Bonus Post – Music

We love music.

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly, creeping
Left its seeds while I was, sleeping
And the vision, that was planted in my brain… still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a streetlamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound, of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs, that voices never shared
No one dared
Disturb the sound, of silence

“Fools,” said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows”
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed, in the wells, of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls,
And tenement halls”
And whispered in the sounds, of silence”

Qingdao to Qufu 2.11.16

Less folk at Qingdao train station means less queuing through ticket and security checks this morning. We follow our train number through huge corridors to the cavenous south waiting room. I don’t know when china started to build their rail infrastructure but it is impressive. With English signs it’s easy to understand and simple to use. The facilities are first class with water dispensers, cleaned toilets and a host of food and drink outlets. Despite the tempting photo, I forgo the opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of Doner King.

The train seems more high tech than the last one and we peak at 303 kph. The experience seems more Asian though. The guy sat in front slurps his tea at a volume I wouldn’t have thought possible. People scream down their mobiles. The lady across from us spends the four hour journey stood in the aisle rotating her arms and shouting at her two friends who are sat behind us. At a stop someone gets on and says I’m in his seat, I explain how numbers work and he apologises. I realise I’m in a bad mood and it isn’t the noisy tea or train aisle aerobics that’s the problem, it’s my mood. I focus on the view out of the window and witness miles and miles of polytunnels. I’m amazed. How do they even manage planting, weeding, harvesting so many giant greenhouses? While I ponder this we pass miles and miles more. Last night I read that only 15% of China’s  landmass can be cultivated so this view makes me realise what a huge country  this is.
We arrive at Qufudong or Qufu East which is a huge new shiny station 12k out of the city. Al persuades me to catch the bus so we pay 12p and sit and wait. We don’t know where we are going except the final destination is a bus station nearer the city on the west side. My smartphone gps won’t kick in and our lonely planet map only has the city centre. We pass a lot of new construction and out of town business facilities. The roads get busier with taxis, then tuktuks, then cyclists and we realise we must be fairly central. I spot the city walls then a sign for the Confucius temple so we get off. The lonely planet map has the temple and our hostel so 20 mins later we’re checking in.

It’s 3pm now so ‘lunea’ or whatever the meal between lunch and tea is called is required. The local lonely planet recommendation is no longer there so with bellies rumbling we eat at the hostel. They have a local food page on the menu so we order Qufu smoked tofu, spicy pork and noodles and doenjang with veg. The tofu is really tasty with the intense smokey flavour, noodles are rice vermicelli which are sweet and chewy and the veg is crudités with a miso paste dip. 

We order green tea and with our pot comes a huge thermos flask of hot water to top up.

We take advantage of stable wifi to blog, backup photos and apply for the Wolves managers job.

After dark we venture out again to see what’s happening. It’s much easier to spot and assess restaurants after dark and unlike the UK, life continues. We pass a park where a load of pensioners are line dancing to very loud music. ‘Turn it down Grandma!’ Nearby more pensioners practice ballroom dancing. Teenagers shop for fashion, night market food sellers shout at us. After being spoilt in Qingdao, there are fewer food options here but we choose a place and point at pictures and wait. A plate of spicy tofu arrives, the smokey variety with chilli and the flower pepper we had yesterday. The smokey flavour with the hot chilli and numbing pepper is really very delicious, we can’t wait to visit Sichuan. The dumplings arrive and there are two huge plate loads which we won’t be able to finish. It is green and protein flavour, our favourite. The huge meal costs only 44 yuan or 5 English pounds, a bargain. 

1.12.017 Qingdao 

The weather couldn’t have been more different to yesterday! Bright blue sky, no gale force winds (well, slightly less gale force winds) and warmer (well, only by about 2 degrees but we are taking every degree as a massive boost). We are using a new weather app, Mo Weather, which as well as giving the usual boring info about temperatures,  gale warnings, air quality (v important here!!) it also advises on what make up to wear (oily today) and whether you should wash your car (not today), also it is appropriate to go fishing, partake in sports amongst other fascinating facts.

