Catch Up – A Long Time Coming

So as I said in my last post it has been a long time since I last posted. A lot has happened. When I last posted I was a bachelor, still living in Shanghai, and writing about the business trips I took to various parts of Asia. Since then I have moved back to USA, got married (with someone that I met in Shanghai), and am expecting a baby boy in November. Life certainly does come at you fast and it seems like just yesterday that I was on a plane ride for my first trip to work at Asahi Kasei. That was really the catalyst that set the tone for my twenties (I am now thirty). Before living in Japan a year I was a twenty year old sophomore in college with only dreams of being able to even visit overseas. Fast forward ten years I am married, have lived in both China/Japan, and have made more overseas trips than I can even remember.

Instead of writing a full blog post on everything that I have done since in the two years since my last blog post I thought I would just summarize here and write my thoughts of each one of the events.I’ll try to “reset” from here and do my best to update the blog as I go along.

Korea/China Trip – April 2016

  • About a month after I came back from living in China I went on a business trip to South Korea/China.
  • South Korea was pretty uneventful. I was visiting a customer (Samsung). I remember them having more security getting into the Samsung campus than I have seen at most airports.
  • At the Samsung campus you have to catalog every single piece of electronics that you bring in so that they can account for it on the way out.
  • I stayed at the IBIS Ambassador Suwon. It was a pretty standard business hotel with no fluff. Still it was clean and they seemed to speak relatively good English.
  • Incheon Airport was a nightmare coming in. I carry-on only for business travel and good thing I did so on this trip. The line for security was about three hours long. Luckily I had coworkers that had already been in line for three and a half hours (they came in from San Francisco, I came in from Dallas), and I could just cut in front of them.
  • Pollution in Suwon was noticeably bad.
  • Food was awesome. Had the normal kimchi, barbecue, grilled octopus, soju, etc.
  • Went to Shenzhen to visit another customer. It was Shenzhen- a boring city with not a lot to do. Stayed at the pirate ship hotel.
Korean BBQ

Korean BBQ

More Korean BBQ

More Korean BBQ

Random street in Suwon

Random street in Suwon

Me "working" at the hotel restaurant in Shenzhen. Not a strip club, this is the restaurant at the Intercontinental.

Me “working” at the hotel restaurant in Shenzhen. Not a strip club, this is the restaurant at the Intercontinental.

Wedding (in Hawaii) – June 2016

The wedding was at the Disney Aulani hotel in Oahu, Hawaii. The location was somewhat chosen as it was a good halfway point for her family (in Japan) and my family (in USA). Pictures of the wedding at:

http://wedding.timothylogan.com/

  • Mickey and Minnie Mouse came to the wedding. It cost an extra $1200 for that to happen. If I ever want to give up the life of being an engineer I should try to be the guy under the Goofy suit.
  • Even with the $1200 premium it wasn’t that expensive. The wedding was small (both my parents, her parents, her grandma, her sister, and my sister (and her boyfriend). Disney did a great job catering the event.
  • After the wedding we stayed at the Outrigger Reef Waikiki. The sense I got from this hotel was that it was really something in the 70s, but somehow has since become a little dated.
  • The wedding dinner was at Roy’s Ko Olina. Great food and good service. I remember my wife and I being the dividing line at the table of Japanese speakers (her family) and English speakers (my family)
  • American Airlines direct from Dallas was fine. The plane was ancient, but it got us there on time.
  • We actually got legally married in Richardson TX at a small ceremony in a court house. We did this so that Asumi (my wife) would be under my health insurance in case anything went sour in Hawaii
Wedding on the beach

Wedding on the beach

Me with Minnie

Me with Minnie

Us with Chip and Dale

Us with Chip and Dale

Poke!

Poke!

Near Disney Hotel in Hawaii

Near Disney Hotel in Hawaii

Tennessee Trip (July 2016)

  • Went to Tennessee to introduce my Grandma and my Uncle to my wife.
  • Stayed at the Holiday Inn in Columbia. It was adequate and a standard Holiday Inn.
  • I remember when we were at my Uncle’s house there were a ton of fireflies. Asumi said that fireflies only are in places with very clean air
  • In Nashville we stayed at the Indigo Hotel. The hotel was nice and the location was great, but the room was small. Somehow I preferred the Holiday Inn.
  • On the last morning we were walking around Nashville and say a 5K/10K that was being run. This is what first made me interested in 5K running.
  • We saw fireworks over the Nashville river. It was pretty nuts. Sheryl Crow was there live and it was on-and-off rain
  • We went to the zoo in Nashville. It was a nice walk.
Fish at the Nashville Zoo

Fish at the Nashville Zoo

Fireworks in Nashville

Fireworks in Nashville

Palo Duro Camping Trip (October 2016)

  • Went out to Palo Duro Canyon for a camping trip.
  • We tried to cook the first night. There were bugs everywhere. We had very small dinner and pretty much sprayed the entire campsite with hardcore DEET pesticide.
  • Went hiking the next day on one of the intermediate camping trails. Was a nice walk. Had the dog in a “doggy” backpack.
  • The second day we didn’t want to go through the bug camping dinner so we drove to The Big Texan in Amarillo. Had a big Texas sized steak.
  • Stopped by Texas Tech on the way back and walked around. Talked to some professors.
  • Sleeping at Palo Duro in the tent was an ordeal. The wind was strong so going to sleep was challenging with the constant violent flapping of the tent.
  • Wild packs of turkeys were constantly making the gobbling noises throughout the night.
Samantha in her backpack

Samantha in her backpack

Asumi and I at Palo Duro

Asumi and me at Palo Duro

Big Texas Steak

Big Texas Steak

Me making fire in Palo Duro

Me making fire in Palo Duro

Japan Trip (add-on to business trip) – February 2017

  • Took advantage of the business trip airfare to Asia and stayed at Japan for a few days on my way to China (see below)
  • Stayed at one of my favorites Hotel Century Southern Tower.  It has a nice view and is on the quieter Shinjuku Southern Terrace Entrance.
  • Visited the old bar that I always went to (Gina’s in Atsugi). Atsugi is so nostalgic to me. It’s nice how some places don’t change.
  • Bought a ton of stuff for my wife from Daiso in Atsugi as well as Uniqlo in Shinjuku. I had two bags that I had to lug back from Asia.
  • I went to Kappabashi (a place that sells those fake food samples that sit in front of restaurants) and bought a fake beer to keep on my desk at work.
  • Went to eat at Tsukiji at least once (and had the obligatory toro sushi)
Sushi!

Sushi!

