How I Stayed Sane While Experiencing Culture Shock in China. Part 2

Culture shock is complicated. Moving to another country long-term affects people differently. I’m no expert on Culture Shock, but I’m happy to share my experiences trying to stay sane while experiencing culture shock in China. Everyone experiences culture shock differently, but it does affect everyone.

The model below shows one of the simpler illustrations of culture shock. It shows four phases that travellers or expats go through when visiting- or moving to another country. The four stages are called honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment, and adaptation.

We first experience the honeymoon phase when we visit another country. Everything is new, exciting, and interesting even though we can’t communicate with the locals. Little setbacks such as getting lost, or not finding what you needed from the supermarket, you shrug off as being on an adventure. Also sometimes called positive culture shock and this is why we like travelling. When we visit a new country or place, we experience this feeling, falling in love with the language, culture, food, and history.

When the second phase, the depression, sets in, this is what most people refer to as culture shock. You’ve been in the same place a while, and you’re no longer on an adventure, now it’s everyday life. You notice you can’t communicate efficiently, find what you need to buy, or order food at a restaurant without help, this leads to feeling powerless and dependent. The locals act differently than what you’re familiar with, and you start missing home and your family. It’s natural to feel sad, irritated or depressed and it’s important to have someone to talk to and lean on for support at this stage. Stay in touch with friends and family, keep a positive outlook. Some make it through this stage very quickly, but others need more time to adjust.

Everything improves when you reach the adjustment stage. You begin to overcome your depression and learn why you’re experiencing these emotions. You learn more about the people around you, the customs, traditions, and how to interact with your surroundings. Your view of your new home changes and starts to make sense. You’re on the right path, already further than many who go through culture shock. It becomes easier to take care of yourself, you learn the language and get into a routine of working, playing, socialising, and relaxing by yourself and your newfound social circle.

Finally, you’ll experience the adaptation stage. Also known as the acceptance stage, you feel that your horizon has broadened, you’ve become more open-minded and more tolerant of what bothered you before. Your more proficient in the language, you’ve made local friends, and you’re starting to make sense of everything. Life is more comfortable and normal and although you might not reach the same high as the honeymoon stage, you’ll feel like you belong.

Traditionally, culture shocks ends with the adaptation stage but I think it’s also important to consider how you feel going home after spending years abroad. When you return home you can experience reverse culture shock, having to get used to your old surroundings all over again. Reverse culture shock is not as prevalent as culture shock but it remains somewhat common.

Culture shock isn’t a disease and it is not the same as a depression. You should never be afraid to talk about culture shock. Admitting you’re experiencing it, sharing with friends and relatives and other expats are the first steps of dealing with it and getting through it.

The Nasty Truth About Teaching ESL in China

Anyone who spends ten minutes reading online reviews of schools in China knows this: teaching English in China is a horrible, miserable experience you wouldn’t wish on anyone.

But why is it when people come here and actually speak to expats who have been teaching for a while, they hear a different story? Their friends say: it’s fun, they love their school, and they plan on staying two or three more years.

The reason is simple: selection bias. Wikipedia says selection bias occurs when, “…groups or data for analysis in such a way that proper randomization is not achieved, thereby ensuring that the sample obtained is not representative of the population intended to be analyzed.”

So what is it about the people who write these horrid reviews of ESL schools that skews the sample? Generally speaking, those who gather on ESL threads to bash their school are negative people who’ve developed a herd mentality. They say “misery loves company,” and what better way to increase your feeling of self-worth than to join into a frenzied mob of disgruntled teachers with an ax to grind?

Their posts often start like this: “I worked at Blah Blah Blah English School for three years and boy they were a bunch of….”.

Riiiiight. So, this place was so incredibly terrible you stayed for how many years?

Many people forget an important fact: You’ll have problems at your job in China….just like you did at your job at home! There’s no such thing as a “perfect job,” and being able to cope with difficulties in your workplace is a part of life. Learning how to deal with these problems means you’re not lying when you write, “Works effectively in cross-cultural settings.” on your CV.

