Do Chinese really eat dogs… and other questions.
Warning: some images are not for the faint-hearted. They are very unusual and unsuitable for people who like only safe and familiar things.
Back on a warm Ibiza I was thinking: did I really like being in China? Of course businesswise it brought me a new impulse and I did got inspired for new creative things. But what about China itself and the Chinese people. I must say, I was not really lucky with the cold rainy weather there. Only on my last day, when a taxi brought me back to the airport, I saw the first rays of morning sun on the high buildings.
But alone in my hotel room at night I sometimes felt lonely and miserable. Cold from the rain, tired from not sleeping the night before because of the jet lag, blisters on my feet from the hours of walking. No communication in English the whole day or if so, on a very low level. Even the staff of the hotel did not speak English well. I missed Johan and because of the time difference, I wanted to chat with him when he was going to his work and he wanted to chat with me when I needed to go to bed.
So did I really like being in China? Would I recommend it to a friend for a holiday location? Would I like to go back together with Johan?
But who am I to judge a whole country of 9,6 million square kilometers and a population of 1.35 billion people, 56 distinct ethnic groups and 292 different languages, after only visiting two cities? And I might have suffered from a culture shock, because it was my first time Asia ever. I saw a lot of countries during my modeling work and had beautiful holidays, but not that many countries with poor people living so close to wealthy people. Am I a bit unworldly?
I do have to go back for business reasons in March 2016. To understand the Chinese culture and the habits and manners of the Chinese people a bit more for my next visit, I asked my friend Janny Man a few things. Janny was born in Holland. She lives in Nieuwkoop with Sander and her parents are Hongkong Chinese. She speaks Cantonese and a little bit Mandarin. She is the owner of Restaurant “Mandarin” at Nieuwkoop.
WILL THE CENSORSHIP IN CHINA END SOON?
OK, I am a bit a Facebook addict. But I also could not go to Google, so no G-mail, no WeTransfer and no Instagram. Luckily WhatsApp worked so I did not feel totally shut out of the Western world. And one time I was chatting with my friends Jan, Ron and Johan at the same time and I was typing a dirty word in Dutch and my mobile went blank twice! It gave me the feeling that “big brother was watching me”. All the channels on my hotel room television were Asian except CNN. But CNN had East continent commercials and East continent weather forecast, as if the West did not exist! There was also a music channel, but in American video clips they blurred the spots where you might could see a part too much from a breast. I am not talking about nipple gate. No, just Pink her blurry armpit with no start of her breast!
Janny, did this censorship change the last years and will this get better in the future?
“I am afraid this will not change in the near future. China has his own social media channels which of course are owned by Chinese companies. In the first place China does not want you to watch porn or get too much influenced by the Western world. Also they would loose a lot of money if all Chinese would go on Google or Facebook.”
NO CONTINENTAL BREAKFAST IN CHINA?
I always liked Chinese food in restaurants in Holland or on Ibiza. Not too spicy, sometimes tasting a bit bland. And I love dim sum! In China I ordered a few times pork, but this was kind of fatty with more bone and strings than meat. And I missed my bread. Noodles and rice for lunch and dinner I can handle for one week. But also for breakfast?
My 5-star hotel Majesty Plaza in Shanghai advertised in the elevator with breakfast “where East meets West” with a beautiful picture of whole-grain bread and cereals. I just tried it once and maybe 10% was fried eggs, cooked eggs, some bacon and a few sticky croissants and soggy white bread. And the other 90% was … fresh made noodles, rice, pork, fish, sushi and even ice cream. As fruit they only had fresh bananas and tangerines and lychees from a can. I must say that the Marriott Courtyard in Hangzhou did had multigrain bread and more choices of yoghurts and fresh fruit.
Janny, if you like a continental or English breakfast, what do you suggest? I ended up at Starbucks most of the time.
“When I was young and got up at 7 in the morning, my grandfather was already cooking fish and meat. We did eat a sort of rice porridge in the morning, but always with fish or meat in it. A lot of Chinese eat noodles and rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But nowadays the locals eat also bread or cereals at home. You can buy multigrain bread in the Hongkong supermarkets. And the international hotels like Hilton or Marriott of course have bread and cereals.”
