Colder than a witch’s metal ice cube tray

Now, a week after tropical Thai decadence, a group of us decided that the tales of breathtaking giant ice sculptures and nighttime dazzling colored lights were too good to put off.  We were going to Harbin to brave Siberian temperatures and ring in the new year at the hometown of our 老板 Betty Wu.  We checked into the Ibis and I had my first taste of the difficulty of hotel concierges in China when one’s Chinese is in its infancy.  I shared a room with Carlos, and after checking in we went in search of a place we had seen on an Anthony Bourdain special.  We had difficulty locating it, or locating anywhere to have a midnight toast, and just as we feared we might have a dry New Year’s, we found a place to sit down and order a beer tower.  We made a plan to meet in the lobby in the morning for a tour of the Saint Sofia cathedral, and a walking tour of the old town.  I had purchased heat-tech undergarments from Uniqlo and military surplus boots on the Taiping Lu, but somehow it just wasn’t enough.  The previous winter’s hiking in Lake George seemed tame by comparison.  We also had a fireplace there, and to this day I have not seen a fireplace in China.  The Harbin streets were pretty interesting, with street signs in Cyrillic and Chinese, and there were some quaint cafes with inviting Christmas displays still up.  The main pedestrian drag had some public ice sculpture displays and to our amazement, the Chinese, who drink hot water in the summer time, were eating ice cream cones out in subzero temperatures.  If Chinese medicine had some explanation for this, I wasn’t listening.  I wanted a hot cup of coffee, a nip of vodka, or a nice warm spa (where I eventually wound up on day two for a massage and refuge from what seemed like absolute zero).  That night, we shared cabs across the river to the main ice sculpture park, and it was most impressive.  The impending new year was the year of the lamb, and sheep sculptures were in abundance.  We could make occasional pit stops inside a pavilion that sold hot dogs and warm ginger-flavored coca cola.  The next night we met up in Ray and Kathy’s hotel room, had some pre-dinner drinks, and then headed out to a Russian restaurant that I quite enjoyed.

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