Monthly Archives: October 2010

Harbin / 哈尔滨

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.





Olympics / 奥运会


This picture of the Olympic rings was taken at the Three Gorges Dam, a
long way from Beijing. I have no idea what the dam has to do with the
Olympics, or how they get away with this. This is not the first time
I’ve seen this either. Last year I saw the rings on a stadium in a town
near Shenyang, in northeastern China. I think we should paint a set of
Olympic rings on the Bennett Dam, and then dare the IOC to take them down.


Daqing / 油田

After visiting the grasslands of Inner Mongolia I headed to the oil city
of Daqing to visit some friends. Last year when cruising the Yangze, I
met several people, and I decided to take this opportunity to visit some
of them. In Daqing I stayed with Aunti Han (which is what I call her out
of respect) and her daughter Mia.

Daqing means “Big Celebration” in Chinese and is named as such because
the discovery of oil there in the 1950s was cause for a big celebration.
If I understand correctly, the CCP’s success in maintaining control of
China after the revolution required that China not be dependant on
foreign oil, and so it was this that they celebrated. Daqing’s sister
city in Canada is Calgary. Big surprise there.

In Daqing I visited the oil fields, a pumping station where they were
putting oil back into the ground after extracting the oil. I also
learned all about Iron Man. Iron Man was the head of drilling team 1205
and sacrificed everything in the race to drill for oil in the Daqing oil
fields. I also visited drilling team 1205. The largest wetlands in China
are in Daqing and I visited that as well. There aren’t too many birds
there this time of year though. It’s not clear to me exactly what impact
the drilling is having on the wetlands, though there is no drilling
going on in the immediate vicinity of the park.

While in Daqing I met Auntie Han’s extended family and friends. I
learned a bit about the online culture of young people from Mia. China
really is a world unto itself. The internet and the software industries
are a good example of that. They have their own chat tools (not just QQ)
and their own versions of Facebook, Twitter and Blogger. I’m starting to
think that internet censorship in China might not simply be about
politics, but also a protectionist trade practice. In Daqing I also
learned how a man is supposed to drink tea, and that I should keep the
rim of my beer glass lower than that of an elder’s, as a way of showing

In Daqing I got another taste of night life in the public squares. I was
walking through Iron Man Park one night with Auntie Han, and we came
across a group of people line dancing. I joined in for a while. I didn’t
know the dance, so they told me to come back the next day and they’d
teach me. I did, and they did teach me. Of course, they brought me up in
front of the whole crowd on the steps where the leader was. While
everyone watched, the Canadian guy learned to dance. I have a video of
it, which I may or may not post later. Others took the liberty of video
taping me as well, so maybe I’m already China’s Star Wars Kid and I
don’t even know it. I hope not.