Live from China: Qinhuangdao and Beidaihe
Dr. Salehuddin Ahmed
Last week three friends, an Indian, a Dutch and a Bangladeshi, were sitting in a restaurant and planning something innovative and interesting to do during a weekend. The three decided spontaneously that they would go on a drive without any destination to somewhere outside Beijing and following the highway end up in a place worth seeing. I was one the three. The Indian was Mr. Imran Ahmad and Mr. Perry Knop was the Dutch. Imran has a car and he loves driving. He volunteered to take us on this adventure trip. We started on Friday (30th. July) late in the afternoon and took JIngshen highway to the East. As we continued we were reading signs and noticed that there were two places about 280 km from Beijing where we could go. Knop, the youngest one among us and savvy in iphone, found some information about these two places, named Qinhuangdao and Beidaihe. Sounded good and we headed for those. By evening we were in Qinhuangdao. We checked into a hotel named Qinhuangdao Holiday Inn, not the one of those chain hotels, but a Chinese one. We took three rooms costing 308 Yuan (about 7 Yuan to a US Dollar) each. Rooms were good, clean, air-conditioned and comfortable. Luckily Knop and I spoke a little Chinese so we had no problem explaining our requirements. The hotel reception people were amused to see and hear us speak Chinese and they served us very cordially always full of smiles. In China it is very interesting that people enjoy interacting with foreigners and they are really nice and welcoming. It of course makes a big difference when you can speak some Chinese in China. As we did not know the place, we decided to leave our car in the hotel parking and requested the hotel manager to book us a whole day taxi for Saturday to take us around and also to Beidaihe, a nearby resort. He immediately booked an air conditioned taxi for us and said the taxi would come tomorrow at 9 in the morning.
We had a good night's rest and after breakfast (included in room charges) we came to the reception. A lady taxi driver met us and we took off.
She was really excellent, drove fabulously well, enjoyed our company, bought us water, fruits, ice cream with her own money and throughout we three were speaking with our broken Chinese and communicating not badly. She was our 'tour guide' and she explained about the story of each and every place she took us to. She was a wonderful motherly lady, always smiling and talking, most of the time at the top of her voice, especially when she talked on her mobile. We were really impressed by her, Ms. Yan Zi. What a wonderful person. She dropped us at the hotel at 6 p.m. and charged 500 Yuan. It was very reasonable, we thought.
We learned a lot about Qinhuangdao and Beidaihe. Both these places are in the Hebei province, adjacent to Beijing. In fact Beijing is located within Hebei, but because it is the Capital city of China, it is treated as a special separate entity under the central government and has a provincial status. Four cities of China have this special status, Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing.
Qinhuangdao has a very long history. Qin Shihuang, the first Emperor (259-210 B.C.) of the Qin came here in 225 B.C. and he sent his envoy out to the sea to beg the Gods that he might live forever. Qinhuangdao is the only city named after one of the 340 emperors in the feudal society of China. Mountains and sea make this city a renowned town, where once there were many wars fought, especially the War with the Japanese. People in Qinhuangdao told us how the Chinese people bravely fought in that war. At present, Qinhuangdao is a strategically very important port city covering an area of about 24 square kilometers. The 260 kilometer-long Great Wall (full length is about 8000 km) and a 126 kilometers long coastline drew in the region many emperors, generals and scholars. As early as 1898, the Qing government designated Beidaihe, another town near Qinhuangdao, as the “International Summer Resort”. Since then, celebrities, inside and outside China, have flocked here making it a legendary place. In 1984 the Chinese Government approved Qinghuangdao one of the first of China's coastal cities open to the outside world.
Qinhuangdao (also Beidaihe) has a pleasant climate throughout the year which is neither hot in summer nor cold in winter. The annual average temperature is around 10.1 degrees centigrade, unlike Beijing, which can be really hot in summer and extremely cold and windy in winter. However spring and autumn in Beijing are fascinating and enjoyable.
The most striking site to see in Qinhuangdao is the Great Wall starting right from the sea. It is spectacular. If you compare the Great Wall to a dragon, Qinghuangdao is located at the head facing the wonderful resort as if it is drinking water from the sea. What an awesome setting ! We also visited some other famous places like temples, caves, magnificent green parks, lakes, the beautiful city itself etc. This is another specialty of Chinese cities, the enormous parks with lakes in and around. Qinhuangdao is a fairly big city with very wide roads. China has historically planned for all its cities so well.
Cities in China have unusually wide roads in the middle of them. This city is no exception. It is so pleasant and spacious with trees and flowers all around the roads. Qinhuangdao also has a special Economic and Technology Development Zone, approved by the government in 1984. It is spread over 57 square kilometers. Industries encouraged in the Zone include, electronic assembly and manufacturing, building/construction materials, computer software, trading and distribution etc. Foreign investments are huge in the Special Zones.
Now let me say a few words about Beidaihe. This is another sea resort, located about 15 kilometers southwest of Qinhuangdao. It faces Bohai sea to the south and has Lianfeng Hills, with their forests of pine and cypress as a backdrop. The beach is 2 km wide and extends for 10 kilometers. We saw thousands of people and children enjoying on the beach. With its beautiful winding coastline and its pleasant moderate climate, Beidaihe Beach is a popular spot for summer vacations. The area is dotted with buildings and villas, some along the beach and others hidden in groves. The major attractions are South Heavenly Gate, Cave Leading to the Sky, Camel Rock, Tiger Rock, Guanyin Monastery and Lotus Park.
What was most interesting in Beidaihe was that there were many Russian tourists going around. Most of the signs of the shops, restaurants, hotels, pharmacies and other establishments were written in Chinese and Russian. We were fascinated to see many Russians and also the signs. It was doubly amusing for me because I knew Russian. I was reading all the signs and explaining to my friends and I had some opportunities to practice my Russian after a long time. They were also equally awestruck. My two friends were really enjoying it. Same with me. We were also very amused to see this “Russian Souvenir Store” in Beidaihe. Isn't that interesting? We joked; maybe the Chinese think they were in a foreign land!
We drove back to Beijing on Sunday. It was a three-hour comfortable drive. Our friend Imran drove really well, maintaining average 80 km per hour. On way we stopped at a Service Centre to have some coffee and snacks. It was a fascinating trip. We enjoyed, came to see another fascinating part of China. Our friendship solidified, we knew each other much more deeply now. That is what happens when you go out with people on trips and tours.
One extraordinary and notable thing that happened in our trip. We talked a lot. At one point we were discussing about good books to read. I referred to “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom and Knop was telling us about “Outliers : The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell (writer of 'Tipping Point'). Very interestingly, when in Beijing, after having a good Japanese lunch we were walking and came across a small English Bookstore. To our utter and pleasant surprise we found both those two books there and we bought. What a grand finale of our memorable trip! In people's lives there are certain happenings you will never forget. This trip of three friends of three nationalities will be one such unforgettable event.