Winter started early in Linyi. A monster dump of snow – the biggest in 15 years – ground the city to a halt. Everything eerily quiet for 2 days; raining snow. A soft white silence in the downtown.

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View from my apartment kitchen, on the 11th floor, facing north, few days after snowfall

No constant traffic. No honking car horns. Few people. And thankfully, no e-bikes (battery-powered bicycles and motorbikes) silently approaching from all directions; a danger that ensures you look left right left right, as well as behind and in front of you before crossing any street.

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5 PM the first day and no sign of the snow stopping

The snow hit on my weekend (Monday + Tuesday). I seized the opportunity to go wandering, since I live smack in the downtown.

My GF, Wei, who lives in another part of Linyi, had planned to come to my apartment that day. But 15 minutes in her journey a text message read. “Bus won’t start. Can’t come”. Her bus had broken down, and later she told me with no cars about, she was lucky to hitch a ride home in the deserted main avenues.

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Before the snowfall, young trees are cloaked for the winter in People’s Square. Their trunks wrapped with rope and plastic screens placed over each tree.

With a population over 2 million, Linyi is a typical provincial Chinese city of bland concrete. Redeemed only by a huge central park known as People’s Square (once a sprawling army barracks). But more impressive from a scenic viewpoint: Linyi is located on the wide – 1.2+ km wide – Yi river, for which it’s named after, meaning: “Close to Yi River”.

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Days later the snow has cleared from the walkways on People’s Square, as seen from the 23rd floor of the building where I work.

Linyi is located in the south of Shandong Province, in North-East China, and I doubt that you’ve ever heard of it (and there is no reason why you should have). And I didn’t know much about it until I arrived (although I had passed through its bus station on a trip around Shandong back in 2010).

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What can only be described as a gold supermarket, below my apartment.

Linyi is quiet place but has it charms. Very friendly. Foreigners are a novelty and people really stare. And many know that single word in English, and say Hello. Linyi is relaxed by Chinese standards of overpopulation and push. But the city also comes with an unhealthy serving of chronic pollution (at times).

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City at night …

Linyi also lays claim to the world’s longest rubber – yes, RUBBER !!! – dam spanning the Yi River.

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Snack street looking deserted … usually packed, particularly at lunchtimes.

Historically, Linyi goes back 2400 years. But nothing major remains, due to conflict.

“In the spring of 1938, during the Second Sino-Japanese War, the city was the scene of fierce fighting between Chinese and Japanese troops. The civilians were encouraged by an army victory in the Battle of Tai’erzhuang, which was nearby, and defended Linyi fiercely. But Japanese soldiers breached the walls on 19th April 1938, forcing the defenders to withdraw and continue their battle in another area …”

Linyi region was also contested later during the Chinese Civil War, and battles ensued in the nearby mountains of Linyi county.

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KFC is everywhere in China, even in this major provincial city that you’ve probably never heard of.

Yet in 1972, archaeologists discovered the Yinqueshan Han Tomb, including Sun Tzu’s famous military doctrine The Art of War, along with other classics on hand-written bamboo slips. (“The Art of War” is still studied in military academies across the world today.)

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Fading winter sun warms elderly folks reading bulletin boards in People’ Square in Linyi.

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Old beggar distracted by young bum … at the entrance to the underground supermarket and shopping complex beneath People’s Square.

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Babes getting a wash … Facade of a luxury shopping mall facing People’s Square.

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Mother and kid trudge thru the snow at the Square.

Over the past 18 months, Linyi has been my base and was the springboard to a trip in Eastern Europe last summer. But now with 9 weeks to go, I leave Linyi and China, and return to travelling South-East Asia.

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Snowy paths on the park

But this time, I’m not alone on TCT … I’m taking my Chinese GF – Wei, on the road. It will be her first time outside of China. Her first time on a plane. Our first time to travel together …

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Making a snowman, and snowball fights in People’s Square.

(Photography note: all images taken – and mostly processed – on a smartphone: Samsung Note 4).

Travels / Living in China – 2015-16

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