Dalian

Publié le par chrislzh

So we’re in Dalian.

 

The train ride here wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it would be. I’ve had some pretty rough experiences of hard seat, and I’m sure there are worse stories out there than I’ve experience. Anyway, everybody in our row was pretty cool. China Rail wasn’t, though.

 

I got up to Beijing with stacks of time to spare, of course. It’s not hard to get from Tianjin to Beijing. And there weren’t as many people on the train as I would have expected for the eve of a major holiday. Then we got some lunch and hung around the Henderson Centre passing the time in more pleasant settings than what Beijing Railway Station has to offer.

 

Then we went and lined up for our train. Then we got on our train and found our seats. Then we waited. And then we waited some more. And we still waited some more. And then we continued waiting. We followed that up with some more waiting. Then, eventually, after two hours of waiting in a train sitting in the station, we finally left.

 

So we left two hours late and arrived two and a half hours late. Truly, China Rail was on form for the night of 30 April/1 May.

 

But we got to Dalian safe and sound. Pity I had only about 10 or 15 minutes of very fitful sleep over the whole journey. But our first impressions of Dalian were very good. The scenery on the way down the Liaodong Peninsula was very beautiful. And I noticed all the suburban railway stations we stopped at or passed were very clean and modern and well taken care of (at least, that’s how they looked from the train window). Then we pulled into Dalian Station and got off the train (oh boy, did that feel good). The first thing I noticed is that the station really did live up to Dalian’s reputation for being the cleanest city in . We walked out of the station and found a place to get breakfast, and the impression of being in some magical clean, friendly place continued. We weren’t bugged by any hustlers or hawkers or other such nasty rabble that congregate around train stations.

 

Well, not all of the first impressions were to last, unfortunately. After breakfast we wandered off looking for transport to Heishijiao (黑石礁), where we’re staying. On the way, I spotted a ferry ticket office. See, we wanted to take the ferry back to Tianjin, but the ticket office just inside the station exit only sold tickets to Weihai and Yantai. Well, the ticket office I spotted was the same, but as soon as we said Tianjin, they pointed us to the office next door. So we got our ferry tickets and continued on our merry way looking for a bus to Heishijiao. But within seconds of buying our tickets we were accosted by exactly the sort of hustler we had managed to avoid thus far. To make matters worse, this was the kind who preys on foreigners, thinking we’re all amazingly stupid, but who himself is to stupid to actually succeed in the hustling tourists business (which shouldn’t be difficult, considering how stupid so many tourists are). And he was the kind who tries to conduct his business in very badly mangled English. And after him, we were accosted by more and more such people (although all the others at least had the decency to stick to languages they could actually speak, i.e. Putonghua and its Dalian variation) as we crossed what seemed like every street around the railway station about fifteen times each looking for the transport we had been assured would deliver us to Heishijiao.

 

Well, as it turns out, we hadn’t been quite so well informed as we thought. As it turns out, the number 202 tram’s closest stop to the railway station is at Wusi Guangchang, which is quite some distance away. As we were trying to figure out where the 202 stopped, two more hustlers carrying cards offering bus rides to Beijing and Tianjin came up to us. I was just about ready to tell them to fuck off, seeing as we’d just gotten off the train from Beijing and the last place I wanted to be right then was Tianjin, but I decided, no, might as well ask them where the blasted 202 tram stopped. They looked confused, then informed us that the 201 stopped over that way, and the 203 over there, but they had no idea where the 202 was. lzh picked up on the cue and asked how to get to Heishijiao. They told as to take such and such a bus (53, was it, or 531? or something like that) from over that way (necessitating about 50 more crossings of the insanely crowded and chaotic roads around the station) and that’d deliver us right there. And so Dalian’s reputation was saved in an instant by two of the least likely people to save a city’s reputation. These two hustlers were so friendly and down to earth and just otherwise human about the whole thing and expected nothing more than a “Thanks, mate” in return. Totally the opposite of what we expected.

 

So we got to Heishijiao and met up with the landlord (we’re staying in a 家庭旅馆, basically a simply furnished apartment that the landlord rents out for short periods, kinda homestay-like, but we have the place to ourselves) and crashed in our apartment for a few hours.

