The city of ice and lights . . .

I cannot believe I forgot to publish something on this experience, I guess with the excitement of a trip home for a few weeks not much got written. Never the less here goes.

To say this place is cold is like saying Leo Messi can play football. The truth is I have never experienced a level of cold like this in my life before, if you think I’m joking, this is what it looks like.

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If you have never heard of this festival its called the Harbin snow and ice festival and basically comprises of ice sculpting, snow sculpting, ice building and swimming (??!!!) oh and a sneaky trip to see a few tigers.

Teams from all around the world come to build these apartment-block-sized ice and snow sculptures for months until the festival starts mid Jan in the small (10m ppl) town of Harbin. They are then unveiled in a massive explosion of lights, ice and fireworks, while you look at the pics remember these are ALL ONLY ICE AND LIGHTS . . .

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IMG_1929These are for those who are interested in grand gestures, then there are those that are in it for the creativity. Those teams who come for precision ice art, who design them and then create an artistic masterpiece from a square block of ice roughly the size of an SUV, I have shown a few but there must be about a hundred of them, each with a story and absolutely brilliant craftsmanship and attention to detail . . .

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Then there are those that are interested in both, they use fashioned snow to create giant sculptures, stories, advert or castles that are laid out across a gigantic park for all to see, again this is a small sample of the hundreds of these things . . .

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In between enjoying the art there are thousands who enjoy the outdoor activities like sliding down an ice hill in a tube, most fun I’ve had since i was a kid. Sled dog rides, think alsatian pulling a rocking chair, ice sailing, snowmobiling, spinning tops and anything else ice related you could possible to on a giant river frozen a meter thick!

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IMG_7413Also there are a few, as you would expect, that are a snowflake short of a snowstorm. Every winter they chainsaw out a swimming pool in the frozen over lake and swim. Now I know what you are saying, its good for circulation blah blah. Believe me, I have on numerous times done the sauna to snow rolling around and back scenario, this is a little different.

First of all its -25 at best, when I took off my two pairs of gloves I literally felt my fingers go numb immediately, then start to burn like they were in acid, that was with two beanies, 3 fleeces, a ski jacket, thermal vest, long johns and pants on. It was so cold I have never in any ski trip over the last 25 years ever had to wear thermal underwear and here it wasn’t enough. To give you an idea my iPhone was so cold it just gave up and switched off only to restart in the hotel room after defrosting!

They do not start in a sauna, they walk out, de-robe and dive in. It helps that they are all part Russian but still I thought Lewis Pugh was hardcore, this is another level!

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There is also the added benefit of going to look at the Tiger sanctuary, a place where Tigers are kept, rehabilitated etc and you drive around in a glorified bus to have a look, after that you go on the wakling trail (this is actually how they spell it) and can pay a small price to poke a dead chicken through the fence with braai tongs and feed the poor caged bastards, not exactly Inyati but still quite amazing.

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Lastly one of the greatest highlights has got to be eating a hot pot dinner in an igloo. The nice warm luxurious Shangri La Hotel has built a freezer door which opens into a large nicely decorated igloo where you sit with blankets, heaters and a table full of freezing, literally, ingredients to cook hot pot (the Chinese version of fondue, sort of).

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Then once you are stuffed full of meat, veg and what I can only assume where testicles of some kind you can march down the corridor and chill in the ice bar with a vodka neat, because when its -30 you don’t really need the ice!

All in all I have to say this was not on my bucket list, in fact I had no idea it existed but after seeing this it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The best part of all is in summer it’s a beautiful 35 degrees and they have one of the biggest beer festivals in the world!!

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And the Oscar goes tooooooo . . . JAIL!

I haven’t written in two weeks, mainly because I’ve have been home and have pretty much gone from breakfasts to lunches to dinners for two weeks solid – in and out of drunk and sober with as little sleep as possible trying to fit in as much time with the people I love!

I suppose I also wanted to give a bit of time for this Oscar Story to resonate with me before I added my views on the matter.

Let’s be clear on a few things. One, no one other than Oscar Pistorius knows what happened that night. Two, there will be questions that will be answered, there will be lies told and there will be a decision (albeit, based on the bail hearing, it will take a seriously long time) and finally three, Oscar Pistorius walked down the passage and opened fire four times on a closed door with a human being inside. BANG,BANG, BANG, BANG. Whether it was his girlfriend or not is besides the point, he knew there was a person in there and he shot them, dead!

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I’m not sure what the truth is, I mean there are a bunch of things I really don’t understand from someone being so paranoid they have a gun under their bed but sleeps with the sliding doors open. Why there was a fan standing outside on his balcony. Why he went outside and then came back in hearing someone in the bathroom and didn’t care to glance across to see if his ‘love’ was there to why she seemed to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom but locked the door.

For me there are too many questions that have constructed answers for this to be a case of a mistaken burglary.

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What irritates me though is the way everyone on the Pistorius team is blabbing on about how much he loved her and how sad he is that he could have made a mistake like this. I can categorically say that if you hear a noise in your house and get up to investigate, the first focus you have before the intruder is making sure your loved one or ones are safe, so either he was merely having hot model sex or he murdered that poor girl – simple as that for me.

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The second thing that is killing me is that the defense is going to use the argument that he is so paranoid and terrified (in his guarded compound estate), painting the picture of him wide eyed every night shivering in fear, shooting anything that moved around him because of the debilitating home invasions. Now don’t get me wong, since moving I’m one of the first to point out that South Africa is not a safe place but do we really want to be offering this up to global media on a daily basis just because this guy needs an excuse to get out of murder?

