Cutting ice for a festival of sculpture
Farmers brave sub-zero temperatures on frozen Songhua River for 20 days to supply winter gala with raw materials
Every winter, an avalanche of visitors from home and abroad descends on the city of Harbin in Heilong jiang province to join the country’s biggest winter gala — the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival.
Up to 180,000 cubic meters of ice is expected to be used at the event, which features striking ice and snow sculptures.
As man-made ice often contains air bubbles and is not strong enough to carve, ice for the festival is sourced from the Songhua River running through the city.
More than 50 workers toil for almost three weeks each year to collect enough ice for the sculptors to work with. “The work is ver y strenuous and you soon get warm,” said Zhao Guo, 38, one of the ice collectors.
Harbin in early December is bitterly cold, with temperatures as low as -30 C. Yet Zhao wears only a thin padded jacket while he is working with the ice. He uses an electric saw to cut the ice into blocks measuring 1.6 meters by 800 cm, before employing a chisel to separate the blocks from each other.
Each block weighs about 700 kg and it requires a team of four to lift.
Sometimes, freezing water seeps into the workers’ shoes, but that is not their only concern.
On Ge Zhaojun’s first day cutting ice he fell into the river and had to sit by a fire for a long time before he could get back to work.
It might seem that the drivers of the trucks transporting the ice have it easier, but Yao Qingfeng doesn’t think so. “They are moving all the time, but I am just sitting here and freezing,” he said.
Despite the hardships, most of the ice collectors, who are farmers ordinarily, treasure the seasonal work.
For Zhao, whose farm only makes him about 30,000 yuan ($4,340) per year, the 5,000 yuan he can earn collecting ice for 20 days each winter is crucial for supporting his family and the education of his 12-year-old son.
This year’s festival starts on Jan 5 and is expected to end at the beginning of March, overlapping with the Chinese New Year and Lantern Festival.
Just don’t expect to see any of the ice collectors there, as most said they couldn’ t afford the 330 yuan entrance fee.
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An ice collector drinks water from the Songhua River.
Two collectors use an electric saw to cut the ice into blocks on the frozen Songhua River.