Uniqlo in Shinjuku

Uniqlo in Shinjuku

Atsugi never changes

Atsugi never changes

Me with friends at Gina's in Atsugi

Me with friends at Gina’s in Atsugi

China Trip (return) – February 2017

  • Went to Shanghai and Shenzhen in February 2017 for work.
  • In Shanghai I stayed at the Hongta Hotel. Was nice because this is not too far from where I used to live in Shanghai.
  • I met up with a previous coworker and we all ate at one of my favorite restaurants (Ding Tai Fung in Lu Jia Zui).
  • Went to Kang Dao massage in Tangqiao (where I used to live). The masseuse did not mess around- my back was purple by the end.
  • Shenzhen was boring Shenzhen. Stayed at the pirate ship. I remember going to an awesome Sichuan food restaurant at a mall.
  • Getting out of Shenzhen was a bit hectic. Tried to get home a day early and really JUST got on the ferry from Shenzhen to Hong Kong airport. Was able to get back to Dallas for two full days before I had to ship out to Germany (see below)
Went to the Ritz Carlton bar in Shanghai

Went to the Ritz Carlton bar in Shanghai

Ding Tai Fung!

Ding Tai Fung!

Germany Trip  (Munich) #1 – February 2017

  • This was my first time in Germany (or rather my first time in mainland Europe).
  • I went from DFW->LHR->MUC (Munich). I remember being surprised that British Airways charges for any sort of drink on the plane from London to Munich.
  • In Germany I was staying at the Airport Marriott in Freising. Freising is where my company has their main office in Germany.
  • I had one day where I went into proper Munich for sightseeing. I went to Marienplatz and walked around downtown.
  • I distinctly remember in downtown Munich going to this place which had a ton of wooden picnic tables and places that were just slinging out beers for a few Euro. I had my nice morning beer at 11am.
  • I wrote post cards as a souvenir and sent them out from the Munich post office
  • The train getting from Freising to Munich was a bit confusing. I didn’t know if I had an assigned seat or what. I should’ve done more research here beforehand.
  • One night in Freising the guys at the local office took us out for a night of laser tag and drinking. It was super fun. I remember feeling in bizarro land running through the German laser tag arena while X’ gon give it to ya by DMX was blasting.
  • My go to restaurant in Freising is Weissbraeu Huber. They speak English, the food was good, and they take AMEX (my company card).
  • Went to the Weihenstephaner brewery. Oldest brewery in the world supposedly. A bit touristy, but the food was good and the beer was world class.
Beer!

Beer!

More beer!

More beer!

Downtown Freising

Downtown Freising

Downtown Munich

Downtown Munich

Morning drinking is OK if everyone else is doing it.

Morning drinking is OK if everyone else is doing it.

Israel Trip – June 2017

  • Went here for business to sync up with the team about some collaborative projects between Dallas and Israel.
  • Office is in Ra’anana, hotel was the Dan Accadia in Herzliya. This was probably one of the best hotels that I went to for business. Right on the boardwalk of the Mediterranean Sea and reminded me of Venice Boardwalk in California.
  • Getting into Israel was a bit tough. I took American Airlines from DFW to Frankfurt, and then El Al Airlines (Israeli) from Frankfurt to Tel Aviv. Security to board the El Al flight was super strict. I got screened for “extra” security. They took me to side room and made me go over every single article of clothing and completely stripped my luggage to the bone to make sure there wasn’t anything dangerous. I had to specifically tell them what I was doing and which parts I was programming. They made me check my carry-on.
  • Security actually at Tel Aviv airport was not too bad. I think the amount of business travelers going to Israel is small compared to tourists so I was pretty easy to go through.
  • Food summaries:
    • Hummus restaurant. In USA hummus is something more to snack on- not a full blown meal. This was delicious, however was super filling. I wanted to pass out afterwards.
    • Gloria’s Cafe. A restaurant owned by someone from South Africa. Went there for lunch and had a Jem’s Beer. First time drinking beer for lunch on a workday.
    • Kosher McDonald’s. I had to stop by amall to get some Laline bath souvenirs for my wife. Had McDonald’s. It was very similar to USA McDonald’s except there was no cheese on the Big Mac (this is not kosher)
    • Hotel breakfast. No bacon (there is not a lot of bacon in Israel). A lot of fruit. Wasn’t my favorite, but it was good quality.
    • Yam 7 Bar. My “go to” as it was next to the hotel, had a great view of the Mediterranean, and had cold beer. Had burgers, fish dishes, etc. Was a bit pricey but they took Amex.
  • The office was nice. They have really gourmet coffee and these huge bean bag chairs everyone uses to take a break (these were particularly nice after wanting to pass out due to hummus).
  • Had one free day. Decided to book a tour to see Mazada and The Dead Sea. Chose this over Jerusalem as I only had one day and I did not think this was enough to really see all of Jerusalem. I am also not religious so the religious aspects would’ve been lost to me.
  • Tour bus booked online through some tour company. Wanted to do a canned tour as I wasn’t too familiar with Israel and didn’t want to get lost somewhere I was not supposed to be.
  • Tour group was about 15 people and was in English. They gave you freedom to walk around.
  • Mazada was amazing. History aside, the view from atop the mountain was breathtaking. The Dead Sea looked like something out of a movie. Words cannot do it justice.
  • Dead Sea was also awesome. After changing we had to take a trailer/shuttle to the actual shoreline. The Dead Sea is disappearing so the actual shore was a mile or so from where the resort was.
  • I’m sure people say this a lot- but I can’t believe how salty The Dead Sea was. A drop of water accidentally got into my mouth and it was one of the most disgusting tastes ever.
Hotel breakfast

Hotel breakfast

Hummus. AKA cement

Hummus. AKA cement

Mazada ruins

Mazada ruins

Me at Mazada. Awesome view.

Me at Mazada. Awesome view.

