A Travellerspoint blog

Harbin Day Two

Tigers, polar bear, penguins, beluga whales, snow sculptures and ice lantern festival

sunny -28 °C
View Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival - Harbin 2014 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Siberian Tiger Park

Built in 1996 to protect the endangered Siberian tiger, the 356-acre park is the largest of its kind. The park is reputed to have around 200 tigers, and everywhere you looked there were tigers. There were also other kitties such as lions, leopards, black panthers, ligers (cross between a tiger and a lion), and white tigers in the park too.

We were herded straight on a bus when we arrived, and taken around the many enclosures which contained maybe 20 or more tigers each. We drove through about five fenced in areas, each with a little holding pocket in between, to ensure each of the groups are kept apart for fear of fighting. The bus was cramped, the windows were steamed up and we didn't actually stop so that we could photograph the tigers – some of which came right up to walk alongside the vehicle.

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We then had some free time to walk along a network of elevated walkways overlooking some of the enclosures. A few places along the path live chickens were for sale which you could chuck through a chute to feed the tigers. There was a very loud American family there who bought one, kissed its little head and said “Good luck, I am sure you had a great life” and sent it sliding down the tunnel to its fate. Before it had hit the ground one of the tigers pounced on it and it was over before you had the chance to say “lunch”. The tiger will kill it, then remove the feathers before eating the flesh.

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A little disappointed that there was no chase, our megawatt American 'friend' bought another chicken, and was encouraged to 'tease' the animals by walking along to the next chute showing the tigers the chicken along the way. It worked. By the time he reached the next feeding area, he had quite a following. In to meet its maker the chicken went, was grabbed by a kitty, but managed to get away. Not for long though, as a handful of tigers set off in hot pursuit and the chicken was no more.

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I am not sure how I feel about live food being introduced into the enclosure for the tigers to chase, catch and tear to pieces before devouring – all for the amusement of human onlookers. I suppose it helps pay for the food and upkeep of the animals, and in the wild they would be hunting live prey of course so it is good for them to retain their hunting instincts. Seeing a 'kill' is supposed to be the ultimate experience on a safari wish list, although I have never been that 'lucky' before. Seeing it close up in captivity is another matter altogether.

I found the whole place rather sad. In addition to the large free-roaming enclosures, there were numerous small cages holding further animals and their pitiful cries will haunt me forever. The strange thing was, despite having a huge natural habitat to roam in, many of the tigers were pacing up and down outside the small cages, as if to support their incarcerated mates.

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The park is said to be doing a great breeding program for some of the more endangered of the five tiger species in the world, but they also keep the trade of traditional Chinese medicine going by grinding up tiger parts after the big cats have died and selling in their shop - a natural death, but even so.

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Polar Aquarium
Very much a kids' thing, this place annoyed me more than entertained me. The Chinese have no ethics at all when it comes to giving way to other people, and push their way through, into and around you, especially when you are trying to go through a doorway or down stairs. I was feeling grumpy by now - probably after the depressing visit to the tiger park, it was way too hot in there and we were dressed for the outside, and undoubtedly not helped by me being de-hydrated. I am drinking a fraction of what I drink at home to avoid having to find the elusive squat holes; and the food here is overwhelmingly salty, so I find myself constantly thirsty. I am sure it is not doing my kidney any good.

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The tanks were reasonably large and well laid out, and in addition to fish, there were penguins, polar bears (in a way too small cage), Arctic foxes and white beluga whales. This place is famous for its beluga whale show, but we decided performing animals weren't really our thing, so went for lunch instead. Fast food Chinese style consisted of some sort of chicken kebab, chicken burgers, reformed 'chicken' nuggets and greasy, tasteless noodles. I think Sally could sense my disgust because she said “I'm sorry the food is not what you are used to, tomorrow we go to KFC or MacDonalds”. Not if I have a say in the matter!

Sun Island Ice Sculpture 'Museum'
This place was pretty cool, and a nice chilled (in more ways than one) experience after the aquarium. We took a land train to the centre of the park to walk around the exquisite carvings by masters and students from all over the world. It is said that 7000 craftsmen have been carving away with ice picks, chisels and lasers using 150,000m³ of man made snow (natural snow is too soft) for these sculptures and they were certainly impressive. We spent a lot of time waiting to photograph the sculptures free from the ever present Chinese who wants their photo taken in front of each and every sculpture with each and every family member and in various combinations of people together.

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On the large square a number of people dressed as popular animation characters were dancing Gangnam style. Different.

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This area is where the original fishing village of Harbin was, and this has been recreated in snow, as well as a wattle and daub chief's hut where you could sit on their under-heated straw beds (the forerunner of the heated water-bed?) and enjoy a cup of coffee and warm up a little.

