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meet dalian

“Mom and Dad, meet Dalian.”
September 2005

For the past week, my parents have been staying with us here in Dalian.  They arrived at the Dalian airport on Sunday evening.  I had invited one of my adult Chinese students, Charlie, to accompany me to the airport since Zac had to work.  Charlie was thrilled, and I taught him “jet lagged”, which he practiced while we waited.  My parents finally emerged from the terminal, my dad looking enormously tall at 6’1”, and we waved to each other through the glass while they waited for their luggage.  When I introduced them to Charlie, he said his rehearsed, “Welcome to Dalian.  Are you jet lagged?” while shaking their hands and taking my mom’s luggage.  We got a taxi and zipped across town to our apartment, where they had their first true Chinese experience: carrying their luggage up six flights of stairs to our apartment.

 They were, in fact, quite jet-lagged, but Zac and I wouldn’t let them sleep, since it was only 6pm.  Instead, we took them to our neighborhood restaurant owned by Mr. Wang.  His restaurant has the best dumplings and he gives us personal attention when we come because he likes to practice his English.  Because there were five of us, he gave us the special room in the back with the lazy susan and karaoke equipment.  Charlie wanted to treat all of us for dinner, since it was his “dream to share a meal with an American family.”  So Charlie ordered the dishes following the Chinese custom of showing respect by imagining that everyone’s stomach’s capacity is at least four times larger than it really is.  He ordered seven dishes of food, and the five of us barely put a dent in them.  My parents, who previously claimed they could use chopsticks quite well, proved to be inept to the point that Charlie kept saying, “Now, I don’t use chopsticks very well, but let me try to help you.  Here, hold them like this.”  But alas, my parents were quite tired and their fingers just wouldn’t cooperate.

 On Monday, we judiciously let my parents sleep in.  Mid-morning we took them to a large open market about 3 bus stops from our house.  My dad had a great time snapping photos of the 3-wheeled cars, chickens tied to bricks, piles of clams, buckets of carp, mounds of vegetables, and of course the wizened people selling all of this.  In the afternoon, we took a walk from our house to the area near our school.  We showed them all the malls and the large “techno city” building which is like an electronics superstore, helped my mom buy a bunch of DVDs, went in the Wal-Mart, showed them Carrefour where we always grocery shop and culminated the tour with our school.  I showed them the little office where I work now and introduced them to my Chinese colleagues. 

 I had arranged to meet 3 of my former adult students at school and go to a hotpot restaurant.  They were quite excited to meet my parents.  I chose to go to a hotpot restaurant because it is a unique Chinese dining experience.  At the restaurant, we ordered plates of thinly sliced meet and lettuce, which we then plunged into a pot of boiling soup, which strongly resembled a witches brew, complete with twigs, and round eyeball type things that the girls could only explain as “medicine.”  After supper, we went back to our house to visit for a bit, but my parents were quite exhausted by this time, so my friends soon left.

 On Tuesday, we started by going to Zhongshan park, a small park in the city.  We were lucky enough to see many groups of people practicing: some were doing kung fu, others were learned sword forms, one guy was practicing jumps, a few of the old people were doing tai chi, several singing groups were inhabiting the different pavilions, women were leading troops of children through the park, and we even managed to stumble upon a percussion band practicing in a grove of trees.  By this time, my parents had decided they wanted to come to Dalian for their retirement just so they could hang out in that park.  Dalian really is a wonderful place for retirees, because we always see groups of them playing cards on the sidewalks, doing Chinese line-dancing in the squares in the evenings, or walking their grandchild.  After the obligatory ice-cream break, we took a long bus ride through the city to Tiger Square on the southern coast of the Dalian peninsula.  There, were took a long walk on Binghaizhong Road, which twists and turns between the hills and the sea.

 On Wednesday we took a trip to the old neighborhood where we used to live.  I showed them our happy little street, the place on the steps where the sewer was overflowing for two months, our dreary stairwell, and the top of the hill which provides a great view of the whole city.  Then we took a walk down to Xinghai Square where the old men fly kites over the enormous square.  We also sat on the beach and watched two wind surfers brave the cool waters and light up their sails with the evening sun.  At 6pm, we met another group of my adult students at the spring roll restaurant and had a big dinner together there.  After the restaurant, I invited everyone back to my house to visit.  It was pretty surreal for my to have all my old students together at my new house intermingling with my parents.

 Thursday was rainy.  We took a bus to the northern part of Dalian, and walked through the historical parts of the city, with the combination of Japanese, Russian, and Chinese architecture.  We went to Zhongshan square which is the center of the downtown business and hotel district.  Two blocks west is Victory Square, the central shopping district.  We ate at Pizza Hut, which was quite a treat for Zac and me since it’s one of the more expensive restaurants in Dalian.  Then we descended into the underground shopping center and got completely lost, as we do every time.  My dad finally decided to end the suspense and try a green bean ice popsicle.  He said it was ok.

 Today is Friday and we’re just relaxing and taking a break.  Tonight we take an overnight train to Beijing.  We had quite an ordeal getting the train tickets since it’s a holiday.  We got them through several degrees of connections, and had to pay about $10 above the real ticket price since we got them through a scalper.  It is our first train trip in China, and we’re quite excited to be heading to the capital.  We’ll arrive on Saturday morning, China’s National Day.  We’ll probably spend the day hanging out at Tiananmen Square and just seeing what there is to see.

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