The Safest Way to Quit

All across Asia, whether you’re teaching in China, South Korea or Thailand, the ESL industry is notorious for missing pay. You’re a foreigner, your working situation might not be completely legal, few of you are proficient in your country’s language, and 95% of you will be leaving eventually. Let’s face it, foreigners are the perfect mark for any type of scam, and just because you’re at your job doesn’t mean you’re safe. Sometimes companies short you on teaching hours, while others forget your overtime, but the worst way they rip you off is when you’ve decided to quit before you’ve finished your contract. Leaving a job can be financially dangerous for an ESL teacher; it’s incredibly common for your former employer to keep your whole paycheck and any other remaining benefits or pay, without any justification other than you’d quit. While this is predominantly a problem for part timers and people working under the table, it could and has happened to people working with a proper Z VISA. For the most part this is done out of spite, but plain old greediness has a huge role in it as well.

Any company that doesn’t pay you upfront or after the session will pay you monthly, usually half way into the next month, and if they decide they’re not going to pay you, you could be losing up to 6 weeks of pay. How much you’ll lose will obviously depend on your timing, and unless you’re in legal danger I highly suggest that you hold out until your next pay day to reduce the amount of money they could steal from you. Just because you have a penalty free resignation clause in your contract doesn’t mean you’ll be safe either, it’s fairly common for them to ignore the 30 day or 2 week notice you’d put in and screw you anyways. They might make up excuses about how your resignation hurt the company, or they might just tell you to fuck off, because they know at the end of the day that there’s very little that you can do to fight it… If anything. Unfortunately, this practice has become an accepted way of doing business for many ESL companies, and it’s an unavoidable evil you’ll eventually encounter if you’re not working on a Z VISA for a reputable employer.

Sometimes true, but often just a way to get you to sign with them

TL;DR “We’re going to screw you if you leave”

A common tactic Western teachers use to protect themselves and minimize their losses, while probably reinforcing why the Chinese even do this, is to quit abruptly after they’ve been paid. Any work they do between the end of a pay period and pay day is for money they will never see, so they act normal until the end of the month, then do anything they can to avoid working afterwards. Some common methods include calling out on their busiest days, faking illnesses, and even taking vacation time. Food poisoning, or laduzi, is an excuse that works every time, since the Chinese know how terribly their food can affect a Western stomach. The soon to be gone teacher bides their time working as little as possible while acting content, careful not to let on that they’re unhappy and planning to leave. And once they’ve gotten their money, they quit or disappear as soon as it’s convenient. When they do it this way, they end up forfeiting only half a month’s pay as opposed to the potential 6 weeks worth, and depending on how much work they’d ducked out of, they might’ve lost even less.

I know this comes off grimy, and your conscience may get the better of you, but I’ve seen too many people who’d quit the noble way get robbed. I’ve honestly come to believe that this is the best way in most situations, or at least the safest. Some companies might be honorable, but most don’t have to be and therefore won’t be. Keep yourself safe and get taken advantage of as little as possible.

The F VISA and All of the Headaches That Come with It

One day in Hong Kong, I’d been waiting to pick up my passport in the office of a VISA agency. As I waited, I listened, and in the three hours I’d been there, I’d heard 4 different people scream, cry, and ultimately walk away fucked over… All because they’d had an F VISA. The F VISA is a business VISA, intended for factory visits and business meetings, and essentially the poor man’s work VISA. Not only do you have to do a VISA run to leave and re-enter China every 30 to 90 days, but it’s also still illegal to hold a domestic income, and if somebody tells you differently, they’re either lying or have been lied to. Another problem with the F VISAs is that it doesn’t change laterally, meaning that you can only extend one or apply for a tourist VISA, and if you’re planning to change one into an X or a Z VISA, then you’re looking at an expensive flight back to your home country to process it there! There’s a rare exception that allows some nationalities to process it in a country that isn’t directly adjacent to China, such as Thailand or Malaysia, but they 100% aren’t American or British. Worst of all, having had a lot of F VISAs will give you a dirty passport, and this is a massive red flag at the Chinese Embassy. When you’ve been consistently living in China on business or tourist VISAs, staying the absolute longest you could on each, and then immediately reapplying for a new one without ever taking break from your ‘business meetings’ or ‘tourism,’ it’s incredibly obvious to even the most naive of embassy workers that you’ve been doing something shady and probably shouldn’t be in China anymore. A dirty passport will cause any future tourist or F VISA to be heavily scrutinized, more likely rejected, and almost always shorter. Eventually you’ll be denied altogether, forced to find a more legitimate way to live in China. It’s fully understandable why so many people had either broken down or flipped their shit that day, having had no clue about how this VISA worked until it was too late. 99% of the jobs that suggest you work on an F VISA do it for one of these two reasons; they’re either too cheap to pay for the expensive Z VISA process, or too unqualified to legally sponsor you for it. A school that insists on an F VISA is generally one that you should avoid, often an indication that they either don’t value you and won’t treat you well, that they have absolutely no clue what they’re doing, or that they’re operating illegally. If you absolutely feel the need to accept one of these jobs, skip the headaches and complications of the F VISA and enroll in an HSK school instead, where you’ll the X, or student, VISA and a residency permit. Working under either of these VISAs is illegal, but at least as a student you’ll receive a residency permit and Mandarin classes, and since you’ll never need to do a VISA run on the X VISA or risk denial and a flight back home, you’ll definitely be saving money in the long run even after tuition. Take my advice and avoid the Fuck you VISA at all costs.

The Infamous Tea House Scam

You’re new to Beijing, and have decided you’re gonna go out and see the sights. Here are some totally possible, potentially normal situations that you could find yourself in:

As you’re walking around tourist areas, a polite young guy approaches you and tells you that he’s a college student and would love you to take you out to lunch in order to practice his English. He’s really polite, looks well dressed, and even offers to show you around Beijing afterwards. How awesome would it be if a friendly, English-speaking local were to show you the hidden gems of the city and all of the best spots that you’d have never known about?! Definitely not an offer to turn down, you think to yourself.

A cute young girl, or even a group of them, comes up to you, shyly asking if you’d like to grab some coffee or food. Maybe she thinks you’re handsome, wants to learn more about your culture, or is looking to improve her English; whatever, it doesn’t really matter because she seems nice, comes off interested in you and is very attractive, plus you’ve read before that many of these girls want foreign boyfriends. You smile to yourself while thinking how lucky you are to have this opportunity, and would be more than happy to buy her lunch and see where it goes.

When you smile and say yes, accepting their kind offers, they tell you about a nearby restaurant or cafe with great food that they could take you too. The place isn’t down some dark alley or underneath a stairwell either, instead it’s out in the open and facing the street like a normal, reputable business; not at all sketchy and a place you yourself might’ve walked into if you’d still been on your own. When you get there, you’re even lucky enough to be able to get a private room to eat in. The menu has good prices, and this is shaping up to be a really cool time!

Honestly ask yourself; if the title of this article hadn’t had scam in it, could you see yourself ending up in that private room without having had any inklings of danger? The answer I’m going to guess you’ve come to is exactly why the Teahouse scam has been so effective on tourists and travelers, as well as why I feel the need to inform you.

Hopefully you’re reading this before you’ve accepted one of these tempting offers; the people who’ve approached you are scumbag scam artists and only want to lead you into a trap. Even people who’ve been living in Beijing for years have been duped by this scam; letting their guards down because it’s actually really common to meet somebody on the street who legitimately wants to be your friend and doesn’t have any plans to shake you down. And let’s face it… most Chinese just aren’t very intimidating to a westerner, making it a lot easier to never get any instinctual warnings before it’s too late.


Recently I was approached while doing the Night Market article.
See the guy who’s circled? He’s an asshole.

Once the bill comes, you will find that the 100RMB meal you’ve just eaten is actually 2000USD, and the waiter who has come to collect the payment has two large men next to him. That private room you’d thought you were so lucky to get has suddenly turned into a prison, and you’re not leaving until you’ve paid up; the threat of getting the shit beaten out of you or worse has been made frighteningly clear to you as those two large thugs block the doorway. What happens from here depends on the place you’re being scammed at, I’ve heard and read many different stories. Your pockets will almost always be emptied, and any expensive phones or cameras that you have with you will get taken away, forcibly if need be. Knives could be pulled and bats could be brandished, and it’s fully possibly that they might even start the shakedown with several punches to your face, skipping those annoying stages of the robbery where you attempt to reason or plead your way out of it. If you don’t have the money, it’s not going to be a simple “let ’em go and find a richer mark” situation either; worst case scenario, you’ll get severally beaten to make a point, and overall it’s standard practice for you to be escorted to an ATM or your hotel room in order to make good on your debt. Even worse, if you’re in a group, not only will all of you be shaken down, but only one of you is going to be allowed to leave. The rest of you will be kept in that room under the threat of violence, ensuring that the person who’d been sent out will return quickly and alone, with whatever cash and valuables they could gather in order to trade for your safety. Even after everything is done and you’ve been allowed to leave, it’s very possible that one of the thugs will follow you back to where you’re staying, making it very clear that they know where you’re at if you were to ever contact the authorities.

These scams are not new, and while originally worked out of tea houses, hence their name, they’ve taken place at all manner of venues; including apartment showings, the “special inventory” rooms of some small shops, various bars, and even some private “art galleries.” The fact that they’ve been being conducted out of brick and mortar establishments that are easily returned to and probably incredibly hard for a victim to forget… one must wonder how they’ve been allowed to continue. In far too many retellings of this scam, the police had refused to help victims based on very conspicuous reasons, or they just never bothered to look into the crime or give any updates once it’d been reported. This has led to the common belief that many of the cops in those areas have been paid to look the other way, and frighteningly enough, it’s only been further proven by the vicious beatings that multiple scam victims have received shortly after filing police reports… And even having moved to a new hotel that they’d just so happened to notify those cops about.

It’s practically impossible to give any advice on how to handle this scam because, for the most part, by the time you’re reading anything on it, it has already happened to you. I only hope that from the information in this article, you will be able to recognize and avoid the scam before you’re ever forced to learn about it the hard way. One consistent tip that I can give you though is that credit card companies are all too familiar with this scam, and most victims have had great success in getting the charges reversed. For the day that I hope never comes, and you slip up and find yourself in this kind of situation; don’t risk your wellbeing with these animals and just pay everything you can with your credit card, and afterwards call to work out reversing everything as soon as you’re safe.

A final word on keeping yourself safe in the future, be incredibly wary of being lead anywhere, not just in China but all of Asia. This scam is the oldest one in the book as far as tourists go, and there are hundreds of variations off the same idea, in practically any city or country you could travel to. This goes for lady bars which are incredibly popular in China and the most of Asia, as well as spots with cheap counterfeit goods, and overall just about anything that involves somebody approaching you and trying to reel you in so to speak. The more they want you to go there, the less you probably should. And if you feel that you absolutely must meet with somebody, then do it on your terms, and choose the venue yourself instead of being lead to one.

A Foreigner’s Guide to Haggling


The Silk Market at Yongan’li

Whether you’re a tourist, a student, or somebody working in Beijing; the giant markets here are renowned for their large quantities of both customers and counterfeit goods. Expensive watches, designer-brand clothing, cultural souvenirs, electronics, purses, jewelry, or fresh kicks; places like the Silk Market, Tianyi, Yashow or Zhongguancun’s electronics plaza will have a knock off of what you’re looking for. Or an authentic item that has a hot discount, having gone missing from a factory that just so happens to be near the shop owner’s family’s home town. Though I’m not completely sure where all of these goods come from, I do know that you can find literally almost anything at these 10+ floor indoor bazaars. Each floor is overflowing with crowds of shoppers and stores squished back to back, and the sales people at each one will yell to you, grab you, and harass you as you walk by them. It is quite the experience and a must-do for anyone in Beijing, though if you are claustrophobic or dislike crowds then these places are probably going to send you into a full-on panic attack. Then again, I can’t really imagine anybody who’s claustrophobic or afraid of crowds being able to spend more than a day in Beijing anyways. It’s easy to lose time as well as money in these markets; besides the amazing bargains you can negotiate, which are cable of silencing inhibitions quicker than beer goggles, these buildings are windowless and incredibly easy for several hours to slip by… These markets probably copied this trick straight of the casino play book.


Your Battleground


Thus with the creation of these great colosseums, the expat sport of market haggling was born. Every store will attempt to sell their wares at the western authentic price, often six to ten times the lowest price they’ll go. How low they go though is up to you. These businesses depend on cash flow, which is why you’re able to get such low prices. Depending on how sales have been that day, week, or month, they might be more worried about making rent than they are a profit, and the store owners know they need to pay to play. They’d rather lose money on those Nike’s you bought than be forced to liquidate their shop’s inventory after having been evicted, which is a good dynamic to understand once you get in there. This essentially means that minimum prices don’t exist, and if you hit the right stores and haggle hard enough you can get some very great deals. Since anybody reading this has or will be going to these markets to test their skills against battle hardened sales people, let me offer some haggling tips that have come from mine and the people I’ve met here’s experiences, as well as some words of caution we learned the hard way.


Battle hardened biddies

Never settle for their price: As I mentioned before they set prices incredibly high, both to dupe naive shoppers, as well as create a buffer against us hagglers. A general rule of thumb is that you can almost always cut their price by 80%.


High Score: Knick’s Jersey for 80RMB


High Score: Armani Sunglasses for 30RMB

Always be ready to walk away: It may take a little while, but it is worth it. To get a GShock watch for 7USD, I had to leave 4 times, each time being chased with lower offers or grabbed before I could leave again. The whole process took about 25 minutes.


High Score: GShock watch for 40RMB

Start lower than you’d be okay with: There’s nothing worse than when you say what you think is a good price and they say OK. If they break too easily you know you haven’t gotten the best price. Remember it’s a cash flow business as well, and money coming in matters more than profit sometimes. And if you try to lower it after the fact it will be much harder, but quite possible and a great way to piss them off if you’ve been having a frustrating week. Or you can go to the shop next door, you never have to pay more than you want to here.


I don’t shop for purses, but under 200RMB is very possible

If they start to get mean, you know you’re getting a bargain: They don’t like being bested, though they will allow it since so many chumps have overpaid. Or to stay in business. If they start to insult you, you’re close to their minimum. They’ve called me ugly, a mean man, and even told me they want to kill me. One notable time they told my girlfriend she should dump me because I’m a bad person and cheap. I’ve even been slapped by a woman. Stay strong and pay less.

