Images courtesy of Michael Bush

Qingdao & The Magical Powers of Beer

| published October 30, 2015 |

By Michael Bush, Thursday Review writer

Being in a punk rock band, people typically expect you to be tough, surly, angry, even mean, and that you won’t take any crap from anyone. That’s not really me, though. Nor does it describe my bandmates in 小心翼翼 (Xiao Xin Yi Yi), which means ‘cautiously’ or ‘to be discreet.’ We ended up changing the name of the band to XXYY to make it easier for the laowai, (the Mandarin word for foreigner) though. We were never the tough guys, we weren’t angry, we didn’t try to fight the system, and we never started any fights. We just had a good time, and tried to be funny. We wanted the audience to have as much fun as we were having.

Another thing people often associate with being in a punk band is drinking lots and lots of beer. Now in this endeavor, XXYY were the masters. Example: a typical band practice was supposed to last three hours, but ended up being around four to five hours, and usually went something like this:

Me, bass and vocals, or Mike Herd, guitar and vocals, showed up first and had a beer while waiting (I usually had one or two on the 30 minute taxi ride to the practice space). Jaret Shank, drums, would show up 20 to 30 minutes late. We would sit in the common area for 15 minutes and have another beer while talking and catching up on each other’s lives over the past week. Then we got set up, Jaret taking excruciatingly long in this process, and began practicing. After 20 minutes practice we would take a beer break for about 20 minutes. Then play for 30 minutes, and then break for 20 minutes with beer. And so forth.

Out of three hours of paid practice time, we usually got in about one and a half hours of actually playing music before hanging out in the common area for longer than was responsible. The rest was all beer, talk, beer, and laughter, or what we call on the streets…friendship. We dubbed ourselves the laziest band in Shanghai.
So it should come as no surprise that when we found the opportunity to travel to and play in Qingdao (pronounced Ching-Dow), China—the home of Tsingtao Beer—we lunged ferociously at the chance.

Qingdao (青岛), on the coast in eastern Shandong province, is the self-proclaimed “Birthplace of Beer Culture,” (yeah, right) and is home to the world famous Tsingtao Beer, which began being produced in 1903 by the Germans occupying the city at that time. Yes, Germany had a colonial interest in the region after the European naval power seized control of the area—essentially stealing it for about 20 years and injecting beer into the equation. The city has a rich cultural history that reaches back 6,000 years, including being an important port city, having important Chinese-built fortifications, as well as a naval base to fend off attacks (which is why Germany seized the whole thing). But none of that really matters, because BEER.

Qingdao The streets are lined with restaurants serving absolutely mouthwatering food, and specializing in seafood. You could pick up a rock, (please don’t though, we’ve talked about how dirty the ground is in China; see my October 9, 2015 article in Thursday Review; Remove Your Shoes Before Entering the House in China) and throw it blindly. Wherever it landed, you could sit down and order food that would blow your mind with how good it is. Not only that, but you could order crisp, delicious, and cold beer on tap. This last distinction is important, as beer is not usually served cold in China. Nor are any drinks for that matter, including water. The Chinese typically don’t like cold drinks, even in summer. Water is served hot to keep your insides from being mushy and cold. If you drink cold drinks, you get sick. Didn’t you know?
XXYY beer poster
Well, XXYY were offered a gig in this amazing city of beer, and as luck would have it, at the same time as the International Beer Festival was in town. That’s right… a beer city with a beer festival hosting a beer-guzzling band of laowai, a true recipe for disaster.

Jaret and I arrived a day ahead of Mike, who was travelling with our friend E.J. They both worked at the same school, and couldn’t get away on Friday, so they would catch up with us on Saturday. This probably saved their lives, as Jaret and I began a ten hour beerfest of our own design that would kill most mortal men.

We began innocently enough upon arrival, and after checking into our hotel, with a few road beers while casually strolling through the neighborhood. One thing we noticed on our walk was that every other store wasn’t a store, but a storage room full to the ceiling with beer. Never in my life have I seen this much beer, and I’m from Alabama. There were cases of the precious liquid just lying in the road, waiting to be delivered by scooter or truck.

Girl promising free beer Then, in our random wandering, we came upon a monument to our favorite drink of all time. It was the Tsingtao Beer Museum, and a cute girl offering passersby a salute and the promise of a free beer lured us into the gates. Honestly, it could have been a grizzly bear wielding a bloody machete; all he had to say was, “free beer, humans” and I would have ran in screaming with joy.

