Reporting from Jinqiao
05.01.2013 - 06.01.2013 -20 °C
Our second day started much like the first except instead of putting on layers of clothes and jeans, we decided to wear ski pants. Yes, around town. Felt a bit funny going out in chunky ski pants, but started noticing others wearing them, and really enjoyed having toasty warm legs. We went down to Costa for another coffee and panini breakfast, and then caught a taxi out to the suburbs of Harbin to the Siberian Tiger Park.
The Tiger Park was a bit like a safari park, after buying tickets we were taken out to a bus with bars on the windows that opened, and loaded on. The bus then drove into the park, which had big signs saying that the tigers were free to roam. It felt a bit like we were entering Jurassic Park with very tall fences and double gates to drive through, where one set would open and the bus would move forward a few metres, the gates would close again before the next set opened, they were even controlled by someone safely positioned with a clear view over the park in a control tower. The tigers were quite active and it surprised me how many there were. At one point we were met by a man in a car with a cage all around it, and as soon as his car came in, the tigers knew he had something good and all prowled around him. Quick as lightning, he opened his door, and threw a live chicken onto the roof. It wasn't live for very long after that. In fact, I would go so far as to say it didn't have a fighting chance at all as when it landed on the roof it just stayed put... maybe it's feet were tied together or something. Very gently two tigers then stood on their hind feet, and got the chicken down, and then ripped into it. At the entrance to the Tiger Park, there was a 'menu' listing food types you could buy to be given to the tigers. Starting at 20RMB for a piece of steak, 60RMB for the live chook, 2800RMB for a whole cow!! Having seen a number of chickens killed on the side of the road in Shanghai, I could quite easily handle the tiger killing one, even though it was a bit like fishing in a barrel! I don't think I would have like to see the tiger attack a real full size cow!
After the safari, we were dropped off for the walking tour, in raised walkways above some pens that the tigers can sleep in at night, and where the cubs are currently kept. There were also some other large cats to see, most interestingly, a liger - a lion father and tiger mother... I thought these were really just myths, but there are apparently about 10 in the world, always bred in captivity, and unable to reproduce. It had a stripy body and a little mane.
Leaving the safari park we tried to find a taxi, but we were in a bit of a tricky spot, and a woman started asking us where we wanted to go, knowing that we'd paid the taxi driver 35RMB to get there from near our hotel, we knew that when she asked for 50RMB to take us about half way she was having us on. But as there were no taxis around to be hailed, we eventually agreed on 20RMB to take us to Polarworld, in this clapped out old van... we got there, and the drvier insisted on taking us in to get our tickets, and then he got something scanned... must get some commission or something! Couldn't believe we were at an aquarium without the kids - but it was amazing... set the scene quite dramatically in each section. A polar bear was swimming circuits of his pool, and each time he turned his big paw pushed off the glass. Two Beluga Whales were performing a ballet with a diver, their tails were moving in sync! Then we watched a sea lion show which was bilingual, in Mandarin and Russian!
From Oceanworld, we walked over a bridge that looked like a falling down Anzac Bridge (from Sydney), over frozen rivers and parkland, and returned to the cable car terminus, where we caught a cable car back, using our return ticket from the day before. We headed back to the hotel to thaw out, before getting ready to visit the big one : Ice and Snow World, Harbin.
We had a little adventure to get there, as the doorman from the hotel hailed a taxi for us, and told the driver where we wanted to go, and all was agreed, but then we headed out into the traffic, and suddenly we were in a dark back alley and the driver said he wanted 60RMB to take us there, even though we knew the fare was about 30RMB, but we agreed as we were really a captive audience! It was bedlam getting there... traffic, and then pedestrians everywhere, and nowhere to stop to be dropped off... but we made it, and then got tickets and went in. It was mind-blowing. We really were in fairy land. There were palaces everywhere, huge four storey buildings illuminated with coloured lights made entirely out of ice. The ice is carved from the frozen river into blocks which are then used to construct elaborate buildings, including palaces, castles, temples, taverns, with carved ice staircases and often with an ice slide down. The ice slides didn't quite appeal to us, as we were cold enough already without sitting directly on the ice! Some were steeper and had either hessian sacks or toboggans to sit on, but the queues were long and the wind cold. We roamed around the Park marvelling at each section, one section was devoted entirely to Disney Princesses, and another was like a mini-Hangzhou with garden walls, and cherry blossom trees, temples and pagodas - all made of ice and lights. Harbin has it's own snow filtered beer, and not surprisingly was one of the sponsors, so we went into the ice bar with ice tables and ice stools and ice shelves and no need for a fridge! There was an enormous Buddha, about 20m tall, made from snow and complete with altar and incense. A light show with dancers and performers was hard to see through the crowds, but the fireworks display at the end was truly spectacular over Ice and Snow World.
Of course leaving Ice and Snow World was a drama too, as we headed out into the crowd with not an available taxi to be seen. I asked a Policeman directing traffic where I could find one, and he virtually laughed in my face and said there were none. So we decided our best bet was to start walking towards the city, and lots of empty taxis were passing us, but were being constantly moved on by the traffic police, unable to stop to pick anyone up (we weren't the only ones looking). We saw some buses, but without knowing Harbin at all well, could not work out whether boarding the bus would help or hinder us... so we kept on walking. About 500m down the road I asked another Policeman if he thought I might find a taxi somewhere, and he hailed one for me straight away, basically directed the taxi to pull over - we jumped in, the driver was a bit bewildered and after giving him our hotel address he said it would cost us 30RMB (the right price) and took us straight there! I'm sure he thought the Policeman was going to book him for something otherwise!
We then went out to celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary (which was actually the next day), and went to a Russian Pectopah and had a delicious dinner, reminiscing about our wedding day, and what we've done and where we've been since, and of course, where we'll go next!!
Woke up on our last day in Harbin, packed up and checked out of the hotel before heading out. We decided to attempt walking across the river. I thought we might have got a horse and carriage across but no, we walked across the Songhua River, which is about 600m wide. In summer it is a port city, so there are docks along the banks of the river, some of which have boats which are iced in now until the ice melts. We walked across to what would be a summer picnic house, and felt quite an achievement for this big walk... then turned around and headed back, before watching all the other holiday makers enjoying playing ice games in the theme park - skating, sledding, dog sleds, toboggan rides, and so on.
After that we headed to Zhaolin Park to see the final selection of ice sculptures. Because it was day time, the lights in these weren't on, and so we could see the true beauty of this ice artwork. There is a competition held here for ice carving, and part of the festival is to always have someone working on the ice sculptures to witness the art in progress, and as this was the opening weekend, there were still a number of 'blank canvas' ice blocks waiting to be carved. It was interesting to see this too though. There was also a barn, or a big shed, which had about 12 teams from all around the world competing in an international ice carving competition. This was fascinating as they used chainsaws, chisels and even axes to manipulate the ice into the elaborate and intricate designs.
As we went around all the different snow and ice sculpture places we were constantly reaching into our pockets for at least 200RMB each for every site. But it was worth it. We feel like we've achieved something visiting Harbin. We feel like we conquered the freezing temperatures. We found our way around, and saw everything on our wish list. We enjoyed a taste of Oriental Russia. We loved the snow and ice sculptures! We did miss the kids, just a bit.