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.
How I ended up in the “City of Ice”
As a student of Business Management and Mandarin, I had to make a choice of city in China for my year abroad. The year abroad, in my case, consists of two components: one year study and a two month internship. I decided early that I wanted to study in one city and do an internship in a different city, for different experiences.
North vs South
Originally, I was very keen on studying in a city in the southern part of China, for many reasons that include: climate, food, proximity to the sea, and much more. As a Portuguese person, I searched for a similar place to go to (and to make the cultural shock a little less noticeable!), However, it went a little different than expected (in a good way!).
I applied and was accepted for a one-year Confucius institute full scholarship in Harbin! The coldest city in China! This peculiar city in northeast China fulfilled my main criteria which was: must have majority Mandarin speakers, who speak in a standard way. My other criteria: I will study in a city where English is remotely spoken, so that I can have the best learning experience. I stuck to these two important criteria and must say, had a great experience learning Mandarin in Harbin.
How I ended up in the “City of romance”
When it came to apply for my internship, Zhuhai was already on my mind. I wanted a place different from Harbin. I wanted to feel the warmth of the sun again, and so I did for two months in the lovely city of Zhuhai. As expected these two cities are extremes in so many categories, that some may ask “Why did you go to Zhuhai/Harbin?”.
Let’s talk about some of those differences:
For those who aren’t familiar with Harbin, it’s a city located in Heilongjiang Province right at the top right corner of China, bordering Russia’s Siberia. So, one can imagine just how cold it is. Harbin’s winter lasts about 6 months reaching minimum’s of – 40 º C. Harbin is, in fact “the City of Ice”, famous for it’s ice buildings and statues and icy festivals. Moreover, it’s important to point out, Russian entrepreneurs who wanted to recreate their motherland, built the Harbin of today. So its buildings are very Russian, in the way they look, but with Chinese banners. It’s this odd combination that makes it such a peculiar city, interesting on the foreign eye.
Zhuhai is the complete opposite. The buildings are tall, and mostly dark grey and white. While it sounds depressing, it goes well with the city’s landscape. Zhuhai is relaxing on the eye, because it is a mixture of human landscape and nature. Wherever you go you’re sure to see trees, bushes, anything that screams Nature.
Beifang’s food (North China) and Nanfang’s food (South China) is completely different. Not only that, but also it varies according to the region.
Harbin’s food is delicious, flavored and mostly fried. But I couldn’t understand why most food was fried. Until a teacher explained that due to the extreme cold weather in Harbin, there was a preference for oil-based food (it will heat your body and help fight coldness). Zhuhai’s food is light, flavored and with a lot more vegetable side dishes. Both are not too spicy, so both Harbin and Zhuhai’s food are very delicious.
That was, for me, the biggest difference between the two. While in Harbin, Chinese people tend to be more amazed whenever they see a foreigner for the first time. Nevertheless they are very welcoming and overall very curious about the countries we come from. They may even ask for a picture.
Zhuhai’s people may also be amazed, but are much more relaxed when meeting foreigners. Overall, I found that a large portion of people in Zhuhai can speak basic english while no one in Harbin could. I imagine the proximity to both Macau and Hong Kong, two ex-colonies and now special administrative regions (SAR) played an important role in this.
Harbin and Zhuhai are two very different cities in so much more aspects other than the one’s I have listed. That is the fun part and makes my first time in China so special. I highly recommend visiting both north and south china and deciding which one provides for the the most enjoyable experience.
As is often the case during the transition of relocating abroad, one of the most daunting factors within this process can be the change in diet. Coming towards the end of my second month here in Chengdu and third year collectively in China I can safely say that it is indeed that little bit of comfort in the form of a meal that offers that much needed taste of home. Therefore, as a self-confessed ‘foodie’ to make life a little easier I am going to layout where I feel are the best places to go, how to get there and how they compare in terms of price and quality:
Peter’s Tex Mex
Although this is possibly the oldest and one of the most well-known western food chains in Chengdu as well as Beijing, do not be fooled by the fact that there are several locations across the city. This was in fact the first place I visited for a western meal and I can honestly say that I left needing to be carried home bearing a full smile which is a rarity. From nachos, to pizza, to Mexican food and even all things sweet I was very impressed with the quality and variety of food here which came to roughly 400 RMB between me and a friend allowing us to have a nice banquet. If you are keen on a tipple, there are also some western lagers and the freshly made margaritas pack a real punch!
12 East Tongzilin Rd/桐梓林东路12号
To say these burgers are good is an understatement. Out of my three years in China, the burger selection is definitely one of the best I have ever had. Redbeard (an American expat) sources high quality ingredients (Aussie beef namely) for his seriously decadent menu that plates up everything from gargantuan buffalo burgers to classic beef delights layered in different kinds of cheese. He also offers seriously decadent smothered fries and you can wash them down with craft beers.
I find it hard to pick a favourite (although the ‘mutton chops’ comes close) and I’ve tried a fair few. The burgers are definitely on the pricy side but you really know where your money goes – servings are huge and quality is outstanding. They are also now available for delivery !
29 Zijing Donglu, Chengdu/成都紫荆东路29号
Although this is quite a popular chain across China, I feel that avocado and brunch is continuing to prosper amongst us and it is on that basis that Wagas deserves a try as well as the reasonable prices. To put it simply, the elegance and nostalgia associated with a poached egg done properly when thousands of miles away from home really is a welcomed luxury over here, especially when factored in with the ‘lighter’ choices including kale, feta, and so on for the more health conscious.
Located in the scenic area of TaiKoo Li, Wagas offers the chance to sit back, relax and take in the wonderful surroundings with the outside seating area and a wide selection of juices to compliment it !
