"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

The house band Lennon Bar Qingdao Shandong Province China

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

After a prolonged period of stability, I finally bid Belgium farewell in the summer of 2009. Uninspired by life in grey, uneventful Brussels, I headed off to China for an unforgettable year of teaching and traveling.


“Well… this hasn’t worked out too bad… for us” I said, peering down from my top bunk. Down at the entrance door people were still swarming into the bus. I couldn’t help but be amused by their expressions as they realised there wasn’t anywhere for them to actually go. All the beds and seats were already occupied. Hence they had no choice but to sit on the floor in the painfully narrow aisle. Knees folded up to their chests. Some saw the funny side of the situation. Others did not, with bells on top. 

On the night bus from Shanghai to Qingdao Don't Let Me Down a short story from China

One is not amused.

The driver spared not an inch of space as he ushered the last passengers inside. Moreover, he wore a wry smile, a look that suggested the proceeds of these tickets were going straight into his pocket. All part of a day’s work for a bus driver in China, I supposed.

A few minutes later we were underway, the neon buzz of the Shanghai evening fading into the distance. Lying quietly on my bed, the smooth rumble of the wheels proved soothing as I reflected on what a great time we’d had in Shanghai. 

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

Don't Let Me Down, a short story from China.

Shanghai, baby.

Photo courtesy of Rodrigo Argenton.

From the moment we arrived it felt to me that we were no longer traveling, but suddenly on holiday. Just as we’d expected, Shanghai was an assault on the senses. A loud, overwhelming and ultra-westernised city of fifteen million people. A kind of Asian New York, if you will.

Fittingly, we resolved to embrace Shanghai for what it was and loosen the purse strings for a week of excess. On our first night we treated ourselves to a lavish Indian banquet in the city’s gorgeous French Concession District. For dessert, a round of cocktails at a balcony bar overlooking The Pudong, Shanghai’s impressive skyline.

Shanghai's beautiful French Concession District

Shanghai’s gorgeous French Concession district.

One afternoon we paid a visit to Yang’s Fried Dumplings. I certainly hadn’t expected the long queue of hungry customers snaking out of the restaurant, all the way down the street. Among the many other highlights, we crossed the historical Waibaidu Bridge, lit some incense sticks at Jing’an Temple and investigated the vast exhibition halls of Shanghai Museum.

Yang's Fried Dumplings in Shanghai.

Shanghai’s famous Yang’s Fried Dumplings.

At some point, all the walking got so tiring we spontaneously checked into Peace Cinema to see the just-released Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Having regained our strength, it was off to the labyrinthine alleys of Yuyuan Garden with its wooden walkways, traditional pavilions and glittering ponds.

Yuyuan Garden, Shanghai.

Don't Let Me Down a short story from Shanghai.

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

Photo courtesy of Peter K. Burian.

Now we were heading back to Shandong province and the coastal city of Qingdao. A return to real China, so to speak. From the extravagance of my bunk bed, I spared one last thought for the unfortunate aisle folk down below as glorious sleep swooped in to consume me.

The city of Qingdao Don't Let Me Down a short story from China

Qingdao, here we come!

The Old Observatory Youth Hostel was a fantastic place perched at the summit of Guanxiangshan Park. Keen to settle into our Qingdao base, S and I headed straight there from the bus station. True to its name, the hostel had been remodelled from the shell of a former observatory. Its lofty location made for a wonderful rooftop restaurant, with amazing views across the city. 

Old Observatory Hostel Qingdao.

The Old Observatory Hostel, Qingdao.

I found myself immediately charmed by Qingdao’s unique blend of European and Asian architecture. With a long and troubled history of German and Japanese occupation, the city definitely had a special feel. Setting off on that first walk, we soon came upon a large European style square, dominated by the handsome Qingdao Catholic Church.

Qingdao Catholic Church Shandong Province China

Qingdao Catholic Church, aka St. Michael’s Cathedral.