Me floating in Dead Sea

Me floating in Dead Sea

Sunset in Herzliya

Sunset in Herzliya

New York City Vacation – June 2017

  • Quick two day baby moon. The last trip Asumi and I took together without a kid.
  • Found awesome airfare. Round trip from DFW to Newark was $75 per person.
  • Stayed at the Holiday Inn Times Square. Location was great, staff was friendly, and it was relatively cheap considering we were a couple of blocks from Times Square. I think it was something like $220 a night.
  • Flying into Newark wasn’t that bad. Uber was easy to get and I don’t remember it being particularly crowded.
  • We saw Aladdin on Broadway. Show was good and cast was amazing. What you would expect from Broadway.
  • Tons of kids (it was Disney). Some kids were distracting.
  • As there were a lot of kids I decided to get a double Maker’s Mark neat from the lounge bar. It came to $30. Granted it was a souvenir glass I could’ve just bought an entire bottle of Maker’s Mark at a liquor store.
  • One morning we decided to go get some bagels for breakfast. Line for the bagel place was around the store so we decided to go a diner (as New York is famous for). We went to Brooklyn Diner. As we passed by I remember thinking “the guy in the window looks a lot like Jerry Seinfeld.” Once we sat down I realized “the guy in the corner IS Jerry Seinfeld.” Did my best to eat the eggs and hash (Asumi got Eggs Benedict) with Jerry Seinfeld in my peripheral vision. Didn’t want to be “one of those people” that bothered him or even stared in star shock.
  • Went to the Modern Art Museum. It was nice, but I think a lot of it was lost on me as I am not exactly  a scholar of art.
  • Went to Chelsea Market. A lot of nice looking food there, but it was crowded. A bit touristy.
  • Walked around Central Park. Was nice, relaxing, and free. Not everything in NYC will cost you that much money.
  • Had nice Italian food the first day at Casa Nonna. Hip and relaxing place. Near the hotel.
Both of us at Times Square

Both of us at Times Square

Asumi in Central Park

Asumi in Central Park

Asumi in NYC

Asumi in NYC

Asumi at the Aladdin entrance

Asumi at the Aladdin entrance

Aladdin on Broadway!

Aladdin on Broadway!

India Trip (Bangalore) – July 2017

  • First time flying to India from USA. That trip sucks. I flew from Dallas to Dubai and then from Dubai to India. That trip really sucks and you end up a zombie by the time you actually get to India.
  • I brought power bars this time as a backup so I didn’t have to eat too much of the food
  • More of the food- I ate breakfast at the hotel, power bars for lunch, and a mix of either power bars for dinner or hotel food for dinner
  • There was an alcohol ban in Bangalore when I was there. I tried to go to TGI Fridays to get a nice frosty Kingfisher, but had to settle for a luke warm Sprite instead. It sucked.
  • I stayed at the Hyatt MG Road. I wouldn’t stay here again. They were doing construction until late at night and it wasn’t that great of a hotel to stay at. Next time I am going to opt for the Leela Palace.
  • I remember thinking how dirty the roads were and how trash was caked everywhere. Cows were hanging out wallowing in and eat garbage piles.
Garbage cows. This was not actually the worst I saw.

Garbage cows. This was not actually the worst I saw.

Germany Trip (Munich) #2 – July 2017

  • I came here directly from India and was greeted with clean streets and safe food. I made up for the beer that I missed out in India.
  • I did laundry at the hotel. Laundry at the Marriott in Freising is expensive. It came out to about 150 euro. If I had known it was going to be this much I probably would have just bought new clothes.
  • The first full day I was there we went to some sort of carnival/mini Oktoberfest in the country. Pretty much a bunch of carnival games and a huge beer tent. Had a couple of liters of beer. Beer turned into schnapps. The rest of the day was a bit hazy after the schnapps.
  • At the carnival I was introduced to Wurstsalat. My new favorite German food.
  • Ate at all of the restaurants from my first trip to Germany. Didn’t make it into Munich proper this time.
  • It was Biergarten season this time around. First Biergarten we went to was Plantage in a forest area. It was nice, but I remember constantly having to dodge bees. Food was “Biergarten” food which included the jumbo pretzels and the “currywurst” (a sort of curry and sausage combined).
  • Second biergarten was a place by the lake that we went on the last day. Very local place and super chill atmosphere. Seemed like more of a family place where the locals go to wind down after work. Weather was perfect.
  • Coming back to USA I went through Chicago, and then onto Dallas. My flight from Munich to Chicago was delayed so I had to sprint through the airport in Chicago to make the Dallas flight. Thank god for carry ons and Global Entry.
Schnapps!

Schnapps!

Festival in downtown Freising

Festival in downtown Freising

Me at the carnival festival

Me at the carnival festival

Shenzhen Business Trip and Hong Kong Vacation

So it has already been a year since I have moved to China. A lot has happened and life has been very busy. Last week though I went to Shenzhen for business to attend (and give) a training. I was able to swing it so that I flew in and out of Hong Kong which gave me a couple of days of personal time in Hong Kong for vacation.

 

Hong Kong and Shenzhen

Hong Kong and Shenzhen

I left on an unassuming Sunday and took a taxi to the airport. After checking in, I learned that my flight was delayed for three hours. This was particularly a pain because the delay made the flight fall in between dinner time. You would think a huge international airport like Shanghai Pudong would have an abundance of restaurant options- but in reality the choice is quite abysmal. In Terminal 1, you are pretty much limited to Ajisen Ramen (a terrible ramen place), Burger King, and a catch all “western” cafe. I boldly attempted the western cafe and had one of the worst meals of grilled salmon which was almost inedible. Not even a Starbucks or decent coffee shop- all generic Chinese shops which were awful.

Anyways after about four hours the flight finally did take off. I flew DragonAir/Cathay this time. No big complaints about the flight- entertainment was good, food was edible, and there were USB charge ports at every seat. I finally arrived in Hong Kong at about 10pm. After collecting my luggage and meeting my coworker in the arrival lobby, I met my “limo” service to Shenzhen. Hong Kong (while now officially under China) is considered “international” travel. This means Hong Kong people have their own passports, money, elections (for now), etc. Because of this, when I took the limo service from the Hong Kong airport to my hotel in Shenzhen we had to go through immigration at the border. Usually you can go through in the car, but this time for some reason the driver said it would be quicker if we got out of the car at the border and walked through the checkpoint. Anyways, after a couple hours of driving and standing in line at immigration, I arrived at the J.W. Marriott Shenzhen at about midnight.

The hotel was super nice. For some reason or another (probably because I arrived so late), they stuck me on the top floor on a corner room. The view was great all week from my room and the weather was unusually clear/sunny.

View from my room

View from my room

As usual, I won’t really go into the specifics of the business here. All-in-all the training went well and the presentation/demo that I gave went down without a hitch. As it was a week long summit, I did have a couple of days where I had some free time. One day we went to Huaqianbei. Huaqianbei is a huge electronics district in Shenzhen and is known to have just about anything electronic (fake or real) that you would want to buy. There was a huge 10 floor (or so) mall that we went up in that had every manner of electronics, ICs, connectors, etc. I bought an all-in-one Miniport adapter for my surface for a cheap 30RMB. I thought about buying some fake Beats headphones for about $32, but I decided to wait until Hong Kong to just get real Bose headphones. I also ended up buying a selfie stick- not for practicality, but for novelty.

SEG store at Huaqianbei

SEG store at Huaqianbei

Selfie stick I bought

Selfie stick I bought

The rest of the week was filled with the normal work routine. There were a couple of company sponsored dinners where we went to traditional Chinese food places. I was also quickly able to locate the Starbucks next to the hotel so I could get my morning Americano fix.

