The view outside came as a small surprise this morning. Well, of course, we knew we were expecting to arrive in Dalian, China sometime just before lunch, but a little earlier than that, we looked out of the window and saw a kind of Manhattan skyline coming into view.
This was not quite what we’d been led to expect. But Dalian is a growing city, at the forefront of modern China and clearly the place to be these days.
Once again, the whole place seemed to be a building site and those who had been here as recently as two years ago said that it was barely recognisable.
The silver turtle shaped structure which was near to our berth reflected the sunshine on this, another glorious day. Cold but clear, we were delighted that the weather was fine, because we were planning a little outdoor activity here.
Shortly after passing by the turtle – actually, the forum for the World Economic Forum which will meet here every two years (the so called “Summer Davos”), the Captain turned hard left and parked the ship perfectly just across the water from it. (I hope you don’t mind my using such nautical language!?)
Far from the small, regional town we had expected, Dalian is a thriving city and home to 6 million people. This afternoon, it seemed like everyone was out in their car, for the roads were incredibly busy and every spare inch of land was being used as a car park.
Zhongshan Square was our starting point. We’d split into groups and eight of us introduced ourselves to Edward our young guide for the afternoon. He explained a little of the background to the city, pointed out a few prominent buildings (this is a bank, that’s another bank and over on that side of the square is yet another bank)
We set off walking down the main street, past KFC, Apple shops and Zara amongst other familiar brands. This was far from the communist China of old and LV, Gucci, Prada and Dior appeared to be thriving here – though Edward said that the people who could afford to shop in such places were not locals but wealthy Chinese people from other parts of the country who chose to buy property here.
We passed a cinema and other more Chinese shops selling more everyday items, though the people on the street were younger and more fashionable than the general population, we felt.
Here was a large, modern shopping complex alongside a public transport interchange. The car park here was full, too, with modern imported cars as well as the native Chinese variety. On the short walk we took this afternoon, we passed several Range Rovers, Audis and other, similar high end vehicles.Oh yes, consumerism is alive and well in Dalian!
The “international flag” was flying here too – because just underneath the surface of luxury goods and high end shopping, a more familiar and less glitzy China was there to see.
Cars had been parked – left – everywhere, including all over the pavement, which had created other problems, too.
The pavements were in a terrible state. So much new building, so much investment and yet, such basic things as simple maintenance seemed to be overlooked. At times, walking wasn’t easy – avoiding the parked cars, negotiating the broken and badly repaired paving slabs and stepping up and down foot-high kerbstones needed concentration and if that wasn’t enough, crossing the road involved taking one’s life in one’s hands, for in spite of a green flashing pedestrian signal, it still wasn’t safe to assume cars would stop.
Poor Edward, he had quite a task taking care of us!
Eventually, we reached The People’s Square, where a few of the inhabitants of Dalian were enjoying the sunshine. We caught sight of the little one, all bundled up against the cold, and took a photo or two. I’m sure none of us noticed anything particular about him/her until we downloaded our photographs later
A bit chilly, perhaps?
An elderly gentleman took great pleasure in showing off his ability to use the keep fit equipment, which our friends tried to emulate with limited success but with more than a few laughs.
But the rest of the Peoples’ Square was more about the buildings which surround it rather than the square itself.
The notice was politely worded, though.
Next stop was a coffee shop, where we enjoyed a glass of jasmine tea and a snack in a room marked “VIP”. The hot drink was welcome after a brisk walk in the cold air, that’s for sure.
Whilst we were enjoying our tea, we were each given a kite ready for the next stop – the Peoples’ Park. Sadly, there wasn’t a great deal of wind this afternoon, but that didn’t stop us running madly around trying to get our kites up into the air. Some local Chinese people were amused by our efforts and tried to help. Some even had a go themselves and grinned as they could get the kite to fly far more easily than we could.
It was huge fun, however, and most of us did eventually manage to get the things to fly, if only for a few seconds. This is my Angry Birds kite, up in the air above my head, just before the string became snaffled on my camera strap!
We ran all over the place, squealing with delight like small children, really enjoying the fresh air and the opportunity to have some fun. The one mystery was the identity of the man in the purple anorak. He was there the whole afternoon, though didn’t travel on our bus, didn’t seem to be “with” us, and yet was always there hovering. In the park, he even got out a kite and flew it with us. Hmmm.
Whilst we flew kites, the ladies of Dalian were dancing and swirling ropes and ribbons to some very loud Chinese music just over the other side of the pond. They giggled and shouted to one another, having just as much fun as we were.
As for the men, well, they were assembled over the length of the stepped sides of the larger pond sitting cheek by jowl playing cards. Edward explained this is a long standing Dalian tradition and they’re playing a local game that only locals understand. All I can say is that it was a pretty serious business and they didn’t appear to be having anything like as much fun as the rest of us!
After an hour or so we were all exhausted and starting to get cold. It was time to return to the ship. In the late afternoon, a jolly bunch of kite flyers came noisily home, then, carrying their brightly coloured gifts and commenting on how pleasurable it can be to spend an afternoon doing something so simple. Walking and talking with a young person from another culture, learning about their life and their country was great. The kite flying was an added bonus.
But it was good to be back in the warm again!