A Farewell to Summer

The end of summer means a return to my regular work schedule. As a result, Jun and I now have different weekends. To celebrate the end of a wonderful summer, we decided to take a few extra days off and travel to Suzhou. Suzhou is an old city near Shanghai that is known for its classic gardens and canals.


Day 1

We arrived in Suzhou early in the morning and went straight to the hotel to check-in. Since it was early our room wasn’t ready. We left our luggage at the hotel and decided to explore the area. Near the hotel was the Panmen Scenic Area located at the southwestern corner of the old city wall. There are a number of buildings and gardens here next to the wall. It was a beautiful place to start our trip. While there were a lot of areas visited by other tourists, there were a number of quiet spots where Jun and I could enjoy Panmen.

Soon it was lunch and Jun and I went to a local dumpling place and ate a variety of them. The dumpling, overall, were great. I especially liked the vegetable dumplings. We did discover that food in this region tends to be sweeter than in other areas of China. It was a bit of a shock to the taste buds. It did, however, serve as a warning about what we should eat on our trip.

After lunch we chose a slow path back to the hotel. Anything along the way we thought interesting we would stop and visit. We actually stopped at a few places. One of them was the Confucius Institute in Suzhou. It is part museum and part research institute. In the back of the Institute—hidden from the street—is a local market where people can buy trinkets. It’s a really fascinating dichotomy between the Institute and the market in such closed quarters.

Across the street from the Confucius Institute are two interconnected gardens: Keyuan and Canglang Pavilion. Both are unique in their own ways. They are two of the many gardens in Suzhou. Keyuan has a more organized garden with lawns and vegetation. Canglang has more organic and meandering layout with a number of rocky outcrops. It was a neat contrast to see these two gardens. They highlight how diverse the gardens in Suzhou are.

After visiting those two gardens, Jun and I were ready for a nap after having had to get up at 3:00 in the morning. We went back to the hotel to get our room keycard for our nap. When we got there we had to wait a bit longer. As an apology the hotel gave us complimentary breakfasts for the rest of our stay. That was a nice little surprise. We got to our room and took a relaxing nap.

After our nap, we took a walk along the Grand Canal near the Panmen Scenic Area. The Grand Canal was created as a means of ferrying goods between key cities in China centuries ago. The walk was nice, and we got to see the shift of the city from day to night. As we were walking we were looking for a place to eat. We decided on a little restaurant that sold local food. Jun ordered some nice dumplings, but I ordered a rice cake dish that was really too sweet. As a result we decided to go to a Vietnamese place nearby. The food there was quite nice.

From there we went back to the hotel to end the day.

Day 2

The second day of our trip was one of gardens. After breakfast Jun and I walked to the main area for gardens in Suzhou. On the walk there Jun and I got to talking about the region and how we were close to West Lake in Hangzhou. West Lake is important to Chinese culture as it has inspired Chinese literature, music, and art for centuries. I have had many people tell me that I should go and visit. Jun said that by high speed train it’s only an hour and a half from Suzhou and that we should just go. I readily agreed and he quickly bought train tickets on his phone. That was done and we had a plan for Monday.

The first garden we went to was the Master of Nets Garden. The garden is known for the fusion of nature, art, and architecture to create a unique whole. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has a replica of a portion of this garden . It was quite beautiful and interesting.

From there we went up the road to an alley with a temple and a museum dedicated to stone monuments. The museum is built on the site of the remains of Luohanyuan Temple. The most significant part of the temple left standing are the two twin pagodas that rise high above the remains. The day before Jun and I had seen an old picture of the pagodas at the Confucius Institute and we both wondered where in the city they were. By accident we had found them on our walk!

From there we went to Pingjiang Road, which is an old commercial street next to a canal. The buildings in this area are built in the traditional architectural style of Suzhou. It was nice to walk along the street and pop into some of the shops. We decided to stop at a café and rest for a bit while enjoying some cold drinks.

From there we went off on a side alley and ended up at an amazing garden: the Couple’s Retreat Garden. This garden was my favorite for two reasons. It was the quietest of all the gardens we visited. And the gardens were lush and breathtaking. I enjoyed my time there.

From there we walked along the canal and eventually ended up at the Humble Administrator’s Garden. It’s the largest of the Suzhou gardens and is renowned for its beauty. The only downside to being famous is that everyone wants to visit here. When we got there it was difficult to enjoy the garden with all the other tourists crowding every area of the garden. I mentioned to Jun that it reminded me of a visit to Disney Land with all the people and noise. While it was beautiful, the visit was not all that enjoyable.

