More “ice” on a Monday, 1/26/15

And the “Ice” theme continues today. Judy heads out to school (somebody has to earn a paycheck around here). I did my morning routine of stretching, swimming, and computer stuff. The wind was blowing too much today for table tennis, so I decided to go to Houhai Lake and check out the “ice” activities going on over there. We’d heard and read about it, but hadn’t seen it.

I took the train over and walked the remaining distance to the lake. There was definitely some “ice” activity going on. There were lots of skaters, and some kind of a “seat skate” that could be maneuvered with something similar to ski poles. There were also some “ice bikes”. They had a tire (maybe spiked) on the back, and a blade on the front. Riders were pedaling them all over the ice. The lake seemed to be divided by portable fencing into segments that were being administered by different concessions. There were also fences around the edges that helpers were maneuvering back and forth as the ice got thinner or thicker. Today is the first official day for all the Chinese schools to be out for the winter break, and there were lots of people around the area.



Houhai in a warmer time

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I killed some time in a Starbucks and then walked to a nearby kite shop I had been reading about. They had many of the same kites I’d seen in the markets, but they also had some hand painted kites with some unique designs. I really want one of those “cool” kites, but I hate to spend the money and then crash it the first time out. They seem delicate. It’s not like I’m an experienced “pilot”. I should probably start with a less expensive, sturdier kite, and if all goes well, step up to the more unique styles.


And now the Ice Bar, 1/25/15

We have a late flight, so we slept late and ate a big buffet breakfast. Before we left the hotel and started for the airport, we visited the hotel “Ice Bar”. It’s a huge igloo built next to the main building of the hotel. It has several rooms built off a long hall. One is the bar with tables, there are several meeting rooms, and a larger room at the end for serving meals. All the furnishings are built out of ice. I wouldn’t want the duty of working in that facility. It’s seriously cold.

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We took a taxi out to the airport, ate lunch at Burger King, worked through security (much easier than Beijing), and arrived at our very crowded gate area. There were six gates in close proximity, and six flights all leaving within the same hour. There weren’t enough seats and it was a madhouse. On the plane wasn’t much better. It was cramped, but at least we had individual screens for movies, etc. A quick two-hour flight and we were home. It doesn’t take long to unpack from a short weekend trip, thank goodness.

Harbin on ice, 1/24/15

We get all geared up ready for a bitterly cold day, and head downstairs for breakfast.  We almost burned up while we ate.  We were wearing so many layers.  We met our guide at 9:00, and headed out on our tour of Harbin.  The first stop was downtown and St Sophia Cathedral.  It’s a huge Russian Orthodox Cathedral in the center of town, a remnant of the strong Russian influence in northern China.

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Next stop was the Siberian Tiger Reserve.  The guide told us there were over 1000 tigers at the site.  We loaded a bus and drove all around the property, and in and out of several large compounds, each full of tigers.  The highlight for me (and not so much for Judy) was the feeding of live chickens to the tigers.  Our bus parked in a large open area. Tigers began to wander toward us, and then a jeep covered in protective bars wheeled up and tossed a couple of live chickens out so we could watch the tigers catch and eat them.  It’s not something seen at many US zoos.


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We killed some time in “Polarworld”, watching a Sea Lion Show, and a Beluga Whale Show.  The whales performed what I would describe as synchronized water ballet with their trainers.  It was beautiful.

We were killing time until dusk so we could hit “Ice and Snow World” just before dark.  We had some time and I requested we have a chance to go down to the frozen Songhua River and watch some of the activities.  We weren’t disappointed.  There were cars racing on the ice, hockey, snowboarders pulled by large kites, and several other assorted ice activities.  The river is huge and it was frozen solid.


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The climax of the day was the visit to “Ice and Snow World”.  This was the main reason we traveled to Harbin and we weren’t disappointed.  It was amazing.  There were so many amazing structures built and sculpted from ice and snow.  The site is huge and takes some time to walk through.  The temperature was near zero F.  Thankfully there wasn’t any wind.  We spent an hour and a half checking it out, and then met our guide and driver.  It was a really fun visit with some amazing sites.


