Eye of the Chicken
A journal of Harbin, China

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Well, I've made some significant progress on a couple of vexing problems:

Laundry. The other day, when I gave you the phrase "he won't go" as my stand-in for a long, protracted speech about my washing machine, I drew the example from Real Life. I managed to get through the initial problem - the piece that should be affixed to the faucet so the hose can be affixed to it had come off - simply by taking the piece downstairs with me when I talked to the fuwuyuan. While I was in Beijing, they fixed it; upon my return I did a load of clothes successfully, but then I decided to get cute and try to make sure I was using the proper water level (high). Actually, I filled the washer with clothes, then turned it on, and realized that it was overfull; the water wasn't coming over the clothes. I lifted the washer lid - always a mistake here; I know better; it confuses the washer horribly - and forced the clothes down, then messed with the water adjustment knob. The washer began filling again, and then just STOPPED. No water going in or out. No electricity going in, either.

I took the clothes out and went downstairs to the student laundry room (where I wasted 10 yuan pumping coins into the machine before I realized it took a token), but eventually got the clothes washed. And I, um, deferred thinking about the washer.

Until yesterday, when it was becoming apparent that I was really going to have to wash clothes again. The students are back en masse, and I wasn't looking forward to tangling with the common laundry room. I also felt daunted by the task of explaining my problem, so I asked one of my students from last year (more about her in a bit) to explain it for me. After she'd done so, I confessed that I'd (partly) been stymied because I didn't know the word for washing machine. (Well, that, and the fact that I knew they were going to ask questions about the machine because they'd already fixed it once, and I knew that once I made my initial speech, I'd have nothing else to say.) My friend told me the word for "washing machine" and I was delighted to realize that it's composed of three words I already know, which means I can even remember it. ("Clean clothes machine," if you're curious. :)

The fuwuyuan was supposed to come last night, but nobody showed up. So today after lunch, I went to the desk and told them again that my machine didn't work, and, emboldened by knowing the word for washing machine, I even went so far as to explain that the water wasn't coming out and there was no power to it. The fuwuyuan replied, "I know." And again, I was caught up short by my lack of vocabulary, because I wanted to say, "Well, if you know, why don't you bloody well send someone up to fix it???" (In retrospect, it was probably just as well I couldn't say that.)

So I went upstairs and fumed about that for a while. I'd been thinking that perhaps there was a reset switch on the back of the machine, but as it was filled with water, I couldn't turn it to find out. Here's a picture, so you can see that it's not what you'd call a massive object:


Anyway, I decided to bail. Literally. I retrieved an empty water bottle from the trash and proceeded to take the water out a bottleful at a time. Since it's a small machine, it really didn't take very long. I looked at the back, but didn't see a reset button. However, I plugged it back in and pressed the button, and hurrah! It started right up. My guess is that it was just waterlogged.

Oddly enough, I feel a bit disappointed to have solved the problem by myself rather than having to employ sophisticated linguistic means to get someone else to do it. . . but at least I learned the word for washing machine. Now, maybe I'll screw up my courage and try to tell them that they don't have to fix it . . .

The bus.

I haven't actually sallied forth on the bus again BUT. I did take pictures of my map and then print the pictures extra-large, so I can read the bus numbers. And I've been paying attention to bus numbers as I walk around, especially the ones I see at the various campus gates. I realize that my foray the other day was really helpful; although it didn't seem like a successful trip at the time, I really did learn quite a bit about the geography of the town.

I asked a friend to help me buy a bus pass but he's been really busy lately, so perhaps I'll ask someone else tomorrow.

Learning Chinese

I've been fretting about learning Chinese. I'm making some progress, to be sure, but I really want to get a huge boost while I'm here. I've been tossing around the idea of taking a class here, but I think it's probably too intensive, especially if they're going to want me to give a lot of lectures or something. I have friends who'll help me, but there's a dearth of English-language Chinese textbooks around here. So I was inordinately pleased to discover that the series we used at LCC (Integrated Chinese, by Cheng and Tsui) is now available in e-book format. (I'd been kicking myself for not making room for them in my luggage, but they were Just Too Heavy.)

Soo. . . I bought them in Adobe Digital Edition format, and spent a couple of hours looking around for a hack that would let me take off the stupid digital rights management crap so I could load them on to my Kindle. (I mean, really. I paid for the darn things. I'm sorry if Adobe and Amazon can't come to an agreement, but why I should be prevented from reading my property in whatever way I want is totally beyond me.)

Tomorrow a friend is coming over to help me study Chinese (and I'll help her study English). Now, at least, I have a coherent word list and a handful of grammatical concepts for her to help me with.


The English teachers have arrived. I'm living next to a couple from Victoria, BC, and I've met a woman from Singapore and a man from Long Island. (He sure sounds like it, too. I wonder if his students adopt his accent??) The Canadian couple had a small party last night and I got to meet a few foreign grad students from Iran as well as a Japanese woman (she's teaching Japanese here).

But my most promising English speaking friend-elect is a young woman named Lara, who's here beginning her first job after college. She's studied Chinese for six years, and, like me, she wants to immerse herself in the culture and language. We were taken together to get our physicals (necessary for my visa extension and her work permit), and she was writing down all the characters she saw and asking our guide as many questions as I was. Today, we went to lunch and then to the grocery store, where she taught me to read a few of the characters. (I can now tell milk from yogurt. Now, you might think the packaging would give that away, but alas. You'd be wrong.) I'm thinking I'll ask her to my Sunday night badminton gig with people I met in the first summer we were here - she likes badminton, and I think the Masters' students will like her; be nice for her to meet people her own age who are not her students.

And of course, there are my students from previous years. I got together with one of them yesterday; she took me to the campus of Harbin Engineering University. (She's a masters' student there - she crashed our classes last year.) Here's a photo of her standing by her part of her dorm room:


That's right. She gets a desk, a locker, and a bunk. (You can see the curtains around one of her roommate's beds.) Four students share this room, which is just long enough for two beds on each wall. (I was standing as far away from her as I could when I took this picture.) The room has a bathroom consisting of a squatting toilet and a sink - they go elsewhere (possibly to another building) to shower. She had to get special permission for me to come up to her room - she said that not even her parents are allowed to visit her there. She's 25 years old. It's no surprise that when Chinese universities want to do exchanges with US schools, they can't get Americans to come over . . . I don't know very many 25-year-olds who would be able to live in that kind of setting. But my Chinese professor friends inevitably tell me that they think back very fondly to their student days, when they and their roommates were like family for each other.

And what the campus lacks in personal living space, it more than makes up for in beauty and elegance in the common spaces.







Gorgeous, isn't it? I can't wait to go back there in the spring.

(Oh, and this is pretty random, but I just saw it in the US News and World Reports headlines: "Robert Gates Says Healthcare Costs Hurt Defense Budget." I think he's got it backwards, personally.)

More soon. So much to write, so little time . . .

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