HELP WITH MENUS:
One of the most daunting parts of traveling to a place where you don’t speak the language is finding good to eat. Chinese food is amazing and delicious, but sometimes playing what I like to call “menu roulette” just doesn’t sounds appealing.
Menu roulette is not for the faint of heart. You sit down in a restaurant, the waitress gives you the menu, you close your eyes, and point to something. Within 10 minutes you’ll find out what your ordered. One time I accidentally ordered a whole tray of cucumbers and garlic, which turned out to be delicious. Another time we ordered chicken soup that contained a whole chicken, which took some getting used to, but was still good. Give it a whirl when you’re feeling adventurous.
I’ve made a little translated menu for you just in case you’re not feeling adventurous. Of course, not all restaurants will have everything on this menu, but it won’t hurt to ask. This: Menu is a PDF version of the menu below. All the dishes listed are commonly eaten so you won’t have a hard time finding them. You should try your best to pronounce the pinyin, but if worst comes to worst, you can show the characters to the waitress. I hope it helps!
|西红柿炒鸡蛋加饭||Xīhóngshì chǎo jīdàn fàn||Eggs & tomatoes on rice|
|宫保鸡丁||Gōng bǎo jī dīng||Kung pao chicken|
|糖醋里脊||Táng cù lǐjí||Sweet and Sour Pork|
|北京烤鸭||Běijīng kǎoyā||Peiking Roasted Duck|
|回锅肉||Huíguōròu||Pork and cabbage|
|粥||Zhōu||Chinese rice porridge|
|炒饭加鸡蛋||Chǎofàn jiā jīdàn||Fried rice with eggs|
|炒面加鸡肉||Chǎomiàn jiā jīròu||Chicken fried noodles|
|茄子加饭||Qié zǐ jiā fàn||Eggplant and rice|
|牛肉面||Niúròu miàn||Beef noodles|
|牛肉面汤||Niúròu miàntāng||Beef noodle soup|
|魚香肉絲||Yú xiāng ròu sī||Pork/vegetables in sauce|
|辣子鸡||Làzǐ jī||Chicken w/ spicy peppers|
|炸酱面||Zhájiàngmiàn||Noodles in sweet sauce|
|臭豆腐||Chòu dòufu||Stinky tofu|
|生煎包||Shēng jiān bāo||Boiled wantons|
|粽子||Zòngzǐ||Rice in a bamboo wrap|
|油墩子||Yóu dūnzi||Shanghai radish fritters|
|豆花||Dòuhuā||Soy bean pudding|
BATHROOM. CAUTION: REAL TALK
You might notice some striking details about the pictures above. First, they’re obviously squatters. Second, there aren’t any doors. Chinese people are not phased in the slightest about natural body functions in public. They might look at your oddly, but that’s just because you’re a tourist. Your shyness will decrease with time and will wear off eventually.
I am so excited to talk about this. China is one of many countries which still use squatting toilets or “squatters”. Most tourists would rather die than use one, but to be honest, squatting is going to be your only option in most areas. Just give in the squatters, they’ll grow on you eventually. Having spent a few years in China I can tell you I would use a squatter over a western toilet 10 out of 10 times. Not to get graphic, but with squatters your bum won’t touch anything anyone else’s bum has touched…
The real question is, how in the world do you use one? I was inspired by this picture I saw on the internet a few years ago:This kid is nailing the “asian squat”. I would suggest studying it before your travels.
The after you’ve perfected the squat all you have to do is keep your pants out of the line of fire. That’s probably the most common mistake tourists make whilst using the squatters. With some practice, I’m confident you’ll be fine. This is a direct quote from a friend who spent 6 months teaching English in China, “I was terrified of pooping on my panties, but it never happened.” See? Practice makes perfect.
A lot of people actually think squatting is better for your body. I’m not going to get into all that. You’ll be able to make a decision for yourself soon enough!
STREET FOOD AND SAFETY
The first thing you need to know is that Chinese food is delicious! They’ve really perfected the art of making vegetables taste good. One of my friends from the Hunan province cannot believe that in the U.S. we eat vegetables raw; in China it’s just not done.
Street food is particularly tasty, but for the sake tummy health, there are a few rules that need to be observed. Especially if this is your first time traveling. After a while you’ll be able to gauge what your body can handle. These rules should keep you 100% safe until you get a feel for your comfort zone.
- If it’s not hot, don’t eat it. Bacteria can’t survive boiling hot water or oil. Don’t be afraid to ask the shopkeeper to make you a fresh whatever-it-is. For instance, I requested these geckos to be boiled again in front of me before I bought one.
- Fruits and veggies should be washed in boiled water and peeled before eating. I’m not going to get into all the fertilization and pesticide detail, just trust that you don’t want that stuff going in your body. Sometimes you’ll buy jianbing, the Chinese burrito thing below, and not even think about the lettuce being sketchy. The cook has probably even washed it, but it’s better to go without it than having a big ole tummy ache, right?
- Water from the tap SHOULD NEVER BE CONSUMED. Chinese people even stay away from it. Even brushing your teeth with sink water is pushing your luck. You might think you aren’t drinking anything, but the little bacteria that make you sick are small enough to sneak in. A bottle of water is only 50 cents or so and well worth your money.
