Culture & Cuisine

Culture & Cuisine

The resurgence of China economically has seen the country become the world's largest exporter of manufactured goods.

However, China's two greatest exports have always been its culture and cuisine.

You'll probably already be familiar with some aspects of both. But as you'll discover when teaching English in China, there's a lot more to them than kung fu and gong bao chicken.


A day in the Chinese life

For many Chinese people, breakfast is taken like most lunches and dinners; outside of the home.

Between 6am and 9am, the streets in any neighbourhood will be full of residents buying pancakes (jian bing), deep fried dough sticks (you tiao), soy bean milk (dou jiang), and steamed buns (bao zi) filled with meat, vegetables, and bean paste.

After breakfast, many retired Chinese people will spend the day in the park, partaking in any number of cultural activities.

Finding a quiet spot beneath the trees and practising tai chi, qi gong and kung fu is a great way to start the day, calming the mind and body, and creating a sanctuary from the bustling city.

It's also common to see people sitting playing chess, cards, or the traditional Chinese game mahjong. The more energetic may prefer a game of ping pong or badminton, with the latter often being played casually without a net.

The older generations also love to dance. Squares and other public spaces are often taken over completely by men and women ballroom dancing, or women practising traditional Chinese line dancing.


Chinese evenings and nightlife

One thing you're certain to notice when teaching English in China is that every night, without fail, the restaurants will be busy.

Whether grabbing some quick noodles on the way home from work or making a big social event of it, Chinese people love to eat out, and eating out in large groups will provide some of the best nights out you'll have in China.

Chinese meals are communal events with one fundamental difference to Western food; you don't order your own food to be brought out on your own plate.

Whether you're eating a spicy Chongqing hotpot or enjoying a range of dishes around a large circular table, everything can be eaten by anyone.

Even beer is poured into small glasses from a few bottles on the table, and the whole atmosphere is one of sharing and consuming together.

At some point during your time teaching English in China, your Chinese friends will probably invite you to a karaoke club, or KTV. While karaoke back home may mean performing in front of the entire bar, KTVs have individual, soundproofed rooms for hire.

With drinks and snacks included in the price, and English songs usually available, KTV is an all-inclusive night out that must be experienced at least once during your time in China.


The biggest Chinese cultural event of all

On the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month, China celebrates its new year.

Exact dates vary each year, but always fall in January or February. However, no matter the specific timing of the celebrations, the cultural traditions observed remain the same.

For the Chinese, the most important aspect of the new year is to get together with the family. As many Chinese people move to different cities to find work, this means a lot of travelling is done during this time.

In fact, the crowds seen at train stations nationwide during Chinese new year are now almost part of the culture themselves.

Homes are cleaned in preparation for the new year, and red lanterns and other paper decorations are put up.

New years eve meals are seen as reunion meals for those returning, and are usually held in the home. Fish is said to represent prosperity and is always eaten at new year.

Family members will give and receive red envelopes (hong bao) containing money, especially to elders and children, and most people will stay up eating and drinking well into the night.

At midnight on new years eve, fireworks will be set off to ward off evil. Whoever lights the first firework of the year is said to receive good luck.

As the biggest cultural celebration in China, and the one where the most effort goes into the most special meal of the entire year, Chinese new year is the epitome of great Chinese culture and cuisine.

Should you be lucky enough to be invited into a family home for new year during your time teaching English in China, enjoying this wonderful occasion and its food for yourself is an experience you'll never forget.