I woke up feeling great on Saturday morning and Brian asked me if I would like to hike up a mountain with some of his friends from Shanghai to see German battery tunnels. Hell yes. We took a taxi to his friends Will and Matthew’s beautiful hotel which was located downtown. Matthew is a tall, handsome British man with a strong voice that would serve someone in parliament well. His partner, Will, is a chill Chinese guy who lived in California for many years and studied film at USC. They both work in film advertising in Shanghai.
They were each drinking a Jack and coke at 10am, while we waited for Chantelle and Laura to arrive. It was a little bit of a shock to walk into a smoke filled room where gay guys with tattoos were drinking and talking about Dostoevsky and Goethe after I had tried to adjust to the Chinese lifestyle for the previous three days. I immediately got good vibes though, and they took me in as part of the crew in no time.
Matthew had found out about the tunnels through an urban hiking blog but warned that we had to be cautious, as it was very close to a Chinese military compound. We started up the front of the mountain, and soon after the trail disappeared and Matt led the way through the woods.
It was a tough hike up, with a portion of the trek being almost vertical up the rocks, but we all made it up eventually and the view was worth it. After hanging out on top of the mountain for an hour we made our way to the other side to find the tunnels.
It was a beautiful day with great new friends, and we finished the night off with a huge dinner and beers in bags on the street.
I had most of the day free so I decided to check out Da Xue Lu which is the oldest street in Qingdao and has over 50 coffee shops and gardens. I found a beautiful small café with only one seat right next to the window; it was a perfect place to finish my book. I only had a little bit left of Great Expectations to read. The movie selection on the plane was far too good to read a book and this was a perfect chance. Let me try to explain how frustrating those final pages were.
I like to read two pages before where I left off so by the time I get to the new stuff I’m deep within the world of the story.
Pip, his fortune won and lost, his dream world crushed by the realities of his benefactor and the love of his life married off to his enemy, was back at Satis House eleven years after he left London. He sees a lady in the ruined garden, could it be Estella? The woman about whom he claimed, “In a word, it was impossible for me to separate her, in the past and present, from the innermost life of my life“. I see quotations coming up which means he will speak to her and then, “AHHHHGGGGHHGHHH PTHU“.
I looked up and saw a man outside the window next to me picking his nose and staring at me. Spitting, like smoking and staring at foreigners, is something people in China try to do as often and as close to you as possible. We probably stared at each other for four or five blinks and then he moved on. I went back two pages. It was Estella! They found each other in the same place they had first met. Estella, her life destroyed by her adopted mother who tried at every moment to use her as revenge against love, was still just as beautiful eleven years on. Only 100 pages before she claimed that, “I have a heart to be stabbed in or shot in, I have no doubt, and of course, if it ceased to beat I shall cease to be. But you know what I mean. I have no softness there, no sympathy-sentiment-nonsense.” Surely her broken life had taught her sympathy? Quotations coming!!!!!!! I see them a few lines down.
“I am greatly changed, I know, but I thought- HOOOOONNNNNKKKKK!. . . . . . . . . HOOOONNNNKKKK. “I’m going to fucking kill somebody”, I thought. The honking in this city in incessant. I never realized how polite and calming New York City drivers are until I came to China again. Two more times this happened!!! First world problems, I know, but I only had a few pages left. Finally I finished. Well done Señor Dickens, well done.
I spent the rest of the day walking around listening to music until I met up with friends later that night. I put on the song “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” by Ryuichi Sakamoto, the theme to the movie with the same name starring David Bowie. I never saw the movie but the music was incredible as the sun went down. If you ever need a feeling, get a good buzz and/or high going, sit alone in a room, turn the lights off and put on Sakamoto’s “Bibo No Aozora”. The second half gets weird but the first three minutes are sure to cut to the core.
I met up with Chantelle, Matthew, Will, Brian, and Laura at a bar with a cinema where they were screening Mad Max. Matthew was painting everyone’s nails “hooker gold” while sipping a bottle of rum so I had to partake. There were two other guys there that I hadn’t met. While traveling, especially in a place like China, you become hyperaware of vibes. These guys didn’t have good ones. The younger one was German and there was something about the way he slammed his hand down too hard on the table when something was supposed to be funny that immediately put me on edge. In the span of two hours he managed to compare getting a tattoo to rape, pontificated on how I could never be an actor because I hadn’t gone to a proper school, said Americans couldn’t teach (Brian, having a masters in education from Columbia, found this particularly frustrating), and said Will was popular with foreigners only because he spoke fluent Chinese (he is Chinese). They followed us to dinner and Matt and Will got up to leave after the first round came out. “Have to take care of something at the hotel,” they said. Ugghh. We hurriedly got the check and Chantelle pulled me aside to let me know that they had all been texting each other about making excuses to go home and then meeting up at my hostel. My phone only works with wifi so I had no idea. We all met up again and drank beers from bags to close out the night.
My new friends all head back to Shanghai today. It’s sad, but necessary, because if I want to speak Chinese well, then I need to be speaking mostly in Chinese.