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December 27, 2011

Qingdao: a livable, modern city

My venture into China began in the city of Qingdao. With it’s 3.5 million inhabitants, the city is nowhere to be found amongst the most populous Chinese cities. Often elected as one of the most livable cities in China, in fact, it was offering a very pleasant first step.

Not so pleasant was the first gulp though. Carrying my big backpack several blocks under the sun, finally I arrived to a pizzeria, a meeting point with my friend, Rudi. The waiter saw that I was a bit worn out, so he offered me a glass of water. The mental image of cold water refreshing by body was quickly overwritten by the taste of warm water that I was actually served. I got the first lesson: Chinese do not drink cold water, as they believe it is not good for health.

Luckily, there is some place for cold drinks in Qingdao. Because the city used to be a German colony (damn, I had to travel around the world to learn that Germany had a colony in Asia!), the country’s second biggest brewery, Tsingtao is located here. Drinking Tsingtao is very popular, they even hold a yearly beer festival. Funniest thing however, that a lot of places offer you beer by the weight. They hang a Tsingtao-branded plastic sack on the tap of the keg, along with a spring balance, and if you order 2kg of beer, they will fill it up until the balance reads 2kg. Then you walk away with a sack of beer and pour it into glasses at home.

IMG_2247[1]Selina, Janice, Rudi, me and a sack of beer

The city was also the host of the sailing events of the 2008 Olympic Games. Today, the city is building a new metro network. By 2016 they plan to finish an underground network of 8 lines. (As a side note, in Budapest, we are trying to construct our 4th underground line for the past decade and the trains running are around 40 years old). Parts of the city feature modern skyscrapers, but village-like neighborhoods can also be found. Cars of unknown brands cruise up and down on the roads, but the taxis almost exclusively wear the well known VW brand.


Located not far from Qingdao, one can make a day trip to the mountains of Lao Shan.
The trip can be tricky, because the way to get there has changed quite a lot in recent years. As a general advice in China: do NOT rely on lonely planet or any other guide books too much! An edition dated only a few years back might contain already outdated information. That’s just how rapidly China changes!
Nevertheless once you get to Lao Shan, you can do a number of great hikes (the park is huge, do not underestimate distances!), buy some locally grown tea, or contemplate nature (some say Taoism was born here). The natural park also has state of the art fingerprint scanning entrance gates …just to make sure all nature lovers get registered by the state:)


Last but not least, Chinese mistranslations are always a good reason for a grin:)


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