Qingdao

Jul 3, 2013

In search of good beer in China

Oh, how hard life is!

Year of the Snake beer

We love beer. China does not. At least, there is no real mainstream beer culture to speak of. And we’ve accepted that, as part of living here, for the most part the drinking is going to be water-light Bud imitations. It goes well with spicy food, anyway.

Which is not to say we don’t find our nice surprises from time to time. Qingdao, with it’s German-founded brewery, had its special local dark brew. Locally, we’ll always have Golden Hans. And, most of the grocery stores stock at least a German brand hefeweizen and stout in their import sections. Sometimes you can even find a pilsner or a dunkel. Last summer, there was even a canned shandy that hit the shelves for a minute. This winter, Kaiserdom put out a special Snake Year dark lager. You’ve just got to keep your eyes open.

This is the most expensive PBR we've ever seen!

Our most recent find was a bottled PBR, at 10 times the price of the good old canned PBR (that gleaming blue ribbon is widely available here, and costs about US$1) it was beautifully intriguing. Popping it open, we found a dark, viscous liquid, reminiscent of that Sam Adams that costs a billion dollars. The Navigator, as it’s called, was more like a complex liqueur than the expected yellow swill. A delicious quaff, although too expensive to be part of the regular rotation. But we’re keeping an eye on the shelf for when it goes on sale. (I’m pretty sure no one else is buying it.)

Import beer from the grocery store, however, doesn’t come with bar buddies, and that’s something we still really miss. But we’re slowly expanding our social circle — we’ve gone from zero friends to some friends! — and recently our friend Maybell’s Boyfriend invited us to come out with them to a place that had “beer even better than Golden Hans!”

Real beer from a real keg

We met Maybell and BF (ugh, I’m sorry; he doesn’t have an English name, and Chinese characters are still sliding from my brain mere seconds after I hear them) at a restaurant that served fresh kegs from the Moutai brewing company. Moutai is a nationally famous brand of baijiu produced in Southwest China, but their beer production, according to BF is not widely known outside of our area. The joint was hopping, and large tapped carafes of lights and darks were continually being delivered to tables full of revelers. They had two fruit beers, too, but only girls drink those, so I was dissuaded from ordering a carafe for the table. Though I did get my own pint; it tasted like a melted blueberry popsicle.

The food was fantastic. (I feel like I’m always saying that, but it’s so often the case.) Spicy cucumbers, green beans, delicious pork bits on a bed of hot peppers, edamame …

And, it turned out, we were celebrating. Maybell had just attended her official college graduation ceremony the day before. And, they excitedly told us, the were going to get married this year. Just an official ceremony; they’re going to have a big reception with friends two years from now. But, still, what fun news!

We talked about the job market — both Maybell and her boyfriend are lucky to have good jobs they like, but their classmates are having a tough time of it. Kids signed on for conditional contracts are being laid off after their first year is up, and others can’t find jobs at all. Maybell said she doesn’t like talking about her ample teacher’s vacation time with them, because she feels like she’s rubbing it in her unemployed friends’ faces.

We toasted each other, shared travel ideas — Maybell gave us some great advice on an ancient town located just an hour outside of Luzhou — and made future plans. BF is really interested in cocktails, so we’re hoping to have a bartending night sometime soon. And we want to host them to a real American BBQ one of these days. We shared jokes, cultural tidbits, the meaning of life — all that kind of fun philosophizing that beer was meant to accompany.

At the end of the night, Maybell got a server to write down the address and phone number for us, so that we can return one day. And we will, because BF was right, the beer is even better than Golden Hans!

Delicious dinner with good friends

Nov 1, 2012

串串, the moment of truth

Or, how do you keep a hungry couple in suspense …

Sticks survived the flood!

If you’ll recall, before we left for Qingdao (way back in August), we were still not sure if our beloved sticks had made it through July’s flood.

Well, you can exhale, folks. When we returned to Luzhou (again, way back in August), the tables were out and the broccolis were skewered! It was an almost-Labor Day miracle.

Oct 26, 2012

Summer vacation: Game time!

China or Germany?

Is Qingdao in fact a little slice of Europe in China? See if you can tell our vacation photos from pictures of Germany. Hold your mouse over each image to see if you are correct. And tell us how you did in the comments.

