Harbin – a Place of Snow & Trains

Harbin is the capital City of China’s Heilongjiang Province, in the North East of this vast country.

In China it is a medium size city.

It has a population of about 6 million people.

If I’m not mistaken, that’s almost three times the size of a South African city like Johannesburg.

It is famous for its annual Snow & Ice Festival and its Russian Architecture.

The city has its origin in China rubbing shoulders with Russia in the 1890’s, as Russia was building their Trans-Siberian Rail-line.

In 1907 the city had almost 600 000 residents of whom nearly 65% were foreigners.

As we walk the city’s streets, we stumble upon an old (but still active) Turkish Mosque, a beautiful Jewish Hall with red tiles on her walls and a Jewish Hospital, built in the early 1900’s.

The center-piece of the city, St Sophia’s Cathedral.

Our Tribe had the opportunity to spend seven days here, during China’s Spring Festival.

This is a busy time in China, people traveling all over the place to get home & spend time with family, much like Christmas time in South Africa, or what I imagine Thanksgiving to be in America.

We booked our tickets early, boarded the train from Jiamusi to Harbin at about nine one evening and arrived in Harbin the the early hours of the next day.

In China trains serve in 3 classes: seats, hard-sleeper or soft-sleeper.  We took hard-sleeper tickets, which is pretty comfortable and very affordable, if you don’t mind a lack of privacy for a few hours.

The trains are clean and run perfectly on time.

Arriving in a foreign city, where you can communicate with people is one thing, arriving in a city where you cannot speak the language or read any of it, is quite another.

We showed a taxi driver our hotel’s address and, at his grace for lack of linguistic ability and because of eagerness to get our Tribe to our hotel, paid the exorbitant fee he charged for the short drive.

In Harbin, as in most Chinese Cities, Taxis are numerous and Taxi Drivers are a special kind of people, optimizing their profits whenever they see a foreigner, who they know cannot possibly be too picky.

Our Hotel is comfortable.

On the 26th floor of a large new building in the heart of the city.

We’re surrounded by International Brands trying hard to catch the hearts of the Chinese Market.

St Sophia’s Cathedral is a 5 minute walk away, Zoalin Park, where a large display of Snow & Ice Sculptures awiat, is just down the street & Central Street, a beautifully preserved shopping street with cobbled road and old Russian Buildings, is just around the corner.

It is Spring in Harbin, but it is still cold and snowy.  Temperatures hovering around -16ºC.

For which we are grateful, since we are excited to see the massive two and three storey Snow and Ice Sculptures, which would’ve melted, had it been any warmer.

Quickly we familiarize ourselves with the public transport system of the city, which includes busses and subway trains, hoping to save ourselves from the entrepreneurial spirit of the taxi drivers.

We take the bus to the Golden Dragon Tower, Asia’s highest steel structure (higher than Paris’ Eifel Tower).  We walk the glass floor, see the 3D museum, view the city from up high.

The views are amazing.  The experience, something we never dreamed we would enjoy.

The feelings of vertigo cancelled by the exquisiteness of experiencing something together – something not described in Western Travel brochures or written about in travel magazines.

From the Tower we walk the precinct. We visit the most amazing City Library.  It is open 24 hours of every day.  It has elevators, bookshops, a food-court and is a hive of activity.

Then we discover an old Russian Palace with regal decoration and massive fish-tanks.  As we walk this monarchical remembrance we can hear old kings making plans and deals, as they build the world’s longest railway line across country borders.

The bus ride costs 1¥.

Public transport is cheap in China and with the help of Google-maps we know which bus to take and where to catch it.  Just make sure you get a good VPN, before you come to China, as Google is blocked and without a VPN you won’t be able to access any of the information.

Beate has an iPhone.  The maps on it isn’t blocked by the great firewall, but it lacks the public transport information offered by Google Maps.  Maybe iPhone users don’t ride the bus or subway?

We lunch at a little noodle shop, rest for a while in our comfortable rooms and reconvene in the late afternoon, hungry to experience as much of this city, as we can, in the seven days we have.

With the sun setting we walk around the corner to Central Street.

There are amazing sculptures everywhere.

Beate, our fellow-traveler who has lived in Germany, The Netherlands,  the UK and United States, comments that the street makes her feel as if she is walking in an old European City, hidden away from time.

The old fashioned Russian music playing in the background, adding to the atmosphere.

We take her word for it.

It is definitely not the China most people imagine.

The feel of the city, its atmosphere is tantelizing.

The mixture of culture and memory energizing.

We look for a hidden away local restaurant to have dinner.  We are hungry, after a day’s experiences.

We find the perfect spot, which we revisit a few times during our stay in Harbin.

It is unpretentious.   The food is amazing.  The proprietors friendly.  It is everything we hope, as we walk new roads.

I take a quick respite from our stay in Harbin to fetch our son from Beijing.  He’d been visiting family back home, enjoying Africa’s Summer.  I take the fast-train from Harbin West Station to Beijing.  The train travels at 200 km/h, reducing the trip to 8 hours travel time.

The train station has the feel of an International Airport.  Large.  Clean.  Well organized, with lots of international brands offered in all the different shops.

Late that evening we fly back from Beijing to Harbin.  A two and a half hour flight.

If you decide to travel to Harbin, you’ll probably fly into Beijing.  Taking a flight is easy.  Domestic Departures are close to International Arrivals and the Airport offers a free shuttle to the apropriate terminal.

