Singled out in China – Qingdao, China

I did end up getting to the gym before getting off the boat at 9am. On my walk over from breakfast, just as the ship was pulling into port, I heard some heavy ominous drumming. I peered over the edge of the ship to see 3 rows of 33 red and gold clad band smashing their cymbals and banging their drums in unison. The conductor was dancing and flailing about swinging around some flags with the energy of a firecracker. It was quite a noise they were generating and somehow it seemed like an entire stadium was clapping faster louder faster! I was deeply touched by their exuberance as the grand welcome reverberated through the ship.

Ni hao (Hello) China! We boarded the air conditioned shuttle bus which carted us 15 mins away over bumpy roads into town. My first impressions were that it was loud, crowded, and a little more smelly than I would have liked. There were stores just filled with waist high barrels of dried ocean life. My heart dropped when I spotted a jar of dried seahorses. I vowed not to enter one of these stores, if not to save my nose, to protest the injustice of the seahorses. 😉 These shops are reminiscent of the original community which was just a modest fishing village 6000 years ago. There was a strong German presence here 100 years ago and much of their architecture alludes to that.

I saw a lot of children everywhere and while they seemed to be in good health, their clothes were tattered. The sidewalks were filthy with phlegm, trash, and other unmentionables. It certainly wasn’t the worst I’d ever seen but it is never pleasant to run across feces on the street.

The smog hovering over the city didn’t lift the entire day and for the first time on my trip, I felt dirty. We walked all day and ended up down by the water in Qingdao (pronounced Ching Dow) Bay. The sheer volume of people was staggering. I guess because it was Saturday, everyone was taking in the 25 C temperatures down at the beach.

There were loads of people perched on the rocks where the tide had gone from digging in the cracks. Many young and old alike, were armed with little plastic buckets and small nets. We suspected they were looking for tiny red crabs that you could buy cooked and skewered in rows of 4 or 5. But then again, they could also have been collecting sea shells which are also popular in their souvenirs. We even saw a woman doing her laundry. Not just a couple items but she seemed to have her whole wardrobe laid out on the rocks around her.

I had heard that Westerners get a lot of attention in Asian countries but I wasn’t quite prepared for this. I know we were an odd looking bunch but in a way, I felt like a celebrity. Not only did they have absolutely no shame in staring and pointing at us, but they even took snapshots. Once we got over the initial shock and rearranged our perspective, we were able to take it as the compliment that it was. I posed for several photos with locals and even shook a few hands. Children were especially curious and were the ones who helped me bring my guard down. Seldom are they malicious and it was easier to realize the innocence of their intent.

It was still a lot for me to handle with all the pushing and shoving and shouting that is typical for this culture. After a few hours, I was tired and began to zone out. Marshan and Darren wanted to find some of their famous Tsingtao beer so I accompanied them. I contemplated the idea of trying to order a bubble tea but I decided the effort wasn’t worth it. Not many people understand any English at all and charades seem harder than usual. I just sat on the six inch tall stool and waited for them to drink up.

On our way back to the bus stop, we happened across a tea house and decided we should go in. We were excited to drink our first tea in China. It didn’t taste much different than any other tea that I have had but it came in tiny little cups which needs refilling after every sip. It was tedious after a while especially since it is not customary to fill ones own cup. We were in for a nasty surprise when we were obviously overcharged in the end. We had to pay 85 juan (more than 10 dollars) for a small pot of mediocre tea in a lower class hole in the wall. Grrrrr. It left a bitter taste in my mouth and I vowed not to get ripped off like that again.

Lastly, we happened upon a church where there were to wedding couples getting photos taken. They were getting a lot of extra attention from the tourists and for the most part, seemed to handle it quite well. Both brides were wearing running shoes under their long flowing dresses. They were perfectly coiffed and their husbands were also classy, dressed head to toe in white. I wondered if these were arranged marriages as I searched for glints of adoration between them.

I finally had enough so I parted with the others and hightailed it back to the ship. I was feeling exceedingly grumpy and impatient. I supposed I would have to raise my tolerance of Asia more gradually if I wanted to make it for the next few weeks. The density of population would not get any more sparse as I am heading into mega cities such as Beijing, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

As we were about to leave port at 4pm, there were more drummers and some young athletic men performing. There were two per lion and four lions total, two red and two yellow. They gave life to their furry characters, play nipping at the crowd, batting their thick black lashes and wiggling their ears inquisitively. The gymnasts leapt, flipped, and danced around with tremendous energy. I have seen the traditional dragon dance before but nothing of this caliber. It was quite a show and clapped enthusiastically showing my appreciation.

I headed back into the gym to walk off any negative energy I had picked up. After dinner, which happened to be Oriental Night, I turned in early. We have three port days in a row so I want to conserve my energy as best I can. I am also slightly concerned about my health as Marshan seems to be getting progressively sicker, sneezing and coughing well into the night. I really hope I have staved off her bug and that she is past the contagious stage.

Grateful for personal space.

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