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The Beer Carnival of Qingdao
by Aron Blatt - Jan 14, 2015
For anyone visiting the Middle Kingdom, one of the most common words you learn first is pijiu (beer, 啤酒 in Mandarin) and – perhaps – rightly so. One of the next most common phrases is ganbei (empty glass or cheers) which you’ll hear frequently when drinking alcohol here. China’s primary brand of lager, Tsingtao, is the country’s answer to Budweiser. Like Holland’s Heineken or Belgium’s Stella Artois, Tsingtao is many a locals (or foreigners) go-to beer while out and about.
A few friends and I decided the only way we could really get to know this country properly, would be to head to the Qingdao International Beer Festival (Qīngdǎo Guójì Píjiǔ Jié; 青岛国际啤酒节) and binge drink with the locals. China’s answer to Octoberfest takes place annually around the end of August each year and lasts for a full-on hangover-session-and-a-half of two weeks. Hardcore. See the official website www.qdbeer.cn for details if your Chinese suffices.
Having successfully celebrated their wonder-liquor for almost a quarter of a century, the boozy brethren in the northeastern port city of Qingdao would no doubt appreciate a visit from a few highly-motivated trainee alcoholics like us. The beer itself sticks with the old name Tsingtao [same pronunciation] taken from Thomas Francis Wade’s mid-19th century Wade-Giles translation system (now replaced entirely by pinyin).
Flyling Over Qingdao
During some of China’s more troubled times, as they were preparing the area as a naval defense base, ze Germans seized and occupied the city. They colonized this part of the world for sixteen years and, almost as soon as they setup camp, they established the Germania Brewery in 1903 – which would later become the Tsingtao Brewery. At the outbreak of World War I, Japan declared war on Germany and invaded Qingdao. The area was eventually handed back to China at the end of 1922 – but also returned to Japanese control during World War II (1937-1945).
Today the city boasts the longest bridge in the world and a booming population of almost 9 million people. Due to its coastal location the air is clean and the weather fresh and free from the smog you can easily find in most major cities.
After one and a half hour’s flight, our plane landed safely at Qingdao Liuting International Airport (Qīngdǎo Liútíng Guójì Jīchǎng; 青岛流亭国际机场). Seeing as this was, essentially, the first time we’d traveled within China, it’s fair to say we were in for an interesting experience no matter what. With exciting pictures conceived in our mind mixed with the anxiety about our terrible Chinese, we stepped off the plane with intrigue. The first thing that caught my eye was that all the signs are written in three languages, not only Chinese and English but also Korean. Later on I would learn that the city has intimate links with Korea, and here you can find the second largest Korean population in the country (after Beijing). Every year there are huge numbers of Korean enterprises investing in Qingdao as well as large numbers of students, so it’s quite common to see ‘Korean streets’ all over the place here.
Qingdao Liuting International Airport
The Signage with Three Languages
Thanks to the readable signage, we successfully found the spot to buy tickets for Airport Bus Line 3 which took us – for all of 20 RMB per head – to Century Square (Shìjì Guǎngchǎng; 世纪广场) where the festival was held. Nearly 90 minutes later, finally, we arrived at our destination: Qingdao Ocean Hotel (Qīngdǎo Yuǎnyáng Dàjiǔdiàn; 青岛远洋大酒店) stop (it’s also called 会展中心 - Huìzhǎn Zhōngxīn, aka Exhibition Center ). Taxis for the same route set you back about 60 RMB and trim the travel time down to almost half.
Route for Airport Express Bus 3
After we arrived and checked-in to our hostel – located near the Century Square – we got our glad rags on and headed out for some serious festival action. As we rocked up, we were pleasantly surprised to see a Chinese man leisurely walking down the street holding plastic bags filled with beer in both hands. What a genius idea that is. Something reusable and non metallic must surely be better for the environment and, probably, a guaranteed way to consume a lot of beer in the shortest possible space of time.