Germany photos from Wikimedia Commons, with attribution as follows: 1. Pkoppenb; 2. Jbergner; 3. Public domain; 4. Jbergner; 5. Jbergner; 6. J. Patrick Fischer; 7. Emmaus.

All Qingdao photos by Peter Sikoski.

Oct 19, 2012

Summer vacation: Street dinner

“他吃素。他不吃肉。”

Mystery dinner tastes great
Eat on the streetWhere are we?

I talk a lot about all of the western food that we eat while we’re on vacation because a lot of it is stuff that we don’t get back at home. But, when I can figure out how to order things, we really enjoy Chinese food, too.

After a night at Beer Mama’s, we needed a little something before bed. There was an outdoor restaurant around the corner, and we plopped down and scanned the menu for characters we recognized. We were feeling really ambitious.

I tried to explain to our guy that Peter is a vegetarian and doesn’t eat meat. We came to some sort of understanding, and he hurried away. On his return, he brought some meat skewers (which I had asked for by pointing out someone else who had them) and a very tasty meat and mushroom soup. But, this is life for a hungry veggie in China. Peter ate around the meat and pronounced it “delicious, and that’s coming from a vegetarian.”

Would you like to play a game?

Oct 18, 2012

Summer vacation: Underwater World

A beach activity for non-beach people

Approaching Underwater World
Underwater World

The opening exhibit of Qingdao’s Underwater World consists of our favorite genre of Chinese museum display: terrible taxidermy. Or, possibly, papier-mâché. Whales, sharks, penguins … all kinds of sea creatures, with lopsided grins and bulging eyes. There were a couple of rooms of this, and then the path led outdoors and to another building.

At this point, we were beginning to regret our entrance fee. But, here’s where it got good. A conveyor belt towed visitors through a giant tank full of sharks, sting rays, and all kinds of fish. It was like scuba diving, but you didn’t even have to move. At one turn, a flat glass ceiling showed off the underside of scads of starfish. We also caught sight of a diver in the water who was feeding the fish.

After the people-mover, there were many more tanks of various kinds of sea life — and plenty of opportunities to buy a plush crab or pearl necklaces — but the conveyor was definitely the best part.

But you don’t have to take our word for it … watch our video!

One more delicious meal, coming up …

Oct 18, 2012

Summer vacation: Bathing Beach No. 2

A quick dip in the sea

Qingdao bathing beach No. 2

(It’s a balmy 79 degrees here in Luzhou, so it feels appropriate to still be talking about our August beach vacation. Bear with us as we slowly catch up to the present, won’t you?)

Tsingdao beer was the primary attraction when choosing our summer vacation destination, but we were also interested in the prospect of visiting the seaside. Both of us grew up on the coasts of the US, and from time to time we miss the roaring waves. The Yangtze is wonderful, but it’s not the same.

The men
The men gathered around an intense card game.

Beach No. 2 is the nicest beach within Qingdao city limits. It’s much bigger than Beach 6, there are ample changing facilities/showers, and the sand feels clean. And while it’s plenty popular, it’s not too crowded.

As some well know, I am not overly fond of sand, and Peter and I both need to be careful in the sun. But this was our one chance this summer to go for a dip in the sea, so I took it. (Peter was happy enough just to stand on the dry side of the waves.) The water was clear and refreshing, and the sandy bottom felt well-maintained; there was a happy absence of slimy and/or jagged rocks for feet to find. I lasted about a minute or two before I started remembering that I was sharing that body of water with other sea creatures — not that I saw any, I’m just really squicked out by the idea of bumping into fish.

But I achieved swimming in 2012!

After my swim, I dried off in the sun while Peter snapped photos of people who actually liked the beach, and then we called it quits on our second (and, spoiler alert, final) beach visit.

Photorgaphic proof: We're at the beachPhotorgaphic proof: We're at the beach

Listen to this one: Two Americans walk into a Russian bar in a former German concession in China …

Oct 18, 2012

Summer vacation: Where are we?

A simple martini in an unlikely location

At the Russian Bar

I’ll be honest, that evening our pre-dinner libations had been many and strong, and we were having a little trouble finding the restaurant where we wanted to eat. But we did find this Russian bar with internet access.

