This is your tour guide Wanda speaking from the wonderful city of Hong Kong, back from a quick trip to mainland China. As your tour guide, I felt that it is necessary to present to you the “Seven Things to Avoid Doing in China/Hong Kong” so that you can avoid making the same mistakes.
Taking the train from Shenzhen to Guangzhou, just as the sun is setting.
Also, as a quick side note, can I just sing praises to the Western style toilet? How I’ve missed you, how I love you and adore you and would never ever leave you again. In mainland China, the dreaded squat toilet reigned, and whenever I saw a Western style toilet I felt like I could hear a herald angel choir in the foreground with someone in the background announcing that I had just won the lottery. There was one in a bowling alley that I went to, and I swear I drank more water there just so I could have the experience of the Western style toilet over and over and over.
I understand that it’s a more natural position, but I don’t think I’m doing it quite right, because it takes me twice as long as the next person. I went to the zoo, and some kids were using the toilet, and since kids never lock the door, I snuck a peek. I copied their exact position, so I’m pretty sure I was using the toilet the same way they were using it, but I guess I’m just not a professional squat toilet user yet. Some day…
Am I back in America?! Nope, this is just your regular old Mt. Rushmore in China. See the Capitol Building in the foreground?
Anyways, now that I’m done ranting about toilets on my food blog, here’s the list I promised you!
The Seven Things to Avoid Doing in China/Hong Kong
1. Don’t convince your relatives in China to go karaoke-ing with you if you can’t read Chinese, because the English selections will invariably suck. You will not know how to sing any of the Phil Collins selection that they provide for you, nor the random old 50′s music, nor the LeAnn Rimes selection that they have.
You will invariably end up singing “It Wasn’t Me” by Shaggy because that is the only song you recognize, fervently hoping that none of your relatives understand enough English to understand what you’re singing, but of course your cousin works as a English-Chinese translator and is laughing his head off at you. If you are not familiar with the song, I sang, with a straight face, “Picture this; we were both butt-naked, banging on the bathroom floor,” to all my relatives.
It wasn’t me singing this song to my relatives…
2. Don’t trust your dad. More specifically, don’t trust your dad to know how to feed you if you’re a vegan. A few months ago, I told my dad very bluntly that I was now vegan, that I didn’t eat dog or cat or chicken or beef or milk or butter or eggs, and that if there was nothing for me to eat in Guangzhou, I wasn’t going to visit him. He responded very eloquently, with something that roughly translates to, “Guangzhou is a gourmet eater’s paradise, for meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans alike! Come visit me!” So of course, I naively trusted him and went to visit him in China.
Fast forward to the first night I ate dinner at his house with all the relatives, where he said that they cooked a dinner especially for me.They had “name brand” choy sum (extra expensive, about $100 RMB per stalk), broccoli, spring onions, and bok choy because apparently being vegan means that I only like to eat green leafy vegetables. The rest was Peking duck, roast goose, roast pig, fish, any animal you can name was on that table. Even their tofu contained pieces of meat! (My aunt suggested I wash my tofu in my tea…)
“Name Brand” Choy Sum. It kind of (exactly!) tastes like regular choy sum.
To show off their wealth, every single meal that my relatives cooked for me for four days in a row consisted of the “name brand” choy sum. How “name brand” can a vegetable even be?! So that is what I subsisted on for four days, choy sum and white rice. Breakfast choy sum, lunch choy sum, dinner choy sum. Oh, and the peanuts that my dad told me to put in my room in case I got hungry. I think I lost 5 pounds before I returned to Hong Kong. And I developed an intense hatred of choy sum.
Look, it’s Wanda in China! Oh wait, that’s a panda. Unlike pandas, I can’t just subsist on vegetables.
3. Don’t smile too much. Americans smile at strangers, smile at trash cans, smile at the blue skies, and smile at cute dogs. Americans smile a ridiculous amount compared to any other nationality I’ve seen. And I smile a ginormous amount, even for an American.
Apparently it’s creepy. I would try smiling at people on the street and people would actively try and get away from me. I smiled at the bus driver for a good five minutes, telling myself that if I just kept smiling, he would smile back. He pretended not to see me and rolled his eyes for five minutes. Stop smiling!
4. Don’t take photographs of everything, speaking of annoying American traits that I embody. I tried taking a picture of a man welding something, and he got angry at me and started running after me and my nosy camera brandishing his sparking welding tool (what are welding tools called? welders? welderings?).
This resulted in me addressing everyone with, “Respected sir, may I ask, may I take a picture?” Here is a respected sir roasting chestnuts, a wonderful smell to behold.
5. Don’t forget that Chinese is a tonal language. That was nailed into me by my parents from a very young age, because the difference in tones (whether your voice rises or falls in a word) rather than just phonetics (like English) can mean the difference between “I’m hungry”, and “I’m experiencing diarrhea.” So of course I forget that when I go into a shoe store, and loudly ask the shop-girls if they have shoes made of “farting” rather than the similarly pronounced “fake leather”. Oof, the embarrassment!
6. Don’t eat the durian. Don’t try it. Don’t do it! My aunt told me not to try it, so I took a humongous bite of it, in the same vein as “Wet Paint, Don’t Touch.” It tastes like a wet smelly pungent old sponge. Then I tried to drown out the taste with a cup of tea that was just poured, which meant that I burnt my poor, already assaulted tongue.
7. Lastly, don’t recommend your WordPress blog to your relatives in China. They will tell you that it doesn’t exist, because it’s blocked. (I can update from Hong Kong, which is a special administrative district). Apparently my blog is very very dangerous, because I am a very dangerous fellow indeed.
It’s probably because I post pictures like this bean curd dish, which is very dangerous political propaganda. This picture, by the way, was taken in Hong Kong, where my relatives actually understand how to keep my tummy happy.