Last Night in China
chillininharbin
Tonight is my last night in China. Last night we took a sleeper train down to Beijing. Today I walked around the city, went to the Temple of Heaven, and then did some shopping at the Pearl Market.

I still can't believe that I'm actually leaving China tomorrow. It all feels so sudden. I think that it's about time I came home, though. I've started to miss New York a lot.

I'll see you all soon!

Fun fact: because of the time difference when I land in Chicago to change planes I will actually have landed before the time I will be taking off.

A Few Thoughts
chillininharbin
My time in Harbin is rapidly coming to an end. In just over a week I'll find myself back at home. There are a lot of things I wanted to write about on this blog, but I haven't figured out how to turn them into full entries. With finals coming up at the end of next week, too, I don't know how much time I'll have to write entries, since I should be spending all my time studying.

I also noticed that there are a lot of things I want to say, but keep forgetting to write down.

So I decided to create a list of things I wanted to note before I left.

1) I never understood why it is that every morning, at exactly ten minutes before 8am, in the international students' academic building, they play Brahm's Lullaby over the loudspeakers. It seems incredibly counterproductive to me.

2) It's gotten incredibly cold here in the last three weeks or so. There are some days where it's so freezing outside that any exposed skin starts to hurt after a few minutes. One day I didn't wear my gloves on the way to class, which is around a five-minute walk from my dorm, and I paid a serious price for it. My hands became bright red and numb. It took about ten minutes for my fingers to regain feeling. Last week were were getting highs in the mid-twenties (fahrenheit), and everyone was walking around without hats or gloves, our jackets were all open, and we were commenting on how warm it was.

3) They must have started to burn coal for heat. I keep blowing soot out of my nose. Despite that, though, the pollution isn't as bad as I thought it would be, since I can still see the moon most nights.

4) I was excited to think that soon I would come home and be able to eat all the salads, pizza, and cheese sandwiches I want. Suddenly, I thought hit me that although I could eat all the Western food I wanted, my time for eating jianbing was limited. This made me so depressed I had to go out and buy a jianbing to cheer myself up.

5) It snowed... again.

6) Most of the Chinese I've met have a surprisingly low cold tolerance. My roommate, a Harbin native, has been wearing long underwear since either late October or early November, despite the fact that our room is like a sauna and it only got unbearably cold in the past 2 or 3 weeks. Back when it was still warm enough that I only needed a blazer and my thin leather jacket to keep warm, my independent study teacher, a Harbin native as well, told me my jeans were too thin and I should wear long underwear.

I haven't actually worn long underwear much here. I don't have anything fancy like Under Armour or whatever that brand is called, but I brought a few pairs of cotton leggings to wear if I needed to layer my clothes. Mostly I wear them when I go to work out at the gym. I've found that generally I don't spend enough time outside to need to wear it. My dorm and my classrooms, too, are incredibly well-heated.

A Typical Day at CET Harbin
chillininharbin
I realized that, despite the fact that I've been keeping this blog for around 3 months, I've neglected to write an entry about what a typical day is like. So, with two weeks left to the program (eek!), here is my post.

Everyone participating in the program is taking 4 courses this semester. Before we came here we signed up for two electives, and an independent study course. After a short oral placement test after we arrived, we also got placed in a drill class.

The four classes I'm taking are Conversation Seminar, Modern Chinese Literature, my drill class, and an independent study on Chinese pop music from 1949 to the present.

Days with CET are long. I have an 8am class four days a week, and before my literature class got moved to an earlier time slot, I was ending my day at 5pm three days a week. I also take a tai chi class twice a week in the evenings.

Classes here also meet for a longer period of time. Back at Bryn Mawr, all classes meet for three hours a week. Here our electives meet for six hours a week, and the independent study classes the drill classes meet for four.

So, basically, I'm tired a lot. I feel like I've spent most of this semester eating, sleeping, and going to class.

(no subject)
chillininharbin
I had a moment of slight hilarity this morning.

