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As beautiful as each snowflake that makes it all happen

Updated: 2015-01-22 (chinadaily.com.cn)
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By Erik Nilsson (China Daily Africa)

Northeastern city's winter festival is packed with activities

Santas, pandas and Ninja Turtles do not walk into a bar. Instead they stand on a lake as immense snow sculptures.

Changchun's winter travel is no joke. Nevertheless, it is very amusing.

Winter has taken shape in the capital of Jilin province. Peking Opera performers and penguins, cherubim and seraphim, castles and palaces - a winter wonderland populated by an eclectic cast - are sculpted in snow atop frozen Jingyue Lake for the Changchun Ice and Snow Travel Festival.

This fantastical pantheon of mostly mythical entities dwells in the Jingyue Snow World that forms seasonally on the lake's glassy crust, adorned with carvings of sheep, the totem of the coming Chinese lunar year. The creatures' white forms flock beneath multistory temples and a life-size snow replica of a Great Wall pass skiers can swish down.

Even lavatories are built of snow.

The sculpture contest is one of 113 festival activities. Others include ice fishing and winter swimming, and temple and trade fairs.

But while a host of mythical characters make cameos in Changchun, mostly as snow sculptures, the fabled creator who builds this winter wonderland does not appear as a graven image. Jack Frost's likeness is not carved in snow, but his omnipresence conjures others' presences.

And Jack demands human sacrifices - a pound of frigid flesh. He does not merely nip at your nose in Changchun; he gobbles whatever he can.

It is as if he is looking for something to eat in his freezer and finds you.

When the scores of Scandinavians who join the Vaseloppet in Changchun complain that it is cold, you can be sure it really is cold.

Ice glazes deciduous branches, trees sparkle like crystal chalices and pine boughs heave beneath blizzards' bounties.

Such landscapes and the activities they enable have brought more than 107 million visitors to the 17 annual festivals, generating 117.5 billion yuan ($19 billion, 16 billion euros) in revenue since the events' inception, the provincial government says.

In Changchun, exhilaration surges when the mercury plummets.

Since 2003 the primary event has remained the Vasaloppet long-distance cross-country competition that lures elite skiers from around the world.

This Jan 1 and 2 marked Changchun's first Vasaloppet since China officially joined the 20-nation Worldloppet as an associate member in summer. Contenders from 33 countries flew to Changchun this month.

Winter has become the calling card of the city, whose name translates as "long spring".

It is the intensity of the city's winter that, in turn, prolongs its spring.

And while Jack Frost and Old Man Winter live large in Changchun, another immortal wintertime patriarch, Kris Kringle, has his own theme park in Jingyue National Forest Park.

Christmas Paradise is a European-style entertainment zone that claims to be the world's second park built according to the theme of "Father Christmas' homeland".

The forest also contains a Jin Dynasty tomb, a 30,000-square-meter deer park inhabited by more than 1,000 spotted deer and reindeer and a golf course.

But the arguably tenuous claim as Saint Nick's place of origin ostensibly explains Santa's prevalence among the snow sculptures.

Jingyue Lake's thick crust supports not only the massive statuaries and crowds but also almost any form of transport you can take over ice, from dogsleds to camouflage military vehicles affixed with (fake) heavy artillery.

Horse-drawn carriages are towed alongside bouncing bumper cars, grumbling dune buggies and growling snowmobiles.

Visitors can skid over the ice on runners, wheels, hooves or paws, using motors, pedals or reins.

The festival's transport is as miscellaneous as its other activities.

Skiers who tackle the offshore slopes whoosh through hoary woodlands.

Many then warm up from the inside out over a slope-side hotpot restaurant's scalding cauldrons.

Savoring these searing vessels puts a fire in their bellies that fuels the fun, enabling visitors to relish the freezing outdoors without turning into snowmen.

It is one of the only festival offerings devoted to heat rather than cold. (Saunas and hot springs are popular ways to thaw out, too.)

For visitors to the Changchun Ice and Snow Travel Festival, which lasts until Feb 28, the event's diversity of activities makes the seasonal celebration as unique and as beautiful as each of the countless snowflakes that produce it.

erik_nilsson@chinadaily.com.cn

Skiers participate in Changchun's Vasaloppet on Jan 2, starting from the Jingyue Snow World at Jingyue National Forest Park. Wang Jing / China Daily

(China Daily Africa Weekly 01/16/2015 page16)

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