Monthly Archives: February 2013

Chinese New Year celebrations – Welcome to the year of the Snake 蛇 Shé

Chinese New Year is the most important and, at 15 days, the longest holiday in China.  Chinese New Year begins on the first day of the lunar calendar, so it is also called Lunar New Year, and it is considered the beginning of spring, so it is also called Spring Festival.  Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays.  Regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration of the Chinese New Year vary widely.  The Chinese New Year celebrations ended on Sunday February 24th.  We heard hours and hours of firecrackers and fireworks going off until the early hours!  We also lit 2 Chinese lanterns and sent them soaring into the sky.

The Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival as it’s been called since the 20th century, remains the most important social and economic holiday in China.  It is also a time to bring family together for feasting.  With the adoption in China of the Western calendar in 1912, the Chinese joined in celebrating January 1 as New Year’s Day.  However, they continue to celebrate the traditional Chinese New Year, although in a shorter version with a new name–the Spring Festival.   (Significantly, younger generations of Chinese now observe the holiday in a very different manner from their ancestors. For some young people, the holiday has evolved from an opportunity to renew family ties to a chance for relaxation from work.)

Some of the traditions at this time include: each family to thoroughly cleanse the house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for good incoming luck.  Windows and doors are often decorated with red colour paper cut-outs with themes of “good fortune”, “happiness”, “wealth” and “longevity”.  Other activities include lighting firecrackers (to frighten evil spirits) and giving money in red paper envelopes – red is very lucky colour in China!   People post scrolls printed with lucky messages on household gates and elders give out money to children. In fact, many of the rites carried out during this period are meant to bring good luck to the household and long life to the family–particularly to the parents.

The Chinese calendar is a complex timepiece.  Its parameters are set according to the lunar phases as well as the solar solstices and equinoxes. Yin and yang, the opposing but complementary principles that make up a harmonious world, also ruled the calendar, as do the Chinese zodiac, the twelve “signs” along the apparent path of the sun through the cosmos.  Each new year is marked by the characteristics of one of the 12 zodiacal animals: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey (me), rooster (Owen and Isabelle), dog and pig (Oliver).

Most important is the feasting. On New Year’s Eve, the extended family joins around the table for a meal that includes as the last course a fish that is symbolic of abundance and therefore not meant to be eaten.  In the first five days of the New Year, people eat long noodles to symbolize long life.  On the 15th and final day of the New Year, round dumplings shaped like the full moon are shared as a sign of the family unit and of perfection.  It is a time for family get together, cooking and celebrating!

The Friday before New Year (February 7th) BISS finished the week of Chinese celebrations with the opportunity for the children to dress up in traditional dress.  Isabelle and Ava were suitably attired:

Chinese New Year celebrations at BISS.  Isabelle and Ava dressed in traditional Chinese dresses.

Chinese New Year celebrations at BISS. Isabelle and Ava dressed in traditional Chinese dresses.

Oliver is born under the sign of the Pig, specifically the Fire Pig, and those born in the year of the Fire Pig are supposed to be enthusiastic, extroverted, rebellious, passionate, brave and valiant; however, they can also be hot-tempered, snappy, uncontrollable and short-tempered.

Isabelle and Owen are born under the sign of the Rooster who is supposed to have a very flamboyant and expressive personality, very talkative, an extrovert who loves to showoff.  The Rooster is a trustworthy, hardworking and confident individual.  Brave, romantic, motivated, proud, blunt, resentful and boastful.  Isabelle is a Wood Rooster who likes the company of others and is a good friend.

Chinese New Year (CNY) is also the time for companies to hold their annual parties to celebrate and recognize their employees.  My company is no different and on Tuesday February 5th we were all at a posh hotel for dinner.  We all signed a huge board on our way in:

Signing the board (bottom left)

Signing the board (bottom left)

I walked into the Ballroom that had a stage set up and lots of tables.  I was asked to sit at the center table.  (This meant that I had lots of toasts to keep up with the Chinese Baijiu wine, which is lethal!!!!)  This consequently meant a pounding head on Wednesday.  🙂

The "Red" table - many courses over the evening and many toasts!

