By: Helen Mason

It was winter when I came to Xian.  I remember there was a smearing of ice on the streets and the temperature stayed around zero degrees for weeks.  April brought the spring and the magnolias flowered in the yard down stairs.  It brought a new beginning into my being; in Xian there was much to learn, explore and enjoy.  A wonderful two year chapter began for me.

After a working life of almost twenty years, including time in Hong Kong and studying some Cantonese, I looked for an opportunity to study Chinese in the mainland.  Xian seemed a good location choice.  I had heard that Xian Mandarin was quite standard and Xian was an ancient city, full of history and culture.

I was fortunate that a Canadian student needed a room-mate and I could move in with her in a fourth floor apartment. From the outside, our apartment looks old, but inside it’s nice.  Renting a house in China is not a “piece of cake” experience.  Living on-campus is a good choice for new-comers to China; I wouldn’t recommend a newly arrived student to find their own house to rent. Finding an English speaking land agent is unlikely.  Checking out apartments for several days is tiring and then there is quite a lot of paperwork – all in Chinese.  After you get the keys, work just begins!  The kitchen alone may take a day or more to clean, as Chinese people love to cook with oil and every possible kitchen surface will be oily.  Fixing leaking pipes and toilets is always a challenge in older apartments which are the cheapest to rent at around 1500-2000 yuan/month.

Within 24 hours of arriving in China, I needed to register at the police station, so my room-mate took me to the police office in Xiao Zhai.  Because of the New Year holiday, the office was closed, so we returned on the first day the office re-opened.  The process was simple enough and the policewoman helped to fill out my address in Chinese characters.  A temporary residence permit was granted to me!

I had been recommended to a private school, so I started classes soon after arriving.  I needed to change my working visa to a student visa; this meant I needed a health check.  I found the clinic on Huang Guang Road (following a Xian map) and after queuing, registering, coming back the next day, having the health check and then collecting the report a few days later, I gained a health check clearance!  The school finalized all my student visa application documents and I went to the Public Securities Bureau on Ke Ji Road to submit all the documents in the office on the second floor.  The place to pay the fee is next door on the first floor, so the process is a little confusing the first time.  After the visa was completed one or two weeks later, I collected my passport and was told to re-register at the local police station.

After more than a year studying one-to-one at the private school, I felt I needed a more in-depth intensive Chinese program.  Over the years I’ve studied from Chinese Made Easier, New Practical Chinese Reader and Developing Chinese text books.  I decided to visit the Xian International University and ask about their Chinese courses.  I found the office staff helpful and efficient – I could start in September and they would assist in doing documents for my new student visa.  The entrance exam was at the beginning of the term.  From the exam result, students gained placement into appropriate classes and the results were posted that same afternoon in the university lobby.  Classes started next morning.  Each week there are 20 hours of class, Monday to Friday, 8.00 am to 12.00 noon.  Homework never ends; speaking, listening, writing and reading!  The teaching style is intensive, informative, structured and well prepared.  The modernization of teaching equipment is impressive with smart boards, PPT’s and videos.  The teachers are experienced, conservative, punctual, and dedicated.  There are elective classes available in the afternoons if students have time.  By attending classes regularly and keeping up with homework, I hope exam preparation won’t be too difficult.

Now it’s autumn and the university is full of autumn colors.  The campus is well maintained.  Each morning I go to a small convenience store within the campus and buy a hot tea for just three yuan (and that’s the big cup!).  The shop staff are friendly and remember that I have one small sugar.  Personal service in such a massively populated country is very impressive!  Many of my class mates live on-campus.  They can easily be on time for class and have a protected student life, eating at the various canteens/cafes on campus.  Campus living is cheap and convenient.

Before I came to China, a foreign friend told me about his experience in China.  One night he had a dream.  He dreamed of a supermarket full of bread!  After I took my first bit of Chinese sweetened bread I understood his dream.  I too wished for whole-meal solid bread.  I found it at Xian Metro!  Food shopping in China is quite easy – I can buy fresh green vegetables of all shapes, sizes and descriptions from a street cart at my gate for next to nothing!  Some vegetables I have never seen in my life – China has unequalled food variety.  All fruit and vegetables are cheap at the wet market, which is just a few minutes’ walk from our house.  New large supermarkets appear near most residential areas, but I recommend the wet market for price and freshness.  For take away food and a cultural/local experience, nothing compares to the barbeque beef, lamb and squid kebabs in the Muslim Quarter near the Bell Tower.  The idiom “when in Rome do as the Romans do” is so applicable.  The more I can adapt to being “Chinese”, the more money I save and the better I eat!

Having a good map and a “bus book” has been very beneficial and I have found the Xian bus system very convenient – albeit very crowded.  A Xian bus driver must have eternal patience.  At peak hour, the bus door works like a people-press!  A pre-paid travel card makes taking public transport easier – no queuing for tickets in the metro or fumbling through your bag for change!  There is extensive work in progress on the Xian metro, recently number one metro line opened, following number two line which has been open for quite some time.  The most northern station of the city metro arrives at the High-Speed Rail train station – from there you can arrive in Beijing in less than five hours or Hua Shan North station in 34 minutes!  Taxis are in short supply at rush hour, so the bus is a good option at that time – if you can get on that is!  Airport bus stations are positioned at seven points around the city, providing convenient travel to and from the airport.