 

There is one really big reason for us being in Dalian, and it’s not because Qingdao was all booked out. Well, our first choice was Qingdao, but not really for anything magical or special about Qingdao (although I would have liked to make a pilgrimage to the brewery). The one really big reason is this: The Sea. lzh had never seen the sea ever in her entire life until yesterday. I was born, as I believe I have already mentioned, within spitting distance of the sea, depending on wind direction. She got her first glimpse of the sea as our bus took us past Xinghai Park on the way to Heishijiao. After we had recovered suitably from the trip, we wandered down the hill to the main road (which I believe is called Zhongshan Lu) and thence up to Xinghai Park. We were very pleasantly surprised to discover that entrance to the park was free. And so lzh not only got to see the sea, but to actually walk right down to it and touch it and feel its cool, salty touch. And then to ride in a speed boat over its surface.

 

And then, after a quick snack, we went and bought tickets for the Ocean World and the Polar World. The Ocean World was pretty damn good, actually. The first part, wandering through the various aquaria and then through the underwater tube-travellator doohickey was great. lzh fell madly in love with the seals and was utterly fascinated with all the fish, turtles, sharks, and the one ray we saw. She’d been feeling a little out of sorts when we stopped for the snack, but all discomfort was swept aside as soon as we got to the first exhibit, and by the end of it all, she was absolutely ecstatic. Then after the usual exhibit came the performance. We got there just in time to see some clowns from (we think) maybe or somewhere doing their show. They were a lot of fun. Then out came a pair of white whales, who were then put through their paces.

 

Now, normally I hate seeing performing animals. I prefer my nature to be wild and, well, natural, and to approach it from an appropriate and respectful distance. When I was in Changsha all us foreign teachers went to the zoo and were ‘treated’ to a performing animal spectacle, and I found it stomach-churning, not least because the tigers and bears and other large predators looked like they’d been drugged.

 

But no, I really enjoyed this performance. The white whales looked in perfect health, and it seemed like they were properly taken care of and trained and treated with the appropriate level of respect. They looked to be in full possession of their faculties (unlike the drugged-looking tigers I saw in Changsha) and to be thoroughly enjoying their jobs.

 

And so I really enjoyed their performance, and lzh was over the moon.

 

Then there was a brief interlude with more of the apparently Russian clowns.

 

And then there was a pair of bottle-nosed dolphins, and if lzh was over the moon watching the white whales, she was in seventh heaven watching these two. The dolphins really stole the show and performed amazingly. And, most important for me, like the white whales, they seemed to have been properly taken care of, treated with the proper respect, and to be thoroughly enjoying themselves putting on this show.

 

Truly, no chemical could possibly have put lzh in better spirits than those she was in when we left the Ocean World. Well, next up was the Polar World.

 

Polar World started with some ridiculous, but mercifully short pyrotechnics on the façade of the building. Unfortunately, what was to follow wasn’t much better. I can’t really blame the pair of polar bears for being asleep. If I had to live in the Polar World, I too would spend as much of my time as possible in some other dimension. The penguins were pretty good. There were several different species of penguins in the one enclosure. Best were the Emperor penguins, who displayed for all to see the reason for their name: The surveyed us with a detached, imperial manor as if to say that we, the people, were the ones on display for their enjoyment. The other species of penguin, unfortunately, weren’t all quite as intelligent, and more than a few of them fell prey to the stupid, bullying games that some people like to play on animals that are safely in cages.

 

Apart from that, there were various displays on ‘polar’ subjects which were mediocre, to say the least, and a group of beautiful, young, Chinese women dressed as Eskimos doing a song and dance routine for our ‘entertainment’. I promptly decided this was offensive in the extreme and dragged lzh away before I vomited or beat the shit out of the racist little fuck who came up with this idea or both.

 

And then we found ourselves back on the ground floor faced with…..

 

                     …..

 

                                                 …..

                                                                      SHOPS!

 

Yeah, that’s right, about all that Polar World had to offer, apart from sleeping polar bears and a few penguins, was a bunch of souvenirs.