We soon left to have a late lunch and a break from the visit to the Humble Administrator’s Garden.

After lunch we went to the Lion Grove Garden, which was the last garden we visited that day. Its name comes from the number of rock features that resemble lions. It was a nice garden with a nice play of color in the building features. It was a nice contrast to the Humble Administrator’s Garden.

From there we finished our sightseeing with a walk to the North Temple Pagoda. When we got there the park was closed, but we were still able to admire the pagoda. To be honest Jun and I were a bit done with visiting places. We decided to finish the day with dinner. As we were walking to the fish restaurant we wanted to try, Jun noticed a place that sold sweet dumplings (tangyuan). Jun and I are accustomed to the dumplings being small. We were both surprised to see these dumpling being huge. They were so nice and delicious. After we finished them we then went to dinner, which was also good.


And that was the end of this busy day!

Day 3

The day started at the Suzhou train station for our journey to Hangzhou. It was a quick trip to Hangzhou East station, and Jun and I were soon on our way to the West Lake.


We first had lunch at a local restaurant. This time I thought the food was good, but Jun was a bit unhappy with it. At that point we both agreed the regional cuisine was just not for us.

We decided that we would try to walk around the whole lake. As we were walking we took in the beauty of it. Along the lake are a number of temples, museums, and gardens that offered a nice diversion from the general beauty of the lake. The first place we stopped at was Qianwang Temple. The temple resembled many other temples, but it did have a number of interesting murals depicting parts of the history of West Lake.

From the temple we continued our walk until we got to Jingci Temple. At the high point of the temple you can see Leifengta, which is a newer structure at West Lake. Jun had visited once and said it wasn’t worth the ticket price to visit. I was fine with that. I was able to still take a nice picture of it.

From there we went up Su Causeway. There are a number of gardens off the causeway that are beautiful and peaceful. Jun and I just enjoyed spending some time there and taking in the views. We were fortunate too that we got to see so many of the lotus plants along the causeway.

At the end of Su Causeway, Jun and I took a break and had tea on an island near Bai Causeway. After finishing our tea we walked along that causeway on our way back to where we had started.

When we got back it was dinner time. We both decided to have something different, which ended up being sushi. We found this restaurant in an alley house that was quite romantic; an appropriate place to have dinner since it was Chinese Valentine’s day.

After dinner we went to the train station for our journey back to Suzhou.

Day 4

The last day of our trip! For a bit of change we went to the village of Tongli in the southern part of Suzhou. Tongli has a lot of canals and gardens in a small area. It was easy to get to by a combination of metro and a short bus ride.

When we got there we enjoyed walking around the side streets and seeing the canals. The first garden we went to took us by surprise. When we first went into Gengle Hall we thought it would be small and a quick trip. It turned out to be significantly bigger with a nice garden in the back. It was also a nice contrast to the other gardens in Suzhou with a more rustic feel.

The next place that was also of significant size was the Pearl Tower Garden. This one had a number of halls and a nice garden, but it also had a theater in it. Suzhou is also known for its opera, so it was nice to see this traditional garden theater.

There were a number of other gardens we saw, but they were nothing compared to Gengle Hall and the Pearl Tower. Soon our enjoyment of Tongli had to come to an end; Jun and I had to get to the airport for our trip back to Shenzhen.

Our vacation was a great way to end our summer. The whole summer had been amazing, and this was a wonderful way to say farewell.

Peace and Solitude at Feixia

When I first moved to China, my teaching center gave me a guidebook for the country. One of the entries was about a place called Feixia in central Guangdong. I read the entry but never really thought I would actually go there; it’s not the typical tourist spot for foreigners. I mentioned this place to Jun one day and he said he could plan a weekend trip if we wanted. I said sure if he was game, which he was. He went and planned an amazing trip.


We left Guangzhou for Qingyuan in the late afternoon. When we arrived we checked into our hotel and then went exploring around the central area. We walked through a park and across the bridge and found a really neat restaurant for dinner. They cooked the food at the table using wood fire. It was a nice dinner and a wonderful start to our trip.