Strolling through the square towards the church, we met what looked like a newlywed couple posing for a photo shoot. With sculpted hair, layers of makeup and a wedding dress straight out of a Disney movie, the bride looked resplendent.

In fact, she was grinning at the camera so fiercely I feared her face might split in two. Her sombre husband meanwhile, sporting a Sinatra dinner suit, merely gazed off into the distance as if he were contemplating the answer to world peace.

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

Wedding photo shoot in Qingdao China August 2009

Outside St. Michael’s Cathedral, Qingdao.

S and I watched them for a bit before continuing down the square. Surprisingly, we came across two more sets of couples doing exactly the same thing! What the heck was going on? Was it wedding season in Qingdao?

When they were finally done with their photos, the foursome took a timeout on some stone steps, gamely posing one last time as I took their picture. “Congratulations!” I called, but they didn’t understand. It was only several weeks later that we learned how in China these photography sessions typically take place months before the actual wedding. 

Wedding photos in Qingdao China.

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

With an incredible 860 kilometres of coastline, Qingdao is famous all over China for its beaches. While millions of domestic tourists flock to the city every year, nobody had thought to feed the public’s imagination by giving these beaches some decent names. Instead, you’ve got Beach Number 1. Then there’s Beach Number 2. And… well… you get the picture.

The first stretch of sand we arrived at was Beach Number Six, the city’s most central strip. It runs either side of Zhan Bridge, a lengthy stone pier extending out into the bay. The entire beach was horribly overcrowded and, in all honesty, staggeringly unimpressive. 

Beach Number 6, Qingdao.

Beach Number 6 in Qingdao China.

Qingdao’s amazingly “meh” Beach Number 6.

So we bypassed the sand altogether for a walk down the pier. It was a sweltering afternoon, which meant I received several blows to the head from the sharp points of various umbrellas. At the end of the pier we reached the eight-sided Huilan Pavilion, but had zero appetite to fight our away inside.

The pier at Beach Number 6 in Qingdao.

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

Thus we made do with forcing ourselves into a free spot along the railings. Peering out to sea, I attempted to enjoy the moment as Chinese tourists gathered around us to stare. One particularly annoying guy had no qualms whatsoever about sticking his camera right into my face.


Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

Back at the beach, we decided to follow the promenade that forms a u-shape around the bay. It was a peaceful walk that took us through several pretty parks and out onto the unadulterated insanity of Beach Number 1. The place was positively seething with bodies! And yet, against our better judgement, we threw ourselves into the mix, walking along the coarse sand down to the seaweed-infested shoreline. 

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

Crazy summer scenes at Beach Number 1 in Qingdao

Beach Number 1, Qingdao.

Whilst in no way charming, it was fascinating to observe Chinese beach culture in action. The first thing I noticed was that hardly anybody was sunbathing. Rather, people seemed content with castle building and burying each other in the sand. Mothers and daughters dipped their ankles into the water, as groups of boys ran about collecting shells. There was litter everywhere, so much that the dozen or so beach cleaners we saw had no chance of keeping on top of it all. 

Beach cleaner Qingdao China.

An impossible task.

Most Chinese people, I learned, can’t swim. As a result, those who did venture into the water came armed with large inflatable armbands and giant rubber rings. And while we in the west usually consider a good tan as the holy grail of a week on the beach, the Chinese invariably want to be whiter. To protect themselves from the sun, many people remained fully dressed. Others doused themselves in whitening cream and hid under giant umbrellas.

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

Beach Number 1 Qingdao China.

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

Further along, we stumbled upon Qingdao’s answer to Muscle Beach, a community of ripped men playing volleyball, doing press-ups and swinging back and forth along rows of purple monkey bars. They took themselves very seriously.

Muscle Beach Qingdao China.

Qingdao’s answer to Muscle Beach.

With our stomachs rumbling, it was definitely time to check out the nearby market streets. It wasn’t long before we put our feet up at a low-key barbecue joint on Hunan Lu. The bony old guy manning the grill treated us to a multitude of tasty meat sticks and grilled flatbread. Everything was great, with chicken, pork and eventually octopus finding its way onto my plate!