- Wait in the long lines. The locals know where to eat, maybe because it’s just tasty or particularly heathy, so jump in the long lines instead of opting for a shorter wait time with sketchy food.
The Center for Disease control has a whole page dedicated to food safety while traveling. Their page is much more detailed than mine, so you’ll want to check it out: wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/food-water-safety.
All of these things said, I don’t think you should worry overly much while you’re eating. If you’re following the few rules above you’ll be just fine. Food is a huge part of the culture that you don’t want to miss out on. If you let your new friends introduce you to the local delicacies you’ll win their hearts in an instance. Even if you don’t love whatever it is, they’ll appreciate your sense of adventure.
The pollution in China is always a hot topic. Sometimes there are clear blue skies and sometimes there is a gross haze. It really depends on the city your in, the wind that day, and the season. You can check http://www.aqicn.org/map/ to see what the pollution index is for the place you’re going to visit. In my experience it’s pretty accurate.
This picture was taken in Xuzhou at noon on a day when the pollution count was in the 500s 🤢.
The pollution doesn’t usually effect tourists outside of cold or allergy symptoms. If you’re going to be in large cities you might consider taking allergy and cold meds along. If you’re not going to be in China for an extended period of time I wouldn’t worry about any long-term health concerns.
One Child Policy
In the 1970’s the Chinese government introduced and began to enforce their infamous “One Child Policy”. This was basically a population planning policy created because officials were worried about the population outgrowing the country’s food production ability. The basic rule was that each family could only have one child. As time went on the rules began to change so that some families could have 2 or even 3 children depending on their ethnicity or financial circumstances. The numerous flaws in this plan were eventually notice. In 2015, the overall rules were shifted so that all families could have 2 or 3 kids.
The chart below shows a huge aging population that soon will have no one to take care of them. Social security is non-existent and nursing homes are not popular, so each elderly person will need to be cared for by their children or grandchildren.
There is a huge amount of pressure on children now. Each child has 2 sets of grandparents and 2 parents to take care of in their old age. That’s 6 people who are going to be dependent on 1 person. This results in parents requiring their children to be extremely focused on academics. Why in the world would a child be required to do the dishes or clean the house when they could be studying for their exams? The parents and grandparents will do anything possible to keep their child focused enough to get high scores and advance to a good college. A lot of Chinese kids never do any household chores before they go off to college.
This policy has also had a huge impact on Chinese culture and society. Traditionally, carrying on the family name was of utmost importance. Since male can carry on the family name through marriage and children many families chose to only keep male children. This created a large gender gap and females became a minority. Abortions became a very popular method of ensuring the families could have a son. However, when it became apparent that females were dying out, a law prohibiting medical personnel from revealing the baby’s gender was instituted. It also became common for women to keep their family name even after marriage.
As you’ve probably already figured out, females in China are quite precious and are treated accordingly. Dating culture has changed drastically now that the men outnumber the women so greatly. Women and their parents can now uphold very high standards for men who might want to a relationship. Men need to have a college degree, career, house, and car just to qualify as a valid candidate for dating. It has been suggested that these high standards are a part of the reason red light districts have become so popular in recent years.
You know that I love China, but of course each country has flaws in policy. Luckily, this is one that is being corrected.
MONEY AND BANKING
The official name for Chinese money is renminbi, usually abbreviated to RMB. Yuan (dollar) and kuai (buck) are also common though. Chinese money is beautiful! Each bill features Chairman Mao Ze Dong on the front side and a popular Chinese attraction on the back. I always thought it would be cool to take a picture of the all the bills in front of their individual locations.
China is a cash country. You can’t go into a restaurant or grocery store and pay with a card. However, there are ATMs all over that you can use to withdraw cash. There is usually a withdrawal fee each time you swipe your card so talk to your bank to see how you can best avoid them. Usually, I just withdraw large amounts of cash every once in a while instead of small amounts more frequently.
I can think of 3 main ways for accessing money while traveling:
- Bring your debit card and withdraw money as needed (after you’ve talked to your bank). Bring a few hundred dollars cash with you just in case there is a problem with your debit or credit card.
- Order Chinese cash from your bank in advance. You’ll save money on the exchange fees, but you might be a little nervous carrying so much money around. Take a debit or credit card for backup.
- Take all your USD over and exchange it to RMB at a bank or airport upon arrival. Again, you might feel a bit insecure carrying loads of cash around. If this is what you’re going to do take only new, crisp 20 dollar bills. They’re accepted best by the exchange officers. And again, take a debit or credit card for backup.
Right now, 1 USD is worth about 6.8 RMB. This website features an up-to-date exchange rate converter: http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/convert/?From=USD&To=CNY
No matter what you do, call your bank to tell them how long you’re going to be in China. If your travel plans aren’t logged in their system they’ll put a hold on your card to defend against fraud. You’ll also want to ask them what kind of international withdrawal fees you’ll be paying.
You might already know that China is a super safe country. Pick pocketing is just about the only crimes you’ll have to worry about while you’re traveling. Safe is always better than sorry, right? You might find a money belt useful for carrying you money and passport discretely. There’s no need to worry though, if you’re being self-aware you’ll be just fine.