Returning Home to China & the Quirks of Chinese Airports

Chinese airports have free hot water dispensers, alcohol and tobacco stores sell crabs and many other quirks of traveling through China!

On December 23rd I left China for the first time since it became my home 5 months ago. Isaac and I visited Thailand and had the tropical honeymoon of our dreams! 10 days later, our bags were packed and we were headed back home, to China.

Compared to our slightly chaotic journey to Thailand that you can read about here, going back was a breeze. We giggled as we filled out our immigration forms, ticking “returning home” as the reason for our visit. Sometimes it’s still hard to believe that we actually live in China!

We had just spent 10 days in paradise and loved every moment of it. From sunbathing on the white sand beaches scattered with colorful shells, swimming in warm crystal-clear water to getting woken up by palm-tree hopping monkeys, it was perfect. But we were still excited to return home.

There were many things that we missed about China, including:

  • Toilets where you can flush toilet paper
  • No giant spiders, ants, lizards or snails watching you pee
  • Hot water in every sink and shower
  • Taxi drivers who know their way around the city and don’t refuse to look at a map it they don’t
  • Not-spicy food that actually isn’t spicy!
  • Street food that doesn’t give you diarrhea
  • Being able to buy alcohol in a store whenever you want
  • Stores selling wine
  • Finally, the lax rules resulting in a sense of freedom that can only be found in China

Sadly, people always tend to miss whatever they don’t have at a given moment. So, naturally, once we were back in China we missed the fresh air, clean ocean, ridiculously cheap food and of course, Thai weather! It was fascinating to see how different Thailand was to China, despite their proximity.

Since this was our first time experiencing Chinese airports, let me list a few things that surprised us about them:

  • Fresh crabs are sold EVERYWHERE. Even the alcohol and tobacco store specialize in crab!
  • Hot water dispensers can be found near all sitting areas and even on some planes! It’s free and mostly used for instant noodles. Finding cold (or room temperature) water on the other hand can be a challenge…
  • There are free charging points all over the place. USB slots and regular Chinese sockets are available for everyone to use. Did you know that you can plug standard European and US chargers into Chinese sockets? It’s not recommended, but my laptop hasn’t blown up yet!
  • WiFi is also free and relatively quick by Chinese standards, so don’t forget to show off that you are traveling on Facebook.
  • Airlines will sometimes have fun free promotional activities. Southern China took photos of us against an airplane backdrop and gave us free photo-key chains!
  • On over-night layovers, you can sleep just about anywhere. Forget hard seats or the smelly floor, if it’s late at night, find a closed restaurant and sleep on their comfortable benches. They won’t kick you out and will set up quietly as to not wake you up at 6 AM.

To summarize, Chinese airports are quite amazing! You can snack cheaply on instant noodles, chicken feet, pocky, buy freshly squeezed orange juice (15 RMB or $2) and drink a beer (10 – 25 RMB or $1-3) while streaming shows and charging your electronics! Oh and don’t forget the crabs! I’m just not sure if they are ready to eat, raw or even still alive when you buy them…

SMLXL

 

Advertisements

Chinese Delicacies: 2,000 Year Old Pancakes

Chinese fried pancakes are soft yet crispy with a coriander finish! People have been eating them for almost 2,000 years! Read more…

Comparing za liang jian bing (杂粮煎饼) to a crepe burrito is probably the easiest way to describe the food that has foiled my New Year’s weightloss resolutions. Jian bing translates to “fried pancakes” and the recipe originates from Shandong province in Northeast China back in 220 – 280 AD!

Originally, the fried pancake was meant to be served as a breakfast food; today it is a popular fast food eaten around the clock. Even in tiny Huaqiao there are several vendors selling this delicacy, setting up their portable bike carts in the morning and evenings.

These pancakes generally cost around 4 RMB ($0.60) due to the cheap ingredients. The outer shell is essentially a crepe, the batter for it is made out of wheat and flour. It only takes a minute or two to make and watching the process is truly mesmerizing.

First, the vendor spreads the batter on a heated plate with a single sweeping motion. Then they crack an egg over it, spread that and add a thin layer of brown sauce. Once everything in evenly spread they add a spicy sauce, unless you ask them not to by saying “bu la” (not spicy). Then they add a yummy baocui (薄脆) a crispy fried cracker that gives the otherwise soft wrap a crispy texture.

