Friday, December 25, 2015


Christmas is not a big deal in China. Its not a holiday, No one gets a day off work. The holiday here is New years. Everyone gets 3 days holiday, Jan 1-3. But we did a little decorating for Christmas. We ordered some Christmas lights online:

They turned out to be a perfect example of "Made poorly in China" because they are now (after 2 weeks) about 25% burned out - and these are LEDs (LEDs don't burn out).

We also ordered a small tree online, It came with a miniature string of lights and mini decorations. One package included everything:

And one night there was a halo all around the moon. Although it was brighter in real life, here you can just see the bottom part of the halo:

And the little town of Jackson Hole put up some decorations too. In fact they went all out with ice sculptures. There were 2 semi trailers full of ice that unloaded into the center of town:

The ice was carved into Cartoon Characters:


An ice bowling alley and an ice castle:

The backside of the ice castle is a long ice slide:

There is also a snow cave:

inside of which are coloured ice sculptures:

And finally, Santa Claus. Now this isn't just someone dressed up as Santa. This is the genuine, official Santa from the Arctic Circle in Finland. That's right, this community spared no expense to get the real deal imported all the way from Finland.

And, my Christmas present is a drivers license. I went through a lot of administrative paperwork and organizing and a lot of studying for the test to earn this and it arrived in the mail Christmas eve. Now when we return in the spring I'll be able to drive a motorbike here (China is one of the few countries in the world where an international drivers license is not accepted).  Note the photo-shopped photo of me, looking 10 years younger - a typical practice here in passport photo-booths:

Merry Christmas to you all, and a Happy new year.
Bill (and Carole, who gets editorial approval-rights).

Monday, November 30, 2015

Its Winter

Its definitely winter here. It started snowing about 3 weeks ago. Not a lot of accumulation yet but its still all white and it gets down to -10 to -15 degrees every night.

The first snow:

And about once a week we get to see blue sky (that's our house as seen from the bridge):

Headed off to work in the first snow. Fortunately, after living 4 years in Blue River ski resort with only a bicycle for transportation, I am ready to tackle the streets:
Once I got to work, There were 2 others already there waiting at the door, no one with a key made it in yet. So I had some time to play in the snow:

And then it started getting even colder and the zipper broke on Carole's Jacket so we ordered a new one:

One can order almost anything online here and the shipping cost is either free or at the very most $2. You almost never have to go to the store. This is handy for us because it is not at all convenient to go to town.

Even so somewhere around this point I went to town on a day off to buy a thermostat. There was no automatic control for the heat in our house.  We had to go down to the basement electrical panel to turn on or off the circuit breaker for the heating system. On investigation I found a pre-wired electrical connection up in the living room that obviously used to have a thermostat. I guess at some point the original thermostat malfunctioned and it was removed.

Anyway, we kind of wanted the thermostat right away so I made the trip into town. equiped with a printout of wall thermostats I made the rounds of the hardware district. Everyone said the don't have any. Finally I found a shopkeeper who who explained to me in a mixture of sign language and simple Chinese words that there are no thermostats in town, I would have to go to Beijing or order one on-line.  I took advantage of being in town to get a haircut and got a few supplies then went home and ordered the thermostat online. Here it is, as well as a picture of one of the thermostats on our heating system that was set to 65°. Setting this thermostat to 75° and putting a wall thermostat in the living room finally made our house comfortable for the extreme cold and the medium cold days.

There were some days here where everything was paralyzed because no traffic was moving in the snow. We heard that the highways were plugged solid with nothing moving. And around the community here it was also a problem until the snowplows came into play. Here is what one of the small snowplows looks like on the street outside our house:

As you can imagine it took some time to get even just the main roads clear when there was 15 or 20 cm of snow. The above photo is just a small snowplow because its a small street and very little snow. Here is a picture of one of the bigger snowplows heading back after clearing a road:

Of course there were snowmen appearing all over the place. Like this one just outside the restaurant window looking in at us while we eat. This is the upstairs dining area and the snowman is on the roof of the lower portion. The Chef opened the window and went out on the roof with our boss's 3 year old to make the snowman. We would have done this as kids but nowadays in America someone would be sued if he let a 3 year old out on a roof with no protective railing around it. 2 weeks later, this snowman is still there looking in at us every meal:

Here is another example of taking risks with kids. Tobogganing on the street like this is a bit more than I can imagine doing when we were kids:

Although we know these kids, we did not actually witness this activity. We pulled the photos off of WeChat which is the Chinese replacement for Facebook. The great firewall of China blocks a number of sites including Google and Facebook.

