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'City of ice' shines in frigid winter with snow sculptures

Updated: 2012-01-30 17:07

HARBIN - Although the winter is as bitterly cold as always, the industrial city of Harbin in northeast China has sprung to life once again, with its three-month International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival kicking off this month.

Known as China's "city of ice," Harbin frequently experiences temperatures below negative 20 degrees Celsius during the winter.

The city has taken advantage of its frosty climate by organizing snow and ice sculpture festival, attracting visitors from all over the country, especially those from the warm south, to get chilly yet exciting experience.

This year tourists have been particularly fond of a snow sculpture of Marilyn Monroe, which is shown on a century-old European-style street in the old city quarters of Harbin.

The six-meter-tall sculpture depicts Monroe as she appeared in an iconic scene in the 1955 movie "The Seven Year Itch," with her white dress flying above her knees as she stands over a subway grate.

Recreation of the late Hollywood sexy icon is not the only thing that impresses the tourists as the 1,400-meter-long street is decorated with 45 colorful ice sculptures.

Just a few steps away from Marilyn, visitors pose for a photo with "Swan Girl," a 27-meter-tall sculpture, or check out "Ice and Snow World," one of the largest and most complex ice and snow art exhibitions in the world.

At night, colorful lights on the statues create a brilliant contrast with the dark night sky.

"This is really spectacular, much better than what we saw on TV," said Huang Lianqing, who brought his family from the eastern city of Wuxi for the holiday. "We feel it is quite worth the money spent on the trip."

In one of the city's snow-covered plazas, Aysulu Ochurdyapova, a Russian woman, said "I do" to Abdoulrazak Boubesanda from Niger during an outdoor group wedding ceremony held with 17 other couples.

All the ice and snow made the event even more special as couples walked through the red carpet to tie the knot.

"Let the ice and snow -- a symbol of purity -- witness our love," Ochurdyapova said.0 Ren Fumin, deputy director of an organization that sponsors group weddings, said nearly 1,000 couples from around the globe have traveled to Harbin to get married during the city's winter festivals.

"Ice and snow is in the soul of the city," said Yang Jie, head of the government's festival organizing committee. "Harbin will present a colorful winter to all visitors."

Yang said the government wants to promote the three-month festival until it is on par with Japan's Sapporo Snow Festival, Canada's Winter Carnival and Norway's Ski Festival.

Harbin originated in 1898 from the construction of the Chinese Eastern Railway financed by then Russia Empire.

Known for its unique combination of oriental and European architecture styles, the city boasts of St. Sophia Cathedral, a former Russian Orthodox church and perfect example of Neo-Byzantine architectures.

Millions of tourists have visited Harbin in recent years for winter-related festivals. Tourism has grown into a pillar industry, accounting for 14 percent of the city's total economic output, according to government data.

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