My previous blog outlined some of the environmental challenges that China faces, the aspects in which it is becoming more sustainable and what you can do during your internship to make a difference. In this blog, I am turning to the companies that InternChina work with and what they are doing to help the environment and community in and around Chengdu. I spoke to three companies that offer internships with InternChina in Chengdu: Chengdu Urban Rivers Association, Swild and Dragon Yunhe. They outlined their aims, how environmental protection has improved in China in recent years, challenges to their work and what the future holds for them.
Chengdu Urban Rivers Association (CURA) 成都城市河流研究会
CURA is an NGO focussed on river conservation and sustainable development, specifically tackling the problem of water pollution in and around Chengdu. Since their establishment in 2003, their main focus has been on long-term projects in two villages, Anlong Village in Pidu District and Lingshi Village in Tangyuan Town which are located near streams and rivers that are the main source of drinking water for Chengdu.
CURA aims to build safe areas near rivers to reduce water pollution and develop facilities to help villagers reduce pollution in their daily life, including building toilets and pipes which separate waste. They organise workshops and training for villagers about eco-agriculture and the harms of using pesticides and chemical fertilisers, as well as garbage classification and how to discard of toxic waste. They also hold activities in urban areas to highlight the problems of water pollution, the importance of eco-products and living in a sustainable way.
An education session hosted by CURA with the local community (credit: CURA)
Both the villages that CURA work with have developed a better understanding of eco-agriculture and one villager who adopted eco-agricultural methods now has over 85 customers that he delivers to twice a week. Villagers have also started to organise activities to clean garbage from nearby rivers and streams. CURA’s work has had knock-on effects: people from Yongan Village have seen the work of the neighbouring Lingshi Village and have set up a team of 30 people to help clean their local stream. Furthermore, after learning from CURA about a government policy which exchanges the deposit of toxic waste for a small financial return, villagers have started to collect and separate toxic waste from other rubbish. This has benefitted local wildlife, soil quality and water sources, as well as resulting in a more beautiful natural environment due to the reduction of visible garbage.
One of the main challenges for CURA is sourcing funding. As CURA is a NGO, it is unable to raise money itself and, therefore, has to rely on donations and partnerships with organisations. Foundations are the main source of funding for many NGOs but CURA has found that it is often difficult to align the goals of CURA with foundations’ own missions. While some foundations are keen to focus on cleaning urban rivers, there are fewer who are willing to concentrate on the sources of drinking water. Due to CURA’s nature as a small organisation, it lacks a strong mandate to force action on a wider scale and struggles to get its agenda adopted by larger organisations and the government.
A litter-picking activity with a school (credit: CURA)Future
CURA want to use the knowledge gained from their experience in Anlong and Lingshi villages to make proposals more quickly for other villages in the future. They aim to develop a model which can be extended throughout Sichuan and sell it to organisations to implement. The revenue will be used to fund further research and investment into the problem of water pollution and solutions, and improve their marketing strategy.
Mingming is hopeful about progress in terms of the environment in China as more NGOs and individuals are trying to push environmental laws and changes.
Swild uses photographs, videos, articles and documentaries as a means to educate about biodiversity within southwest China which they promote through their wide social media following on both Western and Chinese channels. Their aim is to show people the beauty of nature and by doing so encourage people to conserve and protect the environment. Their photography and documentaries show footage of a vast variety of animals, birds, plants and land types, as well as rare wild species and protected areas within Southwest China. They also cooperate with other conservation organisations within China to promote sustainability.
A leopard in the wild captured by a Swild photographer (credit: Swild)
Since Swild registered as a company in 2015, they have noticed more and more people paying attention to environmental issues within China, including those with no previous interest in, or knowledge of, the environment attending their events. There have been more events held in Chengdu to raise awareness about environmental conservation and protection, such as a recent talk from primatologist Dr Jane Goodall and a ‘zero-waste’ event organised by Roots and Shoots which included a clothes swap, documentary screening and information about reducing individual’s ecological footprint.
Shuting and Yu Dengli think that the most effective recent change in China has been the introduction of recycling classifications which was piloted in Shanghai and has spread across China, including to Chengdu. They believe that the use of government sanctions can make environmental protection more effective; this is gradually being rolled out for those who don’t recycle or recycle incorrectly.
Swild noted three main challenges to the environment that they experience while documenting wildlife: pollution, waste and a loss of natural habitats due to population and urban expansion. Shuting and Yu Dengli think that to make environmental conservation more effective in China, further education is needed in all sectors of society.
Swild are continuing to expand their resources that document the natural environments and wildlife in southwest China, including into more remote areas. At the beginning of 2020, they are launching two new documentaries, Kula Riwo Life and The Secret World of Wanglang.
