Houston we have landed. I’m back to the 冰城 (bing cheng, bing chung) or Ice City as Harbin is known. Why’s that? Why for the world-famous ice festival of course! It’s quite breathtaking, although not worth a trip to China all on its own in my opinion, here’s an idea of it though.
Ironically/sadly northeast China is fairly dry as far as weather goes, and a lot of the
THat shoudlnecessary ice ends up being manufactured. Sorry environment, but the neon is just too irresistible.
I’ve arrived about a week before the program starts properly to take care of some visa things, so I’m mostly just killing time. Yesterday I set up a new SIM card and bought pretty much all the things I needed to buy (washbasin, soap, new tea thermos, a bowl with cute pandas and two jumbo toothpastes packaged together for some reason, etc.) and took care of my dorm registration, the visa will come in a couple days.
My two friends still living here are out of town currently, so unfortunately so my plans for the week include a visit to main street (中央大街), maybe a trip to the Confucius Temple I never visited the first time around, writing, reading, gaming, and maybe trying to contact my Fulbright sponsor. Funnily enough, I’m in the exact same dorm I was last time! Same bed, same desk, new bathroom after the old one (which had crummy water pressure) apparently had a massive leak last semester, so they had to do that bathroom on all six floors and it’s now the best :D. They’re also remodeling the dorm kitchen at the moment, so curious to see what that ends up looking like.
So what’s Harbin and why am I here? The word Harbin is actually from the Manchu language, and means a place to dry fishing nets. From that you might divine that Harbin used to be a fishing village. Similar to Shenzhen, Harbin’s seen great progress since those days, and is the transport and economic hub of the northeast (up in the head of China if you look at it as a chicken), which is a region consisting of three provinces, 黑龙江 (Heilongjiang, Harbin’s province), 吉林 (Jilin), and 辽宁 (Liaoning). That said, Harbin’s population is barely over ten million, which is relatively small by Chinese standards and a lot of people still view it as a bit of a hick town.
Whereas Shenzhen evolved into an international business capital when China opened up in the late 70’s and 80’s, Harbin’s progress came about 100 years earlier with the help of the Russians. In 1898 the foundation of the China Eastern Railroad heralded a flood of Russian immigrants and economic stimulus for the city of Harbin. It’s also known as “Little Moscow” and “Paris of the East”, as in the 1920’s Russian fashion designs would appear there first before reaching Shanghai and even today it’s still a gateway for Sino-Russian trade.
A second wave of Russian immigrants came in 1917 for reasons I’m sure you can guess, and it became the largest enclave of White (non-Communist) Russians outside the Soviet Union, who had their own school system, papers, etc. And tbetween them and the 20,000 Jews that were a part of them Harbin ended up with some pretty interesting culture and architecture, most prominently displayed on Center Street.
That should be enough for today, look out for posts on Harbin’s Jews, food, my Fulbright projects, and whatever other things occur to me, love ya!