My new family

Qingdao Travel Blog

 › entry 7 of 28 › view all entries

Firstly, it's very odd that I'm writing this three years to the day that the events below actually took place. I can't believe it's 3 years since I was in China, especially as so much has happened in the time in between: I've done another university degree, met the man of my dreams, got engaged, started a great job and am about to get married!

Anyway, back to the matter in hand...!

Qingdao, as I discovered when I applied for the teaching job, is the eighth largest city in China. It's a port city in Shandong province, and is very Bavarian looking, thanks to the influence of Kaiser Wilhelm. He wanted to extend Germany's sphere of influence into Asia in 1897, with the permission of the Chinese government, who 'leased' them the city for 99 years. The German settlers built a brewery in 1903 (clearly getting their priorities right) and a train line to Ji'nan in 1904. In 1914, the Japanese took the city, and dominated until 1922 when the Chinese snatched it back. Therefore, there's lots of European buildings, the train station looks like it's been lifted from a European city, and cobbled streets and red roofs are dominant, with a very colonial feel to the place.

The city's most famous export (apart from domestic white goods) is Tsingtao (an old transliteration of Qingdao) beer, with Qingdao's Huilong Pavilion adorning the label of every bottle. Beer aficionados tell me it's a very crisp clean tasting brew, which comes from the water used to brew it, which is drawn from the springs of Lao Shan Mountain, to the east of Qingdao. The annual Beer Fest, which usually takes place in mid to late August, was popular with my fellow teachers, some of whom returned to the city for the fest!

Well, geography/ history/ economics lesson over...and thanks to the Rough Guide for dates! It's odd that a city of the size of Qingdao is probably very little known outside China...I'd certainly never heard of it until I got the job. I suppose the sailing event of the summer Olympics in 2008 will raise its profile - it's certainly a nice city, the beaches are lovely, although were always absolutely heaving when I was there, and the people very interested in westerners.

Right: teaching! After another fairly rough night at the apartment, I hauled all my stuff back into town via a taxi and an address card, as we were being billeted out to Jimo that afternoon. We had a quick talk about how things would work at the school in Jimo, a two hour mandarin lesson (yoikes!) and most of us headed out for lunch.

Our first venture to a Chinese eatery with no Chinese speakers was interesting to say the least. We picked our meals by trying to get a view of the dishes from all angles and guessing what was in them. One of the girls was allergic to nuts so trying to communicate that was a barrel of laughs until she remembered she had it written down on a card to show waiters! We did have a lovely meal, think we avoided anything we didn't want to eat and after another mandarin lesson in the offices, where we learnt the best word to use to praise the kids (I decided all praise would be dished out in English if needs be) we ventured to the city's main park.

It's odd to see somewhere so manicured, lush and above all quiet in a city that's full of cars and people and buses. But the park is gorgeous, with a monastery and temple in it. I've got pics from there, but I took them on my 35mm camera, so once I acquire a scanner I'll slot them in! Then name also escapes me, but will fill that in later too! As with many things in China though, you had to pay to get into the park, but on the upside the ticket also doubles as a handy postcard!

After navigating the streets of Qingdao, we piled into the summer camp's mini bus complete with many many pieces of luggage and made the totally uncomfortable 1 hour journey to Jimo, the town most of us were teaching in. 5 people stayed in Qingdao to teach at a satellite camp for younger kids and school leavers. Suspension on vehicles in China is usually lacking and on the half built road into Jimo, itself a city still under construction in many ways, most of us thought we'd come off the bus with concussion or bruising.

We eventually arrived in Jimo, tired, dusty and sore, a feeling we were to get used to. The school we were to be teaching in was huge, the main administration block alone could have house about 300 kids in classes. There were also five annexes out the back, a separate gym and separate cafeteria. The 'playground' was a large courtyard with obligatory flagpole, plus a pair of long goldfish ponds with bridges dotted along them and fountains every 20 metres or so! Not sure if that would meet health and safety legislation here!!!

The 15 or so of us who were to work in Jimo were ushered into the school's board room/ meeting room, and told our home stays would be coming to get us soon. As we lolled around the table, one by one smiley families appeared to take people away, and in the end, the three of us left felt rather abandoned and unloved...we feared we'd been rejected, especially as we were all relatively tall, and already felt like we were surrounded by Lilliputians.

But then my home stay Mummy arrived...she was an English teacher at the school and had been in class which is why she was late. She helped me out with my bags to the front yard of the school where her husband, son and mother in law were waiting in a mini bus with no windows. I said hello to the little boy, and he promptly burst into tears, and the adults stared the whole way back to the apartment, which it turned out I was to share with my 'mum', Mao Aiqin, her son, He-He, and her mother in law. The confusing part is that the flat was actually Mao's husband's brother's place, but because it was much closer to school than the Aiqin family residence, we were to stay there.

It was only a five minute drive to the apartment, where the rest of the family was waiting to meet me. Everyone was really nice, although it did take an age to get anything across to them with Ms Mao translating - none of the others spoke English. I had my own room, with a huge double bed, sofa, desk and massive fitted wardrobes which was all well and good but the room door was predominantly a large pane of frosted glass, so I quickly realised I had to be careful where I stood when I was getting dressed. Mercifully, the flat had a western toilet, not one of the charming squats (although one of the other teacher's home stay places was a squat pan, the shower ran straight onto the floor so the whole place flooded when she showered, and the toilet would overflow............EEEEEEEEEEEEW!), but the shower was an ominous looking galvanized tank on the wall which you had to pre-heat for 15 mins before you wanted to wash otherwise it was freezing water that poured out (which eventually was a good thing, as there was also no air con in the apartment and it got to 37c for about a week!).

Anyway...enough waffling. The family were lovely, and even though I seemed to have caused them a massive upheaval, meaning mum, her ma-in-law and the little boy had to share the other bedroom in the flat, and I'd ousted the brother in law, they were very nice to me and liked looking through my little photo album, my passport and the books about Scotland I'd brought with me. Within an hour, Ms Mao said I should stay with them longer than the 6 weeks I was supposed to....bit keen, but at least I hadn't offended them! He-He, the family emperor, was very sweet, but insisted on clambering all over me, and was also REALLY loud and hyper; he seemed to get away with murder, with behaviour that in my book would have warranted a telling off getting giggles from his fawning mummy and grandma.

They made a huge dinner to welcome me into their home, including my now favourite dumplings, jaozi, which have minced pork and spring onion/ scallions in them, and are wrapped in dough then steamed. After eating the steamed ones for a few days, they're pan fried and equally yummy then.

I was definitely glad to get to bed that night, it had been a long day and I was shattered. But the horrible feeling of homesickness and isolation was kicking in again...

AndiPerullo says:
Ummm, I love Tsing-tao beer! That was wonderful that you were invited to stay longer than 6 weeks.
Posted on: Oct 19, 2007
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
photo by: aleksflower