Joined: 26 Jun 2007
Location: Harbin, China
|Posted: Mon Jul 02, 2007 5:20 am Post subject: Major Regional Cities and Their Benefits
|Recently I have been developing training materials for the school I work for, Sunshine International Language Center (Harbin) and its partner Will-Excel TESOL. These materials aim to make the transition from west to east as comfortable as possible for our new teachers.
Over the past few weeks I have noticed a lot of activity on this forum in particular and thought that this material may be of some use to those of you considering (or already considered and now in the process of) moving to China to teach English.
The following article is part 2 of an ongoing series of articles written for our new teachers.
The best part about traveling to another country is the exposure to another culture. The language, the food, the customs… Some countries are literally another world.
But as the world becomes more integrated, Western culture is spreading everywhere. Many people who want to experience a different culture are disappointed when they see a McDonalds in every foreign city they visit. This is an almost inescapable reality in today’s world.
I say almost because Western cultural dominance isn’t near total or complete. Every country, even Western ones, still have pockets of unique and relatively unspoiled culture.
One of the best examples of a country with lots of Western influence, but still maintaining its “otherworldliness”, is China.
China is a huge, alien world with an even larger wealth gap. There is almost no Western influence in vast areas of China. In the countryside and smaller towns modern conveniences are difficult if not impossible to find. (Chinese consider a city of less than 1 million people to be a small town. These cities often do not have movie theatres, McDonalds or supermarkets. They are agricultural support cities.)
On the other hand, the hectic mega cities have become near clones of any large city in countries all around the world. Thousands of foreigners live in these cities and millions visit each year. This has created an environment in which foreigners are a dime a dozen and the locals see themselves as worldly citizens seeking to emulate New Yorkers or Londoners
When living in these and several other major Chinese cities, you may as well be in LA or Toronto.
What options are left for travelers who want to go to China to be immersed in a new culture, to learn the language and customs, but who don’t want to live in the dirt poor countryside?
Major regional cities
There are many large cities in China (2 million +) that are great places to live and are still “Real China”. The city I live in, Harbin, is one of the best examples.
Harbin is a city of 10 million with 4 million living in the city center. It has all the conveniences of a major city but is different from the hectic mega cities in its personality.
Even though it is a large city with all the modern trappings, it is still relatively untouched by Western culture. Harbiners see their city as a Chinese regional capital seeking to represent the best of China. This means that people are proud to display their tradition and culture.
This is not to say that it is a “closed city”. Rather, Harbin is often referred to as the friendliest city in China. Local people love to meet foreign friends and are curious about Western culture. With a small core of about 400 Westerners living in Harbin, foreigners are not so common that your neighbors won’t still act as though you are a local celebrity.
If you want to force yourself to learn Mandarin, Harbin is the place. The dialect is well known as the most standard Chinese in the country. You can’t really get by comfortably without knowing how to speak some basic Chinese and, if you choose, you can go days without seeing or speaking to another Westerner.
By shopping in the street markets, eating in the small BBQs or noodle houses, and striking up a conversation with the talkative local people. You can attain a basic level of Chinese in a couple of months.
This is only one example of how China’s major regional cities can offer an enjoyable experience in “Real China”.
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