We have collected a few of our favourite recipes from some of our destinations around the world for you to enjoy.
Whether you are cooking to earn points for the leaderboard, for fun, or just because you are hungry, we are sure you’re going to love these recipes!
CRISPY VIETNAMESE PANCAKE
Bánh xèo – also known as crispy Vietnamese pancake, crepe or sizzling cake – is a famous street food which is widely believed to originate from France during its occupation of Vietnam. The word xèo depicts the sizzling sound when pouring the rice batter into the hot skillet
Where to try this food? Banh Xeo Nga (251 Nguyễn Thiện Thuật, Phường 1, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh)
- Rice flour
- Ground turmeric
- Mung bean sprouts
- Chopped scallions
- Tiny shrimp
- Pork chop
- Coconut oil
DESCRIPTION / PREPARATION
- Mix rice flour, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and turmeric together in a large bowl. Beat in coconut milk to make a thick batter. Slowly beat in water until batter is the consistency of a thin crepe batter.
- Heat 1 1/2 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallot and garlic; cook and stir until fragrant but not browning, 1 to 2 minutes. Add shrimp; saute until cooked through and opaque, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with fish sauce/soy sauce and salt. Transfer filling to a bowl.
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees F (95 degrees C).
- Wipe out skillet and reheat over medium heat. Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoon oil. Stir crepe batter and pour 1/2 cup into the hot skillet, swirling to coat the bottom. Lay 3 or 4 of the cooked shrimp on the bottom half of the crepe. Top with a small handful of bean sprouts.
- Cook until batter looks set and edges start to brown, about 1 minute. Fold crepe over and slide onto an oven-safe plate.
FRESH SPRING ROLLS
A VIETNAMESE CLASSIC
These spring rolls are a refreshing change from the usual fried variety and have become a family favourite. They are great as a cool summertime appetizer, and are delicious dipped in one or both of the sauces.
- 2 ounces rice vermicelli
- 8 rice wrappers (8.5-inch diameter)
- 8 large cooked shrimp – peeled, deveined and cut in half < Could replace with thinly sliced pork, beef or chicken if you don’t like shrimp
- 1 ⅓ tablespoons chopped fresh Thai basil
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 leaves lettuce, chopped
- 4 teaspoons fish sauce
- ¼ cup water
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons white sugar
- ½ teaspoon garlic chilli sauce
- 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped peanuts
DESCRIPTION / PREPARATION
- Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Boil rice vermicelli for 3 to 5 minutes, or until al dente, and drain.
- Fill a large bowl with warm water. Dip one wrapper into the hot water for 1 second to soften. Lay wrapper flat. In a row across the centre, place 2 shrimp halves, a handful of vermicelli, basil, mint, cilantro and lettuce, leaving about 2 inches uncovered on each side. Fold uncovered sides inward, then tightly roll the wrapper, beginning at the end with the lettuce. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
- In a small bowl, mix the fish sauce, water, lime juice, garlic, sugar and chilli sauce.
- In another small bowl, mix the hoisin sauce and peanuts.
- Serve rolled spring rolls with the fish sauce and hoisin sauce mixtures.
SWEET & SOUR CHICKEN
CLASSIC CHINESE TAKEAWAY DISH
Try an authentic version of this classic Chinese takeaway dish, with natural sweetness and a warm chilli flavour to spice things up!
- Sunflower or vegetable oil, for frying
- 100ml soda water, chilled
- 140g self-raising flour
- 25g cornflour
- 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
- Spring onions, finely shredded, to serve
For the sauce:
- 1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped into chunks
- 3 red chillies, 1 cut into chunks, 2 halved and deseeded
- 425g can pineapple chunks, drained and juice reserved
- 4 star anise
- 50g tamarind paste
- 100g caster sugar
- 100ml rice wine vinegar or Chinese vinegar
DESCRIPTION / PREPARATION
- For the sauce, put the red pepper, chunks of chilli and pineapple juice in a pan and bring to a boil. Cover and cook for 10 mins, then purée in a food processor. Return to the pan with the pineapple chunks, chilli halves, star anise, tamarind, sugar and vinegar. Gently simmer for 20-30 mins until reduced and sticky. Keep warm, or reheat to serve.
- Fill a large pan 1cm deep with oil and heat until shimmering. Whisk the soda water and 100ml cold water into the self-raising flour with a little salt. Tip the cornflour onto a plate, line a tray with kitchen paper and turn on the oven to low.
- Stir the batter well. Dust the chicken with cornflour, then dip into the batter. One at a time, lower into the hot oil (about 5-6 every batch). Turn up the heat to keep the chicken frying, if needed, and cook for 5-6 mins, turning once. When cooked, drain on the tray, and keep warm in the oven. Repeat with the remaining chicken. Stack onto a plate with the warm sauce on the side, and scatter with shredded spring onions.
SALT & PEPPER TOFU
AN AUTHENTIC SICHUAN SIDE DISH
Use both types of peppercorns for our salt & pepper tofu if you can, for a tongue-tingling kick and a spicy warmth. The dish is great for a Chinese banquet!
- 396g pack firm tofu
- 2 tbsp cornflour
- 1 tsp Sichuan or black peppercorns (or a mixture of the two), ground to a powder
- 2 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
- 2 red peppers, sliced
- ¼ broccoli head, cut into very small florets
- 100g bean sprouts
- 2 tsp low-salt soy sauce
- Sesame oil, for drizzling
- A handful of coriander leaves picked
DESCRIPTION / PREPARATION
- Drain the tofu, wrap loosely in kitchen paper and put on a plate. Rest a chopping board on top. If you’re using a light chopping board, weigh it down with a couple of cans – a heavier chopping board will be sufficient on its own. Leave for 10-20 mins until the cloth feels wet from the excess liquid. Pressing the tofu like this helps to give it a firmer texture once cooked.
- Cut the tofu in half down the centre like a book. Cut each piece into four triangles, as you would a piece of toast, then in half again to give you 16 pieces in total. Mix the cornflour, ground pepper and 1 tsp flaky sea salt on a plate. Gently turn each piece of tofu in the cornflour mix to coat.
- Heat 1 tbsp oil in a wok. Stir-fry the peppers and broccoli for a few minutes, to soften a little. Add the bean sprouts and soy sauce. Cook for another 1-2 mins, making sure the veg still has a nice crunch. Drizzle with a little sesame oil.
- Heat the remaining sunflower oil in a large non-stick frying pan and fry the coated tofu for 5 mins on each side until crisp. Serve on top of the vegetables, scattered with the coriander.
CLASSIC MEXICAN DISH
Enchiladas originated in Mexico. Even back in Mayan times, the people of that time would roll other foods into tortillas. It’s been a practice in that part of the world for many centuries. The first types of enchiladas ever created were most likely corn tortillas with fish inside them. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico, they kept detailed records of everything the locals were eating. They talked a lot about enchiladas, and how it was made almost everywhere. Enchiladas were featured in one of the first-ever Mexican cookbooks in the early 1800s.