There’s also a subset of people in China who “can’t hack it” in their home country, and are forced to stay in a foreign country for much longer than they’d like. They’ll tell you how much they hate the food, the people, their school, etc. If you talk to this person long enough, you’ll probably also discover they think their home country is rubbish, too. These people have no business teaching, especially teaching children!

 
Okay, okay – I’ll get off my soapbox now! Do you want to know the truth about teaching ESL in China?

  1. You’ll be surrounded by the laughter of happy children every day
  2. You’ll work with a diverse group of really interesting people
  3. You’re doing something bold and growing as a person
  4. You’ll see sights, eat foods, hear sounds, and smell smells you never imagined
  5. You’ll earn good money while doing work that’s challenging and rewarding

I know it can be pretty shocking to hear, but that’s the nasty truth! The people who teach overseas (and stay because they love it) generally don’t spend their hours trolling ESL message boards. Ya’ know, because they’re outside…enjoying their life. Maybe eating dumplings, or climbing a mountain, or writing in their journal.

 

Have you spent a year or more teaching overseas? We’d love to hear your thoughts and stories! If you have incredible travel photos, please send them our way!

Also, if you’d like to learn more about how to become a guest blogger, write us at info@eslsuite.com with the phrase “Guest Blogger” in the SUBJECT LINE.

Written by Christopher Ribeiro | Managing Director at ESL Suite

roundedChristopher came to Tianjin via Buffalo, New York, and Los Angeles. He’s lived in China since 2009, and has traveled to over 20 countries on six continents. Christopher has been in teaching and recruiting for over five years – he’s the co-founder of ESL Suite, a husband, and father to two strapping little boys. If he’s not at work, you’ll find him in the gym, or narrowly dodging oncoming traffic on his fixed-gear bicycle.

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Six Schools Hiring Like Crazy This Year

Okay, I admit it…..I’ve been a very bad blogger.

But I have a good excuse: we’re BURIED in applications and recruiting our faces off this year!

Summer is here, and teacher recruitment is really heating up. Schools across China are searching for top teaching talent – hopefully that means YOU!

Here are SIX schools you’ll want to know about for the upcoming school term:

If you’re interested, you can apply directly through the links above. OR you can shoot me an email at christopher@eslsuite.com. Write “BLOG POST” and the title of the job you’re applying for in the SUBJECT LINE of the email.

Not sure if you’re qualified? Or, maybe these six jobs aren’t what you’re looking for. Nothing to worry about!

Simply fill out a general application form to connect with a recruitment specialist and find out what kind of teaching jobs in China might suit you.

We want to hear from YOU – apply today!

Written by Christopher Ribeiro | Managing Director at ESL Suite

roundedChristopher came to Tianjin via Buffalo, New York, and Los Angeles. He’s lived in China since 2009, and has traveled to over 20 countries on six continents. Christopher has been in teaching and recruiting for over five years – he’s the co-founder of ESL Suite, a husband, and father to two strapping little boys. If he’s not at work, you’ll find him in the gym, or narrowly dodging oncoming traffic on his fixed-gear bicycle.

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4 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Teaching

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Having been in the ESL industry in China for many years I’ve seen the ins and outs, ups and downs, and trials and tribulations of the ESL teacher.

The joy of getting through to that first child – the frustration of encouraging a challenging student, week after week, in the hope that you’ll help them achieve the potential you know they’re capable of.  I’ve been there.  I’ve done that.  I’ve spilt paint on the shirt during the craft stage of the lesson.

Having been through the trenches of teaching under pressure, when sick, or when missing home – there are a few nuggets of truth and wisdom I  have to offer – if you’re open to hearing them.

YOUR KIDS WILL PULL YOU THROUGH.

When you first arrive in China, as with any country you’re settling into for a year, we’re exposed to new bugs and “nasties” – colds we’ve never been exposed to, food that’s playing havoc on our tummies.   Trust me, it happens to all of us: you’re in your new job wanting to make a good impression, but all you want is Mom.  You dread the idea of a dozen excitable kids waiting for you on the other side of that door.