 

Now, to their credit, both Ocean World and Polar World (which seem to be run by the same company) don’t do the usual Chinese tourist resort bullshit and sell the exact same souvenirs you can buy anywhere in China that attracts more than two tourists per year. Nowhere did I see cheesy postcard sets of the Forbidden City or Guilin or batik from the southwest or the other usual silly trinkets. Everything for sale in the shops at both places was directly related to the ocean or the poles (although some of it was a bit on the tacky side). But it was really depressing to see that about the best Polar World has to offer was their souvenir shops.

 

On our way to Xinghai Park we had passed a branch of Wang Ma Zi (王麻子), and lzh, had leapt for joy: “Oh, that place is supposed to be really good!” So on our way back, we stopped in for dinner. 王麻烦 would have been a better name. The first dish, a kind of pale sandy-coloured, long, flat shrimp, arrived promptly, but it had less meat on it than I do. In fact, about all that was left once the shell was peeled away was a disgustingly salty mush. The other dishes took forever to show up, as did the beer. And then it took forever to convince the staff we wanted to pay the bill. All in all, not much of an experience.

 

So that was our first day in Dalian: A bit of a roller coaster, but the highs more than outweighed the lows.

 

It’s strange, but last night I got a really good night’s sleep. Normally, in a strange bed, I sleep poorly and wake up ridiculously early. Not last night.

 

This morning we decided to go to Tiger Beach (老虎滩). The map lzh bought on the train told us, in a rather absurd fashion that implied a ridiculously zig-zaggy route that doubled back on itself more than it moved forward, that bus 801 would take us there. It didn’t. The map was wrong. We got off at Qingniwa Bridge (青泥洼桥), I think it’s called, and went looking for a bus that really would take us to Tiger Beach. We walked a little way up the road, I saw that we were at the intersection of Liberation Road (解放路), and remembering from the map we’d left in the apartment that it went in roughly the right direction, suggested we try finding a bus down that way. And we’d passed a bus stop with a basic map of bus routes telling us that routes 2, 4, 30, 403, and 404 all went in the right direction. Then we found ourselves at the terminus of the number 2 bus, and, after fighting off one of the many hustlers in that area, lined up for the bus.

 

Bus number 2 took us straight down Liberation Street to Tiger Beach.

 

We found ourselves at the entrance to what promised to be Amusement Park Hell. Well, I have to say that so far I’ve been really impressed with Dalian’s parks. Xinghai Park and Tiger Beach have both been really enjoyable. I mean, all too often, when you go to a park in , you are confronted with noisy, shitty, crass, tackiness. Y’know, stalls made of rusty scrap metal and worn-out plastic tarpaulin selling either the exact same tacky shit you can buy at any other park in this country or offering the exact same cheap and really nasty amusement park games you can play in any other park in this country. Although both Xinghai Park and Tiger Beach had plenty of amusement park tackiness about them, it was all quality tack, and that quality goes a long way to turning ordinary noisy, horrible tackiness into an enjoyable experience.

 

As soon as we got in to what the map lzh bought on the train calls “Hutan Fairyland” and what usually goes by the name of “老虎滩海洋公元” (Tiger Beach Ocean Park), lzh noticed one of those amusement park rides that takes you to the top of a steep ramp in a roller-coaster-type car and then drops you down the ramp into a pool of water. She said, “Let’s go!” I said, “Alright”. As we got closer, however, she started getting scared. Anyway, I managed to get her to the ticket window, having stopped at several vantage points to watch car-loads of other tourists being dropped into the pool (she got more scared each time she saw this), and we saw we could buy a ticket for 50 kuai that would allow us to ride the car that would drop us into the pool, which is what had drawn us to the ticket window in the first place, and ride the pirate ship-swing thing, and take the cable car across to 鸟语林 (bird chirping wood? No, wait, ‘twittering woods’, according to our not entirely trustworthy map). And so we did.

 

She screamed her lungs out as the roller-coaster car dropped us into the pool (and showered us with sea water- thank goodness for the free 存包处 where we stored our stuff (especially electrical stuff like phones and the camera) and the free, although not entirely effective, plastic raincoats and leggings that came with the tickets). And then she screamed her lungs, liver, and other internal organs out as the pirate ship swung us throw far more degrees than she would normally be comfortable with (and I was starting to wonder just how high we would swing, I have to admit). But she walked out of both rides with that adrenalin-rush ear-to-ear smile on her face that made it all worth while, and assured me that screaming her insides all over the place was half the fun (and no, just to avoid any unfortunate conclusions that may be drawn from my choice of words, nothing more than air actually physically left her body during the rides in question).

