It was snowing when we arrived in Dalian on March 1st. People from the school met us at the airport, and we took a taxi to a hotel. The traffic didn’t seem too bad and the city seemed surprisingly normal despite the incomprehensible Chinese characters that adorned the buildings and billboards. We couldn’t move into our apartment until the next day because it was being cleaned. So, for our first night in Dalian, we stayed in the Yu Yuan Hotel. It cost $12 for the night. For that, we got a diligent bell hop, a clean room with two beds, a TV with an English-language news channel, a view of another building, a well-stocked bathroom including shower caps, toothbrushes, combs, two packets labeled “sex hygiene,” two “high quality condoms,” a bag of douche, plenty of towels, little bottles of shampoo, and soaps the size of pats of butter. The “Hotel Diractory” proclaimed that the Yu Yuan Hotel was the “Pearl of Dalian” and included instructions that “Those who carry guns or swords should register with the security department for the proper safeguard.” The “diractory” also warned that there should be “no gambling, smuggle, drug taking or gangster fighting in the hotel.” Furthermore, it made a very clear rule that, “Except for the range of the swimming pool, please do not walk naked or in clippers in the hotel.”
I needed to get some ice cubes while we were in the hotel to keep our typhoid vaccination medicine cold. Armed only with the word for “ice cubes” in the Chinese phrasebook, I went down to the desk clerk in the lobby. I smiled and said, “Ni hao” which means “hello” and is the only thing I can say in Chinese with any confidence. I pointed at the word for ice cubes. She said many words. I stood there smiling. She called over a manager-looking person. They said lots of words. I stood there smiling. The manager-looking person got on the phone and said lots of words. The bell hop appeared. He didn’t say lots of words, he just listened to the manager-looking person, then went upstairs. I stood there smiling. The desk clerk said lots of words to me, and smiled. After a few minutes, the bell hop came down the stairs with a bowl of ice cubes for me. I said, “xie xie” which means “thank-you” (the only other thing I know how to say in Chinese), and triumphantly returned to the room wielding my ice cubes.
We were hungry. We put on our coats, went down the elevator, the bell hop opened the door for us, and we were on the streets of Dalian looking for a restaurant. The problem with China is that all the shops look like Chinese restaurants. They all have brightly colored signs (usually red) with Chinese characters (usually yellow). So what appeared to be a restaurant would turn out to be a shop selling PVC pipes or electrical wire. We wandered around the snowy streets for a while until we eventually found a shop with a paper sign taped outside that read, “English Menu. American, Canadian Teachers Welcome.” A girl appeared at the door, smiled, gestured, and said, “Come in” which was deceptive because it was soon apparent that she couldn’t say anything else in English. The menu was indeed in English, but ordering food was still confusing. I ordered three stir fried vegetables, and Zac ordered some boneless chicken. What we received was a plate of chicken wings (with lots of bones) and a plate of stir fried shredded carrots, celery, pea pods along with two bowls of rice. We tried to order bottled water to drink. The waitress shook her head. We ended up with Sprite. By the end of the meal, we’d finished off about half of the vegetables, most of the rice and only two of the chicken wings. It was hard to eat them with chop sticks. Zac got up and went to the register, where they magically inferred that he wanted a take-away box. We walked back to our hotel and said, “Well, that wasn’t so bad.”
We didn’t feel too jet-lagged, so we decided to try and stay awake until bedtime. We felt it was appropriate to watch the “Lost in Translation” DVD on our laptop. We stayed awake through the movie and fell asleep to the sound of firecrackers. We never did find the swimming pool.