Dalian – A drive you can be proud
Shanghai, Tianjin, Hangzhou and Hong Kong are important Chinese coastal cities, and each one is, you bet, flourishing. Dalian is another city that started making waves recently. In 1980 Deng Xiaoping called it as a “Window to Northeast”. Being a vibrant and futuristic city, it became an alternate destination for the youth of China. Dalian took almost a hundred years to come up to the level of other favoured countries of the world. This is because all its past rulers supported its European framework. So we now see reminiscence of Paris, Vienna and Venice in Dalian.
The culture of pubs, cafes, malls and parks is writ all over the city. It stakes claims on having intimacy with the Sea (Yellow Sea), with a coastal length of 1900 kilometres. How about exploring the city in all its vicissitudes? Come with me, we start with an emotion of “Over the Waves”, in Dalian.
An eventful day
Little did I envisage that tomorrow would be an exciting day, as usual, every day in this exciting trip was. I expected there would be no limits to my experience; new places, new people and new customs. And I was ready to take them on.
In the train, on the platform at Beijing, as well as on its airport, I did not find any Indian. For example, no Sikh, Malayali or a Jew who are reputed to be all over the map, were found. And there were no Indian students as is expected in countries like Russia, Belarus and China. The reason for their truancy is primarily the difficulty in language. Will it be the same harrowing experience for me as well, I feared; or will I score over them?
It was my first morning in China. I slept as soon as I had arrived. To be let down by lethargy or jet lag was not what I wanted. I opened eyes in the morning without any such indolence or inertia. It was drizzling outside. It was more like a winter morning in Himachal Pradesh in India. And what a welcome change it was from the heat and dust of Delhi.
Last night’s chill was in my bones still, and I understood that my attire needed attention. If it was not done right away, my adventurous trip might become an insipid memoir. So buying a warm jacket popped up on my shopping list, wherein a hat was earlier on the top.
But first, a cup of coffee deserved my attention, and I expected a different taste and flavour here. It is the same distinction everywhere during my travels; in the USA, Canada, UK, Europe, Russia, Belarus etc. And I was certainly not disappointed even here. Sitting in the armchair, I scanned the view outside my window. I was put up in a serviced apartment and I thought it was just the right place for accommodation. It might and it did, give me a reasonable excuse to interact with the locals. Looking out I saw a few elderly men sitting on three wooden benches and chatting. They shared jokes and were oblivious to a traveller watching them. Four or five kids were playing. Most of them were no doubt early risers. Even in the cold weather!
To sum up, the morning set my mood to be just what it should be on the first day. I was ready to receive my hosts Nataliya and Li Batao. They were arriving soon.
The first meeting
When Li Batao and Nataliya arrived I saw them walking from my window. They looked smart and purposeful. Li Batao looked more enthusiastic than Nataliya because it was the first time that he was going to interact with an Indian.
Later I learnt that Mahatma Gandhi and Indian traditions were on his mind for a long time, and he sought a lot of information on them from me. Nataliya had visited me in India before and was rid of the illusion that monkeys and snakes ruled the roast, on the Indian roads. And I certainly did not want to tell them about the cows thereupon, because cows deserved more respect than being seen looking for grass on the roads. And they all had a mystery as to why we treated the ‘cow’ as a mother.
“Ni Hao and Dobroye Utro” were exchanged with me respectively as they entered the room and scanned it from all angles. I ushered them in with a smile but was confused about which language I must answer their greetings in.
“Good Morning” was the safe bet from my side; at least this they must be knowing since they were from the corporate.
“How was the night,” she asked in Russian.
“Well I slept like a log” I replied smilingly and offered them coffee.
“That is understandable. It was a long flight. Three legs,” stated Li Batao, participating in our discussion.
They refused the coffee offer, “We are done with our breakfast and let us not waste any time here”.
“In a moment,” I said scanning at the attire they were in. Must I match it or chose my own options. They were kind of well prepared for windy, hot and cold weathers. So I did the same. I ensured that I will not be frozen as I was yesterday. And of course, I reminded myself that the first available opportunity, I will buy a jacket.
They perhaps had a plan but what it was, they did not share. This usually happened on later occasions as well. They assumed that anything would be okay with me since I was new to the city, and in my position, I thought it served as a good surprise.
