Friday, 15 February 2013

Beijing to Qingdao

The journey started here - photos are scanned from my old images.
We travelled on an overnight steam train to Qingdao with our minder Madam Wu. The government organised our so called "soft-sleeper" in which you get the full works. Wood panelling, pot plant, lace curtains, china teacups, clean washrooms, carpets, and the best thing of all is that you can switch the speakers off which drone on endlessly broadcasting news, weather information and traditional music. Passing through the train to have our supper was an eye opener. Most of the other carriages called "hard seat" were literally that. It is the only travel the locals can afford, the lights stay on all night, as do the droning speakers, they were packed out to the gills with families squatting on the floor preparing food.
We arrived in Qingdao at the ungodly hour of 4.30 am to find about 20 people waiting to meet us. There were professors, heads of institutions, translators, none of whom seem to have a clue who we were, or where we were from; they had been commanded to be at the station to greet us by the authorities in Beijing.
Qingdao from our hotel window with flags flying on the entrance steps 
You have probably heard of Qingdao, it is where the sailing took place for the Olympics, it is also very famous for its beer. It was a simply fishing village until the late 19th century when German troops landed. The Chinese ceded Qingdao to Germany for a 99 year period which has left a legacy of European style buildings and gardens plus the brewery. A place favoured by the upper apparatchik for their vacations (yes, the top brass do take holidays).
We had lots of adventures in Qingdao but I will mention one or two which hopefully will give a small insight into life in China in the 1980s.
Life for most Chinese was simply a matter of survival.
Their first question when they meet you is not "how are you" but "have you eaten today". 
These two young women took me to a large warehouse, I expect it was a place for exporting goods to the West, it was full of the most wonderful handmade artefacts, carvings, fine silks, silver, and cloisonne etc. I found it extremely difficult to choose what to buy and asked them for their help and opinions. They replied that they did not know, they had never thought about it. Their reaction was because buying ornaments just for the pure enjoyment of it did not play any part in their lives whatsoever. The only purchases they made were for essentials.
We were told that on the following Sunday we would be taken walking in the Laoshan Mountains. I said that I had not bought my walking boots with me, but they pointed to my shoes and said they would be fine. A large group of people were waiting for us at the entrance to the hotel. I was surprised because their time when not working each week was so brief. It turned out that they were all over the moon to be accompanying us, it was an outing, a banquet was in store, and they were really happy to have the opportunity to take an adventure with us - it was a treat for them as much as us. I need not have worried about my walking gear, I soon discovered that climbing mountains in China is a different kettle of fish to that in the West. In China you have a smooth stone pathway and steps all the way to the top and then all the way down the other side.
On reaching the peak of the mountain we found a little old lady cooking and selling bowls of frilly white translucent snacks - it turned out to be jellyfish. Imagine a little old lady climbing to the top of a mountain with her cooking pots to sell jellyfish.
Walking down the mountain on the other side with our hosts and our minder Madam Wu. The girl in red was our interpreter, Zhu Fang, she was a lovely young girl and showed the first signs of change being in the air with her bright coloured outfits and long hair. She told me she had wanted to be a school language teacher, but had been directed to Qingdao to be an interpreter hundreds of miles from her home.
Taoist Monk
When we reached the bottom of the mountain we were take to Taiqing Palace (a Taoist monastery) where a banquet had been laid on for us.
The banquet with some of our hosts.
The next post in this China series will be the difficulties we experienced travelling from Qingdao to Shanghai.

54 comments:

  1. You've had a great journey and seen a lot. I feel so sorry for those birds in the cage!

    Happy weekend, Rosemary!

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    1. Dear Satu - old men carrying song birds in cages is part of their culture, but I agree with you, birds should be free to do what they want which is to soar in to the sky.

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  2. Another fascinating post about China, and I had never heard about Qingdao being a German settlement. I can spot a few European type buildings in the photo of the town. The mountain excursion looks so interesting, and I note the vivid blue of the 'uniform' clothing. Look forward to more on China.

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    1. The people that accompanied us on the mountain walk formed quite a large crowd - Heads of Institutions, Interpreters, Scientists, it seemed everyone wanted to be there which probably shows how little opportunity they normally had to do such things.

