Friday, February 21, 2014

The landscapes of the old campus, where we live and the new campus, an hour away by bus, where we teach.

We really enjoy the feeling of our campuses. A significant part is because of the attractive trees, plants, flowers, statues, and other artistic effects.

Hangzhou & Suzhou - Venices of the East

National holidays in China are always interesting. It seems like the "real" date is always in mid-week (well, probably 5 out of 7, right?) and the government tacks on two more week days of "mandatory vacation." Sounds good, right? Not so much. What China gives with the right hand, China seems to take back with the left hand.

Dragon Boat Festival was on a Wednesday. The government has given everyone Monday and Tuesday off as a bonus. But it has required everyone to work or go to school Saturday and Sunday to make it up. So Sunday all the kids are in school, all employee are working, and we are teaching school instead of going to church. Only in China.

A few months ago we had the same situation. Taught on Sunday and then celebrated by taking a trip with some of the BYU professors. We flew to Hangzhou and Suzhou in Zhejiang Province for a little sightseeing. This area is known for it's "Venice-like" waterways and for its beautiful gardens. It is truly gorgeous and so green! The scenery is a photographer's paradise as the following pictures can attest.

Chinese gardens have a flair all their own. Flowers are not highlighted but shrubs, trees and flowering bushes are well manicured and create beautiful areas of serenity. We saw some of the most beautiful bonsai plants! Old, very old, and interesting and beautiful in ways only they can be.

Here are some additional photos to add to our previous Hangzhou and Suzhou posting.

Amazing Sights in Harbin!

We just spent several wintery days in far north China in the town of Harbin - the ice capital of China.Wow!  We have to say it was amazing!  Harbin has a climate similar to Minneapolis but much harsher. Very, very cold. Average January temperature of -2 farienheit.  Lots of snow and ice and they treat it just like Minnesotans do.  Go out, do your errands, sightsee, walk long distances and most of all, bundle up!  

The city proper is about 4 million and the metro area is about 10 million. Lots of Russian influence and very, very few westerners. Very limited credit card use, mostly all cash. While there is tons of construction, lots of new building, and a pleasant downtown, we read the average cost of living is about 700 RMB a month ($120). Not if you eat in a western restaurant or pay the $50 admissions required for everything. I suppose this means that while Harbin as a more isolated town does not have as high a cost of living for those on the bottom, it is still obvious that things are prospering for a large part of the population

The coats and boots far outshine the plain articles we wear and the hats are wonderful!  Lots of fur, I repeat, lots of fur – on the boots, the hats, the coats, and the gloves.  Beautiful styles and quite expensive.

But the most impressive sights we saw were the snow sculptures, ice sculptures and tigers! Whatever we might think about doing – like the St. Paul Winter Carnival – they do it 100 times over.  Many multi-story buildings made out of ice that are large enough to walk into and lots of long slides that the tourists make heavy use of to exit the buildings. 

Built into all of these building walls (created out of large blocks of ice) of ice are lights!  In the ice!  Long strands of LED lights that are computer controlled.  Blinking and flashing they create a magnificent display.  We were awed by it all. The ice blocks were so clear they must have been manufactured. And it is hard to imagine how they did it to connect all the LED connectors in the middle of the blocks.

We also visited an area where there had been a snow sculpture competition. There were huge (looked like 8' on a side cubes) blocks of snow that had been carved into intricate sculptures.  Dozens - maybe a few hundred. The variety was endless. Along with the block sculptures were even bigger, several stories tall, sculptures. Some almost as long as a football field. It was possible to climb up these and again use the slides built in. In the meantime, at the base of these big sculptures you could ride in a dog sled, ice skate and use other devices on the snow.  All through the city as well were snow and ice sculptures creating a wonderful effect. It was just beautiful.

Last of all we visited a tiger park that was again, in the grand scale of the rest of the winter displays here.  The park was built in a Bear Country plan where you rode in busses to view tigers roaming free all over the area. They were divided into groups – tigers who had grown up together so they didn’t fight – and then fenced off from other groups. My goodness they are big!  With their winter fur and their innate size they were most impressive.  I know we were less than 12 feet from some of them.  We also saw lions, jaguars, a cheetah and a liger (a cross between a tiger and a lion).  There were snow tigers and white tigers. In all we were told they housed about 1400 tigers and related cats.  We were only able to see about 400 or so.  Should I feel cheated? I don’t think so. The park was surrounded by 20-30 story apartment buildings. Amazing to be in such an urban area. I am sure they sit on their deck with binoculars and count the tigers!

The following are  some of the pictures we took. 

The lights in the ice blocks in the buildings flashed and blinked

Chicken for dinner?

Year of the horse