As our trip to Harbin (哈尔滨) drew to a close we debated what we thought of the city. Much of the city’s past is still a mystery to me. I’m still unsure What triggered the influx of Russian Jews to the city and even less clear about the trigger for their apparent departure. I suspect much of the debate may have been lost in translation – either that or I may just have been too cold to appreciate the finer social and political aspects of the region’s history. For me, the take away impression of the city was one of admiration.
Snow, ice, wind, cold and yet the city continued to function as normal. I come from a city that grinds to a halt at the first sign of inclement weather. Leaves on the line or the wrong kind of snow and people start to worry. It doesn’t take much for people to be sent home from work, trains delayed and flights cancelled.
Our plane landed in Harbin and taxied over an ice covered apron. A taxi driver promptly took us into the city regularly exceeding 110km/hr on ice covered roads. But more impressive was the way people shuffled (try walking across an ice rink and you’ll know what I mean) around the city on ice covered streets as if it was perfectly normal. And why not? In Harbin this is normal. I can understand that we don’t invest quite as heavily in snow ploughs and ice clearing equipment in the UK, but it wasn’t infrastructure that kept Harbin moving. More than anything it was just the inevitability of having to deal with whatever the weather throws at you. It is this that I’ll remember about Harbin, this and the bitter cold.