Annie Bananie en Europe

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My stories 04: Tim Hortons in Dalian

In February and March, J and I were stranded in the city of Dalian in northeastern China because Wuhan was on lockdown and we were unable to return. One day, I found out by chance that Tim Hortons opened two stores in Dalian, one of which was right next to the hotel where we were staying! Since this Canadian coffee chain entered the Chinese market (called Tim’s in China), it has successively opened stores in three cities (the other two are Shanghai and Zhengzhou, and I had already visited the first one to open in Shanghai last year). About Tim Hortons, its status in Canada is like that of Starbucks in the US – you could almost find one on every other block. The Canadians’ enthusiasm for Tim Hortons is no less than the Chinese people’s love for bubble tea. It’s not that the coffee is amazing or anything, but it is the taste of home that is irreplaceable. Grab a large dark roast double/double – mmm, such rich and familiar aroma that brought me a touch of colour and nostalgia in an unfamiliar city!

Large dark roast double/double with a Cesar chicken wrap. The wrap was mediocre but the coffee was desirable. I never had the dark roast in Canada and upon trying it for the first time in Dalian, felt that it was a bit too strong. I went back another day for a normal coffee double/double and immediately that authentic, familiar taste came back. Still, my favourite was the large steeped tea double/double, which I got during my third and final visit to the Dalian location. Unfortunately the steeped tea did not live up to my expectations 😦 Maybe Tim Hortons will come to Wuhan eventually…?

March 2020

Almost a month has passed since the previous post and J and I have since returned to Wuhan. And well, life has been slow and quiet, but we are enjoying this serendipitous serenity while working at home. The lockdown in Wuhan is gradually coming to an end – we arrived at the end of it – but as a foreigner in China, I face slightly greater restriction than Chinese citizens, which is completely understandable. As a result, I spent quite a bit of time at home after coming back to Wuhan, and the rare times that I went out were to take a stroll in our residential complex, which feels like a rejuvenated garden during the spring. Totally don’t mind that at all!

From the beginning of February to almost the end of March, J and I were “stranded” in Dalian, a city by the sea in northeastern China. We took a chance to go around the city and I may have fallen in love with the seas and hills in the vicinity of Dalian. Top photo is the majestic Xinghai (Star Sea) Bay Bridge taken at the top of a hill at the Dalian Forest Zoo, and bottom one is the sea by Haizhiyun (Melody of the Sea) Park, with some small islands in the distance.

High-speed train on the way back to Wuhan! We first flew from Dalian to Zhengzhou then took a train back to Wuhan, passing countryside and villages between the Henan and Hubei provinces along the way. Excited to be finally allowed to head home despite that Wuhan was the epicenter of COVID-19 in China.

View of our residential complex from my window – so green!!! I actually gasped when I saw this because I don’t remember it being THIS GREEN and pretty last year. I first thought that maybe the decline in human activities led to the rapid recovery of nature, but J and one of my colleagues suggested that we just didn’t take the time to observe these carefully last year. While there may be some truth the the former theory, the latter is more likely. Last year, day time was spent mostly at work and there weren’t many opportunities to look out the window at home in full daylight. Now that we’re still mostly stuck at home, this is almost a surprising discovery even though I’ve lived here for close to two years. The things you realize during quarantine…!

Of course we had to take the chance to go for a walk in our neighbourhood (only within the residential complex) and seriously I never thought it was this beautiful. The greenness felt surreal and it was as if our surroundings transformed into a zen garden of some sort. The trees and plants were full of life and I couldn’t help to think that our lockdown gave nature a long-awaited chance to breathe again.

I mean seriously, this pond was never this clean before and now it seems like an area from the botanic garden or something. I’m rather glad to have had the chance to experience this place at its best before we move, which is in about two months. I will miss this area!