- 2 cloves garlic
- 3 serrano peppers
- 2 ¼ pounds small green tomatillos, husks removed
- 1 cup vegetable oil for frying
- 9 corn tortillas
- 3 cups water
- 4 teaspoons chicken bouillon granules
- ½ store-bought rotisserie chicken, meat removed and shredded
- ¼ head iceberg lettuce, shredded
- 1 cup cilantro leaves
- 1 (8 ounces) container sour cream
- 1 cup grated cotija cheese, or any other cheese
DESCRIPTION / PREPARATION
- Cover a large griddle with aluminium foil and preheat to medium-high.
- Cook the garlic, serrano peppers, and tomatillos on the hot griddle until toasted and blackened, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes for the garlic, 10 minutes for the peppers, and 15 minutes for the tomatillos. Remove to a bowl and allow to cool.
- Heat oil in a small, deep skillet to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Using kitchen tongs, fry the tortillas individually, turning them once. They shouldn’t be in the hot oil for more than 5 seconds per side. Remove excess oil with paper towels and keep warm. Remember that the hotter the oil, the less that the tortillas will absorb.
- Place the toasted garlic, serrano peppers, tomatillos, and the water in a blender and blend until smooth; pour into a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Dissolve the chicken bouillon into the mixture, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook at a simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. The sauce shouldn’t be too thick.
- Soak three tortillas in the sauce, one at a time, for a few seconds, fill them with shredded chicken, sprinkle the meat with some of the sauce, roll them and place them seam side down on a pasta bowl. Spoon a generous amount of sauce over them and top them with lettuce, cilantro, crema, and cotija cheese. Pour a little more sauce over the whole thing if desired. Repeat the procedure twice more. Serve immediately.
SWEET RICE DRINK
It is a delicious, white, creamy, sweet drink that can be drunk chilled at any meal in Mexico!
It’s fresh, refreshing and very thirst-quenching! You can drink this drink simply to quench your thirst, to start the day on the right foot, or to accompany a spicy Mexican meal.
- 1 cup of white rice
- 1 ⅓ cup sugar adjust depending on how sweet you want – 2/3 cup of sugar if you want it less sweet.
- 1/2 cup chopped almonds
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 Tbsp vanilla
- 1 Can 12-ounces evaporated milk
- 1 ½ cup of milk or almond milk
- 1 Liter of water
DESCRIPTION / PREPARATION
- Start by soaking the rice, cinnamon, and almonds in a bowl of water all night, or at least for 5 hours so that the rice softens slightly.
- Strain the water from the cinnamon, rice, and almond mixture that were soaking, disposing of water.
- Blend the cinnamon, rice, and almond mixture with evaporated milk until a smoother mix is formed and the grains of rice are completely ground.
- Strain the resulting liquid into a pitcher, and add the sugar, vanilla, and milk. Mix well until everything is well combined. Add a litre of water, and serve with ice. Enjoy!
VICTORIA SPONGE CAKE
BRITISH TWO-LAYER SPONGE CAKE
This quintessential British sweet is named after Queen Victoria! It is a simple two-layer sponge cake that is filled with a layer of jam and whipped cream and often served at teatime. The cake was named after the Queen because it was one of her favourite tea party treats. So be sure to enjoy it with some tea!
- 160g softened unsalted butter
- 160g self-raising flour, sifted
- 160g caster sugar
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 100ml double cream
- 125g strawberry jam
- 1 tbsp icing sugar, for dusting
DESCRIPTION / PREPARATION
- Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Grease and line two 8-inch springform cake tins with nonstick baking paper.
- With a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, and vanilla extract with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Slowly add the beaten egg while mixing, until all ingredients are fully incorporated.
- Fold the flour into the mixture using a large spoon, and transfer evenly into the two cake tins.
- Bake for 25-30 mins until the texture is springy, and a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the centre. Then, remove the cake tins from the oven and let them cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before removing them from the tins and peeling away the paper.
- As the cakes cool, whip the cream to soft peaks. Then, evenly spread the bottom half of the cake with the cream. Next, spread the strawberry jam evenly on top of the cream layer. Place the other half of the cake on top and dust with the icing sugar.
ENGLISH SAUSAGE ROLLS
FLAKY PASTRY FILLED WITH SAUSAGE
These savoury pork sausage rolls wrapped in flaky puff pastry are a staple of British and Irish cuisine. They’re buttery, crisp, flaky, and baked to golden perfection with a hearty filling of sausage and egg. English Sausage Rolls make an excellent light meal or snack that can be enjoyed hot or cold!
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 pounds pork sausage meat
- 3 eggs
- 25 oz puff pastry, or shortcrust pastry
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp flour, for rolling dough
DESCRIPTION / PREPARATION
- Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan on medium heat and add chopped onion. Cook until lightly browned.
- In a large bowl, add the sausage, cooked onion, 2 eggs, salt, and pepper. Mix well.
- Preheat the oven to 400 F. Lightly flour a clean surface to roll out the pastry into two 8×10 inch rectangles. Cut each rectangle into two long strips and cool in the fridge for 10 minutes.
- Once cooled, place pastry on 2 greased baking sheets. Place the sausage mixture along the centre of each pastry strip. Beat the last egg in a small bowl and brush along the outer edges of the pastry.
- Fold the pastry over the meat to form long rolls. Turn the roll over so the seam is on the bottom, and lightly brush the top with the egg. Cut the rolls into small pieces.
- Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
In this #MyPagodaStory series, we’re featuring guest blogs from participants that just completed our remote Global Competencies programme. Today from De Montfort University (DMU), we have Jakub Nowicki. Keep reading to see how Jakub got to experience Asia right from his room, and how he gained employability skills along the way!
In early November, I received an email that I had been accepted into the Pagoda Projects Global Competencies programme. The program was to consist of a 4-week remote internship, which was to provide a positive outcome to the forced isolation through this latest scholarship opportunity. The team at Pagoda Projects were determined to ensure student experience remains high while we are all adapting to life throughout the pandemic.
Global Competencies Programme
Global Competencies can be divided into three large sections – weekly conversations with a foreign mentor (in my case I was paired with Oscar Liou from Taiwan), regular thematic webinars, and most importantly, expertly prepared courses enabling students to improve ‘work readiness’ for a post-pandemic business world. It sounds like a dream opportunity for every student, right? And IT WAS!
During the 4-week period, I managed to create a brilliant CV, prepare a template for my cover letter, and do a self-assessment about my skillset – my strong points and points needing more development.
To start with, huge respect to the Pagoda Projects team for preparing such amazing skill courses. The first one I started working on was aimed at Cultural Fluency. During the prepared lessons, I broadened my knowledge about Greater China, Mexico, and Vietnam. Additionally, I am convinced that I am now better prepared for international communication within the industry. Next on the list was the Employability course. Hands down it was my favorite, but it was also the one I spend the most time on. During the 4-week period, I managed to create a brilliant CV, prepare a template for my cover letter, and do a self-assessment about my skillset – my strong points and points needing more development.
