Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Harbin, part II - The Harbin Ice & Snow Festival

When we woke up, it was dark outside and I felt great after a lengthy nap. I asked Bryan if he was hungry and he said, "What? Are you kidding me?" Bryan is a big guy and he ate about five meals a day. We got ready as fast as we could and went out to hail a cab. A difficult effort, we discovered, during Friday evening rush hour traffic in this tourist town. We moved to different corners looking for the best spot and eventually landed and started making progress toward either dinner or The Snow & Ice Festival.

The city had undergone a miraculous change while we were sleeping. Everything was lit up like a never-say-die Christmas tree. The whole town was emphatically swathed in colored lights. Pink and magenta tree branches and swirled trunks, white-garnished doorways and green lightposts, blue hedges along the sides of the streets, red stars and unrecognizeable glowing figures, everything flashing and blipping in a strange decorative overzealousness contending with the city's restaurant and nightspot neon.

St. Mark's Basilica in Ice?We decided to head directly to The Snow & Ice Festival on the other side of the river first, and then return to find something to eat. Crossing the bridge, we could see the area for the festival which looked like a kind of ice Disneyland. Impressive! It was much bigger than any of us had anticipated. Upon arriving at the icy ticket booth, we weren't as happy to discover that the admission was a whopping 150 RMB! We weren't going back and we had come to see this spectacle so we paid and entered. We walked in and out of ice structures for about an hour, snapping pictures of the various ice renditions of famous places, and then headed for the exit, cold and hungry. I think we all enjoyed it. I would say it was unusual and I'm glad I saw it as I don't know if there's anything like it in the world, but I'm not sure I would recommend it...

Bilingual Vispo?We noticed a Russianish guard in Chinese military attire at the exit when we left and thought we would ask him if he knew where we could find a good restaurant, but he didn't seem to understand Chinese or English. We thought it was strange that there wasn't a Chinese guard at the exit, but he scooted us along without any help, seemingly distracted by his more officious tasks. Anyhow, we talked to a cluster of official Chinese military dudes in their wooly green duds with gold-starred epaulettes and such, and they directed us to a Russian restaurant. We hopped in a ready cab and motored there, and ordered a number of dishes after some debate. The food wasn't delicious, but it was sustenance. Tired and cold, we all returned back to the hotel.

The next day before leaving, we taxied quite a ways out of town to The Germ Warfare Museum, a former Japanese military compound in which various experiments were conducted during Japanese occupation. Something akin to a concentration camp. Unfortunately, we arrived at lunch time and were quaintly ushered through and not permitted to linger about longer than necessary. We returned to Harbin and had time to visit a couple of temples next to a Chinese amusement park which were interesting, but too new to really leave us feeling inspired.

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