If you want to take the fast train, that is easy enough too, and it costs about a third of what a plane ticket would put you back, with the bonus of seeing something of the Chinese Countryside along the way.  To catch the train, you need to get to Beijing Station.  You could take a shuttle for about 200¥, or you could take the subway, which is very easy to navigate and will cost only 28¥, including the first leg of your trip on the special Airport Express.

In Harbin you should set at least an afternoon aside to spend at St Sophia’s Cathedral.

The Cathedral survived the cultural revolution and is now a museum with loads of pictures depicting this city’s rich history.

We are fascinated.

Not only by the pictures, but also by how much of this old Orthodox Cathedral remains and how the Chinese government embraces every inch of the country’s history, giving honor to the people who built the city with effort and innovation.

In 1900 Harbin was a modern city with electric streetcars, electricity and the amenities you would find in London and New York.

The Cathedral always at the heart of activity.

Sun Island is where the major action is, if you want to see the magnificent snow & ice sculptures.

You can take a bus there.  Or a taxi.  Or you could take a cable-car from Swan Castle, across the river to the Island.

That’s what we do.

For Maddi it is her first time in a cable car.

The rest of the Tribe had been to Table Mountain, for all of us it is our first cable-car ride in China.

We share a car with a family from Shanghai.

People from all over China come to Harbin to enjoy the experience it has to offer.

Once on Sun Island, it is difficult to eecide where to start exploring.

The Island isn’t just host to the Snow & Ice Festival.

We start our day at the Russian Village, recreated from original Timber Buildings which used to be in the city.

It is a bit like a museum-village, with Russians in most structures.  One a bakery, the other a home, another a bar or a doctor’s office, a school house and in every building old furniture from the period.

Then there is Polarland.

An amazing Aquarium with fantastical shows of Sea Lion & Beluga Whales.

We see Polar Bears, Penguin, Otters, beautifully created and maintained polar fish displays.

We spend an entire afternoon watching shows and fish and whales, feeding animals and experiencing something stunning.

I love the Beluga Whale show with two Beluga Whales and divers.

It is different from the stuff you see at other aquariums.

Here spectators stand next to a massive wall of glass & the whales perform, alongside their trainers in diving gear, under water.

It leaves you breathless.

Maddi loved the Sea Lion Show.

All shows are bilingual.

Russian and Chinese.

The crowds are massive.

The experience well worth the cost of the tickets, which includes everything, except refreshments.

In Zoalin Park we had our first taste of Ice Sculptures.

Everything from cars to surfers and mermaids.

On Sun Island the scale is massive.

Most sculptures being two or three storeys high.

You should do Zoalin Park one evening, but if you didn’t see the Snow & Ice Sculptures on Sun Island, you did not see what this festival is about.

Seven days is a good time to spend in Harbin.

You need time to walk the streets.

At least, that’s how we enjoy a city.

All over the place there are amazing monuments and statues.

Exquisite, tree-lined  pedestrian streets.

Restaurants with tasty food.

We ride the city’s new and modern subway.

Not just to get around, but also as we make our way back to the train station, on our last day, as we head back to Jiamusi.

For a city with 6 million people, we are surprised to find it uncongested, spacious and clean.

Running on time, costing only 2¥.

We tried to visit Harbin’s Amusement Park, but that will have to be a Summer trip.

In the North of China, it seems, Amusement Parks close down for the winter.

It’ll be worth coming back, even if only to ride the Big Wheel Carousel,  which is bigger than London Eye.

And to get some more ground coffee, butter and cheese, which is readily available here, but not so easily obtainable in Jiamusi.

Maybe you’ll never make it to this part of the world?

For us it was good to see and taste a world which flourished with international cooperation,  while our own world was at war with Britain,  struggling to hang on to something which, perhaps, should never have been, or at least should not have been the place of death and injustice it became as it was fed by colonial hunger.

I imagine the Russians had a similar colonial incentive, building their railway?

How different, however, it came to be, as people greeted each other & worked together, to create something.

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Tangyuan, Heilongjiang, Northeastern China

Our Tribe loves traveling together.

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Sometimes it is impossible & we travel vicariously through each others’ experiences.

When Xia Yin invited us to join her family for a day trip to Tangyuan,  I knew I won’t be able to join in, but encouraged Zuko & the girls to enjoy the day.

They left at 07h00 from Jiamusi.

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Tangyuan is just 50 kilometres away.

You can get there by car, bus or train.

Jiamusi is surrounded by beautiful, exquisite towns, filled with beautiful exquisite people & hugged by stunning parks, mountains & forests.

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By 08h30 they arrived in Tangyuan.

At the temple.

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For Zuko’s travel companions this was an important day.

There are many temples all over China, but this one is special.  It is buzzing with activity.  Monks spending months at a time here, studying, meditating, praying.

Our friends pray.

Zuko & the girls taste the holy space.

A monk befriends Maddi.

Gives her a hug & green stone bracelet.

Inside this space they do not take pictures, respecting the sanctity of the moment.

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From the temple they take a tractor train to the forest.

Beautiful Asian trees & wooden decks greet them.

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They play games.

They love games.

They share a meal.

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They talk.

Mostly with smiles & gentle touching, for language is limited.

They nap & relax on the hangmats.

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Take a walk into the mountain.

Listen to the sound of the wind rustling through leaves.

Then the return by tractor-train to the temple & from there they head out back towards Jiamusi.

On the way, they stop for dinner along the Shongua River.

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Barbeque meat on sticks are very popular.

