teaching life in a virtual world
It was a week ago when we got back from winter holidays in Australia and Harbin. I was going to write about it all back then but what we refer to as work kind of got in the way. I am not complaining; work is fine and even rewarding; sometimes fun and the week actually went by quickly (as they all do once one is old). This below is all made from ice.Harbin was worth seeing. Huge ice cubes, bigger than any over-sized alien martini drink that an alien martini drinker could image, in colours that were not viewable even to those of us who thought we could see so much back in the psychedelic 1960s, were piled, carved, sanded, shaped, tunneled, and filled with lights into varying depictions of humans and their endeavors. There was a huge Marilyn Monroe formed from at least a fifteen-foot high pile of snow cubes, with lots of Chinese men taking photos of her (can you imagine that? Men are so predictable. Oh wait! I took a photo too – but I am not a Chinese man so it is OK.) and lots of communist leader types. None of who knew me or me them.
There was a snow carving of one of China’s religious figures (on the left) with a Dutch-Australian tourist (oh! that is my wife) standing side-by-side, as well as dozens of other characters. There were your typical Chinese house scenes and so much more at the snow festival. Of course as we all know the Chinese are not as tall as us other people - sucks we could barely fit into their homes.
huge Great Wall scene with a city inside, made from ice. China is always so much more than can be imagined but still so much a Third World country, which I will get into some day (after my contract is up and I am not concerned about pissing anyone off)
It was cold as usual in Harbin; with the temperature dropping heaps after dark and with the wind, I thought I was at a plastic surgeon’s with my face ready to be peeled off, but no, I have the same face I went outside with, here inside too. It was 41 C (106 F) days earlier in Adelaide, South Australia, on New Years. We had been swimming in the sea down at Largs Bay, and twenty-fours later we were bundled up in Harbin.
Harbin is a Russian City – well actually a Chinese city of ten-million, with lots of Russians around. I guess they come down to get away from the cold. Apparently they made a town at the end of the 1800s when they were working on the China Eastern Railway – read Wikipedia for more. And because it was so much warmer than where they were from they just hung around and multiplied until – well now there are ten-million people in Harbin. I am not too fond of Chinese food, strange I suppose as I was a tofu manufacturer in Australia for eight years – see http://tofu.neuage.us for my upcoming tofu e-book, but being a vegetarian in a place like this – well I will stay being a vegetarian is the nicely put way. Nevertheless, we did find a great Russian restaurant that we had meals at a couple of days. I forgot the name, but it was quite funky and a hundred years old and served a great veggie-mashed potatoes-cheesy thingy. I took photos of it with my iPhone but I don’t want to be one of those people who take photos of what they just ate and posts it to Facebook and tweets and Google pluses it because I am not one of them; just suffice it to say it was yummy. My first wife was Russian, so I am not very keen on those people, but in this instance; Chinese food or Russian food, well it is Russian. Of course living in China, near Russia, I need to get over it.
It was outside the Saint Sophia, Russian Orthodox Cathedral which was a hoot all way round. We went into the historic church, some hundred years old (1907) and it was interesting. Narda was engaged with a choral group that was sounding good though foreign; I was being engaged by the church shop. Firstly, I found a fridge magnet which was good as I had not seen any yet and I have been collecting fridge magnets for the past decade+ from each city we go to. Our fridge is totally covered. Narda made the rule that we had to stay overnight in a place and not just transit the airport to get a fridge magnet of the place. So I have one of Saint Sophia. What I found most interesting about the church shop was that it sold DVDs of Michael Jackson and some hip hop and far from religious type of tunes. But even more fascinating was a statue of a naked young woman spread across a sofa or some such piece of furniture with all her bits and pieces showing. Perhaps it was Saint Sophia herself. St. Sophia apparently is the mother of Orphans (celebrated 2nd of June – she trotted about in 117 – 138 in Italy in the reign of Harian). Maybe that is why I was so interested in the sensual nude on the counter in the church store; I too am an orphan, having been adopted at the age of three. I would have explained that to the few Chinese looking at me like I was some pervert but we were not of the same tongue.
After St. Sophia (I couldn’t find anything under ‘nude Saint Sophia’ that seemed to be the one from the years 117 – 138, the closest being “Sofia Saint is a 19 year old brunette with a brand new site showcasing her pictures and videos. Then there was a sentence that I shouldn’t replicate here. ) Narda and I sat on a bench. Then it got weird. We are use to people taking our pictures. It has happened in lots of places, mainly Asia, and especially in China and lots in our area. But in Harbin where there are already lots of white people about (Russians) we were unsure what was going on. First a couple of people went by taking shots on their phones and then the usual photo of someone standing near us with the picture taker looking like they were taking a photo of their friend but really it was of us. Then a girl wanted to sit next to us and her friend took a photo of the three of us sitting together. This has happened before; recently it happened on the tram into Dalian when different folks wanted to have their photos taken sitting next to us. I totally don’t understand why. Then the girl sat between us for photos. After she left we noticed there were several people taking our photos, including a dude with his Nikon on a tripod. He took heaps; in front, from the side, up close, at a distance. I reckon there were ten people taking our photo at a time. We just sat on the bench huddled in our warm clothes. Did we look especially silly, Narda with a white hat, me with a black hat with a big bulge on the top. It reminded me of those National Geographic Magazines I would see in New York that showed some village in China with the old Chinese couple sitting on a bench. Maybe someday we will see our photo in a magazine or in a photo display at a museum. I only wish we had taken a video back of them taking our photo. After a while we got bored and cold and wandered on wondering why we were such a center of attention.
Today; a week later, we were shopping in our local hood, Kaifaqu, and we were the attraction of attention as always. We use to shop in Chinatown NYC and no one noticed us. Here? Gosh darn! In Shanghai, Hong Kong, Beijing we are not so noticed and not even so much in Dalian but locally? And especially when we are out of the big box shops (Walmart, Ikea and etc.) and off on the side streets. We were in the local produce section and people stop and stare - they look at what we are buying, and even follow us. In one area I looked down a long aisle and every stall owner was staring at us and another time four teenagers just sort of surrounded us as we were packing things into our cart; like we were from outter space. But at least no one was taking photos.
Me in my hat that got so many people taking photos of us. Perhaps I look as if I am in some weird cult, and my Equador jumper that is warm even in -25 C weather.
Narda hung this sign greeting to her granddaughter in Australia on one of the Chinese Army on parade – and he/she didn’t seem to mind; “Happy New Year 2012 Maggie Your Oma (that is Dutch for Grandma) loves you in Harbin”. I wonder how Maggie will explain that to her therapist in 25 years. Something about a sign on a snowman in China from my Oma…So that is our trip to Harbin. There are no photos from Australia - I think I have done that place too much.
It is good being back in Dalian, or Jinshitan (Golden Pebble Beach) to be more precise. There was a layer of snow when we walk over the school - that is the new swimming pool on the left and the school beyond - that is not a French Chateau but the newly built (they put it all together in a few months) show rooms for 800 houses being built across the road from us - I wrote about this in an earlier blog.