Archive for June 2012

Sunday In Qingdao, China   3 comments

Now some people may ask why come to this part of China.  I mean other than being kind of China’s epicenter for most things that have to do with the sea, what would bring me here is the question that many people have asked.  Well, I traveled to Qingdao for two reasons.  The first, as I have admitted many times I am curious.  I am the proverbial curious cat.  I love off the beaten track places.  Once I heard the name of the city, saw the photos and read the description I wanted to go there.   Now the other reason is a little more complicated.

I had met Blessing online; on one of those international dating websites that cater to people who want to date and mate across cultures.  She was pretty, smart, a business woman, the right age and spoke English.  I remember thinking, Blessing – was that an omen or what?  Since our meeting, we trailed each other almost every day for months; emails, photos, disclosures about life and sharing our philosophies about living.  We talked on SKYPE, live chatted on msn and I found myself wanting to know – could one really fall in love with someone you only knew through your computer?  Yikes!!!!

The possibility of meeting Blessing only provided comfort to a decision that had already been made.  I had wanted to go to China for years, but never had the time.  No, never took the time to go.  My sister had gone last year.  Her visit made me want to go more.  After talking to my sister, who went last year, about the visa application process, we both used Travel Document Systems (TDS), which turned out to be an excellent service, I took to leap.  You send your passport, the China visa application form (available on the Chinese Embassy website) and the fee to TDS and they take care of the rest.

I must admit I was surprised when the Chinese embassy not only approved my visa application, but also gave me unlimited visits for a 12 month period.  Usually they only give applicants for tourist visas one or two visits during a 90 or at most 180 day window.  It made me wonder whether about Blessing’s name as someone I was going to visit had anything to do with it.  Her now deceased father had been a party official.  It also made me a little nervous.

But, as the time approached for me to depart for China, our conversations became increasingly distant.  Just the opposite of what I thought, and certainly wanted to happen.  The excitement of meeting for the first time; thoughts of spending time together; and all of the problem solving avoidance that can go with romance across cultures had drifted into a gulf that I felt was growing between us.  Our conversations were consumed by her family problems.  She was turning her business over to the people who worked for her.  Her life was being turned upside down and health problems followed.  All of which became the focal point of our conversations.

As my train arrived in Qingdao, I had no idea of whether I would see Blessing.  I came with hopes – I am optimistic that way.  But I did not let myself count on it.  I am also realistic that way.  I, along with what seemed to be a football stadium full of people escaped the train to climb a long steady incline though the station to the mass of people waiting, vending, and hanging out in the sunlight on the other side of the station’s doors.  I had arrived and nobody knew it.

English is spoken by a few people in China, mostly in the cities.  And that includes written English.  I caught a break arriving in Qingdao as the one of the guys who saw the look of “I am really confused” on my face helped me negotiate a taxi to my hotel.  We wrestled to put my oversized bag in this gasoline smelling old three wheel vehicle driven by one of the nicest people who I met on my trip to China.  She spoke no English but went out of her way to make sure that I knew I was in good hands, even if I was sure that her care was very safe.

After three days of no response from Blessing to my emails or calls, I wrote the following email to her.

“It is obvious that I will not see you this trip. I do want to thank you for introducing me to Qingdao.  I have had the most amazing day of my trip to your wonderful country.  I am just very sad that you were not here to share it with me.

Sincerely

Wayne           

I had just walked the boardwalk, as I had done several times before about 5 kilometers, perhaps hoping that this would be the day I would see Blessing there.  Qingdao possesses one of the most social beaches that I have been on in a long time.  Qingdao is a family city.  And though the city itself is about 9 million people, the beach and boardwalk on Sundays is a comfortable place to walk, eat, play, exercise and people watch.   As on this day, like all of the other days I walked the board walk, I was the only person that I saw that looked like me.  Not another man with chocolate-brown skin in sight.  Most ignored this minor oddity.  Many smiled. A few wanted to take pictures with me.  And some stopped to chat.  I had grown comfortable in Qingdao pretty quickly.  And Qingdao had grown comfortable with me.

But this day was different.  Sundays are wedding days in China.  And in Qingdao, for those that have little money to pay for the expensive rituals weddings have become in China, they come to the beach to rent wedding gowns of any and all fashion, tuxes or suites that make the man look like he could afford his new bride and many bring their wedding friends to dress according to the tradition of having many bridesmaids and groomsmen at one’s wedding.  And they bring photographers to capture their special day in poses that ranged from the traditional to romantic to, WHAT are you sure you want to do that.

There must have been thirty or forty couples on the beach that day.  As I strolled I saw women hiking their dresses, revealing the jeans they wore underneath, to get that photo that would be their memory of being together in fun and in love for years to come.  I walked past many couples that day, thinking these are memories in the making.  Their smiles, some exchanging happiness glances with me, were contagious.

My blessing was a different experience that the one I had planned n Qingdao.  Given the opportunity, I would return to Qingdao.  I got a chance to hangout in a few dance clubs, drink coffee at the Starbucks in a downtown plaza, visit a wonderful aquarium full of kids and sea life I had never seen before and eat fresh caught squid grilled on the beach.  And on that beautiful Sunday as I walked alone, I kept catching glimpses of what is possible when one takes a step of faith into possibility.  As you can see from the photos below, it was a day full of romance.  It was a day full of hope.  It was a day full of love.  It was a day full of joy.  It was a day for forgiveness.

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