Friday, August 10, 2007

Wandering around the city by the sea

Last night was spent winding down from our day at work. We had a plan to eat at a well-recommended Italian-Spanish-French restaurant but first decided to visit Dalian’s Irish pub, the Tin Whistle.

Opened up by an Irish expat a few years ago it is now owned by and American. As the story goes, the original owner got so drunk on St. Paddy’s Day that he fell down breaking his leg severely. Being unable to work, he had to sell the pub. Even if it’s not true, with a story like that how could we pass up an opportunity for a visit?

Two young Chinese men and a young Chinese woman were working the bar. We each had a Guinness and settled down to an awkward silence. So I pulled out my map the bar staff gathered around. It was the ultimate icebreaker and soon we were talking about Dalian and China in English and Chinese. The young woman brought out a map of Dublin and we spent some time showing her the places we stayed and where the Guinness brewery is and where all the good bars are. Would have stayed there for hours but dinner beckoned and so we headed on our way.

The Riviera Restaurant was quite cosmopolitan with a good wine list and a great menu. Just for the irony of it I had a gnocchi dish that used three sauces – green pesto, white cheese and red tomato. A nice little culinary doppelganger of one of my Garduno’s favorites – Tres Colores. In that case it’s green and red chile plus a white queso sauce. Sometimes we travel so far just to stay so near.

Decided that today was a good day for one of my famous treks and planned to head out about eight. Problem was, it was raining. After a penthouse breakfast of bacon, yogurt, watermelon juice and a muffin, I grabbed my raincoat and supplies and headed out of the hotel.

The first problem was that it was really raining. So badly that I had to put on my hood. The second problem was that it was really hot which served to turn my raincoat into a sauna. I stopped out in front of the park to allow my GPS to get its bearings and found that it was simply not happening as fast as normal. So there I was steaming myself like a dim sum staring at my GPS screen which was quickly getting covered with water.

But then it stopped. Labor park was very nice. It is set along the flank of a pretty big wooded hill and the chief feature is a long stairway that climbs up to a giant red and white soccer ball which I would later discover contains a disco. A big golden Buddha advertising some festival sits on a landing in the middle of the climb. Although the Buddha is not genuine, people still stop to pray in front of it and to touch its prayer beads.

Lining the walk are large bronze statues depicting the animals of the Chinese calendar. The verdigris on the more popular animals is worn away down to the bronze from people rubbing them for good luck.

At the beginning of the climb, a group of women in a pagoda were singing a song that started as Do-Re-Mi and then moved on to London Bridge and Rain Rain Go Away finally culminating in some sort of martial anthem. A small pond with large pink lotuses sat at the foot of the stairway.

Walking up, an old man with an umbrella looked at me and smiled. I said “Ni hao” and he answered. Taking a few steps and turning to smile again, he somehow managed to pull off a reasonable “Good Morning” in English. With a big beaming smile. I returned his greeting in kind.

I had hoped to kill more time in the park but aside from paths there wasn’t much to hold one’s attention so I headed back down the stairway and out onto Jiefang Lu figuring it was only 5 kilometers to the ocean and so, a good morning walk.

It had stopped raining, but the humidity was still very high and I quickly discovered that I was soaking my clothes through. And nothing is worse for one’s resolve than wet jeans and a t-shirt with a giant wet circle on the chest. But I forged on until I reached a street that allowed me to get my bearings on my map and I realized I was less than ½ ways there. So I crossed the street and headed back figuring I would improvise later.

I passed a dental clinic that had 5 or so chairs facing the window allowing me and the other passersby to stop and have a look in the mouths of the people being treated. I tried to think of a way to take a demure picture but couldn’t pull it off because the dentists were staring at me the foreigner staring at them cleaning teeth. So I moved on. It was an interesting walk through the neighborhoods with some places reminding me of San Francisco due to the steep little stairways that led up to apartment blocks.

Looking up a side street I saw what appeared to be an outdoor market so I headed up and went in. It turned out to be a growers market which all kinds of vegetables and fruits plus a big fish market featuring crab, shrimp, shellfish and eels, most of which were alive and squirming around on trays. At the end was a poultry stall and beyond that a butcher shop that looked like a ticket box office. The colors and sounds we quite amazing. I made a couple of passes up and down the aisles and headed back out onto the thoroughfare.

I made it back to Labor Park and cut through exiting on the far side. From there, I walked for a good hour and a half down to the river that runs out to the sea through Xinghai Square, one of the prominent tourist attractions in Dalian. As I walked along I passed the municipal government offices which were done in classic Communist style. A young woman directing traffic stood on a platform in the middle of the street going through her motions with hands bedecked in crisp white gloves. A stark comparison to my clothes, none of which were crisp at this point.

This section of town was quite nice, the buildings were newer and well kempt and portions of the street were lined with beautiful Plane Trees.

I was running out of time and so I headed back, completing perhaps 7 or 8 miles in total and so doused with condensation that even my watch band was soaked through.

Spent the second part of the day visiting the Development Area which is where our project will be done. It had started raining again and the traffic was accordingly miserable. We went out to the beaches and found vacationers trying to enjoy themselves in spite of the downpour. It looked like Maine on the worst possible day. So we headed back and sat in abominable traffic for the better part of two hours. One highlight though was a visit to a gas station. Four sets of pumps each controlled by a woman smartly dressed in a yellow Shell Oil uniform.

Dinner tonight was in another aquarium restaurant where we feasted on several fish dishes and one great rendition of Sichuan chicken. The beer was all warm, the restaurant for some reason serving it that way.

We cleared out of there and started the walk home. In Zhongshan Square an old man squatted on the sidewalk with an almost Baboon sized monkey on a leash. I had to have a picture of that so I tried to sneak one but he saw me and made the hand sign for 10 RMB. I told him yes, but to wait a minute but he was not having any of it and kept flashing the sign. While we were having this standoff, a passerby went around the back to get by and the monkey reached out and grabbed his pant leg and wouldn’t let go. The man furiously shook his leg, breaking the monkey’s grip. We paid him 5 RMB and took the picture.

No walk home is complete without a brief visit to the Underground City (once again) so we availed ourselves of it in order to cross under Zhongshan Lu. It was darn hot and sticky down there so once we were under the boulevard we hastened back to street level. Walking towards the hotel we spotted yet another street market and took a spin through it, taking in the sights and smells of charcoal roasted meats, birds and fish.























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