Den's Blog Rotating Header Image

January, 2016:

Another triumph of “results”

Ah, how picturesque. Beautiful maple leaves in fall colors. Let me take a picture of that. Wait, what's that off to the left? That looks strange...

Ah, how picturesque. Beautiful maple leaves in fall colors. Let me take a picture of that.
Wait, what’s that off to the left? That looks strange…


Wait, that's definitely not a maple tree. What's going on?

Wait, that’s definitely not a maple tree. What’s going on?


Maple leaves on a pine tree. WTF?!

Plastic maple leaves wired onto the branches of a pine tree. WTF?!

Harbin Ice Festival 2016!

Holy Moly it was cold this year. I only went on the trip this year because my wife didn’t go last year. Anyone who endures a winter in this part of China should see this celebration of…cold. It’s a rite of passage. In other words, I figured that if I had to suffer through it, it was only fair that my wife suffer through it as well. And it was worth punishing myself to go a second time, so that she could get punished, too.

The day we arrived in Harbin, it was -20º Celsius, well below zero Fahrenheit. The whole thing is outdoors, so you really have to be careful how you dress. Dressing in layers is only part of it.

The white patches are hand warmers.

The white patches are hand warmers.

The ice festival is in two parts. The ice sculpture part is best viewed at night, because following China’s idea of good taste, the sculptures are lit up in neon lights. “Gaudy” doesn’t really do it justice: “in your face” is closer to the experience.


Picture Legos made out of ice. Then line the blocks with colored LED lights that change colors. Then put it in Siberia.

Proof that I was there.

Proof that I was there.



The actual sculptures were quite pretty.


The largest condoms in the world?

The ice sculpture part is crowded, bitterly cold, and frenetic. Just getting into the park was stressful. Traffic was terrible, parking was a mess. Once we were in, we lasted less that two hours, then we were ready to leave.

The other part of the festival is the snow sculptures. That part is in a park, and it’s a lot more relaxing. There are a lot fewer people there, it’s spread out over a larger area, and you go during the daytime.


Snow sculpture


Snow sculpting


Snow castle


Ice bridge. Can you imagine how dangerous this will be in April, when it starts to melt?

I’m starting to think that a lot of attractions in China are things that you see in order to say that you saw them, rather than things that you see in order to enjoy them. There’s a folk saying in China that if you haven’t climbed the Great Wall, then you aren’t really a man. There’s an ironic second line that goes after you have climbed the Great Wall, you are full of regret (it rhymes in Chinese).

I’m glad that I went to the ice festival the first time. I endured the second trip. Neither was much fun. It was cold both times.

But I can say that I went.

What do you get when you exhale at -29°?

Mustache icicles. 

Thanks for the frostbite, Harbin!

Be rewarded

Who isn’t tempted by a hot redemption offer? Not me!


Another interesting breakfast selection this morning.


The Ice Slide of Shenyang

The pedestrian street near where I live is now home to three ice slides.


Common sense and some familiarity with local safety standards prevent me from trying it, but it looks like a lot of fun.

The price of historical preservation

In Hangzhou, on the banks of the historic and scenic West Lake, is a house. The son of Chiang Kai-shek, Chiang Ching-kuo 蔣經國, lived there for a short time with his family in the 1940s. The house is a nice example of architecture from the Republican period.


The house is right on a main street, the lake is across the street.

There’s a plaque commemorating the site as an historical landmark.

“Old residence of Chiang Ching-kuo” (Hangzhou historical preservation site)


One of several plaques describing Chiang's life.

One of several plaques describing Chiang’s life.


That's the West Lake across the street (foggy day).

That’s the West Lake across the street (foggy day).


Side door.

Side door.


From the second floor balcony.

From the second floor balcony.

So what’s the catch? The house is in a very busy commercial area, on a main thoroughfare. Preserving the house and maintaining it is very costly. Apparently, no one wanted to take on the responsibility, so a commercial enterprise bought it and converted it to a business.

Yup, it's a McDonald's and a Starbucks now.

Yup, it’s a McDonald’s and a Starbucks now.

I have very mixed feelings about this. Of course, it’s wonderful that the house is being preserved, and it’s available for the public to see. And it’s decorated very tastefully. The Starbucks is especially nice inside.

View from the inside.

Inside McDonald’s.



Enjoying a cup of coffee inside the Chiang house.

However, imagine if someone wanted to open a McDonald’s franchise inside a house that George Washington once lived in. I think there would be some public protest, even outrage.

But what if the house were about to be torn down, and McDonald’s promised to preserve the house as much as possible? That was the dilemma that this house faced.

In the end, in this case, maybe being turned into a fast-food restaurant was the price of historical preservation. I don’t know if the price was too high, but I do know that I appreciated being able to see the house, even if I had to buy a hamburger in order to see it.

And I’m not even going to touch the irony that the commercial enterprise that rescued this piece of Chinese history is the symbol of American cultural hegemony.