Tag Archives: Qinhuangdao

Walking Home [UPDATED]

I decided to rest my legs today, after walking 9½ miles around Qinhuangdao yesterday, so I got the bus to Qinhuangdao No.1 High School with Clare and the rest of the teachers this morning, and hung around all day; being sociable between lessons and enjoying a bit of a busman’s holiday by providing a bit of IT support.

Clare was one of the judges in this evening’s Speaking Competition. Rather than hanging around the school for another three hours this evening, I walked back to the hotel after eating tea with Clare in the school canteen: £1 for rice, pork something-or-other, and something involving green beans, plus a massive 10p for a steamed roll stuffed with some kind of celery-based mixture. That’s my third rice-based meal of the day, and my little “rice baby” is developing nicely; soon I’ll be able to proudly roll my T-shirt up to expose my belly, just like the locals do.

(Edit: just found out there’s a name for that look: Bang Ye, which means “exposing grandfathers”, also known as the Chinese Shirt Roll or the Beijing Bikini.)

I took a few photos on my way…

Water that looks reasonably clean doesn’t get wasted here. On Saturday morning we saw people washing their cars in rainwater that was running clear; this evening, a mother is using water being pumped out of somewhere (I think it’s from part of the school sports facilities) to wash her daughters’ bikes, while the girls “help” by playing in the water. They look reasonably well-off, judging by the clothes, appearance, and the bikes, but I don’t think there’s any stigma associated with using waste water in this way, like there would be in the UK.

This is the view towards the centre of Qinhuangdao, which is past the tower blocks which you can just about make out through the haze, in the centre of the picture. As you can see on the right of the picture, there’s a lot of construction going on; the city is filled with half-completed tower blocks, many of which seem to have had their shell completed, scaffolding removed, then abandoned completely. The main scaffolding starts part way up the building; lower down (about level with the lamppost banners in the photo), there’s a net that extends out from the building to catch anything that falls off, and it looks like plenty of stuff falls off. Also in this picture, there’s the unusual sight of a bike/moped lane which only seems to have bikes and mopeds; more on that later…

This is the Chinese equivalent of a roadside cafe, many of which are literally on the road. It looks like the proprietor and family (or families) lives here too, but I’m guessing it’s not an officially-registered address. Behind the “tents” you’d probably find something that looks remarkably like an allotment; people seem to use any bit of spare ground for growing vegetables, and the climate in this area means that they grow very successfully. Of course, what they end up being coated with, being situated next to a main road, I’ll leave you to imagine.

This is what the bike/moped lanes look like most of the time: not so many bikes, but just about anything else you can think of. The green vehicle next to the hedge is a trike with a flat-bed back; very common around here. The driver appears to have some sort of glass-topped coffee table that he’s either trying to deliver, or perhaps trying to sell to passers-by. On the left, behind the family, you can see melons and other fruit and vegetables laid out on sheets on the ground by an “allotment famer”. Further down, past the truck, there’s a makeshift awning and people sat around at another roadside cafe (barbecued “meat” a speciality), with the smoke from yet another in the background. There is, as usual, a car in the bike lane, and its facing the wrong way. This appears to be completely acceptable… in fact, any kind of driving manoeuvre seems to be acceptable, as long as you do it fairly slowly and use your horn a lot. Drive on the right, or on the left if there’s more room. You should stop at traffic lights… unless you can’t be bothered. Overtake on double centre lines? Sure, just do it slowly and sound your horn. I could go on.

[EDIT: This is a perfect illustration of a commonly-encountered situation at a junction: The Basics Of Driving In China: A Diagram]

Further down the same bike lane, this evening market appears every day and seems to do a roaring trade. Mostly fruit and veg, but also a couple of the ubiquitous meat grills. Although we’ve eaten this kind of food, we haven’t risked one of the temporary ones yet, only those associated with a proper building. Although it did smell quite tempting, despite my having recently eaten a tray-full of rice, pork and beans.

The local motorcycle and scooter sales showroom and repair workshop, spread across a pavement and part of a bike lane. The red three-wheeled van is stuffed with bits and pieces of old bikes. The taller canopy is the workshop; partially-stripped bikes are often left here overnight, as indeed is the motley collection of bikes for sale. I suspect the owner sleeps in the white van, eats at the roadside market on the other side of the junction, and does the necessary… well, wherever necessary.

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Posted by on Monday 6 August 2012 in China


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Beside the Seaside

After the rain clouds cleared on Saturday morning, the weather brightened up significantly, and everybody was keen to head to the beach at Beidaihe for a relaxing evening.

Back on the bus again, and we realised that we’d forgotten the camera about 10 seconds after pulling away, so there’s no photos until I get hold of some from other people. There was some discussion about whether we should go for the up-market “Russian” end, or slum it in the Chinese end, so the bus dropped us off half-way between the two… and then everybody decided to go to the Chinese end anyway. Typical.

