Archives

Australia Part 2-Beautiful Brizzy

I continue with our drive up from Sydney to Cairns, which mostly consisted of stunning beaches one after another, and I apologize that I didn’t note down the names of all the beaches. We tried stopping off at a couple of points where locals assured us we would see whales, one of these was Woolgoola Headland, and you could just about see them with binoculars. But this just whetted our appetite – see Whale- watching later on.The one place that we spent a couple of days in and enjoyed immensely was Yamba at the mouth of the Clarence River Estuary. We stayed in the cute Yamba Beach Motel, which had everything that one needs for a comfortable stay and was reasonably priced by Australian standards. We then just wandered around the tiny town (lots of huge hills leading to the lighthouse) and took a book to read on the various beaches( one was called Pippi beach). Highly recommended. WE also had a very nice pint at the Pacific hotel, which has a splendid bar  overlooking the sea, and touts itself as “Australia’s best sited hotel”. Could not argue with them.

One final place I would like to mention that we enjoyed on the Central coast before we reached Brisbane was Dorrigo National Park. 

This lovely place is a short drive from Coffs Harbour and we spent a few happy hours strolling through the forest paths which are clearly signposted and not overly taxing. There is a short boardwalk at the beginning of the park and then a  few circular paths of varying  lengths, with waterfalls and so on. There is also a visitor centre where you can watch a short movie on the flora and fauna in the park. Our only problem was discovering that our car battery was flat when we returned from the walk (and of course it was a Sunday, our phone had no reception, which is common in isolated areas of Australia, and there was no internet reception either.) Fortunately a lovely couple in the car park came to our aid with jump leads and got us started up again.

It is really hard to get a sense of the rainforest from the photos, because the trees tower above and all around, so the photos really don’t capture the vastness of the experience.

On the way back to Coffs Harbour, the motel owner had suggested we stop at a quaint little town called Bellingen which we were passing through anyway. He specifically used the word “quaint”, adding that since I am from the UK I will understand. The town,set in farm land, with lots of horses and cows dotted around, was indeed quaint, with many interesting old buildings, and a museum, which sadly we did not manage to check out.

 

From Yamba we continued up the Pacific Highway to Brisbane. We had expectations of Melbourne and of Sydney, but Brisbane was a city about which we had heard very little. And we were blown away by it. Since we saw that we had plenty of days of our trip to make it up to Cairns, and had decided not to continue driving but to get there by plane, we decided to extend our stay in Brisbane and chill out a bit there, as moving every one or two days gets tiresome. As soon as we walked around in central Brisbane we felt at home. It’s hard to say exactly why. Our air bnb was in a wonderful quiet neighbourhood called Hawthorne, and came with a kitchen, garden, a swimming pool and a dog called Oscar. It was also 5 minutes walk from the Hawthorne Citycat Stop. Citycat is a ferryboat service that plies up and down the Brisbane river and is a far more useful form of transport than the bus.It runs frequently, and up until after midnight 7 days a week. All you need to use it is an electronic  Go Card that you top up with money as you go. It is the same card for buses, trains, ferries and trams. You can just get on it and go all the way up one end of the line and then back again for about $6.

We immediately bought our Go card and started exploring. The first part of the city that we discovered was the central area of the Queen Street Mall which we returned to many times during our stay. It was both relaxed and buzzing, full of life and great for people-watching but not in the way that large cities are. It was always fun to sit on a bench and watch people, and we also took a tour later on with a Brisbane Greeter, (volunteer guide) who introduced us to some less well-known corners of the city.

There are lots of things to see in Brisbane- we particularly enjoyed the Southbank area and the Parklands- a long riverbank promenade that was built after the World Expo of 1988 and consists of a cultural precinct (Museums, art galleries, concert halls, theatres) a Nepali Peace Pagoda, grassy areas and free public swimming pools. There is also an Epicurious garden, where fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers are grown by volunteers, and distributed free to people. The Southbank was the location from which we watched the fantastic Riverfire firework display at the end of the Riverfire festival which happily coincided with our stay in Brisbane. This display was preceded by air displays by army helicopters and jets. It was a great day, no less impressive in that the crowds dispersed in a quiet and orderly fashion at the end. The festival also included lots of free performances all over the place, which added to our stay. We also enjoyed walking around Roma Street Parklands, another park area near to the second place we stayed Spring Hill Apartments. We wanted to add more days at the Airbnb but it was no longer available, so we took the apartment for a week, which was a bit pricy but also included a washing machine and dryer! The only drawback to this accommodation was that it was indeed at the top of a hill. But there was a free bus that stopped right outside the apartments, and deposited us in the city centre in less than 15 minutes. So as the Ozzies say “No worries”.