Some of the resources Swild produces
Dragon Yunhe 登龍雲和
Dragon Yunhe is a social enterprise that promotes community and environmental sustainability through a business model approach. It focuses on the environment in remote areas, especially in conservation areas where ecosystems are fragile.
Their initial project in 2015 was establishing the Yunhe Centre located in Ganze Tibetan Autonomous Region. Since then, Dragon Yunhe has adopted a multifaceted approach to building an eco-tourist model in the village which involves: developing local industry; community training about eco-agricultural skills and techniques, food safety and local crafts; and establishing education programs about local culture, traditions and nature. It also runs community projects and outdoor expeditions for domestic and international partners, especially schools and universities.
The Yunhe Centre has provided a livelihood for many people who live nearby and has given the local community the resources to find a solution to the problems that rural areas face and to manage natural resources themselves. In addition, Dragon Yunhe has collaborated with specialists to develop cultural and environmental education programs which over 500 participants have taken part in.
Within China more generally, Xiaomei has seen improvements in the conservation of national parks as authorities are acknowledging and taking the responsibility to improve environmental protection within these areas.
Xiaomei believes that the current understanding of eco-tourism within China is one of the biggest challenges to increasing the scale of eco-tourism nationally. In China, eco-tourism is often understood as under-developed areas which lack services and so Dragon Yunhe is promoted in China as an educational tourism or responsible tourism company. She believes that, for the eco-tourism industry to develop, people need to understand the core principles behind eco-tourism. The difficulty of gaining sufficient funds for rural communities also inhibits the development of this type of project on a wider scale.
The Yunhe centre has been rented for 30 years with the hope that within this timeframe the centre will be 100% self-financed and self-run by local people. Many rural areas face, or will soon face, a situation where there is nobody to look after natural resources because of depopulation due to urban migration and overdevelopment. Dragon Yunhe believe that working with the local community to find a sustainable livelihood for them is the key to the protection of these rural environments.
Dragon Yunhe plan to develop a model for eco-tourism based on their experience at the Yunhe Centre. Their aim is to gather more resources so that they can link different stakeholders including the private sector and decision makers and encourage this model to be implemented by investors and the government on a larger-scale. They also plan to continue to educate about the importance of responsible tourism.
An intern at the Yunhe Centre (credit: Dragon Yunhe)
CURA, Swild and Dragon Yunhe are three of the many organisations in Chengdu taking positive steps to tackle environmental problems and support local communities. For many environmental organisations, continuing and expanding their work in the future relies on the availability of funding which is restricted by China’s NGO laws.
A huge thank you to Mingming from CURA, Shuting and Yu Dengli from Swild and Xiaomei from Dragon Yunhe for taking the time to talk to me and sharing their experiences.
The current lack of environmentally friendly practices is one of the aspects that I find most frustrating about living in China. A lot of Chinese life is about convenience from Alipay to takeaway but, unfortunately, this often comes at the cost of the environment. Living in China it is all too easy to abandon the more sustainable life habits that you are well versed to back at home because they are not the norm and often require more effort. Yet, one of the simplest ways to be environmentally friendly in China is to persevere and continue your habits from home. This blog outlines some of the challenges China still faces in regards to the environment, aspects in which it is improving and ways in which you can make a positive impact along with some useful vocabulary!
The demand for shopping is huge in China as is evident by the huge number of shopping streets and malls in China selling everything from discounted fakes to Louis Vuitton. China also has a massive online retail market of 855 million digital consumers with online sales expected to reach $1.5 trillion in value in 2019.
You won’t last very long in China without hearing about Alibaba’s Taobao 淘宝, an online retail market selling pretty much everything you could imagine, similar to a combination of eBay and Amazon. On Taobao, an order of multiple items will normally come in individual deliveries because the products are sourced from different sellers across China, producing huge amounts of unnecessary packaging.
Shopping and discount festivals have also become more popular among retailers in recent years, such as Singles’ Day (November 11), a day of discounts launched by Alibaba in 2009 which regularly surpasses the sales of Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined; Alibaba made 268.4 billion RMB (£29.4 billion) in 24 hours in 2019.
Environmental organisations claim that China’s online retail industry used 9.4 million tonnes of packaging materials in 2018 with estimates that over 250,000 tonnes were produced from Singles’ Day sales alone. As of 2017, Chinese people threw away around 26 million tons of clothing annually, with less than 1% of it being reused. While some retailers are taking some small steps to encourage recycling or use more recyclable materials, it seems that more substantial changes will rely on environmental regulation of the industry.
What you can do?