DO CHINESE EAT DOGS?
Johan had warned me: Don’t be shocked if you see dog meat sold at the butcher. Well, I did see chickens and ducks with their head still on it. I was not really shocked because it looked almost fake with the yellow-brown color, probably marinated. And if I had run into a street vendor frying insects, for sure I would have tasted a few. A bit shocked I was when I saw scalped pork heads. But I did not see fried dog in the window of a butcher.
I did see a store with hundreds of grasshoppers. They were held in beautiful boxes. A Chinese couple were buying almost 10 boxes. While the sales assistent was wrapping them in paper the guy asked her for a skewer. He went inside the box with the pin, touched the grasshopper and afterwards went to one of the boxes his girlfriend had just bought and touched another grasshopper. Was he fertilizing the grasshopper?
Janny, what was happening in that grasshopper store? Are they buying them as pet or are they eating them?
“The grasshoppers you saw were not for consumption. The Chinese believe the grasshopper offers attributes of longevity, happiness, good health, good luck, wealth, abundance, fertility and virtue. In certain regions of China, grasshoppers were kept as family pets and it was believed grasshoppers embodied the personalities of family members who were deceased. They also buy them to do competitions. The grasshopper with the most beautiful sound (singing) wins. Touching the grasshopper with the stick is to hear its singing-potential.”
And is dog forbidden to sell in China? Or can I still run into a butcher’s window with fried dog the next time?
“Yes, Chinese people eat dogs. But it is getting less and less popular. And you will not see dogs hanging in the window at the butcher. There are restaurants that only have dog meat on their menu. At “Restaurant Mandarin” in Nieuwkoop we for sure don’t serve dog hahaha. By the way, the animals you saw hanging in the windows with their heads and legs still on are called Jou Thau Jou Mee (with head, with tail) and they are served on your plate with the head and the legs. Even in traditional Chinese restaurants in Holland when you order sucking pig (speenvarken) you get the head and feet on your plate, nicely decorated.”
DO CHINESE ENJOY THEIR DINNER ALSO AS A SOCIAL HAPPENING?
The Chinese I saw eating were bent low over their bowl, almost throwing the food with their chopsticks in their mouth and with a lot of slurping sounds. And sometimes even with their mobile between their face and the bowl, not talking to their company.
Janny, do Chinese people also enjoy the social thing during eating. Sitting straight up and talking to the other people at the table, enjoying a wine or an after dinner coffee?
“In the more expensive restaurants you will see Chinese people enjoying their dinner with a glass of wine. Or you don’t see them because they often book a private room with the whole family or business relatives. The people you saw eating were just in a hurry. A short brake between work.”
WHAT ARE THE WAITERS WEARING?? A SPLATTER SCREEN?
In most of the restaurants I saw the waiters wearing an earplug with microphone, talking to the kitchen or repeating your orders. But what was this see through plastic thing in front of their chin? Was this simply hygienic so they could not splatter or spit on my table?
Janny, have you seen these screens and are they pure hygienic?
“Ooooh you mean “the double permanent anti-mist transparent environmental sanitary hygiene mouth covering mask”? Yes, they are pure for hygienic reason.”
WHY DO CHINESE PEOPLE SPIT?
OK … we all heard the stories that Chinese spit on the street: forcibly ejecting saliva or other substances from the mouth. But still I really had to get used to it. I thought only old man would ruckle. But I did see women and kids spitting on the street. Sometimes you hear a throat being cleared noisily very close to you and you really have to step away, not to get the phlegm on your shoes! My worst experience was at this “East meets West”-breakfast at the 5-star hotel Majesty Plaza. I was sitting close to the buffet with sticky croissants and soggy bread when a well-dressed man passed my table with a full plate of food. He suddenly stopped, put his plate on my table, cleared his throat with a lot of noise and grabbed a paper napkin from my table. He spit in the napkin, crumpled it and lay the napkin down on my table! So gross, I almost started gagging!