The museum was interesting, and they offered us an English-speaking tour guide, with headphones telling us even more details in our native language. But really, as interesting as the history of beer in China was, we just wanted to keep the beer buzz going, and that free beer was calling to us. Unfortunately, we were told it was at the end of the tour. We passed old beer labels, original advertisements and posters, and then walked through the actual bottling floor. This gave me a sense of being in that opening sequence to Laverne and Shirley.

Beer floor

Shlemiel, shlemazel, Tsingtao Incorporated. We’re gonna do it!

Upon reaching the end of the tour, our little, tiny, miniscule cup of free beer was offered at a fancy looking bar. We could choose regular ol’ Tsingtao, which we were well accustomed to as we bought plenty of them at 3 RMB (47 cents USD) for a 500mL (17oz) bottle at Family Mart. Oooooooor…we could choose the fresh beer… the stuff that only lasts for 24 hours before going bad.

Always choose the fresh beer.

Josh Bush We took the fresh stuff, and it tasted of Greek gods’ lighting, dragons’ fire, and unicorns’ tears. It was magical—that’s what I’m trying to say. As we left, fearing that we would never again taste something so full of wonder, we stumbled into the bar that guards the exit. That’s right, you have to walk through a fully functional bar full of drunken people to leave the museum. Predictably, we did not make it out for a few hours. Turns out they sold the fresh beer in that bar.

Josh's friend
After this, Jaret and I stumbled out into the light, yes it was still daytime, and decided food would be in order. Buckets of fresh beer still clutched in our hands, we made our way to one of the many “stone’s throw” restaurants found everywhere. We sat down and feasted like medieval knights after a tournament of might and prowess.

Or sloppily ate too much food and acted like idiots. I can’t really remember.

Afterward, we finally made it to the beach, where we found another Qingdao legend…BAGS OF BEER. Yes, here you will find vendors with kegs of Tsingtao ready to fill a pitcher of beer, and then pour said pitcher of beer into a plastic bag, plop a straw into it and hand the beautiful package over, all for the low, low cost of 10 RMB (about $1.58 in U.S. dollars!). We partook. Then Jaret and I wandered down the pier to have a look at the pretty pagoda and lights.

Beer Festival

Eventually, we made it to the bar where we would play the following night. Our day was nearing it’s end, but not before receiving an hour or two of free beers, followed by one of the locals taking us to another bar in town. Needless to say, the next day was pretty rough. So what did we decide to do? Go to the International Beer Festival, of course, an event already in full swing.
Friends meet up
Mike and E.J. arrived around noon and, after we took them for fresh beer, we headed towards the beer festival. Now, this is supposedly the biggest and best beerfest in all of China. And I am here to tell you that is a lie, in my opinion. Biggest? Yes. Best? Heck no. Shanghai is host to two or three beer fests a year, and everyone one is better than the Qingdao version. The reason? VARIETY! The festival in Qingdao only serves…you guessed it…Tsingtao—the city’s signature beer. The festivals in Shanghai host beer makers from all over China, who come to introduce beer lovers to new and delicious foamy cups of magic.

Although it was not that great, we still had a blast at the beerfest. I mean, they did have beer, and meat on a stick. We drank, we posed for photos because OH LOOK LAOWAI, and we found people who overdid it way more than us. Overall, good times were had by all.

We played at Downtown Bar that night, and XXYY did ok. Not many people showed up because, hey…the beerfest was in town. The next day we took a train back to Shanghai. But before we could, Qingdao threw one last hurdle our way. E.J. had forgotten his passport in Shanghai.

Somehow, he made it into Qingdao without incident, but leaving was another issue altogether. They wouldn’t let him on the train without a passport. So, using some sleight of hand with stamped and unstamped train tickets, I fooled the security guards and government officials into believing he had already been on the platform. They bought it, and in the end I got him on the train.

I guess drinking all that mystic fresh beer paid off in the end, as it imbued me with genuine magical powers. I now admit that I did it all for E.J. Otherwise, he’d be living on the streets of Qingdao to this day, begging for beer money.


Related Thursday Review articles:

The Giant: Gaining Weight in China, Losing Weight in China; Michael Bush; Thursday Review; October 17, 2015.

Remove Your Shoes Before Entering the House in China (or, the grossest article you will ever read at Thursday Review!); Michael Bush; Thursday Review; October 9, 2015.