Tag Archives: Ex-pat

A “Drink the Bar Dry” Leaving Party

A downside of Ex-pat living is the goodbye’s that have to be made, to friends that have been quickly made in our environment.  Rob & Jen are off to Bangkok, Thailand at the end of February and as they cannot pack any alcohol, they decided to hold a “Drink the Bar Dry” party to try and get rid of it all in a fun way.  It was a little unusual to get an invite that said, “PLEASE do not bring a bottle!”  Instead we were asked to bring a plate of finger food to share.  Owen and I had fun with this and made mini jacket potatoes stuffed with different cheeses and Thyme Gougere’s (which were delicious).  It was lovely to taste the wonderful selection of food that everyone had brought!

The evening was a fun mix of people from Emerald living, as well as colleagues and work friends of Rob & Jen’s.  It quickly moved into Karaoke and several of our friends surprised us with their strong singing voices!  I managed one duet with JC before Owen said he would disown me if I sang any more!!

Squeezing as many party goers as possible onto the staircase for a goodbye photo opportunity.

Squeezing as many party goers as possible onto the staircase for a goodbye photo opportuni

Some of the girls towards the end of the evening.
Jane, Marie, Lin, Jen, Jane among this fun loving group!

Rob & Jen love Karaoke, so they have many props  – wigs, fake tattoo sleeves, glasses and instruments.   They were kind enough to let us borrow some of these for Isabelle’s party last September, and they really make a difference to the fun.  It is amazing to see the personas people portray when they can hide behind the props!!!

It was another fun night out.  Owen and I are sorry to see them leave – lovely people, lovely family.

Happy New Year 2014 Brunch

With Christmas behind us and the New Year just starting, all our friends who had been away for Christmas were returning.  The new School term was about to start and we decided to get a few families together to celebrate all that.

We settled on returning to the Le Meridien because they not only have a delicious brunch selection, but they also have a good children’s area.  They have a mix of different Asian foods, fabulous seafood selection, traditional carvery station and the most yummiest desserts (salted caramel mousse is THE BEST!)

Jo and Scott with their 2 girls, Saskia and Georgia; Rob & Jen with their 2 boys, Freddie and Theo; Mike and Jane with their 2 girls, Ciara and Caitlyn; and Paul and Tracy with their 2 girls, Bethan and Imogen – it was quite the area in the restaurant!

The Le Meridien also has entertainment throughout the long, leisurely brunch.  The kids end of our sitting area was entertained by a rather good magician.

The magician making a rose for Saskia.

The magician making a rose for Saskia.

Saskia was special assistant and had to help with some of the card tricks!

Saskia was special assistant and had to help with some of the card tricks!

He even made his wallet light up in flames when he opened it to check for the missing card.

He even made his wallet light up in flames when he opened it to check for the missing card.

Saskia, Isabelle and Caitlyn

Saskia, Isabelle and Caitlyn showing off their artwork from kids club

The “nurses” were on call again for the margarita shots – all the males partook.  It was also Rob’s birthday so it was a double celebration.  We all sang to him to embarrass him!

Happy Birthday Rob! Cuddling with his boys - Freddie and Theo.

Happy Birthday Rob!
Cuddling with his boys – Freddie and Theo.

Owen getting "treated" from the nurse.

Owen getting “treated” from the nurse.

Mike's turn.  Scott is laughing at this, but he was next to go!!

Mike’s turn. Scott is laughing at this, but he was next to go!!

Scott finishes up this nurses round.

Scott finishes up this nurses round.

Paul, Imogen, Tracy and Bethan

Paul, Imogen, Tracy and Bethan

Scott, Saskia, Georgia and Jo

Scott, Saskia, Georgia and Jo

The girls: Caitlyn, Georgia, Saskia, Ciara and Isabelle

The girls: Caitlyn, Georgia, Saskia, Ciara and Isabelle

Freddie, Jen, Rob and Theo

Freddie, Jen, Rob and Theo

Ciara, Mike, Jane and Caitlyn

Ciara, Mike, Jane and Caitlyn

Family Jones

Family Jones

Shanghai Christmas 2013

I am amazed at how fast this year has flown by.  All of a sudden, (it seems!) it is Christmas once again.  Owen did most of our Christmas Shopping this year and I am very grateful for that.  Work has been so very busy that I have had little free time to juggle anything else with.

I rushed home from work on Christmas Eve so that we could all go over to Tim & Marie’s house for a few hours.  We were home by 7:30 so it was a lovely way to excite the kids enough without anyone getting over-whelmed!  For the first time, I forgot to take my camera (I am never without that usually!) so I have no photos from Christmas Eve.  However, it was the same group of Ex-pats staying in Shanghai over Christmas so we saw quite a bit of them!!  And, I remembered to take the camera to the rest of the events.

