Walking by the Foreign Language Bookstore in Quindao, just up the street from my comfy clean hotel room that a tout from the railroad station led me to…80 yuan she says..that’s about $10..I look in to see what they have in English. Most of the books are in Chinese…the English selection is tiny with dreadful choices and high prices. Just then I see the first westerners I have seen in Quindao walk in…where are you from, I ask…from the Gold Coast of Australia…oh, I find Australians everywhere…yes, she laughed…we manage to find our way all over the world! These women have just arrived from Shanghai where they participated in the masters section of an international dragon boat competition. One, Tye, is a nurse…the other, Leah, a school janitor. Dragon boat racing, they said, originated in China but is very popular in Australia.
Are you alone, they ask. When I say yes, their eyes light up…oh good, then would you like to come with us? Of course I jump at the chance. I show them where the internet cafe is that I had walked all over town looking for and finally found that morning by accident as there was no sign on the outside of the building. And I give them a card for the hostel I stayed at in Beijing which delighted them no end.
We have dinner together…the women pass up tubs of all kinds of shellfish to choose from on the sidewalk in front of tiny restaurants with only two or three tables…and finally choose to have “hot pot” that sits on top of a flame with your choice of all kinds of fish from the sea…a dozen different kinds of clams, little crab, shellfish we have never seen before, various unknown kibbles and bits, leafy vegetables, thin sliced mutton or pork, as much as you could eat for 29 yuan or about $6. One of the women is a bit nervous about all the unknown bits…but we laugh it off and make a complete mess on the table…the big Chinese group at the next table finding our clumsy adventure quite funny.
The next evening they showed up at my hotel door….we just showed the Chinese girls at the desk downstairs “big hair” they said…and the girls immediately knew who they were looking for…besides the fact of course, that we were all westerners…we must all know each other! They shared some wonderful chewy sweetened dried fish with me and needed me to show them how to do email so off we went out into the evening again.
My last evening in Quindao, at a 4 star hotel coffee shop, I invite the friendly waiter who has been letting me use the hotel’s free WIFI with my laptop to have dinner with me…seafood soup and jousa (dumplings)… before he has to go to his university classes at 7pm. Jack is his English name given to him by his English teacher and I find myself wishing Chinese English teachers would get a little up-to date with the English names they hand out. Jack, Han Chinese, is from Urumqi in the largest and most western province in China…Xinjiang…which has a majority of muslim Turkic speaking people. His family still lives there. He is 23 but says he is not a good student. I ask why and he says he likes sports…he would rather play American football! I say, what!! He says it’s a sport young people like but his parents don’t. I say, yes, I understand! I ask if he plays basketball and mention Yao Ming’s name…he dismisses Yao…”oh, if I were 7 feet tall I would be famous too!”
I let Jack order…he is anticipating a soup with “all kinds of shellfish from the sea” but when it comes it’s basically an eggflower soup with only a few little bits of shrimp and clam. He looks disappointed and I realize he has never done this before. The soup is only 6 yuan…less than a dollar. But Jack only makes $200 a month and I wonder what this skinny kid eats every day. At his bus stop we shake hands with lingering looks and he invites me to come back to Quindao again.
I have a hard sleeper booked on the train today at 1:30. I will arrive in Shanghai tomorrow about 9 am when I will book a dorm bed for 100 yuan…about $12. Right now this hotel I am in is celebrating a wedding with drums and a funky dragon made of balloons. The dragon lies down and the groom carries her over it and into the elevator…the ceremony will continue downstairs.