A Different Kind of Masterpiece

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; Beauty is art. To celebrate beauty where ever we may find it. All that delights the senses, visual, auditory, taste, touch and be it natural, man made, culinary - eye candy in general and sensory delights.

Thursday, April 27, 2006



Crowds flocking to the entrance are greeted by dance music booming in the distance. Bright neon lights shine everywhere buried within huge blocks of ice forming structures as high as 30 meters (about 90 feet), such as this huge ice building beyond the entryway. You can just make out people standing atop the blue and red stairway.

View from atop entry structure.
The Great Wall, built completely of ice with no internal support, just embedded lights.
Overview of festival from Great Wall of ice.
A number of ice sculptures are found, like this life sized horse.
An entire ship constructed of ice \ passengers aboard.
A Thai Temple of ice, complete with hallways and rooms. Colored lights embedded.


arbin Ice and Snow World 2007

Welcome to... Beijing after an ice storm? No, this is “The Eighth Annual Harbin Ice and Snow World”, China’s premiere winter event. Unlike my previous visits to this ice festival, first in 2003 and then again in 2005, I decided to start my visit here near sunset - around 4pm - to see its layout before dark. I’m glad I did: the festival seemed far larger than before and it now takes a while to see the full setup. Additionally, the festival, which used to be laid out from south to north, is now oriented from east to west, allowing for some dramatic sunset photographs of the main ice structures. This is the Harbin Ice and Snow World entrance, which itself grows more grand every year, before the crowds arrive.

Like the snow festival on the previous page, the Ice and Snow World was a cooperative effort this year. The snow festival was a collaboration with Canada; this one was with South Korea. So a lot of the structures here that appear Chinese - and many such structures were present - are actually Korean in nature. Both the hall entrance shown here and the festival entrance in the previous photograph are replicas of Korean sites.

This dramatic ice structure replicates nothing in Korea. And despite its Gothic architectural style, it replicates nothing in Europe either - though it has been called “the Notre Dame of the Orient” and is of French design. The structure is actually Chinese, a Catholic church located in Hulan, about twenty miles from Harbin. Replicas of a number of Catholic churches and cathedrals local to Harbin graced the festival landscape, and they were far more complex than the ice buildings appearing at the festival just a few years ago. To get a sense of this ice church’s size, notice the horse-drawn sleigh parked out front. And just wait until the lights come on!

One by one, the ice sculptures begin to light up at the festival. Getting warmed up on the left is a sixty meter (nearly two hundred foot) tower of ice celebrating Chinese-Korean friendship, with another Harbin church in the foreground. The scale of everything at the festival has grown massively since my first visit just four years ago.

The Hulan Catholic Church treated me extremely well. Fifteen minutes after I took the dramatic sunset shot of the church a couple of photographs earlier, its lights came on while the surrounding structures remained dark for a few more minutes - allowing me to take this, one of my favorite photographs of this trip.

The Sino-Korean friendship tower, fully lit at twilight. I believe this is the tallest ice tower ever to appear at the Harbin Ice and Snow World; it’s about twice as tall as the one I photographed two years ago. And its great height probably makes it the most structurally complex as well. But in terms of appearance, the towers that served as centerpieces of past ice festivals had more character. Because Ice and Snow World has grown so large, the tower is no longer quite the centerpiece it once was: despite its height, only the top of this tower could be seen from the distant entrance to the festival.

Buddha made an appearance at the ice festival, despite being made of snow. He also appeared at the festival I attended two years ago, and like then, an altar placed before his sculpture allowed visitors to pray and burn incense sticks.

The entrance to the Harbin Ice and Snow World, viewed from the eastern grounds of the festival. Though it may look like Tiananmen Gate - the famous one in Beijing with Mao’s portrait - it’s actually a representation of Gwanghwamun, a gate of the Gyeongbokgung Palace in Seoul, Korea. A wide path of ice blocks lit from underneath leading into the festival greeted visitors at the entrance, but those opting for a safer route could walk along the snowy sides, shown here. I like the little trees of red lights along the path from the entrance, which I had not seen here in the past. Those are not simply Christmas lights wrapped around tree branches...

...instead, the trees themselves are the lights. This is a detail of a branch from one of those trees, buds all aglow, with the festival’s “Future World” section in the distance.

A variety of ice sculptures on the north side of the festival, in the last light of day. The low purple building in the foreground is a restaurant made of ice; beyond that is a double-pagoda and the big Buddha. High in the distance is a representation of the Big White Pagoda on Mount Wutai, one of the four most sacred Buddhist mountains in China, in Shanxi Province. A very long and very fast ice slide - an annual feature at this ice festival - starts at the Big White Pagoda and ends in a sprawl on a huge snowbank below.

An overview of the northwest section of the Harbin Ice and Snow World in the last moments of twilight, with the Sino-Korean friendship tower, a number of Russian Orthodox churches beyond it, Mount Wutai’s Big White Pagoda in the distance, and the big Buddha. In front of the big Buddha is a bell tower...

...with an actual working bell that people were ringing all night. In China, if you see a bell tower, you’re sure to see a drum tower nearby, and that held true at this festival; it sat just opposite the bell tower and was also in working order, as evidenced by the constant banging.

A sleigh horse and its driver take a break in front of an ice pagoda. Horse-drawn sleighs and carriages could be rented for a spin around the grounds at the festival entrance. In fact, they were one of the very few things available for purchase at the entrance: amazing as it may seem for a festival of this size and stature, no souvenirs were available. At least no one can claim that the Harbin Ice and Snow World has become too commercialized. If you want souvenirs here, take good photographs.

The huge Hulan Catholic Church once again. It amazed me how different it looked each time I photographed it - before sunset with the lights off, in twilight with the lights on, and in the dark brightly aglow here. The white spot between the towers is the crescent moon. The real church celebrates its centennial in 2008; this ice replica, on the other hand, will not stand a hundred days.

