China’s land of wine and beer is im­mersed in an­cient wis­dom

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China’s an­cient land of wine and beer and hid­den wis­dom

China can be a daunt­ing des­ti­na­tion for any trav­eler, whether for leisure or busi­ness. It is still, in many ways, the sleep­ing dragon that is just emerg­ing from some 3,000 years of in­scrutable his­tory. In China, one is al­ways liv­ing in in­ter­est­ing times as the coun­try of nearly 1.4 bil­lion souls gathers forests of cranes and armies of coders to cre­ate an ever-bur­geon­ing fu­ture of global tech­nolo­gies and light-speed man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The city of Qing­dao is one of those cities mak­ing the great leap for­ward from its spot on the eastern coast of the coun­try along the shores of the Yel­low Sea. New non­stop ser­vice from Los An­ge­les on Xi­a­men Air­lines is mak­ing the city all the more ac­ces­si­ble, and it is a mere 90-minute flight from Seoul and 4.5 hours by high-speed rail from the cap­i­tal of Bei­jing.

How­ever, Qing­dao (for­merly spelled Ts­ing­tao – yes, the same Ts­ing­tao of beer fame) has been on the map of western busi­ness for more than a cen­tury. Ger­man and Aus­trian cap­i­tal­ists found the city per­fect for mak­ing beer from the many arte­sian wells that pop up around the ge­og­ra­phy. To date, pop­u­lar Ts­ing­tao beer re­mains one of China’s prin­ci­pal ex­ports.

A tour of the orig­i­nal fac­tory tells a story of Euro­pean in­flu­ence, and the neigh­bor­hoods that lace the city still bear the neo-mod­ernist touches of the turn of the last cen­tury. Man­sions and of­fice build­ings look like chalets, and wide stone plazas seem set for Euro-style cof­fee sip­ping and gath­er­ing.

Those pock­ets of former Euro­pean grandeur are com­ple­mented by cen­turies-old Taoist tem­ples atop wind­ing and nar­row city streets that over­look the Laoshan Na­tional Park and then the calm, shel­tered beaches of Qing­dao. At night Qing­dao lights up like Times Square with high rise build­ings and un­usual sphere sculp­tures that turn into flow­ing can­vases of LED artistry.


A west­erner could feel at home in Qing­dao. Shop­ping malls with Star­buck’s, McDon­ald’s and lo­cal pizza coun­ters vie with stores selling New Bal­ance shoes and Ap­ple prod­ucts. But this is very much a Chi­nese city of some 10 mil­lion peo­ple. Vis­i­tors will find a vi­brant metropo­lis that is as mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary as it is tra­di­tional, where tea houses abound and lit­tle English is spo­ken. For trav­el­ers who want to ex­pe­ri­ence the city as a lo­cal, Qing­dao is wide open. There are few for­eign faces there, yet a west­erner will re­ceive subtle re­spect and feel an over­whelm­ing sense of safety.

Vis­i­tors will find a vi­brant metropo­lis that is as mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary as it is tra­di­tional

That means, how­ever, that com­mu­ni­ca­tion will al­ways be a co­nun­drum. It is dif­fi­cult to find guides that ap­proach fluency in English. Still, even with the gaps, much can be com­mu­ni­cated and smart­phones can be great tools thanks to trans­la­tion apps.

China Mo­bile and China Uni­com run sim card deals for iPhone and An­droid users. It may be eas­ier, how­ever, to stay with a US-based in­ter­na­tional plan to man­age e-mail and calls seam­lessly. Plus, de­spite Google, Face­book and many news chan­nels not work­ing in China, there are ways to ac­cess these chan­nels in spurts if you use a US-based plan.

Qing­dao is eas­ily the most so­phis­ti­cated des­ti­na­tion in the Shan­dong prov­ince of China. Fa­mil­iar ho­tel brands in­clude Hil­ton, Shangri-La, Sher­a­ton, Le Merid­ian, Westin, Wyn­d­ham, Crown Plaza, even Dou­bletree. These ho­tels have be­come a main­stay for busi­ness trav­el­ers flow­ing into the city, help­ing the city’s quest to be­come Sil­i­con Blue.

