A Travellerspoint blog

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Preparation

It's going to be HOW cold??

sunny 28 °C


So I'm off to China again next week; this time to attend the spectacular Harbin Ice and Snow Festival and to enjoy the festivities of Chinese New Year in Hong Kong. Plus a little bit in between.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about the weather in Harbin. The most extreme temperature I've experienced before was one night in Edinburgh - the night before Hogmanay, I do believe - when it briefly dropped to -20C. I don't remember much about it, except for the lightbulb moment when I understood what hats were all about. For the past few weeks, when I've found myself awake during the night, I've got into the habit of reaching for my phone to check the weather in Harbin. So far the worst I've seen was -31C, and let me just say it was difficult to go back to sleep after seeing that...

However, I've done some research and I've stocked up on winter essentials (as much as anyone can in Australia in the middle of summer) and if the worst comes to pass I'll take comfort in Carol's advice that I will be able to buy anything else I need once I'm there. She has a point - all this gear I've purchased was made in China anyway. I'm just carting it back there!

This blog is going to be a little different to my previous one. The trip is really too brief to muck around with proxies or VPNs, but I believe I will be able to access Travellerspoint from China (community please comment now if this is not true!). So I've set up a feed where Facebook will automatically import anything I post here. That's why I've decided this one will be a bit more like a mini-diary. I'll try to take some pics as I go along too.

I leave Melbourne on Australia Day. I'll miss the end of the Hottest 100 countdown, but hey. I'm overnighting in Bangkok, and will arrive in Beijing Thursday afternoon. Until then.

Posted by Andrea R 19:29 Archived in Australia Tagged me packing cold diary Comments (2)

Beautiful Beijing

A perfect day in sub-zero temperatures

sunny -8 °C

I arrived in Beijing yesterday after a long but uneventful journey via Bangkok. My luggage had a slightly longer journey than me... I admit I was starting to get a little upset upon arrival in Beijing, when I was forced to have an experience that I hadn't been counting on - Beijing Capital Airport Luggage Enquiries. But almost 3 hours later I had my bag and made my way - almost freezing - to the hotel.

I'm sorry I can't avoid mentioning the weather because it's such a novelty for me!

Today has been cold but otherwise perfect conditions for sightseeing in Beijing. While everyone else trooped around the Forbidden City, I made my way out to the Summer Palace. Even with the brand new subway line that takes you all the way there, it's still a good hour out of central Beijing. The sun was shining brightly over the frozen lake while I kept moving to keep myself warm. I was fascinated by the number of people walking across it, presumably taking the route that the ferries take when the water is a bit more flexible. I wasn't so game, just sticking to the lakeside promenade.

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In the early afternoon a bit of a breeze came up, which dropped the temperature even more and seems to have had the effect of turning me into Rudolph (hopefully temporary). I took this as a sign to return to the city.

An hour and a half later, after braving the peak-hour/s subway, then walking about 5km through my hotel's district, I arrived back to a warming cup of jasmine tea.

Tonight we see the Beijing Acrobats, which I'm told are not as good as in Shanghai, but I'll reserve judgment as I am a complete sucker for that sort of thing.

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Posted by Andrea R 16:35 Archived in China Tagged airport beijing luggage summer_palace Comments (0)

Mutianyu

A different perspective

sunny -5 °C

I wasn't expecting a lot from my day at the Great Wall, as our itinerary for the day was identical to my 'Great Wall day' in October 2008. How wrong could I be?! I hadn't factored the superb winter weather into the equation. On a cold, clear winter day I certainly gained a different perspective.

With the early morning temperature at -5C, we left Beijing behind and drove to Mutianyu through the practically non-existent Saturday morning traffic. When I say non-existent, I mean it would have been considered manageable for Melbourne. For Beijing, it was like a New Year gift from the gods.

The first difference I noticed upon arrival was the Chinese writing on the hillside - just an old revolutionary slogan I'm told, but in 2008 we had no indication that it was there behind the Autumn mist. And up on the wall we could see for miles, rather than just as far as the next tower. The cold kept the hordes away and the body temperature under control on the steep climb. *Warning - yucky bit ahead* Another thing about the cold weather was that I couldn't feel my nose running, and just had to assume it was, and wipe regularly. This mostly worked, but for a big drip on my camera at one point. But never mind, as no harm was done!!!

