One Night in Shenyang

Unless you’re working for a Chinese public school or a kindergarten, Language Centre ESL teachers in China do not have the weekend off. Instead, you have two split days during the week – I have Monday and Thursdays off. When we have a holiday or two consecutive days off, I take full advantage of this! At the beginning of April, China celebrated Qing Ming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Festival). This is the time when people remember the dead. To be honest, I have not seen a cemetery in Harbin. Strange, right?

So, the point is…I decided to spend one night in Shenyang.

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I hopped on to the G train at 07:00 in the morning and there I was, on a mini break. I spent about 2 and a half hours on the train – I slept most of the way. I walked to the first taxi I saw and insisted on him using the meter. I thought I was a pain in the arse for this but oh well… Found the hostel with ease as I gave the driver directions verbally.

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Firstly, it was way warmer than Harbin so I was a little too layered. I decided to head over to the Qing Dynasty (Fuling) tombs. According to my GPS, it would take just under an hour to get there. So, water and a map! Due to the public holiday, the traffic was insane. So, it took a little longer than expected.

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The Fuling tombs are well-looked after and a great space to clear your mind! It is a large site so you need at least half a day to explore. There are some closed off areas that I under reconstruction or restoration. I needed to use the bathroom as I was leaving but I couldn’t find one. (There is an embarrassing story here but I will keep it hush hush).

Well, what else is there to do in Shenyang? Having a look at Tripadvisor would be a great start.

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When you’re finally exhausted of the historical sites, you could take a wander around the Unit 11 Art complex.

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There are numerous cafes around Shenyang. Make sure you have a beverage at Lenore’s! There are a few around town. They make a good, frothy cuppa!

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The Deets

Where to stay: I use Agoda to book hostels around China. I stayed at The Lazy Bee Youth Hostel.

Transportation: The buses are cheap and reliable. It’ll cost just about CNY 2 for a one way trip. Ask your hostel about which bus line to take. If you have an iPhone, you can just type in the address on Maps and it’ll show you which bus to take!

Entrance to the Fuling Mausoleum: CNY 50.

Tip: Try not to visit on a public holiday, it’ll be packed!

Swan Lake at the Harbin Opera House

The winters are long and brutal up north so you do end up hibernating, involuntarily. However, you can find that there is loads to do besides bar hopping and drinking warm Harbin beer. I stumbled on a leaflet: Swan Lake (Russian Kremlin Theatre) was coming to town! I had never been to a ballet before so I thought, this is it!

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I often take the bus because it’s cheaper. Not on this evening. I was Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman – I had to take a taxi! I treated myself to a sushi dinner before the show; yes, it was a splurge day! I arrived early so I could take some photos and enjoy a cup of coffee in the theatre foyer.

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The architecture is magnificent! I stood in the foyer in silence in absolute awe; enjoying the general spleandor.

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I hadn’t been excited in a while so this show could not have come at a better time. New experiences always replenish your enthusiasm and sense of adventure. Well, the ballet certainly did. Of course, I did not know what to expect except for the routines I had seen in Black Swan the night before.

A beautiful, well-executed show that was worth every penny! I could do it again and again!

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So, there is more to Harbin than Bar Street and the Ice festival. You just need to search a little deeper.

The Deets

Where to stay: Well, I live in Harbin but I would recommend Agoda to book hostels around China.

Transportation: The subway and bus combo is cheap and reliable. Taxis are also in abundance, just make sure the driver uses the meter. It should cost no more than CNY 50 from the Qiaonan Jie area. If you take the bus, take the bus 119 from XiDaQiao to SongBei on the other side of the river. You can walk from the final stop or you could take bus 35 from the SongBei stop.

How to purchase tickets: I use the official website to see what’s on but I purchase the tickets at the Grand Theatre ticket office. It is tricky to purchase the tickets online if you do not have an ID.

Tip: Do it!

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Fast Track to Beijing

A couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed a weekend in Beijing. This was not much an exploration trip but a reunion trek. I hadn’t seen one of my good friends that brought sunshine to my university life in four years. So, you can imagine we had heaps of catching up to get through so I didn’t plan much sight-seeing.

As the lone wolf that I am, I booked a return fast train ticket from Harbin to Beijing which should take just under 8 hours. This is phenomenal as it would normally be a 20-24 hour drive! I had to be at the Harbin West Railway Station by 06:30 am – I am a morning person so I chose the first train out so I could be in Beijing for the afternoon and enjoy a night out in town in the evening.

Seeing Maya again as she she was waiting for me at the station exit. We both shrieked in disbelief. Four damn years!!

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The train ride was alright. I had a book, my travel journal and some sleep to catch up on. I had booked myself a second-class soft seater because a sleeper would have been a little awkward. A cabin always has four bunk beds so travelling as a lone female would make me a little uncomfortable. After my little nap against the window, I woke up to the gentleman sitting next to me watching me sleep. Then guess what? He smiles at me as if watching strangers sleep is normal. I couldn’t get myself to sleep after that.

I stayed at Peking Youth Hostel which is owned by a florist so you are surrounded by flowers and plants which is a winner, of course. This is on one of the ancient hutons (alleys) in Beijing, NanLouGuXiang. It was clean, cosy and the staff were friendly so I might be a regular. I say this because I fell in love with this part of Beijing. It is lively, youthful and friendly. My first meal in Beijing was a falafel pita! Oh My God! A small Israeli restaurant tucked away in one of the hutons. Heaven and reminded me of my Durban Night Markets which always ended in a juicy falafel wrap!

