Spring Festival Impressions

The Spring Festival arrived! Having completed the first week of my new job and finally having started to settle into living in Shenzhen, Jun and I wanted to have a quiet and relaxing holiday. I first had to go to Hong Kong to do paperwork for my new job on the first day of the holiday. With the holiday coming up I had to expedite the process to ensure that everything was completed in time.

Day 1

The actual vacation started by crossing the border into Hong Kong at the Futian checkpoint. This border control station was much easier than the other ones I have gone through in Shenzhen. It was fairly efficient and we were in Hong Kong without undue waiting. Once we were in Hong Kong we headed straight to the hotel.

We were ready for the hotel staff to let us check-in but then have to wait for our room to be available in the afternoon. The staff, however, told us that they had a room free and that they were more than happy to let us go up to the room early. That was a nice start to the trip. Jun and I went to the room and dropped our belongings. Then we went towards the office in Kowloon to do the paperwork. That’s where a snag came up. The agents felt unsure if I had all the paperwork I needed, I felt that I did since the document they wanted was one that I had to surrender back to the Chinese government and no longer had. I still felt it was fine and they said they would try—but made no promises. That left a bit of a bitter taste for us: the nagging worry that something could go wrong.

Jun and I tried our best to put it out of our minds. We had made plans to have lunch with one of his friends in Central. So we went straight there and had lunch at an Italian restaurant. The food was good. After lunch, Jun and I said bye to his friend and went exploring around the area. We started by walking around Soho. We stumbled onto the Dr. San Yat-sen Museum, and went in to see what there was to see. Jun was interested in the exhibitions, but I was more interested in the building itself. It’s an Edwardian building that has been beautifully restored. It was a nice example of British colonial architecture.

From there we went down and found a temple: Man Mo. It was a small temple, but it had a unique way of placing its incense burners and prayer lanterns. It was the first temple I’ve seen that did it. It was quite calming to be there.

Afterwards we walked back towards the waterfront. Near Admiralty there’s a park called Tamar that is really neat. There are places to sit on the grass and stare into the water. And dotted throughout the park are some interesting pieces of art. One of the pieces we saw was a sculpture, Soundscape, by Steven Ho Chun Wang, Alvin Kung Yick Ho, and Edmond Wong Chak Yuen. The sculpture is inspired by the design of a xylophone, and the design of the instrument is actually tuned to be able to make the notes of a song.

Afterwards we took the MTR back to our hotel in North Point. We had dinner at a noodle pace before we went back to the room. We rested for a bit before we went to bed.

Day 2

The next day we decided to go to Stanley. Jun hadn’t been there before and Stanley tends to be much quieter than many other parts of Hong Kong. We took a minibus down south. We took the eastern route and passed a reservoir and a park. The reservoir was also an intriguing piece of architecture. It was built out of blocks and not by poured concrete. It was clearly a historic reservoir as it was also not designed for two lanes of traffic. We had to wait for the direction of traffic to shift before we were able to continue to Stanley.

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When we got there we spent the rest of the morning and the afternoon walking around the community. We first went through the market and saw the different stalls there. From there we walked along the promenade and enjoyed the beautiful day. We saw Murray House and Blake Pier and went into the park to see a Pak Tai Temple.

Afterwards we went to visit the Correctional Museum. It was an intriguing place. They had exhibits on the history of cells, corporal punishment (e.g., a replica of how they would hang criminals), and examples of prison created tools, such as homemade tattoo machines and weapons. That latter was interesting after having seen them in movies. From there we walked along the beach and decided to go and get some lunch. When we were done we went for a walk and got some gelato. By then we had to head northward to Kowloon to see if my documents had been processed. We took the bus and got off and took the MTR to Kowloon.

We went to the office and I was relieved to found out that that everything went okay and the documents were processed. So that was one thing that I could cross off my list of things that I needed to do. Once that was done we decided to see a movie. We chose La La Land. We both enjoyed how the intermixing of music with the story worked well and enhanced it. After having an enjoyable time at the movies we wanted to have dinner. That unfortunately ended up being a chore. We had a difficult time finding a place to eat. The placed we wanted to go to didn’t have a free table and a long wait. We ended up eating in a food court with subpar food. Fortunately to make up for that we found a hole-in-the-wall dessert place and had an enjoyable treat there.

That was it for the day and we ended up back in the room.

