A Year in Pictures

After looking over previous posts on here I noticed there were very few photos of any of the places I visited and wrote about. This, combined with a hint of inspiration from the Facebook ‘Year in Review’, has made me go through all pictures from my year abroad last year and whittle them all down to a top 40.

I have confess I only took these pictures with a humble compact camera, so don’t expect any groundbreaking photography skills here.

The Yungang (云岗) Caves near Datong, Shanxi province contain these huge Buddhist carvings into cliffs.

The Yungang (云岗) Caves near Datong, Shanxi province contain these huge Buddhist carvings into cliffs.

The historical streets of Pingyao, Shanxi province, have been largely spruced up for the tourist industry, but  still offer a rare chance to stroll down traffic-free alleyways which bear any resemblance to how they would be in traditional China.

The historical streets of Pingyao, Shanxi province, have been largely spruced up for the tourist industry, but still offer a rare chance to stroll down traffic-free alleyways which bear any resemblance to how they would be in traditional China.

Not exactly the prettiest picture, but the experience of standing on a crowded overnight train during the National Holiday for 12 hours was pretty memorable, for the wrong reasons.

Not exactly the prettiest picture, but the experience of standing on a crowded overnight train during the National Holiday for 12 hours was pretty memorable, for the wrong reasons.

Prime example of "Chinglish" - dodgy translations from Chinese into English. This gem was discovered on the Tianjin Eye, an observation wheel over the sprawling city of Tianjin.

Prime example of “Chinglish” – dodgy translations from Chinese into English. This gem was discovered on the Tianjin Eye, an observation wheel over the sprawling city of Tianjin.

The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival (哈尔滨冰雪节). All these huge sculptures are carved out of ice by artists from all over the world.

The Harbin Ice and Snow Festival (哈尔滨冰雪节). All these huge sculptures are carved out of ice by artists from all over the world.

Wudaokou - home for the duration of the year in Beijing. Couldn't get away without putting this on here.

Wudaokou – home for the duration of the year in Beijing. Couldn’t get away without putting this on here.

The Great Wall at Jinshanling snaking away over the hills into the distance. On a bitter winter's day this scenery was breathtaking.

The Great Wall at Jinshanling snaking away over the hills into the distance. On a bitter winter’s day this scenery was breathtaking.

Another photo of the Jinshanling Great Wall.

Another photo of the Jinshanling Great Wall.

In Tai'an (泰安), a restaurant owner prepares freshly hand-made noodles, which turned out to be some of the tastiest I've ever had.

In Tai’an (泰安), a restaurant owner prepares freshly hand-made noodles, which turned out to be some of the tastiest I’ve ever had.

Looking up the sacred mountain of Taishan (泰山)

Looking up the sacred mountain of Taishan (泰山)

Another side of China - the booming Pudong (浦东) business district of Shanghai.

Another side of China – the booming Pudong (浦东) business district of Shanghai.

The Shanghai World Finance Tower

The Shanghai World Finance Tower

Welcome to the nothingness of Xinjiang province, northwest China.

Welcome to the nothingness of Xinjiang province, northwest China.

Kazakh yurts in the Tianshan (天山) mountain range, just north of Urumqi

Kazakh yurts in the Tianshan (天山) mountain range, just north of Urumqi

Tianchi (天池)

Tianchi (天池)

The Night Bazaar in the provincial capital of Urumqi. The whole area has a distinct central Asian influence, and the distinct ethnic group of the Uyghur people.

The Night Bazaar in the provincial capital of Urumqi. The whole area has a distinct central Asian influence, and the distinct ethnic group of the Uyghur people.

One of the ancient buildings of the Jiaohe (交河) ruins, an old oasis town in the middle of China's northwestern desert.

One of the ancient buildings of the Jiaohe (交河) ruins, an old oasis town in the middle of China’s northwestern desert.

A portrayal of "ethnic diversity and integration" in a museum in Urumqi.

A portrayal of “ethnic diversity and integration” in a museum in Urumqi.

Food stalls in the People's Park of Urumqi.

Food stalls in the People’s Park of Urumqi.

Urumqi has been undergoing huge development following financial investment from eastern China. It bears the outward appearance of any other Chinese city.

Urumqi has been undergoing huge development following financial investment from eastern China. It bears the outward appearance of any other Chinese city.

Not just Chinglish, this 3-way sign draws in the Uyghur language as well. Lol.

Not just Chinglish, this 3-way sign draws in the Uyghur language as well. Lol.

Intro - Beijing's biggest electronic music festival. Notice the little girl on the woman's shoulders.

Intro – Beijing’s biggest electronic music festival. Notice the little girl on the woman’s shoulders.

Inside the Bird's Nest / Olympic Stadium, Beijing.

Inside the Bird’s Nest / Olympic Stadium, Beijing.

"Tantalising panoramic views" promised by the Lonely Planet guidebook were pretty hampered by fog at the rural Jiankou (箭扣) section of the Great Wall.

“Tantalising panoramic views” promised by the Lonely Planet guidebook were pretty hampered by fog at the rural Jiankou (箭扣) section of the Great Wall.

Sampling local cuisine - chicken's feet

Sampling local cuisine – chicken’s feet

The damp Wenshu Monastery in Chengdu, Sichuan province.

The damp Wenshu Monastery in Chengdu, Sichuan province.

Pandas

Pandas at the Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding

Our night-stop on Emei Mountain (峨眉山), Sichuan province. This was the only time the clouds cleared away to reveal the surrounding hills.