Corn is picked in the fields right next to the restaurant.

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They play some more.

Eat some more beautiful food.

And then the day is gone.

And as they tell their story, we resolve, in October, when I have a few days, they’ll take me there too & maybe we’ll follow the track of the train, disembarking wherever it stops, spending a day, to embark again, to see another little town, meet more beautiful people, taste a different China.

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Fuyuan, Heilongjiang, Northeastern China

We left Jiamusi City early on Tuesday morning, eager to experience this 3-day trip to China’s most Northeastern border.

We were heading to Fuyuan, the place where the sun brushes China first, every day.

It is a place of history.

A place of conflict.

Like most border-towns, a place where cultures spill into each other.

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We looked forward to visiting Dong Ji Square, Black Bear Island, the world’s largest Wetland & walk the streets of an old Chinese City influenced by Eastern European ways.

We took a Coach, so that we could stop along the way & see where the Yellow Dragon River & Black Dragon River meet.

And visit the birth place of the world’s first Eskimos.

If you come to Fuyuan via Beijing you should fly.

It is remote.

In a corner of the world known to few.

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The Coach was comfortable & air-conditioned.

There is also a train to Fuyuan.

Until 1998 the city was cut off from the rest of China.

The railway only reaching the city in the Autumn of that year.

The airport quite recently completed.

A deep water harbour being built.

It was a place where outcasts were sent.

Siberia.

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Iced for the greatest part of the year with temperatures dropping below -40ºC for almost 7 months of each year, Spring & Autumn bringing good weather with temperatures rising to zero & a short summer creating the opportunity to grow food & stock up for winter.

If you visit Fuyuan,  you should come in summer – July & August.

By September temperatures drop again & by October it becomes unbearable, unless you are equiped with Alaskan-gear.

Han Mei, one of our travel companions tell us her story along the way.

She came to Fuyuan when she was six years old.

She came from wealth.

The Han-family prominent & influential.

Her father an artist.

A leader.

An influencer.

In 1965, as it always does, things changed, in China & in the life of the Han-family.

Where her father’s influence brought them privilege,  suddenly it did not.

They were ‘redeployed’.

To Fuyuan.

Not to be a teacher of art or leader, but to be a laborer.

Carrying building material down the mountain to the River harbor, from early morning to sunset & beyond.

Her life changed.

Suddenly expected, as six year old, to go into the mountains to fetch wood for the fire that would keep them warm as temperatures drop too low to measure.

Can you imagine that?

A six year old, walking axe in hand, through deep frozen snow, into wild mountains.

Her only company a 10 year old brother & a few other brave children.

To come home, bring life to a dwindling fire & start cooking dinner.

Not from pre-packed shop stuffs.

A chicken to be caught & killed & skinned.

Rice to be cooked.

Flour to be kneeded into bread.

To sleep & do it all again, tomorrow.

And the next day.

In 1976 change came again.

Her father never restored, but at least his artistic talents not squandered anymore.

And as an 18 year old, having excelled at school, despite life’s demands, she is off to University.

To become a nurse.

Later to study in the USA, during the early 90’s.

To become Professor of nursing management at one of China’s biggest Medical Schools & Director of an International Language School.

Her father now 80.

His battered body showing the scars of more than a decade’s hard labor, his heart the scars of life’s rhythm of loss & gain & loss again, always bringing new life, new experiences, new gain to be lost again.

A story isn’t told in a moment.

Our travel companion sharing it with us as we visit different sights, share meals & walk along ancient paths.

On day one we stop for a moment at the place where the eskimos of old were born, a little village with a little musuem and less than 5000 people.

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They are the Hezheh-people of China.

One of the 56 peoples who form this nation.

Now protected & their lifestyle of hunting & fishing supported by their government.

We also stop at the place of three rivers, where the Yellow Dragon and Black Dragon Rivers flow into on big Heilongjiang River.

It is late afternoon when we arrive in Fuyuan.

The Eastern European influence very visible in the buildings, the food & signage.

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Everything is bilingual.

Chinese & Russian.

Caviar is on the menu.

And Salmon.

Beer is deep rich Russian-style beer.

Pagodas are relieved by domed roofs.

Day two takes us to Dong Ji Square with its 40 meter high Sculpture.

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Until 2008 Black Bear Island was taken by the Russians.

Then half was given back to China.

Now Dong Ji Square comemorates peace & positive relationships.

Nearby Usu Town, the smallest village in China, with a single road & a single family, remembers a different time of conflict, the commemorative wall remembering the conflict of 1929, the battle, the lives lost.

We visit there too.

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And we visit the largest Wetland in Northeast Asia.

This world has 56 ponds & 700 lakes.

It is a paradise for birds & water plants.

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Many protected species & most only found here, in this little corner where China & Russia rub shoulders, sometimes even embracing each other.

Across the river is Russia’s smallest Village.

With its own history.

Its own story to tell.

Perhaps another story.

As in life.

A story of loss & gain & loss again, as seasons give way to the resilient rhythm of high tide & low tide, of abundance & poverty.

The Treasure Tower is our last stop for the day.

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Reaching high into the sky, surrounded by 56 pillars,  symbolizing the 56 peoples who are China.

A new structure with carved stone & a deep spiritual feel.

A sign.

Even here, far away, people recognizing that treasure is gift received, never earned, for a moment to be grateful for, no matter how uncertain your connection with the Divine.

We enjoy a late lunch.

Fish.

Prawns.

