Written by Margaret Jackson, (Georgetown University) Student Correspondent CET Harbin: Intensive Language, Fall 2018
Our first weekend in Harbin we had a mission to fulfill. The directions included…1) Interview a group of tourists. Why did they visit Harbin? Where are they from? 2) Find an animal to feed. Ten extra points if it’s a deer! 3) Find a Russian hat. Keep this store in mind for when the weather turns cold. 4) Explain the meaning of the statue on Harbin’s main street. 5) Buy a chicken foot. Five extra points if you try it! The list went on and on. These were just a few of our instructions for our first cultural event in Harbin—a scavenger hunt through Harbin’s oldest district.
Zhong Yang Da Jie (中央大街), the heart of historic Harbin and its main street, is a busy shopping thoroughfare that ends at the Songhua River. A pedestrian street lined with shops touting Russian goods and Chinese delicacies, it draws both tourists and locals to its exciting atmosphere. Nearby, a long, peaceful promenade lines the river overlooking Harbin’s Sun Island and the rest of the major metropolitan city of 10 million people.
Our scavenger hunt on Zhong Yang Da Jie was the first of many activities we participated in throughout the summer program. It served as a great introduction to the city of Harbin, as well as our first real test using Chinese outside of a classroom setting. Every weekend the CET staff plans a new activity in Harbin to help students better understand China’s history and culture, as well as take a necessary break from our studies!
From terrible stories of war at the Unit 731 Museum to beautiful gardens on Sun Island, from ancient temples to modern shopping malls, Harbin has many interesting places worth visiting. Many people know Harbin best for its famous Ice Festival in January, yet lack greater knowledge of its unique character and cultural diversity. Over the course of a few months, we had the chance to gain a deeper appreciation for the rich cultural history of Harbin as a reflection of its location in Heilongjiang Province, and its proximity to neighboring countries Russia and North Korea. Over the last few hundred years, Harbin, at times, had a large European population, mostly Russian, but Jewish as well. Only in Harbin can you sit in an old Jewish Meeting House and listen to an Italian opera with Chinese singers, a Russian pianist, and a Chinese audience.
The homework load and the language pledge that the Harbin CET program requires of students is a considerable commitment of time and dedication. However, the ability to understand a part of China few foreign tourists get to see is a special opportunity. The staff at CET does the hard work of planning each activity and we just get to ride along! What’s next?