Try to reduce your consumption, especially of products with extensive packaging, and recycle items wherever possible. When buying presents for your family and friends back home, consider what kind of souvenirs you are buying and opt for locally produced and more ethical options. For example, Blue Sheep in Chengdu is a social enterprise which sells locally made craft items and the profits are used to help economically disadvantaged people, particularly those affected by disease, disability or poverty.
Charity shops are non-existent in China and second-hand clothes shops are extremely rare due to a cultural stigma attached to second-hand items in China. However, expats are constantly moving in and out of all major Chinese cities and so expat groups on WeChat and Facebook are a good place to find and pass on used clothes, furniture, utensils and food. You can also talk with interns who are moving out before you or staying longer than you to see if you can transfer items between yourselves.
The WeChat account Fei Ma Yi 飞蚂蚁 (WeChat ID: feimayi90) also accepts all clothes, shoes and bags regardless of the condition they are in. You just need to enter your details, choose an approximate weight of items that you are donating and arrange a time for them to collect it from your apartment. They will sort the items and send the better quality ones to charity and the rest to be recycled.
Takeaway in China is very cheap and there is a vast range of options on websites such as Eleme 饿了么 and Meituan 美团外卖 . The Chinese takeaway market has expanded massively in recent years and a survey from the National Business Daily shows that 23% of respondents order takeaway daily. However, the growth in takeout is amounting to huge environmental damage: it is estimated that China’s takeaway industry in 2017 produced 1.6 millions tons of packaging waste which included 1.2 million tons of plastic containers, 175,000 tons of disposable chopsticks, 164,000 tons of plastic bags and 44,000 tons of plastic spoons. Delivery containers and utensils are generally not recycled because people don’t wash them out adequately and the materials used in them take over 30 years to disintegrate if they are discarded in landfill sites.
What you can do?
While everyone has those days where they return from work and don’t want to leave the house again, try and avoid getting regular takeaways. The reality in China is that you’re never more than two minutes walk from a restaurant, so why not just go out to eat and save the waste of containers, plastic bags and single-use chopsticks? If you do decide to order takeaway, you can choose the option not to receive disposable tableware (不要餐具 bù yào cān jù) or write it in special requests.
There are huge environmental problems resulting from the management of China’s plastic waste: it is often sent to poorly managed landfills or discarded in the open which can lead to it entering the sea. As a result, a quarter of all plastic waste that is discarded in the open is done in China, causing it be the home of the world’s first, third and fourth most polluted rivers.
A new recycling system was launched in Shanghai in July 2019 which has now spread to major cities and is gradually being introduced throughout China. Bins in public areas have divisions between regular waste and recycling, with more categories for domestic waste. As recycling is fairly new, many locals are still unfamiliar with how to recycle but education campaigns have been launched and the government is introducing fines for individuals and businesses who don’t recycle.
 https://www.statista.com/statistics/277391/number-of-online-buyers-in-china/ (accessed 24/12/2019)
 https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/10/tech/singles-day-sales-alibaba/index.html (accessed 24/12/2019)
 https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3037168/waste-chinas-e-commerce-deliveries-could-quadruple-413-million 23/12 (accessed 23/12/2019)
 https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1000777/why-china-is-bursting-at-the-seams-with-discarded-clothes (accessed 30/12/2019)
 http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1165893.shtml (accessed 23/12/2019)
 https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/28/technology/china-food-delivery-trash.html (accessed 23/12/2019)
 https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/28/technology/china-food-delivery-trash.html (accessed 23/12/2019)What you can do?
Recycling systems vary throughout China so this advice is based on my experience of living in Chengdu. Bins for your apartment are normally located on the ground floor of your apartment block and are generally divided into regular waste, recyclable waste, food waste and hazardous waste. The best method is to create a system within your apartment for recycling so it is easier to take it down to the relevant bin. You should tie up bags of waste, especially food waste, so that if the rubbish does get mixed during collection, food will not contaminate the recycling and can be separated at a later stage. Try and also avoid using extensive single use plastic: where you can, avoid taking plastic bags and using single-use tableware; and invest in tote bags, tupperware, metal straws, metal chopsticks and reusable cups. You may experience confusion when you say that you don’t need a plastic bag/ straw etc or if you offer your own but be insistent and use the phrases below to help you.
