As I am writing this, today is the Winter solstice. That means that we must make and eat dumplings. The legend is if we don’t eat dumplings today, our ears will fall off. Since I’m rather attached to my ears I’m going to eat dumplings today. Thankfully, some of my students invited me to make dumplings with them this evening. I’m really looking forward to the experience. The cafeteria staff had a dumpling-making party for the foreign faculty and their families last year. They had everything already prepped and laid out for us. It was a great first experience, but this year I’m excited to cook with my students and have an authentic “start to finish” experience.
Winter Solstice is only one is the many festivals that are sprinkled throughout the Chinese calendar. There are New Year’s Day, Spring Festival, Tomb Sweeping Day, International Labor Day (May Day), National Holiday, and Dragon Boat Festival and these are only the legal holidays. There are quite a few others which are celebrated throughout the year even though people may not get to take a day off from work. (One of my students listed an additional 16 festivals and she wasn’t sure that was a complete list.) I love them all. Each festival has its own special foods and traditions. Relationships are very important to the Chinese, so most festivals involve getting together with family and friends and sharing the special dishes associated with the festival they are celebrating.
Even more than their festivals, I love the Chinese people. In my experience they are kind and generous to strangers. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been struggling with the language or how something works and a Chinese person with some knowledge of English has come to my rescue. I have yet to meet the infamous “inscrutable” Chinese person. Most of those I’ve met have been just the opposite and once you get to know them even a little bit, they love to laugh and joke with you. A smile will always get you off on the right foot with them.
Another thing I love about China is THE FOOD!!! I love good food. My favorite food here is hotpot. The restaurant prepares a large pot of broth. There are many varieties of broth and everyone has their favorite. Some of them are very spicy and others are quite mild. The restaurant staff set the pot of broth on a special burner in the middle of the table to keep it boiling. Then, each diner adds meats, fish, vegetables and even a few fruits to the pot a few at a time until they are cooked through. The more foods that get added to the pot, the more flavorful the meal becomes. Hotpot is not a meal that can be hurried. It is for sitting with friends and savoring.
Another dish I really like is málàtàng (麻辣烫). This is somewhat like hot pot, but each customer puts what they want to eat in a big bowl and gives it to the wait staff who then cook it in a broth and return it to the customer. The broth is a bit peppery (which I like) unless requested otherwise. A third favorite is ròujiāmó (肉夹馍). Even the Chinese refer to this as a Chinese hamburger. It is a type of grilled bread that is stuffed with a meat mixture. It is usually made with pork, but some of the best ròujiāmó I’ve had has been made with. These are only a few of my favorites. I could go on and on. Fried yogurt (yes, it’s a thing.), dumplings, baozi, tea eggs, steamed buns, and so many others.
One of the things also I enjoy here is the slower pace. Many of my fellow teachers put this at the top of their list. It was one of the things that attracted me to Sias also. Most of us work about 20 hours a week. This gives us time to spend with family and friends. Another thing that contributes to the slower pace is the fact that most of us walk a lot. A few of the faculty ride scooters or segways to class but most of us walk. The campus is a pretty good size My typical commute is about a 6 minute walk – sometimes more, sometimes less. Off campus, public transportation is extremely common and convenient. I don’t know any foreigner who owns a car and most shops are a short walk, bus, or taxi ride away.
Finally, I enjoy the opportunity for cheap travel. The Chinese love to travel. Rich and poor alike travel regularly and the prices of accommodations and transportation reflect this. There are options for every budget. For very reasonable prices by Western standards, you can take a fast train from Zhengzhou to Xi’an in a little over two hours. A friend and I did that over the Thanksgiving holiday. Our room at a Holiday Inn Express was also very reasonable, and eating out usually costs about 1-2 USD per person.
I could continue the list of what I love about China for several more paragraphs, but I’m off to make and eat dumplings with my students so my ears don’t fall off. What about you? Other than the major holidays, do you have a favorite holiday or family tradition? What is it? Why is it your favorite? Do you have special foods you eat? Share your favorites with me. I’d love to hear from you.