Travel Journal

Harbin and Changchun

(Monday 18 January 2010) by Brennan-adventures
Hello everyone again!!
Not so long since I last updated you on our travels, this time we are in China. The journey started on the 12th of January and we have decided to head North to the frozen and one of the coldest parts of China.:-(:-(

Our journey started well, the flight to Beijing was empty, 35 people sitting in economy, so we all got 3 seats to ourselves. (Babs and Andy are accompanying us on this trip… fools!!!!) I still didn’t sleep although I was lying down but did manage to read a book and loll out on the seats so the trussed up turkey scenario didn’t happen. :o)

The scenery as we approached Beijing was very strange from the air, very brown/grey. The mountains were not high angular peaks, more of a rumpled piece of paper look. Every flat basin area between the rumpled paper mountains had low buildings, in some cases lots of hamlets within a small area. There was not too much snow infact looked like icing sugar had been sprinkled around. The rivers were frozen, and we could not see any crops growing within the vast areas of fields. There were lots of factory buildings or maybe power stations pumping lots of steamy/smokey stuff into the atmosphere and the closer we got to the city the worse the pollution haze.
We landed in Beijing to – 15c and it was nice and sunny, the walk from the plane to the terminal through the gangway was a little nippy but ok. Once in the terminal we found there was an earlier flight to Harbin, a flight of 1 hour 20mins further north. Mike managed to get us on this flight…. This meant we now only waited 1 hour instead of 6 hours… yippee!!
This plane was a domestic one, smaller and full. The airline had maximised the seating so tight turkey trussing was felt by us westerners!!:-(

The rumpled paper mountains changed to smaller hills that looked like drying mud flats, roundish areas with irregular cracks. What looked like frozen rivers were dry river beds that now had small villages built on them. The further north we travelled the whiter it became, there was still lots of agricultural areas and now a few more trees.
Landing at Harbin airport, the snow was piled up at the sides of the runway and some parts of the feeder runs to the main runway had icy areas, this caused no problem to the pilots.
We were told it was -20c or 4F…???!!!!
Coming off the plane into the gangway tunnel was like walking into a freezer, the inside of the windows were frozen solid. The terminal was warmer, and had a couple of changing rooms for passengers to retrieve warm clothes from their suitcase and put them on. This city is about 250miles from the Russian border and we have been told there are a lot of Russians living here, there was certainly Chinese, English and Russian writing being used on the signs.
Once we picked up the suitcases and put on our gloves and hats, as well as the thick ski coats… (except Mike who had refused to buy one), out we went into the meet and greet area. You could feel the cold air coming through the outside doors, BBrrrr!!!
Now Harbin is a city of 5 million people, it holds an ice and snow festival for 2 months. People from all over the world come and build ice and snow sculptures … Google Harbin to see some old photos. Just outside the airport was an ice sculpture, so armed with our cameras Babs and I walked out……. Well it was like being punched; the cold was AWSOME. When you tried to breathe through your mouth the air was so cold it got stuck at the back of your throat. If you breathe through your nose the mucus freezes, so scarves up over the mouth and nose methinks!!!
The roads and pavements were ice of glacier standard, and vehicles although driving slowly were not slipping and sliding around, Mike thinks it is so cold that nothing thaws, so no layer of water between the ice and the tyre.
We hastily retreated to the relative warm of the reception area once the photos were taken. By this time our welcoming committee had arrived….. 2 Chinamen and a people carrier… They worked at the university here and Mike had met them before.
Off we slipped and slithered to the car trying valiantly to breath at the same time. Once in the vehicle we started the 40 min journey to the hotel, it was still heading towards dusk and the inside of the car showed a temperature of 26c while outside was -22c… the inside of the windows were frozen and icy, really strange considering we were warm and toasty !! 8-O
Our Hotel was very nice, and after 1 hour we went out for dinner. The roads were now transformed, plastic plants and flowers were illuminated and the ice sculptures at the sides of the road were also lit inside, all very pretty and colourful.

We were having Peking Duck for dinner. The restaurant is famous in Harbin and was busy. There were 7 of us, we were taken to a separate small private room which we had all to ourselves; it had a large round table and in the middle was a huge round glass disc that revolved. The meal was ordered, TONS of food arrived and each dish was put on the glass surface, this made it easy for everyone to reach. A boy carved up a duck at the side of the table this was distributed on two plates; there was fried rice with vegetables; fried sweetcorn nibs with sugar; the boneless foot of the ducks…which was rubbery and disgusting!!! Vegetables with garlic and two types of soup, one was very nice with added chilli, the other was like greasy chicken stock… not so appealing. Pancakes and dips were also brought. Well after we all ate our fill there was still lots of food left, the duck was taken home, but I still think a lot was thrown away !! By the time we had finished the meal all of the travellers were weary, and Mike still had to prepare something for the next day….he is working while we are playing!!