Recycle – Huíshōu 回收
Recyclable waste – Kě huí shōu wù 可回收物
Food waste – Cān chú lèsè 餐厨垃圾
Harmful waste – Yǒu hài lè sè 有害垃圾
Plastic – Sù liào塑料
I don’t want a plastic bag – Wǒ bùyào dàizi我不要袋子
I don’t want a straw – Wǒ bùyào xīguǎn 我不要吸管
I don’t want chopsticks – Wǒ bùyào kuàizi 我不要筷子
China is notorious for its pollution, such as photos of Beijing’s famous sites hardly visible through the smog. However, the Chinese government has taken moves to reduce pollution which are leading to results – particle pollution fell by an average of 30% in the 62 Chinese cities investigated by the World Health Organization between 2013 and 2016 with Beijing no longer being included in the world’s 200 most polluted cities. The Chinese government has introduced ambitious targets to reduce pollution levels; reduced the use of steel and coal-fired electricity for production replacing them with cleaner alternatives; banned agricultural burning; and introduced regulation for higher quality diesel for vehicles. This action has largely been a result of public pressure and concern about the health effects of pollution, and has led to the government putting more of an emphasis on trying to balance its rapid economic development with environmental concerns.
 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/14/pollutionwatch-china-shows-how-political-will-can-take-on-air-pollution (accessed 26/12/2019)
Many cities have also reduced the number of cars in the city centre by placing restrictions on which days cars can enter the city based on what number their number plates ends in; however wealthy families have combatted this by buying multiples cars with different number plates. China is also leading the way in electric transportation and Shenzhen introduced an all-electric public transport system in 2018 to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
That’s not to say that pollution is no longer a problem in China; it still reaches above World Health Organization recommended levels in many Chinese cities, especially during winter, and has also worsened in some rural areas and towns.
What you can do?
Pollution levels in Qingdao, Zhuhai and Chengdu generally remain below the Air Quality Indicator (AQI) level of 150, which is classified as unhealthy, but stay aware of pollution levels by using AQI tracking apps, such as Air Matters, or WeChat mini programs, such as 空气质量指数查询. If the AQI does reach an unhealthy level, listen to local advice and take particular caution if you have health problems, such as asthma. Face masks are also widely available at convenience shops and department stores throughout China.
Where you can, avoid getting a taxi or Didi as one person – you can ride share using the 拼车 function on the Didi app. Cycling is a great way to get around in Chinese cities because share bikes can be found everywhere and dropped off anywhere. Cycling is not only the best option for the environment but is also often quicker than taking a Didi due to traffic jams, especially at rush hour. Share bikes are also extremely cheap and Hellobikes can be used through an Alipay account for around 12 RMB (£1.30) for a month with unlimited use.
Taking trains is the most environmentally friendly way to travel in China and it is a great way to see parts of China you would not usually visit! You can choose high speed trains (高铁 gāotiě) or regular trains which are mainly sleeper trains and can often take 1-2 days. Due to the huge distances in China, taking a plane is often the most convenient way to travel if you have limited time but the lack of budget airlines means that internal flights can be expensive.
As income levels have increased in China so has consumption of meat and seafood. If Chinese consumers’ demand for meat grows as predicted, then China will produce an additional gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the current amount produced by the aviation industry globally. China also has insufficient land for food production to keep up with the growing population and consumption and so fertilizer has been used to increase crop yields but this has caused extensive environmental damage, such as soil degradation, air pollution and water contamination.
Food waste is a serious issue in China, especially in restaurants, because in Chinese culture it is the norm to order excess food to show generosity and respect to your guests. Estimates suggest that 17-18 million tonnes of food were wasted in China in 2015, an amount which could feed 30 to 50 million people for a year. However, less of the animal is wasted compared to Western countries as nearly all parts are eaten, from gizzards to brains to chicken feet.
What you can do?
The easiest way to combat the problem of food waste in China is simply to order less and bring a Tupperware with you to takeaway leftovers when you’re eating at a restaurant.
Vegetarianism has not become a mainstream diet as it has in the West and less than 2% of China’s population is vegetarian (predominantly Buddhists). This means that vegetarianism and veganism are not always fully understood in China and you may sometimes find that a plate of vegetables comes with a meat garnish or that it is cooked using fish oil. However, most restaurants have vegetarian options and large Chinese cities have an increasing number of specialist vegetarian/ vegan restaurants as well as Western restaurants catering to differing dietary requirements. Buddhist temples often have a vegetarian restaurant or buffet attached. While being vegan is by no means impossible, it is slightly more tricky if you are wanting to take part in shared meals with Chinese friends or colleagues. The InternChina WeChat accounts list vegetarian restaurants in each of the cities we offer programmes.