Custom tailored suits. High Score: 3 piece Italian wool (possibly bullshit but still very nice) for 1100RMB. Dress shirts for 150RMB

Switch between English and Chinese: Most of the sales people are quite proficient in English, some even in Russian. They will be able to understand most of what you say. One tactic I’ve found that can get a lower price is switching between Chinese and really high level English. It confuses the shit out of them, and wears them down much quicker.


Go near closing time: I’ve found I get the best prices late at night before they close. I’m guessing it’s because they are probably exhausted from combat, as well as trying to make last minute sales before closing. You also might get lucky and find a shop that didn’t do well that day or week, and out of desperation may give you a much better deal.



High Score: Rossignol Parka for 230RMB

Shops that are closest to the entrances are toughest to haggle with: Most floors have a distinct theme to them such as designer clothing, or shoes and jewelry, and often each floor has multiple shops that are back to back, selling pretty much the same goods. Because of this, you can find the item you want at almost any store within 5 shops. Here’s where strategy comes in. If all the shops sell the same items, why go further than the first one from where you entered? Most people will follow this line of thinking, creating cocky and unbudging merchants by giving those closest ones the most business. Therefore, the reason you should instead press forward is because the merchants further away will get less business, and in turn be more desperate and cut more deals.


Nothing is refundable: They will say it is, and have signs assuring it, but it won’t happen most of the time. It’s incredibly safe on your part to assume you can’t.




Check the quality before you buy it: Besides the fact that most of these goods could be of shoddy quality to begin with, if you haggle hard they’re likely to try to pass off a defective one on you. My girlfriend got a really good price on shoes once, and as they boxed them for her, they swapped them with the dirty scuffed up display pair. A pair of headphones I’d bought didn’t work on one side. A watch I’d picked broke within a day because the band wasn’t attached correctly. With the inability to return, and also the likelihood you will be blamed for the damage solely because the Chinese need to save face, you should be sure of an items quality before you hand them any money. Also, a tip on buying DVDs: If you find a place where they consistently work, stick with it. It sucks when the movie shits the bed half way through because the shop didn’t burn it properly.


High Score: A pair of Nike Airmax’s for 140RMB


High Score: DVDs for 8RMB, Rosetta Stone for 40RMB

Don’t buy electronics in China: If they are counterfeit, then they will not work as well as their authentic versions, and could even have different hardware or be missing features. You cannot trust what is inside the machine, or what it can do. For the price they’ll ask of you for that “iPhone,” which could burn out in a week or be a shitty droid model they’d managed to fit in the iPhone body, you’d be better off just going on Craigslist when you get home. And if the electronics are authentic, they’re going to be taxed to high heaven. Even then price isn’t a determining factor, they’ll just sell the really good counterfeits for an authentic price and lie. It would be best to wait until you get home, or make a trip to Singapore.



It’s cute when they yell “No photos allowed!!”


High Score: Great quality Beats for 200RMB

Try to pay with exact change if possible: I’m not even suggesting this for counterfeit change reasons, which by the way you should always be alert for. You’re a foreigner and therefore automatically naive, so fake bills could be passed off anywhere. I’m suggesting this to you not for counterfeit bill reasons, but because now that you’ve be trained in the art of haggling, you are going to encounter a lot more butthurt than the average shopper. I’m going to tell you a tale of battle that has happened to me, and similarly many people I know. I haggled two pairs of nice Levi’s down to 150RMB, and the jean monger were not pleased. When I paid with 200RMB, they evened the odds by only giving me one pair of the jeans, and saying if I wanted the other I’d have to pay an extra 50RMB. I argued for over ten minutes with them, even offering to just take my money, give them back the one pair and leave. They said no, and even refused to give me back the 50RMB change for just one pair of jeans. It got so heated that the person I was with eventually succumbed to their hostage tactics and paid the wenches off. Another time, a different pair of mongers just refused to give me my change, saying that I received a fair price. To protect yourself from these scoundrels and cry baby sore losers, I suggest paying with as close to exact change as possible.


High Score: A pair of Levi’s for 125RMB. Villainous Harlots work here


High Score: 30RMB a T-shirt

The Great Wall at Badaling

The Great Wall stretches 5,500 miles (8,850km) across China and even into parts of Mongolia, great enough to be seen from even the moon. Naturally, there are many possible spots for exploring different portions of the Great Wall. One popular area is outside of Beijing at Badaling, in the Yanqing province. While some portions of the Great Wall have a reputation for being in ill-repair, often very dangerous to walk on because it could crumble out from under your feet, most of the Great Wall here in Badaling has been either preserved or restored. Being both incredibly safe and very scenic, Badaling has become a favorite for tourists, both foreign and Chinese alike. Many western style accommodations can be found in the nearby Yanqing area, and the train from Beijing to Badaling is about 6RMB and only 2 hours. Tickets can be purchased at the Xizhimen North Station.


The base of Badaling

Badaling’s section of the Great Wall is located in a mountainous area, but fear not, no extreme hiking or rock climbing is needed to make it to the top and see the views. With gondolas running up and down the slope, and multiple slow moving slides going down it, Badaling is quite friendly to tourists. There are some long stairways and some sloped portions of it, but all of the have rails on each side and aren’t difficult to get up. You should be more worried about a Chinese tourist elbowing you out of the way than you should be about the terrain.




Slopes and stairs

DSC_0084If you are familiar with Beijing’s subway system, because of Badaling’s popularity crowds here can be just as bad as at the metro, and only slightly more considerate. An older woman practically jabbed my kidney into full on failure to get past me on a slope, and if it weren’t for the railing I’d have gone tumbling. This leads me into the next part of my discussion, when should you come to Badaling?



Summer is tourist season:
Being a northern portion, and also the most popular area conveniently outside of the 12th largest city in the world, it stands to reason that in the warmer hospitable months, this place can get CROWDED. Weekends especially are going to draw in the most people, since even with travel time you could do everything on a day off and never spend a night away. I can guarantee the crowds this place can draw in will definitely affect your trip, and suggest going on a week day when most people are working or in the off season.


This isn’t even close to crowded by China standards

Weather matters more than you think:
Obviously hiking in the rain or below freezing temperatures will suck, but I’m including this to consider some other factors. Iciness and slickness on the wall could make those slopes and rolls deadly, without the diminutive geriatrics that are gonna shove past you because to their generation being a foreigner makes you a second class everything. Even at tourist friendly Badaling, portions of its Great Wall can be precarious on a good day, and it’s better to schedule any activities away from any recent rainy days.



But the level of danger isn’t the only reason to coordinate with weather, the area is a rocky, earthy, mountain side, and pretty lacking when it comes to vegetation. The summer is when there’s gonna be the most green, and if you can catch the narrow window where the fall leaves will be on the trees then you’ll really be in for a treat. That said, any time other than full bloom, unfortunately also the height of tourist season, is gonna make for dirt brown background, and while the Great Wall itself is awe inspiring, the landscape surrounding it will be barren and ugly. Right about now you’re probably moody, the thought of having to compete with China’s elbowy elders to see a flourishing green Great Wall taking the fun out of planning; but let me reinvigorate your plans by informing you there still is a way to get a beautiful AND crowd free (mostly) experience. Snow. Let me say from experience that snow makes the Great Wall area at Badaling an epic sight. Because of the high-elevation, dry mountain climate, it’s easy to have snow here without ice, and even into late March the ground will be covered in it. It’s beautiful, and everything you need for amazing pictures. I’d honestly say hitting the Great Wall after a snowfall is a must-do for anybody who can; that ultra-scenic hike in the crisp air is incredible.