Oily make up applied we set off to see the Governors House albeit without our trusty Maps.me app so we have to navigate through the back streets of Qingdao using our instinct so are amazed to end up at the Governor’s House with no major upsets. The back streets of the town are reminiscent of Whitby in their style only with a flavour (and smell) of Asia thrown in, e.g. pavements upended, scooters darting around and rubbish everywhere. No fish n chip shops though 😭

My Aunt taught English here for a year in 2013 and had recommended sights for us to see, thankfully the beer museum was on that list as was the Governors House, along with some seafood to try but as we explained before we chickened (!!) out of that. I must admit it is a lovely city to stay in, just a couple of hours from Beijing, with a long seafront and a relaxed atmosphere, we loved it. 

The governor’s house was fabulous, it was built in 1904 and used until 1913 and cost a fortune. It was decked out in the style of the times, art deco, so has wood paneling everywhere, wide door frames, high ceilings and jade green tiles for sinks and fireplaces. No photos allowed but you can see some on Trip advisor  There was also a number of photos of Qufu at the turn of the century which look like northern town terraces but with Chinese coolies and European gents in the foreground. None of these buildings are still standing.

We then embarked on the coastal walk to the May 4th monument (insert your own Star Wars joke), which involved our longest days walk so far, 13.84 miles according to my trusty fitbit. We wandered through bottle brush trees, pavilions, parks and followed a coastal walkway which was new with no missing slabs or holes. Along the way we encountered many, many, brides and grooms having wedding photos taken. We estimated about 70, yes seventy couples having photos taken on a Monday on a beach in China. Notable ones were one with a white corset and red net fluffy skirt, an aqua marine blue dress of which the skirt was thigh high and a groom in a pale pink suit. On one beach they were lining up to have photos taken on a very patient white horse. It is things like this that you encounter which are fascinating.

 

We walked along No1 and No2 bathing beaches, naming conventions are easy to understand. We watched the locals swimming (it was barely 7 degrees), playing ball games (next to the sign which prohibited ball games), men jogging (in miniscule Speedos) and doing weights in the communal gyms situated along the beach and in parks everywhere. Guy refused to join in. 

The last beach, No3 bathing beach, had loads of souvenir shops all selling the same stuff, shells, bucket, spade, coral (probably illegal) but no fridge magnets (for Guy’s collection) or postcards (to send to my nieces and nephew). Fisherman also sell their catch of the day from plastic bowls with the locals haggling hard. 

Finally we make it to the other part of Qingdao which is full of skyscrapers, Olympic sailing village and banks, a lot of banks.

The May the 4th monument is large and red. We have no idea how this represents the student protests against the European powers giving Chinese port towns to Japan at the end of WW2, Wikipedia may know?

 

We started our long walk back and saw brides and groom still waiting to have photos taken, some with coats on to keep warm, some having makeup and hair touched up. 

We were starving by now and found some chilli peanuts at the bottom of the rucksack. They were Sichuan or flower pepper flavour so as well as being spicy were also mildly anaesthetic. Ace! We ate loads and had hot numb mouths. 

Back to our beach area and we were in need of a boost, a French patisserie appears like a vision on the horizon, and it was no mirage. I stormed ahead to get donuts and chose a white chocolate and almond one and a cup of lemon tea (hot water on candied peel – double sugar). 

Fuelled up and still needing food we went back into town to look for a warming bowl of noodle soup. We found a small cafe around the corner from our hostel and pointed at what we thought was noodle soup. We paid our 4 quid and waited. We were slightly surprised when a bowl of steamy hot noodles arrived topped off with beef in black bean sauce, cucumber and beans sprouts (all fridge cold) was presented to us. After getting over our disappointment of it not being noodle soup we actually loved this dish, the black beans were slightly fermented so were tangy and the noodles were so hot that once you mixed it all together it was all hot anyway. 

31.10.2016 Qingdao 

It is 3.30am, 5 degrees (feels less) in our room, blowing a gale outside and we wake up to a familiar high pitched wining noise around our heads. How on earth are there mosquitoes in this weather??? We kill 3 of the little blighters, leaving our blood smeared on the walls, and look forward to finding out where we were bitten in the morning.