A brief walk down the main road, through some of the craziest car parking you’ll ever see (some of the cars would need at least a dozen others to be moved to get them out), then we turned down towards the beach along a small street that was a bit like a British seafront on a bad acid trip…

Most of the food places have tanks at the front with all sorts of live seafood, and the first mission of the evening was to introduce the first-timers to some prime specimens of Urechis unicinctus… more commonly known as the “penis fish”, for obvious reasons. Cue much raucous shrieking and laughter, especially when one of the staff fished one out with a net and waved it suggestively.

We headed towards the beach, past groups of locals sporting the latest fashionable swimwear (latest from the 1970s, that is), and the inevitable tucked-up T-shirts to expose their bellies. The beach was packed, mostly with people standing around near the water’s edge watching the swimmers, most of whom had some form of inflatable: not much competition for Ye Shiwen here! I thought someone should show them how to swim properly, and as I was the only one who’d come prepared, it was up me. The Bohai Sea water was quite murky but not too cold (warmer than the North Sea, anyway), and it was fairly easy to get in as the water was quite shallow, just a bit of a fine gravelled ledge before it got to knee-deep. I did a bit of swimming around, trying to swallow as little as possible as I wasn’t sure how clean the water was. I haven’t died yet, so I guess it wasn’t too bad.

We headed back up the street to find somewhere to eat, and ended up where Clare had eaten last year, where there was already a couple of tables of people from our group. Not much space left in the restaurant, but we managed to squeeze in to a table in the corner. Most of the “restaurants” on this street have the same style of food: a selection of raw meat, seafood, and vegetables on skewers; you choose what you want, hand it over and pay for it, then they cook it on a big hot plate, adding some spicy sauce, and you collect it when it’s done. We had some chicken, pork (probably), some type of scallop, bits of squid, courgette, mushrooms, and a big chilli pepper; delicious, if a bit greasy. They were also doing fresh noodles, which a guy at the front of the restaurant was making, showing off by waving the dough around between his hands like a short, thick skipping rope, banging it off the table, then doing some kind of cat’s cradle manoeuvre to split it into thin noodles. We shared a bowl of them, in some kind of vegetable stock; also delicious, and very filling. I don’t think I could have managed a whole bowl by myself, after all the kebab stuff. A large beer each to wash it down with (Shanhaiguan Bull Beer, IIRC), all for a total of about £10, I think; typical inflated seaside prices.

After we’d managed to stand up, then extract ourselves from the restaurant, a group of us headed up the street in the direction of a bar that they’d been in last year, wondering at the bizarre tat that was for sale in the various gift shops. Unfortunately, amongst the 70s-style swimwear and Mr Mong Monkey “daytime pyjamas” were some less funny items: live animals. The mini jellyfish in jars weren’t that much of a concern, but the baby turtles, sold in jars that were barely bigger than them, were very unsettling. Not much we can do about it, I suppose.

The bar we were aiming for was shut, and everywhere else on the street seemed to be full of people eating, so we went back to the main road (negotiating the crazy parking again), and found a hotel/restaurant that seemed happy for us to sit and drink without eating, until it was time to get back on the bus.

As it was a Saturday night and still relatively early, we decided to go for some more drinks back in Qinhuangdao (even though it was technically a school night), and many of the group headed for Tina Turner’s bar (so called because of the proprietor’s outrageous hairstyle). I stayed on the coach back to the hotel, because my shorts were still wet; it was warm enough, but just too humid for them to dry out. Didn’t take long for me to get back to the bar, and catch up before everyone else had finished their first beer.

Along with the several beers, we were pressured into buying a plate of Chinese bar snacks by a young waitress with very good English: peanuts and edemame beans. The peanuts were still in their shells, and not dried out like we’re used to; some of the shells had liquid inside, and the nuts were much softer.

The Chinese obviously have a very different approach to children’s bedtimes: there were still families turning up to eat, with quite young children, at midnight! I’ve no idea what time the bar stayed open until: certainly later than we wanted to stay, as we had to get up for school the next morning.

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Posted by on Monday 6 August 2012 in China


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Lane indiscipline

[Some time after the previous post…]

Getting away from Newcastle took a little longer than I expected: Air France “lost” a plane somewhere (or that’s what seemed to have happened), and we ended up leaving Newcastle about an hour and 40 minutes later than scheduled. All credit to the Air France pilot though: he didn’t skimp on the Jet A, and got us in to Paris Charles de Gaulle just 30 minutes later than scheduled. I think he must have taken a shortcut somewhere.

This left just about the right amount of time in Paris for a leisurely beer (0.5l of Affligem for €7.10; it was worth it at the time) and a triangular ciabatta-type thing before boarding was announced. As I got to the front of the queue, I discovered that for the first time ever I’d got an upgrade; woo-hoo! Only to “Voyageur” class, but that’s a lot better than sitting in cattle class in the back.

