September 5, 2008

The Road to Lüshun

Filed under: China,Dalian,teaching — Kim @ 4:02 pm

Back to school! Back on the old school bus.

Twice a week for the last year I have been taking the school bus from Dalian City centre to the outskirts of Lüshun (aka Port Arthur), where the new campus for Dalian University of Foreign Languages is located. It’s a 40 kilometre trip and takes an hour. Come along for a ride and we can take in a fair amount of what makes Dalian an appealing and increasingly prosperous city.

Leaving at 7am, we first go round the back of Labor Park and pass a “scenic viewpoint” that always has a group of of old folk doing their morning stretches while looking at this picture postcard view…


Actually, that photo is a bit old and there are a fair few more skyscrapers downtown now. A new one every month it feels like.

Then we stutter along the busy Dongbei Lu and about 10 minutes later the next landmark on our journey is the “world famous” Xinghai square. It’s a BIG square by the sea.


But it’s a bit of a mystery just how big it is and where it really comes in the rankings of bigboy squares. Having been in Dalian almost 2 years now, I’ve heard tell on numerous occasions that Xinghai is the largest square in Asia, and have even read somewhere that it’s about four times bigger than Tiananmen. But at the back of my mind I thought I remembered that Tiananmen is the largest square in the world, and so I did what homo modernicus does and googled “largest square in the world”. The vast majority of sites agree that the answer is Tiananmen.

According to Wikipedia’s “Largest City Square” rankings page, for example, Tiananmen Square is first at 440,000 m² and Xinghai is 36th at 45,000 m². Moreover, googling “world’s largest square” will get you almost nothing but Tiananmen, yet put in “asia’s largest square” and you’ll get almost nothing but Xinghai. Hmmm… last time I checked Beijing was in Asia.

Something funny going on there. Can anyone shed some light on this?

Anyroad…we bear right at Xinghai and creep along the bloody busy commuter road leading to the Software Park and the Hi-Tech Zone. God only knows what this road will be like in 10 years time when the number of cars on Dalian roads will very likely have tripled.

This Software/Hi-Tech area is one of the reasons Dalian is on the up in the world and is even being touted as the next Bangalore. It’s an already impressive place with pleasant modern buildings and plenty of well planned and preserved green bits. See below.


But soon, just along the coast a bit, the “shock and awe” extension will open and many of Dalian’s IT workers will be manning the phones and clicking their mouses in a grandly corporate hilltop setting of mock castles and palaces and gleaming glass office blocks, with lakes and bridges and aquaducts dotted around. All with a nice seaview. I’ve watched that place being built over the last year and it is certainly the most impressive and über-modern business area I’ve seen. Makes Canary Wharf look a bit old and stuffy.

Then as the bus turns right past this Brave New World, we are out of Dalian and moving onto the road to Lushun proper…and the hills let out a sigh as the concrete clutter finally fades away. Dalian’s hills are occluded, crowded, or pockmarked by tower blocks, TV towers, observatories and the like. The hillsides seem burdened by the sheer number of people living in China, and it is rare indeed to get a glimpse of a clear green view around town.

But the first few kilometres of the road to Lushun verge on the image of the rural idyll. Grey slabs of stone give way to green slopes and trees and a few squat little peasant houses with their orange roofs nestle at the foot of the as yet untouched hills. And you have to wonder how much longer this will last. How much longer until Dalian and Lüshun melt into one big conurbation?

For a kilometre or two the road winds its way through valleys, but soon the land opens up to an undulating plain on the right with distantly looming hills/mountains where a huge and expensive housing complex will soon be built. At the moment the roadside is lined with the construction company’s billboards, adorned with optimistic representations of what the houses will look like and of course with slogans.

The slogans are in Chinese and in “English”, this being a high-class housing complex you understand… you gotta have your gobbledygook English to be really classy. But one of the more coherent slogans that sticks in my mind is “Texture of Nature. Life of Poetry!”. Ah, yes…poetry! Nature! Construction!

It must be said that when the winter sets in the Dongbei landscape becomes an almost uniform dusty brown, but right now it is gentle shades of late summer green. Autumn is beautiful too: “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” autumnal breezes and the changing colours of the leaves. And the spring is sublime…come springtime on the road to Lüshun and the hills are alive with bursts of Forsythia and Cherry blossom. “Loveliest of trees the cherry now, is hung with bloom along the bough”, and we have the Japanese occupation to thank for a lot of that. Only a non-Chinese could write that last sentence.

