Not Dingdong, it's Dandong!
by Wesley Smith
After one month of exploring Beijing, Xi,an, Shanghai, Baoding, and Yantai I asked my Chinese government-licensed guide, Rebekah, where we could go next.
Look, I told her, I really didn't come to China to see Americans and Europeans. Where can we go where I won't see any foreigners, but not too far from Beijing, because at 64 years of age and a month of traveling, I'm a bit weary?
I know just the place, she replied. And I've never been there myself. It's a fourteen-hour train ride, or a one hour flight.
I opted for the train because, personally, I love training in China. Of course, there are five classes of service to choose from: Executive sleeper, soft sleeper, hard sleeper, soft seat, and hard seat. The new option of the Executive Sleeper is for the super-spoiled brats who do not want to see any other species of the human race as they travel (or because they have important work that must be done privately). The ES even comes with a private bathroom. How spoiled can you get?
I'm spoiled, but not that spoiled, and I've experienced all of the other classes of train service. I love to chat with my compartment companions and stroll back to the dining car to mingle and fellowship. To me, that is a big part of seeing China.
Get us two soft-sleepers to wherever! I told her. By the way, where are we going?
Dandong. she replied.
Dandong? I've never heard of it.
I know, she said, with a twinkle in her eye. That's one of the reasons I picked it. It fits your requirements. You definitely won't see any Westerners where we're going. Dandong is a port city on the Yalu River, just across from North Korea, in eastern Liaoning province. The train leaves the Beijing station this evening and arrives in Dandong tomorrow morning at 7:00. We'll find tussah silk and hearty Manchu dishes there.
Dandong was difficult for me to pronounce until I fully understood its meaning. All that kept going through my head was dingdong, and I certainly wasn't hearing any bells.
Dan means red, explained my patient He Dong Yan. And she should know. Dong means east. Red/East---get it? she asked.
Yes, but why Red/East?
Dandong is on the Yalu River (East), and it faces the rising sun. Completely China. Wholly politically correct.
Wow! Now I couldn't wait to get there.
He Dong Yan (Rebekah) was right. There were no foreigners to be seen in Dingdong---oops, I mean Dandong! I was it; and I basked in the joy of having total strangers walk up to me in the lobby of our five star hotel and ask bluntly, Why are you here?
They were not being rude, they were just not used to seeing someone of my ilk and style. And everyone was so kind. I cannot speak highly enough of the employed staff at the Zhong Lian Hotel.
From my seventh floor room I had a bird,s eye view of North Korea and the two bridges (literally, one and one-half bridges). The Americans bombed the eastern half of the old bridge during the Korean War (1950-1953). It has never been rebuilt. From the China side one can walk half way across the Yalu River, and stare into North Korea. The train we took to Dandong continued on and crossed the river on the new bridge into Sinuiju.
Now, for a mere 1900 RMB, tourists can spend three days touring North Korea, following an invisible dotted itinerary. Memories of 1975-76 swept over me, and I had a definite dÈjý vu been there, done that. I had taken similar tours into the Mainland from Hong Kong way back then, long before China,s tourism exploded into a $10 billion a year industry.
Any seafood lover will go absolutely wild in Dandong! All along the boardwalk there are wonderful restaurants where you can pick out your fresh favorites and then savor them as you dine looking out across the waters of the Yalu.
After feasting and feasting all along the boardwalk, and walking out on the one-half bridge to peer through powerful telescopes (for those who want a close-up view of North Korea without bothering with the tour), what else is there to do in Dandong?
Try exploring the scenic Yalu River Park and Jinjang Park for starters.
I just found out that two hours north of here on a very bumpy road is one of China's best-kept secrets. Rebekah excitedly exclaimed.
How do we get there and what will we see?
We can rent a taxi. We will see the place where the dragon watches over the sea and looks to the East from Shanghekou into Sub,ung, North Korea. It's a place called Tiger Mountain!
Just hearing the name made me want to go.
I had heard many times that The Great Wall ran all the way to the sea, but I did not know where the dragon,s head was located. A couple hours later, and a very good hike, up and up and up, He Dong Yan and I stood atop the dragon's head and gazed across the Yalu into the vastness of space. Even in my wildest dreams I never thought I would stand on such a majestic part of the Ming dynasty Great Wall.
I guess I'm getting to be an old softie. On the train ride back to Beijing, just as the sun was setting, and the majestic scenery of China went sweeping by my window, I began sobbing from the very depths of my being. Many Westerners have spilled their tears in China. I was not the first and I would not be the last. But I knew that the one month I had spent in China was not nearly enough. I'll be back again in October of this year to take another peek. Call me Dingdong if you want to.
Full Life Crusade