Winter Wonderland 2018

This winter was full of cold and confusion. My hunt for a new job has been incredibly time consuming, and the uncertainty about my future led me to forgo an out of country winter holiday. Instead I decided to head north (not across the border or anything) to visit the Hwacheon Ice Festival and other snow filled winter activities in case it was my last chance to play in the snow in Korea. It looks like things are working out, and I will be staying in Korea next year after all, but I’ll tell that story after all the details are wrapped up. For now, walk with me into a winter wonderland weekend.


I like going on tour trips with the group Enjoy Korea. They’re by far my favorite organized tour group in Korea: polite, well-organized, helpful, responsive, and fun (without being a total party bus). I highly recommend traveling with them if you’re looking for more things to see in Korea while you’re here. No, they aren’t paying me to say that, or even giving me a discount, I just think they’re cool and deserve more business.

When I realized I wasn’t leaving Korea for the winter holidays, I turned to the upcoming events page of their website and looked for something fun that didn’t involve skiing. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to learn how to ski, but stress and health concerns over the fall just made it seem like this winter was not going to be the one. Instead, I found the Winter Wonderland Weekender.

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Naminara Republic

While we were on the multi-hour drive up from Busan, our guide handed out pamphlets about our 3 weekend destinations, and being me, I actually read them. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the tiny river island of Nami was it’s own country! Nami is a small island within the North Han River. Not that long ago, it was only an island for part of the year when the waters ran high. However, when the Cheongpyeong Dam was built in the 1940s, the river level became higher permanently, and Nami was cut off from the mainland year round.

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It was said to be the grave-site of General Nami, and the grave was gradually built up and around, turning the island into a nature reserve and kind of amusement park/garden. In 2006 they declared their independence from Korea to become a “fairy-tale nation”. I’m not making that up, it’s in their declaration of independence. They have an immigration office. I didn’t bring my passport because I didn’t know this ahead of time, but apparently they will stamp your passport if you like. Because of their friendly relations with Korea, it’s not required for visitors to do so.

I cannot help but look at this and think of Nami as a precocious 5 year old who really wants to be a grown up. Nami: “We’re independent and we’re gonna have our own country made of fairy tales!” Korea: “Ok, honey, you have fun and make sure to be home in time for dinner.”

It’s cute.

There are 2 ways onto the island of Nami: the ferry and the zipline. I wanted to try the zipline since our guide said it was actually rather slow and more of a scenic experience than an adrenaline rush, but the wait time was over an hour and we only had a few hours to explore that afternoon.

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The ferry is not disappointing. It’s small, and mostly standing room, but it’s only about 6 minutes from shore to shore and gives beautiful views of the river on the way over. The water wasn’t frozen solid, but there were floating chunks of ice like green glass floating along the shore where the water was shallower. As we approached the island, we were first greeted with a giant ice formation overshadowing the maid of Nami.

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The maid of Nami is a famous statue of a woman standing in the water, but she was nearly obscured and entirely overshadowed by the mountain of ice that had formed from the freezing spray of the nearby fountain. Instead of turning the fountains off for the winter, the Naminarians decided to let their fountains run and turn into fairy-tale castles of long white and blue ice stalactites. Although at first the beautiful structure was overrun with ferry passengers queuing up to take photos, it didn’t take long before they all moved on and I had a chance to get a few of my own.

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The island has a multitude of walking trails as well as a “train” (think kiddie ride). I spotted the post office on my way in where a telephone allowed visitors to make international calls or send post cards from the micronation.

At first, I was feeling a little disappointed by the lack of snow. After all, it had snowed in Busan just a few days before, a place that sees snow every 2-3 years, surely Nami which is famous for it’s snow clad beauty would be white from edge to edge. The main entrance and pathways were simply brown, perhaps from lack of snowfall but more likely from an excess of foot traffic. I determined to seek out more frozen fountains and whatever patches of snow I could nonetheless, and soon found a frozen pond which remained snowcovered and I began to feel more in the mood.20180113_140124.jpg

My spirits were lifted completely when I encountered the sledding hill. Snow from all over had been piled together in a large hill that was decorated with ice-men (like snowmen, but made of ice). There was a line to borrow a sled but it wasn’t long and within a few moments I was lugging my luge up the snowy slope. I think it hadn’t snowed in a few days at least because the snow was quite packed and hard. Many sledders fell over sideways the first time their sled hit a bump. I watched as the line grew shorter, determining my best strategy for not suffering a wipe out and when it was my turn, I tried to center myself as much as possible and took a firm hold of the rope that formed the handle at the front of the sled.

