Jakob Lengacher and the Quest for Butane

If you missed my post about finals, look below.  Moving on, thus begins my Fulbright grant! WTF am I doing?  I don’t know, Fulbright doesn’t know, do you know?  Jokes aside, Fulbright actually told us to use this first week to set up our life, finding an apartment to rent, contacting our adviser etc.  I did all of that over the course of the CET program, so I had a place all ready to move into on Sunday night.  I then spent all of Monday and half of Tuesday setting up all my stuff, cleaning, and decompressing.  Even though I had done the CET program twice before, it’s still probably one of the most intensive Chinese study programs available to American students, and the teachers knew me well enough to keep me challenged, even one of the Fulbrighters who was a Columbia master’s graduate was tearing his hair out.  So I feel justified in taking this week to do more mundane tasks.  Those tasks include organizing, Christmas shopping, meeting my adviser, laying out some objectives for the next ten months, watching YouTube, writing a letter, prepping for the GRE (improving my practice scores!  I take it on the 28th) and cooking.  I have to say, after four months of extremely oily cafeteria food, however good and cheap it might be, a simple bowl of rice and steamed veggies with some sesame sauce is divine.  Had to stop myself from eating too much.

I can’t quite remember if I’ve talked about my apartment or not.  If I had to guess, I’d say the main room is about 15 by 20ft. with a 15 square foot kitchen attached.  Honestly it’s a little more space than I know what to do with, the center of the room is kinda just empty. It was formerly a nail salon, so I’m quite enjoying the decoration and furniture that was left behind.  I love how cozy it is :D.  Check out the pictures.

I share a bathroom with the next-door neighbors, so far so good, haven’t really talked with them to be honest.  I have, however, talked with my neighbors on the other side, which is a cat cafe!  My roommate from CET and I went over the day I moved in and the owners quite like me.  The coffee’s decent, the decor wonderful, and the cats super friendly. Look at them, so cute!  I think there’s five of them in total.

On Wednesday, my shopping day, my main quest was to go find butane for my camping stove to make Turkish coffee.  I had gone out a week or two prior, and no one seemed to have any, let alone have heard of the word butane.  So on Wednesday I ventured back out armed with pictures of a shop to buy it sent by the previous owner of the stove.  Even when I got there though, the guy had never heard the word “butane” (丁烷, ding wahn), and after some explanation he sold me a can of lighter fluid, which seemed to be the answer (referred to by him as 气儿 (qir, kinda like cheer with a shorter ee) meaning “gas” with a northern accent.)  The shop was located on the “Indian scenery street”  which was in a part of Harbin I had never been to before, and is basically a block-long pedestrian street done up to look like a bazaar (more Arabic than Indian honestly to my untrained eye), and rather deserted, although I imagine it’s more populated in warmer months.

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Within five minutes of completing my purchase I had two great things happen.  The first was an old granny stopped me on my way out and asked “Can you get to Guogeli street through there?” (Indicating the “Indian street”) To which I answered, “yeah”.  On the surface, not a particularly significant interaction, but the fact that this granny felt confident enough to ask a foreigner a directional question, and the fact that I was not only able to answer, but also that she understood my simplistic response, was really cool!  It’s those kind of interactions that make me love living here.  Of course there’s always the possibility that she didn’t realize I was a foreigner for whatever reason.  The world may never know…

A block away, I cam across this sign taped to a pole.

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It reads: “Today is Winter Solstice.  Today is Winter Solstice.  Today is Winter Solstice.  Eat dumplings.”  I read it and immediately burst out laughing from the straightforwardness and randomness.  The odd thing is that it had no restaurant’s name on it, guess some random citizen felt the need to remind us all of the holiday.  I had planned an impromptu Solstice celebration, but no one could come 😦

Butane in hand, I made Turkish coffee for the first time.  I still have a lot to learn, but it was drinkable, if a bit stale (I was warned when I bought it).  It still reminded me of happy Sunday mornings in college though.  And being the good neighbor that I am (and the good China Hand who knows how to curry favor), I made two cups for the cafe owners.  They were complimentary, but honestly couldn’t tell if they really liked it or not.

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I’ll soon be leaving for the States, so here’s some pictures from around the city I’ve taken recently.

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