Year of the Rooster, the Great Migration: Part 1

Every Chinese New Year tens of millions of Chinese return to their hometown. For some, it might be a bus ride away. For others, a few hours by car. But many go back by train. That’s how Queenie and I planned to travel. But first, before going to her brother’s place, we would stop in Qingdao to see some old friends.

I was glad our 30-hour train ride started in the evening. That way most of the trip involved sleeping. But it was still a long ride. When we entered Qingdao’s train station, we were greeted by a blast of cold air. Once we were outside, the wind seemed to tear through us as we walked to McDonald’s. We came a little late for visiting the beach.

My friend Rob picked us up and took us through the tunnel to Huangdao, my first home in China. I was excited to be back and see how things had changed. As always, there was more construction. There were high-rise apartments throughout the city, and new hotels and commercial centers were being built. This fishing village had grown up.

Rob and Gretchen’s kids were growing up. Robbie was almost 10, and their youngest son wasn’t a helpless baby anymore. He could walk and talk too. He was already practicing to be the next basketball star with his child-size basketball net. I couldn’t help him much with that aspiration.

After eating at an Indian restaurant for lunch, I stopped by my old school. But unfortunately, my former coworkers were gone, one to warmer climates and another to his wife’s hometown. I had hoped some of the administration might still be around, but the school was abandoned. It’s just not the same without teachers and students.

That night we played “Ticket to Ride,” a game where you try to connect your train from one European city to another. In some ways, it reminded me of my trip from Guangzhou to Qingdao. The creators of this game could easily do a Chinese version. I didn’t win, but enjoyed playing with the family. Later we played a little basketball before the kids went to bed.

Another day Queenie decided to make a Chinese dinner for the family. I offered my assistance. I was the cutter and slicer. She did all the rest. It was an excellent meal, as good as any meal I’ve had at a Chinese restaurant. I told Queenie I’d support her if she decided to open up a restaurant.

Another day we made jiaozi (dumplings) together. I’ve never mastered the art of making jiaozi. And it might be too late for me now. Queenie’s were plump jiaozi that could stand alone. Mine were sickly, skinny creations that fell on their sides when I finished them. It was slightly frustrating, but as long as they tasted good, I didn’t really care that much.

The last few days in Qingdao we visited the city several times. They had just completed their first metro line a few months ago. But I wasn’t that interested in taking her there. I wanted her to see the old German part of the city. Initially we planned to go to the TV tower, but after a detour, we decided to go to the red observatory towers instead. Once again we got slightly lost and found another mountain nearby that offered a scenic view of the city.

Later we went to the Lutheran church and the twin-spired Catholic church. They were built by Germans and over a hundred years old. German engineering at its best. The Lutheran church had a simpler interior with stained glass windows. The Catholic church had loftier ceilings and more complicated murals on the stained glass. There were also large statues of Mary and some other saints.

Another day we visited the Navy Museum, which was an assortment of naval planes and ships that were decommissioned. Many of them had Russian origins back when the Soviet Union and China were on speaking terms. One of my favorite planes was a massive seaplane that had huge propellers and an impressive wingspan. I also enjoyed our warship tour of two destroyers that were docked. Some pretty impressive firepower. Unfortunately, we couldn’t board the submarine. Off limits for the day.

Altogether it was a pleasant stay in Qingdao. Queenie got to meet my friends, and I got to catch up with some of them. As expat life goes, some had moved on, and others were away. But at least I could reunite with some of them.

Another train ride awaited us. This one was a 21-hour marathon to Huanggang, where Queenie’s brother and parents live. Hope I can sleep on the way.

 

 

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