Find­ing win­ter won­der in Harbin

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - TWO CENTS - By Bre­anna Sher­lock

The longer I live in Beijing, the more I won­der if lov­ing the city life and en­joy­ing the win­ter sea­son may be mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive ideas. Win­ter in Beijing means smog, wind that hurts your face, and more smog. If it does snow, it falls onto the dirty streets and is never thick enough to en­joy look­ing at.

Win­ter is the only time of the year that I find my­self feel­ing truly home­sick. I miss walk­ing in the woods and wak­ing up to snow that is def­i­nitely go­ing to cause traffic prob­lems. There just isn’t enough win­ter won­der to be had in Beijing (that I’ve yet found), so with that in mind, last Jan­uary I gath­ered up some friends and headed to Harbin to see the world fa­mous ice and snow fes­ti­val.

The very first thing I no­ticed when we stepped off the train was that the air it­self was shock­ingly cold. I had just spent more than eight hours in a metal tube crowded with peo­ple and was nei­ther dressed nor men­tally pre­pared for the weather. De­spite this, the frigid air was a wel­com­ing re­prieve from the smog in Beijing. The city def­i­nitely took ad­van­tage of this fact with its beau­ti­fully lit dis­plays and build­ings.

We ar­rived at the ho­tel to a lobby full of por­ta­ble heaters and were very, very con­fused. Maybe the heat was bro­ken in some of the rooms. But no, it was just that cold. I had to sleep fully covered in my

quilted un­der­clothes with two pairs of socks and the thin blan­ket pulled all the way up to my nose!

I set out early the next morn­ing to do a lit­tle ex­plor­ing and found the lo­cal Har­bin­ers to be sturdy noth­ern­ers; gruff but not im­po­lite. The fa­mous shop­ping street was packed with both Chi­nese and for­eign tourists and was, for the most part, filled with food. There were wa­ter­melon-sized loaves of bread and fa­mous Harbin sausages in ev­ery win­dow. We de­cided to leave the main thor­ough­fare for lunch and found an eclec­tic lit­tle place that served up lo­cal food and, with its bois­ter­ous crowd, plenty of lo­cal cul­ture.

As the sun set, we crossed the frozen river on foot and made our way to the Ice and Snow Fes­ti­val. Most of the time, I felt as if my fin­gers, toes, and nose were go­ing to freeze and fall right off, but the in­cred­i­ble dis­plays made up for it all. There were an in­cred­i­ble ar­ray of sculp­tures from tra­di­tion­ally carved stat­ues, to snow sculp­tures and struc­tures built from blocks of solid ice. We man­aged to find a lit­tle space in the pop-up KFC to warm our feet, but just kept go­ing back out­side for more. Ev­ery time we took another walk around, we saw some­thing new. The fes­ti­val is truly a sight to see and def­i­nitely worth the frozen toes.

I was only able to visit Harbin for a day and a half, but it is def­i­nitely one of my fa­vorite ex­pe­ri­ences in China. Next time I’ll be sure pack plenty of hand warm­ers and maybe book my stay at a hot spring so I can re­lax in a hot bath af­ter a long day of ex­plor­ing Harbin’s frosty streets. My trip to Harbin will al­ways be a re­minder that win­ter can be en­joyed de­spite the tem­per­a­ture if you know where to look.

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