Well, I think it has been one of the longest weeks in my life since I wrote the pre-departure post. After leaving on Monday and flying through Charlotte, LAX, Beijing, getting rerouted from Harbin to Changchun due to weather for a few hours, and finally making it to Harbin and my program, I spent over 36 hours travelling. Fortunately, I was pretty well fed on China Air, and they spoke enough English and I speak enough Chinese that I always felt like I knew what was going on during the delay. I also had gotten a good 6 ish hours of sleep on the flight to Beijing. However, before the delay, transferring from an international to domestic flight in Beijing is quite confusing the first time around. I may make a short post on just that experience and the various steps, because I for one had not found anything online that detailed it well before I got there.
After arriving, I settled in a bit that evening and we began orientation on Thursday with our 17 American CET Harbin students. Though orientation has had a lot of useful information for the program, it also allowed all of us, especially those of us who hadn’t been to China before, to start acclimating to the atmosphere here and get over the first round of culture shock. There were some things that came pretty easily for me, like the food (more details below!), but other things are still an adjustment. Though I had read and heard about the staring non-Chinese people encounter before, and thought I was ready, I had not really imagined the way it would feel. Though it doesn’t bother me, per say, there is a certain weight or sense of the staring that I wasn’t expecting. Also, the traffic/transportation is fairly crazy to me, even in comparison to a few trips to New York. The taxi I took from the airport to my dorm had seat belts in the back seat, but not the buckle to actually use them. People cross the road anywhere it is convenient, often slightly reminiscent of Frogger on the busy streets, but even the sidewalks are not sacred. On our tour of part of the city, cars frequently would drive along or park on the sidewalk as though it was another lane, honking at pedestrians in their way. Though they went slightly slower than on the road, it’s clearly not the pedestrian turf it is in America. Another thing I’m still trying out is the hard bed. Chinese mattresses are often quite hard. The ones in our dorm are about 2 inches thick and feel like a mattress pad over very dense foam, not quite as hard and solid as wood. Over that lays a blanket, an inch(ish) thick pad which is like a very large, thin pillow or comforter, and then a thinner sheet over the top of that. The pillow provided is fairly thin by American standards as well. However, there is a very heavy comforter which is not particularly thick but is quite dense and warm to sleep under. I have heard from several people that the hard bed will do wonders for your neck and back, and I have slept fairly well the past few nights, and so I have decided to try it for at least the first few weeks and determine my sleep quality before running to buy a mattress pad.
One adjustment I am quite liking is that for food. Harbin is known to be pretty bread heavy in the common diet, and that’s true, but there are enough noodle and rice options that I am not worried about getting tired of it. Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT from here on) has about 10 on campus dining halls. CIT students get a dining hall card we can fill and reload with money that works at each of them as well as the supermarket and a few cafes on campus. Though I knew that things are often less expensive in China, I had not quite been ready for good, even big, portions of food for breakfast probably coming in around $0.90-1.50, lunch for about $2 and dinner for about $2-3 (USD). I’ve enjoyed getting fried and hard boiled eggs, as well as meat in savory pancakes for breakfast and baozi and noodle soup for lunch so far. I had hot pot the first night I was here with some other students, as well as with the whole group last night to celebrate our last night before the language pledge kicks in and we all are worried we won’t be able to communicate well for a few weeks while our Chinese gets better.
I am truly excited for this semester. I am writing this before lunch meeting my one-on-one professor for lunch to plan our class times and refine my topic, as well as our CET Opening Ceremony (where the 24/7 only speaking Chinese language pledge kicks in), and meeting my Chinese HIT student roommate. The other 16 CET students have all been a joy to begin to know, and I think I’ll learn a lot this semester. I’m still planning on blogging about once a week, but if I can get another blog in before next weekend, I will, to let you know what my classes are looking like and a bit more about the specifics of my program.