Monthly Archives: March 2013


Skiing China – Episode 1 – Getting Yabuli Wrong

View from the slopes at Yabuli Ski resort, China.

The Chinese are the most inventive nation on earth when it comes to winter fun, but skiing in China is a very new thing. And, as with other Western imports, the Chinese treat it in their own inimitable style. Take the ski train. This leaves Harbin every morning during the season, trundles three hours north […]


The Best Laid Plans…

Detail of Hans Holbein the Younger's Resting Lamb and the Head of a Lamb, via Wikimedia Commons.

There are still two important projects outstanding from our plan for winter in China. Project Visa and Project Apartment have been concluded. We have seen the Harbin ice sculptures, and found them wonderful. Outstanding items? Project School: get Zac into a Chinese school so he can get to a reasonable level of fluency in Chinese. […]


The Harbin Ice Sculptures – a Winter Wonderland

Ice Palace at the Harbin Ice Festival.

What’s it like seeing the Harbin ice sculptures when you’ve dreamed of seeing them for over a decade? Jaw-dropping. The Harbin ice sculptures are the largest ice festival on earth, by miles. And pictures can’t begin to capture the scale, the blaze of colour. You wander, snow crunching under your boots, past gigantic ice palaces, […]


In Search of the Harbin Ice Sculptures

Harbin Signs

We haven’t, frankly, had the best start to 2013. Or Harbin, for that matter. Among other observations on life in minus 30, I can confirm that this is not a good climate in which to be strapped for cash – however toasty your flat. Because you want to be able to take a taxi if […]


10 Random Observations on Life in -30

Ice Palace at the Harbin Ice & Snow Festival.

1: Your Body Acclimatises When we first arrived in Harbin, the cold seemed so biting that I couldn’t believe locals would go out without gloves or hats. But, just as in the Middle Eastern summer 30°C (86°F) comes to feel cool, in the Manchurian winter -10°C (14°F) comes to feel warm, and -5°C (23°F) so […]


The Songhua River

Horse and carriage on the Songhua River, Harbin.

One of the few details of primary school history that sticks in my brain – well, apart from Elizabethans using white lead on their faces and only bathing once a year – is the great fairs that were held on the Thames during the Little Ice Age. The river used to freeze so hard that […]


Finding Home in Harbin?

Zac's man cave. At home in Harbin.

It’s all too predictable that, after a 5000k trip that’s taken us south from Beijing, around -10°C (14°F), to Hong Kong and Shenzhen, in the balmy 20s (70s), then back north to -30° (-22°) Harbin, just a stone’s throw on the global scale from Siberia, I come down with a cold. Now, I’m sure there […]


Flat-Hunting in -30, in Chinese

Harbin Toadstools

And here we are, in Harbin, which is, if everything goes to plan, our home base for at least three months. We push through the surge and out of the station into the brisk night air. In Bulgaria, this time last year, I remember thinking how very cold -22 was. Harbin is way below that. […]


Our China Odyssey Part 2: Shenzhen to Harbin

A hand peeks out of a heap of bags on a crowded Chinese train.

Our unplanned day in Shenzhen passes in what I guess you could call serendipity. We weren’t hugely whelmed by 798 Art District in Beijing, so we catch the metro in the direction of Shenzhen’s modern art district to see if that pulls our chain. “Ooh!” I say, looking at the green line unfolding before us. […]


Our China Odyssey – Part 1: Shenzhen

Sign offering the choice between Hong Kong and toilets, Shenzhen, China.

Despite the pleasures of Hong Kong, I am beginning to panic absolutely bloody terrified about the impending arrival of Chinese New Year. Folk in Beijing have been struggling to find a hotel in Harbin for Chinese New Year; the beginnings of festive transport chaos are evident; and we’ve got over 3000k to travel and a […]