The “Red” table – many courses over the evening and many toasts!

Throughout the dinner, the employees were engaged in the entertainment.  I was amazed to see displays of karaoke, drinking games and dancing.  The first show was a flamboyant dance to Abba’s Dancing Queen:

"Dancing Queen"

“Dancing Queen”

"Sales" and "Operations" singing about their love/hate relationship!

“Sales” and “Operations” singing about their love/hate relationship!

This drinking game involved a large glass of Baijiu and glasses of water.  The goal was to guess who was drinking the alcohol!

This drinking game involved a large glass of Baijiu and glasses of water. The goal was to guess who was drinking the alcohol!

A fantastic voice singing a lovely song!

A fantastic voice singing a lovely song!

I got "volunteered" for a game on the stage.  This involved getting a pretzel stick to the shortest length possible with your partner.

I got “volunteered” for a game on the stage. This involved getting a pretzel stick to the shortest length possible with your partner.

In many ways, all the games were a throwback to my youth!  It was all unexpected at a business function, but everyone is actively participating.

Speeches and flowers to the support staff.

Speeches and flowers to the support staff.

The final song of the night.

The final song of the night.

My first Chinese New Year celebration was fun (very alcoholic!) and an unforgettable experience.

Celebrating the end of the Chinese New year festivities with the lanterns:

Lighting the lantern - it took several minutes to fill with warm air.

Lighting the lantern – it took several minutes to fill with warm air.

Kids letting it go.......

Kids letting it go…….

Up, up and away.  We watched it soar so high - it was still flying and alight by the time it was out of sight!

Up, up and away. We watched it soar so high – it was still flying and alight by the time it was out of sight!

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Daddy Daughter Winter Wonderland Ball

Saturday night was the Winter Wonderland Daddy Daughter Ball.  This is one of the premier events that the PFA (Parents and Friends Association) of BISS organize each year.  The girls absolutely love this event and have been talking about it since Christmas!  It is held in the ballroom of a local hotel and is very fancy – full black tie evening wear.  No mums are allowed.

Winter Wonderland Ball invitation.

Winter Wonderland Ball invitation.

Isabelle had designed her own dress and we had it made at the local fabric market.  It is so cheap to do this and her finished dress was less than £60/$90.  It was absolutely stunning.

Saturday morning dawned and Isabelle and I were off to the hairdressers so she could have something fancy done with her hair.  They french braided the front of her hair and then curled all the rest.  It was so pretty.  I told her that she could not do anything else for the rest of the day so it would not be ruined!  Later in the afternoon, she was at her friend Maddies’ house where 4 of the girls all had their nails painted.  Of course, Isabelle had to have blue nails to match her dress!

Phoebe painting Isabelle's nails!

Phoebe painting Isabelle’s nails!

Ava and Isabelle showing off their painted nails.

Ava and Isabelle showing off their painted nails.

All the girls displaying the finished effect!  Maddie (with curlers in!), Ava, Isabelle and Amelie.

All the girls displaying the finished effect! Maddie (with curlers in!), Ava, Isabelle and Amelie.

Isabelle was so excited about this evening.  She could not wait to get into her dress.  I helped her get ready and then she walked down the stairs to her handsome prince – Daddy (who looked more gorgeous than James Bond, in his custom made tux!).  Daddy was suitably impressed with his date for the evening.

Owen (Bond, Owen Bond) and our lovely, beautiful daughter.

Owen (Bond, Owen Bond) and our lovely, beautiful daughter.

Beautiful dress (designed by Isabelle).  Owen's bow tie is a perfect match to her dress too!

Beautiful dress (designed by Isabelle). Owen’s bow tie is a perfect match to her dress too!

What a gorgeous couple!

What a gorgeous couple!

Isabelle’s best friend, Ava and her Daddy, Matt, came to pick them and take them to the hotel.  More photo opportunities:

Ready to leave!

