Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Foods. Accents. & Fisticuffs.

I know... maybe it's just me ( or maybe it's true) but it feels like it's been awhile since I've written a post here. I have 5 different tangents that I could go on right now. Different paths of intertwining information and thoughts that I could travel down. But I think for this post I'm going to keep it about generalizations and observations that I've made about China so far.

Time seems to be really speeding up right now. I can't believe I only have FOUR MONTHS left in my teaching contract here. We went from having no classes and no students at the school to having 4 steady classes and at least 25 confirmed students ( spread out over my 4 classes) in our school at this point. We also JUST got ( *fingers crossed he's a keeper*) our second "foreign teacher". His name is David and he's from England. He seems pretty quiet in general but he also seems very nice and sweet. He had taught for 5 months at a high school somewhere else in China but the school program was closing and so he had to leave.

OK so - CHINA. - FOODS. ACCENTS & FISTICUFFS. - that could be the title of a book, but actually it's just three themes - how I'm going to break down my generalizations/observations here. :)

FOODS - I can now say for a fact that most Chinese food that's served in restaurants all around small town USA is definitely more like "Chinese Fast Food". (I still have yet to find an "egg roll" in China) It's like the Chinese version of a KFC or McDonald's. Sure, if you go to NYC or a big city you're more likely to find options that are a little more "really Chinese" - like Dim Sum and Hot Pot, etc. But what shocks me about FOOD IN CHINA is how it can determine where you live. People have SERIOUS opinions when it comes to FOOD and LOCATION. In the USA we can find burgers, sandwiches, pasta, pizza, mexican food ... in ANY state and sure, of course in every city or town that we live in we also know that certain restaurants are better than others.  But I would say that if you compare say Chicago, San Francisco, and NYC - you'd find at least one good burger/pizza/burrito/sandwich place in each city.

But here in China, when it comes to relocating from one town or city to another I've heard things like
"It was really hard to live there.... because I couldn't get used to the food" ..... 
"Shanghai food is too sweet...." 
"His parents are from the North and so they're used to certain foods...it would be challenging to move here." 

In general, "Noodles and Dumplings" are - northern foods. "Rice and Rice Noodles" are - southern foods.  You can find both all over the country - but that's the stereotypical breakdown. You're either a noodle/dumpling person or a rice/rice noodle person. Southern food is also generally more mild - not so extreme in being either spicy or sweet. (And specifically - foods from the GUANGDONG PROVINCE in the south can be stereotypically the most .... bizarre. They eat all parts of all different KINDS of animals.)

For me ... I like noodles and dumplings the best.

ACCENTS - Mandarin is the "standard" Chinese language that everyone is taught in school and everyone speaks in business. However, like in the US, each area of the country still has it's own distinct accent. I don't know much about the West or East Coasts of China, but I've been here long enough that I can definitely tell the difference between a northern and southern accent. In the north ( like Beijing) the Mandarin has a very distinct "arrrrrr"  sound added to everything. For example "Zai Nar" and Zai Nali" - both mean "where are you?" but "Nali" is the variation that's commonly used in the south, while "Nar" is more of a northern term. It's almost like the northern person has a bunch of mARbles in their mouth when they're talking ... but in reality it sounds nicer than that. It's a little "gruff" ... a little "coarse". In contrast the southern accent is no so pronounced. It's more fluid, more relaxed. But it's not .... so special to me. I'm kind of indifferent to it. I actually prefer the northern accent.... I think it's cute.

At this point I can also tell the difference between someone speaking Cantonese and someone speaking Mandarin. In general, I prefer Cantonese. I think it's such a cute and  FUNNY language with it's frequent use of "GAY" and "SUP" and "MMMMMM" and "GUM" and "KAT". It has more tones than Mandarin, so they say it's more difficult to learn, but I also think it's more interesting. A Canadian guy who was training with me in Beijing said that "Mandarin sounds like singing and Cantonese sounds like arguing." I would disagree with this. ... I think it depends on who is speaking and the context of the conversation. At different times I've heard some beautiful Cantonese and some awfully rough and angry Mandarin.

FISTICUFFS- YES!!! VIOLENCE!!!! FINALLY!!!... ...ahhh sorry no tales of bloodshed here. In general, it's interesting to note that guns are illegal in China. No one owns a gun. I'm not sure what kind of hunting is done in China - but wherever it's done I'm guessing they use the tried and true, good old bows & arrows and axes and knives to capture their prey. Also it's interesting that this law is pretty much followed by all as far as I can see. No really big stories of "gun smuggling" or any "black market gun trade" that I've seen.

But as far as daily interactions and communicating frustrations- people in general have different ways of expressing anger and frustration in different parts of China. My boss has told me this -- but I've also witnessed it personally -- so I know that there must be some truth to it.

In the NORTH - people don't waste time arguing, they just smack each other and get into physical fights.
I actually saw this in the train station in Beijing when I was waiting for my 20 hr train to Foshan. Two men, seemingly out of nowhere got into this fist fight in the station and when it was all over they went back to sitting down next to each other completely CALM and like nothing happened. ( .... so weird!) Sure, the security guard guy came over to check on things, but he didn't really get involved, he just waited for it to be over. Then when it was over, it was over.

In the SOUTH - people will verbally argue and trash talk until they are blue in the face. Raising voices and going on and on. I've actually seen this too .... when my boss was upset with one of the male teachers who decided that he did not want to stay after two days ... she really laid into him. (She's from the South).  But also, like the physical fights- when it's over, it's over.

When it comes to being angry, I think i'm definitely SOUTHERN CHINESE - if something makes me angry enough, I could go on and on. I remember once in 9th grade me and my friend Lisa got in a little fight in class and she was sitting in front of me and I was just behind her and we spent at least a good 15 minutes going back and forth, each trying to "get the last word" saying "mmm-hmmmmm" and muttering little "not-so-nice" things under our breath to each other.

So... combining all of the above, I guess that would make me a Cantonese woman who loves being Cantonese but also has an affinity for northern Chinese staples - noodles, dumplings, and northern mandarin accents.  :)

"Ni Na"  ( and you?...)


  1. Ah, Katy. This was a really entertaining read. I really like how you made a stand for each case.

    I lived in Northern China for three years so my husband and I are both noodles and dumpling folk. I haven't been back in years, but I was recently in Shanghai and was utterly thrilled to find a true Dongbei Restaurent. I ate there twice in the four days that I was there.

    I'm also a Mandarin fan, having lived close to Beijing and now listening to Mandarin in Taiwan with a Taiwanese accent. It's all music to my ears now. I get completely perplexed with Cantonese, but that's because I so desperately want to understand it.

    As for how I deal with anger: That's a tough one because I definitely run my mouth when I'm provoked, but there are times when I'm sorely tempted to deal with things 'northern-style.'

    Anyways, I don't think I've left a comment before, but I do read your posts and I like seeing them pop up in my Facebook profile. I hope you don't mind that I'm a fan. :-)


  2. haha no worries. you're the best kind of fan ... I told you! I hope that you feel free to leave a comment whenever you want. I got ur email but was just too busy w/ school to reply today. I'm thinking Tuesday for skype. Will try to email you tomorrow... g'nite! don't forget your mao kouzi! :)