At the end of the week, it was time for me to check out of the hotel and head to Hong Kong to start my vacation. One of my coworkers was heading to Macau, so I shared an Uber with him to the Shekou Ferry Terminal (the ferries to Hong Kong and Macau leave from the same port). After arriving at the port and picking up my ticket (I bought it previously online), I bid farewell to my friend and boarded the ferry to Hong Kong. For the ferry ticket, I opted to pay about 20RMB more and get a “first class” ticket. This granted me access to the first class deck. I would say that it was worth the upgrade- there were about 15x less people in first class and made for a very pleasant/quiet journey. The ride was a bit rough towards the end, but overall not too bad. I got to look out the window at the great views of Hong Kong bay.

 

Ferry Terminal

Ferry Terminal

Ferry in the distance

Ferry in the distance

Quiet first class

Quiet first class

Once arriving in Hong Kong, I had to somehow get to Tsim Sha Tsui station in order to meet my AirBNB host. Hotels in Hong Kong are extremely expensive, so this time I opted to try AirBNB for the first time. I arrived at the station (by taxi) around 4pm and the apartment owner showed me to the apartment. It was a very good experience overall. The location was great (right in the middle of the trendy Tsim Sha Tsui district in Kowloon). I could walk virtually anywhere in Kowloon and the metro station was right outside. The apartment itself was clean and more than large enough to accommodate me. If I had a family it might have been tight, but for my means it was more than enough. This was the room I booked.

 

My AirBNB room

My AirBNB room

After walking around a bit, I decided to visit the iconic Victoria Peak. Victoria Peak is known for its breathtaking views of the Hong Kong skyline. The most popular way to get to the to peak is by tram. I took the metro to the tram stop and was greeted with a horrendously crowded tram station. The line was estimated to be about a two hour wait. Luckily, I had a backup plan and walked to a nearby bus station to take the bus to the top. The bus was somewhat of an experience- the road was very narrow and the drops on the margin of the bus looked downright treacherous. Still, after about 20 minutes I arrived at the top of the mountain. From there I siphoned my way through a shopping mall and bought my ticket to the observation deck. Again, the observation deck was beyond crowded and filled to the brim with loud Chinese tourists. I didn’t spend too much time here- about 15 minutes or so. I spent just enough time to snap some pictures and take in the view.

My view from Victoria Peak

My view from Victoria Peak

 

Coming back I had a bit of a problem. The bus, tram, and taxi lines were all about two hour waits. Luckily, Uber (at the time) worked in Hong Kong. After ordering Uber, I was greeted by a Mercedes S-Class about five minutes later to take me back to Tsim Sha Tsui. Once back, I had a quick sushi dinner and conked out for the night. I had developed a bit of a head cold so I didn’t want to push myself with a late night.

The next day I had a full schedule of hiking planned. I had read that Dragon’s Back hiking trail was a great way to escape the crowds in Hong Kong and a good chance to get some fresh air. I had developed a little bit of a head cold, so I stopped by 7-11 and picked up some Dayquil equivalent. One thing that you consistently notice in Hong Kong are remnants of the British influence in the area. At the convenient stores, you see western medicine, foods, drinks, etc…. definitely more so than Mainland China. The fact that I could walk into 7-11 and buy something as simple as Dayquil is a convenience that I do not have here in Shanghai.

I found this very helpful guide on how to get to the base of the hiking trail. Essentially I took the metro to one of the outlier stations (Shau Kei Wan) and caught a bus to the trail head. The following hike was very very refreshing. I love to hike- but in Shanghai there really are no good mountains nearby (not to mention that the air is normally filthy). Dragon’s Back was simply stunning. The weather was great and it was the perfect mix of uphill and downhill. It’s called “Dragon’s Back” because it goes up and done repeatedly (much like a dragon’s back). All throughout the hike there were awesome views overlooking the bay with water as far as the eye could see.

 

Start of trail

Start of trail

At the peak

At the peak

You can see why they call it "Dragon's Back"

You can see why they call it “Dragon’s Back”

The entire hike took a few hours and was very relaxing. When tourists go to Hong Kong, they normally swarm around shopping malls. This is what made Dragon’s Back such a good experience for me- it was virtually deserted besides from some locals and the occasional westerner. It was definitely a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai city life. Instead of going to the beach front, I looped back to where I started on the trail and caught the bus back in town. After getting back to my apartment, I decompressed a bit and took a much needed afternoon nap.

After another sushi dinner, I decided to go see a movie in Hong Kong. Ant Man was showing and I really wanted to see it so I bought a ticket at Gateway Tower movie theater. I bought a special “D-Box” seat. From what I could gather, this means that the seat was special in that it vibrated and moved depending on what was happening on screen. After walking around a couple hours (and snapping a couple of great selfies by the harbor) I was seated and watched the movie. The overall experience was light years better than the experiences I had in Mainland China. Everyone was quiet, polite, and did not text. The moving seat legitimately was a good experience and added quite a bit of fun to the movie. I thought it was going to be gimmicky, but surprisingly it worked.

 

Harbor in Tsim Sha Tsui

Harbor in Tsim Sha Tsui

My D-Box Seat

My D-Box Seat

The movie let out late so I ended up getting back to my apartment and just conking out again around 11pm. The next morning I did a bit of walking around Tsim Sha Tsui. My flight did not leave until about 2pm so I had quite a bit of time to walk and shop. As my Bose headphones were at the end of their lifespan, I ended up buying a new pair of QC25 headphones for those long transpacific flights. At about 11:30am, I caught a taxi to the airport and flew back to Shanghai. Luckily, the flight going back was actually on time and I reached Shanghai at a very decent time.

Overall Shenzhen/Hong Kong was a good experience. Hong Kong has a completely different vibe than Mainland China and the people there have completely different mannerisms. I am glad that I could visit both cities and hope I get the chance to go hiking in Hong Kong again.

Facebook Pictures

Cambodia Vacation

Cambodia. Before coming to China, I had not thought a lot of people went to Cambodia for vacation. Growing up, it was some unknown eastern Asian country which had a somewhat dubious history. Nonetheless, after coming to China I noticed that many of my colleagues went on vacations to Cambodia. After checking airfare and realizing that direct flights to Cambodia are quite cheap (only about $400 round trip), I decided to book a week long vacation (with my girlfriend) to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.

Cambodia

Cambodia

Our first destination was Siem Reap. Siem Reap is world famous for housing such temples such as Angkor Wat and Beng Mealea. Out flight was at about 6pm on a Tuesday so I left after work via Uber and met my girlfriend at Pudong Airport. This time we flew with China Easter Airlines- which was not ideal, but a cheap mistake. The service isn’t too bad on China Eastern, but the problem lies your fellow passengers. People were really loud and inconsiderate, people spat on the airplane, the bathrooms were unusable within 15 minutes- not the best airline experience- not to mention the food is borderline inedible for a foreign stomach. Still, after a four hour travel we arrived in Siem Reap.