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Harbin Travel Day, 1/23/15

Today is our Harbin travel day, but we don’t go out until 8:15 pm, so there’s a full day of activities before we leave. Judy gets off to work and I start my daily schedule of stretching, swimming, and table tennis. Lilly’s mom cleaned this afternoon, leaving around 3:15. Judy walked in at 3:30, much earlier than expected. She managed to get away from school quickly. We finished our packing and headed to the taxi at 4:45.

We arrived early for our flight and found a Pizza Hut for dinner. The security line was long, and the officers really know how to “wand” someone. The flight to Harbin was slightly less than two hours, but the seating was tight. We arrived early and walked into the meeting area with our baggage at 10:10, looking for the driver we arranged. Our schedule arrival was 10:15. We waited and waited, and the driver never arrived. Several other travel operators approached us, checking to make sure we weren’t on their lists of clients. We finally made contact with a transportation coordinator from our hotel, The Shangrila, and he put us in a taxi with instructions for the driver.

About 11:00 pm, while we were still in the taxi, driving to the hotel, I got a call from someone speaking Chinese. He hung up, and 5 minutes later, our tour guide for tomorrow called, saying our driver just called, wondering where we were. I explained we had waited a half hour and finally gave up on the driver showing up. She apologized, tried to explain what happened (kinda vague), and confirmed our meeting time for Saturday. We arrived at the hotel at 11:20, checked in, and began to get ready for the next day. It’s supposed to be really cold. We think we’re ready, but there’s a lot of stuff to lay out and organize.

Settling into a schedule, 1/ 19-22 /15

With no school for 6 weeks, I’m going to try and develop a consistent schedule of exercise and activity. Before breakfast, I try to do some stretches, along with pushups to keep my back from becoming a problem. The pool opens at 9:30 am, so I try to be in the water, swimming no later than 10 am. I’m only doing 900 meters right now, but will lengthen it out to at least 1600 meters over the next several weeks. To relieve the boredom (back and forth), I’m counting strokes and laps in Chinese.

After swimming, I usually kill some time on the computer or eating lunch, waiting for Lilly’s mom to arrive to clean. When she gets started, I climb on the bike and ride the 3 kilometers over to the table tennis club. The temps this week have reached “highs” of 44 degrees F. The wind isn’t blowing, so I actually begin to sweat when we get “warmed up”. I never saw myself playing in weather this cold.

I’ve been over there so much lately I’m becoming a “regular”. I must be getting better. Some of the more experienced players are offering to hit with me. There’s the occasional player who can speak a little English. It’s a nice change to the usual scenario of the silence around my table. All around there are people talking trash to each other and laughing. Since I’ve always lived in a “suburban” environment, it’s fun to experience an “urban” setting. The same thing probably goes on in downtown areas throughout the US. I just haven’t been around it before. There are lots of retired people here looking for ways to keep busy and moving.

Judy’s days contain the usual “ups and downs” associated with teaching. They took pictures this week of the entire elementary school, students and faculty, outside (it was 25 degrees when they took the picture). In the US, it would have been cancelled for warmer weather.  The musical rehearsed after school on Tuesday instead of Friday because of a big basketball tournament this weekend for both boys and girls teams. In a small school like this, the students are committed to lots of different activities, just like most small schools in the US. It takes a cooperative effort to figure out how to share students (and facilities).

Time for some “chilling’ “, 1/ 17-18 /15

SATURDAY, 1/17/15

Judy’s plan for the day is to mix some relaxation activities with schoolwork. After a leisurely morning she heads over to Dragonfly Spa to get some kinks worked out. She enjoys some time in a nearby Starbucks before heading home.

I’m trying to get into my “activities” regimen for my winter break. I don’t have any required work activities for six weeks.   I start off the morning with a swim after Judy leaves. This pool in our complex isn’t nearly as nice a facility as the Marriott was last year, but the price is one-fifth the cost. For the money we’re saving to spend on our travel later this semester, it’s worth it.

After lunch, I ride the bike over to the table tennis club. The temp today is in the upper 30’s, but there’s no wind. The sun is shining and it makes for a really pretty day. I got the chance today to play with some really good players who helped me work on my game. They just kept pounding the ball into the same spot, and I was able to work on some consistency. I’ve improved enough so that it’s not a waste of their time to hit with me. I posted a video link below for what the club looks like on “nice” day in the winter. By the time I started home, it was standing room only. More and more people were streaming in.

