Hope you all had a smooth weekend? Mine was quite entertaining.
Chronologically starting with Friday: maybe you remember our trip to Xinfeng from two weeks ago? On that trip we met a nice Chinese couple. She – we call her Lizzy – is a bundle of energy and her husband adores her. I think he would do anything for her.
Communicating with them is not always that easy but using hand gestures and a translation app on our phones do the work.
After the weekend in Xinfeng we met her again on Wednesday evening. What did we do? Cross stitching. No, we are no grannies… yet. It was really funny. The owner of the cross stitch shop (left in the picture) showed us how to stitch and also observed our work. Lizzy was more than happy to show us how to do it right! She was sometimes she a bit commanding… 😛
During this stitching session we made the decision to meet again on Friday to make dumplings together and go out afterwards:
The day started with washing and cutting of vegetables and then wrapping them up in the dumpling skins (Jenny will tell you more about this process on Friday). So far no problem. But when we wanted to start steaming them we noticed we were out of gas. But everything was good as they had an extra bottle of gas in their place. So we switched the bottle and had gas again! But Lizzy was not happy with the dumplings’ taste. While we ate this batch, the second batch was steaming on the stove. Which forgot about that it was cooking so after some time there was a burning smell… Still we had a lot of fun that evening.
Later that night we dressed up – in Qipao – and first went to the tea shop of a friend of Lizzy’s husband. Where we had some tea and wine. Next stop was Barstreet.
On Sunday, we met Lizzy again. She invited us to her brother’s place who is a chef and he cooked a big lunch for us. It was really good. The starter was a sweet soup:
After lunch, we went to the Spa where we enjoyed relaxing in the sauna and took a hot shower, followed by 100 minutes of massage. That was awesome! On our way back from the Spa, Lizzy was on the phone for a while and after she hung up she told us that soon there will be a marriage in her family and that we were invited. A Chinese wedding! Sooo cool! I am really looking forward to that and I will let you know where and when it will take place. There will definitely be a blog about it.
Oh my god, what am I going to wear?? O.o
I wonder what Lizzy’s next plan for us is. I’ll keep you up-to-date.
Gianna aka Gini aka 吉娜
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Being a student in China has some very significant perks – especially when it comes to holidays. You might not get your usual Christmas vacation (it was rather depressing having to sit in the classroom on the 24th or 25th December), but Chinese University students are given a very long – sometimes up to 5 weeks – winter holiday.To make the most of our time in China, and to practice our Chinese, of course, my friend and I took on the quest of travelling during Spring Festival. Our rough plan was laid out as follows: Train it from Beijing to Nanjing, then take a train to Zhengzhou in Henan to visit a friend of ours who was travelling home for the holidays. Next stop, Shenzhen and Hong Kong, followed by Yangshuo, Guilin and back to Beijing. Surprisingly, we actually made it to all of these destinations and managed to stick to our plan.
We spent the actual New Year days in a small village named Jiaozuo outside Zhengzhou. Not really knowing what to expect when our friend invited us to his home to celebrate the New Year, we hopped on a train from Nanjing ready for an adventure. Unlike the other trains we had taken, this one was old, loud, and uncomfortable. Five hours later, after having endured questioning by almost every other passenger in the cabin (what are you waiguoren (foreigners) doing in this part of town??), we finally arrived in Zhengzhou at around midnight.
A bumpy bus-ride and a daring motorbike-ride later, we made it to our friend’s family’s home and were warmly welcomed by his parents and grandparents. There was a lot of chatter in their local dialect, of which we couldn’t understand anything, but it looked like they were happy to see us. After we were presented with some soup and nibbles, our friend and his father gave us a tour of the village and their land. As we walked through the old streets (no skyscrapers here!) we were followed by a group of curious children, who had probably never seen a non-Chinese person in their life. We visited the family’s other property and hung up couplets on the doors and arches and bought fireworks and firecrackers in preparation for the evening.
By sunset the first firecrackers were set off, and the blasts did not end until the early morning hours. There were home-made jiaozi (dumplings) for dinner and soup, followed by a game of majiang of course!
