My first impressions of Harbin city is that it's such an organized, and well planned city compared to most other cities I've been to in China. While it still has the distinct Chinese flavor of being an over crowded, noisy, and rather smoggy city, it was very clean, and what impressed me most was the traffic and road organization.
Living in Canada and the US, most people take granted the safe and orderly roads we walk, bike, and drive on, but it's not so in China. Most cities you visit in China, can be described with a well known Chinese phrase that says: "Ren san ren hai" (direct translation: people mountain, people sea), but a better translation would be "the massive crowds of people are like mountains and oceans".
The roads and intersections are so crowded in China that if you're polite or try to follow the traffic lights while trying to cross an intersection, you can pretty much expect to stand there all day, and not be able to cross the road. Unlike in north america where (most) vehicles yield for pedestrians, cars, taxis, buses, bikes do not yield for pedestrians. So road crossings could be stressful for some tourists if they're not used to these types of environment, while it could be very exciting for others.
Although Harbin city's roads are crowded, it's traffic system seems much more developed than most other cities I've been to, with the exception of Beijing of course. Most intersections had traffic lights, and most of these intersections even had crossing lights for pedestrians - something I don't remember seeing in other cities in China! To my surprise, I even saw parking meters in busy areas of Harbin city! Although the glass on the parking meters are so dirty and blackened that you can't even read the meter, but at least this was the first time I noticed parking meters in China.
Dirty parking meters in Harbin.
Harbin is located in the northern parts of China, very close to Russia. Winter in Harbin is very cold with average temperature ranging from -10c to -20c not factoring in wind chill. With wind chill, it’s probably around -25 to -30. This is very similar to the weather in Saskatchewan (central canada), where I lived for several years.
Because I do alot of walking in the cold, I wore 2 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of pants, a thick sweater, and a wool sweater underneathe, and a big, thick winter jacket. I probably need mits, since my leather gloves didn’t do its job keeping my hand warm.
I was surprised to see that so many Harbin people seem to not care much about the chilling winter. Some wear a thin sweater, with a thin jacket that’s not even zipped up! Most people don’t even use gloves to keep their hands warm. I even see some young kids eating popsicle outside in the freezing cold…
Photo of Harbin city on top of the Harbin Dragon Tower.
Harbin is also one of the cleanest cities I’ve been to. Every few blocks (at least around ZhongYang street), there is a road sweeper sweeping away the trash.
Although the city is very clean and organized, I have yet to see any hint of green anywhere – of course, it is winter here. But it probably can get depressing if you live here for long periods and not see any green at all. During my flight to Harbin from Chengdu, I sat beside 2 local Harbin residents. A lady and her daughter who just finished taking some university entrance examinations in Chengdu. During my chat with them, it didn't seem like they enjoy living in Harbin much, and many times, they made note of the fact that it gets depressing in winter, where you never see any green.
Harbin at night.
Harbin seems like a heavily polluted city. The SongHuaJiang river is one of China’s worst polluted rivers. There is a smog that covers the city (like most other cities in Chna), and while on top of the Dragon Tower (Longta, Harbin HeiLongJiang province broadcasting tower), all I see is the city swimming in a thick smog.