Once we got home, of course the children were excited.  We got mince pie cookies and brandy ready for Father Christmas and a carrot for Rudolph.  They had had such a busy day that they actually went off to sleep relatively well.  Disaster struck at 12:30 though as Owen could hear voices coming from Isabelle’s bedroom.  I was already in bed, but Owen was downstairs.  Sure enough, Isabelle had woken up and then woken Oliver up and they both decided to start opening stocking presents that had already been delivered!  Oh no!  It was time for Daddy to have some stern words and send everyone off to sleep again until a decent time in the morning.  Goodness knows how Santa managed to sneak past Owen to deliver presents AND eat the cookie, drink the brandy.  It was quite the discussion in our house in the morning.

It was a leisurely morning opening presents, playing with toys and eating breakfast.  I absolutely enjoyed every minute of this precious morning.  Watching the kids excitement and pleasure at everything they opened and received was delightful.  They were also just as excited to watch Owen and I open our presents. They had managed to keep the presents for Daddy a surprise and he certainly was surprised this year!  He also totally surprised me and made me cry with his thoughtfulness – a perfect gift for me!  Tetley was also treated to a stocking full of treats:

I know I can get my head in there - I can smell goodies!

I know I can get my head in there – I can smell goodies!

I knew it!!

I knew it!! Yummy treats for a special girl.

Christmas Tree and kids  2013

Christmas Tree and kids 2013

Family including Tetley Christmas 2013

Family including Tetley Christmas 2013

We e-biked/biked around to Rob & Jen’s house at 12:30.  Our 2nd Shanghai Christmas and a repeat of our experience from last year.  This year, Rob and Jen hosted us in their beautiful home.  They had welcomed the Intercontinental Catering team into their kitchen and they had provided all the food for our Christmas dinner.  We were totally spoiled!  Again!!

Champagne ready on ice!

Champagne ready on ice!

Turkey ready for carving (and ham, beef and sausages)

Turkey ready for carving (and ham, beef and sausages)

Salads for starters.

Salads for starters.

Pasta, seafood, vegetables, potatoes - yummy!

Pasta, seafood, vegetables, potatoes – yummy!

Desserts - mini Christmas Puddings, fruit tarts, stollen, chocolate mousse log and fruit.  YUMMY!

Desserts – mini Christmas Puddings, fruit tarts, stollen, chocolate mousse log and fruit. YUMMY!

We were thrilled to share Christmas day Dinner with Rob and Jen, with their 2 children, Freddie and Theo, plus Kevin and Jane and their 2 children, Amelie and Joseph.  It was a huge feast and the set up was perfect.  1 table for the 6 children right next to the adult table!  Crackers and chocolates were extra treats on the tables for all of us:

The kids are all ready to eat!

The kids are all ready to eat!

Our Christmas Day "Emerald Family" Jane, Rob, Jen, Kevin, Sara & Owen Isabelle, Amelie, Theo, Joseph, Freddie & Oliver

Our Christmas Day “Emerald Family”
Jane, Rob, Jen, Kevin, Sara & Owen
Isabelle, Amelie, Theo, Joseph, Freddie & Oliver

It was a long, relaxing, fun dinner.  We all made multiple visits to the buffet for plate refills!  Good conversation, good company and flowing fizz.  The kids wanted to swim after their food, so they were all in the pool for a dip and a splash.

Oliver and Joseph firing off the water pistols!

Oliver and Joseph firing off the water pistols!

Meanwhile, the adults were having fun too!

Jane, Jen and Sara

Jane, Jen and Sara

Rob, Kevin & Owen

Rob, Kevin & Owen

Oh, how we laughed through most of the day!

Oh, how we laughed through most of the day!

After the adults had finished eating and the kids had finished swimming, it was time to play Charades.  Lots of fun with all participating and some very funny gestures.

Owen, Jane, Jen and Freddie

Owen, Jane, Jen and Freddie

Freddie, Amelie and Isabelle (with her new mini Furby who talks non-stop!)

Freddie, Amelie and Isabelle (with her new mini Furby who talks non-stop!)

We all totally enjoyed our Christmas day with Rob, Jen, Jane and Kevin.  All too soon it was past 6:00 and time for us to get home to get ready for the evening get together.  We raced home, got changed and then arrived at Suzanne and Brien’s house to find the party already in full force.

Suzanne, Jane, Marie and Mike

Suzanne, Jane, Marie and Mike

Jane and Mike have just arrived in Shanghai to start their new assignment.  They were both relieved to be welcomed into the Emerald Ex-pat family!  The wonderful thing about living like this is that everyone is in exactly the same boat and are super supportive, friendly and welcoming.

Brien with some of the boys!

Brien with some of the boys!

