Fall is in the air as my Fulbright comes to a close, we’re in the final stretch here, three weeks exactly at time of writing. How do I know it’s fall? There’s a crispness to the air you could almost call a scent, and in true Dongbei fashion, Harbin’s cold as (frozen) Hell already. Or at least to the point that I need two layers. Sadly, my Chinese piece that I’ve been working on a whole lot, will not be getting published in the school journal. Too short, kinda bad, oh well. I’d be more broken up about this if I hadn’t pitched the articles to Yale. It does suck to have sunk all that time into the project, but I think it was an important process in and of itself, and I learned a lot from all aspects of doing it. And who knows, maybe I’ll still end up using it. In more frustrating news, the library is closed for renovations AGAIN. I think they didn’t do it well enough the first time. So that gives me more time to work on grad school apps, yay!
Anyway, after the book club, I took the opportunity to go to nearby Dalian, which down on a peninsula southwest of the China-North Korea border and was an important port city back in the day. The Russian’s built it up from a fishing village around the same time as Harbin, and then lost it to the Japanese in 1905 who ruled it until the 50’s. All I knew about it before coming was that it supposedly had good seafood, so I felt it would be sad if I didn’t head out and give it a look. A lot of wonderful architecture, including some incredibly opulent hotel castles.
My first 24 hours consisted of walking the city. I started off with the main square which was build by the Russians, but now mostly features colonial Japanese architecture (and which I capped off with a delicious Korean rice bowl). Got up the next morning to see the natural history museum, which was decidedly underwhelming, but it took me through a cool neighborhood and had awesome dinosaur skeletons on the ground floor, so well worth the twenty minutes I spent there. Moving on, I walked the world’s longest boardwalk (Guiness certified) along the south coast. The city kind of just built a board sidewalk along the coastal road, so while that might be considered fudging it by some, I was quite pleased with it. Walked a long long way past some nice beaches (two of the three were actually stone beaches with ironic names like “Gold Sand Beach” and “Silver Sand Beach”).
Along the way were a lot of gated communities and what appeared to be wedding photo studios.
At the end of the boardwalk, I found myself at Tiger Beach, which was a big amusement park with a badass statue out front.
Past there was Fisherman’s Wharf, a slightly tacky recreation of a New England seaside village, but it had real fishermen at least.
For day two, I went down to the tip of the peninsula to Lvshun, formerly known as Port Arthur, known now to me as Port Phallus. I’ll give you four guesses why.
It too was owned by the Russians, but they lost in the Russo-Japanese War, and the Japanese built up most of what was there. My first visit was to Hill 203 which was the site of a pitched battle where 10,000 Japanese and 5,000 Russians died. Once the Japanese took the hill though, the war was kind of finished since, as you can see below, the vantage point it gives allowed the Japanese to install artillery and absolutely destroy the Russian navy in and outside the bay.
From there I walked downtown (you can see it in the distance in these photos) to the museum area which was quite interesting. Apparently Dalian has been inhabited for over 6,000 years, but it got gobbled up by the Bronze-age Han Dynasty in around 70 AD when its people were still in the Stone Age. Beautiful museum with some great ice cream out front and beautiful Dragon Cypress trees, a strain I had never seen before.
From there I went to an old prison while failing to find lunch (ice cream and boba do not a meal make) which was pretty dope. The Russians built it, the Japanese took it over and expanded it. I mention it because apparently its where Ahn Jung-Geun was held and executed, which ties it into Harbin History. Ahn was a Korean nationalist who led anti-Japanese activities in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and is most famous for assassinating Ito Hirobumi (first PM of Japan) at the Harbin railway station in 1909. Koreans still come to Harbin just to see the site. Anyway, I learned a lot about him, so watch for it to be mentioned in the book.
Finished with a short hike up Mt. Baiyu which gave me some closer views of the bay, and damn if it isn’t incredibly defensible. Check out that narrow entrance with hills on either side and the small atoll on the right where you could station even more troops. My inner strategist kind of squealed when I noticed it.
Overall, I’m really glad I came down. I walked a ridiculous amount and my feet hurt, but the walking was a lovely experience in and of itself, and it took me to some cool places to boot. A parting thought that I want to share is that there should be more short-haired mermaids in popular media, look at how beautiful this one is. Or would be, she actually has legs, but I thought she was a mermaid at first and dammit I’m sticking by it.
Lastly, shoutout to my awesome hostel, which is named after one of my childhood heroes, the one, the only, Buzz Lightyear. And they have cats!