I am posting from a wangba (internet bar) in Harbin. Boy does this seem familiar. During my last two trips to China I spent many an hour in internet bars in Harbin.
I didn't bring my computer because I didn't want to deal with bringing in. Sadly I cannot show you any picture or video I have taken until I get back to Shanghai.
I should back up. So, on the 14th I woke up at the ungodly time of 5am. I had already cleaned my apartment and packed so all I had to do was go outside and find a cab. I took the first cab I found and asked him to go to the maglev station. The maglev is this super fast train that goes to the airport. I figured I would give it a try and save myself some time and money. The cab driver tried to get me to let him drive me all the way to the airport. When I insisted, he just kind of laughed. I had been in the taxi for about 5 minutes before I realized he hadn't started the meter. I was convinced for a moment that he was going to drive me all the way to the airport and then charge me some outrageous price. I wrote down his license number just in case. He did drive me to the maglev station and when it came time to pay he made a big show about how he forgot to start the meter. I gave hime 20kuai (what it costs to get me to Century Ave, about equal distance) and he just took it and left.
The maglev was pretty cool. It only took 8 minutes to get to the airport. The train got up to 301km/h. As my dad once joked, it did feel like the train spent the first part of the trip speeding up and the other half slowing down. Once at the airport I got checked in. I found "River Town" in a bookstore at the airport, so I bought it to read. Someone suggested it to me. It'll be the second book I read about Americans teaching English in China. The first was "Coming Home Crazy". When I got out of baggage claim, I looked for Yuki's father. My student had insisted on having her father pick me up at the airport, saying that a taxi driver might overcharge me. I waited about 20 minutes and then called my student. She had confused my flight information and thought I was going to be arriving at night. In the end I took a taxi.
I really like the hotel I'm staying at. I was really worried at first that it was going to be some super fancy, super expensive hotel. But it's perfect. Clean, neat. There was a plate of fruit waiting for me, filtered water, and a big comfy bed with a huge, warm comforter. Ahh. It's also a 5 minute walk from Center Street.
Yuki had a friend of her father's meet me at the hotel and take me out to lunch. He was a police officer, which was a little strange. I can now say I have been inside a Chinese cop car. He didn't speak any English and after being surrounded by Shanghai dialect for 5 months, I had trouble understanding his Chinese. Lunch was still pleasant though. We had some sweet taro, cucumber, pork off the bone, and garlic fish. And Harbin beer of course! After lunch Yuki called again and asked if she wanted me to find someone for me to "play with" tomorrow. Maybe a friend of her mother's? I told her that was very kind, but I was looking forward to exploring by myself. "Oh! So you want to play by yourself?" she asked. I told her yes. :-)
After getting back to the hotel, I was exhausted. It was only about 4pm, but I knew I couldn't really handle going out. I haven't been sleeping that well lately, but I don't know why. I figured I would take a nap. Instead I "slept" until about 7am. I say "slept" because I just remember constantly waking up and still not feeling rested when I called it quits and got up.
I bundled up and decided to go out and wander. I felt proud of myself finding Center Street (until I later found out the Center Street was super close and I had instead made a HUGE circle). I stopped in a few shops but didn't buy anything. Took some pictures. I got to the Songhua River. A bunch of people tried to sell me horse drawn carriage rides, but instead I decided to walk across the river. It was pretty cool. Very quiet.
On the other side of the river was Sun Island. I first stopped in a little Russian Style Village which was a waste of money. The buildings were kind of interesting but the place was deserted and the entire "village" was just shops. After that I went to see the snow sculptures. THAT was cool. There were some HUGE sculptures like this ginormous Santa Claus the size of a mountain. There were also smaller ones that were amazingly well carved/sculpted. I bought some candied fruit on a stick and wandered around taking pictures and enjoying the winter wonderland.
After exploring all of the Sun Island, I decided to take a cab back to the hotel. I couldn't feel my face anymore and I was pretty sore from walking for 6 hours straight. I took a nice hot shower at the hotel and bundled under the covers. Watched a little Chinese TV. I headed back out for dinner. I decided to go to the place down the street that I had gone to with the police officer. I had liked the food and there was a giant picture menu on the wall. I picked out two dishes, a bowl of rice and a bottle of beer and settled down. I had this fried shrimp on a stick thing and some more pork off the bone.
My plan was to go back to the hotel and make an early night of it. I wasn't really bundled up since I had just a short walk to the restaurant and I wasn't planning on staying out long. That changed when I walked out of the door and saw a glowing ice castle in the opposite direction. I figured "What the heck" even though I was wearing about half as many layers and it was twice as cold. It turned out to be a Disney Themed ice park. There were some amazing ice sculptures. They also had a giant ice pirate ship and Aladdin's palace. When I was just about finished wandering around the park, an announcement came on to say that the park was closing in 10 minutes. How is that for timing?
When I got back to the hotel I took another hot shower. My poor thighs were pink and numb. Did i mention Harbin is cold? How cold, you ask? When I breathed into my scarf, my glasses fogged up. The fog immediately froze. That's how cold Harbin is. My first night here it got to -17F...and that's not including wind chill. Today I am wearing three layers of socks, fur lined boots, two layers of thermals, snow pants, two layers of gloves, a hat, my hood, and a ski jacket. Yeah.
Today I "slept" in. I was hoping the physical exhaustion would help me sleep. No such luck. Ah well. Today my plan is to go to the Ice Bar, if I can find it. I am talking to Pete right now trying to find out where the big ice buildings are. I keep finding mixed information online. Ah well.
This may be my last post until I get back to Shanghai. Look forward to pictures! And send warm thoughts to Harbin!