First Impression

Today is the beginning of day three in Harbin. I’ve been up since 4:45 this morning. I didn’t think I was jet lagged, but that is pretty strong evidence to the contrary. The trip over was not bad at all. There were no delays; I made all my flights, and I ended up with all my luggage. I watched RV on the flight to LA. It was a guilty pleasure. I passed out for most of the flight to Beijing. When I arrived in Harbin, one of the employees of the international office at my school, “Diana” Li (everyone chooses an English first name), had a sign with my name on it. The drive to the school from the airport took about an hour. Outside the city was beautiful; everything was flat and green with trees dotting the fields. I was incredibly excited.

Once we hit the city, I wasn’t so excited anymore. We passed some buildings that looked like they were condos in a shoddy version of Gulf Shores. I thought, “We’re on the outskirts of town; the rest of the city will look different.” Nothing changed for the rest of the drive. The city is filled with 5 to 7 story pink or yellow apartment buildings that look like run-down beach condos. I still haven’t found the beach.

When we arrived at my school, Heilongjiang Institute of Technology, I was as impressed with the school as I was unimpressed with the city. The buildings are modern and nice, and there is a lot of green area. One of the workers in the school that I had dinner with the first night said the school is about the equivalant of a community college. There are incredible amounts of people surveying at all times. My room is very nice; far nicer than I expected. Outside there are a ton of basketball courts. I can’t wait to go out and play today.

After I got settled in, Diana took me to a store to buy some stuff. The store was called Carrefour. I remember seeing them in Spain. It was like a Super Wal-Mart. The walk there and the shopping experience was overwhelming. Everything is crazy. Its inevitable that I will be hit by something on the street. People walk out into the middle of traffic. Motorcycles drive into oncoming traffic. Cars cross intersections whenever they please. The store was a zoo too. I bought everything I needed for my room, some food, and some other random stuff for 220 yuan (about 27 dollars).

I got back to my room, and I was feeling pretty overwhelmed. I expected to be overwhelmed but I had no clue what that really felt like. It didn’t feel very good. Then I met Chris. Chris is the only other Westerner working at my school. He made me feel a lot better because I could talk to him and because he has been here for 3 years, hasn’t learned Chinese, and still loves it. He has been taking me around to the nice parts of the city. My first night he took me to the commercial districts. We walked around a shopping center that could have been Lenox. I saw my first Russian Orthodox church in the city. Last night, we went to the old Russian part of town. Except for all the Chinese characters, I could have been in Europe. We met a bunch of the other English teachers there. They seemed like a nice bunch. Chris said if I want to learn Chinese I need to say away from them. Learning Chinese is one of my goals for the trip, but its definately important for me to get to know people I can actually talk to. We’ll see how it goes.

My contract says that I’ll teach 14 hours a week; right now I have 7 hours. 4 of those hours don’t start until after a break we have in October. So for the next month, pending some new classes, I’ll have 3 hours of work a week. I’m going to have quite a bit of time on my hands. I would like to spend some time getting aquainted with Harbin, but it seems like it is a great opportunity to do some travelling. I don’t know if I’ll always have this sort of time on my hands. If I meet a travel buddy, I will most likely take the opportunity to see some of China.

Today, I finish getting my residency permit. The culmination is a medical exam that I’m getting this morning. I’ve been told that they’re going to draw some blood; I’m fine with that except I’m in China and not the US. Also, they told me not to eat this morning, and I’m wondering what that’s all about. After that, I’m going to play some basketball and walk around the city. Hopefully, I’ll have quite a few pictures to put up tomorrow.