Octopus dinner Qingdao China.

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

Fed, watered and reenergised, we strode back down to the promenade. This time the walking route led us to the once magnificent but now sadly derelict Royal Club. It was a huge, golf ball of a building formerly home to Qingdao’s premier boating centre. We got there around dusk, its curved form reflecting onto the water as the last traces of daylight sank into the Yellow Sea. Last I heard, Qingdao’s famous Golf Ball Building had been turned into a fancy restaurant. 

The Royal Club.

Golf Ball Restaurant Qingdao.

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

Invigorated by plummeting temperatures and a cool sea breeze, our explorations took us to Badaxia Park. This, it seemed, was the meeting place of choice for Qingdao’s active elderly community. Laughing in the face of any grim reaper notions, Qingdao’s oldies played badminton, engaged in ballroom dancing and did communal stretching . All to the backdrop of traditional Chinese pop blaring out of a large sound system. 

Positioning ourselves on a vacant bench, we sat soaking up the atmosphere. Nearby, I noticed a middle-aged couple training their pet poodle to dance. It was quite a sight, the wife performing a variety of rhythmic handclaps while her doggy bopped to the beat. Up on its hind legs, tongue lolling out. 

Lady and dancing dog Qingdao China.

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

We hadn’t anticipated rain. It was coming down hard when we woke up the following morning and ended up lasting the entire day. Consequently, we decided to stay at The Old Observatory playing cards and ordering ridiculous amounts of food.

It was in the hostel that we met Fergal, a leggy Irishman with jet-black hair, geek-cool glasses and a pervading indie vibe. Joining our card game, Fergal exchanged a few travel stories with us. Then, just for the hell of it, we took a taxi to the restaurant street of Yunxiao Lu. Every single restaurant we looked at was bursting at the seams, so in the end we made do with an outside table at some poky joint. Luckily, the owners loaned us a couple of umbrellas. 

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

Beers in the rain Qingdao China.

Dinner with Fergal on Yunxiao Lu.

S and I hadn’t really had a night out since our arrival in China. Now, we felt the time was right for a pub crawl. Our first stop was the boisterous New York Bar, situated on the ground floor of a featureless business hotel on Hong Kong Lu.

Packed with middle class businessmen and suspiciously available women, we ordered a round of beers and turned our attention to the venue’s eccentric live act. That night, it was a Filipino pop-rock band, the female vocalist belting out a selection of classic hit singles interspersed with the occasional Toni Braxton dirge. Bizarrely, the guitarist felt moved to disguise himself with a massive mask of Elmo from Sesame Street. As you do. 

New York Bar Qingdao China.

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

From there we stopped by Honolulu Café, but the place was deserted. Except that is for the one hundred and one bored waitresses hanging on our every move. One of the girls was hovering so close I could actually feel her breath on the back of my neck. “Let’s get out of here” said Fergal with an arched eyebrow and we duly complied, swiftly downing our drinks.

Don't Let Me Down, a short story from China.

Fergal looking unimpressed.

Next up was a place I’d been salivating about for almost a year, ever since I’d discovered it in the Lonely Planet listings. Unfortunately, finding Lennon Bar wasn’t a straightforward process. Tucked away on a quiet side street across from Qingdao Eye Hospital, we almost missed it altogether. With its gloomy, faded exterior and blackened windows we initially thought it was closed. But then, approaching the door, I heard the muffled vocals of One After 909 and the three of us filed in expectantly.

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

Remembering Lennon Bar in Qingdao.

Lennon Bar.

Just as I’d envisioned, Lennon Bar turned out to be a cavernous (no pun intended), dimly lit space decked out in Beatles memorabilia. There were about a dozen people sat at the tables and American diner style booths. Up on stage, a three-piece Filipino band had moved into the intro of I Saw Her Standing There.

