A Travellerspoint blog

Winter has come

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

snow 7 °F

Welcome to December. December in Harbin is usually pretty cold. Let's just say we don't expect it go get above freezing for the rest of the year. That's a good thing for Harbin though. If it's too warm it puts their #1 tourist attraction (the annual Ice Festival) at risk. Luckily (?) this year it's plenty cold and we're getting used to it. We both have nice warm coats and boots (thanks, Rebekah!) It's been below zero Fahrenheit (that's like -17C) for the last week or so, so imagine our delight when it warmed back up to just below freezing yesterday and snowed about six inches. They tell me that I'll get sick of the snow half-way through winter, but I'm not sure. It's just so beautiful! Here's a couple of shots of us shopping as the snow was just starting to fall.

Playing on ZhongYangDaJie

Playing on ZhongYangDaJie

Shopping on Main Street in Harbin

Shopping on Main Street in Harbin

And today when we normally have exercises in the yard there was a massive snowball fight!

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But don't worry, it will cool off again soon. The forecast is saying -26F/-32C. I don't know if I even know what that feels like. I know what a wind chill of -20 feels like and it's not pleasant. There's not much wind here, thank God. I don't plan to be out in it for very long. I can't stand the way the breath you take in your nose starts to freeze your nose hairs when it's about 0F.

Posted by Blanchardlawn 01:54 Archived in China Comments (2)

Thanksgiving Dinnner

5 °F

It can be hard to be away from family and friends for the holidays, but we've made some really good friends here as well. We almost skipped Thanksgiving since we don't really have any time to prepare food (we work 6 days a week and are pretty busy on Sunday's too), but somehow we managed to rope off a few hours this week to do a small potluck for our English department. I think the main reason we had to celebrate Thanksgiving was that Teresa had a box of stovetop stuffing and that was excuse enough.

We also had a beautiful salad, something that's so much cheaper to make in China than in Hawaii. Produce here is SO CHEAP! (On a side note, we just made a stir fry for dinner. All of the ingredients came out to $2. And we have leftovers).

But back to Thanksgiving - the menu was salad, Stovetop stuffing, Korean pickled radish, Korean omelette, Yam Yam Chicken, and Chicken & Dumplings that Yun made on the stovetop. We're getting pretty creative with the rice cooker - Yun made a small loaf of bread in it. Hope to have more on that bread cooker craziness in another post.

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Da spread!

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And best of all, Judy brought some amazing hot chocolate. It was so good. I had bought marshmallows a few weeks ago, so paired up and enjoyed.

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Nothing beats hot coco when you're thinking of home.

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And here's a Thanksgiving note from one of the kids. Didn't take too much prompting. Love these kids.

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Posted by Blanchardlawn 05:22 Archived in China Tagged holidays Comments (0)

Competitions Done Right

Arts Festival

semi-overcast 30 °F

It's been over a week since I had a chance to add to the page, but I hope you will agree with me that this entry was worth the wait. A few weeks ago I was asked to go with our school choir to photograph them at the city music competition. They performed really well and made it to the district competition (China has districts similar to US states). So the district competition for all kinds of performing arts, from singing, dancing and drama to (for real now) speeches. I wasn't able to take pictures of our school group because I was also responsible for videoing them, but I was able to take some great shots of the other groups. I think the pictures really say it all. I kept wishing my grandma were there. I think she would have loooooved every single act. Yes, I admit I also loooooved every single act. I tried to upload video of the last performance (the handkerchief dance), but looks like you need the verboten sites in order to do that, so if you're curious, just google Chinese handkerchief dance. Actually, whether you're curious or not, you should just take my word for it and look it up. It just left me blinking my eyes in awe of these kids.

Ok, our students were great too. We did this great rendition of "Circle of Life" and we have some awesome singers, but these other acts...for some, there are just no words to describe. Most of the other schools participating are "art schools" and by art schools I mean the kind that bring us eventual Cirque du Soleil performers. I was just lucky to have been there.

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Posted by Blanchardlawn 04:02 Archived in China Tagged dance Comments (0)

Cormorant Fishing on Erhai

sunny 68 °F
View Kunming on Blanchardlawn's travel map.

