An estimated 33% of the world’s population (give or take) use chopsticks on a daily basis. For the hungry first time user, guzzling down your meal with two small wooden sticks can be a real challenge. Chopsticks might seem tricky to master and somewhat unnecessary for those of us that grew up with a plastic knife and fork in hand, so why have they come to dominate the culinary habits of much of Asia?
Chopsticks are over 5000 years old, long sticks of bamboo were first used to retrieve morsels of food from cooking pots on the fire. Later on, evidence of chopsticks used as table utensils emerged as far back as 500-400 AD. It’s said the spread of popular chopstick use across China was down to population boom and fuel shortages; food was chopped into smaller pieces in an attempt to make the meagre rations go further (thus eliminating the need for knives at the table). Whatever the reason, people in Japan and Korea soon followed the trend not far behind!
The ultimate legend of Chinese culture Confucius (or debatably perhaps his disciple Mengzi) added his own two cents on the matter too, which always helps. Apparently a firm believer that “the honourable and upright man keeps well away from both slaughterhouse and kitchen, and allows no knives on his table.” 有名望的和正直的人要远离屠场和厨房。
FUN FACT: Did you know that Confucius was a vegetarian?
I’m not ashamed to admit that after 3 years in China, I am a total convert. Using chopsticks makes me appreciate my food more. Whatsmore, the sociable side to Chinese dinning, sharing and array of mouth-watering dishes, picking out tasty tit-bits from any dish at will, never gets old.
So here goes, top facts you should know about different types of chopsticks:
THE CHINESE CHOPSTICK
Typically unfinished wood, slightly rectangular top with a cylindrical blunt end. Doesn’t roll off the table so easily and more surface area means you’ve got a higher chance or transferring those tasty morsels all the way from the middle of the table right to your bowl!
FUN FACT: It’s a faux-pas to tap your chopsticks on the edge of your bowl, as this is what beggars do to attract attention.
THE JAPANESE CHOPSTICK
Traditionally lacquered wood or bamboo, with a rounded top and a pointy end that’s perfect for de-boning fish. They’re a little bit smaller than the Chinese equivalent and you often find red pairs for the ladies and black ones for the gents.
FUN FACT: Never stick your chopsticks vertically into your rice bowl, it’s reminiscent of incense sticks at a funeral.
THE KOREAN CHOPSTICK
The shortest model of the three, Korean chopsticks are usually stainless steel and flat or rectangular shaped. Potentially more hygienic but it definitely makes it harder to get a grip on your food!
FUN FACT: The king used pure silver chopsticks which would change colour if they came in contact with certain poisons. The people started using metal chopsticks to emulate him.
Anyway, hope this can inspire you to pick up a pair of chopsticks and come to China yourself. Even if you struggle to start with new chopstick inventions are coming up every day, so keep your eyes peeled for the latest ‘Chork’ on the market!
When I traveled to China I was only allowed to take a suitcase no heavier than 21 kg with me and a hand luggage of 5 kg. For guys, no problem. For girls, “What the heck am I gonna take with me?? *completely desperate*”. For my trip to Korea last year I took half my closet – which was not a good idea because shopping there is just SO awesome: underground market here (mostly at the metro stations), street market there, shopping e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e!
So before I started my journey to China I thought deeply about what to take with me. What is really necessary? What can I buy there? I asked some of my Chinese friends, they told me that shopping is really nice and affordable in China. So I made up my mind and only packed what I really needed. I ended up with exactly 21.2 kg for my suitcase and 5.7 kg for my hand luggage (including my laptop which is exempt from the check-in’s weight restrictions). Still I had a bad feeling about it. What if I forget something? I checked my packing list at least ten times and asked friends to read it through and tell me if they thought I had forgotten anything.
Now I’ve been in Zhuhai for one and a half months and I am glad I didn’t bring more. In the underground market you can find whatever you need, to dress for whatever event; clothes, shoes, underwear, make-up, jewelry, nail polish, accessories… and much more. You can even go for a manicure and pedicure. For food, there are a lot of different restaurants, and if you dare you can get a tattoo. The best thing is, everything is so cheap. <3
So what’s the catch? Actually, there are quite a few catches. But the drawbacks depends on your body measurements etc. The worst catch I guess, is that most clothes they offer are all one size. If you are too tall you will have problems finding fitting clothes. Also often you are not allowed to try on the clothes you intend to purchase. You can only guess if they will fit and if they suit you well. Also having shoe size 40 (EU)/9 (US) or bigger as a woman it may be hard to find fitting shoes. A final catch is that you usually cannot pay by credit card in the underground or on the street market, cash is king.
The worst catch for me? Too much choice! I could spend days and hundreds of Euros in these shops. Last weekend I spent around three hours in the Zhuhai underground market – close to the Macau border. Because of my company I was forced to keep it to a minimum. I ended up with 5 new dresses, a pair of shoes, 2 trousers and just a bit less than 500 RMB poorer (58 EUR/80 USD). Yes, girls, already feeling the need to jump off your chair and come over?
