It seemed that two weeks had passed since I left my home; since I said goodbye to my loved ones. Yet it was just three days and, finally, I did it to Huaihua 怀化. Yes, finally. Do you remember the long flying trip; the first night in Changsha? Little by little, tiredness and jet lag were taking control of me. I was exhausted but I didn’t want to lose anything. Even that, I took a nap at the three hours train. For me, it felt like a blink of an eye. I could hear: “Wake up, we arrived”. I knew the message was for me because I was the only foreigner in the whole train, the only English speaker over there.
High-speed train ticket
Price: 152.5 ¥
Time: about 3 hours
The feeling of being observed was constant. Honestly, I didn’t like it. I could understand them though. Most of them had never seen a foreigner in their lives. Well, maybe yes: in a movie.
On the road
We took a taxi from Huaihua Railway South Station, which was on one side of the city, to the Huaihua University Campus where international students like me, would study, on the other side.
On the way: high-rise buildings on construction which made me realize the speed that China keeps developing; cars passing us and changing their directions without using at any moment flashing car lights, just using the horn of their vehicles. The noise was loud and constant. Lots and lots of motorbikes were also on the road, using the same “noise system” and no helmets. I even saw, on the first-line, an accident. Fortunately, it was just a little crash. As a consequence, I was shocked and a little bit insecure when I realized the taxi driver’s way of driving: quite fast, no seat belt fastened and… watching a movie. Can you believe it? I couldn’t at that moment. Later on, I would see it as something usual or even normal.
Traffic jam in front of my room
Changsha vs Huaihua
On our way, I could also appreciate some differences between Changsha 长沙 (the capital of Hunan province), and Huaihua 怀化, a prefecture-level city of four million and a half citizens, more or less. Changsha was more crowded, it has about seven million and a half citizens.
The roads were similar: long, wide and big, but, of course, with more lanes in Changsha. Huaihua doesn’t have an airport, Changsha it does. Huaihua didn’t have metro back in those days, I don’t know about nowadays. Changsha had and has a metro.
The pollution level is less in Huaihua: the sky was less grey and, even though it was also polluted, it was cloudless. I felt the Sun, though, still far away.
Huaihua University, 怀化学院, had two Campuses. The main one was more centered, while the one where I was studying was on the outside of the city. Both were huge. In the Campus were all facilities: dorm rooms, libraries, gymnasium, athletics track, canteen, etc. International students like me lived in a new dorm room apartment. It would take me months to remember the address: Huaihua Xueyuan Dongqu 怀化学院东区. That wasn’t the hardest part though.
Huaihua University Views
My dorm room
During three months I was alone in a two people room. Then I started to share it with a new international student from Nepal due to I was the only person from Spain and she was the only girl from her country. When you have to spend one year in a place, you need to make your house your home. Your room must be cozy so I covered the walls with pictures and a calendar and I bought new bedsheets and a pillow. It was just the beginning.
It was a big room with new furniture. Everything was new: bed, mattress, desktop, wardrobe, washing machine… Honestly, it was a nice dorm room. Where was the problem then? Definitely, the problem was the bathroom. I am used to a seat toilet. Chinese people use squash toilets, another case of cultural shock. But again, that wasn’t the hardest part. The hardest was that the shower tray was the same squash toilet. Yep, that’s how it was…
Things to do at arrival
As a foreigner who holds a student visa, you have 30 days to register in the police station the place where you will live. Therefore, you get a resident permit, stamped in your passport apart from your Visa. In the resident permit, it says when you will have to leave the country.
In my case, the university helped me to get a SIM Card in order to be able to communicate with family and friends; it’s not enough but it is necessary. You just have to go to a Chinese telephone shop and buy one, always showing your passport.
There is Internet censorship in China, which affects most of the apps I normally use in my country: Whatsapp, Google, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, etc. In another article, I will talk about must-have apps in China.
Even I was a student; I had to open a new bank account. I opened it in ICBC due to the same bank card had two different bank accounts: one for inside the university and another one outside the university. In the same university canteen, you could fill up the card. That is, in the university’s canteen you pay with your bank card. The same was in order to pay the light and water bills.
Let’s bring up, again, the issue of being stared. I spent almost a week waiting for the other international students to arrive, as I decided to go earlier in order to be able to start adapting to everything. So, the point was that every time I decided to put a step out of my room, I was feeling like a superstar. I am not kidding. People were coming to me so excited; they wanted to look at me, to touch me, to talk to me, to ask me things that I couldn’t understand… And yeah, I won’t forget about the photography part. It was crazy, for real. Every day I could take photos with more than 50 people. I had a mix of feelings: confused, excited, tired, disoriented, etc.
I love this part of my adventure: caring people. Luckily for me, I met lots of caring people and I would dare to say that most of the Chinese people are very willing to help even the language barrier. You would incredibly be shocked about how many people had helped me during those days and I won’t forget about any of them. For me, it is nice to remember about it because, at that moment, I couldn’t even pronounce a word in Chinese. Therefore it means that I couldn’t understand or even speak to no one. No English in Huaihua. No, zero. Chinese is the language. It took me a few days to realize it but, it took me such a long time to be able to simply communicate with someone.