Monday, February 9, 2009

Harbin's 10th Annual Ice and Snow Festival!

Friday night, I hopped on a plane and headed up north to Harbin, China. Harbin has an annual Ice and Snow Festival and we made it there just in time. The weather here in China is getting warmer now that it is officially Spring. (Yes, I know that Spring doesn't come until March 20th or so other places, but here on the Lunar calendar, we are in Spring!) The weather has definitely become warmer over the last couple weeks. Friends who went to Harbin before Chinese New Year reported temperatures of -40C/-40F and this past weekend, we only saw -10C/14F. During the day, it was even up to 1C/33F! Luckily, the snow and ice was still there but we sure noticed a little melting happening.

Our first stop on Saturday morning was to see the Siberian tigers. This was very sad but also amazing to see such huge animals so close. We saw tigers of various ages, lions, and even a couple ligers! Yes! Real ligers!

Next we went over to the snow sculpture park.

Later, we headed over to the 10th Annual Harbin Ice and Snow World.

We had to watch for falling ice.

The following day, we started off by going to see the polar bear swimmers. These men and women dove into freezing cold water that had just had the ice removed from it moments earlier. It was cold just to watch. We cheered them on!

Later, we went to the Disney Ice Festival. This place was smaller and not as crowded. There were still ice sculptures and buildings made of ice all lit up and several more slides.

I tried to film my first ride down but got scared and ended up filming the slide for a second before filming my coat.

I tried a second time but didn't end up pushing record because of either fright or my gloves. So, I gave it one more go. On the third time down, I ended up getting stuck for a moment, thinking it was going to be so slow and then speeding up pretty quickly. Fun time!

In the evening, we headed back to the airport and back to Beijing.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

White Sand and Mango Smoothies

I headed down to the Philippines for our Chinese New Year holiday. We got a week off so a few teachers and I decided to go someplace sunny and warm. This was my first trip to the Philippines and I found the beach in Boracay to be gorgeous. We left very early in the morning on Saturday, January 24th, to fly to Manila via Hong Kong. During our short stop in the airport in Hong Kong, we all stocked up on some books.

(I miss book stores. I miss going to a bookstore and hanging out for hours. I used to go to a bookstore, get a chai tea, find a quiet place and just sit all afternoon. When I heard that there was a huge bookstore called the Foreign Languages Bookstore here in Beijing, I was so excited! I was tired and a bit hungry from walking all around one day so I decided to go check out the bookstore. I figured they'd have a little coffee shop, some comfy chairs to sit in, and I'd just spend a couple hours leafing through magazines and seeing what new books had made it to China. When I saw the enormous building, I could hardly wait to see all those titles! I walked up the steps and split the heavy plastic sheeting that so many doors in China have and had to nearly blink away my tears when I saw several floors of books I couldn't read and people I couldn't talk to and no coffee shop and no comfy chairs and it wasn't even quiet or calm. In fact, it was like a book warehouse with so many people in every corner on every floor. I was able to find a few cookbooks in English and a section on learning Chinese. I even looked at the books teaching Spanish because it was familiar to me. I bought a book with maps of Beijing and a book on learning Chinese and made my way out the door. And I was still hungry and not quite sure what had even happened.)

So, the bookstore in the Hong Kong airport was lovely.

We arrived in Manila in the evening and after checking into our hotel, went out for dinner in what seemed like an expat area of town. I met a few teachers who work at the school in Manila that had offered me a job. The whole (short) time I was in Manila, I thought about what it might have been like if I had made a different choice. I think I made the right one for me at the time and I am happy with where I am.

Early the next morning, we headed to the airport in the hotel's shuttle, a bit late, and rushed to get in the door where we were told that we had gone to the wrong airport. Our shuttle had already left so we rushed back to a taxi and made our way to the other airport and found the rest of our group who had also just arrived. After waiting in line for a while, we were told, "Sorry. You are too late." which later turned out to mean, "Sorry, we canceled your flight and you will have to wait a little longer."

We made it onto our little dual prop plane for the short flight to Boracay from Manila and then to two little motorbike taxis to a little boat to a van/pickup taxi and finally to our hotel. And I think it was only around 8:30 in the morning.

We got changed into our bathers (if you are Australian), our costumes (if you are South African), and our swimsuits (for the Americans). We actually had all of these nationalities represented, plus a Canadian, in our group of five. I think it was a swimsuit for the Canadian as well.

It was beautiful.

We spent the whole week lying in the sun, swimming in the warm water, walking on the beach, and reading books.

And I think we had a mango smoothie every single day. They were delicious.

We also had a few spa treatments (seaweed wraps, facials, floral baths, pedicures) and I did three scuba dives.

Here I am with lots of little fish and the beautiful face of the stone fish.

A couple clown fish in their anemone and a ghost pipefish.

It was very relaxing.

Then we had to head home. We left on Sunday, February 1st, early in the morning. A van taxi picked us up and took us to the dock where we got on a little boat to the next dock. There, we took two motorbike taxis to the small airport. Next the dual prop plane to the Manila airport. Again, wouldn't you know it, we were at the wrong airport, so we had to take two taxis to the other airport where we waited for too long in line and missed our flight. It wasn't our fault though, so they bumped us up to Business Class for our flight to Hong Kong. After arriving in Hong Kong, we visited the bookstore again and bought more books. (I told you I missed bookstores!) Then a flight to Beijing and a car ride back to our apartments. I think it was a total of about 16 hours of travel, four airports, and 7 different vehicles. But now we all have flip flop tans so it was all worth it.