Day 3

The next day was New Year’s Eve. It was, however, a day of travel for us. We first traveled back to Shenzhen to repack our bags. And then we went straight to the train station to get the overnight train to Shangrao to visit Jun’s family for the holiday in his hometown—Dexing. The only available train Jun could find was the 12 hour overnight train. It’s been quite some time since I last went on such a train and was not looking forward towards it. But we had brought snacks and downloaded several shows to see.

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The train ride wasn’t too bad. They sold a simple meal that we both had. And near Longchuan in Guangdong there were firework that we saw from the train. I was excited about that, Jun was more interested in sleeping and just brushed the fireworks off to the side.

Day 4

We arrived in Shangrao—the largest city near Jun’s hometown—at 5:00 in the morning. His dad met us at the train station and both were happy to see each other. It had been almost two years since they last saw each other. From Shangrao we had about another hour and half car ride to Dexing. On the ride we experienced heavy fog that came and went quickly due to the strong wind. It was surreal and scary since we were traveling through mountain roads.

We finally arrived in Dexing where his stepmom and stepbrother met us. His stepmom made us homemade dumplings and insisted that we go take our showers as she got them ready. Once we were clean and our appetites satiated, Jun took his stepbrother and me on a walk around the river near his dad’s apartment.

Dexing is historically a mining community, as a result this small city is fairly well off when compared to other places in the interior of China.  You can see it in the new government buildings and apartment blocks being built. On the walk we saw old and new bridges, the high school Jun went to, and the main commercial area of the city. It was nice to see where Jun spent a significant amount of his youth.

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We finished our walk and went back to have lunch with his family. Instead of having lunch in the apartment, Jun’s family had their meals in a separate ground floor alcove where they cooked and had their meals. They cooked and ate here so the apartment wouldn’t get dirty. It was cool and fun. We had a nice homemade lunch and drank tea afterwards. Jun and I went back to the apartment to take a nap before we went out to meet one of his friends.

When we did go out Jun was able to take his dad’s scooter. That was fun! We went to the central area and met his friend. We had tea and then went to get our hair cut. That was a relief to have my hair short again. By the time we were done it was almost time to go back for dinner. Before we went back Jun and I drove around for a bit and saw other parts of Dexing.

For dinner Jun’s aunt came over to eat with us. We were going to stay with her since she had an extra room. After dinner we followed her to her apartment and got ready for bed.

Day 5

This day was largely a relaxing day. We woke up late and just piddled around a bit before we went to see Jun’s family for lunch. We had another wonderful meal. Jun’s stepmom then suggested that we go to see Juyuanlou, which is a pagoda at the foothills to the mountains surrounding Dexing. The pagoda was beautiful and had amazing views of the city and the mountains.

From there we then went to the Jiangxi Mining Museum. This museum is housed in traditional-style buildings and tells the story of mining in Jiangxi province. It was interesting to walk around the museum and to see the history of mining in the province.

From there we then went back to see Jun’s family. After having tea, we went for a walk around the river before dinner. And then after dinner we again went around the government area of the city. For a small community they had a significant number of government buildings. Jun was skeptical that there was enough employees and positions to justify all the office space in these new buildings. The buildings did, however, look impressive at night.

When we got back to the apartment we had some more tea before we went back to his aunt’s apartment for the night. This day was very relaxing.

Day 6

On this day we ventured to go to San Qing Mountain National Park. To get there we woke up early and went to pick up Jun’s stepbrother. Then we took a bus to get us most of the way there. We had to stop in a village—Nanshou—near the national park. We had to wait for about an hour for the next bus. I decided to walk around and see the village. A villager stopped me as I was taking a picture and asked me who I was and what I wanted. I had to explain to him in my horrible Chinese that I was a foreigner and didn’t know too much Chinese. He laughed and said, “Hello!” in English. I then met up with Jun and we went around the river near the bridge and saw a bamboo grove. After our walk we went back to the general store where the bus was going to pick us up. After a bit it came and we went to the eastern entrance of the national park.

When we got there we tried to get tickets to go into the park. Due to it being the New Year holiday, however, there were too many people at the park. The staff decided to stop admitting new guests for two hours to control the number of people entering. That’s a good thing to ensure the park is not stressed; for us, however, it frustrated us. As we were walking and thinking about what we could do we were approached by a driver who said he would drive us to the southern entrance where there was less people. After negotiating the price we decided to hire him and go south.

