After two weekends away from Haiyang, we’ve come to realize that there is no such thing as a “sea view room” in northeast China. We paid the extra Mao’s for the promise of it at the Golden Gulf Hotel in Yantai last weekend. Here’s what we got:
We tried again this past weekend in Qingdao. After all, it was our one year wedding anniversary, so why shouldn’t we have gone all out? Thank god we have learned to manage our expectations. That’s what
being married living in China is all about, so we weren’t too surprised by another thick gray-white sheet of smog/fog/sfmog (as I’m now calling it since I’m not quite sure what it is) that hung drape-like outside our thirty-second floor room windows.
The sfmog in Qingdao has a personality all its own. A moody one, to be sure. It followed us around for most of the day, obstructing our view of the crowded No. 6 and No. 1 Bathing Beaches. We could barely make out the thousands of people crawling over rocks and digging in the sand for shellfish.
But hey, look at the bright side: no need for sunscreen or face masks!
The sfmog steadily oozed its way further inland until it nearly smothered us as we wandered around the Qingdao Naval Museum, where former heavy hitters from all branches of the Chinese military were on display to be observed, walked on, and climbed upon by anyone willing to take the risk. While I appreciated being reminded that, as a visitor, I was “prohibited from defecating” aboard the Jinan destroyer on display, I would have preferred warnings to watch my step on the rotting wooden walkway I had to cross to get onto the vessel. The museum’s artifacts were impressive, but the real highlight of the visit were the young Chinese kids who, with some prodding from their helicopter parents, approached Iggy and me to practice their English. Not only were they cute, friendly, and pretty damn competent with the English language, they gave me a glimmer of hope that maybe after four years of living in China, I’ll be able to speak Mandarin at a second-grade level.
The sights we wanted to see in Qingdao all seemed so close to each other judging from the Chinese map we bought near the intersection of Guizhou and Feixian Roads. Isn’t that always the case? The snacks we opted for gave us just enough energy to make it to our next stop. It was easy to turn down the seafood-on-a-stick and star fish options that were a-plenty given the pungent smell of huitai circulating in the air. We went for the eggs-on-a-stick slathered with hot sauce and a Chinese taco-burrito combination.
From the museum, we were making our way to the Zhanshan Temple and Monastery. We thought we could hop in a taxi or on a bus, but that was a silly thought considering that all of China was doing both. So we walked and walked and walked, forging our way through the sfmog. We were pleasantly surprised when we found ourselves at the entrance to Zhongshan Park — almost there!
Our excitement was short-lived, getting overshadowed by a violent altercation we witnessed. A baker’s dozen worth of young Chinese guys came running into the park wielding baseball bats. One brandished a knife. A big one that as far as I know wasn’t used. They were chasing after some other young guys and succeeded in catching one heavyset victim who they beat with the bats and kicked repeatedly. It all happened so fast that it was over before we could make sense of the situation. Before we knew it, the group was gone, running back in the direction they came from, bats held high over their heads in triumph, I guess. The victim, who it appeared was a vendor, got up, brushed himself off, and walked over to a stool next to a cart selling souvenirs. No one offered to help him. No one said anything to him. No one got on their phones to call the police. I wonder if any of the Chinese bystanders felt as helpless as I did in those moments? If they did, I couldn’t tell. We stood around waiting for a couple of minutes, probably looking like the dumbfounded laowai we are but nothing else happened. No police showed up. Following the Chinese lead, we went about our business like everyone else.
We strolled up the park’s sloping pathway looking for signs for the temple located within the park. A haggard looking, older woman wearing a bright orange shirt approached us and informed us that we couldn’t actually walk across the park, which was hilly and huge. Our only option was to take the chair lift, which promised glorious views of Qingdao that on this day (and every other?) were swallowed whole by the sfmog. The ride was still worth it, even though we were sitting ducks for the camera-happy Chinese chairlift riders coming towards us on the opposite line who “slyly” snapped pictures of us with their smartphones.
Once off the chairlift, we made the short walk to Zhanshan Temple — the least crowded place I have visited in our seven months in China. In what must have been a holy coincidence, the sun broke through the sfmog as we stepped foot inside the monastery grounds.
For the next two hours we enjoyed our sfmog-free time, meandering around Jimo Lu, a shopping area where you can get knock-offs of all the major brands in the world as well as cheap Chinese knick-knacks. By the time we made our way back to Marina City — another shopping and eating area that caters to the up and coming Chinese consumer and just a couple blocks from our hotel — the sfmog began its night-time assault, coming across the water, creeping around the edges of the city, and finally enveloping everything in its path. Somehow I don’t think Van the Man was envisioning China’s sfmog when he penned “let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic,” but his tune was in my head when we snapped the photo below.
The sfmog greeted us the next morning when we woke in our downtown hotel room. It stood as a wall between us and the sea on our thirty minute drive along Donghai East Road to get to the newly built Hyatt Regency. It was an impediment to our outside view at the Hyatt’s Market Cafe — a restaurant with floor to ceiling windows next to the beach. Another disappointing “sea view” to add to our list but it didn’t matter. We were there to celebrate our anniversary and enjoy their (ahem…unlimited) “Champagne, Seafood And You” brunch special — something extremely expensive back home, but somewhat reasonable here in China. Several enjoyable hours of over-indulgence later, we were sent off with a few edible treats from the hotel staff who found out it was our anniversary from a kind little birdie. After so much champagne, I wasn’t able to discern whether the sfmog got better or worse by the time we left, but it was definitely still there, stubborn as ever.