Harbin-China’s Winter Wonderland!

Amazing giant snow sculpture

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’!

St. Basil’s Cathedral in snow

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.

Frosty and his family

Barbara & her “cool” friends

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.

Title: “In the same boat”

Snow “Big Mac.”  Title:  “Wasting Away,” with caption,”Our sculpture is based on modern day consumerism. The burger represents human consumption and the greed of modern society.” Team U.K.

Frozen kiss

Frozen kiss in shadow

Through the eye of a sculpture

Many sculptures to see

Sculpture called “Pulling the radish”

a snow excavator

Russian snow village

Tom (the dragon) battling “battling dragon.”

the whole view of the largest sculpture

Even the coffee shop was a snow sculpture! Iced coffee, anyone?

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.

N-ice house!

Green ice camels…one hump or two?  I’ll get “Bactrian” to you on that…

A n-ice blue pagoda

Barbara & friend Barbara “chillin’ out.”

B & B at the ice “moon-door”

Colorful ice wall with strobe lights in windows…Freaky!

Traditional “stone boat” made of ice and lights!

Barbara & Tom at Ice Bar…the waiters were icy, service was cold!

Entance to ice hall

Traditional Chinese gate made of ice

Temple of Heaven reproduction in n-ice colors!

A few ice sculptures with color added

Close-up of light in ice-column

The lit-up ice sculptures were beautiful and a real feat of engineering. We really enjoyed them.

Not to leave commercialism out…have an ice-cold Coke!

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.

When you want to get “blasted”!!!

This is also good…it’s what they used to preserve Lenin!

St. Sophia Russian Orthodox Church

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.

Ahhhhhhh…beach weather!

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!


19 thoughts on “Harbin-China’s Winter Wonderland!

  1. We visited the Harbin festival during the year that Kit was in Dalian and it is one of the coolest things, literally and figuratively, that I’ve ever seen. Andy and Kit also have some great stories about a night out at a Harbin bar full of Russians. Man, it was cold there!

  2. Thanks for the comment. We had such a good time in Harbin. We’re sure you did too! Hope plans are going well for next year. We are headed back to Maine in July.

  3. Thanks, I needed that.. Not a flake of snow or a piece of ice has been spotted in this part of the world

    Aside from the ice sculptures, I couldn’t help but notice the picture of Barbara doing her impersonation of Nixon.

    And could that be the infamous Barbara Gilmore?

    Enjoy the rest of your time in China. The exciting city of Bowdoinham awaits.


    • Actually Barbara is doing the “Asian photo-op salute”…most Asians do not know who Nixon is/was…even with his groundbreaking visit to China! Yes, that is, in fact, Barbara Gilmore, who visited us for a week in Suzhou, and braved the cold of Harbin, before returning to the Midwest last Monday. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. Hi, Thanks so much for the beautiful photos. It reminded me of my childhood and the St. Paul Winter Carnival….they have sculptures too…but on a much smaller scale. Looking forward to seeing you when you come home to Bowdoinham/Eastport. Until then, enjoy every last minute you have there!

  5. YOUR BEST YET—Especially of BARBRA among the snow balls—It is like Disney with the color—Saw the coffee sign but no Santa and reindeer—when you start your lecture tour the children will love this—BRAVO Stay well and bring me a birthday present—DON’T ASK LUV JIM—Web now under construction— http://www.jimspitzerart.com

    • There is a certain “Disney-esque” quality to what the Chinese do…perhaps it’s the sheer scale of it all…you think, how could there be more? And there is always more! Thanks for the comment.

    • We didn’t see it…however we didn’t go to the big Ice World near to the Snow Sculptures on Sun Island, needed one more day and RMB 300…maybe it was there…or maybe it got drunk? You weren’t there this year before us??? Thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. N-ice! What an exciting festival. You both looked very happy – and a bit rosy-cheeked. Was it the cold or the vodka?? Tom, your puns were really “cool” as well.

    • We were rosy-cheeked from the cold…the vodka was later…except for one “shot” in a restaurant! Glad you enjoyed the “pun”-ishment!
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • We are here in China until June…so we felt we had to go and see this before we left! It was so worth it! And like other Chinese things…we couldn’t even get to see it all…too much for the senses!

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