The rain took a break after continuous downpour for a few days. A day without drizzle or drops. An ideal one for grocery and fruit shopping. People turned out in large numbers. The array of drench coats or wind-cheaters was probably tucked up in their messenger bags. And their shoes wore a decent sight. They were carefree about the drizzle but were equipped for a downpour.
I decided to take a day off from my driving to do some solitary roaming. The humidity was restrained, the winds tolerable and the sun coolly bright. Nataliya had given me an umbrella which found a convenient place in a shoulder pouch, that I was carrying every time I stepped out. It was the smartest article in my travel inventory and took care of any impulsive buying that I was vulnerable to. And when I walked out, my jeans blended me in the crowds.
I carried a makeshift map which I’d purchased on the roadside yesterday. It had a serious handicap. It was in Chinese. It made no head nor tail to me. I couldn’t even hold it straight in the right direction. But Nataliya had marked a glaring bold spot on it, big as life, that indicated where I must return at the end of the day. It wasn’t for me but for a benevolent soul whoever wanted to help me. It came in very handy with the taxi fellows.
My exit from the apartment was welcomed by children who were kicking up their heels along with their dog in the garden. The dog and the tiny tots were almost identical in size. They looked lovely. They smiled, even their dog. Were they expecting a Ne Hao from me? Sure they were, but I simply clicked a photograph in return.
My walk wasn’t a slow stroll but it had pace in it, like an average Chinese. They all walked briskly unlike most of us in India. We tend to crawl even in an emergency, that is what we are. They bear with the traffic signals whereas we try to guide them instead. The only abhorrence that I found was that some of them spoke aloud even when they talked normally. Perhaps it was in their language.
In a couple of minutes, I came to a spot where the road divided into two. On the left was the downtown which I’d no intention of walking early in the morning, so I took the right side. Again I reached a crossing in about 5 minutes, and my gut feel told me that the area on the left was promising. It was either the Renyi or the Nashan Jie. It did not matter so I wheeled left and pressed on.
As anticipated the down-slope led me to a smallish plaza with an imposing building on the left and a smaller glamorous one on the right. The left was a hospital and the right was a language school.
An impulse thronged me towards the school. Two adjoining buildings had impressive exteriors and they looked great. In an alien country, the sight of the three familiar words “Century English School”, were inviting. It was not a school like schools per se, but was a house which used its large compound and was extremely well decorated. Sure it could attract students. For me, it was almost an ultimate hangout for a foreigner.
There were not many people inside, as I learnt later, it was closed for some holidays. I was greeted by a smartly dressed receptionist but I failed to speak even Ne Hao, I had still not mastered the accent. I was in a bit of quandary about what my inquiry should be.
She took the initiative and asked me if I want to teach (Jiao 教) or learn (学习 Xuéxí), she used the following construct “Do you want to learn English or teach”
(你想学习英语或教 Nǐ xiǎng xuéxí yīngyǔ huò jiào )?
These words ‘teach and learn’ are the two of the difficult words to understand for a foreigner. For example, I still get confused when I have to use these words in Russian.
“Whether I should say учить Ochit for learn or УЧАТ Ochat for teach”
I simply took for granted that confusion was prevailing and I said “yes yes.”
The smile was her best bet, and she used it very aptly. She left her seat and went inside to seek help. I used this time for scanning the room and the photos that were displayed. There were as many as six instructors on them. They all appeared to me expatriates from England or Canada. A few minutes later an immaculately dressed man appeared and he asked,
“How can I help you, Sir”?
The six words that he spoke were enough to let me know that his English was perfect. I did not think he was a Chinese or if he was, he was well brought up in English. I was a bit nervous about my Indian accent but I knew that when it came to grammar I would beat him hollow. I asked without hesitation,
“Could I take up an assignment for teaching, here”? my accentuated English accent was clear in my speech.
He was a bit surprised since he assumed me to be just a tourist or a migrant and wanting to learn Chinese. I noticed that the receptionist was smiling, I don’t know whether she underrated my English or she was intrigued that I wanted to learn Chinese.
“Right now our school is closed for vacations and its Principal is away to Beijing. You must speak to her. She will return on 6 of May”.
This was bit encouraging, because he did not reject me outright. Perhaps there was shortage of an English teacher and perhaps he thought my personality was enough for the students. I returned his admiration by saying, “Oh Yes I will. I like this building”.
He was all smiles as he bid me farewell. He did not forget to remind me again, “Maria would return in the first week”.
