After almost two weeks of being here in Dalian, I’m finally feeling settled enough to sit down and write about it. I’ve wanted to just enjoy being here and give myself some time to see what things are like before trying to put it all into words. The past two weeks seem to have flown by but at the same time I can’t believe I’ve only been in China for two weeks!
Anyway in an attempt at brevity I’ve split the last few weeks into two – settling in to Dalian and getting to know the university. Here is Dalian so far!
I arrived in Dalian on Tuesday 27th August after spending two days in Beijing. I enjoyed spending time in Beijing, and was glad that I’d given myself that time to rest up and ready myself. However I hadn’t really had any cause to speak Chinese there so I was looking forward to getting started with the purpose of this year. I had a very early start meaning that it was only 9am when I landed in Dalian. My host family met me in the airport and we got the subway home, dragging my massive suitcase along with us.
In the run up to leaving for China, I had been in contact with my host mum via WeChat (kind of like an all purpose Chinese WhatsApp) which was very reassuring to me, both in being able to get to know her a little and in the fact that my Chinese held up to the task! On meeting her in real life she was just as lovely as she had seemed over text. Her name is Wang Yu (王宇) but she told me to call her Ayi (阿姨) which means aunt. She has a daughter whose name is Wang Jiayin (王嘉音) who is 11. I mostly call her meimei (妹妹) meaning little sister and she calls me jeijie (姐姐) which means older sister. They are so nice and friendly and have been really welcoming to me, despite some initial difficulties with the language.
Speaking of, actually using Chinese has been very overwhelming and as I expected very different to the little I managed in Beijing. I have never been more aware of the difference between academic, classroom vocab and real, daily life vocab. That is something I discovered I am completely lacking in. On arriving in my new home I couldn’t even verbalise some of my most basic needs like taking a shower or understand what food we were eating. I felt so out of my depth, a feeling I have only ever experienced in Honduras before and the feeling is so much the same that on a few occasions I have opened my mouth and almost (and once or twice actually) come out with Spanish! But in just two weeks I have noticed a difference from constantly being around Chinese. I’m learning the language that I need around the house, common phrases and responses and I am able to understand and pick up more of what I am listening to as well. And this is all before starting classes! At times it can feel discouraging to have no idea what someone is saying to you or how to communicate with them but then I remind myself that I have a whole year, an intense year, ahead of me to get to that point.
On arriving on China one of the first things you have to do as a foreigner is register with the police. For us, this is the first step in getting our residence permit. For now, I’ve got a month to go back with a few things from uni to get the full permit.
My first full day in Dalian was spent exploring a bit of the city with my host family. With my language still on the rocky side my general approach to everything was to smile, say yes and hope for the best! It seemed to work, for the day at least! First we went to the Dalian Natural History Museum (大连自然博物馆) which is right on the waterfront. It was interesting to look at everything inside but again, I was limited because of my language level. Somewhere to go back to!
I mistakenly thought we were already in the centre of town but we clearly weren’t as we got on the bus again and went to get lunch in a restaurant on Youhao Square (友好广场) which is actually in the centre of town. While I was in the middle of slurping down a bowl of Guizhou noodles, I was asked if I would do an interview for some advertising I think? And in the spirit of the day I warned them that my Chinese is not very good but why not?
On the way home we stopped at the the People’s Square (人民广场) where Dalian’s government is and also went into the Dalian Planning Display Centre which was actually super interesting! Or it would have been had I been able to understand any of it… Another place to go back to. We also made a stop in a bookstore and a library at the request of Meimei – we seem to have a mutual passion for books!
I’m not the only Edinburgh University student in Dalian. There is also Joe who is staying with a host family just a 10 minute walk away from mine. It’s been great to have someone I know so close by over the past few weeks as we’ve been able to go out and explore together. It also means there’s been someone here going through the same things, a bit of culture shock, maybe a bit of homesickness, just the general turmoil of having moved across the world!
For the first week or so I was in Dalian, other than the big day out, I spent most of my time in the area I live in. However after a while I was ready to get out and explore a few more places. One of the must-see spots in Dalian is Xinghai Square (星海广场). It’s right on the beach so Joe and I even went for a swim! The water was lovely and refreshing, making a nice break from the surprising amount of heat and humidity! It’s been in the high 20s most of the time I’ve been here with humidity reaching up to 90%! My little Scottish body can’t take it!
One of the other errands I wanted to do to set myself up was get a Chinese bank account. To do that however, I had to get a Chinese phone number and to do that I had to wait for the first of the month unless I wanted to pay for the entire month of August with only a few days left. Ayi came with me and Joe to set our phones up (and it might have come with three months free? Or I might have misunderstood that…) and also to the bank which was invaluable support.
On Saturday it was Joe’s birthday! We headed into the centre of the city to one of the other sights, Zhongshan Square (中山广场). It was built by the Russians and is surrounded by buildings that were all built in the period that Dalian was under the control of the Japanese. We walked around for a bit and then found some lunch. We went to a seafood place and ended up with a bit of a lucky dip from the menu, including a big bowl of crayfish, some barbecued skewers, peanuts and rice. I went over to Joe’s for dinner as well and his host mum had gotten a cake!
Anyway, so far so good. Classes start tomorrow and I’m very excited to get going as it feels like that’s all I’ve been waiting for!