The next morning, offerings were made to the temples nearby and firecrackers were set off on the fields to welcome the harvest. It was truly an unforgettable experience to see everyone together, singing, laughing and celebrating. The only way I could describe it is the warm, fuzzy feeling we have at Christmas.. just more explosive.. 🙂
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Hi guys, this is Stephan from InternChina. As this is my last week in China before heading back to Germany for Christmas, this will be my last blog for you. In this one I will explain to you how to make dumplings on your own at home.
Last Saturday we met in our apartment with a group of friends to have a farewell dinner along with some home-made dumplings. As Leo and Amber are masters in the art of making dumplings, they were the ones teaching us. And it turned out to be a real fun night.
The Chinese name for dumplings is Jiǎo Zi. In China making and eating dumplings together is an important, traditional activity. Dumplings are made with a wrapper and a filling. The wrapper is made from flour and water, the fillings on the other hand can vary a lot.
We created 3 different fillings, one consisting of eggs and vegetables and the other two being a mixture of pork and various vegetables. So let me break down for you on how to make dumplings step by step.
Step 1: Get the wrappers. You can choose to either make them on your own or you buy some that are already prepared. We decided to get prepared wrappers and focus on the fillings.
Step 2: Prepare the fillings. Clean the meat and vegetables and cut them into small pieces. Prepare different bowls for the different fillings. If you do an egg filling, cook the eggs in advance. Then start mixing things up the way you want it to be.
Step 3: Add things like cooking wine, soy sauce, ginger, onions, salt and different spices to get the typical Chinese taste of dumplings. Don’t be shy with adding a lot of these ingredients!
Here comes the fun part. Now it is time to get the filling in the wrapper. There are various techniques to do it.
Step 4 Beginners: Put the filling in the center of the wrapper. Fold and pinch the wrapper in the middle first and then work the right and left side. At the beginning you might find it hard to do but with each one you will get better.
Step 4 Advanced: If the usual way of putting dumplings together gets boring, you can live out your whole creativity and find new forms to make some nice Jiǎo Zi.
Step 5: The final step is to get your prepared dumplings ready and cook them for around 7 minutes in boiling water. After this, get together with your friends to enjoy your hard work.
Personal Tip: Snicker-Dumplings – this is by no way a traditional Chinese dumpling, but you should still do it. Buy some snickers, cut it into pieces and get it into the wrappers. Then cook it the usual way and enjoy it as a dessert.
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Coming home from a long day at work in the InternChina Chengdu office, I was surprised to find my host family’s grandmother cooking in the kitchen. Being the courteous young man I am, I immediately dropped my things and went in to investigate, only to discover her chopping furiously away at a couple of poor cabbages. With my limited Mandarin skills, I managed to figure out she was preparing the ingredients needed for jiao zi (饺子, also known as dumplings), a well-known staple of Chinese cuisine.
With a huge butcher cleaver in my hand, I went to work on the cabbages and proceeded to shred them as finely as possible. Mixing in a series of green onions, ginger, and spices into the minced pork meat, the filling was relatively easy to get done. The REAL challenge came with the skins.
As she proceeded to deftly roll out the jiao zi skins one by one I struggled for a good five minutes on mine, ending with this result. Hardly round and not even symmetrical, I had to restart and practice on this one many times!
But after a few more tries, I think I got the hang of it.
Afterwards the jiao zi were filled and nicely folded (at least 姥姥’s were). Mine continue to be a work in progress!
There are various ways to cook jiao zi, including steaming them, cooking them in soup, and frying them.
Overall a pretty interesting experience, considering how easy it is to eat a jiao zi compared to the effort needed to make it. After making them for about three hours, we have enough to last us the month!
Some history on jiao zi: Originally called “tender ears”, jiao zi were used to treat frost-bitten ears in the north of China. No longer restricted to the north, jiao zi are as versatile as they come. Eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and served as entrees, appetizers, and main meals, the jiao zi is the jack of all trades for Chinese cuisine. Never out of place at any time of the day, there are no limits on how and when these delicious dumplings can be eaten!