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We were able to spend four glorious, almost solitary hours up on the wall, enjoying the vistas that had previously only been in my imagination. Now I feel like have really 'done' Mutianyu.

Posted by Andrea R 15:07 Archived in China Tagged traffic weather beijing great_wall climbing Comments (0)

Harbin Ice & Snow Festival

Arriving in the Ice City

snow -26 °C

OH MY GOD!

I knew I was in trouble when we disembarked in Harbin and there was thick ice INSIDE the aerobridge. I had prepared by layering up before leaving Beijing, but there was no way that my theoretical understanding of temperature numbers could ever have hoped to match the reality of what -26C would be like. Yes, that is no typo. It was -26C when we touched down.

In the short walk from the terminal to our waiting bus, my down jacket was crackling like popcorn and my canvas handbag was frozen stiff. I wanted to giggle hysterically, but the realisation that I had nearly three more days of this to endure helped me to keep it under control.

On the positive side, it was so cold that the ground was not really slippery at all. This had been my second greatest fear (#1 was dying of hypothermia). Provided you kept your eyes open for the odd patch of ice, it was absolutely fine.

A welcome greeting standing in front of the terminal building was my first ice lantern.

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Posted by Andrea R 15:28 Archived in China Tagged ice frozen harbin ice_lantern Comments (0)

Harbin

The Ice & Snow Festival

sunny -20 °C

Let me start by saying that after years of anticipation, the festival was all I expected, and more.

I started the day with 4 layers on top, 2 on the bottom and 2 on the feet. Verdict: not quite enough.

Our first outing was to the beautiful Church of St Sophia - a Harbin landmark at any time of year - showing the strong Russian influence on local architecture. With a layer of snow on its extremities, it looked like something out of a fairytale. The interesting thing about Harbin is that it looks like no other Chinese city I've seen. The square upon which the church sits is surrounded by distinctly solid but elegant buildings that make you think you could be just about anywhere in Europe.

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Next we hurried off for the 10am appointment with Harbin's famous ice-swimmers. CRAZY. I gingerly made my way onto the ice and watched in fascination as these mostly elderly people clowned around for the crowd and took turns diving into the specially-created pool in the ice. After their dip they each did a lap of honour around the edge of the pool, shaking hands with the people in the crowd and wishing everyone a happy New Year. Although there were a few Chinese taking the plunge, I thought on balance there were more Russian-looking people doing it. I had my gloves off to take photos for 3-4 minutes, but that was all I could bear. It took almost an hour for them to stop stinging afterwards.

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By this time we'd been out in the elements for maybe 2 hours, so we had to return to the hotel to give people an opportunity to recharge camera batteries. Some people were having real problems with this (they discharge very quickly in cold temperatures), but I was quite lucky with mine.

For the afternoon/evening session - where we were to be outdoors from 2pm until about 7:30 - I stuck with my 4 layers on top, upgraded to 3 on the bottom and 3 on the feet, PLUS a stick-on back-warmer and 2 sets of handwarmers for emergencies. This might sound a bit over the top, but I have to admit that after the sun went down at 4:30 I though my #1 fear (see previous post) could still become a reality.

In the daylight we visited the snow sculptures at Sun Island Park, on the opposite side of the frozen river. This year's theme is something about Italy and passion, but to be honest, it wasn't always apparent from the sculptures. There were some distinctly Italian pieces; the leaning tower of Pisa, Leonardo, Pulcinella etc, but there was also a good smattering of both western and Chinese fairytales, Disney characters and the like. Some were really impressive with the level of detail and the enormous scale, while others were a bit 'meh'. Sorry, that's about as descriptive as I can be without photos to show you what I mean!

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At 4:30 it was already well into twilight and we drove 3 minutes or so to another section of Sun Island Park where all the ice lanterns are constructed. For me, this is what the Festival is all about. Everywhere you turned, from the entrance gate to the massive Neuschwanstein-style castle, there was a sight to take your breath away. I would say most of the lanterns were in the style of buildings; castles, temples, shrines, windmills etc, but there were also a few that doubled as advertising for the local Harbin beer, Stolichnaya and so on. Many of the larger lanterns had multicoloured, changing lights, while the smaller ones tended to be a bit more simple, with static lights and colours. Again, that's probably as good as it gets until the photos are ready.

