You can see a lot in a 20-minute walk in Dalian. One of the reasons why I love my neighborhood, despite its inconvenient location for getting to work, is that it is genuinely a Chinese neighborhood. I don’t live close to the fancy malls, import stores or movie theaters…I do live in the city but it’s a residential city. In a country where people literally live their lives on the streets, you get to see things that would normally be confined to people’s homes, shops or backyards in Western countries, which invariably and whether you like it or not, gives you a real taste of Dalian, Chinese culture. This weekend I went for an acupuncture appointment followed by a Tai Chi class in a lovely little neighborhood, not so far from my more ‘gritty’ and less then lovely (but totally charming in its own way) neighborhood. Then I decided to walk home because it was a beautiful and balmy afternoon at a positive 3 degrees Celsius. On my way I started tallying the sites. I passed a omen selling goldfish from little Styrofoam containers and a group of men sitting on crates, tossing around cards and yelling about the money swiftly leaving their pockets and entering those of their neighbors. Then there was the mile long line snaking around the corner as men and women wait, impatiently, for the best baozi (steamed buns) in town. I passed a small concrete square and took note of the women dancing, men practicing their slow motion Tai Chi, children rollerblading and two, for lack of better words, kung fu practitioners whirling swords through the air. I crossed the street and turned East towards my apartment. On this straight stretch I passed men and women with their temporary sidewalk services. If you need your shoes fixed or pants hemmed then this is your nirvana.
For the next five minutes or so my view to the right was obscured by a large, concrete wall that neatly divides the street from the destruction beside it. One weekend, an area of ‘old’ (and by old I mean 20 or so years) buildings were gutted and abandoned; left looking like empty, cavernous eye sockets that were plucked of their seeing companions. They are beautifully, lonely looking things. Beyond the graveyard of buildings is a busy bridge overpass where up to 50 men stand and sat chatting. Perched in front of them are whitewashed signs, printed with red characters and tool filled canvas bags that state their unfilled intent for work. After that comes the market. It’s a colour splashed tent city that is completely invisible from the road. Instead, what you see is the story high surrounding billboards that advertise the ‘manor life’ apartments yet to come. Until then hundred of people sell everything from salt water tube worms to strawberries, pork chops and vats of pickled vegetables. Past the market, walked the 5 minute straight stretch to my apartment along the ‘river’. a trickle of waste filled water that flows beside the concrete walkway that has been stained and carved to look like real wood. Then, home sweet home.
This was Saturday. On Sunday I spent some time in Labor Park; an anomaly of a place. Actually very beautiful it boasts everything from a ski lift and carnival rides to temples and stone walkways. Within two hours I watched hoards of people advertise their services by pinning paper to tree trunks, ate some banana bread from a European bakery, walked along the frozen river past a giant soccer ball, painted a small statue for 3$ and saw a live pigeon hopping around the inside of a parked car.
You will never hear me say that Dalian is a boring place…