My last post was just as we left China and headed for home for the holidays. I hope everyones Christmas was as good as mine! I have to admit that it was really wonderfully being home for a month--once I got over the jet lag! It was great to spend time with friends and family and to have normal milk and bread for awhile.
We returned to China on February 1st which was about 3 weeks before the children were to return from their homes. We planned on that so that we could take a trip to Harbin and see the ice festival. What we didn't realize was that the week we planned to go was also the week before the Spring Festival when EVERYONE in China is traveling to be with family. It made for a very adventurous trip with many long layovers but we eventually made it. Now Hohhot is quite cold during the winter. It averaged about 15 degrees F during the month of December. But Hohhot is nothing compared to Harbin! While we were there it's high was about -15 degrees F! Fortunately we came prepared. It took us twice as long a normal to get ready to go outside but it was worth it!
First we went to the Tiger Park. We were told that there were over 700 Siberian tigers at this park. We saw many of them and a baby goat for a few seconds...
After that we went to Polarland where we got to feed fish from a baby bottle, do tricks with some seals, watch a polar bear swimming laps, and see a beluga whale show.
The highlight of the trip was definitely the ice festival. We had seen some pictures of it before we went and it lived up to our expectations. The park is filled with amazingly huge buildings made entirely from ice and lit up to the nines! My favorite part was the ice Great Wall Slide. We waited in line for about 20 minutes not really knowing what we were getting ourselves into. When it was finally our turn we were handed some dinky plastic sleds and off we went! Now it wasn't really that steep but there was no friction to slow you down at all and the chute was just wide enough that the sled could bob back and forth and hit you into the sides. Now try and imagine that rushing down this slide made of ice that's bumpy and cold and if something went wrong there would be absolutely NOTHING you could do about it. Then just as it's leveling out and your hysterical screams are calming down you plunge down the steepest slope yet and see the end of the ride looming ahead of you. Now I hadn't actually thought about how they would stop us but if I had I don't think I would have imagined a wall. But that's what it was. A frozen wall of snow. What I didn't know was that they kept a nice pile of fluffy snow in front of it to cushion the crash, no I didn't know that so all I see is a wall that I'm heading for at quite literally a break-neck speed. Now despite my loud and panicked screaming I decided that the best thing to do would be to hit that wall limply so that I might not break something so when I hit that wall I basically went poof! and disappeared into a white cloud of snow. Before I could even begin to reorient myself someone had grabbed me from behind and hauled me onto my feet and shoved me out of the way of the next patron. I stood in shock for a while until Mitch made it around from his side of the wall. We freaked out for at least five minutes as the adrenaline kicked it. It was fun enough to consider doing again but not really because it was scary. You haven't really experienced cold until you've been at the ice festival in Harbin at night covered in snow! Fortunately we had saved the best for last so hopped into the car and headed back to the hotel. All in all it was a really exciting trip!
After that we headed back to Hohhot in time to enjoy the Spring Festival. Now I know that the Chinese invented fireworks and that they're supposed to be messages sent to their ancestors but OH MY WORD! They set them off continually for two solid weeks!! And we're not talking about the little ones that we set off in America we're talking Fourth of July grand finale 24/7! Sleeping was questionable at best and I developed a nervous twitch that Mitch found quite amusing. We did go out into the city for the last day of the festival--the Festival of Lanterns and that was a sight to see. They light thousands of paper lanterns all night long and release them into the night sky. I don't think I've ever seen the sky or the ground so full before.
Since then we've just been enjoying getting back into the groove of teaching. It's been wonderful to have the kids back. They forgot a lot of their english skills over the holidays but they seem to be picking it back up quickly enough. We're teaching the "Seize the Day" from Newsies and we've started doing some music history lessons about popular music in America. Every day they ask us about Michael Jackson--they're just as obsessed as American's are!
So life is pretty normal for us out here in Inner Mongolia--wind storms and all! I'll try to post again sooner so that I don't have to write a novel again!