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  Yantai's well kept secret  

  

 

People going to eastern Shandong Peninsula tend to skip Yantai and only tour the popular Qingdao.They may assume Yantai is a boring place with only apple and grape fields. Even a few locals I consulted told me "there is nothing to see."

My recent weekend exploring Yantai has proved how utterly wrong they are.

Yantai is a beautiful, modern and culturally and historically rich seaside city.

Coming from the concrete jungle known as Shanghai, I felt refreshed soon after leaving Yantai Airport. Lush greenery, blue sky, clean and much less crowded streets started to soothe my mind and body. The seaside drive leading to my hotel along the No.2 bathing beach completed the process.

Leaving my ocean view room behind, I strolled the beach barefoot. The water was already a bit chilly. Only two or three men were swimming or playing in the water. Along the embankment, men young and old some 30 metres apart were fishing, unhurried. In the following days, I saw people angling everywhere. It looks like a favourite pastime in the city and you see fishing gear stores everywhere.

Water at the No.1 and No.2 bathing beaches is good, but not as great as Sanya, Hainan Island. I guess that has to do with the massive ocean farming in Shandong. The fast-growing province launched a programme years ago to build another Shandong on the sea, obviously not taking the fragile ocean ecology into Yantai's
well kept secret consideration.

The East Battery (Dong Paotai), about 2 kilometres from the bathing beach, was my first encounter with Yantai's history.Three formidable Krupp cannons,built in 1893, tower over the bastion. The fortification was designed by a German invited by the Qing Imperial Court.

Here the hill is surrounded by ocean on three sides. The coastline turns serpentine, cliff precipitous and the water clearer.Rocks half submerged and pebbles in the shallow seabed can be seen clearly.

 

The rooms in the battery contain a wonderful collection of artefacts that take you back to theold days and teach you a bitter lesson from the Sino-Japanese War in the mid-1890s.

Walking north along the No.1 bathing beach, the Changyu Wine Culture Museum is a mustsee.It rivals the dozens of wine museums I visited in Napa, California.The century-old cellar is a highlight. Gigantic oak barrels (15,000 litres) stand in the tunnel,still used by the Changyu Winery, the largest in China.

If I had had more time, I would have made an excursion to the Changyu vineyard in the near suburbs. It is grape harvest time between September and October.

Near the museum, I was amazed to discover an area with dozens of restored old houses. It was more impressive than Xintiandi,Shanghai's posh bar area with restored stone-framed buildings,not only because there are more old houses of varied styles,but also some narrow alleys that offer an ocean view. It was quiet now, with few visitors. In one or two years, it might become the most trendy place for locals and tourists.

Just a block away you will find more intriguing Western style buildings, many worn out. The Yantai Post Office, built in 1925 in classic French style, seems to be the best witness to the area's history.

I chose to have lunch in a seafood restaurant inside an old house, said to be the old German consulate. It provided relaxation,history and beautiful scenery dining at the window table across the street from the No.1 bathing beach. It was great to sample fresh seafood. But the local way of cooking seemed rustic. The abalone is boiled and served with the shell and everything else in it. Presentation is not considered.

But why care about food presentation when you have the best presentation of Mother Nature?

Walking from the restaurant towards Yantai Mountain, where terraces were erected in 1398 to signal danger when intruders approach, I saw plenty of people tidal pooling. Some worked attentively, gathering food for their dinner table. Some, the kids especially, seemed to be having great fun.

 

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