06/24/2017 - 06/26/2017
We arrived in Shenyang early in the morning on the overnight train from Mudanjiang. We had wangled a private sleeping cabin by switching with other passengers so we had all managed to get some sleep, although Mei Ling had to share her bed with Spenser. Mei Ling's mother was with us as well, since we were primarily in Shenyang to get her travel visa from the US consulate, and her father and brother-in-law had come along for the ride as well. I didn't know much about Shenyang, but I was thrilled to be spending part of our China stay anywhere except Mudanjiang. My research had provided a couple of interesting prospects: a daytime market called Wu Ai and the Xingshun night market, reputed to be one of Asia's largest. Aside from that, there was the usual assortment of palaces and parks common to larger Chinese cities. As we left the rail station, I was immediately struck by a much more impressive skyline than that of Mudanjiang.
The hotel Mei Ling had chosen turned out to be a little downscale even for her family's taste, so she located a more international level place a few blocks away that was practically across the street from the US Consulate. We loaded all our belongings onto a bicycle pushcart and walked beside the cart to the hotel.
Once settled, we didn't waste any time putting our boots on the ground for the long walk to the Wu Ai market. The half hour walk was longer than I expected from the map, but I enjoyed experiencing the new city's Saturday morning vitality. The market itself proved slightly disappointing, as it was entirely for clothes and dry goods in which we had little interest. At the top floor was a large food court with diverse offerings of noodle soups and dumplings where we got a decent lunch.
The sidewalk outside the market was lined with pushcart vendors of jewelry, clothing, and brightly colored candies. By this time the kids were awake and even though they hadn't eaten much lunch it was hard to deny them such beautiful candy.
We were able to find a taxi outside of Wu Ai willing to take all four adults and three kids, but two blocks south we suddenly came across a busy produce market and decided to jump out. Rain cut this visit short but I was able to get a decent video with my iVUE Horizon video sunglasses.
On the way back to the hotel, we ran into a cluster of outdoor restaurants that were gearing up for the evening with tantalizing lamb legs, trays of fresh shellfish, and pork offal. We weren't ready to eat but resolved to return.
A few hours later we left the boys with their grandmother and found the restaurants were already quite busy. The lamb legs were twisting on spits over mini grills on each table, and every table had its own tank of ice cold beer with a spigot for rapid refilling of empty glasses. Paired with such delicacies as sauteed clams and silkworms, it was the kind of delicious and satisfying meal that makes me look forward to every trip to China.
The next morning Mei Ling, her brother-in-law, the boys and I took a taxi to Shenyang's central pedestrian zone. Cleo decided to hang out with her beloved grandparents and her beloved iPad at the hotel. As soon as we got out of the taxi, we saw there was some kind of food expo on Taiyuan Pedestrian Street with stalls lining either side of the street as far as we could see.
There was a large variety of street food including stinky tofu, dumplings, and fried seafood. We were thrilled to have randomly stumbled onto a great food event like this.
We could probably have spent most of the day just hanging out at the food expo, but inevitably we lost interest once our stomachs were overfilled. At the intersection of Taiyuan Street with busy Bei'er Road was a long staircase headed down to a tunnel under the road. It looked a lot like the entrance to a metro station, but there was no metro in that area. I figured it was just an underpass but Mei Ling went down for a closer look and beckoned us to join her, so we carried the strollers all the way downstairs. What I saw down there really amazed me. We were at the entrance of a huge, crowded, multilevel mall that was entirely underground. The first thing we encountered was an awesome food court we surely would have sampled if we weren't already stuffed from the food expo.
For the next hour or so we lost ourselves in the narrow hallways of the mall, walking the equivalent of several blocks underground. Among the things we encountered were juice bars, exotic pet stores, and the complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaur.
We eventually found an elevator and surfaced some distance away from where we had begun our underground odyssey. We were on the ground floor of a mall of a more conventional type, which we decided to explore as well. Some of the more unusual things we encountered were a local band covering a Bon Jovi song, a restaurant with cloth boobs on every table, and a Lego wall.
