After a nice big breakfast at a nearby Chinese Muslim restaurant (a cuisine which often involves lots of “pulled noodles” (拉面lāmiàn), meat skewers and naan bread – just the thing for breakfast!), we grabbed our bags and went off to investigate the “Harbin New Synagogue”. We found out when we arrived there that, like many religious buildings in Harbin, it is no longer operational and has been converted into a museum, so we decided against going in. Nothing much else to say here, apart from it was still a puzzling thought to imagine Judaism in China. We went on to the railway station, and pulled out of Harbin at around 2:00pm that afternoon.
The main attraction which drew us to make a visit to Harbin in the first place was undoubtedly the Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, but the city itself is definitely not to be overlooked. From our brief encounter with the city, it seems to strike a nice balance between being a city influenced by Russian culture and, at the same time, not feeling too much like a theme park or a museum. Although the population of the city is largely made up of Han Chinese, people seem to go about their daily lives in an environment which seems essentially non-Chinese. Harbin also feels like a very pleasant and liveable city – its streets are clean and its buildings are not as ugly as other Chinese cities we’ve seen. In a certain way, the midwinter cold enhances the city’s façade as a diluted version of Siberia. I regret not venturing out of the city to enjoy the apparent natural beauty of rural Heilongjiang province, but the charm of the city itself is worth travelling all that distance up to the northeast, even if just for a few short days. Just try to forget about the cold.