Posts Tagged With: HIT

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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Thoughts From an “Old Foreigner:” Sense of Having Privacy in a Crowd

“Old foreigner, or laowai (老外), is a somewhat derogatory term that describes a foreigner in China. For most expats, we play with this identity by calling ourselves, laowai. Might as well embrace how Chinese view us, because this perception won’t change…our physical differences will always separate us from “being Chinese.” At times, this sense of separation hurts, since I want to understand Chinese culture, immerse myself in the everyday life of Harbiners or Kunmingers…but this separation also brings about understanding of difference (foreignness) that protects me from being judged. For instance, I took off a pair of pants the other night in a restaurant because I was wearing a dress underneath. That action of taking clothes off in public is “weird,” but no one really took notice or cared. “It’s a foreigner thing.”

If a person approaches me that I do not want to talk to, I can pretend to not understand and go on my way. I can make funny faces, laugh loudly, and joke around without worrying about being “graceful and subdued (婉约).” This is a popular behavior that men like in Chinese girls, also can’t forget the cuteness factor ( that often leading to ending sentences with “a” “o” “bei” “la”). I don’t need to worry about these expectations, I am free from Chinese cultural norms because I am different. In this sense, I feel free.

This brings me to my other observation: Sense of Being Alone in an Endless Crowd. When an American thinks of China, one of the few things he/she thinks of are “the crowds:” The streets that are crowded like sardines, the outdoor super-sized pools that are filled wall-to-wall with inflatable tubes, the beaches are also a mad-house of colorful umbrellas and beige bodies. This perception of China, is at times trues–train stations during the Spring Festival, morning/night markets (see picture below)–but the crowds are not to that extreme. However, wherever you are in Chinese cities, there are always people around…a lot of people. The most common phrase I hear Chinese people say is “人太多” “There are too many people.”  And it is true.


Picture taken in Dalian, Liaoning Province: Crowd at Morning Market

Though there are ALWAYS people around, I have noticed that it has made Chinese people more distant from each other. From the pushing/shoving/pumping on buses without any care of the person you pushed, to singing loudly on the street without anyone giving you any notice. Even though you are always surrounded by people, a Chinese person still has privacy in public simply because everyone is in their own little bubbles, surrounded by a billion of other little bubbles. At least, this is what I have observed.

Since I am not Chinese, I get a completely different experience here. EVERYONE stares at me and I feel like I don’t have any privacy. People are curious about what “the foreigner” is doing, what is she saying in Chinese, what is she buying, what is she reading? I’ve gotten used to it. But, sometimes when I’m walking about campus, I observe a college student walking by himself around campus (maybe to his dorm or class), singing a pop tune loudly to himself. He wears a thick winter jacket, his eyes are looking down to the snowy sidewalk as he sings. His notes freeze into the frigid air. I feel envious for his privacy. He isn’t different, he is simply another face in the crowd, and thus is ignored by the others. I will not feel that kind of freedom.

What does it feel like to live in a country that has “too many” people, to the point that its leads to everyone distancing themselves from each other. I only experience the outer layer of it all as a foreigner.

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On-Campus Activity: Painting Beijing Opera Masks

My roommate suggested that I attend an event where the Beijing Opera group on campus would perform and then the audience could paint their own masks. Dare, Ryan, and I decided to check it out. A male student sang a female character’s song. In the past, men played all roles–women, men, gods, etc–however, nowadays, women can act in Beijing Opera.

If you don’t know what Beijing Opera sounds like, take a look at this video:

After the performance, we painted our own masks. I’m pretty proud of mine! It was nice attending this event and getting to know fellow foreign and Chinese students. Sometimes I feel isolated in my program. This event made me feel more connected to my school’s community.

Our Own Masks

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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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Activities Fair — Off to HIT’s Second Campus

My roommate invited me to join her and her club members to Harbin Institute of Technology’s Activities Fair. I decided to tag along and see what a Chinese campus activities fair is like and walk around the more forested campus.

We first ate breakfast at one of the cafeterias. This is when the cafeteria is moderately busy.

After breakfast we met with her classmates and then took a 30-40 minute bus ride to the second campus (my campus is the first one). I followed my roommate up to the sixth floor of the campus’ center building and observed how they interview applicants. I didn’t realize the organization she is in (Green Union) was so prestigious! They are only able to accept 30 new members out of the hundreds of applicants.

I then went on my way and walked around campus.

For some reason, I was not expecting the Activities Fair to be this active. There were so many people!

I checked out the Calligraphy Club’s table. My poorly written calligraphy is the one on the bottom and top (孙柯琳)

I then visited the Anime Club table and took a picture of this pretty man wearing cosplay.

From this table, I made a friend who then lead my through the activities fair, giving me suggestions on which clubs I should look into. I look at the Beijing Opera Club, Ethnic Minority Club, Singing Club, and others. I didn’t sign up to any, but I did talk with the representatives. I was the only foreigner at the entire event, so I was quite the eyesore. One benefit to being different from everybody else is that people are interested in getting to know you. Through this entire event, I met and talked to a lot of people and made some friends that live in my campus. It was a lot of fun!

