Harbin – Winter Ice Festival


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Harbin, China is a northeastern city with really cold winter. Rather than let the weather get them down, the people there take icy winter and turn it into a festival. It would be hard to explain what they build so there are a lot of pictures on this page. The things they build can be quite large. Use the people for size perspective.

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This was my first experience alone in China. I was helped in Beijing but I was on my own in Harbin. I did have a guy to guide me but that was for tomorrow, not today. I went to the Beijing airport and found my place to wait. I was happy. What could go wrong? As the time to leave got closer, I noticed there wasn’t a plane outside. I went to the fellow at the desk.
The young man told me the departure time. That was it five minutes. Things started to go downhill. When the time to go came and went, a line of angry Chinese began to demand answers. The answers were not good and people began to leave in huffs. The group left and I approached a young lady that had come to help or maybe just share the abuse with the young man behind the desk.

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She answered my question, “What time will the plane leave?” by writing ‘No Time’ on a small piece of paper. Then she wrote ‘Desk 16’ on the page. I had no idea where Desk 16 was and began to wander down the hall towards the main area. I had no Plan B. A strange sound broke through my confused thoughts. It was the rapid clip-clip of high heels. I turned and discovered the young lady coming towards me at a fast clip.

“The plane go now!” she panted as she tried to catch her breath. I returned and was quickly ushered onto the flight. There were only a few of us but we took off for Harbin. I mused that an airport worker in America probably wouldn’t have chased me down a long hall to get me on my flight.

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I got in a taxi heading toward town. The driver honked at a passing car. As we approached the city, he honked at any car. He honked at pedestians. And the other drivers were honking at everything that moved or might move. It was getting darker yet no drivers put on their headlights. Just more honking. I got into my hotel room and went to shut the window. The window was shut. In fact, it was a double window. Probably because it would get really cold here come winter. The honking continued until midnight when it sounded further and further away.

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It was 9:30 and time to eat. I went down to the lobby and showed someone my card that said (in Chinese) ‘Where is a restaurant?’ They discussed this a while and pointed at the sign above the hotel restaurant. I knew about that one already. I went in and sat down. They brought me a menu. Hmm. No pictures. I ordered a beer in Chinese. My Chinese lessons were paying off. They brought me a large beer but it was room temperature. I said, “Ice beer”. I didn’t know the word for ‘cold’. They came back with a cold one. I say ‘they’ because a small group of girls were buzzing around my table. I was almost the only customer. There was another person over in the corner. I puzzled over the menu and the girls all ran off. They came back with a new girl and pushed her forward. “What is your menu?” she announced in English. I was shocked and we worked out an order together painfully.

I got some food which was great! But now the restaurant was closing. As I finished, the girl came back with her jacket on instead of an apron. “I go now. You are first foreign I speak to.” She ran off.
‘Quite an honor’ I thought.

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There was a knock at the door. Hmmm. Maybe the girl who asks if you want tea. I had heard the phone ring a few times and took it off the hook when the person calling spoke in Chinese only. There she was. If you don’t answer, I come to your room. She was not the tea girl. She brushed past me very close as she entered the room. It came in a flash why she was there. Sex! I took her by the wrist and moved her back into the hall and closed the door. It went through my mind. Who would know? I went over and started reading my book.

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I was in Harbin though not at the ice festival. I was on a kind of guided tour when we went into a large building to see what it was. It was a warehouse where they tried to create a mini ice festival. It was July and I had been hot since I arrived in China a week before. They suit you up for winter. They put legguns on you and boots. A long coat completes your outfit. Hat? $1 extra.

They had snow sculptures and ice buildings. The experience ended with a slide down an icy hill. I opened my coat and felt that I was cooled off for the first time in a week.

The ice festival in a warehouse was not expected on this tour so it made it that much more fun.

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We went to several places in the city. Another was the dragon tower. It was a museum of sorts. It had a 3D movie. We sat in a double seat that went back as the movie started. When the lights came up all the seats came back down. Except ours. The people filing out looked at us in the front row. Trapped. Soon a worker came and got us out.

At each place, I would say to my guide, “Have you been here before?” “No,” he would reply. All these things in his city and he had never seen them.
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He was going to the university in the fall. But not his friends. Only the best would attend a university. The Chinese education system is competitive. All the students are competing against each other for the top spots and the best schools. This starts in elementary school! And the class size may be 50 or even 60. Sometime young children study until midnight and then get up early to get to the school for more. This may be why we think Asians are smarter. We meet the ones who got to go to the university. Or maybe their children who they expect to be at the top of their class. Always.

He lived in a small apartment which I had the chance to see. One set of grandparents lived in the main room. His parents in one bedroom and himself in the other. No brothers or sisters. His generation is one of only children. Population control.
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