Later I saw some other schools that taught foreign languages and had the option of teaching Chinese as well. And they were all very well laid out. Before I left I thought of asking him if there was a worthy place in the vicinity for a tourist.
“Yes of course. We have an exquisite children’s park right down the lane. You may like to walk up to the next crossing and then take a right turn”.
This was my time to thank him and the girl. My quest for exploration continued. I had the hospital to visit first.
There is a lot to be said about the hospitals and nursing homes. But equal dilemma exists about which system of medicine’s the best to administer. Like the Greek, the Chinese alternate systems compete well with the Indian Ayurveda systems. The most important attribute may perhaps be the cost associated when life and death is not in question. Thanks to Google, I’ve seen very senior doctors surfing the net to search for the right medicine.
Exactly the same dilemma came to my mind when I saw the two hospitals in Dalian. Looking at the pictures I was tempted by the traditional medication provided by the second hospital. That appeared more glamorous and two receptionists were positioned right at the entry to ease patients. But not many Chinese go into hospitals. Is it because they’re healthier than I had imagined or they have alternate systems of medicines. The age does not show on their faces and they do not limp while walking.
A Chinese Traditional Hospital
During my sojourn in Dalian of a month, parks and flowers were not on my priority in the beginning but they assumed significance rather quickly. I could not avoid them on the roads, plazas, squares, or corporate offices. They were spine-tingling, hair-razing or simply out of the ordinary. When the teacher at the school advised me to visit the park, I probed its validity by referring it to the map in my pocket. The “Children Park” was no doubt shown on the map but it was rather a smaller green compared to the other greens on the map. But I was quite near the spot and it was the right benchmark to be made on the map. So might as well venture into it.
I entered the park with a stereotype in mind. The overcrowded and unkempt parks in India flashed my mind. Or will it be like the sparsely populated forests in Russia. But the name encouraged me, “Children’s Park”. I speculated it to be not too bad. In fact, it deserved the name as “Children’s and Elder’s Park”, because at this time almost equal number of children and elders were present in that park.
In a country where flowers are in abundance, seeing the use of artificial flowers or bushes was quite a stunner. I found them in flower arrangements where they were used in a mix with real flowers, or as standalone bushes in the larger spaces as in parks or in the condominiums. Quite innovative, I thought. And the Chinese cutting-edge technology in gardening was that they moved large number of flower pots prepared in a nursery for deployment on the traffic islands or isles.
The approach to the park featured the back side of a modern building on the left and a collection of Sakura and Lilac trees on the right. Far at a distance, I could see a gathering of people of all ages. In the near vicinity, young women were taking photographs. It was a sight of happy families.
Children Assembly Hall
I was intrigued with the building on the left so I decided, first I must see what it was. It was an assembly hall of some kind. From its large windows I saw that children were entering or exiting the hallway. They were watched over by parents.
I compared them with the children in India. In India, irrespective of the richness of the parents, children fail to get an appreciation of the “value of money”. They indulge in expensive mobiles, shopping at the malls, cars if the parents can afford, and in activities that the parents will not ultimately approve. Outdoor life is missing for most of the youth in India. In China until a few years ago when only one child was allowed, the parents took excessive care of their children. They inculcated in them dignity of labor and value of money. I was seeing a proof of that intention, here.
What fascinated me the most in that building was a middle-aged man teaching the art and science of calligraphy to the children. Including the others, I was captivated by his skills. The vertical holding of the pen and the way he dipped the dip pen in the ink dazzled us more than the script that sprawled by his side.
The shape, size, stretch and type of hair in the brush, the color and density of the ink, as well as the absorptive speed and surface texture of the paper are the main physical parameters influencing the result. The calligrapher also influences the result by the quantity of ink/water he lets the brush take up, then by the pressure, inclination, and direction he gives to the brush, producing thinner or bolder strokes, and smooth or toothed borders.
According to Stanley-Baker, “Calligraphy is sheer life experienced through energy in motion that is registered as traces on silk or paper, with time and rhythm in shifting space its main ingredients.” Calligraphy has led to the development of many forms of art in China, including seal carving, ornate paperweights, and ink stones.
When I was young, and still had control over fingers and hand muscles, they all called me a calligraphist. I used to write certificates because of the imperial style that was popular in our time and we wrote using a z nib or a relief nib using holders. I think it was more to do with my good handwriting. But my dream for calligraphy was renewed after seeing how it should actually be done. So my calligraphy dream remains a dream until I return back to China.
