Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my parents exploring foreign shores, especially the US. My father is a die-hard fan of American action films, the typical American ‘muscle car’, and he just loves having a burger and double-thick milkshake once in a while. Mum was happy to go along with exploring the US but when it comes to shopping, the East is where she likes spending time (and money!) Even today Mum regularly jets off to Bangkok or Beijing and comes back with suitcases filled with shoes and other bits. This particular bug bit my mother when we spent my summer holiday in China with my Dad, who was in the middle of a six month work placement contract over there.
No burgers and shakes
If you spend time in China you are guaranteed a multi-sensory experience and some jaw-dropping culinary encounters. Food there can seem especially bizarre if you are in your early teens (and have not grown up with Google and Facebook), where you learn things like: in some countries people eat bugs, frogs and even turtles. In China I saw people enjoying fried spiders, rats and scorpions on a stick and very smelly black eggs. None of us were brave enough to try any of this but in Hunan we had sea cucumbers, which was quite strange and not particularly tasty. Luckily this was not the case with everything else to eat in China. This country has a great variety of very tasty fare. We experienced wonderful dumplings, delicious duck and I discovered one of my favorite street foods of all time – spring rolls. Naturally, with the influence of the West fast-food is available, but we were in China, not America after all and my parents believed in keeping it as authentic as possible.
Authentic China – away from the obvious places
Although most visitors to China get to know Shanghai and Beijing or even Xi’an and Guandong, not many are lucky enough to experience the tropical splendour of Hainan Island or the bamboo forests in Chendu. In keeping with our family quest to experience the ‘real’ China, we visited the less touristy places and got to know many wonderful locals. Our new friends included a heavily tattooed Buddhist and an au pair from France who had been in China for more than ten years and spoke Mandarin fluently. In our travels we also learned a lot of useless but interesting things, like:
- In China you can use one hand to count up to ten – by using different gestures
- Many people in China live happily in caves
- It is common for children to keep crickets as pets
- Directly translated, panda is ‘bear cat’ and chameleon is ‘colour change dragon’
My bit of Chinese
When I went back to school after the holiday I caught myself counting on one hand instead of using two and the habit stuck through the years. I guess sometimes we take a bit of the places we visit back home, and that was my bit of China.