Ice Castles, Russian Architecture and Tigers. Welcome to Harbin.
Ruth and I decided on a whim to visit the annual Snow and Ice Festival in early January. (It had been on my China bucket lists for ages). We spent a little over 36 hours there — the perfect amount of time given Harbin’s freezing temperatures ranging anywhere from -13 to -33 C during our short trip. It was so cold outside my face hurt. Icicles formed on my eyelashes. Each time I took my hands out of my double layer of gloves to snap pictures, it took a few minutes for the feeling to come back. And yet … so worth it.
- Ice & Snow World. A magical, Oz-like theme park made entirely of ice structures. The underrated but equally awesome Snow Sculpture Park also made for a great afternoon stroll.
- Our lovely driver, who we successfully flagged down out of pure luck. He later offered to show us around the city for entire weekend and took us to his favorite barbecue fish joint.
- Seeing a LIGER at the Siberian Tiger Park. Yep, they exist.
- Eating Harbin-famous ice cream outside in subzero temperatures. (Such Tourists).
- Buying tons of ridiculous-looking but totally necessary winter gear, i.e. Lei Feng hats.
- Ruth nearly getting frostbite due to poorly insulated boots.
- Having to “butt walk” down the ice castle stairs because my own boots had zero traction. (“她害怕!” said pretty much every single tourist I passed by on the way down).
- Electronics (i.e. camera, phone) being rendered effectively useless if used outside for more than 5 minutes at a time.
The Downright Terrifying:
- Nearly getting scratched by a white tiger after getting too close to its cage in attempt to take a photo. (I’m that tourist).
China’s transportation security problem
The most terrifying thing about Saturday’s stabbing rampage at Kunming Railway Station – which China has officially dubbed a terrorist attack – is that it highlights how crowded train stations across the country are extremely vulnerable targets for these sorts of attacks.
East by Southeast sums up China’s transportation security problem well:
Anyone who travels on China’s rails and bus system knows the security at train and bus stations is extremely lax. Poorly trained guards – really hired help in shabby blue uniforms – man posts at metal detectors and luggage scanners placed in station entryways more for show than to serve a security purpose. At peak times train and bus stations are much more crowded than airports in China and metal detectors are constantly sounding as passengers walk through without any recourse or further pat downs. With the exception of Xinjiang and Tibet were [sic] security has been increasingly tightened over the past five years, the quality of procedures to safeguard the security of public places wanes as one gets farther away from Beijing.
This lax security culture is likely to, and hopefully will change as a result of the incident in which locals are dubbing as Kunming’s 9/11.
Fingers crossed. Thoughts to the victims and families affected by this horrible tragedy.
Astrill is down.
Cue the end of the world.
Out of curiosity a couple of weekends ago, I checked out the Marriage Market at People’s Square Park (AKA “match.com meets farmers’ market”). Basically it’s a weekend gathering of (mostly retired) locals whose goal it is to set their unwed sons, daughters, grandsons or granddaughters up with potential suitors. They play matchmaker by posting flyers with important details about their children/grandchildren, including height and weight, education background, job and salary. Photos are optional.
"It’s funny, sometimes people’s parents put their photo up here and they don’t even know it!" said one parent to me at the park that afternoon.
He told me later about his daughter who was studying her masters program overseas. It was unclear if she was unknowingly being advertised that afternoon.