Posts Tagged With: CET

Everyday Life in Harbin: Winter has Arrived


Harbin–A Chinese Urban Winter Wonderland

For the past month, it has gotten cold…real cold. But! If I look on the brighter side, one cannot truly experience Harbin without bearing through its frigid winter. Harbin is called the “Ice City,” after all. For the past month, my classmates and I have taken a liking to: checking out tea houses to play Mahjong, watching movies (“Life of Pi” “Fists of Fury” “It’s a Wonderful Life” “Rio” whatever is in the activity room’s DvD collection), build snowmen that later turns into a snowball fight, go to massage centers (we were given a cup treatment), try out new restaurants, and enjoy Harbin life with the snow white scenery. And, of course, studying as well as preparing for finals that are next week.

Before I move to Kunming (which is in a week!), I have given myself a new goal: learn how to ice skate! For the past three days, I have taken time between classes to go to the campus rink to practice. I rent a pair of skates for 15块 ($2~) and wobble on the ice for about an hour.

Today, I went ice skating with classmates and Chinese roommates. Though the picture doesn’t show it, I have improved a lot!


Looking Good on the Ice

I have really enjoyed my stay here in Harbin. I feel more prepared for my Fulbright research, have made new friends, and got to experience more of Northern China. Each time I come to this country, I am surprised how much there is to experience and to learn. In these four months, I have gotten acquainted with Harbin city life, experienced Inner Mongolia’s ethnic borders and winters, traveled to beautiful Dalian, learned about Northwestern Chinese modern history, and tasted local cuisine. There are also the small things that have impacted me: daily conversations with my Chinese roommates, long walks around campus (warm and snowy), random conversations around town (on buses, trains, restaurants, street, etc), getting lost around the city but learning something new through the experience.

This has been my time in Harbin…Let’s see where my life leads me when I move to Kunming.

(I also recommend checking out Dare’s blog to see more of what I have been up to.)

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Cross-Cultural: Celebrating Thanksgiving in Harbin

For Thanksgiving, CET organized a trip to go to Harbin’s top buffet. They said that the year before they had turkey! Unfortunately, there was no turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberries this year, but I still ate to my heart’s content. They had foods from all of China’s regions (Taiwan, Guangdong, Sichuan, Northeast, etc.) , as well as international cuisine (Japanese, Korean, Western). I joked around with classmates and chatted with teachers. It was nice to take a break, and get to know my teachers out of the classroom.

High-class Buffet–Japanese Section

Western Section–Pierogis?

The Western section had fruit pizza (pineapple, mango) and sausage pizza, meatballs, pasta, and something that looked like pierogis. From the Western section, I mostly ate pizza. Most of my plate’s contents included Guangdong dimsum, fried shrimp, and all-you-can-eat Haagen Dazs icecream!

Mengnan Eating her First “Thanksgiving” Meal

All of our roommate’s tagged along to participate in our Thanksgiving dinner. They were curious to know what we did on this holiday. They thought we were joking that we just eat a TON of food, chat with family, and then go to sleep. At some point in the middle, we give thanks. Since we didn’t eat any traditional Thanksgiving cuisine, many of my classmates plan to make their own mashed potatoes…I’m going to make a pumpkin pie!

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Exploring Harbin: 731 Museum and Understanding Japan and China’s Relationship

It was a frigid afternoon with a gray haze of car exhaust clouding the distance when we arrived at 731, a museum that unearths an old Japanese germ weapon research base. I walked through the old military gate, and observed the yellow building contrast against the thin layer of snow. The wind blew right through me and my thin jacket then. I realized the weather and the museum were both frigid….I regretted not wearing enough layers.

Visiting 731 with CET program

I believe visiting a national museum is a good method in understanding a government’s values and how they simultaneously promote patriotism at the same time. This is especially visible in Chinese museums. A museum utilizes many mediums to display their content’s history and meaning: I find reading signs as the most effective way to understand the motive of the museum–what is the museum trying to make me feel? What am I supposed to think about this country (and other’s) after attending the exhibition? Specific language is chosen to describe the past events in Unit 731, and its chosen for a reason. Let’s see if I figure it out at the end of this post.

