Thursday, September 6, 2012

Qing Dao Beer Museum

In spite of my misadventures getting to my destination I had no problems once I got there. The train pulled in a little after 8PM, which gave me ample time to secure lodging and scrounge for food before falling into bed.

As with other cities I venture to by myself I had no hotel reservations in Qing Dao. My modus operandi has not changed. It is somewhat akin to blindfolding myself, jumping off a cliff and seeing how things come out once I land. So far things have turned out very well. This time I chose the very first city bus I came to – bus 303. By stroke of luck it wended its way down Hotel World, a stretch of road with one hotel after the other.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the chain hotels within my price range were all full, with the exception of one whose computer system was down. I had to go to a high-end hotel and ended up paying over 350Yuan for that first night’s accommodation. At least I know I was not the only one getting overcharged. Another guest, a Chinese man also complained about the high rate.

As long as there are not two fee schedules: one for foreigners and the other for Chinese. I don’t mind paying the same as everyone else, even if the price is exorbitant. If I had had more energy, or if there’d been more time (it was already quite late), I would have gone elsewhere. As it was, my eyes were closing on their own. I figured I’d better put up for the night.

The next morning, fully rested I set out to find more affordable quarters. Also, I had to secure a train ticket back to Wuhan pretty quickly. With the school year starting soon, students would be traveling, thus guaranteeing that train tickets would be a scarce commodity. Both tasks were taken care of in short order and I spent the rest of that first day just meandering around the beach, the shoreline and generally around town.

The next day, with heat peaking in the mid 90’s and humidity right about 70%, I thought that would be a perfect time to visit a museum. Again serendipity shone on me: bus 217, that stops directly in front of my hotel, will take me straight to the Qing Dao Beer Museum!

Note that I said ‘serendipity’, not ‘dumb luck’. I noticed that disturbing trend of saying ‘by sheer dumb luck’ a few posts ago but then figured that luck has not much to do with my wanderings. Serendipity, a fortunate accident fits the bill so much better.  

This was one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. It is divided into 3 sections: Part A was One Hundred Years of Beer Brewing History. The coolest thing I learned there is that people used to buy beer in a bag straight from the factory and drink it through a straw. So that’s why I saw people milling about outside the museum with clear plastic bags of beer! Pardon me but at first glance, all those bags of beer held at thigh level looked like waste bags that catheterized people wear strapped to their leg. I thought I had stumbled into a tour group of infirms, out for the day.

The second, and by far the coolest part of the museum was the old brewing house. Virtually unchanged since its inception over 100 years ago, therein displayed were huge copper kettles, vast vats, dimly lit chambers extending into the distance. Adding to the effect were several wax figure workers fingering the hops, standing by control panels, bending over troughs and pens.

Tell you the truth, the old brewery creeped me out with its low ceilings, dim, incandescent lighting, echoing chambers, tiled walls and huge, silent machines. I was not a part of any tour group but ahead of me as well as behind I could hear the chatter and laughter of groups as they went through. Their ghostly voices added to the effect, ramping up the creep factor by at least 10. Here and there were wax mannequins looking so lifelike as they bent to their tasks that I was actually scared when I came upon one. Honestly: I would have liked to linger and take my time through this exhibit but it was simply too creepy. I rushed through. 

The third coolest thing was that, included in the price of the entrance ticket you get free beer and peanuts. Not as much as you want but still: that is a pretty neat bonus. Between the old brewery and the modern facility is an antique bar where you are served a glass of ‘raw beer’ and a small bag of honey roasted peanuts before venturing into the modern plant.

SMALL SIDESTEP: some people who read this blog know me personally. Others have no idea what I look like, so I thought this would be a good time to include a picture of myself. To the best of my recollection, this is the first time I include a picture of me in this blog.

The first picture is me enjoying my free beer and peanuts. The second picture is me after having enjoyed my free beer and peanuts.  

WARNING: I am a mean drunk and a cheap drunk. Especially on an empty stomach. You see, I figured I would find something to eat on the way to the museum. I didn’t, and by the time I got there the heat of the day and the thrill of adventure had robbed me of my appetite. I didn’t reckon on getting free beer and peanuts.  

Of course I didn’t have to partake of beer or peanuts. But who am I to refuse free stuff? And, its not like I drink beer every morning before breakfast. Nor is it every day I tour a beer museum. In short: these being extraordinary circumstances I forgave myself the beer. The peanuts were less of a problem. Luckily I was able to restrain myself and not make anyone a victim of my attitude, so, all’s well that ends well and the tour continued.

Part C was the modern brewing and packaging facilities. Having worked in production line type food factories before I recognized almost all the machinery and systems. First came the large, stainless steel brewing kettles, systems monitored by electric/electronic control panels. Lone operators were responsible for huge sections of the production floor and, in fact as I walked the catwalk over the production area there were no workers visible.

The next part was more active: the bottling and canning portions of the production line. To the left canning and to the right bottling. That is where I recognized most of the machinery. At one point, two women responsible for quality control sat in front of a fluorescent light panel gauging the clarity of the beer in the bottles. Their job was to stop production if the beer was in any way discolored or contaminated. Other workers also milled about, their responsibility being to make sure nothing stopped production. Their work made me flash back on my days as a production worker. My heart reached out to them. I hope they enjoy their work and that their spirits are not crushed beneath the mind-numbing monotonous repetition of their job.

At the end of the tour we were treated to another glass of beer, chilled and coming straight from the production floor. This beer was lighter in color and had a more polished taste than the raw beer.

All this beer made me crave German food. After all, the brewery was located in the heart of German Town and the streets and sidewalks were cobbled in the style of streets in Germany. It would be reasonable to deduce that there might be a German food restaurant somewhere close… right?

WRONG!!! Qing Dao being a coastal town, standard fare is seafood and more seafood. Not a single restaurant in the brewery district served anything but seafood, the very smell of which turns my stomach.

All the free beer didn’t help matters there, either.    

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