Another small pond in the residential complex, this one looking sort of like a well-maintained Japanese garden, said J. I could have sat there all day with a book if the weather were nice, but it was still a bit chilly in late March 😦 And I was (and still am) working from home…

These flowers sprung up everywhere in our neighbourhood – saw them last year around my work campus as well – and apparently they’re a breed of cherry blossoms :O I previously mentioned that I thought I might miss spring in Wuhan entirely this year but it seems like we came back just at the right time. No cherry blossom festival at Wuhan University of East Lake this year but hey, we got them in our own backyard 😉

More flowers around the area – top left: wisteria; top right: camellia; bottom left: azalea; bottom right: cherry blossom. Shine on, nature, the stage is yours!

Having eaten take-out food for almost two months in Dalian, being back in Wuhan brought us to the opposite end of the spectrum – home-cooked meals every day! I am beyond thankful to have a husband who not only is a great chef, but also is WILLING to cook most of the time. Here is one of our typical meals – tomato and eggs, cabbage slices, and green beans with beef.

At the end of the February 2020 post, I said that I was hoping that the March 2020 post would be written in Wuhan. Well that wish came true! Working from home for the past few weeks has certainly brought many changes to my lifestyle, some for the worse unfortunately, but there’s a long way to go before life will be back to “normal” as we knew it. And it might never go back to what we think is normal, for all we know, but I’ve learned to see the beauties of life even during volatile and unpredictable times. So, onward, 2020, let’s see what you have in store next!

February 2020

Because of the COVID-19 situation in China, Jian and I couldn’t get back to Wuhan after our honeymoon in Japan. As a result, we’ve been stuck in the city of Dalian in northeastern China since the beginning of February. It’s been a month, and the lockdown in Wuhan still continues, so we wait. Thankfully, Dalian was not hugely affected by the virus, so our quarantine (expected as we were from Wuhan) was not extremely strict and we were at least able to go out and explore the city during this period of time. This would become the city after Wuhan where Jian and I had spent the most amount of time together 😉

Upon arrival in Dalian, we were directed to a specified hotel that was able to accommodate citizens of Hubei province under directions of the local government. It was not cheap, but we were thankful to have a place to stay (most hotels were not allowed to accept guests from Hubei during this period). And hey, at least the view out of our window was spectacular, as we welcomed a bit of snow on our third day here!

Same view, different day, different time of the day. Dalian is situated at the southernmost tip of the province of Liaoning, which is the southernmost of the three northeastern Chinese provinces. I guess that’s why it’s not extremely cold, even though it’s way up north by Chinese standards.

Third view out the window, this time at sunrise. We were facing east so every morning we had a nice bit of sunshine coming in through the window to wake us up.

Now, getting out of the hotel, we began our exploration of Dalian. It was super foggy one day with very low visibility, but I was glad to be able to get out and get some fresh air (with obligatory face masks unless you want to be arrested) after the initial days of quarantine.

Dalian is located on a peninsula in the middle of the Yellow Sea between the Korean peninsula and mainland China, so we knew we had to go to the seaside for a stroll. Oh, it was windy, very windy alright…

A random bit of colour fun here as I contemplated what I could make out of what I had in the hotel room. Red and green are my favourite colour contrast, and strawberries give off such an aesthetically pleasing hue of bright red. I also got a small matcha-flavoured Swiss roll at the nearby bakery, but I definitely had to put the two together before I ate them 😛

Why, hello there. The sign in the elevator says “This region has been sanitized”, and most public places are now obliged to undergo frequent sanitization. Face masks have also become a rare and much-sought-after commodity in China, as you can imagine. Luckily we got some in Japan…

…and the Eiffel Tower appears in Dalian? Nah, just a small model in a commercial shopping area. Jian is so happy to be outside. Fresh air has never felt so precious.

Final view of the city of Dalian from our hotel window, at night. It might seem like we spent most of our time in the hotel. Well, this is true, as we didn’t want to cause any unnecessary hassle or misunderstanding. But I’d say within a month, we gained a pretty good idea of what life is like in Dalian. In the future, this city will always hold a special place in our hearts.

As we continue waiting for the end of the Wuhan lockdown and the day we are allowed to return, we are still thankful for the blessing of safety and health in the midst of the chaos in the country. Here’s to hoping that the March 2020 post will be written in Wuhan…!

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