Posts Tagged With: russian

Harbin

Leaving Seoul we could have done a 90 minute flight direct to Harbin but instead we chose to do a 10 hour transit through Shanghai…for the same price. This may seem insane but on our first visit to Shanghai we were unaware of the Maglev…and have been kicking ourselves that we missed it. For the uninitiated…the Maglev is the super-fast train that runs between the airport and close to the city. During our time in China we have been on the 200 and 300 kilometre an hour trains but the Maglev goes at over 400…well over. IMG_2440

So we flew from Seoul to Shanghai…hopped the Maglev, had some lunch, then hopped the Maglev back to the airport for the flight to Harbin. The train maxed out at 431 kilometres an hour…when we hopped the train to head back we saw the front where the slower animals did not or could not get out of the way of this racing beast. Needless to say that there were more than squished bugs on the windshield.

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Harbin originally started in 1897 as a camp for Russian engineers surveying the Trans-Siberian Railway. This has grown into China’s northernmost major city, with 4 million in the city and up to 10 million if you include the suburbs. Harbin is the home of the harbin brewery the oldest and 4th largest brewery in China. But in reality Harbin is two cities…the summer and the winter.

Summer

We obviously are here for the summer so we get to experience the magic that is mid to high 20’s temperatures, pleasant breezes, sunshine and a town that is as green as any that China has to offer. Zhongyang Dajie is the 1.4 km Pedestrian only street running down to the river and Stalin Park (and is only one street parallel to where we are staying). This is a really pretty shopping and ambling district that is heavily influenced by the Russian history with Babushka dolls and firs everywhere you look.
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Having reached the end of the pedestrian street we wandered along the riverside to the gondola for a ride across the river to the huge park on the opposite bank. There is a Russian town inside the park with shows and shops celebrating and selling all things Russian. The village contains a bunch of concrete babushka dolls with the Russian leaders painted upon them…The most beautiful sight in all of Harbin is St Sophia’s cathedral which is a Russian built church in the middle of town which is entirely stunning. To be fair…the architecture all around Harbin is heavily influenced by its Russian history and is built in baroque or byzantine style with spires and cupolas all over the place.

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Harbin is also the site of the Unit 731 museum which is a museum outlining the actions of unit 731 which was (wiki quote) “a covert biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that undertook lethal human experimentation during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and World War II”. We did not make it here as it was a fair bit out of the way but it does sound like one hell of a museum.Harbin is without a doubt the king of hedge art…there are hedge topiaries dotted throughout the city that are quite frankly amazing.

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It also has the Siberian tiger preserve that is not for the faint hearted or obsessive animal lover. Within the preserve there are hundreds of Siberian tigers in a safari style setting. Wiki tells me that “the park has an area of 1,440,000 square meters (355.8 acres) and is the largest natural park for wild Siberian tigers in the world at IMG_0541present. There are over 500 purebred Siberian tigers here, with 100 visible to visitors. In addition, visitors can also see white tigers, lions, lynx, leopards, and black pumas as well as Bengali tigers”.

And for a relatively small fee you can purchase live animals that will be fed to the tigers while you watch…a chicken can be bought for about $8, a duck or a pheasant for double this and raw meat too.  Visitors can buy poultry or animals to feed them. Park employees will set the living animal free among the tigers, and visitors can see the unique live action of tigers preying upon it. Previous visitors talk of watching tigers leap through the air as the pheasant tries to fly away…in vain. This purchasing goes to the point where you can purchase a live sheep or cow which will be dumped in the midst of hungry tigers…all while you watch on. Alas the bride got crook on the day we were to see the tiger park so we missed this.

Winter

In January Harbin’s temperatures plummet with overnight temps of up to minus 36 with daytime highs of minus 12. The Songhua River that we floated above in the gondola freezes solid and you can walk across it. During winter Harbin becomes the home of the ice and snow festival which lasts over a month. As we are not here for winter I will shamelessly poach some information and pictures and info from the net to give you a sense of what goes on here.

During the festival 2–3 feet thick crystal clear blocks of ice are cut from the frozen river and artists create large buildings and sculptures made entirely of ice. This is generally done on sun island (the leafy green park we strolled through which is turned into a sea of white. Of an evening it becomes “Ice and Snow World” that operates each night with lights switched on, illuminating the sculptures from both inside and outside.