Is that how it goes? Pretty close! This was at the Student Organization Council table.

Secluded Path on Campus

After escaping the madness that was the Activities Fair, I took a stroll around campus and found a nice path to walk down. It led me to the end of the forest where there were many older Chinese men and women going about their day: either doing Taiqi, singing, sitting, or playing with their grandchildren.

The Flowers and the Bees

I have a video of an older group of women singing and men playing the erhu. WordPress won’t allow me to upload the video unless I purchase an upgrade. For now, I’ll post the video on my Facebook. The older people took a special interest in me and beckoned me to join them in singing traditional Chinese music. I begged not to sing and just listen, but they pulled me in. I looked at the sheet music to find their notes were numbers and not on any scale. Finally, I jokingly sang/mumbled “Mo li hua,” which made them laugh. I really enjoy talking with older Chinese…I don’t know why. Maybe the difference in culture is intriguing? They are also very welcoming and always curious to hear about my life on the other side of the world. I hope to do more of this when I begin my studies around Lugu Lake!

I said goodbye to the musicians and singers and then I was on my way. I had to get back to first campus. We had an event that afternoon, go to Sun Island.

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Sick Week

Sick Week – A combination of American and Chinese medicine (and Pokemon)

I was doing so well too. I got a cold on the 10th and then it moved from there to something stronger. I spent most of my week either in class or in bed playing Pokemon Red. I took Day/Nyquil religiously and drank a special root with warm water. I got better!

What got me sick was the sudden change of cold weather this week and I ate too much sour food. My body hasn’t completely adjusted to Chinese food yet.

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My Room and Everyday Life

This is my room! I know…it’s a little messy. The bed by the window is mine, as well as the desk and chair. I’m fortunate in that I got the bigger room out of the two room suite. My dorm includes a bed, mattress, blanket, desk, wardrobe, drawers, chair, bathroom (shared by 4 people), and a public kitchen with a fridge for all my classmates to share. We also have a study room and living area. The living arrangements are overall really great.

My roommate’s name is Zou Mengnan, she is from Dalian, China and a Material Science major here at HIT. We get along really well! She participates in many clubs around campus, which is great, since I can tag along! Fencing class is one of them.

I washed my clothes one afternoon and went to the market to buy hooks to paste on the walls and string to hang the clothes off of. The hooks did not work, so I had to get create in hanging my clothing. I am quite proud of my “achievement.”

I took a picture of my homework, who knew it could be so cute? Thanks for the fish pen, Darrah! When I do homework and then realize that I’m writing my answers with a fish, it really brightens my day.

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HIT Subcultures (Older Population and Farming Locals)

A few classmates and I were walking about campus and ran into the front entrance sign. The calligraphy was written by the one and only Mao Zedong! I thought I would take a picture in front of it with my friend, Mallory.

I often take walks around campus. Since it gets dark around 6:00pm, my walks turn into nighttime ventures where I observe what people are doing. I’ve run into the rollerblading club, little kids playing around the food market, and a quaint district within the walls that hosts the older relatives of HIT teachers. This district or 4 or so buildings has a garden that has corn stalks, sunflowers, a cat, and older people exercising or doing Taichi. It’s fun to walk through to see how they spend their day, and compare it to the lives of the thousands of students that live around this tranquil place.

During a break between classes, I walked around the library and saw these two women chatting up a storm. That is the library next to them and an administrative building in the background (its nickname is the “toilet bowl”)

The quaint district’s park and garden

Though we live on a school campus, where the majority of residents are 20-26 year old students, there are other subcultures that live within our walls. For instance, the older relatives that live in this district, or the thin rows of farmland that line the edge of the west wall. On one of these walks, my classmate, Shanxia, and I found abandoned ground between campus and the railroad tracks that has been turned into toiled soil. We slid under a gate and walked through the uneven rows of cabbage, carrots, peanuts, and tomatoes. The width of the patch is about 15-20 feet long and the length is about 2-3 blocks long. At first, it looks like overgrown brush, until you look closely and see handmade fences made out of sticks, wire, and plastic, and orderly green sprouts coming out of the earth.

This picture was taken while we walked along the railroad tracks. A local is toiling the earth. Notice how thin the patch is and its location. I wonder if they pay for using this land or if they toil it without local officials noticing?

My classmate, Shanxia. We walked along the railroad tracks to get back to the West Gate of campus.

This fencing was made out of sticks and wire. It looks like this local is growing green onions and other vegetables.

Besides academic/school culture that fills this area with life, there are other “hard-to-see” populations of people that occupy it as well. The older relatives, the farmers, and restaurant/shop owners, janitorial staff, etc. So far I have only witnessed two of these subcultures, hopefully I will be able to see more aspects of HIT culture later in the year.

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