A Winter Disneyland-Discover Harbin
   2013-02-05 12:52:00    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Yangyang


By CRI Reporter Hai Peng

It sounds contradictory to suggest that somewhere in Northeast China that there's a "Disneyland" this time of the year. But once you are in the city of Harbin, everything seems to bring a fantasy to an otherwise freezing and monotonous life.

Indeed, Harbin offers you every bit of a winter wonderland with its massive snow sculptures, fleets of ice lanterns and jolly residents who enjoy ice cream in minus 25 degrees Celsius and bravely take polar bear plunges swimming in the Songhua River.

CRI's Shenting goes up north and tells us the many delights that a winter in Harbin presents.

We came here in mid-December, a time when the city had seen more than half a dozen strong snow falls.

The local people have a rather different winter calendar dotted with important dates and events. October 15 officially introduces winter to the city when central heating starts across town.
While mid-December ushers in the first phase of a grand winter carnival, the snow sculptures expo.

"Harbin made its name on snow and ice. We have wetlands in the summer, but snow sculptures and ice lanterns best capture the city's character. They built the city's name internationally and they are a good example of how the city makes use of its geographic advantages."

That was Miss Wangtao who has been working in the Harbin snow expo garden for more than 10 years. Organizing the Sun Island snow expo and the annual snow sculptures contest has given her an enormous sense of achievement.

"The Sun Island snow expo is a great showcase for the city's unique character. It's known as the birthplace of snow sculptures in China and pioneers the country's effort in developing snow culture, snow tourism and snow art."

Taking us on a tour around the park, Miss Wang takes her time to tell us about a top prize-winner in the national snow sculptures contest,

"This sculpture is called "Melt." From the waistline downwards are animals such as penguins and frogs whose habitats have been endangered by the ice cap melt caused by global warming; while over their heads are massive machines - symbols of the industrialization which is moving forward in leaps and bounds."

Though tourists by the thousands have been dropping by to check out the sculptures in on this sunny weekday, Miss Wang says the big days for them have yet to come. They are New Year's Eve and the Chinese Spring Festival.

If visitors find it a bit difficult to brave minus 30 degrees Celsius temperature to reach the Sun Island ice sculpture expo garden, they can see the ice magician's work close up from a window view.

The crisp sound comes from ice pieces falling from Si Guanchao's ice cutter. Guanchao and his younger brother Si Guanpeng are sculpting a massive chunk of ice the size of a two-story lighthouse on Central Street, a century-old pedestrian street which has now become a well-trodden tourist attraction in downtown Harbin.

"It takes four to five days to transport and build up the ice chunks. Then the rough cut can be done within three days. Inspiration matters though. If you have an idea, it helps you do it more quickly."

Guanchao also describes what it's like when a fleet of ice sculptures are lined up and illuminate Central Street and elsewhere once he and his 300-strong colleagues' work is done.

"All the ice sculptures will be installed with LED lights as soon as we finish cutting them. The sculptures will be hollowed out so that cables can be wired through them."

It sounds like the whole city is looking forward to embrace that moment when it suddenly reinvents itself as a fairyland. Yet the big moment's coming arrival doesn't stop many eager visitors from getting an early glimpse of this year's surprises.

Jiang Shaobing is taking a break from his work in South China's Guangzhou, Guangdong Province.

"Look, they made a sculpture of the Korean singer Psy. Not a bad piece of work. It's quite an idea, though. Everything here looks like a new world to me. Central Street, St. Sophie Church and more. I am also going to check out the Yabuli Ski slope."

The sculpture of Psy was prominent enough to impress any passersby with its size alone. A colossal ice chunk spans almost 10 square meters at a big traffic crossing and shoots 5 meters into the sky.
But the real experience that catches one's imagination is a visit to the "ice mines," where ice miners work around the clock to cut and transport ice chunks from the frozen ice mass capping the river to the shore.

Ma Changlong has been an ice miner for eight years, and tells us the scale of his work for the days ahead.

"This ice mine will produce thousands of ice chunks, each 80 centimeters wide and 160 centimeters long. Now we have almost taken all the ice in this area, but we have barely done one third of our work."

Standing on the ice in minus 30 Celsius doesn't offer much comfort to one's toes and ears. But just across the river, there are people who are looking for special cold treats.

Li Nan and his girl friend from southern China take delight eating ice cream in the freezing Harbin air.

"Wow, it's really cool. It's quite comfortable if you believe me. I guess we are just so happy being here."
Others seem to content themselves with tanghulu or sugar-coated fruit sticks, which don't feel that cold but nevertheless are a unique snack only sold in winter.

Young people's romantic ways seem to be universal but it takes a group of retired old people to really discover the willpower and strength that many Harbin winters have helped to cultivate in its people.

Ding Yumin, a 62-year-old retired train engineer told us he has been winter swimming for a good two decades. He is radiant with pride when talking about how his polar bear plunges have cured his arthritis.

"It's physical therapy. I used to work in the railways, driving the steam-powered trains. Arthritis is a common problem for many people who work in that profession. But after joining the winter swimming club, the symptoms gradually disappeared."

Ding adds that though most of his friends find it hard to believe that one's heart can survive such icy cold water, but many envy the comradeship this winter swim club offers.

With laughter and the noise of ping-pong games surrounding us, this cozy game room indeed makes one wonder how much more fulfilling could a retired life be.

For CRI, I am Shenting.




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