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Intro to "the Dong"
The first thing to understand about the Dong (as it's called by local expats) is that it is not Beijing. It's not Shanghai. It's not even Jinan. For those new to living abroad or in China specifically, life in Dongying can prove surreal at times. Even as the locals crane their necks to stare at you, you might stare back at the many idiosyncrasies of Chinese life that remind you that you’re a stranger in a strange land. That said, there are in fact many things that can make a stay in Dongying not only bearable but even enjoyable.
Dongying is the kind of town that functions like clockwork. Mornings, men and women hustle off to the office or the factory while their child hustles off to school. Just before noon everybody returns home for 2 or 3 hours to eat lunch and fit in a midday siesta. Thereafter everyone dutifully hustles back to their office/factory/school until it’s time to hustle back home for dinner and an evening in front of the TV. On the weekends, kids get a little time to play with their friends when they’re not taking extra classes at their normal school or something from the usual extracurricular menu of zither, calligraphy, taekwondo*, dancing, or English lessons. Adults go shopping. The only deviation from reliving this schedule week after week is when they encounter a foreigner on the street and find opportunity to shout a hearty if not awkward “hallooooo!” And that’s something to tell the rest of the family over the dinner table.
Dongying provides a window on life in Anytown, China. It’s a small city (only 2 million) and there isn’t much to distinguish it from any other city in China. Western culture has only made some inroads here, resulting in 3 KFCs and some Chinese style pizza, steak, and coffee houses. Residents explain that Dongying is a "developing city" just as many Chinese refer to China as a whole. They're justifiably proud of Dongying's constant improvement, considering that the city didn't exist 25 years ago. East City is about 10 years old. And the nicest of the hotels, restaurants, and office buildings are 1 or 2 years old. In July of 2004 Dongying's airport started flights to Shanghai, previously only flying to Beijing. An expressway linking Beijing to Qingdao and passing through Dongying will be completed before the 2008 Olympics, and there are plans to dredge the Yellow River to create a major port for the city. Investment continues to pour into the area as foreign and national companies set up shop, including (rumor has it) China's largest steel company that plans to relocate 1.5 million workers to Dongying. Not to sound like a chamber of commerce commercial, but Dongying represents the trend that is happening all over China. The city isn't much to look at now, but it will be unrecognizable in just a few years, just as it already bears little resemblance to the Dongying of 5 years ago.
*There's a strong Korean presence in the city though mostly in the form of restaurants, clothing stores, and other shops.
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