What a cloudy day! All my photos of Dalian are grey and gloom. Dalian may have a local government tourist info office (unlike most other Chinese cities) but the lady inside behave like an aggressive sales lady, more anxious in selling tours than providing information to tourists. In fact, she pushed for an one day tour so much that I got pissed off and simply walked away. Surely a tourist info office must appreciate that people who walk in are more keen in travelling independently than joining tours? She went as far as to dismiss some of the attractions in Lvshun I was keen in but not included in the tour itinerary. What really pissed me off, as I was to discover only later, was that she should have told me there was a direct bus from a square 300m away, rather than to travel to the other side of town to take a bus. I am really tempted to write a complaint letter...
Dalian has quite a progressive reputation in Singapore. It is said that the mayor is a fan of Singapore and indeed locals have told me that the city is treating Singapore as a model. Yes, indeed, unlike many Chinese cities, it has tourist info office, and many public signs are also in English, Korean, Japanese and Russian. However, the software needs to develop further... the aggressive touts at the railway station, the lady at the TIC, plus taxi drivers I was to encounter.
After leaving the TIC, I got into a taxi to say that I wanted to go to Heshijiao to take a bus to Lvshun. He should have told me it would be easier for me to take a bus from a nearby square but he would not have earned my fare then. And he didn't turn on the meter which I left him off as the fare (RMB 20) wasn't alot more than what he charged other Chinese passengers. He then tried to discourage me from taking a bus, and switch to another cab direct to Lvshun for RMB 50, saying he would not charge me the earlier RMB 20...another scam which I rejected. At Heshijiao, I got on a bus for only RMB 7, which took only 45 min and not the 1.5hrs the taxi driver claimed.
At Lvshun, I was approached by a local driver and we settled for RMB 150 for drive-around to various attractions. The fare is somewhat higher than what I found online (RMB 60-120) but acceptable to me. What annoyed me was his utterings about "You Southerners" and so on when I bargained against his earlier proposed fare. At one point, he brought me to a beachside ticketing stand where I paid RMB 100 thinking it was for a fort but turned out to be a lousy boatride to look at the harbour.
Anyway, Lvshun used to be a closed city, i.e., foreigners (and up to some years ago, even Chinese citizens) were not allowed to visit, largely because of the important downtown naval base. The locals say Lvshun is one of the top 5 naval ports of the world...though I wonder which were the other 4. Anyway, Lvshun is located at the southern tip of the Liaodong Peninsula, which together with the Shandong Peninsula, guards the entrance of the sea route to Tianjin, the port city for Beijing. It is also a major ice-free port and natural sheltered harbour surrounded by mountains. Its deep anchorage has only one entrance flanked by tall cliffs, which made it highly defensible.
The Qing Dynasty built its first modern naval base here in the late 19th century, which was quickly destroyed by the Japanese during the First Sino-Japanese War. Soon after that, the Russians gained control of the region where it built a port and naval base connected by railway across Manchuria, all the way to the Russian Far East which does not have any year-round ice-free port. They called it Port Arthur. The Russians also built the city of Dalian which they called Dalny.
Rivalry between Russia and Japan soon led to the tumultuous Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5, which ended in the defeat of Russia. Japan gained control of the strategic Liaodong Peninsula and the Southern Manchurian Railway, which was only relinquished with the defeat of Japan in WWII in 1945. The war involved huge battles, in particular, the battles of Port Arthur (Lvshun) and Mukden (Shenyang) in which more than 100,000 from both sides died. More importantly, it was the first major defeat of an European power by an Asian power. Nationalists from India, Korea, Myanmar and elsewhere all noted the significance of this event. For the Chinese, however, it was a tragedy and a humiliation, for two foreign countries fought on Chinese soil against each other, leading to numerous Chinese dead and destruction.
I visited 203 Heights, a high point overlooking the harbour, whose capture by the Japanese (who lost over 11,000 men in the battle) marked the turning point in the war, for they were now able to bomb the harbour and the Russian fleet at will. I also visited a tower on Baiyushan which has a tower monument built by the Japanese to commemorate their war victory and has a great view of the harbour, its entrance and a few Chinese warships moored there.
Also visited the Russo-Japanese War Prison, which was where the Russian and Japanese administrations once imprisoned, tortured and killed Chinese and Korean nationalists. This was certainly interesting and considered by the Chinese state as yet another "Red Education Base", i.e., attraction to cultivate nationalism. They have a special display hall on Korean nationalists imprisoned there, including a well-known assassin of the first Japanese Governor-General of Korea who was eventually executed in the prison. True to Chinese fashion, they charge a special entrance fee for that.
I dropped by the Lvshun Museum, which not only has exhibits on archaeological finds in Liaodong Peninsula but also on various artifacts across Chinese history possibly collected initially by the Japanese colonialisers for their Guandong Zhou Museum (Guandong Zhou being the Japanese name for Liaodong). The highlight were two mummies from Xinjiang, both of whom were Han residents of the Tang Dynasty 1300 years ago.
I was done with Lvshun by 2pm, well ahead of schedule. Had quick lunch (Yu-xiang-rou-shi-gai-fan) and then got onto an express RMB 7 bus to Dalian Railway Station. I went to the Russian Cultural Street, a touristy area which had buildings dating from the Russian era. As expected, the street was full of souvenir stores selling the usual fake Russian touristy products possibly made in China, e.g., "Russian dolls", binoculars, coffee, toy guns, toy tanks, etc. There was even a Red Square KTV and a large wall painting of Stalin together with other typical images of Russia, e.g., Red Square, tanks, missiles and polar bears. Many of the buildings have Russian architectural characteristics and rooftops. Having been to Mohe where an entire city was built in Russian style in the 1980s, I have doubts as to which of these buildings really dated from the Russian era.
I am done with Dalian. Shanghai and the Expo tomorrow!
Last night, I went to Xiaojiuzhou Seafood Restaurant. This was highly recommended by online reviewers. I had already had good Korean bbq in the mid afternoon and hence orderly only a few recommended dishes, such as sea urchins, fan clam and abalone. Cost RMB 66. I wasn't very impressed. Maybe I am more used to Singapore or Cantonese/Teochew style cooking of seafood. I passed an interesting restaurant named "East is Red" (Dongfanghong) where the decor is unbashly Maoist and revolutonary style and where staff dressed as Red Guards. They have singers who sang Cultural Revolutionary songs, joined by enthusiastic dining guests. Very interesting. I might pop by later for dinner.