The funny thing is – it’s the kids that are going to pull you through that class.  Remember, you can’t fool kids – they’re a notoriously honest audience – you can’t fake it.  Level with them.  Tell them you’re not feeling great and you want them to treat you with a little tenderness today.  You’d be surprised how the most rambunctious boisterous boys will be offering to bring you a tissue or pick up the pen you just fumbled to the floor for the 40th time today.

DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF.

The pursuit of perfection is enough to drive any teacher of young learners ’round the bend.   There’s only SO PREPARED you can be for a class.  You’ll eventually come to terms that KIDS WILL BE KIDS – and we should celebrate them for it.   You’re likely to encounter the repeated audio onslaught of a box of pencils being dropped from the desk to the ground and rolling everywhere.  First time, okay.  Second time, really?  Third time, now you’re doing it on purpose.  Fact is kids will be kids, they’re clumsy and energetic and their arms and legs are longer than they were last week.   Learn to enjoy them for what they are and use their energy and silliness to keep you young in the classroom.

LAUGH AT YOURSELF WITH YOUR STUDENTS, BUT NEVER AT THEM.

Don’t learn this one the hard way like I did.   Students will happily spend an hour drawing ridiculous clothes on a print-out of you, and they’re likely to give some weird names too – especially when they’re learning new vocabulary. How often have you had a 5-year-old say “Teacher is a pencil.”  Not funny at all right?  But you laugh anyway cause we’re teachers and we’re approachable and we have a connection with the funny guy.   Allowing the kids to feel safe in your company – safe to express themselves and try out new things with the language will result in hours of giggles and chuckles – but there’s a big difference between laughing AT a mistake and laughing WITH someone who made a mistake.  Kids are emotional creatures still figuring out how to react and build a thicker skin – feeling laughed AT is going to shut them up faster than a clam in low-tide.   Learn to find the moments of humor in the lesson, don’t take what your kids say personally (no, you don’t really look like a monkey), know when to laugh and when to empathize and encourage.

AND FINALLY….

HAVE PASSION FOR WHAT YOU DO.

Think back to your favorite teacher from kindergarten or primary school.  If you’re as old as I am (that was a good few rotations round the sun ago), I honestly don’t remember WHY Mrs. Urry was my favorite teacher.  I remember getting in trouble, being told to stand at my desk, not earning the gold star because I was talking to my desk-buddy…I was that challenging kid!  So how could it be that she would be my favorite teacher?  Because, she always gave me another chance.   She helped me get that gold star, she reminded me that talking during reading time is rude to the others who want to read, and that when there are 20+ kids in a class – sometimes you got to give a lady a break.   The point is I remember her forgiving smile and encouraging aura.  I don’t remember the words she used to encourage me but I remember the feeling.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be that teacher to someone?

 

Teaching is a work of passion – and the kids are going to teach you as much, if not more, about whom you are as a teacher and as a person.  It taps into that sense of nurturing even the most macho men would try denying.   Whether you’re asking hyperactive Emma to sit down back in her chair for the 1,000th time, or giving Leo a high-five for finally nailing his spelling test this week – enjoy your kids – enjoy the chance you’ve been given to make a difference in someone’s life.  We’re educators – we were born to make a difference.

Written by Matt Zweig | Recruitment Associate & Blogger at ESL Suite

644372_829753400381070_7018025203776288672_n Matt is a born and bred Capetonian from South Africa and has been living and working in China since 2010. He’s worked in many different departments of the ESL industry, and won the SINA GOLDEN TEACHER OF THE YEAR award in 2014. Matt became a recruiter so he could share his love of teaching in China with the rest of the world. Matt’s favorite China moment was a shopping trip to Hong Kong in 2013.

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The Mid-Autumn Festival

Chinese traditional moon cakes
Chinese traditional moon cakes

On the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, or the full moon between early September and early October, China and Vietnam celebrate the Mid-Autumn Day (sometimes called Moon Cake Festival). In Chinese, the festival is known as 中秋节 (Zhong Qiu Jie), which literally means middle autumn festival. The festival signifies the end of the autumn harvest and is a cultural, and in some places, religious holiday. It’s among the most recognized Chinese holidays, along withDragon Boat Festival, Chinese Valentine’s Day and the Chinese Spring Festival. In China, Mid-Autumn festival ranks behind only Chinese Spring Festival in significance.