After what seemed like endless weeks of heavy rain and foggy (but by no means cold) weather, summer has finally hit Zhuhai. The past few days have seen a glorious streak of sunshine and heat, with temperatures ranging between 25°C and 30°C. It still rains from time to time but there’s no mistaking: summer is here and it’s only going to get hotter.
The InternChina staff and all the interns have, of course, taken advantage of the beautiful weather and are not wasting a second indoors. This weekend’s activities, for example, have included hiking, beach volleyball, sunbathing, swimming and biking. Sure, we might complain occasionally about the humidity and how it’s now impossible to stay dry, but all things considered, we are loving the summer and never want it to end.
One thing we hadn’t thought about, however, is the food. In western countries, the ultimate summer dish is the salad, and there are countless recipes for all tastes and pallets: vegetable salad, fruit salad, pasta salad, tuna salad… you name it. But the concept of salad as we know it does not apply here in China, and even though you can definitely find some yummy salads at western-style restaurants, they’re usually quite expensive and therefore not a viable option to eat on a regular basis.
So, what to eat then? As much as we love Chinese food – and we do – sometimes when it’s so hot that you break a sweat the minute you step outside the door, the last thing you want to eat is a scalding-hot noodle soup or a steaming plate of dumplings. If you’re new to China, you might start to despair, thinking “All Chinese food is hot! What am I going to eat now?” But having been here a few months – as most of us have – you begin to discover that no, all Chinese food is not hot and yes, there is quite a variety of delicious cold dishes (liang cai – 凉菜) that will freshen up your taste buds and keep you cool during the hot summer months.
Here are a couple of my favorites:
Cucumber with mashed garlic (suan ni huan gua – 蒜泥黃瓜)
I call this “cucumber salad”, and it’s really a very simple dish: chopped cucumber, garlic, hot chilli oil and Sichuan peppers. It can be quite spicy, but I’ve found they serve it at a few restaurants and the level of spiciness varies, plus you can add some black vinegar or soy sauce to tone it down.
Cold skin noodles (liang pi – 凉皮)
This is a dish that you simply must not miss while in China. These noodles (though the word “skin” is in the name, there is actually no meat) originate from Shaanxi province and, though there are many variations of the dish, most of them are served with hot chilli oil and black vinegar. My favorite version comes also with julienned cucumber, bean sprouts and peanuts on top.
Shredded potatoes (tu dou si – 土豆絲)
Many westerners love potatoes so this is the perfect dish for them. The potatoes are served with peppers and vinegar – tangy and fresh yet quite filling.
During Chinese New Year I moved from Qingdao to Chengdu and took with me: my cat Paula (big thanks to my colleagues who helped me through all the paperwork to take her on an airplane!) and my Chinese colleague Leo (also well-known as MacGyver amongst the InternChina community!).
Both arrived safely and helped me to feel like at home from the first day on. Our mission is to set up a new office for InternChina and to welcome as many students from all over the world as soon as possible. Chengdu is a fascinating city and offers plenty of opportunities for career seekers or those who just want to get a first idea of this enormously growing country and their economy. Also for those, who are culturally interested in China, Chengdu has a lot to offer: Daoist and Buddhist temples in and around Chengdu, religious mountains and multiple Chinese ethnicities living in the city make the exploration of Chengdu a big adventure.
Even though the last weeks were busy with finding a good office location and settling down, I tried to stroll around the city and discover places for you which might be interesting when you come to Chengdu the first time in your life.
So, I started my tour with strolling around in Jing Li Ancient Street. This is a place where you can find traditional Chinese architecture blending in with the modern world of consumption. A fascinating place where you can buy Chinese souvenirs for your friends and family at home or try different exotic Chinese snacks. Right next to this street, there is the more than 300 years old Wu Hou Temple, which is a huge area including a bonsai tree garden and the perfect place to escape the bustling city life. Entrance fee is 60 RMB, but worth to pay, if you like to hang out in a peaceful place and discover the beauty of Zen gardens. Not far from the temple you can find the Tibetan streets, where you can see typical restaurants and shops for all religious equipment (like incense sticks, incense vessels and holders as well as praying pillows) can be found. People are friendly here and speak English, so you can easily purchase some Buddhist goods or clothes.
