Dalian: June 2nd-5th
I woke up to a voice coming from the courtyard and watched a man give instruction in taijiquan to a couple below. Many of the moves resembled some yoga warm up activities I’d learned. The teacher was graceful; his moves appeared to be swanlike while the students’ moves were abrupt and clumsy.
I spent the day following the wooden walkway through Xinghai Park and Square, along winding Binhai Lui to Forest Zoo. The temperature started out cold due to fog, with the haze burning off and the air warming up around 1:00. I stopped for lunch at an upscale seafood restaurant that had a parrot mimicking a wolf whistle and calling out. The only phrase I recognized was, “Ni hao!” This means hello. During the meal I used my iPhone app to translate key words, such as “delicious,” “May I have the check please?” and “women’s toilet.” This meal was the most expensive thus far, costing 12.00 USD. My other meals have been between .50 and 3 USD. Such a deal!
When continuing with my walk I saw a beach way below me and followed a road that led to an interesting beach ‘resort’ called Jinshatan Resort. You can see from the photos that there was no hotel, just a set of cabanas, a driveway that ended at the ocean, a statue of a goddess, and a gift shop. Small parties of young adults picnicked, cooking meat and vegetables on hibachi-style grills, playing volleyball and cards. Lo and behold, on my way to the public restroom, out from the men’s side came a groom, and from the women’s side, a bride and her assistant.
I finally reached my destination, took the cable ride and enjoyed spectacular views of the seaside (while going up the small mountain) and of the zoo (tucked away in the woods on the other side). Oddly enough, a set of red and white Coca Cola umbrellas stood out from the green forest. It was a zoo concession stand.
On the way back I realized that the bicycles parked on the side of the road with Styrofoam coolers contained popsicles. The vendor gave me a thumbs up signal and smiled when I bit into my first red bean popsicle—it tasted great!
Tonight I had dinner with Elsie, a friend of Monica’s. She was great company—very witty. I saw the Westernized business section of Dalian, with five star hotels alongside high end shops—Armani, Gucci, Cartier, Espirit…
I met Lucia, a graduate student who Li Xia contacted for a tutor exchange arrangement. We’ll meet twice a week for 2 hours, the first hour she’ll instruct me in Chinese (Mandarin) and the last hour I’ll tutor her. When we talked about the specifics, I told her I’d like to go places with her, starting with the Dalian Museum of Natural History today, and she could translate for me. She wants me to help her with her pronunciation. Her English speaking skills were very good, making it very easy for me to provide feedback. I, however, was a challenging student. Lucia patiently corrected me as the two of us walked around campus, the hutong, and the museum with me repeating phrases until my performance was acceptable. I hope to learn Chinese to the point where this process won’t be too painful for her. She has a wonderful sense of humor; we laughed quite a bit as I bumbled along.
More brides! At one point when we looked out the museum windows we saw two brides and their grooms posing for photos on the rocks with the surf crashing around them.
On our way toward the museum exit, we were redirected by two men in suits who gestured that we change our direction and go through a set of doors into an interior room. Much to my surprise, we entered a room filled with high quality gems displayed in jewelry cases and carved sculptures sitting on shelves. I could only identify two types of gems– jade in various shades of green and lilac, as well as rubies. They were all for sale, ranging in price from 350 to 7500 RMB (convert this to USD by dividing by 6.5). I exited without buying anything, saying that I may return in a few weeks and asked for a business card.
Tonight I went to a traditional restaurant with Li Xia, Felicia, Cindy, and Gloria, all DUFE faculty women. The restaurant was decorated in the style from the Ming dynasty, including the wait staff clothing. We ordered 4 entrees and 4 different types of jiaozi. In our own private room we shared stories about academia, retirement, and family. I learned a lot about their system of higher education. Full professors can’t retire until they’re at least 65, lower ranking professors may retire younger. Also, students don’t fail because they are allowed to retake a course as many times as is needed. If their grade was decent but their final exam score was low, they merely need to retake the exam first thing the following semester. I had a terrific time and jokingly asked if we could do this every night.
On the way home, the city was filled with traffic and pedestrians celebrating the end of the week. It took approximately 10 minutes for Li Xia to get a break in oncoming traffic in order to make a left hand turn. During this time our car sat in the direct path of cars coming from the opposite direction, their headlights barreling down on us. It took me a while to figure out why we were in this predicament. Their lane was completely blocked by road construction; no one was directing traffic and we were all on our own in negotiating our moves. I fell asleep that night still playing the movie in my head of unrelenting glaring headlights.
It was cold today due to the heavy fog. When passing the vendors on the pedestrian bridge one called out, “How are you doing?” I laughed and told him, “Just fine, just fine.” Today I found another way to the seashore, walking through the campus of Dalian Ocean University. Classes were in session for some students and faculty despite it being a Saturday. I power walked around a landscaped circle between the sea and a classroom building filled with students, having gotten the idea from an older woman who was jogging the same path. Despite the damp cold, the kind that saturates your bones, I saw a trio of older men tie orange floats around themselves and enter the water. They slapped their legs and arms, shouted out loud noises and snorted, then settled down and swam for about an hour.
I stopped by the 90 Degree s coffee shop that advertised charcoal grilled coffee and had a latte, out of curiosity. One of the baristas came out from behind the counter and sat down and talked to me about her hopes to attend a university in either Canada or Australia. Wan Zhen, a senior in high school, rejected my compliments about her language skills and expressed concern that she takes too long to ‘find the word.’ I told her that she was using a very effective strategy when encountering word retrieval challenges—she substituted the word with similar words or descriptive phrases. I assured her that this allowed the listener to understand her meaning, and kept communication flowing. I gave her my business card, writing my gmail address on the back.
It was a beautiful day, around 85 degrees, no fog. Black Reef Park had a lot of activity–people were clustered under bright red canopies grilling food, others rented bikes and roller skates, and still others were flying kites. No one was swimming.
I returned to my great walking spot at Dalian Ocean University, while people around me were fishing. Boats were moving along the water-sailboats, motor boats, and row boats. About a dozen men went for an hour long swim, paddling so far from shore that their orange floats looked like peas.
I explored the campus and found a set of stairs and ramps that went up to the top of the hill overlooking the sea. The sea breeze was strong and felt refreshing. On the way back to campus I stopped off for a mango juice at Amici Coffee and when using my iPhone translation app, the waiter laughed and told me, “We all know English here.” (So much for my assumptions.) Tonight I dined on jiaozi made fresh at the little shop on campus. Although I used my iPhone app to explain that I wanted a dumpling containing chicken and vegetables, a student helped by translating the specific type of vegetables.