The first thing I noticed getting out of the airplane was how humid it was. I had a similar experience with Singapore, however going from dry/cold Shanghai to hot/tropical Cambodia was definitely a polarizing experience. Siem Reap airport seemed incredibly small- only a handful of immigration counters and only a couple of baggage claims. After getting off the airplane, we had a bit of a bizarre experience. We were a bit worried with being caught in the midst of a rush of Chinese passport holders in immigration. Chinese passports aren’t known to be the most versatile and usually have a bit more scrutiny taken on them everywhere outside of China. American and Japanese passports however tend to go relatively quickly through immigration. For this reason, I ran ahead of the swarm of Chinese to save a place for my girlfriend and myself. Turns out this was a bit of a mistake. At the entrance to the airport building, they were detaining all Asians. They saw me and waved me through quickly, however they detained my girlfriend and the airport employee seemed to want a bribe. After some confusion, they realized she was Japanese and let her through. It turns out they were only accepting bribes from Chinese passengers. Why this was, I don’t know, but it was a somewhat bizarre situation.

Anyways, after grabbing our luggage and going through immigration I picked up a SIM card for my phone. For about $5, you get unlimited 3G data which was definitely a good deal. Outside the airport we met our courtesy shuttle to the hotel. We were staying at Borei Angkor Spa which has an impeccable reputation on TripAdvisor. It was about 20 minutes away from the airport. After arriving, decompressing, and unpacking, we both fell soundly asleep. The hotel itself looked a little bit old, however I cannot recommend it enough. The staff was genuinely happy to help, the breakfast buffet was the highlight of every morning, and the pool offered a great escape after returning from a hot and dusty day of sightseeing. The price is right and I would easily recommend it to anyone traveling to Siem Reap.

Borei Angkor Spa

Borei Angkor Spa

After waking up in the morning and catching a great breakfast buffet, we were off to Angkor Wat. We arranged a Tuk Tuk driver to take us there. For half a day, I remember it came out to about $20 (he waited for us and took us back to the hotel). The Tuk Tuk driver first took us to the ticket gate. For a 3-day pass, the price was $40. Again, a little bizarre as they were very keen to ask for my girlfriend’s nationality. I’m not quite sure if they have something against Chinese tourists, but it seemed to be a continuing theme in the temples we went to. After getting the tickets, we were dropped off at the entrance to Angkor Wat. We arrived maybe around 10am and there was already quite a few people, however given how big the temple was it never really felt crowded. At the entrance, there was a huge river surrounding the actual entrance to the temple grounds. A big stone bridge led up to the entrance and the whole scene was quite serene.

Our Tuk Tuk driver

Our Tuk Tuk driver

River outside Angkor Wat

River outside Angkor Wat

Me taking pictures on the bridge

Me taking pictures on the bridge

After crossing the bridge and passing through a small entrance way you are in the actual temple grounds. Words cannot really describe the tranquility of Angkor Wat. The temple itself is made up of huge stone structures carved with intricate decorations in mesmerizing detail. There is a big courtyard leading up to Angkor Wat itself with big reflecting ponds on each side. During the rainy seasons these ponds are full of water, however when we went (during the dry season) they seemed about half full. Angkor Wat itself is truly a wonder of the world. Again, words cannot quite describe it nor can pictures. After entering the temple itself, you are lost in a world of stone carvings depicting everything for great battles to religious events. You could literally spend the entire week at the temple itself.

Outside the temple

Outside the temple

Looking back at the entrance

Looking back at the entrance

Me struggling with some stairs

Me struggling with some stairs

In the innermost part of the temple there is an elevated temple where you have to climb a set of really steep stairs to get to. For women, shorts are strictly forbidden. My girlfriend was wearing shorts so we settled for taking pictures from the outside. A common theme in all of the temples that we went to was the steep stairways. One of my fears are high places where I can fall very easily, so I struggled with a few of these stair cases.

Steep stairs

Steep stairs

Inside Angkor Wat

Inside Angkor Wat

After enjoying the temple for a few hours, we bought a few souvenirs (and a guide book) from the shops to the side of the temple. I bought some post cards to mail to my family. We met our tuk tuk driver outside the temple and headed to the downtown of Siem Reap. In downtown we walked around a bit and did some shopping. I bought a pair of fake Oakley sunglasses for $4 and my girlfriend bought a few t-shirts and various other trinkets. We had lunch at a lovely cafe in the heart of downtown. I had a sort of Cambodian curry and my girlfriend had a glass noodle salad.

Downtown Siem Reap

Downtown Siem Reap

Cafe

Cafe

After returning to the hotel we rested up a bit. For the evening I had booked an ATV (four wheel all terrain vehicle) tour which was very highly recommended by TripAdvisor. At about 4pm, we met the ATV tour guide in the lobby of the hotel and he took us to the ATV tour shop. I have never driven an ATV so I was quite nervous, however after a quick training session I was good to go. The ATVs are quite powerful (they have about as much power as a regular motorcycle). In any case, we had booked the “sunset” tour where we rode to a rice field to see the Cambodian sunset. The tour was very interesting and I recommend it to anyone visiting Siem Reap. You drive your ATV through rural parts of Siem Reap and see some of the more authentic aspects of Cambodian culture. Our guide was very helpful and very friendly. The sunset at the end was magnificent and being able to explore backwater Siem Reap was very rewarding. The one downside was that the ATVs were quite loud, so I felt that we were being a little bit inconsiderate to those who lived in the rural areas.

ATV after sunset

ATV after sunset

Me on the ATV

Me on the ATV

After the ATV tour, our guide dropped us off at the “Pub Street” of downtown. In the pub street in Cambodia, there are many restaurants and bars all with outdoor seating. It is a very lively place and full of nationalities from all over the world. After exploring the restaurants, we decided on a traditional Cambodian restaurant and had a barrage of Cambodian food. One dish that we seemed to get quite a bit of in our trip in Cambodia was fresh spring rolls (not the deep fried stuff). At all of these restaurants, 50 cent draft beers were advertised. The beer they served was Anchor beer (not to be confused with Anchor Steam). This beer may sound Cambodian, but in reality it is a bit of a scam. It is owned by Heineken and is actually very low end beer tasting like watered down Heineken. I’d recommend investing a little bit more and getting the true Cambodian Angkor Beer.

