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Harbin - Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the cold even more than I already do

travel china \ 2012-02-28

I love the cold. I collect it, store it in bottles, and consume it as raw energy. I don't need things like peanut butter, chocolate, or working toilets to remind me of home, I just need biting wind and frost-bitten extremities. I'm Minnesotan, what can I say? Gotta live up to the name.

If you're one of the many who don't come from a miniature version of Siberia, I should probably clarify: for those who have never been to Harbin and plan on visiting during some time other than the two weeks they call summer, it's not actually that cold. If anything, global warming has been good to Harbin. It's significantly warmer this winter than it was last winter. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to find the actual temperature (so as not to unduly scare people away).

What the cold is good for, at least in my opinion, is that is gives people a chance to break out their winter fashion. I'm a summer Shanghai guy in my Chinese heart, so this is my first winter in China. To be honest, I've only noticed one major difference between summer and winter: fashion. And let me say, Chinese winter fashion is no less Chinese (take that as you will) than its summer counterpart.

Case one: Old people. I was sitting in the cafeteria last week for breakfast. I looked up and I saw a boss looking trench coat. First off, trench coats, they're pretty awesome. In China? Even more awesome. But that's not all. My eyes continued up. Ok, a scarf. Good, normal. Eyes keep going up. Actually an old man, still in the realm of possibility. Huh, what's his hat? A fedora? Aw yeah. Wait a second...what is that made out of? Sure enough, Lao Bossman in his trench coat was wearing a leather fedora. I promptly left the cafeteria, now knowing that I will never be as cool as he is every single day of his life.

Case two: Women. The cold doesn't help the whole looking at girls thing (unless you're only into noses and eyes), regardless of where you are, and its definitely not any better in China. It does, however, give you a chance to see how the other half avoids the cold. Maybe it's just me, but most male winter coats tend to only cover the torso...you know, like most jackets. However, about one in every girl's Chinese winter coat goes down the ankles. What do they need such long coats for? What secrets are they hiding? (I wouldn't be surprised if there is always at least one male student on campus currently thinking the same thought). Besides jackets, female Chinese students also wear face masks. What used to be a way of preventing coughing from spewing germs all over the place has become a fashion item in itself. I've seen mask with bears, slogans, and flowers on them; I even saw one with a picture of another mask on it.

Case three: Men. The color black. That is all. Nothing more. Nothing less. At any given point at after sunset you could be surrounded by male Chinese students. But you wouldn't know because their clothing is the color of night.

Before I go put on another layer (so as not to cause the aunts at the reception desk consternation) and go for a nice walk, here are some pictures of what makes Harbin a good place to enjoy sub-zero temperatures.

Actually, this is a KFC. But still, pretty cool.
Snowmen: China - 1, The rest of the world - 0
A truly ice cold beer
Winters in China are more adorable than LITERALLY ANYWHERE ELSE
Back home, I go skating on ponds; in China I go skating on an 891mi long river. Who said everything's bigger in America?