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Written by hailun on 08 Oct, 2002
Harbin is the capital city of Heilongjiang Province in north-east China. Harbin is world famous for its annual Ice and Snow Carving Festival. Harbin has a large Russian population and influence in its architecture. There are also many inter-marriages between Chinese and Russians in the…Read More
Harbin is the capital city of Heilongjiang Province in north-east China. Harbin is world famous for its annual Ice and Snow Carving Festival. Harbin has a large Russian population and influence in its architecture. There are also many inter-marriages between Chinese and Russians in the region. Heilongjiang was used as the piggy-in-the-middle between Russia and Japan for many years. Russia also fancied using Harbin as a stop along its rail line to Vladivostok. The Japanese occupied the North-east during the 1930s.
My friend Suguli and her friend Hanqiu, who is a native of Harbin, had gone to Harbin on 1 January 2001. I was going to go up there with my French friend Nathalie on the morning of 2 January 2001, and meet Suguli and Hanqiu there. Nathalie had to pull out however, because she mislaid her Passport and Chinese identification documents, and had to begin cutting through the bureaucratic red tape. So I went to Changchun train station and bought a ticket for the 2pm train. I had already beeped Suguli to let her know that I would be trying to catch the 2pm instead of the 8:30am train due to Nathalie’s woes. The 2pm train finally showed up at nearly 4pm. Since Changchun train station is of such a brilliant design in that all phones are downstairs and outside of the building, and since there were no announcements or signs regarding the delay and expected arrival time of the train, I could not leave the waiting room to beep Suguli in fear that the train would arrive at any minute. Since I was not moving on the train, my feet were nearly numb by the time I got off the train at Harbin. I then began worrying that Suguli may have given up waiting for me. If she was not waiting at the train station then I would have to beep her and wait for her to get to the train station. To my sheer relief, Suguli called my name as I got out of the train station.
When I checked into the Hotel, they told me that I had to register with the local police first thing in the morning. It was a new regulation. So, on 3 January, 2001, Suguli and I went to the Police Station. I handed the officer my Passport and Chinese Residence and Worker’s Cards. He then began to fill out several forms, and then he asked me a series of very politically sensitive questions. First he asked me in English what I thought of the Chinese Government’s policy toward Falun Gong. At first, I misheard him in that when he said "Falun Gong" my mind did not register it as a Chinese word in the middle of an English sentence. I thought that he had mispronounced "Foreign Policy", so I was in the middle of an "I don’t know" response when he said "You don’t know Falun Gong?" The second time he said it, the name registered with me, but given the sensitivity of the issue, I figured that it was best if I played ignorant and let him think that I had not heard of Falun Gong.
The next question he fired at me was "What do you think of the American election result?" I figured that I could not get away with an "I don’t know" response again, so I racked my brain for the "right" response to this question. I said something to the effect of "I think that Bush will be more militarily aggressive than Gore would have been, and I think that a more aggressive America is not a good thing for the world." I was trying to read his reaction to see if that was the "right" answer, but he did not give much away.
The third curly question he fired at me was "What is your opinion of China entering the WTO?" I knew that this was something that the government was keen on, so I had to give a positive response. I also wanted to give an intelligent response rather than a purely agreeable response. So I said something to the effect of "I think it will allow China to open its economy and increase the availability of many goods, and reduce the cost of many luxury goods, but I think in the short term, there will be a lot of hardship with the closure of many inefficient and non-competitive factories. Many people will lose their jobs in the initial stages." He said "Is that your opinion is it?" I sheepishly said "Yes", wondering if I had done the wrong thing in giving a balanced response.
He translated my English responses into Chinese, but did not ask me to sign the forms. He knew the hotel and room number that I was staying in, and I wondered exactly how the information would be used. I was not arrested and I lived to tell the tale.
ICE AND SNOW SCULPTURES
We went to a huge ice and snow carving exhibition. The sculptures included The Pyramids, L’Arc De Triomphe, a Russian Orthodox Church, Buddha, pagodas, Chinese zodiac animals, dragons, and slides. We slid down one sculpture several times, and were slammed into the wall as we came around the bend, every time.
At the slide, a Chinese man assumed that I was Russian, and spoke to me in Russian. I told him in Chinese that I am Australian, and so he then spoke to me in English with a Russian accent. He told me that his three children were taken to Sydney by an "old woman" when his Russian wife died ten years ago. He said that the woman told the children bad stories about him, and as a result, they do not want to know him. He asked me if I could go to a Russian Orthodox Church in Sydney and tell people of his story in order to try to locate his children. At the same time, he was unable to give me any names to work with. He seemed very bitter, but maybe he was desperate. I began to wonder if the truth was that his wife divorced him and took the children to Australia?
After several hours, my feet alternated between painful and numb. I had to buy some fake wool lined boots. Unfashionable, but essential. The boots worked, and before long, I was no longer in any pain, and was able to feel my feet.
I had gotten used to -20 degrees Celsius in Changchun, but Harbin was bitterly cold. I am not sure how cold it was in Harbin, but it certainly was a challenge.
CRUSHED AT CHANGCHUN
We left Harbin on Friday 5, January, and caught the train back to Changchun. The train was overcrowded. When we got off the train at Changchun, we were almost crushed by the people waiting to get on the train. It was frustrating and agitating. I could feel my blood boiling!