We did dalian in two blocks with a side trip to Dandong in between.
Dalian was the site of the 16th international beer festival that Jill found advertised way back in March. She made the bookings for travel and accommodation at the intercity hotel back in April. This was all going swimmingly until she tried to amend the booking to factor in our trip to Dandong. At this point the hotel realised that we were booked in for under 200 yuan a night, when the going (extortionate) rate for this week was well over triple that…they then advised us that they were overbooked and could not and would not accommodate us.
Jill (rightfully) went off. The hotel refused to honour the booking that was made over 3 months ago and relet our room for the massively inflated gouging rate and would not honour an existing booking. Needless to say complaints were lodged with the tourist bureau but this vent is to make it fairly public that this particular Chinese hotel is money grubbing and has zero business ethics. Thankfully the booking was made through booking.com who copped an earful from Jill who refused to accept less or pay more. They were very accommodating and eventually found us something but they had to pick up the cost difference due to the immoral actions of the intercity hotel.
Dalian was one of those cities that through various wars was under the rule of a number of different nations. As such it has some nice Russian style architecture but has little else to it apart from the parks and squares. Which are ok without being startling or all that different from most Chinese public spaces. It is a city of over 6 million people and is a major port and industrial centre. The one real standout to Dalian has been the food streets. Our introduction to this was in the heart of town where we came across a series of alleys winding between buildings and malls that stretched for about 3 kilometres.
The first this we spotted was a huge tray of red claw…now we knew that this is a favourite of Jim (Jill’s Dad) and looking down over this tray made us both immediately think of Jim and his red claw stories. In honesty the amount of chilli in the Chinese red claw would be too much for him (and most others) but I found them really tasty. As you walked along the array of food got more varied with each step. Almost any type of seafood you can imagine add to this the ever present meat on a stick options and the broiling pigs heads, feet, innards and other bits.
On our return after Dandong we circumnavigated the beer festival which was being held in Xinghai park which is possibly the largest park/square in all of Asia. The first thing that struck us was the sheer size of this thing. We saw the huge (and I really mean huge) beer tent then turned to the left and right only to find that this tent was one of about 20 such tents. The festival was set to go for 12 days and with the size of this thing I can see how.
We entered the festival in the early afternoon after paying the $5 entrance fee. As we lined up we were surprised to see that in China this was a family affair with mothers, kids, grandparents all lining up for what, in Australia, would be a male dominated, adults only drunk fest. The next difference was the food. The festival had a huge range of really good, really healthy food options…so much so that you saw 5 food stalls for every beer outlet. There were the usual items and some non typical fare such as the crocodile skewers (pictured below) and the amazing use of the cow carcasses after they had been stripped bare and consumed over the preceding days of the festival.
The food was like you may see in any Chinese city with full meals of many varieties, dumplings, rice, noodles, BBQ stick options and the normal snacky bits. The prices were obviously higher than you would pay outside but not excessively so. The beer prices were seriously ramped up with 40 yuan the going rate for a 500ml bottle or glass (bear in mind you can buy these in the supermarket for between 3 and 9 yuan. Having been drinking low alcohol Chinese beers for quite a while now we settled into the beers from the Europeans…particularly the Germans and the Czechs. These were generally ok but the ordering off Chinese menus with no English meant we were playing a bit of beer lucky dip.
As we entered each of the beer company tents we found hundreds of tables and a big stage where different entertainment options were on display. This brings us to our next major difference between a Chinese and western event. Most of the entertainment was an organised form of karaoke with a performer belting out Chinese tunes over the top of a soundtrack.
Some had a little more style with Chinese plate twirlers, another with a great magician show, and one with a US quartet doing lady gaga covers backed up by the worst Chinese dancers ever put on a stage. These girls were not dancers but were basically thrown on stage in skimpy (ish) outfits and told to shake it…it was like watching a train wreck. But most of the entertainment involved overweight minor local celebrities singing along badly with a karaoke track and yelling loudly into microphones.