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To Beijing

1 November 2010 Leave a comment

In the hostel I was staying at in Qingdao, I was sharing a room with about four other people two nights ago. Around midnight people started going to bed. I was on the internet on my bed, having spoken, briefly, to Charlie and watched some Prison Break. I prepared for bed, too. There was one Chinese guy in the bed next to mine, who seemed to spend most of his time in the room on his computer, conveniently placed on the table right next to his bed. He stayed up for maybe an hour or so, tapping away on an instant messenger program, his keystrokes amplified by the table. The previous night – my sick night – he’d been clicking away till the earliy hours on his phone. Even when he finally packed it in, his noise production continued – sniffing and blowing his nose, scratching loudly. Fucker.

Then, a bit later in the night, I heard a woman’s voice somewhere out in the corridor desperately saying things like, ‘No!’ and ‘Get out!’ I couldn’t hear any other voice. After a few moments worrying about what to do I got up and went into the corridor. The door to one of the twin rooms opposite was open a few inches and a man was standing inside. I knocked and asked what was going on. The door closed and the one-sided argument continued – the woman begging her boyfriend – I assume – to leave, the man not saying anything. I went down and told the two old Chinese men on duty and one of them followed me up and knocked on the door. I’m not sure what happened – I went to bed – but I think they probably just stopped the argument so the person knocking would go away.

My main task the next day was to travel to Beijing on the train. As I checked out of the hostel, I had one of the women at reception write down what I wanted in Chinese so I could show it to someone at the train station. As I was queueing up for a ticket, I noticed that one of the counters showed ‘English language counter’ on the display above it, so I didn’t need my translation. There was only standing room available for that day, so that’s what I plumped for. The ticket was 275 yuan, about £26 pounds or so.

For the first hour and a half of the five and half hour journey I was able to sit, but then a young woman needed her/my seat. She got off shortly after at the very next stop. However, by this time, the train seemed completely full, so I stood or occasionally crouched in the end of the carriage. I did a fair amount of reading on the trip. Fortunately, Marked Cards is a lot better than its immediate predecessor, Card Sharks.

Before I left Qingdao, I’d had word from Charlie that she’d be prepared to meet me off the train. Just before I left, I e-mailed her the details of my train. Unfortunately, she was busy all day and wasn’t able to read my e-mail or meet me. I’d printed out details for a hostel in Beijing that Habiba had stayed at when she was here a few months ago. I followed the directions on my printout and took the subway to Wangfujing Station (noting with a hint of pleasure and surprise the English accent of the English translations on the line four announcements). There, however, the directions seemed to break down.

I wandered round for a long while, my backpack weighing heavily on me and my less than perfect spine. I decided I couldn’t find the Tian An Men Sunrise Hostel, and so checked into the Eastern Morning Sun Hostel instead.

This isn’t really a hostel as we would understand it. It’s a cheap (in multiple senses of the word) hotel located on the 4th basement level of its building. On the pro side, I got a room to myself and cheaply – about £10. On the con side, the place is quite grim. My room is a fairly clean white box with a bed, desk, TV and chair in it, but it smells subtly but pervasively of old cigarette smoke. It made me think I was going to sleep in an ashtray.

The communal toilets smell of piss – some I’ve been to in China just smell of sewage, so that wasn’t too bad. They don’t provide toilet paper, though – not even one shared roll outside, which is the general practice here. The showers were like something out of Prison Break. The shower room was done out in dirty, broken blue and white tiles, half of the stall weren’t functional, there was no door, there were no shower curtains (although there were rails and some loops to indicate that such things must’ve existed in the past). The water was hot and consistent, though, and I had the place to myself.

The place also has no laundry facility. When I approached one of the staff with my bag of dirty clothes, she showed me a plastic bowl. For this reason, if nothing else, I’m going to check out today.

I’m currently at a nearby Starbucks, where I’ve had a sandwich for breakfast. Can’t get on the internet here, though – it’s only for residents of China. I think I’ve figured out where that hostel is, though. I think I was simply facing the wrong way when I tried to follow the directions. My coffee’s nearly finished, so I’m off to take a look.

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Ker-Qingdao

31 October 2010 Leave a comment

Earlier on I was at a beach – romantically named No. 6 Bathing Beach, according to my map. That’s where I had a Big Mac and a coffee. The beach was quite nice. With all the high-rise buildings behind it, it was very reminiscent of Haeundae and similar beaches in Busan. At the land end of Zhanqiao Pier, there were some rocks and rockpools that reminded me of the north Wales of my childhood, as did certain aspects of the beach front – the wall and railings behind the beach, for example.

After my coffee and my previous blog post, I got some headache pills. I went into a chemist and the women working there shook their heads when I asked for Tylenol or paracetamol. I pointed at my head and they picked up on what I wanted. They showed me a couple of boxes of pills, one of which, amongst the Chinese, mentioned Ibuprofen in English – so I bought that.

I took a taxi next. I asked to go to Zhanshan Temple, but the woman driving – and who spoke reasonably good English, and who looked a little like Oona King – took me instead to the TV Tower. After experiences in India, I’m wary of taxi drivers, but it seems like she just wanted me to experience more of the city. Before she would let me pay her, she wanted me to buy tickets for the TV Tower (50 yuan) and the ‘Cableway for Tourists’ (60 yuan), which latter would take me to the temple.

