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Harbin impressions

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studychinese

Been here one night so far... Some impressions.

I might be wrong but Harbin strikes me as a relatively poor part of China. Apparently there are four million people here in the metropolitan area but there seems to be a rather large infrastructure deficit. There is no subway system, for example. Wherever the huge amounts of money that the Chinese government poured into infrastructure went, it didn't go to Harbin (or maybe it did and this is the improved Harbin).

Second impression. People in Harbin hate me. More specifically they hate Russians and I supposedly have a Russian look. Got called Rosikiye a couple of times on the street. Makes me think that the places where people think that all white people are Americans are not so bad. Being Russian is much worse.

Third impression. The 'standard accent' of Harbin is virtually incomprehensible to me. I went from understanding 99% of things said to me in Shanghai to about 60% here. It's like the Beijing accent on steroids. Almost every word is inflected with the r sound that I need to analyse to find the regular uninflected pronunciation. I had a similar experience in Beijing - the 外地人 were always easier to understand than the Beijing natives.

Additional: I had a funny experience in the taxi. The driver was picking up other people while I was in the taxi. This is not the first time this has happened to me. The last time this happened was I'm South Korea in the year 2000. Next time I catch a taxi I will offer the taxi driver extra not to do that.

Second additional: I need a t-shirt that says 'I am not Russian'. Actually that gives offence to Russian so maybe a t-shirt saying 'I am Australian'.

Third additional: f*ck that. I am going to 'break bad' and tell people that I am from Russia.

Anyone else have any experiences (especially funny ones) of Harbin?

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studychinese

One more: both drivers and pedestrians here are complete maniacs. This is just about the worst I've seen in China. It approaches Vietnam levels.

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shuoshuo

I think people in Harbin are convinced that caucasian foreigners are all Russians. It's like when you are in Shanghai and people there are convinced that all foreigners speak English. It's probably because many of the foreigners in that part of the country (Harbin) are from Russian, taking its proximity into account.

 

Taking a taxi in Harbin has been one of my worst experiences in China, probably because I started off in Shanghai where they actually use a metre. In Harbin, the taxi driver can just spit out any amount that comes to mind.

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Lu

I've heard many, many bad taxi stories from Harbin, so be very careful and perhaps try to arrange your own transportation (do people bike or scooter in Harbin?)

I think you'll probably get used to the accent soon enough, just hang in there! And unfortunate that people assume you're Russian and then dislike Russians. I don't like being taken for American but at least it's then not seen as a bad thing.

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grawrt

shuoshuo, when was the last time you were in Harbin? Every time I've taken a taxi here there's been a meter.

 

also to the OP, there is one subway line lol. They're currently building the rest of them so it'll be a while before they have a nice subway system. Until then i'd say get familiar with the buses. This seems like the most convenient way to travel,

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shuoshuo

grawrt - The last time I was at Harbin was several years ago. Actually, the taxis did have metres...they just never used it. I went there during winter when taxis were scarce because everyone's trying to get into one and we had to practically bid for taxis. They'd open their doors to the highest bidders. That's my experience. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Harbin...it was just the taxi thing that I really hope has changed over the years.

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grawrt

Oh wow that just sounds horrible. I haven't been here for winter yet but I can't imagine trying to bid for a taxi in the cold. Just a tip, if you don't hear an automated recording that basically says 'the meter has just started', its best to inform the taxi driver that you want to run the meter, although I've never had to personally experience this.

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kdavid

What part of Harbin are you in? It sounds like you may be in a poorer area...

 

There is indeed a subway, though only one line open as of now.

 

I lived in Harbin from 2006-2014 and it had developed tremendously. Tons of stimulus money went into the city, mostly in roads. In fact, they essentially overnight built a massive highway which connected all parts of the city.

 

As for taxi drivers, unless you're going to double, triple, or quadruple your fare, they're likely not going to budge. Everyone in the cab gets charged full fare for wherever they're going. Poor weather days are good days for cab drivers in Harbin. 

 

Lastly, now is actually a great time of the year to be in Harbin. If you hate it now, you're going to be absolutely miserable once the winter starts.