The next day we left early for Feixia. It was a quick drive there and we soon bought our tickets. We then took the ferry across the river to start exploring the area. Feixia has a lot of Taoist temples along the mountain paths. We noticed that most of the other visitors were taking the bus up to the main temples. Jun and I decided to hike along the path up the mountain to explore the area.


Because we were essentially the only ones on the trail we had it to ourselves. It was really nice to go along the trail in silence and explore the area without anyone else. We passed many gateways and saw a temple nestled next to a spring. It was quite magical how the temples and gates were a part of the forest.

We soon made it to the first temple palace. These are a combination of temples and living quarters that are grouped together to create a palace like structure. They are really interesting and in the Feixia area there are two of these palaces. The first is better kept, but the second one has more character. Large parts of the second palace is unoccupied. These unoccupied areas are rustic. They give a nice glimpse into the craftsmanship that went into building this palace and maintaining it over time.

At the top of Feixia was a temple and a pagoda that offered spectacular views of the valley. It was an exhausting hike up to it, but the view was amazing.


Jun and I decided to take the bus back down and start our journey back to Shenzhen. Jun booked tickets on a train leaving from a nearby village, so we made our way to that village. It was interesting to see this place: Yuantan. A lot of the buildings in the village are quite old and interspersed in alleyways surrounded by newer buildings that are next to the main roads. In these alleyways you can see people preparing traditional medicine as they have for centuries. It was a nice experience to see that part of China.

Soon we were on the train and back to Shenzhen; Jun and I had a really nice weekend in Qingyuan and seeing Feixia.

Keyuan Garden

On a whim Jun decided that we were going to visit Keyuan Garden in Dongguan. It’s one of the Four Renowned Gardens of Guangdong from the Qing dynasty. Each of the gardens represent the Lingnan garden culture that tied architecture, art, and nature together in a delicate balance.

Keyuan was the last of the four gardens I had to visit. I had previously visited the other three in the last four years. It was nice to finally get to cross this off my list as I rarely have a reason to be in Dongguan.

This garden has its own unique feel compared with the other gardens. Keyuan feels much more intimate than the other three with the how close the buildings are to each other. Adding to this feeling are the different corridors that meander around the structures. The buildings are tightly linked to each other; it creates that intimate feeling as you walk around the different structures. Tied with how lush the gardens are and how intermingled they are to the buildings leads to a wondrous feeling to the place.

From the main structure the gardens go to a surrounding park centered with a pond. The park has a nice museum with a variety of art and examples of Lingnan architecture. In one of the courtyards there are examples of different building features to examine.

The gardens are beautiful and shows another side to the Lingnan gardens other than the other three gardens in Guangdong: Yuyin in Panyu, Liangyuan in Foshan, and Qinghui in Shunde.

It was definitely a nice visit.

Spring in Southern China

The Tomb Sweeping Festival came on a Tuesday this year, which allowed Jun and I to share a three day weekend. Since we’re saving for our trip to the U.S., we decided to stay and explore in the general area.

On our first day together we went to Shenzhen’s Fairy Lake Botanical Garden. It was quite a bit of trek to get there; due to the holiday there was a lot of traffic. Once we got there we spent a few nice hours walking along the botanical gardens.

This garden is the first botanical gardens that I have ever visited that is built in a mountain valley. To get to the main area you walk along a winding road to the valley. Once there you can explore a number of areas. We first went along the pine ridge and had nice views of the valley. We then went to the dessert plants greenhouses. That was a beautiful area. From there we went to the petrified tree forest and the paleontological museum. That was strange to see dinosaur fossils in a botanical garden!

From there we next walked along the lake. There were a number of nice inlets to watch the birds. Afterwards we went up to Hong Fa Temple. From there you could see the other end of the valley. Then we went to see two of the enclosed gardens at the park before we left. It’s a pretty neat park and it was a nice break from the city.

The next day Jun and I went to Hong Kong for two days. We didn’t do much besides meet up with friends and eat some amazing food. We did some shopping and just enjoyed spending time together. For the most part we explored the Western District of Hong Kong Island. We walked along the different alleyways and saw some amazing street art and just enjoyed finding different things that made Hong Kong special.

Our last day we met up with some friends at Hong Kong Disneyland since we had free tickets. It was busy, but it was still fun to try out the new Iron Man experience.

Overall, Jun and I had a great few days off. Now it’s back to work for us.

