Chinese New Year in Ningbo
Updated: May 27, 2019
Spending Chinese New Year out here has been a wonderful experience. Jacques and I took a trip to Ningbo, a city a few hours south of Shanghai. It was a package holiday that we booked with a company called OK Deal. It consisted of a three-day trip with hiking, relaxing, karaoke, a visit to a massive bronze Buddha, and a gorgeous hot spring resort. The whole stay, we had the most delicious and varied Chinese food. What I love most about going to Chinese restaurants is the culture of sharing. Everyone orders dishes that appeal to all - and there's always more than enough to go around!
Chinese food is swiftly becoming one of my favourite things about my new home. I feel as though I've discovered pretty much all Shanghainese food. I start most mornings with a Chinese savoury pancake from my local place. I absolutely love most of it, though some of it is a little too weird for me. It's always so hard to predict what something is going to taste like. Sweet is mixed with savoury and the oddest flavours are used. Durian, for example, is essentially rotten fruit. I once bit into some Durian bread before running to the bin and spitting it straight out. It's lucky people here don't get offended by things like that. Even so, I still worry that people on the train will think I'm uncivilised when I (on the rarest of occasions) eat noodles with a plastic fork.
Alcohol, however, is a totally different ballpark. A lot of bars serve drinks with 'fake alcohol'. I don't really know what this means, it just gives you an awful hangover. It has also taken me a little over three months to find out where I can trust wine. When I arrived, I was horrified at the prices and the low quality of the produce. Most supermarkets start at around £15 for a decent bottle, but even then there's no guarantee. I once bought a 40 yuan bottle (that's around £4.50) from a corner shop. It was awful! Either it had gone offor it had always been that bad.
Living in China has taught me a lot about how different people see the world. I read a recent article about a Chinese Zara model whose look sparked controversy. Her freckles had not been airbrushed, and many Chinese people saw this as 'uglifying' China. Out here, women are held to high beauty standards. It is expected to have perfect skin, hence it is very common for women to wear powder of some sort. When I read the article, I remember thinking how arbitrarily different cultures value different physical features. In the West, we apply fake tan and have butt implants to achieve our beauty standards, while in the East, emphasis is placed on thinness and whiteness.
Speaking of idealising whiteness, I attended a debate about Trump last week. The motion was 'Trump Should Win in 2020'. It was organised by a group called Big Debates, and it was generally pretty good. The sides were split into two teams of three speakers. The proposition talked about Trump as solving the problems of the working classes. I have long thought it funny that a billionaire - in the form of Trump or Sanders - could be seen as the answer to the wealth gap. The whole obsession with a politician with whom one could 'go for a drink at the pub' bewilders me. We have that problem in the UK, though fortunately the likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage have been rightfully shunned from the political scene.
Pictured right is my apartment living room. When I put the flags up, I was reminded how politicised a flag can be. The Union Jack is still a fairly neutral symbol, whereas to many, the USA flag is starting to have connotations of toxic nationalism. For us in the U.K., bearing the St George's flag outside of football would probably have racist connotations, but it's interesting to think about. Perhaps after Brexit, the Union Jack will start to be associated with a feeling of anti-unity, which would be ironic, given its name.
Thinking about political stereotypes has made me reflect on how many prejudices there are about the Far East. I had been told so many myths about China, or as the name in Chinese translates, 'The Middle Kingdom'. Western media portrays the Chinese as a repressed, passionless people. None of this is based on any real factual basis. Of course, people push in line and are pretty impatient on the metro... but there are many ways in which Chinese people are far more 'civilised' than Westerners. There's no getting outrageously drunk and loutish with them. It's embarrassing seeing British tourists out here and being reminded of how badly behaved we are abroad. There are advantages and disadvantages to any country and culture, but I'm glad to be out here and not in Brexit territory.