For the last photo, here is another pulled from WeChat. It is the "downtown" and surrounding area of Jackson Hole (The community where we live) at night, taken from a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle):

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Autumn catch-up: Hiking and Holistic Centers Gathering

Well October and November were busy and I didn't keep caught up with this blog. So this is a little belated catch up from October. (I wrote this post in December and backdated it to October).

I got in a few last hiking trips before winter. We wanted to go back up Haituo mountain ( but the government has closed it to hikers. There is no official explanation why but the speculation is that they want to keep everyone out while they build the Olympic facilities. And there is no notice of when, or if ever it will re-open. Here people are used to to the government making sudden changes and rulings without explaining why.

So we just hiked up the mountain out our back door. That means following the Great Canyon trail out beyond the caves that we visited in June ( I already had a general idea where the trail went because another hiker had given me the GPS track - so I could see it on the map. Here I am at one of the lower lookouts on the first trip (with a view of Jackson hole below):

I actually made three trips in September and October and this blog post combines them all. The first trip, Lyle and I went almost to the top but turned around early to make sure we got home before dark. The second trip it was with Ezra and Ian. Here we are at approximately the spot where Lyle and I turned back on the first trip:

Here's the panoramic vew. In the distance, through the haze is the city of Huailai (where we went to catch the train to Inner Mongolia -

Poor Ian kept asking if we are almost to the top yet. And then he asked where do we go once we get to the top. Well Ezra and I had only imagined going back down the way we came but Ian was asking if there was another way down. Sure enough, I knew from the GPS track there was another way down - so here we are at 1,775 meters starting the descent down the other side of the mountain:

It turned out going down the back side of the mountain is much quicker and easier because it ends up at a village at 1,320 meters. The third time I hiked this trail, it was with only Ezra and we planned to go down the same way but at about 1/3 of the way up I discovered my jacket had fallen out of my pack and I wanted go back to get it. We still went up to the top and on the way down we found my jacket. That was a very tiring hike, up and then all the way back down to 600 Meters.

On the second trip, down the backside of the mountain, as we got close to the village the trail got bigger and bigger until it became a road - along side cabbage fields:

and corn fields:


and a potato harvest:

And finally we arrived at the central meeting place of Yanjiaping village:

Fortunately Ian is Chinese so he could ask where we could go to have a cup of tea and call a taxi to pick us up. We ended up with a bit more than a cup of tea:

Now we weren't expecting to end up in civilization so none of us brought money with us. But Ian said "No problem I can pay by WeChat on my mobile phone". That was news to Ezra and I but now, 2 months later, I have a Chinese bank account linked into WeChat and I too could go all over China without a wallet and pay for things through my phone - even in the middle of nowhere.

Our starting point, our back door, is right about in the middle of this map: and you can see the red dotted line of the great canyon trail heading off the the left. If you keep following the trail you'll end up at Yanjiaping village:  From here we headed right, by taxi, along the twisty Haituo Mountain Road which is rated as one of the top 10 scenic roads in China (and the road I bicycled on to get to Haituo Mountain trail head in June).

By the way the above map links are from which is a great open source mapping site. I've mapped most of Jackson hole and entered my hiking trails by uploading the GPS tracks from my phone.

Finally, I must mention the International Holistic Centers Gathering and Conference ( that was held here in October. This is the first time it has ever been held in Asia and it was quite an honour and privilege to be involved. I got to attend the whole week long gathering because of our friend Sean Feng who organized bringing the gathering to China this year. He wanted me there to help him represent Haiwen China and help him keep track of things. I ended up being in charge of the logistics of scheduling, meals, supplies, equipment, and technology. Here I am making room on the white board for logistics scheduling:

 There was much fun, and endless amounts of food at mealtimes:

The first 5 days was basically business meeting of the centers attending. A bit of fun was mixed in like trips to the Great Wall, the nearby caves, and evening plaza dancing in Yanqing town:

The last 3 days was the conference. That is where the attending centers could present to a Chinese audience, introduce holistic centers to an emerging market. Here's Chris presenting the Process Work Institute

During the whole eight days, every morning at 7:00, Mr Liu led us in a Tai Ji practice. We learned one routine of 9 movements and demonstrated it to the conference on the last evening. Mr. Liu wanted us to look sharp so he bought us all outfits:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Inner Mongolia trip

Its been over a month since my last post, so I'm doing a bit of catching up here. This is our trip to Inner Mongolia which was actually about a month ago.

It was kind of a rush trip as we only had a 2 day weekend but we didn't think we'd have another chance to go before the weather gets colder so we headed off to the train station in Huailai which is 45 minutes in the opposite direction to Yanqing (our closest small city where we catch the train to Beijing).

