I’ve sometimes been asked here to provide some advice or tips about Dalian, given that I recently spent ten months living there. I’m not a big fan of the place, I think it resembles a lot of Chinese cities in that it feels over-sized, characterless, hastily assembled and without any sense of its own history; as for it’s the future, the term ‘Singaporisation’ seems to be entirely apt to describe a city like Dalian, which, when all the ubiquitous building projects have been completed and tidied up and it is finally ‘finished’, will be a pretty boring place to live.
For the edification of people who haven’t been there, I’m going to post an, erm, post that I made two or so months after arriving in Dalian to a foreign teacher’s discussion board peopled by, er, people who had, when I was trying to decide on a destination city, recommended and extolled the city to me.
I need to say before I start that when I wrote this I was in a Very Bad Mood, and, as Paul Theroux commented, it is never good to record your response to a city or country when you are feeling down. Other factors played a part in my reaction: our University had gone out of its way to provide no kind of a welcome or orientation whatsoever (which on balance is not totally rare, I believe), and my personal situation was a bit, shall we say, Conflictuous.
I’m also happy to admit that other people have been to or are in Dalian and really like the place. And I should add that things, and my mood, definitely improved as time went by, aided in no small part by a six-week jaunt around Thailand halfway through the year. There were, it is evident, lots and lots of wonderful things about day-to-day life in China that escaped my attention (and I hadn’t yet realised what the letters KTV referred to), as of course there still are. I was also being as provocative as possible. These were, however, in an exaggerated and hot-headed form, my first impressions, and I do think that they are not entirely without foundation, so while I could easily muck around with it and edit out all the things I’m embarrassed about today, I’m going to leave it as it is:
There are lots of reasons why I chose to take a job in Dalian rather than any other city. When I was teaching in Dublin a few years ago I had lots of students from here who couldn’t speak highly enough of the place, they gave me the impression that it was a laidback city with a relaxed atmosphere, and although at the time I wasn’t considering coming to China to work it stuck in my head.
Another important reason is the comments I read on Tefl websites, especially this one. As I’d never met anyone who’d taught in China it was the only way I could get honest first hand accounts of what it is like to live and work here. So I was interested to read the various comments proclaiming that (somebody actually said this) ‘Dalian is the best city to live in in China’ and suchlike.
Now, I know that a lot of people on this forum may have been here for a while and got used to things. I had never been to China before and so was willing to face whatever challenges came up. I’d done a bit of reading which had made to clear to me that there are places in China where nobody in their right mind would want to go and live. But I had been persuaded that Dalian offered the opportunity to get to witness the real China close up without having to abjure all possible creature comforts (clean air, some kind of social life) for a year.
Now I’ve been here two months and am more than a little distressed to report that not only is Dalian an ugly, ugly city with just a very short coastline path and a few green hills surrounded by building sites to escape to, there is also absolutely nothing to do at night.
Now I know there are a couple of bars where if you’re lucky you might get talking to some people who happen to speak the same language as you, but this is not my idea of a good time. I was led to expect at least some sort of fledgling local scene, places where young Chinese people go to enjoy themselves. But there is nothing of the kind. So by day your choices range from wandering round some department stores to clambering up the same dirty hill for the umpteenth time to get a view of thousands of factories and construction sites. At night you can sit in bars a 45 minute bus ride away with other foreigners feeling just as depressed and isolated as you are.
There are some cities in the world which I’d never even think of going to visit, let alone to live. Off the top of my head Barnsley comes to mind, as does Vladivostok for some reason. As I said at the start of this rant, some places in China I’d sooner cut off my legs than visit. But having been to Qingdao, where at least you can go for a long long walk by the sea, I know there are much better places to visit and live in in China than here. I found out pretty soon after arriving that amongst lots of people here Dalian is regarded as a fairly shitty place to live. Now I know the reason why my students still tell me it’s China’s most beautiful city – it’s because the government has told them it is, and they don’t know any better. As for the foreigners who have maybe been here too long and forgotten what it’s like to live somewhere with a nice environment, interesting things to see and a variety of things to do in the evening, I wish they hadn’t used this public forum to try and persuade themselves and others that they live somewhere ‘exotic’! I gave up a secure job in the beautiful city of Lisbon to come to this dump!