Spring Festival Impressions

The Spring Festival arrived! Having completed the first week of my new job and finally having started to settle into living in Shenzhen, Jun and I wanted to have a quiet and relaxing holiday. I first had to go to Hong Kong to do paperwork for my new job on the first day of the holiday. With the holiday coming up I had to expedite the process to ensure that everything was completed in time.

Day 1

The actual vacation started by crossing the border into Hong Kong at the Futian checkpoint. This border control station was much easier than the other ones I have gone through in Shenzhen. It was fairly efficient and we were in Hong Kong without undue waiting. Once we were in Hong Kong we headed straight to the hotel.

We were ready for the hotel staff to let us check-in but then have to wait for our room to be available in the afternoon. The staff, however, told us that they had a room free and that they were more than happy to let us go up to the room early. That was a nice start to the trip. Jun and I went to the room and dropped our belongings. Then we went towards the office in Kowloon to do the paperwork. That’s where a snag came up. The agents felt unsure if I had all the paperwork I needed, I felt that I did since the document they wanted was one that I had to surrender back to the Chinese government and no longer had. I still felt it was fine and they said they would try—but made no promises. That left a bit of a bitter taste for us: the nagging worry that something could go wrong.

Jun and I tried our best to put it out of our minds. We had made plans to have lunch with one of his friends in Central. So we went straight there and had lunch at an Italian restaurant. The food was good. After lunch, Jun and I said bye to his friend and went exploring around the area. We started by walking around Soho. We stumbled onto the Dr. San Yat-sen Museum, and went in to see what there was to see. Jun was interested in the exhibitions, but I was more interested in the building itself. It’s an Edwardian building that has been beautifully restored. It was a nice example of British colonial architecture.

From there we went down and found a temple: Man Mo. It was a small temple, but it had a unique way of placing its incense burners and prayer lanterns. It was the first temple I’ve seen that did it. It was quite calming to be there.

Afterwards we walked back towards the waterfront. Near Admiralty there’s a park called Tamar that is really neat. There are places to sit on the grass and stare into the water. And dotted throughout the park are some interesting pieces of art. One of the pieces we saw was a sculpture, Soundscape, by Steven Ho Chun Wang, Alvin Kung Yick Ho, and Edmond Wong Chak Yuen. The sculpture is inspired by the design of a xylophone, and the design of the instrument is actually tuned to be able to make the notes of a song.

Afterwards we took the MTR back to our hotel in North Point. We had dinner at a noodle pace before we went back to the room. We rested for a bit before we went to bed.

Day 2

The next day we decided to go to Stanley. Jun hadn’t been there before and Stanley tends to be much quieter than many other parts of Hong Kong. We took a minibus down south. We took the eastern route and passed a reservoir and a park. The reservoir was also an intriguing piece of architecture. It was built out of blocks and not by poured concrete. It was clearly a historic reservoir as it was also not designed for two lanes of traffic. We had to wait for the direction of traffic to shift before we were able to continue to Stanley.


When we got there we spent the rest of the morning and the afternoon walking around the community. We first went through the market and saw the different stalls there. From there we walked along the promenade and enjoyed the beautiful day. We saw Murray House and Blake Pier and went into the park to see a Pak Tai Temple.

Afterwards we went to visit the Correctional Museum. It was an intriguing place. They had exhibits on the history of cells, corporal punishment (e.g., a replica of how they would hang criminals), and examples of prison created tools, such as homemade tattoo machines and weapons. That latter was interesting after having seen them in movies. From there we walked along the beach and decided to go and get some lunch. When we were done we went for a walk and got some gelato. By then we had to head northward to Kowloon to see if my documents had been processed. We took the bus and got off and took the MTR to Kowloon.

We went to the office and I was relieved to found out that that everything went okay and the documents were processed. So that was one thing that I could cross off my list of things that I needed to do. Once that was done we decided to see a movie. We chose La La Land. We both enjoyed how the intermixing of music with the story worked well and enhanced it. After having an enjoyable time at the movies we wanted to have dinner. That unfortunately ended up being a chore. We had a difficult time finding a place to eat. The placed we wanted to go to didn’t have a free table and a long wait. We ended up eating in a food court with subpar food. Fortunately to make up for that we found a hole-in-the-wall dessert place and had an enjoyable treat there.

That was it for the day and we ended up back in the room.

