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.
Get your photo taken by any of the few people holding posters with photos on them by the Flood Control Monument. I don't know how much they cost, but it may be better than handing someone your camera. They don't often bother me with my camera stuff, and aren't pushy as touts, but hey, if you want a souvenir photo, they'll do it for you.
The Chinese seem to like flying kites. It's restful, peaceful and fun, though I've watched them do so around power lines and wasn't too happy... anyway, near the flood control monument you can rent or buy kites to fly. I've never fully understood "kiting", or whatever it's called, but they enjoy it and it's a great entertainment for kids as well.
In the warmer evenings, locals hang aroud the flood control monument at the riverside. Vendors sell sparklers and various other things as well, even into late October.
Sparklers may just be more expensive for tourists, but you might want to haggle the price down (2 RMB is what we were quoted).
Consumerism has taken China by storm. In Harbin's city center, there is a pedestrian mall, who's name escapes me right now. But it is lined with clothing shops, restaurants events, vendors and lots of locals and some Russians shopping or just looking. At the end of the pedestrian mall (northern end) is a statue that is a popular place to hang out, especially since it's close to the riverfront. The riverbed is wide, but the actual river itself is, at least in the late summer/early fall, a great deal smaller. So the rest of the river bed on the main city side is used for various purposes.
Many people rent and fly kites, some send paper lanterns off into the evening sky, kids play with large sparklers, adults and lovers walk. Some people watch karaoke performances while eating from the vendors. Others watch in-line skaters weave effortlessly around cones on the sidewalk just up the stairs from the river.
In the evening, once it gets dark, there seems to be some sort of light show from the other side of the river... there are a bunch of bright spotlights that turn on and move around and change colors. Kind of neat.
It's a nice place to walk, along the river. You can take cruises up the river as well.
The pedestrian mall is also a nice place to walk, though if you walk the whole thing you'll have to cross at least two vehicular streets.
There are also two malls, one partway down the pedestrian mall, one called the Euro Plaza or something and the other at the end of the street, left side, but I don't know the name. Each has more shopping, restaurants and movie theaters, though the movies are all in Chinese.
It's worth a stroll down this pedestrian street.
One of the popular places of relaxation for Harbin youth, at least, seems to be playing games in internet cafes. I assume this is all over China and the world, as well.
Enter the Danube Net Bar to behold a poorly ventilated smoker's paradise, with a semi-futuristic decor, where the air hurts to breathe and sickens the gut. Keeping your eyes open while staring for hours at computer screens is hard enough, but throw in smoke and they burn even more.
That said, the Danube has a good and fast connection, as did the other internet cafe we went to farther down Haping Lu, and large, comfortable chairs to entice players to sit and stay a while. A long while. The price is reasonable, I believe 2.5 yuan per person per hour, and there seem to be multiple floors (at least two that I've seen) with many computers (about 100 on the first floor alone.) You can buy drinks (mostly non-alcoholic), eat, smoke and enjoy.
I discovered the hard way that if you invite chinese people out to dinner you are expected to pay. However, in my particular experience the cost of dinner for 20 people at hotpot including beer was 500RMB so it is not going to break the bank and your chinese friends will love you forever.
Thinking about the misunderstandings which happen between speakers of US and UK English? Well it also happens with reading the Chinese Characters among Chinese and Japanese (even though the language is different of course)! In a travel situation we can more or less communicate with a notebook and pen, writing the characters.
Here is a popcorn stand, where the characters gave us the impression of meaning mean "Exploding Rice Flower". Also At Sun Island Park, the characters of "Squirrel Island" gives the nuance of "Pine Rodent Island" to Japanese. I didn't think I want to pet or feed the animals after reading that.
Another anectodal examples we heard or saw:
1) Character combination of "hand" and "paper". In Japanese "Postal Letter", and in Chinese "Toilet Paper".
2) Character combination of "most" and "low". In Chinese "Cheapest", and in Japanese "Worst".
Mostly older people practising their calligraphy writing poetry or proverbs or whatever. The script I did see was quite lovely by obviously accomplished calligraphy artists. The brush holding and calligraphy writing involves breathing techniques so they say it promotes health and longer life. One gentleman seems to have a good idea to control the sway of the brush by recycling a PET bottle! The cutest was a little girl seen showing off her skills too!
We were in Harbin over the new year celebrations. Many people go and pray and make offerings on new years day.
There is actually 2 large temple complexes next to one another. The old one and a newer one (you have to pay to get in about 20 reminbi ip/p think). Worth it even if your not religously inclined as the big buddha is very impressive and the out buildings are lovely.
Hardy folk, these Harbin people. They take particular pleasure in diving into the Songhuajiang in the middle of the winter. This task is not as easy as it sounds, as first of all, it is necessary to cut a hole in the thick ice (Thick enough for loaded trucks to drive on it).
Then ladders are put in place to help the swimmers get out.
The brave swimmers lumber up on the ice for ten minutes - itself no mean feat when it is -20 degrees C. Then with a great flourish they dive head first into the murky black water,swim up and down for a couple of minutes, before climbing out to continue their exercises.
This is such a popular event that they construct grandstands and changing rooms out on the ice.
Although ice swimming is done in several places, the best known is 100 metres out from the river-bank near the Flood Control Monument at Stalin Park.
The winter climate is so cold that roadside stalls do not need refrigerators. Ice creams, meat, milk and other foods normally kept in a freezer are just left outside on a shelf. It is quite bizarre to see ice-lollies just sitting next to the chewing gum, cigarettes and biscuits.
So how exacty do they get the huge of blocks of ice to make the sculptures that are found all around the city? The river obviously, but also from the other lakes and streams in the cities many parks.
They use a wheeled machine with a circular wood saw attached to a small two-stroke engine. However, if you think about it, it's not al quite as simple as you might think. It's easy enough to cut downwards, but not across. Local knowledge, handed down by generations of ice-cutters tells them when the ice is just thick enough so that it is the right 'height'. A micture of machinery and what might be called indigenous knowledge.
In the commercial heart of Harbin, the only way to cross major arteries is to go underground.
You go through heavy dark quilted curtains that keep the cold out and you're in a large underground mall. By then you've turned a few times, so you don't remember which way you want to go before you go back to the surface. It's a game of chance. If you don't read Chinese (and I only speak) you can't tell where you are without climbing all those steps back up...
People in restaurants, hotels, shops taxi's and so on do not expect to get a tip, so don't. The prices aren't that cheap and include their salaries.
If you ask somebody a question and he reacts with a big smiles before replying, it means he does not agree to you request.
If, as a western person, you hear chinese talk together, you might think they are having a fight. That is not the case, its their normal way of talking. If they are talking very quietly, watch out!
In China, it is forbidden to spit on the ground. Even so, everybody does it. Watch out for your shoes.
Queueing: I allways thought that Chinese where so polite! Not so in queueing: Get there first, get there fast, the more balls, the quicker you get to end of the queue. If you politely wait as you are used, everybody will get past you.