Posts Tagged With: Jiamusi

From Jiamusi to Liangxiang

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On December 29th 2013, we loaded our luggage in a friends Fortuner and drove the 400 odd kilometres from Bloemfontein to OR Thambo International Airport, to start a 24 hour journey, taking three flights, to arrive in Jiamusi, Heilongjiang, China, late the afternoon on December 30th.

That was 18 months ago.

On July 1st 2015, we loaded our luggage on train K2606, departing from Jiamusi train station, to start another 24 hour journey.

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This time to Beijing.

And from Beijing to Liangxiang in Beijing’s Fangshan County, about 40 kilometres from the city centre.

Public transport in China is cheap and convenient.

We bought second class tickets, or what they call ‘hard-sleeper’-tickets.

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You get a bed, with fresh clean bedding, in a carriage,  alongside many other travelers.

The carriage is equiped with a toilet, bassin area and conductor who constantly cleans and makes sure everybody is comfortable.

The journey was easy.  We played cards.  Excitedly talked about what awaits us on the other side.  Read some.  Shared dinner and breakfast and lunch.  Slept some.

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And then we arrived in Beijing.

At the beautiful old train station with its bell-tower which rings on the hour.

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Crowds of people easily finding their way.

We find our way to the KFC for a cup of coffee and ice cream for the kids, while waiting for Anna Wang, who is meeting us for the last leg of our journey.

In Jiamusi we had new friends seeing us off at the station, making sure we catch the right train and find our carriage and settle into our little semi-compartment.

18 months ago, at OR Thambo International,  it was just us, our friends far away in Bloemfontein and Nelson Mandela Bay.

This afternoon, as we sip hot black coffee, the bell striking once, it is just us again.

Our little Tribe, on our amazing little journey.

It is different from a 3 week tour, with luxury accommodation and arranged transport.

It is immersive.

Tasting and experiencing what never could be on a short little visit.

Anna arrives.

We load our luggage in the black mini-van and head out of Beijing, towards Liangxiang.

The air-con a welcome comfort after 30 minutes at the train station.

It is a 90 minute drive.

We could’ve taken the subway.  Google Maps says it is 90 minutes by subway from Beijing Train Station to Liangxiang on the new Fangshan-subway-line.

Anna insisted on meeting us.

She takes us to the Police Station, where we need to register our arrival.

And then to our new little home.

In Jiamusi the institution I worked for provided us with housing, for which we were grateful,  since it would’ve been an impossible requirement for us to seek and find housing, in a country we’ve never been to, from South Africa, before our departure.

In Liangxiang, we found our own home.

Over the internet.

With lots of negotiations, with the help of Google Translate and WeChat, China’s version of Whatsapp.

I was a little worried, despite my belief that our lives are connected to the Origin of Life and Being & that there is a rhytm of loss and gain, which is good, aware that every loss brings gain and every gain will flow to loss again, creating space for new gain.

We’ve ordered shoes online.

Electronics.

But never before have we ordered a house.

You speak.

You agree.

And then you trust that everything will work out.

And eventually it does.

In Liangxiang, on the outskirts of Beijing, housing is expensive.

Not as expensive as in Beijing itself, but still, on what I would earn with the little bit of teaching I would do, a 3-bedroom apartment would eat more than 35% of my income each month.

And we did the apartment thing in Jiamusi.

Which was an interesting experience.

A difficult one, in some ways, for a little Tribe who came from a beautiful little wooden house, set on a not so little hill, overlooking forest and ocean.

It took some getting used to the 5 flights of stairs to climb every day and the view of another apartment building and the less space and the neighbours above and below.

We made the most of that and enjoyed the experience – somewhere, if we get the gift of old age, we’ll talk about the beauty of our little apartment on the 5th floor in Yi Yuan Qao Qi, but when we found a little house, with a little garden, just 10 kilometres outside Liangxiang, renting for not even 17% of my income, we were excited.

Could it be possible?

To live in a house with a garden, and a beautiful entrance gate, in China where most families live in apartments?

It must be a scam!

And had we given ourselves to fear of the unknown and belief in the worst, we would’ve opted for a smallish 2-bedroom apartment,  somewhere on the 5th floor again, neatly furnished and very safe, but above our means and already inside the sphere of our experience.

It is a littlenharder to be brave when you are part of a Tribe.

When Zuko and I were just married, young and without children, we would often throw caution to the wind, without thinking about it twice.

We shared an adventerous spirit and we would deal with whatever happened, together.

