It seemed like I’d barely gotten to bed when it was time to get up again. It was a little overcast, smoggy & 35*. Liz brought breakfast (scrambled eggs, bacon & grape juice) about 7:30. Our tour was to meet in the Starlight Lounge at 8:45 am. Today’s tour (DAL-CW) was entitled “Dalian Highlights & Home Visit”; & was to include a visit to a kindergarten, farmer’s market, a family home & finally to the People’s Square.
Today’s ‘cool bus’ was #13, with Celeste & Bill, Debbie & Gaye, & Lianne (photog). Our guide’s name was Ariel, her assistant was “Orange”; & the driver was Mr. Charlie. We departed the ship right at 9, drove across town; & went straight to the Dalian Ming Xing School (locally known as the ‘superstar’ school). Most every student here is special, gifted. The bus dropped us off on the street right in front of a set of metal gates. There was a winding uphill drive to the school grounds; & on both sides of the drive stood all these adorable little children shoulder to shoulder, two deep with huge smiles on their faces.
They were all dressed in black warm up pants & jackets topped with matching quilted red vests & berets. It seemed everyone on the tour wanted to talk to or shake hands with all these adorable kids. So much so, that the guide had to scoot us along since we were on a rather tight schedule. As we walked up the drive one of them would approach each of us & tie a red scarf around our necks. What a welcome.
This obviously was not just a kindergarten, as there were many primary school age & young teens in uniform as well. The sun had come out; but it was very brisk. We were escorted to the bleachers in their stadium where we watched them go through their morning exercises, done to rather somber music. The smiling faces began to take on a serious tone as they got into their ‘routine’. Their lines & choreographed movements were impeccably precise.
Obviously it was just me, but I began to ‘see’ these little people in a different light. There was no longer any emotion on their faces. The teachers that were standing amongst them, also had rather stern looks on their faces. Maybe I was having ‘flashbacks’ to the days of strict Communist rule where it appeared that everyone just walked through life, neither happy nor sad. It was as if they had turned into these little military, robotic-like beings. I was actually beginning to tear up because I felt like they were being FORCED to ‘perform’ for us. These were not the same children that were giggling 15 mins. ago on the driveway!
After about 20 minutes they had completed their exercises; & a few of the older children were asked to take the microphone & welcome our group. Once the official welcomes were delivered, the children were ‘dismissed’ & some were allowed to come up into the stands to talk with us. They were apprehensive; & we did have to initiate & get the conversation going a bit. It was then that they turned back into normal kids. But I had a hard time shaking that strange feeling that came over me.
The school’s principal then invited us to do a walk through of the school where we entered several classrooms where the youngest were busy coloring, playing with stickers & singing songs. There were other rooms with bunk beds for their nap time. Further back were classrooms for some of the older children.
We were lead into a small auditorium where there were bottles of water & an orange at each desk for us to sit at while some of the children performed for us. There were groups of young girls & boys who danced for us; a young girl who played the violin; a young boy who played the flute; & another young boy who played the saxophone (all extremely talented). At the end of their performance, the principal came out & presented school jackets to 2 of our young (primary school aged) passengers.
Before getting back on the bus, some of us wanted to make a ‘happy stop’; but we changed our minds when we entered the bathroom facility. Don’t get me wrong, they had very modern, clean toilets; BUT.....there was no door covering the entry into the bathroom (everything clearly visible from out in the hallway). It was all one big room with a line of toilets along the wall on the right side; & a row of ‘hole-in-the-floor’ ceramic urinals along the left wall. No partitions, co-ed style. You can rest assured that no hanky panky took place in their bathroom; & nobody would want to dilly dally around in there. Most of us decided to ‘hold it’.
As we walked back out through the lobby, there was a young piano prodigy playing a beautiful piece of classical music. Right above was an electronic sign that said “We welcome the guests of PRINCESS Cruises”!
Next we visited a farmers market on the other side of town. There were vendors outside selling everything from nuts, to sweet potatoes cooked in these wok-like ovens, to booths with some good (& not so good) looking pre-cooked meat products. I could recognize some things, like chicken parts & shellfish. But the rest of it.....I had no clue. I think we must have lingered at the school too long; because our guide was leading us through the inside part of the market at a pretty swift clip. There really was no time to stop her & ask what everything was. The fruit & produce looked luscious.