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  3. Hello Rosemary:
    This is all so very 'foreign' to us. We can only imagine the sense of adventure that you experienced exploring this land of so many strange and wonderful things.

    Clearly, things have changed over the decades but we cannot help but wonder how much still remains the same as when you were there so long ago.

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    1. Hello Jane and Lance - I imagine you have hit the nail on the head. I suspect that for most people living in the countryside and the vast remote areas things are probably much the same.
      I never set out with the intention of writing these memories down they just evolved from the post celebrating the Chinese New Year. However, I am surprised how much came flooding back once I began writing. Who knows, my grandchildren might enjoy reading them one day!!!

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  4. What an amazing trip this must have been. My daughter's friend is about to go to work as a teaching assistant in China... not sure where, and I have a cousin who is a headteacher in an international school over there. Again, my Chinese geography is seriously lacking, so I dont know whereabouts. Your images clearly capture a very distinct period of time.... your translator's red outfit must have been quite something compared to the uniform blue that surrounded her. A fascinating post Rosemary, thankyou so much for sharing this experience. Jx

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    1. Dear Janice - I know of several young people teaching in the English Public schools and International Schools in China. It seems to be the thing to do. Harrow have an outcrop there which one of son's friends is teaching in.
      When we went we were an oddity to them and a great source of interest. Everybody wanted to talk to us, but mostly secretly, the walls can hear!!! Even though I have been my geography on China is not good. Qingdao is on the eastern seaboard.

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  5. Hello Rosemary, "Have you eaten yet?" is still a common greeting in Taiwan. It is kind of like the rhetorical "How are you?" in that an honest and detailed answer is not expected. It can be a little disconcerting for Westerners, to whom that question is usually an offer of food, or of going out to eat.

    I am looking forward to more of your adventures in China.
    --Road to Parnassus

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    1. Hello Jim - yes, Madam Wu put us straight on that one. One other question they point blank came out with was "how old are you" not something we ask one another in the West.
      As I mentioned to Jane and Lance, I did not set out with the intention of writing down these memories, but having started I am enjoying reminding myself of our very interesting journey.

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  6. Your pictures and words give a good idea of how China was at that time.

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    1. Thank you Marian - Hopefully I have convey how different it was then.

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  7. Do continue to write down your memories of your time in China for your grandchildren as you have a unique, personal experience of that period in the 1980s, although supervised. Life changes very slowly in rural communities, as we know. I find this aspect of other cultures the most interesting e.g. the old lady selling food etc. Being posted for work far from family I believe continues and I often think of those I know who have gone back to mainland China after a time over in the UK.

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    1. Dear Linda - although we had a minder with us, I think that we were fortunate in that we saw and did things that tourists do not get to see.
      It must be very difficult for those who return back to China having experienced the freedom of the West. We do not realise how lucky we are.

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  8. These photos are priceless, showing a Qingdao that is long gone. I especially like the one from your hotel (the Dynasty) which shows the Number 1 Beach, which has undergone a complete transformation and today looks nothing like the scene in your shot. The two women on the coast shows the style of the time, and the seemingly unhappy look on the one woman's face contrasts perfectly with the smile of Zhu Fang (interpreter), whose style and personality are a harbinger of things to come. Now the young ladies in Qingdao wear/carry Chanel and LV and Gucci, in high heels with mini skirts, print dresses, jeans, Nikes, etc.. The changes in China seemed gradual while I lived there, but in seeing your photos, it takes me back and I see the complete state change it really was.

    I am the editor of a website about Qingdao called Qingdaonese.com and I would be grateful for the opportunity to showcase your photos and memories, with full attribution and links to your blog. If you have other photos showing the old days (this appears to be late 1980's?), we'd love to share them with our readership.

    Thanks ~!

    Steven

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    1. Dear Steven - I am perfectly happy for you to share the photos of our trip and memories if you think that they would be of interest along with an attribution. I am amazed that they have been discovered by you so quickly - that is the internet for you. The time was the mid 1980s - I have done another post about Qingdao and then there will be one about Shanghai and Hangzhou. You may find my photos of Shanghai rather startling - the contrast is amazing.