We continued this tradition after the kids arrived, but it took and it takes a little more now.

We have 4 other lives to consider and you don’t know how hardy they would be and you don’t want to subject them to stuff that is unpleasant or bad.

Still we phoned and WeChat-ted and ordered.

And arrived.

Driving down a little alley.

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To stop in front of a beautiful red gate.

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And find a not so little house with 5 fruit trees and loads of birds in the garden.

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The landlord and his family are friendly.

He apologises.

Everything isn’t ready yet.

He misjudged himself on how long it would take to prepare for our arrival.

The inside is repainted.

But the bathroom and kitchen isn’t ready yet.

Zuko can’t cook and more than 30 hours after we’ve left Jiamusi, it seems we can’t wash either.

Maddi is unaffected.

She starts playing in the soil under the fruit trees.

Dude and Pippin and Sophia choose bedrooms.

For teenagers this is important.

The house has 5 bedrooms, not 4, as the landlord indicated.

The wood-panneling and Chinese sliding doors give it an exotic feel.

Chairman Mao greets us in the lounge.

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And as the sun sets our neighbours, an elderly couple, bring dinner.

Since we can’t cook.

Beans with beef.

Vegetables.

Rice.

In the cool of early evening, we sit on the steps of our new home, enjoying the warmth and hospitality of beautiful people we’d just met.

We sleep.

And then we start cleaning, while the landlord brings a new fridge and washing machine with great pride.

And installs a beautiful new gass stove in the kitchen.

Our Tribe impressing me,  hardier than I thought, braver, alongside each other, as we livemthrough a little discomfort and make the best of this very moment.

Perhaps the Landlord too struggled to believe and was a little hesitant?

Not believing that a foreigner, who says he lives in Jiamusi, would arrive, when he said he would and rent, what he agreed to rent?

And because of his disbelief, he held back, not wanting to waste time and money?

Whatever the reasons, 3 days after our arrival we take a hot showermin our own bathroom, we do some laundry in the newly installed washing machine and Zuko cooks a beautiful dinner on her new gas-stove.

This morning we’ll head to the little breakfast shop where we had breakfast on our first morning in 大高舍村 (High house village), then we’ll stroll to the outdoor market to find bedding and seeds for the garden Pippin has already prepared.  Later we’ll watch a movie and have dinner on our steps.

And so we’ll find a new rhythm, in a new place, filled with new people to meet and beautiful places to discover.

Life, not very normal, but interesting.

A little discomfort and uncertainty,  always the gateway to something exquisite.

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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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Between Worlds

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It’s been 18 months.

At the end of 2013 my little Tribe and I packed up our little wooden house on the not so little hill, sold our ageing Defender to a shrewd lawyer and our beautiful inherited antique furniture to Colonial Antiques, bought six plane tickets with the proceeds and found our way to Jiamusi in Siberian China.

A bit more than a year before our departure, we realized that something will change in our life.

We didn’t know what, but we knew change was on the horizon.

We sensed it, like you can smell the rain in the Kalahari, as it is on its way.

It wasn’t the first time, we’d smelled the rain before and felt it on our soul.

I’d been working for a non-profit for more than half a decade.

It wasn’t the first time.

My career, if you could call it that, had been in non-profits and non-profits are just that, not profitable, so you go into it, with a lot of passion and hope, aware that you won’t be making exceptional profits, hoping you would contribute something to life and society, and sometimes the non-profit isn’t even breaking even, so you walk away with loads of experience, but somewhat poorer financially than you went into it.

I’d been interested in happiness, writing and speaking about it on every opportunity afforded me.

Not because I wasn’t happy, or was seeking happiness, but because I was immensely and increasingly happy, since I could remember, and wondered why, for so many others, happiness seemed so illusive.

As a young child, immersed in ignorance, as a young adult, inspired by aspiration and most recently, progressively framed by love and peace as faith seeped deeper into my being, enabling me to live a happy life, despite loss & gain, always caught by loss again, happiness existed in my being.

I was curious to understand why I’d been happy for most of my life, except for that brief moment in 2006 when my world seemed to implode and rejection desired to devour my heart, from which I emerged happier than before, aware that the depth of our sorrow contributes to the breadth of our happiness.

Curious, why so many with seemingly so much more, weren’t.

Aren’t.

Then two forward thinking Academics noticed my writing and offered me the opportunity to study again, perhaps sensing that happiness is indeed an Ancient topic well neglected in modern literature,  only recently revived, in Psychology and Spirituality,  but perhaps untied from its deep Ancient Roots and the thinking which has gone before.