First off, this was the introduction sign before entering the museum:

“Manchu Unit 731” was a special troop set up in China under the [Japanese] imperial edict. In 1935, the unit set up the biological weapon research and test base in Pingfang and a biologicial warfare command of the Japanese Army in the Southeast Asia…In the base, which was referred to as ‘the den of cannibals’, Uniy 731 engaged in germ weapon research by conducting cruel vivisection. According to historical documentation, just between 1939 and August to 1945 alone at least 3,000 anti-Japanese and anti-Manchukuo fighters from home and abroad and innocent civilians were maimed and killed as vivisection subjects. In August 1945, Japan lost the war and surrendered. In order to cover up its heinous atrocities, Unit 731 carried out large-scale destruction and sabotage to the facilities in this area. Today 23 sites are listed as the key sites for protection to testify to the crimes.

I highlighted the words that constructed the frame the writer of these signs wanted us to view this place and, most importantly, the Japanese. This kind of language could be found throughout the museum.

Entrance Sign–“Crime Evidence”

One motive for the creation of this museum was to emphasize the fact that the Japanese conducted research that went against international anti-biochemical warfare and research laws–what they did was wrong and it was a crime against China and humanity. This museum is evidence for this fact. This motive’s goal is to evoke anger into the museum visitors toward Japan. From what I observed, it was successful. My classmate shared with me what he overheard from a father and his son:

After leaving the museum, a father asked his son, “Do you now dislike Japan (你讨厌日本吗)?” The young boy, maybe 9 years old or so, replied, “Yes, I do. (讨厌).”

Before entering the main exhibit, one last sign sparked my interested. It read: “Forgetting about the history means betrayal.” It gave me a heebie-jeebies. That phrase was found throughout the entire museum.

A wall of Unity 731 history and its atrocities– no idea where they got this information.

Japanese Soldiers with their “Comfort Women” in front of Togo Shrine

A memorial for those who died in the base

From the memorial hall, I stepped outside to find a silent lawn in the midst of a light snowfall. I walked to the now destroyed germ weapon research building. There only stands one row of concrete with two smoke stacks. In front are the remains of what looks like was a basement.

Old Germ Warfare Research Lab Building

Beneath the remains

I walked around the remains, sinking everything that I read and watched. It’s a lot to take in. War brings out the worst in a country. However, through diplomacy we can rekindle relationships and make the world a (little) more stable once again. When I visited this museum, I felt like its display stoked the contentious fire between China and Japan, instead of treating the issue with a clear-minded judgement.

This museum reminded me of my visit to the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. and the Holocaust memorial in Miami, Florida. Both places made me aware of the atrocities that happened during WWII. I felt the same way leaving them–sad and contemplative. But, I didn’t leave either of those places disliking Germany or any other country. I didn’t grow up being told over and over again to hate a country and their government (and even their people). To me, this is unhealthy and doesn’t help the problem. The Chinese government is using this tactic to build up nationalism among its people–and they are doing it really well–but its also gradually deteriorating the potential for reestablishing a healthy relationship between the two countries. There are faults on both sides, of course, but I only see one side of this relationship.

I have met too many children and teenagers that blindly hate Japan. This just doesn’t seem right to me. Everyone has their own right to have opinions, but if these opinions were being propagated by the media and government…are those really your own opinions or is it something else entirely?

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Weekend Excursion: Yagou Ravine

This weekend, CET organized a trip to Yagou Ravine, a park an hour away from the city. We took a bus from Harbin and made a stop at what looked like a quarry. We walked along a sandy path that passed people cutting into the rocky hills with large machinery, jumped over a ditch by a deserted house, and hiked up a path to a hidden pavilion. In this isolated spot was a etching in a side of a rock wall dating back to the Jin Era (1115-1234 A.D). This era was constructed by the Nuzhen people, who are now referred as the Machurian minority. The stone had two etchings: 1) one of a women sitting, and 2) a man striking downward with a sword..

Rock Etching of a Man Striking the Ground with a Short Sword

After observing the ancient artwork, we walked back to the bus to begin our 3-4 hour hike. We were dropped off at the beginning of the trail, that was lined with a large lake. The scenery was covered with mist–or pollution, I couldn’t tell.