Next morning breakfast…. Well it was interesting, firstly everyone seemed to be smoking. The food had elements of westernisation, cereal bread some of which could be toasted and eggs, we only saw boiled eggs until we were leaving the restaurant, we then spied a chef cooking fried eggs or omelettes. The coffee was very strong and I have to admit not very nice. At one of the tables a man had three small ornate wooden boxes he was carefully opening one at a time and popping in a small piece of dumpling. You could hear cricket chirping noises, so over I went to look what was inside…. 2 beetles inside 2 separate boxes and in the other a tiny weeny
cricket. The boxes had glass on the top, and could be covered with a sliding wooden lid. Well I suppose someone has to love the bugs!!! :-\
Once breakfast was over we headed back to the room to bulk up on the clothing for our expedition out. One of the wives was coming with a driver to take us around.
I had 2 thermal vests and a woollen jumper plus my ski jacket, on the bottom half was tights, two pairs of thermal sox, thermal leggings and lycra ski pants plus my ski salopettes. I also had boots, a ski neck warmer, hat and gloves… I could hardly move!!! My fellow travellers were also thermaled up!! We were michelin men together!!!
When we walked out into the cold it was a balmy -18c!!! Within 10secs the exposed pieces of my face felt positively numb. I had decided to breath through the neck warmer which was better for breathing but it caused my nose to run, so it was a pest having to pull of the gloves to wipe the nose, I was getting a little concerned about icicles starting to hang from the nostrils, not a pretty sight!!
While we were in the sun all was fine, out of the sun it still was Blinking freezing, the cold still penetrated through all those layers into your bones. I looked in envy at the Chinese ladies in their mink coats… I can understand why they wear them here!!! The roads and pavements were very icy, I still am finding it strange seeing all the traffic weaving with no skidding!!

Well our outing started at the Harbin tower where we were walked around inside for ages looking at exhibitions within the bases of the tower before heading up to the top. There were 3 flights of stairs to climb once you got off the lift… well that was fun with all our clothes on… we could hardly lift each leg up the height of the step, as the knee didn’t want to bend!! It also built up a sweat so by the time we reached the upper floor… another 3 extra flights…. Which then took us outside again, the perspiration I am sure froze, or else it was 3 times as cold there as on the ground, I have never had such a biting cold hitting my cheeks and eyes before, infact I was scared my eyes would freeze as they were watering!!
Back inside we now had to climb down the stairs, again with all the gear on, so baking hot again…. I hope this will act like one of those sweat suits and pounds will fall off me???!!! :-D

Next stop to a very old Russian church. Now do not quote me as the English info was sparse, in the early 1700’s the Russians owned and ruled Harbin; they built a lot of buildings and churches in the Russian style. There was a large Russian presence here but I have no idea when it was given back to China. There were lots of old photos in the church, which had ceased to be a place of worship; some of the photos showed Russian people around as late as 1930’s. What has happened is in Harbin the old buildings now are preserved so history will not be erased.
We then were taken for lunch to a Russian restaurant, well it was a restaurant that had a lot of western style dishes, the trouble was none of the travellers were hungry but our Chinese “guides” were though…. the restaurant was very nice and looked European. I chose soup and bread, if I had chosen anything else the salopettes would not be able to fit around my waist!!
The others had fried rice or Spaghetti bolognaise; our “guides” had lamb hotpot.

