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Full Circle

Day 53: Qingdao

Qingdao, China 
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Bavaria on the Yellow Sea. The Welcome Guest House, Qingdao.
Michael Palin - Full CircleAt first sight China looks like Germany. Red-roofed turn of the century housing blocks ride up the steep hills. Looming above them are two unmistakably Nordic churches, one with tall, slim spires and the other with a copper-domed clock tower. I blink again and it's France, with avenues of neatly cropped plane trees and solid bourgeois seaside villas running down to white sand, rock pools and a harbour wall. Look along the shore and it's Manhattan, with a cluster of crested skyscrapers thrusting up from an undergrowth of cranes.

The eclectic skyline emerging from the early morning haze is the city of Qingdao, 'Green Island'. It was once a small Chinese fishing village which attracted the attention of German missionaries at the end of the last century. Traders and troops followed the missionaries and Qingdao quickly became part of a German concession. The local Chinese could only stand and watch as a naval depot, coaling wharfs, houses, hotels, churches, a brewery and a railway created Bavaria on the Yellow Sea. The Japanese took it over in 1914, lost it again after the First World War and regained it in 1938, but it remained little more than a seaside resort until the 1980s when South Korean and Taiwanese money transformed the local economy for a second time. Today 'Green Island' is a conurbation of 6.8 million people.

But not everything has changed. We are viewed suspiciously by the authorities. Soldiers in drab green greatcoats with fur collars and yellow-trimmed high-peaked caps hold us on board ship until long after everyone else has gone, and when we are allowed off it is only as far as another bureaucratic bottleneck where we are required to fill in exhaustive questionnaires demanding to know if we are bringing in 'biologicals, blood products or second-hand clothes', and if any of us is currently suffering from 'cough, sore throat, vomiting, bleeding or lymph gland swelling'. Concealing a patch of incipient athlete's foot, I eventually step out onto the streets of China. The obliging porters who load our baggage and equipment into waiting vans turn out to be the manager of the hotel we're staying in and his gardener. When we arrive the chefs are called out to help unload.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 53
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Qingdao
  • Book page no: 79

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