Trips and Tales (Part 91): Trans-Siberian Offshoots #2
One of Harbin‘s unique features (there are several) is its fascinating blend – or should that be collision – of European, Chinese and Russian architecture. This no doubt was aided by shifts in the city’s controlling power as Chinese, Russian and Japanese forces took their respective turns through painful historical conflict. Harbin was the bolt-hole for fleeing “White”, pro-Tsarist forces and sympathisers as fallout from the Soviet Revolution. Far enough to escape the Communist reach but close enough to step back in once normality had been restored – some hope. The largest settlement of Russians outside the motherland apparently, including a concentrated Russian Jewish population too.
Japan seized control of Harbin in 1932 but were displaced by Russian forces in 1945, although it was subsequently left back in the hands of the Chinese the following year.
Each change in regime instigated an influx or outflow of humanity from differing origins and cultures, continually stirring the mix, as it were.
These days, Harbin seems to be on a decided roll, prospering from (literally) ground-level, up via its super-rich Black Earth soil supporting agricultural businesses, as well as through the prevalence of other natural and human-engineered resources, travel connections, internal commerce and civil/business infrastructure. It was even awarded UNESCO “City of Music” status in 2010, no doubt a beneficial offshoot of the long-standing creative, cultural mix. That mix today manifests predominantly as a blend of Han, Manchu and Russian. Diverse then, and often dressed in European building work that gives rise to descriptions such as “Oriental Paris”, if such a thing can be imagined. No need to imagine of course: it’s here.
There’s plenty for the taking in Harbin , for a variety of tastes. It’s more a case of what to leave out. As mentioned last time, I am hoping to swing an interview with a visitor to the Ice Festival but in keeping with this overview it’s no bad place to start.
There are actually 3 main “Ice” festivals, the Ice and Snow World – I’m assuming – is the one that I have seen footage of due to the scale and nature of the ice sculptures therein. “Impressive” doesn’t cover the carved blocks assembled into complete sculptures and actual buildings.
At first glance I thought that the lighting was from external spots and floods but much, at least, is located inside the creations themselves, producing intense, multi-coloured glows that diffuse out through the glassy walls of the display structures. The result should be 1980’s neon gaudiness but it’s too overwhelming and too full-on, and the setting too surreal for the result to be anything other than stunning. We’ll be coming back to this.
The Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Art Fair probably doesn’t fit too well onto a T-shirt and features (often huge) intricately carved (considering the material) snow sculptures. You want ice? You want snow? They’ve got it covered (literally).
The Zhaolin Park Ice Festival appears from description to be a scaled down version of the Ice and Snow World, perhaps for those whose who just can’t take that much after all.
More next time.
Next time: Trips and Tales (Part 92) Trans-Siberian Offshoots #3
[Photo by Rincewind42]