After my visit to Daqing, I moved on to the nearby metropolis of Harbin.
Harbin has a history of Russian presence, like many places in the north.
It really is distinct from other Chinese cities I’ve visited. I suppose
it’s the Russian flavour, but I can’t say for sure, never having been to
In Harbin I stayed with a friend, Cao, who is a student at Heilongjiang
University. It was the national holiday, so she was off class and showed
me around town. We did a lot of wandering, which I really enjoy, just to
get a feel of the city. We went to see the Songhua River flood memorial
and Stalin Park. I think China has a real love/hate relationship with
its rivers, as they’re essential for irrigation and transportation, yet
when the floods come, a lot of people die. I think this has been the
story throughout China’s history.
Harbin traffic is worse than anything I’ve ever seen, even worse than
Beijing which has at least four times the population. A friend told me
Beijing substantially improved its roads and transit for the Olympics,
so it’s one of the best in China. I’ll grant that Beijing traffic is
better than Harbin, but I had to laugh because I find it difficult to
call it ‘improved’.
On my last day in Harbin I went to visit the Japanese Germ Warfare base.
This is where, during the Second World War, the Japanese performed cruel
experiments on POWs and anyone else they decided to detain. It was unit
731 and was called the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification
Department. They froze people alive and implanted bubonic plague in
their bodies, just to see what would happen, and put other people inside
vacuum chambers just to observe the effects. It was definitely worth the
visit. Near the end there was a memorial for all the people who died
there, so I lit a candle and said a prayer.
People have been so good to me as I’ve travelled through the north.
They’ve invited me into their homes, introduced me to their families,
and treated me to great meals. They’ve introduced me to their lives and
their culture. It’s really been amazing.