I am vegetarian Wǒ shì sùshí zhě – 我是素食者
I don’t eat any meat and fish – Wǒ bù chī suǒyǒu de ròu hé yú 我不吃所有的肉和鱼
I don’t eat any dairy products – Wǒ bù chī niúnǎi zhìpǐn我不吃牛奶制品
I want to takeaway leftovers – Wǒ yào dǎbāo 我要打包
 https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/will-chinas-growing-appetite-for-meat-undermind-its-efforts-to-fight-climate-change-180969789/ (accessed 30/12/2019)
 https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201803/27/WS5ab9a0c4a3105cdcf65147d8.html (accessed 30/12/2019)
 https://www.economist.com/china/2019/10/17/the-planet-needs-china-to-curb-its-appetite-for-meat (accessed 30/12/2019)
While China certainly has not been struck by the Greta Thunberg and youth climate strike movement, and it doesn’t look to anytime soon, there are some gradual steps being taken to protect and conserve the environment. The rolling out of a recycling system last year was a massive step in the right direction but the impact will depend on how seriously it is implemented across China and on the accompanying education campaign. One of the main issues in China currently is a lack of education on how severe the global climate crisis is, rather than an unwillingness to conserve and recycle resources. So, during your stay in China, make sure you stay alert to how you can be environmentally friendly and talk to your colleagues/ friends/ homestay families about the environment and encourage them to change their habits!
An introduction to China
Keen to learn more about China before carrying out your internship? We have picked out some of the best social media accounts and websites for learning about China, its language, culture and travel destinations! We have also chosen a couple of city-specific accounts if you are struggling to choose which city to do an internship in or want to find out more about the destination you have picked.
Looking for fun and easy ways to learn Chinese – take a look at the accounts below!
The Instagram account han_characters makes Chinese characters easier to remember by creating drawings of them. Each post shows a single character as a picture and explains the different words that that character features in with example sentences. Not only does this make learning Chinese easier, especially if you have a picture memory, it also helps you to understand the meaning of single characters which helps in learning multi-character words. Your time on social media can be made productive by learning Chinese just scrolling through Instagram!
Check out their Instagram here
The Chairman’s Bao
The Chairman’s Bao has abridged news articles in Chinese which you can filter according to HSK level. The website and app have a built-in dictionary and keywords and grammar points are listed at the end of every article. You can read sample articles for free, but to access all their language resources you have to pay a monthly subscription fee. However, the blog section is free and offers good tips and advice for learning Chinese, as well as articles about Chinese culture and news.
Travel in China
Want some inspiration of where to travel to China? Follow these accounts to see some incredible photography of China’s gorgeous landscapes, historic sites and cityscapes.
This account collates photos from around China and provides a description of the location, including an explanation about the place’s history and geography.
Check out their Instagram here
Nathan Ackley is a photographer based in Shanghai and Taiwan and the majority of his photos document these two places. He captures the buzzing cosmopolitan life in Shanghai, as well as beautiful temples and traditional buildings.
Check out his Instagram here
The account provides awe-inspiring photographs of life in rural China with short extracts explaining their background. It is summarised by their bio: “you know the city, now get to know the country – see how China’s other half lives”.
Check out their Instagram here
News about China
Sixthtone offers news and investigatory stories about China which you may not find in the mainstream news. The stories are split into five sections, based on the Chinese language’s five tones: rising tones, half tones, deep tones, broad tones and vivid tones. Each offers a different perspective on news and life in contemporary China. Sixthtone’s articles, photography and videos cover a wide scope of issues including social trends, economic development and life in rural areas. The weekly summary of China’s Week in Photos provides an insight into the hugely varied events and developments going on in China.
Follow China Daily if you want to keep up-to-date with national news and understand a Chinese perspective on international news stories.
Scan the QR code below to follow their WeChat account
This Instagram account uses pictures to convey the cultural differences between China and the West which are based on the illustrator’s experience of being a Chinese person living in the West. They may help prepare you for some of the cultural differences you will experience in China and resonate with you if you have spent time in China before!
Check out their Instagram here
Chengdu Expat’s WeChat and Facebook account lists recent news and upcoming events in Chengdu. Look here for all the best business, cultural and nightlife events, as well as some discounts and deals. The Instagram account also features a variety of pictures showcasing life in Chengdu which will give you an idea of what you might see, do and eat while you’re here!
sheleads is an international network for professional females in Chengdu and offers a mentorship programme and listing of events which focus on female empowerment and feature women. In 2019, they organised a Female Week and launched a podcast.
Follow them on Wechat: sheleads
discoverzhuhai showcases the local sites of Zhuhai and the surrounding region.
Check out their Instagram here
This new account started by an InternChina intern shows the vast range of delicious food available in Zhuhai with their locations listed. With zhuhaieater’s help, you will never go hungry in Zhuhai again!
Check out their Instagram here
This account targeted at expats lists upcoming events in Qingdao and information about the city.
Check out their Instagram here or follow them on WeChat: redstarqd
The official tourist account for Qingdao offers snapshots of its scenery throughout the seasons.
Check out their Instagram here
Unfortunately Dalian is currently lacking any English language accounts but check out InternChina’s blog section about Dalian to learn more about previous interns’ experience here and maybe you will be inspired to start an account during your placement!
