I took a trip to Harbin, a city in the far north of China. It’s sometimes called the Ice City. I like calling it “The Icebox City” because people sold ice cream on the streets right from cardboard boxes and restaurants placed things they needed frozen outside on the street. The highest temperature didn’t get above -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) and got about as low as -25 Celsius (-13 Fahrenheit). No matter how many layers I wore, it was still cold.
There’s quite a bit to do in Harbin. Harbin hosts the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. I got in during the day, and when night came, the HISSF became the JSAFF (Jacky Slips and Falls Festival). The lights came on, too. They made the ice look really pretty. It made taking pictures kind of tricky, and I was quite happy with some the pictures I got.
On the second day, we visited St. Sophia’s Cathedral and Central Street. Central Street is one of the oldest streets in Harbin. There were lots of vendors, shops, and ice sculptures on it; it felt kind of like a tourist trap and a wallet vacuum. One of the streets surrounding it had lots of old, abandoned buildings along it. St. Sophia’s was converted into a small history museum about the city of Harbin during its construction and the period before the 1949 when the Communist Party took control here in China. St. Sophia was built in 1907, but fell into functional disuse for several decades due to the Communist Party’s attitudes toward religion. In 1997, it was opened to the general public as a museum. The exterior of the building has been restored, but the interior shows signs of age; most of the murals and paintings on the walls have been destroyed. The only real link to Christianity left in the church is a reproduction of the Last Supper. Due to the presence of tourists and the noise, St. Sophia’s didn’t feel like the quiet place of reflection and worship its original architects intended it for. It was nice being able to go inside and take pictures of the interior. I only got a few photos from the outside, and only from one facade.
The third day was spent at the Tiger Park and Sun Island. The Tiger Park was a very fast trip. We got into a van and were driven around, then shuffled off to explore an enclosure. Sun Island though; that was one of the best parts of the trip. Sun Island has its own snow sculptures, which I had fun looking at it. MORE IMPORTANLY!! There was History Guy. History Guy sets up shot in the Snow Village part of Sun Island, and collects artifacts from the Mao Zedong era. He said his favorite artifacts are his 3 yuan bills. China’s doesn’t seem to be very big on preserving their history, and looking at some of the things this man has spent twenty years collecting was the highlight of my trip.
Our last day took us the Unit 731 Site, where there is a memorial/museum. Unit 731 was a secret unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that conducted experiments on humans and tested biological and chemical weapons. It pretty messed up, was swept under the proverbial rug thanks to an agreement with the U.S. government, and reading about it isn’t for the feint of heart. I suggest reading about it on your own time. I considered including a link to a 1995 New York Times article, but I’ll let you Google it if you feel so inclined.
After that, I returned to Baoding. I’ve been here ever since. Overall, I had a good time. I got to learn about bit about history, meet a couple interesting people, and met a dog.