Other places we loved in Brisbane were the Botanical Gardens and the old Regent Theatre which is now a tourist office, but part of the interior of the old theatre has been preserved. Just travelling on the ferries up and down the river and looking at the iconic Story Bridge from different angles was great fun. WE were continually amazed that every time we went down town something was going on- one day they were distributing free ice cream in Queen Street; another day there was a farmers’ market next to Victoria Bridge; there were lots of free performances in the Mall area too- one day we saw a display of Aboriginal dancing there. Our stay was also enhanced by meeting up with our friend Steve from Virtual Tourist, and then Gary and Roger from Servas, all of whom came out for dinner with us. WE also made new friends in Vera and Paul, a lovely couple we met on a Saturday morning when we went to the Farmers’ Market at the PowerHouse  and who also met us for dinner another evening. All of these meetings impressed on me that nice as sightseeing may be, the really memorable parts of our travels are always the personal contacts we make with locals. The openness and warmth we received from all the Australians that we met was just phenomenal. So thanks Ozzies!

Then there was one of the highlights of our whole trip- whale watching at Redcliffe. After a lot of humming and ha-ing we decided to go for it. It’s after all one of those “once in a lifetime” things right? It’s expensive but definitely something to remember. I checked out various companies and found that the most highly recommended one was called, strangely enough, Brisbane Whale Watching , and it had tons of recommendations on Tripadvisor. They guaranteed that we would see whales. But I was not prepared for how many! We bought a package which included a pickup from a location near where we were staying, transfer by minibus to the cruise jetty, the hour or so  trip out to the bay near Moreton Island and a buffet lunch. We even had a brief look at Beegees Alley before boarding our boat.

Very soon after reaching the bay we immediately started seeing humpback whales and some even jumped up right near the boat.It was truly amazing, and it was important to stop taking pictures (most of which missed the whales jumping) and just look at these lovely creatures. I still did manage to get a few good shots though! Each time there was a sighting, the crew shouted 11 o’clock, or 3 o’clock, and everyone rushed to the appropriate location of the ship to see the whales. There was even a mum and baby but I didn’t manage to get a picture.

Finally it was time to leave wonderful Brisbane- so I will just leave you with a few more pictures before we head for our last stop in the trip- tropical Cairns, and the Great Barrier Reef.

Advertisements

Monks on a bus and monkeys on the roof

Now I’ve got your attention. This had to be the title for this blog entry, especially after I saw the number of “likes” my monks on a bus photo got on Facebook. Here it is:

monks on a bus

Travelling to school

Anyway, how to sum up this crazy experience of a month teaching Buddhist monks in Bhiksu University, Sri Lanka? Was it what we had expected? Of course not! Things never are. On the plane over to Sri Lanka we again looked at each other wondering whether we were totally insane. How bad could it be, we thought? We had spoken via Skype to the Reverend Mediyawe Piyarathana, the English lecturer in charge of the program, and we had been interviewed by Paul Ellmes of http://www.giveafigvolunteering.com, who also lived there in the city, and seemed to be a nice, friendly chap.  Just for a month….. what could go wrong, we thought. Well one or two small inconveniences did occur. I hobbled home on crutches  with a sprained foot and a touch of gastroenteritis. Both of us were exhausted.. but to say that the month wasn’t the most fantastic experience would not  be doing it justice. Things are never straightforward when you fly halfway around the world. We certainly learnt as much from the monks as they did from us. But mostly not about meditation, Buddhist philosophy and so on, but more about how people are just people everywhere. The monks were all MA and PhD lecturers in Buddhist culture and philosophy, Sanskrit, comparative religions and other subjects. But they were above all lovely kind open-hearted people with whom we talked about anything and  everything in class.

20160619_070951

Our first colonial abode

The first few days after our arrival were the full moon festival or Poson. This meant that thousands of devotees, dressed in white, had flocked to the town to celebrate and visit the many holy places. Anuradhapura, a UNESCO heritage site,  is the old capital and a famous centre of Buddhist worship that houses the famous Boddhi Tree and many other important sites. Our Reverend took us to visit many of them, including  MahintaleRuwanwelisaya and Abhayagiri where we met the Chief Incumbent monk himself, and actually had tea at his house. He was a lovely laughing chap who had been to study in China so we exchanged a few Chinese words, which was all rather amusing. Anyone who entered the house bowed and kissed his feet, and we were directed to low stools while he sat on a higher chair. Apparently we were told by Paul that this monk is pretty much the second most important guy in the country after the President.