Actually, the Japanese originally got their national obsession with cherry blossom from the Chinese, but they have made it their own and it has assumed an importance in Japanese culture that far outstrips the Chinese concern with it. But as we pass the small town of Longwantan (we are two-thirds of our way to Lushun now) there is a park where, come the season, scenes of cherry blossom viewing very reminiscent of Japan take place. To the best of my knowledge, the trees here were mostly planted by the Japanese.


Then it is only a few more kilometres past fruit trees and the occasional building until we reach the Lüshun coast. Turn right again and as you are driving along the remaining couple of kilometres to Dalian University of Foreign Languages you can view one of the calmest seas in the world. It is, as my Dad would say, “as flat as a millpond” almost all the time and that makes it ideal for “seafood farming.” I’m not sure exactly what marine creatures are being kept down there (crabs, abalone, sea cucumbers, for Dalian’s fancy seafood restaurants?) but I can see the sea is dotted with buoys to show the fisherfolk where to go for harvest-time. And huge lorries full of kelp are a common sight round here.

Lüshun is an “up and coming area” so the next feature on the coast road is a huge new housing complex with a couple of towering tower blocks and row upon row of European Villa-style houses. It’s called the “The Blue Beach Resort” and I guess it’s for those rich enough to want a second house by the sea. There wasn’t a beach there a year ago, but they’ve managed to ship one in somehow. They’ve also constructed a moat and a marina, and there is a mountain backdrop and a sea view, so all very nice…apart, that is, from the lingering piscine pong.

Almost there. Another minute’s drive and we turn right again (I’ve just realised the whole journey consists of right-turns) to get to my university…the resplendent Dalian University of Foreign Languages.

I’m not being tongue-in-cheek – it really is nice now – but about a year ago, for the first few months, it was pretty grim. To save money the students had been ordered in well before the place was ready. The roads weren’t even tarmacked, the students had no hot water – and sometimes no water at all – the paint was still drying, there were potholes everywhere (and my Mexican friend Emiliano fell into one and nearly broke his leg) trucks full of construction materials and migrant workers roared around everywhere and it’s amazing nobody died, the builders were in a great hurry to put down the paving and did a very sloppy job, and the 80% female student population felt a bit uneasy about being stared at by the hordes of male migrant workers who were living on campus with them. It was all fairly depressing and if that kind of crap had been attempted in any democratic country I guess there would have been a student uprising. I did hear a few students grumbling, but really not much, considering the circumstances and considering that this is a university that is considered “expensive” by Chinese standards. By and large they seemed stoical about it and I remember there appeared some graffiti on the gym wall scrawled in permanent marker pen…”It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness“. Well, indeed.

But anyway, anyway, I digress. And it’s nice now…really! Rose gardens, plenty of trees, restored paving, good restaurants, hot baths, nice roads, warm classrooms, a lovely big library with lots of computers and lots of censorship, a grand new concert hall, and lots of happy-looking students suffused with the soft afterglow of the Olympic spirit!


The actual town of Lushun is still a couple of kilometres away…over the hills and down the vales… and despite the fact that a lot of foreign teachers live on campus, and that the Medical University next door has about 500 foreign students attending, it’s still not entirely clear if foreigners are allowed to go there or not!

Lüshun/Port Arthur is a naval base you see, and was strictly off limits to foreigners for ages. Because they might see some secret ships or seduce some sailors or something. Or they might even wander into the city centre and buy a KFC, yes there is one. Can’t have that! But the rules have – reportedly – been relaxed, and I have indeed spent a pleasant day strolling around the town and viewed the battleships from Baiyu Tower (below) without being bothered, apart from by the photo tout at the top.


But then I was told that I had been lucky and that actually it’s better not to go because foreigners do still occasionally get fined and arrested. Who knows? Welcome to the military mentality. Put me on the peacebus back to Dalian!

1 Comment

  1. Hello,

    Have you connected with yet? You are a great writer and we could use your abilities.

    Comment by Steve Keith — September 6, 2008 @ 12:30 am

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