Something someone posted on a food forum I follow mentioned this city and got my memory going.
Qingdao is a city in north-eastern China’s Shandong province. It lies on the Yellow Sea and is a major shipping and tourist city. You have probably heard of it, even if you’ve never heard of it. Tsingtao beer is probably China’s most famous export and Tsingtao is the old romanization of the now-preferred Qingdao. The city was, from 1898 to 1914, a colony. (These foreign occupied territories are often referred to as “concessions”. Only if conceding means being forced to do something.) The Germans built the brewery and to this day much of the city retains a lot of Germanic architecture.
Anyway, in the summer of 1997, after meeting up in Beijing, a bunch of friends and I decided to head there for a while. Tickets were bought, a train was caught and after one very uncomfortable night we arrived. We had heard of a hotel in the south of the city which had dormitory accommodation, so off we headed. The hotel denied any such arrangement was possible and tried to shove us into more expensive standard accommodation. Finding hotels willing to accept foreigners back then was difficult. We left.
As we wandered off wondering what to do, we passed a kindergarten. It was high summer so the kids were away. The woman who ran the place was standing at the gate and asked us if we were looking for somewhere to stay. She then showed us into a kid’s dormitory where the brats no doubt had their afternoon naps. The beds were a bit small and the place was festooned with Disney cartoon pictures.
“We’ll have it!” She charged us very little.
We soon found out that we were less than five minutes walk from the beach and right across the road was an open-air seafood restaurant. Bliss. Much time was spent lazing around the beach and doing our best to drink the city dry. No chance. We also found very quickly that Tsingtao also made a premium beer – Laoshan beer, only available in the city. Not sure if they still do.
The seafood restaurant kept us happy with the lumpy stuff (clams, shrimp, periwinkles, crab, razor shells, unidentified frying objects etc) while the beach bars dealt with the wet stuff. Although the restaurant also did a bit of the wet stuff, too.
One day, I had to go into the city centre to visit a bank and spotted a pizza place. They were rarer than the proverbial avian dentures at that time. When I got back, I told my friends and we agreed to go check it out for lunch the next day.
Next morning I woke with a severe case of the trots and felt generally like shit. I begged off, told them where I had seen the place and off they went to explore, then have lunch. I spent much of the morning in what passed for a toilet, then fell asleep. I woke up at noon, feeling fine. So, I popped across the road for a fix of seafood. I was just getting ready to tuck in when the owner arrived clutching a couple of bottles of something. I carried on eating, but he came over and offered me a drink from one of the bottles. This usually makes me very wary. Chinese spirits are generally disgusting. But to my intense joy, this one was OK.
We finished the bottle between us and started on the second. The boss started yelling to his staff to bring us food. Lobstern crab, shrimp, and I forget all what – the most expensive stuff on his menu. We ate that and he yelled for more. It’s all a bit of a haze after that.
My friends eventually got back, felling a bit guilty at abandoning me to my sick bed and were amazed to see me pissed out of my brains and falling over, while shouting “More lobster!” To this day, I don’t know what that drink was. Probably, just as well.
Of course as George said, all things must pass, and it was time to head back to normality and work. We lived all over China and were mostly going in different directions. A couple of us decided to go back via Shanghai, a city a hadn’t then visited. We found that there was a passenger ship between Qingdao and Shanghai (I think there still is) and decided that would be a cool way to go, so bought our tickets for the next day.
Next morning was a beautiful late summer’s day. Hot and without even a whisper of wind. We said out goodbyes and headed for the pier. When we got there it was empty. No one in sight. We checked and checked, but were sure we were in the right place. Eventually, after what seemed like hours later we spotted someone in shipping company livery and asked her what was going on.
“No boat today! Come back tomorrow.”
“But we have tickets for today’s boat.”
“No boat today! Come back tomorrow.”
“Why no boat today?”
“Typhoon? Are you crazy? There isn’t even a sparrows fart of wind!”
It was pointless arguing so like shameful sheep we sloped back to the kindergarten and our friends, all of whom thought our tale hilarious.
That night, after a beer or three and more clams, I was woken in the middle at some ridiculous hour by this strange, loud noise. I looked out the window to see a taxi flying past. Literally flying. (I was on the second floor). Not only was it flying, but it was doing so upside down. Trees were crashing down everywhere. I was so glad I wasn’t on a ship in the Yellow Sea. That woman wasn’t wrong. 台风 indeed.
Next morning the wind had settled back down and we headed across the road for breakfast. Only one problem. What had been our restaurant and kitchen for three weeks had totally disappeared Nothing remained. Not a stick of furniture. Not a kitchen. Not a clam. It was just a vacant lot. But there was a smashed up fishing boat where we had been sitting the previous evening.
We decided to make other plans for leaving, but soon discovered that all trains had been cancelled because of the number of fallen trees littering the tracks. Ditto, buses and roads. The shipping company informed us they were unlikely to resume service for days and refunded out money. The airlines doubled their prices. So, we hit the beach and beer yet again. As I recall, it was almost another week before we could leave.
I was finally able to take the train to Shanghai, spend a nice couple of days there and head back to Hunan where I then lived.
Sadly, I have no pictures of this event. Well, I have one very blurry, out of focus, badly lit picture of the group of us in the restaurant, but it could be anywhere really.
Good memory, though.