A Chinese friend’s mother said she would find a second hand bicycle for me to ride to university to save me from the over-crowded buses; she did!  We went to appraise it in the basement of her apartment.  For 30 yuan I purchased a functioning well-loved bicycle.  After a few weeks, one tire went flat.  I found the bike repair store in a small alley near our house.  The repair man efficiently opened the tire and looked at the tube.  The previous owner had repaired the tube twelve times no less!  The repair man asked if I would like to buy another tube patch or a new tube?  For 15 yuan I decided on a new tube!   I enjoy my ride to school, and pass Ba Li Village just for the “crowd experience” and the smell of spicy noodles, frying for the school children’s breakfast.  The gas flames from under the woks leap in the air as the people crowd by unwittingly; merging, rushing and overtaking in a continuous stream of humanity.

Studying in Xian has given me a great opportunity to travel to famous places near and far.  The Terracotta Warriors near Xian was an easy day outing, with buses leaving from Bell Tower regularly for just 7 or 8 yuan.   Some tourist agencies also offer chauffer services at good prices for when family or friends visit.  Xian has been a great central location for travel to the north, east, south and west.  HohHot in Inner Mongolia introduced me to the Mongolian minority people; their hospitality and salty milk tea were outstanding!  On the High-Speed train, Luoyang was an easy visit to the east – the best place to see a China national favorite, the peony flowers (April/May).  To the west, visiting Lanzhou, Xining and Qinghai Lake gave me an introduction to China’s beautiful, raw and broad western provinces and the ‘mother’ Yellow River.  To the south of Xian lies the beautiful Qin Ling mountain range, providing a natural boundary between the north and south of the country.  There is much to explore on weekends, public holidays and university vacation.

Last year I decided to try for my Chinese driving license.  I went to the Xiao Zhai police office to ask where I could sit the exam for the driving license.  I was sent to the office of the Traffic Police just a few streets away.  A helpful Traffic Police Officer gave me the address of the correct government department, a massive office south of Xian.  I took a taxi and arrived at the bustling office and found out that I needed my passport and Australian driving license translated and also needed to have a health check at another location.  The health check was less involved than the school-health check, so I completed the health check that same day.  The Transport Authority gave me an address of a company to translate my passport and driving license, so I took a taxi to find that office.  After 24 hours, I collected the paperwork and then returned to the Transport Authority to ask when I could sit the driving license exam.  I had 24 hours to prepare for the computer test (English available) of 100 questions from a possible 1300 questions!   I used a very useful app “China Drive” to study all the questions and passed the exam the following day.  Two hours after passing the exam, my Chinese driving license was completed.  There are some car rental companies that offer small cars for rent for about 200 yuan/day.   I was thankful for my school application process experience which taught me many things about making formal applications in China:  providing and submitting the correct documentation is so important.

I feel safe in China.  Our apartment block has a watch-lady who seems to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  She clears the rubbish daily from the bins downstairs and sweeps the stairs once a year!  Notices are posted on the wall of her small office when we need to pay bills like heating (once a year, it costs about 2000 yuan), rubbish collection fee (120 yuan/year), etc.  There is a covered area for bicycle parking.  Our apartment block seems to have many retired people living in it; they often accumulate at the gate to reminisce together.  On summer evenings the grandpas roll their singlets above their bellies and sit on small stools to chat and smoke.  The children ride bicycles up and down the path, chatting happily.  As I walk by, they call, “Hello, how are you?  I am fine thank you!” as if reading from their English text book.  Recently it was time to pay our winter heating.  There were no details given of when to pay it, so standing by the notice, I used my best Chinese to ask an elderly neighbor when the money was to be paid.  She said, “It’s about heating”.  Yes, I knew it was about heating, but when was it to be paid?  “It’s about heating” she said repeatedly in Chinese.  “It’s about heating”.  “It’s about heating”.  She seemed to think repetition would teach me everything.  Sometimes it’s difficult for Chinese people to really believe a foreign face can speak Chinese!  I smiled, warmly told her there was no problem, and climbed the stairs to home.  The next week I saw neighbors queuing at the watch-lady’s window.  “It’s about heating!” – it was time to pay.  The water gurgled in the pipes, and the central heating came on two days earlier than we expected.

The spring is sleeping soundly before waking the brave magnolias next April.  As I reflect, I think of my studies at Xian International Studies University as informative schooling, but I think of my complete China experience as unsurpassable education.  I have the brilliant opportunity to use what I learn in the classroom in my everyday life.  Time has flown.  There’s just one month left of school term with my classmates from all over the world.  Wherever I go, whatever I do, I know my experience in China has extended my education, enriched my memories and fulfilled my life.  China, amazing China, you have challenged and helped me grow:  you have changed me forever.

 

Author Details:

Name:  Helen Mason

Nationality:  Australian

University:  Xi’an International Studies University

Major:   non-degree Chinese program

CUCAS Says: This essay tells about explicit experience on how to get the resident permit, how to obtain a driving license and the like, which are very basic but important at the same time. Besides, experience of getting a driving license is introduced only in this essay among other essays that we have received, which makes it more special and unique. Descriptions of this essay are very smooth and elegant, especially regarding the scenery of Xi’an city. We are happy to see a foreign student could study and live safely in China, happier that the experience of China could change some aspects of one individual.

Additionally, if any future student are confused about renting an apartment in China, CUCAS could offer some relevant information. More conveniently, we can provide one-stop service containing both for your course and accommodation if applying through CUCAS.

Find more info on our website, and feel free to contact us if you have further questions: service@cucas.cn