Guy has 7 bites on his head, 3 on his back and 1 on his arm. I get away with a couple on my arms and face. 

As the weather has turned to gale force winds, rain and close to zero degrees (including wind chill factor) we cancel tourism. We go to the train station and easily buy train tickets for the next stages of our trip up until 18 November (Xiaman). We celebrate with Onigiri’s and spend ages looking for a cafe that we can take shelter in for the rest of the day without being thrown out. Finally we find one, and spend the day drinking coffee, then pear & jasmine tea whilst the baristas do coffee and tea tastings in the background.  It was a slow day at work for them as well.  

The wind and rain eventually dies down and we venture outside. Up the road there are cafes everywhere, we have never seen so many. Also a Roman Catholic church and more restaurants. One thing there is plenty of in Qingdao is restaurants!!! 

We select a noodle soup place for tea, it is warming and delicious, even more so once we had slipped in a couple of teaspoons of chilli sauce. 

The local speciality is seafood and we have ‘Snack Street’ just around the corner from our hostel, it is full of seafood on sticks, seafood dumplings, crabs, sea anemones, oysters, starfish, and other stuff we have no idea about but it just doesn’t look fresh. We don’t risk it especially as we do not have ensuite and the toilets are freezing cold!!

We do risk some chocolate puffs from the local supermarket though, think wotsits but cheap chocolate flavoured. 

Tianjin to Qingdao 30.10.16

Up early for the first tube of the day to the end of the line, Tianjin West Train Station. There are only four of us getting on so I’m surprised to see the tube full of sleepy people. We eventually rise above ground and through the window can see early morning mist or pollution. Through all the normal checks and after waiting in the main room we’re called through to the platform where I’m surprised and pleased to see queues forming at carriage numbers on the floor. We join queue eight and the sleek, modern train slowly pulls in. I’m taken back to the bullet trains in Japan which looked like this and the travellers politely queued like this. Three carriage attendants welcome us aboard and oh joy, no one is in our seats! Incredible!

Soon we peak at 299 kph and gazing out of the window we marvel at the amount of development underway. We have seen a lot of apartment blocks being built.

A young girl sits next to us and says hello. We chat in English for a while then an older guy comes over and asks “you’re travellers right? You want to know something?” The girl swaps seats with him and he explains that he used to be a translator. We chat and the conversation candidly opens up to include brexit, democracy, media influence, China’s increasing development and the BBC world service before we focus on the serious issue of food. He tells us without a hint of boasting that he is a good cook and he is pleased that we are enjoying Chinese food. We have found Chinese people honestly forthright without being rude and we both enjoy chatting to this intelligent guy.

We arrive at Qingdao and using maps.me navigate to our hostel in 10 minutes. The rooms are based around a central courtyard where goldfish swim in stone bowls and intricately carved chairs invite you to sit. We climb the wooden walkway and cross the terrace to our room and dump the bags.

20 metres from our front door is firewood court, a narrow alleyway of street food vendors. Techno music reverberates down my eardrums, people shout at us, meat skewers spit on charcoal which crackles and smokes. There are sea urchins, oysters, starfish, steamed buns, live fish in tanks, bowls of live molluscs and prawns and although I am very hungry I find the experience overwhelming and don’t know what to choose.

We decide to head down the high street to the seafront. Its a sunny Sunday afternoon and there’s a lot of people out enjoying themselves. The high street has seaside shops that would look familiar to British seaside tourists, selling shells, buckets and spades, model boats and souvenirs. We have to go through a subway to get to the seafront and we find a large underground food market. After a walk around we both agree on a dumpling stall where we get smiles and a plate of steaming fresh dumplings which we think were spinach, mollusc and garlic. On the steps out is a stall selling octopus balls with sauce and bonito flakes that we used to enjoy in Japan, so we order and gobble down a portion.

There is a pier stretching into the bay so we wander to the end and back, like everyone else, without really understanding why.

We stop at another stall where I have chilli squid on a stick and Al has a giant prawn and the friendly lady asks us both where we’re from.