History

In China, the moon has always been observed carefully, and most important decisions are somehow tied into the moon and its movements. All major holidays are planned according to the lunar calendar, and wedding dates are often chosen by the position and phase of the moon. The moon was thought to have close relationship with how the seasons change, and thereby also affect the agricultural production. So, to express their gratitude, the ancient Chinese would give thanks and celebrate the harvest with sacrifices to the moon on the autumn days. This tradition is said to be as old as the Zhou Dynasty between 1046 and 256 BC.

In recent years, a more romantic story has gained traction. A long time ago, ten suns had risen in the heavens and it was causing hardships for the people. An archer, known only as Yi, shot down nine of the suns, and as a reward he was given an elixir of immortality. However, Yi didn’t consume the elixir because he didn’t want to become immortal without his wife Chang E. One day, when Yi was hunting, Fengmeng broke into his house, and forced Chang E to give up the elixir. When she refused Fengmeng threatened her, so to keep the elixir safe she drank it herself and flew towards the heavens, choosing the moon as her new residence. When Yi came home and heard of what happened, he was inconsolable –  he found the fruits and cakes that his wife loved and put them forward to her. It’s possible this story is actually the origin of the sacrifices to the moon.

Customs

One of the most popular customs around the Mid-Autumn festival is eating moon cakes. Moon cakes come in many shapes and sizes, and with a variety of fillings. Everything from fruits, nuts, bean paste, coffee, chocolate and flowers. The cakes are round, symbolizing the reunion of a family. Eating a round moon cake under a round moon makes the Chinese long for their friends and family. Today, presenting moon cakes to friends and family is a way to wish them a long and happy life.

On this day, Chinese families gather to gaze at the moon, which is rounder than at any other time of the year. They get together and express their yearnings towards the friends and family who live far away.

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By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson

Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He has lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here

5 Reasons You Should Be Guest Blogging

Find a New Audience!
Find a New Audience!

If you’ve spent a bit of time teaching English in China, chances are you’ve started a blog by now. It’s a fantastic way to share your travel stories with people who care about you, and if you’re really good at it, you might even earn a little 零用钱 (língyòng qián, or pocket-money).

Starting a niche blog makes you part of a small community, and it’s not uncommon for bloggers in the same niche to guest post on each other’s sites. If you’re not guest blogging already, here are five reasons you should start:

  1. It’s a 双赢 (shuāng yíng, or “win-win”) situation! Guest blogging is great for both parties. The host site gets a fresh voice, and the guest blogger has the opportunity to…
  2. Find a new audience: If your blog is really popular, guest blogging is a perfect opportunity to reach even more readers in the same (or similar) niche. If your blog doesn’t get as much traffic as you’d like, it’s an ideal way to….
  3. Gain more followers: Blogging can be a lot of fun, but let’s face it – you’re writing travel blog because you want readers, and you want people to subscribe to your blog. Successful bloggers usually distribute their posts on Twitter, G+ and Facebook, so guest blogging can help you quickly gain followers on your Social Media accounts as well. But your reasons don’t have to be completely selfish; you may want to guest blog so you can….
  4. Give back something valuable: When I talk to prospective teachers about teaching jobs in China, they typically want to know as much about the job and the city as possible. The problem is, it’s not always easy to find information about cities except Beijing and Shanghai. Stumbling on a blog from an expat living in Chongqing, Ningbo, or Shenyang can be a huge relief for someone thinking about relocating there for a year or more! Photoblogs are an awesome way to tell a story, and theme based blogs (food, adventure travel, nightlife) are also attractive to readers looking for specific information about a particular place. Theme based blogs are a good way to make you an authoritative voice on a subject, which is valuable for….
  5. Networking: The blogging community tends to be full of like-minded people, and perhaps more importantly, a blog can almost instantly connect you with people in your niche. Often the most effective way to secure a job is through weak ties, and building a vast social media presence will increase your exposure to potential future employers. (But make sure your social media presence doesn’t do anything that might make an employer think twice about hiring you!).

If all these reasons aren’t enough, this might be a compelling reason to guest blog: Five Unexpected Things Happen When You Blog Frequently

I’ve listed a few reasons you should consider guest blogging – can you think of any others? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

AND (you saw this coming), if you’d like to become a guest blogger for ESL Suite we’d love to have you! We’re interested in photoblogs, ESL lessons and teaching tips, and anything else in general that might captivate our readers (and yours!).

To become a guest blogger at ESL Suite, email us at: social@eslsuite.com.  Write “Guest Blogger” in the subject line, tell us a bit about yourself, and send a link for your blog!

Best Expat Bars in Tianjin

La Bamba Restaurant and Bar in Tianjin
La Bamba Restaurant and Bar in Tianjin

As far as big cities and nightlife goes, Tianjin isn’t known for its party scene – especially when compared with neighboring Beijing. In fact, most bars in Tianjin wind down around 2:00am, as locals generally like to turn in early. However, there are a number of bars that stay open until the wee hours of the morning, and these are usually good places to meet fellow expats, have a slice of English conversation, and enjoy some late-night western food. After considerable research (it’s a hard job, but someone’s gotta do it), I’ve made a list of some of the best expat bars in Tianjin.

 

Texas BBQ

Central Avenue, Building C7, Magnetic Plaza, Nankai District

This two-story sports bar is in Ao Cheng and has a great happy hour, good food, and loads of expats. Happy hour is from 3.00pm-7.30pm everyday, which includes a selection of beers, wines and spirits at a 2-for-1 price. The food is tasty Americana bar fare, including burgers, pizzas, ribs and fries. A wide range of sports from around the world are shown on the numerous big screens around the bar and the tables (both indoors and outside on the pavement) are long, wooden, and perfect for meeting new people.

 

Indie Bar

Yichang NanLi 1, Yichang Dao, Heping District

Indie is a great little, laid back, artsy bar near Tianjin Medical University. There’s lots of little tables to play games (cards, mahjong, or board games), draw, listen to live music, and of course eat and drink. Here you can feel comfortable to be yourself and do pretty much whatever you like to chill out. The food and drinks are well priced and tasty – they even serve poutine for the Canadians amongst us.

 

Jack’s Bar

6F Blk C Shangu Commercial St (Off Tianta Dao), Nankai District

This small, unassuming bar located on the 6th floor in a building in Shangu (near Tainta) is a great place to go for a few games of pool and interesting conversations with expats from a range of countries. The owner, Jack, is an extremely friendly and welcoming local who mingles with the expats (and will most likely beat you at pool!). In Summer, Jack opens the rooftop deck (just above the bar) which has loads of tables, delicious BBQ food, and great sunset views of Tianjin.

 

Truman’s

103 Building C, Zilai Huayuan, Shuangfeng Dao, Nankai District

A little hard to find in a small side street of Nankai District, Truman’s is popular with expats and locals alike. Here you can play darts, mingle with and chat to the bar staff and other patrons. There’s two levels to chill out in, and the top level has comfy couches to melt into.

 

La Bamba

Weijin Road opposite Tianjin University’s East Gate, Nankai District

This restaurant-bar usually attracts a younger university crowd so there’s a bit of an upbeat, party sort of vibe here. The food (with, as the name suggests, a Mexican theme) and drinks are cheap and the booths and tables are arranged so that it’s easy to weave in and out to meet new people. Take note of their happy hour times and food specials as the discounts are great value for money.

 

Helen’s

Helen’s gets a special mention here. In my experience, it’s not necessarily one of the best places to meet expats, as it’s usually fairly loud and smokey, and people generally stick to their own tables. But the drinks are cheap and the food can be  good, so once you’ve got your own crowd, head here for a night of fun and games. There are a few Helen’s in Tianjin (and Beijing!), so check their website for your closest one.

