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Misadventures in Chinese, by Sinead Hegarty

While my love for China and the Chinese people grows most days, the language barrier is still one issue that refuses to let go. Every day brings new challenges and tests in communication. One such test occurred when ordering my favourite breakfast food – baozi or 包子 – a small steamed bun filled with meat or vegetables and typically dipped in a concoction of chili and vinegar. Delicious. Now, when you first start learning Chinese you soon realise the importance of choosing the correct quantifier for each word, for example it’s not one water it’s one bottle of water. In my excitement for baozi all this went out the window and instead of ordering a plate of baozi I ordered one tiny little bun with a side dish of one bemused waitress. Being too embarrassed to admit my mistake I explained how I had already eaten today, ate my tiny baozi and left. Never will I neglect my Chinese grammar again.

While I would love to say this is my only mistake in Chinese, unfortunately it is merely the beginning of a very long list. This list includes ordering pig intestine rather than mushroom, realising I was saying diarrhea instead of thank you, ordering 50 dumplings rather than 15 and buying a train ticket to the completely wrong city. The final mistake was only rectified when I started speaking to people in the queue and realised I was about to travel 700 miles north of where I wanted to go. However, despite my frustration with Mandarin the language has allowed me to make Chinese friends, experience the amazing variety of food that this country has to offer and see the most breathtaking landscape.

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My first month in China, by Lucille Van Niekerk

If you had asked me a year ago where I would find myself living and working I would most assuredly have said somewhere in South America. Yet, here I am in China. The question that begs answering is, why? I instinctively knew that it would be the antithesis of my own culture and upbringing. In this contrast and difference I have experienced a plethora of emotions. I have vacillated between extreme joy and frustration. Now, now before you go and diagnose me with a personality disorder let me explain further.

The things that have made me so happy are the following;

On arrival to Beijing I was met by the Recruitment Manager, Rob. He was the epitome of friendliness and truly made me feel welcome. It was later that I found out that he and a new teacher fondly known as KB, our Georgia peach had waited for me for 6 hours. Despite this extreme punishment for them and imposition both were lovely and had to be subjected to my verbal diarrhea for an hour. How they never landed in therapy after that is beyond my comprehension. These two individuals allayed any anxiety I might have had and made me feel that coming to Beijing was a good choice.

Meeting the other new foreign teachers just solidified my belief that my China experience would be good. They are truly a bunch of gifted, talented and intelligent people. I have read most of their dissertations which is a newly discovered passion of mine and they are truly a clever bunch. The older foreign teachers have gone above and beyond to facilitate an easy transition and to assist us with anything.

The school’s foreign affairs officers, Luke and Summer are the reason we function so easily in China. They have patiently and kindly assisted us with everything. I mean everything. You struggle to communicate with the plumber, telephone guy we call poor Luke or Summer. Despite this these two individuals still smile and are not yet on antidepressants.

The Chinese staff and teachers known as CT’s were very welcoming and kind. They truly made an extreme effort to make us feel welcome. My first centre meeting they arranged food for us and eagerly laid out the table. There was an abundance of fruit and health drinks and for a brief moment I thought they were hinting I need to diet. Fruit however, is a big deal in China and this was their way of making a big deal to welcome us.

All of the above bears mentioning as without it my story would have read differently. If I was surrounded by people I did not have an affinity for and not felt welcome no matter how many treasures China had I would have missed it because my vision would have been distorted. So, to the lot of you thank you.

I have discovered that Chinese people love salsa dancing. A common passion we share. Beijing has Salsa clubs and I attended a class at the International Art Plaza. I was the only foreigner in the class and it was so much fun.

Music is a great love of mine and Beijing has a treasure chest full of gems I am still discovering. KTV is a karaoke club and normally it would not be something I enjoy. Karaoke in China is just so much fun and different. I enjoyed it so much I lost my voice.

Getting lost in any foreign country I find is an adventure. China is no different. I had such a great experience whilst wandering in the street trying to find a restaurant. A Chinese guy noticed that I was discombobulated and decided to help me. The next thing I know a woman on a scooter tells me to hop on the back and proceeds to take me to the restaurant.

Another joy filled moment for me was whilst I was travelling on the subway. I had a 20 minute discussion with a Chinese lady each speaking our own language and gesticulating profusely. Pure joy! I think we solved the world’s issues in those 20 minutes and I reckon on some strange level we really understood each other.