At the rear was the very ‘smelly’ fish market area. Everything was labeled in Chinese of course; some were easy to figure out; some just looked plain disgusting. This is another one of those countries where no part of the ‘beast’ is wasted. They seem to love feet, heads & innards!
Back on the bus we headed to yet another side of town, in what was obviously a very old residential neighborhood. We parked the bus; & walked past a few impromptu ‘corner markets’ on our way to the apartment of an elderly Chinese couple. Our bus was divided into groups of 10; each going to a different apartment. ‘Our’ apt. was a 2nd floor walkup with 3 tiny rooms. If I had to guess, it might have been about 250 sq. ft. total. We all squeezed in, sitting around the perimeter of the living room on folding chairs, stools & the sofa. There was a nice sized TV & a big aquarium.
The couple spoke no English; but with the help of our guide we were able to ask a few questions as we were being served hot tea & snacks. The husband was hiding out in their bedroom; but the wife stood in the middle of the living room (all smiles & obviously very proud to show us her home). She told us she was 70 years old; & they had been married for 46 years.
The kitchen was a narrow room with 2 small refrigerators & only a hot plate to cook on indoors. They do most of their cooking outdoors on a huge wok over a (sort of) fire pit. On the counter there were a couple of glass dispensers with spigots. One appeared to be snake wine & the other maybe some kind of root soaking in liquid. There was a very strange poster on the wall behind the door. It looked to be a reference chart on what not to mix with or cook with certain ‘things’. Like dog & garlic or rabbit & duck are a no-no.....you be the judge. All comments welcome.
We asked if we could see the bedroom; & she obliged. At first I don’t think hubby was too happy that we were invading his hiding place; but he seemed pleased when Gaye showed an interest in his rocking chair. The room was barely big enough for a full size bed, a little loveseat & the rocking chair. Just like in the living room, the bedroom floor had been covered with plastic to protect the rug.
We made our way back to the bus & onward to the People’s Square (formerly known as Stalin Sq.), our last stop on today’s tour. This ginormous park area can’t really be considered a tourist attraction. It is a lovely, flat green area from which to take in a 360* view of the Dalian skyline. It is ideal for a lunchtime break or for people watching. Now that it was just past midday, the smog was much worse than it was this morning. I could see just what a huge ‘downtown’ area there really is.
During the ride back to the ship, one could appreciate the vast range in architecture. Certain areas were comprised of ultra-modern skyscrapers, large pieces of quirky public artwork & jumbotrons. Where just around the corner you might find one story storefronts, vendors selling vegetables on top of cardboard boxes on the street corners, cars parked neatly on the sidewalks; & guys pulling stuff around on handmade wooden carts on bicycle wheels.
I’m becoming more accustomed to the ‘old world meets new world’ as we make our way up through Asia. Countries that have been around for many thousands of years, who have experienced vast growth & the accumulation of wealth are inevitably going to adopt a more ‘western’ feel. The younger, highly educated & technology savvy Asians are making their mark; yet still respectfully preserving areas that are familiar & comfortable for their elders.
We arrived back at the ship just before 1:30; & I was able to get through the buffet line before the Lido closed. It was an excellent lunch of fried fish, baked eggplant with curried minced lamb ragout, grilled beef medallion with a horseradish panko crust & red wine sauce, sweet chili roast chicken thigh, grilled sliced onion, white cabbage salad & a half order of spaghetti carbonara.
I went out on deck to shoot some more photos of the area around the port. Back to the cabin a little before 3 to start packing a bag for the overland journey into Beijing tomorrow. Went back out at 4 for sailaway, another chance to hear Louis sing “Wonderful World”. By this time the smog had blocked out the sun. There were a few people who came down to the docks to see us off. I didn’t linger out there long because it was getting very cold.
I had missed Jim Brochu’s live performance of “Zero Hour” (his one man show, portraying Zero Mostel giving an interview to a NY Times reporter). But I was able to watch it replayed on TV. All I can say is.......WOW! To see Jim carry on a nonstop conversation for close to 2 hours, throwing everything he’s got into this character......WOW!!! No wonder his show won so many awards.
Just watching was exhausting; & I had to get a little nap in. I ordered from the regular room service menu tonight; cheeseburger & fries. Liz brought it about 8:45; & I had a chance to tell her about the great tour today. I worked on the blog until about 11:30. Big day tomorrow & big weekend ahead.
Capt. Glenn’s thought for the day.....”Everything is difficult before it becomes easy.”