Finding a Sense of Community in Ganjingzi, Dalian

We all have favourite places. Favourite stores, favourite restaurants, favourite cafés, favourite parks… We love these places because of the good times we’ve had, making us feel safe because we know exactly what to expect. We have best friends or friendly staff members that we meet in these places giving us happy social interactions. Or we may very well just love the food and drink.  So what happens when you leave your city or neighbourhood or country and don’t have these favourite places anymore? When we left Hamilton, a city full of familiar coffee shops and meeting places, we absolutely missed these places more than we expected. But it also gave us the chance to create new favourite spots wherever we end up.

When we first arrived in China, we were so outside of our comfort zone. Our neighbourhood in Dalian, Ganjingzi, was much farther out of the city centre than we had expected and a little rough around the edges. The stairwell of our apartment building was something out of a horror movie and the buildings on the street weren’t in much better shape. Plus our apartment was located right next to the bus and garbage cart depot. We couldn’t believe that this was where we would be living for the next nine months.

All we could do to maintain our sanity was to stick to familiar places like supermarkets and fast food chains. But after a few weeks we found that, although sometimes uncomfortable, it was far easier to run around the corner to the fruit stall than walk the kilometer to the mall. Living in this environment forced us to get outside of our comfort zone and we’re so glad we did, not only because of the delicious food we’ve experienced, but also because of the lovely people we’ve met in the past few months.

In our neighbourhood alone we’ve already acquired a rabble of amazing places that we now visit regularly. There is a breakfast place that we affectionately refer to as “The Deli” with so many delicious offerings like the classic bao tze, an egg and hash-brown pancake, different meat options, and amazing-looking soups that we still have yet to try. We are always greeted with lots of smiles and a couple of the employees even speak English. A regular visit usually only runs us about 12 yuan for both of us, so we can’t beat the price either.

Almost every Friday, we have dinner at a restaurant just a stone’s throw away from our apartment that we have come to fondly call our “Plates Place”. They serve sharing plates that we order two or three at at time and have their entire menu pictured on the wall. We have been trying as many different plates as we can and have yet to be disappointed by any of them. The staff there have also come to know us and although they don’t speak any English, always greet us with big smiles. They bring us small samplings of their food while we wait for our plates and even wave to us if they see us pass by in the middle of the day. 

Just outside of our apartment complex is a small produce shop, where we now buy all our fruits and veggies. It is run by a couple of the nicest ladies we’ve met in the city. They don’t speak any English but they’ve taught us how to say sweet potato and broccoli in Chinese. I guess they’ve noticed we buy a lot of those things. It’s great to not have to lug all our produce home from the supermarket (at least a fifteen minute walk away). We sometimes even get lucky and are given free cherries or small samples of whatever else seems to be in season at the time.

And these examples don’t include the woman who sells small melons out of the back of her truck who playfully yells to us every day, or the nice man, Tony, we’ve met around the neighbourhood who always has a little chat so he can practice his English.

When we first arrived in Ganjingzi, we never thought that we’d feel comfortable in this neighbourhood, but after making an effort to try some of the local spots and connect with the local people, we’ve found that we almost feel at home here. Our only regret is not doing it sooner.

When was the last time you found community in an unexpected place? Let us know in the comments below!


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