I've been sick and my stomach has been a little off, so I went to the supermarket to find something to eat that would be easy on my stomach. I decided I would get a few mantou (steamed bread made from flour and water, essentially buns without the fillings - basically the simplest food aside from matza) for breakfast. When I told the woman at the counter I wanted mantou, she misheard me and thought I said manhua, which turned out to be kind of like crullers. I corrected her before she could give me the manhua, but I had already paid. Since I used my meal card to pay for the manhua she couldn't refund me, and I only wanted 4 jiao worth of mantou, but paid 4.2RMB. I asked her if she could instead give me 4.2RMB worth of mantou to make up for it. Now, however, I have 10 mantou (not including the one I just ate), and no idea what to do with them. These mantou are quite large and two are pretty filling, so I highly doubt they're going to be finished before they go stale.

I sure hope my roommate likes mantou.

(no subject)
chillininharbin
Today, I went to a branch of the Agricultural Bank of China to pick up money my father wired to me through Western Union. I filled out a form with all the necessary information, brought several different forms of ID, and waited for the teller to give me the money after calling up Western Union to make sure that money was indeed wired to me. She wouldn't give me the wired money, though, because when my father filled out the information to wire the money to me, he didn't include my middle name, and she insisted that the name must exactly math the name written in my passport, which includes it. She even told me that everything else I had filled out was correct, but because the money was only filled out to Dena Kronfeld, she said I couldn't fill it out until the sender fixed the wire so the names matched exactly.

I feel like in America people are more willing to let missing middle names slide, because I have never had a problem like this before.

I don't really have any great insight into Chinese culture in this post. Mostly I'm just pissed.

I'm going to try out a different bank tomorrow.

So What Happened With All This Snow?
chillininharbin
Although it snowed all weekend long, the snow stopped some time on Sunday afternoon, and it hasn't snowed since. The warmest it's been this week has been in the low 20s (fahrenheit, of course), so the snow obviously isn't going to just melt away, and it's quickly turning into ice. What to do, then, since quite a lot fell this weekend?

The answer, according to the city of Harbin, is to scrape all the snow off the streets. As soon as snow started falling, people were out on the streets with brooms, shovels, and ice scrapers clearing the streets. After the snow stopped falling, people used their shovels to scrape the packed snow off the streets. Most of the snow was tossed aside in piles on the side of street, but a few times this weekend Elaine and I saw people shoveling snow into trucks. What's going to happen to the snow after it gets driven away in the trucks, though, we have no idea.

Because of all the scraping going on, though, the HIT campus has gotten quite loud from the sound of tens of snow shovels scraping the brick pathways. In an effort to be economical, too, most of the snow clearing is being done by students, the cheapest source of labor at any college.

I thought this method of snow-clearing was interesting. Back in the U.S. the city of New York would have thrown down a lot of the snow-melting stuff that looks like little pieces of styrofoam, and used garbage trucks with snow plows attached to clear off the roads. The Chinese method, while requiring much more manpower, is, surprisingly, much more environmentally friendly. Not something I expected.

Weekend With Elaine
chillininharbin
This weekend my friend Elaine came up from Beijing to visit me. We did a lot together, and of course I took a lot of pictures.

My Weekend in PicturesCollapse )

First Snow!
chillininharbin
Today is the first snow of the year in Harbin. Here's the view from my window:


According to my literature teacher, the first snow came late this year. Usually it starts snowing at the beginning of November.

Also, my friend Elaine from Bryn Mawr came up to visit me for the weekend! She's currently studying abroad in Beijing on another CET program. We don't have much planned yet, but we'll probably do something fun tomorrow that hopefully will involve frolicking in the snow.

Fried Squid
chillininharbin
I learned an amusing expression in my drill class today. The phrase "to fry someone's squid" means to fire them (as in "my boss fried my squid today"). Like all Chinese expressions, it has a story behind it. My teacher told me that back in the day, when a person was fired, essentially, it meant rolling up their bedroll and moving on to find work in a different place. Apparently when squid, which is normally flat, is fried, it curls up just like a bedroll, and that's why people say "fry someone's squid." I don't know if this is true or not, but it's still an amusing expression.

