shu and joe


Published on July 9, 2006

We spent last weekend in Dalian, a “small” coastal city of 6 million. Dalian is known for its faux-European architecture, shipping industry, seafood and cleanliness. It’s also a popular summer destination for well-healed Chinese, Korean and Japanese vacationers, due to its geographic proximity to all 3 nations. The impetus for the trip was an Ogilvy-sponsored creative seminar, which was manditory for Shu, but arbitary for me. So I did some photographing instead.

The trip almost didn’t get off the ground. When we arrived at Beijing Airport, we were told that Dalian was fogged in, and there was no definite time of departure for our flight. So we scoured the area for some food, but came up with nothing but some dried out baozi and fried rice.

Five hours later, we were able to take off and made it to Dalian in time for dinner. The Ogilvy team had made arrangements for us to dine on Dalian’s famed seafood, served up by classically qi paoed waitresses in a classically neo-baroque banquet hall. Abalone, prawns and black sea cucumber set the tone for the weekend. Regarded by some as the apogee of fine dining, I’ve yet to develop a taste for the rubbery meat of the abalone or the cartilaginous crunch of the sea cucumber.

But with all the glitter of the gliding and crystal, and the free-flowing bai wei, who could really concentrate on the food anyway? Sated by the lazy susan, I teettered down the marble staircase, past the line up of Mercedes parked inside the restaurant (?), and past the half-dozen women standing by the door to bid us a hao wanshang.

There was still time for exploring the city before calling it a night, so we wandered off toward the lights of Zhongshan Square, the city center. The walk was made colorful by the many buildings bathed with oscillating lighting displays.

Even KFC gets the treatment.

At the square, we found many kids playing the local variant of hackysack, and one young calligrapher practicing his strokes in both Chinese and English.

While Shu was busy learning about the ontology of advertising, I headed to the People’s Park to take a closer look at what, from my 22nd floor hotel window, appeared to be an enormous inflatable soccer ball.

The park houses a tired, old amusement park, whose magic appears to have long ago escaped the local residents. Rides and games of chance sit idle while the teens who man their stations fight off sleep.

At the top of the hill, beyond the rides, I arrived at my goal: the big ball. Turns out the ball is actually a Fulleresque art and architecture museum. The underground entrance was drawn closed, so I asked a clique of old women what time it opens. Their responce: never.

Later on we met up at Xinghai Square, touted as the largest public square in China. The square consists of an impressively large concrete monument formed in the shape of an open book, broad walkways and observation points, and a string of carnival rides, games and snack shops. The ocean air, early-evening sun and abundance of local kids enjoying themselves made a walk through the plaza justthe right pre-dinner activity.

This kid in red was so excited by the number of laowai out in the plaza that I had to thank him with a photo.

I have a soft spot for stuffed animals – these guys make me just a touch sad.

Doug narrowly escapes disaster.

Plenty of opportunities for photo posing at Xinghai.

Now here’s a game for you: lace up some rollerskates and see if you can whip the top to keep it spinning without falling on your ass!

Some wealthy fellow built the castle in the background w/ the intention of making it a luxury hotel. He ran out of money and the interior was never completed. Faced with an empty shell, the local government decided that the best thing to do would be to box out an area just inside the main gate and install a shell museum.

The highlight of the shell museum is the carcass of a giant squid. Even Damien Hirst’s shark hasn’t decayed this badly!

And the sun sets into the haze.


On our final day in Dalian we visited the Dalian Aquarium, the largest in China the brochures assured me. The size of the facility appears not to be related to the quantity of marine animals it contains, however. Rather, the majority of the area is filled with photo-op backdrops and animatronic displays.

My personal favorite in the integrated media category was the DaVinci Code-inspired underwater code-breakers display.

Filed under: Eat and Drink, Travel

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