The course also taught me about the importance of self-presentation and our digital profiles. I firmly believe that all that knowledge will have a huge impact on my employment in the nearest future. Last but not least, Digital Competency. I started with lessons about LinkedIn – its importance and benefits. With clear guidelines, I created and set up my first professional LinkedIn profile. In the next steps, I started learning about the basics of digital marketing and SEO skills. The course ended with a masterclass on presenting and public speaking. Long story short, all the courses were carefully and thoughtfully prepared. They were easy to understand and to follow, yet they provided a lot of valuable information.
Events and Webinars
Opportunities & Initiatives, Diversity & The Workplace, Environment & Innovation or Personal Development – those were the examples of Pagoda Events running during the time of my remote internship. All of them were extremely informative and really well prepared. I was able to ask both hosts and guests multiple questions and learn about topics that interest me.
Even though we were almost the same age, the way we look at world is completely unique. And what is even more shocking, we were getting along incredibly well despite all the differences.
During my internship, I was paired with a cultural mentor from Taiwan. His name is Oscar Liou and he is 24 years old. Every week we had an hour-long video chat discussing multiple topics about our cultures – Poland, UK, and Taiwan. It really shocked me how different our cultures were! Even though we were almost the same age, the way we look at world is completely unique. And what is even more shocking, we were getting along incredibly well despite all the differences. We elaborated on topics like Industries & Opportunities, Music & Arts, Dreams & Goals and Communication.
As you can see, we had a chance to talk about our cultures, our traditions and about our personal life. I really feel like I made a good friend during that period. We even experienced AN EARTHQUAKE during our last video call! I could hear and see it via WhatsApp and it was super intense. Fortunately, Oscar and his family were all safe! I managed to pick a few photos me and Oscar shared with each other.
I could not be happier to be able to experience such a great opportunity. First of all, I learned a lot about myself. Every week I was smarter and more knowledgeable. I expanded my knowledge on multiple topics such as Asian culture, employability and marketing. I also grew as a person. I gained new skills and opened myself to new experiences. And the best part of it was that I made a new friend along the way.
Are you getting everything ready for your Pagoda Projects programme and counting down the days until you jump on the plane? Are your friends and family asking you loads of questions about your upcoming experience and even you aren’t sure what to expect?
We hope that our watchlist will get you excited to explore the sights and sounds of what is going to be your new home for a months. Why not download a couple of our suggestions to pass the time on your flight out…
Netflix // IMDb
A 10-part documentary series chronicling the Vietnam war featuring the soldiers, protesters, politicians and families who lived it.Amazon Prime // IMDb
An in-depth documentary about on refugee family’s attempts to face its divided past and heal the motional wounds of the Vietnam War.IMDb
Separated at the end of the Vietnam war, an “Americanized” woman and her Vietnamese mother are reunited after 22 years.Amazon Prime // IMDb
Anthony returns to one of his favourite places on Earth, journeying to the centre of the country, near the coast and to a city he has never been to, Hue.Netflix // IMDb
Snail and broken rice are staples of Ho Chi Minh City’s Outdoorsy street food culture which has been shaped by both history and family memory.YouTube // IMDb
Luke Nguyen, acclaimed owner and chef of the Sydney restaurant ‘The Red Lantern’, returns to the country of his heritage to take a culinary journey through the northern regions of Vietnam.Amazon Prime // IMDb
An old British reporter vies with a young U.S. doctor for the affections of a beautiful Vietnamese woman.IMDb
Two plain clothed U.S. military policemen on duty in war-time Saigon investigating serial killings when their job becomes even harder.Amazon Prime // IMDb
In the mid 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson and his foreign-policy team debate the decision to withdraw from or escalate the war in Vietnam.BBC // IMDb
Sue Perkins embarks on a life-changing, 3,000-mile journey up the Mekong, South East Asia’s greatest river, exploring lives and landscapes on the point of dramatic change.Amazon Prime // IMDb
A vicarious thrill ride as Tony discovers Vietnam from the buzzing streets of Hanoi to the rural beauty of the Montagnards, and the mysterious Island of Mr. Sang. This episode shows exactly why Tony has been completely seduced by Vietnam and its people.
Amazon Prime // IMDb
An American finds refuge during the 1937 Japanese invasion of Nanking in a church with a group of women. Posing as a priest, he attempts to lead the women to safety.Netflix // IMDb
A boy and his mother move to California for a new job. He struggles to fit in, as a group of karate students starts to bully him for dating a rich girl from their clique. It’s up to the Japanese landlord, Miyagi, to teach him karate.Netflix // IMDb
Renowned warrior Yu Shu-Lien comes out of retirement to keep the legendary Green Destiny sword away from villainous warlord Hades DaiAmazon Prime // IMDb
Anthony travels to Shanghai. Forget all the antiquated views your might hold about a communist-run, creativity-devoid bunch of state-controlled androids. The modern China is a vibrant, dynamic monument to capitalism. And nowhere is that more glaringly obvious than in Shanghai, a city housing 116,000 billionaires and multimillionaires who modestly call themselves the ‘bao fa hu’ or ‘explosive rich’.Netflix // IMDb
Tofu pudding. Fish head soup. Goat stew. The family-owned street stalls of Chiayi are bastions of Taiwan’s culinary traditions.Amazon Prime // IMDb
Pull up a stool and get your chopsticks ready – A Bite of China is the quintessential TV series on all things Chinese cuisine – from its rich history to the rarest dishes and wildest ingredients. Shot in more than 60 locations and featuring top chefs of the culinary world – it will surprise even the most jaded foodies around.Amazon Prime // IMDb
A couple embarks on a journey home for Chinese new year along with 130 million other migrant workers, to reunite with their children and struggle for a future. Their unseen story plays out as China soars towards being a world superpower.BBC // IMDb
Dan Snow, Anita Rani and Ade Adepitan go behind the scenes to reveal the hidden systems and armies of people running some of the greatest cities on earth.Channel 4
With unique access to the Forbidden City, this documentary reveals the spectacular history of the world’s largest palace, and the secrets of its astonishing design.Amazon Prime // IMDb
A Chinese family discovers their grandmother has only a short while left to live and decide to keep her in the dark, scheduling a wedding to gather before she dies.Amazon Prime // IMDb
The story of two men, who met as apprentices in the Peking Opera, and stayed friends for over 50 years.Amazon Prime // IMDb
This Oscar-winning biopic traces the life of Pu Yi, the last of the great emperors of China, from his ascent to the throne at the age of three, in 1908, to the time he was imprisoned in the Forbidden City, witnessing decased of cultural and political upheaval.Amazon Prime // IMDb
True story of Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountain climber who became friends with the Dalai Lama at the time of China’s takeover of Tibet.YouTube
Reggie discovers contemporary China, diving deep into four megacities in search of the new generations transforming their future.BBC // IMDb
A cookery show focusing on Chinese food, with demonstrations of how to make various Chinese dishes.Channel 4 // IMDb
Guy martin’s love of industry and endeavour leads him to china, where he reveals the unseen side of its innovation, technological development and gigantic manufacturing.Netflix // IMDb
In post-industrial Ohio, a Chinese billionaire opens a factory in an abandoned General Motors plant, hiring two thousand Americans. Early days of hope and optimism give way to setbacks as high-tech China clashes with working-class America.
