Harbin-China’s Winter Wonderland!
We had the opportunity to fly to Harbin (also spelled Haerbin), Heilonjiang Province, China, last weekend to attend the annual International Ice and Snow Festival there. This has been going on since 1963, with a break during the Cultural Revolution; it resumed in 1985, and has happened every January since then. “The Harbin festival is one of the world’s four largest ice and snow festivals, along with Japan‘s Sapporo Snow Festival, Canada‘s Quebec City Winter Carnival, and Norway‘s Ski Festival.” (Wikipedia) Other winter activities in the Harbin area include skiing in the mountains nearby and winter swimming in the Songhua River, which has to be cut open for this activity…this makes smelt fishing look pretty “cushy’!
Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, is in the northeast of China. Since we think the map of China looks like the profile of a “chicken,” Harbin is located at the “chicken’s head” or “face.” Its location is about 45 degrees North latitude, so it is about the same as Maine, but it gets strong winds from Siberia, so the average winter temperature is -16.8 degrees Celsius, or about 2 degrees Fahrenheit. It is not uncommon for it to drop to -35 degrees Celsius (-31 degrees F.)(Wikipedia).
So the snow and ice sculptures keep quite well. The festival officially starts on January 5th and is supposed to last a month, but it is so popular with tourists, it often lasts longer; that’s why it was still on when we were there. There was actually no snow, to speak of, on the ground, but there obviously had been plenty for making the sculptures back in December. You can see from the map, Heilongjiang is next to Russia, so it, and Harbin, have a strong Russian influence.
It was cold when we were there, around zero degrees Fahrenheit, so we bundled up and wore layers. As you can see from the pictures, there were many, many snow sculptures. Some were huge, the size of large buildings, and some were small. Many were comical, or had a serious message to them. They were carved from teams from around the world.
The snow sculptures were fantastic, as you can see, but it is the Ice and Snow Festival, so we went to see the ice sculptures that night in Zhaolin Park, when they would be lit up. The Chinese originally came up with the idea of making “ice lanterns,” where they would let water in a bucket partially freeze, pop the shell out of the bucket, carve a hole in the bottom and let the unfrozen water out, stick a candle in the hole, and VOILA! An ice lantern that the wind does not blow out! So later they said, when they had lights, “What if we put colored lights in, instead of candles?” Way-cool colored ice sculptures! The blocks they made resemble cement blocks, you can see through, as they are made of water.
The lit-up ice sculptures were beautiful and a real feat of engineering. We really enjoyed them.
The Russian influence in Harbin is everywhere, in the buildings, signs, and in the shops. There is a beautiful Russian Orthodox church named St. Sophia, that is one of the symbols of Harbin. We bought some fine Russian chocolate and some Russian vodka too.
The Sunday we left Harbin, it was warm…between 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit, with no wind. People were out in the square by St. Sophia, soaking up the sun and warmth.
A caption on one of the snow sculptures we had seen the day before summed up Harbin’s Ice and Snow Festival philosophy. It said, “Summer is for fun. Winter is for health.” So, enjoy your winter and stay healthy!