Island of Bare Trees

The trail curved into a forested area. We crossed over an icy part of the lake by bridge and entered a historical site. We were in a section of the pine forest that was dotted with old Japanese bunkers from one of the 20th century wars. I inspected one of them and found its floor covered with trash.

Looking into one of the Bunkers

We continued on our hike. The smell of pine was refreshing. We climbed up one of the hills and looked out to scenery of rolling tree-covered hills and plains of yellow grass. In the distance was a tower which was our last rest stop. We hiked for another hour…talking, singing, whistling, enjoying nature, telling stories and then finally arrived at the fire watch tower.

Final Rest Stop

The tower was frail and old. It drifted back and forth with the wind. Because of its lack of integrity, only three people were allowed to go up at a time. I joined two guys and climbed up to the top. While I was climbing up the stairs, the Chinese roommate among the two, kept on worrying about my safety–telling me to slow down, to be careful, make sure that I’m not scared. It got on my nerves, since he wasn’t worrying about my male classmate and assumed, since I’m a girl, I must be easily frightened. I understood that his concerns were well-intentioned, but the feminist in me began to swell.

I let his concerns slide and reassured him that I was perfectly fine, and that I was not afraid of heights. He was surprised. At the top, the scenery was spectacular.

Red, Greens, and Yellows

The two guys were getting ready to head back down, while I was still taking pictures. The Chinese roommate told me, “Colleen, how about you get in the middle so that I can protect you.” That was the last straw. With all of my strength, I tried to sound as polite as possible: “I don’t want your protection, I can take care of myself, you go down first, I’ll follow behind.” He understood and from then on, he was surprised at how courageous I and the rest of my American females classmates were. For instance, I joined my male classmates as they hiked along the rocks that lined the top of the hill (the picture above shows the line of rocks). The Chinese roommate was impressed. His way of thinking is arguably influenced by the Chinese traditional way of treating the opposite sex: girls are weak and need a man to protect them, etc. I’m not insinuating that I can do ANYTHING myself, but climbing stairs is not situation in which I need someone to protect me.

That small moment really opened my eyes to male-female relations in China. In America, the word “protection” is not used often in that context. If a man in America told me, “I want to protect you.” I would feel awkward and perplexed. Protect me from what? Dragons? In China, that’s not the case. I apologize for the rant…now back to my day!

At the Edge of the Rock Ledge with Tower Behind me

I sat at the edge of the rocky trail until I heard my resident teacher call out to everybody that we were leaving. I teeter-tottered and climbed along the rocks to get back to the group. We then descended back to ground-level and walked along harvested farmland till we reached the bus. Somehow a classmate and I squeezed in a medley of Bohemian Rhapsody before getting on the bus and setting off back to Harbin.

Blown over Corn

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Exploring Harbin: Dinner Outing with Friends

Spicy Dinner at Sichuan Restaurant

I joined my classmates for some spicy food at Harbin’s “spiciest” Sichuanese restaurant. We ate fried chicken chunks that were covered with a hundred+ red peppers, frogs, crab soup (the yellow part), hot and sour fish stew, spicy green beans, and cabbage. There were beef and other chicken dishes too. I went with about 12 classmates. It was a fun night filled with animal noises, whistling, and other immature banter. Somehow we evolved from making elephant noises to golf clapping to our classmate’s splendid whistling skills.

My classmates are great.

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Cross-Cultural Exchange: Halloween Celebration

Happy Halloween!

My classmates and I carved our own mini pumpkins.

Nearing Halloween, none of my classmates organized an event. So, like what my Resident Director once said, “Once an RA, always an RA.” I sent out an email to everyone and organized a costume party and trick-or-treating event. It was a school night, so I made sure not to make the event too jammed-pack with Halloween goodness. My suite-mate bought three pumpkins (one for me, her, and another classmate). On Halloween, we carved them. I didn’t have time to carve a mouth on mine. See the really traditional one? A Chinese roommate carved it. His first carved pumpkin ever…he did so well! He won the pumpkin carving contest.

Me and Frida Kahlo (Elise)

Binder Full of Women (Ziiing!)

My roommate eating a caramel apple for the first time

The Chinese roommates really enjoyed the event. They laughed at all the costumes, helped us devour the plethora of candy, vote for best pumpkin and costume, and joined in when my classmates made an impromptu “scare house/dorm room.” I was really happy to give my classmates a little taste of home and give the Chinese roommates some understanding of American culture…even though it’s a bit strange!