The Surrounding Area:
I’ve mentioned a little bit about the dangers of the great wall, let me now also take a moment to mention a possible inconvenience. Badaling is essentially centered around one big mountain cluster, and the side you come in on isn’t Badaling’s only side. It’s very easy to end up on the other side of the mountain, a 5km walk to where you started or a hike back up and over. The taxis know it, and the vendors know it. Prices are jacked up high at shops, and the cab drivers are ruthless and patient. I do think the other side is worth seeing, there’s The Sun Bear Park and a marketplace built into the side of the mountain slope that make for a pretty cool experience, I’m just giving you a heads up so you know how to plan and pack. The Sun Bear Park, while kind of depressing because of the quality of life, or lack there of, for these animals is painfully evident, is quite amusing and really cool to see the animals that roamed this exact area up close. If you pay you can also throw them carrot chunks, which they’ll do tricks for. The market place is a mixture of street foods, tourist souvenirs and tacky photo-ops you can pay to be in, and overall nothing unique but still amusing to roam around.

The Great Wall Museum:
The Great Wall museum is also nearby, which I wholeheartedly suggest checking out. It’s maybe 25RMB, and you can easily walk the whole thing in an hour. Inside is a huge amount of history and relics, and after hiking the Great Wall they add a lot to your experience. Learning how it was built, the weapons and social structures on it, and about it’s elaborate defensive methods is pretty interesting having just stood on the actual thing, and definitely worth a quick look at the least.

Studying Abroad in China: Why you should do it on your own

It’s more common-than-not now that every college you could get a 4 year degree at has some form of a study-abroad program. Out of all the options, you’ve decided to pick China. And you’re in luck, your college has a specialized partnership with a Chinese university to make it as easy as possible for you! And all it could cost you is 6 times the amount of money, and either a chunk of your GPA or all of your time for living it up in China…
Now before you leave an angry comment on my blog about this bait and switch, continue reading and thank me. It’s going to be a lot worse in real life when it happens to you.

My college will set it all up for me:
Yes, and for their troubles they’ll charge you the fee of being matriculated. You’re going to end up paying the Chinese university’s tuition along with your American college’s tuition. Any Chinese university worth studying abroad at will have its own method of applying, such as, and most will charge only a fraction of an American college’s tuition. I went to a SUNY school so I got off pretty cheap when it comes to tuition. The Chinese college, Shoushida, that I attended still only cost a third of what SUNY charges for tuition. Now take that $1500 Chinese tuition and compare it to an American private college’s tuition… paying them to do some paper work for you is suddenly highway robbery.

But my school will count the credits towards my major:
This is where applying through your university could or could not be useful, though I’m assuming as I write this article that isn’t. If you are majoring or minoring in Chinese or linguistics, then I’ve assumed wrong and it’s worth it. For the rest of you though, let me continue on the reasons why it’s smarter to do it on your own. The international programs of Shoushida and multiple other popular foreigner universities in Beijing teach one course and one course only: Chinese language. Shoushida doesn’t even teach a culture class unless you’re matriculated in their 4 year program. You’re paying triple or more what you could pay for credits that are only going to count as foreign language credits. Throw that 4 credit language requirement into an easy semester back home and save yourself some money.

12 credits would get me closer to graduating, so why not?
Because having your GPA ride on these 12 credits is going to suck. A lot. Let me start by explaining a little bit about Chinese culture. The huge population creates enormous competition for students when it comes to college admissions and getting picked for jobs. Unlike America, employers aren’t concerned with experience or extracurricular activities. It’s a numbers game and the best grade wins. This has greatly affected the school system; my English students often spend their whole weekends and vacations doing homework and studying, just so they have an edge above other students when grades come in. A student who doesn’t care about school is unheard of, and skipping class doesn’t happen. A student who does do this is seen as throwing away their future and doomed to be homeless. In the eyes of the public, they have about as much hope for success as a drug addict in western societies. Bringing it back to why this matters to you: unless you are prepared to spend around 4 hours a day doing homework and cramming word after word, you probably aren’t going to do well in the Chinese university you choose to study at. Remember the anal teacher who graded really hard and never gave partial credit that you hated? She would be a slacker here. Sure you could possibly do quite well in the courses offered, but I can guarantee you will give up a large amount of your time to do it. And you’re here to explore and have fun, not slave over books for no actual reward to your American education. You’ll find when you get here too that there is A LOT of fun to tempt you with, so even if you’re a smart enough student to do well in these courses, you may not be able to be all that studious. Do you really want to chance crippling your GPA by taking on these 12 meaningless credits? Save yourself the headaches and stress, don’t bet on this horse.

A final word on classes: Just because I am highly recommending you take the Chinese classes independently of your American education, doesn’t mean I am saying you shouldn’t be productive. At this time the great firewall doesn’t touch college websites, so if you want to take a couple online courses feel free to sign up for them. It could be an easy way to clear some GenEds that have been piling up without having to juggle your Core courses around them. Word of caution though, my friend who did this consistently missed deadlines because of the time difference. While it was humorous to watch, keep it in mind

But this experience could really help my career:
I’m sure it could. It’s the experience that matters though, not how you signed up. You can always list the semester you studied in China on your résumé, and anybody who’s reading it won’t care what program you went through, just what you did. A can of vanilla coke is a can of vanilla coke, whether you buy it down the block or you drive to the next state and pay $20 for it. Enjoy it cheap and easy.

I don’t want to miss out on anything doing it on my own:
A lot colleges boast about providing experiences for their students while they’re abroad. Tours, special events, trips, things like that. This may be true, but each of the Chinese universities you could study at have their own department set up for this as well. And if you didn’t see it coming, none of the Chinese tours cost anywhere near enough to financially justify going through your American college so you can see the sites. Also, you aren’t the only newbie in China. Shoushida had a 12 story building devoted to housing foreign students with a revolving door that emptied it out again at the end of the semester. Three quarters of the students there are like you, only in China for a short term period like a semester and they barely know anybody. Besides that, if being foreign in a country you barely know isn’t a great icebreaker for making friends, then I don’t know what is. Friendships are made quickly, and after only 2 weeks of my stay, groups of newfound friends were already planning trips to scenic spots in Beijing or backpacking the great wall. You won’t be in short supply of people to do things with or ideas for places to go. Not to mention the countless online resources for expats that can point you in a good direction. Unless you’re constantly stuck in your room studying to academically stay afloat, I wouldn’t be worried at all about having a bad time in China.

My college won’t like it:
People take time off all the time for any number of reasons; financial, personal, a mental break, to work, for an internship. It won’t be a problem, and to conclude this article with a point which should be obvious by now; you’ll have a stress-free, fun time and save quite a bit of money doing it this way. I hope my advice helped, enjoy your time abroad!