Ready to leave!

Owen and Isabelle had professional photos taken as soon as they arrived at the ball.  There were also other activities for them to enjoy – Isabelle, of course gravitated towards the arts and crafts section:

Arts and Crafts!

Arts and Crafts!  (Isabelle’s teacher is in the background – one of the girls chaperones for the evening)

There was lots of dancing, including a “dance-off” between the Dads and the Daughters.  This year the Dads won that!!  The girls danced alot with each other:

Girls on the dance floor together.

Girls on the dance floor together.

And dancing with Daddy:

Pure fun written across these 2 faces.

Pure fun written across these 2 faces.

What a beautiful princess.

What a beautiful princess.

Ice cream at the end of the night.

Ice cream at the end of the night.

While Daddy and Isabelle were having a fabulous evening at the Winter Wonderland Daddy Daughter Ball, Oliver and I were at Suzanne’s house along with all the Mum’s and boys who had been left behind!!  We had a lovely evening – Oliver played with Ethan and I caught up with friends old and new.  All the Dad’s and daughters arrived at 9.30pm and it was fantastic to see all the beautiful dresses on the girls.  All the men looked good in their evening wear too!

Funky Hair Day

Friday was Funky Hair Day at BISS.  For a fee of 25RMB (£2.50/$4.00), Isabelle and Oliver could wear what they wanted to school and make their hair “funky”.  Owen used lots of gel on Oliver to make a mohican and lots of spikes and then sprayed it all different colours:

Oliver's funky hair - mohicans and colour.

Oliver’s funky hair – mohicans and colour.

Even better in daylight!

Even better in daylight!

Owen laughed his socks off when he was reading the instructions on one of the spray cans.  Here are the actual instructions, word for word, with one blank left to your imagination:

“Using the front must is well this article shake the, then f**k the hair for good.
Can use a the sort shampooes a cleaning.”

Interesting translation!

Isabelle had a lot of pony tails and then we sprayed them all different colours:

Multiple pony tails and lots of colour.

Multiple pony tails and lots of colour.

More colour.

More colour.

They thought it was hilarious to have funky hair.

They thought it was hilarious to have funky hair.

Giggles galore this morning!

Giggles galore this morning!

They enjoyed their hairstyles for the day.  It was not so much fun to get it all off at the end of the day!  3 shampoo’s for Oliver and it all eventually came out.  I did multiple washes on Isabelle and she still had blue and pink left in her hair on Saturday!

Passport Woes

The Chinese New Year is the biggest travel time within China.  It is the equivalent of the Western Christmas/New Year celebrations or Thanksgiving.  Many people travel back to their home towns and cities for extended celebrations with their families.  Most Ex-pats leave the Country!  (Shops are closed, drivers are with families, Ayi’s are with families, so it is difficult to stay).  We had decided to book a trip to anywhere that we could get flights to.  All our Emerald friends had told us that getting out of China would be difficult at this time of year, and they were right.  Owen and John (friends who we would be travelling with), spent almost a day with a travel agent working out an itinerary that would work for us all.

Having decided on Vietnam and because of long layovers on flight connections, we decided to extend our time in Hong Kong at both ends of the trip.  January 8th and our trip is booked, signed and paid for!!  I am in Beijing while all this is being done.  The following week I am in Singapore and Owen then calls me in a panic because he has been researching the Visa requirements for Vietnam and sees that they require 6 months validity on passports to issue the visa.  I have 4 months left on mine!  Uh-oh……

It is 3 weeks to go before we depart and it looks like I will not be able to get a Visa.  I research a fast passport renewal process when you are out of the UK and am told that I can do an expedited service (2 weeks) through Hong Kong (mainland China no longer allows UK passport services).  However, my Residence Permit is in my “old” (current) passport and I will need that to get back into China.  The Chinese Government also require you to carry your passport at all times, so the renewal process is unique in that you do not send your old passport in with the application.