Fergal and S picked out a free table while I hurried off to the bar, with its Paul McCartney beer mats and gold-framed Let It Be poster. Returning moments later with three Tsingtao drafts and a bowl of salted popcorn, the three of us kicked back as the band knocked out raucous versions of Eleanor Rigby, We Can Work It Out and Fixing A Hole.

A night out at Lennon Bar Qingdao.

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

“Hello I’m Steven!” announced the man who’d suddenly appeared at our table. “Welcome to Lennon bar, where are you from?” A handsome man in his early forties, Steven had a friendly smile, kind eyes and silky, shoulder-length hair. Dragging a chair over to our table, he treated us to a complimentary round of Tsingtaos before telling us about his life travels.

Stephen former owner of Lennon Bar in Qingdao

Stephen with S.

He’d certainly been around, with extended trips around South America, Canada and his native China. A certified Beatles fanatic, he’d also made a pilgrimage to Liverpool, which gave him the inspiration to open Lennon Bar in his home city. “I’ve been looking forward to coming here for over a year” I said, which forced Steven into a dry cackle. “I hope you’re not too disappointed” he replied. 

Lennon Bar, Qingdao.

The house drum kit at Lennon Bar in Qingdao

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

When the band finally stopped for a break, we got chatting to them at the bar. The singer-bassist was a short, plump guy who called himself Paul Ramon, one of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles pseudonyms. Then there was Georgie Harry’s Son, the grungy, longhaired guitarist who explained how his father Harry had schooled him in the fab four. Last but not least, the drummer was Bingo, a quiet, constantly-smoking dude in a plain white T-shirt. 

Don't Let Me Down, a short story from China.

Bingo (right) taking a break from playing.

“So what are you going to sing for us?” asked Steven. “What?” I responded. “Name your song” coaxed Paul Ramon, as Fergal and S pitched in with encouraging noises. “Do you know Don’t Let Me Down?” I asked. Georgie Harry’s Son merely grinned in reply, before motioning for me to follow him. Onstage, the modest audience before me looked on in curiosity as I took the microphone from Bingo and cleared my throat.

RIP Lennon Bar in Qingdao.

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

With the band suddenly launching into the opening bars, we were underway and I had no time to think. It was an exhilarating experience storming through one of my favourite songs backed by a proper band. The guys could really play, which definitely helped balance out my somewhat shouty vocals. 

 “And from the first time that she really loved me…”

Singing Don't Let Me Down in Lennon Bar Qingdao

Living out my rock star dreams at Lennon Bar.

From there the night rapidly descended into a half-remembered blur of beery contentment. I recall Steven singing a painfully off-key but heartfelt rendition of Yesterday. We also met a Chinese guy called Michael who spoke excellent English and claimed to have worked as a fitness therapist for Everton football Club.

“That Wayne Rooney… he used to make the tea for everyone, but always got the sugar wrong!”

Making friends Lennon Bar Qingdao.

Michael (left) at Lennon Bar.

At some point S hijacked the bar in order to help the somewhat clueless teenage girl with her pouring technique. Meanwhile, Fergal regaled me with some hugely entertaining tales from Japan, which sparked my first interest in visiting the country. Well into the morning, the three of us were so sloshed we ended up buying Lennon Bar T-shirts, much to Steven’s visible delight.

Lennon Bar t-shirt Qingdao China.

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from China.

I was under the blankets, my head pounding. Stirring and murmuring to myself vaguely, I realised that, somewhere along the way, the night had ended and we were back at The Observatory. “How did we get home?” I queried, wincing at the knives of light that stabbed at me as I attempted to open my eyes.

Drunk in Qingdao China.

Don’t Let Me Down, a short story from Qingdao.

Taxi” replied S, a faraway voice from another dimension. “Do you remember trying to drive home in a model second world war motorbike?” she asked. “Get out of here” I countered. But unfortunately, as I was soon to find out, it was completely true. And there was even a photo to prove it.

‘Don’t Let Me Down’ is the seventh tale from my short story series Challenged in China.

