Greetings from the Future, Dear Readers!
Human history has numerous examples where disparate cultures bump against one another, intermingle, and inspire changes that people embrace. That said, it doesn’t always work. The brackish waters where African rhythmic time signatures and European stringed instruments swirled around the ears of five teenagers from Liverpool to inspire The Beatles are the same murky marshes that gave the US car market the Yugo. These cultural exchanges are sometimes accepted and sometimes rejected. Every once in a while, a vanilla bean from Madagascar becomes the most commonplace feature of a Dairy Queen in Waco, Texas, other times the French get Euro Disney.
Today, we are talking about a combination of cultural influences that make something curious, but great nonetheless. Not quite “The White Album,” but nothing that would require a mechanic in Philadelphia to read Serbian in order to perform an oil change either. Today, we are eating sauerkraut and drinking pilsner in Shandong.
A quick crash-course history lesson (apologies to actual historians, Asian experts, Chinese citizens, or people that speak Chinese at a level over and above ordering food and train tickets):
China, throughout its history for numerous reasons, has maintained a very cautious relationship with the West. In order to facilitate trade with Western powers hungry for Chinese goods, the Imperial court ceded some exceptions to a blanket policy of being closed off to the West. Territories, through numerous treaties, were leased to different foreign powers.
In 1557 during the Ming Dynasty, Portugal was leased the territory of Macau. In the late 1800s, during the Qing Dynasty, many more European countries acquired treaty ports, known as “concessions.” Many of the most famous Chinese cities have a history of Western involvement. Hong Kong was deeded to the United Kingdom from 1841 to 1997. Shanghai was actually an international settlement, combining concessions ceded to Americans, British, French, Russians and Japanese. Tianjin traded hands, was occupied by, or was shared at one time by Japanese, French, German, British and American occupiers. The former Western powers all left some influence on the area, in architecture, food or language.
(We will go into more detail on the darker sides of some of these concessions, the importance of these areas in the opium trade in the late 1800s, along with how this later influenced the Opium Wars in our post about Shanghai.)
青岛, or Qingdao as we English speakers know it today, was previously written as Tsingtao under the Wade-Giles format of transcribing Chinese to English. While that previous sentence might seem like more information than any of you need, I thought I’d toss that one out for the beer drinkers that have stumbled on an Asian pilsner at their grocery store and thought, “Why are the Chinese making pilsner?”
Germany was leased the Kiautshou Bay Concession from 1897 to 1914, of which Qingdao was the capital. This relatively small administrative city and fishing port was forever changed by the Germans. The most readily apparent evidence of German influence in Qingdao would be the architecture along with the ever-present availability of China’s first mass export to America and China’s #1 commercial export: Tsingtao beer. While one can purchase this beer in every corner shop and restaurant throughout China, along with any Publix in Florida, there’s only one town on the planet that you can imbibe this beverage fresh from the brewery … in a plastic bag with a straw.
We had the pleasure of staying with our friend Dave in Qingdao, which helped to cut down on costs and see the city guided by someone who knows the ropes. Dave was able to point us to some highlights in the town.
Zhan Qiao Pier: For those of you at home, I’ll wait for you to open a bottle of Tsingtao. Once you’ve taken your first sip, turn the bottle and look at the label. The emblem on the logo depicts the pier down the street from Dave’s apartment building. You can actually see his apartment building from there. Wave, say hello! Hey Dave!
The Beach: Qingdao, today, serves as one of the biggest tourist destinations for Chinese. While it was a bit chilly to take a dip, I took a run through town and was able to take in views of the beach. It is gorgeous, with a boardwalk meandering along the beach, which goes from the old German concession area all the way to Lao Shan Mountain, some 15 miles away.
The Old Observatory: Qingdao is divided into two halves with “old town” referring to the German concession, rife with colonial architecture, and “new town,” some seven miles away, boasting futuristic skyscrapers, golf courses and nightclubs catering to the tonier crowds. (Folks from Beijing and monied Western expats.) In the older, German side of town, there is,in fact, an old observatory, which has been converted into a youth hostel. On the roof of this building, where there is still a telescope, one can buy a Tsingtao and take in the views of the old German concession. We are told that this spot has an all-you-can-eat ribs night. While I can’t recommend the burritos, I am willing to return for the view alone.
Old Town Night Market: While many Chinese towns will have their own extensive markets, which operate both at night and early in the morning, Qingdao had a unique setup. Along with the meandering alleys where locals sell fish, lamb, pork, beef and vegetables, Qingdao had all sorts of marine life on offer. Squid anyone? Octopus? Sea cucumber? Anyone? Anyone?
Additionally, we had dinner in the middle of the night market and caught a bit of dinner theater. Comedians (the audience seemed to love it) and a magician (we probably applauded too enthusiastically for the slight-of-hand to make up for not getting any of the earlier jokes.)
While there was a lot more going on in Qingdao that I’m not capturing here, I am getting sleepy, and you all need your Cheerios.
We’ll be back at it just as soon as you all head to bed!
Stay tuned for Qingdao The Movie. For now, here are our photos: