Saturday, February 16, 2013

Day Turns to Night in Harbin

(click on these pictures to see them full size!  So worth it!)

We had two more stops to make before we went off to our Hot Pot Dinner (which after the cold of the day and night, would VERY much be appreciated)

After we left the Siberian Tigers we stayed on Sun Island to see the snow sculptures. 

IMG_7778Yes, the Terrible Towel made it’s appearance as we entered.

We took buses to the far part of the park – here is one of the “buildings”  Well, buses is a stretch.  The SMART group took the closed-in coach.  Those of us who were slow, took the open air “buses”…but Corey and I sat facing backwards, so at least the wind was to our backs as we drove!


The carvings start as blocks of man made snow, and then somehow, an artist envisions something amazing, and proceeds to use chisels, sledge hammers, electrical saws and heaven knows what else to create something amazing.

OK, I did NOT get a picture of a block of man made snow.  Let me describe it.

It’s square-ish.  White.  Well, that about covers it.

SO. from that  (a white,cold, wet,  square),THIS is created:

IMG_7787Don’t ask me what it says…Well, it says CHINA…and I’m guessing something about a 19. 

More creations:

IMG_7788IMG_7786IMG_7785 Impressive!

We worked out way down to the “coffee” shop where “No Smoking” means no smoking for the paying customers, but the crew can do whatever the heck they want.

cough cough

We realized at this time our warmers had exhausted themselves and our feet and hands were pretty darn cold.  Corey had a particularly bad half hour until we got inside and reinforced our feet with fresh packs.

We all had coffee…many realized the trouble of using “squat” toilets with LAYERS but managed, and took our group photo


A few more pictures of us:


Then we took the “buses” back to the top of the park to get to our big bus.  Those of us who suffered through the open bus on the way down RAN to the enclosed bus this time.  Hey, we were slow once…never again!

We were now on our way to Ice and Snow World…the highlight of our trip to Harbin.  THIS is what Harbin is known for.

Our first glimpses:


It takes 10,000 workers 20 days, at 24 hours a day to dig blocks of ice from the rivers and build this World (lights and all).

Since this IS the main attraction of Harbin, the crowds are crazy.  I will admit that no one is permitted to unload their passengers in the street, so the traffic, while not good, is not made a million times worse by tour buses unloading less than sure-footed guests.

The BAD thing is we needed to walk to the entrance. Now, remember, no sand or salt.  Just ice that has been heated, iced, re-heated, re-iced from the cars and cold. 

And now it’s dark.

A member of our group named the walking technique “The Harbin Shuffle”

And a shuffling we did.

Diane (one of the leaders) got to hold the flag and “lead” our group forward


We stopped here for our next group photo:

IMG_7801 Yea…tough to tag the group. It’s too funny.  Many on the trip have said they can hardly identify themselves!

We are counted, recounted, then ushered into the Ice World.

IMG_7806This is the thermometer.  It says –24C (-13F).  Our Guide felt by the end of the night it would dip to –30C (pretty damn cold F)


Now we had been warned the whole trip to protect our cameras b/c the cold would drain a battery lickety-split. Our guide told us if it happened, to just put it away against our bodies, leave it alone, and it might come back. 

I managed a few pictures before BAM….mine went from full to dead in 10 shots

Here’s what I got:

IMG_7819IMG_7818IMG_7815 This is a big Ice Walkway Corey managed to work his way down.  I stayed on the packed ice outside.  I even lost him for awhile! (trust me, the place didn’t seem that big when he disappeared)

IMG_7822 This big Buddha shot was the last I got before the big fade happened.

We walked around the park and hired one of the “professional” photographers to take some pictures.  They are 20 RMB each (3 bucks maybe).  BUT…what they do is drag you ALL over snapping as many pictures as they can, getting  you to pose.  The thing being…the more THEY take…the more YOU buy!

So we indulged our lady for a bit, then LIED and signaled we had to go (no English here).  We were led into a mobile home like structure where CHAOS was ensuing. 