Netflix // IMDb
At the forefront of transforming Mexican cuisine, Enrique Olvera champions traditional ingredients under a haute perspective as he delves into the roots of Mexico to create award-winning dishes at his restaurant, Pujol.Netflix // IMDb
A look at the life of notorious drug kingpin, El Chapo, from his early days in the 1980s working for the Guadalajara Cartel, to his rise to power of during the ’90s and his ultimate downfall in 2016.Amazon Prime // IMDb
A horrific car accident connects three stories, each involving characters dealing with loss, regret, and life’s harsh realities, all in the name of love.Amazon Prime // IMDb
Bourdain travels to Mexico City, Oaxaca, and Cuernavaca to commune with local residents who express their passion through food, art, and the struggle for an improved quality of life. Bourdain talks with journalist Anabel Hernández on the impact of the area’s drug trade-related violence and how it affects local quality of life.Amazon Prime // IMDb
A documentary on some of contemporary Mexico’s most iconic artists and performers.IMDb
A documentary feature about the life of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.Amazon Prime // IMDb
Tomas is too much for his lone mother so she sends him to live with his older brother Federico, aka Sombra, in Mexico City.BBC // IMDb
Dan Snow, Anita Rani and Ade Adepitan go behind the scenes to reveal the hidden systems and armies of people running some of the greatest cities on earth.Netflix // IMDb
A journey through the colorful and varied world of Tacos.BBC // IMDb
In 1968 the young Rick travelled down the Pacific Coast Highway to the Mexican border and beyond. 50 years later he retraces his steps from San Francisco to Mexico enjoying unique dishes and meeting chefs. Amazon Prime // IMDb
Tony heads to Mexico with Carlos,who took over Tony’s old job.IMDb
Two young Mexican attorneys attempt to exonerate a wrongly convicted man by making a documentary. In the process, they expose the contradictions of a judicial system that presumes suspects guilty until proven innocent.
As a Mexican that has experienced culture and life in China, it was really hard to come back to my own country and forget about life over there, and their amazing food, culture, traditions and people. When I came back to Mexico City, the first thing on my list was to find the best Chinese food in town. Due to business, cultural interest and technology, Mexico City has become a multicultural city in the past few years, and luckily it has a few good options!
This city is known for its diverse choices in food, traditions, people and places and in the last few years Chinese culture has become one of many new cultures in Mexico. With nearly 25 million people living in Mexico City we can find something for everyone, so I am going to show you the top 6 most delicious Chinese restaurants in this enormous and fascinating city.
6. Restaurant Tong Fung.
Located in ChinaTown, Mexico City, this place has a unique vibe that will transport you back to a local restaurant in China during Chinese New Year. Full of decor and Chinese flavor we mark Tong Fung as our option number 6.
5. Oriental Bar Restaurant
If you ever want to experience Chinese food the way Mexicans do, then this is the place for you. Oriental Bar bring out the best of the Chinese cuisines and adds some Mexican flavour to it. Definitely a place you want to try if you stay in Mexico City long enough.
4. Hong King
Just a few blocks away from the Pagoda Projects Mexico offices we find Hong King. If you want to experience a more cantonese flavour from Hong Kong, don’t hesitate to try out Hong King. Served in a traditional Chinese way, with the best flavors of canton, we rank Hong King as our number 4 favorite place.
3. Ka Won Seng
If you want tradicional, accessible and delicious Chinese food, then Ka Won Seng is the place for you. With accessible prices and delicious food, Ka Wong Seng will give you a full experience of what is like to eat in a local restaurant in China.
2. Asian Bay
If you want to experience a glamorous evening, then Asian Bay is the place for you. You will experience the true flavors of Asia, focusing on Chinese cuisine most of all. During the day you can have a relaxing and delicious meal, and during the night this place will transport you back to China, with spectacular shows that will blow your mind. This is a perfect place to have a fun evening.
1. YI Ping You
We have been talking mostly about traditional Chinese food, but there is nothing like a good touch of spicy Sichuan flavor in your food. This place is known for being traditional and authentic, and some even say it is the best place for Sichuan food in all of Mexico. Yi Ping You places as our favorite and number 1 Chinese restaurant in Mexico City.
Enjoy your Meal!
Get in touch:
The current lack of environmentally friendly practices is one of the aspects that I find most frustrating about living in China. A lot of Chinese life is about convenience from Alipay to takeaway but, unfortunately, this often comes at the cost of the environment. Living in China it is all too easy to abandon the more sustainable life habits that you are well versed to back at home because they are not the norm and often require more effort. Yet, one of the simplest ways to be environmentally friendly in China is to persevere and continue your habits from home. This blog outlines some of the challenges China still faces in regards to the environment, aspects in which it is improving and ways in which you can make a positive impact along with some useful vocabulary!
The demand for shopping is huge in China as is evident by the huge number of shopping streets and malls in China selling everything from discounted fakes to Louis Vuitton. China also has a massive online retail market of 855 million digital consumers with online sales expected to reach $1.5 trillion in value in 2019.
You won’t last very long in China without hearing about Alibaba’s Taobao 淘宝, an online retail market selling pretty much everything you could imagine, similar to a combination of eBay and Amazon. On Taobao, an order of multiple items will normally come in individual deliveries because the products are sourced from different sellers across China, producing huge amounts of unnecessary packaging.
Shopping and discount festivals have also become more popular among retailers in recent years, such as Singles’ Day (November 11), a day of discounts launched by Alibaba in 2009 which regularly surpasses the sales of Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined; Alibaba made 268.4 billion RMB (£29.4 billion) in 24 hours in 2019.
Environmental organisations claim that China’s online retail industry used 9.4 million tonnes of packaging materials in 2018 with estimates that over 250,000 tonnes were produced from Singles’ Day sales alone. As of 2017, Chinese people threw away around 26 million tons of clothing annually, with less than 1% of it being reused. While some retailers are taking some small steps to encourage recycling or use more recyclable materials, it seems that more substantial changes will rely on environmental regulation of the industry.
What you can do?
Try to reduce your consumption, especially of products with extensive packaging, and recycle items wherever possible. When buying presents for your family and friends back home, consider what kind of souvenirs you are buying and opt for locally produced and more ethical options. For example, Blue Sheep in Chengdu is a social enterprise which sells locally made craft items and the profits are used to help economically disadvantaged people, particularly those affected by disease, disability or poverty.
Charity shops are non-existent in China and second-hand clothes shops are extremely rare due to a cultural stigma attached to second-hand items in China. However, expats are constantly moving in and out of all major Chinese cities and so expat groups on WeChat and Facebook are a good place to find and pass on used clothes, furniture, utensils and food. You can also talk with interns who are moving out before you or staying longer than you to see if you can transfer items between yourselves.