TaiKoo Li Chengdu, L1/ 1345 中纱帽街8号成都远洋太古里L1 – 1345
Mike’s Pizza Kitchen
No matter where you are from and where you may be in the world, I think it is fair to say that the overwhelming majority of us all speak the language of ‘pizza’ due to the liberty of adding your own personal touch. At Mike’s, not only do you get the option of base, toppings, sauce and so on but every single element is of the highest quality.
The quality is in fact so good that you will be unable to eat here without a prior reservation and can only order delivery at an allocated time relative to your location. Nevertheless, when in Chengdu if you’re talking pizza then you must be talking Mike’s because I am yet to have tried one as good in the UK, let alone China.
4 Tongzilin Lu Ste. 7/桐梓林路4号附7号 – Just look for the Big, Blue “M”
“From the Heart of Tuscany to the tastebuds of Chengdu” is a perfect fit for the motto of this wonderful restaurant as you are taken on a culinary journey from the southwest to the more hills of Tuscany. This is nicely complimented by an array of stunning Italian wines that also reside there in the form of Bucciano’s own “The Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne” brand.
As I’m sure you can imagine, although the choice of food and wine is endless rest assured that the majority of dishes are served with a generous lashing of Tuscany’s finest extra virgin olive oil coupled with traditional bread and vegetables to tick you over while you take in the ambience. From pizza to pasta, meat or seafood- you will not be disappointed !
314 Block 3, Building B, Poly Center, 1 Jinxiu Road, Wuhou District ( Near to the Ping’an Bank, Yulin, North Kehua Road)/ 锦绣路1号保利中心B座3楼314室(玉林、桐梓林、科华北路、武侯区、平安银行附近)
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Living in China is all about trying various Chinese dishes from different parts of country, exploring new tastes and coming back to places where the food is outstanding. But sometimes we miss Western food, whether it is food from our own country or from another. Thanks to a large number of foreigners in most of China’s major cities, we can enjoy Western cuisine from different countries in many restaurants. Today, I want to introduce you some of the best (based on foreigners’ taste buds) Western restaurants in Dalian. Let’s start!
Brooklyn Bar and Restaurant 布鲁克林西餐厅 (Bùlǔkè lín xī cāntīng)
This place consists of everything what is called “Western food”. The menu combines modern creative and traditional authentic American food in a Brooklyn – styled restaurant. There, you can taste fresh home-made bread, sauces and sausages. Western atmosphere is maintained by the American owner – Wayne and English-speaking staff.
184 Bulao Jie Xigang District, Wanda Huafu 2nd floor, north of Huanghe Road, Dalian
Indian Hut 印度人家餐厅 (Yìn duó rénjiā cāntīng)
Indian Hut with authentic Indian food prepared by an Indian chief. In this restaurant you can feel like in India not only by the food but also because of the décor. The menu has English and photos, so if you are not familiar with Indian food and the names do not tell you anything, you can choose by looking, though we “eat with our eyes”!
Kaisa Plaza B1, Tianjin Street, Zhongshan District, Dalian
Here we can find European food, not only from Denmark but also Italian pizza and variety of other European dishes. This is a place good for brunch as well as for dinner, and their choice of desserts is mouth watering!
111 Tian Jin Street, Zhongshan District, Dalian
Blue Frog 蓝蛙 (Lán wā)
Famous among Dalian Ex pats as well as Locals for its burgers and cocktails but offers much more dishes from American cuisine. The restaurant has a really tempting offer buy one – get one free on burgers and drinks on Monday afternoon and DIY drinks during happy hour.
L40445 Pavilion Shopping Centre 4F, 129-3 Zhongshan Street, Zhongshan District, Dalian
Al Bacio 那之吻匹萨 (Nà zhī wěn pǐ sà)
Al Bacio is the most well – known for its real Italian pizza baked in the wood stove but it also has many kinds of Italian pasta and starters. You can combine the food with an Italian wine or freshly made fruit juice. The nice thing about the restaurant is that the kitchen is separated from the dining hall by glass wall, so the customers can watch their food being prepared.
No. 1, Floor 2, Unit 1, 375 Jiefang Street, Zhongshan District, Dalian
Lenbach Restaurant & Bar 兰巴赫 (Lán Bāhè)
Restaurant offers German cuisine specialities in Dalian. Lenbach’s flagship dish is a traditional German sausage platter with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut. To enjoy your meal to the fullest it is best to have it with a pint of German craft beer.
L4030 Pavilion Shopping Centre 4F, 129-3 Zhongshan Street, Zhongshan District, Dalian
Friday 星期五餐吧 (Xīngqíwǔ cān ba)
As Dalian was under Russian rule for a significant period of time in its history, there is much Russian heritage in the city. Besides many Russian accents in Dalian’s architecture, also places with Russian cuisine can be found. In Friday you can not only eat delicious Russian food but also feel the climate of Russia by the interior décor of the place.
208 Bulao Street, Xigang District, Dalian
Aux Petits Plaisirs 小乐趣 (Xiǎo lèqù)
Authentic French restaurant in Dalian with an energetic owner-chef Julien who prepares mouth watering meals as well as maintains friendly atmosphere, so the guests can feel at home. The restaurant has an interesting wine cellar to which guests can have access.
43 Zehui Road, Shahekou District, Dalian
Euro – Bake 欧倍客 (Ōu bèi kè)
Cosy cafe & bakery in the heart of Labour Park – one of Dalian’s best attractions. Great for a bit of rest after walk in this lovely park or time spent on carousels and ferry wheel (underneath which it is located). Euro – Bake is famous for its wide range of cakes, pizza and bread followed by delicious coffee.
5 Jiefang Street, Zhongshan District, Dalian (inside the Labour Park)
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