20160619_193324

Full moon celebrations at Mahintale

The Reverend took us to the holy sites to experience the tradition of dansale at the celebration. People had travelled from afar to cook meals and distribute them free to others. We saw huge lines of people waiting to receive meals, sweets and even free ice cream. The Rev took us in to eat something and (embarrassingly for us) passed in front of the whole line since he is a monk. It was useless to object. The monks are revered by all. This happened again in supermarket queues and elsewhere. Sometimes people would come up to him and hand him gifts in exchange for prayers and blessings.

20160619_122110

Family in dansale tent

One evening the Rev took us to visit a nunnery. The kids seemed quite well cared for and happy. The Reverend himself became a monk as his mother had to travel to work in Saudi Arabia and so she entrusted him to the monastery. He speaks to her frequently on the phone and doesn’t seem to have any problem with her decision. He loves his work helping people and is extremely devoted to the worshipers, and all the monks are very keen to help their devotees by giving them advice and hearing their problems. They help with all kinds of problems, and are always available to help in any way they can. The monks seem to have a far better life than many of the poor rural people and have a great education and live comfortably in their temples.

 

All in all, we were royally looked after during our whole stay. Everything was paid for by the University, including our board and lodging, and trips to Wilpattu Safari Park  and Sigiriya  Lion Rock (where I slipped and sprained my foot after managing to ascend and descend all the steps successfully) . The accommodation provided by the University was a little spartan: the initial place we were given looked amazing from the outside (a gorgeous old colonial building) but was somewhat run down inside, and had no hot water or functioning wifi. We therefore asked to move to a hotel but the inimitable Reverend Piyarathana who was responsible for us flatly refused and said he would find alternative accommodation. This proved to be the Vice Chancellor’s Lodge which was equally impressive from the outside, and actually did have hot water, good wifi and a/c. This is not to say that it was palatial, but it was okay. The original place came complete with a cook.So now we had no cook. “No problem “,said the Reverend. Every day he would send his chauffeur-driven car round to fetch us and transport us to Mango Mango, the local Indian restaurant where we could get good food just like in London!

20160620_160822

The Reverend’s driver Sisera enjoying his bettel

At night we heard jackals and dogs fighting outside, and monkeys jumping on the roof. There were loads of monkeys and wild dogs wandering around the campus. In fact I have never seen so many dogs in my life.Apparently because they are Buddhists, the inhabitants cannot get the dogs neutered, or do anything to deplete their numbers- many looked mangy and neglected- so sad. We also saw innumerable cows wandering around, mongoose and a snake .And one evening a tiny frog jumped out of the toilet!

Every day we went off to class either by tuk- tuk (called a three-wheeler in Sri Lanka) or on the school bus together with all the monks. Class was from 8 till 11.30am with a 30 minute tea break , and again in the afternoon from 13.00 till 16.30 with a similar break. In the break we got tea, bananas, and a host of other (mainly spicy) unidentifiable foods. We did find it amusing to see a load of saffron robed monks all sitting around munching on their bananas. In class we did much the same as in any oral class I have ever taught- debates, discussions, pair work etc, on any topic we wished. The monks were lively , highly knowledgeable and fun to work with. We had internet and projector in the classroom and as much photocopied material as we needed.

20160621_142258_Pano

Monks in class

After our 20 days teaching were up we were presented with a gold- plated award for our work, and the students got certificates for completing the course. Many students had come over to visit me while I was laid up  with the  sprained foot, and had presented me with gifts such as home made curd, sliced bread, marmite (!) , fruits and other goodies.  Our next door neighbour monk, also called Piyarathana (and hence christened by me Piyarathana number 2) came over and brought us many fruits, and on our last evening invited us into his place for a cooked meal, which he cooked personally.They were all incredibly kind and hospitable and I will miss them all.

We then had 3 days at the beach resort of Trincomalee on the north east coast,where we relaxed and took a sailing boat to see dolphins, and visited the historic site of Fort Frederick. This was a nice way to wind down our trip, and then finally we spent two nights in Colombo, where unfortunately we couldn’t see much due to my sprained foot, but we did see the Galle Fort promenade, which was enjoyable.

