Eye of the Chicken
A journal of Harbin, China

Early Days
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Well, I made it. It's now Saturday evening; I arrived on Thursday afternoon. I haven't done a whole lot except get settled in, and start getting used to the cold. It's a LOT colder than I'm used to: the low for the past few nights has been on the down side of -30 Celsius. Here's a picture of the courtyard outside my dormitory:


You might notice two things: 1. The snow is not particularly fresh (in fact, it's the sum total of the year's snowfall, minus evaporation; it hasn't been over freezing here for two months and won't be for at least one more), and 2: the walkways are covered with white stuff. It's not snow - it's ice. There is ice EVERYWHERE. Here's a shot of a well-cleaned street:


And here's a shot of the sidewalk:


That's ice. The sidewalk is completely covered in ice.

I don't typically live in weather like this, and so I have to ask those of you who do (and I know there are a few of you out there): Is this normal? I mean, North American "normal"? I was in Winnipeg during a warm spell one January and I don't remember sidewalks covered in ice. I sure don't remember roads covered in ice.

I'm asking because I wonder if this is another example of what it means to live in a "developing" nation. We often hear that China is developing, but until I got here, I didn't realize how uneven development can be. I'm pretty sure there's no provision for plowing every street in this city of 7 million people every time the snow falls, but I don't know if that's because of custom or lack of cash (or maybe a dearth of lawyers, which is another point entirely).

In any case, nobody complains about the condition of the sidewalks and roads; they're just extra-careful when they're out walking. Well, "walking" might be a misnomer; people use a combination of stepping and shuffling on the parts where the ice is really smooth and slick. And it can be treacherous; I've slipped a few times just going to the dining hall and back. (I can't even imagine what it will be like on those days when it actually does start to melt; right now it's too cold to be very slippery but with a layer of water on top - yeesh. I'm already planning to stay inside on those days.) Is their attitude borne of resignation to Mother Nature, or to an infrastructure that, to my midwestern mind, leaves a bit to be desired?

I'll leave it to you winter mavens to let me know if I'm on the right track with this development idea (at least in this instance). And in a few days, I'll give other examples that make the point more clearly.

For now, I'm going to cuddle under a blanket and read a book . . .

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