The WeChat account Fei Ma Yi 飞蚂蚁 (WeChat ID: feimayi90) also accepts all clothes, shoes and bags regardless of the condition they are in. You just need to enter your details, choose an approximate weight of items that you are donating and arrange a time for them to collect it from your apartment. They will sort the items and send the better quality ones to charity and the rest to be recycled.
Takeaway in China is very cheap and there is a vast range of options on websites such as Eleme 饿了么 and Meituan 美团外卖 . The Chinese takeaway market has expanded massively in recent years and a survey from the National Business Daily shows that 23% of respondents order takeaway daily. However, the growth in takeout is amounting to huge environmental damage: it is estimated that China’s takeaway industry in 2017 produced 1.6 millions tons of packaging waste which included 1.2 million tons of plastic containers, 175,000 tons of disposable chopsticks, 164,000 tons of plastic bags and 44,000 tons of plastic spoons. Delivery containers and utensils are generally not recycled because people don’t wash them out adequately and the materials used in them take over 30 years to disintegrate if they are discarded in landfill sites.
What you can do?
While everyone has those days where they return from work and don’t want to leave the house again, try and avoid getting regular takeaways. The reality in China is that you’re never more than two minutes walk from a restaurant, so why not just go out to eat and save the waste of containers, plastic bags and single-use chopsticks? If you do decide to order takeaway, you can choose the option not to receive disposable tableware (不要餐具 bù yào cān jù) or write it in special requests.
There are huge environmental problems resulting from the management of China’s plastic waste: it is often sent to poorly managed landfills or discarded in the open which can lead to it entering the sea. As a result, a quarter of all plastic waste that is discarded in the open is done in China, causing it be the home of the world’s first, third and fourth most polluted rivers.
A new recycling system was launched in Shanghai in July 2019 which has now spread to major cities and is gradually being introduced throughout China. Bins in public areas have divisions between regular waste and recycling, with more categories for domestic waste. As recycling is fairly new, many locals are still unfamiliar with how to recycle but education campaigns have been launched and the government is introducing fines for individuals and businesses who don’t recycle.
 https://www.statista.com/statistics/277391/number-of-online-buyers-in-china/ (accessed 24/12/2019)
 https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/10/tech/singles-day-sales-alibaba/index.html (accessed 24/12/2019)
 https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3037168/waste-chinas-e-commerce-deliveries-could-quadruple-413-million 23/12 (accessed 23/12/2019)
 https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1000777/why-china-is-bursting-at-the-seams-with-discarded-clothes (accessed 30/12/2019)
 http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1165893.shtml (accessed 23/12/2019)
 https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/28/technology/china-food-delivery-trash.html (accessed 23/12/2019)
 https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/28/technology/china-food-delivery-trash.html (accessed 23/12/2019)What you can do?
Recycling systems vary throughout China so this advice is based on my experience of living in Chengdu. Bins for your apartment are normally located on the ground floor of your apartment block and are generally divided into regular waste, recyclable waste, food waste and hazardous waste. The best method is to create a system within your apartment for recycling so it is easier to take it down to the relevant bin. You should tie up bags of waste, especially food waste, so that if the rubbish does get mixed during collection, food will not contaminate the recycling and can be separated at a later stage. Try and also avoid using extensive single use plastic: where you can, avoid taking plastic bags and using single-use tableware; and invest in tote bags, tupperware, metal straws, metal chopsticks and reusable cups. You may experience confusion when you say that you don’t need a plastic bag/ straw etc or if you offer your own but be insistent and use the phrases below to help you.
Recycle – Huíshōu 回收
Recyclable waste – Kě huí shōu wù 可回收物
Food waste – Cān chú lèsè 餐厨垃圾
Harmful waste – Yǒu hài lè sè 有害垃圾
Plastic – Sù liào塑料
I don’t want a plastic bag – Wǒ bùyào dàizi我不要袋子
I don’t want a straw – Wǒ bùyào xīguǎn 我不要吸管
I don’t want chopsticks – Wǒ bùyào kuàizi 我不要筷子
China is notorious for its pollution, such as photos of Beijing’s famous sites hardly visible through the smog. However, the Chinese government has taken moves to reduce pollution which are leading to results – particle pollution fell by an average of 30% in the 62 Chinese cities investigated by the World Health Organization between 2013 and 2016 with Beijing no longer being included in the world’s 200 most polluted cities. The Chinese government has introduced ambitious targets to reduce pollution levels; reduced the use of steel and coal-fired electricity for production replacing them with cleaner alternatives; banned agricultural burning; and introduced regulation for higher quality diesel for vehicles. This action has largely been a result of public pressure and concern about the health effects of pollution, and has led to the government putting more of an emphasis on trying to balance its rapid economic development with environmental concerns.
 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/14/pollutionwatch-china-shows-how-political-will-can-take-on-air-pollution (accessed 26/12/2019)
Many cities have also reduced the number of cars in the city centre by placing restrictions on which days cars can enter the city based on what number their number plates ends in; however wealthy families have combatted this by buying multiples cars with different number plates. China is also leading the way in electric transportation and Shenzhen introduced an all-electric public transport system in 2018 to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
That’s not to say that pollution is no longer a problem in China; it still reaches above World Health Organization recommended levels in many Chinese cities, especially during winter, and has also worsened in some rural areas and towns.
What you can do?
Pollution levels in Qingdao, Zhuhai and Chengdu generally remain below the Air Quality Indicator (AQI) level of 150, which is classified as unhealthy, but stay aware of pollution levels by using AQI tracking apps, such as Air Matters, or WeChat mini programs, such as 空气质量指数查询. If the AQI does reach an unhealthy level, listen to local advice and take particular caution if you have health problems, such as asthma. Face masks are also widely available at convenience shops and department stores throughout China.
Where you can, avoid getting a taxi or Didi as one person – you can ride share using the 拼车 function on the Didi app. Cycling is a great way to get around in Chinese cities because share bikes can be found everywhere and dropped off anywhere. Cycling is not only the best option for the environment but is also often quicker than taking a Didi due to traffic jams, especially at rush hour. Share bikes are also extremely cheap and Hellobikes can be used through an Alipay account for around 12 RMB (£1.30) for a month with unlimited use.
Taking trains is the most environmentally friendly way to travel in China and it is a great way to see parts of China you would not usually visit! You can choose high speed trains (高铁 gāotiě) or regular trains which are mainly sleeper trains and can often take 1-2 days. Due to the huge distances in China, taking a plane is often the most convenient way to travel if you have limited time but the lack of budget airlines means that internal flights can be expensive.
As income levels have increased in China so has consumption of meat and seafood. If Chinese consumers’ demand for meat grows as predicted, then China will produce an additional gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the current amount produced by the aviation industry globally. China also has insufficient land for food production to keep up with the growing population and consumption and so fertilizer has been used to increase crop yields but this has caused extensive environmental damage, such as soil degradation, air pollution and water contamination.
Food waste is a serious issue in China, especially in restaurants, because in Chinese culture it is the norm to order excess food to show generosity and respect to your guests. Estimates suggest that 17-18 million tonnes of food were wasted in China in 2015, an amount which could feed 30 to 50 million people for a year. However, less of the animal is wasted compared to Western countries as nearly all parts are eaten, from gizzards to brains to chicken feet.
What you can do?
The easiest way to combat the problem of food waste in China is simply to order less and bring a Tupperware with you to takeaway leftovers when you’re eating at a restaurant.
Vegetarianism has not become a mainstream diet as it has in the West and less than 2% of China’s population is vegetarian (predominantly Buddhists). This means that vegetarianism and veganism are not always fully understood in China and you may sometimes find that a plate of vegetables comes with a meat garnish or that it is cooked using fish oil. However, most restaurants have vegetarian options and large Chinese cities have an increasing number of specialist vegetarian/ vegan restaurants as well as Western restaurants catering to differing dietary requirements. Buddhist temples often have a vegetarian restaurant or buffet attached. While being vegan is by no means impossible, it is slightly more tricky if you are wanting to take part in shared meals with Chinese friends or colleagues. The InternChina WeChat accounts list vegetarian restaurants in each of the cities we offer programmes.
I am vegetarian Wǒ shì sùshí zhě – 我是素食者
I don’t eat any meat and fish – Wǒ bù chī suǒyǒu de ròu hé yú 我不吃所有的肉和鱼
I don’t eat any dairy products – Wǒ bù chī niúnǎi zhìpǐn我不吃牛奶制品
I want to takeaway leftovers – Wǒ yào dǎbāo 我要打包
 https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/will-chinas-growing-appetite-for-meat-undermind-its-efforts-to-fight-climate-change-180969789/ (accessed 30/12/2019)
 https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201803/27/WS5ab9a0c4a3105cdcf65147d8.html (accessed 30/12/2019)
 https://www.economist.com/china/2019/10/17/the-planet-needs-china-to-curb-its-appetite-for-meat (accessed 30/12/2019)
While China certainly has not been struck by the Greta Thunberg and youth climate strike movement, and it doesn’t look to anytime soon, there are some gradual steps being taken to protect and conserve the environment. The rolling out of a recycling system last year was a massive step in the right direction but the impact will depend on how seriously it is implemented across China and on the accompanying education campaign. One of the main issues in China currently is a lack of education on how severe the global climate crisis is, rather than an unwillingness to conserve and recycle resources. So, during your stay in China, make sure you stay alert to how you can be environmentally friendly and talk to your colleagues/ friends/ homestay families about the environment and encourage them to change their habits!
Get in touch:
An introduction to China
Keen to learn more about China before carrying out your internship? We have picked out some of the best social media accounts and websites for learning about China, its language, culture and travel destinations! We have also chosen a couple of city-specific accounts if you are struggling to choose which city to do an internship in or want to find out more about the destination you have picked.
Looking for fun and easy ways to learn Chinese – take a look at the accounts below!
The Instagram account han_characters makes Chinese characters easier to remember by creating drawings of them. Each post shows a single character as a picture and explains the different words that that character features in with example sentences. Not only does this make learning Chinese easier, especially if you have a picture memory, it also helps you to understand the meaning of single characters which helps in learning multi-character words. Your time on social media can be made productive by learning Chinese just scrolling through Instagram!
Check out their Instagram here
The Chairman’s Bao
The Chairman’s Bao has abridged news articles in Chinese which you can filter according to HSK level. The website and app have a built-in dictionary and keywords and grammar points are listed at the end of every article. You can read sample articles for free, but to access all their language resources you have to pay a monthly subscription fee. However, the blog section is free and offers good tips and advice for learning Chinese, as well as articles about Chinese culture and news.
Travel in China
Want some inspiration of where to travel to China? Follow these accounts to see some incredible photography of China’s gorgeous landscapes, historic sites and cityscapes.
This account collates photos from around China and provides a description of the location, including an explanation about the place’s history and geography.
Check out their Instagram here
Nathan Ackley is a photographer based in Shanghai and Taiwan and the majority of his photos document these two places. He captures the buzzing cosmopolitan life in Shanghai, as well as beautiful temples and traditional buildings.
Check out his Instagram here
The account provides awe-inspiring photographs of life in rural China with short extracts explaining their background. It is summarised by their bio: “you know the city, now get to know the country – see how China’s other half lives”.
Check out their Instagram here
News about China
Sixthtone offers news and investigatory stories about China which you may not find in the mainstream news. The stories are split into five sections, based on the Chinese language’s five tones: rising tones, half tones, deep tones, broad tones and vivid tones. Each offers a different perspective on news and life in contemporary China. Sixthtone’s articles, photography and videos cover a wide scope of issues including social trends, economic development and life in rural areas. The weekly summary of China’s Week in Photos provides an insight into the hugely varied events and developments going on in China.
Follow China Daily if you want to keep up-to-date with national news and understand a Chinese perspective on international news stories.
Scan the QR code below to follow their WeChat account
This Instagram account uses pictures to convey the cultural differences between China and the West which are based on the illustrator’s experience of being a Chinese person living in the West. They may help prepare you for some of the cultural differences you will experience in China and resonate with you if you have spent time in China before!
Check out their Instagram here
Chengdu Expat’s WeChat and Facebook account lists recent news and upcoming events in Chengdu. Look here for all the best business, cultural and nightlife events, as well as some discounts and deals. The Instagram account also features a variety of pictures showcasing life in Chengdu which will give you an idea of what you might see, do and eat while you’re here!
sheleads is an international network for professional females in Chengdu and offers a mentorship programme and listing of events which focus on female empowerment and feature women. In 2019, they organised a Female Week and launched a podcast.
Follow them on Wechat: sheleads
discoverzhuhai showcases the local sites of Zhuhai and the surrounding region.
Check out their Instagram here
This new account started by an InternChina intern shows the vast range of delicious food available in Zhuhai with their locations listed. With zhuhaieater’s help, you will never go hungry in Zhuhai again!
Check out their Instagram here
This account targeted at expats lists upcoming events in Qingdao and information about the city.
Check out their Instagram here or follow them on WeChat: redstarqd
The official tourist account for Qingdao offers snapshots of its scenery throughout the seasons.
Check out their Instagram here
Unfortunately, Dalian is currently lacking any English language accounts but check out InternChina’s blog section about Dalian to learn more about previous interns’ experience here and maybe you will be inspired to start an account during your placement!
