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By Thomas F. O'Neill

Hello from Harbin City, China

I have been living in Harbin China for about a month now and I am enjoying working and living here as a teacher. I find that most of my college age students are very curious about America and our culture. They are full of questions and very eager to learn about the United States. It is only matched by my open and receptive nature about learning the Chinese ways and customs.

I am simply taking everything in and enjoying myself in the process. The people here in China are very open and friendly. But there are still those who see anything foreign as a dollar sign. I am always being mistaken as a naÔve tourist who is totally ignorant about the currency exchange rate.

One American dollar is worth 6.8 dollars in Chinaís currency. Some of the local venders will try and take advantage of a non-local by charging ten times more than they would one of their own.

When I arrived some of my students showed me around Harbin City. They made sure I understood the correct prices when purchasing items and the best places to go when purchasing those items. They also introduced me to some of the local tourist sites and some of the popular restaurants. I find that food here in China is so affordable compared to the restaurants in many American cites.

Food is a great means to bond with others and show your affection in a non-direct way. Sharing a great meal is also a way to slow down and converse with others. I have found that when you enjoy the company of others, others will enjoy your company.

There may be many differences between China and our western way of life. But I still find that no matter where you go people are basically the same. In any culture there are good and bad. From what I am experiencing though people here are mostly good.

Traveling on buses and trains though has taken some getting used to. They can be very crowded and jam packed due to the differences between our population in America and the 1.4 Billion people here in China. The population in the Chinese Cities can make even crossing the street an extreme challenge.

We tell children in the U.S. look both ways before crossing the street. Here in China its look around before zigzagging through the blowing of car horns. They are blowing their car horns at you by the way - while staring at the crazy foreigner inept at crossing the street. I discovered quickly that there is a big difference between coal region traffic in Pennsylvania and Chinaís traffic. Here in China pedestrians donít have the right of way. Foreign pedestrians cross their fingers here and hope for the best.

I also found that most residence here in Harbin City speak very little English. My students however go out of their way in helping me converse with the locals.

My internet browser on my Blackberry cell phone also comes in handy at times. There are several internet sites that translate English into Chinese and I have been accessing those sites when traveling to various cities.

I donít watch TV here but I learned from my students that there are several popular American programs in China. The television series ĎFriendsí and ĎPrison breakí are among those popular programs. But many English speaking Chinese tell me the American accent is very difficult to understand. I was told that we Americanís talk very fast on TV and in American films. Our fast way of talking and our accent makes our way of speaking difficult to comprehend.

When I first arrived it was also difficult for me to understand the Chinese accent. But it has gotten easier and my students have gotten use to my way of speaking.

Since arriving here I learned that American humor is very difficult to translate due to our cultural differences. Most humor is language based and some of my course material is on the differences between Chinese and American humor. Our ability to laugh is Universal but the punch lines in a joke are cultural. That doesnít stop me however from finding ways to make my classes enjoyable and informative.

People who know me well know that I love to make people laugh. Singing Karaoke is also one of my favorite past times next to writing of course. But the Karaoke Bars here in Harbin City are quite different than the Karaoke Bars I am used to in America. In Harbin China Karaoke is more for private parties and clubs. In the U.S. Karaoke is popular in some open bars and restaurants.

When some of my students heard I like Karaoke they booked a Karaoke engagement at a place called Tiffanyís. We had a really great time because American music is so popular here and not to mention that I can really belt a tune.

I am really noticing how the western culture is impacting China in a big way. The fast food industries here and clothing fashions are expressing this trend. Most of Harbin Chinaís youth are assimilating the western culture into their traditional upbringing.

I still cannot get over how well received I am by the people here. I was immediately given a spacious living quarters very close to the University. It was a bit overwhelming taking it all in at first especially for someone who recently left the Pennsylvania Coal region an economically depressed region at that. As soon as I walked through the doors of the University the students and staff treated me as if I was a renowned professor of many books.

I am no professor but it only goes to show that even a local coal region native can make a difference in the far regions of the world.

Itís not the titles that make the difference nor do we need a vast array of knowledge to make our life worth living. Itís what we apply in life that matters most. When our lifeís course comes to an end our achievements will be measured not in grades or our material possessions. Our greatest achievements will be the small subtle acts of kindness that we bestowed on others.

Our capacity for Kindness has the greatest impact not only on our society as whole but on those who give, and in the lessons of life itís the kindness thatís worth remembering.

With love,
Thomas F. OíNeill

(800) 272-6464

Yahoo Screen Name for chatting online: introspective777

Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found at the links below.







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