It was a huge surprise for me when I was in Mumbai, on an internship-sort-of-thing, preparing to come home the next day, when my dad tells me that I'm coming to China with him...tomorrow!! I didn't expect it, but of course I was willing. So, 4 hrs after reaching home, I was off to the airport again.
We had a long layover in Hong Kong, so we decided to go out for a bit. Landed in Dalian that night. Dalian is a city of around 3.5 million in North-East China's Liaoning province. It is popular among domestic tourists for its squares, but most foreigners go there only for work, like my dad.
The next morning, view from my room:
First things first, needed to buy some breakfast items from a supermarket. No taxi driver knows English so all hotels give a small card with the name of the hotel and several important places (such as the airport, mall, some places of interest etc) in Chinese.
The area the hotel was in was a new development area, full of buildings under construction.
Now in the city centre:
Lots of unique-looking things and not a single word of English! Well, what to buy?
Here's just one photo of the mall. It seemed nothing special, probably just built quickly to supply the new, big consumerism frenzy. What was special though, was the large crowds, considering it was a Monday morning.
I can imagine- I guess sometimes I feel the same way coming from India.
Here is more of that pedestrianised complex comprising several malls and some outdoor stores/stalls.
Back to the hotel now. My mother was in India, travelling with friends, my dad was off to work here and I was alone. Got a map, made a rough plan, and off I went.
Dalian is famous for its squares, many of which are lined with Russian and Japanese colonial architecture.
The first square I came across is Gangwan Sq.
I wanted to go to Zhongshan Sq, the main square, but I made a wrong turn here. I got so distracted with how to safely cross the square, I confused "straight" with "slight left". Off I went ignorantly, as I realised this mistake only later. Still no problem, at least I got to see a different part of town.
A closer look at one of those buildings:
Even by now I hadn't the faintest idea that I was off-track. Of course, who cares? As long as one's seeing a new place, it doesn't matter.
The area had suddenly changed to residential; there was a park here and the area was calm and quiet.
Also here was a small lake.
Looking at the map, I had finally traced my location. Good! Seeing that another attraction was closer than backtracking to Zhongshan Sq, I decided to head there first.
After confirming directions to my next attraction, and surprising people that I'd like to walk and not take the bus, I continued in this primarily residential area.
Here it was, Labour Park, Dalian's main city park.
Below is a football sculpture and behind is the TV tower, which one can climb for views.
I decided to walk to the TV Tower. One little-known way, according to Wikitravel, was a calm green path. Yes, it was calm and green but wikitravel should have told me it was a 1.4 km uphill walk! I was anyways tired but decided to go on.
It was perpetually cloudy. Had very little sun, so much so that couldn't tell the difference between afternoon and evening. Once I got to the top of the TV tower the haze was apparent. But as there isn't much industry there, Dalian is not quite as polluted as other Chinese cities.
I think a part of the pollution in China also comes from the building -- knocking down old buildings and putting up skyscrapers. Any building site produces a lot of dust and dirt. So even if Dalian is not as industrial, there could still be pollution.
Yes, and there is definitely pollution in Dalian. It is generally worse in the early mornings and winters. But from what I heard pollution is not as bad in Dalian as in many other cities such as Beijing. I was in Beijing for a day but at least in summer it didn't feel as bad as what I'm used to in Indian cities.
Here is Labour Park as seen from the base of TV Tower.
The views from the top were obstructed by bad haze and photos weren't too great. There were also some photos about what I thought to be history of Dalian etc but everything was in Chinese. Somehow, exhibitions about butterflies (!) appeared from nowhere. Most was written in Chinese so I didn't understand what was going on. The good thing, of course, was the lack of crowds.
A final look at the TV Tower:
I was exhausted and wanted to see Zhongshan Sq, so decided to take a taxi there. Curiously in Dalian, taxis often take additional passengers although they are normal taxis, not shared taxis which I know exist elsewhere.
Finally at Zhongshan Sq, a central square lined with colonial architecture. Here colonial refers to Russian and Japanese.
The square is at the heart of the financial district of Dalian and most of these colonial architecture house banks and other financial institutions.
Now in the square. Not very lively in the daytime but I visited one evening and it was full with crowds.
Luckily I bumped into the hotel concierge who told me which road to walk by to get back to the hotel. It was a 2.5 km walk.
This section of the road is as "Westernised" (for want of a better word) as it gets in Dalian with McDonald's, Gucci and Subway.