Get in touch:
Ciao! My name is Ferdinando and I am one of the office interns here in Chengdu. I come from Torino, a lovely city just a short drive away from the Italian Alps. I have now been in Chengdu for almost a month, but it honestly feels like I have been here an entire lifetime! The atmosphere and energy of this laid-back metropolis have completely won me over, and I could definitely imagine myself living here one day.As the days have passed, I have found myself more and more at ease in this new environment. I’ve started asking myself a simple question: Why? Why is it so easy for me to dive into and settle in this very different and complex culture, while with so many others I have a more challenging time? After some pondering over many hot bowls of dandan noodles, I have realised that the reason for my rapid acclimatization was that Chinese culture is, in fact, not so distant from my own Italian culture after all.The obvious starting point of this comparison is food: both Italians and Chinese are passionate about their food and possess very complex and proud eating cultures. Due to its abundance of strong flavours and “exotic” ingredients (such as chicken feet and pig brains!), traditional Chinese cuisine can seem threatening to Western palates. However, after a few days of rumbling stomachs, foreigners will get to know and appreciate the incredible richness of this wonderful culinary tradition. I am a great fan of Chinese food myself, and I believe that, upon my departure, the thing I will miss the most of Chengdu will be its succulent chuanchuan houses and its authentic noodle corner-shops.Another main point of contact between our two cultures is the paramount importance we both give to family and tradition. While strolling by Chengdu’s People Park, it is possible to see old grandparents practising Taichi with their young nephews, just as my grandparents used to play football with a young me in Torino’s parks. In addition, in the numerous large family gatherings I have seen in Chengdu’s hotpot restaurants I see the reflection of my own “extended family” lunches, that could last anywhere between three to six hours. I am of the opinion that this strong sense of community and belonging, typical of both Italian and Chinese families, not only creates deeper family and friendship ties, but also enhances your sense of cultural awareness. Thus making it easier to “jump over” the cultural divide at hand.A third similarity I have observed between Italy and China, especially in regards to Chengdu, is their common relaxed, “dolce far niente” approach to life. I have surprisingly found that the concept of being on time is exceptionally similar both in Italy and China, so that my canonical five-minute lateness is not only accepted (unlike in England), but almost encouraged! Although Chengdu still is a bustling, work-oriented metropolis, somehow its citizens manage to maintain a hands-off approach to both their professional and personal lives. This makes this city the perfect spot to jumpstart an ambitious, yet stress-free career.
I believe many other cultural analogies can be found between Italy and China, but that is not the point of this post. The point is, in my opinion, more important to underline and point out the existence of such similarities – as comparison brings recognition, recognition brings acceptance, and acceptance brings friendship. In other words, the purpose of this post is to highlight that, no matter where you are from and where you go, as long as you seek similarities and avoid division, you will find it easier to “jump over” the cultural divide and feel at home anywhere around the world. Therefore, this is the main advice I can give to new interns coming to China: seek the familiar in the foreign and the foreign will look familiar.
My internship experience was with a Chinese logistics company. They are responsible for the organisation of shipping hundreds of tons of cargo every year. Work life there is certainly different from the UK way of working.
Every Monday, everyone in the office received a free snack after lunch. One week we got cake, another week a smoothie. A different company would have supplied the food each week. They brought in the food and distributed it in the conference room. My boss told me it was to praise the office for their hard work.
The work hours were 08:30 to 11:30 then a two-hour lunch break, resuming from 13:30 to 17:30. I found myself starting to get a little bored during the lunch break because it was so long. Closer to the end of my stay, I would take the bus to another part of the city or go to the gym during lunch, as I found the lunch break quite long.
On my first day in the office at around 12:45, the office suddenly became very quiet and I looked around and everyone was sleeping! They had brought in small pillows and used these to nap at their desks.
My colleagues were very helpful and mindful of me. If there was anything I didn’t understand, at least three people would appear and rush to help me. When I could not get my laptop charger plug into the socket, a girl two desks away ran over and helped me. And the same when I couldn’t use the kettle (as everything is in Chinese), two people came running over again.
Most employees (male and female) at my company had teddy bears at their desks and would hold them from time to time.
One thing I noticed during my internship is that people in my office audibly, dramatically, loudly and randomly sighed. I had no idea what about though. Also, when I asked my boss why everyone in the office was speaking so loudly on the office phones, he did not know what I was talking about. It seemed like people were very noisy, but it is not seen as impolite.
I was on the 23rd floor of a 26 storey building. Each floor can hold up to 80 people and everyone started around 08:30 in the morning. This means a lot of waiting for the elevators in the morning. There are so many people at this time that the building employs people just for the early morning rush to help load people into the elevators. If you arrived at the wrong time, you could wait up to 15 minutes just to get to your floor.
Culture Outside of Work
In the evenings after my internship, I would often see old retired Chinese folk “people watching”. They liked to hang around outside and would pull up a chair and sit on the footpath watching people passing by. Many also used to meet their friends on street corners to play “Chinese Chess” or gamble.
Older Chinese people are really into socialising and movement. Every morning I used to see a few people in my apartment complex doing Tai Chi or walking around slapping themselves all over their body. Apparently this is to help increase blood flow.
Many people would meet in the evenings to dance, exercise and stretch together. They would usually play traditional Chinese music or modern remixes of old classics. And you can definitely hear them before you see them!
Cultural Norms that Surprised Me
If you haven’t heard by now, spitting is very common in China. You can find people spitting pretty close to your shoes on the streets. Not intentionally, of course.
There is also a phenomenon called the ‘Beijing Bikini’, where middle-aged men roll up their T-shirt to expose their bellies on hot days. It is considered more polite than removing their entire T-shirt. There is no shame, only pride.
I feel China is a very tactile country. Lots of young girls will hold hands or link arms while walking and I have even seen some old men holding hands too.
Sometimes queuing is non-existent in China, and one of the things I will never fully understand as a Brit. Every time someone jumps in front of me, I try to be chill. In the UK, as a child, you learn to contribute to the greater good of the team. In China though, it seems like every man for himself and children are raised not to cooperate but to compete. The only way to a better life is by defeating other people.
One of the other things that surprised me was people taking pictures. I think I had seen at least 10 people taking pictures of me in the streets. They also tend to stare for a while. But it’s great because at least there is an element of cultural exchange there.
Learning About Qingdao
Ever wondered what it is like to live in China as a foreigner? Niamh spent two months in Qingdao on a Generation UK funded programme last year. Here is her story.
Qingdao (formerly known as Tsingtao) is a beautiful city located on the North Eastern coast of China, close to North and South Korea. As the largest city in the Shandong province, it has a population of about 9 million people. That makes it slightly larger than London.
Qingdao is known to many as the home of Tsingtao Beer, which is served on draft, in a bottle or a bag, and is the most consumed beer in Asia. If drinking from a bag, you can use a straw or cut the corner, pour in to your mouth and hope for the best!The German Imperial government planned and built the first streets and institutions of the city that can still be seen today. They also brought beer with them, forming the world-famous Tsingtao Brewery. The buildings that still stand from this time period are built in an area known as ‘Old Town’. This is a well-visited area for travellers due to the interesting European style buildings which differ a lot from the skyscrapers which can be found in every Chinese city.
Every night between 8:00pm and 9:00pm, the buildings on the seafront will light up together and images can be displayed moving across many buildings. It is absolutely beautiful!