I’ve also written travel reports from all across China.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

Leighton Travels logo travel reports and short stories.Don’t Let Me Down


  • Memo

    Nothing but good memories of “Don’t Let Me Down” and you certainly lived up to them. Never had a chance to visit Qingdao and wouldn’t have enjoyed the beaches. Was this a holiday crowd? Shanghai was a pleasant 4 or 5 days for us. Great museums and the old concessions were extremely pleasant. Even took a dragon boat one night – one without blasting music.

    April 30, 2023 - 4:39 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ah Memo, you are definitely the only person who has heard my rendition of ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ in person. They were summer holiday crowds on the beach yeah, late July. Shanghai is amazing I agree, I went back in March 2019 for three days. It wasn’t enough. A cruise sounds good, I didn’t manage that, without blasting music is always preferable and sometimes hard to track down.

      April 30, 2023 - 7:14 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    Oh, how I look forward to reading about your adventures Leighton. This trip sounds like a real blast, from the bus bunks to the beach bonks from the umbrella to the Beatles booze bar. Sometimes, you just have to cast caution to the wind to enjoy the good time waiting for you and then with pounding head and upset stomach regret it the next morning. I can only imagine how crowded that bus must have been. Not sure the bottom bunk would have been comfy with all those sitter staring. As to the umbrella pokes, the Chinese have no concept of personal space, due the crowded lives they must live. I recall one incident in Christchurch where I was in the dark Kiwi house with a mostly Chinese tour group, composing the perfect shot of the reclusive Kiwi bird, when I felt a hand on my shoulder, trying to pull me back, I resisted, the hand pulled harder, I resisted harder and the culprit finally gave up. Fergal looks like a right fun guy and so Irish with those long sideburns. The Beatles bar looks like a blast, but I would have to be awfully drunk to do karaoke….again. The Monkees Last Train from Clarksville humiliated me. Happy Sunday. Allan

    April 30, 2023 - 5:13 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks so much Allan, I’m delighted you enjoy the stories so much. Generally, they perform less well than my travel articles, despite much more work going into them. They are a bit longer and I guess many people are put off by having to actually read something ha ha. I have never been much of a drinker, but on the few occasions I did, as in Qingdao, I didn’t hold back. Your Christchurch experience sounds familiar, dear oh dear. Fergal was great company, I have since lost contact with him after he disappeared off Facebook. I hope he’s well. I would try my hand at ‘Last Train From Clarksville’, think I know most of the words. Challenged in China actually has 18 chapters, but in the interests of keeping it fresh I’ll be taking a break after the next (8th) instalment. That story marks the end of my first stretch of cross-country travel, so it’s a natural pausing point. Later, I will return to the series where the stories document the actual teaching and living experiences in Beijing. Cheers, Allan!

      April 30, 2023 - 7:27 pm Reply
  • christinenovalarue


    April 30, 2023 - 6:02 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    Of course you found a Beatles bar! Too bad there’s no recording of your time on stage. Sounds like fun. It looks like the Chinese love beaches more than Brazilians, although the floatation devices are pretty funny. Maggie

    April 30, 2023 - 6:44 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I couldn’t believe it when I found out there was a Beatles Bar in Qingdao. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but so glad it delivered. I have to say that China would probably come bottom of any ‘ranked beaches’ list during my world travels, but it was still fascinating to see and experience. Thanks for stopping by, Maggie.

      April 30, 2023 - 7:30 pm Reply
  • bronlima

    The Beatles live on. There is a bar called “Liverpool” just a block way from home here in Lima. Their drinks all have the names of Beatles songs. I go there as they do s good “Anticucho” dish…… Bull’s Heart on a Skewer. These never “let me down”.

    April 30, 2023 - 7:51 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ah Geoff, sounds like my kind of place. Yet another reason to come to Lima, as if I didn’t already have a zillion. Hadn’t heard of Anticucho but looks like something similar I had in Beijing. Thanks for checking in!

