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

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By TIAN XUE­FEI in Harbin and TANG YUE in Bei­jing

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.

Con­tact the writ­ers at tangyue@chi­nadaily.com.cn

PHOTOS BY ZHANG QINGYUN / FOR CHINA DAILY

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.

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