Finally, they add some fresh herbs, mainly scallions and coriander. Sometimes you can add sausages, more spicy sauces, mustard pickles and other small ingredients. Personally, I like it as plain as possible to avoid drowning out the coriander which gives it an oriental flavor.

For almost 2,000 years za liang jian bing was only available in China and Taiwan because the recipe was a well kept secret. Today, it is still rare to find them outside of China but there have been authentic fried pancakes made abroad by Chinese-trained chefs.

Read more about the cultural significance and history of the za liang jian bing here. The article will also tell you where to find it in the USA. Alternatively, you can watch a video of it being made here. Just don’t do it on an empty stomach, trust me.

Drinking Hot Water in China

Hot water is healthy to drink and it’s all the rage in China. Even vending machines have it! Water isn’t only thing that’s hot either…

It was about 40°C (104°F) when we first arrived in Shanghai on July 27th 2016. During the day it was too hot to even walk outside because it felt closer to 50°C (122°F). Despite this crazy temperature, when we arrived at Isaac’s school for a meeting, we were offered hot water to drink! We assumed that their water cooler was broken or something, but no, Chinese people just like their water hot.

There are many online debates about whether it’s healthier to drink water cold or hot. Many claim that drinking hot water burns more calories, some say that it’s more hydrating than cold water and others claim that it helps cool you down. In China, kids grow up drinking hot water at school and it doesn’t stop there…

When you go to a restaurant, you will be served either tea or hot water. Don’t bother asking for ice, you will be most likely be met with head scratches and “mayo”s, which means “don’t have”. If they are extra accommodating, they may run out to a nearby shop to buy you a bottle of water – it’s happened to us!

The airport might as well be the Sahara dessert if you’re craving cold water. You will find plenty of hot-water dispensers that are completely free, but cooler water is much more challenging to find. Alcohol and tobacco shops sell fresh crab but not water. KFC only offers tea, but if you meet a creative employee, they will put some ice in a cup of hot water for you.

Finally, there’s vending machines! Hooray! But wait… even those will sometimes only sell hot water. No matter how desperate you may get, don’t you dare drink that tap water. It is full of dangerous chemicals and will, at best, have you sitting on the toilet all week.

SMLXL

Speaking of vending machines… they are truly unique in China. If you explore the metro stops in Shanghai, you will quickly discover that there are three types of vending machines. Ones offering cold water, room temperature water and hot water! The best part? It’s not just water that’s served hot…

I didn’t grow up in America where every restaurant offers you free ice-cold water, but I did grow up drinking cool sink water from restaurant bathrooms in Europe. But whatever, I understand the health benefits and I’m happy to give hot water a chance. However there are some liquids that should NEVER be hot.

7-Elevens are a popular chain in Shanghai. They sell delicious on-the-go food like sushi as well as practical items like cheap chargers. Also, to my ultimate horror, some of them have what looks like a freezer except it is full of hot beverages. Fizzy grape-flavored drinks, apple juice and liquid cranberry yogurts are all heated up – ON PURPOSE!

As yucky as drinking hot apple juice may seem to you (and me!!!) it is important to understand and appreciate different food cultures around the world. I know plenty of Asians who want to puke at the thought of moldy blue cheese smeared on crispy unsweetened bread. I also wouldn’t dream of offering a Chinese person beef tartar, a Czech delicacy consisting of raw beef mixed with raw egg.

After all, culture shock is the reason we all love to travel. Isn’t it?

SMLXL

SMLXL

 

Sexist Sushi in Japan is Awesome… for Women!

Sushi is probably my favorite thing in the world and Japan is the best place to eat it. Since I can never get enough, I’ve been researching all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants in Tokyo. Turns out that most restaurants have different prices for men and women when it comes to all-you-can-eat menus. Women pay up to 2,000 JPY ($17) less!

With apologies to any feminists reading this, but realistically speaking the average man is stronger, faster and eats more than the average woman. If you can come to terms with this fact, then it’s not at all sexist to make all you can eat food cheaper for women. Is it? Although I admit to eating more sushi than any person should, my husband still manages to eat more. So he should pay more!

