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Monday, September 19, 2005

All about trust

Damn. Thats what I have to say about today. Damn. There was a tour going from my hotel to Laoshan, and I know that taking Chinese tours is a bad thing, but because of the size of the Laoshan area I thought maybe, just maybe this is the right thing to do. But I knew it wasn't, even when the people at the front desk assured me that there would only be one, short stop for people to buy things, and that when arriving at a place I would be free to go off on my own. But I knew I shouldn't do it, and when the guy in charge of the whole thing kept telling me to hurry this morning the feeling go worse...and then.

Well, I was told the 105RMB would cover the car and 80RMB worth of ticket prices. Fair enough. First stop, not Laoshan. A pier not far from the hotel. This is 20RMB extra for the boat I am told. Oh. I am sleepy and not thinking, but look at the map on a board and see this boat seeming to make several stops. Wrong. It went out in the water for ten minutes and then came back. Whoopee.

Next stop, soccer stadium. But not even to go in and check out the soccer field, which would have been nice. First go in and look at an aquarium and have a guy say, look, this tiny little shark has a black fin and this one a white one. Great. And in the other aquarium, look, there are lots of bright and cute fish. That orange one there is fei chang expensive.And now look at thos pictures on the wall. There's Hu Jintao, and that one is...Then we go into a small little lab room and it feels like I am back in school. In the front of the room is character character character DHA character character. And for the next half hour rapid Chinese is interpersed with DHA! It is the greatest thing. Do you smoke? You need DHA. Do you drink? DHA! Blah bla. A few experiments later and there is some little cue and of a sudden ten people come pouring into the room, ready to sell as much DHA (which is found by the way, in fish, esp. in the meat of their heads and in their eyeballs which is why these are the most popular parts of the fish here (and tasty, too)). I was a bad student for most of this though and became well acquainted with the Tetris game on my cell phone. [You think you know Tetris? So did I, until I read up on it in Wikipedia!--ed.]

Next stop, the shop on the way out.

Next stop, a beach. This was OK, except that actually the stop was primarily for another shop of some sort, and I just went straight to the beach. It was not as nice as the ones I was on yesterday, but the water felt good on my feet, and it gave me an opportunity to laugh at myself for being so stupid as to do this (and by the way, even more stupid because I talked to the guy about getting most of my money back and just doing the rest of the day on my own and I did not push it...damn). Then I almost stepped on a drying pile of crap on the beach (human) just above the shoreline. Lovely.

After this we drove towards Laoshan. Now, Laoshan is a nice mountain coastal area with waterfalls, caves, lots of trees, beautiful ocean views, etc. There are two or three main areas, which are quite far apart, and I had been under the impression we would be going to all of these and hence the 8 AM departure time. As we arrived well after 12, I was proven wrong. And then we went straight to an area to eat lunch. I hiked a bit towards the ocean and ate some cucumbers. Then I went back and we departed again. This time we went to one of the Daoist Temples in the mountains. Now, two things.

One. Laoshan is one of the sacred Daoist areas in China, but between these horrible tours, the overpriced water and pops and food, the tea and birdwhistles and everything else for sale it seems the only thing really sacred about it is money.

Two. It is a lovely area. The mountains aren't too high. It looks as if countless rectangular and square shaped sand colored tinker toys were stacked on top of each other, and then any cracks were filled by plastic pine trees. Lower on the steep slopes are round smooth boulders and these intermingle with the tea fields that run down to the ocean, and that separate the small towns dotting the coast. Most of the functional, lived in houses were made with large gray stones and had red tiled roofs and I was reminded of several places, of some of the islands around Taiwan, of some of the coastal areas in Croatia, and of a tea plantation Natalia and I came upon in the mountains of central Taiwan.

I walked into one of the fields where some women were hard at work. There hair was short and often covered by bright and frayed shirts-turned-headscarves. Their faces were dark and wrinkle-lined. Their teeth, like those of most of the people here, were not in great shape. They were nice towards me, and let me take some pics of them as they worked, but none would face the camera. It was only when I was back on the road, and with some sweet-talking persuasion that I convinced a woman to pose for me, or rather, look in the camera and do whatever she might want to do, smile, frown, look scared, etc. She smiled and I am sure I flattered her quite well, thank you.

We stayed at this area for an hour and then it was off to another scenic area. Here there was a dam and a waterfall and a hike that went up but never really led to much. It was nice to clear my head, though, and reason why the day was not a waste of money.

Then we left and I thought we were coming back to the hotel. But we stopped instead to buy dried fish products. Yum.

Then we sat in traffic for a good hour, along Hong Kong Rd. Four lanes of traffic booked solid. So what do you do? Make a fifth lane where there should be oncoming traffic. We dodged and weaved and I watched the crowds of people waiting for buses and I thought that as nice as Qingdao is, maybe I would not want to live here unless there was a much better public trans system in place. This is not to say that the bus system isn't good. I think it is. It's just that there are too many people.

Also, for those keeping count: There are now less than 1,039 days left until the Beijing Olympics kick off.

So, what have we learned today? Never, ever take a tour in China, or in general with Chinese people (and I really do not mean offense here, tours in general never live up to what you hope for) unless it is 100% necessary or unavoidable (i.e. getting into Tibet, or, I have heard, Myanmar). Also learned, or remembered, it is not good to dwell on bad days.

So now I am going to go eat some dumplings and drink some beer and get ready to head to Weihai tomorrow morning, and then Dalian tomorrow night. Just think, in the next week and a half I will be in spitting distance of North Korea, Russia and Mongolia.

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