After my tour through Wuhou district, I felt really hungry and as I love to cook at home, I wanted to try another supermarket than Carrefour to buy groceries. So, I went to Raffles City, which is a very new Shopping Center in Chengdu (see picture), where you can easily get lost within all the shops and even in the supermarket, which turned out to be a labyrinth. However, they offer very good fresh meat and fresh sea fish, which usually is not possible in a city so far away from the sea. Also, one of the 36 Starbucks in Chengdu can be found here, so if you are thirsty for a good coffee in Chengdu, there is always a place to go.
Finally, I also tried a few Western and Chinese restaurants in Chengdu and I easily can say you can get food from all over the world here: I already had potato salad as my grandma used to make it, original Spanish Tapas along with a cheesecake cream dessert, Tex-Mex and Indian food, as well as fried goose from Hongkong, steamed shrimps dumplings (Cantonese) and of course all different kinds of hotpots!
As you can see, Chengdu is a city which is easy to explore and of course, if you come here for an internship you could discover the city with our InternChina team together!
Now, I will tell you something about the Spring Festival I know and grew up with, and how to celebrate Spring Festival in my family. The blog is a long one, please be patient~~^_^
•The origin of Spring Festival
It’s said that “Nian 年” was a horrific monster in ancient China. It always destroyed everything and even hurt people. People found out, that the monster was afraid of the red cloth people put on their doors, so it has become a tradition to have something red (Spring Festival couplets and Fu character 福) on the doors and walls. Nian is also afraid of fireworks and firecrackers, that’s why Chinese people love to make a lot of noise during the Spring Festival time.
•The importance of Spring Festival in China
Spring Festival is the most important festival during the whole year, almost everyone goes back home to celebrate Spring Festival with their family, even people who work in Hainan Province and their hometown is in Heilongjiang Province go back home (Hainan is in the southwest of China, Heilongjiang Province is in the northeast of China).
The traffic during the whole month is horrible, it’s difficult to get a ticket to go back home (because everyone wants to go back home), if you get a ticket, you are lucky, but if you take a train to somewhere, you will find sometimes you can’t get a place and you will have to stand on the train. We call it “Chun1yun4 春运”, it is a word we use to describe the passenger transport during the period of Spring Festival.
•Prepare for Spring Festival
-“La Yue” ”腊(la4)月(yue4)”
“La Yue” is the last month on Chinese lunar calendar in one year. When “La Yue” starts, Chinese people start to prepare everything for the Spring Festival.
The Spring Festival is only one day on a calendar, but for Chinese people, it isn’t only one day, it always refers to the whole Spring Festival period.
– Cleaning: Chinese people clean the house everywhere; wash all the window curtains, bed sheets and dirty clothes before Spring Festival.
– Buy enough food for the whole month: Including all kinds of meat, vegetables, fruits, snacks, nuts, sweets and “mantou 馒头” (Chinese bread). If you are in China now, you will find that the traffic jam is worse on the weekends than weekdays, there are so many people in supermarkets and shopping malls, you may believe everything is for free! (Because everyone buys a lot of stuff!)
– Wear new clothes: On Spring Festival, people wear new clothes, even underwear and socks are all new. As mentioned in the blog written by my charming colleague Sunny “people will wear red coloured underwear and socks as if the coming year would be their year. By the way, the next year is the year of the snake！”
When I was a child, I was always very happy to wear new clothes on Spring Festival, I would keep the new clothes my mother bought for me in winter to wear until the Spring Festival. But now, I don’t mind if I wear new clothes on Spring Festival, because I have grown up and I can buy new clothes anytime I want.
•Spring Festival Eve
There is a tradition that the family makes sacrifices to forefathers of the family during the period of the Spring Festival. It’s very solemn. Prepare a table with incense, candles, some dishes, fruits and cakes.
In my family, if we decide to make sacrifices, we will prepare it very carefully, because it displays the respect we have for our family ancestors.
