It was a hot day in late spring (summer to most people, but in China they use arbitrary dates to define their seasons) and I was sweltering in Zhengzhou, a landlocked city on the southern bank of the Yellow River. I had come to China six months earlier with the intention of travelling across this great civilisation state and getting acquainted with, what undoubtedly will become, the worlds next superpower. As a means to this end, I'd found a job, for visa reasons as much as sustenance. After promises of long vacations and endless travel opportunity, I found that my employers were adept in the art of trickery. I worked long and hard, asking for holiday constantly, and now, on this scorching May afternoon, the powers that be, had finally said yes.
|Zhengzhou is a beautiful city, as you can see.|
“I'll give you three days off, but then you have to work for two weeks straight”, was about the gist of it, but I couldn’t care less. After six months of smoggy suffocation, it was like my straight jacket had been taken off and I'd been set free upon the world! I spent the rest of the working day beaming with excitement, China was my oyster! Where would I go? Three days isn't exactly a long time after all!
I began asking all my students where I could go. I wanted to go somewhere off the beaten track, unknown to most and therefore empty. The best tourist attractions are the ones devoid of people and therefore anywhere which is widely acclaimed or published about is likely to disappoint. They began telling me about places in Henan Province, Dengfeng, Yuntai Mountain, Luoyang, Song Shan, Kaifeng . I rejected them all out of hand. Now don't get me wrong, Henan Province has some great attractions, chief among them, Song Shan, home of the Shaolin Temple, but I had a three day holiday (a massive deal in China) and I had to make the most of it, I could get to Dengfeng within the hour, I needed to treasure this short break! I told my students I wanted to visit the sea, could they suggest a little seaside town, off the beaten track? Perhaps a Chinese Rainbow Beach? They told me about Haikou, Sanya, Dalian and Qingdao.
|A gorge near Yuntai Mountain in Henan Province, China|
“Are they off the beaten track?” I asked for the seventeenth time.
“Shamayisi?” (Chinese for what the bloody hell are you on about?), they continued to reply.
“It means a place which not many people know about, and even fewer visit.”
“Why you like to going there?”, they replied in Chinglish (Chinese English)
“Ta shi da ben dan!” One of them giggled (assuming I couldn't understand) sending the rest of the class into a fit of hysteria.
“I'll have you know I'm not a big stupid egg”, That wiped to smirk of his face. Chinese people become mortified if you reveal you can understand their Mandarin insults and pick them up on it.
“I want to go somewhere off the beaten track because I want to visit a beautiful place that isn't teeming with other people, a place with landmarks and attraction which I can enjoy to their fullest extent.”
“But if its good, then it will be busy, if It's not busy it's not interesting”, one of my students retorted.
“What about Vanuatu, the Cook Islands, Strawberry Hill House, Tenby, The Kamchatka Peninsula, Kakadu National Park or Saint Helena?” I gave a list of places I would consider interesting but would certainly not be rammed with people. “Are these not fascinating places to visit?”
“No”, they said together resoundingly.
“Why?” I shouted, demanding an explanation.
“We never heard of them! How they can be good?” They insisted.
|Places which aren’t famous are probably rubbish, as you can see. It's circular thinking at its most useful for those of us who actually want to go to the Cook Islands.|
I could have gone on arguing, but I resigned myself to a simple “there's more of us than there are of you” defeat.
“I guess you're right” I lied, “So are Dalian, Qingdao, Sanya and Haikou the only towns on the Chinese Coast?”
“Yes”, one of the students said unequivocally
“No”, another student blurted out. “There's Xiamen and Shanghai too!”
“Wonderful”, I lied again, a map would've been more bloody help to me. I refused to believe that the entire Chinese coast consisted of just six places. That China was akin to the world of the Australian soap opera “Neighbours” in which the only places in the world are Erinsborough, Melbourne, Sydney, London, New York, the bush and the countryside (home to Libby's retard son Ben (Ben means stupid in Chinese! Hahaha).
|Pin Oak Court in Melbourne is home to my favourite soap opera.|
I promised myself that hell would freeze over before I visited an industrial coastal metropolis like Dalian, Shanghai or Qingdao!
After careful consideration and half an hours web research, I came to the conclusion Lian Dao was the place to go. According to the internet, a beautiful, almost unspoiled island in the East China Sea, conveniently connected to the mainland by a six kilometre sea dyke, the longest in China, apparently. I chose it by drawing a straight line from Zhengzhou to the Sea, attempting to find the shortest possible route. Failing Lian Dao, I would take a longer (but hopefully faster) train to Xiamen, a city whose many islands I had longed to visit since arriving in China.
|I don't think I want to go to Lian Dao any more.|
At eight O' Clock sharp, after my lessons were finished, I ran excitedly the one and a half kilometres from the shopping centre where I taught English to the train station. In the process tiring myself out and replacing my giddy enthusiasm with a gut wrenching stitch. On the bright side, I gave a few thousand Zhengzhou natives a funny story to the their friends.
“I saw the funniest thing today! A big fat foreigner, face as red as a flag, running through the streets screaming something about horses! Big fat man boobs going up and down with each obese step. He had a big stupid wig on too! Looked like he had a mop on his head. Here, I took a picture!”
I got to the station in an unpleasant sweaty heap. To my relief I had a long queue in front of me, giving me a chance to compose myself and think of what to say. As a grew nearer the ticket kiosk, my panic at not having a clue what to say turned to dread, but to my surprise I managed to recall enough Mandarin to get my train tickets.
|Zhengzhou's was voted China's ugliest train station.|
“One sleeper to Lianyungang (the city next to Lian Dao) please”, at least I think that's what I said!
“Mei You”, she said without emotion.
Mei You are two words you don't want to hear in China. It means, no, don't have or I'm not depending on the context. It also reminds you how much you miss mayonnaise (it's pronounced Mayo) as China only seems to produce “Sweet Mayonnaise”, a product which is truly, diabolically disgusting!
“No matter!” (one of my few fluent expressions) “One sleeper to Xiamen please”
“Mei You”, She repeated.
“Oh bloody hell, what am I going to do now!” I blurted out in frustration.
“Ting bu dong” (Another expression meaning what the bloody hell are you on about?)
“Buhaoyisi”, I said apologizing for my linguistic indiscretion.
“Well in that case, where can I go that's by the sea?”
She consulted her computer screen and said simply;
Watching my best laid plans collapsing before my eyes, I accepted the Qingdao sleeper tickets, the way a runner up accepts a wooden spoon and glumly plodded back to my apartment.
All I knew about Qingdao was its size. Qingdao is big, really big. It has an urban population of about four million, but if you consider its vast sprawl, the population explodes to figure closer to nine million. The only reason Qingdao isn't considered a great world mega city is because it exists in a nation of impossibly big mega cities, all of which have a tendency to blend into the edges of one another.
|I was a little worried about going to Qingdao|
I felt only dread before my trip to Qingdao.
End of Part 1: Part 2 Coming Soon!
End of Part 1: Part 2 Coming Soon!