 

The cable car was, well, a cable car. A nice, sedate, ride across the bay suspended from a wire. Nothing spectacular.

 

That was followed up with lunch and then a short cruise out onto the Yellow Sea. The cruise, like the ride in the speed boat at Xinghai Park, was disappointingly short, but pleasant enough anyway.

 

And then, because she had seen advertising some kind of dog show at Labour Park (劳动公元), we got on the bus and went to see what, exactly, these dogs were about. lzh loves dogs, you see. Well, within about 30 seconds of entering Labour Park, lzh was right back in seventh heaven, squealing about how cute all the dogs were. See, two of her favourite breeds, and one I have a liking for, were present. She loves golden retrievers, and there were several of varying ages present, all of them cute, all amazingly obedient, all extremely friendly. She just couldn’t help herself, lzh just had to go and play with each and every one of them. And ever since she saw ‘Lassie’ last time I was in Beijing, she has been almost as equally in love with Scottish collies, of which there were several at the first stall in the dog fair, some of them very young puppies, one or two almost fully grown. And there were several other cute dogs which had her squeaking and squealing in delight like a child given free reign in a candy store.

 

There were also a few Tibetan mastiffs, which I have taken a liking to ever since I saw them for the first time at the Liyuan (梨园) dog market in Tongzhou last year. And a 大白熊, whose English name I would really love to know (Polar bear dog? Big white bear dog?).

 

Then we jumped on the bus home, stopping off at a restaurant down on Jianshan Jie (尖山街), where we were further impressed by the people of Dalian. So far, everybody we’ve met here has been friendly, open (in the good sense), ready to help, down to earth, and generally good to us. I’m loving this place.

 

It seems, though, that today’s excitement is a bit too much. It’s only twenty past eight, and yet, as I type, lzh is out to it, fast asleep.

 

More later.

 

So those were the first two days of our holiday. Day three was really exciting. Some time in the wee small hours of the morning I woke up feeling feverish and achy and my mouth was coated with that kind of dry, sticky mush that usually means you’re either about to vomit or you just did. I got up, took a leak, drank a little water to clean my mouth out, and went back to bed. I didn’t really sleep after that, though, just lay there feeling more and more ill. Then at about half past five I got up and ran for the toilet. I must have made quite a racket vomiting my guts out, I woke up lzh in the process. Once my stomach had been thoroughly emptied I drank some water to wash my mouth out again, some milk to settle my stomach, and some more water to try and rehydrate. Then I went back to bed and once again, didn’t sleep, just lay there feeling worse and worse. A couple of hours later all of that came back up again.

 

Fortunately there’s a good little neighbourhood clinic just down the hill from where we’re staying, run by a good, competent, friendly doctor. One of the first things he told me was that apart from the obvious problem, I was in pretty good health. That was good to hear, considering how bad I was feeling at the time. So I spent the rest of the morning there having medicine dripped into me. However, it took them two goes to get the needle into a vein: one attempt at each hand. They reckoned my veins weren’t straight enough. Nobody else has ever had any trouble finding my veins before. I reckon I was so bloody dehydrated from having vomited all the liquid out of me that my veins just weren’t going to show up as easily as they usually do.

 

Anyway, the medicine must have done my some good. By the time we left the clinic I was still feeling very run down, tired, and achy, but my stomach had pretty much settled (although I still felt a bit fragile). We bought a few supplies: watermelon, yoghurt, fruit juice, other simple stuff that is easy on fragile stomachs, and wandered back up the hill. I must have been really ill: I suggested buying the watermelon and voluntarily ate almost half of it. I’m not much of a fruit eater. However, that was about all I ate yesterday. Mostly I just drank tea, fruit juice and yoghurt.

 

So some bastard at Tiger Beach the day before yesterday sold me poisonous seafood.

 

Today, though, I woke up feeling much better. I still don’t have much of an appetite, and I’m still feeling pretty tired (of course, having a bit of a cold on top of everything else doesn’t really help matters much), but I’m generally feeling pretty much recovered.