The Great Firewall

Living in China, one of the most common questions I’m asked is about the Great Firewall. The Great Firewall as people have named it, is China’s Internet censorship policy. Facebook, YouTube, google, gmail, blogspot, wordpress, pornography, and certain parts of Wikipedia and news websites are the most notable websites blocked. Certain keywords used in searches will also produce censored results. The goals of this censorship are to limit dissidence, problems from superstition, crime, immoral content (porn), organized protesting, and the availability and spread of information on corruption and sensitive political topics. Often it is also used to strike back at a company who isn’t cooperating with PRC policy.

Google is often a target of this, having had a very rocky relationship with the China Communist Party. Besides the many times google refused to comply with the CCP’s regulations, when I first got here there was a dispute with Japan over an island that was found to hold precious resources. When google maps listed the island as a Japanese territory, gmail and google were down for over a month. I’ve read that many Japanese websites were also blocked due to this dispute, furthering the idea of censorship being used as a weapon against opponents.

Another notable incident of censorship during the time I’ve been here was the 2012 doomsday rumor/myth/stupidity. Fear of public chaos and lawlessness stemming from the possibility of the world ending caused China to crackdown on anything promoting the idea of Doomsday. This campaign also took place off the web, where anybody distributing fliers or hanging posters was jailed. Even Doomsday theme parties and drinking events were forced to remove their posters and advertising, and change their names. Last I checked over 500 people in Beijing alone had been put in jail or fined for spreading this concept.the-internet-in-china-great-firewall-cartoon

There are a lot of misconceptions about the goals of the Great Firewall. Many see it as awful, oppressive, and a stifling of the freedom of speech. While all of these are arguably true, it isn’t as malicious as it is often seen. It’s main goals are protecting against public uprising, ethnic independence movements, and hindering activism and protest. Anything on Tibet, the Weimar people in the shinzhong province, and Tiananmen square has been pretty much blacklisted. Events outside of China have been blocked as well, such as Egypt’s uprisings and the current conflicts in Syria. Historically many social networking and instant messaging websites have been used to organize movements, as well as spread banned information, and this is one of the main reasons behind why Facebook has been blocked. Information on pollution and corruption, whether true or not, have also been blocked to limit public resentment and the possibility of problems for the state stemming from the spread of this information.

As a foreigner, the Great Firewall can be incredibly annoying, but as long as you aren’t searching for this information or participating in anything the PRC views as dangerous or a potential vulnerability, it will remain only annoying. You should know though, that you are being watched. Emails are being scanned, petitions you sign are being put in a database, and anything that you are part of on paper is known. While you’re here I think it’s better if you abstain from digging into anything. Most likely nothing will happen immediately, but it could be the reason your VISA is unexpectedly rejected when you go to renew it. Journalists should heed much more caution with what you decide to investigate, but if you’re here you know more about this than I do.
There are multiple ways to evade censorship. Many proxies are available, as well as VPN networks you pay for. The TOR network is also an option, though bridges are needed to connect to it. Most VPN sites are blocked within China, which creates a frustrating catch 22 for getting one. Many foreign businesses’ have a VPN wifi set up for their patrons, so find one or a friend if you need to set one up within China. VPN services are also often unreliable, locked in a technological arms race for access with the administrators of the Great Firewall. Don’t expect to stream anything either, you’re having an incredibly lucky day if you can watch a youtube video on your VPN without waiting 10 minutes. There are many guides on your options for a VPN, so I won’t go any further into that.

Overall, using a VPN, the Great Firewall barely affects me. One thing to remember is China isn’t a Western nation, and doesn’t have the freedom of speech. As long as you’re a guest here, it would be best to keep that in mind. Just keep your nose clean, don’t ask for trouble, and you should be fine. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, and here in China, search no evil. google-china-400x309

A Foreigner’s Guide to Taxis in Beijing


As you’ll quickly notice once in Beijing, you can’t even make it to the end of the block without several taxis passing by you. All in all, they’re an incredibly convenient resource and a quick way to get almost anywhere you want in the city. Compared to western nations they’re also a fraction of the price. The distance a western taxi would charge $25-40 for would be barely $8 in RMB. Every legitimate taxi will have a small sign in its windshield that flips to show different colored sides. The “in service” side is lit up bright red at night, and if the sign is flipped so that it is no longer visible then the taxi is in use. This should be pretty easy to realize though from the other people in the car. Besides the red side that means it is available, there is also a yellow side for when the taxi is reserved, and a white side that means the driver is on a break. Sometimes though it is much more obvious and the sign isn’t needed.


As with anything though there are drawbacks, and also as with anything in China, you being a foreigner means you’re going to have to deal with three times as many of them. These are all the problems I have encountered or heard of:

  • The taxi drivers can be notoriously reckless and sometimes make you fear for your life. They will also talk on their cell phones to the point of not driving properly.
  • Heavy traffic is a sure fire way to get a large bill, and your driver will either be great and fight to get out of it or avoid it; or knowingly drive into it or leisurely sit in it. If a driver is going outrageously slow, it’s OK to tell them to hurry up.
  • The meter begins at 11RMB at night and rises at a faster rate, you are not being scammed.
  • If it is raining, some cab drivers will attempt to charge you an outrageous price or drive away. This has happened to me multiple times, and if you know how to handle it, it shouldn’t be a problem. Their registration number and picture is on their dashboard, if you can get a picture you can threaten to report them. Usually this will make them not act like a piece of shit.
  • Be careful when paying with 100RMB notes, it’s a common scam for them to give you counterfeit 50s, or switch out your bill with a fake and claim its counterfeit, asking you if you have another. Whenever I give them a large bill I put a rip in the corner so I know if they swapped it and can call the out on it. I’ve had one driver who looked at the tear, made a look of realization and then scowled at me. After he complimented me for being clever.
  • The cab drivers, as far as Chinese people go, will have the WORST accent you’ve heard. Don’t feel bad about you language skills if you have difficulty communicating with them, but make sure you have agreed where he’s going to take you.
  • The taxi takes you on a tour: This is 99% more likely to happen later at night than in the day, and can be done several ways, though each will result in a large bill for you. As stated above, taxi drivers will speak the harshest thickest Mandarin you’ll hear in Beijing. Though this can happen innocently, some more devious cab drivers will take you somewhere else and claim you said to go there. They will blame you and your Chinese skills, and even if you know you’re right there’s no way to prove it and you’re already in the cab with the meter running. The cab drivers will also assume you don’t know Beijing well because you are a foreigner. They will go the most illogical zig-zagged route they can get away with. You can mention it to them, but they will save face and make up some excuse. Your bill is still going to be high, and you’re going to have to get into an argument or potential conflict to change that. You’ll learn quickly that arguing with the Chinese over money is a losing battle, and I doubt you will get them to adjust the bill. If you offer a smaller amount of money after arguing, most will take it and call it even. Depending on the driver though, and if there are a lot of people who will help them in the area, he may get physical for the money. In these situations, once you start arguing you’re in it until you win or lose. Because of this, if it is night I generally just act oblivious, direct the cab close by but not my place, and book it. Give yourself a head start by pretending to struggle to access your wallet, and getting out of the cab to be able to grab your money, then take off. I’ve never had a cab driver chase me, just yell, and feel that morally this is the best way to deal with them trying to cheat you. Live by the sword die by the sword.
  • The meter rises much faster than it should: Generally this ‘trick meter’ is toggled by the cab driver and done to foreigners they think won’t know any better to get a larger than legal payment from them. Handling this has all the same considerations as when the driver takes you for a tour. There’s nothing you can really do about it to change it, so decide if you’re going to attempt to fight it, suck it up and pay it, or run away and give this guy a taste of his own medicine.
  • The taxi driver won’t use the meter: This can happen out you not paying attention, the taxi driver lying and saying it is broken, or because the taxi driver convinces you it is in your best interest to not use it. Right off the bat let me tell you: it is not in your best interest. If you can help it don’t use any taxi without the meter on, it will never cost you less and could easily be double the price. If they refuse to put on the meter, there are always more cabs. Qĭng dă biăo– Please put on the meter.
  • The taxi won’t take you or pull over for you even though the red light is on: There are some cases where it is illegal for cabs to stop. You should have some idea, if you are attempting to hail a cab on a road with no pull off area or side lane then it probably isn’t the cab being dumb. But if you are walking down a quiet street, try to grab a cab and the driver says no then it is you. There have been many times during my stay where cabs would drive right past me, and a little ways down the street pick up some Chinese people. Face it: Some of the Chinese don’t like us, and as with everything except dating, the majority of the Chinese will help or side with other Chinese people over you. If you want to push the matter, photograph their registration number and threaten to report them.
  • Black cabs: It has and will happen to every foreigner: a regular car with a red light hanging in the windshield driving past pulls over to you, and the driver begins to heckle you for a ride. The quotes he gives you are usually outrageous, and these guys are sketchy at best. I don’t advise you ever take these cabs. I’ve heard stories where they take your money upfront, drive to an area that would be incredibly hard for you to get back from and gouge you for more money or threaten to leave you where you are. It will always be better to just wait for a legitimate taxi.
  • Taxi sinkholes: Places like Sanlitun and Houhai are notorious for having large amounts of cabs that will not turn on the meter. There are no other cabs to be found besides black cabs, so you’re options aren’t better. This will almost always happen late at night, because the option of public transportation won’t be available. These are also the same guys who will use a trick meter. Threatening to report these guys doesn’t always work because they’re much bolder than most drivers, they know you don’t have other options to get home, and they have other drivers to back them up on any claims you make. I suggest walking to another area if you can to grab a cab. Usually it isn’t a long walk, and if it is you can also take one of these cabs and sprint away.