At the time of writing this blog, I have been in Chengdu for just five days. This is my third day as an intern in the InternChina office but I am already getting into the swing of life here. Having spent my year abroad as part of my degree studying at a university in Taiwan, I was eager to get a taste of living and working in mainland China. Chengdu appealed to me as it is a more manageable size and less international than the huge metropolises of Beijing and Shanghai, but still with lots to explore within the city and surrounding areas!
I chose to start my time in Chengdu staying in a homestay with a family and their seven-year-old son. While living in Taiwan and briefly travelling in China certainly broadened my understanding of certain aspects of Chinese culture and life, I had not developed an insight into Chinese family and home life. My family have been extremely hospitable and gone out of their way to help me get accustomed to life in Chengdu. Even in this short time, I have got an insight into their daily routine, met their family and colleagues, and tried a huge variety of delicious home-cooked meals. In Taiwan, I found that it was easy to learn what you liked on the menu and then stick with what you knew to avoid translating the menu every time. However staying with a family has led me to try new dishes, fruits and vegetables almost every meal, including foods that I would not usually have ordered myself, such as 美蛙鱼头火锅 (frog and fish head hotpot)!
Difference and Similarities to the UK
Whilst there are many similarities between family life in the UK and China, there are also some striking differences, most noticeably the pressure on young children to study. However, what particularly surprised me on my arrival, is that my family also have an 18-month-old son who is being raised by his grandparents almost 3000km away from Chengdu until he is old enough to attend kindergarten. While I had read about the phenomenon of parents living in urban areas sending their children back to their hometown to be raised by other family members, I had not grasped how common this was among Chinese families. Only seeing your parents once or twice during your first few years of life seems almost incomprehensible to me, and 3000km away from my hometown of London would mean crossing multiple countries ending up in Turkey, for example. However, the pressures of Chinese working life and the lack of affordable childcare options in urban areas, mean that this is a necessity for millions of Chinese parents who have to instead make do with video calling their child.
Communicating in Chengdu
Although I have been studying Mandarin for over four years, the language barrier with my family can still be a challenge. While I generally understand what is being said on a one-to-one basis, group conversations at mealtimes are definitely more difficult, especially with my host dad often switching into Sichuan dialect! However, I am definitely becoming more confident to say to the family when I don’t understand, and, with the help of Pleco (a Chinese dictionary app), I am learning lots of new words and phrases so, as is said in Chinese, 慢慢来 (it will come slowly)!
Last week, people all over China came together with their families to celebrate the annual Mid-Autumn festival. This is a festival celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar year and is often associated with a type of pastry known as a “moon cake”. Moon cakes, or 月饼, are extremely popular across China; they are given to relatives, friends, and colleagues during this festival and are seen as a luxurious gift. However, if you are unfamiliar with Chinese culture and traditions, this may be the first time you have heard of the delicacy. The cake is surrounded with deep history and folklore and is available with several different fillings cased in intricately designed pastry. Here is an introduction to the roots and relation of the dessert to mid-autumn festival, the most popular types of mooncake, and the modern development of mooncakes around the world.
History of Mooncakes
Mooncakes are an extremely traditional delicacy that have existed throughout many Chinese dynasties. One of the most commonly told stories about the history of mooncakes is the role they played in the Ming uprising against the Mongol rule during the Yuan dynasty. Ming revolutionaries used the intricate design of these cakes to their advantage. Cakes were decorated with a design which contained a secret message when pieced together indicating an uprising on the 15th day of the 8th month. Once these instructions were understood the cake could be eaten to destroy any evidence of the plan. Ever since this uprising, the mooncake has been heavily associated with the mid-autumn festival which occurs on the same day as this uprising.
Unlike soft, light sponge cakes often eaten as dessert in the West, these mooncakes are extremely dense and heavy. For this reason, the circular cakes are sliced up and eaten in small pieces, often accompanied by Chinese tea. The most traditional mooncakes are encased in a shiny, thick pastry (imagine chewy shortcrust pastry with a shiny finish), and the three most popular fillings are red bean, lotus seed paste, and mixed nuts.
Red bean paste and lotus seed paste are both very popular fillings of mooncakes. Red bean is a common ingredient in many Asian desserts. Be careful not to confuse this bean paste with chocolate; the similar colour of the two ingredients has been known to confuse tourists around China. Lotus seed paste is thought to be one of the most luxurious fillings for mooncakes and is popular in southern China, especially in Cantonese regions. Both pastes create a smooth, sweet, dense filling. As well as plain red bean and lotus seed paste, some cakes also contain a salted egg yolk in the centre. Cakes which contain egg yolk are thought to be the most lavish mooncakes around and are highly favoured in China.
