Christmas travels

December 28, 2006

qingdao_2qingdao_4qingdao_1Looking somewhat like a Muslim is how Sally presented herself to the world on Christmas Day. Nothing religious in intention; just what one has to do to keep healthy in air that knocks most Westerners about.

Air, that makes for great sunsets and sunrises. Big red sun filtering through the smog is always dramatic. Makes me think fondly of Los Angeles.

And, when one does get sick, Chinese herbal medicines are readily available.

Speaking of Christmas, what a traveller’s ordeal. On the Friday before, while we were at police headquarters applying for an extension to Sally’s visa we were told that she would have to hand in her passport while the visa was being processed over the next five working days. This meant that we would not be able to travel to the coastal city Qingdao for the weekend as all hotels are required to see one’s passport (photocopies aren’t accepted). So, we left without the visa extension, but fully aware that her visa would expire on Christmas Day and that we would need to be back in Jinan, at this same police station, before 4PM on that Monday or else risk Sally being deported.

I mean, why stay in Jinan over the Christmas weekend when we could be hanging out in the town settled by the German’s at the turn of the last century and made famous by their brewed beer, Tsingtao? Let’s take a chance. We’ll get back in time.

qingdao_6qingdao_5The bus for Qingdao was around a 5 hour trip. Rather comfortable, with a bus stewardess offering tea and snacks. The view out the window, though, was disconcerting as visibility was very limited because of a combination of fog and high pollution. Our hope was that, as we approached the coast, the air quality would improve. Not to be. We arrived in brownish air at a different bus station than the one described in the Lonely Planet. The view from the hotel balcony was somewhat surreal. Luckily, a sea breeze followed the tide in, blew out most of the pollution and revealed more of the harbour and its surrounds.

On a larger scale the air quality prevented the taking of dramatic, sweeping views of the city and its mountains. qingdao_9qingdao_15qingdao_14qingdao_11However, like I mentioned in last week’s blog, the real beauty of the city was to be found in the small: the splashes of colour and detail found in bamboo gardens, street side flower arrangements of cabbage (they grow in the winter), pine paths along the coast, buckets of seeds and beans for sale at market stalls and the relatively quiet, incense infused temples.

So…. Early on Christmas Day we awake at 6AM to get a taxi to take us to the bus station to make sure we get back to Jinan on time to deal with the visa extension. We have no tickets; we don’t even know what time the bus leaves (staying at the cheaper hotels usually means forfeiting the right to have an English speaking person on the other side of the counter answering all your travel questions about how to purchase tickets, etc.). Anyway, we get to a bus station of sorts, but there is no one around, just a cleaning woman sweeping dust out of the doorway. The taxi driver gets out and talks to her. He comes back and says: “xxxxx, xxxx, xxxxx, xxxxx,xxxxx.” We don’t understand a word, but the implication is that we are in trouble. After a bit of struggle with our language differences and a bit of scribbling on a scrap of paper, the taxi driver was able to convey to us that there were no buses because the road to Jinan was closed due to fog.
The one and only option is the train. So, a mad dash through thickening traffic to the train station to meet up with everyone else trying to get to Jinan. Next, find the ticket counter (no English anywhere, just Chinese characters). Then, try to purchase a ticket for the next “fast” train to Jinan (four and a half hour trip instead of seven).

What time will the train arrive? I receive several answers; all, though, should get us into Jinan in time to make it to the police headquarters. We manage to get two upper berths in the sleeper carriage. Tight squeeze with a smoker below, but who’s complaining? We made it.

We even got back in time for some Christmas music in our hotel lobby and a bit of roast turkey at a nearby Kiwi, western restaurant.

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