When we got there the car had to stop at the entrance to the road up to the park. We were able to take the free bus up to the entrance. There were indeed hardly anyone at the southern entrance and we were able to buy tickets and go up on the cable car without having to wait in line. As we were going up in the cable car we noticed that we were going up into a cloud.

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It seems that the change in weather overnight had brought a heavy fog that blanketed the park. For the first 30 minutes at the park we were walking in fog and could hardly see anything. What we did see was nice, but our perspective was limited. It actually seemed that we were at ground level and that we hadn’t gone up a mountain. As we were walking on the western path the fog began to clear and we were able to see more of the mountain. As that was happening we were also able to see how high up we were. That knowledge jarred us a bit. It was so high up! The views, though, were amazing.

We continue towards San Qing Temple, which was an old, small temple that was nestled next to one of the mountain peaks.

From there we went along the middle path. There the fog really cleared and we were able to see the sky with the fog below the peaks. The view we had was stunning.

By then we had to head back to the cable car to get back down to the entrance. As we were going down the fog came back and the temperature started to drop. Fortunately we made it to the cable car and went back down. We were hoping that the busses were still running, but by the time we got down there they had stopped. We then decided to find a room for the night and go back in the morning. So after having dinner we went and found a room. It wasn’t the most amazing of places, but it was warm place for the night.

Day 7

The next morning we checked out, had breakfast, and caught the bus to Shangrao. At Shangrao we bought bus tickets to Dexing, but we had to wait an hour before we could leave. We decided to go find a café to get something to drink and wait for the bus. After walking a bit we found a place where we could get tea and waffles. It was bit pricy, but it was at least warm.

Finally we were able to get on the bus and go back to Dexing. When we got there we went and cleaned up at Jun’s aunt’s apartment. Jun had plans to meet up with some of his high school friends. I stayed with his stepmom and stepbrother and did some work.

When he got back we went to meet his family for dinner. This dinner had more people, his uncle, cousins, and a close family friend were there. We had a big and scrumptious dinner! Afterwards Jun and I went for a walk by the river. As we were walking we passed by a cute café where we got some drinks.

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We then went back to his dad’s place before we went away for the night.

Day 8

Our last morning in Dexing was a whirlwind of saying goodbyes and picking up a care package Jun’s stepmom made. They had helped us arrange a shared car to take us to the train station in Shangrao. So we were able to get to the train station with plenty of time to pick up our tickets and leave.

Our holiday was coming to an end. I enjoyed meeting Jun’s family and seeing his hometown. And I know he was thrilled to be able to see his dad. It was a wonderful Spring Festival and a great experience for both of us!

Winter Wonderland

The freezing northeast of China has been on my list of places to go since I first moved to China. A friend of mine who I trained together had mentioned the Ice Festival in Harbin during one of our conversations. I had always wanted to go to an ice festival, but never lived anywhere close to one. Since I now lived in China I had the perfect opportunity to visit one. It just took me three years to get there. Flying to Harbin is a lot more expensive than flying to Southeast Asia from Guangzhou. I made the firm decision this year that no matter the cost I would go and visit Harbin.

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Fortunately I had some time in January to go, and my friend Brianne also had time and a desire to go see the Ice Festival. We decided to go in mid-January and spend the weekend there.

We both flew up on a Friday. We got there late in the afternoon. The first thing I experienced in Harbin was the freezing temperatures there. The next thing I discovered was that night fell early in Harbin. By 5:00 in the afternoon the sun had set. Brianne and I felt that it was much later than it actually was.

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We took a taxi to our hostel and experienced the weird traffic and roads of Harbin. At major intersections in the city they had at least five lanes and a stoplight that went in a circle. It was confusing to say the least to us. Once we got to the hostel and checked in we decided to go explore the area around us.

The exploration proved to be cold. We were cold on the walk and had to walk through a shopping center to warm up a bit. We also went to a hot pot restaurant to help warm up as well. Afterwards we went back to the hostel for the night.

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The next day we woke up and decided to head downtown to see some of the Russian architecture in the city. We first went to see Saint Sophia Cathedral and walk around the square there. Saint Sophia was magnificent and was quite distinctly Russian.

While there we saw one of the candied fruit stands and decided to try it. These candied fruits are all over Harbin and was one of the recommended snacks to have in the city. We both chose the one that had a lot of strawberries and what we thought were blueberries. The strawberries were wonderful and tasty. The blueberries turned out not to be blueberries; we’re still not sure what they were but we both agree they had a strange taste. The candied part was really sweet and hard. It was an experience and the strawberries were good.

