Day 14

Qingdao, China

Yes, I skipped Day 13.  It was the last sea day and nothing extraordinary happened.  It was a sea day much like the first six…

Today we docked in Qingdao (pronounced “ching daow”).  It was the first of three stops in China.  Today I actually went on one of
the ship organized tours and was reminded why I like to wander around on my own.  The tour went to five places:  the Tsingtao Brewery, the “Granite Castle”, the big Buddhist Temple complex, Little Fish Hill park, and the turn-of-the-century German governor’s mansion.  The brewery and the temple were great, and the Little Fish Hill had great views of the city.  The Granite castle and the governor’s mansion I could have done without.

As we gathered for ours tours this morning in our respective meeting points, I discovered there were 11 or 12 busloads of sheeple like me signed up to go out on this city tour.  That’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 of us.  I was in line to get into the meeting area just a few places behind Bill and Brenda, my friends from the poolside bar.  They got ID stickers putting them on Bus 11, but when the girl passing out said stickers found out I was by myself, she ran back to the table and got a sticker putting me on Bus 6.  So I was separated from folks I knew.  As it turned out, to keep all 500 of us from descending on each spot all at the same time, half the busses went on the assigned circuit, and the other half did the itinerary in reverse order.

Our first stop was the Tsingtao Brewery.  By the time our bus pulled up, five busloads of tourists ahd already unloaded in before us.  Luckily our tour guide, Lily, kept us all close together as we exited the bus, and our group was the third or fourth to head into the brewery compound.  In the courtyard there’s a fountain, some sculptures, and a few rusted relics of long past brewery operations.  One imaginative couple decided to try to line up their photos so the perspective had the fountain in the palm of the other’s hand.  Sheeple see, sheeple do.  Soon enough a half dozen more attempts were underway only to be spoiled by the one schmuck who decided to get a close up picture of the fountain by walking right up next to it.

After the brief stay in the courtyard, we entered the first  building which was the museum part of the tour.  The history of the brewing operations was interesting.  Some of the timeline of the walk through displays were out of order in the way beer is actually brewed, but space is a constraint when trying to show original brewhouse equipment where it stood for many years.  Most likely, very few people noticed or even knew.  One of the great things on this part of the tour was the significant number of antique equipment on display (and very well preserved).  It was like it could have been in use just last month.  Oh. Wait a minute…   Okay, forget I said that.  One of the most disheartening things I heard in the first part of the tour was what one elderly lady said to her husband.  “Honey.  Honey, this is like a MUSEUM.”  I wanted to hipcheck her into the history of the hops drying display.  Of COURSE it’s like a museum, because it IS a museum…

At the end of that first section was a beer tasting.  YUM!  It was an unfiltered draft of one of their many styles of beer (but most likely the pilsner).  It was really good!  The way the tasting worked was that each guide went up to the bar and got a tray of small taster glasses of beer for his or her group.  I was near the back of our group and managed to grab on of the last sample off the tray.  Less than a minute later some obnoxious woman started complaining she didn’t get any beer.  She had been at the front of our group and had tried to get her sample from the group in front of us.  She got  shut out.  Had she just stuck with our group instead of going to every other table to get beer, she would have easily gotten her sample.  Instead she made a HUGE stink about it. “I didn’t get any beer!  I want my taste!  Why isn’t there any beer!!”  Our guide, Lily, being the good guide she was, went over to the bar to get the woman a sample.  While Lily was gone, another tray from another group showed up, and the woman grabbed a glass fast!  She drank it pretty quick.  Just moments later, Lily came back with a glass of beer from the bar and offered it to the woman.  Instead of saying something like, “Oh thanks, but I just had one from this tray”, she snatched the beer from Lily’s hand and said, “About time!”  I was smoldering pretty good, but managed not to strangle her.

After a few places showing the many different beers Tsingtao produces, the tour  proceeded to the modern brewing/bottling operation where there was less to see in the sense of brewing—most likely because it’s kinda boring with all the satinless steel…  The
bottling machinery, however, was quite amazing.  Each time I’ve visited a brewery in the recent past, I managed to miss the bottling process.  Granted those were microbreweries.  Tsingtao being a round the clock operation had the cans and bottles movin’!  And this is just one of some 37 facilities they have.  As the tour ended, we were herded through a few nice show-off hallways and then into the downstairs bar/pub area.  Unfortunately, since it was only about 9:30 in the morning, the massive beer tasting was not in operation.  Later, I heard from Bill and Brenda (who had the brewery as their last stop at around 3:00pm) the beer was being passed out
freely by the pitcher.  <sigh>

Pretty quickly after our group exited the brewery, we were pushed up into the bus, and off we were to stop number two: the “Granite Castle”.  Why this is even a stop on the tour is beyond me.  It’s a three story house made of (drum roll, please………) granite.
It so happens it also looks kinda like a miniature castle.  The major talking point about this place seemed to be that JUST THIS YEAR it was opened to the public.  Great.

The bus parked at some sort of military academy parade ground, and we got out.  We then proceeded to walk about ¾ of a mile up to this place.  Along the way we caught glimpses of Beach #2 – that’s actually what its name is – but, there wasn’t time to stop.  We had to keep on schedule.  On the drive from the brewery, Beach #1 was pointed out to us, but we didn’t even slow down.  Aside from some great views from the tower and some landscaping features around the property, the place was unremarkable   in my opinion.  150 other people cramming their way along the stairs and getting in my pictures didn’t help my mood.

Then it was time to go.  On the hike back to the bus, I wandered closer to the beach on a parallel track, but I didn’t actually make it to the sand or water.  After everyone was accounted for on the bus, we headed to the next stop, the big Buddhist Temple complex in Qingdao.  The place is pretty neat.  Around the compound are 7 or 8 major  structures with a number of lesser buildings here and  there.  By this time, I was in my “wander around mode” and strayed from the group.  I  managed to find a few more interesting things than the other folk saw.  There were cats everywhere, and none of them seemed feral.  I even happened upon a kitten wandering around (momma was laying in a flowerbed nearby keeping watch).

At one point during our tour, our guide pointed to a sign on the path and said for 5 Yuan, we could ring the bell 3 times.  My mind was still reeling from 4 different foreign currencies in 7 days, so I didn’t make the connection until later that it would have cost less than a dollar.  Not that it made a difference.  I was only carrying 100 Yuan notes, and I doubt the monks had 95 in change for
some schmuck like me…  Soon enough, we were herded back out to go to the next location.  Having separated myself from the group, I was one of the last to get the word.  When I got back to the bus, Lily was on the phone checking in on our lunch.

Once back on the bus, our guide let everyone decide whether to go to the next stop on the tour or go to the arranged lunch.  By a landslide the consensus was to get lunch, so we headed off to a big hotel with banquet facilities.  The lunch was billed as “traditional” Chinese fare.  Fine.  The way the food was served may well have been traditional, but the amount of it couldn’t have been.  We first sat down to a table with a lazy susan in the middle.  There were six plates of appetizers, and each of the eight people at our table took some of them.  Not long after that, the main courses started to arrive, and within minutes, we had ham, shrimp, rice, dumplings, and a number of other things I can’t describe.  As entrees arrived, plates were consolidated to make room for more.  There came a point I was too full and had to excuse myself.  I walked out.  Later, one of my tablemates informed me that after I left, two more entrees and two desserts hit the table.  I couldn’t even imagine eating that much more for lunch.  = (

(continued in part 2)