Sweet & Sour Pork.

Pork leg.

Green Beans & shank of goat.

Soft white bread & sweet tea.

Then we walk  the streets of Fuyuan in the golden rays of another precious Summer’s afternoon.

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Traders approach us in Russian, believing we are just another group of Russians who came to Fuyuan to buy special goods at low rates.

But we are not.

Our journey is of another kind.

We came to become more.

We feel our beings expand, a cool breeze rustling through our leaves, from off the smooth cool surface of the Ussuri River as it flows towards the Japanese Sea.

Day three starts with another beautiful breakfast.

Then we head to the Fish Museum.

A 800 sq meter Pavilion featuring this world’s ancient Sturgeon.

The largest freshwater fish to be found anywhere.

It is called the living fossil of the Ussuri & Heilongjiang, believed to be 130 million years old.

It is carnivorous.

It grows 8 metres long & can weigh up to 1000kg.

It matures at 17 and can become 100 years old.

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Some Sturgeon, born during Chin’s Cultural Revolution, still swimming the waters of these dragon rivers, spawning off-spring, providing Caviar to those who can afford it.

Then we drive up to the mountain.

Walk in the forest.

Take lunch, before we grab our luggage at the hotel & head back to Jiamusi City.

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As we drive past kilometres and kilometres of rice paddies,  sometimes broken by fields of corn, I think of what we’ve seen.

A place where even the street lamps are works of art, whith a welcome gate which reminds of the Arc d’Triomf & people whove known what life truly is.

I think of my own Tribe of Vagabonds.

And I am grateful.

For we see from another perspective.

And we become.

Every day.

As we taste & share & experience.

Our own vagabond-culture taking shape in new ways, as we see a golden thread amongst all people, expressed in different ways, along the way.

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Shuangyashan, Heilongjiang, Northern China

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It has been a while since we let you know of the Adventures of the Traveling Tribe.

We are from Nelson Mandela Bay, in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

We live in Jiamusi, in Siberian China.

Tasting a different Far-Far East.

Recently we traveled to Shuangyashan & discovered beautiful people & stunning places.

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It was early morning when we left for Jiamusi’ s train station.

Train travel is inexpensive, here. We paid 8Y per ticket, for the 2 hour ride which would take us to Shuangyashan.

This was a first for us.

Taking the train in China.

We were a bit nervous of crowds & finding the right train on the right platform.

It remains quite a thing that we cannot read Chinese.  Try to find your way & use public transport without being able to read anything!  Or even ask for help.  After 4 months in China we can say ‘hello’ & ask ‘how are you’ in Chinese.  We can ask you about your day or how yoir family is & we can even respond in perfect Chinese, should you be so kind as to enquire.  We can bargain for better prices, understanding numbers & we’ve become proficient in gestures, but none of that helps you if you have to catch a train from a station with many platforms.

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We did it though.

We arrived at the station just after 4 and at about 5 we were on our way.

With the help of very friendly staff who saw that these foreigners might just end-up in Harbin or Beijing, if left to their own devices.

The train was clean & comfortable.  The views of rural China, exquisite.

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We saw the most beautiful sunrise over farmland.

Little villages all along the line.

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Ting-Ting & her husband met us in Shuangyashan.

I remain constantly overwhelmed by the warmth & kindness of the people we meet here in the far north east of this massive country.

We’ve never met Ting-Ting or her husband Tang.

They are friends of friends we’ve made in Jiamusi, yet they’ve cleared their schedules for 3 days, in order to take us around & show us their bit of world.

After 3 days, they are friends.

I love seeing peoples’ worlds.

By Chinese standards, Shuangyashan is a small town, home to perhaps 500 000 people.

Here China & Russia rubs shoulders, daily busses bringing Russians to the city for shopping on a short 2 hour ride.

Everywhere, everything is marked in Chinese & Russian.

And everybody asumes we are ‘Ruskies’.

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We arrive in Shuangyashan,  just after 7.

We share breakfast, my first experience of Chinese porridge,  which is very different from the porridge we know.  It is more like a soup, with rice & vegetables & meat.  With it we have dumplings, fantastic bread, for which this part of China is famous & some fish as well.

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Then we head out into the countryside.

Our first stop is a reservoir which feeds the farming community & city.

They say Chairman Mao once swam here.

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It is beautiful & we end up being cajoled into joining a group of locals playing old fashioned games.

Zuko & I enter the three-legged race & to everyone’s delight we win by a wide margin.

I thank the crowd, in my best Chinese, for their kindness, saying we are happy to be here & share their joy, before receiving our prize.

Pictures are taken.

Friendly conversations are had.  Conversations of which we understand nothing more than they are friendly & kind & inquisitive.

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Then we head for the forest, where we will have a picnic lunch.

Along the way we stop at a village of small farmers, bee-keepers & foresters.

It blows us away.

The beauty.

The care taken in creating a home for people of little means & less influence.

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We take a rest & then we head into the forest itself, walking up a small hill, along a well kept boardwalk, to a beautiful pagoda, from where we can see amazing vistas.

We eat.

We rest.

We talk.

Ting-Ting speaks good English & she is keen to practice.

Out here in the north there isn’t much opportunity to speak English.

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After lunch we make our way to a Temple.

The forest has a temple as well, but we drive past it, Tang hoping to show us the bigger temple of the goddess of a thousand hands.

He tells us she is the goddess of grace.

In each hand she holds something she would like to give.

In kindness.

To the people.