My Trip to Harbin, China: The Ice Festival and the Manchurian Siberian Tiger Preserve

Day 1

Monday afternoon my girlfriend and I left Beijing on a train, leaving behind the smoggy, snowless city for Harbin. We had soft seat tickets, which meant we had padded seats and sat 2 per row and effectively by ourselves. As far as 9 hour train rides go, this one was way better than expected, it being my first China train ride. I was comfortable and undisturbed, and though their seats didn’t have power outlets, it was comparable to America (except half the price!). Every winter this northern city holds the Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, a Guinness record holding event that is one of the world’s four largest ice festivals. I knew I was heading into some very cold weather, but when I got off the train into 2 foot high snow as far as I could see… Well I guess you could say I was surprised. Thankfully there was no wind, and the air was refreshingly clean. I can’t say I’m surprised, seeing as the city is on the border of Russia and I WAS at an ice and snow festival. I know how to pack for cold from years of boy scouts and skiing, and without the wind it was pretty enjoyable. The air alone made it worth it after being in Beijing for 6 months, -16C temperatures or not.

The taxi ride into the city was interesting, the roads were covered in ice and the car spun out multiple times. Our cab driver didn’t seem worried, just continued to hotbox the taxi with cigarette smoke and read his cell phone recklessly. At one point he even turned his head backwards to talk to us, and almost got us rear ended as he drifted into another lane. He reminded me of an oblivious puppy.

We arrived at the Little Russia Hostel. It was decent enough and 70$ for a 3 night stay is nothing to complain about. Our room smelled musty and was pretty small, but if it’s cheap and in a convenient location I could care less to be honest. And they had wifi, so I had no complaints. Since our train took 8 hours and we only ate snacks, I was famished and we set out to find a restaurant. It was 9:20 when we set out, and being a small city most businesses had already shut down. Most of the restaurants were the kitchen style kind you can find in Beijing, also the kind I’ve consistently gotten food poisoning from because of half cooked or fouled meat. Not wanting to spend my vacation on a toilet, we set out to find a nice restaurant that was still open in a city we knew nothing about.

Beijing, as far as Chinese values go, is one of the most western cities in China. The people are impatient and inconsiderate, and also totally unfazed by western tourists. Harbin is not the same, and in retrospect I actually think I prefer Beijing more. We came across a restaurant after 15 minutes of walking, and when we entered it was pretty clear they were about to close up and go home. We told them we hadn’t eaten any food that night, and tried to ask if they knew of another restaurant in the area. Instead of telling us, they did us one better; they invited us up and kept the chef from going home to feed us. In Chinese culture, the concept of guests and host hospitality is huge. It’s considered shameful to disappoint a guest, and most traditional Chinese families and establishments will bend over backwards to help you and make sure you walk away happy. It’s actually seen as an insult to the host’s concept of face to fully finish your meal. Even if you’re on the verge of vomiting from stuffing yourself, it signifies they didn’t feed you enough and left you hungry. I’ve been in Beijing for awhile, and overall Chinese service can be more than lacking, so I was quite pleased with this. We got upstairs and began to order our food, but each dish we asked for was unavailable. Dish after dish the Fuyuan responded “that takes too long to cook” or “we’re all out of that tonight.” I think only 5% of the menu was available, which we frustratingly were forced to find out by asking over and over again. The food we could order were items such as salads and pickled meats, all of them neither appetizing or nutritious. After wasting fifteen famished minutes with a not-at-all-helpful Fuyuan who most likely just wanted to go home, we decided to try out luck elsewhere. A taxi driver picked us up just as we exited the restaurant, and after explaining our situation to him, he drove us in search of a place open to eat. He also stopped and tried to get every group of girls he could talk to to also get into our cab. I have no idea why he was doing this, since we had no clue where we were going and there was only room for one other person, possibly two if somebody sat on a lap. With no luck adding women to the cab, he brought us to a Chinese restaurant open 24 hours. The food was awful, the fried duck we ordered was actually duck tendon and cartilage… Not meat. Completely indelible. The duck legs we ordered were 90% bone, and the rice had strangely bitter freeze dried pork in it. We suffered through the food and went back to the hostel to rest for the next day.


Before heading to any tourist attractions, we decided to walk around and explore the city while finding something to eat. It was designed a lot differently than Beijing. If it weren’t for the hanyu I think I’d have felt like we were in Russia. The streets and sidewalks were coated in ice and snow, often to the point of being dangerous, and the roads were much too wide for the amount of traffic going through them. The architecture was much different than that of Beijing. The buildings didn’t look like they obeyed the laws of fengshui, and had European style arches and ledges plus the round-topped towers like I’ve seen in pictures of Moscow. The buildings here had a very European feel, and I’m going to guess Russian design has greatly influenced their construction. The streets had alcoves with statues of Romanesque naked men, and most signs also had Cyrillic on them.

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I can’t say I was all that surprised to see these similarities because of Harbin’s proximity to Russia, nor that most of their business district was Russian as well. Even most of the cars and motorbikes were of Russian make. The street foods weren’t the typical Chinese types, less meats and more nuts and insect pupae. I enjoyed be able to get kielbasa as Chuar though! It was very interesting to walk around and take it all in, and overall it speaks to the massiveness of China and how the many ethnic groups contribute their own cultures to create almost pseudo nations within one giant nation.