Janny, why do Chinese people spit? And is this in every level of the population?
“We as Hongkong-Chinese hate this habit. The plates “No spitting” don’t help. And the word spitting is even too mild! It is more an awful ruckle what they make. Probably if you would have looked offended to that man in your hotel, he would not have a clue what he was doing wrong. They say that, in the old days people cleared their throat to get illness out of their body. It’s like how when you are sick they tell you to sweat as much as possible to get out the toxins. But hey, it is 2015 … no spitting anymore please !!!””
DO MANY ACCIDENTS HAPPEN BETWEEN PEDESTRIANS AND TRAFFIC?
On my first day, within a few minutes walking on the streets of Shanghai, I knew the motorcycles and cargo bikes were not going to stop for me. So when walking on the pedestrians crossing, even with your light on green, if you hear some horns, directly jump away! They do not stop.
Even some cars drove through red light while blasting the horn. Once I saw a truck in the middle of Shanghai center driving fast towards the pedestrians crossing. Instead of a horn he had a megaphone with a Chinese voice. Probably it said: “Watch out, I am not going to brake for crossing wildlife!” and with 50 kilometers per hour he drove through the red light. I must say, except for the honking, I did not see much aggression on the streets. In the West if you drive unsafe pedestrians will hit the back of your car or on the motorway drivers deliberately start cutting off each other, scold or show their middle finger.
Janny, is being a pedestrian in a big city dangerous?
“Yes it is! When I was visiting “the Mainland” (that is how Hongkong Chinese call China) with my aunt, she was holding me tight next to her. The scooters and cars will hit you if you don’t watch out well. They even sometimes drive over the side walk full speed! At the last data source of 2010 China had 275,983 fatal street accidents, which is almost 21 on ever 100.000 inhabitants!”
CAN CHINESE SLEEP EVERYWHERE?
I still have to laugh when I think of all those Chinese people sleeping everywhere. Most of them I saw when I was using public transport. On the bus with their mouth open, in the metro in a squatting position, on the bench in the waiting hall of the train with their head leaning on the shoulder of their travel companion. But also I saw people sleeping at their work. With their head on their office desk. Or in shops on little chairs or sleeping stretchers. It wasn’t so busy at the fabric market, but I entered a few stands where the saleswoman did not even wake up while I was going through her products.
The funniest situation I tried to photograph, but it felt kind of awkward taking pictures of sleeping people. I saw a nice trendy hair salon in a busy street. The hairdressers were all occupied with clients. At the door were two girls, probably hostesses checking at the door if you had an appointment. Both girls were sitting on a stool next to the door, with their back against the glass window. Both girls were sleeping. I stopped to take a picture, but when I checked the result, the picture was out of focus. So I took another one, but one of the girls was already arousing and spotted me. And the manager saw me too and hurried to the still sleeping girl, warned her and scowled at me.
So now the last question from this unworldly, culture shocked Gertjan.
Janny, what is it with those sleeping Chinese? Are these short “power naps” or are they often missing their train stations?
“There is one thread running through most of your questions and the things you noticed. And that is: “stress”. Chinese people are working under a lot of pressure. Hard working for less money, long hours and afraid to get unemployed. That is why they walk fast on the streets, jumping the queue at the supermarket, pushing at public transport, honking their horns at the pedestrian crossing, eating fast, bended over their bowl and at the same time chatting on social media. You see these sleeping people everywhere in China. And after a while you become a copy cat. When your colleagues are doing a power nap, you get sleepy too.
I am really sorry you felt miserable your first days in China. Probably when you would have been with a Chinese friend or a tolk you would have understood the country much more and not get lost on there streets. If I am with Dutch friends in China and they want to visit all kind of things (and I can not join them) I always give them a schedule in English with all the locations and little papers with Chinese characters to give to the taxi drivers.
I really hope on your next visit you feel more comfortable in China and you will have a Chinese friend to guide you more!”