It was dusk by the time I ascended the tower – the attendants inside were mostly young women who spoke English hesitantly and rather cutely. The view was decent. It didn’t move me as much as such things would have done in the past – or even a few weeks ago when I went to N Seoul Tower with Habiba and her brother. On the way out of the open air observation deck I noticed a gallery of other notable towers, and noted which ones I’d been to, or indeed up.

The cableway was basically a ski-lift – a rickety old ski-lift – not really worth £6, but whatever. A short walk from the base, took me to Zhanshan Temple. The ticket kiosk was closed, but the place was apparently open, so I walked in, as did a trickle of Chinese visitors. There were workmen doing construction work. As I headed into one particular section of the temple, a middle-aged monk in saffron robes shoed me and other tourists out.

The architecture was generally similar to Korean temple design, but, where Korean temples are multicoloured with a preponderance of green, this one was mostly blue with a lot of gold.

After that, I walked down to the seafront with the intention of finding the May Fourth Square. The Fourth of May is the anniversary of an uprising around the end of the First World War that led to the May Fourth Movement – an important moment in the rise of communism in China. It’s also the anniversary of my birth – so I had to go and have a look. It was dark by the time I got there, but the monument, apparently representing the May wind, was illuminated – it’s a big red roundish thing.

Along the seafront nearby, I bought three big, wooden, six-sided dice. They don’t have numbers on – two of them have Chinese characters, the third has sexual positions. I’ll have to use it with Habiba when I return to Korea.

After that I walked towards the local government building and noticed a coffee shop called Coffee Spark – ‘the coffee meeting spot’ – which is where I am now, drinking coffee, writing this, contemplating the prospect of dinner, a Halloween party at the hostel, taking the train to Beijing tomorrow and meeting Habiba’s friend Charlie.

To China

30 October 2010 2 comments

On Thursday morning I packed and prepared for my trip to China and I left home just before 1 o’clock. I took the subway down to Dongincheon (East Incheon) station – about an hour and a half journey. Then, on the basis of something I’d read online, I tried asking a taxi driver to take me to the Weidong Ferry Terminal – Weidong being the ferry company I was travelling to Qingdao with. He didn’t know where to take me. A second driver took me to the 1st International Ferry Terminal. Only that was the wrong one – I should have been at the 2nd Internation Ferry Terminal. We’d even passed it on the way and I’d seen a ferry that I thought was the one I’d be taking. I took a bus back.

I arrived just before boarding started at four o’clock – three hours before the scheduled leaving time. I bought some snacks for the journey, exchanged a pile of money and bought a ticket for my return journey from Tianjin. After security, Immigration (where I handed in my Korean Alien Registration Card) and a short shuttle bus ride, I boarded and was given a sheet of information in English and was shown to my cabin. I’d paid a bit extra for the privilege of a four-man cabin – probably worth it; my ticket back is for the cheapest class.

The ferry was fairly grotty. Most of the communal areas were well worn and not too well cleaned. At first I spent a lot of out on deck waiting for the ferry to start moving, taking photos and texting Habiba with updates. Habiba wasn’t talking to me as I hadn’t been sufficiently sensitive to her worries about her upcoming contract. Eventually, the ferry left at about 7:30. The journey was quite smooth at first. Habiba rang and told me she was feeling better and had had dinner with a colleague.

I watched some Prison Break in my bunk. The second to fourth episodes of the fourth and final season. I’d watched all the others with Habiba and she didn’t want to watch any more. The third season was pretty weak, and the first episode of the last one wasn’t much better, but I thought the episodes I watched picked up some of the quality of the first couple of seasons, although the science fiction part of it – a gadget that can copy data just by being within a few feet of it – was pretty silly.

By the time I settled down to try to sleep, the ferry was rolling in a way I found quite alarming. Obviously, by that time we were well into the Yellow Sea. I didn’t sleep very well. The occasional loud thud resounding through the ship didn’t help.

In the morning, I breakfasted on crackers and chocolate. Leaving the ferry and going through Immigration at Qingdao were fairly straightforward; the Immigration official, a young woman, was amused by the young, longhaired chap in my passport photo.

I got a taxi to the youth hostel I’d made a reservation at. I was pretty sceptical of the process. The general state of dirtiness and disrepair reminded me a lot of India – although the infrastructure here seems much more solid and comprehensive. The driver didn’t help when he started smoking and offered me a cigarette. We arrived and I handed over a 100 yuan note (about £10), getting a few scruffy notes in return.

It was indeed the right place – the Kaiyue Youth Hostel, housed in an old church building. I was feeling very crappy – I had a bad headache. I headed up to my room, had a brief conversation with a German guy who was packing to leave and lay down on my bed. I didn’t get better quickly. Over the course of the next few hours I started feeling nauseous and threw up a couple of times. I tried to sleep, but a couple of Chinese guys coming in and out all the time didn’t help. I had a little water with me and a mug of black tea I’d made earlier, but, even though I was very dehydrated all through the night, I could face consuming anything.

By the morning my headache was gone and I was feeling OK. I shaved and showered, dressed and had breafast at the large, atmospheric bar on the ground floor. I managed to get in touch with Habiba on Skype, then I headed out, after buying a map of Qingdao for 8 yuan. I walked around for a while, trying to follow directions I’d been given to the seafront. Eventually I got there and walked around some more. The weather was – and still is, as I write this – beautiful, although rather hazy. I had lunch – not very adventurously – at a McDonald’s. Right now, I’m at an Angel-in-Us – a Korean chain of coffee shops. Unlike Korean branches, this one is nearly empty on a Saturday afternoon. It also sells beer.