Exploring Jilin’s Winter Wonderland

By Duncan Gordon   2017-03-03 23:04:39

Wusong Island (Rime Island) in Jilin City, northeast China’s Jilin Province

Winter in northeast China is long. And  very cold. During these frozen months,  China’s northeast corner comes into  its own. The countryside becomes caked with  snow, and the icy streets of its cities wake up  to a bitter frost every day as the sun struggles  to break through the morning mist. These  conditions lend themselves to a unique and  warm winter culture—none more so than  in Jilin Province, the heart of northeast China.  In January just ahead of the traditional Spring  Festival, Jilin showed off its winter tourism resources to a group of foreign journalists and  students.

Changchun, the industrial and modernized provincial capital, is the usual point of  arrival for visitors to Jilin. Several hotels have  bedrooms with views over South Lake, a park  featuring a picturesque and perhaps unexpected landscape in this part of the world.

As would be expected in a place that gets  this much snow, the local people know how to  make the most of it. A short journey out of the  city limits takes you to Jingyuetan Lake. The  open expanses of frozen lake, bordered by pine  tree-covered hills, provide the setting for the  Changchun Ice and Snow Festival. Incredibly  accurate snow sculptures loom large over visitors. Giant koalas and kangaroos, usually more  comfortable in warmer climes, stare ironically  across the frigid landscape. Unerringly precise  but scaled-down versions of the Sydney Opera  House and Beijing’s Temple of Heaven are also  impressive.

Just over 100 km away from Changchun,  the province showed off one of its true  gems to the touring group of foreigners.  Jilin’s original and largest ski resort, Lake  Songhua Resort, is full of boarders and skiers making the most of the perfect powder  snow conditions. Founded in 1962, the ski  resort has been hosting Chinese and foreign  winter sports enthusiasts for a long time—the experience shows. The infrastructure is  smart and highly developed, and the slopes  are varied, providing opportunities for both  advanced skiers and beginners. Dong Dong,  marketing chief at Lake Songhua Resort,  said that last year 210,000 skiers and boarders took to the slopes, most of them coming  from China, with significant numbers from  Japan, South Korea and Russia as well.

The jewel in Jilin’s winter tourism crown  is probably Wusong Island (Rime Island).  The destination became a tourist attraction  in the 1990s after some photographers  took stunning photographs of the natural  rime phenomenon on the island. Rime  forms when water droplets in fog freeze to  the tree branches. The process creates a  beautiful effect, and the frozen trees look  incredibly delicate as they glisten in the sunlight. Wusong Island lies on the mammoth  Songhua River, which flows from its source  high up in the Changbai Mountains into the  Heilongjiang River.

Cultural tourism is an important part of  what Jilin has to offer visitors. The group of  foreign visitors were introduced to a typical  Manchu ethnic group family home in Hantun  Village, complete with decorations ready for  the Spring Festival. Tourists traveling to Jilin  will have the chance to stay with local families and experience a wholly different and  genuine culture.

There is only one proper way to deal  with the cold in northeast China—hotpot.  The foreign entourage enjoyed a traditional  Chinese hotpot, with Jilin’s own special take  on the ubiquitous meal in a local restaurant.  There were happy faces all around.  n

The author is a British expat living in China Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan Comments to yanwei@bjreview.com

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