I took a colour photocopy of my passport, complete the application form, take copies of our travel itinerary, rush to get photo’s done and DHL the packet to Hong Kong on January 25th – exactly 2 weeks and 1 day before travel day.   I check my UK bank account and see that the expedite passport service fee has been deducted from my account on January 31st, which means that the UK has received the application and is processing it.  Yippee, I think!  Then I wait and wait.

Wednesday February 6th and now I getting nervous as I still have no passport.  I have processed Vietnam Visa-on-Arrival paperwork for the rest of the family so they are good to go.  Owen is in the UK and says that he can collect my passport from the UK office if it is there.  I phone the helpline to see if this can be done and am told that there is no way I will be getting my passport before Saturday February 9th and there is no way that Owen can collect it.  HELP – what is a girl to do?  The helpline is actually helpful and I am told that if I visit the British Consulate in Shanghai they may be able to issue me an Emergency Passport.  Now, the new research starts……  will Hong Kong and Vietnam allow entry with an Emergency passport?  Can I get a Visa in time?  Will I be allowed back into China on a cancelled passport with a valid residents permit AND an emergency passport?  Will the Consulate even process an Emergency Passport for these reasons?

Thursday morning dawns and I am waiting for the Consulate to open to get answers to all these questions!  Eventually, they phone me back at noon to let me know the answer to all the questions is YES, YES, MAYBE, YES and YES!  Again, YIPPEE, I think!  The only problem may be in getting a Vietnam visa as it is Lunar New Year celebrations across Asia and many Government agencies are already closed.  I rush down to the Consulate with photos and paperwork and they tell me to come back first thing in the morning to collect my Emergency Passport.

I am waiting outside the Consulate doors on Friday morning for opening time!  2 minutes later and I have a passport in hand – valid for 7 months for 1 trip only – to Vietnam via Hong Kong!!  Now, to get the Visa.  I find a company online that will process it for me – for an astronomical fee, of course!

Friday afternoon and I have the emergency passport and Visa-on-Arrival approval!  Less than 24 hours before travel time!

Friday afternoon and I have the emergency passport and Vietnam Visa-on-Arrival approval! Less than 24 hours before travel time!

For any British people living in Shanghai – the Consulate is awesome.  Very helpful, calm and patient people working there.  They went above and beyond to help me out at short notice.  This is very handy to know 🙂

I am so glad that I phoned the UK passport helpline – they immediately had visibility into my application process and could give me the information that enabled me to work on a Plan B.  I have Marie, Lin and Emma to thank for that advice!  It was becoming the morning bus stop conversation – the ongoing saga of Sara’s passport!!  Everyone was nervous for me.  I had offers to spend Chinese New Year with the only set of friends staying in Shanghai!

I was so nervous travelling on this document, but I had no problems with any immigration.  Just a few funny looks and intelligent comments like: “this is an emergency passport” and, “did you know that this is an emergency travel document”.

February 20th – I still do not have my full passport back from the UK.  So much for an expedited process!

Fashion Show – 5 year old style

The first half of the school term Oliver has been learning all about “We Can Be”.  This has included using imagination and story telling to help express feelings and opinions.  He explored different characters at the circus and use of magic.  The finale of this topic was a fashion show where all the kids could dress up as a favorite character and strut their stuff on the stage!

Oliver dressed up as Buzz Lightyear for his turn on the stage.  He exuded confidence as he walked down the cat walk with a huge smile on his face.  He rocked out to “I like to Move it, Move it”.  What a cool dude!

All the children did a fantastic job – lots of smiles, strutting, confidence and great costumes.

My Little Man Buzz

My Little Man Buzz

3 Reception Classes up on the Catwalk.  Lots of princesses and fairies for the girls and super-heros for the boys!

3 Reception Classes up on the Catwalk. Lots of princesses and fairies for the girls and super-heros for the boys!

 

Harbin – Tigers, Snow and Ice Spectacular

We had a fabulous weekend in Harbin.  Friday January 18th, we collected the kids from school at noon ready to fly up to Harbin in the very north of China. In fact, any further north and we would have been in Russia!  Evidence of this can be seen in the town centre:

Chinese and Russian signs above the shops in Harbin.