My night in a nutshell

It may have been the best Halloween I’ve had in years…and it was out of the country! Good memories.

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Everyday Life #2 at Harbin Institute of Technology

In my blog, I seem to always emphasize on the fun, multicultural, and exciting parts of my studies abroad. My everyday life, however, is pretty normal for a student studying abroad in China: wake up early for class, study at night, go to the school cafeteria for lunch/dinner with classmates, exercise at local gym, etc. The classes that I am taking are:

  1. Chinese Literature (with Hu Laoshi, she is amazing! She makes us laugh and learn Chinese at the same time)
  2. Ancient Chinese (with Wu laoshi, she is also great. I am learning a lot in this class)
  3. 1 on 2 Tutorial (practicing pronunciation with a Chinese teacher and classmate)
  4. 1 on 1 Tutorial (I have had difficulties with my professor, but we have finally fixed our differences and are now continuing to prepare for my Fulbright research.

My classes are overall really great. I’m improving my Chinese and making friends in the process. My teachers are really understanding and the Academic Director, Ren Laoshi, is kind, stern, and a very interesting woman! I give a big thumbs up for CET Harbin and my classmates. I really am having a spectacular time here. This is a great way to prepare me academically and mentally for my year of research in Yunnan.

One night, I did not have much homework and decided to find a piano on campus. Though I am no pianist, I really enjoy playing a piano, listen to the notes that I press with my finger, and make music with my amateur skills. After searching for 30-45 minutes in the gigantic, 6-story Student Activities Center, I found the practice rooms on the fifth floor. The keys were worn down to the wooden tablets and many of the keys lost their strength in sound, but it was a piano.

I played it for an hour…it was one of the most relaxing parts of that week. I often feel claustrophobic in big Chinese cities (tall buildings, seas of people, no space, no silence), so this piano helped quiet my soul.

This sums up my average days. Though my day is often a routine, I always try to do or see something a little different: play the piano, get lunch with someone I don’t know well, run to a different part of town, go to a new restaurant to eat, etc.

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Weekend Excursion: Tiger Head Mountain Great Wall of China

We has breakfast at the hotel and then took a bus to Tiger Head Mountain, an area that has the most northern Great Wall. We hiked up the Great Wall at different speeds. I was near the end. I walked slowly and enjoyed the scenery of the North Korean scenery.

Looking at the Peak–A Long Way to Go

This view is still of the Chinese side of the river. Along the wall had small farms growing corn and cabbage.

The Great Wall is Great, But Nature Always Wins

This was about half-way to the top. This Great Wall was constructed during the Ming Dynasty, so in the last 400 years of so. The part of the Great Wall that we walked up had been repaired, but this part of the wall has been left to crumble. What a sight and what a view.

Tiger Head Mountain’s Peak

At the top of Tiger Head peak was a watchtower where we could climb stairs to the top. From there, we could see an endless landscape of flat North Korean farmland and distant mountains. While I was at the top, I was extremely happy. Not only had I succeeded in climbing up the Great Wall, but I was with close friends whom I could share this experience with. This entire weekend was filled with fun and laughter. I haven’t been this content with life in a long time.

North Korean Countryside

There was a village in the distance. A village that hosted the farmers that toiled the land next to the Yalu River. The thin river split the two countries. A few thoughts went through my mind while I looked out at the scenery and the village…boundaries seem so arbitrary when you see them firsthand. This river splits China and North Korea, but the land is exactly the same. There are no thick black lines that line the borders, only a thin, wire fence. The farmers that toil the borderlands view the earth as a means to live…I wonder how do they view the border?

Trailing the North Korean and Chinese Border

We hiked down the Great Wall and trailed along the edge of the mountain back to the entrance. The trail put on right next to the Chinese border fence. So close.

We took a bus back to Dandong and hopped on an afternoon train back to Harbin. We arrive at 2:00am in the morning, looking forward for no classes the next day.

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Weekend Excursion: Night on the Town in Dandong

Sunset over Dandong Cityscape

We arrived in Dandong, put our luggage in the hotel, and then had the night to ourselves. Me and a group of classmates ate at a North Korean barbeque restaurant. There was a large metal pan in the middle of the table where we cooked our own meats and vegetables. I don’t know what they put in that food, but it was delicious! I apologize for not taking any pictures, I did not bring my camera.