Pub Street

Pub Street

Fresh Spring Rolls

Fresh Spring Rolls

Angkor Beer (the good stuff)

Angkor Beer (the good stuff)

After dinner, we walked around a bit and stumbled into a massage place. It was quite small, however we got a one hour foot massage for only $7. Despite the inexpensive price, the massage was excellent and the masseuse was very good at her job. We returned to the hotel a bit early to prepare for the long day ahead. The next day we wanted to catch the famous sunrise at Angkor Wat. Since we also wanted to visit Beng Mealea on the same day, we rented a driver for the entire day (for about $100). Waking up at 5am was a bit of a challenge, but somehow we were able to do so and make it to Angkor Wat in time for the sunset. We had forgotten to bring a flashlight so I had to make due with the LED light on my phone. After finding a good location right by the pond, we waited in the pitch black for the sunrise. Boy was it worth it. Seeing the sunrise over the iconic structures of Angkor Wat was truly a wonder. The colors that the sunlight caused made the entire scene to look like a picturesque painting. It was definitely worth waking up early.

Right before sunrise

Right before sunrise

Beautiful sunrise

Beautiful sunrise

After returning to the hotel for a quick breakfast, we were off to Beng Mealea. We made a brief stop at a pharmacy where I picked up some cheap western medicine (without a prescription). Beng Mealea itself is about an hour outside of Siem Reap. It lays in a state of ruin and has not been restored like many of the other Cambodian temples. The drive there was a bit interesting, however we took the chance to get caught up on sleep. I woke up a couple times and glimpsed at rural Cambodian life. The temple itself was a very unique experience. Like I said before it has not been restored, so you pretty much just take a walk through the ruins. What is unique about Beng Mealea is that they don’t really have too much information about it. It is not known who made it or when it was lived in. The guide book I read mentioned that it’s demise into ruin was most likely from natural reasons (and not a war), but the mystery of the temple almost gave it a romantic notion.

Beng Mealea Ruins

Beng Mealea Ruins

More ruins

More ruins

Even more ruins

Even more ruins

Once we wandered around the temple for a few hours we headed back to Siem Reap. We decided to go into town again for lunch. For some reason or another, we went to Hard Rock Cafe. It’s about the same as Hard Rock Cafe in any other city- expensive, but the food is pretty tasty and familiar. We walked around a bit and bought some more souvenirs after Hard Rock and then returned to the hotel. At this point we were pretty exhausted (being up since 5am) so we decided to have a nice relaxing evening at the hotel. We relaxed by the pool and ordered pizza for the evening before retiring.

The next day was a bit of a wild card. It was our last full day in Siem Reap so we decided to visit Angkor Wat one last time as well as the adjacent Angkor Thom. Before that, we booked a two hour massage at the hotel spa. It was OK (definitely relaxing), however it was about $60 per person. While this is extremely cheap for USA standards, I’d recommend going to the $7 place in town. After the normal breakfast buffet in the morning, we booked a Tuk Tuk to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. At Angkor Wat something very funny happened. There was a monkey hanging out on the pathway to the temple eating some morsel of food dropped by a tourist. An Asian guy walked by the monkey with a bag full of food and did not notice the monkey. On queue, the monkey ran after the guy and ripped the bottom out of the bag and stole they guy’s food! It was so funny and the guy was so shocked. The guy’s wife tried to take the food back from the monkey, but the monkey adamantly defended it. The guy eventually gave up and left the monkey to his spoils.

Monkey thief

Monkey thief

Monkey enjoying his reward

Monkey enjoying his reward

After we were done monkeying around at Angkor Wat, we headed to Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom is a collection of temples in a relatively large wooded area. We were dropped off at the main temple and immediately noticed that it was a lot quieter than Angkor Wat. There seemed to be less tourist groups in this area and it was a bit more peaceful. After walking around the main bigger temple, we made our way to a smaller one that was full of steep steps. After a grueling five minute stair climb, we were rewarded with a gorgeous view of the surrounding area. Since it was quieter, you kind of had the sense that you could be explorers finding an unknown ruin.

Angkor Thom face

Angkor Thom face

Struggling with more stairs

Struggling with more stairs

View from top of temple

View from top of temple

After we got back to the hotel it was getting quite late. We decided to hit pub street one last time for one last souvenir run and a nice Cambodian meal. We ended up dining in a lovely Cambodian restaurant with a great second floor view of the street. We had the normal fair of fresh spring rolls and Cambodian curry. After dinner, we walked around the night market a little. I bought some Cambodian liquor and my girlfriend bought a few trinkets. It was a nice and relaxing night to top off our last day in Siem Reap.

The next day we woke up bright and early to go to the airport. From Siem Reap, we decided to spend one day in the capital Phnom Penh. We took a very uneventful flight using Cambodian Angkor Air to the capital. After getting our luggage, we got a Tuk Tuk from the hotel counter and headed to the Intercontinental Hotel. Right away from the Tuk Tuk ride you could tell Phnom Penh was a lot different than Siem Reap. It felt more “third world” and was noticeably more dirty than Siem Reap. The road was definitely an issue too. You would think the road going to the airport would be at least paved, however it was supposedly under construction and was about as bumpy as an old roller coaster. After about 20 minutes we did arrive at the hotel and rested up a little.

We decided to go to the waterfront area of Phnom Penh for lunch. The air was noticeably more polluted in the capital. Supposedly back in the day the area had a “French Riviera” feel to it, however you could tell that it is quite an industrial city nowadays. The riverside is full of quaint little bistros and cafes. After a lunch of a club sandwich and some curry, we stopped by Costa Coffee for a refresher. One thing I noticed about Cambodia is that there were very few chain stores that you would often see in Japan or China. There were no Family Marts, McDonalds, Starbucks, or just about any other chain that you see so much in the rest of Asia. Costa was the first one that we went to. We took at Tuk Tuk to the central market afterwards and did a little shopping. The Central Market was nothing special- more of the same fake sunglasses and cheap souvenirs. We decided to go back to the hotel and take it easy that night- which given that a monsoon like rain happened was in hindsight a good idea.

Riverside in Phnom Penh

Riverside in Phnom Penh

The next day I had booked a bicycle tour of Phnom Penh as well as the surrounding “Mekong” islands. This is something I wanted to do more than my girlfriend, however since she is so awesome she also agreed to come along. We woke up early and had a great breakfast buffet before heading out to the bicycle shop. At the bicycle shop we met the rest of the tour group that we would be with that day- a few Europeans, Hong Kongese, and a Canadian. After getting fitted for our bike, we were off. I was a bit nervous about riding a bike in crowded Phnom Penh, however the urban area was only a small percentage of the tour. We first rode to a small port where we took our ferry to a smaller island. The island was considerably more rural than Phnom Penh and was very enjoyable. It was really fun riding a bike through rural Cambodia and was honestly one of my high points of the entire trip. I love riding bikes, however I do not get to do so very often in China.