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Russian Village
As we'd not stayed for the beluga show, we were now running about 45 minutes ahead of schedule, and Mr Safe decided to take us down to see the Russian Village, a motley collection of wooden huts not resembling anything I have ever seen in Russia. None of us made a move to even get out of the car, and Sally got a little upset, complaining that “the driver has paid for parking already, the least you can do is go and take some photographs”. So Alan and I obliged for a few minutes while David got away with staying in the warm vehicle. I think Mr Safe realised we just wanted some down time, so he pulled in to a quiet area further along and we all had half an hour siesta in the car.

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The Ice and Snow World
When researching Harbin before coming here, I was very confused between the three main festival areas of the city; The Sun Island Park, the Ice and Snow World and the Lantern Festival at Zhaolin Park. I still am.

The Ice and Snow World (aka Bingxue Large World) is a much more recent addition to the winter festival scene in Harbin, having be created in 1999 by the municipal government to celebrate the millennium. It is billed as an icy, snowy Disneyland, full of fairy tales about, well, ice and snow. Like everything else in Harbin, this park has expanded year on year and now covers an area of 500,000m²

Snow & Ice World 2

Snow & Ice World 2

This place is totally awesome and worth every minute of the long journey and every discomfort from the cold and the grotty hotel: this really should be on EVERY traveller's wish list!

Snow & Ice World 1

Snow & Ice World 1

As soon as we arrived and he tried to take his first picture, Alan's camera batteries died. Fortunately, after warming them back up again, they came to life enough for him to take photos until just before we were leaving. That would have been horrendous not to be able to capture this highlight!

In 1963, the first snow carvings were created by the then gardeners, with thousands of ice lanterns and dozens of snow flowers, starting the annual tradition of ice and snow carving festivals in Harbin. Interrupted by the Cultural Revolution, the show is now officially celebrating its 30th anniversary and is by far the largest ice and snow exhibition in the world. It is commonly referred to as having four of the key “mosts” - the most art attractions, the most beautiful night views, the most recreational activities and the most forms of entertainment. The theme varies from year to year (this year the theme is ""Fifty Years Ice Lantern, Wonder Spread to the Whole World, Charming Harbin"), with each new event attempting to become showier, glitzier, crazier, gaudier and more extravagant, ostentatious and kitsch than the previous. Think Disney meets Las Vegas and add a sprinkling of snow. The Chinese describe it as “three-dimensional paintings, solidified notes and colourful poems”. Who am I to disagree.

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The highlight this year is a towering replica of the Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik, Iceland. According to organisers, the structure is the tallest ice sculpture in China (46 meters), was made with 12,000 m³ of ice and features a 240m slide that visitors can glide down. The similarities to the Icelandic church are not immediately obvious – my first thought when I saw it was the abandoned Ryugyong hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea.

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Where else can you travel around the world in a couple of (freezing-your-butt-off) hours? Roman Colosseum – check. Brazilian World Cup Mascots – check. Great Wall of China – check. Empire State Building – check. Hallgrimskirkje, Iceland – check. Plus another 1500 or so more sculptures.

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Colosseum in ice

According to legend, in the old times, fishermen in the Songhua River would use crude ice lanterns for lighting their way, made simply by letting a bucket of water freeze, carving a hole in the ice block and inserting an oil lamp or candle. The lamps would later be used to decorate various winter-time festivals and over time have developed into the advanced multi-million commercial event it is now. This year's creations have used 180,000m³ ice from the nearby Songhua River.

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The ice thermometer apparently shows -28C

Dinner
There are several restaurants is this area, but being able to order something without speaking Chinese could prove a challenge, so when we saw pictures of food outside a restaurant around the corner from the hotel, we decided to take our chance there. When the girl greeted us with a cheery “hello” we got quite excited thinking she might speak some English. That was, however, the extent of her English vocabulary we think. Ordering a beer was the first hurdle, which we only overcame when Alan had the sense to use the Russian word for beer: “pivo”. That worked.

The restaurant looked somewhat familiar, and we soon realise why: this was the place we had breakfast! We are assuming that the hotel itself doesn't have a restaurant but has an arrangement with this place, a couple of doors away for their guests to take breakfast; which would explain the somewhat convoluted way of getting there from the hotel.

The menus not only had pictures of the food, they also had the name of the dish in English underneath. Very helpful, and the food was very good too. Our favourite was a beef and charred chillies dish.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:13 Archived in China

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Comments

Wow! Am really enjoying all of this…except the live chicken part.
The sculptures look amazing!
Food does indeed look GREAT.

Eddie wants a more complete explanation of how the ice is lit as well as how the sculptures are made…
This from the "Google King"
He'd rather hear it from you.

Love to you both and be safe.

by Homer Gardin

Wow tigers,very envious. Not sure about feeding time though.

Hope you are having a fab time, pictures look great.

by Lyn

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