All work and no play makes Rachel a dull traveler, and I’m afraid I’ve been consumed by work these past few days. Still, I’ve learned and seen a great deal.
I’ve now experienced perhaps a dozen meals in China, and I am happy to report that my chopsticks skills have improved immensely! It helps when the dumpling is extra sticky and glues itself to the chopstick, making me look more expert than I really am. What I’ve really appreciated about Chinese dining etiquette is that it’s so communal and relaxed. Drop something? No biggie. Want seconds or thirds? Please do! When dining out, tables are often round, with a large glass “lazy Susan” in the middle, upon which all serving plates are placed (see left). The glass is then spun, in any direction, depending on who wants what, and you keep spinning and serving until you’re full or the food runs out, although I’ve yet to seen the latter happen.
There are often live fish and turtles on display in grocery stores and restaurants. I saw a grocery store in which you could scoop up your own clams and oysters with a fishing net, and there were even live turtles swimming around in a tank in a university cafeteria I visited on Monday! I think I might draw my line at turtle, but the fish I’ve eaten so far has been delicious – crispy and fried, almost like a bloomin’ onion with it’s flaky bits all crunchy.
Chinese Chinese food is definitely different than American Chinese food, but I can see where we get it. There is fried rice and and fried noodles, although the fried rice doesn’t leave you feeling gross and the noodles and thin and lovely, more like angel hair pasta than the lo mein we’re used to. Sweet ‘n sour sauce exists here and the taste was similar, but not as gelatinous. In essence, I can see the inspiration, but I much prefer the original version – much fresher, healthier, and with more distinct flavors. I’m really looking forward to the cooking class Alyssa and I will take in Yangshuo.
On Monday I spent most of my day visiting my college’s new partner school, Shanghai International Studies University (SISU). I had the most formal meeting of my life, with six deans and faculty members at an enormous marble table, with much gift-giving and picture-taking. And I learned the art of exchanging business cards – you use both hands to present and receive the card, and bow a bit, and examine the person’s card for a moment before presenting your own. It was a tricky dance but I managed it. My colleague Lisa, who was with me, told me I was a rock star. 🙂
Never leave home without toilet tissue and hand sanitizer
The standard toilet in China is a squatter, and one should not take toilet paper or soap for granted. After a very nice lunch at the university, my Chinese colleague kindly handed me some napkins and reminded me that in China, one ought never to leave home without bathroom supplies. Actually going to the bathroom was an exercise in contortion and balance, as I was wearing a pencil skirt AND tights. It was a harrowing experience.
There’s so much more to share, but I want to get this post done and go to sleep! Will write more soon and more frequently, since my work has calmed down now. Ahhhhh.