Nearing Gangwan Sq
My dad told me to join his colleagues and him for dinner. It was the most informal (in this context, it's better than saying least formal) dinner in the trip so I decided to join. As I would realise, it was the best meal I had in the trip. (who thought China was famous for bread?)
Below is on the way, this picture taken close to the mall we visited in the morning:
Now, next morning, my father's office had arranged for a car and guide. Deicded to visit a few places I wouldn't be able to get to on my own without a taxi. The first few I also visited the next day, so will show later. Below is Xinghai Sq, the largest in Asia.
The square itself was inaccessible as the Dalian Beer festival takes place here and it was starting 2 days later.
The area is very very popular among domestic tourists as attested by the number of tour buses. Tourists come here to enjoy some cool sea breeze. Otherwise, the area is a hi-end residential area.
Below is one of the attractions in the area, the Shell Museum.
The parks and the residential area that you discovered look very appealing compared to the urban jumble. I'm thinking that modern development of Dalian might have started a little later than in some of the other cities because it looks as though a lot of the older buildings were preserved rather than demolished, and there seem to be more tree-lined streets than in a lot of other photos that I have seen of Chinese cities.
Frankly, the sky is almost blue in a number of your pictures, which is a decided improvement over cities like Hong Kong. (I won't mention Beijing and Shanghai since I haven't been there.)
Dalian is a very young city, a bit over a hundred years. The colonial architecture I've shown so far has indeed been preserved but a lot was demolished in the construction frenzy. And the city has made an effort to look aesthetic, lots of flowers, tree lined streets as you say, and plants on the streets.
I was there for 4 full days, the last 2 were perpetually cloudy. The weather was warm and humid- never have I relished the taste of water as much before!
Amazing report, Ansh, really full of surprises, at least for me. Am eager to see more, particularly since you're being so complete it makes it much easier to formulate an idea of the place. One of the things I find most surprising is how few people seem to be out walking on the streets. You were certainly intrepid to take getting lost in your stride even in such a completely different environment.
Thanks Bixa- indeed, 4 full days in Dalian did give me a good idea of the city.
Next stop was Russian St, a street which used to have a lot of colonial Russian architecture. Much of it was razed down and replaced with modern facsimiles of colonial architecture (what, a resemblance of the Cultural Revolution?) but a few pieces of truly old architecture do remain.
Now, at the outskirts of town:
The last stop for the afternoon was a temple in the outskirts of town. It's among the largest temples in north-east China.
It wasn't particularly decorated or such but the setting was impressive: surrounded by green hills. And, very very few people around. Really what I like in a temple complex.
One thing that strikes me is that the city does not seem to be overwhelmingly huge even though it has plenty of big buildings. Obviously the population of more than 6 and a half million people makes it 3 times bigger than Paris, for example, but the various areas seem quite manageable.
I see that the city has a tramway system but which unfortunately has only two lines, and apparently one metro line, which is quite certainly extremely inadequate. I assume that there are a zillion bus lines, but those often add more to the transportation problems rather than solving them.
I have often noticed this in photos of Chinese squares in various cities, but some of them are really excessively huge. They look like a nightmare for pedestrians to have to walk through to get to the other side, and in bad weather it must be ten times worse. But that is my Western point of view -- I suppose that when you live in a very big and crowded city in China (or India!), huge open spaces must be a very much appreciated luxury.
I love the little streets of your last day, ansh. Those are the ones that interest me the most, much more than the main thoroughfares, even though I like to see those as well.
One of the squares- pictures 4-5 in reply #3 was the most intimidating to cross for the first few times. No traffic light, no underpass. And one of the roads coming into the square is the expressway ending there.
Zhongshan Sq is indeed big and the underpasses there are only for crossing the roads, not for going into the square (who would've have thought?) but it serves as a small park and is a nice central location.
Of course, locals dont bother much, they get used to the way it is. But, having open spaces is indeed a nice breather in densely populated cities. We don't have such a square in Bangalore...
Below is an underground shopping centre called Victory Sq- a very confusing layout with no English signboards. They do make a killing by selling plastic umbrellas as soon as it starts raining. I saw people rushing into the square just to buy them.
Below is a view of Labour Park from a nearby mall.
A few random pictures taken that evening:
It was finally to the airport the next day. It is a fairly chaotic place with lines everywhere but has several shops and places to eat.
My destination was Beijing where I was spending a day before flying home. I wonder whether I should post a report on Beijing as I only had a day and went to the main sights only.