Ice Lantern Festival 1
Olympic Friendlies welcome visitors in Zhaolin Park
This is the second of two blogs featuring my visit to Haerbin/Harbin in Heilongjiang Province in the NE of China. As previously stated, the main attraction for me to venture into these frozen realms during the coldest Chinese winter in 50 years, was to experience the Haerbin/Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival, a series of gala events involving ice and snow carving art.
The Ice and Snow Festival came into being in January of 1985. Initially the main events were the Ice Lantern Festival in Zhaolin Park and surrounding streets (particularly Zhongyang Dajie and the waterfront parks) and the Snow Sculpture Fair on Sun Island (a recreational area situated on the northern banks of the Songhua River). The festival lasted for about a month or so up until around Chinese New Year/Spring Festival Holidays. In 1999, this annual celebration of winter was augmented by the addition of the Harbin Ice and Snow World, this mainly being a vehicle for showcasing ice architectural art- not to mention the technical wizardry of lights and razz-a-ma-tazz that the Chinese love so much! Originally a Chinese only affair, in recent years, cooperation with other “Ice & Snow Cities” around the world (eg Sapporo in
Snow Sculpture Festival Sun Island 1
Some of the sculptures must have taken weeks to construct!
Japan and Montreal in Canada) has meant it is now truly an International event. Some say it is the best of the lot! There has even been a name change to the Haerbin/Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival to acknowledge the broadened appeal of this special celebration.
Many visitors spend only 2 or 3 days in Harbin, rushing around like “blue-arsed flies” as we say in Oz. You know the itinerary. Day1 Arrive, check in , check out tourist pedestrian street, look at river, dinner in “typical” Russian café/restaurant, Ice lantern Festival in Zhaolin Park etc. I had about 6 days and I wasn’t rushing anything. Due to the cold I could only bear to be out and about for about 4 hours at a time. After that it was just too uncomfortable. this was despite my 5 layers of clothes on my upper torso, 3 layers on the lower torso, 3 pairs of thick woollen socks, goretex hiking boots, 2 pairs of gloves, scarf, beanie and down hood! Hans your spare pair of thermal underwear was absolutely a life-saver! In the end, I was lucky I could fit my outer clothes over the top! However, at times
Snow Sculpture Festival, Sun Island 2
Flowing hair realistically reproduced here in one of my favourite sculptures. It only took up a small part of an enormous sculpture featured later in this blog!
I felt like I was playing that Sumo wrestling game where you where a big inflated costume!
I have displayed the photos into 3 basic groups highlighting the displays at the three major venues involving the different aspects of the Festival. Unfortunately my poor camera was on its way out and the battery struggled to cope with the intense cold, so the photographic results are not at the standard I would like them to be. Still they give you a feel for what was a very worthwhile break away before flying off to Oz for my annual summer break! (Should you wish to view some inspirational photographs, I would recommend a look at http://www.rtoddking.com/index.htm. This gentleman is a professional photographer and has some stunning photos on his site.)
Firstly, The Ice Lantern Festival in Zhaolin Park. This is a more traditional display of Ice lanterns, ice sculptures with lights embedded into them for display at night. The park is open during the day from 9am-3pm (27RMB ad/14RMB child) and then reopens at 4pm until 9 pm for a second (more expensive) session (55RMB ad/27RMB child). Lights start to go on from about 4.30pm. I recommend to save
Snow and Ice World 1
The third and final venue for the Snow & Ice Festival displays. Impressive show of lights after sunset but I couldn't help thinking "How much power is being used here?"
your visit for the afternoon, as you get a brief look at the sculptures in natural light and then again as the coloured lights come on, all for the one price! There are also numerous ice sculptures around town (as featured in my earlier blog) which are free. Although I enjoyed and appreciated the entries, I was a little disappointed by the fact that weather had definitely taken its toll on many of the sculptures, as a lot of the initial detail seemed to have been lost. I was told that even though the official opening date for the big event was January 5, the sculptures had been on display since late November/December. That explained it!