Day 3

The next day was New Year’s Eve. It was, however, a day of travel for us. We first traveled back to Shenzhen to repack our bags. And then we went straight to the train station to get the overnight train to Shangrao to visit Jun’s family for the holiday in his hometown—Dexing. The only available train Jun could find was the 12 hour overnight train. It’s been quite some time since I last went on such a train and was not looking forward towards it. But we had brought snacks and downloaded several shows to see.


The train ride wasn’t too bad. They sold a simple meal that we both had. And near Longchuan in Guangdong there were firework that we saw from the train. I was excited about that, Jun was more interested in sleeping and just brushed the fireworks off to the side.

Day 4

We arrived in Shangrao—the largest city near Jun’s hometown—at 5:00 in the morning. His dad met us at the train station and both were happy to see each other. It had been almost two years since they last saw each other. From Shangrao we had about another hour and half car ride to Dexing. On the ride we experienced heavy fog that came and went quickly due to the strong wind. It was surreal and scary since we were traveling through mountain roads.

We finally arrived in Dexing where his stepmom and stepbrother met us. His stepmom made us homemade dumplings and insisted that we go take our showers as she got them ready. Once we were clean and our appetites satiated, Jun took his stepbrother and me on a walk around the river near his dad’s apartment.

Dexing is historically a mining community, as a result this small city is fairly well off when compared to other places in the interior of China.  You can see it in the new government buildings and apartment blocks being built. On the walk we saw old and new bridges, the high school Jun went to, and the main commercial area of the city. It was nice to see where Jun spent a significant amount of his youth.


We finished our walk and went back to have lunch with his family. Instead of having lunch in the apartment, Jun’s family had their meals in a separate ground floor alcove where they cooked and had their meals. They cooked and ate here so the apartment wouldn’t get dirty. It was cool and fun. We had a nice homemade lunch and drank tea afterwards. Jun and I went back to the apartment to take a nap before we went out to meet one of his friends.

When we did go out Jun was able to take his dad’s scooter. That was fun! We went to the central area and met his friend. We had tea and then went to get our hair cut. That was a relief to have my hair short again. By the time we were done it was almost time to go back for dinner. Before we went back Jun and I drove around for a bit and saw other parts of Dexing.

For dinner Jun’s aunt came over to eat with us. We were going to stay with her since she had an extra room. After dinner we followed her to her apartment and got ready for bed.

Day 5

This day was largely a relaxing day. We woke up late and just piddled around a bit before we went to see Jun’s family for lunch. We had another wonderful meal. Jun’s stepmom then suggested that we go to see Juyuanlou, which is a pagoda at the foothills to the mountains surrounding Dexing. The pagoda was beautiful and had amazing views of the city and the mountains.

From there we then went to the Jiangxi Mining Museum. This museum is housed in traditional-style buildings and tells the story of mining in Jiangxi province. It was interesting to walk around the museum and to see the history of mining in the province.

From there we then went back to see Jun’s family. After having tea, we went for a walk around the river before dinner. And then after dinner we again went around the government area of the city. For a small community they had a significant number of government buildings. Jun was skeptical that there was enough employees and positions to justify all the office space in these new buildings. The buildings did, however, look impressive at night.

When we got back to the apartment we had some more tea before we went back to his aunt’s apartment for the night. This day was very relaxing.

Day 6

On this day we ventured to go to San Qing Mountain National Park. To get there we woke up early and went to pick up Jun’s stepbrother. Then we took a bus to get us most of the way there. We had to stop in a village—Nanshou—near the national park. We had to wait for about an hour for the next bus. I decided to walk around and see the village. A villager stopped me as I was taking a picture and asked me who I was and what I wanted. I had to explain to him in my horrible Chinese that I was a foreigner and didn’t know too much Chinese. He laughed and said, “Hello!” in English. I then met up with Jun and we went around the river near the bridge and saw a bamboo grove. After our walk we went back to the general store where the bus was going to pick us up. After a bit it came and we went to the eastern entrance of the national park.

When we got there we tried to get tickets to go into the park. Due to it being the New Year holiday, however, there were too many people at the park. The staff decided to stop admitting new guests for two hours to control the number of people entering. That’s a good thing to ensure the park is not stressed; for us, however, it frustrated us. As we were walking and thinking about what we could do we were approached by a driver who said he would drive us to the southern entrance where there was less people. After negotiating the price we decided to hire him and go south.

