Friday, March 4, 2016

Harbin Ice & Snow Festival.

Eeekk!! Hello my faithful friends and readers...IF you are still out there! I am so sorry it has been MONTHS (almost 3 to be exact, AHH!) since I last wrote. Thank you for still visiting my page while I was away. Your loyalty does not go unnoticed, and I am forever grateful that you all find an interest in my life and writing. I mostly write this for me, but I know that some of my friends and family back home are curious and interested in my experiences living abroad. So, I'M BACK! This time to tell you a story about my trip to Harbin in January with my friends Amanda and Tony. 

This post is LONG overdue! I wanted to write it a long time ago, BUT life. Work life and personal life. So, here I am putting my work life on hold for a couple of hours so I can write this post. Because I definitely want to remember Harbin - it was for sure one of the most uniquely amazing experiences I've ever had in my travels so far! 

Harbin has been on my list of places to visit in China for a couple of reasons. At my old school, I had a student who was from Harbin. Let's call him John. John was SO proud of where he was from. All my students were proud of where they were from, but John expressed it differently. He was a quiet student, and generally kept to himself. He was different then most of his classmates, and therefore, sadly, he wasn't always accepted nor did he have many friends. So whenever I had the chance to stop in the hallway, courtyard, cafeteria, library, etc. to talk to John I would. And 90% of the time our conversations headed in the direction of talking about Harbin. Hearing his stories about his life and the culture in Harbin intrigued me. This is when my desire to travel to Harbin began. Later, I took the time to research about Harbin and this is when I learned about the famous Ice & Snow Festival. You guys! This festival is EPIC! Towering structures made purely of ice and snow, COUNT ME IN! John never really spoke much about the festival. He'd tell me that I should go. But most of his favourite spots in Harbin surrounded food and shopping. So, over the summer, Amanda, Tony, and I decided that during the month of the Ice and Snow Festival, we would find our way there! 

Firstly, I want to remember the temperature. Oh. My. GOD! Living in eastern Canada for the majority of my life definitely DID NOT prepare me for the cold I experienced in Harbin. It was FREEZING. Literally, it was so cold one night that my hair froze and started to form icicles. Look! 

I was wearing so many layers. Two pairs of leggings, a pair of stretchy jeans, and then a pair of black pants on top of that. Sweaters, on sweaters, under coats. Two scarves at a time! I've never had to dress like that in Canada. During the day, the temperature would be about -25°give or take a few. And this was with the sun shining brightly in the sky. At night time, it got below -30°C. And it was a dry cold. Just cold right to the bone! 

Secondly, I want to remember the Ice Festival, of course! There are really no words for what I saw while I was there. So, let me tell you about it through pictures:

Thirdly, I want to remember the city itself. Like a lot of the cities in China, they are packed full of history. In addition, Harbin is in the VERY northern part of China which borders Russia. So, a lot of the cities influence comes from Russian culture. On the Saturday morning/early afternoon of our weekend there, we toured around the city. We saw Sophia Square and Church, Central Street where we ate ice cream (YES, I said ice cream. Surprisingly, eating ice cream in a place that is that cold does the opposite of what you'd think. The ice cream was warmer than the temperature outside! So, if anything, it warmed us up!) and we enjoyed hot Coca Cola (probably won't have it again. Wasn't terrible, but it also wasn't great). Then, we went down to the water front and watched all the activities they had going on on the water. Skating, sliding, inner tubes tied to tractors and 4-wheelers. PS - Skating in China consists of sitting on a very small toboggan and using miniature ski poles to pull yourself around on the ice. Also, for the first time EVER, I saw bicycles with blades attached to them for skating. So interesting and different from what my western eyes are used to! 

We had to call the touring quits mid-afternoon because we weren't fully prepared for THAT much time outside in the cold, and my legs were so cold they were starting to sting and hurt. I was actually fearful that I might get frostbite. However, we saw everything we wanted to see in the city, and that's what counts in the end (even if my legs took hours to fully thaw out). 

Lastly, I want to remember the hospitality we experienced. The company I work for has a sister school in Harbin. When a friend of Amanda and Tony's heard we were coming to Harbin, they invited us to stay on campus. The staff at the school were so accommodating and friendly, and we were blown away at the kindness we were greeted with during our stay. They toured around with us, made sure we were comfortable, and even made us a little weekend schedule to make sure we saw EVERYTHING in our short stay. The words "THANK YOU" don't truly say how much gratitude we have for the lovely staff in Harbin! We truly were spoiled. 

Some of my favourite moments while traveling are the small things that happen that impact me emotionally, and also those little things that happen that make me laugh uncontrollably or feel an overwhelming sense of happiness. For this trip, the one that sticks out in my mind the most happened in the first hour we had arrived. On the drive to the residence building, we spotted our first ice sculpture and the three of us got so excited. We yelped, screamed, ooo'd and ahh'd. Our new friends kept telling us it wasn't even that big. But to us, it was ENORMOUS! We tried to take a picture from in the car, but it was just TOO BIG! So, the driver stopped for us and we got out and took a picture.

It's blurry, you can't see us because it's dark, and part of the structure is cut off. However, I remember how big I was smiling in this picture. I remember we were all laughing. And I remember how excited I was when we got back in the car afterwards. It was one of those moments where I felt so fortunate to be on this journey and to be sharing it with my beautiful friends. It was one of those moments where I truly was in love with my life.

Traveling has become such a huge part of me. Exploring and seeing and doing. I can't imagine my life being anything else right now. Harbin was a quick weekend away, but a weekend I'm glad I had. Because, not only did I get to see another part of China and the world, but I was reminded about how much I love what I'm doing and I can't wait to see what comes next.

PS - It's Bali...and that blog post will be up very soon!