Category Archives: Culture

I <3 Chinese Food

As I was perusing the streets near my hotel and catching fleeting whiffs of durian fruit, it finally occurred to me that traditional Chinese cuisine seems to have a wider diversity (at least in terms of different types of foods found in single dishes) than western cuisines. I began to develop my own — admittedly incomplete — theories on the diversity of (what I’d imagine) traditional food options as compared Europe and North America. I figured these personal theories might be worth sharing.

Could the diversity of consumption options (fancy way of saying “food”) be by virtue of simply being a more biodiverse region, and they’re therefor exposed to more and diverse things to eat? Could it be because China is an ancient civilization, to which Chinese culture has simply had more time to develop a variety of dishes and cuisines? Maybe it’s due to more recent events, such as the massive famine that corresponded with Mao’s rule. Chinese people are maybe more willing to eat differing, “exotic” or what westerners would perceive as unpalatable, simply as a survival trait in response to trying times. As a result,  this seeming acceptance for a such a diversity of foods appears to be deeply ingrained in Chinese society and culture. 

This all makes me wonder: how is it that we find certain foods (from a western perspective) to be “gross”? Is this simply taught or conditioned from our culture? If so, why are there certain foods that we generally judge as gross or untouchable in the West, while others – such as milk and eggs – really are pretty strange when considering the source. I would imagine it likely boils down to (no pun intended) what we are familiar with in our cultures, or in other words, what we are regularly exposed to and inevitably grow accustomed to. I’m sure there are various foods that we regularly eat in the West that most Chinese would find strange or repulsive. 

All that being said, I have loved the food here thus far (aside from the lack of cheese, a pillar of my diet). I should also acknowledge that none of this is really based on empirical evidence, but simply my initial reflections (and western biases) from my surface level experience in this part of the world. I invite any and all who might actually have legitimate answers to these questions, or if you also have interesting ideas/theories. Nonetheless, I’m excited to continue indulging in new foods that my various senses have never encountered!

P.s. This would ideally be an opportune blog post to share pictures of food, however I unfortunately do not have any. Once again, it would be best to consult Ayo, as she has been doing a remarkable job of documenting many of our meals. I promise to share photos on my next post. Until then, if anyone is dying to see pictures of other things from my trip, I’d be happy to share my google photos album with you. Although I must warn you, my photography skills are very poor, hence my reluctance to share pictures on various social media platforms.  Apologies for the extensive “p.s.”.

Laowais on bikes, Chinese folks are nice

A large part of what made our first week here so wonderful is the kindness we’ve been shown by locals. People here are so willing to go out of their way to help out a few confused laowai (foreigners). For example, the well-dressed businessman that helped Santiago and me get into one of the sky bridges of the Linked Hybrid complex was clearly on his way out when he heard us asking for directions. He stopped what he was doing and brought us to an elevator hidden in the back of a cafe, up 20 stories, and through a gallery into the skybridge. He didn’t speak any English, and he didn’t stick around when we got to the top; he just wanted to help us catch a great view.

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View from the skybridge

The owner of our hostel, Linda, is no exception. After a long conversation about our options for acquiring bikes, many of which being too expensive or requiring a Chinese bank account (bikeshare apps), she offered the hostel’s rental bikes for AMAZINGLY cheap. The posted rental price for the bikes is 30 yuan per day, but since they almost never get rented out, she agreed to give us the bikes until the end of August for only 50 yuan total.

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Bike/ped overpass

Biking in Beijing can be chaotic, but not as much as you might expect from seeing videos or pictures of crowded Chinese streets. Yes, it’s crowded. Yes, it’s a little hectic. But for the most part, people bike much more slowly here than they do in Portland. Not only that, but the bike lanes are huge, and it’s pretty normal and expected for bikers to overflow into car lanes when necessary. As long as you’re paying attention (and ready to brake), it’s totally manageable.

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On the second day of having a bike, I woke up ready to rush to CAUPD before free breakfast ended, only to find that my front tire was very flat. The hostel staff couldn’t find their bike pump, so we decided to ask around for one. Thanks to my Chinese dictionary app (Pleco) and a little bit of pantomime, we were able to ask some of the neighbors if they had one. We mostly got “mei you” (not have) until we came upon a very elderly woman lingering in the street, about to go back into the tiny alley that led from the hutong to her home. Once she figured out what we were asking about, her face lit up and she waved us to follow her into the tiny alley. A man who was presumably her son also came out to help find the pump. All we could do was say “very thank you,” and smile and nod like dorks. Yet another example of locals going out of their way to accommodate us. I’m really looking forward to more of these heartwarming (and often hilariously awkward) interactions as we explore China in the coming months.