More friends to play with! Isabelle, Siobhan, Seren, Oliver, Ciara and Caitlyn.

More friends to play with!
Lia, Isabelle, Siobhan, Seren, Oliver, Ciara and Caitlyn.

Rob, Tim, Marie, Jen, Owen and Sara

Rob, Tim, Marie, Jen, Owen and Sara

It was a wonderful Christmas Day celebration.  If you cannot celebrate with your family, then an Ex-Pat “family” get together is a great choice.

I am very grateful for our friends in Shanghai that make this whole experience so much fun and who are so supportive.

After a few too many glasses of fizz on Christmas evening, I invited a few friends over to our house for Boxing Day!!  So, we woke up late and then had a whirlwind around the house getting ready for people to arrive.  As the Chinese do not celebrate Christmas, all the shops were open and it was just another working day for all the locals!  This worked in our favor because I could run to the shop to buy a few snacks for our impromptu gathering.  It worked out well, with Marie and kids, Kevin & Jane plus kids and Rob & Jen plus kids stopping in for a few relaxing hours.  It was a nice way to close out Christmas 2013.

A bittersweet Christmas celebration…….

It is time for another Emerald Christmas celebration!  Kevin & Jane were hosting their annual open house this afternoon/evening and it was wonderful to celebrate with our neighbors.  However, this was also the last time for me to hang out with our good friends Matt & Emma, so was a little bittersweet.  They are off to their next Ex-Pat adventure in Bangkok, Thailand.  Isabelle and Oliver will really miss their best buddies:

These 2 are old souls.  They play together so well and really love each other.  Neither of them really realize that this is it…. :-(

These 2 are old souls. They play together so well and really love each other. Neither of them really realize that this is it…. 😦

Best buddies for last 2 years.  Thank goodness for technology - time will tell if these 2 stay in touch with email and Face Time.

Best buddies for last 2 years. Thank goodness for technology – time will tell if these 2 stay in touch with email and Face Time.

It was a wonderful afternoon/evening with excellent hosts – Kevin and Jane.  Everybody bought something to share (Isabelle had made cupcakes earlier in the day for us to take – and they were delicious!).  There was also plenty of fizz for the adults to enjoy!  The kids were in their element with loads of arts and crafts to do, plus movie time.  It was time for me to catch up with old friends before the mass departure for the Christmas break.

The Emerald (and Tiziano!) crew.  Celebrating Christmas a little early!

The Emerald (and Tiziano!) crew. Celebrating Christmas a little early!

I actually managed to get in one photo!!

I actually managed to get in one photo!!

These 4 have been as thick as thieves for the last 18 months/2 years.  Isabelle is very upset that Ava is leaving, but it has not hit Oliver yet.

These 4 have been as thick as thieves for the last 18 months/2 years. Isabelle is very upset that Ava is leaving, but it has not hit Oliver yet.

I will also miss Matt & Emma…..

Vacation in Thailand, part 2 - here we come!!!!!

Vacation in Thailand, part 2 – here we come!!!!!

What a wonderful time, catching up with old friends and new friends.  Many are about to leave for an extended Christmas break so this was perfect timing to wish everyone the best of the season.

Sara, Marie, Jane, Emma and Jo - good times!

Sara, Marie, Jane, Emma and Jo – good times!

The kids thought that it was a fun time too!

A great group of kids!

A great group of kids!

Merry Christmas to all my Shanghai friends!

Sunday Brunches at Le Royal Meridian and Westin

 

We have had a couple of lovely Sunday Brunches out recently.  We had an extremely leisurely, drawn out, stuff-your-face-full, drink-lots-of-champagne, eat-too-much brunch at the Le Royal Meridian with our friends Earoel & Graham.  This brunch location has a fantastic children’s area set up with face painting, movies, balloon animals, clowns, a separate children’s buffet area and awesome desserts!

Isabelle's body art at brunch

Isabelle’s body art at brunch – Butterfly and Dolphin

Scorpion and web for Oliver

Scorpion (on his cheek) and Angry Bird for Oliver

There is a prominent pink theme at this location, pink chairs, pink table clothes, pink champagne and pink uniform on the Margherita Nurses!!  They have nurses who come around with big syringes filled with the Margherita mix.  Of course, Owen had to partake!!

"It had to be done!"

“It had to be done!”

The Pink Champagne lounge

The Pink Champagne lounge

"Check out this Champagne Tower, Mum"

“Check out this Champagne Tower, Mum”  “What happens if I pull this bottle out…..??”

The restaurant is located on the 3rd floor of the hotel and has a lovely terrace with great views across the city.  After our very long brunch where we made way too many rounds around the stations, we enjoyed the sunshine outside.

Oliver, Earoel and Isabelle

Oliver, Earoel and Isabelle

Sara & Owen enjoying the sunshine (while feeling rather stuffed!)

