Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Saturday, February 10, 2018 09:13:07|
China, Thailand to Singapore 2018: 2 Harbin China for snow and ice festival
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
Harbin, located far north in Manchuria, is one of our favorite cities in China. It has wide, well organized streets with miles of pedestrian shopping streets, varied architecture, love of the arts and friendly people. The population of the city core is about 5,454,000, and the greater area has almost 11 million. The 2000 census showed 8,796,610 Han Chinese, 433,340 Manchu and 119.883 Koreans as the major population groups.
Human inhabitants have been detected from 2,200 BC, but it remained a small village until 1898 in spite of having been the capital of the first four Jin Dynasty emperors in the 1100s. In the early 1900s Russia financed the China Eastern Railway to connect the Trans Siberian Railway with Vladivostok. In 1904-5 Harbin was a Russian military base for the Russo-Japanese war in Manchuria
The 1913 census showed a population of 34,313 Russians and 23,537 Chinese as the largest resident groups. In 1917 over 100,000 White Russians fleeing the Communist revolution moved to Harbin. In 1924 the railway ruled they would employ only Russian or Chinese nationals, so most of the 120,000 Russians chose Russian citizenship. In 1931 the Japanese captured Manchuria after an agreement with the last of the Manchu emperors.
In 1935 the Russians sold the railway to the Japanese, and there was a mass migration of Russians back to Russia where 48,133 of them were arrested and sent to gulags in Siberia. When Soviet army captured the city in August 1945 they forced many resident Russians to return to the Soviet Union before handing it over to the Chinese Communists, making the 700,000 population city the first major city to come under Chinese Communist rule. By 1964 there were only 450 Russians left in Harbin.
Harbin is a major city in agriculture due to its nutrient rich black earth, the second largest producer of pharmaceuticals in China, a manufacturer of aircraft, automobiles, electronics and chemicals. It has a number of universities and a major medical college, The symphony orchestra, created in 1908 was China's first, and it had the first music school in the country. In 2010 UNESCO gave Harbin the title “ The Music City”.
Today had a leisurely start. Marilynn had dirt in her camera, so we hired a taxi to take us to a repair shop about half and hour away. When she opened the door of the taxi the camera fell onto the pavement, damaging her expensive lens. Fortunately the shop was able to repair the lens with replacement parts and do the cleaning in about an hour, for a total bill of about $75 – an amazingly low price.
We were then driven to Sun Island to see the dozens of huge snow sculptures by artists from around the world. An electric train got us to the main area which had a concentration of massive sculptures towering over a frozen lake where people were moving around on a variety of skate equipped vehicles, some peddle powered and others by using ski poles. There was also a large toboggan run with various chutes.
We stopped at a snow building shaped like a log cabin where I had a hot milk tea, and we all thawed out while having a rest. The temperature was in the minus 20s C today, but we have been blessed by clear blue skies and sunshine. We decided to walk back to the entrance to see some of the many other snow sculptures scattered throughout the large park.
Our same taxi driver had waited for us in the parking lot for the entire 3 or 4 hours we were there. He drove us back to the hotel where the charge for the entire day of driving and waiting was only 200 yuan, about $32 - last night's taxi was only $5.
We had a drink in the hotel bar before walking to a famous dumpling restaurant about 3 blocks from the hotel. Marilynn was less impressed with the meal, but Lifeng and I love Harbin dumplings. We had 3 different plates of 12 dumplings each. Fried dumplings are somewhat similar to “pot stickers”, but throughout Manchuria each city is proud of its own type of dumpling. After dinner Marilynn and Lifeng went for desert at a pastry place, then shopped their way home. I'd eaten far to many dumplings, so headed back on my own. We had shut all heat off in our hotel room, so had a comfortable temperature for a good nights sleep.
Thursday, February 8, 2018
Our trusty taxi driver was waiting to take us to the Tiger Reserve at about 11 AM. We were here in the summer on our last trip, but this was done differently because of the larger number of tourists during the winter. We were in regular size buses that departed frequently, all outfitted with a row of outward looking seats on each side, giving everyone good photo opportunities. The park now has over 1,000 Siberian Tigers, including some of the rare white ones. There is also an area of African Lions, who must sleep indoors at night.
High fences divide different parts of the park, with remote control gates to permit vehicles to move through. The tigers were all fat and puffy with their winter fur. When some of the Chinese on the bus put up money to buy a couple of live chickens to release among the tigers, the tigers were well enough fed to be inclined to play with them like a house cat may do with a small bird, rather than devour them. It was interesting to see how comfortable the big cats were with the sub zero temperatures. They were laying around on the snow oblivious to the minus 20 C temperatures.
Next was a short drive to the City of Ice, the symbol of the ice festival. We had expected a lot from the photos on the web, but no photo could do it justice. The layout was not of organized streets, but rather of districts of buildings or ice sculptures, with winding passages between them. The creations for the international ice sculpture competitions were truly amazing, and full sized buildings, castles, forts, cathedrals all of ice towered over us. Scattered around were heated places with washrooms and food. Even Pizza Hut and KFC had locations in the ice city. We had snacks and hot drinks in Pizza Hut fairly soon after we arrived, then dinner at a branch of the same dumpling restaurant we ate at last night. The warm breaks were appreciated, as a stiff wind brought the temperature down to around minus 30 C.
While in the dumpling restaurant we watched the sun gradually set behind an ice palace, back lighting the building. It was dark when we ventured outside again, and the whole place had been turned into a fairyland on steroids. Every building, sculpture and wall was illuminated, usually from within, in brilliant rainbow colours. Many had lights that changed colours continually, some towers had lights that seemed to move up and down the height of the building. It is no use trying to describe it, it is a place that must be seen to be believed! We were in awe.
My knee prevented me from climbing some of the ice castles and towers that Marilynn and Lifeng had no problem with, so I just kept on the move below, or sought sheltered corners from the wind. Once we were all getting cold, we retreated to where again our trusty driver had waited for us in his taxi. This being close to a full day the charge was 350 Yuan, or about $63. Back at the hotel we were not long getting into bed, having walked for several miles.
Thursday, February 8, 2018
After the high excitement of the last two days, today was a bit of a disappointment. We first went to the Unit 731 museum. This was the largest biological warfare research center of the Japanese during WWII. Prisoners of war or captured spies were given many diseases, or used to test grenades and flame throwers while tied to posts. In all over 3,000 people died a horrible death here.
The next stop was the site of the original Jin Empire, which eventually captured large parts of Russia, all Korea and all China. The museum outlined the lives of the four first emperors that were based here, before the capital was moved to Beijing. The actual site of the capital is just a field with mounds where important buildings lay buried.
We got little else done, as the express highway back to Harbin central was closed and we had to crawl along back roads congested by other vehicles deprived of the fast highway. We stopped to buy some wine to accompany tonight's dinner before being dropped back at the hotel. Here restaurants have no problem with opening wine and providing glasses as long as you are eating there.
The walk to the restaurant was along the uplifting, illuminated Zhongyang Pedestrian Street that goes from the hotel to the river. This restaurant specializes in pancakes, which are thinner than even crepes, and eaten rolled up after filling them from a variety of dishes ordered separately. On the way home we all had a rum flavoured ice cream on a stick, another tradition of the area.
It will be an earlier breakfast in the morning as our flight to Beijing will be at 10:45 AM.