A force to be reckoned with, I once again was overwhelmed by the prevailing winds. I think in the long run, all will be well, but for now, I am still recovering from both WN and Harbin. Do I say it was a grand mistake? Well, it simply is what it is, but I would certainly not (NEVER EVER) duplicate the experience.
I cannot blame it on WN, as all of the tours booked the same venues. I had concluded that, since I had communicated that I only wanted to see the ice sculptures, and that I wanted time to photograph them, and that he kept pushing all of the other venues, it must be a government thing. He must HAVE to stick to the established tour route. maybe, but I doubt it. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a kickback involved at the shops, or that somehow favor was gained. I will never know. I do know that I spent most of my time, and a lot of money, going places that not only did I not want to see, they were devastating to my sensibilities. Usury, of both human and animal worlds.
WN is a fairly good sized man, not fat at all, but thick and muscular, and relatively tall. I neglected to ask if he is Chinese, now that I think about it. He certainly acted quintessentially male Chinese, as my prejudices define it. Very dominant, very forceful, very talkative, very loud, and very pushy. The first thing we did was go to the bank, where I changed my money. Then before a step further was taken, he had me pay him IN FULL. Hmm, this is the guy who was counseling never to pay anyone in China up front. He had an itinerary and all of the gate fees figured out. the gondola to Sun Island, where we were to see the Russian village. As it turned out, only the Russian village, then right back over on the gondola to see the ice swimmers. “Wonderful, yes. Very good, very good.” Three, maybe four, swimmers came out and dove into a seriously cold body of water, one that freezes over when the circulating pump is off. That was it, except for a bathing suit attired couple with whom one could pay to have their photo taken. It was a freak show. The best part was the roasted sweet potato. I bought the steaming tubers, one for each of us, altho I did not see WN ever eat his!
Now, it is important to mention that WN was charging $90 for each day, which would have been just fine if he would have done what I wanted. Also, I believe he was honestly well intended and he was truly helpful in practical matters, like going the next day to get my real train ticket without the burden of dragging my luggage. However, the next day after a couple of hours of some actually interesting sightseeing, he told me he had to leave because his boss called. When I suggested that I should not pay the whole day rate, ” my goodness, my goodness, look what I have done for you. I got your ticket.” occurred. Here again, not really black and white, because he made himself available by phone, and once back in Beijing, he was very helpful in getting me to the correct airport. But I am certainly getting ahead of my story.
Did I mention the van? $100/day for a heated van. I now know for sure, the driver did not get all the money, but, hey, a guy’s gotta make a living! Really. I agreed, and that is fine. The van was there when we needed it, and it truly was warm. Mind you, the temperatures were -14F. Fortunately it is a dry cold.