When the countdown ended and the whistle blew, 3 of us took off at once. The slope wasn’t too high, but I soon picked up speed and when I hit the first bump my sled and I were launched into the air. I managed to land without falling over and kept my seat all the way down, whooping in a very American way at the thrill of speed and snow and winter wind whipping my skin.

Next to the snow hill was an ice village. There were sculptures of animals and fish, but also houses and castles built from carved ice blocks where visitors could climb around and take silly photos. I was impressed by the size and scope of these ice constructions, but oh wait until tomorrow.

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While I was finishing up my photos of the ice sculptures at a particularly large ice shark, I looked up and noticed there were ostriches running around in a field across the road. Nami island is very proud of it’s animal population, but apparently the ostriches are the stars of the show. It was a bit surprising to me how curious of visitors the birds were, spending most of their time right up at the fences despite having plenty of roaming room. I bet there’s food involved somewhere. Still it was odd to see these African savanna birds in the snow.

After the arctic ostrich experience, I meandered to the far bank of the island where the river was completely frozen over and dusted white with snow. It was quiet and serene. The emptiness was a stark contrast to the crowds I had left behind only 5 minutes before. It is a function of Korea that will never cease to amaze me, but no matter how crowded it is at an event, all you have to do is walk away for 5-10 minutes to be totally alone.

20180113_144230.jpgNext I headed back towards the center of the island to the arts and crafts village where handmade goods can be viewed, created, and purchased. My favorite was a metal tree dripping glass globes that caught the winter afternoon sunlight. There were also plenty of places to grab a hot drink, a snack or a meal.

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I went on a search for the glass blowing studio because I’d read in the pamphlet that there was an activity where visitors could make a small ornament, but alas it was only for groups of 8 or more who had booked in advance. My foray into molten glass will have to wait for another time.

While I was meandering around the statues and shops, I found a pottery shop with two peacocks perched on the rooftop, and I found a lone snow bunny hopping around on one of the frozen ponds. Great place for him since humans were kept back by the fear of falling in the ice. Great spot for me since I got to take photos of him against the snow. He was pretty fearless though and didn’t seem to mind when even more visitors noticed him and rushed over to take photos.

The weather was so cold that my phone battery was struggling more than normal and my phone actually shut down right in the middle of this bunny photo shoot, but it was still special. I suppose I’ll always have a soft spot for bunnies after having one of my own as a furbaby.

I found that while many of the restaurants were quite expensive (surprise, we’re on an island) there was a place called the Asian Family Restaurant that had decent prices and a wide range of foods. I ended up with a giant bowl of hot and spicy soup in a Chinese style, and by the time I was full, I was warm enough to head back into the snow.

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I decided to walk around the other side of the island on my way back toward the ferries to see what I hadn’t seen, I found more frozen ponds, sculptures, trees covered in a light snow, and the further I went, the fewer people I had to share it with. Coming out of a small birch grove, I spotted the oddest piece of art adorning an unused picnic area. Alone with this, the sounds of distant tourists muffled to silence by the blanket of snow around me, it felt more than a little creepy.

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Heading back to the riverside path, I found some other members of the Enjoy Korea group who were skipping stones on the frozen water to hear the odd laser blaster sound that it makes. I tried it myself, there’s literally no technique involved, just toss a rock on a frozen body of water and pew pew pew! Lot’s of people saw that guy on YouTube be very dude-bro about it, but here’s another guy who actually explains it.

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Finally, the short winter day began to wind down and my last bit of trail gave the ice, river and sky some beautiful twilight colors. I got back to the bus just a few minutes early and discovered that someone had participated in the ice carving craft. She made a hefty stein from ice, and since it couldn’t possibly last in the heat of the bus, she was offering to let anyone who liked have a shot of Korean soju from the frozen chalice. I think it was probably the best soju I’ve ever had, even though it was the same stuff that’s in every convenience store. Bonus, I can safely say in retrospect that either I got in on it early enough or the combo of ice and alcohol did the trick, but I didn’t get anyone else’s cold!

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Go check out the rest of the photos on Facebook.

Garden of the Morning Calm

After dark, we headed over to view a special winter lights show at a nearby botanical garden. The Koreans are, as always, just spectacular at light displays. This large garden usually makes it’s living showing off plants and flowers, but in the dead of winter when everything is brown and brittle, it opens up at night for a whole other color spectacle.

My first few months in Korea, I saw the biggest and most amazing light show when I went to the Taean Tulip Festival, and while I enjoyed every other light show I’ve been to since then, none have been able to take the title from Tulips until now. I did not realize what I was getting myself into. The entry way had trees and bushes wrapped in lights and the almost obligatory tunnel of lights (still not tired of those). I expected it to be similar to the one at Boseong, and I was happy with that idea.