China's Global Cuisine
chillininharbin
Cuisine in Harbin, though it has many similarities to other places in China I've visited, definitely has its own regional dishes. Because it's in the north, root vegetables are a prominent part of the diet. One local dish that I've never had anywhere else in China is called 地三鲜 (disanxian, meaning basically three fresh things from the earth), which is made with potatoes, eggplants, and green peppers cooked in a thick brown sauce and served over rice. Aside from the fact that the dish is very good and the perfect thing to have when it's cold outside, from a historical perspective this dish is actually quite interesting because potatoes are a New World crop.

Potatoes are native to The Americas, and based on what I remember from my 7th grade Social Studies class, they were completely unknown in Europe before the time of Columbus and all the other explorers from that era. How did potatoes come to China, then? I have absolutely no idea, but I would make an educated guess that either they came to China by way of the Silk Road traders from Europe, or, in a slightly more far-flung theory, if the famous Ming Dynasty explorer Zheng He actually made it to The Americas (as far I I know there isn't much evidence to back up this claim), maybe he discovered some New World crops and brought them back to China.

Another New World crop that now is found in other types of Chinese cooking is the tomato. You can tell it's not native to China by its name alone. In Chinese the tomato is called either 番茄 (fanqie, which translates to foreign eggplant), or 西红柿 (xihongshi, which translates to western red persimmon). Nowadays in China I haven't found tomatoes used in "mainstream" Chinese cooking very much, aside from one of my favorite Chinese dishes, tomatoes cooked with scrambled eggs, which I've found in every place in China I've visited. Cuisines from the Western part of China seem to feature tomatoes much more prominently, especially food from Xinjiang, which has a much more Central Asian/ Middle Eastern flavor than Chinese. Dishes from the Hui ethnicity (Chinese Muslims), too, also use more tomatoes than I've seen in Han Chinese cooking. When I was in Hohhot, which has a significant Hui population, I ate in a small Muslim restaurant one day. I ordered a dish of fried noodles with egg (essentially lo mein) - a simple dish that can be found anywhere in the country. The dish I had in Hohhot, though, had tomatoes in it.

In China, tomatoes are considered a fruit (I mean, they are in America, too, but we wouldn't be too likely to add tomatoes to a fruit salad), which means they get treated like fruits. By that I mean that it's pretty common in China to fin people eating sugared tomato slices. I've never had this dish because I actually hate raw tomatoes. Once, when I was in Beijing, during my first trip to China, it was one of my classmate's birthdays to we got her a cake. We were all surprised to find cherry tomatoes on it, as well as cherries and other fruits topping it. We were a little grossed out by it, and removed the tomatoes immediately.

Corn, a third New World crop, is also found pretty easily in China. Its Chinese name is 玉米 (yumi, which means jade rice. I heard from somewhere that corn got its Chinese name because the kernels are translucent like jade). I haven't found corn to be quite as ubiquitous in Chinese cooking as tomatoes or potatoes, but as the weather started to get colder here in Harbin, you can find street vendors selling boiled corn on the cob. Pancakes made from cornmeal are fairly common, but not as common as products made from rice or wheat flour. In some restaurants I've been to they add cornmeal to the rice, because it's thought to be more nutritious.

When traveling through the countryside, no matter what province I find myself in, there are times when it can seem like the only thing farmers grow is corn, based on the large numbers of cornfields I always pass. The only place I haven't seen seemingly endless cornfields whizz by my train or bus window has been Inner Mongolia. Maybe Inner Mongolia is too arid to grow corn.

Because corn is sweet, just like tomatoes, it's prepared in some ways that raise eyebrows for me and my fellow Americans. In China they make corn-flavored ice cream, which I've actually never tried. I did try corn nectar once, and after having had it, I don't think I'd be too eager to try it again. One dessert I've had in China is corn kernels covered in sugar, baked, and pressed into a cake-like thing. Sometimes sprinkles are put on top.

So what can we learn from all this?

1) Despite the fact that China was closed off from the West for a long time, evidence of China's old globalized past still exists.

2) Although we mostly learn about what the Western world imported from China which, in the days of the Silk Road, was a much more developed country than most of the countries it traded with, it must have been importing products from the West, too.

You are viewing chillininharbin