Posts Tagged With: Heilongjiang

10 Must-Do Jiamusi Activities

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Maybe one day you find yourself in Northern China with a few days to kill.

Or, you’re keen to go where few others go on holiday.

Here are 10 must-do things to enjoy in Jiamusi, in China’s Heilongjiang Province.

We’ve lived here for 18 months and had time to explore, experience and enjoy.

1.  Walk or Cycle the Shongua River Park:  The city is stretched along the bank of the Shongua River which forms the longest Park in Northern China, with beautiful walkways, gardens, Memorials and Statues.  During the day the Park is filled with old people playing board games, playing traditional instruments and taking slow walks.  There is music playing and there are vendors selling balloons, ice-cream and snacks.  At night it lights up with energy, large groups of people doing ‘Zombie-dancing’, a kind of co-ordinated slow exercise dance-thing, which is quite something to see.  In summer we loved cycling the park at night, feeling the energy of this vibrant place.

2. Take the Ferry to Willow Island: from the tall Memorial Monument at the River Park, near the RiverSky Hotel, you can take a ferry to Willow Island across the river for 2¥.  On the Island you are greeted by a minority group who are the last remnants of a Gypsey like people who first lived int his area, hunting and fishing like Eskimo’s.  Now they entertain you with a little Amusement Park, restaurants, horse riding, bicycles for rent and carraige rides.  If you walk past the noise and buzz of the organized amusement, you hit the gravel road and experience a little bit of rural China with 2 little villages, a forrest and large farmlands, cattle and sheep grazing along the way.  Whenever we had time, we would take our bicycles across on the ferry and cycle from one side of the island to picnic and swim on the other side of it.  This is a great day-trip.

3. Enjoy a Picnic at TsiFung Mountain:  TsiFung Mountain has a massive reservoir at its feet and pristine forrest with little paths to picnic spots.  There are boats to rent and restaurants, a wooden walkway on the edge of the water and an old Temple set slightly up its side.  You can take a bus or taxi here.  We’ve even cycled there one sunny summers day.  A large Buddha greets you, as you arrive and at his feet are statues of all the animals of the different Chinese birth-years.  In winter you can ride a snowmobile, tube down a slide, ice skate or even go sledding on the reservoir.  We loved walking in the forest.   Hearing the birds.  Breathing solitude, always amazed that even though this is a densely populated city, none of the places ever feel over-crowded.

4. Play in the Children’s Park: As you arrive at the Children’s Park, you are greeted by the chairman, or rather a statue of him and then you walk past playgrounds,  canals with peddle boats,  pagodas and food-vendors.  The Parks in Jiamusi are many and all of them are well kept, clean and safe.  They are beautiful havens where you see children play, couples whisper sweet nothings and others practicing traditional arts.  TaiKwonDo, Kung Fu, TaiChi.  Music.  Games.  It is in the Parks that we always tasted China’s wealth.  In winter the Children’s Park is transformed into a playground with every imaginable activity you can do on ice, on offer.

5. Visit the Heroes Park: this Park is slightly aside from the city centre, near Jiamusi’s number 16 middle school.  A Park dedicated to a brave Jiamusian who fought during wars with Russians and Japanese.  There are memorial stones, an old tank, an old river boat and along with the Park’s surroundings,  we tasted something here, which we did not taste anywhere else.  Not so many people.  No music.  A quieter place, as if remembering isn’t always pleasant.

6. Enjoy the Public Art at the Memorial Park: The Memorial Park is riddled with monuments and beautiful statues.  It is a stones throw from the very large, very modern New Mart Shopping Mall rising 16 storeys into the air and it remembers the Russians for emancipating this little part of China from the Japanese and their puppet Emperor.  If you’re there, look for the massive ant sculpture and the beautiful woman with the peacock.   In summer fountains dramatically spray into the air and children find relief from the season’s heat.

7. Eat beautiful Food: Hot-Pot, Dumplings, Barbecue,  Beijing Duck and Fabulous Breads. In Jiamusi you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to food and restaurants.  You’ll see the big multi-storey restaurants,with private rooms where you are served by a dedicated team of waiters at no extra charge, from the main streets and when you head down alleys and little roads you’ll stumble onto exquisite family-owned restaurants, each offering something special.  You can try threm.  The food is stunning.  Noodles.  Korean food.  Russian food.  There is even a French Restaurant and a selection of coffee restaurants.  “Summer” is our favorite place for coffee, cake and sandwiches.  Exceptional coffee.  And after dinner Jiamusi offers an Theatre, Cinema and Bowling Lanes for late night entertainment.

8. Shop at the Markets: The Markets in Jiamusi is something to explore.  At the big shopping malls you’ll find all the Western Brands you’ve desired, but at the markets you find treasures at robbery prices.  Be sure to haggle.  If they say it costs 100¥ you should bargain them down to 50¥, they expect you to do that.  There is a massive underground market, built in what I imagine serves as a bomb shelter, stretching kilometres and many streets under the city.  Then there is also the Flea-Market where you’ll find anything from food to household items, around the corner streets with furniture and behind it an 8 storey market filled with clothes and shoes and curtains.  Here you can get a pair of Lee or Tommy Hilfigger Jeans for 100¥ and shoes for even less.

9. See the past at the Museum: The museum doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside you’ll find pictures and artifacts giving you a feel for the long history of this area, from the time of little fishing villages spotted along the Shongua River, through the revolution, Japanese Occupation, Russian Occupation into more recent days.  The museum is dedicated to a local teacher who lost her legs saving students, her story dipicted as you enter the museum.

10. Amuse yourself at the Zoo: The zoo is right next to a massive Temple and is also host to Jiamusi’s Amusement Park with a fair sized Roller Coaster and pretty big Ferris Wheel as major attractions among all the other Amusement Park kind of stuff.  The zoo itself is forest-like with not too many animals, but enough to make for an interesting afternoon of leisurely walking and playing.

In addition to all of this Jiamusi has interesting architecture.   Two diverse temples.  A little Roman Catholic Church, a larger Evangelical Church and a Mosque.

Just walking the streets is interesting, as old and new and rich and poor exists and lives amongst each other, knit together by the smells and sounds of a hearty people who embrace their bit of world.

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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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