The number of people I knew in China before I arrived truly amazes me, and I am so thankful for friends, like Emily Larson, who are willing to brave the overnight train to travel from Yancheng to Qingdao to visit me for the weekend. Emily and I grew up together at Knox Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, and it was an absolute joy to be able to have someone who knows my friends from home, my family, and the area in which I grew up. Her visit allowed me to finally do all the touristy Qingdao things I hadn’t had anyone to do them with yet.
Emily arrived at 7AM Saturday morning after taking a train all night to get to Qingdao. Her Chinese is very good, which makes travel and general navigation much easier than it is for me. Because of her early arrival, we got an early start.
Neither of us have smart phones that work without wi-fi, so I, with residual mental scarring from my Copenhagen mishap of almost two years ago (you can read about that here, because it has greatly effected my travel preparedness), figured out the bus routes to get to the attractions we wanted and dutifully took screenshots of the maps to and from the bus stops. This, combined with Emily’s ability to speak Chinese and ask people for directions, led to a rather successful navigational day, of which I am extremely proud. Again, it marked how much I’ve learned in the past month.
Our first stop was St. Michael’s Cathedral, a landmark in old Qingdao because it was built by the Germans in the early 1900s, and is distinctly European. Germany colonized Qingdao in 1897, turning the small fishing village into the wealthy port it is today. The Germans were in control of Qingdao until 1914, when the Japanese besieged and occupied the city in the only WWI battle waged in the Far East. Consequently, much of the old town is distinctly influenced by German architecture, which makes me feel right at home.
It is common for Chinese brides and grooms to get their pictures taken in front of the church for its aesthetics. There were at least seven brides and their grooms in front of the church when we were there.
After the church, we walked to the German Governor’s Mansion, where we took a tour of the building and learned more about the history of Germany in Qingdao. After the Germans left in 1914, the Japanese took up residence in the mansion. Qingdao was reclaimed by China in 1922, and Mao Ze Dong stayed in the mansion for a week in the last 50s, right as his “Great Leap Forward” was put into motion. To me, this was very chilling, reminding me that I have now stood where three of the most renowned dictators of the 1900s have stood–Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.
After lunch we took a bus to the Museum of Tsingtao (Qingdao) Beer, where we took a tour through the history of the brewery. The brewery, unsurprisingly, was started by the Germans, but since the Germans were ousted from China, Tsingtao beer has become famous both in China and in countries around the world.
Unfortunately, the picture below does not accurately capture the sheer amount of people surrounding us. We were standing, drinking our beer when we were swarmed by Chinese tourists wanting to talk to us and take our pictures. They were all on a company outing, and at first it was mostly Chinese men trying to set us up with the younger men in the group–but then everyone joined in. We had our picture taken with at least 20 different people, including both of us with an older man, at which point the entire group started hooting and hollering. Emily told me later that he was the boss, which was hilarious. Emily speaks decent Chinese, so she was able to engage them in conversation, while I just stood there not really knowing what was going on, but grinning like an idiot. I have never received that much attention in my entire life.
That is one thing I am seriously starting to regret–that I don’t speak Chinese. Every day I encounter people trying to talk to me, and I wish desperately that I could understand even a little bit so that I could speak back, because there are so many people who I’m sure have fascinating life stories or would just be fun to know. So I am trying to learn Chinese!
After the beer museum, we made our way to the water front and May Fourth Square, the sight of a student uprising in 1919 against the Japanese. I found this very interesting, as it is the only commemoration I have seen in China for a protest.
In the evening, we joined a few friends from my church for dinner, attended church on Sunday morning, and visited the beach. Emily’s visit has made me grateful to live in a city like Qingdao, where I have access to many Western amenities and foreigners are abundant (for China). I am so thankful for the community I have found, a community Emily does not have access to in her smaller city. We had a wonderful weekend exploring the fascinating city I am living in, and I had a great time catching up with Emily and hearing about her life. I look forward to seeing her again!