Mar­tian Beaches

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text and pho­to­graphs by Aurélien Fou­cault

When my friend Mary first men­tioned the red beaches of Pan­jin, I was skep­ti­cal. A red beach in Liaon­ing sounded a lit­tle un­real. I had seen a red beach on the Greek is­land of San­torini, but its color was caused by vol­canic rock, and I had no idea about such ge­o­log­i­cal ac­tiv­ity in Liaon­ing.

I went on­line and looked for some pic­tures of the beach. My com­puter screen quickly glowed bright red with an avalanche of bright im­ages. The big­gest sur­prise was that it wasn’t ex­actly a beach, shat­ter­ing my vi­sions of hang­ing out in swim­ming suits play­ing vol­ley­ball. The land­scapes are marshes – gi­gan­tic marshes. In fact, they are the big­gest reed marshes in the world.

The pe­cu­liar color isn’t the sand, but a rare plant called the seep­weed (Suaeda salsa). It blooms at the end of April and al­though it is green all sum­mer, it be­comes crim­son by au­tumn. That is when tourists flock to the scene. Com­mon wis­dom dic­tated that the best time to go was Septem­ber, but it was al­ready in mid- Oc­to­ber. Would a visit still be worth it? We de­cided to give it a try.

We set off from Bei­jing on a night train bound for Pan­jin and ar­rived early the next morn­ing. It’s ac­tu­ally ideal to ar­rive in a new city at 5 a.m. You can wit­ness the empty streets slowly fill up and then grab a steamy break­fast as early com­muters rush to work. It’s also best to visit tourist at­trac­tions be­fore seas of peo­ple con­sume them.

Sur­round­ing the train sta­tion were plenty of driv­ers of­fer­ing rides to the beach. Groups of­ten take buses, but shar­ing a car can be just as cheap. We hopped in one and im­me­di­ately headed to Pan­jin’s coun­try­side, which was quite an in­ter­est­ing trip thanks to forests of oil drills. Oil drilling is a big part of Pan­jin’s econ­omy. We reached the scenic area after a short 40-minute drive and were in­stantly daz­zled by its im­men­sity. As our car passed by the end­less hori­zon of reeds, we lis­tened to the chill­ing wind hum through the car win­dows.

The in­stant we opened the doors, a fan­tas­tic feel­ing of free­dom con­sumed us. See­ing the sea with­out a build­ing in sight for miles was ex­hil­a­rat­ing. Silently, we walked over the bridges above the marshes, over­whelmed by the vi­brant col­ors of the seep­weed. Likely due to our late ar­rival, the color was al­ready more pur­ple than red. It was still a beau­ti­ful day and the sun was bright, but the north­east­ern wind can al­ways find a way into your clothes if you for­get to bring a good jacket.

The beach is com­posed of sev­eral scenic spots, all well main­tained and or-

ga­nized. Each one fea­tures some el­e­vated plat­form to al­low vis­i­tors to leave the main road and walk above the marshes with­out get­ting wet. The sea it­self is hard to see as it dis­ap­pears into the hori­zon. Small streams criss­cross the wet­lands like ser­pents.

Be­low the blue of the sky and op­po­site the red of the sea, we no­ticed a large stroke of yel­low in the dis­tance. The road served as a line sep­a­rat­ing mas­sive yel­low rice fields from the pur­ple coastal marshes. Walk­ing through the fields un­der the glow­ing sun cre­ates a to­tally dif­fer­ent at­mos­phere rem­i­nis­cent of pre-dust-bowl Ok­la­homa fields, with short grain rice in­stead of corn. Pan­jin’s rice is quite fa­mous and highly sought after for its taste.

After the long morn­ing was spent tak­ing in all the beauty of the red beach, we headed back to the city for lunch and tried another lo­cal spe­cialty, the mit­ten crabs of Pan­jin. We got back to Bei­jing the same night – I highly rec­om­mend a trip to Pan­jin for a week­end au­tumn get­away.

Ad­ven­tur­ous tourists wan­der through the muddy marshes.

Small streams run through the marshes.

El­e­vated plat­forms en­able vis­i­tors to ex­plore the red beach.

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