By: Ying Fu, from Harbin, China,
for Georgia Weekly Post
Harbin is the capital of Heilongjiang Province, China. This is where I was born, grew up and educated and still come to. The population is 9,353,200.
It is not like any other city in China. For many years, Harbin has become a major trading outpost for domestic trade and international trade with Russia.
This Russian influence can be seen in many of the buildings and churches around the town, and there are many Russian speakers in Harbin.
The special historical course and geographical position makes it a beautiful city.
It is known as the "Jiangcheng", "ice city", "pearl under the Swan", and the "Oriental Moscow". Harbin Ice and Snow Festival" is world-renowned winter event. They made many movies here. they still keep on coming. Many are staying. The have very nice hotels and the best night life in China.
The nature scene of Harbin is charming and gentle, clearly four seasons.
The Sun Island, Siberia Tiger Park, Stalin Park near Songhua River, Songfeng Mountain, Erlong Mountain, Yuquan hunting ground and Yabuli are famous scenic spots.
During the ice Festival, major venues could be seen in and around the city of Harbin, including Zhaolin Park on Shangzhi Street, for ice sculpture; Sun Island Park, across the river for snow sculptures; and the Ice and Snow Palace, a collection of buildings constructed entirely of ice and snow on the banks of the Songhua River.
An avalanche of visitors descends on Harbin for the annual Ice & Snow Festival every winter.
And it's well worth braving the cold: the sculptures are often record-breaking in size and night illuminations of the ice add a surreal kaleidoscope of colour to northeastern China's bitter winters.
▲Ice sculpting isn't uncommon in north Asia's numbingly cold winters, from Sapporo in Japan to Korea's Taebaeksan Mountain Snow Festival. Harbin's sculptures have been dazzling visitors for 31 years.
But there are plenty more reasons to relish a visit to Harbin, capital of China's Heilongjiang province. From Russian architectural stylings in the city to Siberian tigers.
▲Today the festival area covers 750,000 sq mi and themed zones present glistening renditions of architectural wonders, folklore and traditional crafts. Some border on the surreal, so step back and enjoy the chubby snow fairies, dragons and towering igloos.
From January through to mid-March, Harbin hosts the International Ice & Snow Festival. Exhibitions of snow and ice sculptures, kept pristine by subzero temperatures, are dotted across multiple locations. The biggest – and priciest to attend – is Harbin Ice and Snow World , which showcases the flashiest and most neck-craning sculptures.
▲Harbin is known to have the most beautiful women in China, taller and lighter skin. Many, if most, models movie stars in china known to come from the City of Harbin. One active Chinese community organizer and a power broker in DeKalb county, is a former model from Harbin. Her phone number is on the speed dial of all local Mayors and elected officials, during fundraising events.
For a less hectic experience there are exhibitions at Sun Island and Zhaolin Park. Down-lined jackets, thick gloves and even balaclavas are recommended if you plan on ogling the ice art. The mercury can drop as low as -35°C, so take regular breaks to thaw your nose in the festival's coffee huts.
▲Exhibitions of snow and ice sculptures, kept pristine by subzero temperatures, are dotted across multiple locations.
Ice sculpting isn't uncommon in north Asia's numbingly cold winters, from Sapporo in Japan to Korea's Taebaeksan Mountain Snow Festival. Harbin's sculptures have been dazzling visitors for 31 years.
Today the festival area covers 750,000 sq. Miles and themed zones present glistening renditions of architectural wonders, folklore and traditional crafts. Some border on the surreal. Visitors will be able to enjoy the chubby snow fairies, dragons and towering igloos.
▲Siberian (or Manchurian) tigers prowl these parts. And 15km north of Harbin, conservationists are hard at work to help these snarling felines roar another day. In the Siberian Tiger Park, dozens of these mighty beasts stalk the grounds.
The tallest ice carving in recent years was the Crystal Castle. At 48m high, this structure was just shy of the height of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe.
2015's festival had an ice Kremlin, enormous seated Buddha, snow-rendered whales and supersized Chinese fishermen, glistening bluish white during the day and illuminated magenta and neon green after dusk.
Ice art in Harbin is serious business. Master sculptors mostly use ice blocks cut from the Songhua River, but water is also frozen when artists need ice with perfect clarity.
▲ Which city in China has the most beautiful women? The list of top 20 Chinese cities with most beautiful women was released recently. Harbin ladies with their perfect looks and figures claimed the top spot. No make up!.
The Songhua River - frozen solid in midwinter - becomes a playground at festival time.
Biking, skating, miniature tanks, ponies and almost every conceivable mode of transport set revellers spinning across the Songhua's frozen surface. And not everything has a steep entry fee. While the bigger and more elaborate ice sculpture displays require a ticket (ranging from ¥150 to ¥300), ice carvings are dotted across the city, especially around the riverside and along pedestrian-only Zhongyang Dajie.
Harbin was a sleepy backwater town until the building of the Chinese Eastern Railway line (1897-1901) thrust it into the spotlight. As its value as a trading post skyrocketed, there were tussles to control Harbin.
The Russians, who negotiated the building of the railway line, lost it to the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese war (1904-5), though Russian immigration and influence continued to trickle in.
Today Harbin is a main port-of-call along the Trans-Manchurian Railway, linking the Chinese capital, Beijing with Chita in Eastern Siberia, where the line joins the Trans-Siberian Railway all the way to Russia's capital, Moscow.
First-time visitors might rub their eyes at the neoclassical stylings and cobblestoned pedestrian zones, especially in Harbin's old town.
Russians streamed into Harbin to flee the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution, gradually shaping the town with Russian architecture.
To this day, you're just as likely to chow down on pelmeni (Russian dumplings) as their Chinese equivalent. Sample some Russian flavour at train-themed Caféxpress (Xitoudao Dajie), decked out with a treasure chest of vodkas, and look out for souvenir shops along Zhongyang Dajie packed with Russian kitsch. But before you imagine you're in Red Square, remember than 5903km and a five-hour time difference separate Harbin and Moscow.
The gilded Orthodox churches of Harbin, steadily built up by the Russians, were ransacked during China's Cultural Revolution. But one gem remains: the magnificent Church of St Sophia has been polished from its dark green onion domes to the golden spire-top crosses. This 1907 church may have been stripped of its interior splendours – today it's a museum hosting a photographic exhibition about Harbin history – but it's a striking reminder of the city's Russian heritage and an unmissable photo op for visitors to the city.
The biggest Jewish community in the Far East made Harbin their home. In the 1920s, about 20,000 Jews, mainly Russian, moved to the city. Mostly they fled persecution in Russia and, despite Harbin's challenging conditions, they thrived, building two synagogues along the way. Many fled during the First and Second World Wars and the community dwindled with the last Harbin Jew dying in 1985 – but the synagogues still stand, and you can find traces of Harbin's Jewish history at the Huangshan Jewish Cemetery in Harbin's eastern suburbs.
Don't let the ice fool you. Come summertime, locals flock to the riverside, splashing in the Songhua River and lapping ice cream on the promenade. Temperatures reach the upper 20s°C – good enough to sunbathe, for sure. If you're here in warm weather, slather on sunblock and follow the crowds to Sun Island Park's shady gardens and highly splashable waterparks.
Siberian (or Manchurian) tigers prowl these parts. And 15km north of Harbin, conservationists are hard at work to help these snarling felines roar another day. In the Siberian Tiger Park, dozens of these mighty beasts stalk the grounds. First you board a minibus that rattles through the enclosures, with predators like shaggy lions and rare white tigers padding right up to the windows. Then you can amble at your own pace past tiger enclosures, as well as cheetah and the crossbred 'liger' (part lion, part tiger). Animal lovers may wish to look away while onlookers drop strips of meat through the fencing. A 'menu' outside the zoo advertises the option to buy live prey to feed the tigers, too.
"I took the daytime fast train from Beijing to Harbin, it cost around $60 USD for a soft seat and took around 11 hours from Beijing railway station. A soft sleeper is around $75, knock about 30% of these prices for the more-than-adequate hard seat or hard sleeper (I took the nicer one because my mother was with me!)
You can also take the bus, it takes around 13 hours and costs around $40. Because I was here during Chinese New Year the trains and buses were full and I got stung with a last minute flight back to Bangkok for $230, ouch. So try to book your bus/train tickets a week or so in advance if possible. I know on the road that’s often difficult so at least try to get the station a day or 2 before you leave." wrote a visitor to Harbin to a friend in Miami, Florida..