04/12/2015 - 04/18/2015
Of all the countries I've visited, there's none that I prefer to China. I love Europe, especially the big three of Italy, France, and Spain, but nothing compares to the incredible markets, food, frenzy, and natural beauty of China. Now that I'm married to Mei Ling and my children are partly Chinese, I'm permanently joined to this foreign country and culture that is positioned diametrically opposite on the globe from the place of my birth. At some point Mei Ling and I agreed we would visit her family in China every other year so that we would still be able to spend some summers in Europe. The bonus is that there are so many other countries in Asia we've never visited, and traveling to China is a great excuse to stop over in some place that is completely new. The only downside is that Mei Ling's family lives in Mudanjiang, a mid-sized city in northern China with very little of interest for travelers. I like to think of it as the "Cleveland of China". This was my second go round in Mudanjiang, and after the excitement and novelty of Napa and Seoul I wasn't thrilled about six days of schlepping around in familiar neighborhoods and markets. Nevertheless, visiting the in-laws is non-negotiable so I resolved to try and have as much fun as possible.
Mei Ling's brother in law insisted on meeting us at the airport in a small taxi, which meant the four of us had to squeeze into the back seat and pile bags and strollers all over ourselves, the roof of the cab, and projecting improbably from the trunk while secured by a bungee cord. I half expected to show up at the family apartment missing half our belongings, but on arrival our property seemed to be intact. Mei LIng's sister, her husband, and their son live in a nice two bedroom apartment on a upper floor in a newly-constructed building close to the center of town.
Everyone had already met Cleo two years earlier when she was a super cute one year old, but as I expected Ian was able to upstage her this time around.
Mei Ling's younger brother also showed up and was staying in the apartment and her parents were in and out the whole time. Given the number of people sleeping in the apartment and the strain on the single bathroom, I insisted on booking a room in an inexpensive hotel nearby where I stayed with Cleo. Mudanjiang may not be the most interesting place in China, but that doesn't mean the food isn't awesome. We had some amazing restaurant dishes encompassing everything from sea snails to stir fried cow trachea.
We had some spectacular home-cooked banquets as well. Mei Ling is the best cook I've ever known, and both her brother and brother-in-law are professional chefs. There was a visit to a market most days, which was followed by several hours of bustling food preparation and then an incredible multi-course meal.
One thing that always seemed to be constant is that whenever we sat down to eat, there was always plenty of Snow beer.
Aside from shopping for food, cooking, and eating our days mostly consisted of walks around the city center and visits to the little amusement park downtown where the kids could bungee bounce or catch minnows.
Eventually our time in Mudanjiang came to a close. Mei Ling was more sorry to leave than I was, but it was great to have seen her and the kids reconnect with her family. We had a brutally early wake up call to catch a train to Harbin for the flight to Guangzhou.