Regarding Harbin Life 

Written by Feb 4, 2006 22:02
Add Friends:
Email 1 Email 2 Email 3

No more than 10 friends at a time, please.


Regarding Harbin Life

I got an email from a Canadian guy who's coming to teach English in Harbin asking about Harbin life. Following is what I wrote in reply, I hope you guys find it helpful.

I've lived in Harbin almost all my life except for 1 year and half in Beijing. I like Harbin a lot, and when I was in Beijing I missed Harbin so bad. Harbin is very different from other major cities in China - it's not very modern like Beijing and Shanghai (it's way too modern there), it's a good mixture of Chinese culture and Russian culture. My friend Vlad from Vladivostok likes Harbin a lot and he says he feels like home in Harbin. Let's explain this from 3 aspects:

1. architecture: you can see western style buildings everywhere in Harbin once you set foot here, and of course they are very old. I prefer these old buildings to modern ones, and I always enjoy appreciating the exotic architecture while strolling on Harbin streets. The streets are not very wide and the blocks are not too long, perfect for strolling. The most recommended one is Zhongyang Dajie (Central Street), with all these buildings on both sides. Every Harbiner likes taking a walk down the street in cool summer evenings and going see the river at the end of the street. There was Jewish community here for years, I'm sure you've heard about it, and they left these buildings. You will see a lot of churches too.

2. food: most Harbiners have western style breakfasts, at least this is my family's habit for years. We have milk, bread or sometimes Chinese steamed buns, and fried eggs. We have bread with butter too sometimes. There's this 100 year old bakery called Qiulin, very polular, they make great Russian bread and hongchang(literally translated as red sausage). They have chain bakery everywhere, very handy. I just found yesterday that they sold butter too, very cheap but without salt. And there're many Russian restaurants serving great Russian food. Local people go get the food once in a while. The most well-known one is called Huamei on Central Street. The 2nd floor is very well decorated, the ceiling is amazing.

3. people being alcoholic: it's freezing in winter and people being heavy drinkers is very natural. I like Hapi (Harbin beer) more than any other Chinese made beer. There're beer gardens in summer, open air beer and food joint with performance sometimes. There're 2 of them on Central Street. Loads of tourists come for the cool summers and the once a year beer festival too. Guys drink baijiu(white wine, rice wine) too. I don't like it, it tastes bad and it's very strong. People drink vodka too.

There is pollution, and it gets worse in winter since they burn coal to get heat. The pollution isn't as bad as Beijing though. People are very friendly here, and they 'd go out of their way to help you.

Harbin is famous for it's snow sculptures(on Sun island) and ice sculptures in winter. Several ski resorts around Harbin. I've never done skiing. Most local people can do ice skating since we have to take skating in PE class in school.

Sun island is a good summer resort with the shade. We would go across the river to enjoy the coolness there in hot summer days. Rowing the boat in the river is fun too.

I don't go to parks often. There're Children's Park, Stalin Park and Jiuzhan(9 stops) park by the river, Zhaolin park, Cultural park, some street parks and so on.

Temples, we have Jile temple and couple smaller temples next to it and Confucius temple. The Jile temple area is good for vegetarian food.

I myself like Dongbei(north east) food very much. The local food are mainly strewed dishes. We eat a lot of potatoes, Chinese cabbages, tofu, pork, hotpot, Harbin kebab, noodles and dumplings. We eat suancai(sour cabbages) in winter, which is my favorite. And of course you can find other Chinese cuisines too. Like Sichuan food (the spicy kind), Cantonese food, dim sum, Hunan food, and Xinjiang food(uygur food). Besides Russian food, there's Indian Kitchen for Indian food, Jinxiangyuan for Thai food(I didn't like their food and it's expensive), couple places for Brazilian kebab. Loads of Korean restaurants. There're places for Japanese food too. Fancy hotels like Holiday Inn serve good and expensive western food. 2 Pizza Huts, no Starbucks. There's a small cafe called Hamamas across from Hagongda(HIT, Harbin Institute of Technology), where they have good coffee, burgers, cheesecakes and milkshake. It's a good place for brunch and on top of that it's cheap. There're couple cafes on Central street too. Local people prefer tea to coffee. There're Carrifours, Walmarts, Metro for imported food like cheese and wine. I prefer Metro.

