Ha’erbin / The City of Ice …

Last week, China celebrated the lunar new year, which is also known as Chun Jie or Spring Festival.  The name is somewhat confusing, as the festival usually occurs at the coldest time of the year, right in the heart of Winter and seemingly far from the more pleasant weather of Spring.  Perhaps it is about celebrating that things can only get better from that point in time.

As if the breezy climate of Shanghai wasn’t difficult enough (maximum temperature generally 0-5 degrees), we decided that we’d use the national week-long holiday to take a trip to Ha’erbin.  Ha’erbin is so far north, it is almost Russia.  It’s one of the few places in China that isn’t overrun by tourists during the holidays.  You just have to put up with a daily maximum temperature of around -15 degrees (yes, that is MINUS).   We figured that a dose of colder weather might even give us a renewed appreciation for the more temperate winter of Shanghai.

The winter is Ha’erbin is long and cold, with temperatures staying sub-zero for several months.  So, the city has embraced this period of wintry weather by holding an annual Ice Festival.  It’s been happening for decades (with a few breaks here and there) and may (or may not) be the biggest in the world.

Throughout the city, key public spaces – like parks, plazas, roundabouts on expressways – are dotted with an array of ice sculptures, inspired by the culture and character of the city, and constructed each year by a workforce of thousands.  The scale and detail of the sculptures is amazing, especially considering the hand-numbing conditions they are produced under.

But, when the sun goes down (and the temperature drops further, to about -25 degrees), these sculptures really shine.  Like, literally.

In a few different locations in Ha’erbin, they have massive ice parks, like this one (the Ha’erbin Ice and Snow World).

It contains dozens of life-size buildings, from Russian temples to castles and pagodas, as well as a statues, ice carvings and sculptures.

And there’s a lot of larger-than-life-size stuff too, like beer (Harbin is local beer brand, of course) and Coke bottles.  Everything is lit by thousands of multi-coloured lights, carefully laid into the structures during construction.


You can walk up and through the buildings – bringing you in intimate contact with the icy architecture and the painfully cold breeze – as if the very-sub-zero temperatures aren’t freezing enough.  And, after thousands of other visitors, as the ice floor is smoothed down, it is quite a dangerous task too.  Saw plenty of slips and tumbles while we were there.

Another wind-chill option is to take a horse ride around the site.  No-one, especially the horse, seemed to be enjoying this particular activity.


As if to tempt fate (and potential lawsuits), the organisers had also installed an ice-slide on this European-style castle.  Within a few minutes, we saw a number of stacks, including an old man who tried to stand up, only to fall and slide down head-first, another guy who back-ended the woman in front of him, and third who was moving so fast, he knocked over three people who were gathered around the end of the slide.

I would have LOLed, except that at that point, my mouth was pretty much frozen into the closed position.  Despite wearing a couple of layers of thermals, snow boots, two jackets and two scarves (one wrapped around the nose and mouth), the cold would get unbearable in about 10 minutes.  The only places of retreat were a few cafes and a theatre, which were all unsurprisingly packed with people, trying to thaw out and get their cameras working again.

Or, the other option was to converge on the  big Russian building in the middle of the park.

Here they had an outdoor performance space with girls gyrating atop ice podiums and lip-synching to Lady Gaga.  Of course, in China, it’s always Lady Gaga, and usually the song is Poker Face.

It gave us all an excuse to jump up and down.  And then the girls made us join hands and skip around in a big circle.  My blood got pumping, my feet got off the cold ground for a few seconds, and my Frozen Poker Face had something to smile about.

And I was given another 10 minutes to cruise around looking at stuff.


4 Responses to Ha’erbin / The City of Ice …

  1. Danielle says:

    great pics!! My parents went to the ice festival last year, and loved it, though also froze their butts off. When they went to warm up in a cafe, all the Chinese tourists were eating ICECREAM!!!
    that is crayzy!!

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