Chinese New Year in Harbin

I wasn't prepared to spend my second Chinese New Year in Dalian, stuck inside being constantly bombarded by fireworks and such. Hence I decided a little trip was in order!

I decided on Harbin, about 700 kms North. Thankfully there was a fast train in operation now which cut the travel time down to about 6 hours. When you are on the road indefinitely you don't think twice about a 12 hour train ride squatting in the corner next to chain smoking Chinese. Seems now, that I am working and only had just over a week off, my mind is tuned differently. I did however stick to my philosophy of not planning anything and left my apartment hoping the God's were on my side and that there would be a seat available during this, the busiest time of the year to travel!

I was in luck, and upon arriving a the station had to wait only 20 secs to be 'served'. A record no doubt! It felt good to be back in the realm of relative unknown I have been missing for a while...

6 Uneventful hours later and I arrived. A mutual friend of mine had a friend living in Harbin. We had gone in touch and had kindly offered to put me up for the night. He was also a deadhead so was in no doubt that we would get on. Upon arriving a beers were opened and dinner shortly served. Around midnight we headed out to look around and take some photo's. Unfortunately, the noise was  rather deceiving as we didn't manage to see many fireworks, despite the war zone like noise!

The following day I checked into a cheap hotel. At £3 a night it was a bargain, and more than acceptable. I compare everything to the Brothel I stayed in Liberia or the Mosquito infested cell in Pakistan. This was quite a luxury compared to those rooms!

Harbin has quite a unique history compared to other cities around China. During the construction of the trans-siberian in the late 19th century, and the Socialist Revolution in 1918 many Russians immigrated and put down their roots. There formed a large Jewish community, the economy improved dramatically, and up until the cultural revolution there were substantially more 'foreigners' than local Chinese. However slowly the numbers dwindled, and today it is a Chinese city once more and the only evidence that they were ever there is the architecture and a couple of Russian restaurants.  I saw only 4 Russians during my time who I assumed to be locals...

Apart from it's Russian heritage it's famous for  it's bitter temperatures and Ice Sculpture Festival (which go hand in hand really) which of course is a must when visiting. I went, and although very impressive, at 300rmb I felt it rather overpriced!  Walking on the frozen river was certainly interesting and quite the novelty. However after about an hour my hands (and camera, which stopped working) decided it was time to head inside (although I was told, at (only!) -20 it was rather warm for this time of year!) Of course my favourite pastime is just walking around randomly, which I did and ended up in what one could only describe as a slum. Certainly not slums by African standards, however in the harsh winter, life must not be easy..

After 3 days I developed a general feel for Harbin. It certainly seems alot more 'rough around the edges' than new and modern Dalian, and I certainly found that attractive about the place. However I felt the Russian heritage has long since vanished and now, the only remnants than remain are superficial and designed to bring in the tourists dollars. Harbin a century ago would certainly have been an amazingly interesting place.

My final night was spent watching Chris, my new friend pulling at a few tunes at one of his local bars. I'm certainly not the drinker anymore as after only 4 beers I felt rather groggy the following morning.

So I packed my few things, and headed to the station, not knowing when my next little adventure would be. I might have to be patient and wait a while however travelling is still in my blood and this short little taste has left me more determined and focused to start my next adventure: Dalian to Uk by bike. In time, inshallah! 🙂

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