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nomadnorrie From Sydney to the formula 1 grand prix in Shanghai, Beijing, South Korea, Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine and Europe. Final destination by train is London. Hopping on a flight to Finland, then on to Japan and finally back to Sydney.

Ice cold in Harbin & chilly in Shenyang

CHINA | Saturday, 12 January 2008 | Views [6059]

My favorite ice festival sculpture.

My favorite ice festival sculpture.


I went to Shenyang principally to visit a museum called 18 September. In 1931 the Japanese occupied Shenyang from the north, the museum is supposed to be a very good place to see how the Japanese army treated the locals. I hopped off the bus and found the rather large museum on the opposite side of the road. Worryingly, the ticket office looked as though it had been closed for months. I wandered around the building and asked a Chinese guy whether the museum is open. In about a month he said. Just my luck, the museum in Shanhaiguan was also closed. I felt like I was on a tour of museums closed for renovation. Disappointingly I stared at the building, sat on the tank outside then went straight back into town.

I headed to the north tomb in Beiling park. Part of the park had been turned into a winter activities center since the lakes had all frozen over. Ice skating, horse-carriage riding on ice, snow mobiles and chair sledges (sit on a chair with skis under the legs and use walking sticks to propel you forwards). Further north in the park is the tomb of the founder of the Qing dynasty, it's a large complex of small buildings and animal statues surrounded by high walls. The building dates to 1643 but the architecture style reminded me of Beijing's Forbidden Palace.

My final effort for the day was to go to the Imperial Palace. It's another old site, the Qing dynasty took residence there and it also resembles the Forbidden City in Beijing.

Was Shenyang cold? Well it was chilly but easily manageable with the odd warm museum.


I was talking to a Harbin born and bred Chinese bloke on the train, he recently moved to Beijing but was coming back for an exam. He helpfully led me directly to the taxi hawkers, funny guy. The hotel I stayed at is about 2km from the train station or a 5-10 minute taxi ride. The hawkers were initially asking for 80 Yuan. I explained in Chinese that I knew how far it is and that it should only cost 8, 9 or 10 Yuan. I couldn't stop the cries of "Your hotel is very far" but eventually one driver came to me and said come on. I got into his taxi and thought I was about to be on my way. This guy asked for a comparatively cheap 50 Yuan but it still wasn't cheap enough so I got out. The hawkers surrounded me again and this time they tried to persuade me that my hotel is now closed. I explained that I phoned the previous night and still they went on about me needing to pay 50 Yuan. I walked off to flag down a taxi. Amusingly the taxi driver that I stopped went through the same process as the hawkers; hotel too far, better hotel nearer, my hotel is closed. Two minutes later and after several loudly repeated "I only want to go to this hotel" we set off. Final price 8 Yuan, although he didn't give me enough change, he still owes me 1 Yuan.

Anyone wishing to go to Harbin, beware of the taxi drivers and hawkers, insist that the meter is on (just tapping on it is enough). Don't believe a word they tell you.

After all that fuss, while sitting in the taxi I realised that the dialect is so different here that I could barely understand what people were saying. Far more difficult than in Beijing, oddly people seemed able to understand me.

I found an average dumplings restaurant and was so disappointed with the food that I left half of it. The waiter, after realising that I speak a little Mandarin asked for translations for an English menu that he was preparing. Then he came along with a camera and asked if he could take a photo of me. Surprised, I asked if there was something funny about the way I look, his reply was "Yes, yes".

A stroll along the not-very-Chinese looking main tourist street whetted my appetite and after an hour outside I still didn't feel cold.

731 Germ Warfare Base

I met a Maltese lady, Josianne, in my hotel reception. We chatted for a while and then went to the 731 germ warfare base in the west of Harbin. We caught a local bus from the train station to the museum and spent the rest of the morning going through the museum's articles. The first level (L2) was disappointing and it took time to be able to paint a picture of what actually went on there. The displays were vague with insufficient English labels and material was sparse. However about half way through the museum a picture was forming of what the base meant to the Japanese army and the sort of people that ran it. The final part of the museum - 16 video interviews of former Japanese 731 base personnel - was the best. One interviewee was clearly proud of his achievements, smiling broadly while admitting what went on at 731, but again the english translation was at times insufficient.

731 research centre in Harbin tested for the effects of Bubonic Plague, Cholera, frostbite on local Chinese, Russians and British PoWs.

One interviewee told how Japanese personnel were sometimes tested on if they became ill.

Another interviewee told how a mouse would be infected with Cholera and then put into a hot, humid chamber containing fleas. The fleas would bite the mouse, become infected and propagate. When the mouse died another would be pushed into the chamber. Then the fleas and corn were ejected from aircraft in bomb canisters over various sites in China.

Another interviewee told how bomb effectiveness was measured. PoWs were arranged in circles around an unexploded bomb containing one of the diseases. The men were hung on wooded crosses and over their chests were steel plates - to prevent death from the bomb blast. After the bomb was exploded tests were carried out to see whether the victims were indeed infected with disease. Apparently there were many escapees but they were always captured and killed.

Ice Lantern Festival

In the afternoon Josianne and I went to the ice lantern festival in SongLin park for a chilly stroll around. After 3pm the entrance prices double (to 55 Yuan) and the ticket office closes. We arrived at 3.45, 15 minutes before the office reopened for double price tickets. While there was still time before it got dark we saw some of the sculptures with just enough daylight. When it got dark the lights came on and the sculptures started to look quite different. Inside the sculptures range from tacky (Noah's Ark) to quite exquisite and stunning. Late afternoon was definitely the best time to go, however, the cold was biting. Over the three hours or so we spent there almost an hour was inside a canteen warming our hands on hot drinks.

Snow Sculpture Festival

At 120 Yuan this was more expensive than the ice lantern festival but somehow it didn't quite have the same magic feel. Much tackier than the ice festival and a lot less twinkly but it was considerably larger. We couldn't resist the novelty of walking across the frozen river to the sculptures on Sun Island park. On arrival both of us had icicles on our right eye's eyelashes, the side wind was so strong it was blowing warm freshly exhaled air on to my right eye and subsequently freezing. If you're still not convinced by the cold then I should say that the inside of my nose was starting to freeze. This time we were equipped with hot water bottles inside our jackets but even that wasn't enough to stay comfortable for long. In the evening I was left with a thoroughly red face from my eyes to mouth - the only place my skin was exposed. I was wearing two layers of clothes on my legs and five on my top, two pairs of gloves a hat and a scarf. I was still cold in the sub -15 degree temperatures (BBC weather website said the temperature was -23). In the end we spent several hours outside but that was not without the help of sheltering in a nondescript ice museum, a canteen and a Russian tourist shop.

I left Harbin on a luxury train sharing a cabin with 2 pretty giggling Russian girls, and that just after having Russian curry with potato, beef, chicken and spices, followed by bread butter and jam. Delicious.

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Tags: Sightseeing



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