My mighty bike

My mighty bike

We made a few stops along the way. One was at a silk factory where a lady gave us an interesting tour on how silk was made. We enjoyed some very delicious and fresh fruit which included bananas, mangoes, and dragon fruit. We passed through a small farm where the locals explained how they made their living and we got a good photo-op with some cows. We also stopped by a peaceful temple where we got to take some really good pictures and learn a bit of the history. I cannot recommend Grasshopper Tours enough and do not have anything but kind things to say about our tour guide- definitely a must if you have any remote interest in a bike tour.

Rural bike path

Rural bike path

One of the boats we took

One of the boats we took

Silk weaving machine

Silk weaving machine

After the tour, we arrived at our hotel at around 1pm and took a much needed shower before checking out. We left our luggage at the hotel and headed back to the waterfront to kill some time. We had a 12am flight back to Shanghai so we had about 8 hours to kill before heading to the airport. We grabbed a great lunch at one of the riverside restaurants (I had a delicious Tom Yum pasta) and decided to get a massage to kill off some time. The massage was for two hours and only cost $14. I opted for a more expensive $20 massage where they use hot rocks to massage your feet. It was very relaxing. After the massage, we headed to AEON mall. AEON is a huge Japanese mall that is very famous in Japan. The mall itself showed a more modern side of Phnom Penh. It was very clean, organized, and had all of the high end designer shops. We had a quick dinner at a brew pub restaurant and wandered around the mall for a while. There was also a supermarket in the mall which stocked many western products. I took the chance to stock up on hand sanitizer.

After the full day we went back to the hotel, picked up our luggage, and went to the airport via Tuk Tuk. Somehow the ride to the airport was even bumpier than the ride from and it was almost hazardous. We had to hold onto our luggage to make sure it didn’t fly out of the Tuk Tuk when we went over a big bump. We did eventually arrive though and checked in with a couple of hours to spare. After moping around the duty free stores for a while, we boarded our red eye flight back to Shanghai. I hate red eye flights, however at that point I was so exhausted that I somehow managed to fall asleep.

All-in-all, Cambodia was a worthwhile vacation. While most travelers could go exclusively to Siem Reap and have an adequate Cambodian experience, I am glad that we did also stop by Phnom Penh. After getting back to Shanghai I felt that I could sleep for hours though. Whether or not I will be back in Cambodia in my life I don’t know, however I will definitely cherish the rewarding travel experience.

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Harbin Vacation

Since even before coming to China, one of my dreams was to visit Harbin China and go to the world famous ice and snow festival that takes place every year. Since I moved to China last year, this dream turned into a reality. I decided to take advantage of the company holiday for Chinese New Year and booked my trip to Harbin China.

Harbin, China

Harbin, China

Since Chinese New Year is a big holiday where pretty much every single Chinese person travels back to their hometown it was imperative that I booked travel early. In the end my girlfriend and I booked travel about three months before hand and planned to stay three nights. The ticket came out to about $350 and the hotel (Shangri-La Harbin) came out to about $1000 for two people. Even before going to Harbin I started to prepare. Harbin is located in the far north of China and is known for its extreme cold and unforgiving climate. For that reason I had to buy a bunch of very warm cloths. In hindsight it was a bit overkill, but I bought:

  • Three pairs of thermal underwear/longjohns
  • Winter gloves
  • Ear Muffs
  • Winter Jacket
  • Russian snow cap (pictured below)
I'm a Russian ninja

I’m a Russian ninja

I bought the majority of these on TaoBao (kind of like the Chinese Amazon) with the exception of the winter jacket. I went to the fabric market here in China and got that custom tailored for about $200. It is a wool/cashmere blend and is very warm. I will definitely be using this jacket for many winters to come!

Winter Jacket

Winter Jacket

The airline that we went with this time was China Eastern Airlines. Since it was domestic travel there was no choice to opt for any better luxury airline. After catching an Uber from my apartment, we got to Hongqiao Airport in Shanghai early in the morning and boarded our flight. The flight had a quick stopover in Qingdao (famous for its beer). It was a bit odd because normally when there is a stopover (without a plane change) you get to stay on the plane while others disembark/board, however in Qingdao everyone had to get off the plane. We got to walk around the Qingdao airport for about an hour, however after that we just ended up boarding the same plane and took off for Harbin.

Getting off the plane in Harbin I was expecting an arctic chill that instantly froze any patch of bare skin, however it actually wasn’t that bad. It was probably around 25F and with all the layers of clothes I was wearing I didn’t seem to notice the cold too much. Anyway, after taking a bus from the airplane to the airport (it was the old school way) and grabbing our luggage we met our hotel provided taxi and had a 40 minute or so ride to The Shangri-La Harbin. I do have to say that I was very impressed with the service at The Shangri-La. The moment that we got to the hotel we were greeted by the staff and went directly to our room to check in.

The hotel room was nice. Since I am a frequent guest at The Shangri-La I was able to get on the club floor with a good view of the frozen river. The bed was warm and cozy and the view alone was simply beautiful. At night you could even see the ice festival off in the distance. After unpacking our luggage a little bit, we decided to see if there were any good places around the hotel to eat. At the advice of the hotel staff, we decided to go to a nearby Harbin style restaurant. Walking to the restaurant we got our first taste of Harbin City. My first impression was that it looked somewhat European. Being so close to Russia, the buildings had a very distinct Russian influence.

The streets of Harbin

The streets of Harbin

After fumbling around a bit we were able to find the restaurant (with the help of Google Maps through VPN). The restaurant was… an interesting experience. When we first entered the staff seemed somewhat surprised and confused to have foreign guests. After some more confusion, we were somehow able to understand that they wanted us to go to the second floor. When we went to the second floor it was somewhat deserted, however the waiter insisted on sitting us in the empty hallway by the window. They also shuffled in another group of foreigners, however they soon migrated downstairs to get a more “authentic” atmosphere. Even weirder was there was a guy who was randomly taking pictures of me and my girlfriend. At first I though he was just some random Chinese guy that rarely sees foreigners, however later (after he brought us printed pictures) we were able to guess he either worked for or owned the restaurant.

In lieu of a printed menu, we were handed an iPad with pictures of all of the different foods that we could order. This is where I made a major mistake. I guess the saying is that “your eyes are bigger than your stomach”, however I (not my girlfriend) ordered way too much. To make things worse, the food wasn’t exactly anything special. It was OK- however nothing to write home about. I’ve highlighted a few of them below.