My frustrations are based around the following;

The toilet issue – It has to be said. I now value, love and respect western toilets on a level I never thought I could or would. When I find one it is one of the greatest joys of my life. I can truly say with utter conviction that I will never truly get comfortable with squat toilets.

My ineptitude at learning Chinese – I feel I have regressed and feel mentally challenged as I point and nod all the time when communicating with Chinese people. I order my food by pointing and a noodle restaurant I frequent has now become so accustomed to my pointing that when I walk in they point. It’s not hard for them as I order the same thing every time.

Chinese traffic rules – China has a unique interpretation or set of traffic rules. When crossing a road at the pedestrian crossing be careful green means a scooter will still ride and cars too even if you are walking across the street.

Rush hour traffic on a subway – I have never experienced been jammed like a sardine before. I still can’t conceptualise how so many people filled one train compartment. I spent an hour with my face in a guy’s armpit due to been vertically challenged and squashed from all sides.

Beijing is truly a vibrant, beautiful city. It has cast some spell on me this surprises me the most. I find the mountains, temples and sites magical, alluring and just beautiful. I feel at home here already. I feel at home in a country where I cannot communicate effectively, have toilet and pollution issues and am afraid of rush hour on the subway. I have found with my travels that anywhere you go you will be faced with frustrations and issues but I warn you Beijing will seduce you with its unique charm.

Chris T for WP

Food in China by Chris Taylor

Before you come to China, it’s hard to know what kind of food to expect. The first thing you realize when you arrive is that it’s nothing like the Chinese food you get at home and that it’s much, much better! There are a vast number of Chinese dishes and types of cuisine to try and, lucky for us, most of them can be found in Beijing. Each province has its own specialty, its own cooking methods and ingredient preferences. Chinese people tend to divide the country into four areas of cuisine; North, South, East and West. Cooking from cities within each area is said to share similar characteristics but the food from different areas (North and South, for example) are quite different. In practice, it can be quite hard to pigeon hole Chinese food in this way but there are some general differences. For example, food from the South of China tends to be sweeter whereas food from the West (e.g. Sichuan) is often spicy. Some provinces and cities are more famous for their cuisine than others and this is especially the case when certain dishes have made it onto western menus. ‘Kung Pao’ chicken is a good example of such a dish. The Chinese version (Gong Bao Ji Ding 宫保鸡丁) is from Sichuan province and tends to be more strongly flavored, less sweet and less gloopy than the western counterpart. Other types of food have become famous as ‘symbols’ of Chinese food, such as hot pot. The best thing to do is be adventurous, try new restaurants in your area and go to ‘The Beijinger’ or ‘City weekend’ to find recommended restaurants that specialize in certain regional or ethnic cuisines. In the meantime, I’ve included some of my favorite dishes that I’ve never got tired of eating!

 

‘Dry spicy pot’ Malaxiangguo 麻辣香锅 (Sichuan province) This is a ‘must try’ dish for anyone who likes spicier food. You can pick the level of spiciness and also some different ‘flavors’ of your ‘pot’. I find this dish to have more of a ‘dry spice’ so don’t be alarmed by the huge number of chilies that come with it. You can entirely customize what goes into your dish as the menu is essentially one long ingredient list. It can be difficult to judge how much to order at first but, for two people, two kinds of meat and maybe 6 other things should be enough. If in doubt, you can ask the waitress if it’s enough or sometimes they’ll tell you it’s not enough. The menus always have pictures.

 

Dry Spicy Pot

‘Hand pulled noodles’ la mian 拉面 (Gansu province, Lanzhou city) These hand pulled noodles are increasingly popular all over China and originate from the Muslim Autonomous Region of Gansu. It can be interesting to watch the noodles being made and marvel at the effortlessness skill of the chefs as they turn a mound of dough into these elastic noodles. One way to tell the more ‘authentic’ restaurants is to look at the staff working there (for example, the waitresses often wear headscarves) and you can also usually find Halal certification on the walls.

la Mian

 

You Po Mian 油泼面 and Rou Jia Mo 肉夹馍 (Shaanxi province) These delicious noodles are from the home of the Terracotta Warriors (Shaanxi province). They are handmade, cooked quickly then tossed in an appetizing concoction of garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, chili oil, crunchy bean sprouts and some greens (usually Bok Choi). Stir the noodles thoroughly until they’re well covered. If you ever make it to Xi’an or Shaanxi you’ll find ‘Rou jia mo’ on almost every street, in every restaurant. The name essentially means ‘meat between bread’ and it’s is sometimes translated as a ‘Chinese hamburger’. However, it’s essentially a Chinese pulled pork sandwich with slow braised meat in between a plain flat bread.

