Comparisons, Travel

A Tale of Three Cities

Type ‘China’ into any search engine and a bewildering mishmash of skyscrapers, shopping centres and super-sized monuments flood the screen. From photos, at a casual glance, one city can look quite similar to another. But in a country that spans 9,600,000KM² and what should be 5 different time zones, there’s a wider variety of cultural differences than first meets the eye. So what sort of local culture can you expect to encounter doing an internship in Qingdao, Chengdu or Zhuhai?
Lucky for me, I’ve had the opportunity to visit or live in all three cities now. From my internship in the central western metropolis of Chengdu, to living and working in Qingdao out on a peninsula on the east coast of China, and finally visiting Zhuhai for business in the far south coast bordering Macau. I’m starting to develop a real sense of the local flavours in terms of food, culture and general attitudes to life. Let me see if I can summarise it for you:

InternChina – Sauteed Clams

InternChina – Hot Pot

The Food (in my opinion the best way to get a feel for any Chinese city)
Far east Qingdao meal times are all about, yes you’ve guessed it, the famous local brew Tsingtao Beer. Whether the Qingdaonese are eating out in the late evening at the street BBQ round the corner or cooking at home, there’s a jug of Tsingtao on the table. Interns here over the summer months often see people winding their way home with a few plastics bags full of beer swinging from the handle bars of their E-bike or scooter. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a plateful of sautéed clams or BBQ chicken wings.

Out west in Chengdu is renowned for its tongue numbing SPICE. Moving here most interns learn to develop and iron lining to the inner stomach pretty quickly, but the flavours make it absolutely worth it. The locals don’t just leave the restaurants to the visitors either, the Sichuanese love a regular family night out. They can spend hours around a pot of Ganguo (Dry Pot) or Huoguo (Hot Pot) chatting noisily, chilling and drinking copious amounts of beer to quell the numbing thirst.

Down south in Zhuhai the flavours are much more delicate but just as mouthwatering. Meals here usually start off with the careful observed tradition of rinsing your cups, bowls with the hot water provided. It quickly becomes a habit that you miss when visiting other cities. The best thing about Zhuhai though is the breakfasts! Arrays of Dim sum (variety of small stacks mostly consisting of steamed shrimp and meat dumplings) accompanied by a warm bowl of rice porridge that sets you up nicely for the day to come.

InternChina – Chinese Chess

InternChina – Playing Mahjong

The Elderly
I always think the elderly are of the best indicators of local culture. China’s ageing population are noticeable wherever you go. The Chinese love spending most of their morning practising Taiqi and their days with their grand kids, but all three InternChina cities have their fair share of elderly Chinese Chess (Xiang Qi) players and card sharks too.

In Qingdao you’re more likely to find these groups in the peaceful parts of Old Town, congregated under the shade of big trees planted in the German colonial period. With the grand-kids running around them the scene looks pretty idyllic but I’m fairly sure at least some games of Baohuang (Protect the Emperor!) and Gouji (High Level) end badly for at least some of the players involved! Both are local card games invented in Shandong province.

Over in Chengdu it’s the tea houses that draw in the Sichuanese senior citizens. A fellow intern once told me of a disastrous time they bet against the grandmother of her host family in a game of Mahjong. Trust me, they won’t go easy on you, the only way is to learn their tactics the hard way! It might be hard on your self-esteem but it’s not a bad way to practice your local Sichuanese accent outside of the language classroom.

Down in Zhuhai, it’s a fair bet that they take no prisoners either when betting on card games like Tuolaji (Tractor) and Doudizhu (Fight the Landlord). With such close proximity to the world’s largest gambling centre Macau just over the border, it’s no wonder the gambling spirit has permeated Zhuhai’s local population too. At any rate, when their not at the cards you’re likely to find most of Zhuhai’s pensioners wandering along Jida Beach and Lover’s Walk.

InternChina – Qingdao Facekini

InternChina – Chengdu shopping

The Stereotypes
People from Shandong Province where Qingdao is based are renowned for having a hospitable nature. However there’s also a strict and disciplined streak in there. Qingdao-ren get things done! That’s why Qingdao’s port is one of the busiest in the world. Weekends are often spent fishing from the shoals or relaxing in a tent on the beach make up for the bustle of the city centre.

Chengdu people can have a bit of a spicy temperament, just like their food. But in day to day life the locals are extremely easy-going. They like to take things slow which is a direct contrast to the booming development of the city growing up around them. For the younger generation, resident foreigners and visiting students though, Chengdu is fast becoming a party capital for China.

Zhuhai-ren is also incredibly laid back. They also have a reputation for pragmatism, a pinch of ambition but also a warm dose of hospitality. The truth is that very few Zhuhai people are originally from Zhuhai, due to its location bang in the middle of Hongkong, Macau, Shenzhen and Guangzhou it’s attracted people from all over the country as well as many a foreign face. This also makes Zhuhai a hot-spot for big corporations from Hong kong breaking into the Chinese mainland market.

InternChina - Zhuhai Lover's Road
InternChina – Zhuhai Lover’s Road

The first cities that usually come to mind for people in search of a competitive work environment, where you can learn new skills in China are usually Beijing or Shanghai. But if you’re really up for a new encounter, and a chance to get immersed in a different culture whilst discovering what makes China’s economy tick, then find out more about some of the internships on offer in Qingdao, Chengdu and Zhuhai. Apply now!