Chinese and Russian signs above the shops in Harbin.

This was an “Emerald” weekend away as there would be 6 families staying in the same hotel and doing all the same site seeing!  We had travelled up with John, Jenny and their 2 boys: Daniel and Luke, and the others were arriving at different times during Friday and Saturday morning.  Once we had walked off the plane into the baggage claim area, we (along with every other person on the plane) immediately started to bundle up: ski gloves, scarves, additional layers.  It was cold, cold, cold!  We stepped out of the airport and felt the cold air on our faces.  It was only minus 27 degrees centigrade that night!  Luckily it was a short walk to the waiting car.  It was funny to see the inside of the car windows frost up during our 45 minute drive to the hotel.  Once we got to the hotel (Shangri-la – highly recommended in Harbin) it was time for dinner.  We dropped bags off and decided to eat in the hotel restaurant.  It was buffet style and the kids loved being able to help themselves.  We also met up with Marie and Tim and their 3 children: Cai, Lia and Seren.  They had arrived earlier this morning and had already done some sight-seeing.

We got up early on Saturday morning and began the long task of getting dressed. Layering up with thermals, long sleeves, 2 pairs of socks, sweaters and then ski coats.  Then add ski gloves and liners, hats, ear muffs, face warmers and scarves!!  Poor Isabelle and Oliver did not like wearing so many clothes and they weebled their way down the hotel corridor to the elevator!  They both look the Michelin Man!  We had arranged for a mini-bus to take us, John & Jenny + family and Tim & Marie + family to the Tiger breeding station first.

Tiger Breeding Organization

Tiger Breeding Organization

The Siberian Tiger Park covers an area of more than a million square meters (250 acres+) and it was set up as a place to breed and house Siberian tigers.  The Siberian tiger is the largest of the big cats.  The breeding program has been very successful, and there are now about 800 Siberian tigers (about 100 can be seen here) along with other large cats like lions and pumas.  This is amazing, since it is estimated that there are only about 500 Siberian tigers left in the wild.  Almost all of these wild ones are in Russia, and maybe 12 are in China.  The facility includes a museum, breeding areas, and cages/pens for the other large cats.  It is amazing to see a group of striped golden tigers walk and run together.   You can also have the option to buy some live animals to feed the tigers with:

Tiger Menu

Tiger Menu

We were full of good intentions to buy a chicken but by the time we had walked through to the bus, we had lost our opportunity.

All of the kids waiting to go into the Tiger Park.

All of the kids waiting to go into the Tiger Park.  Dan, Isabelle, Seren, Lia, Oliver, Cai and Luke.

Riding in the tiger cart

Riding in the tiger cart

Once we moved into through the gift shop, we got into the bus that would drive us through the large open areas filled with the tigers.  It was fantastic to be so close to these magnificent animals.  They are beautiful.

Beautiful White Siberian Tiger.  Quite Rare!

Beautiful White Siberian Tiger. Quite Rare!

So many tigers here......

So many tigers here……

This tiger has just fed on a chicken!

This tiger has just fed on a chicken!  You can even see a feather hanging down near its mouth!

At the tiger feeding area - there must have been between 30-40 here.

At the tiger feeding area – there must have been between 30-40 here.

Wow Mum, we saw a lot of tigers!

Wow Mum, we saw a lot of tigers!

Owen and Oliver getting eaten by a Tiger!!

Owen and Oliver getting eaten by a Tiger!!

After spending a good few hours here, our feet and our faces were starting to get numb.  The temperature was minus 35 degrees centigrade and you cannot stay out for too long!  We all got back into our lovely warm bus and drove back to the Hotel for lunch and to warm through!  After we were toastie again, it was back in the bus to check out the snow sculptures at Sun Island Park.