 

Sitong

126 Chengdu Rd. (at B1 of Somerset Olympic Tower), Heping District

No list of bars in Tianjin would be complete without mentioning Sitong. Although more of a club than a bar, this place is infamous amongst expats. Come here for a night of dancing, drinking, loud music and the chance to meet “that special someone”.

 

All of these bars have English speaking staff as well as menus in English, but if you want a practice ground for your Chinese basics, these are great places to start. Most bars also have free wifi (you’ll just have to ask for the password). The easiest way to get to most of these places is by taxi. Just show (or tell) the driver the address in Chinese and you shouldn’t be more than a 10-20CNY away from a night of fun.

Where are your favorite expat bars in Tianjin? Let us know in the comments section.

*Please note that things can change, and all information was correct at time of publishing.

DSCN6110Penny de Vine is a thirty-something Australian freelance writer with a love for travel and trying anything new! You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Four “Must See” Parks in Tianjin

Parks are a huge part of Chinese culture and they’re used for a massive range of activities. Year-round you’ll see people playing badminton, practicing tai chi, playing musical instruments, boating, flying kites, painting, line-dancing, as well as the ‘usual’ activities of walking, running and playing games. With a population of around 14 million, Tianjin is China’s fourth largest city – it can be fairly hectic, so it’s no wonder the locals appreciate the great network of parks. When you need to escape the hustle and bustle, there’s a bunch of great parks to choose from. Here’s a list of what I consider to be four “must see” parks in Tianjin.

 

Water Park in Tianjin (水上公园 )
Water Park in Tianjin (水上公园 )

Tianjin Water Park ( 天津水上公园 Tiānjīn Shuǐshàng Gōngyuán)

33 Shuishang Gongyuan Bei Lu, Nankai District (天津市南开区水上公园北路33号)

This is the biggest park in Tianjin. It’s situated near the popular expat area of Ao Cheng, so it’s not as central as other parks, but it’s well worth the trip away from downtown. There are loads of winding paths and islands to explore in this truly massive park. You’ll see some ducks, plenty of boats in the summer, and even a Ferris wheel (which is part of a small amusement park). The small zoo has cheap entry and is popular with young and old, and there’s a great view of Tianjin’s TV tower, which makes for photogenic backdrop. 

 

Trash MountainTrash Mountain, or Nancuiping Park (南翠屏公园 )
Trash MountainTrash Mountain, or Nancuiping Park (南翠屏公园 )

Trash Mountain (or Hill Park) (南翠屏公园 Nancuiping Park)

Binshui Xidao, Nankai District (天津市南开区宾水西道)

This is a gorgeous little park tucked away behind Ao Cheng, and as its name suggests, was once a mountain of trash (although it’s really more of a small hill). However, don’t let this interesting fact deter you from visiting this hidden gem. There’s so much on offer here including a running/walking track, several small restaurants, boating in summer, and a man-made snow hill in Winter that you can tube down. What more could you ask for in a park?

 

Tianjin People’s Park (人民公园 Rénmín Gōngyuán)

The intersection of Yong’an Dao and Guangdong Lu, Hexi District (永安道,广东路的交叉点)

Like most big cities in China, Tianjin has its own people’s park. Here you’ll find a variety of fun areas for the young ones (slides and sandboxes), as well as a ton of nice areas for adults to relax and enjoy a sunny day. The west gate is worth a look to take a picture or two and there’s even a couple of birdcages for you Ornithologists out there. This park has a couple of interesting facts: once owned by a salt merchant, it was donated to the state in the mid 1900’s, and it is the only park that Chairman Mao did calligraphy for!

 

Changhong Eco-Park (长虹生态园)

145 Hongqi Lu, Nankai District (天津市南开区红旗路145号)

Here, as with many of the other parks in the city, you’ll find loads of paths winding around water features and plenty of beautiful trees and plants. There’s even a section featuring tropical plants and flowers. Interestingly, this was apparently the first park in Tianjin to stop charging visitors for entry (now almost all parks in Tianjin are free to enter). The West gate is the place to head for drinks, snacks and toys you convince yourself you totally need (but you know you really don’t).  It’s also one of the premier spots in Tianjin to enjoy roast leg of lamb in the summer. Cooked over an open spit, and served with an ice-cold Tsingtao beer, there’s no better way to enjoy an evening in China!