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  9. Dear Rosemary, I look at your first photograph and imagine that the hill is now covered with skyscrapers. I hope the silhouette of that lovely pagoda isn't obscured!

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    1. I remember seeing the bay on the TV for the sailing Olympics and did not recognise anything at all Mark. Have you noticed the comment above yours which you may find interesting?

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    2. To answer Mark's question, the pagoda (which was built around 1983-1984, though it looks older) is atop "Little Fish Hill", near the old Ocean University campus (founded by Germans, carried on by Japanese, housed US Marines, and is today a top school for marine research in China). It is in the Old Town of Qingdao, so it has luckily not been obscured by tall buildings. It is surrounded by many protected buildings on the historical register, and is a park/major tourist attraction. This area has remained much the same, except the Dynasty Hotel from which the photo was taken, which was renovated and received a 25 storey additional tower just behind the camera's eye in that shot. So, long story short, no the coast there at the Huiquan Bay has remained much the same, although the structures on the beach (changing houses/shower rooms) are all gone now, with a few modern white umbrella type installations in their place. The clock tower in the photo is gone too. There is a new wooden esplanade built along the coast, which would be where the two women on the coast are standing, it replaced the stone walkway and stairs to the beach.

      The Olympic event was held in view of Fushan Bay, which is east of the area mentioned above, and is completely modern. When Rosemary visited Qingdao, the fields around Fushan Bay were all farms, fishing villages, and a shipyard drydocks which has since moved far across the main bay of Qingdao, Jiaozhou Bay. The buildings visible during the Olympics were mostly built after 1997.

      There are photos of these areas on my site, which I can provide links to upon request, not wanting to spam Rosemary's blog here unnecessarily. Another resource for photos of Qingdao from back in the 80's is Leroy Demery, his photos on Flickr show the pagoda being built in 1983, when he visited as a Yale grad student.

      Qingdao is very special to me, my home in China, and I am very happy to discuss anything related to it, just drop me a line :)

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    3. Dear Steven - thanks for your very detailed explanation. That is why I did not recognise the pictures on the TV during the Olympics.
      You may be interested to know that it was the Maritime side of things that my husband was in Qingdao for. He was finalising plans for an aerial remote sensing device being supplied to Qingdao by the UNDP (a UN agency) which could detect and monitor oil pollution in the sea. He was liaising with the Government Oceanographic Institute - the University Marine Science Dept were also involved. One of the people I remember was a Professor Wu Beiling, a very very tall Chinese man - probably about 6ft 4inches tall.

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    4. Thank you Steven and Rosemary for your additional comments and information. I never cease to be amazed how connected, and quickly connected, we are today!

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    5. I remember when you were contacted by the Bewick Society through your post. I have also been contacted re: the Darwin Tobacco Jar, someone in Portugal is doing research into it with the Curator of the Ceramic Museum of Caldas da Rainha where the pot was made.

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  10. That is so neat you got to visit before it all changed!!! I visited my sister when she was living in Moscow about fifteen years ago. It was still so new to commercialism that you couldn't even tell where stores were….
    Love the pictures as always : )

    Marica

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it Marica - the pictures are obviously not all that wonderful as they were from film. How great it would have been to have had a digital camera then.
      I also visited Russia but it was still a Communist country when I went, it must have been about 30 years ago. There was a sense of not being sure whether or not you were being watched. I will have to try and find my photos from that trip. We went to Moscow and travelled by train to Leningrad as it was still called then.

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  11. This is so wonderful! I can just imagine myself in China, exploring, meeting people, eating real Chinese food!

    The people by the river all look the same and wear the same type of clothes, in the same colour. I don't like uniforms of any kind. They aim to destroy individuality.

    I wonder if in today's China people have discovered fashion, colour, pattern and fun. Am I just ignorant on the subject? Chinese girls in Italy (near my sisters house) all look very pretty and wear designer gear!

    CIAO!

    ANNA

    XXX

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    1. Dear Anna - those were the clothes which Mao wore, and everyone followed in his footsteps. Your answer to the question regarding China today is in the comment above from Steven in Qingdao. In Shanghai and Beijing today they have all of the top fashion stores - it is a different world.

