Dalian Is A Beautiful City

I’ve lived here in Dalian for about a year and a half and in that time I’ve heard the following line more times than I care to count:

“Dalian is a clean and beautiful city.”

It must have been written in the “How to Properly Promote Dalian to Foreign Visitors and Residents” pamphlet that’s handed out by the local Public Security Bureau, as it is always repeated with the same grin and toneless inflection of blind belief.

By all accounts Dalian is a beautiful city – for China. And that’s the key. By the standards I was raised with though… it can be quite a shithole. Now I know I’ll get some flack for that … people shouting that it’s a developing country and all the crap I’ve heard 1.3 billion times by people using some of the tried and true CCP tactics of rinse and repeat … and my point here isn’t to argue that – it’s simply to show that not everything is quite as shiny as Labor Park or Fu Jia Zhuang.

Now, to be fair… Dalian has some parts that are absolutely stunning. Natural beauty that could go up against some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen and hold its own. These, of course, are the places that have had limited touching by the mass population that likes to leave their squid sausage wrappers and sunflower seed packages pretty much everywhere but a trash receptacle. I’ve featured these more scenic spots a few times here, but today I’m going to focus on the underbelly that’s not as often shown, because quite simply it doesn’t take as nice a photo.

For those visitors to Dalian that don’t stray from the well manicured downtown core… here are some photos of the neighbourhood I most recently worked in – well out of the eye of tourists, and therefore also off the radar of any officials that might lift a finger to help clean it up. I got bored, so they feature some synthetic lomo digital editing I’ve been playing with lately … please don’t start with photo integrity arguments, k?

22 Responses

  1. Great pictures. Personally, I don’t buy that whole, “China is still a developing country” b.s. excuse. My response is usually, “Right. It’s taken China 5000 years to become a developing country.” I would be alright with it if they would say, “China is still a developing country because we had this one leader who pretty much effed up the whole country for almost thirty years and kept us completely closed off from the rest of the world. And while we were all brooding and NOT developing, the rest of the world was advancing.”

    However, I too have heard that Dalian is a clean city, which I guess is in comparison to other cities in China. My friend, Kelly, a Hong Kong resident, traveled to Dalian on business. She said it was very clean. But seriously, Ryan, compared to Canadian cities, no city is clean. To be honest, L.A. is a pig-sty. Although, the O.C., where I live, isn’t bad. As for Canada, I’ve only been to Victoria on Vancouver Island. That has got to be the cleanest city on the face of the planet. And whenever I’ve seen Toronto in movies, it looks pristine.

    Yes, I think we all could learn a thing or two from you Canadians when it comes to keeping our cities clean.

  2. Frankly, I might be worried if the bad part of town weren’t there, or at least somewhere. Cities have a way of making things they really don’t want go away, for better or worse.
    Also, I’m curious what you did with the photos. Is it really that gray, or is that the editing you mentioned? If it’s post-production, it’s a nice effect. It looks a bit like Belgrade or East Berlin, where gray is definitely what communism looks like on the ground floor.
    I suppose I’ll see for myself in six weeks.

  3. hey,Ryan, got your point. seems like you have so much spare time to roam every corner of Dalian. Most of the foreigners don’t. They came here for a business trip or as a tourist. I don’t think they will just take Dalian as a purely clean city. same as other cities, there’re poverty, criminals, pollution and lame managing system in here. After all Dalian is just a small city in China, which is still under development and construction. Poverty still exists and Environment concerns are not entirely rooted in every citizen’s heart. so I don’t think what you snapped is a big surprise to others.
    Let us imagine, one day that Dalian have become a truely clean city, then you will and can not find a teaching job in here, not even teaching primary school student. Because at that time, native English teacher will be seen at every corner of Dalian.

  4. @Stuart: That’s exactly my take on the “developing country” issue. I don’t think you can brag “5,000 years of uninterupted tradition and history” and plead “developing country” in the same breath… as so many do.

    Canada certainly has its dirty parts… but by and by, it’s dirtiest isn’t on the same scale as the cleanest here. The part that irks me is the endless amount of over compensation that is done here. It’s like everything that is wrong is emphasised in the positive to a sickening degree. China’s poor, so it is continually said “we’re growing faster than any country.” China’s dirty, so it is emphasised that there are big “clean” cities, China has no culture, so it is stated again and again that they have a “5,000 year culture… oldest in the world”. China hasn’t created anything lately, so it is brought up time and time again “just how great paper, fireworks, the compass and printing are”.

    You ever have that friend that just went on and on about how great they were, but the fact that they had to sell it quickly showed you that very much the opposite was true… ?? That’s life here.

    I’ve never in my life heard a Canadian say that Canada was “clean and beautiful” … we’re confident we can just sit back and let people decide for themselves, we don’t have to tell them in hopes that they wont look around.

  5. @Chis: Yeah, as is the case now in Beijing with the rush to the 2008 Olympics… hide the undesirables. I should mention that the people in these places are some of the nicest I’ve met. Friendly, all smiles, not at all cold or shady like those I often see in the centres… sad that they should have to live in such filth.

    As for the “grey”… that’s 50% the weather (it was quite overcast) and 50% the lomo effect… basically a lomography is a clique of photographers that use a particular camera (old Russian I think) that at the time would have seemed like a crap cheap camera that screwed your contrast and darkened your edges… but now it’s developed into its own little art… I’m just messin’ around with it though…

    @Kate: Haha.. spare time? Not at all. I think you missed the part of the entry that said this is where I work. I took these just walking to the bus stop after class. Small city or big, you’ll see this and much worse in every city in China (and many other cities in the world, I’m sure).

    I don’t see the connection between an influx of foreign ESL teachers and a clean city… but I dare say by the time that happens I’ll be long gone; either to another city or another astral plane.

  6. “Dalian is a clean and beautiful city.”

    Yeah we get that in Yantai, that and.. “Yantai is famous for apples!”

    Your post resonates with me after I almost shared a dip in the ocean with a womans sanitary pad on Friday.

  7. Hey! Dalian is famous for apples too! And it’s seafood… betcha Yantai gets that too… We’ve got a bit of cross-Liaodong Gulf competition here… hehe.

  8. God Yes! But I’d take some Kiwi Bluff Oysters or Scallops over the Yantai stuff any day..

    One thing that bothers me about Yantai is the noise pollution. Shops that play obnoxious Chinese techno music at excessively high volumes to “attract” customers… It’s like a competition between shops to see who can drown out the others. Do you get this in Dalian?

  9. I noticed the techno music when I was in Dalian! Horrible, horrible stuff! BUT… not as bad as that damn Jackie Chan song that was interspersed with the techno! It was like being at the world’s strangest rave…

    Compared to all the places I went to in China (not that I’ve exactly been to that many!), Dalian probably was the cleanest! Definitely cleaner than Manchester, and ten times less grey and miserable!

  10. with over a billion people and almost as many cities/towns, each town/city must distinguish itself from the rest to encourage tourism.

    hence, you have towns that are famous for: rice, apples, lotus root, etc.

    as for the loud pounding music used as advertising for shops, that is only a mainland chinese thing. shops in hong kong don’t do that..they use their electricity differently, by turning the air conditioning on full blast while leaving the doors wide open. the colder the shop the more prestigious it is! whereby in the mainland, the louder the music the more you’ll want to shop there..or so they think!

  11. also the dalian/yantai seafood is fine, they just don’t know how to cook it. HK ships in dalian seafood and it is divine when cooked to cantonese perfection:)

  12. I enjoyed your post, but I have to take issue with a couple of the things you said. I lived in Dalian for nine month, and heard that sentence thousands of times, too. But, you know what? I agree with it. Dalian isn’t the most beautiful city I’ve ever been to, or the cleanest, but by-and-large, I love Dalian, and miss it badly.

    I liked your pictures — very poignant. My favorite is “lunchtime”. I’m coming from the perspective of someone raised in the U.S. I also think Washington D.C. is a beautiful city, but it has nasty bits much worse than what you have depicted. I have to say I’d be surprised if the Canadian cities mentioned above don’t also have pockets of ugliness and poverty — I’ve only ever been to Montreal, and then only for a couple of days. But I have yet to be to any city that doesn’t have a dark underbelly.

    Anyway, of course, Dalian has its pros and cons. I like it much better, in general, than Shanghai, but one thing about Dalian that drove me crazy was the spitting, and Shanghai people, on the other hand, spit 很少.

    It bothers me that one thing missing from the comments above seems to be a sense of sympathy for the common people. The fact is, China is a developing country. Who’s fault that is, is moot when it comes right down to it. And “developing” means that the proportion of poor people is higher than in our countries. And, let’s face it, poor people lack our ecological/environmental sensitivities. We wouldn’t be much different, I’m convinced, if we were raised and live now in the same circumstances.

    Ryan, you said:

    “I don’t think you can brag “5,000 years of uninterupted tradition and history” and plead “developing country” in the same breath… as so many do.”

    Why not? I mean, to a certain extent, I agree with this sentiment. My beef with the above statement is that it’s inaccurate — the written history of China only goes back 3500 years or so, as, to my surprise, many Chinese people will admit. Also, the way the government promotes nationalism with statements like that, and, as you mentioned, their harping on the big four inventions, really bothers me. Nationalism is a cancer in any country.

    But, for you to say “China has no culture”, is, I think, equally bad. China has a deep, rich culture — if you don’t like it, that’s another story. I find that the longer I stay here, the more I appreciate some of its subtleties and beauty (except Beijing opera — I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stomach that dreck.)

  13. To many points to discuss. I’m in my 6th year here now, so I’ve heard ‘Dalian is a beautiful city’ so many times that I dream about it, same way I can quote the Fantasy and SBS books verbatim. However, I find it strangely touching that the Dalianese have such a strong civic pride. Okay, most of them have never been anywhere else, I asked my students, ‘What’s the most interesting place you’ve ever been to?’ and one of them said, “The Library”. Nevertheless, bless ’em.

  14. @Dezza: Take your HK and stuff it! 😉 You should change your site to Mask of Almost-China … hehe. 开玩笑兄弟. Dalian introduced me to abalone… and man is it fantastic.

    @Chris: There’s not a person on this planet that doesn’t have culture, so of course I didn’t mean it quite so literally. Whereas you seem to have embraced Chinese culture. I’ve noticed that I’ve very much gone the other way. The more I see and learn about how Chinese people are expected to act because of tradition and culture .. the more I realize that “developing” is exactly what China is always going to be. It’s not that their culture promotes the failures in this country, but it does protect them. I’m sure it’ll change though and one day Chinese culture will be as bland and commercial as the rest of ours.

    To be honest, life would be easier (if not a bit less active on here) if I was in love with everything “China”. I’ve commited to always having a close tie to this country. It engendered my love, and will one day be a good portion of my childrens’ identity as well…

    What I should put as a subtitle for this blog is “Saying things to counter-balance the conditioning.” I’m certainly not always right in my opinions, but I’ve got a long way to push to get to a middle ground when dealing with Chinese people every day… and though they are not the mainstay of my readership… mostly this blog is my soap box/confessional.

    I think the big difference in my opinion (at least in this post) and what you said above is I lack pity and you seem to have more of it for Chinese people. I recognize how ego-centric it is for me to say I have no pity for Chinese people… and it’s a bit of an exageration, because of course I have a general pity for those less fortunate than me… but I’ll throw us back to Stuart’s comment at the top… and add that this country needs to stop asking for the pity of other countries (however subtly) and start bucking up to the responsibility of sorting things out.

    The end of the day… all this means is you are a better friend to China than me… and I’m betting I could find a crapload of people willing to tell us both so.

    @Phoebe: Enrique Basurto, Carl Vargas… churrasco… estivation… and dinosaurs I’ll not even attempt to spell… damn I miss those Fantasy books.

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  17. On some days (when the wind is in the right direction!) – Dalian can indeed be a beautiful city. I spent 5 months there in 2003 working as a Wedding Photographer – I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! I spent nearly all of my free time riding around the city on double-decker busses – top front right corner. Gotta be the first one on! The Zhong Shan Lu with its ‘Dingle Ball’ trees that arch over the roadway from one side to the other. The Botanical Gardens with its huge Lilac trees. Xinghua Park – with its 8-gigantic-speaker stereo system blasting out Western Classical music. The cliffs at Shicao. Bing Hai Road and Bangchui Island Beach – we spent many many hours there photographing wedding couples in the cool ocean breezes. Playing Frisbee in Zhong Shan Square (has no one in China ever seen one of these before??!!) – the round marble surface is perfect for ‘skips’ ad infinitum. The Olympic Square with its underground Wal-Mart. The Victory Square with its maze of Prairie-dog den-like stores. I lived at the Bohai Pearl Hotel right beside the brand new Japanese-designed train station – a wonderful 4 star hotel. Marble bathroom (heated mirror) – oak furniture throughout. Less than $20 USD per night (monthly rate). I miss Dalian. I have spent as much time in Beijing also and definitely prefer the semi-xenophobia of Dalian. I kept a daily journal while I was there – it’s over 1 million characters – I had a lot to say about Dalian!

    I would move there again in a flash…thanks for the sentimental journey.

  18. So, I read something about an English teacher being on every corner in Dalian, but I for one am having difficulties locating one. Do you have any links, ideas or suggestions that might be helpful? Thanks for anything resembling a promising lead:)

  19. I am very new to Dalian City. I am planning to visit in september for a week. Reading your review about dalian in this page, I believe you can be right person to help me regarding finding, booking hotel and sightseeking places. How would be the idea of finding hotel right after arriving the dalian City. Roughly how much does it cost for accomodation. I dont mind even cheapest hotel.


  20. Google blog search seems to be regurgitating a lot of your older posts, and I just came across this one.

    Three years on Dalian’s not as clean and beautiful as it once was, it’s just got a PX chemical plant http://daliandalian.com/blog/dalian-px-chemical-plant, while measures of air particles in 2008 were only just a little less than Beijing, a city famous for not the best of air http://daliandalian.com/blog/slipping-on-grease-street-hoping-for-wind-to-blow-it-away

    Bit of a shame really. But hey, we’re getting 9 subway lines!

  21. Not only is dalian an open stinking trash dumpster, but it is poised to become number one leukemia & lymphoma metropolis of the whole wide world, thanks to bastard CCP leaders/ mayor/ administrators of the city. “Developed” has a new meaning now in GDP-worshipping China – it means everyone gets cancer.

    A massive para-xylene production facility secretly put into operation, within just a few miles from the downtown with a resident population in the millions. I see Bhopal all over again, only this time it will be hundred times more devastating, hundred years more long lasting.


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