-“Dinner on Spring Festival Eve”,”年(nian2)夜(ye4)饭(fan4)”
On the Spring Festival Eve, all family members get together cooking, making dumplings, watching TV (more than 99.99% families in China watch the Spring Festival Gala on CCTV). The dinner on Spring Festival Eve is the most important meal in one year for every family. Some families also put several coins (washed with boiling water) into dumplings, if you eat a dumpling with a coin, it means you will be lucky and will make more money in the new year!
My mom always prepares at least 10 dishes for the dinner every year, even though there are only us three(my parents and me) celebrating together on the eve. After dinner, we will eat dumplings at midnight. When the dumplings are cooked, we will set off firecrackers at the same moment.
Children are all very happy during the period of Spring Festival, because they can get red envelopes from older family members on Spring Festival, they all become “rich men”!
I got red envelopes from my parents, grandparents and some other elder family members every year until I graduated from college. I will give red envelopes to my nephews from this Spring Festival on…
•“Happy Spring Festival”,”拜(bai4)年(nian2)”
Say “Guo4 nian2 hao3”(it means happy Chinese new year) with fist and palm salute to people you know or you don’t know but you want to ask for help if you stay in China during the period of the Spring Festival, they will be very happy. People will visit each other to say “guo4 nian2 hao3” to wish each other good luck and make more money in the new year!
•“Going back to mother’s home”,”回(hui2)娘(niang2)家(jia1)”
It’s a tradition in China that the daughters who have married could not celebrate the Spring Festival with their own parents, they celebrate the Spring Festival with their husband’s family. So the second day (in some areas in China, it is the first day) after Spring Festival is the date for the daughters who have married to back home to celebrate with their own parents, also with husbands and kids, they always take a lot of gifts. And the parents of the daughters will entertain them as well. But now, because most of Chinese families have only one child, people don’t mind to celebrate with other families and friends.
Although my mom goes to visit my grandmother every two days, she prepares a lot of gifts for my grandmother on this day as well. My grandmother also gets up early in the morning to prepare the dinner for us.
•How Chinese people spend Spring Festival holiday
We get a 7-days holiday during the Spring Festival. Do you want to know how Chinese people spend their holidays? Most of families celebrate together at home and meet friends, some people go out to travel with families, normally, people in north China prefer to travel to some warm places, because the winter is cold, they want to enjoy the holiday with only wearing a T-shirt.
I meet some friends and go shopping during the holiday, because there’s a big discount after Spring Festival! I am always busy during the holiday, there are too many friends and relatives to meet, too many things I want to do.
Do you know the Winter Solstice? Have you heard of solar term?
The Winter Solstice in China
There are 24 solar terms in a year in Chinese calendar, such as Spring begins, Great heat – The Winter Solstice is the 22nd solar term in a year, most times it’s on 22nd Dec (sometimes on 21st or 23rd) and it is the day that the sun radiates the earth on the tropic of Capricorn directly, so the daytime is shortest and the night is the longest in the Northern Hemisphere during the whole year. In ancient China, people thought the day was important, it was worth being celebrated.
The way to celebrate
The history of celebrating the Winter Solstice can be tracked back to Han Dynasty, but the way to celebrate is different from today, it was more grand in ancient times. Almost all the emperors paid attention to the Winter Solstice, even the emperors in Qing Dynasty attended the ceremony every year to celebrate.
Nowadays in northern China, people always make and eat dumplings with the family to celebrate. Why do people eat dumplings on the Winter Solstice? Because there is a story: if you don’t eat dumplings on the Winter Solstice, your ears will be frozen off in winter! Of course it’s fake. People made up the story to let all people eat dumplings and drink the soup of dumplings to keep warm in cold winter and to keep the memory of Chinese Medicine holy.
People in southern China eat glue pudding and something else instead of dumplings to celebrate, such as red bean rice in Jiangnan area, rice balls in some other areas in southern China.
Is there any tradition in your country to celebrate the Winter Solstice? Please share with us! Come to China, live in a host family and learn more about Chinese culture: firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our website www.internchina.com