The plastic bags which filled with beer
Qingdao International Beer City
Entering the festival grounds at around 3pm, we were expecting a raucous party full of red-faced Chinese men eager to ganbei us. Unfortunately we were wrong. It was clear this was just too early for that nonsense. Instead of the red-faced Chinese men, we witnessed something infinitely more attractive: a parade full of beguiling exotic flavors was fast approaching. The first show comprised of some rather lovely girls in Hawaiian hula outfits, waving and twisting in their grass skirts and all the while accompanied by a soothing soundtrack. Their strong artistic performance and cheerful expressions genuinely made us feel as if we were lying on the beach, bathing in the sunshine from Hawaii. OK, possibly the beer had a little to do with that too.
The Hawaii Parade Team
Passionate Girls from Russia
Next up some Russian ladies entertained the crowds with a supreme visual feast. All of them were in fiery colored costumes – more suited to the Rio Carnival than Qingdao Beer Festival – that they paraded passionately while dancing with their big and beautiful feathers flapping in the wind. The crowd subtly got moved from hot Hawaii to cool Russia in the blink of eye. As the show continued around us, we agreed this was thirsty work and darted off to look for drinks.
Tent of German Beer
Having spent the previous three weeks drinking an uncanny amount of Tsingtao in Beijing, we were hoping to find something different to cleanse our palette. While we were able to find some Belgian beer, it was a little too expensive due to our diabolical financial situation. We finally stumbled upon a small tent offering up 5RMB bottles of Tsingtao, a wide variety of kebabs, grilled oyster and, the icing on the cake, karaoke. Our spirits lifted, we grabbed a seat, loaded up on beer and kebabs and grabbed the song list. I absolutely adore the karaoke culture here. When we started to sing the tent was practically empty, after word spread that some foreigners were making fools of themselves – more and more people started to trickle in before the tent was apparently full. I considered asking the owners free some beer seeing as we’d just brought such a massive crowd, but – obviously – my Chinese wasn’t good enough.
Spicy Grilled Oyster
Saddam and Bin Laden were selling their Kebab
A special Chinese pie which is made of beer
A little tourist was singing on the tent stage
Thanks to the never ending calls of ganbei in the tent, time (and beers) flew by. After the sunset, things really started to pick up. We moved the party, from the cheaper beer tent to one of the biggest tents on site, as we’d been informed that the real entertainment for the night was just about to start.
A little boy who seems to have a good drinking capability
“Ganbei” with Friends
Under the big tent, the party was in full swing. Beer vendors were working overtime to fill huge mugs, and beer drinkers were working overtime to empty them, especially us. I could count the foreigners in there with my fingers alone (although there might have been some double vision going on, so maybe I needed my toes as well), and as such, our company was highly sought after. Being unable to afford the 90 RMB mugs of German beer myself, you can imagine my excitement at the numerous offers I got from strangers to drink theirs. Of course, I was expected to ganbei every time, and I obliged – or tried my best.
The Carnival in the Beer Festival
The crazy flying chair
If you felt dizzy and faint after (what felt like) a hundred ganbei sessions; the entertainment facilities in the carnival could either help you come back to life or send you spinning like an old disco record. I intended to attempt the flying chair ride until I saw the miserable expression on Johnny face after he’d just finished. I changed my mind and instead focused my efforts on getting more beer. Surrounded by screams and laughter coming from every direction we soaked up the ambience until we simply couldn’t stand the fairground music any longer.
Even well-equipped mermaids drink Tsingtao!
All in all, the Qingdao International Beer Festival was quite the experience. And, for the record, we did much more than just drink. No, honest - I’m serious. We visited St. Michael’s Cathedral, checked out some old German buildings, hit up the Underwater World aquarium, and even ate some jellyfish – not in the aquarium I might add. We even took a dip in the sea. I’d say the trip was definitely a rip-roaring success. We made it there and back, managed to feed ourselves, got around the city, and drank excessive amounts of beer. In fact, it all went so well I’m gagging to explore this huge country more and more now.
The Peaceful Sea and Beach of Qingdao