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Harbin might seem like one of the last places a foreigner would want to live, given its frigid winter temperatures that can plummet to C30C or lower. In reality, however, Harbin offers an intriguing blend of Eastern and Western influences, from its food to its architecture to its thriving international markets. Many of its architectural landmarks are remnants of the city' s 19th century occupation by the Russians. The Russian immigrants left behind them wonderful architecture, numerous Orthodox and Christian churches, and, of course, a railroad that has long provided China with an important gateway to Europe. 

Harbin is a large city of 9.5 million, with various ethnic groups, and a large expat population that has come to the city to study Mandarin. Many of the expats in Harbin are Russian, due to Russia' s proximity and the large number of Sino-Russian enterprises.

The city truly comes alive in the wintertime when the city becomes the venue for the world-famous Winter Snow and Ice Festival. Coinciding with the Lunar New Year, the Ice Festival attracts visitors from China and abroad with its fantastic ice sculptures, ice buildings, and ice castles. Likewise, Harbin' s ski resorts are among the best in China, attracting winter sports enthusiasts from all over. But summers in Harbin are also worth mention: people throng the streets in the evenings to eat kabobs and drink the famous local beer, Harbin beer. 

The city' s Russian influence is seen in many of the local delicacies. Local bakeries make Lie Ba, a type of Russian flatbread. If you want to taste a fusion of east meets west, you may want to try Harbin sausage, which has a flavor suited to Western palates. Likewise, Harbin has a wide range of Western restaurants catering to the foreign and business community. After a hearty Heilongiang meal, you may want to work off some of those extra pounds by dancing the night away in the city' s many discos or bars; although some of them have Western names, if you go there during the week, you may find yourself the only foreigner in a bar crowded with locals. Blues and Las Vegas Club are expat hang-outs, but don'  t expect to speak too much English, as the greater part of the expat community in Harbin is Russian.  

Public transportation is well developed in Harbin, and you can easily get around the city by bus, trolleybus, taxi and ferry. However, many people prefer to use taxis, which have a baseline fare of 7-8 yuan depending on the type of car.

Shoppers will not be disappointed. Harbin has a reputation for luxury goods like fur coats, and brand-name clothes. Local products include Longjiang agate, wheat-straw weaving, ox horn mosaics, chum salmon, hedgehog, edible black mushrooms, and Siberain ginseng. Many Russian products are also sold at the city' s stores and markets.

If you are thinking of relocating you and your family to Harbin, you should be happy to know that their educational needs and healthcare will be well taken care of. The city has five international kindergartens, and older children and teenagers can enroll in the International Senior High School Affiliated with Harbin Normal University and Harbin Long International School.   Health care facilities are up to the standards of a cosmopolitan city, with some hospitals providing medical services in English and Chinese, among them Heilongjiang Hospital, 1st Hospital Affiliated to Harbin Medical University and Harbin' s Children' s Hospital.

Housing in Harbin is a bit more expensive than other cities. Rental housing prices is theoretically set at RMB 0.20per/square meter, but you should expect to pay an average of RMB1500-2000/mo. This is a bit higher than other provincial cities; hence, it is best that you go through a rental agency or try to negotiate a price through an interpreter.



 

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