In Qingdao, there’s a stretch of coastline for the tourists. There are vendors with polished seashells, strings of Qingdao pearls, postcards and the inevitable cheap plastic crap. There’s a toilet for which you’re expected to pay admission. (Stick: I’m not paying to get closer to that smell! I’ll just pee on the street like everyone else!) Tour guides and taxidrivers shout for customers. Maybe because Qingdao has so many tourists, or maybe I’m learning to bargain better, but I didn’t feel like my white skin was blood in the water for vendor sharks.
And there are beggars. Old China hands, you don’t need to tell me that most of the beggars in China are scams. I know that begging children are usually part of a pickpocketing scheme, but they make me sad, even as I’m checking to make sure my wallet’s still there.
The beggars in Qingdao are really disturbing, with wounds and scars and missing limbs. And there are so many that I’m walking past people in dire need, because I already gave my money to the first three or four beggars I saw. Somehow you have to accept that, as you’re walking around enjoying the sea breezes, other people are not on vacation. I guess there are always other people in need, but in China, they’re literally lying in your path.
There are all kinds of food vendors, so there’s the smell of melting red-bean ice cream, hot fried fish, oniony pancakes and sausage all around.
Across the street from this hub of commerce is a Starbucks-ripoff coffeeshop. Stick and I went inside for a break from the commotion, and to take advantage of the Western toilets. Like most Chinese coffeeshops, it combined coffeehouse, pizzeria and bar.
Everything was Starbucks green, and even the name was written in Starbucks font. (There are real Starbuckses in China, the one at the Badaling Great Wall springs to mind) But the name of the coffeeshop was SPR, which we thought was a very good Roman name. As Stick pointed out, Populusque is really one word.
Sitting on a silk-covered couch, in the air-conditioning, sipping what was almost a margarita, it was hard to believe that the Qingdao tourist bazaar was just a few yards away.