ALL of the “professional” photographers were jockeying for positions in front of computer monitors with the clientele close behind to review pics and put on the hard sell.

I am NOT saying anything terrible (and my ExPat friends will back me up, as will Eric our Harbin guide) by revealing that the Chinese like to PUSH.  They like to push  A LOT ! 

We have seen this in Hong Kong, been victims, have pushed back, but nothing prepared me for the havoc when commerce was involved.  HOLY  HECK

Our lady is particularly forceful (she must have sharpened her elbows before work that day…so even with the padding of her big coat she was a force to be reckoned with), and we made it to the front.

After pictures were straightened, etc, here are the words of English our photographer knew:  “Take All”  (14 shots) “you buy all”.  Realizing that the path of least resistance (to being OUT of there) was through our wallet, Corey quickly agreed. 

We mowed our way to the next area to pay, where then, our photographer was GONE, out to grab a few more tourists and get them to “buy all” (Can’t judge someone for trying to  make a living in THAT climate!)

The other advantage to being, well, us, is that we were the tallest in the joint, so the man who printed OUR pictures had NO trouble getting us our little package. 

Out we went, moving our way to the front of the Park.  By this time, (40 minutes) my battery had recovered and I was able to grab a few more shots before heading to the bus and dinner.

IMG_7825That’s Kobe on the Big Screen!

TIMG_7834IMG_7833IMG_7828 As we left:

IMG_7840 Parting Shot

Our time in Harbin was QUICKLY coming to a close. 

This night we went off to a Hot Pot dinner which was FABULOUS!  (Hot Pot is a meal which consists of boiling broth you get to cook all sorts of good things in!)

We did learn that when a guide or restaurant says “spicy” or “not spicy” we need to ask.

We went the “spicy” route and had an amazing meal.  Spicy meant “tasty” . Sadly, the group that said “no spice” did not have a nice meal.

OH!  and you want to know how they cool the beers us?

Yep, left them outside!


Ha-Ha-Ha-Harbin Day 2

(like Night One wasn’t cold enough!)

So are you sensing yet that Harbin is C O L D.??

Yes, it is.  But please know, it was one of the most worthwhile trips EVER…just because it is a location that if I had not come to Hong Kong, I would 

A) Never heard of

B) Never gone to (because I’d never heard of it)

C) Never would have been able to say “Harbin, SURE, I’ve heard of it, AND I’ve been there!” (I have no idea when THAT conversation would ever happen…but…)


We had a 9:30 start on Saturday morning.  Nice after a travel day.

All meals are included in our trips, and the spread at the Shangri-La was wonderful.  If you could not find something to eat there…you don’t eat food…anywhere.

Corey and I went back upstairs to “layer up” and start the day.

Our first stop was the Swimming.



Every day…and I’m not sure how many times a day, a group of crazy people step onto the Songhua River, in shoes and bathing suits…and jump or dive into the “pool” that is cut into the ice.

This takes that “New Year Polar Plunge” thing they do in Seattle to a WHOLE new level.

Let me set the scene.

We step off of our bus and work our way across the parking lot and sidewalks to a set of stairs that leads us past the slides (that’s later) towards the area where this swimming will take place. 

IMG_7694 This is before you go down the stairs.

Verrrryyyy carefully we made our way down the steps ( neither salt nor sand is used to help w/traction).  I side-stepped my way down the stairs (I was trying to avoid head injuries at all costs)

We got to the bottom of the stairs…and walk. It is only after quite a few steps you realize you have left land…and are now ON the river.


HORDES of tourists flood to the “hole” in the ice and stand around a fence.  We are 10 deep, jockeying for a good position to witness this insanity.

The Hole has to be constantly stirred to keep it fluid b/c if not, it would be back to river ice in a matter of hours!

The participants are older adults…in their 60’s and 70’s. Last year the oldest male was 88 and the oldest female was 75!

IMG_7671IMG_7670Here come the men!  You will see they wear shoes!  Because…well, it’s DARN cold and also, when they get out of the water, if they don’t, their feet will…yes, stick to the ice!


