Burning for the Dead
During holidays such as Friday, April 4, the Chinese remember the dead- those from wars, as seen in the war memorial outside our apartment window, and on the streets and sidewalks where people burn special paper, money (largely fake) and gold-colored foil in piles. Some burn on the sides of the road, some opt to burn in the roads... I guess they really want to get close to the dead. Regardless, walking down night streets lit by sodium vapor lamps and small fires is a great experience.
Harbin Train Station is not far from Central Mall Street. The train station has many ticket sales counters and it would be prudent to book your tickets at least 3 hours in advance. You can book your tickets through travel agencies which adds 10 RMB of the ticket fare prices / ticket or you can make a trip to the train station to book your ticket in advance. Might be a good idea to make a trip there after visiting Sophia Church or Central Mall as the station is nearby to these attractions.
Getting to the train carriages involves a long walk through underground passageways and long platform.
Nearby to the train is the private bus terminal station. Brokers (touts) are on hand at the station to offer bus rides to other cities or interstate travel. Be advised that that is not fixed schedule for these buses and the wait can be frustating while the bus operator tries to pack passengers into the coaches like sardines. Aisles in these coaches are also utilised for additional siting capacities. The only thing the bus operators will assure you is the travelling time.
Taxis are in abundance outside the train station with a short walk. Go metered fare if you are travelling within Harbin. Metered Fares should be in the range 8-15 RMB. It is common practice for the taxi driver to call someone about where you are going, so don't be too concern.
This street, open only to pedestrians, is possibly the best kept street in China.
Its part of the Russian cultural heritage of the city, the buildings are all preserved and its quite fantastic.
Its called the Golden road because when it was built they used kiln fired bricks and the cost of one brick was enough to keep a Chinese family alive for a month!
Taiyang Dao - Sun Island Resort (Snow Sculptures)
In the summer, Taiyang Dao is a huge open parkland, where Harbin people come from the day to get away from the city.
I is quite thickly forested with beech, larch and birch trees, and at any time of the year, walking through the forests here is pleasant. Kids love it.
But it is during the winter that this place really lights up, as it is the home for the Annual International Snow Sculpting Festival.
The Festival actually creates a large number of quite small sculptures (about 2 metres square), because presumably the competitors all work from a standard block of snow.
Near the entrance, there are a group of maybe eight vast sculptures that are just awesome. The first reaction is that these simply cannot be sculpted from snow. Frustratingly, we were so amazed by one - of King Neptune riding a chariot among nymphs and dolphins - that we completely forgot to take a photograph of it!
Among the trees, previous years snow sculpture winners have been immortalised by being cast in concrete, a clever way to sustain the art for ever.
In the park, several snow houses have been created, and inside you can get coffee or hot chocolate (served in soup bowls). It still puzzles me how they can keep these buildings warm without the snow melting.
Just to the north of the sculpture competition area is a frozen lake, where you can try your hand at all kinds of activities, including sledding, sleigh riding, tobogganing and husky dog rides.
This place really does live up to the cliche of being a winter wnderland. However, be warned that this place does seem to be even colder than anywhere else we visited.
They have a fairly good website in Chinese, but the photos should give you an idea of what the park is like. Yes the website is the standard Chinese design with every element bouncing, flashing and moving about the page (and oh....the appalling music!!! Aaaargh!!!!), but it does show you the sculptures!
"Central Avenue or Zhong Yang Jie"
Central Avenue or Centre Street is in the centre of old Russian Harbin and is the most upmarket part of the city. At night there is a festive feel to it. I bought my Russian style winter cap in a shop here. It was not only a souvenir, but a handy thing to have on winter days!
"Kites by the river"
From the top of Centre Street all along the river people fly kites. We have been to Harbin in mid April and mid May and both times saw a hughe display of kites. There may not seem to be a lot of difference in those dates, but the early visit was still winter with the river frozen, while a month later was a mild spring.
The best thing to do in Harbin is to walk about with your eyes and camera open. A common sound in Harbin is the loud bang which emanates from a popcorn machine. The popcorn seems to pop all at once resulting in a small explosion. These very primitive looking devices can be seen ... and heard, everywhere.
"Taking it all in"
Another common sight are "goods vehicles" ranging from donkeys, small moped driven vans, and bicycles like the one pictured. There are all sorts of these, most looking very homemade.
"Florist Shop -beware"
The floral arrangement is beautiful - but note, they are not so careful as in the west of getting rid of "wee beasties" before they sell them. Although my grandsons would have loved the giant caterpillar hidden in our bunch of flowers!
"Yes it snowed while we were there"
Harbin's dry season is in the winter, so scenes like this, we were told, are rare. According to the news report it was the worst snowfall in 50 years!
"A back street scene"
This would make a good photo for a writing class - write a short story based around this photo.about
Harbin had a number of cake shops not dissimilar to those found in the west. I believe this is at least partly due to the Russian influence in Harbin.