While waiting to alight the plane in Harbin, the guy beside me starts chatting with me. He’s a Professor at some local university and is intrigued that I’m from Singapore because his daughter’s studying at the Nanyang Technological University. He’s quite excited I’m going to Harbin to snowboard and tells me he runs a ski resort too. Somehow, I got to mentioning this mythical place called Snow Village that I’ve heard of but have no idea how to get to and it turns out he’s having some company trip there so I can come along with my friend. He then introduces me to his friends, one of whom looks suspiciously like Jackie Chan and hands me his name card, telling me to call him up in a couple of days. With that we parted ways.
My original plan was to check with the hotels for a means to get to Snow Village and then look for accommodation along the way since we don’t exactly know where it is. We couldn’t have had better luck. When we called him up, details were vague (probably a cultural thing). We were to meet him at a certain building the next day and since he didn’t have my friend’s name, he made one up for him. Oh, and he made up jobs for us too so if we get asked by reporters, we’re university lecturers.
The next day, we cabbed to the building in an unfamiliar district and stood waiting in a crowd of locals. I didn’t exactly remember the Professor’s face by then but figured he could pick out two foreigners pretty easily. It was weird.
Eventually, he did arrive and we were ushered into a mini van where we were introduced as guests from Singapore and made polite conversation with the people around us. We would reach Snow Village eventually but first we’ve to attend the opening of a local museum.
So we did.
In -20 degrees Celsius, we stood around in snow while costumed dancers twice our age pranced around. Fireworks were lit and canons sounded. Some people gave speeches and we couldn’t feel our toes. Then the most miraculous thing happened. The Guest-of-Honor lifted a curtain to unveil the whole building. The WHOLE BUILDING was hidden from us by a stage in front of it. It must have been a pretty common affair here because no one batted an eyelid when the building just… showed up.
I moved what I remembered to be my legs to the building and we did a walkaround. This is a really small museum in the middle of nowhere that showcases local hobbies and activities. We didn’t know what to make of some of it but I guess the Chinese are very adaptable people.
After about 6 hours and a lunch banquet later, we were finally at Snow Village. We gathered we’re attending a tourism festival in the area held for industry professionals and we had to sign in for a room at the hotel. We stayed at Days Inn, a classy (and only) chain hotel in the village and somehow, the arrangement had the two of us split up. I shared a room with a teacher from some university or school who I can never remember the name of. If there’s anything more surreal than the sight of a snowed-in village in the middle of nowhere, it was the situation we were in.
Then we got ushered off for a dinner banquet.
Admittedly we didn’t have any post-dinner plans given the village is self-enclosed and not that large but we apparently had our itinerary for the night planned when we were invited to a variety event in a large tent.
It was hosted by a local television personality (I think) and featured some song-and-dance items in praise of Snow Village with karaoke-worthy videos playing on the giant screens behind. No one suffered epileptic fits.
Our host muttered something to us and left and after a while, we headed back to the hotel because we didn’t really know if he had told us he was heading back or just out for a bit. The walk was probably no more than a kilometer but walking back in -40 degrees made us forget we had legs all over again.
The fun really began the next day. Having not learnt anything from the night before, we trekked out again to explore the area. There were snow sculptures all around but those weren’t as grand as the ones in Harbin so we spent our time ogling at the snow-capped huts and snowed-in well, just about everything else. I don’t think I’ve seen this much snow since even the walk-in tours of the freezers in McDonald’s.
There were a few shops around and one was selling all sorts of frozen fruit. We bought a bag of what we thought were cherries for about $3. They turned out to be some berries that the locals term lantern fruit and tasted like unripe frozen apples.
Snow Village might be touted as a tourist location but the bulk of the tourists are probably visitors from around China. There are a couple of wagons and sleds around and a very out-of-place arcade-style shooting range but that’s about all there is for instant entertainment. Around the corner are some ski slopes but the weather’s so incredibly harsh I can’t see that being a hot favorite (pun intended) at that particular time of the year even if there is the finest and thickest layers of powder snow around.
The Professor had us take a few pictures with him, his friends and Jackie Chan before we left and offered us a ride back which we had to decline since we were headed elsewhere. I sent a thank you email when back and was expecting the pictures but never received anything.
My dreams are getting too real these days…