Our night-stop on Emei Mountain (峨眉山), Sichuan province. This was the only time the clouds cleared away to reveal the surrounding hills.

The Great Buddha at Leshan (乐山), Sichuan province is the biggest Buddha carving in the world.

The Great Buddha at Leshan (乐山), Sichuan province is the biggest Buddha carving in the world.

The atmospheric sunrise from Huangshan (黄山), Anhui province.

The atmospheric sunrise from Huangshan (黄山), Anhui province.

Another one from Huangshan (黄山)

Another one from Huangshan (黄山)

Sanqingshan (三清山) was another nearby mountain offering amazing scenery.

Sanqingshan (三清山) was another nearby mountain offering amazing scenery.

A path was carved onto the sheer cliff-face at Sanqingshan (三清山).

A path clinging onto the sheer cliff-face at Sanqingshan (三清山).

A sea of clouds, again at Sanqingshan (三清山).

A sea of clouds, again at Sanqingshan (三清山).

One last picture from Sanqingshan (三清山).

One last picture from Sanqingshan (三清山).

"Pianos are the crystallization of human history, world science and culture, and the Labour and wisdom of mankind". Okay. An insightful analysis from the Piano Museum of Gulangyu island (鼓浪屿), Xiamen, Fujian province.

“Pianos are the crystallization of human history, world science and culture, and the Labour and wisdom of mankind”. Okay. An insightful analysis from the Piano Museum of Gulangyu island (鼓浪屿), Xiamen, Fujian province.

Xiamen and Gulangyu island.

Xiamen and Gulangyu island.

The beach at Sai Wan, New Territories, Hong Kong.

The beach at Sai Wan, New Territories, Hong Kong.

The beach at Sai Wan, New Territories, Hong Kong.

The beach at Sai Wan, New Territories, Hong Kong.

The beach of Tai Long Wan, New Territories, Hong Kong.

The beach of Tai Long Wan, New Territories, Hong Kong.

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Harbin: Journey to the North. Day 2

A fairly slow morning. The brisk morning temperatures from the previous day had convinced us that we deserved a few hours in the morning enjoying the warm of the hostel, as well as spending time catching up on emails. At around 11am, we headed out to grab some food at a small Chinese restaurant, and then ventured down to the river again to set off some firecrackers we had bought at a roadside stall. (Despite the fact that it was a good two weeks since Chinese New Year had been and gone, people are still buying fireworks and setting them off all the time. I’m sitting here writing this in Beijing to the sound of fireworks outside, and it isn’t even dark yet). After the fireworks, we had a go on the ice slides on the river, and headed back in to town.

The Daoliqu Tangge Procession

We went to the central area of Daoliqu (道里区), and while we were wandering fairly aimless down the main drag, Zhongyang Dajie (中央大街), another Russian architectural legacy, we stumbled across processions of elderly people dancing, dressed in red coats and multicoloured belts and headbands and waving pink fans in the air, all set to a cacophonous beat of drums, cymbals and trumpets. The dance was apparently the Yangge (秧歌), or the “Rice Sprout Song”, a traditional form of folk dance especially popular in this area of northern China, and a fusion of ancient farming songs, martial art, acrobatics and traditional opera dances. All the way down the pedestrianised street were groups of dancers, the vast majority of whom seemed to be elderly people. This was the first real impromptu “festival” which I had experienced in China, and it was an impressive atmosphere as so many people got into the spirit of the event.

As darkness fell that evening, we headed out of town to see the real reason we had visited Harbin – the International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. I had seen photos of the ice-block buildings and sculptures from previous years, which were impressive, but I still was not prepared for the sheer scale of the constructions. As soon as we disembarked from the bus which took us a few miles out of the town centre to the complex, I was immediately taken aback by the glaring and slightly garish colours illuminating the ice buildings, bright greens and blues and reds, against the stark backdrop of the jet black sky. Artificial snow had also been laid down on the ground, just to complete the look. Once inside the complex, we ran around erratically exploring the area with ice-block castles, sculptures and a plethora of random models such as huge Harbin Beer bottles and the famous Buddhist sculptures of the Yungang Caves. There was also a multitude of slides, which we compulsively raced down, and even a zip-wire, which would have been fun but the queue length was somewhat off-putting. It must have been an hour or so that we spent running around like small children, trying to whizz down as many of the slides as possible, with too much excitement to be affected by the sting of the bitter cold.

Some of the buildings in the Ice Festival

We also caught wind of a “European Show” which was being performed in a theatre on the site. Curious as ever of where Chinese people obtain their jumbled impression of Western ways, we went to watch the performance. The opening was a dance piece set to the theme from the French film Amélie. Fair enough. Other skits in the performance were rather confusing though – especially an Arabian dance piece, a samba one, and in particular when the American director took to the stage, spoke in English to a very poor audience reception, picked out a Chinese man at random from the audience (who looked baffled and terrified) and proceeded to guide him through a magic trick involving him doing some sort of rope trick with the American man’s “wife”. The whole show was a confusing insight into a culture which was meant to be my own, which I suppose the Chinese audience must have found even more alien. I just daren’t think of what they made of the provocative burlesque-cum-striptease finale.

The temperature outside had taken a further dip when we emerged after the show, so we made speedy tracks back into town to have a meal. It must have been barely 9:30pm, but many of the restaurants were shut, so we returned to the Russian restaurant we had visited the previous day. I can imagine why the Russians drink vodka to fight the cold weather outside. This was our final night in Harbin, and we returned to the hostel around midnight.