Now let’s factor in salary… unfortunately, it is still a common practice to pay women less than men. In the US specifically, statistics show that women made 80 cents for every dollar made by a man in 2015. You can read more about that here. Anyways, this makes the wage gap 20%. Now lets take another look at those sushi prices…

Tsukiji Tama Sushi is located in Ginza, a town known for it’s fresh sushi made with high quality ingredients. They offer all-you-can-eat sushi for “couples”: women pay 7,000 JPY, a man and a woman pay 8,000 JPY and two men pay 9,000 JPY.

9,000 JPY is about 78 USD so 7,000 JPY is 61 USD. That makes it almost 22% less for women! Coincidence? Probably. But it’s still awesome! Although if we get really technical and add the wage gap to the fact that women eat less than men, then women should be paying at least 40% less…

Personally, I’m happy to take while I can get. While the rest of you argue about inequality and food prices for women, I’ll be in Tokyo paying 20% less to stuff my face with sushi.

SMLXL

Introducing the Huaqiao Foreign Friends Association

The Huaqiao Foreign Friends Association aims to help foreigners feel at home and bring us together with locals to expose them to the English language. Learn more about the association and it’s goals.

Last night the Huaqiao Foreign Friends Association had their first official party! It was basically a meet-and-greet where teachers from Kang Chiao and other foreigners living in Huaqiao got to meet and discuss a mutually beneficial partnership with the local government.

The ultimate goal is to make Huaqiao a better place for everyone who lives here. The local government wants to give us a space to hang out, work out in and give us the ability to transform it based on our needs. In return, a few volunteers are asked to engage in weekend activities with local children!

It was an intimate party with plenty of food, beer and fun to go around! We enjoyed a great buffet, X-box games, snooker and pink pong, all while discussing future activities in Huaqiao and volunteer opportunities for foreigners. In celebration of the upcoming Chinese New Year, we had a special guest calligrapher who made us beautiful couplets.

For those of you who don’t know, couplets are basically lines of poetry hung on one’s door to ensure good luck and fortune in the upcoming year. We have already hung ours up! Unfortunately our door is positioned so our couplets are skewed, but hopefully our year will still be right on point!20170120_133900

Once our bellies were full and we were all tired out from being fruit-slicing ninjas, we discussed how to make Huaqiao a better place. There will be many events organized by the local government that foreigners will be welcome to join, including singing competition, language exchanges and many more events.

We also passed around the volunteering sign-up sheet. So far, ten teachers are interested in spending one or two hours volunteering with children on given weekends. Once we’re all back from the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), we will make a schedule where volunteers will be asked when they are free and events will be organized.

These upcoming events will bring together locals and foreigners in a variety of activities. Most of the volunteering will involve taking kids to the park (with their parents and local volunteers in tow) and playing games to expose them to foreigners and the English language.

Huaqiao is lucky to have three beautiful large parks and they are very different from what Westerners might expect. The parks are huge with lots of man-made bodies of water, intricate arched bridges and bird watching huts. Volunteers will get to discover these parks and many other great places in Huaqiao.

The Huaqiao Foreign Friends Association is still at an early stage of development. Right now the main goal is to figure out what the foreign community needs to be happier in Huaqiao. Then we will work together with the local government to make it happen. This is going to be a long-term project and it has to start somewhere!

If you live in Huaqiao and want to contribute, please join our WeChat group. Together, we can make Huaqiao more than just a place where we live and work. Let’s make Huaqiao a place to call home!

mmexport1484894441752

Check out some photos from the event!

mmexport1484878700383

mmexport1484878686830-1

mmexport1484878676900

mmexport1484878660341

mmexport1484878671224

mmexport1484878059786

See you next time!

11 Bar: the Only Bar in Huaqiao

We finally have a bar in Huaqiao! Here’s why it’s a big deal…

What so many foreigners have missed in Huaqiao has been a place where the staff know you and speak your language. Where you can meet with your friends after work or on the weekend and order “the usual”. 11 Bar is a place that makes us feel at home, whether we came to China from the US, Europe or Australia.

Named after it’s location on metro line, 11 Bar is the only authentic bar in Huaqiao! It opened on December 2016 and is located right by Zhaofeng road, close to Huaqiao’s boarder with Shanghai. It welcomes foreigners and locals to enjoy delicious draft beer, quality cocktails and a great intimate atmosphere.

Quick geography and history lesson

Huaqiao is a city within a larger city called Kunshan. It is defined as an economic development zone with a steadily rising population of Chinese people and foreigners alike. The Chinese population is attracted by factory work and cheap rent with a relatively short commute to Shanghai. 90% of the foreigners are here because of Kang Chiao International School.

