheless I was able to do some silly little sketches while waiting for Lynn or Ruth to decide on what they were going to buy.

"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going." -Beverly Sills
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I can tell you that 5:00 a.m. is very early when you go to bed at 12:00 a.m. Our plans were to get in bed earlier but there was so much yet to do before leaving.

Eric dropped us off at the Atlanta airport and it was then we realized that we wouldn't be together for a month, the longest our family has ever been separated. It was kind of sad to say goodbye but he'll be busy with Conyers and his Hawaii/California trips while we are gone.

We got to the gate, ate a Burger King breakfast sandwich. We'd just finished when we heard our names called out. We turned around and saw Mike, our United Airline pilot friend. We met Mike about six months ago at a Borders. Ruth was returning a Chinese language book to the shelf when Mike asked if she was trying to learn the language. That lead to a conversation about China and our desire to become fluent. Anyway, we received a few emails from Mike giving us great advice on things to do and not do while in China. (You can read more of the details here.)

Mike is now training on 747s because United has switched from the 777s on their route to Beijing. Too bad Mike couldn't be our pilot because the ride into Beijing was dicey. We bounced around quite a bit. I wished that Mike had been at the helm. He's flown to Beijing 156 times! (Well, at last count anyway.)

After a quick picture with Mike (he was boarding our first leg to Chicago), we found our seats in row 54. Our seats were so far back in the plane we had to pass through a time zone. Mikes says there are 550 seats in the thing. This thing is big and heavy. (In the pilot's communication with the control tower he referred to our flight as "flight 851 heavy." No joke.) It took us so long to get down the runway I thought we were just going to taxi into Beijing.

This is a long flight. A VERY long flight. It takes 12 hours to fly from Chicago to Beijing. The flight includes three meals, four movies, and unlimited drinks. I would helpfully remind Ruth how many hours we had left. For example, after going three hours, I told her we only had twelve more hours to go. She loved that.

The first "meal" was really a packet of pretzels. The postage-stamp-sized Fiesta Mix ain't much of a fiesta. I think I may have found three broken pretzels in the packet along with a tablespoon of salt. Ruth tells me that if the airline quit giving out the little peanut snacks they'd save 15 million dollars a year! Where does she get this stuff?

The plane was full but we still had to get up to empty the bladder. There were all kinds of people in the isles. The carts in the isles still serving the food, blocked up traffic. We have to shuffle around in the cabin like square tiles on a plastic puzzle.

Every so often our progress would show up on the projector screen. We were on our way to the North pole, it's faster to loop up to the north and then back down to Beijing than go straight due to the circumference of the globe. But get this, at 32,000 feet the temperature on the other side of our window is 65 degrees BELOW zero.

We ate, slept, read, and watched one of the four movies. At the end of the flight we heard our names called over the airplane's PA system. "Will Dave and Ruth Terry please identify yourself to one of the servers?" We did. The next thing we know the captain appeared with a bottle of Brut 1415 Champaign. It was Mike who called our pilot and asked him to give us a bottle. How cool is that? (taibuhaoyisile)

We caught a taxi to our hotel. The driver drove as if no one else was on the road. He never stayed in the lanes. Often he drove with the car straddling the line! I guess the lines in the road are just suggestions.

We unpacked and took a walking a tour around the hotel. We enjoyed some chiwanfan (dinner) at a restaurant for $2. They didn't speak any English. I know the numbers so was able to pay and get the correct change. The food was great. The tea was fantastic. (haochi haohe)

We crashed after realizing that we had never seen the sun set today. We've been up for about 24 hours with short naps in between.

This post may be a reflection of the little sleep we've had.

Airplane travel is nature's way of making you look like your passport photo. -Al Gore

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China 2006

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