NEUSOFT Software Park, Dalian, 2002

April 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

When I arrived in Dalian in 2002 I was still running regularly and used it as a means to explore my new neighborhood. It’s crazy to think that I am now working for the company that did the design and construction for the entire Software Park development in which I was living. My friend used to call it the “Evil Empire.” Basically, Software Park is an area of western Dalian, roughly the size of a large college campus. It was created as a platform for software industry services and product development, to modernize Dalian’s economy. As such it included a private university to produce young minds to staff the phones and develop new computer applications. I was one of their English teachers.

When I arrived, only about a third of the campus (and Software Park in general) was built. What was finished was modern and attractive, but in a superficial way. The buildings were gray brick, the classrooms were wired, the cement tree stumps lining the walkways had speakers inside them connected to the PA system (Chinese national anthem in the morning, easy listening in the afternoon). Most of the surrounding area at that time was not finished and was either rubble, cheap restaurants or under cultivation. The dorms were washed cement, had concrete floors, one bathroom per floor, 4 bunks and 8 students per room. Sardine misery. But whereas the shabby restaurants and urban farmers would be slowly swallowed by the ‘evil empire,’ the dormitories were there to stay. Sorry, kids.

The Evil Empire was built on the side of a hill. It was a big hill, not a mountain. Chinese doesn’t have a word for hill, only mountain, so this was a ‘small mountain’ to everyone instead of what it really was, a ‘big hill.’ That constantly bothered me. Running around the small mountain was about a 10-15k.

My first trip around I had no map. I was familiar with my side of the hill/mountain, but not at all with the other. I just figured if I kept it on my left I would be ok and when I got to some time limit, like 45 minutes, I would just double back if I wasn’t making progress. If you think on a clock surface, I was starting at 6 o’clock and the hill/mountain (supposedly) was in the middle of the clock face. The road from 6 to 4 went up a hill and past some office/factories being built for Cisco and Microsoft with massive vacant lots in between. Once I passed 4 o’clock though, and turned left, it was run down, one-story, totally disposable shops and restaurants. At 3, I passed a slaughter house. There was no sign and anyway I couldn’t read Chinese, but each time I ran I would hear death wails emanating from the otherwise nondescript structure, or cartloads of stinking pigs being driven in or cartloads of carcasses being driven out. There was always one of the three. After a few trips I almost looked forward to it. I preferred the carcasses to the other two because they were less disturbing than the screams and less foul smelling than the live pigs.

Down the hill and then to an intersection, which was familiar to me. At the time the options were an indirect road downtown (straight), a road that probably leads downtown (right) and a road that is headed to the middle of nowhere (left). Turning left took me softly downhill and then across a mostly dry river. In retrospect it was probably a flood sluice, but at the time I chalked it up to crazy China with its enormous, cement-lined riverbeds and no water. According to my ‘hug the hill/mountain’ principle, I turned left after crossing the river. I think it is a runner’s instinct to run along rivers. It usually has good results, simple, hard to get lost, usually scenic. In this case the riverbed was dry, which made me think I might do better running in it, especially because of the traffic and fumes on the road. I think I did actually see someone down there once, but he/she was just wandering aimlessly as far as I could tell. Following the river wasn’t that easy because there was just as much pedestrian traffic as vehicle traffic, which had me jumping on and off the curb. After about a kilometer of river running, I came to a fork in the road. This was the real decision time, not whether to veer right or left (of course left due to the ‘HTH/M’ principle), but whether to chase the dream of the perfect 10-15k loop or abandon ship.

The dream looked pretty real. In my mind, I was already well past 12 o’clock anyway, so chances of total disaster were small. The road left was intact. The buildings were no more run down than earlier. I pushed on. The road wound steadily uphill and then I turned a bend and the 7-storey apartments stopped and nothing took their place. On the right there was an access road to a mine, probably for gravel or sand, and a few tractor trailers. The road cut steeply into the hill, lots of potholes and loose gravel and stones appeared on the road. There were some huge outcroppings of stone. Then the road crested and through the trees I could look down on some farms and then apartments in the distance. I was tired from the climb but exhilarated to find such a remote, yet nearby, training spot. I think a huge truck may have rumbled by at around that point.

I cruised down the backside of the hill and steadily back into cement apartment buildings and heavy bus and bike traffic. Restraining the urge to explore further, I took the first left onto a main road. It went up a final hill and then the final straightaway back to the Evil Empire.


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