The action begins
We were starting from Yanan Lu, a residential-cum-commercial area in the downtown zone. The roads in China are called ‘LU’ and the streets ‘JIE’. What a pleasant view it was. The sky was overcast, tall buildings visible hazily on the higher floors, the roads washed in rain, and raindrops still trickling down the trees. They made a heavenly picture especially for a traveller from the hot country as India is. I took a few photographs but was not satisfied with the light.
Here are some of those. The first building, an administrative office of the government, became a nostalgic crescendo later and looked quite different and amazing on other days.
We grappled and sailed through the office going traffic. The cars moved a bit slower than the normal because of wet roads. Those who did not want to risk driving were seen cheerfully waiting for the public transports. Ladies were seen struggling with the umbrellas turning inside-out due to the incessant strong winds. The office goers and shop owners drove cars whereas probably the sales girls took to the buses. The buses were almost new and no scratches were seen on their bodies. Raindrops formed a fuzzy screen on their large windows. On the whole, the people looked happy on the roads due to a good quality of life they were leading. This was the first casual impression of mine that day.
His Volkswagen Passat was 12 years old and it he must have taken pains to save it from scratches. As its driver he appeared to be a bit jerky in that disorderly traffic, because everyone was in a hurry for office. But he did not jump any traffic lights.
We were passing on the Zhongshan road when I observed a long stretch of trees with pink flowers. They were drooling over the brims of the roads.
“What do you call these flowers,” I asked Li Batao, they appeared familiar to me.
“Sakura, this is the season” he broke out in English.
“I also saw white flowers” I inquired.“Those are the Acacia”.
I knew that it is a famous and popular species in many countries. For example, in Cyprus and Greece it takes a bright yellow colour and here it was in a vibrant white. It is also a popular name for products, cafes and people. It was my good luck that I chose the month of May for my trip, rather inadvertently. This is just the time when the Japanese Cherries and Acacia florets bloom luxuriously. They cover the entire city. I suggest that you too chose this month for your travel.
Do you like Sakura”? asked Nataliya.
“Who would not like it Nataliya? Hundreds of grandiose pictures of Sakura take up the Google pages” I reflected.
“Though we cannot see Google here, but you will see them in real by the millions” added Nataliya.
And she was right. For the last about 5 minutes or so, on both the sides of the road and streets, I could see a barrage of them. They were absorbing every foot of the streets and it appeared nature had descended to paint the city pink and white. Somewhere, the sunlight fell on tree tops and some other places it filtered through the branches reflecting pinkness everywhere. I wondered why this city was not named as “pink city”. It had the necessary natural ingredients; unlike the pink city of Jaipur in India where pinkness is imparted by stones and paint.
The Olympic Square area
Li Batao continued to drive at a very comfortable speed and I kept clicking. The end of downtown was marked by the absence of tall buildings, and the view opened up for medium sized buildings and small parks surrounding these. We just passed a plaza called the “People Square” and a musical garden in its vicinity. Then we entered a vast open plaza, which Li Batao announced was the Olympic Square.
“Is China hosting another Olympics”, I asked rather naively.
“Yes, we are bidding for the 2024 Olympics. In 2022 Asian games will be played here”.
“So why is this Olympic Square been constructed already”?
“No, no. This is an old construction. It was made for the 2008 Beijing Olympics”.
What a tremendous maintenance of the monuments. Notice the 5 rings of the continents in the Olympic Square in the adjoining picture. It appeared as if painted yesterday, although I think the last night’s rain took some credit for it. The sizes of these monuments were humongous and all of them had parking space for thousands of cars. I felt belittled as our politicians in India were not the least worried about maintaining our glorious monuments and our people, worse. We are almost a century behind them in this respect. Somebody must shake our politicians a bit.
I asked Li Batao the name of that road.
“It is Zhongshan Road” replied Nataliya, “It is one of the main roads in Dalian”.
“Zhongshan” I repeated 5 to 10 times in order to remember and pronounce this name.
The “Golden Gate” Bay Bridge of Dalian
While I was in my daydreaming sequence of everything conceivable about the Olympics and number of golds won by the Chinese in that Olympics, the car took a turn and we swiftly entered a tunnel. My dream sequence was disrupted. I rearranged myself on the seat bracing up to see what was happening around. The ambient light had changed from a bright sunshine to dim, but it was adequate inside the tunnel.
The tunnel was called Lotus Hill. “A while later we would be exposed to a breathtaking view”. He added and he smiled.
