After another cosy night on a Chinese sleeper train where I felt like I was sharing a bed with the snoring woman who had most likely not brushed her hair a month (not that I was one to talk on this trip, life on the road is not a bed of roses when you mislay your deodorant somewhere along the way), we arrived less than fresh faced in the coastal city of Dalian. My sleep had been a uneasy on this occasion as I landed myself on the bottom bunk, which on a Chinese train is fair game for anyone taking a short rest on their long walk to the bathroom. Once in a while I’d feel the ungraceful plonk of another passenger who’d thought my bunk adequate for a quick pit stop. Each time I’d lift an eyelid to peep. All I’d catch sight of were the orange skins gently cascading from the top bunk as its occupant less than stealthily peeled his snack.
Although an early arrival left us not too chipper and eager for a bit of brekkie, eight a.m. is peak park going time in China and is the perfect time for a stroll. Early morning walks in the park are one of my favourite things about China, as it’s one of the times when the place is the most alive; filled with chattering middle aged and elderly women and men, dancing, playing badminton or boules and having a hearty gossip.
The pensioners in Dalian have the added enjoyment of the sea, making it an idyllic spot for some morning Tai Chi. Just keep holding up those invisible watermelons.
Besides the sea, the other views to be enjoyed were those of a fairground and water park, virtually abandoned during the harsh winter months, giving this part of town an eery Shutter Island feel.
Feeling refreshed after our stroll, we headed on the hunt for food, although nowhere could surpass our breakfast in Harbin. After our feed we took a stroll to Xinghai Square, which is the biggest city square in the world. I walked very slowly into the icy winds, drinking in the sights against the brilliant blue sky.
What struck me about this square, other than its sheer size, was the pristine condition in which it was kept. The grass was perfectly mowed, the roads un-littered and symmetrical, with elegant sculptures dotted around.
We continued our walk to the sea front, which was a combination of views; skyline on sand was certainly a new one for me, but this strange mix added to Dalian’s charm.
That night we made a trip to a late night bar, where there was entertainment and food with the menu complete on an iPad, a standard now in any hip place (developing country?). Despite the live music, we deemed it an unsatisfactory place to let our hair down and quickly made a stop at another club which to our disappointment, was also relatively quiet. Beers were expensive and realising we had just enough cash to split one, we decided to do what a foreigner can do easily in a Chinese night club; make friends. We found a man sipping champagne with a large fruit basket all to himself and decided he was our best bet. In the hope of getting a free pineapple slice or two, I approached him with my casual Chinese bar talk close at hand. He looked at me impatiently, “I’m Japanese”, he told me, biting into another juicy slice of pineapple and finding something interesting across the bar to fix his gaze on. I paused shortly and after his gaze did not return, I walked away embarrassed and pineapple-less.
We admitted defeat and although we hadn’t met any friendly faces out on the prowl, we did end the night in the company of a terribly patient taxi driver, who waited some ten minutes outside KFC for me as I was craving that 4a.m. chicken leg.