Jilin shows off its winter tourism to foreigners.
By Duncan Gordon
Winter in northeast China is long. And very cold. During these frozen months, China’s northeast corner comes into its own. The countryside is caked in snow and the icy streets of its cities wake up to a bitter frost every day, the sun struggling 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. Jilin has been showing off its winter tourism resources to a group of foreign journalists and students to enjoy.
Changchun, the industrial but modernised provincial capital, and former capital of the Manchukuo puppet state, is the usual point of arrival for visitors to Jilin. Several hotels have bedrooms with views over South Lake, a picturesque and perhaps unexpected landscape in this part of the world.
In a place that gets this much snow, local people know how to make the most of it. A short journey out of the city limits can take you to Jingyuetan Lake. The open expanses of frozen lake with pine tree-covered hills bordering it provide the setting for Changchun Ice and Snow Festival. Incredibly accurate snow sculptures loom large over visitors. Giant koalas and kangaroos, usually more comfortable in warmer climes, ironically look across the frigid landscape. Scaled-down but precise versions of the Sydney Opera House and Beijing’s Temple of Heaven are also impressive.
Just over 100km away near Jilin City, 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, and 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, Head of Marketing at Lake Songhua Resort, said that last year 210,000 skiers and boarders took to the slopes, mainly from China, but a significant number of Japanese, Koreans and Russians visited 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 the water droplets in fog freeze to the branches of trees. The process creates a beautiful effect, 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 near the border with North Korea into the Amur River in Heilongjiang province. The foreign journalists and students took a stroll around the island, taking selfies with the unique rime formations and posing for photographs with local Manchu people and their tamed eagles.
Cultural tourism is an important part of what Jilin has to offer visitors. The foreign tour group were introduced to a typical Manchu family home in Hantun Village, complete with decorations ready for Spring Festival. Joining in a game of mah-jong was brand new to some of the visitors, while others at least already knew the rules. Everyone tried their hand at paodoubao, a game that requires quick reactions played with small sheep bones. Tourists travelling to Jilin will have the chance to stay with local families and experience a wholly unique and genuine culture.
Temperatures at this time of year in northeast China are very low and there’s is only one way to deal with the cold in this part of the world. 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.