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  12. It seems as if every moment gave you something new to see and think about. Although you went to China a long time ago the memories of the trip seem to have resonated deeply with you.

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    1. Dear Rosemary - it has been surprising the way I have recalled things long forgotten. Quite encouraging that the old grey cells are still active. I have found it an interesting exercise and not something I set out to do, it just kind of evolved with so many people taking an interest in China.

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  13. What a beautiful memory's of your trip to China. I love it. Even earlier gardenpost me smile seing all the beautiful springflowers. Keep on posting about China it's lovely.
    Have a wonderful weekend Rosemary.

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    1. That is really encouraging Marijke that you have found it interesting. I shall try to complete the task now I have started, my grandchildren may enjoy reading my memories at some future date.
      It is lovely to see the flowers appearing - spring is almost here.

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  14. Are these pictures from the 80's? China is a very fascinating country. I would certainly go back.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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    1. Yes Filip, all of these photos and memories are from the mid 1980s

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  15. Thank you for another interesting post.

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    1. Glad you found it interesting Susan and thank you.

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  16. Thank you for sharing your memories and lovely photos of your travels. Have a great weekend.
    Patricia x

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    1. I think perhaps the photos are slightly better than I thought they would be, but it would have been good if digitals were around then. You were so restricted with the amount of photos you could take, and just hoped that they would be successful.

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  17. Dear Rosemary,very beautiful your journey in China, very educational, I enjoyed your beautiful pictures!Have a pleasant weekend!
    Dimi..

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    1. Thank you Dimi - I wish that digital cameras had been available then.

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  18. How interesting to see and read your impressions of China before the massive transformation wrought by Westernisation in recent decades, Rosemary. This was still very much the country of Mao and it shows in the clothing and attitudes. Fascinating.

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    1. It is surprising how much I recalled once I began writing Perpetua - long put away memories just flooded back. We were fortunate to have the experience of seeing China before the rapid changes.

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  19. interesting I have been to china...I wish I could have eaten at the banquet

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    1. I am sure you have lots of memories too. I wonder how long it is since you went?

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  20. Calling by for a catch up, some lovely posts to enjoy as always, beautiful photos and interesting information. Thanks for your recent comment on my photography blog your get well wishes are appreciated.

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    1. Thanks for calling by Lindy - I do appreciate what it is like to have a husband who is ill. H was very ill exactly 5 years ago. Hoping everything goes well for you both.

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  21. Dear Rosemary,
    What an adventurous life you have! This is such an interesting story, especially in light of the changes in China in the recent past-- it must have been fascinating to have been there when you were. The countryside looks spectacular, and your hosts seem lovely--I'm sure you have very fond memories of them. Thank you for yet another wonderful post!
    Warm regards,
    Erika

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    1. Dear Erika - for the whole month that we were travelling in China we were treated like royalty. I am surprised that I can recall it all so vividly, the memories just came flooding back. I posted this yesterday, and would you believe it has already been posted on a local Qingdao website, with my permission - what a small world we live in. The website says check out Rosemary's retro photos!!! It would have been lovely if I had been able to use a digital camera then, but they would not now look retro or vintage. Makes me feel old.

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  22. This is fascinating. I wonder if you have been back to China since and seen how it has changed. I look forward to later instalments.

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    1. Hello Jenny - I only know how it has changed from the programmes I have seen on the TV and articles I have read. The first and second comments from Steven on this post expresses those changes eloquently.
      I am pleased that you found it fascinating. At the time of our travel we had no idea how rapidly attitudes and life itself in China would change so quickly. As I mentioned on the first post the China we saw is now history.

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  23. Una maravilla de entrada...un abrazo desde murcia

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    1. Gracias - feliz de que haya disfrutado de su lectura.

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  24. You had a wonderful trip to China full of memories and experiences. You saw another culture and civilisation ,full of new people , tradition and Chinese food . Thank you for sharing this personal interesting trip !
    Have a wonderful Sunday .
    Olympia

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    1. Dear Olympia - I have enjoyed recalling this trip from so many years ago, equally other people seemed to have found it of interest. Two more posts to go, and then I shall put China to bed!!!

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    1. Not the best of photos unfortunately - it was scanned from my old film photos.

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“You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you - you have to go to them too.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh