Thursday, January 30, 2014

Harbin: Songhua River

We spent the afternoon of our second day in Harbin playing on the frozen Songhua River. The river is coated with over 3 feet of ice (~1 meter) in early November and remains this way until April each year.

Harbin - River

I'm told the Songhua has more visitors in the winter than the summer. It's hard to argue with this statement when you witness the hundreds of people skating, sliding, and riding dog or horse drawn sleds on the surface. There were even a few brave souls who thought swimming in a carved out pool was a good idea. While I did once go skinny dipping in a lake in January while in college, I thought better of it this time around. And I hadn't consumed nearly as much beer.

Harbin - River

Harbin - River

Harbin - River

There were a few of these cute Arctic foxes that you could pay to hold, but as I am against animal tourism (unless it serves as a rehabilitation or research center), I opted not to cuddle these furry critters.

Harbin - River

Walking on the river is free though I'd recommending paying to ride one of the slides near the entrance. It will pop you out among the main action and give you a reason to squeal for a few minutes.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Harbin: Zhaolin Park

Zhaolin Park

After the sun set on our first day, we visited the Lantern Festival at Zhaolin Park. I quite liked this small, peaceful park, but it pales in comparison to the larger Snow and Ice World. If you are in Harbin for only one night, skip this smaller version.

Harbin Zhaolin Park 

Ice lanterns have been used in Harbin for hundreds of years. Originally, they were carved by fishermen to use at night when fishing on Songhua River. They evolved into decorations in front of homes and are now embraced as an art form. Artists from around the world come to carve sculptures out of huge blocks of ice, cut from the local river.

Zhaolin Park

Harbin Zhaolin Park

Zhaolin Park

Harbin Zhaolin Park 

Harbin Zhaolin Park

Zhaolin Park 

Entrance to the multiple parks is not cheap. Expect to pay 200 rmb/person after dark at Zhaolin Park. While you can save some money by visiting during the day, you'd also miss out on the lights.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Harbin: Snow Sculpture Art Exposition

Last weekend, Matthew and I ventured to Harbin for the Ice and Snow Festival. It was cold, beautiful, and one of the events I vowed to experience after we moved to China. The festival is made up of several exhibits. I'll feature them each individually over the next few posts, because frankly, I have too many photos for just one.

Our first afternoon in Harbin, we went to Sun Island for the Snow Sculpture Art Exposition. Here, we were greeted by beautiful snow sculptures. Each one was intricately carved and some of them were humongous in size.






One of the only photos where my face is actually showing (it was a balmy -25 F or -31.6 C)



We also climbed to the top of a snow castle. I think you can guess how we got back down.



This last sculpture was insane. I'm the tiny black dot in front of it, attempting to show you the sheer size of this bad boy.


I don't know about you, but this makes the snowmen I created growing up look downright pitiful.

Entrance tickets are 260 RMB per person. It was an additional 30 RMB (or 50 for two people) to ride the slide.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Street Eats: Popcorn

The Chinese are always looking for ways to do things quicker or more efficient than everyone else. Take popcorn for example. You probably thought the fastest way to make it was in the microwave, right?


In China, your friendly neighborhood popcorn maker is waiting on the street corner to show you just how superior his method happens to be.


A metal, teardrop-shaped container is filled with popcorn, sealed, and cooked over a flame. When the pressure gauge mounted at the end reaches a certain level, the street vendor opens a lever on the side that shoots air into the metal cooker, relieving the pressure and shooting out freshly popped popcorn. The sound of the pop resembles a bomb going off. Or Shanghai during Chinese New Year


This method of popcorn making caused quite a stir in the US last year when it was featured on an episode of Mythbusters. The Chinese were similarly amused by how dangerous Americans found it to be. 

The whole process takes only a few moments. 5 rmb will get you a bag of this kettle corn like snack and a near death experience to go with it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Phuket Eats: The Pad Thai Shop

You guys, I totally messed up. I forgot to post about my absolute favorite meal in Thailand. But you'll forgive me if I tell you now, right? RIGHT?!?!?

