After a quick stop for breakfast at the Gloria Plaza Hotel, where we would sleep that night, we headed out into the cold to explore.
Starting from the hotel’s front steps, we found ice sculptures everywhere.
We strolled through a park along the banks of the frozen-solid Songhua River, which offered all kinds of ice-based entertainment from sled dogs to skating.
We paused to take a slippery run down the first of many, many slides built entirely out of ice blocks. Sharon took the first turn:
And then Miranda and Sami took a spin:
But there they were, suitably garbed for the beach but prancing around a “pool” of river water hacked out of the meter-thick ice.
I had a hard time believing that they were actually doing this. I took my hand out of my glove to take some photos, and after about 90 seconds, my hand actually hurt because of the cold! A few more minutes would result in frostbite. How did they do it?
Stepping onto diving blocks made out of pure ice, each swimmer dove in (a couple of them belly-flopped, but style was clearly not the main display here).
Each then swam the length of the pool, emerging via an ice-encrusted ladder to raise arms triumphantly and then cold-foot it back to the locker room.
We and dozens of other tourists paid few yuan apiece to watch this display, so of course, financial gain was one of – if not THE – main motivator behind the swimmers.
But like the ice festival itself, the Songhua swimmers’ exhibition seemed to be part of Harbin’s collective determination to turn its icy winter into a unique asset. Even as we shook our heads at the insanity, we had to admire their fortitude.
Next: Snow Sculptures on Steroids