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After exploring the city a little bit and finding something to eat, our first stop was the Manchourian Siberian Tiger preserve. When we arrived i wasn’t really sure what to expect. There were anime style tiger people doing strange things, as well as giant gaudy plastic tiger statues. The tourist center was offering a service that poorly photoshops you “petting” a tiger, as well as stuffed animals and a wine made from tiger piss. I had the feeling that I’d stumbled into China’s equivalent of the highway road stop “Come see batboy and the world’s only living dinosaur at exit 47,” where the dinosaur turns out to be an alligator and batboy is just inbred. We purchased our tickets and our chicken vouchers, and boarded a bus painted with tiger stripes. That’s when the tackiness ended; and we began to drive through several miles of fields with over a hundred grown tigers stalking our bus or resting and playing. Multiple times large tigers would chase the bus and swipe at the back of it. The driver threw chickens out of the window of the bus for the tigers to catch and tear apart in front of us. If we’d spent 2600RMB we could’ve had a cow sent in for them to eat, but that was way too steep for me. Overall I gotta say it was a pretty awesome experience. And when I say awesome I don’t mean the typical everyday uses it’s been wasted on, such as saying Great!, and describing a good movie or a fun day. There are plenty of other ways of saying that. But when you see 500 pound tigers from 10 feet away, swiping at your bus and tearing apart farm animals, you realize not many feelings can convey just how in awe you are. These animals are the most beautiful yet powerful creatures I’ve ever seen. It was humbling to be so close observing them. I have no illusions one wouldn’t even have to try to kill to me, as strong as they are gorgeous. THAT is what awesome means. Being the second largest tiger preserve in the world, I’m very happy I got the chance to see this. I definitely recommend it if you go to Harbin.

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The second event of the day was the Zhaolin Garden Ice Lantern festival. Zhaolin garden is a huge park in the middle of the city, and every winter it’s full of ice buildings and ice pathways with multi-colored lights shining and reflecting through them. Many famous buildings were recreated, as well as bulls charging and Cinderella carriage were sculpted from ice. It was very cool, and since it was dark the lights were beautiful. The Harbin international ice art exhibition contest was also held here. The submissions were mostly from Russia and China, though there were several from Mongolia and Malaysia, as well as a single and very unique one from France called “the free electron theory.” The Mongolians focused on nature and animals, which is interesting because a lot of their cultures folklore holds animals in high regards. The Malaysian ones were very wholesome and uplifting, much like their carefree loving culture. The parallels were interesting, though there were way too many from Russia and China to make any distinctions. Unfortunately the translucency of ice and lighting made it hard to show the intricate detail in many of these sculptures, but I’m sure the pictures will be able to show most of how exquisite they are. We spent about an hour and a half there, and after that it all began to look the same.

To end the night we stopped by a Russian restaurant called Tatoc. The inside made me feel like I was in a mob movie, dim lighting and finely finished woods everywhere, with a very family owned but also expensive atmosphere to it. The music playing sounded like the score from Eastern Promises. Their menu was pretty smart, you could order dishes separately but they also had a section of meals for 1-3 people who want to try traditional Russian food. At first glance it’s pretty expensive, but when you break it down you’re getting 9 dishes for about 350RMB, and more than enough food for two people. Most of the food was exquisite, though I don’t think I’ll ever get a good steak in China. The mutton le duchese was melt in your mouth tender, and the borsch was rich and flavorful. I definitely believe I got a good taste of what Russia had to offer, on top of a food coma and happy belly.

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Afterwards we hit a bar called The Western Bar. There were pictures of Jesus with naked black manakin pieces in piles before it scattered around the bar, and the wallpaper said “Stock market fraud” over and over again. The pictures in the bathroom were both erotic and disturbing, including a dick soldier and obvious necrophilia. I’m not going to upload them or talk more about them though since I’d like my blog to stay in the SFW realm of the Internet. I will say I think they have some misconceptions about what’s hip and provocative, and what’s not socially acceptable and creepy. There’s a fine line, and they passed it three miles ago. They were trying to pull off hipster, and I really can’t blame them; since an ESL person who had to literally translate the word hit the nail on the head for “douchey and being a fan of things no one else likes.” The beer was good though, and regardless of the creepy, erotic decorations and pictures of known terrorists on the walls, it somehow managed to have a nice atmosphere.



I think because day 2 was such a great day, day 3 was destined to be shit. It was one of those days where the Chinese are infuriating and seriously test one’s patience and self restraint. After grabbing a quick breakfast we headed out for the Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Art Fair, a snow theme park which features large scale snow sculptures as well as tourist rides such as tubing and dog sledding. As usual the venue had a student pricing option. When we got in line, a burned man was ahead of us using some sort of ID, either student or military, to receive a discount. He kept turning around to talk to us instead of the woman helping him, and because I figure people turn him away often because of his disfigurement, I decided I’d be nice and talk back. He began to offer us half price tickets, and as a rule of thumb in China more goods are counterfeit than authentic. Knock off Nikes and name brand clothing are a blessing, fake tickets that don’t get you into the park are not. We said no and moved to another line, only to be refused by the woman selling tickets. Meanwhile the burned man was shooed away from the ticket booth, and I noticed in his hand he had an ID much like mine, with a photograph attached inside it rather than printed onto a page… Just like mine. When I pressed the woman for a reason why we’d have to pay full price, she told us it was because our IDs could be fake as well, and probably because I’d talked with that man for a minute or two. I’m pretty sure he was using his maimed face to use another persons ID and claim it was before the accident, then scalping the discounted ticket for a profit. After arguing with the woman for almost ten minutes, we ended up paying the full price of 240RMB instead of 120. If we’d had another form of ID it probably could’ve been smoothed out, but I prefer to have my passport in a safe place instead of out and about with me. I gotta say, as annoyed as I was to pay the full price, it was worth it. The snow sculptures were gigantic, Guinness-book-of-world-records-breaking gigantic. The amount of detail in each was astounding too. At multiple sites there would be people dancing to traditional Chinese music and waving flags, which was interesting to watch. The other attractions were pretty lacking though. The bobsledding and tubing would only be fun for a child in elementary school, and the dogs used for dog sledding looked like they might feint if I forced them to pull me. It was pretty sad actually, they didn’t look well taken care of at all. The park was also incredibly slippery, most of the paths had iced over and multiple people fell as we walked the park. There was way too much walking in between each snow site, and the slickness of the paths quickly became annoying. We were HELLO’d a lot as well by many of the Chinese men in the park (described in detail in its own blog entry) and as usual the Chinese had no regard for the picture you were taking, which was frustrating on top of everything else. I was pretty happy though when one young douchebag screamed hello at us and then right after fucked himself on a patch of black ice. He should’ve known better than to be a prick in the shadow of goddess that belongs to Hinduism, a religion all about karma. Setbacks aside, it was definitely worth it though to stand underneath a 40 foot tall snow statue of a Shiva or a Greek goddess unleashing dragons. The pictures cannot do this place justice.