On the top level there was a transparent floor over the central atrium, which Ian found a little perturbing.
Having done enough mall-walking for one day, we decided to explore the surrounding area a little. In nearby Zhongshan Square we found the well-known statue called Long Live the Victory of Mao Zedong Thought. It's one of the few Cultural Revolution monuments not to have been removed in later years. Outside a bank we encountered a replica of Wall Street's charging bull, so Mei Ling did her impression of Fearless Girl.
Our next destination was the Mukden Palace, a former residence of the Qing emperors. In the end, we walked around the pedestrianised area surrounding the palace and never actually went inside. The appearance and atmosphere were just too reminiscent of Beijing's Forbidden City which had bored me to tears a decade previously. The most interesting thing we ended up seeing there was a collection of elongated pushcarts laden with pretty but overpriced fruit.
We went back to the hotel and exchanged the boys for Cleo, then found another taxi to take us to our most anticipated attraction in Shenyang. Xingshun night market had opened just two years earlier so there was very little information about it on the internet, but I knew that it was large and exotic. We made sure we arrived not long after the 5:30 opening time. When we got out of the taxi, there was a sensation of electricity in the air. It was similar to the feeling of arriving at a huge rave in the West. The market wasn't along a street as I expected, but rather in a large enclosed area. We walked past shops selling cheap trinkets and some carnival rides and then found ourselves in an open area the size of a couple of football fields. I could see row after row of kiosks with food on grills and skewers. Initially we tried to walk around the entire market before buying anything to eat, but we soon realized that we might not be able to find our way back to the offerings we liked most so we just decided to eat as we went.
There were too many amazing and exotic snacks to count, let alone consume, but probably the most impressive were the stalls devoted to reptiles and bugs. The last video reminds me of how much I've evolved in terms of food courage in the ten years since I met Mei Ling. I don't think I could have imagined myself eating tarantulas and centipedes before, but now I have a hard time imagining anything I wouldn't at least try. For me, it's a badge of honor to see the locals giving me horrified looks as I bite chunks out of the assorted creepy crawlies.
Our last day in Shenyang was going to be cut short by our evening departure, so we had to think carefully about what we wanted to do since we might never be returning. Shenyang had exceeded our expectations, but there have to be at least fifty more Chinese cities of a similar size that we've never seen. We always prioritize the unknown, unless it's NYC or London where every visit is as novel as the first. We decided to get lunch at the street market which we'd been driven from by rain two days earlier, and then spend the afternoon at Beiling Park before heading to the airport. We found the market in full swing on a Monday morning, with plenty of appetizing food options.
We knew we weren't likely to find the best stuff at one of the few small restaurants in the market, so we decided to buy our favorite foods and then bring them to the restaurant to be cooked. We've had good success with that stunt in both Asia and Latin America. Soon afterwards, we were chowing down on steamed shellfish and roasted chicken and washing it down with plenty of cold beer. It was our fourth great meal in Shenyang in four attempts.
Beiling Park is the largest park in Shenyang and well-known for its beautiful lake and gardens. Soon after we arrived we encountered a fairly large jump rope demonstration or competition. Mei Ling immediately joined in and did quite well, although I'm still not sure if she won anything.
We only had another half hour so we walked as far as the lake, which was quite large and pretty. There were paddleboats and some kids' games but we didn't want to take any chances with getting to the airport on time.
We had our most brutal travel schedule of the trip that night. First we had to fly to Beijing, and then take another flight onward to Copenhagen with a layover in Moscow. We found a solid Russian meal at a restaurant in the Moscow airport (not the one pictured), and the kids got to blow off some energy playing a game of our own invention involving cylindrical seat cushions. Still, we were very weary of flying once we finally arrived at Copenhagen. Fortunately, for the next three weeks we wouldn't have to worry about any travel except for driving and a ferry.