I had the privilege of studying when I was young, and publishing in an Academic Journal, but life and hope and aspirations consumed my time and it had been 15 years since I expended any real energy on extensive learning.

There was the post-graduate Certificate I gained from Rhodes University, which taught me a bit of Broadcast Management, but to be offered the opportunity to read towards a real PhD, on a topic which made your being come alive, was a prospect to be embraced.

The rain we smelled started falling.

The scholarship,  however, wouldn’t cover the cost of clothing and feeeding a family of six, nor would the 16-hour days I’d been working at the non-profit, allow any time for legitimate learning or pondering.

It seemed an impossible fortuity.

Something which would have been wonderful,  but would have to be set aside as the glistening golden chains of regular life and responsibility bound us.

Impossible, however, only exists, when we are unwilling to let go and unwilling to consider  metamorphosis,  and so we let go and found the chance to teach, while studying, in the deep Far East.

A world apart.

18 months later, I am inordinately grateful.

I’ve only touched the surface of what had been written, by Ancient Philosophers,  excited that there are deep wells from which to drink, over time and encouraged by the old African Philosopher, Augustine of Hippo Rego, that we should allow ourselves time to digest, but somehow I’ve learnt much already.

Sustained as I patiently consume and consider.

Energy does flow where attention goes.

The gift of the past 18 months, not only reading forgotten wisdom, but reading it in an environment to which I am un-accustomed, a listener and observer, learning about happiness in every moment and every interaction.

Soon we will depart from Jiamusi, heading to Liangxiang, a little University Town, with fewer than 100 000 residents, not too far from Beijing.

And as we pack our bags and say our goodbyes, I contemplate and take stock.

I’ve realized my own happiness is a gift.

A gift received from when I was born, as I lived under the grace and kindness of our Origin.

They, awakening in me an awareness of their presence and a comprehension (rudimentary,  but non the less) of Their Being.

Gradually, like the tide, coming in, pushing water over rocks and river-banks, until all that is parched is covered by its cool.

I’ve realized, loss is gain and gain is loss.

Neither one better than the other.

Both vital to our happiness.

I’ve realized, although we verbalize it, and endeavor after it, in different ways, we have this desire to be happy in common, as a species, a kind, a race.

And mostly we are dissapointed, because we seek it in Spirituality or Materialism, but seldom in the Origin of Spirit and Matter.

Denying ourselves the gift we have already received, from Them Who brought us into Being.

And perhaps the unwrapping of what has already been given exists in ridding ourselves, or being ridden of, the conviction that we have want.

Seeing, that we have no want, for They are and we are with Them.

Also, as we embrace the metamorphosis,  receiving the time to live slower, to walk slower, eat slower, love slower, happiness is afforded the conditions it needs to flourish.

The past 18 months gave us the opposite of what we had.

Instead of 16 hour working days, I had 4 or 5 classes to teach.

Instead of getting into the car and rushing through traffic to just be on time for an appointment,  we had slow walks, talking along the way, listening, smelling, consuming our environment.

Instead of no breakfast and a hurried late dinner, we had slow meals, with long conversations and simple food.

Wealth isn’t always wealth, for with it, often it seems, comes the poverty of our being.

Instead of short sleepless nights, interupted by anxiety of unpaid salaries or knocking suppliers, we had the regular deep rest of uninterrupted long nights, waking up revitalized.

We were happy before we came to China.

I was happy as an oblivious little boy and as an arrogant post-teenager, when Zuko and I fell in love, I was happy as a student and as a Minister and a Media-guy trying to bring about change with no resources and excitable people.

We were happy then, despite the loss.

And we are happy now, despite the loss.

For loss is always gain and loss will thankfully be ever present.

Don’t be misled.

The happy life is not a life poor of loss.

Selling all your movable assets and moving 13000 kilometres away from everything you’ve ever known is loss.

Being in a world in which you understand nothing and are never understood is loss.

Being the distrusted foreigner is loss.

Not being able to reach out to your Mom when she is afflicted by a stroke, or being able to console a friend when his wife and daughter dies, all of it is loss.

But loss is gain and gain is loss and it is good, for our happiness isn’t born of circumstnaces, but concieved by the Origin of our circumstances from Whom we receive in such a way that it is complete.

Not some of us.

All of us.

And not because of our devotion or delighting in Them.

Because of Their Being.

For They let it rain on everyone and They too bring famine to everyone, indiscriminately, as old confessions would say, for we all are from Them and They do not abandon what has been brought into being from Their own Being.

