Travel, Teach, Live in China

Re: Nasty Harbin
By:Chinese ESL Teacher
In Response To: Nasty Harbin (J Melbourne)

I agree with everyone who's written in this thread.

Everyone.

I spent four years in Harbin, and, indeed, it is filthy beyond belief. Men, boys, and children drop their pants on the sidewalk, in the street, against the walls, and urinate/stool. They do this without any visual thoughts or concerns. It's automatic. And the smokers! - probably sixty percent of Chinese males smoke, and smoke everywhere, and smoke more-or-less continuously. The garbage - wet food garbage is regularly poured onto the sidewalks, into the streets - cafe's, for example - I'm describing LOTS of smelly, slippery, sticky food garbage. And the people there will casually drop trash everywhere - just anything and everywhere (early, early morning, people surface-clean the streets). There's no beauty in or on most of the streets of Harbin. And the heat, in the summer, is pretty bad - and in the winter, coal is used to heat the buildings, and one's windows are blackened with greasy, hard-to-clean soot. Matter of fact, when one walks, in the winter, often one cannot see more than a few dozen feet ahead - I mean, REALLY one cannot see. In the winter, too, the cold winds - VERY cold, from Siberia - sweep through the town, inbetween the skyscrapers - best dress warmly, because taxies can be hard to flag down.

On the other hand, one can manage. You'll have your school. Perhaps you teach extra, on the side (you'll be making money, saving money, using money - you'll be well-paid, very!, for China). There are a few places to eat that are really good, and you'll find them - but most places, if you're not fussy, are good enough (don't eat that which is offered by 'street vendors'). There's a movie theater, and there are three or four Wal-Mart's (pronounced 'Wal-Ma'). You'll find someone, someplaces, for services - photocopies, computers, books, DVD's.

I'd be willing to return to Harbin - and I've taught at three schools.

I'd recommend that you make sure that you don't need to stay at your school 8-to-5. Instead, only that you are there 'during classes'. Make sure of this. Make very sure of this.

Also, ensure that the school's apartment has a washing machine. Usually, both floors and ceilings leak - but find out, and find how they work around it. Don't expect a dryer - plan to hang a line for clothing in the apartment. Housing for foreigners will have a shower/bathtub - count yourself lucky! Make sure that your apartment has a strong door, with strong locks, AND USE BOTH OF THEM (don't 'trust' anyone - you're a westerner, so, they figure that 1) you've got money, and 2) you can afford to loose that money). You'll need a fan, fans for the apartment - there almost certainly won't be air conditioning.

There's a really, really good five or six story shopping center that specializes in computer/electronics. Actually, there are two of them, side by side. In the basement of the first is a DVD store - quite a good one. Anyhow, that's where you buy your computers and you DVD's. Don't worry where it is - locals will guide you to it.

There's ANOTHER five or six story building that sells books. And in the basement, also DVD's and supplies. But you'll buy your books here - and everyone will know where it is.

HIT - 'Harbin Institute of Technology' - is a State-run school, and it's pretty good. Likely, you'll go there often, perhaps for the library, or perhaps to 'push' your English school (you'll talk, answer questions, pass-out business cards) (most of us do it) (crowds will gather all around, listening).

YOU NEED A GSM CELLULAR TELEPHONE, and you'll buy a SIM card there. DON'T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT: when you're lost, you can call your school and then pass the telephone to the taxi driver. Also, prepare business-sized cards with the addresses - in Chinese - for those places to which you often travel (this is important).

Harbin Taxi Drivers - they like to stuff the cabs with many, many customers. One of them 'pays the Driver for the clock'. The others just pay the Driver. That's how it's done - get used to it.

BE CAREFUL WHEN WALKING - because, on the streets, car/motorcycle drivers will cheerfully drive through you - and they'll also do this on the sidewalks - really. Be very careful when crossing an intersection. Me, I preferred to travel by taxi - I preferred to avoid walking, and that's why.

Build relationships with those whom you deal. You want them to 'know you', and to 'know what you want'.

I'd like to mention that - and you probably know this - that you don't need to know much Chinese. Mostly, address cards are sufficient; money is sufficient; a passport is sufficient; drawing pictures is sufficient. I know - I don't know any Chinese and I lived there effortlessly.

DO BE SURE not to loose your passport - be verrrrry careful not to loose it. Women, don't carry a purse. Men, don't carry a wallet in your back pocket. Keep your important papers - those that you carry - in a buttoned front shirt pocket. Don't be careless with them - not for one second!

There's an area that deals exclusively with cloth/clothing. I went there for 'custom clothing'. There's another area that deals exclusively with 'fish'. I went THERE for twenty-forty pounds of fish. Lots of 'underground' shopettes sell veggies - and I've no problems buying from them (I'd wash them, carefully).

Don't, don't, don't drink the water. Buy 5-gallon bottles.

NEVER GO OUTSIDE WITHOUT TOILET PAPER. Probably, until you stomach toughens, you'll need lots of it.

My favorite Chinese meal is - Rice, scrambled eggs, tomatos, onions - easy to cook, easy to eat (easy to buy).

Chopsticks - you can learn how to use them - they're easy!

Antibiotics - if you're not medically-trained, use the Internet to find that which you should be taking (and use 'good judgement'). Expect, though, that most 'Western' medicines are counterfeit, or are stored improperly, or are weakened. There's a good dentist - in Sheon (sp?) - four hours South of Harbin (by train) - she's Japanese-trained, and she's quite good (the staff at the American Consulate use her - try, and you can find her) (other Embassies/Consulates, too). ALSO, there's a Western Clinic in that same town - again, try, and you'll find it).

Be advised that a Westerner can only stay in hotels that are approved for a Westerner: Staff will tell you which is which. Also, that if you hope to spend private hotel time with someone to whom you're NOT married - well, you'd better have a marriage license - I've answered that knock on the door to find both hotel staff and police ...

Well. Perhaps this is enough.

Again, Harbin isn't a pretty place, not at all ... but it IS interesting ... and there are a lot of Russians there, it's not quite a 'border town', but it's close. And I do like Russian food, I like it very much - and there are several GOOD Russian eating places (look, you'll find them). I don't think that I'd recommend Harbin for for those with nervous stomaches, nor for those burdened with too many scruples ... if you're fussy, then perhaps you won't enjoy Harbin. On the other hand - it IS somewhere where you can experience things, emotions, thoughts, romances of which you'd never guessed.

All in all, I'd recommend it for those who are, or can grow to be, 'tough'. Yes, I'd recommend it for those.

Best of luck.

Happy Trails.


Messages In This Thread

English TV channels via satellite dish, shanghai and beijing *Link* -- Dream Satellite Television
China Confussion........... -- Eric
Re: China Confussion........... -- kenzhu
Harbin Pros and Cons -- Eric Trunkett
About Harbin -- Paula
Harbin -- JZ
Nasty Harbin -- J Melbourne
More Cons to me........... -- Eric
Degrees of danger -- Simon Weston

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