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There are no winners in this case, not the victim’s family, not Pistorius, not the sponsors of his, not his or her family, not the country and not the legal system (whichever way this goes). It is just going to be a long drawn out smearing of shit over everything in its path, however the voyeur in me is a little upset I will miss the tabloid frenzy that this is going to create – at least there is always Twitter!

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Planes, movies, red wine . . .

So I finally watched Searching for Sugar Man.

Right now its Chinese New year or spring festival whatever you prefer and so the entire country is on holiday pretty much, which means I get to go home for the first time in 8 months.

This means an hour taxi to the airport, two hour wait in the emirates lounge, 10 hour flight to Dubai, another 3 hours in the Emirates lounge, another 8 hour flight and then another hour drive, all a tiny price to pay to see my friends and family again.

The truth is I get to drink champagne and decent wine for 24 hours while watching movies on a bed drifting in and out of sleep – it’s truly fantastic compared to what I would be doing any other day of the working year!

So after the first 10 hours of watching meaningless crap movies which I can barely remember or maybe I’m just trying to forget Richard Gear clinging to his acting career, Ben Affleck playing some glorified American, Steve Carrell dying in an earth ending asteroid with Kristen Stewart, I mean Kiera Knightly, and Jennifer Garner barren again (albeit this time far more annoyingly than the first with Juno) I saw ‘Searching for Sugar Man’

I had seen so much noise about it on twitter but for some reason I thought that it was another battle of drugs and hard knocked life story of some overrated over privileged musical superstar that I’ve grown numb to and the fact that it’s not exactly freely available behind the iron dumpling curtain made it impossible to see until now.

The truth is I was being stubborn – I’m a Taurean so not exactly out of character. So between the 5th and 8th glass of decent burgundy I watched Rodriguez’s story.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I’d seen that Cold Fact album cover a hundred times in various CD collections of my much older brothers, I had just assumed he had lived a life of music royalty. When you are a kid the world is much simpler, especially a kid in third world apartheid, or newly liberated South Africa. If you made a CD, let alone a CD of that quality, you were famous, you were rich and that was the end of it.

How naïve.

I guess so many of us believe we are destined for something great, I thought I was the only one until I read that 85% of all people think that, I didn’t feel so great after that. I suppose all of us fantasize that in some place half way around the world they understand our genius and praise us not for anything other than our ability to connect with them on some level.

This man’s music has been one of the default songs when my brain thinks about music for so long I couldn’t believe that he wasn’t one of music’s golden children, one that was adored in every city on every stage in every country. I truly believed that by the way his music had become such a household standard that he was given the credit that he deserved for as long as I was alive and so really didn’t give it another thought!

When I saw the clips of him returning to South Africa in 1998 to an audience that had believed they had lost an icon, and that base started to play, the base that instinctively started a generation singing the same song much like the Beatles or the Stones, I started to cry. I’m not sure why it impacted me so heavily, maybe it’s because I think that I was so happy that he finally got the recognition that he deserved, maybe because the people got to connect in that moment with an artist who defined their first love, first intimate relationship, first joint, first whatever but a man who completed moments for so many South Africans. Maybe I was just happy that these two great forces got to connect with each other finally after so many years.

To see this man that had lived a life of relative poverty for most of his life to at least get a glimpse of the power his music had on a generation of people he probably didn’t even know existed, took my breath away. It made me believe in the magic of great music all over again. The magic of people, the hope of stories with happy endings and the ability to be great regardless of who you think is lestening.

If you haven’t seen it, you are allowing a part of South African and global music history that will make your heart smile, cry, break and come together all at the same time disappear all over again. This man is a genius, a true genius, a genius in the way great musicians used to be before they we created just to be jammed down our throats for a quick buck and a catchy tune!  Sadly the world doesn’t always understand genius at the time it appears. I can only hope the rest of the world will be able to experience this magic before it’s too late.

Searching for Sugar Man . . .

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKXewWDh1og

A trip back to my past to refocus my future . . .

I haven’t written anything really since New Year, I guess not much has inspired me or perhaps I’m trying to work out what I want to be this year.

Normally come a New Years eve I reflect on what I have achieved, learned etc the year before and then try and shape what I want to accomplish or experience in the year to come. Normally this is quite easy, the plan I’ve laid down for the year gets reviewed with one or two disappointment’s and so I set about planning for the new year – this year however I’m at a bit of a loss.

I’m not sure exactly what I want to accomplish in my career, personal life, travel and the list goes on. I find myself in some kind of experiential purgatory, which for me, is quite dangerous because if I’m not moving or have a grasp of some sort on what I want to do I generally tend to wither, and exponentially so.

Often I need a trigger, a meeting, an ‘AHA’ Moment, a song or even as it apparently can be, an advert, something that can fire something in my brain that will give me the vision to see the next step in this matrix plagued world and last week, I got it.

A good friend of mine @jamesdey posted the new Microsoft tablet (with new Internet Explorer) advert, the browser which I fucking hate with all my soul by the way, but that advert connected with something in me. It made me proud of the era I grew up in and not resentful for the ones I didn’t. It made me embrace where I came from and allowed me to remember so many memories that I could barely relive them fast enough.

Here it is . . .

I cant explain it and most of you wont understand it, but sometimes in life you get tired, drained and unfocused – this normally happens at the end of a year (which in China is right about now) and this video just hinted at the spark for next year.

At the end of this week I get to go home for a bit which will no doubt be difficult because i know I will have to leave again but hopefully now I have found some new inspiration to achieve in 2013!