Although this pastry is known as a “cake”, not all fillings are sweet. Another popular filling is mixed nuts, which sometimes also contains roasted pork. This type of filling is known as “5 kernel” mooncake because it contains a mix of five different nuts inside. This filling differs to the smooth texture and sweet taste of the red bean and lotus seed pastes.
Although mooncakes have been eaten in China for centuries, new flavours are constantly being created around the world today. From seafood to cream cheese, innovative new fillings are constantly being tested not just in China but in many other countries also. Some new fillings which have caught on include ice cream, jellied fruit, and green tea. A new pastry made from glutinous rice has also been used to make “snow skin” mooncakes which are sweet and chewy. The development of new flavours is popular in foreign countries where the traditional fillings are not commonly eaten, so mooncakes can be adapted to better suit the preferred flavours of that country.
Now that you have a basic knowledge of the most traditional and popular mooncakes found in China, go out and try some for yourself to properly understand the flavour and texture of this rich and historical cake.
When I first mentioned to my friends and family that I will go to China for my year abroad, their first reaction was: “China? Why China? What are you going to do there? Why not Australia or America like everyone else? Is China even safe?” I’m sure everyone in the same situation as me, went through the same experience. But the question is why is everyone’s reaction like this about China?
Shouldn’t it actually be the other way around? Considering how rapid Chinas economic growth is, it’s a land full of opportunities! After being here for five months I keep asking myself, “why don’t we have the things they have here in China? Life here is so convenient and a lot of big business ideas could be brought back to Germany.”Not to mention how attractive your CV will look with ‘Accomplished an Internship in China’ written on it. Behind these written words lays a wide range of professional skills achieved while working in China. Skills such as flexibility, strong mentality, adaptability, high stress tolerance etc. It’s definitely not easy coming to China to work – especially when you’re alone and coming from a Western country. This means that getting through the day can be difficult sometimes.However, this shows just how much self-improvement that I’ve gained since working in China, and I’ve kept a few things in mind when things haven’t worked out the way I want them to:
“Keep trying and don’t give up”
Even if things don’t work out the first time, you learn from what went wrong and you try again and succeed from the second, or even third time.
“Every day is a challenge that you will overcome and grow”
Especially when coming to China for the first time, as many things are different. However, slowly and surely you will figure out the system. Just simple things like learning how to use the metro/bus the taxi, or even ordering food for the first time. It seems hard at first but when you’ve done it, you will feel a sense of accomplishment and one day you may even be as good as the locals!
Coming to China is challenging but coming out of your comfort-zone really isn’t as hard as you think. You just need to take the first step, because after that there is only self-improvement and growth!
Besides all of this, I fell in love with Chengdu. It’s a really fun and exciting city to live in. With lovely food and endless options to spend your spare time, even after being here for five months I’m still not tired of seeing parts of the city where elements of traditional and modern China clash together.Even though Chengdu is one of the bigger cities, it doesn’t lack nature as the city tries to be a green city with numerous parks. Not to mention how affordable everything is – you could live like a King/Queen here and it’s still cheaper than in most western countries!
Ciao! My name is Ferdinando and I am one of the office interns here in Chengdu. I come from Torino, a lovely city just a short drive away from the Italian Alps. I have now been in Chengdu for almost a month, but it honestly feels like I have been here an entire lifetime! The atmosphere and energy of this laid-back metropolis have completely won me over, and I could definitely imagine myself living here one day.As the days have passed, I have found myself more and more at ease in this new environment. I’ve started asking myself a simple question: Why? Why is it so easy for me to dive into and settle in this very different and complex culture, while with so many others I have a more challenging time? After some pondering over many hot bowls of dandan noodles, I have realised that the reason for my rapid acclimatization was that Chinese culture is, in fact, not so distant from my own Italian culture after all.The obvious starting point of this comparison is food: both Italians and Chinese are passionate about their food and possess very complex and proud eating cultures. Due to its abundance of strong flavours and “exotic” ingredients (such as chicken feet and pig brains!), traditional Chinese cuisine can seem threatening to Western palates. However, after a few days of rumbling stomachs, foreigners will get to know and appreciate the incredible richness of this wonderful culinary tradition. I am a great fan of Chinese food myself, and I believe that, upon my departure, the thing I will miss the most of Chengdu will be its succulent chuanchuan houses and its authentic noodle corner-shops.Another main point of contact between our two cultures is the paramount importance we both give to family and tradition. While strolling by Chengdu’s People Park, it is possible to see old grandparents practising Taichi with their young nephews, just as my grandparents used to play football with a young me in Torino’s parks. In addition, in the numerous large family gatherings I have seen in Chengdu’s hotpot restaurants I see the reflection of my own “extended family” lunches, that could last anywhere between three to six hours. I am of the opinion that this strong sense of community and belonging, typical of both Italian and Chinese families, not only creates deeper family and friendship ties, but also enhances your sense of cultural awareness. Thus making it easier to “jump over” the cultural divide at hand.A third similarity I have observed between Italy and China, especially in regards to Chengdu, is their common relaxed, “dolce far niente” approach to life. I have surprisingly found that the concept of being on time is exceptionally similar both in Italy and China, so that my canonical five-minute lateness is not only accepted (unlike in England), but almost encouraged! Although Chengdu still is a bustling, work-oriented metropolis, somehow its citizens manage to maintain a hands-off approach to both their professional and personal lives. This makes this city the perfect spot to jumpstart an ambitious, yet stress-free career.
