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A little slice of German China

First, a short history lesson courtesy of the ‘Bible’ (aka: Lonely Planet). “Qingdao was a simple fishing village until the Kaiser Wilhelm the 2nd set his sights on it. When two German missionaries were killed in the Boxer Rebellion, the Kaiser jumped on the opportunity to declare an international crises. The obvious solution was for China’s Manchu government to hand over Qingdao. In 1898 China ceded the town to Germany for 99 years…Its German legacy more or less intact, Qingdao takes pride in its Bavarian appearance – the Chinese call the town China’s Switzerland”. So, on Friday afternoon I met my student/friend Violet, and together with Matt and Colleen, we caught a cheap and tatty mini-bus to Qingdao. The journey was long and stinky. Fumes of bad breath from grubby men permeated the frosty air. While I admired the scenes whizzing past my window, I started reflecting upon the idea that maybe a persons ‘sense of smell’ is acquired ‘culturally’. Smells that almost choke me to death seem to affect no Chinese people. They are simply accustomed to certain types of ‘fragrance’ and fail to notice them. Quite amazing. It also explains how Chinese students can quite happily sit in in classrooms that are contaminated with the heavy, potent stench of stale urine (originating from the loos down the hall)…and after two months exposure to Chinese ‘culture’, so can I! ~ So while I suffered the lethal fumes, chatted with Violet and cursed myself for wearing tight jeans for the fist time, we eventually arrived, three hours later, in a suburb of Qingdao. Violet lives on the outskirts of the city so we said goodbye to Matt and Colleen, jumped off the bus and into a chilly taxi and then climbed four pitch-black flights of stairs before landing in Violets home. We were greeted with smiles and a table full of delicious looking food! For the first time I tried jelly-fish! After dinner Violet showed me her photos..I almost cried with wonder when she showed me a picture of a white pea-cock. I never knew such beautiful, unworldly creatures existed. I’ve seen pea-cocks before but never pure, dazzling white ones! It is my dream to have them surrounding me when I get married. If I ever get married! We then watched a film on her computer and slept.

We woke up early Saturday morning to a cold but sunny day. We travelled on lots of buses before reaching a famous sight of Qingdao – the twin-spired Catholic Church. Walking through the cobbled streets and up and down little hills reminded me of Italy. There were many European style buildings and the atmosphere was wondering the back streets of Paris or strolling through the quiet lanes of Verona or Ferrara. Perched on a hill the Church was quiet and sunlit. Inside we watched a wedding ceremony and I ‘educated’ Violet about ‘church things’. We then walked further to another landmark – the Protestant Church. German in style and totally deserted we looked around and then climbed up the bell tower..Luckily we had ascended at exactly the right time: 11:55am! We sat together beneath the crumbling beams and listened to the hundred-year-old German ‘time mechanism’ tick away until the huge bell chimed above us announcing the arrival of midday to the sleepy seaside folk of Qingdao below.. It was quite remarkable to lean against the old glass cabinet and observe the slow, mechanical passing of time..that continues…endlessly…age after age..into and beyond the distant halls of oblivion.(joke). Before climbing down we met an old American man and chatted to him for a while. The rest of the day was spent shopping and although I found many beautiful dresses and coats, nothing was affordable or practical (and many items were adorned with rabbit fur!) I treated Violet to Pizza Hut where she tasted pizza and ate with a knife and fork for the very first time!! We then returned home with weary bodies and spent the night eating dumplings, watching films and talking with her aunt and uncle. ~ On Sunday we woke up early again and caught many more buses.. Today we visited a hill-side park called Xinhaoshan Gongyuan whose summit is graced with carbuncular towers known as the mushroom buildings! Overlooking the entirety of Qingdao we climbed up the stairs of one of the mushrooms and found a revolving look-out tower! We sat in chairs and slowly watched the panorama of the coastal town unfold before us..We watched the sparkling sea, saw the European buildings nestled between leafy trees, saw the Bavarian castle from a distance, spotted Qingdao Ocean University (where I was offered a job but chose Yantai instead) and remarked upon the sparkling, unique beauty of Qingdao.. We then climbed down the ‘mountain’, did more shopping (in vain), ate lunch, walked to a famous square beside the sea where we took photos of the famous symbol of Qingdao – a strange red sculpture and then got the bus home. ~ The bus journey was long and slow. Every minute we seemed to pass a different type of road accident.. Then, nearing Yantai, the bus slowed down and I saw a group of people gathered at the road-side..then I saw a single policeman talking on a mobile phone..then my heart sank and my stomach lurched as I spotted a man lying on the road. His eyes were closed and he had blood pouring from a gash to his head. He was obviously dead. Yards away a mashed-up motorbike lay abandoned. I felt so sick and sad. I was disturbed because the man seemed so alone, so he had died alone. I felt like I was humiliating him by looking at him. Such a strange feeling. I felt kind of ashamed and guilty to witness his death. Someones ‘dying’ seems too personal to be witnessed by strangers. It reminded me of when I saw a dead homeless man in Bologna. He had frozen to death and no one noticed. In China, if only people wore motorcycle helmets such sights would be less common. Most Chinese people can recall their own stories of witnessing road accidents. I suppose it is just a fact.

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