Nightlife, there're 3 bar streets as far as I know. One by the small river across from Children's Park, it's beautiful with the fountains and lights in summer nights. A bit expensive though. One across from HIT, very cheap with 4RMB Hapi. But most of the bars are underground. 2 on the ground, one's called New Space, very nice and modern. The other's called HIT 1998, it was once very popular with foreigners. They still go there now I think. They make good sandwiches. One between Heilongjiang University and Harbin Medical University. Nice bars and restaurants. The latter 2 are popular with university students as you can see they are in the university areas. I used to go to Blues a lot. It's a club, drinks are cheaper in the coatroom, music is good. Just ignore the Russian hookers. There're Babyface, Soho, QS(Pacers), Las Vegas, Kiss, Banana, Yes... I dunno about Babyface and Soho, the other clubs are typical Chinese clubs with only techno.

Everything's cheaper than Beijing for sure. You are gonna be an English teacher, and I'm sure you gonna make a lot more money than local people. It's unfair, but foreigners do spend a lot more money on food, cabs and drinks. I dunno if it's hard to save, it all depends on how you spend it. I've never saved any, I've just started to work.

Things to do: DVDs are very cheap, 7RMB each. If you like reading and studying, let's say languages, like me, you won't find Harbin boring. Harbin isn't as exciting as Beijing. No rock shows, no art galleries(there's one on Sun island), no parties. You could throw house parties if you are dying for parties. We have theaters, Time Warner theater and a bunch of Chinese ones, but most people prefer watching DVDs at home. There's music festival every summer with performance and concerts. Most of my friends go swimming, go play table tennis and basketball. I envy them, I can't swim. I only like cycling and walking. You can go sing karaoke. Loads of KTVs here. Bowling is cheap too.

Most of my Chinese friends like Harbin a lot, and they enjoy living here. They don't go out at night, they are hard-working. There're foreigners who enjoy living here too. There's a Canadian guy who' s been living here for 10 years, and his Chinese is perfect. And there's an English guy who's been here for 5 years. Most foreigners just move on to Beijing and Shanghai after some time here. It all depends on how you live your Harbin life. I hope you enjoy Harbin.

These are all I can think of now. There's a lot more to explore, both for you and for myself. And I just explored Daowai district on the other side of town lately. It's old and dirty and it remains what it was like decades ago. And people still live the same life, I find it very cool. And I'd like to hear what you think of my hometown.

 More Harbin Travel Reviews
1. <A> A frozen wonder, the ice city of Harbin CHIIIINITA from ES Jan 14, 2006 02:01
2. Harbin on Ice MISHEN from NZ Jan 11, 2006 06:01
3. The Light They’ve Chipped Out from the River MISHEN from NZ Sep 2, 2005 12:09
Comments (5)


Aug 13, 2010 13:31 Reply


Harbin is very nice, but if you have a Church background, you may dis-like the clubs very much.


Feb 28, 2009 04:21 Reply


Very nicely written by a lady who gets around town!
It sounds like a great place but too cold for me.


Nov 12, 2007 12:41 Reply

SUSE said:

I lived in Harbin for 6 months as an English teacher. I am very impressed with this article and can say from personal experience that it's information is very accurate. Another popular club that opened very recently and is mainly popular among foreigners is Box club and it is pretty close to HIT. Hamamas was my home away from home while there, the food was fairly priced and absolutely delicious and they had coffee, real coffee!! There's a lot to discover- have fun!! Here's Hamamas phone number, the owners are very warm and speak English as well, 0451-88581660. All the best :)


Mar 28, 2006 00:15 Reply


Very nice and informative article written with that personal touch.
I have always wanted to go to Harbin. Will make a stronger effort to come within the next 1-2 yrs.


Feb 16, 2006 15:19 Reply


I loved this post on Harbin! Since I learnt that you have this wonderful festival in the winter, I also noticed that your weather is identical to where I live in Canada! Hope to visit there sometime.

Write Your Comment

You can post as a member (Login first) or a guest!

*Name: Country:

No more than 2,000 characters, please.

Send me an Email if anyone replies.

Your Reply to

You can post as a member (Login first) or a guest!

*Name: Country:

No more than 2,000 characters, please.