Friday, January 24, 2014

Harbin: Real life Narnia

I'm cold.

Last weekend, Max, three other CET students, and I decided to take a quick trip up north to a city called Harbin. We flew to Harbin, and chose to take a fast train back to Beijing. It was only two nights, but was definitely worth the trek. Harbin is very close to the border of Russia, which means January was the perfect month to lay out on the beach, get my tan on, and scope out some hot Russians. WRONG. Harbin is the coldest place on this planet. Years ago, penguins were checking out some real estate here and were like “nah fuck that, too cold”. I’m not even exaggerating; we were only able to spend a maximum of twenty minutes outside before we had to huddle up in one of the many Russian cafés Harbin has to offer. The days we were there averaged at around -20°C, which, if you do some math and equations, was really cold °F.

Little igloo on the streets of Harbin. They were selling warm Coca Cola right inside.

The great thing about being so close to Russia is that the history and architecture of Harbin is a blend of Russian and Chinese culture. It’s a little odd, but very fascinating. On some streets, you could be staring at a typical Chinese temple with those slanted roofs, and then quickly turn around and be staring at an old Russian Orthodox church. Another advantage about visiting Harbin is that the Chinese locals just assume you are Russian, so you no longer have to deal with the constant awkward stares while walking around the city. The whole city was incredibly beautiful, and was actually not what I had expected at all. We came here mainly for the annual Ice Festival, but the many interesting bars, restaurants, and cafés pleasantly surprised all five of us. One of the cafés that we went to looked like Christmas had been frozen in time. The entire place smelled like fresh cookies, and was decorated entirely with little snow-covered trees and Babushka dolls. The couple next to ordered a ton of waffles, but didn’t touch any of it, so we were able to beg the busboy to give us their food.

Russian Church.

The main reason anyone would come to Harbin is for the city’s annual Ice Festival. Every year, ice sculptors from all around the world come to Harbin and recreate an entirely new city, made completely from ice. Everything is ice. Also, the festival is huge, so at times you forget you are in a festival and begin to think you are actually in a city. Apparently, every year they have a main attraction for the center of the festival, and this year just happened to be the Empire State Building. Although not as large as the actual building, the ice recreation was huge and so impressive.

Ice Empire State Building

One section of the festival even had a ski performance going on, with performers synchronized-skiing down a makeshift mountain. Another area of the festival had a giant concert going on, which we were able to get on stage for and join in with the scantily clad bunny dancers. I actually felt kind of bad for those bunny girls, because I was having a hard time with the cold, and I was wearing about five different layers. The ice festival was even colder than the streets of Harbin. We were basically in a giant icebox, so to survive we had to sprint and dance around everywhere we went to keep our blood flowing. My favorite part of the festival had to be the giant ice slide. In the middle of the festival was a giant ice castle, complete with watchtowers and everything; and, after climbing up to the top you were able to slide down an escape slide. It was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, my hands were too cold to take a lot of pictures, so there isn’t for me to work with here. Overall, we had a blast in Harbin, and it was a welcomed break from the daily workload back in Beijing. The train ride back was a ton of fun too, since we bought first class tickets (Treat Yo Self 2014), and I had a nice little chat with a six-year-old Chinese girl. Our speaking skills were about equal, so I felt really good about my progress here.

Goat heads on the road, no big deal.

Ice cream, because we are idiots.
The Harbin Crew: Max, James, Lillian, Melanie, and Brandon. 

I’m in Kunming right now, but I’ll address that in a few days. Hope everyone is doing well!

1 comment:

  1. Hi James,
    Thank you for your blog. I am living your adventure vicariously through your wonderful stories.
    Best to you and your friends,
    Carolyn (Farrar)