The sea front mainly modern high rise but there are still a few of the Bavarian style buildings and further to the north there are many more, and you could imagine yourself by Lake Constance in some science fiction future, where in a twist of Philip K Dick’s ‘Man in the High Castle’ Germany has been taken over by China.
The Headland to the south appeared to be a retirement area with flats overlooking the sea and seaside parks full of exercise areas with those exercise machines that make up the wrinklies equivalent of teen skateboard park.
The main beaches are to the north and imaginatively called Bathing Beach Number One, Bathing Beach Number Two etc. Each one being further away from the centre and less developed. Beach number One is a male bastion of fitness machines and exercise areas.
Groups of older men gather together like a schools of porpoises. It was quite unlike anything I expected, especially since generally in china the one great outcome of the revolution was an equality, but here there were no women.
Between Number One and Number Two Bathing beaches is the empty International Yacht Club. Built for the Olympics it has probably unused ever since. Not surprising as there are few, if none at all, yachts here in Qingdao. But what a building. It would have made the rest of Cowes or Newport Beach look shabby.
The headland between these beaches is a little park with benches and picnic areas that could have been anywhere in Britian if it wasn’t for the Pagoda. Young people were taking elderly relatives out for the sunshine. It is a strong feature of Chinese life that the young are always seen with the elderly of the family. Everywhere I went the grandparents were part of any activity.
Next to the Golden Lampstand, my hotel, in central Qingdao is Lao She park. In the middle of this grassless park is a granite statue of the famous writer, Lao She who during the 1920’s had been a lecturer at the London School of Oriental and African Studies and ended his career at Shangdong University Qingdao.
Now every evening There is dancing. At the bottom nearest the road is the over sixties group with sedate Chinese style music, and further up the hill there is a younger crowd, closer to forty with a more lively ambience and a bit more pep. The dancing for both is more of a mix of exercise and match.com.
South of the headland near the ferry terminal is the working part of the town where tourists don’t seem to tread. It is a lively part of the town with a huge covered food market that also spread onto the surrounding streets.
There are many blocks of 1950’s flats that are crumbling down and the ones by the sea are now being pulled down for luxury gated developments. As this a wealthy area of China most of these will probably sell and not add to that great statistic of 64 million unoccupied newly built flats throughout the country, 4 million alone in Beijing. Next to the commercial fishing port is the municipal fish market with lone fishermen selling outside on the dock.
Here I noticed two smartly dressed women buying three sacks of shellfish and putting them on a small trolley. I bumped into them later next to the new development, praying and then throwing handfuls of these shellfish into the sea. I again rued my lack of Chinese as I never found out WHY.
In this more working class part of town nearly all the Japanese cars were covered in Chinese flag stickers and with little flags on sticks protruding from all the windows. In the big cities Japanese cars were set alight in Chinese protest over Japan”s purchase of the Sekaku Islands and here everyone was displaying their nationalism, in the hope they can save their cars. Perhaps that’s what it was with the shellfish, an appeasement to the god of either the Sekaku Islands or the god of the Japanese car.
All in all Qingdoa was unlike all other cities in China. I saw more smiles here than anywhere else and the seaside atmosphere, Bavarian architecture and the Catholic Cathedral coupled with the Chinese at play made this city so different.