After our tour of Dali, we took a boat ride on Erhai, which means Ear Sea (It's a very large lake shaped like an ear). They have regular tour boats with someone to help row (the guide does most of the work, although you're given a few oars for your team).

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This was our guide, a very nice woman from the Bai ethnicity. Their traditional work is fishing and farming in the area.

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And this guy was in the boat next to us--he had a lot of character. He kept yelling at the students. And then he would laugh.

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Our boat also had a 'steerer' who was dressed in the traditional Bai clothing. I think there's something about the long white strings from the hat that symbolize maidenhood. She also sang for us, and to my non-native ears, it sounded a lot like Beijing opera. So, you can see, I'm not a musical person.

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This area is famous for using cormorant birds to assist in the fishing. You may have seen it before on the Travel Channel or National Geographic. They use a small lasso hoop around the birds' necks when they send them out to catch the fish. They're able to grab ahold of fish that are bigger than their heads, but because of the tiny hoop around their neck, they can't swallow it. So they bring it back to the fisherman, drop it in his net and then he trades them a few minnows for the larger lake fish.

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Yun is convinced (and he made a pretty good argument) that the fish are previously caught (who knows what method), but the fisherman keeps a stack in his boat that he throws into the water right before he sends the birds out. Of course, this would make sense since the fish look like they're probably not moving of their own accord. The fisherman did a really good job of swinging the net around to kind of give the fish the look of movement.

After you arrive on the opposite shore, the guides take the fish (that you pay a few kuai for) and fry it up for you. It's a lake fish, so it may have been carp. It was pretty tasty and a really fun experience - definitely worth doing.

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There are also some farms behind the area where they cook the fish for you, so you can watch the farmers working while you eat. It was so beautiful and peaceful. Panorama of the lake:

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After that, we took a trip back towards Kunming, but we stopped at another lake (maybe just another side of Erhai?) and watched the real fishermen catch their fish. They were also selling them fresh off the boat, weighing them carefully in a scale that they carried with them on the boat. But this time, with no one to fry it up for us, we had to leave without tasting the yummy fresh fish.

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Posted by Blanchardlawn 16:52 Archived in China Tagged dali yunan Comments (1)

The Three Pagodas and Chongsheng Temple

Dali, China

70 °F
View Kunming on Blanchardlawn's travel map.

Travelling through Dali was my favorite part of the trip through Yunan. Dali was historically the heart of the Buddhist area in southern China and still has a strong Buddhist community. The main site is the Three Pagodas, but before you get to them, you walk up through the newly rebuilt Chongsheng monasteries.

Here we are with our guide, who (I think) said he was half Han Chinese (the majority ethnic group in all of China) and half Bai, which is the main ethnic group that comes from Dali. He's the one holding the flag. The guy talking into the microphone is translating the Chinese info into Korean.

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All of the monasteries were destroyed by fire, earthquake, and war, but they were restored in the late 90s (finished in 2005). They did a pretty good job restoring the buildings and with the new paint, it's really beautiful, but it does feel like it's missing that 'historicalness' that the pagodas have. But the restoration is really thorough and the colors really draw you in.

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During the height of Buddhist influence, 9 kings abdicated in succession in order to become monks at the temple here. They were each represented by huge painted statues. Because the buildings are still active monasteries, we were asked not to take pictures, but some of the kings were pretty scary looking (wonder what kind of monks they became). Outside of the temples, there were these red and yellow flags. I was looking for some explanation, but the best I could find was that it was part of a 'wish tree' where people lift their wishes up. These ones were pre-printed and available for sale.

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The Three Pagodas were built sometime in the 800s and have survived fires, wars and earthquakes. In fact, the pagoda on the left leans pretty noticeably (but I also used a fisheye lens, so both towers look like they're leaning). Supposedly, they have little or no foundation which makes their survival even more extraordinary. During one Earthquake, one of the Pagodas developed a large crack, but then when the aftershocks hit, the crack healed and the pagoda remains today.

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Dali (and Yunan in general) is celebrated for it's farmland. These images (all but the first one were taken from the moving bus - sorry), really give you a feel for how the ride through Dali went. It was just one incredible landscape after another.

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Posted by Blanchardlawn 04:01 Archived in China Tagged temple three pagodas dali hdr chongsheng Comments (1)

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