I especially liked the lights glowing on the snow and ice, creating fun reflections and pastel color splashes. I dawdled far more than I should have, but the maps in Korean parks are notoriously bad for scale, and I just did not understand how BIG this place really is. I got to the (also obligatory) suspension bridge and noticed it led back to the entrance, so I turned to head down another path, even though it appeared to lead into darkness. Just to check.

I found another tunnel of light. I found a frozen pond that had been covered entirely in blue lights with a glowing sailboat and dolphins frolicking in the blue. I found a path covered in umbrellas made of tiny lights. I found giant vines and leaves of light that made me feel like Alice when she shrank small and talked to the flowers.

Then I turned a corner and saw the stars.

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Not really the stars, but huge balls made from clusters of tiny lights high in the tall trees looking like the night stars in the blackness. Fiber-optic cables flowed down from the branches like willow trees and waterfalls. Giant leaves wrapped around the trunks of trees climbing to meet the falling fronds of light above. Silhouettes of animals were picked out in life size golden glowing sculptures: reindeer which made sense, and a giraffe I suppose because why not? At the far end of this wonderland was a neon pink church that the King would have been pleased to see in his Vegas days, fronted by two pure white glowing angels. I could have probably done without the extra religion, but as I headed down the hill toward the next display, the church shrank into the background and I was left with a final stunning view of the immersive forest of light.

The theme of over sized plants continued a bit with giant mushrooms and trees wrapped in lights to an almost fractal level of detail. Faced with another fork in the road to go on into darkness or return to the glow of lights at the entrance, I checked the time and decided to forge ahead. I pondered what could be left after that wonderful wood. I took some photos of creative path lanterns and more trees draped in shifting colors, casting a glow on the snow beneath them, content and not expecting very much more when…

A viewing platform is always a good sign. Korean tourism departments everywhere have thoughtfully created a viewing platform at the optimum viewing place. They are hardly ever wrong, and everyone knows the etiquette, so you might have to wait a few moments, but you will get your turn. And when I did…

Usually, I like to describe things I see and experience, but in this instance, it might just be better to shut up and show you. You can see the whole roll on the Facebook album.

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Stay tuned for part 2 when I get to spend Sunday at the Hwacheon Seoncheoneo Ice Fishing Festival… I know, a festival for ice fishing? but it turns out the city of Hwacheon, and really Korea in general, knows how to turn anything into a great time. They can even do up an anchovy festival right, so something as exotic as ice fishing should be no problem! And if for some reason the prospect of catching trout through a hole in the ice isn’t your cup of soju, it’s also the home to the world’s largest indoor ice sculpture, so there’s more photos of beautiful lights to come as well. Thanks for reading!

Letters From China (Winter 2007-8)

A decade later, I’m in Korea suffering below freezing temperatures and I *still* ended up with a rainy Christmas instead of a white one. Let’s go back in time and look at my first snow in China. Also that winter I discovered my favorite “traditional” cold remedy, went to Xi’an to see the Terra Cotta Warriors, found out I was allergic to tigers, and visited what later became my favorite temple in the world (so far). Hop in the Way Back Machine with me.


Dec 13, 2007 at 2:22pm

A couple of days ago on Monday we had our first snow. The internet’s been mostly out since then, so this is the first opportunity I’ve had to post the pics I took.

Starting out leaving my apartment going to class in the morning.

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It kept snowing all through class, and on my way home, I spotted some mischief makers throwing snowballs and took some more pictures of the snow covered trees.

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I thought the red berries were particularly striking, and the little winter sparrows were adorable.

On my way to class on Tuesday morning, I found some snowmen that had apparently been constructed the evening before, not all of them survived the students’ rambunctious winter games, but at least they look happy. (Don’t ask me why they have antlers, because I really have no idea)

Dec 21, 2007 at 11:34pm

I’ve had a cold for about a week now, which royally sucks cause its hung on through my birthday and finals week and so far three Christmas parties. Last night after a class party, I went by my regular restaurant to get some dinner. I’ve mentioned before that I go to this one place nearly every day, sometimes twice a day. The lady who works there (her name is Lian) is super nice and the food is pretty good and reasonably cheap (if a little oily). They’ve even got an English menu now, since a student translated it for us. I’ve been going there every day for 4 months, and we’re developing a friendship. We chat to the best of my limited Chinese ability whenever she’s not too busy.

I must’ve looked as bad as I felt, because she asked if i was sick, and I told her i had a head cold, but it would be ok because I had some medicine at home, which I do. She said that she never takes medicine for that, but eats oranges and drinks soup and 姜丝可乐.

Here I was sure my translation was way off, because I could swear she was talking to me about boiling coca cola. I looked at her like she was crazy (just about the same way she looked at me for drinking 7-Up when I had that stomach flu), but she kept insisting it was the best thing, and finally sensing I hadn’t fully grasped her meaning, she wrote it down for me.