 

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WOOF! Canines in Shenzhen

Many of you will not be shocked by my first topic of choice for Transplanet. My beloved pooch, Hank, is in Portland while I am abroad and I’m sure he is just as happy as when I am home. This blog works to describe a dog’s life in Shenzhen. I will attempt to draw out different angles regarding the topic such as: Shenzhen’s street dogs, new fads of dog ownership and the weird market of the selling and buying of such dogs.

It’s no lie that Chinese culture feasts canine cuisine for over centuries, particularly during the Lunar New Year. Today, it is even still a respected cuisine that is still visible in Shenzhen’s night markets. However, alongside urbanization, an individual’s need for status has transformed canine culture from slaughtering for dinner to actually, their most loyal companions.

Many shop and business owners within Shenzhen city limits and within the many urban villages have what are visible to the average person as a street dog, but many are actually guard dogs. I should know as I approached one to say hello and it fiercely growled at me. Lesson one so far about dogs in Shenzhen: Do not pet a guard dog and avoid eye contact with them. They mean business. However, not all dogs that appear homeless are really without home. Many wander the streets with their owners just behind them, maybe 50 to 100 feet away, with no leash at all. It is obvious they know the path to wherever as they maneuver thru traffic without a scratch or scare. They are agile and resilient. At home, we consider giving chicken bones to dogs deadly and harmful. Here in Shenzhen, dogs feast on chicken legs consuming meat, bones and all in nearly one gulp. Other street dogs can be loving as they crave attention. I approached one for a photo using ‘kissy’ noises and her ears perked and gently approached me. I held out my hand and she licked my salty, sweaty skin. She loved my pets and head scratches and even followed Eric and I for a bit before she realized we were not going to feed her. Lesson two: be cautious with the street dogs, some are pleasant, others not so much.

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Collared and leashed dog in street protects its chicken leg.

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He nearly eats the entire bone in one bite!

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Saying hello to a friendly street dog.

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She enjoys my pets and head scratches.

Much like the United States, one must register their dog in China. However, most cities regulate a household to only having one dog, known as the One-Dog Policy. Somewhere in the midst in the shift of perspectives to own dogs there were complaints about barking and other such nuisances. The policy also outlines size and breed restrictions which millions of dogs in China do not comply. Authorities offer a discount to licensing if you spay or neuter your dog, similar to the Unites States. Many refer to this policy as a solution offered Public Security Bureau. As with many regulations, there are loopholes around having more than one dog. Residents may register only one dog per household, yes, but if say your uncle of another household does not have a dog, you can register your additional dog to that address.  I do not think Shenzhen enforces this policy but, I do not know for sure.

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Owner of what it looks to be two dogs, takes them for a walk through Baishizhou urban village.

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The two play and wrestle in the street off leash.

Speaking with a few Chinese natives, they will tell you dogs are trendy here. Right now, the big thing is to have these white fluffy dogs known as Bichon Frise. There is another dog here that is very popular and looks much like a Bichon, but it is brown and fluffy, however, I am unsure of its breed or mix. While visiting Dafen, an urban village targeted for artists, a seller of Bichons was standing outside a gallery hoping to make a sell.To the eye he did not seem  to have any takers on his six Bichons but there were many photographs being taken including from yours truly. Back in 2013, all the hype was about Tibetan Mastiffs, which sold anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000 USD. Although it is still said, that if you can afford to purchase, board, and feed a large animal you rank a high status in China’s society.

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Bichon Frise dog breeder awaits tourists and Dafen urban village goers to hopefully make a sell of this trendy breed.

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Owner of a large Mastiff shows off his status through the streets of Shui Wei.

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Two puppies await a home in Baishizhou urban village. They were very happy for attention and love from Eric and I.

Many of the streets at night are filled with dogs and owners, as it is very hot here during the day. People look to bring their dogs out to socialize with other canines and children. With dogs roaming off leash, people are not afraid or angry about this, they embrace it, greeting each friendly dog that approaches them. Often you can tell a young dog from an older one if it is on a leash or not. Somewhere in Shenzhen you can get your dog or puppy fix and much like in America be cautious when approaching a dog you do not know.

Enjoy!

Olivia H

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