Secondly, The International Snow Sculpture Art Fair on Sun Island. This was my favourite by far. I had spent a few hours here earlier in my stay, to “rece” the place and generally wander around, but not go into the event itself, by walking across the frozen waters of Songhua River. This time, however, I decided to try to use public transport to fit in 2 major activities, breaking my (very loose) rule of focus on one major “must see” in a
Ice Lantern Festival 2
Entrance to Zhaolin Park before sunset. The "gates" are made completely of blocks of ice cut from the Songhua River.
day, and good luck if I get to see/do more. Well, needless to say I spent hours trying to navigate to where I wanted to go first (very recent changes to bus routes, road conditions and a lack of English/my lack of Chinese all contributing!) so I arrived at Sun Island at least 2hrs later than I intended. Such a shame, but it was still a great exhibition. It had a hefty 120RMB ad/60RMB child ticket price, but you can stay all day from 8am until it closes around 5.30pm. If you can stand the cold, that is! Money well spent.
The third venue was the Ice and Snow World, also located to the north of the Songhua River. It is accessible by public transport from downtown Harbin, but you need to fight your way across several lanes of highway traffic travelling at break-neck speed! Not for the feint-hearted! This is the most expensive of the three venues at 150RMB ad/75RMB child. It is officially open from 9am and closes at 10pm with the ticket office being open for ticket sales from 8.40am - 9.40pm. Again, I thought I would be clever (and frugal) and go mid-afternoon and
Ice Lantern Festival 3
The Ice Lantern Festival has two opening sessions, one during the day and one just before sunset when the lights in many of the sculptures are lit up. I timed it so I caught the last of the afternoon sun and watched as the lights were turned on. Here the snow slide operators are just getting ready for night business.
stay until about 6pm to see the lights. I had heard great things about this Ice Spectacular. Well, to be honest, I was somewhat disappointed. It didn’t help that I spent 45 minutes walking the whole perimeter of the place after I couldn’t find an open window at the ticket office and hence was told I needed to go “that way” a number of times until I reached the point from where I started! The gate guards finally roused the girl to open a ticket window so I could buy a ticket just to get in. Bad start!
Finally inside, I found it was really small. It took me less than an hour to see what I wanted and half the sculptures had green netting on them to protect them from the sun (bad for photography). I couldn’t even entice a group of primary school kids on an excursion to have some photos or chat with me (via their teacher of course)! That’s a first in China! Also it seemed than none of the venues were open, no vendors, couldn’t even have a cheesy horse carriage ride. It seems that people mainly come in the evening for the
Ice Lantern Festival 4
Light was failing but as the lights came on it was possible to appreciate the beauty in this elegant sculpture.
lights. During the day I guess they’re doing their whirl-wind tour of Sun Island, Siberian Tiger Park etc. I loved the fact I had the place almost to myself (a blessing in China!), but, there was nothing to do and it was a long time until sunset and I was freezing cold! Am I starting to whine? A friendly old guy invited me into one of the coffee shops to wait it out. Even they were not in business until after 3 pm. Still he was very hospitable and moved a small heater close to my table to help me warm up a bit. He was very patient with my appalling Chinese and his friendliness certainly helped to improve my mood! That and my slowly thawing body!
After about 1.5hrs, I ventured out as the vendors had started to set up, the sun was going down and the green netting was being removed. Unfortunately, the crowds were starting to arrive as well! Still , I thoroughly enjoyed my last hour or so, and was able to chat with a number of people, so all was not lost. Finally headed off to go back into town and buy myself a
Ice Lantern Festival 5
Another elegant ice sculpture all lit up!
warming meal at one of the little cosy cafes! I’d had enough for one day.
Haerbin/Harbin has many other things on offer in addition to the few highlights I have described in this series of two blogs. One of these is the above-mentioned Siberian Tiger Park, located a few kilometres north east of the Ice and Snow World. Although a very popular item on most people’s itinerary, I am wary of such parks/reserves where so-called wild animals have learnt to feed carcasses of domestic animals off humans travelling in “armoured” vehicles. Teaching wild animals to link humans and domestic animals with food does not bode well for releasing these magnificent beasts into the “wild” at some point in the future. Another “must see” (that I didn’t) is the (in?)famous Germ Warfare Centre out of town, but I really didn’t want a reminder of how brutal mankind can be to one other (call me a chicken if you will!). There’s also a popular ski resort and a number of natural areas to visit, but I think the latter is best left to the warmer months!
So read on and enjoy my quick winter “getaway”. Make sure you have
Ice Lantern Festival 6
This dragon sculpture is for my friend Marais, who is a bit of a dragon "freak"!
a good hot mug of coffee, tea or my favourite, hot chocolate with a big “dollop” of Baileys by your side to keep you company. Finally, remember you will always appreciate the photos much better if you click on them to enlarge them. You can also then use the “slide show” feature.
See you next blog. I’m going to try to upload some videos! Hmmmm!
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