Friday, March 30, 2007

Public Backyards

Parks are wonderful havens for people watching and culture here. I suppose it is no different than Central Park in Manhattan, or any park in a big city. The parks serve as people’s backyards. And, in such a modern city parks give a foreigner a window to an older, deeper culture here. I have visited most of the parks in this city, enough to notice a few trends. Under all the trees are heavily trodden areas, which are evidence of some one’s favorite place to practice morning Tai Chi. If you wander there early enough, (as the weather warms that is) you see hundreds of people practicing Tai Chi and other martial arts….swords and all! Some older men bring their songbirds in cages to the park.

Later in the afternoon parks become meeting places for Chinese Poker. I don’t really know the name of this game, but it is really fun to watch. There will be a group of 100 people (usually old but some young also) gathered in a big mass Groups of four play while at least triple that are standing around watching each game. Players throw their cards down in sets of threes and fours to make a smacking sound when the cards hit the table or bench. Then there are mutterings and people stand up and wave their arms and yell until someone else smacks down something that beats it. It’s quite the serious game. In general I love observing older Chinese folks. I cannot help but think about how much they have seen this country change, both in ideology and in infrastructure during their lifetimes.

I finally found a park with some joggers and went to jog there myself for the first time. While I was not alone, I was the only female jogger, although I expected this. While it was nice to move my legs a bit, I did feel like I was doing a disproportionate amount of work to filter the Dalian air through my lungs as the average park go-er there. Not sure what the effects of pumping coal thick air through the lungs will be.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Right of Way?

One of the biggest adjustments to life here is the simple and frequent act of crossing the street. It doesn’t take long to understand that pedestrians never have the right of way. Crossing the street is a free frawl, everyone for him/her self! Sometimes I feel like I am in a game of frogger! You just have to go for it, crossing one lane at a time as it opens. Occasionally this leaves you stranded between two lanes, sucking in as a bus passes right behind your back and a taxi just before your toes. But this is necessary! If you are timid, you will never get across a busy circle or street!

There are some crosswalks and even some walk signals, but they are rarely observed and should never be trusted. In fact, I was became confused at a major intersection when cars were stopped at a light. I am already used to never having right of way and was not sure how to proceed.

I do however believe that the drivers are more aware and calculated while driving than in the US. Cars get closer to people than I am accustomed. But it is all normal here. Cars get closer to everything for that matter. Parking is done mainly on the sidewalks which means that during business hours most of the walking is ironically done in the streets! So, you have to be aware of the cars on the street, and aware of the cars in the process of parking on the sidewalk. Basically, there are no relaxing strolls in the city until you get into a park. A car may be approaching from any direction. Cars, taxies and busses will occasionally give a forewarning honk to let you know that you are in the way, on the street or the sidewalk.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Cute kids

I love to give a smile to the chubby little Chinese kids all bundled up for cold weather. The strangest thing is that their big quilted bulky pants are constructed to have an open crotch. I guess this is a convenience feature for the not yet potty trained child and his/her parent, but my, what a draft!

There is a group of 5 six year olds that invades my life for 2 hours a week! Kids really are the same everywhere. In all of these classes there is always a spokesperson, usually the one that speaks the best English. However, at six, none of these kids speak English! So all of the sudden, I could tell there was something really dire happening. There was all kinds of squirming and high pitched Chinese going on. I stop with my one woman show of “What’s this?? It’s an ear..” just long enough to understand the young spokes man’s loudest word, “cesuo!” (meaning toilet) and they all bolt out the door. It was a chore to get them back in the room and back in their seats. Somehow they had all acquired lollypops during the two minutes they were outside. A stern, well dressed mother came and pulled the lollypops out of their mouths one by one. They all found the suction and pop noise that this made hilarious and it took another five minutes to calm the giggles. Just when I regained attention with a relatively close rendition of the alphabet song, they discovered that there were tiny bits of paper on the floor. Oh my gosh! What fun! All concentration was gone as I lost them all under the table. Needless to say, I suggested that a Chinese teacher accompany me during the next class to keep order.

China "Lite"

One Month down here in Dalian, China.

Dalian was recommended to me by a friend of a friend as a good place to get my feet wet in China. I arrived in late February when there were still Spring Festival fireworks every morning at 8:00 AM.

Some foreigners refer to Dalian as "China Lite." That is, it's not too crowded, it's generally clean, and the air is decently clean. It also has many of the comforts to which we we westerners in developed countries have come to enjoy.

There is an astonishing amount of English written everywhere in this City. It is almost disappointing (but helpful none-the less). You can find peanut-butter, olive-oil and apparently cheddar cheese, although I have yet to find it! You can find all the designer brands from Coach to Armani (I mean authentic, not rip offs, although you can find those too). There are coffee shops, bakeries, Tapas restaurants, and even a decently authentic looking Irish pub! Clothing stores in general have a much wider selection than in the US. Options seem endless here in this phase of consumerism. However, when you do the math, many of these things come out to be US prices or higher.
All of these luxuries do not however make this place feel like home in anyway. This culture is still foreign despite the affluence that manifests itself through association with western goods and trends that may seem familiar. China is still a deeply rooted Eastern culture despite any western flare on the surface.