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As we walk through the temple, Tang explains every alcove & place of offering.

People are praying.

For health.

For wealth.

For good fortune.

At the top of the Temple Complex we see the Bhuda.

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I am amazed at the lengths our kind go too, in order to feel connected to our Origin.

Reminded that all of us long to know our Creator.

To feel sheltered by our Source.

From the Temple we make our way to Tang’s family home.

This is special.

It is reserved for very special people to be invited to the family home.

Tang’s family are farmers.

They live in a little compound, among many more little compounds, from where they farm communal land, alongside others.

We make dumplings together.

Tang’s Aunt preparing dinner since early afternoon.

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Then dinner is served.

Dinner, in China starts early.

No later than five-thirty.

And it is a slow, relaxed affair,  with many toasts & easy conversation.

The table is heavy with scrumptious food.

Ting-Ting translates for us, so we can connect with their family.

Tang’s uncle declares that we are now close friends, for it is only close friends who’ve been to their home.

We express gratitude & complement Tang’s Aunt on delectable fair.

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We eat outside, the cool Spring breeze contributing to the warmth of our experience.

We are reminded of what it is which is important.

Not oppulance or accumelated riches, locked away wealth, but hospitality & generosity,  kindness & love.

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By seven-thirty we retire to our hotel.

It has been a long first day in Shuangyashan.

Tomorrow we’ll head to Tsi Fung Mountain, climbing the highest peak in Heilongjiang Province.

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Tang & Ting-Ting meet us at the hotel, just after eight.

We grab a quick breakfast & then we drive out to the mountain.

It is about a 30 minute drive & on our own we would not have found it.

We see a city being rebuilt & modernized.  Along the way I count 17 high rise cranes.  One building site has 9 multi-story towers, reaching 30 floors into the clouds.

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The walk up the mountain is easy enough.

The conservation area extremely clean & well kept despite the number of people who visit this area every day.

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We spend the day here.

It takes us about 2 hours to walk to the top where we rest, before coming down again.

Along the way people greet & try to talk.

They tell us how beautiful Maddi is & every few steps we stop for pictures with people we’ve never met.

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At the top of the mountain we rest.

Then we climb along a treacherous chain to the very top, from where you can see almost the whole province.

It is magnificent.

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It is stunning how doing things together, how sharing an experience, brings people together, binds our souls.

Our friendship with Ting-Ting & Tang & their family growing deeper with every step we share up the mountain.

On the way back to the hotel everyone is quiet.

Tired.

In a good way.

We share dinner at a beautiful restaurant.

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Barbeque style.

In a private room.

You’ll love the restaurants in China.

They’re places where you have time.

And intimacy.

Most of them have private rooms with a dedicated waitress & tonight they grill our food at our table.

Restaurants aren’t expensive.

The 12 of us have a stunning meal for 350Y.

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After dinner we find a spot with ice-cream for the kids, coffee for Zuko & whiskey for me, with some live music added to the mix.

It is the perfect end to a wonderful day.

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Our third day in Shuangyashan starts with another scrumptious breakfast.

We do a bit of a breakfast crawl.

First we find coffee, which is special, since coffee is not  normal in this part of China.

Then we find breakfast.

Then we head to the Park.

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We spend an entire day taking amusement park rides & eating amusement park food.

We laugh.

We are silly.

We eat copious amounts of snacks.

We see animals.

Lovely people.

We ride bumper cars & boats & roller coasters.

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It is late afternoon when we head to the train station.

Late evening when we arrive in Jiamusi.

We don’t know if you’ll ever be in this part of the Far East, but if you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity, it is a place where you will find beauty beyond reason.

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Addo To Karoo: Day 5

Addo To Karoo is a 5 day series written by Lize-Mari Arthur as she explores our South African National Parks from Nelson Mandela Bay through to Beaufort Wes.

Another sunrise morning…

On our last day of exploring the SAN Parks in our region, we got up early to go for a guided walk through some of the park. Jan guided us up one of the “koppies” close to main camp as we enjoyed a 2 hour hike learning more about the plant life and nature of Karoo National Park. It was refreshing to start the day off so close to nature and to realise how privileged we are to be having this experience.

Jan Sun 2                                                                           Jan guiding us over the ‘Karoo koppie’                                                                                     

After our walk we quickly cleaned up and said goodbye to some of our fellow travellers before we popped in to the curio shop to see what they’ve got to offer. We couldn’t go back home after such an experience with nothing to share with our loved ones from the area. They little shop is called ‘Sout en Peper’ and they have some gorgeous items to display in your home, to eat and to cook with. This is the place where the local ladies will take their crafts to be sold. They even have cards that are made by a home of restoration for women and children as a means of fund-raising. Definitely a place to support if you want to help make a difference in the community.

With our gifts ready and packed we picked up our breakfast to go and hit the long road back home.

This is a trip I will always remember fondly.

Follow the series from Day 1

Lize-Mari Arthur is the Lifestyle Presenter at Kingfisher FM and is a lover of  food, good books and healthy wholesome entertainment. She enjoys new experiences in life and going on adventures. You can find her on her blog where she does weekly updates on some of the content on her show.

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Addo To Karoo: Day 4

Addo To Karoo is a 5 day series written by Lize-Mari Arthur as she explores our South African National Parks from Nelson Mandela Bay through to Beaufort Wes.

