Trip Start Sep 15, 2007
20Trip End Dec 15, 2007
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i left beijing on an overnight train to dalian...my first impression is that the trains in china are pretty good. there aren't really classes as such...just levels of comfort: hard seats, soft seats, hard sleepers, and soft sleepers. i was on a hard sleeper train. it was clean and on time and all around very comfortable. the train station in beijing was a zoo...but once i gave into it, it was a fairly orderly zoo. i found my platform, train, car, and bunk without too much difficulty. except for the city names, the train tickets are entirely in chinese. so it was initially difficult to tell which number signified what. but now that i've muddled through it once, i know everything that i need to know to get around. buying tickets is another matter...but a combination of advance research, my phrasebook, body/sign language, and luck seems to do the trick. i was lamenting the lack of an english language master train schedule, such as they have in india...all the information at the train stations is in chinese...and so it's very easy to be at the mercy of the ticket attendant when it comes to what your options are. luckily i thought to read the section at the back of my china guide about train travel...and found out about an english website that has a search engine that will list all the trains between any two cities...with pricing and everything. so very, very useful.
anyway, i arrived at the dalian train station in the morning, fairly well rested and ready to set out and find the hostel i was planning on staying in. this hostel is a little strange in that it's in an old war ship down by the beach, about 20 minutes from downtown. when i left the station i was met with rain. lots of rain. i pulled out my bright red (and thus far unused) rain jacket, put on my pack and started walking. the lonely planet had this to say about finding the hostel: take bus 712 from zhongshan square, ride for about 20 minutes, get out at the polar aquarium, walk 10 minutes to the hostel. finding the 'square' (it's actually a massive roundabout with a park in the middle) was easy enough...but involved a 2 km walk in the rain. finding the right bus was another matter. so many buses...but no bus stops that i could see. i went to what seemed to be a bus shelter...and tried to ask someone wearing an official looking uniform where i could catch bus 712. after confirming the number with me and talking to a nearby bus driver he pointed away from the square...which didn't seem right at all. i started walking in the direction that he was pointing...decided he was full of shit...and walked back to the square. the bus driver who had conferred with the official saw me (hard to miss in that bright red raincoat ;), called me over and motioned for me to get into his bus. i did so even though i was totally confused...i was just happy to be out of the rain momentarily. he started to drive the bus without asking me for money...and then i realized what he was doing...he was driving me to the right place to catch the bus i wanted. thank god for the kindness of strangers. he dropped me off at a totally different 'square' (also a roundabout) and i managed to find the bus stop and once i knew what the bus stop looked like and where to read which bus numbers stopped where...i realized that bus stops were all over the place. i hopped on bus 712 thinking that my troubles were over. sigh. i kept an eye out for the polar aquarium so that i would know when to get off. 20 minutes later the bus had reached it's final stop, the driver had told me to get out, i had never seen anything aquarium like, and i had no idea where i was. and it was still raining. something about the rain...why was my mind buzzing a bit...? oh yeah...the typhoon that hit shanghai...and the storm that was moving north. towards dalian. i really picked a great day to go to the beach.
i spotted another bus hut with official looking people inside. i went over to ask more questions...the woman kindly pulled me inside the hut to get out of the rain. i cracked out my guidebook and showed her the hostel i wanted...lonely planet includes chinese characters for most names and so she could read where i wanted to go. she started calling around...i showed her the phone number for the hostel...she called there. after a few minutes she got off the phone and made an x like motion over the entry for the hostel. apparently it was no longer in business. or maybe with the storm they had decided to shut it down temporarily. either way i wasn't going to be staying there. i got back on the bus and headed back downtown. i decided to find the next cheapest hotel that i could...there was one in the guidebook where the rooms started at RMB98...i had set a limit of RMB70 for hostels/hotels (about CDN$10)...this was close enough. except that i couldn't find it. it was supposed to be just behind the train station...but all i had was a very poor map...and so i walked up and down, back and forth (in the rain, soaked by now)...no luck. i walked into a hotel i happened to be beside to ask for help. they just tried to convince me to stay...250/night...i shook my head...220...no...the man looked in my open guidebook and saw that the rooms for the hotel i was trying to find were listed as RMB98-198. he punched 198 on his calculator (the tool of choice for business transactions with non-mandarin speakers in china)...the same, he said. i gave in. i was too tired and too wet. i agreed to stay...the woman doing all the paperwork asked for a RMB500 deposit. i only had 200 in my wallet (i had been planning on changing some money after i get settled). i almost cracked. i asked her if the deposit was in case i broke something...she said that it was for a lot of things. i left my bag behind the desk and set out to get some money...it involved going all the way back to goddamned zhongshan square. on my way back, unencumbered by my bag i looked one last time for the other hotel...and found it. but the cheapest rooms started at RMB180 now...not 98. not worth moving for. i went back to what was now my hotel...where i was paying three times more than what i wanted...and had a shower.
today was sunny and gorgeous...and i explored as much of dalian as i could. i had already decided that i would move on to haerbin as soon as possible seeing as i knew of no lodgings that i considered affordable...and so i'm taking an overnight train in a few hours. dalian is modern, clean, and wealthy. shopping malls full of high end western boutiques are everywhere. skyscrapers light up the night sky...there is almost no sign of old china, apart from the very occasional alleyway with a chaotic string of food stands and vendors. i imagine dalian is what the chinese government wants all of china to be like (apart from those old places that generate tourist dollars). dalian is known as a bit of a seaside resort...and i decided that i should at least see some of the waterside. so i set out to unlock the mystery of the buses again...much easier to deal with sans bag in the bright sunshine. i found the water, and the aquarium, and even the warship in the end. the hostel is no longer in existence...but the hosteling international sticker is still affixed to the boat. bus 712 goes nowhere near the the aquarium. but there is a different bus that goes directly from the train station to the beach/park i was looking for. thanks for nothing lonely planet. as it turns out the warship is actually part of a hilarious water/amusement park. a rundown chinese sea world.
while in my expensive hotel, i had the chance to watch chinese television, called chinese central television or CCTV. it was pretty interesting. i mostly watched the english channel, CCTV international. this guy phil that i met in beijing had said that it was 'surprisingly balanced'...i think that would make a great slogan. probably a hard sell though. he was right for the most part...there was the occasional feel of propaganda...but most of the filtering happens in the choice of story, not so much how the story is covered. the anchors were a strange mix of chinese that had learned english, people of chinese descent from english speaking countries who were recruited, and anglophone westerners (who presumable have learned chinese). the news is all written by chinese writers and gone over by a communist party representative no doubt. it must be a strange job to have, to come from the west and to be the mouthpiece of the communist party's international news service. but then...it's not like western corporate news companies don't have a similar sort of process...the news coverage in the US in the years following 9/11 must have made the chinese government feel right at home.