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shuoshuo

I'd love to go there again to see the changes. Although as someone has mentioned here before: I have a hard time understanding the 东北 accent! :lol:

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MoTzu

boo

Honestly it was the way you were dressed that makes you look Russian. Not that there was anything wrong with the way you were dressed, just coincidentally you looked to be dressed like all the russian tourists I see here. Soon as you were sitting with a bunched of tattood australian bogans you had old ladies posing with you while their husband took photos lol. And you're not in a poorer area really, there's a lot of money around where you're staying. It's not the richest area, but it's not poor by any sense of the word. Zhongyang Dajie is pretty much the most famous street in Harbin and you're almost right on it. The taxi rides in Harbin are awesome I always tell them in the best chinese I can muster up to go kuaisu, they are only too happy to oblige and they find it hilarious.

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MoTzu

And for what it's worth I have had one taxi driver pick up a second passenger and then go to their destination first even though mine was closer, but other than that every taxi driver I've had has been very honest and always taken me on the quickest route. They're also extremely friendly and always happy to let me practice my broken chinese on them. I catch taxis twice a day every day to and from work plus a few times a week to see my chinese tutor and home, so I've been in quite a few. The other teachers here also comment on the friendliness of the drivers. I read horror stories on the net constantly but don't know anyone here thats had much trouble with them. Also I don't know whether you have or not yet but if you tell them you don't want to pick anyone else up the usually won't. If I'm in a rush when they stop for a second passenger I just tell them please I'm late for work and they say ok no problem and don't pick up anyone else.

 

Winter is apparently a different story because none of them want to use their meters because they know you're desperate to get out of the cold as quick as you can so will pay quoted prices instead of arguing over the meter. If you do argue they just drive away because there's plenty of people wanting one.

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studychinese

I was on the taxi today and I was as shocked that I could clearly understand the taxi driver. Wanting to get to the bottom of it I asked him if he was a native of Harbin. He said no.

Mystery solved.

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James3

I'm barely a beginner with my Chinese, so this is all new to me. This is probably a dumb question, but can someone please help me understand how this is so? That some taxi drivers speak a Chinese that studychinese understands, but others are hard to understand?

 

I'm from Texas, and still remember very vividly meeting some Canadians my first week in college. They literally couldn't understand me, and made fun of the way I spoke, lol. Is this all it is? That, just like in North America, people from different regions simply sound different (even foreign) to people from other regions?

 

One reason I'm asking, is that eventually I want to come to China and have some intensive lessons (i.e., one on one, for several hours a day.) How do I pick where to take these lessons (or maybe more importantly, from whom to take them) so that I stand the best chance of speaking the kind of Mandarin that most Chinese people can understand? Previously I'd read that more broadcasters come from Harbin than from any other place in China. So I assumed that might be a good place to learn Mandarin. But now I'm starting to wonder...

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James W.

I'm not sure where some of these Harbin comments are coming from, but they seem to range from misinformed to just weird.  I've lived for periods in Harbin over the past three years, and here are my observations:

 

1.  Harbin does have two subway lines, which are very convenient.  They are still under construction, so perhaps some of the complainers are upset that the subway doesn't come to THEIR house ... I don't know, but there is light rail in Harbin, and it is very nice compared to those you might find in the US or Europe

 

2.  There are a lot of Russians in Harbin, and I have definitely NOT noticed anyone treating them rudely, or in fact any differently than anyone else.  There are a lot of Russian stores in Harbin, and they seem to attract customers from the local community.  I think this guy is just off base on this ... weird

 

3.  One poster likes the Shanghai accent and not the Harbin accent.  This is nuts! The Harbin accent is standard; Shanghainese is a bit colloquial.   But maybe he like the fact that so many people in Shanghai speak English ... who knows, but definitely it's better to practice your Chinese in Harbin than Shanghai.  Another poster complains that people don't understand him.  You have to put up with this for your first year or so until you get better with the pronunciation (at least that's my experience).