There is a crew (those are the smart ones in the pictures that are DRESSED), who’s job is to count the participants and make sure all that enter the water, exit the water. (Safety first??)

The group likes to perform, waving and urging the crowd to cheer them on! 


THEN…the ladies come…

IMG_7686IMG_7684IMG_7683IMG_7682 More waving more diving, more swimming (more craziness!)

We moved off to walk around, go down the slides, not fall!  It is so odd seeing the summer house boats parked…packed in by the ice.  I’m just not sure how the pressure of the river does not destroy them!

Corey and I slid down the ice slow (again, avoiding head injuries), then it was time to make it back to the bus. 

We found we had about a one hour window before feet and hands got uncomfortable.

Next we did a walking tour of the city (Friendship street).  We took pictures…and other tourists wanted to take pictures with us. (I didn’t get any with them, and I’m sad that I missed out).

Here I am wondering WHERE in CA is a “California Beef Noodle King U.S.A”

IMG_7702 There were stalls for nuts, and spices and other things I did not recognize.


We moved down to the river again (walking into the

IMG_7704 this was our destination.  This statue marks the floods that has hit Harbin over the years. 

On the river here are more “ice” escapades…snow mobiles, hover crafts, sled dogs (very sad).  There were also more ice structures. 


IMG_7713     IMG_7712 I thought the net covered with ice was pretty cool.

A group of 21 tourists catches the eye of the Nationals that are also touring.  There was very loud music…so some of the group decided to dance their way through the square.


OK.   THAT hour was up.  We went off to have an amazing “local” meal.  Our guide explained that local food uses more oil and salt…AHHHH, THAT’S why it tasted so good!  O I L (no food pics…sorry)

On our way we passed where we would be going in the evening:

IMG_7726 Just a quick shot from the bus…we would be back.  This is made from man-made snow from what I understand.

After lunch, we made our way to the Siberian Tiger Preserve. We went through part of the park by truck and the rest you move over a walkway to observe them. 

I was really looking forward to this part of our day.  From my previous travels you have seen I love going to reserves and zoos (good zoos, not sad stupid zoos like the one in Beijing).

We first got onto trucks where we jockeyed for position by windows for best shots.

IMG_7758 Just a little nibble …

IMG_7757HelllooooooooIMG_7742 Patrolling the fence line

IMG_7728 “You lookin’ at me??”

IMG_7761 “You’re boring…move on!”

There were all types of cats here. 


These guys were all hanging out. 

We moved off the buses to the “cages” where you could walk over the groups…and if you felt so inclined…could buy a chicken, or a goat, for the group to ummm…devour.

Now, don’t worry, these are all well fed and the Park is supplemented by the Government  for the preservation of Siberian Tigers. 

THIS part was for sport.

First, let me say, some people are just ignorant.  I saw this in Beijing when people would feed the animals through the cages, or throw candy bars to the lions….Here was no different.

One guy decided it would be fun to taunt the animals by holding out his glove…you know…play keep away like you do with a house cat.

IMG_7765 These Tigers are BIG.

IMG_7768 Now, he probably can’t grab you, but one person had already dropped a cell phone, and I’m not sure playing with the wildlife is so smart!

So, someone decided to buy a chicken to be dropped into the ring for the Tigers to grab:

IMG_7773 Here is the victim.  See the SMART person holding out his stuffed Tiger too?  The Tigers are circling below.

It is over very quickly…no pictures of this, I moved on, though I did see the victor enjoying his chicken nugget a little later:

IMG_7776 He was surprisingly left alone to eat.

In the summers you can come back and hold the babies.  Would LOVE to do that, but not sure I can get Corey anywhere NEAR this place again…even if it IS warm!

We continued our walk to see other Tigers.  It was soon time to once again get back to the bus.  We were moving on to the two big moments of the trip.  The Ice sculptures and Ice City.

The sun was beginning to set, and if possible, it was getting colder!