Shanghai or Bust

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Qing Dao

Most of us Americans would know this city best by it's world famous beer "Tsing Tao" brewed by the Germans who originally settled in this town. I will remember this city for it's beautiful coastline and the mountains that surround it.

I had been offered a gig there and was flown in from Shanghai the day before arriving early enough in the day to take a long walk. We were given a house to stay in by the real-estate company whose booth I was to play at at a trade show. (Yeah, I know. Another strange gig). The house and was located about a mile and a half from the city in a quiet neighborhood of tree lined streets and mostly old houses probably built by German immigrants. Our house was really old and quite charming though fairly dark inside for modern American tastes. We have the modern invention of tempered glass to thank for all the natural light in our contemporary houses and stylized renovations. I would imagine that if average American travelled back in time one Hundred years looked around and asked "how can people live this way", he would probably specifically be asking that question about how could people be living in such dark houses?

It was a beautiful, comfortably cool spring day with a fresh fog tinged on shore breeze. Nothing could please me more on such a day than a long walk before dinner. It was about an eight of a mile from the house down to the sea and when I got to the coast, what a relief! I had been trying to breath the air in Shanghai for almost two months and here I was surrounded by cool fresh air! I walked to the left toward town. At the end of the road began a foot path along the sea that would take me all the way to the center of the city. The beginning of the path was a famously beautiful little park. The rocky coast could only remind me of the coast of maine; jagged out crops. with partially sandy beaches in between them. The floor of the park was a combination of grass and rock and not tall trees. There was a stream with little foot bridges over it. The park was full of people enjoying the spring weather. There were at least four wedding parties in the park. Having wedding pictures taken by a professional photographer in scenic places on your wedding day is really big in China and here they were on the rocks on the bridges on the grass; every stated feature ornamented by a model couple, each couple strategically, no politicly, moving to one another couple's perch to have next set of pictures taken.

I navigated my way through the satin and silk district on to the more pedestrian path to the city. I was glad that the city was around quite a few bends in the path and that I was able to enjoy the illusion of open land for a while. I don't know the full length of the path. I took it to town but it continued in the other direction for as far as I could see where it disappeared around another bend.

The path was built not just for walking. The length of the path was a gallery of sculptures by different artists. I think there are over thirty different sculptures and a lot of the stuff is really cool. Occasionally there would be a map of the park, made of thick brass with lettering and details shown in relief. The maps would show where you were and the locations of sculptures. All along the paths their were places where it would open up into parks some with pavilions highlighted by one or more really large sculptures.

Near town I abandoned the lovely seacoast and headed for the modern center of town. Like Shanghai most of the buildings are ultra modern. They look like the designs were inspired by, sci-fi futuristic images from the collective unconscious or from an Italian designer's collection piezo cigarette lighters. Maybe that description suggests a negative impression but actually I kind of dig the architecture. I walk around Shanghai and look at buildings, markets and babes for hours! Never a dull moment. Where was I ? Oh right........

In the spirit of my Shanghai walks, I wanted to find a Starbucks and have a nice coffee and a sit before heading home. I walked a good distance along the road closest to the sea heading away from my house and no Starbucks in sight. I figured I would go in a block and head home . Maybe I would have twice the luck with buildings on both sides of the road. (one would Think!) To my great misfortune, this town is the home town of 'SPR coffee' which is a knock off of starbucks. Finally I succumbed to the grim reality that my precious Starbucks double americano with a spot of cream might not exist in this town. Just because there were hundreds of Starbucks in Shanghai didn't mean that Starbucks had marketing plans yet in place for the rest of china.

Now if I may be the Coffee critic this is what is wrong with SPR coffee. The coffee. Now that's important at a coffee shop. The service, people who work at Starbucks in China are all glad to have an opportunity to improve their english. I would dare to venture that that might be a primary reason that they do choose to work at Starbucks. Improving your English is a good idea, Certainly in the city of Shanghai where English is the second language. (It is considered chic to have the name of your store be in english and the road signs use the abbreviation 'rd' after the 'pin yin' spelling of the road name. This might not be true in Qing Dao which does not have the European presence of Shanghai.) By contrast, at SPR I had a hard time conveying my order. I think the sandwich I ordered and payed for and never received, well I don't know what I think. I thought she acknowledged that she understood. The size of my bill seemed to reflect a sandwich might be involved. I'm confused! My memory isn't that long. The receipt was in chinese characters and I wasn't about to try to discuss it with the one person behind the counter who was busy marveling at all the modern machinery she had been blessed to be surrounded by. So many buttons, so little training. The green that they Used for the SPR logo was a perfect match to the Starbucks Green. A lot of the feel of the place was very similar in subtle ways. Wood, Slate, Picture Windows, wooden tables, various kinds of seating all arranged to look oh so Starbucks. One look and you would know that there were some very clever americans behind this counterfeiting Scheme. Empty of stomach, I left.

As my luck would have it just a block away on my way home there was a Starbucks! Wah!

I almost made it home with out getting lost. Had a wild goose chase with a involving a taxi driver a telephone and five miles in a cab to go a hundred yards or so. Yeah, I was that close! Finally Ren and Wha (my agents on the gig) and I were ready to take a cab into town to eat. We made our way to a street with a hundred restaurants and a million candle power of naked light blaring from every sign and facade. Have you ever eaten inside an incubator! No wonder animals don't breed in captivity. The decor just is not conducive. We ended out at a fish restaurant which in china means an aquarium that also happens to serve up it's exhibitions. Try this! The next time you are at an aquarium think about what in the tanks would be the things that you would be least likely to choose to have for supper. That's what we had. Most of it was really good. I didn't try the sea slug. There were some really tasty sauces on the table that one could use in abundance just in case the taste experience was overwhelming. Beer helped.

I think the sea slug wasn't quite right because Wha, who was the one who seemed to eat most of it, was up all night, visiting the sculpture of the white elephant, and I slept just fine.

The gig was pretty much going to run all the next day. I wanted to get there early so I could tune up the piano and get comfortable. Wha and Ren were not up to getting up with me so they sent me off with a cab driver who had some instructions that I figured I need not know about. Fortunately one of the instructions must have been to make sure I actually got in the place! They hadn't given me a work pass and no way were the security guards going to let me in without one. There was all sorts of yelling in Chinese which is a great language to argue in. The language sounds so guttural that I would imagine two people proposing might sound like an argument. So when they really are arguing it is quite amusing. Ren finally had to get out of bed and come down there with his work pass and all was well.

The gig was fine. I played well I liked the piano which was Chinese and seemed not as new as a lot of the pianos over here. Ren and I talked a lot on the breaks about all sorts of things. It's funny, Music is what it is all about and yet I don't really have a lot to say about it. What can I say? You should have been there.


  • At 7:41 PM, Anonymous Marc & Cheryl said…

    Hi Glenway! It is so nice to read your blog on China. Marc & I have been there so often and love it. Marc has been studying the Chinese language for several years. The food is excellent if you know what (and how) to order. Marc always talks about you being the best piano tuner. Marc & Cheryl from the Vineyard. (Remember - you played at a surprise party we had for his brother in 1988?!)


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