Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Dan Woodall, on location in China

China Blog: The Fun Begins

I realize it’s a bit late for a first blog, but November has crept up on us rather unexpectedly. Things have been a little hectic here, as our schedules have just kind of fallen into place. Our first few weeks (by first few weeks I mean the first half of our trip) were incredibly chaotic, as this is a pilot program; no one had any idea whatsoever of what was going on. I’ll attempt to explain some Chinese culture for you folks out there in America. Chinese people don’t have a word for “schedule”. Well…they do, but they rarely use it. Since things always end up happening that change the schedule of things, they don’t always bother scheduling. Most things here are decided at the last minute, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it’s just how things are done here. For example, I’ve made a lot of friends on the basketball courts. The fact that I’m 6’3 aids me a little in that department, as I am quite horrible at basketball. They often have inter-departmental matches, like the English majors versus the Japanese majors. I will ask my friends, the English majors, when their match is. The response- “I don’t know, probably Monday afternoon.” I say, “When will you find out?” They respond… “Monday.” Luckily, I’ve always been somewhat of a spontaneous person so these things don’t bother me too much.

So the first month was spent getting accustomed to the loose schedules, and finding our way around the campus, and stores outside. It took awhile to find the better restaurants in the cafeteria, and to this day we are still finding new places to eat in there. It really helps to take a Chinese friend with when you’re eating! I was with a good friend, and she ordered wonton soup for me. It was absolutely delicious, with a multitude of ingredients and veggies in the broth to add flavor. I recognized some parsley (they love parsley), onions, and even green onions, the little tiny ones with that familiar onion-y crunch. I love those! While I was enjoying my meal, I discovered another crunch; a crunch that didn’t belong. I spooned up a little white thing that appeared to be a shrimp, but it was hard to tell because it was about the size of a grain of rice. I spooned up a bigger one, but this time the grain of rice had a tail and eye balls. Luckily, I had my Chinese friend with me who explained the concept of “Dragon Rice”…little tiny shrimps they often put in soups to give it that extra kick. In our little cultural exchange, I explained to her that (most?) Americans don’t like their food to stare at them while they are eating. This became a big joke whenever we went out to eat.

The food situation here is not as bad as many would assume. We’re in the city, so there isn’t any dog, scorpion, rats, or anything of that sort. Instead, we are surrounded by McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC, and Starbucks. Most of these dishes people see as “Chinese” are only found in the rural areas, and you really have to go looking for them. The food is great, but we can only handle noodles and rice for so long. We make frequent trips to the Mickie D’s for a little taste of home. We also love telling everyone that the restaurant is from our hometown. The juxtaposition between modern and traditional is wonderfully prevalent here. Right in front of the nearest McDonalds on the street corner, is a food cart that usually shows up in the evening, and serves food late into the night and morning. They serve a traditional Chinese food called 包子 Baozi (pronounced Baodsuh). It is steamed bread filled with a small amount of beef. You can get them to go, or if you prefer, you may eat it there by sitting at one of their short tables set up on the sidewalk, complete with small stools. One serving, which consists of 10 包子, costs 3.5 RMB, which is roughly equal to $.50 cents. They make a great late night or early morning snack. We often wonder what we are going to do without our 包子 when we get back.

Stay tuned for the next edition of China Blog - “The Fun Continues”!

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