Sara & Owen enjoying the sunshine (while feeling rather stuffed!)

The food was very good: a great seafood station that was stacked high with sushi, lobster, crab and prawns.  The noodle station was one of the best I have seen and I enjoyed a delicious soup with lots of different herbs and fillings.  The carvery had plenty of lamb, chicken and pork.  The salad bar was one of the most varied I had seen and then the desserts were out of this world.  I went back for 4, yes 4, of the salted caramel chocolate mousse!

Another Sunday and another Brunch!  This time we were back at the Westin with our friends from Emerald.  Table for 25 please!  We all like the Westin because the entertainment there is first class.   They have opera singers, an orchestra, gymnastics display and face changing display.

The Emerald Girls: Jane, Marie, Sara, Suzanne, Emma and Jenny

The Emerald Girls: Jane, Marie, Sara, Suzanne, Emma and Jenny

Brien, Marie, Matt, Emma and Kevin

Brien, Marie, Matt, Emma and Kevin

The Emerald Minis: Seren, Isabelle, Lia, Siobhan, Ava and

The Emerald Minis: Seren, Isabelle, Lia, Siobhan, Ava and Amelie

The kids had so much fun with so many friends to play with after the food!  They all had balloon animals or swords made.  They loved the margarita machine that made non-alcoholic slushy drinks.

Playing on the balcony and pretending to be singers (after the Opera).

Playing on the balcony and pretending to be singers (after the Opera).

Oliver and Ethan

Oliver and Ethan with their slushies!

You caught us!

You caught us after we raided the Popcorn machine!

Fantastic Gymnastic Display

Fantastic Gymnastic Display

I love this photo of me and Owen.  The sunshine is streaming in through the windows and we are caught mid-laugh.

I love this photo of me and Owen. The sunshine is streaming in through the windows and we are caught mid-laugh.

The Sunday Brunch (especially the Champagne Brunches!!) are a strong part of Shanghai weekends.  It is not just for Ex-pats – many Chinese enjoy this too!

The Ex-pat Phenomenon

Why is it that I have met so many Ex-pats who say that although they love their “home” country, it is now a place to visit vs a place to live in again?  Most of my friends here (from many different Countries) say that they don’t think they can return home to live.  In doing a quick search on the Internet, it appears that my local findings mirror a global trend – over 60% of British Ex-pats do not want to return home (sources: Daily Telegraph survey October 2010 and  Lloyds TSB survey November 2011).  69% of the estimated 5.5 million Brits living in other Countries have no plans to return “home”.

‘Expats have an enlightening view of the UK, having experienced life both home and away, so it’s worrying that life in Britain appears so bleak when viewed through their eyes,’ said Lloyds TSB’s Expatriate Banking Managing Director Tony Wilcox.

Having left the UK for the first time in 1995 and extending what was then a 2 year assignment into 15 years, returning “home” in 2010 was a difficult transition for me and my family.  The Britain we returned to was vastly different from the Britain we left, and in my humble opinion, not for the better.  Everything is so expensive, taxes are high, crime (and violent crime) is up (or maybe it is reported more sensationally) and the sense of hopelessness I felt in the younger generation was depressing.  Even the brilliant British TV seemed to have sunk to the lowest levels of society.  When did British comedy have to be so crass, rude and mind numbing to be funny?  We could only find QI to save us!

The problem was that living in America we had found ourselves split in 2 and torn between 2 worlds.  We often said that we wished we could “import” our family and friends and then we never would have left.  People become Ex-pats for many reasons – work, a fresh start, a new experience, or in a bid to leave something behind; and although you miss home, the longer you are away, the more your mind creates a memory.  Home in that sense becomes something that it isn’t.

So, in 2012 when I was presented with the chance of a brilliant professional challenge as well as a huge cultural learning opportunity in China, the whole family jumped at it.  1 year on and it has been a roller coaster ride and one that I would not change.  1 year to go and we have no idea what is next.

So, what is next for me and my family?  I believe that we are all now “Global Citizens”.  As such, we no longer fit in anywhere 100%.  We are jigsaw puzzles with pieces that are coloured in so many different shades.  My children have friends from different Countries around the world and could tell you about the traditions and culture in at least 4 or 5 of them.  Diversity is valued and celebrated at their school.  Their passports have more stamps in them in 7 short years than in the first 30 years of my life.  They have seen and experienced more than their peers in either UK and USA.  Will “normal” life seem boring and bleak to them after this experience?  Will their beginning grasp of Mandarin fade into a distant memory?  What do we do with our careers?  Where is the next BIG opportunity for either of us?

So many questions with many possible answers.  And none of them will be right or wrong.  Such is the life of an Ex Pat, such is the life of a Global Citizen.

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!