There is no reward or punishment, as religions would like you to believe.

There is They from Whom we come, Their grace and kindness, Their indestructible consistency and desire to live at One.

And so we find ourselves between Worlds, finishing up in Jiamusi, looking forward to settling (for a while) in Liangxiang, but always between Worlds, as we live a life which is complete, while it is still being completed, understanding it, as understanding will still dawn in our being.

Gypseys, vagrants even, in a world filled with death and injustice, seemingly out-of-control, yet perfectly loved by They Who are Love.

And so we encourage you to be on your own journey, from World to World, good travelers who never arrive at their destination.

Looking inwards, instead of at the illusions of success and acceptance.

Listening to Their ever present Voice, not the voices of destruction planted in your  being over time, the Voice of Them from Whom you come, always Whispering, calling us out, to be, as They are.

Not seperate or superior.

Redeemed and Regenerated, as we are being redeemed and regenerated.

Becoming the gift, as we receive it, for we are all created in Their image, not just some and we are all being called, all of us also answering at once, even if it be fumblingly in our muted blindness.

Happiness ours, along this Way.

Our Gift.

Which cannot be lost.

PS: at Sevencitys you could read some more about The Gift of the Way

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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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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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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.

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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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Zuko & the Markets

Where we are from, not just the place, also the way of life, food shopping was a mundane rushed affair.

Getting in your car.

Driving to the supermarket.

Hurriedly buying mass produced food, from anonymous employees who work for a big corporation.

Stuffing it in a few bags & heading home.

I suppose it could be the same here in Siberian China where we now find ourselves.

There are massive malls with escelators, food courts & whole floors occupied with a single product.

It was quite overwhelming to go shopping for shoes suited to the weather.

It took us a whole day to browse the 40 stores grouped together on the 1st floor of the Newmart Mall.

We found great value & awesome product.

These malls all have grocery stores as well.

With a selection beyond comprehension.

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Zuko, however, have discovered the markets right on our doorstep.

And along with them, she’s discovered a beautiful daily ritual.

Walking to them.

Picking the day’s fruit, vegetables & meat.

Slowly.

With consideration.

While talking to shop owners.

Learning the names of produce.

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Exploring new varieties.

Greeting owners.

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Asking advice.

Discovering new gems.

Meeting new people.

Tasting new ideas.

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Perhaps this is something lost in a rushed western existence.

Every neighbourhood has these markets.

Little shops.

Some with fruit.

Others with vegetables.

Some with bread and rice and meat and beans.

More still with cooldrink and beer, rice wine, floor cleaner and dish washing liquid.

Here in China they’re not called neighbourhoods.

They speak of communities.

Five or six apartment blocks, with two or three play parks.

A clinic.

A daycare centre.

A billiards room.

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It isn’t green, like in Africa.

Not right now.

But it is warm.

Friendly.

A place where people greet you friendly.

With a smile.

And have whole conversations.

Even though you don’t understand each other.

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Perhaps this is part of the gift of living in the cold of Northern China.

Walking to the market.

Choosing the day’s food.

Locally produced.

Carefully set out.

Bringing it home.

Perhaps this changes meals?

Into something more?

It certainly makes life richer.

Fuller.

As intimacy & a slower pace collide with beautiful food & beautiful people.

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Hot Pot on a Cold Day

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We heard of the ‘Hot Pot’-phenomenon shortly after arriving in China.

Every morning as I walk from our simple apartment to classes, I walk past a ‘Hot Pot’-spot.

Then we’re invited.

Lunch.

Hot Pot.

Wow!

What a stunning way to dine.

The table is set with meats, vegetables & the most stunning bread.

Each guest has a hot pot, which is constantly filled with a kind of soup.

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And then you feast.

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Putting in your pot whatever your heart desires.

Waiting for it to cook.

Then eating, while adding some more scrumptiousness to your pot.

On arrival we’re served ‘sweet milk tea’.

Then the tray with spices arrive.

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Everyone flavours their pot to perfection.

Drinks are served.

And along with drinks, a wild succession of toasts.

To health.

Happiness.

Success.

That we may feel welcomed.

That we may love our time here.

We’ve come to love Chinese Beer.

At a meal your glass is never empty.

We’ve come to love Chinese warmth.

You’re always embraced.

The meal lingers for hours.

Conversation is easy.

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We love the slow pace.

The time taken to enjoy.

I nibble on a piece of sweet bread.

Zuko picks a piece of corn bread.

A perfect little ball, sprinkled with sesame seeds, at its centre, colorful sweet beans.