20160712_154007

Fishermen on beach at Trincomalee

So if this has piqued your appetite and you are interested in teaching in Sri Lanka please contact Paul Ellmes at http://giveafigvolunteering.com/ or the Revered Mediyawe Piyarathana at revpiyarathana@busl.ac.lk  or on Skype at piyarathana78. You too can have an unforgettable experience and do something worthwhile!

NOTE: Paul Ellmes says that in future all accommodation arrangements will be taken care of by his organization so I am sure all will run smoothly! So go ahead and message him on his webpage. You will have a fantastic time!

20160702_105450

View from the top of the Sigiriya Lion Rock Palace

 

 

 

Mid Autumn Festival (the bigger picture for my bro)

Well today’s post will be a little cultural/anthropological in orientation as my brother read my blog and complained it was too personal and focused on food and trivial details.So today I want to give a bit of background on the current holiday in China,which is called the Mid Autumn Festival.This festival is a popular harvest festival celebrated by Chinese people on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the Lunar Calendar. It is also known as “Mooncake Festival”, Lantern Festival” or “Moon Festival”.It is customary at this time to visit your family and friends and to eat a celebratory meal,and to go to beautiful places to look at the full moon.Since it is a National cultural heritage holiday there is an official holiday so that people can travel and visit their relatives.But in Xiamen where we live,there is a special tradition which is only observed here.IT is called “Bobing” and it is a kind of gambling game.

“WE experienced it for the time last year,when our university took us (all the foreign teachers and some Chinese ones) to a lovely five-star hotel.There we were given a buffet lunch and then after that we went upstairs to some tables,where we rolled six dice in a porcelain bowl.The rules are a little complicated but basically the number four is your friend.According to the number of fours that you throw you can win prizes.

Explanation as follows:(skip if you aren’t interested in the details)

“The 300-year-old custom of mooncake gambling dates back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The inventor, Zheng Chenggong (1624-62), a general of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), stationed his army in Xiamen. Zheng was determined to recover Taiwan, which was occupied by Dutch invaders since 1624.

When every Mid-Autumn Festival came, the soldiers naturally missed their families but fought with heroical determination to drive off the aggressors.

General Zheng and his lower officer Hong Xu invented mooncake gambling to help relieve homesickness among the troops.

The gambling game has six ranks of awards, which are named as the winners in ancient imperial examinations, and has 63 different sized mooncakes as prizes.

From the lowest to the highest, the titles of six ranks are Xiucai (the one who passed the examination at the county level), Juren (a successful candidate at the provincial level), Jinshi (a successful candidate in the highest imperial examination), Tanhua, Bangyan and Zhuangyuan (respectively the number three to number one winners in the imperial examination at the presence of the emperor).

Game players throw the dice by turns. Different pips they count win the player a relevant “title” and corresponding type of mooncakes.”

In simple language:-

If you get a six on all the dice you get the jackpot.If you get 1 through 6 that is the highest score.But even if you only throw two ro three fours,you can win something.So we all went home with tubes of toothpaste,soap ,blankets,boxes of mooncakes and other prizes.

Image

Mooncakes

This year we were informed that due to budget cuts and suchlike from the Government we were not able to go to a hotel so we only did the gambling game in a room at the University,and the prizes were only mooncakes from small to large.But when I got home I was invited by a neighbour, whose husband is a University teacher,to the neiighbourhood  Bobing game downstairs outside our building.There the residents had clubbed together to buy various prizes and there were two tables of gamblers,one for kids and one for adults.I joined in there but didn’t win anything.It was great to watch the faces of the kids as we all threw the dice in turn.

bobing

Our neighbour’s daughter Ray shaking the dice

Yesterday we went for a walk around Jimei (our neighbourhood) and checked out the new Wanda Shopping Mall that has opened here.It was being built when we left for the summer holidays and now it is open and was buzzing with people because of the holiday.It has 4 floors,one floor completely devoted to restaurants,and there was a sort of traditional dance show  going on when we arrived,but I think it was just an ad for a cellphone company or something.Anyway,the mall has an IMAX cinema complex,Haagen Dasz ice cream and all the usual Chinese -American favourites ie Pizza Hut,McDonalds and so on.But it looks very upscale and expensive.IT is also spotlessly clean (for now!)

wanda

Dance show at the Mall

 

We also met up again with our friends Jennifer and Hamburger last week and went with them to Jiageng Stadium near our house where there was a very silly exhibition of trick art or 3 D pictures where you can insert yourself into the picture and take a photo.This is kind of childish but amusing fun especially if you have small kids or friends who behave like kids.We took lots of silly photos,and it felt good to be back with our Xiamen friends again.There are quite a few new teachers at XMUT,and we have not had time to make everyone’s acquaintance yet.I hope we will have the opportunity to do that,once the holidays are over.Next week is National Week and we have 8 days off so we are off to Taiwan -t’s kind of like the Rosh Hashana-Yom Kippur-Succot period in Israel when you can’t really get anything done until after the festivals.So far the classes I have seen have been very nice and with quite a high level of English.More after Taiwan!

