We spent the weekend with my childhood friend, Alex, and his wife Bethany. Alex teaches English at a local community college/school/university, and they have lived there a few years.
China continues to impress me with its booming construction, sheer number of buildings, plentiful parks and green spaces, and tidiness (read: not cleanliness).
With many mouths to feed, the countryside uses every available space for crops. There are miles (literally) of enclosed gardens, creating hot houses for specialty items, and tree farms as far as the eye can see. The mayor of Qingdao has a brother in law who is a tree farmer, so tree lined boulevards and alleys are common. Small armies of gardeners plant, water, and tend flower lined walkways. Arborists stick IVs into newly planted trees and prune branches. The streets are cleaner than NYC, with people employed to sweep them by hand 24 hours a day.
Most buildings have security guards and systems and courtyards share both exercise and playground equipment.
Off to the market we went after breakfast. We toured the stalls to see the dried squid, the different type of noodles, and a plethora of fresh eggs, vegetables, and fruit. More window shopping ensued with a gander around stores in a nearby mall. There we noticed how Chinese express their individuality- their clothing, shoes, and over accessorizing. Taking cue from Carrie Bradshaw herself, many outfits were so mind numbing- "how do you stand in front of a closet and put that together and think it is ok to emerge from the house?" Laughter turned to oohhs and ahhs as we took turns in the fishmonger section of the super market.
First off, super markets are loud, sell everything, and employ a small army of helpers (notice a trend here?). Second, the way that they sell items is to place bullhorns atop the pile and tape a recorder to it. On a loop and set to high volume, it repeats and echoes above the din of shoppers. Third, over packaging is the status quo for prepared foods (imagine unwrapping individual cookies once you unwrap the box and enclosed container they are in) and then for live or fresh foods, flies dart around and fish that jump out of tanks onto the floor are picked up and dropped right back in.
On our second day, the pollution rating was 161; but we still drove out to the other side of the bay to see the Yellow Sea and fishing villages with nearby developments of condo and beach side homes. We walked along the bay in a huge green space littered with intimate gardens, children's playgrounds, and family gathering space near fishermen hauling in small nets or motoring around in rusted boats.
Our time with Alex and Bethany was a peaceful relaxation in the comfort of their home. But also it was an introduction to the culture in which they have assimilated. It helped us upon our return to Beijing. An understanding of the bartering, the prices, and the way people live day to day certainly helped us interact with people in the capitol.