Now that the groveling has been settled, let's get back to The Pad Thai Shop. Not only was the food at this road side stop ridiculously good, the bowls of pad thai were only a mere 50 baht each. That's $1.52 USD. We stuffed ourselves silly and spent under $8 for four people.


I'll be honest with you, this is not a fine dining establishment. It's a cheap, local dive that serves up authentic fare for low prices. There are no waiters or cloth napkins, just a friendly staff and self serve sodas in the coolers near the entrance.


The staff at the counter speak English and have an English menu available. Simply order at the counter and then pick up your food when it's ready. You pay at the end of your meal.


We sampled the pad thai and promptly ordered seconds. We also had the pad kee mao. While good, the shop's namesake dish is what stands out (I'd also ask for the flat noodles in this dish next time).


Finding The Pad Thai Shop can be a little tricky. It's located on Patak Road, just before the Baan Karon Resort on the way from Karon to Kata. Look for the hoardes of people if you happen to head there around lunch.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Shanghai Confucian Temple

Most visitors (and even many expats) in Shanghai have likely never heard of this temple. It's one of my favorite locations not only for its beauty but also the tranquility that is in stark contrast to the rest of Shanghai. I've never seen more than a few other people here and I almost didn't share it with you for that reason. But I'm feeling generous today.


The Shanghai Confucian Temple, known as Wen Miao, is an ancient architectural complex dedicated to the worship of Confucius and the study of his texts. It was originally established in 1294 during the Yuan Dynasty.


The Temple was moved to different locations four times before it was reconstructed on its current site in 1855. The temple suffered damage during the Taiping Rebellion and further damage was intentionally inflicted by soldiers during the Cultural Revolution. The present buildings were reconstructed or restored in 1999 to celebrate the 2,550th birthday of Confucius.


The Temple complex consists of three parallel paths running south to north. The first path is for public worship and sacrifice; the center path is for scholars and studying; the third path is dominated by nature. 


You can read more about the temple on their website but the point to note is that this temple was not only a place of worship but a school. During ancient times, Wen Miao was the highest learning institution in Shanghai.


Visitors can leave wishes to Confucius during their visit, often asking for guidance or advice. My friend K wrote a note for her family while we toured.


Prior to exams, many students will visit the temple to ask Confucius for help in completing their examinations.


Today, the Temple is no longer dedicated to the study and research of Confucianism. Instead it is gaining fame as a secondhand book market. Every Sunday, thousands of local collectors swarm to the Shanghai Confucian Temple to bargain and buy, exchange or trade rare editions and old books.

To visit the Confucian temple, head to 215 Wenmiao Road near Zhonghua Road. Admission is 10 rmb per person.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Shanghai Eats: Dolar Shop

Yes, the name of the restaurant I'm going to feature today only has one L in its name. I have no idea why. And whenever Matthew suggests we eat there, he is subjected to a serenade from me in which I sing about hot pot to the tune of Macklemore's Thrift Shop.


So what exactly is hot pot? It's China's version of fondue where you cook your own food table side.


To start, a simmering pot of soup base is placed on your table. At many restaurants, the soup is served in one pot for the entire table to share. At Dolar Shop, you are given individual pots to allow everyone to enjoy their own creations (a big plus when dining with people who like entrails in their soup). I usually go for the mushroom broth while Matthew opts for spicy mala.


You then add raw ingredients like meat, tofu, vegetables, and noodles to the soup, allowing them to cook in the broth. When the items are done to your likeness, you simply remove them and eat plain or dip into an accompanying sauce. The make your own sauce bar is one of my favorite things about Dolar Shop.


The staff at Dolar Shop generally do not speak English, but they will be happy to dust off provide you with an English menu if you ask. While this hot pot location doesn't boast the free manicures of Hai Di Lao, I do enjoy that we are given bibs (which I highly recommend wearing) as well as cell phone covers to keep ourselves and our things clean. 


