By Seema Rani Bhende
Nov. 20 – Following our articles on The Ten Things in India that You Can’t Get in China, The Ten Things in China that You Can’t Get in India and The Ten Marvelous Things You Can Get in India You Can’t Get in China we now look at the marvelous side of things from China’s perspective:
No one puts park space to better use than the Chinese. When visiting any city in China, every guidebook will point visitors to a number of beautiful parks within that locale. The Chinese place a high priority on Zen-like parks that are well maintained, clean and accessible to all people. You will find the Chinese, especially elders, walking and exercising in the parks, but parents beware, the free exercise equipment is for adults only and some playgrounds may have a 10 renminbi surcharge per child for use.
Many Chinese practice tai chi, walk backwards, play chess, fly kites and waltz for exercise and relaxation that makes parks a great place for people watching. Someone is always playing music in the park. You will often hear an interesting (disharmonic) symphony of erhus (traditional Chinese instrument), old ladies singing opera songs, and men drumming and playing violin.
Some of Beijing’s most famous parks include: Beihai Park, Ritan Park, Temple of Heaven, Jingshan Park, Zhongshan Park, Houhai Park, Chaoyang Park, and many more. More than 100 million tourists visit Beijing parks every year!
Whether you are Chinese or a tourist, a visit to Beijing’s Silk Market is exhausting. The shopkeepers literally take hold of you – and practically your wallets – when your eyes even glance at one item in their booths. As most people know, the “Made in China” brand is far-reaching globally, but over the last two decades, China has nearly perfected the copying process of high-end luxury brands. One would hardly know there is a controversy surrounding trademark violations of these luxury products when shopping in China because of the countless tourists and locals buying fake Gucci, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo and Cartier.
A decade ago, China was famous for having replicas of primarily designer bags and watches. Now, you can find nearly everything ranging from fake shoes, software, phones, key chains, and even high-end ski gear. And the savvy shopper knows there are tiers in finding a “good replica.” There are the truly “fake” products that spell Prada as “Pradi” and then there is the next level where the logos may be correct, but the inside label of a Armani suit will say “Made in China.” And then you get to the highest tier, what many seasoned shoppers refer to as the goods that “fell off the truck” that are practically the real thing with minor hiccups such as a faulty zipper or a small factory defect.
These products do not get sold in the big tourist markets but rather behind the scenes in offices buildings that are private, require appointments or knowing someone. You can buy a Marc Jacobs bag that usually retails for US$1200 for a bargain price of US$200. While by no means are we promoting the violation of these luxury brand trademarks, it is hard to find someone who visits China who does not partake or witness fanatical shopping. And don’t worry, if you run out of space, you can buy some “Tume” suitcases at Silk Market for less than 30 bucks.
Tofu originated in China but the date of origin is uncertain. The earliest existing document mentioning the term doufu is the Ch’ing I Lu (Seiiroku in Japanese), written by T’ao Ku about 950 A.D. There are many theories about the origin of tofu in China ranging from it happening by accident through coagulation to it being imported from Buddhist monks of India. Either way, the Chinese have truly perfected the art of making tofu and all sorts of delicious dishes using this vegetarian protein.
One can find a variety of tofu in China – some are grainy, some are big and creamy. Sometimes the tofu is sort of hard and small, other times it’s moist. Occasionally the tofu is like silk and simply falls apart. Some of my favorite tofu dishes include:
• Sichuan Ma-Po Tofu (Spicy Bean Curd with Beef)
• Hot and Sour Tofu Soup
• Clay Pot Tofu
• Dofu Cai Mian (tofu noodle with vegetables)
• Braised tofu skin
Chinese massages rub you the right way. There are two types of traditional Chinese massage: tui na which focuses on pushing, stretching and kneading the muscle and zhi ya which focuses on pinching and pressing at acupressure points. Both are based on principles from traditional Chinese medicine.
Tui na dates back to the Shang Dynasty of China, 1700 BC. The massage was used to treat children’s diseases and digestive complaints in adults. It is a form of acupuncture that believes in the invisible passageways that run through the body and are the channels through which a vital energy called qi (pronounced “chee”) flow through.
In a typical session, you wear loose clothing, no shoes and lie on a table or floor mat. The practitioner examines the specific problems of your body and begins to apply a specific massage treatment. It may be important to learn the Mandarin words for “ow!” and “softer” before getting a traditional Chinese massage because with the language barrier foreign accents may be interpreted as pleasure sounds. Chinese massages are incredibly affordable and in many places US$15 can get you a one to two hour session.
Discovered in 1974 when a local farmer was digging a well, the Terracotta Army, buried in 210 BC with the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, is a breathtaking sight. The museum of the Terracotta Army is located in Xi’An in the Shanxi Province. The thousands of life-size figures each have unique faces along with hair and armor styles appropriate to their rank. The figures include strong warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians.