After dinner we grabbed a cab to head out to the Harbin Ice and Snow World. It took us many tries to get the driver to turn on the meter, but the hassle was necessary since we were in a bad cab area and also in a rush against time to make the park before it closed. Just as we neared the bridge to Sun Island, the tourist area of Harbin, he picked up another woman. We tried to tell him no but he didn’t listen and she had already closed the door. She told him where to go and he assured us it was on the way, right after which he turned away from the bridge that was in sight and became grid locked in side road traffic for 10 minutes. It made it worse that they flirted the whole time, and I was close to snapping at him. I held my tongue though because it would probably take us more time to get another cab in the traffic jam than to sit in the one we already had. Eventually he came to her destination and again began to approach the bridge with it in sight. He began to ask us if we had tickets for the festival. We told him no, and that we’ll buy them there. Upon hearing that answer he turned down another side road and yet again away from the event wanted to go to and were already late for. He ignored us telling him no and that we didn’t want them, and instead assured us they were a good price… 10RMB and not even 2 dollars cheaper, as well as probably fake. We sat outside the general store his friend was selling tickets out of and argued with him furiously, which he continued to ignore and practically plead with us to just buy the tickets. I began to exit the car, and he started to yell at me. I gave him the ultimatum to drive or we’d leave and not pay. He wasn’t a big man, and I already wanted to bounce him off the pavement. He started to posture but then backed down, and offered to take us where we wanted to go. He patronized us the whole way there, saying how the tickets were a great price and we were dumb. The logic that ‘he was going to say they were real even if they weren’t’ fell on deaf ears.

Exiting the cab as quickly as possible, we rushed into the ticket center only to hit another obstacle. The regular price is 300, but the student price is 150. Even with no burned men to cast suspicion on us, we were yet again told we’d need to pay full price, with the reason being “foreign students who are studying at Chinese universities aren’t students and don’t get a discount. Chinese people only.” I wanted to stand in front of the window and block the line until they gave me my discount but figured a half price ticket didn’t matter if the park closed half an hour after we got inside. I bit my tongue and bought the tickets, with one hour left to explore the biggest ice exhibit in Harbin.

I gotta say, it probably wasn’t worth the stress. Don’t get me wrong it was amazing. A once in a lifetime experience. The sometimes-6 story tall ice buildings were beautiful, each with multi-colored neon lighting frozen into it and changing colors every couple seconds. There was a Smurf, and an Ice Age exhibit, as well as a whole site designed to be a mock Angry Birds level.

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But quickly you notice that besides the handful of special and unique structures, each castle looks the same. If you were pressed for time and didn’t care to slide down any slides you could walk the place in 30 minutes. Besides the ice structures, the festival had features that included ice bicycling, skiing, and a live war reenactment/opera with skiers and figure dancers.

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Horse and carriages went up and down the ice city streets for tourists who wanted a ride around the attractions. There was one stand that even had snow foxes that you could hold and get a picture with. Their fur was out of this world soft, but I had to walk away when the workers would grab the fox by the tail and drag it across the cage. I wish I hadn’t given them money to get my picture with the fox, these animals are obviously mistreated and I’d never knowingly support that.

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The slides here were much larger than at snow world, and definitely would’ve been a cool ride if it weren’t for their lines, which alone would have eaten up half our time to explore. As I tried to photograph one of the ice slides from the bottom, a worker appeared in the shot and snatched at my phone, almost managing to grab it out of my hands. I’m not very friendly to somebody trying to grab a 700$ phone out of my hands, and replied in a knee jerk reaction “Yo, fuck you!” I was told I wasn’t allowed to photograph, standing 5 feet away from 3 different Chinese men snapping away pictures. I figured it would be best to just move on, logic wasn’t going to win here and this guy was familiar with the Fbomb.


This guy is a douchebag

Don’t let my jadedness from this last leg of the trip skew just how magnificent the place was. The pictures I hope will give some credence to how beautiful it was, and the ice statues were bigger than most of the buildings in Harbin city. I unfortunately was there in the wrong mindset and circumstances, but hey, I’m writing my experience and this was it. I will say though, I’d have been upset if I missed it, it was Harbin’s most spectacular attraction.

The cab ride home was again a headache, the cab driver made us get out on the highway and switch to another cab where we were forced to pack in with other tourists. This cab driver kept trying to get us to go to another area of the city, and the Chinese tourists we were with couldn’t even get him to stop. Eventually he told us we’d arrived, but upon getting out we realized he’d lied. We said our goodbyes to the couple, who happened to live ten minutes away from us in Beijing, and went to get a late dinner. I’ve realized something about Harbin, it is a very difficult city to eat in. Either the restaurants are all kitchen style, and small and dodgy with Chinese only menus, or they’re upscale and expensive with poor service. It was very hard during our stay here to find a happy medium that wasn’t a fast food chain. We stumbled onto a little place called The Dumpling King, and found it. The food was good for what it was, and it was quick affordable and easy. It helped after the stressful day.


As we left, many of the locals were burning fake money to honor and give as thanks to their deceased relatives. In Beijing they are forced to burn paper or cardboard, and anything resembling RMB is illegal. Here though, they were burning large bundles at a time of parody RMB, which was also being sold on the streets. I’m not sure if it isn’t a law up here or it just isn’t enforced, but the tradition is always interesting, and in a weird way cute to see as long as you avoid the chemical smoke that comes off of the fires.



To be honest, our fourth day in Harbin really wasn’t worth writing about. We had just enough time to kill that we had to find something to do, and not enough time to really begin anything worthwhile; not to mention anything we did do would have to be done while carrying all of our luggage. So we did what any other sensible people would do; we found the nearest place with both coffee and free wifi. After waiting it out at a Starbucks, we made our train and headed home on an overnight trip. This train ride our tickets were soft sleepers, meaning we had padded beds instead of hard beds or padded chairs. There were four beds to each compartment, arranged in a double bunk bed fashion. Our compartment had one empty bunk, holding just us on the bottom two bunks and a middle aged woman above us. She smelled funky and kept telling us she had a fever and a head ache, asking if we could switch beds. We told her no each time, and when that didn’t work she called her friend and told them in Chinese she didn’t want to sleep on the top bunk. It was awkward because I don’t think she knew we could understand her that well. Eventually she complained to one of the workers and was switched to a new compartment. Some advice to any foreigners, unless you are taking an overnight train just get a soft seat; it’s cheaper and you’re not going to be put with somebody who smells, coughs and sneezes towards to you, and who in general will not leave you alone because of your novelty as a foreigner.

About ESL Wanderlust

ESL is an acronym for English as a Second Language, while Wanderlust is what struck me in Spring 2012; causing me to leave my home in NY, America, and move to Beijing. While studying Mandarin at a college dedicated to foreigners learning Chinese, I took a job teaching English to the Chinese to support myself. That job has transformed into the next 5 years of my life, and China is only the first country I plan to explore and teach in. I’ve found since I moved away, many people have been curious and astounded by the experiences I’ve had. I’ve decided to create a blog to share and document these experiences, as well as to reach and educate more people. I want to tell you about cultures and lifestyles you knew little about. I want to show you the sights you’ll see in magazines, as well as the sights you won’t see unless you were here yourself. I want you to know what it’s like to live in these countries and what their customs are, as I experience their ups and downs for you. Most of all, I want to figure out the learning curve for you while creating a guide for anybody else who develops the urge to wander. I want to help you plan and know what to expect for your own adventure. I hope you enjoy the travels of a city kid lost in the world.Datong