By Greg Hugh
The Harbin Municipal People’s Government of China recently held the 2019 An Appointment with Winter in Harbin to celebrate over 40 years of sister-city relationships established with more than 36 cities in 28 countries. A 12-member delegation representing the City of Minneapolis (Sister City of Harbin since 1992). The delegation included Minneapolis City Council members Kevin Reich and Steven Fletcher; members of Meet Minneapolis, Mark Andrew, Melvin Tennant, William Deef and Courtney Ries; Leah Wong, Minneapolis Downtown Council; Ken Lau, US-China Peoples Friendship Association-MN Chapter; Jill and Sky Li Griffiths, China Champions Program-University of Minnesota; Greg and Linda Hugh, China Insight.
Living up to its theme, 2019 An Appointment with Winter in Harbin, many sister-city conference-related events were held and since it also took place during the 35th Harbin China International Ice and Snow Festival, delegates also had the opportunity to visit many festival events during the sister-cities conference.
Upon arrival in Harbin, our delegation was greeted at midnight by Robert Song, chief liaison officer for Harbin’s foreign office department, along with two college student volunteers, Abby and April, who would be our tour guide and interpreters during the conference with whom the group bonded during our three-day visit. A personal transportation van for our group was also provided. Fortunately, our delegation was staying at The Songbei Shangri-La Hotel was the conference headquarters and we were glad to be checked in after the long flight. Later we learned that some of the other 400 other delegates from other cities from all over the world were staying at three other hotels in Harbin.
The first day of the conference began with a visit to Harbin City Hall hosted by Cathy Kai, vice division chief, American & Oceanian Affairs. On our way back to the hotel for lunch, the group stopped to see the Harbin Grand Theatre, which is world-renowned for the design to fit into its unique location.
After a quick lunch, our delegation met up with delegations from other cities to tour the Harbin Urban Planning Museum and then went on to the Unnac Wanda Complex where we watched a very dramatic movie in 5D about Heilongjiang Province. Also, within the same complex we visited, according to Guinness World Records, the largest in-door ski slope in the world. Our van took us back to our hotel where we had dinner and changed before being taken to the Harbin Concert Hall where all of the delegates attended the Concert of Sister Cities sponsored by the Harbin Municipal People’s Government - a program of 10 internationally acclaimed pieces performed by celebrated performers from Russia, Finland, China and the Children’s Violin Art Troupe of Harbin Conservatory of Music. Unfortunately, there was no photography permitted during the performances.
Day two of the conference began with a breakfast brunch at the hotel before boarding our van making sure we were warmly and comfortably dressed for our trip to visit the Sun Island Snow Sculpture Park. That covers a span of over 14 square miles.
To warm up after this visit, we had a traditional hot pot lunch at Tianshunyuan Restaurant. Since water is not generally served with meals, t other beverages were offered, including a corn drink that was served warm, which was quite tasty and thirst-quenching. Following lunch, we joined all the other delegates at Baqu Ice Hockey Arena for ice skating performances by local individuals and groups prior to the start of the Harbin International Youth Ice Hockey Tournament. The team from Harbin was victorious over the Russian team.
All delegations then returned to their hotels to change into business attire then gathered for the opening reception of the conference at Songbei Shangri-La Hotel. Although there was a heavy security presence, delegates were able to quickly enter the Great Hall where the reception was held. Provincial and city leaders greeted and welcomed all. Electronic translation devices that were provided at each seat. A 14-course banquet followed the opening remarks,
The final event of the evening required another change of clothing and a police escort to the massive site of the International Ice and Snow Festival for its opening ribbon cutting ceremony to enjoy all of the ice and snow creations.
The next day began with the Mayors Roundtable where Harbin’s Vice Mayor Zhang Wanping greeted the mayors or representatives from its sister cities from around the world. Again, all participants had the electronic translation device provided. Each of the sister cities had an opportunity to make a presentation regarding their collaboration with Harbin.
Delivering Minneapolis’ comments was Minneapolis Councilman Kevin Reich. When all of these presentations concluded, the Minneapolis delegation had a private lunch with Vice Mayor Zhang Wanping along with Song, Meng and principals from the Harbin Tourism and Culture Bureaus. In addition to an exchange of ideas between the two cities, there was also an exchange of gifts. The nine-course lunch was elegantly presented by a very conscientious staff and consisted of gourmet dishes worthy of a state event.
Concurrent to the nine-course lunch meeting with the Vice Mayor Zhang, the conference also held a Business Matchmaking event that provided an opportunity for overseas businesses to visit with their Harbin counterparts in similar industries. The Minneapolis delegation decided to visit the Harbin Jewish Museum and to Harbin’s major shopping area, Central Pedestrian Street, before attending a dinner hosted by American & Oceanian Affairs’ Kai at Laochujia Restaurant as our last official event of the conference.
With the conference concluded and Minneapolis Councilmen Reich and Fletcher departing on an early morning flight back to the U.S. and Ken Lau headed to Hong Kong, the remaining nine delegates managed to squeeze in a few more activities that included, for some, a visit to the Siberian Tiger Park, an additional visit to Central Pedestrian Street, Riverfront and a final dinner with Alex Ming, another dedicated liaison from Harbin’s foreign affairs department, at Memories of Harbin Restaurant.
Since it would make for a very long article, additional details about the City of Harbin and International Ice and Snow Festival can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harbin.