Strolling down the streets somewhere in the Southeastern China, you encounter this intriguing plant every now and then. It’s standing in front of fruit shops or is sold by street vendors at parks and crossroads. As someone raised in Europe (in temperate climate) you’re unable to recognize the nature of this reed. Finally one day, during a walk, your friend asks if you want to eat something sweet…
For average Westerner Chinese cuisine appears to be something shrouded in mystery. Many new tastes (often very odd). Vegetables and fruit you’ve never seen before (and can’t even begin to guess what they might be). Unbelievable kinds of meat (or should we rather say sources of proteins – hard to tell if you fried insects can be counted as meat). All of that makes eating in China a real adventure which, however thrilling, can also be tiring at times. Adventures are good to make your life more interesting. Nonetheless in everyday life you’d prefer something relatively ‘normal’ for a meal. What would be a safe choice?
In China people don’t eat fresh vegetables. Everything is cooked, steamed or fried. For a Westerner used to eating salads for every dinner it’s something hard to cope with. You can probably imagine how excited you’d be if a waiter unexpectedly brings you a plate of fresh sliced tomato. Unable to believe your happiness you reach for your long desired source of vitamins. You take a bite and… your excitement immediately goes down the drain.
You’re in Hangzhou (one of the biggest cities in China). You’ve been sightseeing for the whole day. It’s got dark and you haven’t eaten anything since lunch. Your stomach is loudly complaining about its mistreat. You don’t have a choice. You start looking around in search of something to eat. You turn around the corner and – jackpot! There’s whole alley with street food. You walk from one stand to another mesmerized by the colours, shapes, and smells. So many choices. You’re hesitant what to buy. Then you see something that really differs from any other food you’ve seen so far. By the first look you know you’ve found your place…
China is a mysterious country with its food being the very embodiment of the mystery. In here, each meal may turn out to be an adventure. Imagine. Your friend has just invited you for lunch. She’s in the middle of cooking. Unexpectedly she’s asking you for help. You’ve just came to China. You now nothing about Chinese cuisine but with a straight face you’re saying “Sure. How can I help?”. She’s giving you 3 eggs and asking “Peel them, please”. Relief. It doesn’t seem to be something tricky. You can do that much. You’ve done that many times before. You start peeling the egg and then…
You’re a foreign teacher in a small town in China. Your students (or their parents) being genuinely friendly bring you some snacks from time to time. You’re quite happy with that. You know that it will at least give your students a chance to practice phrases like ‘Thanks’ and ‘You’re welcome’. Maybe even encourage them to say something more in English. You’re already quite used to getting chocolates, candies, oranges or even dumplings. Sometimes however, you might get something else that will make you stare at your gift with greatest bewilderment and consternation...
Summer in Lishui. Nearly 40oC. Sounds of cicadas coming from every tree. Then you see something interesting. A man with something resembling a fishing rod is staring intensively at the tree. You can’t help but get curious. You get closer. Familiar sound is getting louder but you can’t find the source. And then you see it. A small bag that hangs from the man’s belt. You look closer and see something that might appear in your nightmare this night. The bag is full of cicadas. Why?! You think intensively. The only reasonable answer you can come up with is that the city hired people to catch cicadas because they make too much noise (not kidding about the noise. It seriously can drive people crazy). Quite convinced with your own explanation you’re not bothered anymore by the appearance of the mysterious man. At least until your Chinese friend takes you for lunch.
Who am I?
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My name is Aga.
I come from Poland.
Currently (since October 2012) I’m working in China as an English teacher embracing my new life as a foreigner in the Far East. For more - look “About me” chapter.
Photos made available under a Creative Commons License.