I believe many other cultural analogies can be found between Italy and China, but that is not the point of this post. The point is, in my opinion, more important to underline and point out the existence of such similarities – as comparison brings recognition, recognition brings acceptance, and acceptance brings friendship. In other words, the purpose of this post is to highlight that, no matter where you are from and where you go, as long as you seek similarities and avoid division, you will find it easier to “jump over” the cultural divide and feel at home anywhere around the world. Therefore, this is the main advice I can give to new interns coming to China: seek the familiar in the foreign and the foreign will look familiar.
Bonjour! I’m Valentine. I am one of the office interns here in Zhuhai and I come from France. For the last three months, I have lived in Zhuhai and I am in love with this beautiful place. One of the things that I enjoy the most in China is the lifestyle here; simplicity and generosity spring to mind.If you love food, China is the best place in the world. I spend most of my time eating and trying new types of food. I hope you will like spicy food, because it is everywhere here! But there are also options that are not spicy, yet equally as tasty, so don’t worry if your spice tolerance levels aren’t so high. The Chinese cuisine allows you to discover a variety of flavours and tastes and eating with chopsticks can be a lot of fun. You can’t get bored of the food here and you can also eat so cheaply. Most of the time for less than five euros. You are likely to come across some different types of food you aren’t used to, like insects and chicken feet. Personally, I enjoyed it!
In China, you will get to experience a “busy lifestyle”. You can find corner shops open all through the night. It is also possible to order food in the middle of the night and get it delivered. Whilst wondering around the city, you will find people on the streets doing sports or some shopping. It’s very cheap to take a taxi to explore the city, but it might be quite intimidating at first because it feels like going around on a race circuit! But the drivers do drive quite slowly, so you are very safe here.Choosing to come with InternChina in Zhuhai for an internship was the best way to be immersed in the Chinese culture. Even if interactions with Chinese people are intimidating, I encourage you to speak Chinese, even just to order food or speak to a taxi driver. It can be very useful to learn some basic phrases here, and Chinese people are kind and cheerful with Westerners. It’s always fun to speak Chinese with the incorrect pronunciation and hand gestures because after all, that is how we learn and become better.
The “expat life” is very enjoyable and even though people look at you as though you are an alien, it is still an incredible experience. In Zhuhai, the people are not used to seeing Western people, especially someone like me with blonde hair and blue eyes.Everything seems so beautiful in Zhuhai, and I spend a lot of my time analysing what is going on around me. When I think about it, maybe that is the reason why I still can’t remember how to get from my apartment to the office, because I am constantly in awe of what is going on around me. Zhuhai is supposedly a tiny city in Chinese terms, but it is a heavenly city with a lot going on.
Reflecting on my experience, it has been fascinating because it has taken me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to become more open-minded. It has taught me to enjoy each moment and I have met some extraordinary people. I believe that common stereotypes of China are totally wrong. It is a beautiful country which is welcoming of foreigners. This fascinating experience takes me out of my comfort zone and allows me to become more open-minded, to enjoy each moment abroad and to meet extraordinary people. Actually, stereotypes about China are totally wrong. China is a beautiful country, welcoming and cheerful with foreigners.If I could summarize this amazing opportunity, I would choose a famous French quotation, that I’m sure you will be able to understand; “Choisissez un travail que vous aimez et vous n’aurez pas à travailler un seul jour de votre vie”. In English, the translation sounds like this; “Choose a job that you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”. And it is true, because in just three months, I have learnt so much about myself and I think I have improved my work abilities and developed many skills. I have become better with my English also, thanks to spending my time working in a multi-cultural office with many nationalities, such as Chinese, Irish, English, Italian and Romanian.
I would recommend to any student who is looking for an internship experience to apply for InternChina, because this experience truly has been “Beyond Work Experience” for me. Always remember, three months is a short period of your life and you might only have this one opportunity to do something so amazing.