Countdown to Northern China

If you didn’t know already, I’m going to the Dongbei area of China.

Where is that exactly?

If you look at a map of China and use your imagination, the country looks like a rooster (that’s actually how Chinese kids learn about the country’s geography). Dongbei (东北) is the rooster head:


The Yellow Part is Dongbei

The most famous city the area is Harbin, in the Heilongjiang province (it’s the very top part in yellow).  The city is very Russian influenced, given its close proximity to Russia. In the past, the city was the first stop for all imported goods; it made the city very cosmopolitan. You can see the Russian influences in the architecture  of the city, since it was under Russian rule for a time in the early 20th century.

Maybe the most famous example of the city’s European influence is its St. Sofia Church, a Russian Orthodox church built in 1907.


St. Sofia Church

I’m excited to try their bread and sausages. I hear that they’re very Russian influenced but still Chinese at the same time. That’s going to be either a horrifying mix or a tasty sensation. Dongbei in general is known for their heavy, stick to your ribs cuisine. It’s a noodle and dumpling heavy culture.

Of course, Harbin’s claim to fame is it’s annual Ice and Snow Festival. It’s one of the four major ice festivals in the world. I’ve talked about the festival in a previous post; it’s one of the main reasons why I want to go to Dongbei and brave the temperatures.

Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations crew has a very funny post about Harbin and the weather there if anyone would like to read it. I laughed reading about the lack of feeling in his toes.

Other major cities in the area include Jilin City and Changchun in the Jilin Province (the second from the top yellow section on the map). Jilin City is famous for it’s ice rimmed trees and Beishan Park. The ice rimmed trees is a natural phenomenon, where warm water from the city’s river rises and freezes in the cold air, forming ice crystals around the trees that line the river. Beishan Park is a a good place to see these trees.

Changchun is the province’s capital. During WWII, it was the capital of the Japanese puppet state Manchukuo; you can still see the imperial palace where the last emperor of China lived. It’s also China’s answer to Detroit, as it’s the home of the country’s automobile industry.

Jilin is also home to most of China’s Korean population, since the province if bordered by Korea to the south. So if you want to try out Korean Chinese food, this is the place to do it.

The very bottom yellow section of the map is the province of Liaoning. It’s capital is Shenyang, which is also the financial center and the largest city in the Dongbei region. Some attractions of note are the Mukdan Palace, Dongling, and Beiling Park, which are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The city is a major hub of northern transportation, so it would be a good home base for anyone wanting to get out to other northern cities.

Shenyang is also one of China’s more diverse cities. It’s home to 38 minority groups, and many Japanese and Korean expats also reside there. The city is also home to many shopping centers and streets, so you can pretty much pick up anything you want there.

So that concludes my brief intro to the Dongbei area. I’m going January 8 and I promise to try and give real time updates on what I see and do there. I will try my very hardest.


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