 

A week left and counting..

We came back home to Jerusalem for a month over the semester break and it has been rather weird. Firstly of course it was great to see all our friends and family again,to eat our faviourite Israeli foods that are not available in China, and to sleep in our own (extremely soft) bed. It was great to go to Pilates classes again and tell people we are just here for a break and are living in China.But it was also odd that we very quickly found ourselves missing China, Xiamen and our life there. I miss the students, I miss getting up every day in Xiamen and not knowing who we are going to meet or what is going to happen.I miss the challenge of trying to make myself understood in Chinese.And I miss the surprises every time we order in a restaurant and have no clue what is going to appear on the table.

It was great to be met at the airport by our younger son,to hear what he has been up to,and to spend time with my Dad,and my brothers and see all the family together for my brother’s birthday.But now we feel that we are in the way.The boys have their own lives to lead,and really don’t need us around.My dad is doing fine and is okay with us going back.

Today is Chinese New Year, and although we planned not to be there during that festival I am a little disappointed now I see it all on the TV that we will be missing the festivities.So maybe we will stay put next year and see them for ourselves,wherever we are.

Image

We did have some fun here.We went to see a couple of movies and we are gong to a concert this week. But we kept checking the prices in the restaurants and shops and comparing to Chinese prices. We spent some time with friends of ours from Xiamen who came to visit, Steve and Viny, who are of the Bahai faith and came to Israel to go on a pilgimage to their temple in Haifa. We showed them around Jerusalem a bit,went with them to Yad Vashem,to Ein Karem,Abu Gosh and the Tayelet to see the views of the Old City.

We also had a coffee with Aliza and Shimon who will be joining us at XMUT next semester.So that was fun too.So roll on next Monday when we get on the plane and go back to Xiamen via Hong Kong,Macau and Shenzhen.

Steve and Viny visit Abu Gosh

Steve and Viny visit Abu Gosh

Ghost-town Campus and Globe-Trotting

Okay so this post is probably going to be a bit long and involved as much has happened since the last one and I have had no time to update. Basically fro December 25th Xmas party until now the students and staff gradually trickled off home from campus for the Spring Festival which takes place on January 25th.We have 5 weeks holiday and during this time most of

more Hong Kong Glitzy skycrapers

the foreign teachers nip off on their travels,either to warmer climes (it is freezing here) or in some cases off home to see their folks for Xmas and the Chinese New year.So we are doing both- we decided to travel a bit,especially as it is REALLY cold here,and then we will go home to Israel for a couple of weeks to see the boys, and my dad and to do a bit of paperwork that needs taking care of .Second semester begins here on February 13th so we are flying back here on the 10th.

 

 

So on January 7th we got a flight down to Xiamen, a lovely coastal town which we had heard good things about. Coincidentally two of our colleagues,Iain and Courtney are doing a 3 week Chinese course there and another Becky arrived just after us. We spent 3 lovely days in Xiamen which lived up to its reputation as a great resort,with seaside,lovely warm weather and a charming island called Gulangyu which is car-free and used to be home to Europeans looking to escape to a romantic getaway. The little winding streets and seafood restaurants are kind of like Cornwall but not really! There are also lots of funny little knick knack shops selling porcelain and wooden cats,for some reason. The island is reached by a small ferry from Xiamen which is itlself an island. Xiamen proper is a pretty big city complete with western style shopping malls,flyovers and restaurants and also a lovely nightlife area full of bars where Chinese with dyed blonde hair and cowboy boots sing songs by Bachman Turner Overdrive and Queen.