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As we were eating the strawberries we went to Zhongyang Pedestrian Street. The street has a large collection of Russian-style architecture. Right now during the Ice Festival there are a lot of related stalls and ice sculptures along the street. It was nice to walk down it. It was also nice to pop into random stores and enjoy the heat in those buildings.

From Zhongyang we went towards the river. The river is frozen over and you can walk on it. I’ve never walked on a frozen river and wanted to try it out. I basically learned the importance of shuffling on it. It was fun and neat, but the wind from the river was so blistering cold that it hurt a bit. Brianne and I decided to go and get something to eat and have a hot drink. We found this neat little café to relax and warm up a bit.

From there we wanted to go to Sun Island where the main parts of the Ice Festival were, but we weren’t sure how to get there. Brianne had seen a bridge that went across the river and thought it might be a good bet. It turned out that this bridge has been converted from a rail bridge into a pedestrian bridge. That was really neat to see. Unfortunately, the bridge bypasses Sun Island and goes all away across the river onto the other side. Brianne and I felt defeated by this and decided that we would figure it out later that night and do it the next day. For the rest of the day we would go and experience the Ice Lantern Art Show.

That was really neat. At night the ice sculptures and structures are beautifully lit. It was an amazing sight and experience. Some of the ice sculptures were really intricate and beautiful. Some were strange and modern. Others were just creepy—like the Alien ice sculpture. I also enjoyed getting to sit on an ice throne. It was such a neat experience.

After having figured out how to get to Sun Island, we went on the bus that went straight there from the metro. Once we got to the island we had to search for both sites for the festival. Eventually following the crowds, using smartphones, and logic we found our way to the Snow Sculpture exposition. That was neat Place. Some of the snow sculptures were really impressive in intricacy and in scale. Some of them were simply enormous. That was a sight to be seen. They even had a building reminiscent of an old Chinese general store.

The last stop of the festival had us going to the Ice and Snow World. This took some ingenuity to find, but we got there and enjoyed it. We were able to experience it during the day and in the early evening. Because of that we saw stark differences between what the ice city looks like as just ice and when it was lit up. Again here the scale of the ice city was huge. Some structures were as tall as mid-rise buildings. There were also many neat ice sculptures here. One of the coolest things there was a planet made up of ice spheres suspended from wire cables. It was such an awesome thing to see.

As it was getting colder we decided to head back to the hostel and have dinner.

The next day we just relaxed at the hostel before we needed to head towards to the airport. It was a fun trip. And I was able to cross off another thing on my list of places to visit!

Yuen Yuen Taoist Temple

At the start of 2017, I wanted one day where I could avoid thinking about all that I needed to do—find a new apartment in Shenzhen, move to Shenzhen, get all the paperwork I need from my last job, fill and collect all the paperwork for my new job, getting ready for my trip to Harbin, planning a vacation for the Spring Festival, writing term papers. There’s a lot that needs to be done, but I needed one day just to do something fun.

As a result Jun and I decided to go to Huadu district in northern Guangzhou and visit a Taoist temple there that I had read about a few months back. It’s an easy trip to get there, but it’s a long trip. Once we got there we decided to have lunch at one of the restaurants nearby. It was a wonderful lunch and we were ready to visit the temple.

15800216_10104575735760660_14100992215409692_oThe temple’s name is Yuen Yuen and it is the central Taoist temple in Guangdong province. It’s a relatively new temple, having only been built in 1998. It’s built on the principles of feng shui and the layout of the complex does create a harmonious environment. Some of the buildings resemble more famous examples of other Chinese buildings, such as how Sangquing Hall in the center of the complex imitates the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

When walking into the temple you start to see how well maintained it is. The gardens are gorgeous, and you can actually see where they work and grow the plants that make up the complex’s gardens.

The first thing you see is Sangquing Hall. It takes center stage, but once you walk behind it you realize that the complex is much bigger than first expected. Behind this first area you walk to a number of halls where people may pray and leave offerings.

From there you are able to go and view the central platform dominated by a statue of Lao Zhi, the founder of Taoism. It’s an amazing site to see in person. From there you can see a large hall that is inaccessible to the public but has a commanding position behind the statue.

As we wandered around the temple complex, I felt more relax and at peace. Jun and I were quite content with our time there. I left feeling recharged and ready for this new year.