Video link:  a sunny day at the tables.

SUNDAY, 1/18/15

Judy has some last minute shopping to do for our trip next weekend to Harbin. She needs some good waterproof gloves. She goes over to Sanlitun for a Lily Nails visit, and then UniQlo for the gloves. I meet her at UniQlo and we go to Union Grill for lunch. We both ended up getting burgers.

Back at home later, we took time to look at our excursions for our summer cruise from Spain to Greece. Courtney, Brad, and Glenda are joining us, and we want to have plenty of time to work out what we want to do. As we look at it, I’m already getting tired. I know it’s going to be an unbelievable trip, but those excursion days are long, and we don’t want to miss any opportunities. There’s no telling when, or if, we’ll ever get back.

The end of the week, 1/ 15-16 / 15

THURSDAY, 1/15/14

This is a link to another short video from the table tennis park yesterday, in the snow.

If I understand the schedule correctly, today and tomorrow are my last two days to teach this semester. The grade 11 students are all enrolled in all-day SAT prep courses on Sunday thru Tuesday. On Wednesday, many of them will begin to travel to Singapore, Hong Kong, or Macau, to take the test on Saturday. The next school activity I have will be a faculty meeting on Feb. 28. That’s six weeks away.

I’ll be looking for a few things to keep my busy. Judy and I have two trips planned, and I may take a “day” trip over to Tianjin, a 45-minute “bullet train” ride away. It’s on the coast and handles much of the shipping load for Beijing.

My classes go well. We spend time working with “Garageband” and writing a 12-bar blues, including lyrics, about the students’ life at BHSFIC. The guitar club guys came in and practiced a little during lunch. After school, a couple of the students from the Orchestra Club came in and we discussed some plans for next semester. It’s hard to get too excited about arranging anything new when I know the schedule for the spring will be even more disrupted by tutoring and testing than this semester. Last year, we missed almost 6 weeks due to special class schedules designed to cram for AP tests.

FRIDAY, 1/16/14

I volunteered to help out at school today by serving as a test proctor for a MAP test for the 10th grade students. It begins at 8:00, so I have to head over earlier than usual for a Friday. My main job is to be available in case they need my computer for the supervisors from the testing company. The test is four hours, and online. Battery power becomes an issue. We have to make sure there are plenty of extension cords available. I get relieved in time to teach my regular music classes during periods 3 & 4.

After class, I eat lunch with several of the faculty, getting the info on their upcoming trips to the states. A few of them are accompanying student groups for exchanges with schools throughout the US. One of the groups will be at St. Marks in Dallas.

Judy’s had a busy week and is ready to crash. Grades are due next week, and although she’s been working ahead, trying to complete them, there is still a lot of work to do. Besides grades for each student, they also receives comments in 9 different areas. It’s really time consuming, since she has nearly 160 students to “assess”.

Table tennis in the snow! 1/14/15

Today is the early day for our “ayi”. She arrives at 8:00 am, right on the dot. I worked a little longer on the computer until she began to clean around my area, and I loaded up and left. I’ve been trying to find an indoor place to play table tennis, with no success. I found three spots on the map that looked promising, table tennis clubs that look like they’re based in buildings. I take the train over to the first spot, and no luck. I walk up and down the block, in front, and in back, looking for something that might indicate a table tennis club. I’m even looking for people carrying gear, or gear bags. Nothing! Drat!

Not too far away is my regular outdoor club, so I walk that direction, thinking I’ll check around that area before getting a taxi to one of my other possibilities. As I get closer, I walk by a park full of 40 – 50 men sitting around tables playing Mahjong. (no women?). It’s 10:30 am, -2°C, and no wind. Just up the street, I can see people playing table tennis. Sure enough, they’re out in force. Lots of players, and the temp is below freezing? As I’m watching, debating how badly I really want to play, a light snow begins to fall. I’ve posted a video with a couple of the players, and you see the light snow falling.

Video link:

I eventually decide if they’re tough enough to play in the cold, then so am I. I walk in, find a bench, and look for a single player. Eventually a lady walks by, indicating if I was interested in playing, and if I had a net. I pulled out my net, set it up, and began to play. It wasn’t long before I was debating whether to pull off my coat or not. It was a fun morning, and I did ok after several months of “rust”.