 

Parks in Tianjin are great all year, but spring is by far the prettiest time to visit – there are gorgeous water lilies and colorful flowers blooming everywhere. All parks listed here are free to enter and open 24-hours a day. They can be crowded on weekends, so be prepared to jostle for space at times, or try to work out which times are a little less busy, like early morning . Most of these parks are easy to get to by bus or subway (and then a bit of walking), or if you’d prefer, show (or tell!) a taxi driver the Chinese name and you’ll be there in no time!

 

Where are your favorite parks in Tianjin? Tell us below!

DSCN6110Penny de Vine is a thirty-something Australian freelance writer with a love for travel and trying anything new! You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Chinese Festivals: Qi Xi – A Day of Love

On August 20th this year, the Chinese people will celebrate their own unique version of Valentine’s Day, known as Qi Xi. As with many other Chinese festivals, the exact date changes every year; its planned according to the Chinese Lunar calendar, which is slightly different from our western Gregorian calendar. In Chinese, this festival is also called the Double Seven Festival because it falls on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar, much like the Dragon Boat Festival is called the “Double Fifth Festival” because it is on the 5th day of the 5th month. The Chinese name, Qi Xi (七夕) also gives this away as Qi (七) means seven and Xi (夕) means night. Qi Xi is also sometimes called The Daughter’s Festival as it relates to unmarried girls looking for love.

Story

The Qi Xi originates from an ancient legend of love. The full-extent of the legend is rather long, but generally its a story of forbidden love between a cowherd and a weaver girl. As the legend goes, the boy is literally named cowherd (niu lang, 牛郎) and the girl is named weaver girl (zhi nü, 织女). They fall deeply in love, but much like modern stories like Romeo and Juliet, their love was not allowed. The legend says, the girl’s mother banished the lovers from seeing each other, and placed them on opposite sides of the Silver River (the Milky Way). But, because their love was so strong, everyone felt sorry for them and wanted them to be together. Every year on the seventh day of the seventh month, a flock of magpies would fly together to form a bridge for the two lovers to walk across, so they could be with each other for one night. This night became known as Qi Xi.

Variations

Throughout China you can find several variations of this story. In some versions the girl was a fairy who was weaving beautiful clouds in the sky; her mother was a goddess, and the weaver girl was her seventh daughter. The girl escaped heaven and came across the boy. They fell in love, were secretly married, and had two children. But, when the goddess found out her fairy daughter married a mortal, she became furious and banished them. In another version, the girl was taken back to heaven to weave clouds, a task that she had neglected during the time she was with her mortal husband. When she suddenly disappeared, the boy felt very sad. His ox then began to talk to him, saying that if he killed it and lay it on its side he would be able to go to heaven to find his wife. He killed the ox, took its skin and his two children, and went to heaven to find his wife. When the goddess found out she became angry, took out her hairpin and scratched a wide river in the sky (the Milky Way) to keep them apart. This version also includes the magpies forming a bridge so the two lovers could meet for a single night.

Traditions

In rural regions of China, the Double Seven Festival is still celebrated, although not as much as it used to be. Girls would pray to Zhi nü; they hoped for her sewing skills and her sweet love. However, in the cities, this tradition has been replaced with the Western Valentine’s Day, which falls on February 14th of every year. But, there are still a lot of young people who celebrate Qi Xi as they would Valentine’s Day. They go out for dinner, take their crush on a date, bring gifts of flowers, chocolate and cards, and express their love in a manner of different ways.

An interesting note is that it almost always rains on this day. It’s said if it rains on Qi Xi, it’s the river sweeping away the magpie bridge between the two lovers, or the rain is the tears of the two separated lovers. The forecast calls for rain today, so we’ll assume the lovers are saying their goodbye’s until they meet again next year (*sob*).