I’m a curious person, and I look it up on the internet (here some credit to Adam, who was online chatting with me at the time and opened a page for me I couldn’t get to so I could discover the meaning) for jiang si ke le.

“Jiang si” is ginger, and “ke le” is cola (any of the dark cola drinks), and once I knew what I was looking for, I searched for it in English, and found several blogs mostly from other expats who had learned of it from theirChinese friends.

You take a can of Coke (opinions differ as to whether or not you can sub Pepsi or generic brand, but everyone insists you need the sugar and caffeine, so no diet!), and pour it in a saucepan to heat up.

You peel and mince/chop/grate a LOT of ginger, I couldn’t find a specific amount, but it seems the more the better and you’re aiming for at least one decent sized 2-3 inch piece, maybe more.

Then when the Coke is hot, you add the ginger and simmer for a few more minutes, pour it into your mug and enjoy! (being sure to eat at least some of the ginger pieces too)

Now, most people hear hot Coke and think of a can or bottle that’s been left in the car on a hot sunny day, but I can assure you it is nothing like that. In fact, its really nothing like Coke. But it IS tasty and it DID make me feel better for at close to 8 hrs (and even now as its wearing off, I still feel marginally better than this morning before I had it).

I went back to the restaurant this evening for dinner, and told Lian I had tried her suggestion and it really helped, and she informed me I needed to drink one cup of it every day till I was better, so I’m gonna keep going.

The only downside is that between the caffine and the ginger, your metabolism speeds up enough that you wouldn’t want to drink it before bedtime, however as a morning or afternoon pick-me-up when sick, I highly recommend it.

What’s more, its a pleasant hot drink, so even if you don’t have a cold, you can still give it a try (though I would suggest using less ginger for a non-medicinal version).

*2017 Note: I still love this remedy. The only reason I haven’t been using it this year is because Korea sells these jars of sliced ginger and lemon in honey and you just put a spoonful in hot water and bam, instant “tea”.

Jan 6, 2008 at 11:28am

I’m back from Xi’an. It was really cool, I’m really tired, I took almost a whole gig worth of photos and video, and I found out I’m allergic to tigers…

Xi’an City

These are from my trip to Xi’an in January. The first is a picture of the old city wall.

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The bell and drum towers are some of the oldest structures in the city, they date back to the Tang Dynasty, and hold HUGE instruments a bell and drum respectively, which were used in Buddhist rituals.

And because it is so far west, there is a large Muslim population in Xi’an, creating the city’s Muslim quarter.

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The city wall is the only complete city wall in China, though most cities still have remnants of their old protective barriers, Xi’an has reconstructed the entire wall. Of course the city is quite a bit bigger now, so its more like a wall around the city center, but its really amazing, and I’m kind of sad I only got night shots, because its hard to really grasp the size and scope of this wall that encircles a part of the city equivalent to downtown, cap hill and the u dist., maybe more. You can actually walk around the entire thing, and there are a limited number of gates which makes the flow of traffic in and out a little… interesting.

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Qinling Zoological Park

This was the zoo/park/safari/circus thing I went to in January in Xi’an.

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I had to ride the bus for over 2 hrs to get there, but it was pretty cool. I hope to be able to go back when the weather is nicer and things are greener. (an interesting side note, this trip was one of my biggest tests of comfort and Chinese ability, since the bus my map said to take wasn’t on the hotel’s map and I had to ask the hotel, a traffic cop, and two bus drivers all in Chinese to find where I was supposed to be, and it took three buses to get there)

We start off with the entrance walkway, which is probably way cooler in the summer, but there were lots of interesting carvings in the trees.

Next I got on a bus to drive thru the safari part. The first half was just farm animal type things, there should have been more interesting animals like giraffes and whatnot, but the weather was too cold. The second half is carnivores, and while I had read in reviews that they enticed them near the bus with meat treats, this was not true. The photos aren’t great because I had no zoom on my camera, but it really was a neat experience to have nothing between me and those carnivores but a bus window.

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Then we move on to the walking area, where you can walk around and see various animals in cages and on chains (unfortunately). Many were missing, the flamingos, the pandas, the warm weather creatures, so this part was a little disappointing, but still interesting.

And last but not least was the animal show. This was everything animal rights activists will not let circuses do anymore in America. Dancing bear and tiger’s jumping through hoops of fire, and at the end, I paid an extra 10kuai to have my picture taken with a tiger, which was by far the highlight of the trip. You simply can’t appreciate how much cat is there from a picture or even at a zoo. WOW.

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2017 Note: When I went back in 2017, the conditions for the animals were much better. The habitats were improved, there were still too many bare boring cages, but at least animals weren’t being staked out on the path with chains. I didn’t put those pictures here because I didn’t want to ambush anyone with animal cruelty photos. in addition, the circus show had shortened the tiger performance by more than half and replaced the fire with flowers, then added human acrobats to fill the time. And there was no tiger petting at the end. I’m still glad I had the opportunity to get up close to this incredible animal, but I’m very happy that China is improving conditions in it’s zoos. I hope it keeps going.

Tang Dynasty Dinner Theater

Another event from the trip to Xi’an. We went to the dinner theater, had a whole bunch of dumplings many of which were shaped like the food they were filled with, and enjoyed some beautiful dance and music.

 

Big Wild Goose Pagoda

The Big Wild Goose Pagoda is a 7 story pagoda that was built many centuries ago. There was a sect of Buddhists that had not yet gone vegetarian, and when they were travelling and hungry, a wild goose threw itself to the ground for them to eat, inspiring them, ironically, to embrace ahimsa (nonviolence) to the point of vegetarianism and to build a temple on the site.

We start as I get out of the taxi at the far end of the north square, which is huge.

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Then we have to walk around the pagoda, because the entrance is on the south side.

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Then travel into the pagoda all the way to the top, all 7 very narrow stories of it.

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Then to the grounds and structures behind the pagoda.

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Finally ending the day with the night-time fountain show.

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Hope you enjoyed!

Da Cien Temple

Here are the promised photos of the Da Cien temple. This is the temple that is on the grounds of the Wild Goose Pagoda, so you’ll see the pagoda too.

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The photos don’t really do the white marble justice. I’ve never felt like such a geek, but it really made me feel like I was standing in Gondor.

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There are some beautiful carvings not only in the marble, but also in sandalwood, other walls and even some that look like paintings but are actually made of carved pieces of semiprecious stones (the ones in the next batch of photos are about 5 feet tall)

Unfortunately, it was very dark in there, so the image quality isn’t great, but it was truly amazing in person. Based on our crafts system, I’d have put this room at over 6 successes, because when I walked in I just stood and stared for I don’t know how long until some other tourist walked in. It was really the kind of art you can believe is inspired by true faith!

(for those who don’t know much about Buddhism, the mural depicts the life and enlightenment of the Buddha Gautama, starting with his mother being chosen, going thru is childhood, youth, adventures, enlightenment and post-enlightenment works)

Enjoy!

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*2017 Note: the craft system referenced is a way of marking the quality of imaginary crafts in a game setting. 1-5 are considered human achievements, 5 being the best. 6-10 are considered supernaturally beautiful and affect viewers in deeper ways. By saying this art was a 6, I was describing it at having that kind of supernatural quality that affected me more than just a pretty picture.

Terracotta Warriors

2017 Note: There is no writing about the Terracotta Warriors. I didn’t get around to it before I left China, and by then I didn’t need to write it on the board, since all those stories were just a way of keeping my friends and family up to date. Thinking back on my visits in 2008 and 2012, it’s a deeply overpowering experience. Buses leave from the city center as soon as they fill up, and people call out in the parking lot advertising for the ride to the site. It’s a long drive through farm country, although I do recall passing by a replica of the sphinx and pyramid of Giza on the way. Oh, China.

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The dig sites are covered with structures like airline hangars, and even though you are indoors, the space is vast. Many statues are still where they were buried and tourists look down on pits full of excavated warriors. A few have been removed to be studied and displayed and we can see the broken pieces and the restoration in progress. You can walk around for hours before covering all the ground and no two statues have the same face. The amount of labor boggles the mind.

It’s one of those experiences where, at the time you feel like each new statue deserves it’s own photo, and you keep finding better and better angles to showcase them from, and then later on you have a thousand nearly identical pictures which simply do not capture the feeling. Because it isn’t just the artistry, craftsmanship, or even the size or number (although all those things contribute), it’s the knowledge that you are walking in the earth that these artifacts were buried in for 2000 years. Museums are wonderful, but there is something special about being at the dig site, and because of the sheer scale, and the ongoing unearthing, that’s what I got viewing the Terracotta Warriors.

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I went back to Xi’an in 2012 as part of a holiday. Some of those pictures were better, and may have been substituted for quality. And there are hundreds of photos, the best of which I’ve put, as always, over on Facebook: Campus Snow, Xi’an City, Tang Dinner Theater, Qinling Park, Wild Goose Pagoda & North Square, Da Cien Temple, and Terracotta Warriors.

As I’ve been processing all these photos over the New Year’s weekend, two things have become painfully obvious. 1) whatever I was taking pictures with in 2007 was terrible. 2) My writing style has changed drastically in the last decade. Nowadays, a weekend like the one I spent in Xi’an would have been 3-4 posts of 3000+ words each. It’s not just about the word count, though. It’s the choice to use words to tell a story that pictures may compliment as opposed to using pictures with a few words about them. The story about jiangsikele is closer to my current style of prose, but only because I had no pictures to lean on. I like looking back on my photo albums, but I think 10 years from now me is going to like reading what I’ve written about my adventures as the Gallivantrix. I wonder what will change about me by 2028.

I hope you enjoyed this throwback post, and as always, thanks for reading!

 

 

Letters From China (Holidays 2007)

As the year slides to it’s final months, let’s take a look back a whole decade and see what my very first holiday season overseas was like. In many ways it seemed like western holidays were a bit of a novelty in China (not unlike how Chinese New Year is in the West?). Thanksgiving Dinner specials at expat restaurants were the only place to find turkey and cranberry sauce; and Christmas was entirely bereft of religious overtones (not a single nativity, angel, or baby Jesus anywhere!) focusing instead on Santa, beautiful lights, and fun gatherings, which since I’m not actually Christian are really my favorite parts. Happy Holidays!


Nov 23, 2007 at 10:21pm [American Thanksgiving]

It was strange to celebrate this holiday so far from home, but it turned out pretty good.

I had a class in the early morning, so we headed into Beijing after lunch. We did some shopping, and stopped for coffee in a shop that was playing Christmas muzak, which was vaguely cool.

We had reservations at a place called Grandma’s Kitchen, and we had a small map to it on the back of thier card. The interesting thing here is that it was in a Soho compound, and there are about 80 of those in the city, and the girl who made the reservations thought it was the one at Dawanglu, when it was actually at Yong’anli, 2 subway stops over. I managed to figure out what part of the city it was in from the map, but even in that complex there were like 7 Soho buildings, labeled by giant letters in front (I should have thought to take a pic, but we were lost). It took us quite a while, and three times asking directions (in Chinese) to get there, and then one of us (Kevin) had to go back to the subway station to meet Michelle, because she was meeting us there and went to the wrong place.

After much adventure, we all arrived. The place was empty at first, although by the middle of our meal it was packed. I was really surprised to see so many Chinese people there for the holiday dinner. The menu included a full 5 course dinner, not all of which was traditional American T-day stuff, but it was all tasty.

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The first course was a choice of bacon wrapped shrimp or stuffed mushroom, I ordered the shrimp, but traded one out for a mushroom. Both were good. The second course was salad, I got the spinach and pear, it was also nice. The third course was awesome, a rich pumpkin soup.

The main course included turkey with gravey, sweet potatoes which were mixed with a touch of cinnamon and the white thing on top is a marshmallow with a little lemony bit in the middle, which was a really nice combo with the cinnamoned yams, carrots (mediocre), bread stuffing that I avoided, cranberry sauce which was quite nice, and for no apparent reason, baked beans (they were out of mashed potatoes). And I chose the pumpkin pie for dessert, which was almost, but not quite, as good as mom’s.

Over dessert we went around and said what we were thankful for, and for me this included my friends and family at home who support me in my crazy life, finding a decent job here in China, and finding good people here to share the experience with. We told stories of Thanksgivings past, and generally had a really good night. I took some pictures of us, and had some pics taken so you could see the people as well as the food.

From left to right its Bill, Kevin, Michelle, Erwin and me.

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I love and miss you all, I hope you had wonderful Thanksgivings wherever you were.

Dec 4, 2007 at 9:28pm

Although I have actually seen a couple Christmas trees around town (amazing though that is), I decided the only real way to have my fill of Christmas spirit was to decorate!

So I went to Wal-Mart and got a little plastic tree (20 kuai), and a string of lights to put on it… (16 Kuai), and some cute little painted pine cone ornaments (honestly the most tasteful ones available, most were gawdawful plastic do-dads, there were some nicer glass ball types, but they were too big for my mini-tree), and a Santa topper (ok, not really a topper, its really an ornament that I cut the string off of and poked a hole in the bottom of so I could shove it on the top of the tree, but hey…14 kuai)

However, the lights were blinkey, and not in a nice way, in a terribly erratic way, and like so many Chinese things, they were broken 5 minutes after I got them, and the middle of the strand stopped lighting at all, I have no idea why. So I went to the local store and bought new lights in the shape of little presents, which I like much better. (10 kuai)

And so as not to waste my blinky lights, I hung them in my window which faces the street to spread my Christmas cheer to all passers by.

Dec 16, 2007 at 7:21pm

Its been strange, building up to Christmas in a place where every street isn’t lined with decorations, houses aren’t competing for the biggest, brightest light show, department stores aren’t spouting Christmas carols 24/7 and there are no bell ringing Santas out front of the grocery stores. Some days it seems like it must still be November.

There are a few trees and decorations here and there, plastic trees and paper Santas. I’ve got a tree, of course, and my window lights, which are the only Christmas lights on display I’ve seen in Yanjiao.

I went to Wal-mart in Beijing today, though and there are bigger trees. It looked like some workers were setting up a light display, and there was even a store that had reindeer out front.

I treated myself to a gingerbread latte at Starbucks, and sat amid the Christmas music and decorations and almost felt like I was just in another city in America… almost.

But one of the amazing things I noticed in the middle of all this complete lack of Christmasosity (I can’t even find candy canes), was that my students, 20+ tho they may be, are like little children about Christmas. Its still magical and amazing to them, because they haven’t done it every year of their lives.

I downloaded some classic Christmas tv, like Charlie Brown, Frosty, Rudolph and of course the Grinch (the good cartoon version), and as I sat in the darkened classroom, watching these cartoons for the umpteenth time and taking some solace in the sameness and familiarity of them, I realized something really amazing.

As I sat there listening to my students laughing out loud at the Grinch’s dog Max *for the first time in thier lives*, it was an amazing experience for me to hear that laughter and realize that these young adults were enjoying Christmas tv for the first time.

Say whatever you want about Americanization, cultural pollution or even the evils of Christianity, but the fact is, I’m not Christian, and Christmas is older than America, and whatever these kids have in their own culture, there isn’t a winter holiday that’s getting pushed aside to make room for Christmas, so if they can find out from me that Christmas is joy, and cheer and goodwill and cookies, then that makes me pretty darn happy.

Dec 17, 2007 at 9:37pm

Despite the fact that most of you seem to have forgotten I’m in the future, and that today was my birthday… and more gruelingly the fact that I’ve got a horrible cold, and that I’ve finally broken into my third decade, as my mother was so kind to point out, and its freezing cold and I had to start giving finals today… it turned out to be a good birthday after all.

The morning was ok, I woke up too early, but it gave me some extra time to chat online. All my students wished me a happy birthday at the exam this morning, and a couple even gave me presents. One boy gave me some dried fruit snacks and a girl gave me a lovely Peiking opera mask miniature of the monkey king.

100_0693After the exams I went to lunch and enjoyed some hot soup, then came home to grade papers, not really thinking much of the day. The school sent over a cute little cake which i decided to hold on to until I could share it with some folks at dinner tomorrow. I graded papers, looked at more evil forms and watched some X-files, all the while becoming more icky feeling and more cold.

Finally it got to be time to go to my evening class, which I didn’t want to go to cause I’m tired and sick and have to be up super early tomorrow for another final. But I drag myself across campus in the cold, I get up to the 9th floor and see one of my students going into the classroom and closing the door behind her.

I thought, ‘well that’s odd, I could swear she saw me’. Then when I tried to go into the room, another student asked me to wait outside, and when they finally let me in, they had prepared a birthday cake with candles and everything, and they sang me “happy birthday” in English and Chinese.

I couldn’t blow out the candle on the first try (probably because of my cold) but on the second try I actually blew it over (fortunately it was out first). The cake said “We ❤ U” with a picture of a heart, and was decorated with a huge frosting Santa. The cake was quite large enough for everyone in class to have a big piece. I didn’t have my camera, but several of the students took pictures on their phones and I asked them to email the pics to me, which I’ll post once they do. *(they never did)*

I honestly don’t remember the last time I had a surprise party. I’ve been organizing my own birthday parties for so long I figured here I am so far from home and I haven’t invited anyone to celebrate with me, so nothing will happen. It was so sweet and thoughtful of these students to organize even a simple cake and singalong that I feel like I really have had a happy birthday, in spite of some pretty overwhelming odds.

If this is anything to go on, I hope the whole decade is full of such happy surprises.

Dec 19, 2007 at 11:17pm

Wow. I have just gotten back after 4 hours of dinner and party.  The dinner was held in the hotel next door, in a huge room decorated with a Christmas tree and other festive decorations. We had so much good food, most of which was far less oily than my usual, and they even had french fries, which were fun to eat with chopsticks. They also had lots of booze, wine, beer and baijiu, as well as a homemade “wine” from one of the women there.

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It actually turned out to be pretty fun, as every 2-3 minutes someone else came by our table to make a toast, so we all got pretty toasty. We sang a Christmas song, and the Chinese sang us a song about friendship, then we went across campus to see the show the students had prepared.

The show was put on by the business department, so none of my students were there (there’s another party on Sunday night for that, I hear). There was singing, dancing, and performances by many unique instrumentalists (both the instruments and the players were unique).

