I'm getting more comfortable in and around HIT, but not so much Harbin itself because, at something approaching 10 million people, I think, that seems all but impossible. Yesterday, Saturday, July 21, we stood in line in the bowel's of the university stadium in order to get swim passes. This was the only day of the summer term that they could be had, so every student who wanted one, and every faculty and guest, everyone who wanted one, had to stand in line with their physical form (as in having gotten a physical, which consisted of a nurse or some such medical practicioner looking at the whites of our eyes for about two or three seconds, and then stamping the form. That part was a piece of cake, but getting the cards took forever, and we still don't have them.
The process is simple: stand in line, pay the fee, get the picture taken, and use the receipt for swimming until the card comes in the mail. I don't know exactly where the card will come, since I have no mail access, but it will come. That's all in theory. In practice, everyone who is no one, which includes foreign faculty such as ourselves, stands in line and waits while it slowly snakes its way forward. There are two women handling the process. One takes the money and writes the receipt, checking that the physical has been completed and that we are who we purport ourselvs to be, which is done by checking our passports. Next, we wait our turn to have our picture taken for the card, which is done with a webcam. This is done by the second woman. After that, we move to another computer and the second woman puts some information into the computer. We are then given our receipt andwe leave, and the next person gets theirs.
Except, during this time, a good many people of status work their way to the front and get preferential treatment. When we first arrived, a fairly elderly man was behind me. A woman with a Gucci knock-off hand bag (given away by the Cuuci logo) brought theelderly man to the front and he was soon in and out. I saw that she was holding several physical forms, indicating she was taking care of this for people who didn't have the time or desire to do it for themselves. Maybe she was being kind to this older man, getting him out of his wait. If this were to have happened just once, that would have been fine, but it seemed to happen every few minutes as someone worked their way by the line, into the office and out within a few minutes.
As our luck would have it, the office closed between 11:30 and 1:30, and we had plans after lunch. We got there at 10:00, which I think is when it opened, but by 11:20 we progressed just far enough through the queue to get inside the office. At that point, I had no desire to leave and come back, and fortunately, the two women let us all get processed, though we didn't all get processed. In the end, we had to leave a picture (we had several taken the first day here) and our receipt which would be returned to us so we could go swimming. As the seven of us foreign teachers were waiting to be processed, students kept coming in teh door, and the woman closest to the door would yell at them to go away and come back at 1:30. It took several iterations to get most of them to leave. The next strategy was to lock the door, and that's when the pounding started. When the pounding wouldn't stop, and the door was finally opened, those who wanted entry were told in no uncertain terms to go away.
In the midst of all of this was a woman who was waiting to get a pass for heself and her toddler, a boy about 18 months, maybe a little older. She didn't have the right picture ID for her boy, so she was on the phone trying to get things worked out. She finally left, no doubt having to come back later in the afternoon with the right sort of a picture identification for the toddler, or she would have to resign herself to no swimming for the boy and come back to get her own pass. She handled it pretty well as far as I could see. Maybe this is how it is when living in a town the size of Harbin in a nation the size and population of China. There is lots of standing in lines, and other waiting, and that is how, it seems, people are made compliant. There isn't so much out-and-out repression that one sees on the street, but there is just delay after interminible delay, to the point where people stop trying. And the situation we faced in getting our swim passes is just one of the daily instances of delay that lead people to accept the larger, more significant instances of repression and rejection through delay.