The Beach at Beidaihe

Trip Start Jul 28, 2007
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Trip End Ongoing


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Where I stayed
Deyuan Bingguan Jiudian

Flag of China  , Hebei,
Sunday, September 14, 2008

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival everyone.  This Chinese holiday is celebrated on the evening of the eighth full moon of the year. This has traditionally been harvest time, and the full moon of this month is especially round and especially bright. In order to pay proper homage to the harvest moon, the Chinese have a three day weekend. Because I happen to currently be in China on business, that means that I have a three day weekend too. Woohoo!

What better way to spend a three day weekend than to go to the beach?  A three hour train ride from Beijing is the Communist Party's former favorite vacation digs, a seaside resort called Beidaihe. The Party often used to come here to "work," but current Chinese President Hu Jintao decided that holding "meetings" at the beachside resort did not really fit into the proletarian image that the party was trying to project. So, the CPC has shied away from holding big meetings at Beidaihe, which means that there was more room for me during Mid-Autumn Festival.  Woohoo!

My friend Jonas and I left Sunday morning from Beijing on the train.  The day before, I had bought us two tickets going there, but there were no tickets available for the return trip. We also had no idea where we would stay. We decided to risk it and go anyway.  On the way there, Jonas and I happened to be sitting next to a very friendly Chinese couple, whose names were Yao and Liu, who decided to take us under their wing.  When we arrived at Beidaihe, they helped us find a hotel, and also arranged for us to get train tickets back.  Score! To thank them, Jonas and I treated them to an extravagant seafood dinner Sunday evening.  More on the seafood dinner later.

So, Beidaihe is not only a traditional favorite vacation spot for China's leaders (Mao Zedong is reported to have had a vacation house there,) but it also happens to be the closest beach to Russia. Read: lots of Cyrillic writing everywhere and lots of Russians wearing tiny Speedo-style bathing suits. 

The beach itself is a respectable beach, with fine white sand. The town is vibrant with seafood restaurants, hotels, and shops selling seashell necklaces and inflatable beach toys. There was also a fair amount of European-style architecture built by the Russians and the European colonial powers that inhabited China at the beginning of the 20th century. 

After getting settled in our hotel, which was a bit of an ordeal because the first hotel that Yao and Liu wanted to take us to refused to accept foreigners and the second hotel said no foreigners at first, but then changed their minds when they heard that I could speak Chinese. It also helped that we enthusiastically took pictures in front of the huge Mao bust that they had in the lobby. So that finally settled, Jonas and I hit the beach. The water was a green/gray color and a nice temperature for swimming. I was surprised to see many, many Chinese people in the water, which is not something that you see very much in Taiwan. I can't say that the water felt very clean, and there was the occasional piece of trash floating by, but hey, when you need to swim, you need to swim. Jonas and I both swam, and we haven't developed any serious health problems yet.

After a few hours of swimming and sunbathing, Jonas and I met up with Yao and Liu for dinner. Yao's and Liu's major purpose in going to Beidaihe was to eat seafood. But not just any seafood. They knew of a seafood market where you go and pick out your seafood, which is all still alive in tanks.  Then, you carry your seafood squirming and wriggling in plastic bags to a restaurant, where you then haggle over the price for them to cook it. In the end, you end up with a table spilling over with cooked seafood and somehow, you have to eat it all...with chopsticks. We had prawns, seasnails, crabs, cucumbers, and a plate of strange sea creatures that look like a cross between a lobster and a crawfish, called pipixia. We ate our faces off, and also drank our share of Qingdao beer, despite being told by several Chinese people that it was dangerous to drink beer and eat seafood at the same time. We ignored their warning, and enjoyed ourselves immensely at the time, but Jonas and I were both a bit queasy afterwards.

The unexpected treats continued when, after dinner, Yao and Liu wanted to go for a walk on the beach. I was picturing a dark and quiet beach scene with twinkling stars and the soothing sound of waves lapping at the shore. Instead, we were greeted by a raging beach party. We got there around 10pm, and there were stadium lights flooding the beach, people swimming, people riding around in paddle boats, a karaoke bar, fireworks, and the best part...hundreds of people celebrating Mid-Autumn Festival by writing prayers on paper lanterns, lighting them, and sending them flying up into the sky. It was a surreal spectacle.

Jonas had the idea to buy our own lantern and try to light it and fly it by ourselves. Unfortunately, we had technical difficulties and sent our first flaming lantern flying into this poor guy's head. It then fell to the ground and combusted. We bought a second lantern, and this time a group of Chinese people came running to help us (I guess they didn't want us taking anybody else out with another flaming lantern.) Our second lantern, with the help of the experts, flew away beautifully. Then they made us sing karaoke with them.

The next day, Jonas and I hit the beach again, and then we met back up with Yao and Liu for the trainride home. It was packed, with people standing and sitting in the aisles. But thanks to Yao and Liu, Jonas and I both had seats. It was a memorable weekend in China, to say the least.
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Comments

James on

Thanks for the great blog. going there with my school on the 23rd. After reading this I am sold!

Jesse on

Thank you for posting this! I am planning a trip there soon and I was delighted to find your blog!

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