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First time in Harbin, things to bring, what to do?


grawrt
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Hey guys,

 

I'll be going to Harbin in a week to study Chinese and I was wondering what kind of things I should bring? I'll be there for about 3-6 months and it'll be my first time coming to China and staying abroad so I'm really nervous. I also wanted to know what kind of things there are to do there in the spring? I've only really found information about the ice festival. Are there any interesting places nearby that I can travel to over weekends by bus?

 

Any tips? Important words/phrases I should know?

 

Is it easy to find halal or vegetarian options at restaurants?

 

Thanks!!

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Okay, welcome to Harbin :D

I think that medicine is the most important, other stuff you can buy here. Or think about other things you cannot live without. International student center will give you something like 'guide' you can use it to find place of interest in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province. I think they will give you, if they wont you can use maps or ask other students.

Ice festival is gone. There is not connection between ice and spring :)

Chinese people don't know english. Most of them. But, there a lot of foreigners here , they will be happy to help you.

Yeah, its very easy.

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I remember being very nervous the first time I went abroad! I think it's only natural - there are so many unknowns. And I'm not sure if anyone telling me "don't be nervous" was useful, but once I was abroad I had a great time and relaxed. I'm sure you will too. I wish I was going to Harbin for 3-6 months to study! And if you don't have Lonely Planet pick up a copy, or buy the PDFs for the area.

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Welcome to Harbin! It is a pretty Russian-influenced city and it is a popular travel destination. I have been there three years ago.

 

Unfortunately as far as I heard there are not too many excitements in spring, but there are a lot of nice places nearby. You may take the high-speed rail southbound to Changchun (the former capital of Manchuria, a puppet nation set up by the Japanese), Shenyang or Dalian, all of them have some influence from Russian/Japanese colonization and have some great places to visit. You can visit 八大处 in Changchun, 沈阳故宫 in Shenyang (i.e. the Forbidden Palace in Shenyang), visit the squares and beaches in Dalian. They are all within half-day trip if you take the HSR. Alternatively you can choose to take the slow green trains heading north to explore places like Manchuria (the city) or Hulunbuir (but they are much further and you need at least a week). The sceneries are superb! Just be aware that in the outbacks you are less likely to get someone who speaks English.

 

The eateries may be a bit more challenging. A typical "northeaster" meal always include meat and alcohol (well, of course, not every restraut is like this, but generally that's the trend), but I think the student center will help you out.

 

The northeasters are known to be warm-hearted so no worries here. They are more straight-forward comparing to people from other region of China.

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You'll be here during the spring and summer, which is the best (and cleanest) time. While the air is usually okay during this time, I'd still recommend bringing some high-quality face masks. We had a few summer days last year where the AQI was over 200.

 

It really won't be warm until May, though, so you'll need cool-weather clothes for the first few months.

 

The summers are generally quite dry. Bring good sandals and socks.

 

If you're a "plus-size" individual, I also recommend you bring enough appropriate clothing. Shopping for large sizes can be difficult.

 

Medicine and other personal items (e.g. deodorant) would be a good idea.

 

Not much to do here during the spring/summer, though the beer gardens open May first, and the international beer festival is late June/early July.

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Thanks everyone!

 

I was just curious which website you look at to check AQI ratings? I looked at two diffferent websites, one supported by greenpeace and I forgot the other but they had drastically different ratings. I'm not sure which one is accurate...

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If you have a smartphone, try the "空气质量指数" app.

 

 

This is what I use, and it's been great.

 

As a newcomer, it's important to understand that just because you can see a blue sky does NOT mean that the air is safe to breathe. I've seen many "blue-sky" days with an AQI over 200 (i.e. unhealthy).

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ive been meaning to ask about face masks for a while now...

 

do they really work? and what are the real benefits of wearing one? i think short term it probably makes little difference. admittedly long term its an issue but isnt that like 10+ years kinda thing?

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In general, no.  A N95-rated mask that fits well (i.e. minimal or no leaks) will provide protection against P2.5 pollution, but those cheap fabric masks don't help stop P2.5.  And of course all those masks can't stop any harmful gasses, and won't significantly protect against germs.

 

Going against that statement is this website http://www.purelivingchina.com/2013/02/why-3m-n95-anti-pollution-face-masks-what-is-the-right-fit-for-you/ which claims to have actually tested masks in Beijing pollution, and found those cheap masks to provide some (2x) protection, which surprised me.  To me, 2x is better than nothing.

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Hi grawrt:

 

I can comment a bit about (1) Halal restaurants, (2) vegetarian restaurants; and (3) AQI; in Harbin, as I've spent the past two summers in Harbin:

 

(1)  Harbin has a small muslim community and four mosques (maybe more, but these are the ones I know about) which are within a mile of each other around the city center.  You can find Halal stores in these areas as well as restaurants.   I can't comment on quality, but I know there is a community so you should be able to find something you like.

