Will I need to drive my own vehicle to conduct my everyday life (work/school/shopping) at my destination

No. The public transport is fairly convenient. However, you may get a car if you prefer. If you will be in Harbin for a long Taxis are often preferred by foreigners.
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How can I legally drive a vehicle in this city?

To get a license, you must live in Harbin for one year. 
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What side of the road do people drive on?

People drive on the right side of the road.
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Describe typical public transportation an expat might use to get around the city.

The buses are frequent and there are many routes. This is the only form of public transport besides  taxis, which are everywhere and inexpensive
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Could an expat also use public transportation to get out of the city—to surrounding towns, recreation areas or suburbs? If so, list options.

It is fairly easy to get around using public transportation. Check out Jihua Ski resort on the outskirts of Harbin or Snow carvings.
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In regards to transportation, are there any safety issues I should be aware of?

Wear a seat belt, even though no one else does. In addition, be extremely careful crossing the road- especially at zebra crossings. Cars do not give way to pedestrians!
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Where do I buy tickets/tokens/etc. for the major public transportation?

You can pay with cash or there is a computerized IC card ticket system. You can buy an IC card at the terminal stations of all bus routes and at other locations near prominent bus stops. Use your card, and your ride is a bit cheaper.
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