      April 30, 2023 - 8:35 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    That bus looked to be cram packed like sardines with all those passengers uncomfortably sat in the aisles. I have always had a desire to visit Shanghai and hope to get there one day. We had a group of exchange students over at our college from Qingdao and they seemed to like Yorkshire though it must have been quite a culture shock for them to begin with.

    April 30, 2023 - 9:51 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Marion, I would have been an intensely unhappy camper if I’d had to travel from Shanghai to Qingdao in the aisle of a bus, knees up to my shoulders. I can only imagine the scale of the culture shock for students arriving in Yorkshire having (presumably) left mainline China for the first time.

      May 1, 2023 - 10:05 am Reply
  • Bahanur

    I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when reading this blog post because it’s riddled with contrasts. There are joyful random moments in it, and then there is the sorrowful reality of what the average Chinese people go through.

    But! I can totally relate to your beach experience because Japan and South Korea are the same. People don’t sunbathe, fair because neither do I, and they watch those who enjoy swimming and sunbathing like they are aliens. Sigh…

    And WHY do they number beaches? 😂 Don’t these poor beaches deserve a name or something? Even wars or cockroaches have names 😂

    May 1, 2023 - 2:30 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha I enjoyed your comment very much Banahur, thanks for checking in. The numbered approach also applied to buildings, parks, (Park number 2 anyone?) and squares in some cities I visited. Which is both amusing and depressing I feel. Surely there is some local hero or historic dude worthy of having a beach named after him. Thanks for reading!

      May 1, 2023 - 10:08 am Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    This post was an adventure in itself haha! I can’t imagine being on that bus! I do think me and my paleness would fit well on the beach. The less sun, the less wrinkles.

    May 1, 2023 - 3:01 am Reply
    • Leighton

      I reckon your paleness would have attracted much admiration and attention Lyssy. I am smiling just thinking about it, ‘Lyssy in the Mainland’ is a spinoff series I would love to see.

      May 1, 2023 - 10:13 am Reply
  • Anna

    I love your storytelling Leighton!

    May 1, 2023 - 3:05 am Reply

    Brilliant. Nights when it takes a while to remember how you got home, and then the other memories start to trickle through the haze. Oh shit, did I really say that to him/her?!’s not just us then that have experienced the Chinese lack of awareness of invading your private space. Great stories, as ever, bud.

    May 1, 2023 - 5:47 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Phil, I’m sure you guys will make it to China one day. The rate you are going, you’ll be running out of countries before too long! Looking at how much China content I have to share, it’s a little daunting. Piece by piece I guess, I appreciate your ongoing support of this short story series!

      May 1, 2023 - 10:16 am Reply
  • Lookoom

    I don’t feel like going to the beach in China anymore …

    May 1, 2023 - 8:18 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha ha, you would have hated it, my friend. Today’s Leighton would hate it too and basically I wouldn’t even put myself in the situation. But oh what an experience, something to remember and chuckle about. Thanks for checking in!

      May 1, 2023 - 10:17 am Reply
  • Stan

    what a sprawling epic this story is leighton, so much going on as you pull us through buses, beaches, squares, parks and the fabulous romp that is the lennon bar. fergal is someone who i could have a beer with i feel, while steven seems like a lovely man who opened this magnificent pub from a place of pure love. what i would give to hear a recording of your performance. the closing photo of you is hilarious but possibly the most un-leighton capture i’ve ever seen

    May 1, 2023 - 10:24 am Reply
    • Leighton

      There aren’t too many shots of myself like this over the years. So I guess it’s one to be “enjoyed” for what it is. Cheers Stan, I’m glad this story “didn’t let you down”.

      May 1, 2023 - 2:50 pm Reply
  • Travels Through My Lens

    I was smiling as I read this very entertaining and full to the brim story. You’re a natural on stage! The Lennon Bar and its owner sound like a fun place to be. It’s so bizarre that the beaches are numbered rather than given names; but then they sound so overrun with visitors, they’ve lost their charm, so why bother giving them names? We hosted exchange students from Japan when our daughter was in high school, and one of them commented how odd it was for her to see students sitting in the sun during the lunch break, hoping to improve their tans. She said the Japanese avoid the sun, and prefer a lighter skin color. BTW, have you visited d Japan? Great post Leighton, as usual.