The Harbin Snow and Ice festival officially starts January 5th and usually lasts one month.  Ice sculpture decoration technology ranges from the modern (using lasers) to traditional (with ice lanterns).   Some of the most impressive ice sculptures are full size buildings made from blocks of 2–3 feet thick crystal clear ice directly taken from the Songhua River.

Sun Island Park Entrance

Sun Island Park Entrance

The first sculpture we saw was this one of the 7 dwarves.

The first sculpture we saw was this one of the 7 dwarves.

Snow sculpture

Snoopy Snow sculpture

more snow

Oliver and me by a beautiful sculpture.  This gives you an idea of the scale of a lot of the sculptures in this park.

Just the girls posing by the greenery at the Snow sculptures at the Sun Park.

Isabelle, Lia, me and Oliver posing by the greenery at the Snow sculptures at the Sun Island Park.

Getting ready for mass slide

Getting ready for mass slide

Slide executed!

Slide executed!

Isabelle and Oliver by a sculpture

Isabelle and Oliver by a sculpture

Ludwig Beethoven in Snow!

Ludwig van Beethoven in Snow!

More music in snow

More music in snow

Amazing sculptures here in China

Amazing sculptures here in China

Snow egg

Snow egg

The sculptures are absolutely amazing.  Many of them are huge – towering above us.  They are all intricately carved with exquisite detail.  There was even a building with a slide.  We all rode down this on a rubber ring – it was thrilling!

Waiting to ride the slide

Waiting to ride the slide

Harbin - Snow and Ice Capital!

Harbin – Snow and Ice Capital!

The detail is amazing.

The detail is amazing.

I loved this simple design.

I loved this simple design.

More detail.......

More detail…….

Almost the same.  Minor changes in these heads make you look twice!

Almost the same. Minor changes in these heads make you look twice!

Cinderella shall go to the ball.

Cinderella shall go to the ball.  I laughed at the fact that Cinderella and Prince Charming cannot possibly get into this carriage!  Still a fabulous sculpture though!

Another wonderful sculpture

Another wonderful sculpture

Solider shooting in snow.

Solider shooting in snow.

The magic flute

The magic flute

We spent all afternoon here and as the sun began to set, the light was amazing and the photos that we took later in the day were spectacular.

Such wonderful detail

Such wonderful detail

And then the evening lights came on too!

And then the evening lights came on too!

Back to the beginning, this time this is all lit up.

Back to the beginning, this time this is all lit up.

We had been overwhelmed enough for 1 day!  Tigers and snow sculptures and we had been outside for most of it.  Our feet were cold and it was time for dinner.  All the other families from Emerald had arrived earlier in the day so we were looking forward to a lovely meal with everyone!

We had booked several tables at the back of the restaurant in the hotel.  All the boys gravitated towards one, while the girls took another and that left all the adults to enjoy an evening together at the main table!  🙂

The boys at Dinner

The boys at Dinner – Ethan, Oliver, Luke, Cai, Daniel and Harry (Joseph is missing from the boys table).

The Girls table - Maddie, Lia, Isabelle and Ava.  Seren and Amelie are missing from this photo.

The Girls table – Maddie, Lia, Isabelle and Ava. Seren and Amelie are missing from this photo.  Isabelle is getting quite good with chopsticks!

A selection of the adults"

A selection of the adults: Nick, Owen, Marie, Lin, Tim, Kevin, Jenny and Emma

Obviously towards the end of the evening......Kevin, Jenny, Emma, John and Jane

Obviously towards the end of the evening……Kevin, Jenny, Emma, John and Jane

Oliver, Seren and Ethan

Oliver, Seren and Ethan.  Oliver and Ethan both love Seren and she knows exactly how to make this work to her advantage!  All 3 play so well together and they are wonderful to watch.  They had a great weekend!

girls

Isabelle, Ava, Maddie, Lia and Amelie chilling out after dinner!

We had another early morning on Sunday so that we could go down to the Songhua River.  We wanted to walk on water!!  The kids laughed at this!