Exploring Graaf Reinet…

We started off with a healthy breakfast at the Coldstream restaurant (my new favourite place in Graaf Reinet) and realised that even though we planned on heading back to the Valley of Desolation for some early morning shots, it wasn’t going to realise due to the peaks being to cloudy. Instead we opted for some sightseeing through the beautiful old town before we headed towards Beaufort Wes.

Hitting the road to Karoo…

Karoo Landscape

Beautiful Karoo landscape

The road to Karoo National Park is quite a straight, flat and boring one, but as soon as you get closer to the park you see the beautiful “Karoo Koppies” and it makes for a stunning landscape. After a short drive through the park and seeing some of the animals, we headed to the main camp for a picnic lunch at the pool. Yes, it was a scorcher of a day and the relaxing water was just what we needed after being cooped up in the car.

Swimming Pool

Refreshing swim in the pool that’s about twice the size of what you see here.                     

We spent the afternoon settling into our units and catching up on some work. Some of us went to have a look at the interpretative centre and fossil trail, which is a beautiful walk alongside various displays of fossils and plants, telling the story of each. 

Karoo Acc

Self-catering units                  

Our units were beautiful old farm style homes with a kitchen and dining room in the centre and a bedroom with a double and single bed as well as a bathroom on each side. So you can comfortably have more than one family in one unit. they are very well equipped with all you need and for you to live quite comfortably for as long as possible.

Karoo Single Bed

Small part of the comfortable room I slept in       

Before our scheduled night game drive, we quickly had some supper at the restaurant and boy oh boy was it tasty. Lots of fresh Karoo lamb dishes on the menu to choose from and who can complain when you get to eat it with such a picturesque view in front of you.

Karoo Restaurant

Stunning view from the restaurant.          

We were excited to go on our night-drive and to see the animal world after sun-set. It was so peaceful and you almost felt like you were intruding in their sacred time away from people. We saw a couple of zebra’s as well as a variety of antelope.Unfortunately no lions were around for us to experience, but the drive was still worth it. I realised how well-trained our guides eyes are when he will point out an animal that’s so far away you can’t even see it with the naked eye and have to try to find it with binoculars. Amazing and an awesome way to wrap up our last night road tripping through the South African National Parks.

Normal Zebra

Burchell’s Zebra                            

Follow the series from Day 1 or continue and see what happened on Day 5

Lize-Mari Arthur is the Lifestyle Presenter at Kingfisher FM and is a lover of  food, good books and healthy wholesome entertainment. She enjoys new experiences in life and going on adventures. You can find her on her blog where she does weekly updates on some of the content on her show.

Categories: 10 Day Trips, information, Weekend Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Addo To Karoo: Day 3

Addo To Karoo is a 5 day series written by Lize-Mari Arthur as she explores our South African National Parks from Nelson Mandela Bay through to Beaufort Wes.

Cheetah Tracking…

The day started off with excitement as we packed our bags ready for the adventure of tracking a wild cheetah in the park. Once again Charl joined us as we headed out with our breakfast packs stuffed to keep our tummies from rumbling and scaring off the cheetah.

Charl Tracking                                                                                    Charl busy tracking the cheetah.     

Tracking the cheetah can take anything from 1 to 5 hours, depending on your luck and time. The cheetahs have necklaces around them which transmits a signal to the tracker device, letting the rangers know in which direction they might find them. Some will be closer, some further away and some will be more relaxed with humans, others not. We opted to go for a female that’s quite relaxed and whose signal seemed to be the strongest. Now the luck plays it’s part as you only have so much road to follow until you have to hike your way through the  mountains, valleys and animals to get to the cheetah you are tracking.

Unfortunately for us, our cheetah decided to move around quite a bit, so every time we thought we knew where she was going, her signal got fainter and we had to walk further. We ended up hiking for just over an hour through the slopes as we were trying to find her. We were getting quite despondent when all of a sudden, she was right in front of us. One moment we just saw trees and grass all around and the next moment she sat upright and we could only stare in wonder.

Spot the Cheetah                                                           Cheetah appearing underneath the tree.                            

We walked closer until we were about 5 metres away from her, having the privilege of taking photo’s and enjoying her graceful beauty. Such an awesome experience to have with a wild animal.

Cheetah                                                                             Cheetah up close                          

On the way back did we become more aware of the fact that there are many dangers in the park and with the purpose of finding the cheetah gone, we were more focussed on making sure there aren’t any rhino or lions around.

Arrive at Camdeboo…

Next we packed our bags and hit the road to Camdeboo National Park which is situated just outside Graaf Reinet. if I can summarize this park in one word it would be tranquillity. It’s a stunning environment situated around a massive lake with lots of birds to keep you busy if you are into bird watching. There are many walking trails and it’s so close to Graaf Reinet that you can’t help but include sightseeing in this beautiful old town as a part of your experience.

Dark trees                                                                    Tranquil beauty of Camdeboo  

The experience at Camdeboo is very earthy, yet comfortable. The main office reminds you of an old farm-house, you don’t feel like you are entering into a national park. We stayed in the Lakeview Tented Camps, had communal bathrooms and cooking areas. Yet you see the care that’s taken in the little things like a mirror and natural mosquito spray in your tent. I had one of my best sleeps in this bed, with bedding that is fresh and warm and no sunlight making its way into the tent in the morning.

