Thursday, January 20, 2011


When I was twelve or thirteen, my family took a trip to Harbin.  I don't remember it very well except wanting to slide down the ice slides, enjoying frozen red fruit covered in caramelized sugar on a stick, and buying an imitation animal fur scarf where the fox's mouth opened to bite its tail enclosing one's neck in furry softness.
The only reason I returned to the frozen city of -30 degrees Celsius was to visit a student who was doing post graduate studies in Harbin; however, unfortunately the day I arrived she had a surprise interview in Beijing so we were unable to meet up.  I did have fun though and wasn't cold.  The indoor heating in Harbin is intense.  Plus I had plenty of knitted layers, excellent thermal shirts, and a borrowed heavy jacket.  Plus I wisely invested in the cheapest bulky long underwear pants that made me feel like a fat Chinese toddler who can't bend its knees and has to walk like a zombie.
The reasons I live in other countries are to experience a new culture, to explore human behavior, and to learn about myself.  The reasons I travel are to chill in a new place, to walk around, to eat food, and to escape from the monotonous habits of site.  I usually don't like to spend money to see things like museums, buildings, temples, etc, so Harbin was the first city where I felt like an actual money-paying tourist.  I visited the Disney themed ice sculptures, watched an acrobatic show on ice skates (my new dream is to be learn how to do aerial silk) and was driven around in a bus with bars on the windows in a Jurassic Park like compound that was a tiger reserve with many herds of 10-20 tigers. The tourists on the bus paid for frozen chickens and live birds to be thrown out of an SUV to feed the huge magnificent animals.  No one was willing to pay the $285 for a live cow.
What made Harbin awesome and easy to brave the cold was that my travel companion, M. knew people in the city.  This led to being driven around in a car and to eating amazing food!  We had homemade ice cream, a Chinese speciality in a Russian cafe.  We ate flat breads similar to tortillas stuffed with pork, eggs, garlic, and crunchy peppers.  I ate what I thought were frozen mini green crab apples covered with caramelized sugar on a stick which turned out to be green tomatoes.  We had Russian cream soup, pork covered with egg, and pirozhki.

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