In the end I will eventually have another problem, I guess… How will I ever be able to take all those clothes back home with me? Well, I did some thinking about that and my solution is: I will have to fly business class, as I’m allowed double the amount of luggage and having a comfortable seat on the plane. Sounds good to me. I could also just buy another suitcase, but … after saving so much money shopping here I think it is okay to spend some more on the flight. 😀
Oh, one more thing. Don’t forget to find yourself a suitable shopping mate. Nothing is better than spending a day in the underground together: clothes hunting, bargaining with broken Chinese-English, giggling about strange people and gossiping, sipping coffee, eating sushi, going for manicures or pedicures (or both), and afterwards going to the Spa to relax from the exhausting day to feel fresh again. Ready to enjoy the nightlife in your new clothes.
I think I need to go shopping again next weekend. Writing this blog made me hungry for more…
See you and 再见，
Gianna aka Gini aka 吉娜
I’m not good at eating spicy food, in fact in Germany I never eat anything spicy at all, even though there are plenty of restaurants where I can try it. The closest to spicy I got to was one time at the kebab shop, where I forgot to tell them not to put chilli peppers in my doner kebab.
Coming to Chengdu I knew I had to get used to eating spicy food as the province of Sichuan is famous for it. The hot pepper was introduced into China from South America around the end of the 17th century. Once it came to Sichuan, it became a popular food flavouring. Sichuan has high humidity and many rainy or overcast days. Hot pepper helps reduce internal dampness, so hot pepper was used frequently in dishes, and hot dishes became the norm in Sichuan cuisine.
The beginning was hard for me, I already started to cough at the smallest amount of food and in my mouth there was no other taste because my mouth was burning from the hot pepper. What was especially hard for me was the Sichuan pepper, which is not spicy, it just gives you a funny tingling sensation, making your mouth feel like it’s gone numb. After trying more and more dishes I have now gotten used to the spice and can actually taste the food.
While some people recommend to just eat as much spicy as you can right from the start, I wouldn’t do this. It’s neither good for your taste buds, nor for your stomach. From my own experience I think it would be good to start with a typical Chinese meal – sharing different kinds of dishes, so you can choose a few spicy and a few non-spicy dishes.
One of my all-time favourites is gōngbǎojīdīng 宫保鸡丁 or Gongbao Chicken. It is usually not that spicy and is one of Sichuan’s most famous dishes. If you love Chicken and Peanuts like me you will love this! 😉
The next thing you could try is mápódòufǔ 麻婆豆腐, which is tofu in a spicy and bean-based sauce and can be translated as the ‘Pockmarked-Face Lady’s Tofu’. Despite the not so beautiful name, it is a very nice dish that goes well with rice.
And then comes the more challenging task: because being in Sichuan you don’t want to miss out on the Hot Pot. One of my first dinners in Chengdu was Hot Pot and I was lucky there was a small part with non-spicy soup, so I could still relax my mouth a little after trying the spicy one.
Basically there are three types of Hot Pot. The traditional huǒguō 火锅, which is served in a big bowl in the middle of the table. You then order the meat and vegetables and put them inside to share with everyone.
Then here in Chengdu they also have chuànchuàn huǒguō 串串火锅, which means that everything is on a skewer. You go collect what you want to eat on a plate or in a little basket and they will then bring you the things you have chosen in a bowl with the soup it was cooked in.
The third one is not exactly like Hot Pot, it is gānguō 干锅 Dry Pot. It is usually meat with a lot of hot peppers, some vegetables and usually potatoes cut in a shape like French fries. Some of the Dry Pots are less spicy than others and have other additional ingredients depending on the restaurant. You can try rabbit or frog meat to make it even more exciting.
What’s good to cool off the fire in your mouth and insides?
Watermelon is a salvation for your burning lips and mouth, because it’s sweet and cool and has a lot of water. This is perfect as a dessert after your spicy meal.
Usually you can always order yoghurt to drink, which will cool your mouth and help you digest the spicy and oily food, or dòunǎi 豆奶, soy bean milk, which is especially good when it’s warm.
And if you really cannot tolerate the spice, no need to worry, there are plenty of dishes that are not spicy. But if someone like me can tolerate a certain level of spice now, you probably could to. I now sometimes even think that some of the dishes are not spicy at all. It will definitely help you expand your palate. Also, I was told that if you haven’t had Yunnan food, you don’t really know what spicy is!
Do you feel like trying to immerse into the world of Sichuan cuisine? Apply now and come to Chengdu to have a hot and spicy meal with us!