So we were off to what English maps name "Hohhot" (Chinese pronunciation = Hūhéhàotè - not at all resembling Hohhot), the capital of Inner Mongolia. Inner Mongolia is the province of China which borders the country of Mongolia (called "Outer Mongolia" in China). Of course China has a long history of at times being ruled by the Mongols and at other times ruling over the Mongols. About a hundred years ago Outer Mongolia gained independence from China while Inner Mongolia eventually became a province under the new Peoples Republic after World War II

So here I am on the train to Hūhéhàotè:

It was a long uncomfortable 6 hour ride as we were too late getting tickets so all that was available was whats called "Hard seats". They are actually padded but it is the lowest class available above "standing room". So it is full, seats are reserved and if there are any empty seats the standing room people grab them right away. When we got on the train there was a "standing room" ticket holder in our seat and he moved out without complaint as this is they way it works - they use an empty seat until a ticket holder claims it. But across from us sharing the 4 seat grouping with us, was someone who had already consumed a whole bottle of whiskey (it was only noon) and was sprawled leaning on the shared table and leaving only 1/2 seat for the person next to him to squeeze into.

Eventually we arrived in Hohhot in time for dinner and a look around the night market which covers many city blocks. Next morning, as our hotel was just on the edge of the Muslim part of town, we began our site-seeing by looking for the Grand Mosque which was supposed to be about a 10 minute walk. We got sidetracked by mooncake stands like at this Muslim bakery:

So of course we bought a box full of mooncakes to take back to Jackson hole as a gift to the staff. This was the weekend before Mid Autumn festival where everyone eats and gives gifts of mooncakes. Every area of China makes different types of mooncakes so this would be a treat for the staff to get Mongolian mooncakes. Besides it is almost expected to bring gifts of mooncakes at this time of year.

So, mooncakes deposited back at the hotel we are back on the road to the mosque - we think. On the way we pass a restaurant that has a live garburator (a sheep) tied up out front:

After that, down the street we see something that looks like a mosque dome:

But in fact the street doesn't lead us to the mosque so we approach from a different angle and again see domed roofs that could be mosques:

It turns out that under those domed roofs were shopping malls. OK, so there is another domed roof that we thought maybe was the mosque and in front of it was Aladdin's lamp that Carole rubbed to see if a genie would pop out:

But no, it turned out that under that roof was an Arabic hotel. By the way that hotel roof  was colourful at night:

We never did find the mosque. At least we didn't think so. The google map we were using was a bit off, and that's not surprising because the whole of China is offset by about a hundred meters in Google maps. We did find something that was called "Muslim Dasi" in Google map and we are now suspecting it was actually the mosque. At any rate, here it is, it is the only area in the whole of the Muslim quarter that is old Chinese architecture. Here's the entrance:

and inside, Chinese architecture but Arabic script on the signs:

And of course the crescent moon on top of the tower:

That took up most of the morning so we then headed in the other direction to look for the 500 year old Dazhao Temple. Heading in this direction we see some modern architecture that looks to be more Mongolian inspired:

Still on the way we see some rather fancy looking chickens:

And not too to much later we arrive at the temple. It's big, this is just one small part of it:

Altan Khan (a descendant of Kublai Khan) ruled Mongolia (and Tibet) in the 16th Century. He was the founder of the city of Hohhot and was also responsible for making Tibetan Buddhism the official state religion of all of Mongolia. Within 50 years virtually everyone in Mongolia was converted to Buddhism. Altan Khan also created the title of "Dalai Lama". A Spiritual leader of Tibet who was the founder of the monastery in Hohhot was named Sonam Gyatso and 'Dalai' is the Mongolian translation of 'Gyatso' meaning 'Ocean'. Sonam Gyatso became known as the Dalai Lama and this title has carried forward to the present day.

Out in the street again, we walked down the 400 year old street where they sell all sorts of Mongolian artifacts. Including statues of Mongolian warriors:

Next we looked for lunch on the way to the 5 pagodas temple. We didn't find lunch, but we found the temple:

In one corner of the grounds was this passageway with a very interesting ceiling:

The following day we got the train back home. This time, we managed to get seats in the sleeper car. This was such a luxury compared to the coach ride we had coming. Of course we weren't sleeping but we did have a private cabin for just the 2 of us for 1/2 the trip and then shared it with a mother and her son for the rest of the way. So much more pleasant than being crammed in with the standing roomers.

Some places along the tracks we would see little yurt shaped structures that we are fairly sure must be graves:

and sometimes they would be in clusters (little cemeteries):

And sometimes we would see farms:

The trip back was only 4-1/2 hours as it was a slightly faster class of train. It was still less than 1/2 the speed of China's bullet trains, nice to be faster than the way there. Bullet trains don't run on this route - our next trip we'll try to go somewhere that is served by a bullet train - 350 km/hr wahoo!