Sunday, January 29, 2012

Longqing Gorge ~ Winter Ice Festival

The last hurrah of our Spring Festival holiday off from school and work was a trip with our branch from church to Longqing Gorge to see the annual Ice Festival.

We loaded up two buses, around 70 people, and headed an hour and a half outside of Beijing. Nobody had been there before, so expectations were questionable.

We arrived in late afternoon and hopped on a golf cart to get into the gorge. Imagine a long gorge, surrounded by vertical cliffs, leading to a tall dam. This is what it was like.
 The first thing we did was a looooooong toboggan ride. It went down the complete hillside and was a blast. You can see part of the track in the picture below.

At the base of the toboggan were some outside ice sculptures. We really thought this was it. Oh how wrong we were.
While we were looking at ice, D and his partner in crime decided to climb the hill and slide down on his bum. They had a blast!

 This picture below shows the toboggan track (yes, the bridge-looking thing). You can see the dam far off behind it. At the base you see the entrance to the dragon mouth, which is the entrance to the indoor ice sculptures. Look closely to the mountain on the right and you will see a yellow and green dragon climbing up the mountain. This is an enclosed escalator that takes you to the top of the dam.
 I am so glad we went inside! There were three rooms of ice sculptures and each room got better and better. Each sculpture had light from within to illuminate the creations. Something we will not soon forget!

 When you have completed the sculpture "rooms" you are at the base of the dam. Below they have sprayed the wall with water and let it freeze which created the most beautiful ice fall.
 Below is one of the sculpture rooms from above.

After we finished looking at the sculptures we headed up the gigantic dragon escalator to the top of the dam. Below is the view.

 As night fell, lights clicked on. To our surprise they had lights replicating The Great Wall up the side of the mountain.
 Below you will see how the dam is illuminated.
 Disneyland has nothing on the lights of this place!

 This was one of the best experiences we've had in China so far! We totally recommend that anyone who has the opportunity to go, go! We look forward to going back in the summer when the gorge is filled with water and the mountains are filled with lush green.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

An authentic Chinese lunch & MORE fireworks

One of the blessings about living here is having authentic Chinese experiences. I thought it might be interesting to share.
A koi pond in the entry hall of their apartment
 Hubby works with mostly Chinese people and this week we were asked over for lunch at one of his bosses homes.
A courtyard in a typical Chinese apartment complex
 Since it is Spring Festival, making dumplings was on the to do list.
 Taking a long roll of dough and breaking it off into small pieces.
 Roll and flatten with hand.
 This is the part that took a lot of experience. Using a small wooden rolling pin with one hand, and turning the dough with the other you flatten it out into circles.
 Next you fill the dough. This was a pork and leek mixture. Not too much or you can't close it up.
 Pinching it closed was the most difficult part for us "Westerners".
The dumplings were then steamed and served and were yummy!
Below is the dishes that Xia's wife spent all morning preparing. There must've been 18 dishes!

A cute way to hold your chopsticks

 A typical Chinese street outside of their apartment complex.

Hubby and a friend went outside of our province to stock up on MORE fireworks. We all got together to light them off.
 The  boxes above shoot off 100 blossoms into the sky. We spent a couple of hours shooting all of these off. 
Will we ever be done with fireworks?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Temple Fair 2012

Temple Fairs are how Chinese people spend the time off of work during the Spring Festival holiday. Parks decorate and are filled with vendors. The streets of Beijing are empty but the parks are jam packed with people.
 We chose to go to LongTan Park for our first (and probably only) Temple Fair.
 Millions of people crowd around stalls selling garbage stuff. Blow up 1,000 lb mallets were popular, as were fake plastic apples piled on a stick. Since our kids just received their hongbaos we let them choose some things to buy. Both bought some wooden puzzles.
 This park has a lake in the middle, as do many others. You can see the crowd of people over hubby's shoulder.

Another section of the fair is the carnival game section. It cost 20 yuan ($3.50 USD) for 10 tokens. Most games cost 10 tokens for 2-5 chances. Even if you did not "win" you still walked away with a small trinket. 

 The next section of stalls were the food stalls. Many traditional Chinese street foods were for sale. I was wanting a "treat" but no deep fried Oreo's were to be found! 
Baby birds being roasted up to munch on!