We wander further down the shore until things of interest run out and as its only 2pm we get out the guide book wondering what to do. Hmmm, Sunday afternoon, no work tomorrow, in Qingdao which used to be spelt Tsingtao.

Where do I recognise the word Tsingtao from? 

Of course! Chinese restaurant beer. Well fancy that, there’s a brewery here. After a 30 min walk through a residential area we are paying our entrance fee.

(For those of a pedantic disposition, please note that Qingdao the city and Tsingtao the beer are both pronounced ching dao)

Those who know us well will probably correctly assume we have done a brewery tour before. Not in China though! The brewery was founded by the Germans at the end of the 19th century and expanded by the Japanese when they controlled the area in the 1930s. It was the first state run company to be listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange when China began to open and if you believe the hyperbole in the museum you probably would prefer this beer to any other type of inferior tasteless lager.

We get two free not quite full halves. 

There is a GameZone at the end of the tour which the Chinese groups are loving and we exit into a large beer hall which looks a scene of devastation with empty glasses and plates all over unsettled tables and nut shells covering the floor. By the time we emerge from the shop with a stout, white beer and strong ale, the efficient staff have cleared up and we sit down for our beer research.

The research goes well but we don’t discover anything to trouble Bathams or Titanic Brewery. I buy a half litre of IPA to complete the research which Brewdog would be proud of (if they haven’t made it). An extended family group sit next to us and we ‘Nihao!’ We watch in amazement as the family watch their youngest member, a boy of about 9, greedily gulp down half a lager. An elderly guy tries to get him to say Nihao to us but he is only interested in his beer. A lady asks where we’re from and we chat in English for a while. She gives me half a lager and goes to great lengths to explain that someone didnt want it so it is untouched. I gratefully accept and don’t bother to mention that I don’t care. They say goodbye and leave. The boy falls over. We both respectfully don’t split our sides.

Its dark now so we put our faith in maps.me and wander past the neon delights of beer street, through vegetable night markets, underneath flyovers and finally down a long street where every doorway was either a food seller or a tiny restaurant. The scenes were fascinating, floodlit laughing women peeled veg, old men sat on tiny stools drinking beer from plastic bags, huge chunks of meat hung on giant hooks bathed in red light with their sinister owner staring at us through clouds of tobacco smoke. It was life on an Asian street and endlessly fascinating.

Later we go out in search of a snack and begin where we started the day on firewood court but the techno has stopped and the food looks as tired as its sellers so we walk on. Our three rules for choosing a restaurant in China are:- 

  1. pictures of meals, so we can point
  2. It looks clean
  3. Gut instinct (massively underrated )

We are not having much luck finding anywhere, which is one of the laws of travelling. When you are tired and hungry you cannot find a restaurant you like but when you have just eaten you see several nice looking spots.

We are hungry after the beer earlier and last chance saloon doesn’t quite satisfy rule 2 but it’s last chance saloon so we go in. A smiley girl appears and we point at pictures of dumplings and the beer fridge. After a while steaming black dumplings containing sweet pork and prawns appear. They are good. Then tofu and spinach dumplings appear which are also good. As we are the only customers, the girl fetches a bowl and makes more tofu and spinach dumplings, carefully folding and sealing the small parcels with practiced care. We are happy with our choice and head home satisfied with one last beer from the shop. After all, no work tomorrow.



Tianjin 29.10.16

Fresh roasted coffee again this morning with a toasted egg and salad butty. We spent all morning planning where to go after shanghai and ensuring we weren’t missing any great sights in the south east of China. Route planned, we walked in the sunshine to a historic area where families and friends were enjoying their Saturday at a redeveloped stadium which houses restaurants and shops. 

We wander back to the main shopping  area and after failed attempts to find sushi we settle once again on Xialongbao for lunch with two sides of green. It was of course, fabulous.

Next is Carrefour for colgate jasmine tea toothpaste, (Other brands and flavours are available, such as charcoal) and the final leg of our huge walking tour is the riverside at night. 

We had contemplated a river cruise but opted for the healthier, cheaper tour and were glad we did. Although Tianjin has many amazing skyscrapers alongside it’s developed riverside, they are not all lit up at night.