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After finishing, I jumped in a taxi and headed toward my next “club”. It was near Judy’s school, so I decided to eat lunch. Judy couldn’t get away today, so I enjoyed some local Chinese food from the BISS neighborhood restaurant by myself. Afterwards, following my map, I went looking for the next possible indoor club. Again, no luck. I’m sure the schools have places for students to play and train, but an “old foreign geezer” wouldn’t necessarily be welcome. I’m about ready to give up and get geared up for cold weather play.

Tuesday, 1/13/15

My shoulders and feet are sore from the “relaxing” massage I had yesterday. I don’t see any bruises, but it feels like they should be bruised. I head over for a swim later in the morning. One of the “regulars” speaks to me. His English is pretty good, so I may have an acquaintance to keep things interesting during workouts.

After swimming, I decided to go find the nearest Gung Ho Pizza and try the pizza buffet. I read in one of the Beijing expat magazines that they had a noon buffet everyday. Sounds like something I haven’t tried here before, so off I go. Well, apparently not every one of their stores has the buffet. I found a restaurant, but no buffet. I should have read the ad a little closer to find exactly where this restaurant is. They have several in town. I should know not to make any assumptions.

Judy’s computer issues got a little more involved today. She ultimately had to back-up all her files, and give her computer to the school tech people. They were going to downgrade her from Yosemite. They still don’t have printer drivers that will work with the upgrade. In a school where everyone uses a Mac, it’s hard to believe they haven’t found a solution other than “don’t upgrade”? (of course, they’re the ones who told her to upgrade yesterday).

Computers and “candling”, 1/12/15

Judy had one of those days that should have been smooth, and a computer question grew into a near disaster.  She’s been grading student essays (yes, music “essays”).  She couldn’t open several of them because they were written with an updated version of “Pages”.  BISS has told it’s teachers not to upgrade yet (printer drivers not available for school printers in the new version).  She took her computer to the school “tech” people and told them her problem.  They assured her they would fix it quickly.

When she picked it up 2 hours later, she still couldn’t open “Pages”, and now her email wouldn’t work?  Tech guys came up and worked on the computer for a while and then said she would have to do complete “wipe”.  UGH!!!!  Too many times, it takes hours to recover and reformat valuable files in iTunes and iPhoto.  Of course, they’re saying it won’t be a problem.  Judy’s discomfort comes from too much experience with exactly this kind of a problem.

I stayed busy today.  I did my stretching and exercise session, followed by a swim session.  After swimming, and doing some computer work till Lilly’s mom came in, I left for lunch at a noodle shop in one of the nearby alleys.  After lunch, I thought I deserved a foot massage, and stepped into the spa in the same nearby alley.  Man, how do they find every place that hurts on my feet.  And not only do they find the bad spots, but they stay on it, and on it, and on it!  OUCH!

After the regular foot massage routine (shoulder massage while feet soak, followed by the foot massage) I put on my coat and prepared to leave.  The masseuse came back in with what looked like big incense sticks and told me to lie down again.  Off came the coat and sweater, and I prepared for ??? some meditation?  I wasn’t sure what.  She turned my head to the side, stuck something in my ear, and lit it.  I was getting a “candling” treatment.  The hollow candles are supposed to clean out the ear passage.  I don’t know if it worked or not.  I was mostly worried that my hair would catch on fire.  While the candle was in my ear, she massaged my scalp.  When the candle burned down, she flipped me over, and did the other side.  That was a first!  All I can say is “I survived”.  I didn’t notice any immediate benefits.  It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t a relaxing experience.  Neither was the foot massage for that matter.

After the massage session, I stopped at the wet market, purchasing some really good apples, strawberries, blueblerries, and grapes, as well as green beans for tonight’s soup. I dropped the stuff at the apartment and then walked by the bank to check if my December pay had been deposited yet, and getting some big bills changed to 20’s for Judy use in taxis. Next stop was the BHG market in Capita Mall for some random things we’re needing around the apartment.

Back home later, I put everything away, cleaned the fruits and vegetables, and put together the vegetable soup, and began cooking. Whew!!! It’s been an active day with lots of mundane activities and one genuinely new experience.