The seat-back entertainment system didn’t work properly, but with it being a night flight (notionally, at least), I wasn’t that bothered. Between my Kindle, a couple of meals, and trying to get some sleep, there wasn’t that much spare time to occupy.

We arrived at Beijing airport almost precisely on schedule, and I quickly found my way to passport control. I expected this to be quite scary, like getting in to the USA just with shorter security guards, but it was all very smooth and pleasant and over quite quickly. Of course, having got through security quickly, my bag seemed to be the last one off, but that’s just typical.

I’d been warned to expect crowds of people when exiting the Arrivals area, and thought it might be hard to spot the driver who’d been sent for me, but it wasn’t busy at all, and I spotted him quite easily… and quickly discovered that we had a mutual lack of comprehension of each other’s native language. There wasn’t going to be much conversation on the 3 hour drive, especially as my head hadn’t quite caught up with my body.

The first fifteen minutes lulled me into a false sense of security. Everybody seemed to be driving quite sensibly, sticking to their lanes; perhaps not indicating as often as they should, but definitely and clearly avoiding each other. Then we found a traffic jam, apparently caused by a truck and a car having stopped in the middle of the road after hitting each other…

Any notion of a “3 lane carriageway” disappeared completely. If there was a gap wide enough to fit half a car in, somebody would squeeze their car into it, and everybody would shuffle over to make room. And although the cars were about eight-abreast, they weren’t all moving in the same direction; most were moving diagonally, towards what they thought was the quickest way through, but it all seemed to work quite efficiently. Certainly better than the very British idea of getting into a single file queue as soon as possible!

There wasn’t really much scenery to see on the journey, which was broken only by a quick stop to use the “facilities” at a service area. Most of the road had trees along the side, with big advertising boards (mostly for rice wine) on posts rising above them. There was a little bit more to see as we passed Tang Shan, some industrial areas and hilly terrain, but it was starting to get dark and misty by then.

As we turned off the main road and into Qinhuangdao, we went through some kind of junction that seemed more like the road had been started from each end and hadn’t quite met properly in the middle, with sand bags and temporary barriers to guide you the right way. Apparently it’s been like that for over a year.

I got to the hotel just as the bus was leaving to take all the teachers (apart from Clare) to KTV for the evening, where we joined them after I’d had a quick shower and we’d grabbed a quick-but-expensive (£11!) meal in the hotel restaurant. By the time we got there, some of them seemed to be ever-so-slightly tipsy… can’t have been the beer, which was only about 3%, but judging by the waving and shouting as they were getting on the bus, I think a few had been getting a bit of a head-start on the drinking before leaving the hotel…

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Posted by on Friday 3 August 2012 in China


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A Girl Called Arthur

I love the first day of Summer School: as hard work as it is, I am suddenly reminded why I have come back.

We arrived in Qinhuangdao yesterday. It is a coastal city, a little over 4hrs coach ride from Beijing. The route along the way starts to give way to the ‘real’ China, right down to the wrinkly old farmers in coolie hats. Qinhuangdao has little exposure to Westerners, and so wherever we go, we are met by bemusement. A group of 30+ of us sitting at a roadside bar last night became a local attraction. Traffic slowed and beeped at us as they passed, groups of giggling girls came over to practise their English and take photos with us, whilst the ‘cooler’ boys used us as a background whist their mates took their photo. Countless people stood nearby talking on their phones as if to say “you’ll never guess what I’m standing next to!”.

A small group of us headed off for food afterwards, returning to a table-top BBQ restaurant which was a previous favourite. Once again we caused such a stir that no one seemed to think we were being rude as we walked around, pointing at tables asking for “nage” (“that” – unfortunately their menu contains no pictures!). We ended up with a leg of lamb, corn on the cob, courgette salad, fried dumplings and sesame bread. And beer, though somehow we know how to order that ourselves! The lamb comes cooked ‘pink’, and is finished on a spit over hot coals in the middle of the table. Diners receive what can only be described as a knife and fork on stilts, to hack away at the meat from a ‘safe’ distance. A top notch dinner, assuming you are neither a vegetarian or Health and Safety Officer!

Alas, we are here for another purpose other than drinking, eating and entertaining the locals, and so off we went to school this morning to do our thing. As it is an English language summer school (and as correct pronunciation of Chinese names is so difficult), the children use English names in camp. We’ve had some crackers in the past: who can forget Bumble Bee (a boy), Harry Potter, Shark or Kate (also a boy, though he was gently encouraged to change his name last year). Today I met Arthur, a 13 year old girl. To be fair, she had already sussed it was a boy’s name and asked if I could pick a new one for her. I tried to match it to the sound of her Chinese name as often happens (though not always: see above), but she thought both Joanne and Jane sounded too boyish and she wanted “something prettier” (her words – my apologies!) . After several more suggestions from me and her class mates, she settled on……yup, Arthur. Oh well.

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Posted by on Friday 27 July 2012 in China


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