After a hectic week-and-a-half in Tianjin, filled with meeting people, learning how to ride the subway, breaking through the language barrier, and adjusting to the 13-hour leap ahead while adopting a class schedule, I think I’ve finally gotten used to a few things that really threw me for a loop when I first arrived. For anyone interested in traveling to China, and new to the experience, I have listed a couple points of advice that will make your stay much less disarming.
1. Never assume you have the right of way as a pedestrian
Traffic is insane. Tianjin, being the fourth largest city in China with a population of 14 million, has traffic at all hours of the day and night, especially on weekends (during the week, certain vehicles are banned from traveling on the roads depending on what digit their license plate ends with; for example, maybe on Mondays vehicles with license plates ending in 1 or 7 can’t be on the roads, and so on, but during the weekends it’s a free-for-all). Additionally, drivers here don’t usually check their blind spots before making lane changes, preferring instead to merge right or left regardless of whether that space is already occupied by another vehicle. Horns are frequently used. Even when crossing the street in a cross walk with the walk signal, pedestrians still run the risk of having vehicles turn into them. Unfortunately, all 37 of us on this program have had close calls when crossing the street!
2. Don’t go to a restaurant without a native speaker, a fourth-year Chinese student, or at the very least, the Pleco app.
Ordering food is hard. Most menus are only written in Chinese characters, with no images whatsoever. Luckily for us, many restaurants have pictures of their dishes on the walls. This has allowed us to point at the wanted food, and say, “我要这个” (“I want this one.”). Today, we went to a place for lunch on what we refer to as Cheap Street, which is home to a wide variety of food carts and inexpensive restaurants. I was in a group of seven total, made up mostly of second-years, like myself, but also a couple third-years, and a student who is basically fluent. He ordered for us, asking for two cold dishes (potatoes and cucumbers), and what he thought was three plates of pork 饺子 (dumplings). However, when the food was brought, it turns out we had inadvertently ordered three dishes of dumplings, or rather six plates, for our small group! Somehow we managed to finish it all.
Other than that, taking up a temporary residence here is rather straightforward, especially if you arm yourself with an open mind and a willingness to embrace cultural differences (Although it’s also very helpful to have an entire staff and a personal tutor available for questions!).
Until next time, 再见!