You Po MianRou Jia Mo

 

Zha Jiang Mian 炸酱面 (Beijing) Zha Jiang Mian is a northern Chinese noodle dish with a sauce comprised of a thick, sweet, salty soy bean paste and minced meat. That may sound a bit strange but when it’s done well it tastes fantastic. The noodles are usually served with shredded cucumber to give the dish some ‘bite’. You can find this dish in many places but it’s worth seeking out somewhere with good reviews to make sure you’re tasting the real deal. Either that or make a local friend who knows how to make it!

Zha jian Mian

 

‘Big Plate Chicken’ Da pan ji 大盘鸡 (Xingjiang Province) A famous Xingjiang dish comprising of chicken pieces, potatoes, chilies, garlic and onions in a really fragrant, smoky sauce with star anise, cardamom and Sichuan pepper. Despite the pepper and chili it’s usually a mildly spicy dish. You might also find noodles buried beneath the mound of chicken and potatoes. This dish tends to come in different sizes to cater for large parties, however, if there is just one size assume that it’s quite large (enough for two or three). Da pan ji is a good example of ‘fusion food’ in that the star anise and black cardamom have strong links with Central Asia while other ingredients like black vinegar and broad bean paste are Chinese. The Silk Road did connect China to Central Asia via Xingjiang so it seems to make sense that the food from this region would take on characteristics of both regions.

Da pan Ji

This is just a small glimpse into the food that Beijing has to offer but I hope it’s sufficiently wet your appetite! Please feel free to let me know what you think of my recommendations when you get here.

Evan WP Blog

Health and Fitness in Beijing, by Evan Noonan

Hey, my name is Evan and I hail from Galway, Ireland. I have been living and working in Beijing for the past ten months, and have been thoroughly enjoying my experience here. Before making the move to the Big Smoke, I had my worries as everyone does, about how different life would be compared to back home. How could I ever get used to those throngs of people all the time, being the peaceful country lad I am? How would I ever manage to learn some Chinese, when I still couldn’t speak a lick of Irish after fourteen years of it in school? And worst of all where would I get my daily allowance of potatoes?! Continue reading

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Being in Beijing, by Helene Ramage

If you are thinking of getting out of your comfort zone, Beijing is it! This experience is challenging me in every possible way in becoming the person I was meant to be.

I’ve been in Beijing, China since February 2015. Up to now, it has been a rollercoaster ride – which makes for a fun and thrilling experience. Everything is different, the food the culture and the language. After a while you learn to love your new environment and you get some insight on how things work around here. Continue reading

Helen Williamson Blog

Running in Beijing, by Helen Williamson

I arrived in China in August 2014. I have always enjoyed running and wanted to continue this pursuit in China. Of course, air pollution is a very real problem but there are many apps that you can get on your smart phone to tell you how high the PM2.5 is. On the days when it is high, running with a mask is advisable. There are lots of different types of masks available and it might take trying a few different ones before you find a good one for running with. Continue reading

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Dirty Old Town, by Tom Collier

I should probably start this piece by admitting I’m a big fan of the Pogues and that one of their most famous songs is also one of my favorites: Dirty Old Town. It was written about a Northern English city called Salford, not far from where I was born and a place where I lived and worked for a few years earlier in my life. It paints a grim picture of Salford. A place of industry, canals, factories and docks and while this isn’t true of the greater part of modern Salford, where the factories are now apartment buildings and the canals pleasant walkways, it is an accurate portrayal of industrial era and post war Salford, filled with dirt, soot and smog. It is only when you take a longer look at the lyrics of the song and listen to the way it is performed that you realise that the song is actually a love letter to the city, with the writer (Ewan MacColl) conjuring powerful images and memories of his hometown, which would also go on to be the hometown of the Pogues.

It’s with this song in mind that I write about Beijing. Continue reading