Wednesday, January 2, 2013

DALIAN: 02 - Is This Russia?

The excitement that was absent on my way to Suzhou found its way back to me as the airport bus rounded one more corner, fully exposing Dalian's collection of Russian inspired buildings. I have never been to China's bigger northern neighbor, but Dalian did give me a good glimpse of what would have been in store had I not dropped Vladivostok from the itinerary. Of course, Harbin would eventually prove to be more Russian than Dalian, but I saw Dalian first. Hence, the fascination.

I knew that the weather would prove to be unkind as I climb to northern latitudes, but as I got off the bus at the terminus of its route at Dalian Foreign Languages University, I was welcomed by a breeze that was cool rather than freezing, and the sight of Alliance Francaise de Dalian. The sight of snow everywhere is also pretty much commonplace now. Whether you see them on top of cars, covering trees, or just littering the sidewalk, the place was indeed one big winter wonderland.

Coming from a tropical country, it was quite easy for me to fall under the spell of magnificent snow. Luckily, reality was quick to bring me back to my senses. Snow is dirty and now I dare say, overrated. In my entire stay in China during the winter, I only witnessed one mild snowfall in Shanghai, but the harsh temperature easily offset the awe as my fingers on all extremities started to go numb. Perhaps, this was the disappointment waiting for me all along. Just like telling an innocent child that Santa Clause was just the uncle with the beer belly dressed up in red, I have come to the realization that snow and winter are just cool concepts if they are seen but not felt.

Back to Dalian, it is a favorite holiday destination for domestic tourists given its place by the coast and the cool weather when it is not winter. People are said to go here to escape the heat. For me, Dalian just became part of the itinerary because the cheap flight from Shanghai that I got on eLong with an 80% discount landed here. Had I seen a cheap flight direct to Harbin, I would not even have bothered to come here for a visit. Well, now I am glad that I did because despite just spending one day touring the city, I could say that it was one of the few that really left a good impression.

Immediately setting out to see the city after checking in at the guest house, I have come to realize how compact yet full of surprises Dalian is. Had I known, I would have allocated more days. Anyway, Dalian is popular for its squares, and those are probably what you would also be visiting if you opt to include this in your China itinerary. Using the many buses that the city has, you can reach the different squares.

The first one was the closest to the guest house and is named Zhongshan Square, a name shared by one too many streets, squares, and parks in China. Why? I believe that it is the Mandarin version of Sun Yat Sen's name. Back to the square, my excitement upon seeing it killed my cravings for lunch. Even with my fingers almost freezing, I could not help but snap and snap and snap photos left and right. Again, it is because of the buildings. They look Russian, or if that is not Russian, then it is obviously not Chinese either. Most of them house banks. Citibank. ICBC. Regardless of style, the architecture will call your attention and make you think twice if you are still in China.

Hungry and almost freezing, I dove into a KFC branch in front of the roundabout with a giant globe. Indulging in hot milk, I was energized for another chilly sightseeing session, but not without paying the train station a visit so I could buy the next day's train ticket to Shenyang in advance, something I was not really able to do because of the never ending language barrier issue. I wonder when my Mandarin would finally improve.

Another short bus ride brought me to the next square, but the stop was very short under ten minutes. Dubbed as People's Square, the wide open space is surrounded by government buildings that are also unique in style, while the view facing the main avenue is mainly that of mountains and the noteworthy booth of the traffic enforcer right smack in the middle of the street. The cool breeze started to terrorize my senses, and with a mild headache coming my way thanks to the chilly wind, I decided to just go ahead and move on to Xinghai Square.

And so we end up in yet another? This is what Dalian is popular for, so if you hate wide open spaces, I would suggest skipping them altogether, especially with this weather. But seeing how big that square is got me all charged up again, and so I went against my cold receptors and opted for a torturous stroll. This square also holds a distinction in terms of size, if not the biggest in the world, then probably the largest in the country. It is massive, with each fourth enough to fit, perhaps, two regular sized squares or parks. Did I mention that it is located next to the beach? Yes, but I no longer reached that area because I had to find a bathroom to seek shelter from the cold. After that, I was all set to go back to the guest house, or to any KFC branch with hot milk.

I saw some sort of weird looking platform on that beach side area. If you happen to go to Dalian, kindly check what it actually is for. It looked more like a park for skate board enthusiasts. Anyway, that was Dalian for me, an overload of squares. Getting to live for the vicinity though, even just for a day, did provide me with a good idea if ever I push through with studying Mandarin in China. Given how university courses are cheaper on this side of the country, Dalian Foreign Languages University seems like a good choice. Dalian is simply lovely, even perfect if not for its harsh winter.

DALIAN: 02 - Is This Russia?

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