There was a student dressed up as Santa Claus who gave us all Christmas cards and candy (I even got a Santa hat!).

I’m going to have to buy more batteries so I can take pictures of the parties in my classes and the one on Sunday night, as well as our ‘teachers only’ dinner on Christmas eve.

I thought for a while that I would miss out on Christmas by being here in China, but the faculty and students have gone out of their way to make us have a good Christmas, and even though the traditions aren’t quite the same, I definitely feel full of Christmas cheer.

Here’s the show: dancing girls, rapping guys, singers, a traditional Chinese stringed instrument, accordion player, and a whole crowd of audience.

 

The students threw glitter and spray snow all over the teachers.

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Dec 26, 2007 at 5:20pm

I had 6 parties in all, one you’ve already seen was the department party, then there were 3 class parties and a school dance, and our teacher dinner. This post will have 2 of the class parties (the third one wasn’t much to look at), and the school dance.

Here’s the first class, they’re advanced conversation. They went to town decorating the room.

Here’s the school dance, I was warned it was going to be like a middle school dance with the girls on one side and the boys on the other, but there was a performance, which I missed most of because Kevin wanted to get drinks first.. the VP of the college asked me to sing. I couldn’t exactly refuse, so I sang one verse of silent night. And I got dragged out to dance quite a bit, and I noticed how much the smog affects me, since my lungs stayed on fire way worse than even at the Merc [a Seattle dance club]. But it was fun, and there was certainly lots of dancing.

And here is the last class party, once again, there was an abundance of decorating. In both cases the class monitors brought speakers to hook up an MP3 player to so we had music, people brought snacks and decorations, I brought Christmas bingo, a puzzle game and taught them some Christmas carols, including the 12 days, which was hilarious, at least for me. There was also dancing in the classes as well. They really like singing and dancing.

Merry Christmas from all the Chinese kids!

Dec 29, 2007 at 2:53am

The long awaited Christmas Eve Dinner. We went to a place called Cafe Europa, it was in the same giant shopping complex as Grandma’s Kitchen, but a totally different atmosphere. It was elegant, but not overstated, which was nice, since so many Chinese Christmas decorations are like 5 yr old meets raver kid style. There were 9 of us, and 9 is an auspicious number in China, so who knows, maybe we get some good luck.

Erwin, Michelle, Rebecca, Jonathan, Bill, Peter, Terry, Louise and myself.

It was a pleasant evening, the restaurant never got too crowded or noisy, but we weren’t the only people celebrating. We had some champagne and beer, and a (mostly) pleasant conversation, tho toward the end it devolved into “first date deal breakers” thanks to Peter.

The menu was very nice. We started off with a small foie gras appetizer, served over a tomato vinaigrette salad, entirely too many people were hesitant about the paté, but I thought it was lovely. This was followed by a salmon appetizer with a quail egg and salmon roe in addition to the normal onions and capers. This was my first salmon since leaving Seattle and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed it. Then there was a lobster bisque, nice and rich.

Followed by I think the biggest pile of prime rib I’ve ever been served, huge thick slices, tender and well seasoned. YUM! It made me glad I hadn’t eaten much all day. Dessert was a mousse plate, there’s a white chocolate mousse which tasted a lot like devonshire cream, in a chocolate dish, and a milk chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce.

On our way back to the main road toward a taxi, we passed these pretty lights and Peter redeemed himself by singing Christmas carols in harmony with me, which was fun.

Christmas (11)

When we got back to Yanjiao, we went to a local bar and stayed out drinking until 4am. (the people working there kept going to sleep behind the bar between rounds, but they never asked us to leave) I somehow got roped into doing tarot readings with a deck of playing cards, which amused everyone, and we finished off the evening with a rousing game of “I never”. Maybe not the most Christmassy ever, but there was a big tree decorated and lit up in the bar, and we had a toast at midnight to welcome Christmas in.

I won’t say that it hasn’t been hard to be away from you all during the holidays, but given the circumstances, I had a pretty good Christmas.


It makes me cringe just a little bit to read how totally Americentric and culturally illiterate I was back then, but on the other hand, it was having experiences like these that helped me grow into the person I am now. We all have to start somewhere. Who knows, maybe in another ten years I’ll look back on my current blog entries and groan.

I can also see the slow detachment I’m having from Western holidays. I still like going to expat dinners, and I definitely still like decorating my home for Christmas, but every year it’s easier to focus on the holidays that the country I’m in is celebrating rather than pine for the celebrations I’m missing. Buddha’s Birthday has been one of my favorites here in Korea when everyone decorates in beautiful lanterns.

However you celebrate, and whoever you celebrate with, I hope you have some very happy holidays this year!