Lake Side Tented Inside                                                                                                      Cosy bed                                                                                      

Lakeside Tented Camps                                                                    Lakeview tented Camps                                 

There are 4 tented camps around this spot and we shared communal areas such as the showers which had a very rustic feel to them, yet when you get inside you are surrounded by beautiful curtains that makes you feel like you’re in a luxuriously exotic location. There are also proper cooking spots and a braai area set up in the centre of the camp for all guests to enjoy individually or as a group. I found this to be a great spot for some team building or a big group break-away.

Camseboo Showers                                                                            Outside showers  

Camdeboo Fire Place

Braai area                                  

Valley of Desolation…

That evening we went into town and collected our pre-ordered platter from the Coldstream restaurant in Graaf Reinet and headed out to the Valley of Desolation for a sun-set picnic overlooking the valleys. This is a stunning spot to spend some time and just soak in the magnificence of creation, you can’t help but stand in awe of such a sight. No photo can do it justice.

Valley of Desolation Eve                                                                                             Valley of Desolation                                                                                   

Picnic Set up Valley of Desolation                                                       Coldstream picnic at Valley of Desolation                          

Follow the series from Day 1 or continue and see what happened on Day 4

Lize-Mari Arthur is the Lifestyle Presenter at Kingfisher FM and is a lover of  food, good books and healthy wholesome entertainment. She enjoys new experiences in life and going on adventures. You can find her on her blog where she does weekly updates on some of the content on her show.

Categories: 10 Day Trips, information, Weekend Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Addo To Karoo: Day 2

Addo To Karoo is a 5 day series written by Lize-Mari Arthur as she explores our South African National Parks from Nelson Mandela Bay through to Beaufort Wes.

Sunrise…

Staying in the tented camps at the Spekboom Tented Camps meant that we had the privileged of waking up to a beautiful sunrise peeking through the bushes. Some of us decided to get up and go for a self drive through the park and others headed down to the Hide and watch the animals that arrived for an early morning drink. After all our things were packed and gathered, we headed out to breakfast at the main camp restaurant to fill our bellies before taking on the day ahead.

Before leaving the park we decided to pop into the  Interpretive Centre to see what it is all about. This is an amazing spot to take your child to learn more about our nature and heritage in a fun way. They have a family tree of all the elephants over the years as well as the famous head of Hapoor on display in the centre. This is a space where stories are told with photo’s, physical items and audio-visual tools. You also have a couple of interactive games that can be played outside if you go as part of a school group, learning about nature in a fun way.

Hitting the road to Mountain Zebra…

Mountain Zebra Family

Mountain Zebra’s                                

From here we head out to Mountain Zebra National Park, which is in the Cradock area, and on route you can see a lot of random wild animals next to the road as you are looking into some of the game farms in the area.

As we arrived our guide, Charl, was all ready and waiting for us to go and explore some Bushman Paintings that aren’t too difficult to get to. There are other sites that are more adventurous if you feel like scaling rocks and working for the pleasure of seeing the paintings.

PAintings

Bushman Paintings                                                                                     

As we were driving through the park , Charl was pointing out the different animals that they have as well as chatting to us about how the park has expanded in the last couple of years. It was quite fun listening to all the tales and understanding the landscape and animals better.

Springbuck

Springbuck                            

Ostrich Egg

Abandoned ostrich egg                                                                                     

Squirrel

Squirrel entertaining us next to the road.                         

From the first moment that we arrived at Mountain Zebra, we felt welcome were treated as valued guests by all the staff. Apart from the people ensuring that we had a pleasant experience, the park itself is perfect for that break away from everything. It has that luxurious upmarket feel, lots of peace and quiet, yet it’s still down to earth and accommodating.

Bedroom

Main bedroom in self-catering cottages.               

We stayed in the self-catering cottages which are very simply equipped, yet has everything that you might need away from home. They have two bedrooms, one with a double bed and the other with two singles and one bathroom. You’ve got tea’s and coffees available along with a kettle, microwave and fridge in the kitchen as well as a fire-place in the lounge for those cold nights.

Bedroom View

Access to the patio from the main bedroom.

After lunch in their cosy restaurant we had some fun splashing around in the swimming pool, which has a lovely grass area surrounding it if you’d like to have a picnic while enjoying the refreshing water. Mountain Zebra National Park is the perfect get-away with scenic nature all around whilst still enjoying all the comforts of life at your finger tips.

Follow the series from Day 1 or continue and see what happened on Day 3

Lize-Mari Arthur is the Lifestyle Presenter at Kingfisher FM and is a lover of  food, good books and healthy wholesome entertainment. She enjoys new experiences in life and going on adventures. You can find her on her blog where she does weekly updates on some of the content on her show.

Categories: 10 Day Trips, information, Weekend Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Addo To Karoo: Day 1

Addo To Karoo is a 5 day series written by Lize-Mari Arthur as she explores our South African National Parks from Nelson Mandela Bay through to Beaufort Wes.

Our adventure starts on horseback…

5 Strangers met up early last week Monday morning to take off on a week-long adventure together to learn more about our South African National Parks throughout the Eastern Cape and surrounds. We were ready with our bags packed full of insect repellent and sunscreen.

3 riders

            3 Riders kicking off their adventure on horseback.                

First stop was at the Addo Elephant National Park’s Zuurburg Trails, where 3 of us went on a horse ride trail and the other two went hiking  through the fynbos. I ended up on a beautiful stallion called Flap. He was the most docile creature ever, obediently following the horse in front, never trying to pass him, never giving any problems. Perfect for a beginner rider.

Flap

Beautiful and gentle Flap 

As we were riding along, our guide told us about the nature around us. What the different plants are called and what makes them special to that specific environment. If you’re lucky, you’ll also bump into some wild animals like red hartebeest and because you are on horseback you can get quite close without them running away.

