Liu and his team are among more than 100 people who work on the Songhua River to harvest the 170,000 cubic meters of ice bricks needed this year — enough to fill 70 Olympic swimming pools.
Every year, a worker slips into the frigid water.
But that’s a risk farmers are willing to take to earn extra money during the harsh winter by harvesting the pieces used to make crystal palaces and sculptures at the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival.
Liu’s team cuts out 2,000 pieces of ice every day for about three weeks, arriving before sunrise and leaving after sunset.
The farmers, who grow corn and soybeans the rest of the year, get paid 2.5 yuan ($0.35) for each of the 1.6-metre-long, 400-kilo (5-foot long, 900-pound) rectangles of ice they produce for the festival, which will open before the New Year.
They each make around 500 yuan per day. “There’s nothing to do in the winter. People play mahjong at home. I don’t like gambling, so I work,” says Liu, a 36-year-old father of one.
“Prices of everything are going up. I make a little more money to make life easier,” says the chain-smoking farmer.