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The evening ended with some beer and food at a bar with live music. Well, open mic, to be exact. We moved out swiftly when we could no longer handle the croons of a shiny clothed expat with his Michael Jackson look-a-like friend. No, really! I really could not hold in my chuckles!

We enjoyed a slow morning and started off at a dumpling restaurant with a smorgasbord of delights. We should really practice eating with our stomachs and not our eyes. Steamed broccoli, fried dumplings, steamed dumplings, potato and aubergine goodness and tea! Don’t forget the rice!

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After waddling out of the restaurant, we took a beautiful stroll to the Lama Temple. There are so many hidden treasures. So many! I wanted to stop every 5 minutes just to explore.

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After meandering the hutons, exploring all the nooks and crannies, we made it to the Lama Temple. I loved the incense and looking at the ancient buildings. I found it rather peaceful to browse the information building with a monk reciting his chants in the background.

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Since it was a Friday night and two friends from Harbin were joining us, we decided to paint the town red. Well, not quite. We started off at a live music bar called Temple. My kind of place, really. Live rock music! We watched two bands play (the second band was a little strange) then decided it was time to check out the salsa bar! My goodness, what a jam! They had a reggaeton/latin dance band playing and it was awesome. I felt like I was in a Dirty Dancing scene.You know, a guy eyeing you across the room with the music in the background then comes over to the bar to talk to you..

It was time to leave this bar!

We went back to Temple and sang old school rock music at the top of my voice while having cheap tequila shots. Please note that I had to set my cellphone alarm to 03:45am so I could leave the bar to meet up with Maya to go to the National Day ceremony at Tienanmen Square! This ceremony takes place at sunrise so this is 05:00. So, straight from the bar to a family ceremony! It was hilarious!

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As a foreigner, the locals thought I should stand in front to see exactly what was happening! So, there I was, a black South African celebrating China’s National Day (the day China became the People’s Republic).

This was a memorable trip and I will be doing it again soon. I still need to walk the Great Wall.

x

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In the Woods..

The first opportunity to get hiking outside the city was granted, I grabbed it with two hands! There was no way I could let that pass, no matter how exhausted I am. Since I have arrived in Harbin, I have made a deal with myself to travel as much as I can. Even if it means that I live like a peasant. I have planned a number of big trips in the coming months so I am finally getting to live my dream.

It all started with a small Moon Cake and a cup of coffee. I packed a light backpack with all the essentials for a day trip: sun screen, wet wipes, tissue, water (!!), a rain jacket, lp balm, a spare plastic packet, lunch and snacks for the trek up.

Destination? Xiang Lu Shan. To get there, we had to take a train to the end of the line (Hadongzhan) then two buses thereafter. It gets rather rural and the air becomes cleaner and fresher! Score!

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I thought this would be a walk in the walk, really. It started off really well with stunning Buddhist prayer rooms and flat walks with trickling streams. After the iron swing path way, it all went uphill from there.

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I honestly thought I was relatively fit. Halfway up, I was sweating and panting and asking myself why I do this to myself.  Why?

To put it quite simply, that is the reason. The challenge, the fresh air, the forests and appreciating mother nature. I resembled a tortoise walking uphill. Eventually, I caught up with the gang. The final battle going uphill was worth it. The view from the top was breathtaking – it was worth every curse I said under my breath. Note to self: Anele, cut down on the Harbin beer, noodles and rice. 

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Aaaaah.

If you ever make it to Harbin, I would recommend that you spend a day Xiang Lu Shan for a day hike. If you are coming in the winter months, then you can ski down the mountain after trekking up.

A day well spent. I love sore thigh muscles after a good work out!

With love, x

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Hello, Harbin..

After a year of plotting and pondering, I am finally in China. Harbin, to be exact. Leaving Durban was a bittersweet moment – you know, knowing that you finally did it. But, leaving the people you love behind. It doesn’t make it easier that I am not quite a fan of flying. I often choose the window seat closest to the emergency exit. Then, I drink at least 3 glasses of red wine to help me sleep. It was comforting to sit next to another cryer (she was leaving her husband and daughter to teach in Dubai) so both of us had our tissues in hand as we took off.

I was a little silly to buy the cheapest ticket to Harbin; it was the longest 3 days yet. Arriving in Beijing was madness – that’s when the culture shock started. No queues. There were thousands of people at the airport yet it was way after 23:00. Then getting the taxi was even more daunting. I had the address written on my phone in characters yet no one wanted to take me to my hotel (I needed to rest on a bed and shower as I had a 9 hour lay over). It was time to use some Bing Translate. I asked a young gentleman to help me get a taxi to the hotel. To find that the reason why the drivers would not take me: the hotel was too close. Eventually, I made it. And, passed out straight after a much needed shower.

I went in to a restaurant at the Beijing Airport and asked for breakfast. I got noodles with an egg. Even though I asked for a vegetarian option, I still got a chunk of something meaty. I took the China Southern Airline to Harbin which was small and rattle-y. Thank goodness, I was so tired that I passed out. The food: a dry bread roll and milk and one dried prune. I am not even joking. As the pilot announced that we are descending in to Harbin, I looked out the window. Beautifully green.

Two hours later: what a warm welcome. Theo and Sara were waiting at the arrivals gate with huge smiles and somewhat, sighs of relief. With the stares and at times, the outright racism, I am glad I have come here for an adventure.

I have finally sorted my VPN and internet connection so I can write regularly.

With love,

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