I thought I would highlight some of the culturally differences that I have noticed and learned about thus far since coming to China almost three weeks ago (I think…sort of lost track of time).
The food is different in different parts of China (I am sure), so I am focusing on the foods that I have eaten or have heard others have here in Sichuan Province. Rice is the staple food in China (bread is the staple in America if you weren’t sure).
Rice is served at almost every meal. For breakfast one can have a sort of rice porridge, which consists of rice and a thick soupy liquid. It’s okay. It doesn’t have much flavor, so one usually adds a thick, spicy, red paste to it to make it taste better. For lunch and dinner rice is typically served in a bowl and one adds the other dishes to the bowl. Typically someone may only go through one or two bowls of rice. The majority of the calories come from the other dishes at the table. It is usually set up “family style,” in which there are several bowls of food (veggies and meats) in the middle and you just pick out what you like (a little at a time), add it to your rice and eat both or just the meat/veggie item. Am I making any sense? Dumplings though are the exception to this rule. You can just eat one bowl of dumplings and nothing else.
Bread is rarely served here. I have had some toast for breakfast (I think twice) and that’s okay. The bread that typically is served here is not really good. Let’s just say that bread is not China’s specialty—they are much better at other dishes. Dairy is also not apart of the Chinese diet. This is mainly because most Chinese (and Asians for that matter) have problems with lactose. I do drink warm milk in the morning, but I noticed one day that it said low-lactose. There is ice cream here and it is rather tasty. I also enjoyed a green bean popsicle. It was surprisingly good, but with a strange aftertaste. Beans are often used in China to flavor things. I had a really good breakfast item (typically served at the Lunar New Year celebration) called tang yuan (tang meaning soup). It is served in hot water and it is a bunch of little dough balls. When my host mom first gave it to me I expected to bite into something like matzo ball soup (that’s what it looked like). But oh was I wrong. It was a delicious ball of goodness. Apparently it can be filled with various things (almost always sweet), but my teacher thinks my host mom filled it with green bean paste and sugar (thus the green bean side story from the popsicle story). Anyways it was really good and I get excited whenever she makes it. One of my favorite dishes by far. Oh and I forgot to say that yogurt is found here, but in a liquid style, and cheese is quite rare. I’ve yet to see cheese (although another PST claims to have seen something that resembled cheese in the market). I know, 2 years without cheese… I must be crazy.
The reason most Chinese are really skinny? Most of their calories consist of rice, fruit, and vegetables. They do have meat, but it is no where near the quantity of meat consumed in the states.
Interesting food that I have eaten:
• Chicken’s feet (I can now say that I have been clawed in the face by the food I was eating. True story. It was mostly skin. There was very little meat. Some Chinese LOVE chicken feet, and others not so much. It is considered a delicacy)
• pig’s feet (chewy skin and fat basically)
• Rabbit’s head (have yet to enjoy this delicacy, but have seen pictures. It looks exactly like a rabbit’s head without the skin)
• Bamboo (rubbery and tasteless)
• Bitter melon (we might have this in the States. It is super bitter, but apparently high in vitamins…so I chocked it down with something tasty)
• Cow’s stomach (not too bad. Kind of spiky and rubbery)
• The neck of some animal (hard and chewy)
• Strange slimy thin fish in which I had to spit out the head
• Fish in general all have the tiny bones in it that you must be careful to spit out
• Chicken often has the bone still in it, too
• Lots of tofu—some good, some not to my taste (but plenty of other people thoroughly enjoy)
That’s all I have so far, but I will be sure to add to the list as it is sure to grow. I also want to mention that in terms of spitting out bones and other things…you just leave them on the table. It was a bit difficult to get used to at first, but now I easily leave my food particles on the table.
Fruits and vegetables must be carefully washed in soap and then either boiled or peeled. The water in China is not clean and is not okay to drink or even put in your mouth. I don’t even use the tap water to brush my teeth. Consuming the water could result in either Giardia or other fun parasites to eat away at your insides. You can probably figure out the symptoms of parasites on your own without me going into detail.
The Chinese are not into drinking that much, but at banquets and during business transactions the Chinese can drink a lot. There are three main types of alcohol here in China: beer, wine, and baijiu. The beer in China comes in a larger bottle than that in the States and the wine is about the same. The feared baijiu is the Chinese equivalent to vodka, but at 60-80% alcohol content can get you drunk much faster.
Women do not often drink, and if they do it is very little. Also if you turn down a drink once, you should turn it down every time thereafter or you will be insulting the person from whom you first refused a drink.
That’s all I will mention about alcohol.
I know this seems like a weird thing to mention, but it is easily noticed. What do I mean by that? First, all children under one year old have slits down the middle of their pants so that their little butts are showing off to the world. Two, these children are held over trash cans, public drains, bushes, grass, etc.), the parents do a particular whistle and the babies know to go. Children in China are often potty trained by the end of year one. I have since gotten used to seeing babies held on the sidewalk while they poop. It seems to be effective though and cheaper than diapers. Moms and dads in the States…tired of changing diapers?
Most of the toilets in China are squat toilets. I will try to put up a picture. It pretty much just consists of a whole in the tile or the ground. Basically you just squat and go. At first I found this concept very difficult, but now I think it is more sanitary than western toilets. Western toilets you sit where other people have sat. With the squat, though you are closer to the action, you aren’t actually touching anything. Just a thought. Not saying we should switch, though. Toilet paper seems to be BYOTP. Bring your own toilet paper because I have never seen toilet paper in a public restroom. Also soap seems to be a rare occurrence in public restrooms. Don’t know. I try to carry both with me.
You will never see a Chinese person sit on the ground. For a Chinese person they find it completely appalling that Americans sit on the ground. The ground is dirty, so why would you sit on it? I often see people squat down near the ground, but never will their backsides touch. Other items of cleanliness is that spitting is very okay here in China. People are always spitting on the ground. I haven’t gotten used to this one yet. Oh also it is not okay to walk around the house without shoes on. The floor is not clean, so we shouldn’t put our feet on the floor. That is why in China you take your outside shoes off at the door and put on slippers. The slippers keep your feet and the floor cleaner.
First of all, only elder people participate in Tai-Chi. They probably think it is very strange to see young and healthy Americans doing tai-chi which is meant for the older people. But every morning I see pockets of older Chinese doing tai-chi together or walking. The younger men play basketball or soccer. The majority of exercisers, though, appear to be the elderly. Guys do go to the gym and use weights. Women do not use weights. Women that go to the gym do yoga or aerobics. I do not see many people running, even on the track. Oh and dancing is also a common form of exercise.
That’s all the culturally information I am going to give right now, so it’s not overwhelming…and I’m tired. But before I go, I will answer some pressing questions people have:
1. I do not eat fortune cookies, nor have I ever seen a fortune cookie in China
2. Randomly on Thursday night at 10pm, fireworks went off in the community I live in. I still do not know why, except that there wasn’t a holiday. So it seems fireworks are readily available and not odd to use.
And that is all for the questions. If you have questions about China, comment on the blog or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will put the answers on the blog.
I hope you enjoyed the post and learned a little more about Chinese culture and people. I didn’t know anything about China before coming here, so this experience is truly wonderful and once-in-a-lifetime. The Chinese people are wonderful people, and I hope I can shorten the gap of culturally knowledge between China and the US (or at least for those that read the blog and the people I meet here).