We then took a long walk along the river that borders North Korea. At this point, it was night. The buildings bordering the Yalu River on Dandong’s side were lit up with neon lights. However, the opposite side of the river was pitch black. We once in a while saw a dim light in the distance and stopped to look at it. We would guess what it could be: “a fire?” “a public restroom light?” “a home?” Strange how two cities so close to each other can have such disparities in development. The dichotomy was really quite bizarre.

Here is a photo that shows this difference in development: The Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge


“A Bridge to Nowhere”

The blog calls this photo “A Bridge to Nowhere.” But, of course, it goes somewhere…it’s just at night that place disappears into the darkness. I do want to make the point that just down the river, both sides of the river look the same–same darkness, same development.

I had a great night. I walked along the river for 2-3 hours with friends. We laughed, danced, and talked with locals. We went back to the hotel and prepared for our next day’s adventure: The Tiger Head Mountain Great Wall.

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Scavenger Hunt and Zhongyang Street (中央大街)

This weekend our program designed a scavenger hunt for us to get to know our campus and Harbin. We were split into five different groups and competed against each other. We were given a list of questions that needed to be answered (with the help from locals) and places that we needed to go and take a picture in front of. My team included myself, Elise, Su-yee, and An-Sheng (I forgot his English name).  These were some of the things we had to do:

Tuan(r) roaster on Zhongyang Street

We had to find lamb on a stick (tuanr) and then pose with them in tango form. Meat/fish/tofu/vegetable on a stick (tuanr)  is a common snack food that’s ordered from street stalls. It was a little bit spicy, but really good! This stall was in front of the four-story Walmart, which we went to next to take a picture with an employee. The things we had to find were quite humorous! And yes, Walmart can four four-stories or taller in China!

Saint Sophia Cathedral-Remnants of Harbin’s once vibrant Russian neighborhood

We walked a few blocks from Zhongyang street to find my favorite destination, the Saint Sophia Cathedral. We had to rush through, but I still got a glimpse and feel of what old Harbin was like. Zhongyang street and its surrounding area used to house a thriving Russian population of 100,000.

Wikipedia says:

“St. Sophia Orthodox Cathedral is one of the most magnificent structures in Harbin. It was built in 1907 after the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1903, which connected Vladivostok to northeast China. The Russian No.4 Army Division arrived in this region just after Russia’s loss to the Japanese in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905). St. Sophia Church was built and completed of timber in March, 1907 as part of a plan to reconsolidate the confidence of the army by building an imposing spiritual symbol.

In 1921, Harbin had a population of 300,000, including 100,000 Russians.[1] The church was expanded and renovated from September 23, 1923, when a ceremony was held to celebrate the laying of the cornerstone, to its completion on November 25, 1932, after nine years. The present day St. Sophia Church was hailed as a monumental work of art and the largest Orthodox church in the far east.”

Starbucks and the Far East – Moon Cakes

During the scavenger hunt, my classmate really wanted a cup of coffee. While I waited for her, I saw this sign. I have always found the combination of different cultures (syncretism) interesting. Here is a great example: The Mid-Autumn Festival is fast approaching, and the traditional food to eat during this holiday is a moon cake. Previously, Starbucks and this festival had nothing in common. However, since expanding into Chinese culture, Starbucks has transformed their American coffee shop into a place that can be shared cross-culturally. Therefore, Starbucks moon cake! I’ll be sure to try one, I wonder if it is espresso flavored?

防洪纪念塔 - Flood Control Remembrance Monument

At the end of the day, we all met at the Flood Control Remembrance Monument. “The Monument is the centerpiece of the popular Stalin Park, built in 1958 to commemorate the tremendous feat of the Harbin people in controlling the massive flood of 1957. The flood was the biggest flood ever recorded in Harbin until the summer 1998 disaster” (

CET arranged for us to eat hot pot near the monument. It was really good, but I sure do miss Kunming’s 饵块 (rice squares). Hot pot consists of a large pot of boiling broth in the middle of the table and then a plethora of ingredients to choose from. I really like frozen tofu and romaine lettuce in mine!

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