On my first day in Qingdao, I was trying to find a shop that looked like it sold food. In my many attempts of sticking my head through the blinds of many boutiques, pharmacies and clothing stores, I finally found a convenience store and bought a very questionable breakfast.
It quickly became evident that I was the only non-Chinese person out walking the streets that day. People would stop, do double takes and take pictures of me.
Later while I was walking along the seafront beside May Fourth Square, I asked a couple if they knew where I could get food, and they invited me back to their apartment to dine with them. And that was the moment I was adopted by them.
They quickly referred to me as their daughter, and I referred to them as “Chinese mother and Chinese father”. I had a small photo shoot where we posed like a family, dog included.
Family Life in China
The family invited me back to their apartment another time to watch the Qingdao skylights. They also wanted me to meet their friends for a lavish fresh seafood dinner including sea cucumber, sea urchin, clams and oysters.
One of the cultural things I learned very quickly was that the word for ‘cheers’ in China is ‘Gānbēi’. This meant that everyone involved in the Gānbēi must down their drink. There was, however, the complicating factor of respect.
If two people Gānbēi, the height at which you touch glasses represents the level of respect. A boss in China will usually Gānbēi higher than his colleagues as his colleagues respect him more.
The night of the lavish dinner, there was a Gānbēi every five minutes
Day-to-Day Life in China
Before travelling to China, I presumed many people could speak English, but, not so much. The language barrier has been interesting when trying to communicate outside of routine transactions and dining situations.
Some of the cultural differences in China were also interesting to learn, particularly the laws of the road, or lack of.
Drivers in Qingdao drive with one hand constantly on the horn it seems, waiting patiently to use it. Many people ride mopeds as it is easy to weave through the traffic. You will often see pedestrians running across zebra crossings even when the green man is showing, as cars rarely stop for them.
Taxis in China are extremely cheap and easy to flag down. A 45-minute journey only cost 70RMB (£8). Yet in the UK, this same journey could cost £50 plus.
I have also seen interesting ‘Chinglish’ signs everywhere – where there are often questionable translations of signs from Chinese to English. And one of the biggest cultural shocks here was having people take pictures of me because I am a foreigner. What way do I deal with this? Take pictures back. Everyone gets a good laugh!
Another big difference is the number of street cleaners picking up litter and tidying the place up. The cleaners are usually elderly and the local council pay them to do this. In Chinese media, street cleaners are often known as “angels of the road” (马路天使).
Currently in China, many Chinese retirees have very small pensions and many farmers and rural workers have no pensions at all or lack the means to pay into them. Older people resort to picking up litter for very little money.
Getting a Hair-Cut
Even getting a hair cut doesn’t cost much. I decided to get my hair cut at a local salon and my boss supplied his discount card. The price should have been 38RMB but was 19RMB – just over £2. The people working at the hairdressers all wore military pilot uniforms with stars on their shoulder patches and walkie-talkies with earpieces.
The entire process lasted 80 minutes just for a trim. The actual haircut itself took only 10 minutes. The rest of the process consists of shampooing (while sitting in your chair), a head massage, conditioning (while at the basin), a neck massage, arm and hand massage. But there is a lot more smacking involved than I thought.
To hear more about Niamh’s internship, look out for the next excerpt.
What do Chinese host families normally expect from their house guests? Should I bring a gift for my host family? Are there any cultural norms I need to be aware of? You probably have a million questions about your homestay. Fear not! It’s all part of the discovery process and the magic of living with a host family.
When confronted by a completely different culture, many things you never expected can take you by surprise. My first tip for you before you head to China is to find out all you can about the concept of face. This will be invaluable knowledge for getting by and developing relationships in China.
Secondly, here are some friendly tips about doing a homestay in China and observations to help you prepare for host family life!
Mountains of Food
One of the lovely things about the Chinese culture is their respect, love and attention that can be conveyed by a single meal. The polite thing to do to a guest in China is to pile their plate high with food from the centre of the table. Whether you ask for it, or not.
Homestays are an incredible way to taste a wide variety of local food. You might find your hosts constantly offer you fruit, snacks like sunflower seeds or even occasionally special treats like chocolate. This can be a bit overwhelming at times!
My personal guidelines for when to accept or decline food in your homestay:
- Be open minded to trying things – say yes as much as you can, widen your horizons, don’t chicken out! (Try a few chicken feet)
- Don’t be afraid to say no when it gets to be too much – know your own limits, don’t panic if people keep offering even after you’ve said no
- Take special treats in moderation – avoid losing face by scoffing down all the families most expensive treats (though they might keep offering)
- Beware of Baijiu Alcohol – celebrations and big family dinners can often get a bit wild when local shots are involved. Handle with care!
Chinese families tend to be very conscious of the amount of water used in the home. So, looong indulgent baths or lengthy daily showers might not go down too well. Your family might even be slightly surprised at how often you shower. Feel free to bring this up in conversation with them. The more you discuss differences in living habits, the easier it is to avoid misunderstandings.
In any case, water is the most valuable commodity in the world!
In China, chicken stew means the whole chicken; the head, the beak, the feet et al. Waste not want not!
This idea crops up again and again in food and in other areas of life too. With bath towels and other household items too. (Although perhaps not when it comes to plastic packaging). Be aware of this and try to observe how the family use things.
Discuss these observations with the family! You’re both there to discover these differences. It’s always interesting to find out which of your daily habits are due to the culture of your country, your family or just your personal preference. It’s a weird and wonderful world.
Modern day lifestyle in a Chinese city is busy busy busy. Kids are the absolute epicentre of the family. Everything revolves around their schedule. Dropping the kids of at school, picking the kids up and shuffling them off to badminton class, extra English lessons, lego club, chess or gymnastics championships and finally exam prep, plus more exam prep.
Adjusting your schedule to the family schedule can be a challenge sometimes. The more you communicate with the family about your timetable, your internship hours etc. the more enjoyable the experience will be. You’ll communicate with your host family through WeChat which even has a translate function if conversations get complex.
Top tips for living in harmony:
- Try to set up regular time to spend with the family in the evenings – especially if there are kids!
- Ask advice on the best places to shop, hike, climb or play football – the family with be eager to show of their city and can show you around
- Be patient and flexible -remember how much the family are adapting to make you part of their daily routines
Clubbing and your usual night-life madness might not be so compatible with your new family life here in China. Have a think about what you are committing to and decide what is most important to you. Host families can be extremely caring in China and they do tend to get anxious if their house guests stay out late at night.
Remember, it’s a short period of your life and you might only have this one opportunity to do something so unusual!
Gifts from your hometown go down a treat! Any local to your community at home. Chocolates, biscuits, stickers, tea towels, scarves, pictures etc. Just a little something to show your appreciation.
In China, people always give and receive gifts. It is also quite common for gifts to be put aside to opened later in private. So don’t be surprised if the gift disappears unopened.
Added tip – try to give your gift with both hands!
You have to discover these for yourself. That is part of the homestay journey! However, I would particularly recommend checking out Mamahuhu’s YouTube channel. They’ll give you a fun insight on which to reflect, then build your own perceptions.