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The big chill, Changchun

  • Source: Global Times
  • [22:32 February 02 2010]
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People in Changchun enjoying the natural beauty of snow. Photo: IC

By Xing Daiqi

With severe cold conditions transforming much of the Northern Hemisphere into a winter wonder-land, many travelers are setting their holiday sights on enjoying the natural beauty of ice and snow. Changchun, the capital of Jilin Province in northeastern China, is a great place to do just that, with a rich palette of winter sports and events all geared toward celebrating the icy conditions.

The three-month long Changchun Ice and Snow Tourism Festival, held annually since 1988, is now in full swing. Apart from the much-anticipated Vasa International Cross-country Ski Race and Ridderrennet China, a ski competition for disabled athletes, enthusiasts of winter sports can also enjoy skiing, skating, dogsledding, snow ploughing and even the thrill of chilly winter-swimming in the icy waters of South Lake Park.

South Lake Park also celebrates its own annual ice and snow sculpture festival, adding to the colorful atmosphere of the Chinese New Year. Between the snow-covered woods and frozen lake, you can enjoy a night out admiring the stunning ice lanterns and snow sculptures in a welcoming intimate setting compared with much larger-scale Harbin Ice and Snow Festival.

Skiing venues worth visiting in Changchun include Jingyuetan National Forest Park, Yitong River and Lotus Hill Ski Ranch. They all have modern facilities where you can rent everything you need for a fun day on the slopes.

One place that you must visit in Changchun is the Museum of the Manchukuo Imperial Palace. During Japanese occupation from 1931-1945, Pu Yi, China's last emperor, resided here as the head of the Manchukuo puppet regime. The venue is also the site where the Oscar award-winning film The Last Emperor was shot. Nowadays, it has been transformed into a museum, preserving and documenting the history of the city.

As a result of the occupation, Changchun has a vast array of Japanese and European architecture and you will be amazed by the grandeur of the city planning and solemn castle-like buildings constructed during the Manchukuo period. Most of the structures have been well preserved and are still in use today.

Amongst the most noticeable buildings are the People's Bank of China Jilin Branch Office (once the Central Bank of the Manchukuo puppet regime) and the headquarters of the Medical School of Jilin University (once the State Council of Manchukuo) with their grand and intimidating facades.

Boasting a history of about 4,000 years, most residents in Changchun are descents of Manchurians and Inner Mongolians, or are migrants from neighboring areas such as Shandong and Hebei provinces. The eclectic mix of cultures makes for a great variety of food and entertainment options in the city.

Winter temperatures in Changchun can plummet to as low as -27 degrees Celsius and local people who can withstand the freeze of the northeast are known for their forthright and unrestrained characters. Therefore, the humorous and ebullient folk singing style Er Ren Zhuan, or Song and Dance Duet, enjoys great popularity in the city and the vast rural area surrounding it.

"We would rather skip a meal than miss an Er Ren Zhuan show," a local saying goes, expressing people's obsession with the folk art.

Jilin and Liaoning have given birth to many Er Ren Zhuan performers-turned-comedians, including Pan Changjiang, Gao Xiumin and Xiao Shenyang, who thrill hundreds of millions of television viewers in the annual CCTV Spring Festival Gala show.

Aside from catching an Er Ren Zhuan performance, make sure you sample the hearty and comforting Dongbei (Northeast) cuisine that can be found at most local restaurants.

"The most striking characteristics of this cuisine is the simplicity of the taste and very large portions," food critic Eileen Wen Mooney commented in her book Beijing Eats. "Dongbei food is just like its people – straightforward and simple."

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