    May 1, 2023 - 12:43 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks so much Tricia. The obsession with being white (or whiter) is a thing in many Asian countries I’ve visited, it is a curious one. I have been to Japan, though only to Tokyo with a day trip out to Hakone Park. Which all needs to be blogged up one day. Sladja has seen a bit less of the capital but more of the country. How about you? Thanks for reading and commenting, as always!

      May 1, 2023 - 3:05 pm Reply
      • Travels Through My Lens

        It is an interesting obsession, like so many fair people who want to be tan. We’ve been to Japan twice and hope to return again someday. We are quite close with one of our exchange students, and would love to visit her again.

        May 1, 2023 - 3:55 pm
  • grandmisadventures

    Nothing says a great night on the town like briefly becoming a rock star on stage singing along with a favorite band and trying to drive home on a WWII motorbike model 🙂 I think I would take this over the busy beach or the sensory overload of Shanghai anytime.

    May 1, 2023 - 6:54 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      That was actually one of two nights I’ve had playing out my rock star dreams. Ha, good times. You’re right Meg, when I look back on that first cross-country trip I think Qingdao tops the list in terms of my warmest memories. I would love to go back one day but concede it must have changed so much in the fourteen years that have passed, especially bearing in mind China’s relentless drive for modernisation. Thanks for dropping by, Meg!

      May 2, 2023 - 11:32 am Reply
  • Toonsarah

    The Lennon Bar sounds like one of those places you’ll remember forever, even if the drinks did their best to cloud your memory of the evening!

    May 1, 2023 - 8:20 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Very much so, I was sad some years ago to read that it eventually closed down. I occasionally think about Steven and wonder what he’s doing. Thanks for stopping by, Sarah.

      May 1, 2023 - 11:50 pm Reply
  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    You crazy kids! What a blast it must have been to get up on stage and sing and barely remember it the next day. I wish I could’ve been a fly on the wall – or better yet, singing along with you. I am a terrible singer unless I’m alone in my car, and then I’m utterly amazing – LOL! Shanghai looks gorgeous, except for the beaches, but it sounds like the best times were in Qingdao. What a great experience, Leighton!

    May 1, 2023 - 10:04 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for checking out my Shanghai and Qingdao adventures Kellye, they were such good times and it has been a lot of fun sharing them. I’m wondering what your go-to singing in the car alone song would be?

      May 1, 2023 - 11:55 pm Reply
      • Mike and Kellye Hefner

        Seriously, it could anything from golden oldies to Taylor Swift to gangsta rap. I love every kind of music except opera. I know I’m weird – LOL.

        May 2, 2023 - 12:03 am
      • Leighton

        Me too, and yeah, no opera thanks!

        May 2, 2023 - 12:05 am
      • Mike and Kellye Hefner

        Yeah, opera is like beans to me. I wish I could like them, but I just can’t.

        May 2, 2023 - 1:56 am
  • Rebecca

    What another wild ride through China, and quite literally! That bunk bed mode of transport sounds terrifying: while it’s one thing to try to sleep in a bunk on an overnight, it’s another to have people literally sitting in the aisles and blocking up the place! I’ve heard of Qingdao before, but I’ve never been: seeing a towering, European-style church in the middle of China is surreal to say the least, but a fascinating look at its European influence! Getting hammered at the Lennon Bar is certainly one for the books, and that photo at the end proved it! XD

    May 2, 2023 - 8:02 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad you enjoyed these shenanigans Rebecca. I have so few “and then I got drunk” stories but this is one and my favourite to boot. Just an all-round great time in a special bar with great people in a city that quickly won me over. Cheers for checking in 🙂

      May 2, 2023 - 11:39 am Reply
  • anoush

    A very entertaining read as always, Leighton. You tell a good story. Lennon Bar is such a quirky discovery and what a night you had there. Even if you don’t remember parts of it. The beaches look like an absolute nightmare absolutely packed with people. But, Qingdao looks like a lovely city to explore.

