Travel Notes from Qingdao
"The Island City with no Island"
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The "Beautiful Qingdao" beautiful indeed is not, but it certainly is a pleasant and enjoyable coastal city with a good combination of natural scenery, historical sights and attractions. I headed here from Shanghai in a summer weekend for a short vacation at the beach. I couldn't say I have been impressed by the beaches (the Yellow Sea is not the Mediterranean or the Caribbean) but on the other side I have discovered a city that despite growing to more than 2 millions inhabitants, has done a good job in preserving its historical landmarks, architecture, green spaces and the coast.
Qingdao ranks today at the top spots of all the "best of ... Chinese cities" charts, including one of the "most beautiful", "most inhabitable", "most dynamic". Many Chinese movies are shot here and many newlyweds travel on purpose to have their wedding pictures taken here. Qingdao is also the only Chinese city added to the list of the world's most beautiful bays. Today Qingdao is being aggressively (and a little excessively for the offering) promoted as a premiere tourist destination and in 2008 has received some 35 millions of tourists (800,000 from overseas). You can say it is crowded.
Qingdao is not an exciting city but it is a pleasant destination for some relax at a slower pace of life in a country that has made of the fast pace a religion. It is funny Qingdao is called by locals "the Island City" despite not being an island as well as it is named "the Switzerland of Orient" despite of its location on the coast and not up in the mountains.
Some photos are attached in my Beaches of Qingdao and Architecture of Qingdao travelogues as well as in my Tips.
"The Legacy of the Colonial Years"
Qingdao was only a small fishing village until 1898 when the colonial Germans, attracted by the village's strategic position on the Yellow Sea, forced the Chinese Qing government to lease Qingdao to Germany for 99 years, establishing the city as a treaty port. The Germans expanded the harbor, built new infrastructures and turned Qingdao into a small Bavarian town, building churches and residential areas in a Continental European style. Taking advantage of the spring water nearby a brewery was also founded in 1903, establishing Qingdao as the center of Chinese beer production. Today Tsingtao Beer (Tsingtao being the old name of Qingdao) is the best-selling beer in China as well as the only Chinese brand of beer internationally well-known. The city remained in German possession only for two decades, until WWI when it was taken by the Japanese. In 1922 control of Qingdao was finally transferred back to China. It is important to note that all of the 80+ treaty ports established by European colonial powers in China during XIX and XX century have today been transferred back to China.
"Down to the Waterline"
If you think your favorite beach in your part of the world is crowded and want to check how a real-crowded beach looks like, a summer trip to Qingdao will certainly give you the experience. The different Qingdao's beaches have different character but they all have one thing in common: an amazing number of people contending a spot on the beach and in the water to the point you can hardly spot the sand or the shoreline. Private space and intimacy, not an option. I have read that Qingdao's First Batching Beach, reputed to be the largest sand-beach in Asia, can host up to 200,000 people. In which conditions, I would be curious to see.