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Was I warm enough? No. My handwarmers, which lasted at least 90 minutes during testing in Melbourne, were lucky to give me 10 minutes of relief. At one point I discovered that my scarf, which I was using to cover most of my face, had developed an unfortunate crease and had then frozen, leaving my nose exposed to the elements. There was simply nothing I could do about it. Around the site there were some indoor activities (eg the lamest cabaret-style show you can imagine) that you could escape to when the going got too rough, so I rationed these opportunities to try to make myself last the distance. It was really difficult taking photos, too. I'd discovered that I could operate my DSLR reasonably well with gloves on, but even then the metal body of the camera was too cold to hold onto for very long at a time.

I think I'll leave it there. It was a really rough day, but was it worth it? Hell, yes.

Posted by Andrea R 10:48 Archived in China Tagged snow church ice weather swimming harbin ice_lantern Comments (0)

Xi'an

Thawing in the ancient city

overcast -1 °C

Arriving in Xi'an, -1C seemed like summer! I still had to go for a few layers, but overall it was such a relief not to have to plan toilet stops an hour in advance to work out the logistics of undressing.

In hindsight it would have been nice to spend a bit more time in Xi'an, as it is the hometown of our tour leader, Oliver. He took us to eat at a couple of fabulous less-than-no-frills restaurants and was able to give us a local's insight to this most ancient of cities.

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I was more than happy to return to the terracotta warriors, this time with a much better camera that copes well in no-flash conditions. It is simply awe-inspiring, no matter how many visits (except perhaps for poor Ollie, who has no doubt been there thousands of times).

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Posted by Andrea R 11:33 Archived in China Tagged food restaurant xian warriors Comments (1)

Xi'an City Wall

Lantern Festival

sunny 0 °C

An unexpected bonus in Xi'an was the spectacular City Wall Lantern Festival, staged as part of the New Year celebrations. The Chinese do this sort of thing so well.

On my previous visit to Xi'an I hadn't really had time to explore the city wall. It is the most complete fortification in China, forming a 14km rectangle around the ancient city (what we would recognise as the current CBD). It's not immediately obvious how to get onto the city wall - or should I say, the most obvious method appears to be so fraught with danger that your brain dismisses it as a possibility before your conscious mind has an opportunity to consider it. But unfortunately, the realisation soon dawns that the only way to get to the entrance is to cross the insane traffic, with nothing but a zebra stripe on the road to protect you from inevitable death.

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But it was worth having to deal with a bit of unexpected adrenalin for the opportunity to explore the lanterns, ranging from rabbits (obviously) to pandas (one panda was even disguised as a rabbit - or at least that's what I think was going on) to Chinese imperial and rural tableaux.

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After having walked perhaps 4-5km admiring the lanterns, and just about at our lantern threshhold, we came upon an elderly Chinese man making zodiac lollipops with nothing more than a spoon and years of skill. He had a zodiac wheel beside him, so if you wanted one of his sugary creations the idea was that you spun the wheel and whatever it landed on, he either made it for you or gave it to you from his small stock on hand. Just 2RMB for the simplest butterfly* to the most intricate dragon. (*I realise that butterflies are not part of the Chinese zodiac; perhaps he just really enjoyed making them?!)

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Posted by Andrea R 12:45 Archived in China Tagged traffic xian wall lantern Comments (0)

Hong Kong

Chinese New Year

sunny 22 °C

Arriving in Hong Kong is like pulling on a pair of comfy slippers, but this visit - for Chinese New Year - was like someone had taken to those slippers with a bedazzler. Everything was bright, clean, shiny and new, and there was an intense vibe that I've not felt before; somewhere intersecting excitement, joy and anticipation.

The two main New Year events were of course centred on Victoria Harbour, which had been dressed up for the occasion.

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On New Year's Day-night was the New Year Parade, comprising some 36 elements (floats and/or groups). It was a lavish production sponsored by Cathay Pacific. And now I know why I couldn't afford to fly with them for this trip - I would have been subsidising the overly-generous showbags provided to parade ticket-holders! Not only were we ticket-holders, and therefore guaranteed a good view, we actually had front-row seats.

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The following evening was the big fireworks display over Victoria Harbour. I had thought the crowds that turned out for the parade were exceptional, but that was nothing compared to the fireworks throng. Perhaps it's the one night of the year that Hong Kong residents make their jaded way to their fabulous waterfront to admire the view??

Posted by Andrea R 12:41 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged skylines people parties festival fireworks new_year Comments (0)

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