Heading through to the main camp…             

From there we headed to the main camp at Addo for lunch at the restaurant, where they are busy renovating and soon we’ll be dining at a Cattle Baron in that space. I quickly popped into the tourist shop to see what they’ve got on offer and I was quite surprised at the range of goods that they’ve got. Everything from food to clothing and proudly South African gear as well as any overnight essentials that you might need.

Before heading out on our scheduled game drive, we needed to kill some time and took a walk to the Hide. This is an enclosure that’s situated next to one of the waterholes in the park, which allows you to freely observe any animals that make their way to this precious recourse. This is the perfect spot to get some beautiful photo’s of the animals in the park, the only rule of the Hide is that you have to be quiet.

Elephant Water

Elephant cooling off at the waterhole by the Hide.

After this we went on our much-anticipated game drive with Jonathan as our guide. He pointing out all the different animals to us and shared as much info as he could about each of them. Any questions from our side was quickly answered with a smile and the trip was a fun as well as insightful one. On route we also came across some lion prints in the sand and got quite excited because they were fresh, but unfortunately that was the closest we came to the lions at Addo.

Elephant Eating

Elephant bull next to the road as we enjoy our game drive. 

Addo Elephant National park got its name for a reason, so we came across quite a couple of elephants throughout the drive, as well as zebra’s, warthogs and red hartebeest.

Elephants Group

Elephants enjoying an afternoon at the watering hole.

That night we stayed at the Spekboom Tented Camps, which is a small enclosed camping site in the middle of the national park. The camp has 5 tented sites which are all very private from each other and are equipped with two single beds in each tent as well as camping chairs and a utility box with all you’ll need for the stay. There are well taken care of communal bathrooms as well as a small kitchen with a fridge to make use of if you need to.

The camp site also has it’s own Hide, which means only those that stay there have access to this particular spot to watch the animals. 

Tented Camps

Spekboom Tented Camps

Keep following the series and see what happened on Day 2

Lize-Mari Arthur is the Lifestyle Presenter at Kingfisher FM and is a lover of  food, good books and healthy wholesome entertainment. She enjoys new experiences in life and going on adventures. You can find her on her blog where she does weekly updates on some of the content on her show.

Categories: 10 Day Trips, information, Weekend Destinations | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ice Fun

Earlier this week we discovered Jiamusi’s Children’s Park.

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It was Theunsie, our son’s, 14th birthday.

We wanted to do something special.

He’d been wanting to ice skate since we got here & so we decided his birthday is the ideal opportunity to explore the Ice Fun created in this famous park.

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It isn’t far from where we live.

Jiamusi is a compact city.

Nothing more than 10 kilometres away.

The Children’s Park is a short 3.5 kilometres from our home.

An easy walk.

Except for the -28 degrees celcius temperature, which we’re getting used to, although little Maddi still struggles to control her little body’s heat.

So Beate, Wilhelmina & I decided we’ll walk, while Zuko, Maddi, Theunsie & Sophia follow in a taxi-cab.

Taxi-cabs are abundant in Jiamusi.

They’re everywhere.

And they’re cheap.

The drive from our home to the park costing only 8Yuan.

I like walking a city.

You see more of it.

Experience more of it.

Notice more, as you slowly make your way, on foot, from one street to the next.

Jiamusi has beautiful architecture,  sprinkled in between the more mundane modern buildings.

The city is well kept.

The streets are clean, naked trees, in tidy rows, patiently waiting for summer all along the way.

At the entrance of the park we are greeted by a statue of the Chairman.

image

Nope, that’s not it.  It is a statue at a Bhuddist Temple  we visited, which my tablet inserted, for some stupid reason & I can’t seem to remove it from this post.

I’ll tell you about the Temple in another post.

Back to the Park.

It is situated close to some University buildings.

It sports an art centre.

Beautiful bridges & I can I imagine in summer people will enjoy rowing quant boats on the lake, while others play music or picnic in the shade of the many trees & pagodas.

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Today the lake is frozen.

Solid.

Huge ramps allow children to fly down the ice, on inflatable tubes at breakneck speeds.

There’s a skating rink.

Some ‘snowmobiles’, chair skiing & an area where they play an interesting local game with whips and a spinning top.

Fascinating.

Popular Chinese music fill the air, along with excited chatter & children’s laughter.

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Zuko & Maddi fly down the ramp on a tube.

Fluffy snow spattering in their wake as they speed by.

Then the game is on.

The other kids and Beate chasing each other from one icy ramp to the next.

After an hour or so, Zuko & Maddi seek refuge in the cabin where the ice skates & other items are being rented out.

The local ladies are friendly & chatty and although we really don’t u derstand a word they say, we know they think Maddi is addorable.

We know they’re stunned at the size of our family & fascinated by these foreigners who’ve chosen to come and live amongst them for a time.

They make space for Zuko in front of a warm heater while the rest of us skate & ski & glide on ice.

Races are done.

Skates & skiing chairs exchanged.

Energy expended on experiencing a world unknown to us.

My mustache collect icy crystals and my feet become numb on the cold of the frozen lake.

We’re amazed by the immense fun we have.

And as the sun starts to set, which is quite early in this Siberian part of the world in Northern China, we head home where Maddi takes a warm bath & then a solid nap, while we talk about the amazingness we experienced & Zuko cooks a beautiful meal.

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