    May 2, 2023 - 8:53 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Anoush, it’s sad to think that the Lennon Bar is no more. So many great nights must have played out in that place over the years and now it’s gone, probably a restaurant or something. Qingdao is a cool city and a unique one with its European architectural bits.

      May 2, 2023 - 11:41 am Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    You know, it must be hard to look cheerful when you have to sit in that position while the guy next to you is in such a relaxing position! It’s a ‘no’ from me also on Beach No. 6 … but oh my, No. 1 is crowded! Never a dull moment in Qingdao – a performance by Mr Muscle, an octopus on your plate and a dancing dog! Little did I know that you will have your own performance in the Lennon Bar! Haha 😁, those photos that are always evidence of ‘last night’. Another great story Leighton!

    May 2, 2023 - 3:21 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      And then… on top of being sat in the cramped aisle… that poor guy has me taking a photo of him. No wonder he looked so miserable. Being from South Africa, I can well imagine the beaches of Qingdao absolutely fail to impress. I mean, no contest, even if you took away the billions of people. Glad you enjoyed the story, Corna.

      May 2, 2023 - 9:58 pm Reply
  • travelling_han

    You’re a natural on stage! This looks like such a wonderful part of your time in China (thank goodness you weren’t on the floor of that bus!), and it’s so interesting to observe Chinese beach culture. I can’t believe they call them beach no 1, 2 etc….where’s the imagination!? I also had no idea about Qingdao’s history with the Germans so I’ve been googling that!

    May 3, 2023 - 1:16 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks so much Han for reading and leaving your thoughts. The German history of Qingdao gives the place such a unique feel and I’m sure the beaches are much more charming outside the height of summer madness.

      May 3, 2023 - 1:24 pm Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    Thank goodness you managed to snag a top bunk on the bus. Sitting in the narrow crammed aisle sounds like it would have been awful! And glad to hear that you found the Lennon bar as it sounds like a real highlight from your trip that didn’t let you down (ha, I couldn’t help myself). I also didn’t realize that many Chinese people can’t swim.

    May 3, 2023 - 4:19 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Nice gag, and you’re quite right, Qingdao definitely didn’t let me down. I think that in recent years swimming instruction has become a much bigger thing in Chinese schools as well as centres offering private instruction. But still, I would imagine huge numbers of people are still unable to swim. Thanks for keeping up with the series!

      May 3, 2023 - 7:21 pm Reply
  • NortheastAllie

    Shanghai seems like a very exciting and bustling area to be in China! Even though the bus to get there was packed, it seems like there was a lot to do once you got there!

    May 4, 2023 - 2:56 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading Allie!

      May 4, 2023 - 9:25 am Reply
  • Olivia Chen Tong

    It’s always refreshing to see one’s hometown through a different person. It also makes me think about what’s the real essence of Shanghai besides the French concession and Pudong. You have that eagerness to accommodate westerners aspect very accurately out.

    May 20, 2023 - 8:10 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Olivia, thanks for reading and leaving a comment. I think finding the ‘essence’ of any place is challenging when one visits for the very first time and only has a week in which to explore. Invariably, you find yourself ticking off a number of the city’s co-called highlights and better known spots. Later, I will be publishing a full-length travel article on my 2009 visit to Shanghai. That will (hopefully) give a fuller picture, as in this particular short story Shanghai serves only as an intro to the focus of Qingdao. Moreover, I will one day publish a number of travel articles about my second visit to Shanghai in 2020. On that trip I certainly looked into lesser known areas and sights. As for that ‘essence’, perhaps I will need to schedule a 3rd visit one of these years.

      May 20, 2023 - 8:32 pm Reply

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