The ice sculpted entrance to the river slides.

The ice sculpted entrance to the river slides.

The view from the top.  So many activities on the river.

The view from the top. So many activities on the frozen river.

Time to slide down to the River so we can ride in a tank!

Time to slide down to the River so we can ride in a tank!

And down we all went......

And down we all went……

Time for a ride in the Tank!

Time for a ride in the Tank!

Owen and Isabelle on the left, with Oliver and me to the right.  This was HUGE FUN!!!!!

Owen and Isabelle on the left, with Oliver and me to the right. This was HUGE FUN!!!!!  Of course, with Owen’s Army background he drove it perfectly.  I had to be rescued off the center divides several times!!!!!

Isabelle cheering a perfect round!

Isabelle cheering a perfect round!

Oliver and I cheering the fact that it was a straight run!

Oliver and I cheering the fact that it was a straight run!

So. Much. Fun.

So. Much. Fun.

The ice is so clear.  It is taken from the river and carved into wonderful sculptures.  This block is almost 2 feet thick.  You can clearly see my victory salute through the this.

The ice is so clear. It is taken from the river and carved into wonderful sculptures. This block is almost 2 feet thick. You can clearly see my victory salute through this.

We spent hours on this slide.

We spent hours on this slide.  The only downside was pulling the tires back up to the top each time!  Eventually Isabelle had been down enough times with Owen or John, that she decided she was brave enough to do it herself.  There was no stopping her then.

Oliver posing!

Oliver posing!  So many layers on him!

Fruit on a stick

After all the fun on the river, it was time to warm up before going to the Ice Festival.  We saw this fruit on a stick display and the kids immediately wanted to try one.

Oliver's choice was huge.  He ate it all!!

Oliver’s choice was huge. He ate it all!!

Just cherries for Isabelle.

Just cherries for Isabelle.

Tourist attractions again in Harbin.  They are getting used to all the photos that the locals want to take of them!

Tourist attractions again in Harbin. They are getting used to all the photos that the locals want to take of them!

We had found a Costa coffee shop and warmed up with coffee and hot chocolate.  After that, we needed to get from downtown to the Ice Festival and so jumped in a couple of taxis.  This was a very interesting experience as Owen watched our driver signing the driver of the other taxi (where John, Jenny, Luke and Daniel were) and then both taxis pulled over into a side road.  The drivers were trying to negotiate an exorbitant fee to take us.  Thank goodness for iPhone’s with maps as John saw that our hotel was right around the corner so we just got out the taxis and started walking.  A little bit scary and I was sad that we were targetted for a rip off (especially with young children with us).  Once back at the hotel, we (hotel concierge!) negotiated taxis to take us to the Ice Festival at Zhaolin Park and then wait to bring us back to the hotel when we were done!  A much better solution.

Ice Time!

Ice Time!

We took so many photos of the fantastic ice sculptures.  It is amazing what is built and how beautifully lit up they all are.  This was truly a fantastic experience.

We took so many photos of the fantastic ice sculptures. It is amazing what is built and how beautifully lit up they all are. This was truly a fantastic experience.

We tried the Harbin beer!  A little too much like Bud Lite for us!

We tried the Harbin beer! A little too much like Bud Lite for us!

Ice, ice and more ice.

Ice, ice and more ice.

A lot of the buildings had ice slides incorporated into them.  Everyone enjoyed these - "big kids" and little kids!

A lot of the buildings had ice slides incorporated into them. Everyone enjoyed these – “big kids” and little kids!

A mass tumble down this slide!

A mass tumble down this slide!

More slides

Oliver trying different moves down the slides

Some of the ice buildings are HUGE.

Some of the ice buildings are HUGE.

Lots of different themes this year.

Lots of different themes this year.

...

Quite the view from the top of this one.

A slightly different angle.

A slightly different angle.

More ice

You can just see the top of Oliver’s hat on this slide.  The kids had sooooo much fun here.  We stayed until quite late and they had not even started moaning about being cold!  It was us adults that had had enough of the cold for one day!

The Temperate reads

The Temperate reads minus 26 degrees centigrade

People

Harbin is a very popular destination in January and February.  Even so, it does not feel too crowded as you walk around.

Spectacular architecture surrounded us.

Spectacular architecture surrounded us.

There was a ski lift and ski slope at the back of the park.  There was also some cool rides down.  What I especially liked here is that this slope was just for children 16 and under.  There was a slightly steeper slope for the adults.

There was a ski lift and ski slope at the back of the park. There were also some cool rides down. What I especially liked here is that this slope was just for children 16 and under. There was a slightly steeper slope for the adults.  You can just see me escorting Isabelle and Oliver up (dragging their tyres to sit in).  I then had to run down as I was too old to ride!!!

Not just ice sculptures, some snow ones too!

Not just ice sculptures, some snow ones too!

Even the transportation around the park was lit up!

Even the transportation around the park was lit up!

Owen and John inside an Ice Bar.

Owen and John propping up an Ice Bar.

Movie entertainment inside the park.

Movie entertainment inside the park.

The kids liked the detail of the Ice Age animals.

The kids liked the detail of the Ice Age animals.  Oliver immediately named Diego, Manny and Sid!

More Ice

More Ice

And more ice.....

And more ice…..

And even more ice

And even more ice (with some snow!)

Isabelle and Oliver playing peek-a-boo at the Angry Birds sculpture.

Isabelle and Oliver playing peek-a-boo at the Angry Birds sculpture.

I had to join in too!

I had to join in too!

Restaurants and bars were made out of ice too.

The Angry Birds sculpture.

Restaurants and bars made out of Ice.

The Angry Birds catapult!  This was a very clever sculpture.  There were people dressed up as the birds putting on a show every 15 minutes.

The lights in all the sculptures are very cool.

The lights in all the sculptures are very cool.

Lots of very cool lights

Lots of very cool lights in very cool sculptures

Amazing

Amazing…….

It was all so wonderful.  So much effort for such spectacular results that last such a short time.

It was all so wonderful. So much effort for such spectacular results that last such a short time.

The scale of the layout

The scale of everything was over-whelming.

Me and my little chicks....

Me and my little chicks….

John playing with Oliver in the Ice Bar

John playing with Oliver in the Ice Bar.  Oliver won that arm wrestle!

Family Jones - proof that we were there!

Family Jones – proof that we were there!  Only if you can tell who those people are underneath all the layers!

We safely returned to the hotel (not to be under-estimated, given our earlier experience with the taxi ride!)  It was hot chocolate all round before we all crashed into our beds.  An exhausting day with so much walking and the biting cold.  I definitely could not live in this climate!  We had decided to get up early again to take advantage of a couple more hours on the frozen river.  Our flight back to Shanghai was early afternoon on Monday January 21st and we wanted to make the most of our final hours.  Isabelle and Oliver both wanted to ride in the tanks again, do the tyre slide down a few more times and try out the ice bumper cars:

Bumper cars on ice!

Bumper cars on ice!  Isabelle and Owen having fun.

This was a fantastic, fabulous, wonderful weekend.  It would not have been on our “must see” list if it were not for Jane Steele, lovely Emerald friend.  She organised all the families, researched transportation, hotels, things to do and gave us the inspiration to go!  If you come to China in the Winter, Harbin should not be missed!

100th Post

This is my 100th post documenting the adventures of OSIO in China.  Looking back over our journey so far, I see a variety of posts on many different subjects: kids, school, China culture, China life, toilets (it must seem that I have an obsession here), friends, ex-pat life, and of course, our travels and experiences in Asia.

100 posts in approximately 300 days (since we arrived in Shanghai) – I am astonished to find that I have managed to keep up the pace of a post every 3-4 days….  With approximately 420 days left on my assignment, I hope I can keep up the journalling.  OSIO all enjoy looking back on our adventures and I hope that the memories (along with our many new friendships) we are creating here will last a lifetime.