When we got there the car had to stop at the entrance to the road up to the park. We were able to take the free bus up to the entrance. There were indeed hardly anyone at the southern entrance and we were able to buy tickets and go up on the cable car without having to wait in line. As we were going up in the cable car we noticed that we were going up into a cloud.


It seems that the change in weather overnight had brought a heavy fog that blanketed the park. For the first 30 minutes at the park we were walking in fog and could hardly see anything. What we did see was nice, but our perspective was limited. It actually seemed that we were at ground level and that we hadn’t gone up a mountain. As we were walking on the western path the fog began to clear and we were able to see more of the mountain. As that was happening we were also able to see how high up we were. That knowledge jarred us a bit. It was so high up! The views, though, were amazing.

We continue towards San Qing Temple, which was an old, small temple that was nestled next to one of the mountain peaks.

From there we went along the middle path. There the fog really cleared and we were able to see the sky with the fog below the peaks. The view we had was stunning.

By then we had to head back to the cable car to get back down to the entrance. As we were going down the fog came back and the temperature started to drop. Fortunately we made it to the cable car and went back down. We were hoping that the busses were still running, but by the time we got down there they had stopped. We then decided to find a room for the night and go back in the morning. So after having dinner we went and found a room. It wasn’t the most amazing of places, but it was warm place for the night.

Day 7

The next morning we checked out, had breakfast, and caught the bus to Shangrao. At Shangrao we bought bus tickets to Dexing, but we had to wait an hour before we could leave. We decided to go find a café to get something to drink and wait for the bus. After walking a bit we found a place where we could get tea and waffles. It was bit pricy, but it was at least warm.

Finally we were able to get on the bus and go back to Dexing. When we got there we went and cleaned up at Jun’s aunt’s apartment. Jun had plans to meet up with some of his high school friends. I stayed with his stepmom and stepbrother and did some work.

When he got back we went to meet his family for dinner. This dinner had more people, his uncle, cousins, and a close family friend were there. We had a big and scrumptious dinner! Afterwards Jun and I went for a walk by the river. As we were walking we passed by a cute café where we got some drinks.


We then went back to his dad’s place before we went away for the night.

Day 8

Our last morning in Dexing was a whirlwind of saying goodbyes and picking up a care package Jun’s stepmom made. They had helped us arrange a shared car to take us to the train station in Shangrao. So we were able to get to the train station with plenty of time to pick up our tickets and leave.

Our holiday was coming to an end. I enjoyed meeting Jun’s family and seeing his hometown. And I know he was thrilled to be able to see his dad. It was a wonderful Spring Festival and a great experience for both of us!

Winter Wonderland

The freezing northeast of China has been on my list of places to go since I first moved to China. A friend of mine who I trained together had mentioned the Ice Festival in Harbin during one of our conversations. I had always wanted to go to an ice festival, but never lived anywhere close to one. Since I now lived in China I had the perfect opportunity to visit one. It just took me three years to get there. Flying to Harbin is a lot more expensive than flying to Southeast Asia from Guangzhou. I made the firm decision this year that no matter the cost I would go and visit Harbin.


Fortunately I had some time in January to go, and my friend Brianne also had time and a desire to go see the Ice Festival. We decided to go in mid-January and spend the weekend there.

We both flew up on a Friday. We got there late in the afternoon. The first thing I experienced in Harbin was the freezing temperatures there. The next thing I discovered was that night fell early in Harbin. By 5:00 in the afternoon the sun had set. Brianne and I felt that it was much later than it actually was.


We took a taxi to our hostel and experienced the weird traffic and roads of Harbin. At major intersections in the city they had at least five lanes and a stoplight that went in a circle. It was confusing to say the least to us. Once we got to the hostel and checked in we decided to go explore the area around us.

The exploration proved to be cold. We were cold on the walk and had to walk through a shopping center to warm up a bit. We also went to a hot pot restaurant to help warm up as well. Afterwards we went back to the hostel for the night.


The next day we woke up and decided to head downtown to see some of the Russian architecture in the city. We first went to see Saint Sophia Cathedral and walk around the square there. Saint Sophia was magnificent and was quite distinctly Russian.

While there we saw one of the candied fruit stands and decided to try it. These candied fruits are all over Harbin and was one of the recommended snacks to have in the city. We both chose the one that had a lot of strawberries and what we thought were blueberries. The strawberries were wonderful and tasty. The blueberries turned out not to be blueberries; we’re still not sure what they were but we both agree they had a strange taste. The candied part was really sweet and hard. It was an experience and the strawberries were good.


