If you ask any Bong from Kolkata what comes in mind with China; answer would be "Chinese food, Tangra, Communism, Leather Stores of Bentinck street and Dentists". I grew up in a cosmopolitan neighbourhood in central Kolkata, and among different communities, we had some Chinese families living there. So, I had opportunity to see their culture more closely. Most memorable one was traditional dragon dance on beats of big drums during Chinese New Year! Oh, boy I was scared like hell and used to run around to find a place to hide myself from dragon ????
Once Kolkata had sizable Indian Chinese population and still has only China Town in India. But the picture changed after Sino-Indian war of 1965. Majority of them left country to avoid hostility and in search of better future. But still Kolkata is home for many Chinese families who consider themselves as Indian yet maintain their distinctive culture.
Needless to say when I got this offer to have an office trip to Weihai, China; I was more than excited!
Weihai or formerly known as Weihaiwei is a major seaport by Yellow Sea. This is in eastern most part of Shandong province and has a long maritime and military history and has seen some of the fiercest battles. It was even colonized by British for 3 decades. Presently apart from being a major port and fishing harbour it has presence of many hardware and production industries. Due its proximity to South Korea, Weihai has presence of many Korean business houses.
When plans go wrong!
Weihai does not have a direct flight from India and one has to travel to some other big cities like Shanghai or Beijing and take a domestic transit. Based on availability and other factors we decided to pick Bangalore <>Hong Kong <> Beijing as international leg from Cathay Pacific and Beijing <> Weihai as domestic from Air China.
Flights from Bangalore to Hong Kong and then to Beijing were good. CP served good food and wine and their hospitality was nice. We had around 6 hours of layover at Beijing before taking that domestic leg and things were working fine as per plan.
I took out some money from ATM and got a Chinese 4G sim card ( this was a life saver I realised later) and was roaming around. My colleague went to Air China to checkout the gate numbers etc and came back with a shock. Our flight to Weihai was cancelled by Airline! They notified the same to our travel agent, but some guff up happened, and we were completely unaware of it! Though we booked our tickets from Air China; flight was operated by Shandong Airlines. So, they kept on passing buck to each other. Airline personals at desks had very limited knowledge of English and it was literally impossible to make them understand what we want. It was like running from one airline desk to other! After wasting 2 hours we came to know earliest flight Shandong Airline could accommodate us is after 2 days. I had a cutover in next 4 days at a mission critical factory site and must reach Weihai on that very night to make the final go live plans with local IT Engineers! We started calling our Chinese colleagues to explore all possible ways to travel, road, train, sea, walk; whatever!
They suggested we go to Yantai, which is another city 100 KM far from Weihai and take a cab from there.
We called our travel agent and spent 1 hour on call to make them understand the situation and what to be done next. This time my decision of taking a local SIM paid off, otherwise it would have been a deadlock!
Beijing to Yantai flight was late and I landed there around 1.00 am. Luckily one of our colleagues had sent a cab. I tried to strike a conversation with the cabbie but again he could speak only two words "Yes" and "No".
Journey to Weihai took a little more than an hour. That's 100 KM of drive through pitch dark highway. That's the way Chinese highways are, one and drive effortlessly even at high speeds!
Reached my hotel at 2.30 am and woke up receptionist for check-in. The process was smooth despite of her limited knowledge of English.
Just changed and dropped like a dead meat on bed. That's what I wanted to do at that time after 25 hours of travel, 3 flight changes and all drama that happened.
Work, work and Work
Next few days and weekends I was buried under work. Normal days were 12 hours at office and during cutover worked non-stop 21 hours including running across the factory floors! It was intense, it was insane!
Places I visited
Despite of that I managed to see some of the famous spots around Weihai, though many are left. Maybe I would get a second chance ????
This beautiful tower right at city centre district providing wonderful 360 degree view of Weihai and its coastline. Built in 1931 , it was rebuilt on 1981 as original tower was burnt down by Japanese troops.
The tower is surrounded by beautiful parks and number of cultural exhibition areas. One can either go directly to the tower by stairs but recommended to use ascending walkways that cut across the park and woods. The walk is calm and very peaceful. You may also enjoy free performances of local artists if you are lucky.
Apart from spectacular view, Huanchuai tower has different floors of galleries and exhibition halls. Top one is dedicated to Sino-Japan wars and modern history of China while rest are for modern and postmodern arts. I strongly recommend spending some time here, collections are splendid and so is the view from top!
Please carry your passports (in original) which must be shown in information centre to get free entry tickets to the tower.