Being male in China means navigating the drinking culture, which varies from region to region. If you want to be healthy and not get drunk on a regular basis, this can be challenging. Not drinking would seriously hinder your social interaction with other men (never mind your ability to conduct business). That’s just how thoroughly embedded into the culture alcohol is. A lot of people — foreigners and Chinese — don’t see any middle ground; it’s either get sloshed or don’t have many male friends.
Just the other night a neighbour came over for a Christmas dinner. He brought me baijiu as a present but said he’d prefer to drink beer with dinner, and to drink slowly. That started a conversation about drinking in China, during which he explained that for two thousand years it’s been proper social etiquette for a host to display generosity by getting his guests drunk, and that only recently has this begun to slowly change toward the more “civilized” drinking of the West, where, in polite company, people can enjoy a little alcohol together but there’s no expectation or obligation to drink extreme amounts. (Turns out most adults don’t like getting routinely wasted — who knew?! ;) )
But that was an exceptional situation. Typically in Qingdao, a half-complete dinner between male friends looks like this:
It’d be easy to find bigger bottle displays to photograph; I just happened to snap this mid-meal on the way back from the bathroom the other night. To North Americans it might look like a lot of beer for a family restaurant, but to me it looks like *not baijiu*. Qingdao is the beer capital of China, and that means that — unlike our foreign friends in other parts of China — I don’t have to choose between dealing with baijiu or having male friends.
This not-yet-opened overpass arcs between brand new apartment complexes on its way to eventually run past three big shopping malls and a subway transfer station. But one last patch of protested, illegally bulldozedpíngfáng 平房 currently stands in the way.
This rubble marks the last undeveloped plot in that particular city block. The protest banner faces the canal that used to hold Qingdao’s biggest traditional market, which has now been cleared off and is nearly finished its transformation into a riverwalk.
When we first moved to this area four years ago, we saw a couple kilometers’ worth of traditional buildings and neighbourhoods straddling and a massive, unregulated openair market. But from a birds’ eye view you’d see it as an island of Chinese blue collar chaos in a sea of rapid urban consumer-class development — on all sides glitzy malls, expensive apartment complexes, and subway station construction rumbled on incessantly. As fun as it was to live close-to-but-not-in that old school area, we guessed that it’d mostly be gone in five years’ time.
Black on white is the usual protest banner colour scheme (white on black ribbons are for funerals, red on white banners are for government propaganda, and advertising usually uses white or yellow on red).
The first week of October is a national holiday in China. And the beach is still more comfortable than the British Columbian beaches, lakes and rivers I grew up swimming in. We just spent a whole day body surfing, building sand castles and catching crabs with another foreign family (because our Chinese friends won’t come to the beach in October). I could hardly believe it was October. The view from our tent:
During sānfú (三伏), the 30-40 days of official hotness according to the lunar calendar, we don’t have to invite our Chinese friends to the beach on weekends; they’ll invite themselves. But in May and for most of September we have to go with foreign friends, because our Chinese friends are unlikely to come. Nevermind how the weather is on a particular day, it’s just not the right time of year. On Oct 1 there were still lots of Chinese families on the beach, but nearly 100% of the Chinese kids were in long sleeves, long pants, and double layers. It was only the seven foreign kids who were allowed to go swimming.
Our giant sand castle usually draws a nominal amount of attention, but stick a naked blond 2-year-old on top (not pictured) and it’s like lighting a candle in the middle of a dark room. His parents were super tolerant though, and the castle was big enough that people mostly kept their distance.
Once the weather gets too cold for Canadian families to spend Saturdays at the beach, we’ll take our Saturdays to the local mountains for day hikes and picnics. And when it’s too cold for that, there are large local parks for the kids to run around in. It’s really only the dead of winter in Qingdao when you have to try hard to not get cabin fever.
If you’re a foreign family in Qingdao, it’s understandable if the thought of spending a summer day at the beach makes you twitch. I mean, come on, it’s July in Qingdao; who’s gonna march their little yangwawas through the middle of this?
Your kids already get more than enough attention on a normal day from the relatively cosmopolitan, local Qingdao urbanites. But throwing them into the middle of a beach that’s packed with domestic tourists like a boiling pot of jiaozi ? That’s just cruel and unusual. And that’s why we know long-term, well-enculturated, fluent-in-Chinese families here who simply don’t do the beach at all.
But when it comes to our family, we’re a little more desperate. Not swimming outdoors in the summer would be… we might as well all be in summer school. So we’ve tried numerous things over the last four years, attempting to make the beach worthwhile. And I think we’ve pretty much got it down. Behold! This is us, on the beach in Qingdao, in July:
Where are all the people? Why isn’t there a ring of photographers around your little blond, curly-haired children? How is it that I can see where the sand ends and the water begins? Over the last few years we’ve distilled a few tricks, like our particular place and times, and the result is that photo (four of those seven bodies are us). We do this nearly every Saturday in not-cold weather from June to September.
A “successful” beach day for us isn’t perfect, of course. On the day that photo was taken I had to politely turn away two requests for photos with our kids, and passive-aggressively angle-out photo attempts from two other people. Drawing a circle around our tent and sandcastle works as an effective barrier on about 95% of the people who pause to look, meaning only one person all day stepped over it to try and get their kid to stand next to ours for a photo (this is pretty much always a domestic tourist from an inland village or small town, where social norms are different). Most passersby don’t stop to look, but those who do merely stand outside the circle for a moment before moving on. An ATV drove up once to check us out. But that’s all in 5+ hours at the beach, which imo is a very reasonable amount of attention to tolerate as a foreign family in a wannabe 2nd-tier Chinese city.
You can see less-successful beach attempts from summers past here: