Harbin Survival Kits
Jacket & pants (recommend ski/ down)
Padded gloves (recommend ski gloves)
Wool socks (many extra pairs)
Threaded shoes - otherwise get them upon arrival. Price range approx RMB50/pair to RMB200/pair (well designed). Bargain hard. You can find plenty at the Zhongyang Dajie underground shopping area.
if you live pretty far away...
if you live pretty far away from china or harbin, i'd suggest you to take a flight,or if you perfer ships better, either one of them can take you to the land of wonder. or if there isn't any stright flights, you can stop by at begin first and than take another flight or just take a train.
i think the best way for travelers are to take taxis, buses are usually for citizens, or you can travel with tourists.
If you go to Harbin in December, before the Ice Lantern Festival in Jan/Feb, you'll get to watch as the sculptures come to life. Huge blocks of ice are transformed before your eyes into horses, dragons and the Olympic rings - just to mention a few.
By day the sculptures look impressive, with their size and detail. By night they truly come to life with the inner glow of the lights adding colour to what was a black and white picture.
Travel Notes from Harbin
"Exotic City of Ice"
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Despite having chance of traveling occasionally to Harbin for work, I would have not considered visiting this city in the freezing China Northeast if it wasn't for the Ice Lantern and Snow Sculpture Festival, that has raised up to international fame these days. Thus in my first January in China I decided to defy the cold and check whether I could survive at temperatures that to me, Southern Italian boy tempered in the steamy-hot weathers of Southwest US and Southeast Asia, would be a better fit for bears and penguins than human beings.
Mission accomplished, though I went very close to cause irreparable damages to my bodies trying to take photographs at -30 degree-C (If you are not familiar, do not underestimate how cold that might be). The Ice Lantern Festival is very well worth visiting though a little tacky, the ice and snow sculptures scattered all around the city are pleasant, for the rest Harbin is a lively and enjoyable city in an exotic landscape of snow and ice very in my mind well worth visiting even outside the Festival period.
"The Origin of Ice Lantern Festival"
The making of ice lanterns dates back to the Qing dynasty (1616-1911), when sculptors made "lanterns of longevity" out of 3-meter-thick blocks of ice, placing candles inside the sculpture. The lanterns looked like a crystal man and shone forth on the fifteenth day of the first month, according to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. At the lantern festival of 1962 Harbin held its first Ice Lantern Display and there were a thousand or so ice lanterns and other ice sculptures. Since then the display has become a regular event. In winter sculptors carve different objects from huge blocks of natural ice dragged out of the frozen Songhua River and the city becomes home of thousands of ice lanterns featuring castles, ice figures and stories, all in a world of ice. In recent years the Ice Lantern display has been couple with Snow Sculptures as well making Harbin's Ice and Snow Festival one of the most renowned in the world of its genre. The Festival starts officially on January 5 and last until the end of winter, when pieces of art begin to melt.
"The Show-business of Life and Death"
One of Harbin's major attractions, the Siberian Tiger Zoo, home of some of the few Siberian Tigers left today, is eliciting a controversial debate due to the "live feeding" practice implemented at the zoo. Tourists can buy live animals such as chickens, sheeps and even cows, throw them into the tigers' yard and watch the tigers eating them up. The argument is that there is nothing in this brutal practice about "wildlife", nor about the eternal fight for surviving between hunter and prey, as it has been captured in many documentaries; this is just a cruel show where preys don't even have the time to realize what it is going on and in few seconds are torn to piece by the tigers. You will find a on the internet a number of videos posted by enthusiastic tourists, if interested. I have read Harbin's zoo is not an exception and "life feeding" is well practiced in many Chinese zoos.
Harbin Street Scenes
One of the most common structures, in many ways, and in many cities in China, is the apartment building. These stand, an odd symbol of the place- not what you think of when you think "China" but inescapable in the cities.
What often in the west would pass as 'gay' doesn't do so in China and in many other places. Holding hands is an example of that, as are hot pink shirts on men, low v-neck shirts on men, tight pants and shirts on men, and other clothing styles that could be considered gay in the west. Western men may be oversensitive and homophobic in that regard, and while I can't say that they/we have reason to be so, I also can't condemn that thought. I won't be seen wearing a tight, hot-pink v-neck shirt any time soon, with tight, dark-blue, pre-faded jeans.
But here you also see men wearing dress shirt/pants, sports coat and athletic shoes. Nothing at all wrong with any of that. It's just one of those differences that we notice and appreciate for what it is.
Two girls found a comfortable place to sit and study. It is at a time like this when I would really like to be able to speak more- find out what they're studying... connect, instead of snapping from a distance and moving on.
"Other Side of the Tracks"
A rail line runs through Harbin, near where we live. Across those tracks is a world separate from the glitsy buildings of Haping Lu, the city center, and other fashionable or rich areas. Garbage in bags covers a few roofs, maybe as insulation. Overflowing dumpsters narrow the streets, junk is everywhere.
The glitz of the famed center street is the real China. The puddles of waste water, fortified with the runoff from the dumpsters is the real China. A woman in nice dress clothes and a Luis Vuitton purse (fake?) walks amidst the rubble, an odd addition to the scene, yet one which is often the face of much of China- no one really takes care of the public domain, but the private domain is as well-cared for as possible. Similar to Lithuania, where there is urine in the stairwells and spotless apartments.
One thing I have noticed about the Chinese is that they are more light-hearted than many people in eastern-bloc countries. I noticed in Romania, for example, that people were stern-faced much of the time, whereas in China, there are many people laughing and carrying on. Once you get to know the Eastern Europeans, they are more lively and spirited than they seem on the outside, but China just feels more lighthearted. This isn't to say anything against Eastern Europeans, it's just an observation based on admittedly little experience in Eastern Europe. (See the Albania and Lithuania page).
The sky is almost purple (not quite so in this photo due to white-balance issues) on the horizon due to pollution and the setting sun. It's quite pretty, though I'd hate to think what it means for our lungs. Approaching winter, the coal furnaces come slowly to life, boiling the water that heats (hopefully) every apartment and shack. The Lonely Planet said that breathing Beijing's air for one day is like smoking 70 or so cigarettes. I wonder what the air in Harbin is like?