The day started at 6:32 for us. Or maybe 6:34…ok, you caught me. I have no clue. BUT it was in that certain quarter of the six o’clock hour. And definitely in the am.
Noelle and I got up after having stayed up much too late the night before (we watched five episodes of Six Feet Under, marathon style). Both of us were groggy and more than a little concerned that our two weeks in China might already be reshaping our sleeping paradigm for the worse…We keep finding ourselves getting up ungodly early. And this is supposed to be vacation time.
We trekked out about a mile into town until we hailed a cab. Now my Chinese is improving, but that basically means I’ve gone from a lexicon of zero to like four words. Telling the cabbie we’re going to the light rail wasn’t in my vocabulary that morning. After getting a blank look and the universal, “I have no stinkin’ idea what you’re talking about,” gesture (the scratching of the head–he actually scratched his head, too) I gave up and called one of the Chinese teachers we were meeting. She told him and we made it in time. Noelle, Me, Michael, Sunny, and her brother, Qian Fei (sp?) all boarded the train to Downtown. Seven stops. At each one more and more people crammed into the compartment like it was the last Arc ship from that Cusac movie 2012. Seriously, every time I felt like I’d staked out a little personal space we’d hit the next stop and thirteen people would be jammed into my armpits. During the trip I occasionally found myself wondering if a claustrophobic clown was ever forced into carpooling with Bozo and his pals. The experience couldn’t be all that different from the train ride here.
We got into downtown and eventually boarded a bus that would take us to the Zoo.
Now, I haven’t been here long enough to know this definitively, but it seems like the Chinese have perfected (among many other things) standing in lines. When we got there the group from the bus had to stand in two single-file lines for about 15 minutes before some young kid brought our tickets out to us and ushered us to the gate. The whole time there are troves of people walking in from every direction. I asked what we were waiting for and I was told, “our tickets.” When I pointed out that we could just walk up to the gate and exchange the ticket we had already been given for the admission ticket without waiting in line I received a perplexed, and slightly annoyed look–but no comment. Can’t fight city hall, I guess. We waited, but were eventually let in.
Dalian is a port town that is quickly developing into a city with some girth, but the people still harbor parts of their rural mindset. Foreigners aren’t all that uncommon, and in parts of Dalian at night you can come across a handful of Russians, Germans, and even a few vacationers from Sweden or Canada. Even with that, I have caught many Chinese people trying discreetly to take our pictures simply because we’re foreigners. I’ll catch the flash from the corner of my eye and turn to see a teenager or an older person grinning as they watch us for a reaction. It’s funny after you get beyond the oddity of it, however at the Zoo we had a new experience. Just as we got through the gate a small family came up to us and more or less handed their daughter over and wanted to take a few pictures of us. Noelle and I laughed and went along with it, smiling and leaning into the girl so it didn’t just look like two Americans were looming sinisterly over a defenseless Chinese kid. It wasn’t until we had walked down a ways that it occurred to me that, “We’re in a zoo.” That picture could seriously be a thing of ironic beauty. “What,” I asked Noelle, “are we the American exhibit?”
We padded through the zoo for a few more hours, taking in the scenery, relatively fresh air, and the crowds. The animals were cool, too!
After the cat area we walked by the bear exhibits, but the small containment areas they had them in ticked me off too much and unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures. They had black bears and brown bears squared away in a rectangular area about the size our our apartment. The floor was concrete and there were just a few amenities: some rocks, a dead tree, and a drinking area. I don’t like animals in cages period, but what the bears, and even the lions to an extent, live in makes me made. I’m not a member of PETA, and I don’t carry red paint with me, so I just walked by the bears and distracted myself with some of the “chinglish” signs.
This animal was impressive, too. He would sit on a post in front of the crowd and clap his hands and then hold out his palm to catch whatever food people threw out. When he finished it he would clap his hand again and wave at the crowd to toss something else. It was crazy. No employee was even around couching him.
As we left the primate area we ran into some Russian students on holiday from their studies in Xi’an. We chatted for a few and then began our trek down the large hill we’d hiked up to see the zoo. On the way down we snapped a picture of us with the ocean in the back.
After catching a glimpse of the water we decided that we should just find a nearby beach and relax for a bit before catching a bus into downtown.
We ended the day by finding a nice Indian restaurant, walking around the downtown area, and then finally taking the train (I bought our tickets using my very limited Chinese!) back to Kaifaqu.
Some honorable mentions that didn’t make it into the entry: the kangaroos, the bears, about a half dozen other primates, mountain goats, alpacas, and the rainforest area with the trees and flowers.
[Next entry: Beijing and The Great Wall of China—lots of pictures!]