The traffic was flowing in both the directions, in 4 channels each way. The car headlights were dimmed and they all moved like robots, probably aware of the police cameras and videos around. No one violated the rules. In a while, we started seeing light at the end of the tunnel. We were going to approach a different spectacle as is customary in long tunnels. But things took a turn for the worse.
It was poles apart from what was promised by Li Batao. The other side of the tunnel opened into a buttermilk sky. It was shrouded in clouds and the visibility was almost zero. The road was meandering continuously. I wondered how Li Batao would drive under that handicap. But other drivers were also under a similar impairment. They all slowed down a bit but a continuous speed of about 50 Kilometres was still maintained.
The clouds were coming back on us as we pierced through them. Jokingly I said, “this is like sailing through the clouds in a plane”. The camera that I had prepared for capturing the change of scene was in vain. Nothing was visible. And this tenure of driving hazard continued for a while.
We sensed that we were moving on a road that had pillars flying past us. Were we on a bridge? It lasted a while; probably 5 minutes and the pillars were still flying past us. It appeared that this portion of the drive was futile today. Any other day it might be worthwhile. So I posed a question to Li Batao, most hesitatingly, “You mentioned a change of scene, but there is no scene here”.
“Yes, Li Batao this is worthless. Let us go back” Nataliya suggested.
I perceived that she had not been here before and was no longer enthusiastic about it, because nothing was actually visible. Li Batao could not take a reverse turn on a continuously flowing highway traffic. We all had to wait a bit longer for the stop. But this wait proved advantageous. The clouds suddenly started to wander away and we saw a better light at a distance, all around. We could now see the silhouettes of tall buildings at the horizon through the front window. And from the rear window, some edifices started to emerge on the starboard side of the bridge. A beautiful scene was being manifested, as the car moved on.
“Look, on both sides, we are crossing the bay”, and we started to see that we were on top of the sea waves.
It was a suspension bridge and it was about to end. When Li Batao reduced the speed to take a left turn, we saw waves trampling and pounding on the sea shore. Even though the car speed was low, the light was still not enough for a photograph; and surely not for the capture of the distant town on the right side. Some parts were still covered under clouds. One building was conspicuous, though. It was the Castle hotel, that we see on Google. My daughter had insisted that I will bring more photos of this Castle from close quarters.
The mood of car occupants changed for the better. I asked Li Batao, “Where are we headed”?
“It is the new embankment. We call it new Dalian”.
The clouds had thinned out and the view of on and around the suspension bridge was firming up. It seemed alluring. “So why not take a good look at the landscape and the spectacle”, I suggested.
This prompted Li Batao to pull over the car and park in an open space, a vacant uninhabited area. New roads were laid out in that space. We all came out of the car. We needed fresh air perhaps.
That perspective provided a panoramic view, almost 360 degrees were rendered. Two views were laid out on either side of the bridge. One side was the famous Xinghai Square – the largest square in an urban area in the world, and the other side was the Yellow Sea. They were separated from each other by the Xinghai Bay Bridge, which I called as the Golden Gate Bridge in the heading of this text. A few photographs are called for here.
Wanda Sea Mansions – The newer side of Dalian
“Yonder there! A change of scene, the new Dalian residences” his comment came with a kind of show off.
For me, the old Dalian was impressive enough. It was based on French style and European architecture. What more could be further anticipated? My mind was not in the saddle for seeing newer buildings, just because they were new. I wanted to engrave instead whatever I had seen for the last half an hour or so. But he seemed excited. Here are some pictures of the new Dalian environs.
Li Batao then got back into the car and continued traversing this beautifully constructed neighbourhood. They called it “Wanda Sea Mansions”. The circumscribing road had all the required signage and was colourfully flanked by cobblestone roads on for the foot walkers. We continued driving around those buildings and the shopping areas. It was nice, peaceful and not many people were visible on the roads. Perhaps it was not fully occupied and probably possessions were awaited.
I was reminded of an article that appeared in Yahoo in Dec-2015, describing the “Ghost Towns of China”. Could it be one such town? It did not seem though. There may not be many people residing here, yet. But the buildings were far from being empty. Many cars were seen on the roads and rich people were seen entering into these buildings. Chinese are reputed to be making high rise structures, and they are apt to it. They complete a high rise building with super quality in about 18 months. And their aim is not to project richness but affluence that is bourgeois.
I thought our trip must have ended. It was more than two hours of driving and we must return too. But Li Batao had other plans. He had ample energy.