China – the Kingdom of the middle- had a wide influence in Asia. In almost every neighboring country of China you can still find traces of Chinese Civilization from hundreds of years ago. However, you can also discover external influences in Chinese culture – customs, habits, products or even whole lifestyles have been imported from abroad and been integrated into Modern Chinese Culture. One of those neighboring countries which China always had a very special relationship to, is Japan. I had the chance to get a return flight for only 3.000,- RMB to Tokyo so I took advantage of it and explored a beautiful and fascinating place not far from China.
Even though, Japan is geographically located close to China, the cultures are differing a lot from each other. As a German I can see the parallels rather between Japanese and Germans… but then on the other hand, there are a lot of concepts and ideas which are shared by the Japanese and the Chinese and make them very similar from a Western perspective!
To give you an idea of similarities and differences between Japanese and Chinese Culture, I want to share my experiences and observations with you.
Traffic: A lot of foreigners perceive Chinese traffic as more chaotic than organized (see our blog: http://internchina.com/surviving-in-chinese-traffic/). When I arrived in Tokyo, it was the complete opposite picture. Even though, more people seem to use public transportation at the same time, everything was very organized, calm and people act very polite. For Chinese people it seems normal to use their elbows, don’t cover their mouths when they are coughing or sneezing in public and shout into their mobile phone on any possible occasion – Japanese people prefer their little space around themselves, nobody talks on the phone in the subway and avoid under any circumstance to run into each other even if it is crowded. It was very interesting to see that crowded doesn’t necessarily mean chaotic.
***Be aware though, that in Japan cars go on the left side of the street!
Language: Japanese on the first glance seems to be much easier than Chinese because you don’t have any tones that you need to take care of. If you know Chinese, you already can read a good part of the Japanese characters (not the pronounciation though, but you can guess the meaning!) which is very helpful in a country which is not using Latin letters. However, on a long-run mastering Japanese language seems to become a lot more complicated and rather difficult to master as grammatical rules are similarly difficult to German grammar. If you want to make quick progress on speaking learning Chinese seems to be the better choice (see our blog: http://internchina.com/china-vs-europe-reasons-to-learn-chinese-in-china/).
Saving/Losing face: Being in China for three years now gave me confidence to understand the idea of saving or losing face. For many westerners it is something very difficult to grasp and accept as a part of the Eastern Culture. It means a lot of rules, such as avoiding to name problems, not to negate or refuse anything directly or using a very flowery language. In business situations this can cause a lot of misunderstandings if you don’t understand these rules or are not be able to read between the lines. Japanese seem to follow this concept to an even further extent than the Chinese, so I can imagine that for Westerners doing business in Japan is even more difficult to adapt to than doing Business in China. More about cross-cultural communication: http://internchina.com/cross-cultural-communication-in-china-west-vs-east/.
Eating and drinking: Japan offers a wide variety of traditional Japanese dishes, but also international influences can be found. There are many restaurants offering fusion kitchen and the Japanese interpretation of “Western Food”. Very similar to Chinese food, you can offer several dishes, which you can share with your friends. Of course, the best way is to get up very early in the morning and enjoy the freshest sushi in the world at the Tokyo fish market. However, excellent sea-food can be found in China as well – especially in coastal cities (e.g. Qingdao) sea-food will be offered and is part of traditional dishes. In the West we hold the prejudice, Chinese and Japanese wouldn’t drink a lot as they are lacking an enzyme to process alcohol. It is true, that the digestion/processing for a lot of Asians is difficult, but that doesn’t keep them away from consuming good amounts of beer (e.g. Asahi in Japan, Tsingtao-Beer in China) and rice wine (Baijiu in China, Sake in Japan). “Cheers” sounds very similar in Japanese (“Kanpai”) and Chinese (“Ganbei”). More info about eating and drinking customs in Asia: http://internchina.com/how-to-say-bon-appetit-in-chinese/.
Religion/Beliefs: Chinese traditional beliefs are rooted in Confucianism, Daoism and the Buddhism which originally came from India to China. Japanese are traditionally Zen-Buddhists and Shintoists. Shintoists believe in “kami” (= spirits) which live in every tree, stone, house etc. Animism is a big part of Shintoism, which means, that each animal has its own spirit. That’s why you can find in Japan numerous parks with temples and shrines where people can pray to certain spirits. In China, there are only a few places left where Daoists and Buddhists can practice their traditional beliefs, modern culture dictates a very practical approach of practicing Buddhist and Daoist traditions. I was very fascinated by the parallels between Daoist beliefs and Shintoism. In both beliefs, unity and harmony of humans and animals and nature in general play a significant role. Each country though developed their own interpretation of a universal truth. More about Daoism: http://internchina.com/a-visit-to-qingyang-temple-back-to-the-roots-of-daoism/.
All in all it was a very interesting trip to Japan and I am sure to come back at a later point to enjoy the blossom of the Sakura trees (cherry trees) as it is said to be one of the most beautiful events in the world!