Current estimates indicate that in the three pits containing the Terracotta Army there were over 8,000 soldiers, 100 chariots with 400 horses and 300 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits. The mausoleum created by Emperor Qin represented his ability to control the resources of the newly unified China and his attempt to recreate and maintain that empire in his afterlife. Emperor Qin died in 210 B.C. and the Qin Dynasty quickly extinguished within a few years by the Han Dynasty. The 700,000 government laborers and craftsmen were likely exhausted by the 38-year construction process of the mausoleum and were unable to put up a good fight.
China has been perfecting the art of dumpling making since the Song Dynasty. Chinese dumplings come in all sorts of shapes, colors and stuffing – some may be round or crescent-shaped, boiled or pan-fried. The filling may be sweet or savory, vegetarian or filled with meat and vegetables. Some of my most favorite dumplings include:
Jiaozi – These crescent shaped dumplings with pleated edges are normally filled with meat, shrimp or vegetables. The filling ingredients are enclosed in a flour and water dough. Dumplings are frequently boiled, although they may also be pan-fried and taste delicious with vinegar, soy, or ginger dipping sauces.
Potstickers – The difference between jiaozi and potstickers comes down to how the dumpling is cooked. Potsticker dumplings are pan-fried on the bottom and then steamed. It’s traditional to flip them over before serving so that the browned, pan-fried side is on top.
Siu Mai – These mild tasting steamed dumplings come in a cup or basket shape, with the soft, puffy filling sticking out at the top. Traditionally they are filled with pork, although shrimp is also common.
Shanghai Steamed Buns -These are not buns at all, but meat or seafood filled dumplings that are famously flavorful. These steamed buns are recognizable for their unique design, as the filled wrapper is gather up into several folds prior to steaming.
Ayi means auntie in Mandarin but is also often used to refer to a housekeeper or maid. It is a word that many foreigners learn soon after coming to China even if they pick up very little Chinese, simply because ayis are very affordable and greatly enhance your living experience. Initially some foreigners feel that hiring an ayi puts them into a position of power with vaguely imperialistic undertones. Or maybe they’re just uncomfortable having someone else clean up their mess. It is interesting, however, to watch these people evolve and become quite dependent on their ayi for day-to-day help.
Ayis are Wonder Women. Many are an all-in-one package and can cook, clean, and watch your kids all at the same time. Some ayis live in the homes of their clients and others come one to two times a week to do laundry and clean. Prices range for ayis depending if they are part-time, full-time, speak English, what city you live in, etc. I’ve heard rates range from US$2 an hour to a live-in ayi costing up to US$200-US$300 a month. When foreigners repatriate back to their home countries, its common for them to go through an “ayi withdrawal syndrome” where they need to relearn the basics like washing dishes, buying groceries and folding laundry on their own.
Tea consumption originated in China more than 4000 years ago. Green tea is the most popular Chinese tea and is consumed in many ways – hot, cold, room temperature, in ice cream, and don’t forget the Starbucks Green Tea Frappuccino. Ironically, Starbucks in China does not actually sell regular hot green tea. Go figure!
Green tea has a long list of health benefits, with some evidence suggesting regular green tea drinkers may have lower chances of heart disease and developing certain types of cancer. Chinese tea aids in digestion and reduces fatigue. Green tea has also been claimed useful for “weight loss management” which is one theory on why the Chinese, overall, are quite slender. And perhaps all the slurping burns some calories as well because the Chinese certainly enjoy elongated sips and slurps that end in loud “Ahhhhhsss” after nearly every sip.
Free wi-fi hotspots
China has the second largest number of wi-fi hotspots in the world – nearly 35,000 – and is adding more networks at a rapid pace. Best of all, most of the Wi-Fi access spots are free. China is a dream for the business traveler or independent consultant because most coffee shops, restaurants and hotel lobbies offer free internet connections and as noted in The Ten Marvelous Things You Can Get in India You Can’t Get in China, unless you belt out fuwuyuan to get the waiter’s attention, they won’t bother you and you can sit long as you like.
Starbucks China does not (yet) charge for internet usage but in the United States you need to purchase a Starbucks Card and buy credit that last only 30 days that gives only two hours per day of complimentary Wi-Fi access.
The great wall
It would be an obvious omission to not mention the Great Wall of China when discussing the country’s marvels. The Great Wall winds its way across China covering over 4,000 miles (6,700 kilometers). While the latest construction occurred after 1368 during the Ming Dynasty, construction of the Great Wall began over 2,000 years ago. In fact, the Great Wall is actually made up of a number of interconnecting walls spanning China that different dynasties constructed over the years.
During its construction, the Great Wall was called “the longest cemetery on earth” because so many people died building it. Reportedly, it cost the lives of more than one million people.
While the Great Wall of China is not one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, it is one of the seven wonders of the medieval world. The most visited section of the Great Wall is in Badaling, outside Beijing, and was the first section of the wall to open to tourists in 1957. However, most informed tourists know to visit Mutianyu, located 70 kilometers northeast of Beijing, which is a much quieter, less crowded part of the wall.
Contrary to common belief, the Great Wall of China cannot be seen from space without aid. While it is a great symbol of national pride, China struggles with how to manage and protect it while controlling the mass-market development and touristic nature of the site. Two organizations, the China Great Wall Society and the International Friends of the Great Wall, are dedicated to preserving it.