After lunch a short walk to one of the snow parks, this ones theme was Disney characters. Some of the sculptures were made of snow, others of ice. There were the cutest houses and characters made from snow. Chairs, tables and castles made from ice, the castles you walked up into and could either slide or walk back down… well there was a rubber ring waiting with my name on it, and since I had experienced the water ring why not try the icy one!! The fun was actually getting myself sitting in the ring, luckily Andy and the helper were there to steady me in case I slipped, them away I was pushed… By all accounts the helper said I was very heavy !!! :-(:-(
Well I started well then took off like a rocket, I cannot possibly repeat what I shouted, luckily no-one heard as my voice was well muffled by my scarf, the end loomed which was a bank of well used snow. I managed a shuffle of the bum and turned the ring so I stopped back to the bank of snow…. Now there was the problem of the beached whale look while I scrambled out of the ring… whew managed to get on my feet again and out of the way before Andy came hurtling down.
We then asked to go back to the hotel for a rest, and was told we were supposed to be going to the Uni and then for dinner… this was at 2pm, what in heavens name were we going to do for 4hours???
I managed to persuade them to take us back, but we did have a quick stop to see some snow sculptures at the Uni; they had been made by different Universities from around the world… well Korea, U.S.A. and U.K. as well as China. The temperature was falling and there was no sun, I think we could have been no longer than 20mins but I was chilled to the bone. Think I will be complaining to the thermal manufacturer!!!
We are having dinner with the president and vice president of the Uni. The University deals only with engineering and has over 50,000 students; it is over 50 years old. They have a lot of large buildings on the campus, and have just built a enormous library.
The roads through the uni complex were sheet ice; this was still no problem for the driver.
We then were allowed back to the Hotel for about 1 = hours before being picked up for dinner.
This was a posh expensive restaurant; we were again in a private room with an enormous round table with the glass whirly thing in the middle. The meal was carefully picked so we could all eat it…… boiled cold bamboo; hot potato noodles that were just like jelly; a lovely piece of steak each; crispy sweet walnuts baked and covered with sesame seeds; fried spring rolls filled with radish; fried crispy crescent shaped things filled with tarrow; thinly sliced potato and mushrooms in a stick sauce… impossible to pick up with the chopsticks!! There were also tiny pumpkins that had been fried. None of us had any problems eating this meal, infact we all were quite stuffed by the end of it. The meal ended with fruit.

Next morning we sat in the no smoking area, we managed toast and egg, also some fruit. We then went out to the shopping centre just next to the hotel. This was strange, lots of different shops but each area dealt it one thing… ladies clothing for 4 or 5 long isles, some of then selling fur lined coat, I can honestly say I was tempted as I believe it is the only way to keep warm here.!!! Then footwear, there were at least 40 shops selling boots and shoes…. All the boots were lined with rabbit fur, again wonderfully warm. Next the kiddies area, clothes, shoes and toys… There was also an animal area. One thing was a large pool with stools around it with people sitting with bamboo sticks with a weight and tiny hook on the end, the way of catching the tiny goldfish was sweeping the line/weight and hook along the bottom of the pool hooking a fish in the side of their body. Looked a bit cruel to me, the fish were all returned to the pool once the family had finished fishing!!!
There was also a feeding area, in this area piglets, rabbits, fawns, monkeys and birds were kept in small cages. The idea was for you to buy some food for the animals including milk bottles and for you to feed them… It looked pretty awful for the animals. We then went to a supermarket, the doors to the supermarket were covered with a very thick blanket that covered the area in front of the door to try and contain some heat in the shop…. Mostly the food seemed quite cheap, the cheapest thing seemed to be 20p per 500grs for chicken bones… all the meat was off them only the bones left!!
One of the most expensive things was fresh fish priced at #16.00 per 500gr.

Later that afternoon we were picked up to visit the snow and ice park. The journey took over 1 hour, when we got to the snow park it was amazing, huge high snow walls about = mile long carved with either mythical/ historical characters. We had been provided with long warm coats and shoes to wear. I had decided to wear 6 layers plus the layer of the coat. On my legs 2 pair long johns, tights, and polyester ski pants plus boots. The coat certainly kept me a little warmer but the snow park was very cold. My fringe had icicles on from my breath; Andy looked like scot of the Arctic with frost all over his scarf. Mike also used one of the coats, so we looked quite Red Army like. We found it much colder in the snow park and decided it must be because of the moisture level in the snow. The snow sculptures were huge at least 10m high. We saw some men creating a sculpture and they seemed so rough when chipping into the snow. We stayed only about 1 hour and by that time toes and fingers were numb !!!
It was staring to get dusky so we were driven across the road to the ice park.