The steamy atmosphere of Dolar Shop is the perfect spot to warm up as Shanghai enters its colder months. There are numerous locations around Shanghai, including my local branch at:

3F, 323 Tianyaoqiao Rd., near Nandan Rd

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Look Back at 2013

If 2012 was about learning to survive in Shanghai, 2013 was all about thriving. Here's a look back at a year that was filled with more friends, fun, and adventure than I ever thought possible.

After a relaxing holiday in the US, we arrived back in Shanghai just in time to celebrate New Year's Eve. We went to our friends' Stag and Hens parties (those photos are not approved for this blog). We steered clear of overpriced imported food and instead let you all in on our favorite not so secret shopping spot.

February brought our first Chinese New Year celebration which included fireworks, yuán zi, and fried nerves for the the cat and me. We also feasted on Hunan food and late night eats while learning about proper laundry techniques and Chinese cooking.

This month brought about warmer weather, we declared our love for delivery, and witnessed midnight marketing. We also had a visit from long time friends which had me conquering (or at least trying to) my fear of heights as well as jetting off to Hong Kong for a few days.

Our friend K came to visit and despite a delayed flight, we made our way to Sichuan Province where we visited the Leshan Giant Buddah, saw a Sichuan Opera, and climbed Mount Emei. We also learned more about rabies than I ever hoped I would have to.

More importantly, I held a panda at the Chengdu Panda Research Base and we rounded out the month with a visit to Zhujiajiao which was rather anticlimactic after HOLDING A PANDA.

April brought another round of visitors and we ventured to Guangxi Province to visit the Longji Rice Terraces, boated down the Li River, went mountain biking in rural China, saw a cheesy light show, and floated along the Yulong River in the rain.

May was my birthday month which we celebrated with a joint birthday for me and my friend S at a local tapas restaurant. We ran a 5k and competed in a BBQ cook-off. We also witnessed some uncomfortable sittingnapping, and cat wrangling. I finished out the month by reliving my middle school years at a Backstreet Boys concert.

I got a new pair of kicks which I wore on a visit to the Old City Wall. I developed a profound love for sesame paste noodles and we were privileged to take part in the 30 day birthday of our dear friend's adorable little one.

July was hot. Thankfully, we escaped the heat for a few weeks to the USA after I ate my weight in dumplings. Sadly, I also ate stinky tofu for the first time. Not a fan. But I am a fan of foot rubs and indulged in quite a few over the summer.

August was still hot. In fact, the hottest day ever recorded in Shanghai happened. I learned about eating baked goods, shared my favorite pet suppliers, spent a weekend running around Shanghai with Bean, and learned that even my iPhone is adapting to life in China. I also sang karaoke. A lot.

September was spent figuring out what "real China" meant, eating Yunnan food, taking creepy photos of people, and buying insane amounts of cheese. I also indulged in juice during the much too fast pomegranate season. We once again competed in the Chili Cookoff and even found time for a few games of laser tag.

October was a fabulous month. My parents arrived from the States and we headed on a family vacation to Thailand. We took a cooking class, sailed around Phang Nga bay, went sightseeing in Karon, and indulged in some rainy day activities. We also cheered our way through a Muay Thai match and ate copious amount of Thai food.

My mom declared xiaolongbao her favorite Chinese food, so I shared some tips on how and where to eat this delicious treat.

November was a busy month. We spent a lot of time running outdoors which meant I could indulge in egg tarts on a regular basis. We feasted on three (yes three) Thanksgiving dinners, celebrated a few birthdays, and laughed our way through Urban Aphrodite's production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

We ran the Shanghai half marathon, battled with poor air quality, and rode around in a few nice rides. We also gave you some holiday shopping tips before jetting off to the US for Christmas.

2013 was a phenomenal year and I cannot thank you enough for allowing me to share it with all of you. I hope you have enjoyed watching our adventures and will continue to come along for the fun in 2014.

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