Eye of the Chicken
A journal of Harbin, China

Qi Qi Ha Er, Day One
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Sigh. It's another cloudy, gonna-be-rainy day here in Harbin, which means the sky looks like this:


It's truly been a dismal stretch of weather for those of us who like air. I was beginning to think that the air was like this in the whole country, but this past weekend, my friend Max took Lara and me to Qiqihaer (pronounced chee-chee-har) and I fell in love with the place. It's a three-hour train ride from Harbin, and as soon as we got off the train I started to feel relaxed.

I think the biggest reason is that Qiqihaer is a city that's more on a scale that I'm used to. It has about 500,000 inhabitants (which qualifies it as a "small town" in local parlance) and very few tall buildings. Here's what the place looks like, seen from the highest point in the downtown area:


When we got off the train, we were greeted by Max's brother and several of his friends, and taken to a barbecue restaurant. Here's Max, his brother, and his nephew:


(These guys remind me of my father-in-law and his brothers - they're all in the 5'6"-5'7" range, and so thin you'd swear they were malnourished. In Bauman family parlance, we would say that Max's brother is the "fat" one, hehe. Max is on the left.)

The restaurant was fabulous. Here I am, sitting in the middle of the spread. There are two griddles, and assorted plates of things that were put in and fried:


Beginning at the bottom right corner and going clockwise around that first griddle, you can see tofu noodles (an appetizer salad), soybeans which have been soaked to relative softness in salt water and spices (I love those; I hope I can make them from frozen beans but I doubt it), strips of beef, strips of lamb, and pieces of sweet potato. At the second griddle you can also see some onions. After a while, they also brought out leafy green vegetables - of which there are a plethora in this country.


Before you eat whatever you've got, you roll it around in some spices on your plate:


Good stuff, believe me.

Then after we'd eaten ourselves silly, there was yet another course . . . noodles. First the waitress put broth in the pans:


And then another waitress came out and, starting with a little hand-sized plug of dough, proceeded to make the noodles as we watched.




(Sorry that's blurry.)

The result?



After lunch, we walked around the town. At the center of town is a lake, which just looked beyond idyllic:



Honestly, when I saw those high-rises, all I could think was "Thine alabaster cities gleam . . . ", which was a pretty weird thought to have in China . . .

Then we went to a local park - one of several in the area, and, according to Max's father, not even the most interesting one. But I was really happy to see all that green, growing stuff and to catch the scent of trees and earth and water.



We rented a paddleboat and cruised around the lake attached to this park (not the same as the central lake). There were several different styles of boat - we ended up with one that had 4 seats - 2 in the back to power the boat, and 2 in the front that were outfitted with squirt guns:


So we amused ourselves by paddling around and squirting other boaters for a while. And then, at one end of the lake we saw people riding a zip line. Lara had the fabulous idea that we should park ourselves under the zip line and squirt them as they whizzed past.


We did that just long enough to not get arrested, and then it was time to take the boat back.

There's an amphitheater at one end of the lake, and we went back there around 7, because Max thought there would be a performance then. But alas, there wasn't anything that night. Nonetheless, as usual, people gather at that spot in the evenings to dance and rollerblade and do all the other things Chinese people do in parks:




We ran into (almost literally) a walking club. Walking clubs function a little differently than they do in America, where you get folks strolling around the mall waiting for the Cinnabon to open:


These folks were marching, and they were moving fast.

After the park, we went to the night market in the center of town:



We walked for a long while. Lara bought a dress. Here's Lara in the fitting room:


(If you can't change clothes behind a sheet, you can't buy clothes in this country, I'm just warning you.)

And here's the dress:


I feel rather pleased about this because I talked her into wearing this style of sundress, and now she's bought two of them. :)

All in all, I loved the place. I'm thinking we should retire there . . . maybe get a job with this outfit:


That's all for now. Soon, Day 2 . . .

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