Notice the pig hanging at this pork stand.
 Our kids could not win the stuffies they wanted so they bought them. E chose a dragon to honor the year of the dragon. Hers cost 70 yuan ($10.50 USD).

I cannot remember how much D's "Planet VS Zombies guy" cost.

 This game of chance below was the funniest of all!
 You pay for rings to toss around junk! Literally these were dirty, mismatched, sometimes broken things that looked like they were just picked up at a yard sale. There were also boxes of remote control helicopters but the boxes were too big to even hook on the box. That didn't stop people from trying!

 Then there is the snow play area. There was a section for snow ball fights, sledding, building snowmen, etc. Looked like a lot of fun!
This display was at the exit of the fair. As we were leaving we saw a fist fight between two men. It escalated quickly. The funny part was that they were fighting right in front of policemen who just stepped out of the way as they punched each other. A man's girlfriend tried to break it up and she got punched in the face. The police finally stepped in when one of the guys was on the ground. 

The bottom line...a Chinese temple fair is just like an American street fair (minus the beer). It was fun to do once, but we have crossed that off of our list.

The Summer Palace

Ever since we arrived back from the US to China, food here has been a little more appealing than before we left. It may be because I ate anything and everything I wanted back home so I am not missing it as much right now. Also, I think I just may have turned a corner (which everyone said I would about now) to stop recreating America and just embrace China. In result, we have been eating a lot more chinese food. 

This outing began at one of my favorite restaurants here in Beijing. I had been there twice before, this was the first time for my family. It is Baoyuan and they are the ones that specialize in colorful dumplings. I really cannot eat enough dumplings here, it is one of the things I have come to LOVE, yes LOVE.
 E has not yet embraced chinese food. She still only usually eats rice.
Near hubby is an example of orange and purple dumplings.
This restaurant uses fruit and vegetables to dye their skins.
 D is a little tired of chinese food, as you can see in the picture above. When we order food at a restaurant we usually order WAY too much. We usually order two vegetable dishes, two or three meat dishes, rice and dumplings. This time we let E order the main dishes and she did great! These dishes were the most like American chinese food that we have anywhere.
A little girl of one of the employees spends all day out in front
just swinging on a swing.
 The Summer Palace
Remember when I said I didn't feel like I lived in Beijing until a saw a few things? Well, this is place number two. I had heard how beautiful it is and have been really anxious to check it out. Sadly, we had amazing pictures all around the grounds that were lost :( These iphone snapshots will have to do and we definitely will be going back as it warms up!
 The Summer Palace is an enormous park that the Empress Dowager had for her own pleasure. The large lake is completely frozen, but in the summer you can boat around the lake.
 These men are flying kites on these contraptions.
 Despite signs saying to stay off the ice, you can see many people using the ice for different sorts of entertainment.
 This man blows sugar, similar process to glass blowing. He makes the shapes of all the zodiac animals.

As we were walking around the lake, we decided to sit down and take a break. One of the things we have learned is that when Chinese people speak a little bit of English they really like to come up to us to practice. We feel flattered and think it is refreshing. As we were sitting a small boy, about D's age (ten), sat down next to me and said, "what a day, what a day, what a day". It was so cute that this is what he chose to say to let us know he spoke English. Of course, we struck up a conversation for about ten minutes. He was happy.
We made it to the far side of the lake where a monastery sits high upon the hill. By this time we were extremely cold and ready to call it a day. We are looking forward to visiting The Summer Palace many more times.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chair Skating

It's cold here in Beijing and that means one thing...chair skating!
The people here in China have a few things figured out and this is one of them! Many parks have lakes or rivers and undoubtedly they freeze solid. Instead of strapping on tight, uncomfortable skates and end up on your rear you sit on a pallet-formed chair and use long screw drivers like ski poles to gain momentum. Genius and fun!

Our neighborhood park, RiTan Park, has this here now for 20 yuan. There is no time limit (unlike the US would be) , you can trade off in your family (also US would not do) and your family can be on the ice to push or take pictures (NEVER in the US!)
RiTan Park in the dead of winter

Chair Skating arena
 E & D had a lot of fun speedily scooting around.

Even hubby got in on the adventure. 
I did too! I mastered the 360!

Sadly, our brand new expensive camera had a defective memory card and ALL the great pics from our Chinese New Year adventures were lost! Boohoo! So all you get are my phone pics!