 

So after lunch we jumped on the bus to go to Jinshatan (金沙滩)- Golden Sand Beach. A promising name. We actually got off at Yinshatan (银沙滩)- Silver Sand Beach, an equally promising name. Unfortunately, it didn’t really live up to it’s name. We had a quick look around, then walked back over the ridge to Fujiazhuang (付家庄), which had a bit more of an actual park and was a bit more fun. We hung around for a bit and took a few photos, but there wasn’t really much to keep us.

 

Actually, one thing I’m disappointed with here is the beaches. There don’t really seem to be any beaches, not in the proper sense of an expanse of soft warm, inviting sand. The beach at Xinghai Park is all gravel, and Yinshatan and Fujiazhuang are mostly gravel with small patches of very coarse sand scattered about. And forget Tiger Beach- it’s far too over-developed to be of any real worth as a beach, even though with in the bay there is an expanse of coarse sand. The bay, though, is now really an artificial lagoon with a causeway across the sea end. The causeway only has a small opening to the sea, and what with the park and all the tourists and the motorboats roaring around, I wouldn’t want to have too much contact with the water at that beach.

 

There were people swimming at Yinshatan and Fujiazhuang, but the sea floor seems to drop off very steeply very close to shore, and I could see how some fairly strong undertows would develop, so I’d recommend them only for experienced swimmers. Xinghai Park seems more suitable to less strong swimmers.

 

Anyway, after a couple of hours wandering around beaches taking photos, we were bored and it was time to leave. And what do you think lzh wanted most to do? Shopping. Bloody hell. Travel 900-odd kilometres to the seaside she’s never seen before and all she wants to do is go shopping. So shopping we went.

 

Oh well, all in all it was a fairly relaxed, low-key sort of a day, which, after a fairly exciting first two days and yesterday’s run-in with dodgy seafood, was exactly what was needed. We leave tomorrow evening on the ferry to Tianjin. Apparently we’ll be in a 30-person cabin. I have no idea what that is going to be like. Hopefully it’ll be no worse than a hard seat ride. And apparently it takes about the same amount of time as the train. Add in the trip from Tanggu up to Tianjin proper, and it should take roughly as long as the trip here was for me starting from Tianjin. We shall see.

 

And now I’m back in Tianjin.

 

The ferry ride wasn’t much. It did the job; i.e. it got us to Tianjin, or more accurately, Tanggu, safe and sound. But it was bloody boring. Apart from bunks, the only facilities were a cafeteria which, by all reports, was expensive and shitty (bad food served cold), toilets which had no taps or basins in which to wash hands, a ‘tea station’ of some kind- presumably offering hot, drinkable water, and that’s about it. There may have been a place to wash up, judging by the people wandering around with toothbrushes and face cloths in the morning, but we never found it. It’s quite possible that those people were wandering around hoping to find some place where they could wash up, and that they never succeeded. You could go out on the deck, but that got very boring very quickly. Still, it was good for fresh air, which was necessary in the morning. The cabins naturally got pretty rank. But the annoying thing about the ferry ride was the length of time it took to dock and let down the gangway when we got to Tanggu. We must have stood for an hour at least waiting to be let off the boat.

 

And then Tianjin was a hell of a let down after five days in Dalian. lzh’s reaction went something along the lines of: “What a shitty little hole! It’s filthy! Yanqing is better than this, and Yanqing is the countryside!”

 

So we got the minibus up to Tianjin Zhan and went looking for a cheap hotel. We found one: 王朝大酒店 on 建国道 (Jianguo Dao), just north of the railway station. One hundred per night for a double room with all the usual facilities. Fine. Pity it was such a shabby little dump that looked like it hadn’t been maintained (apart from the usual once over when guests leave) in the last 20 years. Still, it was clean enough, cheap enough, and did the trick. So lzh spent the weekend here. We spent a fair bit of time at Ali Baba’s, we met some friends for dinner, didn’t really do much. Her illusions about all the cheap shopping to be had in Tianjin were shattered. Then she left early this morning for Beijing, and I went off to work.

 

Holiday ended. Damn, Dalian was good.

Publié dans chrislzh

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