As we were eating the strawberries we went to Zhongyang Pedestrian Street. The street has a large collection of Russian-style architecture. Right now during the Ice Festival there are a lot of related stalls and ice sculptures along the street. It was nice to walk down it. It was also nice to pop into random stores and enjoy the heat in those buildings.

From Zhongyang we went towards the river. The river is frozen over and you can walk on it. I’ve never walked on a frozen river and wanted to try it out. I basically learned the importance of shuffling on it. It was fun and neat, but the wind from the river was so blistering cold that it hurt a bit. Brianne and I decided to go and get something to eat and have a hot drink. We found this neat little café to relax and warm up a bit.

From there we wanted to go to Sun Island where the main parts of the Ice Festival were, but we weren’t sure how to get there. Brianne had seen a bridge that went across the river and thought it might be a good bet. It turned out that this bridge has been converted from a rail bridge into a pedestrian bridge. That was really neat to see. Unfortunately, the bridge bypasses Sun Island and goes all away across the river onto the other side. Brianne and I felt defeated by this and decided that we would figure it out later that night and do it the next day. For the rest of the day we would go and experience the Ice Lantern Art Show.

That was really neat. At night the ice sculptures and structures are beautifully lit. It was an amazing sight and experience. Some of the ice sculptures were really intricate and beautiful. Some were strange and modern. Others were just creepy—like the Alien ice sculpture. I also enjoyed getting to sit on an ice throne. It was such a neat experience.

After having figured out how to get to Sun Island, we went on the bus that went straight there from the metro. Once we got to the island we had to search for both sites for the festival. Eventually following the crowds, using smartphones, and logic we found our way to the Snow Sculpture exposition. That was neat Place. Some of the snow sculptures were really impressive in intricacy and in scale. Some of them were simply enormous. That was a sight to be seen. They even had a building reminiscent of an old Chinese general store.

The last stop of the festival had us going to the Ice and Snow World. This took some ingenuity to find, but we got there and enjoyed it. We were able to experience it during the day and in the early evening. Because of that we saw stark differences between what the ice city looks like as just ice and when it was lit up. Again here the scale of the ice city was huge. Some structures were as tall as mid-rise buildings. There were also many neat ice sculptures here. One of the coolest things there was a planet made up of ice spheres suspended from wire cables. It was such an awesome thing to see.

As it was getting colder we decided to head back to the hostel and have dinner.

The next day we just relaxed at the hostel before we needed to head towards to the airport. It was a fun trip. And I was able to cross off another thing on my list of places to visit!

Yuen Yuen Taoist Temple

At the start of 2017, I wanted one day where I could avoid thinking about all that I needed to do—find a new apartment in Shenzhen, move to Shenzhen, get all the paperwork I need from my last job, fill and collect all the paperwork for my new job, getting ready for my trip to Harbin, planning a vacation for the Spring Festival, writing term papers. There’s a lot that needs to be done, but I needed one day just to do something fun.

As a result Jun and I decided to go to Huadu district in northern Guangzhou and visit a Taoist temple there that I had read about a few months back. It’s an easy trip to get there, but it’s a long trip. Once we got there we decided to have lunch at one of the restaurants nearby. It was a wonderful lunch and we were ready to visit the temple.

15800216_10104575735760660_14100992215409692_oThe temple’s name is Yuen Yuen and it is the central Taoist temple in Guangdong province. It’s a relatively new temple, having only been built in 1998. It’s built on the principles of feng shui and the layout of the complex does create a harmonious environment. Some of the buildings resemble more famous examples of other Chinese buildings, such as how Sangquing Hall in the center of the complex imitates the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

When walking into the temple you start to see how well maintained it is. The gardens are gorgeous, and you can actually see where they work and grow the plants that make up the complex’s gardens.

The first thing you see is Sangquing Hall. It takes center stage, but once you walk behind it you realize that the complex is much bigger than first expected. Behind this first area you walk to a number of halls where people may pray and leave offerings.

From there you are able to go and view the central platform dominated by a statue of Lao Zhi, the founder of Taoism. It’s an amazing site to see in person. From there you can see a large hall that is inaccessible to the public but has a commanding position behind the statue.

As we wandered around the temple complex, I felt more relax and at peace. Jun and I were quite content with our time there. I left feeling recharged and ready for this new year.