Thursday, February 26, 2009

Winter Ice Wonderland

02-20-2009 17:00

Cold Harbin Becomes Hot Holiday Destination
The ice sculptures are seen during the Ice and Snow Festival in Harbin, the capital city of China's northernmost province Heilongjiang.
Korea Times
By Sunny LeeKorea times CorrespondentHARBIN ―

``It seems that I am the only Korean around here who hasn't visited Harbin this winter," said Lee Young-sup, a South Korean journalist in Beijing who works for Hankook Ilbo.When Harbin, a northern Chinese city just south of the border with Russia, freezes during its cold winter, it transforms into the hottest holiday destination in China.
The winter temperature here commonly plummets to minus-30 degrees Celsius. "Even your eyeballs feel pinched because the tears in your eye sockets almost freeze," said Kim Seok-han, a businessman in China's eastern port city of Qingdao. "But I've ended up coming here again because my kids love the ice festival. Where else would you see such a magnificent sight?" he asked.

The Harbin Ice Festival is probably what makes its loyal string of holiday travelers, including Kim's family, return here like faithful pilgrims. Located near the Songhua River, the festival is held in a massive open field on which a new town is actually built entirely of ice. Once you enter the gate, which is also made of ice, you find yourself in a whole new wonderland. It's sheer exotic fun. There's a clock tower, a palace, the Great Wall, a bridge, a statue of Buddha and even a giant Harbin Beer. The lanterns inside the "ice bricks" make this "city of ice" glow colorfully in the darkness. But don't worry, the restrooms aren't made of ice.

The fun doesn't end with just looking. People actually get to bobsleigh, snowboard, snow tube, go snow motorcycling and engage in other activities, all included in the cost of a 150 yuan ($22) ticket. Walking out of the icy wonderland and taking a stroll in downtown Harbin, which is also full of an array of icy sculptures, is also fun, as long as you don't mind your buttocks hitting the ground once-in-a-while on the slippery street.

When dusk sets in, you may want to head for pedestrian-only Zhongyang Avenue, which is comparable to Myeongdong, in Seoul. It offers shops and department stores back-to-back and if you miss Korean food, there's Sorabol Korean Restaurant. If you're of a more adventurous spirit and want some local flavor, go to the 100-year-old historic Russian restaurant "Hua Mei Shi Canting." You may have to wait in line for half an hour, but it's worth it.

People here would also recommend a visit to Harbin Tiger Park (Harbin Dongbeihu Linyuan), which has about 700 wild tigers, including rare Mt. Paektu tigers, and skiing. The winter is long here, with ice and snow not melting until mid-March. So if you think you haven't done enough skiing and winter sports this winter, Harbin's the place for you. In fact, the 24th World Winter University Games opened just this Wednesday in Harbin, with a lavish ceremony. China wants to use the Universiade as a testing ground to eventually bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics, making it a competitor of Korea's PyeongChang.

To Koreans, the Chinese city is also historically well-known for being where prominent Korean independence fighter Ahn Jung-geun, in 1909, assassinated Ito Hirobumi, the first prime minister of Japan, who played a leading role in colonizing Korea.

Currently, there is little trace of Ahn in the city, except for a triangle mark on the assassination site, which is located at the number 1 platform of the Harbin Train Station.

Ahn was executed in the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian in 1910. South Korea last year asked China to halt construction on a site where Ahn's remains are believed to be buried.

Getting to Harbin is easy, with flights directly linking it with

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