The first trip I took while staying in China was to Harbin.  Harbin is located about 250 miles from the Russian border.  The close proximity is very evident in the food and culture.  In Harbin, if you’re white, you’re automatically considered Russian.  Which isn’t necessarily a good thing, because it appeared that many Chinese still hold anti-Russian sentiments.  We only spent a few days in Harbin, but the weather was unbelievable.  I witnessed my first blue sky of the trip there due to the lack of pollution.  The city was very well kept and seemed like a western city.  We saw a lot of foreigners there too.  Our hotel was across the street from Harbin’s version of State Street.  It’s lined with restaurants, bars, and shops.  The nice weather and the atmosphere, minus the large number of Asian faces made me feel like I was walking around in Madison again.

Harbin is very well known in China for more reasons than one.  Harbin Beer is known all over China and can be purchased at most stores.  You probably guessed from the name where it’s made.  We were lucky enough to be in Harbin the weekend of the annual International Beer Festival.  After hearing about what an extravagant event it was, we had to check it out for ourselves.  We took about a 15 minute taxi ride to the festival site.  It was similar to a fairground in America that was set aside for this yearly event.  There was a huge gate at the entrance and a handful of huge pavilions from a variety of countries selling foreign beer and lots of food.  Each pavilion was packed with very intoxicated Asian people dancing and singing to the live bands, including a Michael Jackson impersonator singing Backstreet Boys.  It was reminiscent of an event of in the United States and people partied well into the night.

Another reason Harbin is well known is because of their winter ice festival.  Unfortunately, we visited during the wrong season to experience this.  Everyone we spoke to said we would have to come back to witness the extravagant ice sculptures and lanterns. Due to the lack of ice during our visit we visited a few of Harbin’s other attractions.  We visited St. Sophia’s Church, which was originally built by Russian immigrants.  The history of the building was a little shady and we couldn’t discern if the current display of the building was supposed to boast the Chinese hard work during the Russian occupation, or the mistreatment of the Chinese.  Like I said earlier, there seems to be hard feelings between Chinese and Russians in Harbin.

On our last day in Harbin we visited the Summer Island.  We took a fairy across a river and made it to a huge park covered in beautiful foliage.  This was the first time any of us had seen so much grass and trees anywhere in China.  We walked around and visited the “Russian Town,” which was a group of restored homes of a small Russian community that used to live in the area. They were forced to leave China and return to Russia.  A Russian tour guide explained that they literally got up and left things very similar to how they currently are today. To finish off our day we rode bikes around the island and took in the scenery.  We hopped on the overnight train back to Tianjin and started classes again on Monday.  Those were four very fun days.