Mushrooms

Mushrooms

Dumplings

Dumplings

After dinner we walked back to the hotel. On our way back we stopped by the frozen river and enjoyed the beautiful sunset. There were bug chunks of ice on the lake and the whole scene was like something out of a poem.

Sunset at the river

Sunset at the river

So beautiful

So beautiful

I love the colors

I love the colors

Afterwards, we went back to the hotel to gear up for the ice festival.This involved bundling up with all of those warm clothes that we bought. The ice festival is known to be prettier at night with all of the lights illuminating the ice sculptures. After putting on enough clothes to survive a winter hibernation we got a taxi to the ice festival. The taxi charged by hour (70 RMB an hour) and we were told by the hotel to keep him on the clock while we visited the ice festival as taxis were supposedly hard to get during the Chinese New Year festival. One surprising thing was how much tickets cost to the ice festival- about 330RMB (about $50). That’s even more expensive than Six Flags in Dallas! Still, for the experience, we shelled out the money for the ticket.

So how was the ice festival? Not bad. It was definitely quite impressive to see all of the different structures that they made out of ice. I had to constantly be on guard to not slip and break my tailbone on icy floors- however the entire experience was quite enjoyable. There were a few times we were reminded that we were still in China- a couple of times where there were urine stains in some of the more discreet snow sculptures, but overall it was a very beautiful festival. One of the big attractions was the huge ice slide, however the line was too long and we did not want to weather the cold to get on it. Below are some of my favorites from the ice festival.

Entrance of ice festival

Entrance of ice festival

Me on ice horse

Me on ice horse

Ice couch

Ice couch

After we saw all that we wanted to see, we found our hired taxi and made our way back to hotel. After winding down, we settled in for the night and prepared for a full schedule the following day. The next morning our plan was to go to the famous Siberian Tiger Park. After a wonderful breakfast at the breakfast buffet we caught an hourly taxi to the park. This park was a bit more reasonable (90RMB per person) and didn’t seem to crowded (we did get there early). After getting our ticket, we went into the entrance lobby where we could pay 50RMB to take our picture with a baby Siberian tiger. I think the tiger cub liked my girlfriend more than me (he kept gnawing on my gloves), however he was super cute and I got a great picture.

Baby tiger

Baby tiger

After our face time with the tiger cub, we boarded a caged bus and were taken through the tiger preserve. The whole experience is pretty amazing- in the park there are about 100 or so tigers just chilling out everywhere. You can tell that they are very well fed and most of them have a bigger belly than mine. In addition to tigers, there were different cats such as lions. At one point of the tour a caged jeep came around the truck and a guy through a bunch of live chickens out towards the tigers. The tigers definitely knew what was up and instantly tore the chicken to pieces.

Tiger chilling out

Tiger chilling out

A lion couple

A lion couple

That poor chicken

That poor chicken

After the bus ride, we were taken to a raised/caged boardwalk area where we could see the tigers a bit closer. Definitely an interesting experience being able to get that close to the tigers. There was a guy that was selling live chickens and dead meat that you could feed to the tigers. Not wanting to incur any bad karma by playing chicken executioner, I opted for the tongs of dead meat. The problem was that at first I pointed to the live chicken (I misread the Chinese characters). The guy proceeded to yank the chicken out of the cage and it made an awful squawk, however after realizing that I wanted the dead version he shoved the chicken back into the cage and gave us two tongs of dead meat. You took the tongs and placed the meat in between the links of the cage. The tiger would then leap up and eat the meat giving you the chance to take some awesome pictures.

Live chickens and dead meat

Live chickens and dead meat

Feeding the tiger

Feeding the tiger

There were also white tigers, leopards, lions, and a host of other cats. After we had enough of the board walk, we walked around to the exit and caught our taxi back to the hotel. The entire experience was very cool and I definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Harbin. After getting back to the hotel, we wanted to go out and get some lunch. My girlfriend found a very popular Russian restaurant close to downtown so we decided to take a taxi. The restaurant was very posh and clean. The food was great and they had this very sweet and delicious homemade wine. They also had a very delicious borscht as well as an awesome pickle/sausage platter.

Yummy borscht

Yummy borscht

Pickles and sausage

Pickles and sausage

After dinner we decided to walk to one of the famous walking streets in Harbin called Zhongyang Dajie. We miscalculated how far it was from the restaurant and ended up walking about an hour through some “interesting” parts of Harbin, however eventually we found our way to to road. It was very picturesque and old fashioned. The road itself was closed to all but pedestrians and was made of old cobblestones that gave off a very European ambiance. We stopped at a Russian souvenir shop where I bought some Russian chocolates for my office and my girlfriend bought a Russian doll. Afterwards we stopped by a supermarket where we both bought some Russian fish eggs.

Zhongyang Dajie

Zhongyang Dajie

Very European

Very European

After taking a breather at a cafe, we went to go see St. Sophia’s cathedral. We were a bit tired at this point (and it was a bit crowded), so we decided to just take pictures and not go inside. We then took a taxi back to our hotel for a lazy night of eating an (uninspiring) dinner at the hotel Dim Sum restaurant and watching movies in the room.

St. Sophia Cathedral

St. Sophia Cathedral

The next day for lunch we had an appointment at the ice restaurant (everything is made of ice) for hotpot, however the weather was a little warm and the restaurant had to close because it was melting. Instead, we decided to go to another Russian restaurant that was on Zhongyang Dajie. After catching a taxi from the hotel to the restaurant, we found that it was packed. Determined, we took a number and waited for about an hour until we were seated. It was typical Russian fare and was very delicious. The highlights included borscht, pepper steak, and a strong Russian ale.

More Russian food

More Russian food

Russian beer

Russian beer

At this point it was pouring rain, however we were somewhat lucky and were able to catch a taxi pretty quickly back to the hotel. I decided to go for a nice swim and we both relaxed in the hotel until dinner. I had some food credits saved up from Shangri-La so we decided to try out the dinner buffet. We had high hopes, however the buffet was very mediocre. This was a disappointment because the breakfast buffet (that we went to every morning) was awesome. Still, it was free for me and we made the most of it before retiring for the night.

The next morning was super cold and by far the coldest day of the trip. Our flight was at 11am so we had a bit of time to walk around again on the frozen river. It was really picturesque and somewhat amazing that an entire river could be completely frozen. There were a few instances where it looked less frozen than other places. In those instances, we hastily retreated.

Very cold river

Very cold river

After walking around the river, we took the hotel taxi to the airport and returned to Shanghai. Overall the trip was quite enjoyable. This was one of the only domestic travels that I have done in China before. It was very interesting to see a city so different from Shanghai and taste very unique food. I would definitely recommend Harbin for anyone who wants a quick vacation in China during the winter.

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