The bicycle is dead!!!! Long live the car, even if people cannot drive them very well!
Qingdao is proving to be a very pretty little city, somewhat similar to Glenelg, but with taste and less attractive beaches. This is to be the site of the 2008 yachting competitions and already the buildings are starting to emerge. I should imagine that, by the end of next year, there will be at least another 6 hotels and innumerable apartments dotting the skyline.
From my office window, high on a hill in the little fishing village of Shazikou, on the outskirts of Qingdao, I can look across the housetops to the Yellow Sea and its little boats in the distance, while, as I walk down from the school, fishermen are mending nets and laying out fish to dry. Needless to say, little seafood restaurants abound where four courses of seafood, including a dozen oysters, mussels, squid, a whole fish and assorted vegetables cost the equivalent of $5AUD. As I guzzle them down I think of the value all that Omega oil is adding to my life.
Talking about food, soon after I arrived China celebrated Teachers’ Day. A recognition of the work of all teachers, each school and community does something special for the teachers in their area. In our case, the school to which I am attached held a dinner for all of its 320 teachers in a local restaurant. Although not officially a staff member, I was invited to join the staff and sat down to an incredible 27-course Chinese Banquet that ranged from cold nibbles on arrival through simple things like mountains of freshly cooked prawns, three different types of whole fish, jellyfish and periwinkles, lots of vegetables and warm egg custards washed down with Tsingtao Beer, Coca Cola and locally produced tea. Of course, there was the ubiquitous Karaoke during the dinner, but even that did nothing to diminish the fabulous taste sensations and the sheer pleasure of gluttony.
Qingdao’s beaches were filled with people enjoying the last of Summer, so volleyballers competed with the people, looking for seafood among the rocks, and men using the physical fitness equipment displayed their prowess for the comment of spectators.
My one excursion during the holidays was to the city of Yantai, approximately 300km from Qingdao. Fortunately, this old port city was too close for many and it was nowhere near as crowded as I had expected. I spent a pleasant weekend wandering around the old buildings of the foreign quarter, which have been restored and turned into little museums showing the growth of the city from its beginnings as a small port to the major transport city it is today.
And I went wine tasting! Yantai is the home of Changyu Wines who boast of innumerable successes overseas, but mainly in the 1910s and 1920s. I doubt we will ever see the product in Booze Bros or Quaffers, because the Chinese like their wines sweet and oxidated, but there is an increasing interest in wine drinking as a complement to the abundant seafood. It was at Changyu that Mao TseTung, impressed by the company’s success, delivered the famous line, “Let the people drink more wine”. As yet the people have not heeded his demand.
I opened this letter by saying that the bicycle is dead. I have been shocked at the rise in car numbers in China. Whereas bicycles were common when I was last here in 2000, it is unusual to see them on the streets of Qingdao at all. Volkswagons, built in Shanghai, Buicks built in Beijing, Hondas from Tianjin, BMWs and Jaguars imported from Europe and innumerable smaller cars which look like Mitsubishis, are everywhere. The charm of the bicycle and the slower way of life it denoted has passed into the history of a country rapidly becoming as concerned with money and status as th rest of the world. Sometimes, progress is not always as good as we like to think.
By the way, if anyone would like to reply to these rambling with questions, don’t be afraid to write.