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Harbin: Chinese city freezes over for its first post-Covid ice festival

By Alvaro Alfaro

Harbin, China, Dec 24 (EFE).- Thousands of people are flocking to the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, attracted by its freezing temperatures and its Ice and Snow Festival, which is being held for the first time since the pandemic and the end of China’s tough ‘zero covid’ policy.

More than two million people are expected to visit during the event, which opened on 18 December and will run until the end of February or the beginning of March, Zhang Guihai, president of the Ice and Snow Festival Research Institute, explained to EFE.

This edition of the festival will be the first after the pandemic and the end of the ‘zero covid’ policy, a period during which the event was still held “but with fewer visitors”, a representative of the organization told EFE.

WORLD OF ICE

Huge structures made of blocks of ice, some of which are reminiscent of real landmarks such as the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, are spread over 810,000 square meters.

At the center of the complex stands the main tower, called the “Crown of Ice and Snow”, which is 43 meters high, equivalent to a 16-storey building.

The festival can be visited both during the day, when the constructions can be seen in the translucent color of the ice that forms them, and at night, when they are illuminated by brightly coloured lights.

Apart from the sculptures, there are numerous ice slides, one of which is 521 meters long, making it the longest the park has built to date, and a 120-meter-high Ferris wheel.

But it is not all fun and games, and visitors must be prepared before venturing into the park as temperatures can plummet to -30C after sunset.

The organizers recommend wearing a thick hat, a woolen scarf, gloves made of “quality materials”, velvet masks and wearing the right kind of socks.

A FLEETING LIFE

The more than 200,000 cubic meters of ice used for the constructions come from the nearby frozen Songhua River.

Since the end of November, nearly 10,000 workers have been working around the clock for 15 days to assemble the structures in temperatures as low as -20C.

The buildings will remain standing and open to visitors until late February or early March, depending on when temperatures start to rise in the northeastern city.

According to Zhang, when the time comes, the constructions will simply “melt and flow back into the Songhua, creating zero pollution”, although on previous occasions it has required the intervention of professionals to dismantle the larger sculptures, whose collapse could be dangerous.

MAGNET FOR VISITORS

This is the first festival to be held after China’s restrictive ‘zero covid’ policy.

On the first day of official operation of this year’s edition, the complex welcomed more than 40,000 visitors, exceeding the organizers’ expectations, who were forced to apologize the following day for the long queues at the entrance.

The park authorities are expecting more than 500 million yuan (70 million dollars) in ticket sales for this year’s event.

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