Travel Report Four

Harbin and Heilongjiang in Winter

Heilongjiang is the north-easternmost province of China and has a long border with Russia. The Russian city of Vladivostok lies very close. The climate is indeed ‘Siberian’.

And in the countryside more than one village claims the title of ‘snow town’, or similar. To the east of Harbin are forestry areas, necessarily idle in winter due to … snow.

The temperature in Harbin, the provincial capital, stays below zero for more than three months of the year, with night-time temperatures as low as -30°C. So the river freezes, providing a supply of large blocks of ice that are ready for human creativity.

Hotels are good, with generous heating. Skiing, snowboarding and snowmobile rides are available.

There are winter sports, though the business is in an early stage of development.

Almost all of the houses in the village contribute to attract tourists, at least by hanging red lanterns outside the door. These lanterns reveal that this is China and not Siberia, the border of which is a few kilometres away. Many but not all public signs are in Russian as well as Mandarin Chinese.

Accommodation: Harbin has a good range, and the key snow centres have comfortable and well heated hotels. It is also possible to stay in homes in the villages. Again, enquire in Harbin.

Recommendation: Have plenty of warm clothes, for temperatures below -20°C. Skiing is possible in some places.

Most of the people in this ‘snow town’ earn a living from seasonal forestry, or from employment in the one hotel. Job security and income levels are low, and luxuries are few.

A brief (very brief!) inspection revealed that the outdoor facilities had been used at some point since everything quickly froze when exposed to the air.

You wouldn’t want to go out there in a snowstorm at -30°C.

People close their doors for the winter, and keep them closed as far as possible. Sometimes, though, they must go out in search of necessities.

Self-reliance in harsh conditions …

… and too harsh for some, who leave old homes empty .

All across China, young people are abandoning the countryside to find more comfort and security of employment in the cities.
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