Qing­dao’s New High-Tech In­dus­trial

Zone on the west coast Jiaozhou Bay is see­ing large in­flows of in­vest­ment dol­lars as a new eco­nomic zone gain­ing ground in China. Some five square miles are build­ing up around ma­rine in­dus­try re­search, al­ter­na­tive-en­ergy and new-ma­te­ri­als re­search, plus soft­ware ser­vices, ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing and cloud com­put­ing. Haier, a trusted name for house­hold ap­pli­ances in the west, also has its head­quar­ters in Qing­dao.

“This city has much to of­fer any­one who vis­its, whether a busi­ness trav­eler or a leisure trav­eler,” says Qing­dao pro­mo­tion di­rec­tor Yuan Bing. “But busi­ness trav­el­ers are the ones who are trav­el­ing here. They make up 70 per­cent of the vis­i­tor num­bers from the US, which is our largest long­haul mar­ket.”


In­deed, the city is clean and fresh with a com­fort­able ocean breeze and a pedes­trian walk­way along the shore that goes on for miles and miles. Top points of in­ter­est in­clude St. Michael’s Church, a circa-1932 Catholic cathe­dral built in clas­sic neo-gothic tra­di­tion where daily mass is still cel­e­brated. The Book­house by the church is a former Baroque-style man­sion that is now a book­store, gift shop, and a great place to wan­der and think.

From there, a visit to the Ts­ing­tao Beer Mu­seum is in or­der. It’s a mul­ti­di­men­sional com­plex telling the his­tory of the pop­u­lar bev­er­age with holo­grams and life-like dio­ra­mas, fin­ish­ing up, hap­pily, in the tast­ing room. The ex­pe­ri­ence can be fol­lowed by lunch at the mu­seum where onion rings, fries and ham­burg­ers can be munched with chop sticks and downed with golden pitch­ers of the brew.


Qing­dao is the largest city in Shan­dong prov­ince, one the coun­try’s 23 prov­inces, a area that has played a ma­jor role in early Chi­nese his­tory along the lower reaches of the Yel­low River. It was a lo­ca­tion for the de­vel­op­ment of Tao­ism, Chi-

“Busi­ness trav­el­ers make up 70 per­cent of the vis­i­tor num­bers from the US.”

nese Bud­dhism and Con­fu­cian­ism. So any visit to Qing­dao should be com­ple­mented with a trip to some of Shan­dong’s other cap­ti­vat­ing lo­ca­tions, such as the birth­place of Con­fu­cius and Mount Tai, a revered moun­tain for Bud­dhism and Taoist wor­ship.

Ge­o­graph­i­cally, the prov­ince sprawls for some 60,000 square miles (think of the state of Ge­or­gia) with nearly 2,000 miles of coast­line. It has a moun­tain­ous mid­dle and at­trac­tive tourism ar­eas given to names such as Fairy­land Coast, Af­fec­tion­ate Yi­meng and the Ori­en­tal Holy Land.

Close to Qing­dao (a two- to three-hour drive or two-hour by rail) is the Fairy­land Coast of north­east Shan­dong, which juts out be­tween the Bo­hai, Huang­hai and Yel­low seas like a hand. Here the Penglai Pav­il­ion is con­sid­ered one of the four great pavil­ions of China. It sits atop Danya Hill, cov­ered by cen­turies-old Cyprus trees and over­look­ing the con­flu­ence of the wa­ters. The mas­sive gift shop is a good place to buy carv­ings, ex­otic fruits and trin­kets, and area wines.

Or one can taste the wines at the source. Yan­tai, on the north­ern flank of the Fairy­land Coast, has be­come China's wine cap­i­tal thanks to the work of Chang-yu Pioneer Wine Com­pany, the coun­try's old­est and largest win­ery, in the late 19th Cen­tury. The ter­roir of this re­gion com­pares to Bordeaux, and the “chateaux” of the re­gion to pour bot­tles of at­ten­tion-grab­bing caber­nets, ries­lings and chardon­nays.