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The waiters are always hovering.

This is our second opportunity at an upmarket restaurant, all of them sporting private rooms.

With its own bathroom & lounge.

The waiters don’t use pencil and paper.

They type our orders into a little device. Minutes later the food appear, beautifully displayed on fine China plates.

These people are exquisitely cultured.

Ancient customs filling every moment of their existence.

We’re glad to be here.

Grateful.

Humbled by generosity & kindness.

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Perceptions & Misconceptions

Nope.  The city where we live is not polluted.

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This is Wilhelmina & Sophia.

Yip, they’re wearing face masks.

But not because of polution.

Because of the cold.

It is so terribly cold, if I walk around without a face mask, the beads on my beard are frozen solid in less than a kilometre.

Yet, on every website & every blog I read, before coming to China, if I saw people with face masks, it was associated to pollution.

Don’t get me wrong.

Jiamusi is a city of almost 1.6 million people.

By Chinese standards, that’s a small city.

And there are industry here.

The very famous American John Deere is built here.

There’s also logging and a paper mill.

A wind farm.

A pharmaceutical plant.

But it is small in comparison to the industry of our home city.

Another misconception we contemplated was the absence of bread.

On the ground floor of the building in which I teach there is a stunning pastry shop, the aroma of which contends for my last yuan, every day.

Every supermarket has a bakery.

And carry flour on their shelves.

And off course, Chinese people eat dog?

Nope.

We’ve not seen dog meat for sale.  I imagine you could find it.  Somewhere.  But we’ve only seen chicken, pork, beef & the most amazing array of live seafood.

And exquisite pasta.

They call it noodles, but it’s pasta.

Tasty pasta.

Everyone was right about the cold though.

That was no misconception.

And it is a bit tough to catch a bus.

Although they drive by every 5 minutes, as regular as clock work, we have no idea where they’re heading.

And so we opt for Jiamusi’s version of New York’s yellow taxi cabs.  They’re blue & silver.  They cost 6Y kr R10 or less than a dollar,  no matter where you’re heading, too.

And we can show them a piece of paper with the address of our destination.

And they take us right to our doorstep.

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We fly, we fly, we arrive, we settle.

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Our journey from Johannesburg,  South Africa to Jiamusi, China started suddenly a few weeks ago, but it was om Sunday 29 Decemner 2013 that we got in the car in Bloemfontein, drove 430 kilometres to OR Tambo International, to board three flights to Jiamusi.

We traveled for almost 24 hours.

From summer into winter.

From the Southern Hemisphere, into the far reaches of the Northern.

To experience something new.

To learn.

To live.

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It was the kid’s 1st time on an aeroplane.

Everything went without a single glitch.

Even from Beijing to Jiamusi, on our domestic flight, we glided through security, our luggage way within the weight restrictions.

May Han met as at a white Jiamusi Airport.

We found what would be our homes for the forseeable future.

We got internet linked.

We got wi-fi set up.

We got mobile phone numbers.

We’ve eaten Chinese.

We’ve had KFC.

We’ve been hosted at the city’s most desired restaurant.

We’ve gone shopping for winter clothing which would help us cope with minus 25 degree temperatures.

We’ve bought groceries.

Walked to the river, where Theunsie was brave enough to sled down the ice onto the river.

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Its only been 9 days.

The people of the North of China are warm & friendly & generous.

There are beautiful pastry shops in town.

Enough meat to satisfy our dude’s carnivorous desires.

Coffee, sugar, salt & milk is expensive, but the rest is cheap.

A beer sells for R5 of less than half a dollar.

2.5 litre Coke sells for R10 or $1.

Restaurants are affordable.

Everybody stares at Maddi & Sophia with their blonde hair & big round eyes.

Myself & Zuko seem to be able to pass ourselves off as Russians, who seem to visit Jiamusi from time to time, as the border is just a stones throw over the river.

We hope to visit the lake soon.

And the underground market.  It is literally under the ground.

Towards the end of the month the city will host an ice festival, along with Spring Festival or what you might call Chinese New Year.

Every night we hear fireworks.

Every morning a fesh smidgen of snow covers this world.

It is early days on our adventure.

There are still some stuff to resolve at home.

Promises broken.

Dissapointment served.

But as we settle into the rhythm of this adventure and embrace new experiences with every new sunrise, it is gratitude which fills our being.

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For our lives are connected to the Origin of Being & we are following a flow beyond comprehension,  bringingmus to new places, not just on the globe, but also in our being.

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