 

(2) My wife is a vegetarian, so we are familiar with all four of the vegetarian restaurants in Harbin, none of which I would recommend.   In Chinese cities, you will generally find that vegetarian restaurants serve double duty as Buddhist reading rooms and meeting places; Harbin doesn't seem to have these.  But my experience with vegetarian restaurants has generally been mixed in China.  Beijing is the only city with decent vegetarian restaurants IMO (maybe Shanghai which I don't know as well).   But Harbin is still a great place to be a vegetarian.   In Harbin, we bought all of our food at the farmers' markets on the streets, which have more variety and better vegetables, mushrooms, etc. that in any other city I have visited.   In Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Hefei, etc. where I have lived or visited, these sorts of farmers markets are overpriced, minimal, and increasingly non-existent (in particular in Beijing and Shanghai, they have all shut down).   But Harbin has beautiful affordable farmers' markets, and we get much better produce than we could in the States.   This is definitely the route to go in Harbin. 

 

(3) A couple of other posts have recommended http://aqicn.org/map/china/ (which also has a phone app) for checking AQI, and I agree that this is the place to go.  One thing you will note is that there is huge variation in AQI within individual cities, so it very much depends on where you live in a city.  Harbin is one of the cleaner cities in China; definitely better than Beijing or Shanghai, or any of the centrally located cities in China.  I think Harbin has problems for a few days when the city heating system is first turned on in Fall, but throughout the summers, it is beautiful, and air quality was never a problem while I have been in Harbin.   We never wore masks, and I don't really think this is a problem in the same way that it is in other Chinese cities.  Masks are important also where there are a lot of small particles (Hefei) ... not so much where pollution is from gases (NO2, etc.) as in Beijing and Tianjin.

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Harbin is one of the cleaner cities in China; definitely better than Beijing or Shanghai, or any of the centrally located cities in China.  I think Harbin has problems for a few days when the city heating system is first turned on in Fall, but throughout the summers, it is beautiful, and air quality was never a problem while I have been in Harbin.   We never wore masks, and I don't really think this is a problem in the same way that it is in other Chinese cities.

 

 

I've lived here since 2006, and it had been the case that Harbin was clean until this year.

 

I'm not sure what the cause is, but the pollution has been very bad this winter. We've often ranked as bad, if not worse, than Beijing and Shanghai. (The AQI app has a ranking feature where you can see how your location stacks up with other cities.)

 

Perhaps things will clear up once the heating is turned off...

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It's unfortunate to hear about the air quality.  This year, we hadn't seen bad days.  We will be in Harbin this summer, so I have my fingers crossed.

 

Beijing and Hefei (where I've also stayed this past year) had a number of bad days.  Different problems, though.  Beijing has too many cars (IMO) and a lot of noxious gases.  Hefei is essentially leveling the old city an building a new one (the pace is awesome) and so is throwing up a lot of <2.5 particles.  I think a mask is advisable on many days in Hefei.  I was in Kunming and Guiyang as well this past year, and they both had pollution problems.   It is a problem that China needs to get under control.

 

Air quality seems to be China's biggest challenge right now.  The US went through this 1950-1980 but has cleaned up as factories have moved to China.  Given their effectiveness in solving problems, i think the government will get it under control, but may have a rough patch for a few years.  

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by the way as far as halal food in china i think i should provide yet more info, i myself and not religious but most of my good friends here are muslims so by virtue of cooking with each other and traveling with each other ive learnt a fair bit about halal food in china

 

in most cities you will find a lot of lanzhou people with restaurants. usually it is the case that these restaurants will be halal but its not 100%. the characters you should watch out for are 兰州 (lanzhou) and/ or 拉面(lamian) but it should also say 清真 - qingzhen / halal somewhere on the door. if it says that then you walk in and the people inside are not muslims i recommend if you are strict on only eating zabiha halal food to leave. because coming onto my next point theres a lot of slaughter houses in china that will play verses from the koran off a tape recorder on loop as they slaughter  livestock as apposed to "real halal".

 

this is also seen in packaged food: the city we live (wenzhou) has a fair few muslims and "foreign" muslim restaurants and all of them were buying the same packaged chicken breast marked 清真 however it was discovered by the imam here that  these fillets were in fact only marked halal and did not meet the real standard to be halal. 

 

so basically just beware of frozen foods, i know a friend who actually has a deal with one of the people down at the market so that he goes down and slaughters a chicken himself which the market guy then prepares and sells him. 

 

i wouldnt worry too much anyway youll be able to figure out all this and much more on your own when the time comes :)

 

good luck and have fun!

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