When most people think of China, they think of crowded streets, a loud, colorful culture, and an enormous variety of foods. Some of the more well-known Chinese foods could be considered distasteful to the Western palate, but once you make yourself try them, you open your mind to an all-new culinary world of delight. One such delicacy is bird nest soup.
*Note: Click here to read Part One of this series.
My incredible journey to Shanwei, Guangdong for Chinese Spring Festival continued with a night trip to the coast. Shanwei is on the South China Sea, and there is a long, main drag that runs by the docks. It was the very night of Chinese New Year (January 30 this year), and my new family wanted to show me a bit of the town. My girlfriend’s cousin drives a tuk tuk (a three-wheeled, covered motorcycle) for a living, and he was kind enough to ride us around. We went to the street that borders the sea, and took a walk along the quay.
Yunnan Province in China is like heaven for people who love food. Of all the provinces in China, Yunnan has the most ethnic minorities, and the widest variety of food, especially many wild foods. Some of these local specialties, like wild mountain fungus, require specialized experts to find and prepare, the knowledge passed down through families over the centuries. One of these specialties is Yunnan cured, aged ham.
No matter where you live on earth, catching a cold is no fun! A runny nose, the sniffles, coughing, those sore aches and pains, weakness — there is just nothing good about being sick. So what sort of medicine do you take? We Westerners tend to ingest chemicals that effectively and immediately resolve the symptoms of a cold, and hey, I am fine with that. Ibuprofen makes me feel better in about 20 minutes, and who wouldn’t want that? Here in China, however, Western medicine still has a long way to go before it is no longer viewed with skepticism and avoided. Why is that?
It is so difficult to describe Chinese culture. At once an ancient, monolithic culture, and a culture as diversified as anything Europe has to offer, China is like its own contradiction. Everything that is, also is not, and then is its very own opposite. How else could I possibly explain my belief, for example, that Chinese people are both industrious and lazy? Or that Beijingers are both welcoming and rude? Or that Chinese traffic is both efficient and chaotic? The moment that a Westerner tries to explain Chinese culture, or put it in a box, it jumps out of that box, smiles, and waves a finger, as if to say, “Ah, silly Westerner, you will never understand us!”