It’s a cold time to be in northern China: the weather has been plummeting for days, covering the north with blankets of snow and bitter temperatures, and causing delays and power rationing in what’s shaping up to be one of the worst winters on record. Just the thought of such extreme weather sends most people shivering to their closets for extra layers: I, on the other hand, am packed and ready to go up into the wintry maw of Harbin for a fun and frigid romp through the annual Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival!
This weekend, Shanghaiist will become Harbinist as I trek through the elements to bring you a travelogue on all the fun and interesting things you can do in the lovingly nicknamed “Ice City.” I’ve already managed to unearth every single down jacket, wool sock and face mask in my closet for the trip, and from all the research I’ve been doing around the internet, it sounds like it’s going to be a great time: aside from the ice festival, Harbin has a very eclectic culture and history that’s just dying to be seen. In preparation for my trip, I’ve compiled a couple of fun facts about Harbin for your reading pleasure… thanks, wikipedia!
Although the name of the city means “a place for drying fishing nets” in Manchu, Harbin was founded in 1897 as a camp for Russian architects working on the Trans-Siberian railway: much of the original architecture is still around the town, lending the city an aura of history that more modernized cities around town could only dream of. After a ten year occupancy by the Japanese, the city finally became nationalized by China in 1946.
One of the better manifestations of the incredible Russian influence that still lingers in the city is Harbin Beer: built in 1900, the Brewery happens to be the oldest one in China, and produces arguably the best beer in the country. And like its fellow beer brewing city, Qingdao, Harbin also hosts an annual beer festival during the milder months. But so far, my favorite shocking fact is that Harbin was considered China’s fashion capital in the 1920’s, as the latest fashion from Paris and Moscow would always get there before it got to Shanghai.
Other reasons why Harbin is compelling? Well, the city is the tenth largest in China, boasting a population of 10 million on the books with another estimated four million migrants. And because it seems only state owned enterprises ever wanted to build up industry there, the city has been fairly untouched by modernization (at least by Shanghai standards): yet with such a large populous, it’s only a matter of time before economic modernization comes to town. Which means the heritage will slowly melt away, like the ice city come march or april.
Of course, If I really wanted to excite you, I could have just shown you this unbelievably gorgeous slide show from the Washington Post. Taking a look at the daunting size of ice and snow replicas of famous world heritage sites is surreal, even in pictures: who wouldn’t want to walk through the ruins of the coliseum fashioned out of something even more ephemeral than the coliseum itself?
And now that you’re excited, it’s a good time to tell you to that our coverage of the Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture festival is sponsored by Ctrip, the best place to find airfares in and around China. So, who wants to join me in Harbin?