The area is constantly growing but still has a long way to go. Several years ago there was a surge of new businesses popping up. Unfortunately there weren’t enough people to keep all of them open. That is why today, some areas of Huaqiao resemble a ghost town. But this is quickly changing!

Why we love 11 Bar

After so many independently-run businesses failed, people became hesitant to try again. That is, until Tony decided to create the perfect hang out spot with an ideal location. He runs the bar as a hobby whenever he’s not at his full time job. More importantly, he is single handedly bridging the gap between locals and foreigners in Huaqiao.

If you’ve never been to a city like Huaqiao then you might not understand why we’re all so excited about this place. Coming from a city where bars and pubs litter every corner, it’s been hard to adjust to not having any at all. We’ve been hanging out and playing beer pong in grocery stores to compensate, but it’s just no the same.

Western-style drinks and service

11 Bar serves cocktails and draft beer, which are hard to find outside of Shanghai. The prices are great too, 30 RMB ($4.5) for a pint of draft Tiger beer and 35 RMB ($5) for most cocktails. If you get the munchies you can order some fried chicken or fish to enjoy with your beer.

Aside an extensive drink menu and friendly staff, there is also a great sound system, a flat screen TV and high speed internet. It’s a great place to watch sports, have a dance party or simply blast your favorite tunes all night long! What more can you ask for?

11 Bar might be one of the first places where foreigners can meet and get to know locals, but it most certainty won’t be the last. My next post will be about the Huaqiao Foreign Friends Association and their initiative to bring together locals and foreigners! Stay tuned.

Anything is Possible at a Chinese Airport

30 minutes from one plane to another? Anything is possible at a Chinese airport!

Isaac and I moved to China in July 2016 in hopes of discovering Asia and traveling as much as possible. During our first 5 months here we visited Shanghai many times, took a train up to Beijing, explored an ancient water village and hiked in a rain forest during a typhoon just to mention a few of our many adventures! Until recently, however, we hadn’t experienced Chinese airports…

We booked our flights with Southern China airline from Shanghai to Phuket and then from Bangkok back to Shanghai way back in August. Using Skyscanner we got a great deal and only spent about $250 on two round-trip flights with one layover each way. It was a bargain!

Leading up to the flight, the agency that we booked with, Vayama, kept changing our flight times every two or three weeks. We didn’t think much of it, until the week before our flight we received an email saying that our flight there was a day before our expected departure! Since Isaac had to work, we had to call and change the flight – unfortunately, the only other option they could offer us was two layovers on our way there.

Reluctantly, we agreed and headed to the airport on the day of our flight. As soon as we checked our luggage, the panic arose – our luggage could only go as far as Wuhan Airport! This meant that during our one hour layover we had to get off the plane, pick up our bags, check them in again within 45 minutes of our flight… this left us 15 minutes from landing to the closing of the gate.

We called Vayama and Southern China but neither was willing to accept responsibility. Their solutions were to take a flight that arrived in Phuket a day later, or we had to risk missing the flight and having to pay for a new one ourselves. Worried and angry, we boarded our plane and hoped for a miracle.

Murphy’s law was taunting us at full blast. The plane was already moving a whopping 20 minutes before expected departure! But then we had to wait in on-ground plane traffic and ended up taking off late. We began descending right on time despite the late take-off, but surprise surprise, we landed late again.

The plane drove right up to those roll-up stairs, near an entrance to the airport but, of course, we were told not to get up yet. That’s when the plane started driving… away from the airport! Frustrated, we watched the airport shrink the distance, jumping up frantically the moment it finally stopped, in the middle of nowhere. The gate was closing in 5 minutes!

Pushing past people while yelling apologies, we ran out of the plane. That’s when we saw a man in a neon vest, holding our checked-in suitcase. No way. He somehow recognized us and shooed us onto a private mini-van. Turns out the plane drove out of the way just for us!

The van took us to a “staff-only” door at the back of the airport. The friendly neon-vested guy ran us through all the check-points, helped us skip the lines to check our bag and sent us off to the security check with half an hour to spare!

Thanks to Southern China, it took less than 30 minutes plane-to-plane! Not only is that outright impressive but they saved us hundreds of dollars in booking a new flight and changing all our reservations.

Some things are only possible in China!!!

SMLXL