Two pagodas viewed from the stairs of the friendship tower. I mentioned on the previous page that the unusually warm weather in Harbin this winter did not seem to affect the snow festival - perhaps because all the snow used for its snow sculptures is man-made. Well, the weather did affect the ice festival.

Every year, ice for this festival comes from Songhua Jiang, the nearby river, which freezes meters thick during the winter. At least it did before this year. The warm weather kept the river flowing well into autumn, leaving too little time to cut the four million cubic feet of ice needed for the festival when Songhua Jiang finally did freeze over. So the festival organizers had to have ice cut from rivers far to the north of Harbin and ship it here - an unbelievable state of affairs for one of the coldest cities in the world. Here, a horse-drawn carriage passes in front of the Sino-Korean friendship tower, which may or may not consist of Songhua Jiang ice.

Along the entryway ice path, a mom tries to keep her kid on his feet. Despite the slippage here, the Harbin Ice and Snow World seemed unusually safe compared with festivals past: gone was the huge rope-climbing ice wall, and ice stairways all seemed less steep and covered with carpeted steps. The ice structure in the distance represents the Korean palace Gyeongbokgung; beyond that is the top of the Sino-Korean friendship tower.

Just past the festival entrance, on either side of the ice path shown above, were huge structures representing famous Korean sites: this one on the south, of Pulguksa Temple...

...and this one on the north, of the gate to a Korean palace hall (which was not lit at the moment) and of Hwangnyongsa, a nine-story pagoda.

An ice replica of the Korean palace Gyeongbokgung marked the end of the entryway ice path. Climbing to its top allowed me some of my overview shots of the entire ice festival.

“Future World” in the south section of the grounds, which seemed to be the least visited section of the festival, consisted of nothing more than this series of odd towers. No doubt visitors found the Korean, Chinese, and European-influenced structures throughout the rest of the festival more compelling.

Detail of the Hulan Catholic Church ice structure from a distance. You can see the lines of fluorescent lights running through the ice blocks as well as the strings of red lights outlining the windows and accentuating the crosses, a lighting technique common to structures throughout the festival. The real church in Hulan, which ceased religious services soon after Mao came to power, recently underwent renovation and reopened.

Chair skiing on ice. Weld a couple of thin metal bars to the feet of a chair, grab a couple of ski poles, and off you go. Chair skiing could also be found during the daytime on the frozen ponds of the snow festival just east of here in Sun Island Park. The structure behind the skier represented another Korean palace hall.

It wouldn’t be an ice festival in Harbin without frozen candied haws, like these on an outdoor vendor cart. With the weather warmer than at past festivals, biting into these resulted in fewer shattered teeth than usual.

A view of Gwanghwamun, the entrance to the Ice and Snow World, viewed from atop Gyeongbokgung, with the entryway ice path in between. Though the warm weather affected preparations for the festival, it did not seem to affect the festival once it started. Temperatures fell ten or twenty degrees below freezing once the sun set - cold enough to keep everything solid, but far milder than Harbin’s bitter cold winter festivals that I visited in the past.

A snow dragon, one of two slithering beside the ice palace of Gyeongbokgung. With each of them longer than a football field, the dragons are the longest snow sculptures ever to appear at the ice festival. I assume the big Buddha, shown earlier, is the fattest snow sculpture ever to appear at the ice festival.

Ice replicas of Harbin’s Byzantine-style Russian Orthodox churches, past and present, in the western section of the festival grounds. On the left with the red dome is the Ukraine Church, now known as the Harbin Church of the China Eastern Orthodox Church. The real one has colors somewhat inverted from this, with a dark red exterior and a faded turquoise dome. On the right is the Orthodox Virgin Mary Patron Church; the real one was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Its Chinese name is a Russian transliteration: the Harbin Bulageweiyinsikaya Church. In the foreground is the bottom of an ice slide.

A hexagonal ice maze. When the temperature is well below freezing, as it is by this time of night, getting lost in here is not a good idea. Beyond it is an ice slide; and between the two for no apparent reason is a rocket. The “Future World” ice sculptures can be seen off in the distance.

Another horse-drawn carriage, viewed from atop the ice replica of the Korean palace Gyeongbokgung, circles the base of the Sino-Korean friendship tower. The Harbin Ice and Snow World is certainly large enough these days to justify the ride. With its growing size, however, has come growing ticket prices: an increase of fifty percent since my visit two years ago. While 150 yuan - about twenty dollars - may not sound like much to Westerners, it’s quite a sum for the locals, as Harbin is not a rich city.

The other of the two long snow dragons makes its way between ice structures. In the background is the roof of a Korean palace hall ice structure. Even though locals receive a discount, getting a family of three into the Snow Sculpture Art Fair, the Ice and Snow World, and the Harbin Ice Lantern Party - Harbin’s three major winter festival events - can quickly approach a month’s salary.

Not abstract art, but a series of ice columns lit from within, on the Mount Wutai ice structure complex. Look closely, and you can see the fluorescent lights within each column’s ice blocks.

The entryway ice path, looking back toward the festival entrance, near the 10pm closing time. One advantage of the milder temperatures this year was that it allowed visitors to stay outside longer without having to take long breaks to warm up in restaurants on the festival grounds. I took full advantage of that, and took many more photographs than at past ice festivals.

A final overview of the west end of the festival grounds from atop Mount Wutai. This year’s Harbin Ice and Snow World was the best ever, resulting in my best photographs ever, but I do hope in the future that the organizers provide a program or brochure about the festival’s themes and ice structures. Everything you read here is based on a lot of research and a bit of personal knowledge of Harbin, a city that has come to have special meaning for me.



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