I returned to my main excursion and chose walking lazily so that I could click pictures. People’s behavior was on top of my agenda. Some of them were strolling and others preferred to walk briskly. Three girls were busy in taking shots, not selfies. It was the first time on this trip that I saw anyone wearing the famous Japanese cap with extended shade for the eyes. Other girls preferred flats over the stilettos even though they were bereft of heights. And the elders preferred sitting around tables, playing games or simply chatting. They were dressed in different costumes but one item was predominately used, the cap. Children were being escorted by mothers dragging their perambulators.
It was a park with lush green grass all over the place. And this grass was natural unlike the artificial grass that is trended in many shopping malls of the world. The park was laid with concrete pathways and these were enclosed by bright lovely white balustrade. If you continued on the pathways, you could complete the full circle, but I decided to take a diversion. I passed by the side of a building where all action was taking place. People were learning to dance, dogs were being escorted, people sprawled themselves on tables and chairs, children played and so on.
From here I was led into the main area in the park, that had a large lake with the backdrop of the buildings in this part of the city. It was not really a spectacle like the panorama described in another article, but it was no less. Have a look at it.
While on the peripheral road of the lake, which was paved in red, I met an interesting character. He simply walked into me making me nervous about what his intentions were. He smiled and wished me in English. It was the greatest boon manifested in this people’s garden with interesting people, all engaged in their own affairs. So far, the only communication between me and them was smiles. Occasionally it was interrupted by the click of the camera shutter.
But this changed for the better now. The prospects of talking opened up as this gentleman told me that he was learning English and that he wanted to go to America.
“Do you need any help from me in your learning”, I thought why would he otherwise be speaking to me.
“No I just want to speak in English and talking to you gives me a good person to person practice”.
Sounds were coming closer from two women who continuously engaged in giggling and clicking photographs. We both were interrupted and they requested us for taking some joint pictures for them. Their target was me, because they probably saw the open camera lens that I was carrying. This man took up the assignment as a professional translator, repeating in two languages whatever transpired between us. He enjoyed the exercise. Of course, I had to correct him at times.
Progressively our friendship developed and they offered me a casserole to eat. I hesitated and made it known that I was a vegetarian. This man helped me to resolve the issue. They decided that a chocolate cookie was a better and safer offer. I’ll never know whether their offer was a formality, a reward for my services or they actually wanted to show friendship. Their smiles and giggles though were natural.
Hairstylists on roadside
Looking at my watch, I realized that spending three hours was just adequate for this exotic place and I must move on. I arrived near the exit gate, and from a distance, did I see a silhouette of hairstylists on the roadside? Yes, I did.
Impulsively I was drawn towards them. Finding them a bit like India where such roadside saloons are common. We see them in different towns, and even big cities. They are called colloquially “Ita-Saloons”, implying that they deploy a looking-glass which rests on a pair of bricks. In China, where the hair-styling art is a technology in itself, finding such saloon on the roadside was hilarious, to say the least.
Also, I thought China was an equal country and it lacked class difference. How then it supported this concept of poor-rich divide? The question still remained, who do these saloons cater for? Or was it only the older people who oblige the poor but skillful hairstylist; he does not even need a mirror! This certainly put me in a bit of quandary.
I saw these people happy enjoying their chat, may be they discussed the golden English sentence that everyone speaks in China, “Long Live Chairman Mao”.
With a heavy heart I moved away from the park. Surprisingly the gate where I left, was a bit lonesome too. Was it already missing me and my clicks? In spite of the luxuriously cover of the weeping willows and rose bushes, it presented a gloomy portrayal. I was on the road now, and a lonesome walk took me to a Japanese street. It was equally desolate. Buildings of low-rise structures, quite elegant and different from the normal Dalian. Not many people lived here, but some entrepreneur found it right to have an imposing and opulent pub-cum-bar.
In that state of mind, I mean somberness and melancholy, that I suddenly found myself in, there could be nothing more gratifying than being smiled at by two lovely women, understandably mother and daughter. They were kind of adjusting their dresses and posing for selfie or something. They saw me coming over and they almost jumped with joy and asked me to photograph with them or at least take a snap or two of them. This is what I term as friendliness with strangers, they had no fears and no inhibition. I of course took a few snaps on their selfie but I was not happy unless my Canon worked on these models. They were more than pleased to pose for me and I clicked them.
A day well spent
At the end, when I look back at the children’s park, it was really a treat. I went to this place a few times during my stay. I found here that real life was not devastated by the mobile phones or virtual chats. And I found here that there was less class distinction. Why don’t the Chinese add it to the tourist map more glaringly?