Saturday, February 18, 2012

I've Got No Strings

This weekend I went to Harbin. It had been recommended to me as a "must do" before I left for China because if it's Snow and Ice Festival. Harbin is in the northernmost province of China, and it used to be the Russian headquarters when the Russians invaded China. It is very cold with a lot of Russian influence in the architecture. When I arrived it was flurrying and a warm -11 degrees Celsius (12 Fahrenheit - I had heard of temperatures as low as -33 degrees). After I got settled at the hotel, I headed off to make my way to the festival.
The blur in this picture is a snowplow on the airport tarmac.
First I had to cross Songhua River. Harbin has 2 parts, and I was staying south of the river while most of the festival was north of it. The river was frozen over, so I followed the crowd and began walking. Of course, I slipped and fell almost as soon as I stepped on the ice. I got back up, past a number of people selling stuff, and saw people doing something that resembled seated skiing. So I tried that too. You rent a kind of stool chair with ice pick type poles and scoot yourself around the ice. Some people were being pushed by their friends. I was actually more successful at seated skiing than real skiing. I made a circle and continued walking.
The frozen Songua River
If you look closely, you can see frozen snowflakes

When I arrived at the other side of the river, I was on Sun Island Park, where the Snow Sculptures built by teams from around the world were displayed. There were sculptures of people, stories, objects, buildings, animals. Some were very impressive, some less so, some abstract in concept, some symbolic and thought provoking. There were also sculptures (although I think they might have been statues at this point) from award winners from previous years. Very beautiful.

US submission to snow sculpture competition
One of China's submissions to snow sculpture competition

Snow Village
From there, around sunset, when the icicles started forming on my eyelashes, I found my way to the 13th Annual Harbin Ice and Snow World - ice and snow buildings and sculptures lit up by neon lights. I took a horse drawn carriage around the area and then walked around, climbed on some of the buildings, luge-d down an ice slide at a ridiculously fast speed, and saw some performances - ice skating, acrobatics, dance, etc. It was very cool.

Ice slide

There's a third section to the festival - ice sculptures in Zhaolin Park. However, it opened at 3:00pm, so I was at the snow sculptures the first day and had to catch a cab to the airport at that time the second day. Something very amusing is how no one actually knew very much about the festival - you ask what time it opens, and you are given evening hours when it opens in the afternoon; prices are slightly off; and the information from the Internet was wrong. It was an experience. 

I spent the second day looking around the area by the hotel. I went to the Church of St. Sophia - the largest Russian Orthodox Church in East Asia and apparently the surrounding area was a Jewish area at some point. It's a very dark building compared to all the light colors of the rest of the buildings in Harbin, but it was gorgeous. It also had a museum inside with photographs of the history of Harbin. Then I walked to Zhongyang Street, a pedestrian street and open outdoor architectural museum. I liked seeing all the different styles of buildings. 
Church of St. Sophia
Zhongyang Street

Then I took a cab from the hotel back to the airport. My cab driver was wonderful - he pointed out sights, stopped for me to take pictures, and spoke very slowly so I could sometimes figure out what he was saying. And I made it back to Nanjing with all my fingers and toes.

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