Photo credit: The Moon of the Milky Way (Ginga no tsuki), before 1892

By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson

Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He has lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here

Street Food in China

For me, street food and traveling go hand in hand. I love eating what the locals eat, where the locals eat, and being among the locals when they eat it. If you too are a lover of street food, you’re sure to find yourself in street food heaven when you arrive in China. If you’re not so into it, I can almost guarantee you’ll leave craving some delicious snack you picked up from a roadside somewhere. To help you in your street food sampling journey, I’ve put together a small list of some of my favorite street food in China.

Beijing bugs – many people fly into China’s capital city Beijing. There’s so much to see and do in Beijing, I suggest spending at least a few days taking in the sights. While you’re there, you simply cannot miss seeing (and sampling if you’re brave enough) the food at Donghuamen Night Market (北京东华门夜市). On offer are skewers of barbecued scorpions, seahorses, centipedes, starfish and much more! Don’t worry, if you’re not into street food of the creepy crawly variety, there’s plenty of other delicious (more Chinese/Western looking) food to sample here too.

Sugar coated fruits – Chinese people love, love, love fruit. Where we westerners might take packaged snacks on outings, more often than not Chinese people take fresh fruit. But fear not, if you haven’t packed fruit with you, you can try some tanghulu (tung-hoo-loo 糖葫芦), which is the Chinese version of a toffee apple. Instead of one apple, you’ll get a skewer of several Chinese hawthorn that have been dipped in liquid sugar and dried. If you’re not a fan of hawthorn, many other skewers of delicious sugary fruit can be found around the place too (such as kiwi, strawberry and grape).

BBQ meat – this is my favorite street food. Perhaps it’s because I’m Australian and barbecuing meat regularly is a big part of our culture, or maybe it’s just because it tastes so darn good! Whatever the reason, come summertime in China you can barely drive a few blocks without seeing chuan  er (chwar 串儿) stalls on the sidewalks. Here you can choose skewers of a range of vegetables, tofu, meats, seafood and animal parts (like heads, feet, and livers) to be freshly barbecued right in front of you. Be sure to ask for bu la 不辣 (not spicy) if you can’t handle heat, as most barbecue stalls add a pretty spicy rub to all their fare.

Savory pancakes – who doesn’t love a pancake? Here in China you can pick up a savory pancake,  or jianbing (煎饼), at almost any time of day – and they’re not to be missed! The most common type available is more like a crêpe fried on a hot, flat metal plate and topped with a thick sauce, egg, scallions or onions, and cilantro, then rolled up like a burrito and served in a plastic bag. You’ll usually find these in street stalls in the morning as it’s a favorite breakfast dish among locals. I highly recommend trying the big round crispy cracker (baocui 薄脆) or savory thick breadstick/long doughnut looking thing (youtiao 油条) wrapped in the pancake too.

Fried noodles – most Chinese people will list noodles in their top three favorite foods, and with so many and delicious types on offer, it’s easy to see why. Fried noodles from a street vendor are just fabulous (especially as a late night bite after a few píjiŭ/beers). Usually there’s a range of noodles (egg or rice, round or flat) to choose from, and a range of vegetables (cabbage, onion, carrot), with an egg thrown in the pan for good measure. Some oil, spices and sauces complete your meal (or midnight snack!).

Roasted sweet potatoes – Winter in China can be brutally cold (depending on where you are of course), so if you’re looking for the perfect snack to warm-up, look no further than a roasted sweet potato (kǎo hóng shǔ 烤红薯). You can usually smell these vendors before you see them (commonly by subway stations) roasting this delicious, creamy vegetable over hot coals. When you buy one, the vendor will weigh it and put it in a plastic bag for you. All you have to do is peel back the skin and dig in!

Street food in China is not only delicious, but it’s also incredibly cheap. Most of the things listed here, you can pick up for 5-10 CNY (a little more or less than $1 USD). If you need a hand with ordering, check out our article on Chinese for Beginners. Then go forth and try some of these tasty treats (but remember to go easy at first, or you might wind up spending a little more time in the bathroom than you’d like!).
Have you tried any of this street food in China? What are your favorites? Tell us below!

DSCN6110Penny de Vine is a thirty-something Australian freelance writer with a love for travel and trying anything new! You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook.