Tag Archives: fruits_and_veggies

Couchsurfing in China: I Travel for the Food

If you have read my blog, like, ever, then you are likely aware that I like food. Like really like food. And taking a trip to China was the perfect opportunity to try some new and, ummm, interesting foods. There were also many delicious foods. Many, many delicious foods.

Let’s start by talking about the street food. Across from campus was a myriad collection of food vendors and small restaurants where I most often ate during my stay. At any time of the day, various forms of inexpensive food, both identifiable and otherwise, were available for purchase. One of Jobie and Junie’s favorites is these sweet corn (or corn-like? I’m not really sure what was in them) cakes. Baked fresh and placed into a bag while still giving off steam, these were small bites of puffy goodness.

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Sweet corn(?)cake comas

Also available were things like dumplings (jiaozi), fried rice, cold drinks, and mystery meat parts.

Thankfully, Candi was able to order for me.
Thankfully, Candi was able to order for me.
This is a strangely delicious drink called coffee milk tea. Which is exactly what it sounds like.
This is a strangely delicious drink called coffee milk tea. Which is exactly what it sounds like.
Lemon something? It was quite refreshing after returning from a hike up a mountain.
Lemon something? It was quite refreshing after returning from a hike up a mountain.

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I do not believe I want to know what any of this is…
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However, this I want to eat. Now.

In the same area as the street food vendors were several small restaurants. During my stay, we ate at two of Candi and Justin’s favorites – one specializing in Sichuan cuisine and another in cuisine from northern China. I honestly cannot remember all of the dishes, but I do remember that the vegetables – cauliflower, small eggplants, potatoes, squash – were all especially delicious. Although I thoroughly enjoyed each of these meals, I will be honest. One must put aside any and all food hygiene issues in order to consume food in China.

First, because food is prepared in places that look like this:

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I’m guessing there is not much regulation of food safety standards.

Second, meals are served family style. Various dishes are ordered (by someone who actually speaks Chinese) and brought to the table along with a big bowl of rice. Each person dips their own small bowl of rice, but from that point, chopsticks are used to grab individuals bites. Those same chopsticks are then used to place those bites (after adding an appropriate amount of rice) into each person’s mouth. And then back into the plates of yummy food shared by all.

I really found it best to not think about it. That way, I could thoroughly enjoy eating all of these amazing dishes.

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In case it’s not obvious, this is the entrance to a dumpling restaurant
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Where the magic happens

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This was as spicy as it looks and perfect to add to a bowl of dumplings along with some dark vinegar.

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I have been craving this for a solid 2 weeks. And I cannot have it. Never go to China because you will eat things like this and your life will never be the same and you will be sad that you cannot eat it every day. Just some friendly advice.

We went out for a nice dinner one night to a place called 70’s Restaurant, although it’s anyone’s guess as to why. Despite the inexplicable name, the food was incredible.

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These were little tiny eggplants. As a side note, instead of saying “cheese” when taking a picture, people will say “qiezi,” the Chinese word for eggplant, which sounds more like ches-duh. Obviously.
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Mushrooms

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This was translated as bread with ice cream. It was a sweet bread with a sugary outside topped with a sweet butter-like substance that got all melty and good tasting.

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This cabbage was incredible, especially as it continued to cook and got a little crispy on the edges.
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Enjoying some barley tea.

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Another delicious meal was in Hangzhou. We enjoyed some of the regional specialities, such as chicken in tea leaves and a fatty pork dish.

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One of my favorite things to eat was the readily available fresh and delightful fruit, even when I was not entirely sure what it was that I was eating.

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Dragonfruit smoothies. In a Razorback cup, of course. WPS!!
Dragonfruit smoothies. In a Razorback cup, of course. WPS!!

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Even the places that should have been familiar had their own unique Chinese twist. Take for instance, Dairy Queen. Forget a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard. I ordered mango ice cream complete with a macaroon.

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DSC00898And then there were the chips. Trying to find a familiar flavor was next to impossible. Because they were mostly flavored like meat. Even the Cheetos were meat flavored. As in, regular Cheetos were not to be found.

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Not meat flavored, but also not particularly good. Trust me.

Even the bakeries were different. Although the pictures may appear to be any bakery in any city, the available pastries tended to be less sweet than what one would typically find. Oh, and the egg custard? Amazing.

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And yes, I ate both this and the egg custard. Don’t judge me. I needed lots of energy for a day in Shanghai and a long plane ride home.

Although I ate many wonderful, potentially life changing foods while in China, I also took the opportunity to try a couple of new, potentially not palatable foods. And because I like you, I am sharing the carefully documented series of pictures of me trying gross things. You’re welcome.

First up, stinky tofu. As the name suggests, it is tofu that is intentionally soaked in something that smells like sewage before being fried. The name could not be more appropriate.

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This is one of the moments when blogging is an inadequate medium. There are no words to capture the burning trash smell permeating the air as the tofu was fried.

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The most memorable food experience was certainly trying chicken feet. I literally ate the foot of a chicken. I think the pictures say it all.

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One of my favorite ways to get to know any place, both near home and in a far away place like China, is to try new dishes. Whether what I ate was especially tasty or something I would never voluntarily eat again, China did not disappoint.

 

 

 

 

Couchsurfing in China: Transportation Talk

Let’s talk transportation. While in China, I had the life-threatening experience opportunity to use many different modes of movement to get from point A to point B. I already wrote a bit about the private car that was hired to pick me up from the airport. I did not, however, share my immediate fear upon the car moving into traffic. It was like there were no rules. As if lanes and traffic signals were mere suggestions.

It was terrifying.

Whether travelling by bus or by taxi, using transportation was terrifying.

This is what it feels like to ride in a vehicle in China
This is what it feels like to ride in a vehicle in China

Because both driver’s licenses and cars are complicated and expensive to purchase, personal cars are a luxury. On the other hand, buses and taxis are inexpensive and e-bikes (short for electronic bicycles) are unregulated. As in you do not need a license to drive one. Just let that sink in for a moment. The point is, the average person uses some combination of walking, bicycles/e-bikes, and public transportation supplemented with taxis to get around. I used each of these while in China, although unfortunately because I took a private car to and from Shanghai, the one way I did not get to travel was by train.

On Sunday, we took a bus to nearby Keqiao for a Sunday meeting with friends.

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Between waiting on the bus, spending time with friends, taking a bus to get to a lunch spot, and taking yet another bus back, the entire day felt like it was spent waiting or riding on a bus.

These two provided plenty of entertainment while waiting for the bus.
These two provided plenty of entertainment while waiting for the bus.

I appreciated how fortunate I am to have a car, which I can use to go places without consulting a bus schedule or standing in the sun waiting (an hour…) for the next bus to arrive. Although there was fresh pineapple while waiting.

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Pineapple makes everything better.

I got to have the standing-room-only-balancing-next-to-someones-armpit-packed-bus experience. Sadly, the bus was so tightly packed that I could not get to my camera in order to document the moment. That was one of the times when I felt like I was truly in China – trying to look out the window at unfamiliar scenery, squished into a crowd of people speaking a language I did not understand, but among who, for once in my life, I did not feel especially short.

In addition to the city buses on Sunday, we also took an intercity bus from Shaoxing to Hangzhou later in the week. It was quite comfortable and I enjoyed the change of scenery from city to country and back to city during the drive.

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Junie looking out the window at the country houses
Junie looking out the window at the country houses

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Seats were individually purchased, so everyone had a place to sit. Seats were ostensibly also assigned, although people seemed to generally sit where they wanted. During the drive, I found it most helpful to look out the window and attempt to ignore moments like this…

This was not a picture from the bus, but is representative of the experience.
This was not a picture from the bus, but is representative of the experience.

And this…

We are not actually in a lane of traffic
We are not actually in a lane of traffic

Diaphragmatic breathing was also useful to manage the rising panic I intermittently felt.

As a side note, China is a cash-based society. So do not expect to be able to use a credit card, at least not outside of a major city. To take any form of transportation required cash. At any given time, I was carrying between 500 and 1000 yuan. Although that was not an especially large amount of money, there was something quite satisfying about pulling out multiple 100 yuan bills. Most taxi rides to the places we went in Shaoxing seemed to cost around 10 yuan (1.50), even with multiple people in the car. If I remember correctly, the individual bus rides within Shaoxing were a few yuan at most and the bus to Hangzhou cost 25 yuan each way.

And then there is the e-bike – the family vehicle of China.

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Obviously.

Bicycles and e-bikes (motorcycles are not allowed within Shaoxing) are common enough to have their own dedicated lanes and own traffic suggestions laws.

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Parking lots looked like this.

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The e-bike was perhaps my favorite way of getting around Shaoxing, although I may have felt differently if the weather had been cooler or rainier during my trip.

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Although fun, there was a bit of an adjustment period during which my bum was rather sore. And wearing a skirt while riding the e-bike definitely took some skills (thanks, Candi, for loaning me the pair of tights). Oh, and my hair generally looked a bit like this.

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Scooters were also a viable option for getting around campus.
Scooters were also a viable option for getting around campus.

And last, but not least, and certainly not least weird – there was time we accepted a ride from a random stranger. Yes, that is correct. One evening when we needed to get back to the bus station in Hangzhou, seemingly every taxi in the city already occupied due to rush hour traffic, a random guy on his way home from work pulled over and offered us a ride. For a price, of course. For several yuan and tense minutes of uncertainty about the future of our organs, five adults and two children piled into a red, 4-door sedan and trusted that we would end up where we wanted to go.

Whether by foot or by taxi, by bus or by e-bike, I loved the opportunity to explore a new place. The occasional terror I experienced while doing so just added to the adventure.

Couchsurfing in China: Shopping

I cannot believe it has already been a month since I left for one of my favorite trips ever. I loved so many things about my time in China, but one of my favorite aspects was getting a glimpse into day-to-day life. I certainly had the opportunity to do a bit of sightseeing, but I also had the unique experience of living with Candi and Justin for a week.

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In case you are curious, I did literally sleep on the couch.

For instance, I had the opportunity to join Candi for Saturday grocery shopping. Unsurprisingly, the shopping experience differed considerably from my typical shopping trip at home.

Perishable items, like fruits and vegetables, are bought frequently throughout the week and consumed within a day or two. Thus, when shopping in China, it is important to know where your closest fruit stand is located. Candi’s fruit stand of choice was located across the street from the university and was a spot we visited multiple times during the week.

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Although fruits and vegetables were readily available, buying other groceries took a bit more effort. I will talk more about the varied and sometimes frightening forms of transportation I used in another post, but for now, suffice it to say that we used the e-bike to visit stores in multiple parts of town in order to get everything Candi needed for the week. In case you are wondering, an e-bike does not have a trunk. As we shopped, we had to become increasingly creative about fitting the accumulated bags into and on the e-bike.

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We visited a couple of stores in order for me to shop for gifts, before visiting the foreign food market located in Shaoxing’s new InTime City mall.

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Of course foreign food means anything not from China, so that’s where Candi can find things like parmesan cheese, salsa, and non-meat-flavored tortilla chips. And apparently bad coffee, as well. Frozen durian and “chicken paws” were also available, just in case one’s supply was running low.

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We did not have time to make it to the large Auchan supermarket, where Candi frequently shops, but I could not miss checking out Walmart. Walmart was located amid many other buildings, just one more of thousands of businesses that interminably intermingle in the chaos of the city.

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These lockers were to store previous purchases while shopping - bags couldn't exactly just be left sitting outside on an e-bike!
These lockers were to store previous purchases while shopping – bags couldn’t exactly just be left sitting outside on an e-bike!

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Once in the store, it was hardly recognizable as a Walmart. Rather than the characteristic white and blue signs, bright red and yellow signs highlighted low prices and sales. There were live fish and the meat was recognizable as the animal from whence it came with hair still attached. There were open bins of rice and giant bottles of oil next to rows of instant noodles and snacks that I did not even recognize as such. It was fascinating and, to be completely honest, sometimes a bit disgusting.

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In addition to grocery shopping, Candi took me to one of the fabric markets to get a custom made qipao. A qipao, pronounced chi-pow, is a traditional Chinese dress, although I wanted a shirt rather than a dress.

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Picking out the fabric
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And choosing a pattern

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After I chose a lovely silk fabric and the pattern I desired, my measurements were carefully taken. The entire time, I imagined the tailor secretly judging my large American proportions.

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I quickly got over any self-consciousness when I was told the price – 200 yuan, the equivalent of $30. Thirty dollars for a custom, silk qipao! Although this tailor seemed to specialize in qipaos, there were multiple vendors who could seemingly make just about anything.

Me wearing my qipao
Me wearing my qipao

Elsewhere in Shaoxing, remnants of fabric were piled high, waiting to be waded through and chosen.

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It often seemed as if stores or vendors selling a particular product, such as fabric or electronics, were grouped together. So rather than going to one place to get everything, one would end up going to multiple parts of town in order to buy different items. The mall was perhaps the exception to this. I again noticed this while walking through Tashan Market on a rainy weeknight. Although everything from Hello Kitty bags to intricately carved wooden furniture to puppies was being sold, the market seemed to primarily focus on plants and “antiques.”

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Junie especially enjoyed the purple flowers.

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Jobie especially enjoyed the fish and turtles.

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Shopping in Shaoxing was a fun experience. It also reminded me to appreciate that when I want groceries, furniture, flowers, and new clothes, I do not have to drive to multiple stores within a city. I simply have to drive to Target, even if it is an hour away.