GENERAL CURIOSITIES OF A COUNTRY – CHINA #1

China is a country with a long and rich history and people take pride in their culture. It is also a country of great controversy, political challenges, not to mention environmental ones, and absolutely filled with a population that practice some habits that might seem questionable to the most seasoned of travellers out there. But, not to worry, I am here to guide you through this fascinating, invigorating, incredibly beautiful, diverse and exciting country without getting nun-chucked in the face. Just take note of the following and let the burping, slurping and line-cutting commence!


TEA –

In China, tea is serious business. None of this teabag-in-luke-warm-water-drowned-in-milk-and-loaded-with-sugar nonsense. Legend goes that in 2737 BC, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung was sitting underneath a tree, enjoying a cup of hot water. The wind blew some leaves into the water after which the emperor, who coincidentally was also a renowned herbalist, decided to drink it anyway. The tree in question was the Camellia Sinesis. One thing led to another – tea was created. Tea containers have been found in tombs dating back to the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) but it wasn’t until the Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD), that tea really became a staple in the Chinese culture.

Modern day tea drinking practices are still heavily influenced by ancient ones. The tea is passed around the room for thorough inspection as if a fine wine and loose leaves are scooped from the tea canister. Although tea utensils are all prepared in the same way by pouring hot water over them to warm them, different kinds of tea are made at different temperatures, with different quantities of water depending on the size of the teapot. Don’t be surprised if the teapot of choice is no bigger than a mug back home but instead of one, serves 6. There will be corresponding tea cups the size of a £2 coin and effectively contain one sip of perfectly brewed tea. The tea cups will be constantly refilled and the tea refreshed every so often, interchanging types of tea and methods in which to brew them. Just like with cheese the system is usually one from a lighter, subtle tasting tea, to a darker more defined one.

ENGLISH –

Although English is taught in most schools, when it comes to actually putting it to practice, the Chinese are still rather shy. And it is no wonder. As someone who has studied Chinese, I can tell you that their use of language is one so completely different to ours that it really does make for quite the challenge. Some Chinese are rather bold and approach you at any chance they get. They are very eager to put their hard work in practice but be sure to speak slowly and to be careful not to embarrass a Chinese or make them “lose face”.

Can’t seem to figure out what they are talking you about, or they don’t understand something you’re saying? Simply ask them to write it down as it appears the Chinese are much more confident in writing as they have actually had to practice this in school.

TRAVEL –

Although places like Beijing and Shanghai are a really great way of easing into the Chinese culture, they are not perse an accurate reflection of what “the rest” of China is like. China is almost as big as all of Europe combined and is at least as diverse. Each region has its own dialect (which, frankly, is really rather confusing when speaking Mandarin), kitchen, customs and traditions and it would be a shame if you missed out on the beauty this enormous country has to offer. Moreover, when travelling outside of the “beaten path” places, you get a sense of travelling back through time, to the China of days gone past. Some of my favourites are the stunning Jiuzhaigou national park, Fenghuang Ancient Village, Wuzhen Watertown, the preserved city of Pingyao, the gorgeous Lijiang (although Lijiang and Pingyao are really rather touristy) and finally, the impressive Tiger Leaping Gorge.

GUARD GEESE –

In places like China’s Xinjiang province, it is not unusual to see this, usually unusual sight. According to Chinese authorities, strong vision, aggressiveness and loudness are just some of the qualities that apparently make Geese excellent guard ‘dogs’ (not to mention the smell alone is likely to put you off).

IS THERE A SHORTAGE OF GUARD DOGS BECAUSE THEY HAVE ALL BEEN EATEN? –

Although dog is a rather unusual ingredient, that puts the average person off just by the fact that they could not imagine their own little Fifi served on a plate, the Chinese have been known to enjoy the occasional Buddy, Brutus or Bailey. Traditionally, dog was eaten in winter time as the Chinese believe the meat has warming properties and raises the bodies temperature.

While eating dog meat is a taboo in, well, pretty much the rest of the world, it was, at times, not uncommonly consumed in parts of Europe, Africa and America. Believe it or not (and find it awful or not), but yours truly has indulged in eating a piece of Max, Hummer or Ginger before, and I can tell you, it tastes no different to chicken. Moreover, I am of the firm belief that if you eat meat, you can’t (or at least, should not) differentiate between one animal and the other. Yes, I have a pet dog, and no, I do not encourage the consumption of pets or any animal at that, but it would be completely and utterly hypocritical of me not to want to eat one animal simply because it might be ’cuter’ than another. Animals are animals and that’s that.

However, according to the CNN, the rate of dog consumption has been rapidly declining and there has been talk of banning the slaughter and consumption of dogs (and cats) altogether. It turns out most Chinese people prefer to keep their dogs as pets and are happy to substitute with chicken.

CUISINE –

Although sometimes a little questionable, I have almost always enjoyed my meals in China. Know what to order and you will feast like a king, fail to do so and you might end up regretting every life choice you have led you to this point. While dishes like dog, cat and silkworms are rarely found on the menu, it would be wise to leave with a little Chinese food knowledge on hand and some names of dishes to ask for. Some of my personal favourites are Red Braised Aubergine – Hong Shao Qie Zi (红烧茄子) Kung Pao Chicken – Kung Bao Ji Ding(狂跑鸡丁), of course Rice – Mi Fan(米饭)Street Vendor Noodles (with braised pork, chili oil, black bean and lots of garlic) – Dan Dan Mian (担担面),Similar to Dan Dan Mian – Zha Jiang Main ( 炸酱面 ) and finally, Boiled Dumplings – Shui Jiao(水饺).

PHOTOS-

As a Dutch, and therefore freakishly tall, Western (so-white-I-am-effectively see-through) girl, travelling through China can sometimes feel as if you’re a celebrity. Families, grown men and flocks of shy, somewhat terrified looking boys and girls will approach you and ask to practice their English and take pictures with you.

When asking a Chinese why they are so keen to take a picture with us WaiRen (外人) – foreigners (literally translates to ALIEN), the answer I got, and I quote, was “If you have never seen one, when you see a monkey, you take a picture to show your friends”. This really says it all. But not to worry, it really is harmless and although sometimes a little annoying, it’s usually good fun.


There is absolutely no doubt about it, travelling through China will take you for a frustrating, confusing but amazingly fascinating ride. All you can do is keep the above in mind, try not to lose your face (or more importantly, not make someone else lose theirs), strap on a cultural seatbelt if you will and try not look like a bull in a China shop. So go ahead and embrace the weird, I promise, it’s all just lovely.

 

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