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In summary Harbin in summer is a delight and is absolutely well worth doing…sadly we had limited time and Jill got a case of the lurgies and was laid up and we did not get to some of the major sights…if you could abide the extremely cold temperatures…the winter festival looks absolutely stunning and both Jill and I have determined this would be a definite bucket list item.

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Dalian

We did dalian in two blocks with a side trip to Dandong in between.

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Dalian was the site of the 16th international beer festival that Jill found advertised way back in March. She made the bookings for travel and accommodation at the intercity hotel back in April. This was all going swimmingly until she tried to amend the booking to factor in our trip to Dandong. At this point the hotel realised that we were booked in for under 200 yuan a night, when the going (extortionate) rate for this week was well over triple that…they then advised us that they were overbooked and could not and would not accommodate us.

Jill (rightfully) went off. The hotel refused to honour the booking that was made over 3 months ago and relet our room for the massively inflated gouging rate and would not honour an existing booking. Needless to say complaints were lodged with the tourist bureau but this vent is to make it fairly public that this particular Chinese hotel is money grubbing and has zero business ethics. Thankfully the booking was made through booking.com who copped an earful from Jill who refused to accept less or pay more. They were very accommodating and eventually found us something but they had to pick up the cost difference due to the immoral actions of the intercity hotel.

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Dalian was one of those cities that through various wars was under the rule of a number of different nations. As such it has some nice Russian style architecture but has little else to it apart from the parks and squares. Which are ok without being startling or all that different from most Chinese public spaces. It is a city of over 6 million people and is a major port and industrial centre. The one real standout to Dalian has been the food streets. Our introduction to this was in the heart of town where we came across a series of alleys winding between buildings and malls that stretched for about 3 kilometres.

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The first this we spotted was a huge tray of red claw…now we knew that this is a favourite of Jim (Jill’s Dad) and looking down over this tray made us both immediately think of Jim and his red claw stories. In honesty the amount of chilli in the Chinese red claw would be too much for him (and most others) but I found them really tasty. As you walked along the array of food got more varied with each step. Almost any type of seafood you can imagine add to this the ever present meat on a stick options and the broiling pigs heads, feet, innards and other bits.

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On our return after Dandong we circumnavigated the beer festival which was being held in Xinghai park which is possibly the largest park/square in all of Asia. The first thing that struck us was the sheer size of this thing. We saw the huge (and I really mean huge) beer tent then turned to the left and right only to find that this tent was one of about 20 such tents. The festival was set to go for 12 days and with the size of this thing I can see how.

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We entered the festival in the early afternoon after paying the $5 entrance fee. As we lined up we were surprised to see that in China this was a family affair with mothers, kids, grandparents all lining up for what, in Australia, would be a male dominated, adults only drunk fest. The next difference was the food. The festival had a huge range of really good, really healthy food options…so much so that you saw 5 food stalls for every beer outlet. There were the usual items and some non typical fare such as the crocodile skewers (pictured below) and the amazing use of the cow carcasses after they had been stripped bare and consumed over the preceding days of the festival.

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The food was like you may see in any Chinese city with full meals of many varieties, dumplings, rice, noodles, BBQ stick options and the normal snacky bits. The prices were obviously higher than you would pay outside but not excessively so. The beer prices were seriously ramped up with 40 yuan the going rate for a 500ml bottle or glass (bear in mind you can buy these in the supermarket for between 3 and 9 yuan. Having been drinking low alcohol Chinese beers for quite a while now we settled into the beers from the Europeans…particularly the Germans and the Czechs. These were generally ok but the ordering off Chinese menus with no English meant we were playing a bit of beer lucky dip.

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As we entered each of the beer company tents we found hundreds of tables and a big stage where different entertainment options were on display. This brings us to our next major difference between a Chinese and western event. Most of the entertainment was an organised form of karaoke with a performer belting out Chinese tunes over the top of a soundtrack.

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Some had a little more style with Chinese plate twirlers, another with a great magician show, and one with a US quartet doing lady gaga covers backed up by the worst Chinese dancers ever put on a stage. These girls were not dancers but were basically thrown on stage in skimpy (ish) outfits and told to shake it…it was like watching a train wreck. But most of the entertainment involved overweight minor local celebrities singing along badly with a karaoke track and yelling loudly into microphones.

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Categories: China | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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