By Chris K

Today’s Itinerary

Only a couple of days ago it was Minus 35° Celsius in Harbin. (That’s about the same in Fahrenheit – and ridiculously cold whether you speak imperial, metric, or Klingon.)

Naturally, temperatures like that mean only one thing: we’re going for a swim.

Swimming in the river of ice, because you only live once

Apparently, when it is ridiculously cold in China, you go swimming. This is because it ‘feels nice’, and is ‘healthy’.

We didn’t really believe that people would willingly participate in such an obviously mad activity, which involves immersing themselves in water that is just barely this side of being a solid.

And yet – here’s the proof.

We quote from the video;

“people enjoy the way it feels”.

Yeah. No.

Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

Not actually brave enough to risk losing limbs to frostbite, we’re heading on to a different activity – one that doesn’t involve grievous bodily harm. At least, that’s what we’ve been told.

Photo by mickey, Licensed under CC.

Photo by mickey, Licensed under CC.

Looking at that photo we’re not so sure.

We’re off to see some tigers. As we mentioned yesterday, Harbin was originally a Russian city on the edge of Siberia – though it is now (and has been for a long time) China’s northen-most major city. In apparently the largest park for Siberian tigers in the world, you can observe the tigers up close as they wander through a natural environment.

Photo by mickey, Licensed under CC.

Photo by mickey, Licensed under CC.

Feeding time is a little bit more confronting, often involving food that isn’t quite as processed as that bacon and egg roll you had for breakfast this morning.

Photo by TaQpets, Licensed under CC.

Photo by TaQpets, Licensed under CC.

This guy just wants to give you a big hug. Sort of.

Mostly hug. Just a tiny little bit of gnawing.

Saint Sophia Cathedral

In another Russian connection, Harbin is also home to the “largest Russian Orthodox church in the east”.

Built from timber, it fell into ruin until a charity drive raised around $1.5 million USD to restore it to its former glory.

Photo by timquijano, Licensed under CC.

Photo by timquijano, Licensed under CC.

More of the Harbin Ice Festival

Although that feeling of wandering around a magical wonderland is not quite as strong during the day, it is still very worthwhile revisiting the Harbin Ice Festival.

In some respects, daylight gives a sober view of the sheer scale of some of these architecture marvels.

Photo by Rincewind42, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Rincewind42, Licensed under CC.

You may also encounter some of the wildlife. This is a local Arctic fox, the wild strain of the infamous domesticated Siberian fox. Sadly Sibfox, the company that sold Siberian foxes as pets, is no longer operating. Happily, there are still some photographs of baby foxes (pups) online!

Photo by Denise Chan, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Denise Chan, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Rincewind42, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Rincewind42, Licensed under CC.

Want to Go? Need to Know!

  • Founded by a Russian citizen of Polish descent (aka the Lord of Alcohol), Harbin beer is one of the most popular beers in China, and possibly also the first.
  • According to Shanghai local Nick – Harbin should technically be spelt Haerbin, as it is pronounced in China.
  • There’s not an enormous amount of English language guide information for the (to use the full name) Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. However, we can point you to Wikipedia for more history and loads more pictures of the incredible sculptures created over the years!.
Photo by Ivan Walsh, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Ivan Walsh, Licensed under CC.

The memories of those ice towers will (hopefully) last a lot longer than the frostbite! But there’s only just enough time to see them all before tucking in to one last warm dinner of Chinese food. We have an early flight tomorrow from Harbin to Osaka, Japan.

Have you been to Harbin? What did you think? Tell us in the comments!