While the tastes cater to more lo­cal pref­er­ences, the viti­cul­ture in China is catch­ing on for tourism. A tour of the Chang-yu wine mu­seum brings post-tour tast­ings and a chance to con­tem­plate a room-size model of the new 1,000acre $870 mil­lion Dis­ney-style wine theme park with its pala­tial chateau, a re­search in­sti­tute, wine pro­duc­tion and a num­ber of bars and restau­rants.


Far­ther afield, but very much of in­ter­est, is Shan­dong’s cap­i­tal, Ji­nan. It’s a two-hour high-speed train ride from Qing­dao (five hours by car). This is a mag­i­cal city of geo­ther­mal min­eral wa­ters that bub­ble up from deep in the earth; it can be en­joyed from gur­gling foun­tains, in tea, in the lo­cal cui­sine and in spas around the city. Baotu Springs is one of the top water spouts in the city, with pavil­ions, gar­dens and peace­ful path­ways, all in a stun­ning park set­ting.

A leisurely moat boat ride around Dam­ing Lake makes a great in­tro to the city. High-end ho­tel spas of­fer geo­ther­mal heated swim­ming pools, saunas, Jacuzzis and mas­sage ser­vices. Among these are the Lux­ury Blue Hori­zon Ho­tel, In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal Ji­nan City, the Sher­a­ton Ji­nan, Swis­shotel and Shangri-La Ho­tel Ji­nan.

Xi­a­men Air is of­fer­ing a com­pli­men­tary roundtrip ticket to Ji­nan from Qing­dao on China’s high-speed rail line to trav­el­ers tak­ing the LAX-DAO non­stop flight. Busi­ness Class pas­sen­gers will en­joy the rail’s 2x2 first-class car ser­vice. Coach pas­sen­gers will ride in coach class with com­fort­able seats in two by three con­fig­u­ra­tions.

Ji­nan makes a great home base for vis­its to Shan­dong’s three UNESCO World Her­itage sites. Qufu, about two hours from the city is the birth­place of Con­fu­cius and fea­tures the teacher’s fam­ily man­sion, tem­ple and fam­ily ceme­tery as the main at­trac­tions.

Mt. Tai is an hour and a half drive from Ji­nan. At 4,635-feet, it is one of the great moun­tains of China, pos­si­bly be­cause it has been a con­tin­u­ous place of wor­ship for more than three mil­len­nia. Dai Tem­ple, at the foot of the moun­tain was first built dur­ing the Qin Dy­nasty (221 BC to 207 BC) and is one of three ex­tant struc­tures in China with the fea­tures of an im­pe­rial palace (the oth­ers: The For­bid­den City and the Con­fu­cius Tem­ple at Qufu).

The mu­ral paint­ings here date back to the 10th cen­tury and the cy­press trees are more than 2,000 years old. The 6,000 gran­ite steps to the top of the moun­tain may be even older. Vis­i­tors can walk the steps or take a ca­ble car to the top. A sun­rise as­cent is rec­om­mended.

The Grand Canal in south­ern Shan­dong is best known as the Bei­jing–Hangzhou Grand Canal link­ing the Yel­low River and Yangtze River. It dates back to the 5th cen­tury BC in some parts mak­ing it the long­est and the old­est canal sys­tem in the world.

Any visit to Qing­dao should be com­ple­mented with a trip to some of Shan­dong’s other cap­ti­vat­ing lo­ca­tions

CLOCK­WISE: Ts­ing­tao Mu­seum of Beer; Walls of Post-it wishes at the Book­house in Qing­dao; Changyu Wine Cul­ture Mu­seum; En­trance to the Baotu Gar­dens in Ji­nan

CLOCK­WISE: Mak­ing kites, a cul­tural tra­di­tion that vis­i­tors can learn in Shan­dong; Doors to wis­dom at Con­fu­cian Tem­ple in Qufu; Taidong Com­mer­cial Walk; Chi­nese gods guard­ing the Folk Cul­ture Vil­lage of Yangji­abu

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