Well it was out-standing, I have never seen anything like it. Ice sculptures the height of sky scrapers, you couldn’t get inside but they were lit up with lights that changed colour. There was a life size replica of Russian church in St Petersburg; the golden temple in Bankok; The Merlion of Singapore; there was a huge palace and also a huge long sculpture that looked like 4 blocks of flats. There were lots of bridges and part of the summer palace in Beijing.
Also there were some ice slides, one of which used a small sledge and people looked like they were riding the luge….far too fast for me.
The problem was it was so cold and after 30mins we had to stop for coffee to thaw out our fingers… honestly when you took your gloves off to change a setting on the camera you thought you had lost the tips of your fingers they got sooooo cold very quickly. The camera was having great difficulty taking photos and opening and closing because of the temperature!! 8-O
There were people hanging around on the icy surface trying to tempt people to have photos taken with either yaks or snow foxes. How they could stand there for hours is beyond me!!!
After we had seen the park, another 30mins we were again chilled to the bone…..well I was, and we were taken for dinner.
This time it was a hot pot type thing, same scenario; private room, round table and 6 other people. On the table there was an individual burner in front of each person, on top of that went a small pan filled with either mushroom soup or chicken soup. There was a choice of how hot you wanted the chilli situation to be. Mike chose v. hot; the rest of us chose little hot. Well little hot was fire eater strength….. so lord knows what Mikes was like!!!

Into our pan a variety of things could be chosen from the middle of the table. They were cooked in the boiling soup.
Here are some of our choices...lettuce and green leaves; 6 different types of mushrooms; bone marrow; little fishes about 2” long that look like leeches, which even when boiled for 1 hour did not disintegrate! There was also very finely shaved raw lamb; some vegetables; prawns; spam… yes slices of spam (this is a type of cold meat made from chopped ham/pork with seasoning); Then a large fish appeared this had been filleted head, spine and tail were artfully placed on the dish with the raw flesh around it.
Now this meal has to go down foe 3 of us as the most disgusting yet…. Your mouth was burned off and everything that was put into the soup went in one colour and appeared out completely different colour… some not very appealing!!!
Andy was very brave and tried bone marrow, well once it was cooked his face was a picture, and he admitted it had been difficult to swallow and keep down!!!
The leech looking fish were the worst, they went in dark red and appeared out a nasty grey colour, the texture of the skin was shark like and had a large bone inside; once again Andy tried it then had a terrible trouble trying to get rid of the bone… If he had waited a couple of mins he would see the rest of the Chinese party just spat them on the table !!! The waitress had tipped some in my bowl before I could say no so once they were cooked I fished them out…. Excuse the pun… and left them, no way was I eating them!!
Babs I think had spam and lamb, I had green leaves and some lamb. The meal could not end quick enough!!!!! :-x:-x

Next morning breakfast was yomped down, well we were hungry!! We then were being picked up by a Chinese guy who Mike meets here most years, he was driving us to Changchun a city 3 hours away.
The journey to the outskirts of the city took around 1 = hours because of traffic, once in the countryside there was little to see except snowy white fields and flat countryside. There was a railway being constructed alongside the highway, it was elevated the whole way we travelled alongside, at least 200kms. The work was to take about 5 years as building work stops over the winter, basically they work 6 months of the year here then move to construction in the south until the weather warms up again.
Occasionally there would be a person scraping ice/snow at the side of the carriageway with no protection from the oncoming traffic, a little scary for them with cars hurtling towards them at 70mph. When we reached the outskirts of Changchun it was very different to Harbin. Lots of low buildings, dirty black snow and lots of poorer looking people. There were some very strange cars, they had 3 wheels and looked a little like a Renault clio body. The traffic was still disorganised, I did ask why. Seemingly everyone sits 4 tests; Knowledge; Reversing; Forward driving and Changing road position, it is the police that test you, but they are open to persuasion by handouts…. That explains everything!!! :-?

As we travelled nearer the city the cars became more affluent and the buildings higher. We got to the hotel and were taken for lunch; this was a food hall restaurant it had lots of types of food from different areas of china. We managed to find sweet and sour pork and chow fan…. We had nice full Tummys then more and more food kept arriving… help stomach overload!!!!
Next we were taken to the palace of the last emperor of China. This guy was emperor at 3 years old and then did deals with Japan to keep his crown, allowing Japan to rule china. Eventually everything went wrong when the Japanese were booted out, he was put in prison for re-forming and re-educating before being let out aged 70. He only died in 2001, so this was recent history. The only problem was it was soooo cold, admittedly warmer than Harbin….-17c but still cold.
That night we had another western style Chinese meal, then next morning taken for our flight to Beijing. We are heading south and the weather is getting warmer!!!
Well will update you on Beijing and Japan in the next blog.
Take care and keep warm.
Laur xx

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