The first thing that struck me about Qiqihar was the clear skies and lack of air pollution. It's on the Manchurian Plain and can be dusty because of poor land use practices in the past. People sometimes wear face masks against the dust. You see men sitting on motorbikes on street corners. They used to work in weapon and heavy machinery factories, which have closed down.
My most amazing experience has been the warm hospitality of the people. Strangers say hello every day. The teachers and students are helpful and good to work with and there are few behaviour problems in class.
My biggest challenges have been the lack of foreigners and getting equipped for the winter. The nearest language school is an hour away by train. The weather is getting colder and the heating is now on at home and school. People are wearing padded or leather jackets/coats and boots. A necessity is thick padded longjohns for under jeans.
Qiqihar is famous for the rare red-crowned crane, a bird which breeds on nearby lakes. The ice skating and ice festival will be a wonderful experience.
- Clare Thorn teacher at Qiqihar