Selfies By the Sea


“Wtf is that chicken looking at?”
“He’s staring at you because he can sense you are a foreigner.”


The gf and I rode the bullet train to Dalian, a seaport city in Liaoning province. We took pot noodles and sausages with us, and tried our best not to buy any wildly inflated thing on the train. When I wasn’t distracted by the stunning Chinese scenery (which was not often), I read a magazine and did a little writing.

As we left the Jing, one of the old green sleeper trains was chugging into the station from Qiqihaer, Mongolia, a two day journey that made our own six hour hop seem like peanuts. The travelling was effortless, but buying the tickets and navigating Dalian would have been damned near impossible for me without a Chinese-speaking companion.

Our first mistake was checking into a hotel on the outskirts of the city. Whereas the centre of Beijing is easily accessible from Fangshan or Tongzhou, Dalian only has two metro lines: the Dog Arse Line and the Cat Shit Line. We relied on a taxi for the first night, before moving somewhere closer to downtown for the remainder of our stay.

After that it was plain sailing: strolls along the beach at Fisherman’s Wharf, cold drinks in the sun at Binhai Road, way too much Scezhuan food near the hotel. We met up with an old University friend of the gf’s for BBQ one night. She spoke about as much English as I speak Chinese but my people spoke to her people and we all had a lovely time (and a wonderful meal, as usual).

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No trip to Dalian is complete without popping into both the Forest Zoo (rated AAAA) and Tiger Ocean Park (rated AAAAA), but our second mistake was trying to cram both into the same day. My feelings about zoos and aquariums are complicated,* and Asian zoos tend to get a bad rep, but I found both of these to be  comparable to the equally well-tended Coex Aquarium in Seoul and Dusit Zoo in Bangkok. We saw sea lions being fed and we watched sharks and turtles swimming overhead. Penguins posed for photographs and other birds ran about, as free as… well, birds. We rode the cable car and we drooled over The Castle Hotel (¥3000 a night), both of which reminded me of childhood favourite Where Eagles Dare (because relating actual experiences I have to movies I grew up with is something of a hobby of mine, as you must know by now).

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We don’t have a telly at home, so it was novel to see a little international news (in English) at our more modestly priced hotel, including coverage of the Edinburgh Fringe.

I downloaded a film for the return journey: Sick of Ben Stiller comedies and underwhelming horror, I chose Spike Jonze’s surprisingly touching Oscar tale of a charming pervert waking up with a boner for his silky-voiced computer. It was partially shot in Shanghai: somewhere that’s still on the very-slowly-shrinking list of Chinese cities to visit.


* some of them summed up here:

https://bentheforeigner.wordpress.com/2016/12/31/a-zed-two-noughts/

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Big Ben

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“I’m KING of the WORLD!!”
“Please stop saying this.”


The gf and I recently took a trip to the southwestern suburbs of Fangshan, my first visit to the boonies since I lived on the opposite side of the compass in Tongzhou. We had lunch in a little Muslim restaurant surrounded by smoking, spitting locals.

Then we explored World Park, which does what it says on the tin: it’s an amusement park themed around different countries of the world, featuring various scale models of famous monuments. Even the bridges that cross from Asia to Africa or America to Europe are tiny versions of Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Golden Gate, and so on. After towering over a Lilliputian Angkor Wat and worshipping at a 1:2 scale Stonehenge, we stopped off at one of the many snack bars and enjoyed an instant coffee for the decidedly non-miniature price of ¥12 each, warming our insides with the sweet tang of rip off.

The park was, like anything in Beijing (especially during off season), a little rough around the edges. The double staircase of Persepolis has loose paving slabs; grass is growing through the Taj Mahal; the Eiffel Tower is a no go because some hipsters from a trendy magazine are doing a photo shoot there. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed it.

Fangshan may not be on anyone’s bucket list, but I actually plan on seeing more of the suburbs in the near future. There’s always more of the world to see.