Changchun Nov 2nd 2011:
I took an overnight train to Changchun (former WW2 capital of the Japanese-occupied wartime puppet regime of Manchukuo/Manchuria) from Beijing and this was my 1st time sitting on a Chinese overnight train. It was quite alright actually as for my entire overnight train journeys on my 3 week China trip, i always bought the soft-sleeper class tickets which meant only 4 people in one compartment and the conditions were much much much better (i can't emphasize this enough) than the hard-sleeper and even hard-seat compartments ( yes, they actually sell all-seat compartments for overnight trains meaning people just sit throughout the entire night and you can even see people standing in overcrowded train compartments on Chinese trains going overnight! In fact, on my Xian to Chongqing overnighter, i had mistakenly gone into the last carriage which was the worst and got the shock of my life, given that it was totally overcrowded with no sleeping space n i knew something MUST be wrong as i had bought the soft-sleeper ticket, which i only got very last min as it was sold out earlier on i think n i'd be stuck in Xian for the night but thankfully i got the ticket. Furthermore, i had already slept on a soft-sleeper class to Changchun and back before n knew what it shld be like altho i did momentarily doubt whether it was due to it being an inland train away from coastal China) .
Anyways, I have always wanted to go to the northeast of China/Manchuria, and have always had this image of 1930s/1940s China with the slow train chugging along the Manchurian wintery countryside with pine willow trees since young watching old Chinese movies, and Changchun fit that picture image perfectly. It was so nice and had a rustic feel to it, just like in the movies set in 1940s China. Of cos, development had caught up even here with brand names such as Hermes having a large store in central Changchun but places like Nanhu Park was absolutely one of the unexpected highlights of my entire China trip and simply an amazing experience and beautiful sight which will forever be etched into my memory. I also had my first proper Dongbei cuisine..of what else but good old dumplings in Changchun and they tasted lovely as i would have expected. There were also still some Japanese puppet government- era historical buildings surrounding the central public square in downtown Changchun which i visited, all of which have been reused for other purposes now such as as a university faculty building and a hospital which i even went in to visit! ha! visiting a hospital as a touristy site whilst on holiday!
I also had some Korean-Chinese food here which was abit different from usual Korean food as they have been modified to suit Chinese local tastes (Changchun is the current provincial capital of Jilin Province, one of the three provinces which make up northeast China, and Jilin province also has the bulk of the Korean ethnic minority group numbering almost 2 million, most traditionally based in Yanbian Korean autonomous prefecture which is located within Jilin province, hence explaining the numerous Korean food and Hangul writing found in the city)
I spent the night in Changchun and had dinner at Guilin Road district, a very popular funk downtown district as well as managed to sit on the only preserved 1940s tram line whilst in Changchun! Highly recommended city to visit, for its authentic 1940s charm and feel..
Harbin 3rd Nov 2011:
I sat the morning train to Harbin from Changchun which took around 2 hrs i think. Once i arrived, I basically went to visit the famous Zhongyang Dajie which is the preserved historical street and main shopping strip in Harbin. I also visited the Matyrs Monument, Anti-Flooding Monument, Harbin's shopping district and of cos the St Sophia Cathedral for an obligatory photo op.
I also visited Walmart in Harbin! Hahaha..had a good look at the products on offer...quite worth the money actually...Before i left that night on the overnighter train back to Beijing, I went to the bankside of the Songhua river, and dipped my fingers into the waters as well as took photos and had a walk along the Stalin park promenade overlooking Songhua River, which i have always known since young as the Songhua River is one of the main rivers of China.
Thus, I was very happy and fulfilled to be able to finally visit and experience former Manchuria/China's northeast, a place which has always captured my imagination since young!