On one of our first journeys to Boshan, we went with our friends from the glass bottle and Storage jar factory. We flew into Qingdao Airport, not the nice new one, the original one very small and quaint where you carried you own luggage from the plane through the single customs gate. Everybody is very excited to have some ’round eyes’ coming to visit their city, as this was a long time ago.
We walk out of the airport back into the sunshine, and are greeted by our two young lady hosts along with their manager. They are like two characters out of a Jane Austin novel, and have clearly never had any foreign guests visit them before, as Boshan has only just been opened up to Westerners. They fuss and flap, like two old maids trying so hard to please us, trying to help us carry our heavy bags. This is the last stage of our tours of our factories, we have been in China a month already.
They are so proud, they have one of the earliest Toyoto People Carriers. We load our luggage into the back, and get into the carrier> It is a squeeze, the two girls, the factory manager and the driver, who smiles at us all the time.
They have booked us into the best hotel on the seafront, gone now, a great shame as it had great colonial character. It was left over from the time when this part of China was German, hence the Qingdao Beer, made from rice as there was no barley available, and where the recipe for Budweiser must have originated. The front was not built up then, and we enjoyed our breakfast overlooking the sea, the people out collecting shell fish in their buckets.Our hosts arrive and we all clamber into the vehicle, with great excitement for our adventure, and what an adventure it was to be!
The road, which later was to become the Expressway was just starting to be built, the girls had loaded us up with bottles of water, and carried on there conversation in text book BBC English with my female designer companion. They wanted to know about England and all about where we had been in China. I enjoyed looking out at the scenery and the many villagers both working on their lands and heaving their carts of stone. The donkey engine piston driven carts laden with stone, people raking, flattening the tarmac by hand. Our over laden truck bumped and bounced, creaked and groaned. The big driver picking the least bumpy path, if there was one, soon we were back on the old small winding road, as we started to climb towards Zibo or Boshan.
When we eventually arrived it was nearly 12 noon and our hosts were desperate for something to eat, and it had been arranged for us to start to visit the Cardboard Box Factory, to arrange the display box sizes, colour, our company design and costing. The manager, we soon found out, was an old friend of our driver and a lavish spread had been prepared with the very strong white spirit baijiu used for toasting ‘Gambe’, I told my hosts that we would ‘Gambe’ with ‘Coke’. Our hosts did not seem to mind. It was then that we all realised the ‘baijiu’ was being toasted by our Driver and in his friend, our host, not in the small traditional glasses but in the large drinking glasses. The reat of us were using for our ‘Coke’.
By the time our hosts tried to intervene it was too late, we looked at our hosts, our driver was singing, laughing and trying to stay in his chair all at the same time. The manager of the glass factory and I helped him out to the vehicle, where he tried to get into the driving seat. The girls and my companion had gone very ashen and all looked very worried. The manager and I decided to get him in the rear compartment and the manager decided to drive. This meant he was directly behind us with intermittent loud snoring then awakening and waving his thump in a ‘Thumbs Up’ gesture to all of us.
We had now reached the factory area, it was an area of old factories, slag heaps, smoke, steam and coal everywhere, reminiscent of the pictures of the Welsh Valley Towns in the early 1900’s.The industry had been based on coal, which could be dug up on the surface, and water, far removed from the Boshan of today with its clean air, hospital complexes, leisure and health facilities.
Once we were at the factory, we decided to help our driver into the offices with us, rather than leave him in the vehicle, as there steep drops around the factory. This is where the fun really started. We sat him at the directors desk in the padded leather swing chair, while we started trying to work out the moulds needed to make the bottles, the designs we had drawn up from Victorian Reference Books and 50’s American Designs. Then we continued to work out the designs for the hand made section of the plant and the mouth blown glass items. It had only recently introduced stable colours in Cobalt Blue and Emerald Green to our ranges, and we were trying to get the purple colour, and the bright orange and lemon yellow.
While all this was going on we were all trying to concentrate on our work, while our driver still intoxicated, was trying to telephone all his friends and have a loud and garbled conversation with them all, raising his thumb to all of us, when we looked across at him, when he was not this doing this he was singing and laughing. We worked well into the evening, and another car was arranged to collect us from the factory for our evening meal, and take us to a small hotel, which had no heating, and a large cockroach living in the bathroom. There was the smell of petrol spirit, where the hostelry had tried to remove our friend. It was obvious that our friend in the bathroom had not seen any guests for some considerable time. We were given the normal flasks of hot water, to make our tea, this was the only hot water, as there was no boiler working at the time. In the morning, it was obvious that a long time ago the hostelry had been a nice place to stay, with lots of overgrown roses and shrubs in the garden.
Our driver had miraculously recovered by the morning. He picked us up and we returned to the factory to continue our work. We returned back to our Qingdao safely, and said farewell to our hosts, who sent us off with the flurry of activity, similar to our arrival. Nothing was ever said about his interlude.. ever.