After a few days in rural Shandong, Weihai (威海) hits different immediately as we get off the train — people and suitcases everywhere. It’s full of an obvious type of people: tourists.
And immediately I wonder if the people in those rural areas who cited covid for the lack of tourism are just wrong, and most Chinese people just don’t want rural experiences.
Not just that. Everyone may have a few friends who went to Weihai or Qingdao, but who has friends who went to a village of less than 500 people? This is aggravated by the nature of apps like WeChat, Dianping (大众点评), and Little Red Book (小红书). In the first place, a destination worth going to exists not to explore local culture or escape the crowds of the city — but rather to take photographs.
But Weihai’s most popular destinations are a letdown. People flock to the Happiness Gate (幸福门), Haiyuan Park (海源公园) has dozens of old fisher boats on anchor, but they’re without engines and only serve to be photographed.
Marine Park (海上公园) and Kowloon Bay Park (九龙湾公园) are crowded. On Huojuba Street (火炬八街) we overhear someone say: “I’ve been cheated by Douyin and Little Red Book, there’s nothing interesting here.”
I don’t like touristic places and it’s not jut the crowds. In Weihai, people park their cars on the sides of the road leading to traffic jams, and the city is full of signs to 注意安全 (Be careful). Don’t fish, don’t come to close to the edge, don’t lean, do not swim in the sea. Some parks play on an infinite loop an information message: “Welcome to Weihai, don’t spit on the floor, wear your facemask, together we create a safe and clean environment.” A shifu comes into the toilet building and shouts to remind people to flush after a big one.
Weihai became more interesting when we took the green path in the north of the city (威海绿道), and at the end — Cat Head Mountain (猫头山) — we follow local fishermen through the hole in the fencing and sit alone on a huge rock watching the sunset.
We leave the city for Rongcheng (荣成), which is still part of Weihai. We rent a car and visit a huge beach, Naxianghai (那香海), and finally, I have some Shandong food (鲁菜) which I learned about in Chinese class.
It’s dark when we reach the hostel, after driving over a muddy country road. “Ah, you should have called. There’s a new road but Baidu Maps hasn’t indexed it yet,” says the owner.
The next day we drive around — we choose not to go to the park of Chengshantou (成山头), entry tickets of 150 RMB and loads of people. Instead, we enter a muddy road not knowing what’s ahead, and have a whole peninsula for ourselves. Lunch is coffee and biscuits, because there’s nothing here but rocks and grass and the sea.
In the village of Yandunjiao (烟墩角村), students from Shouguang (寿光) are painting the houses with seaweed roofs — but it’s noon and they’re on a break, hiding in the shade. We’re told that the swans that usually stay in the area are now in Siberia.
In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick there’s a tiny island that is described as “It is not down in any map; true places never are” (and ‘map’ could be replaced by ‘app’).
We’re in a tiny harbor. Unlike in Weihai, the boats are still in use. A lady is fixing nets and looks at us: “What are you doing here? There’s nothing interesting here.”