 

4. Taxi drivers are incomprehensible and a little bit crazy everywhere (US, China, Nigeria-New York, whatever).

 

I generally like Harbin better than other Chinese cities because of the weather and low pollution (much much better than Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, Wuhan, Guangzhou) and Mandarin accent (ditto -- it's the standard used by Chinese newscasters).  And there are lot's of great things to do in Harbin: Music Festival, Beer Festival (biggest in the world), parks, Polar World, night life, good food.  People are social, friendly, and it's all relatively affordable.  

 

Just my opinion, but Harbin is the best place for Westerners to study Mandarin in China

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MoTzu

How long ago was your last visit to Harbin James? There is most definitely an anti russian vibe from the Harbinese at the moment. I don't get it when I'm out by myself because I don't really look russian at all, but when I walk around in a group with my mates we constantly hear people discussing whether we're russian or not and most of the stuff that follows that isn't very nice. Harbin is fairly cold place at the moment if you appear russian and don't know enough Chinese to explain you're not. As soon as you establish you're not russian the difference in peoples attitude is clearly visible

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Zander

I'm in Harbin right now (studying), and am quite surprised by studychinese's comments! I think you've just had a bad early experience, and once you stay here for a bit while longer you'll begin to enjoy it more.

 

I'm yet to have any bad experiences with any Harbin natives; although some of them have mistaken me for a Russian (I'm English), I've never had anyone be outwardly hostile to me (they could be thinking something different haha) and everyone is pretty nice and interested to talk with me. Compared to other places in China the attitude to foreigners seems to be considerably better; for example when I was in Xi'An I'd often have people shout at me and the attitude (as with all touristy areas) seemed to be less friendly. I also really enjoy the fact that almost no one here can speak English, it makes a welcome change from Beijing or Shanghai where everyone is always in your face trying to sell stuff to you.

 

I've travelled a reasonable amount in China, and the Harbin accent is definitely the most standard accent I have encountered, it is not that much different to Beijing's, but I find it easier to understand, and the difference between here and the South of China is night and day. I'm surprised you find the Shanghai accent easier, but I don't know how long you were there for, perhaps you are more used to it? As you stay in Harbin longer it should be easier to understand. As a side note, like James I've found taxi drivers are impossible to understand almost everyone in the world, including England sometimes haha - I have no idea why this seems to be a universal trait.

 

If you want to meet up some time (I'm here for another month or so) I'd be happy to, hopefully I can show you it's actually pretty nice here!

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James W.

I left Harbin just 3 days ago.  There may be some issue with the Russians, but I've not encountered it.  I spend most of my time in the HIT area, and HIT has a very large Russian student population.  It's seems to me that they don't have any problems, but perhaps you can tell me more about the problems they encounter.

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MoTzu

I literally just got off a bus where I saw an old guy standing I stood up and said ni zuo ba. The old guy stared at me, barged passed me, took the seat without saying thank you and just sat there starting at me. After about 5 minutes of awkward staring he finally pointed at some russian writing on the wall of a building, I said bu shir bu shir, wo aodaliyaren. Suddenly the glare was a massive grin and he moved over and asked me to share half his seat with him. I spent the next 5 minutes of the bus ride having a lovely conversation in my very broken chinese about how much he loves australia and australian wine.

 

A few nights ago I sat down at a restaurant and pointed at a picture on the wall and grunted because I was on the phone talking to someone. He told me si shi ba for a tiny dish of beef on rice. I said tai gui le and started walking out. He asked if I speak chinese and I told him I speak a little, he asked where I was from and I told him Australia. He motioned me to sit back down then the meal was 18. When he brought my meal out a bit later he apologised and told me he thought I was Russian.

 

I couldn't even count the amount of times I've heard people use either eluosiren or roosky in a sentence followed by sha bi or niu bi, I don't need to be able to understand the rest of what they said to get the jist there.

 

Also myself and many friends have experienced drastically reduced prices in the manhattan markets and street markets once we've struck up a conversation and established we weren't russian.

 

The attitude towards russians here at the moment isn't hidden under the surface, it's blatant and palpable

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abcdefg

The anti-Russian sentiment was obvious and strong, like MoTzu describes, when I was there way back in 2008. It happened over and over again, several times a week, that someone would wonder kind of stiffly if I was Russian. Then after they found out I was American, the "big thaw" occurred and friendly relations ensued.

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