Travels Through China

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31st January 2006




Happy New Year, welcome to the Year of the Dog. Dogs are big right now. There are movies about dogs on TV. You can buy postcards books and calendars full of dogs on every street corner. I saw a dog show in a shopping centre last week. I haven't eaten any dog yet, at least not that I am aware.

The people of China love firecrackers. In the days leading up to and following New Year's Eve there have been firecrackers going off everywhere, all the time. I booked a flight to Harbin on the night of New Year's Eve. Despite the fact that I didn't get to party, it was still worthwhile. I got a unique view of China - there were firecrackers going off everywhere as the plane took off from Shanghai, and they were still going off when I landed. It was a beautiful sight to be above an enormous panorama of explosions. Only once or twice did I consider my own safety.

If you click on the opposite photo you will hear an edited version of the sound of China. The photo is a picture of the aftermath of a typical sized round of bungers. The sound was edited because the original went for about 90 seconds. The thrill wears thin after 20 or so. Everywhere you go around China is covered with red paper debris like this.



So I know you want to know... Is it really that cold in Harbin?


I lied when I said it would be -20 here. It has gotten down to -29, and today it got up to around -14. The first time I stepped out into the cold I was suprised. I recall saying to myself that I really thought -20 would feel colder than this. Then my nose fell off.

My main reason for coming to Harbin has been the Ice Festival. It was so good that I have devoted a whole page to it. It was truly amazing. There are churches, the Big Ben, the Great Wall, a castle, the Arc De Triomphe, statues of people, etc...all made out of blocks of ice. At night they switch on the lights which are embedded in all the ice sculptures. It is so cold that the ice is dry. I put my face against the ice and it felt warm (comparitively).



This is the river in Harbin. Ferries are cancelled until further notice.




I visited another synagogue in Harbin. From around the turn of the century until the 1960's there was a thriving Jewish community here, mostly Russian. Harbin is very close to the Russian border, in fact it's only 8 hours by train from here to Vladivostok.

I was given the contact details for the Harbin Jews Research Centre, a branch of the Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences. The director of the centre, Professor Fu, was stoked to recieve my call. She sent someone to pick me up this morning and she personally took me around their brand new exhibition. Only 3 weeks ago they opened a two-floor tribute to the Jewish community of Harbin, set up in one of the two old synagogues in town. It was moving to see the effort that these people have made to preserve the memory of a vibrant community that dwindled away over time.






This is me with Professor Fu at the exhibition.


The snow esky.


One of the exhibits, a photo of Betar in Harbin. The last guy on the right is the father of Ehud Olmert, current PM of Israel.




This is the exterior of the other synagogue in town. It is now a pizza restaurant and a coffee shop.



Here I am, practicing my posing in front of a large Russian church in Harbin. Note the red paper debris in the foreground.




Also in Harbin is an enormous wildlife park. It is for Siberian Tigers. You can buy live chickens, sheep or cattle to feed to the tigers. Chickens are only 10RMB a go (about $1.80AUD), but the cattle are prohibitively expensive at 1500RMB a pop - about $250AUD.


Feeding time. This photo links to a short film of a tiger getting really close to our bus. (380KB, MP4 format, plays with Quicktime)


These are ligers. I am not kidding. For the unititiated, they are half lion, half tiger. They breed them for their skills in magic.


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