street in Xiamen

In the evening we met up a couple of times with our friends from Lin’an for Hotpot and Italian food and one time for a beer. We left Xiamen by overnight sleeper bus for an 8 hour trip to Shenzhen, the border crossing into Hong Kong. The sleeper bus was very weird.You board the bus at 10pm ,remove your shoes which you place in a plastic bag at the bottom of your bed,and go to sleep and wake up in Shenzhen at 6am where you can cross over customs into Hong Kong which is truly another country. Not only do they use Hong Kong dollars and speak Cantonese and English,they also drive on the left as in England. The whole place felt like one enormous glitzy shopping mall. We spent 5 nights there and I can’t say I was totally enamoured of the place- maybe for people who care about Yves St.Laurent,Chanel and all of that crowd it’s shopping heaven but we really felt we could have spent more days in Xiamen more profitably.Plus it turns out that a lot of the wow of Hong Kong is based on the amazing views from the top of Victoria Peak and Victoria Harbour,but since it was horribly cloudy all the time we were there we felt a bit cheated on that score. We did get a few good shots of the harbour at night with all the lights,but again, not the most exciting place we have been on our travels.

Gulangyu from the Ferry

tram in Hong Kong

On  our second day in Hong Kong we took a tram to a little island called Lamma Island which also has no cars. Unfortunately the weather was not very kind to us again. It was very misty and a bit drizzly. The island was nice but not nearly as nice as Gulangyu. We did have a great evening at our friend Nigel’s house, met his lovely wife Susan and very much enjoyed their local cuisine. Many of the things we had planned to do in Hong Kong seemed to be dependent on the sunshine,so we left Hong Kong feeling a bit underwhelmed. We flew back to Hangzhou and on to Lin’an to find the campus completely deserted. We did meet a friend,Simon, a German who is studying Chinese here. He said that nearly all the campus shops and restaurants are closed,and we shared a taxi back up to campus with him ,and indeed the place looked like a ghost town. We are only staying here 3 days luckily, just long enough to pack up the stuff we have bought to take home and then we will take a bus to Shanghai and then fly on to Israel on Friday.

misty view of Hong Kong island from Ferry to Lamma

Lamma Island Ferry landing

Hong Kong Glitz

Making Jiaozi with Danny’s class

Today was Danny’s last teaching day of the semester (I already finished mine) and his students invited him to a session of jiaozi (Chinese dumpling) making at a party they organized. He of course asked if I could come too,and fortunately they agreed. So we went off to a very weird sort of empty apartment which the students hired for this event. It is traditional to eat dumplings at New Year in China,and the students (about 40 of them) had brought all the ingredients over to this apartment ,together with various other things, a drink called Huangjio and a sound system. Daniel,the class monitor came to fetch us and take us to the apartment,where we were showered with  a large quantity of said dumplings. Then they asked us if we would like to learn how to make them-and I am sure you can guess what we answered. There were various different fillings and very soon we were rolling and filling along with the best of them,It was a lot of fun!

Xmas Dinner at the Wonderland Hotel

This was an event of such epic proportions that it gets a post all of its own. Our Irish friend Patrick, who teaches at another campus of our University downtown got 8 invitations for foreigners to come to a FREE Xmas Dinner at the five star Wonderland Hotel in Lin’an. This hotel is about 10 minutes by car from our University but located on the Lake front and is apparently where the very rich of the town go to spend Xmas. The hotel sent its own private bus to pick us up and return us safely home. For this we were required to each sing a Christmas song. Danny and I rehearsed Halleluia by Gali Atari all week,as Patrick,who has been to this event 3 times before, assured us that the guests would not be aware if we were singing in Hebrew or in English. On arrival at the hotel at about 4.30pm we were shepherded past a large model snowman and various decorations,and a guard of honour composed of liveried waiters and waitresses with Santa hats,to a huge dining area full of every possible kind of food. There was a Chinese food buffet, a Western main course buffet, salad bar and Dessert buffet. Another table had soft drinks and tea and coffee and yet another with alcohol, the only item which was NOT free of charge.We immediately loaded our plates and tucked in. The manager came up and shook us warmly by the hand and thanked us for obliging. We listened to two Chinese girls dressed in white robes playing Xmas songs on the White grand piano.Then a choir of white robed maidens lip synced to Xmas carols.Finally it was our turn to sing our songs which went off reasonably well. After that there was a raffle- the lucky rich winners got an Ipad 2 and a 5 day holiday in Korea (we speculated as to whether it was to attend the Funeral of Kim Jong il or the Other Korea).

WE were then presented with gifts -some kind of plastic toy that whirrs around and lights up,and Chocolate Santa Claus figures.At around 8.30 pm we were escorted back home in the Hotel Bus full and very amused.

View of the Lake from the Hotel

angelic "choir"Chinese Santa