We ordered drinks and I looked up our destination (which would turn out to be about 50 feet further along). I got an adequate bloody Mary, but Peter’s vodka martini was quite good. The bartender took his time making it, and he looked very proud when Peter told him that it was as good as any vodka martini he had had in New York.

Oct 12, 2012

Summer vacation: Say married!

More reverse photobombing

Everyone is taking wedding photos all over the place
St. Michael's Church
St. Michael’s Catholic Church

Like many aspects of western culture, the idea of having a big expensive wedding with all the lacy trimmings is slowly making its way over here, and Chinese couples are starting to incorporate aspects of the modern western-style celebration into their traditional nuptial activities.

One of those adopted aspects is a photo session with the groom in a tux and the bride in a big white dress. This may or may not occur on the day of the actual wedding ceremony, and these may or may not have been the outfits in which the couple was actually married.

In the heart of the old town stands St. Michael’s Catholic Church, one of the most prominent reminders of the German presence. These days, it serves an active local congregation, and it’s in all the Qingdao guidebooks as a tourist destination. As we saw on our visit, it also performs as a backdrop for Chinese newlyweds’ photos. There were several couples in the church square, accompanied by entourages including camera, lighting and make-up people. We noticed a few photographers position their shots to catch us in the background.

Across the square from the church is a banquet hall, making this a one-stop wedding shop, if you so needed.

Enough walking around. It’s time to get back to the beach …

Oct 11, 2012

Summer vacation: The tour of the harbor

A two-for-one deal

Boating in the harbor

“Just walk out by Zhan Qiao pier and find a guy,” was the gist of the directions we could find. This was echoed by the clerk at our hostel, who added, “You should bargain with them, too.”

What was our mysterious quest? A boat ride!

As instructed, we found a guy holding a big poster with photos of people having fun on a boat. Thirty RMB per ticket, he told us. “两个一起, 30块 [both tickets for 30 bucks],” I countered. This was the very first bargaining I’d done in China! And it was a great success!

In the van
On the bus, we scored the coveted in-the-aisle seats

A small, crowded bus took us out to a busy dock, where a bunch of tourist boats were porting and starboarding. The boat tour is a big thing to do in Qingdao.

And it’s a gorgeous view of the city. From the west side, we sailed east towards May 4th Square, checking out all of our favorite landmarks, on the seaward side.

Round-trip, our journey was about a half-hour. Afterward, the bus brought us back to the center of the old town, and one of the ticket-takers directed people into the nearby shops. We had already acquired our tourist trinkets, however, so we quietly went our own way.

A boat ride in the harbor

Click on the photo above for a full slideshow of our day on the water.

We want more pizza!

Oct 11, 2012

Summer vacation: Trattoria Verde

Our Italian splurge

Real Italian food!
Our new friend at the table next door took a picture of us all fancyPeter, outside the restaurant

The online expat reviews of this Italian joint were strong, so we made a reservation and got all dolled up.

The split-level restaurant is cozy, and has a breezy, beachy style — with quirky, cute artwork and tchotchkes on the walls — that wouldn’t be out of place on Main Street in Southampton. Upstairs is a little dark, but we were sat downstairs, with a view of the open kitchen. I can verify that everyone was working very hard.

It was exciting to see a real wine list after so much time. We were trying not to go too crazy, however, at a restaurant that was at the upper end of our budget, so I ordered a glass of the house red, which did me right. Peter’s martini was garnished with a black olive — the one small disappointment of the meal.

We started with an appetizer of roasted asparagus with some sort of hard cheese shaved over the top. (It was something delicious and fancier than Parmesan, is all we can remember; one lesson of this trip was: take better notes.) This was the first time we had seen asparagus anywhere in China, and so we anticipated the dish hungrily. And, oh, it was so good! The asparagus was roasted just perfectly, and the salty tang of the unknown cheese was a wonderful compliment.

As for mains: Peter went with a cheese ravioli, garnished with pine nuts — another rarity over here — and I got a pizza with prosciutto and ricotta cheese. The ravioli were incredible, and the pizza was the Best in China So Far. The crust was thin and crispy, and the sauce (which is most often what Chinese pizza gets wrong) was light and just the right amount of sweet and salty.

It was a pricy meal, but we definitely felt that it was money well spent.

The Trattoria Verde kitchen

Let’s repair to the bar for a digestive …