The Emerald City of Ice

The piece-d’resistance of Harbin is the International Ice World, hands down.

During the day, it just looks like cold blocks of ice, sort of like a Siberian Lego-set. By night, it lights up with neon bulbs strung in through the blocks.

This year, world landmarks made their debut, along with European-style castles and traditional Chinese buildings. These monstrosities sparkled with neon lights in various bright, shiny colors. It was like entering Wonderland – with thousands of people milling around you with no definable pattern of walking.

Men with megaphones tried to get people to hold – and pay for the priviledge – an arctic fox that looked like it would bite anyone just to get away. On an icy stage, girls in fluffy white and pink “outfits” came out to dance to “Gangnam Style.”

While we dressed in sensible winter boots, I saw plenty of women in heels. HIGH heels. This is an Ice Festival, of course, but that doesn’t stop people from trying to break their necks, I suppose.

Thin, threadbare carpets covered steps into the biggest of the sculptures, so if you suck at walking on ice – me, included – it’s a bit precarious. I went up into one of the huge castles, but since I didn’t have snow pants on, I wasn’t about to get ice-butt going down the slide in my jeans. Even Under Armour couldn’t keep that chill off me!

At one point, we took a break to drink some Nescafe (not my favorite coffee beverage in the world, but that’s just me) and warm up. At this point, if it’s warm, I’ll drink it, but warmed lemonade had no appeal to me for obvious reasons.

While everyone else was chillaxin’ in the lounge, I had to use the bathroom. Of course, this means squatty-potty. Using a squatty potty with 20 layers of clothing is always interesting – and it takes forever for women to get it together in the bathroom. You could end up peeing on yourself if they weren’t fast enough. Thus, when you first feel the urge, you have to find a bathroom (not a common thing in some places) and then, by the time that happens, you hope that you can hold off another ten minutes to get a free toilet.

Oh, yes, and be prepared for low walls or doors and really awkward “peeking in” when people are trying to see if the squatty is free. Never mind trying the lock, right – just look on in if you can! I was almost knocked out cold in a squatty once (Hongqiao Flower Market – beware, friends!), when this woman just pushed open the saloon-style (nonlocking) doors to the toilet, and my head was right there. Smacked me hard, and I shoved them back with an angry, “DUDE, GET OUT!” and hopefully that solved it. She didn’t try again. That’s not a place I ever want to be knocked unconscious in. Ever.

Anyway, on my way out of the bathroom, because I suck at walking on ice, I slid right into a man also wearing 20 layers. It was like two Peeps fighting in the microwave the way we tried to stand up again. I got up first – and more quickly – and cowboyed off before I recognized any of the words he was yelling at me.

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